The sheer audacity of it all, Barbara Gordon thought to herself as she held the blessed cocaine in her hands. The completely outlandish, mind-numbing audacity of the man beggared belief. Vergil wasn't going to be satisfied until he was fighting the entire world - first, he was taking on the corporations on their home turf, then he painted a target on his back for the Joker, and now as Gotham was left reeling from the quake, Vergil was planning to take on the cartels and the cocaine trade as well.
It was insane. To the point that she nearly missed the fact that he continued to pile on the insanity with the revelation that he'd been targeted by a secret organization called Checkmate. Barbara had to take a breath, calming herself as she pushed away her stray thoughts and gave Vergil her undivided attention. "Checkmate?" Barbara questioned, her tone adopting a concerned quality to it. All the while, her mind raced for any mention of 'Checkmate' in her memory.
She came up empty.
"That's what I've been calling them, at least," Vergil explained, so it was possible that they went by another name. "Their agents are chess-themed. Seemed appropriate."
"Naming conventions aside, what makes you believe you're being targeted? Or why do you believe that they exist at all?" Barbara asked, crossing her arms. She felt the mental connection to Megan in the back of her mind, and she could only hope that Megan didn't overdo it. They needed evidence to act, but she didn't want that evidence bad enough to rip it from Vergil's mind, considering what that might do to him, especially when there was a possibility it wasn't there. Her gaze drifted to Snowflame and his newfound companion, Tony.
The former looked indignant that someone would target Vergil, while the latter looked like he was questioning if he should be here to hear this at all. B stood just behind Vergil, adopting a ready, protective stance in case it was needed. It was expected given that she was his bodyguard.
"I suppose I should start from the beginning," Vergil remarked, his tone rather serious as he crossed his arms, leaning against a busted display case. "Several months ago, I got a heads up about the Blackgaters from someone calling themselves a concerned citizen. It was a pretty simple warning that basically amounted to how they were going to wreck our shit if we didn't pay protection money." Vergil explained, and Barbara fought off giving a reaction to the name.
Concerned Citizen. The same person that gave her dad the info about a Blackgaters raid on the Jokers. The same person that gave Bruce Wayne a warning that the Joker was alive through the Batcomputer. Which led to the discovery that the Batcave had been compromised, for Barbara could only guess how long.
The Concerned Citizen, who then gifted information about the Joker's whereabouts to help track him down.
"We kept in contact. He ended up building Sainthood Enterprises' cyber security from the ground up," Vergil continued, and Megan was tellingly quiet. So far, she wasn't detecting a lie. "In exchange, I gave him materials and funds that he's been putting to good use, because the quality of his information has been skyrocketing."
Barbara thought that might be because the Concerned Citizen had gained access to the Batcomputer, but given that he also had an idea of where the Joker was, he clearly had other sources. "Which he used to help you."
"It's a symbiotic relationship. I give him his wishlist, and he gives me info. Dirty secrets, skeletons in the closet, and who wants what and why they want it," Vergil said, sounding uncaring that he used an information broker to get an edge over the competition. It also potentially explained how Vergil had managed to get Lowtown legalized. The Penguin had a lot of pull in Gotham at the time, but it would have been a task even for him. It would have been the kind of gamble that he wouldn't normally make unless he was certain of the payoff. "However, after Lowtown was legalized, I was informed that I was on the radar of the organization called Checkmate."
"A target?" Barbara questioned and Vergil raised a hand and wiggled it back and forth.
"I'm called a pawn in the organization," Vergil said, sounding insulted. "I don't have any connections to it, but apparently I've been getting pushed in the direction that Checkmate wants. From what I know, most pawns don't realize what they are. We're just pawns, so we don't need to know." That made sense. Information compartmentalization was necessary for a secret society. And what better way to do that than to have its agents be ignorant that they were a part of the organization at all?
Barbara nodded, showing that she was following along as she put the pieces together, "And you used that," Barbara accused and Vergil gave a simple and utterly shameless nod.
"Of course I did," Vergil answered easily. "I know what I want, Barbara. If someone wants to pave my way to it, I'm not going to stop them. But, not all of Checkmate agrees with such an ambitious pawn. Someone called Rook has been trying to assassinate me. Rather frequently."
Barbara could see it. Vergil… was someone that took miles when given an inch. From an organization's standpoint, putting herself in their shoes, Barbara could see how they would view Vergil as a pawn that outlived his usefulness. Or, rather, who became too unwieldy to use. After all, what use was a pawn that you couldn't control?
"Concerned Citizen has been keeping me updated about their assassination attempts… as well as how they intend to take advantage of the chaos in Gotham," Vergil continued, his voice taking a deadly quality on it. The smirk that always seemed to play at the edge of his lips suddenly vanished, and it was only then that Barbara noticed how odd it was to see Vergil without his signature smirk. "They intend for their pawns in Gotham to take hold of the city. Mobsters and villains alike. They'll dig in, seize territory, and even when No Man's Land is over, they'll be dug in too deep to rip out."
"Who?" Barbara questioned, because she had already seen that very thing happening already. And what Vergil said was a very real concern that she had had since she first saw the signs of feudalism returning to Gotham.
"The Penguin Mob, the Odessa Mob, Bertinelli Family, LoBoys, Aki-Jin Yakuza, and Snake-Flower Triad are all pawns," Vergil answered, and that list lined up very well with those that had been doing the best for themselves. "As well as Clayface, Firefly, Victor Zasz, and Scarecrow. Checkmate, as far as I can tell, intends to rule Gotham through them. Or, at the very least, wants to use them to shape how Gotham will be rebuilt."
That, Barbara had trouble seeing. The former list were all mobs and organized crime. The villains, however, were all… mindlessly destructive for the most part. Firefly was an insane arsonist that didn't care what or who he set alight. Victor Zasz was a mass-murdering lunatic that thought that by murdering men, women, and children, he was freeing them from a pointless existence. Scarecrow just wanted to drive people mad with fear.
And Clayface, who was suspected of freeing the prisoners of Blackgate prison…
The villain to tear the city down and the mobs to rule its pieces.
"The Penguin Mob?" She questioned and earned a thin smile in response.
"As far as I can tell, it's how I got scouted for Checkmate in the first place. I think Mr. Cobblepot was a pawn himself," Vergil offered his take, and… two pieces of a puzzle clicked together. Two pieces that she needed to connect other pieces together that had been floating around in her head, and they started to form a bigger picture with this new information as the foundation.
Was the Checkmate a cover for the Light?
It was possible. It even explained a number of things. Though, not what Vergil knew about the Justice League… but that could be explained by Concerned Citizen having access to the Batcomputer. There were a lot of confidential files on there pertaining to the League's members. But, at the same time, she had to look beyond what Vergil was telling her. He was giving her potential puzzle pieces, but that didn't mean she hadn't been gathering her own.
"It sounds like you're taking their plan and running with it," Barbara pointed out lightly. She couldn't use all the information she had against him - Vergil was buying property ridiculously quickly. Discounting Lowtown, Vergil now owned ten percent of Gotham alone. Bruce was beating him out at fifteen percent, but between the two of them, they owned a fourth of Gotham.
Vergil's action of making Lowtown the one true safe haven in Gotham was accomplishing the same goal that he said that Checkmate wanted the mob to do. Nor did she fail to notice that there were some names missing from that list of possible pawns - the Old Guard, the Holdover Mob, and the Street Kings - all which fit the same criteria, had unexpected rises in power, and rose to prominence in the various burrows they could be found in.
"Not wrong there. I never made it a secret that I hate this city, and now that it's been torn down, I see an opportunity to turn Gotham into a place worth living," Vergil admitted. "It's possible that I'm still acting according to their plan, and me trying to go against it is exactly what they wanted." That was the problem with secret societies - much like prophecy, you had no way of knowing if you were screwing them over or doing exactly what they wanted you to do. And you only discovered which one it was after the deed was done - either you avoided fate, or you played the role you were meant to to make the prophecy come true.
While she didn't know what Checkmate's intentions were, she did know Vergil's. He had held the lasso of truth and declared he would make Gotham a paradise that made the garden of Eden look lackign in intentions, but Barbara knew well that the road to hell was paved with those. What Vergil was headed for was a Gotham that was firmly in his hands - he would own it in every way that mattered. He would be the king of the city who could do no wrong.
But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Bruce Wayne was in a similar position before the quake - Gotham loved Bruce Wayne. Even blowing millions of dollars on yachts to spend the weekend with supermodels didn't make people love him any less, because he had also shown that he would take a bullet for Gotham. And unknown to them, he frequently did. Bruce had leveraged that love to do more good. The only difference was that it would be Vergil wearing that crown, and, as of now, they couldn't trust him.
"I can accept that, for now," Barbara said. Regardless of motives, people's lives were being saved. Good was being done. However, one piece didn't quite fit the story. "How do you know so much about the forces of Order and Chaos? Who are the Endless?" Barbara questioned, earning a blink from Vergil.
'He didn't like that question. It made him nervous.' Megan informed her, and Barbara was glad for her being there because otherwise, Barbara wouldn't have been able to tell. Vergil had mastered his poker face. Because of that smirk on his face, which had reappeared at some point, not even his microexpressions gave anything away.
"Barbara, you do not want to know. I regret speaking about them. Getting their attention is the very last thing anyone would want," Vergil said, his tone severe. "Forget about them. I wish I could." That was a rather ominous warning from a teenager that seemed at home with courting disaster.
Barbara had already decided that she wouldn't heed his advice, but she made a note that he had the right to tell her that he told her so if it ended poorly for her. "As for Order and Chaos - I've been chosen by god. Something like that lets you get a peek behind the curtain, to see the true forces of the universe, so to speak." Snowflame nodded sagely, supporting Vergil.
That sounded outlandish, but Barbara had seen the video of Vergil's time in Brazil. She saw Snowflame become the conduit of his god's will. If the god of Cocaine was really a god was up for debate - it could be a cocaine elemental or something. As strange as the concept of cocaine being a fundamental element of the universe was. Regardless, it had power. Enough that she could accept Vergil's explanation as plausible, even if she didn't fully buy it outright.
B turned to Vergil, "It is time for us to return." She informed Vergil, who nodded in agreement.
"Wait - why did you tell me all of this? What do you want?" Barbara said, holding up a hand to stop the two from leaving.
"Because the clock is ticking to do anything about Checkmate in Gotham. Gotham is still shaken up after the quake, but things are going to settle soon enough. And once they do, their roots are going to start digging in. The Joker isn't the only enemy in Gotham. He's not even the most dangerous," Vergil said as he walked by her, offering her a wave over his shoulder. "Tell your dad about it. I'm expecting his call." He said, leaving the building, telling her that he would only discuss the specifics with her dad.
Snowflame left as well, dragging Tony by an arm. Barbara spared a look at the unconscious men around her, before she began breaking out the zip ties. Blackgate was empty at the moment, which meant they needed to fill it back up. Or, failing that, smuggle them out of the city to be sent to another prison in the country so that they could continue to serve their sentences.
As she worked, Barabra spoke to Megan. 'Get anything incriminating?'
'Vergil is definitely hiding something, but what I got from his surface thoughts wasn't anything he wouldn't stand in front of a press conference and admit to the country,' Megan answered. So, no new information. 'As for Checkmate, it's either the truth or a story he's rehearsed to himself to the point he believes it.'
'We should investigate the lead. I can't imagine what he would have to gain by telling me that.' Barbara remarked, trying to see Vergil's possible angle, but she was coming up empty, other than to foster a relationship with the police, which fell in line with his actions since the quake. 'But, let's also assume he's lying. He's not in the clear yet.'
They left the building, Barbara heading to the police station while Megan went to Lowtown to keep an eye on Vergil. 'What should we do about the Concerned Citizen?'
That was a really good question. 'Not my call, but so far the information broker has given us more reason to give them the benefit of the doubt than not. If he had access to the Batcave, then he knows our secret identities. Given that the secret isn't out, he can be at least trusted to not shout it from the rooftops.' Barbara answered as she got on a bicycle, 'That being said, he knows who we are and we know nothing about him beyond he has connections to Lowtown. I don't like it.'
'Hopefully, Bee will turn up with something,' Megan offered, and Barbara agreed. And with that, they parted so they both could continue their own mission. The Team would be spread out across Gotham, acting covertly to avoid being seen breaking the Joker's rules. All the while, she would act in the open as an honorary member of the police force.
Though, as she pedaled through the streets, Barbara thought the word militia would be more fitting. The area around Lowtown was indisputably the nicest part of Gotham now, but that didn't mean the police were slacking. The streets were being cleared, making in ways into the rest of the city. It was slow progress, and like the old west, those highways were often attacked by bandits and the worst sort.
Barbara heard gunshots in the distance.
She grit her teeth as she sailed by a checkpoint that had armed guards guarding it. One of the hardest lessons of being a hero that she had to learn was that you couldn't do everything. The second hardest lesson was learning what you could do, and learning to accept it. And, right now, she could do the most good by delivering the information to her Dad instead of hunting down the source of every last gunshot in the city.
The police building had been turned into a fortress. The windows had been boarded up, there were sandbags in front of the doors as well as people standing guard. They nodded to her as she entered the building, the lobby acting as a living space. The police had secured the block around the police station as well as a few others nearby.
Their numbers had thinned out - a chunk of the police had fled the city, and they had lost more when some cops had chosen to take advantage of the situation and form gangs of their own. Then they had lost some to the attacks that were launched when everyone decided it was open season on everyone with a badge.
Even still, the police force was still thousands strong. It might not be enough to police all of Gotham, but compared to the gangs around them, they had the edge in numbers several times over.
Barbara's attention drifted to a child inside the make-shift living space, opening a box with a wide smile on his face, bandages on his head and arm. The box popped open revealing a pink ball - she wondered what he was so happy about until the ball suddenly came to life, small flaps on its side fanning out. "Where am I? Where am I?" The ball chirped, earning a giggle from the boy as he picked it up. "Unhand me! Unhand me!"
Then the ball turned, revealing two small eyes that were little more than LED lights. It seemed to spot the door, and to Barbara's astonishment, the ball started floating weakly to the door with a cry of, "Freedom! Freedom!" It flapped its stubby wings, though not quite enough to remain afloat, but when it descended and hit the ground, it flew back up again higher than it had any right to.
Gravity manipulation? In a child's toy?
She didn't even need to see the logo to know it was an invention of Sainthood Enterprises. The boy laughed as he chased the pink ball that was trying to escape him around. She watched with dull astonishment, her mind deftly wrapping around the implications-
"They came with a delivery of supplies from Lowtown," Barbara heard her dad inform her from behind. Looking over her shoulder, her heart clenched at the state he was in. James Gordon was a man that was just as used to sleepless nights as Batman was, but he looked haggard. He had dark bags under his bloodshot eyes, and the wrinkles on his face seemed to sink in even further than usual. The streaks of gray in his hair had noticeably started to spread. It seemed like he was picking up gray hairs by the hour. "Apparently they were going to be Sainthood Enterprises' next hit in their toy division or something. They gave us a couple dozen of the little buggers to keep the kids entertained."
Vergil was a man of many shades, Barbara noted. Enough that she couldn't tell if this was another move to garner trust, or genuine altruism. Perhaps it was both.
"Care to explain the kilo of cocaine? We still have coffee, so you may want to put off developing a coke habit to stay awake," Her dad remarked, taking a sip of his coffee and earning a sigh from her. She gestured to his office so she could explain herself.
Once inside, she told her dad everything - Vergil's plan, Checkmate, everything. Barbara almost felt bad about it, because it was almost as if she could see the weight settling on his shoulders, stacking on top of an already incredible amount of responsiblity that he was being crushed under.
When Barbara finished, her dad just sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose. "Healthy and nutritious cocaine," he said, and she could hear the sheer exasperation in his tone. "Of all things. What's next? Heroin that'll replace smoothies?"
"He was only chosen by the god of Cocaine, but I wouldn't give him any ideas," Barbara snarked, sinking into the soft leather chair across from her father's desk. "What do you think?"
"I think that brat is going to get himself killed," he answered sharply. "He's already marching into gang safe houses and trashing them. No wonder he thinks he can take on the cartels." Barbara shifted at that - she had seen the aftermath of the birth of another legend about 'The Saint.'
The internet was a luxury in Gotham now, but people still had phones, and they still had cameras. There was a recording of the scene, and the Vergil she watched in that video honestly scared her.
When she first saw him, Vergil had been a child in an adult's world, doing his best to show everyone that he fit in. He did his best to hide it, but it was clear that he had been in way over his head. The Vergil in that video… he had come into his own, and she learned exactly how dangerous he could be in a land without laws.
He had made his own golden rule. A rule that made people flock to Lowtown in droves.
One of his for all of yours. A declaration of total war at any provocation. And, after three gangs all met the same fate, there hadn't been a fourth willing to provoke the wrath of the Saint.
"Are we going to go along with his idea? We can always find more food," Barbara pointed out. They had several grocery stores worth of canned goods in their pantry. But…
"We might not have a choice," her dad muttered darkly. "It's too cold to grow anything. We need greenhouses, but the demand on power to run enough greenhouses to feed thousands of people…" he trailed off with a shake of his head. "We might have to take Lowtown up on their offer for generators. We have enough food to feed ourselves for a few weeks. A month if we go to half rations."
It was obvious that her dad didn't like it for the same reasons she didn't, and he had less reason to. There was a reason why he called Vergil a warlord. He was acting like one. "If it comes with strings attached, then we can deal with it then. If this ends before we have to pay the price for it, then all the better. For what it's worth, I don't think Vergil has any malicious intentions."
"Neither do I," her dad agreed. "But he doesn't need to. He's put himself in a position where a lot of people are relying on him. If he slips up in any way, then it won't just be him that suffers the consequences." He sighed, taking off his glasses and setting them on his desk. "And if he pulls it off, then he becomes the savior of Gotham. He won't be able to do any wrong, no matter what wrongs he commits… or confesses to."
Then he shook his head, "Enough about that. I wanted to talk to you about our next move," Her dad said before he reached into a drawer and pulled out a map of Gotham. On its surface were notes - highlighting checkpoints that the police had put up, checkpoints gangs had established, estimated positions and numbers, and suspected territory. "The Odessa, Scarface, and Black Mask mobs are making an alliance. They intend to divide up the Narrows, Tricorner, and Downtown."
That was bad news, she thought, looking at the solid chunk of Gotham that would be in the control of three of the most ruthless mobs in Gotham City. One of which had a border that brushed against the police's territory.
"They're going to prevent us from scavenging for supplies. They intend to starve us since they can't beat our numbers," Barbara said, seeing their intentions easily. Downtown suffered the worst out of Gotham simply because it was packed with skyscrapers. They had all collapsed. However, it also had the greatest yield in terms of supplies because that was where most of the supermarkets and other stores were located. Those supplies were how the police were able to function.
More supplies would have to be smuggled in from outside of Gotham, but as this dragged on, you could only find so many large caches that could support thousands of people before someone caught on. It would give them some breathing room, but the problem still remained. If the alliance of mobsters claimed the nearby territory, they would have the supplies necessary to make people flock to them. Especially if the police were forced to go to half rations. How many would desert them for a full meal at the table of a criminal, when the best they could get was half a meal witht he police?
"We could push into the Bowery for supplies… or we could look to Lowtown. Like it or not, they're in a position to hand out supplies. They're already supporting half the city. Supporting us won't make much of a difference," Barbara said, knowing that was the best option on the table. "Or, we could undercut the alliance - go on the offensive while we can. If we weaken the gangs and secure more supplies, people will look to us instead of them for safety."
It was a bloody alternative, but one worth mentioning. Especially when one of the names in the alliance was ringing in her ears - the Odessa Mob. Was it possible that this was a move by Checkmate to further secure their grip on Gotham, while weakening the grip of the Police? It was a smart and decisive move if it was, and she had difficulty imagining that the three mobsters sat down and came to the conclusion on their own. All three of them were too ruthless to play nice with those cut from the same cloth.
Barbara looked at her dad, who picked up his glasses and put them on. "We can't be in a position where we're forced to rely on Lowtown's charity. Then Vergil could ask what he likes of us." Her dad said, coming to the same conclusion she had. Or, rather, she came to the same conclusion that he did. "We take the fight to them. The law might not mean anything in Gotham anymore, but it still means something to me."
Her dad stood up, "Get your vest, Barbara. We have a city to take back."
It was truly frightening what Vergil was capable of, Miranda thought to herself as she read the note that had been passed to her. It was a simple message all things considered - a list of names.
Miranda looked to Cassandra, who was currently a floating head as she wore her invisibility suit. Miranda had reservations about the younger girl - How effortlessly she could see through people, and how skilled she was in a fight warranted it. Cassandra looked at her and smiled as if she could read her thoughts and took Miranda's caution as a compliment. Which likely was the case.
Taking out a map, Miranda unfurled it and began pointing to the locations where those names would be located. Cassandra nodded, following along as she glanced up at the broken window that offered a view of Gotham's skyline. Or, what was left of it. After a moment, Cassandra looked to Miranda and nodded, showing that she was good to go.
Miranda felt like she should say something, but Cassandra wouldn't understand it. Instead, she simply passed a small case that was once used to carry a gun. Now, it carried cameras. Microscopic cameras.
She really wondered how many Vergil had in Lowtown. It would explain some things, at the very least.
Cassandra took the case and shoved it into a bag that made it invisible as well. With that, she offered a small smile before she started to pull up her mask. With a swan dive that Miranda didn't get to see the end of, Cassandra leaped out of the building with little hesitation, and she was gone, off to complete her own missions.
Taking in a breath, Miranda set the message on fire with the help of a small candle that was in the remains of what had once been a luxurious apartment. Now it was just another piece of debris in a collapsing building that Bruce Wayne owned. Though, while he owned the building, he wouldn't get his hands on the contents of the safe inside, which had some rather incriminating information about one of Wayne Enterprises' accountants.
Her gaze slid to a stack of papers, on top of which was a note for her. Vergil had rather messy handwriting. It seemed almost out of place in a rather orderly individual. She read the note once again before she fed it into the flames of the fire.
Lowtown under investigation. Avoid thinking incriminating thoughts. Act as you see fit.
The message burned away, leaving nothing behind.
Act as she saw fit?
Miranda rather liked the sound of that.
I've recently started another story called Fool's World, it's a F/SN story with some multicross elements to it. Check it out if you're interested!
The next chapter is currently available on my Pat re on and Subscribe Star, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!