The following night, the police reported to news of a second murder. Batman, Nightrunner, and Koutetsu arrived at the scene. They looked through the window and saw a rather grotesque scene, even worse than the one the previous night.
"Ewww," Batman and Runner said, simultaneously.
"Most unsettling," Koutetsu noted.
The three entered the scene, catching the attention of Valerie.
Valerie looked at the officers, "Give me a minute, everyone."
The uniformed officers filed out.
"Another former exec, detective?" Runner asked.
"Yup," Valerie looked at her phone. "This is Martin Hightower. Former EVP of Brighton Chemicals. About the same as last night, even some defensive wounds as well."
"First Stagg now Brighton," Batman mused. "There's a connection."
"I was thinking the same thing." Valerie studied the scene. "Both guys from high-end chemical companies. Gruesome murders."
"Defense wounds and torture. This was personal or severe business."
"People killed like this are done so to make a statement," Batman explained.
"No, I get that. Just… 'severe business'?"
Batman smiled. "Sorry. I tend to talk too much."
"Even though we do our best to make him stop," Runner joked.
Valerie scoffed, "Wow. Ya know, my grandmother was right. Working with Batman is… interesting."
"To be fair," Batman said, "your grandmother being one-third of Batwoman was a very interesting case, all by itself."
"It's a 'very interesting' part of my family's history, to say the least."
"We have not discovered much about the first victim, Elvis Graham," Koutetsu declared. "Only that, 15 years ago, he disappeared for a decade before becoming a board member of Stagg Enterprises."
Valerie looked at her phone, "Okay, it's so weird you brought that up. Because Mr. Hightower also went off the grid, 15 years ago, resurfacing ten years later, then he became a EVP at Brighton."
Batman paused for a moment. "How long ago did Hightower lose his job?"
"A year ago."
"That's when Graham was fired from Stagg," Runner said.
"But my information says Hightower voluntarily left Brighton," Valerie said. "Coincidence?"
The Gotham knights all stared at each other silently.
"Yeah, I didn't think so, either. Just wishful thinking."
"You keep digging on your end, Val," Batman said. "We'll check things on ours."
"You got it, Bats," Valerie said.
"Okay, that's really weird," Runner said, once they were back across the street.
"Two murders," Koutetsu whispered.
"No way they're not connected," Batman said.
"I'm inclined to agree," Bruce said.
"Any idea where they disappeared to 15 years ago?"
"Not yet. But I'm checking."
"Alright," Batman nodded. "Anything else going on?"
"Not at the moment," Bruce said. "Wait." He was quiet for a moment. "Downtown. Looks like a couple of gangs are embroiled in a fight."
"We're on it."
Minutes later, the Gotham knights were downtown, witnessing the Yellowjackets and the Leaders in the middle of a skirmish.
"What's the situation?" Koutetsu asked.
"The Yellowjackets and the Leaders both want this territory since the T's moved to another area of the city," Bruce explained.
"Reminds me of the Madison Street War," Runner said.
"Yup," Batman agreed.
"I'm sure we'll handle this as masterfully as you two handled that situation," Koutetsu said.
"They did decently in that situation," Bruce said.
While Koutetsu smiled, Batman and Runner groaned. Batman led the charge as the heroes descended down.
The Leaders, full title being the Leaders of New Gotham, were a new gang that started in Gotham over a year after Terry and Max were married. The Leaders consisted of the remnants of smaller gangs that were disbanded by Batman and Nightrunner after the Madison Street War. The Leaders only really gained notoriety after the fall of the Graves as some of Blitzkrieg's former soldiers were recruited into the gang. Whereas the Yellowjackets were known for their bright yellow jackets, coats, and/or sunglasses, the Leaders were dressed in dark-green, military-style attire, even some wearing dark-green, full-ballistic masks. For the past year, the Jokerz, the T's, the Yellowjackets, and the Leaders stood in a stalemate to see who would truly control Gotham, with the Yellowjackets and the Leaders being the most adversarial toward each other.
Batman tackled two of the Yellowjackets while Runner and Koutetsu attacked a group of the Leaders. As the trio battled the two gangs on all sides, Batman looked up to see a fortified car with weapons built into it flying in, painted in the Leaders' colors.
"Of course!" Batman growled. "Why am I not surprised?! Bet it's armored."
"I got it!" Runner declared. He knocked one of the Leaders away and fired a cable at the car, latching on to it. He repelled the cable in order to launch himself at the car. Runner activated the magnetics in his gloves and boots, sticking to the car. The Leaders' started driving erratically to throw Runner off. Remaining calm, Runner ripped off a bottom panel and began tearing out electrical wiring. Seconds later, the car began to short-circuit and spinout. Runner moved to the door of the car, forced it open, and yanked the two occupants out, before the car crashed into the ground. Once on the ground, Runner knocked out the two Leaders, leaving them laying.
"Nice!" Batman shouted.
With most of the gang members down, they heard a commotion from the Yellowjackets and Batman, Runner, and Koutetsu saw Red Hood had arrived, fighting five Yellowjackets at once.
"Whoa," Batman whispered. Before casually elbowing a Leader in the face, knocking him out.
Hood's tactics were nothing short of flawless. He was battling the Yellowjackets in a way that, surprisingly, didn't show any kinds of rookie mistakes. Every strike had power, every dodge was graceful, and every block was concrete. Even on the rare occasion he was hit, Hood seemed to react almost immediately with an even fiercer retaliatory attack. Hood's uniform's durability was also confirmed as, no matter the damage it took, there was no evidence of any kind of wear and tear to it. Whoever Red Hood was, he had been taught by amazing teachers.
"You're recording all this, right?" Batman asked Bruce.
"Every second," Bruce replied.
"It's like fighting's in his DNA," Runner said. He kicked a charging Yellowjacket.
"Very much so." Koutetsu punched a Leader who was attempting to get up and shoot them. "Should we worry about the rest of them?"
"Nah." Batman threw a stun-batarang at a Yellowjacket, rendering her unconscious.
After a few minutes, Hood defeated the Yellowjackets and the Leaders, standing among their defeated forms, catching breath while still having a tight grip on his Eskrima sticks. Hood looked at the trio and let out a few breaths, "Couldn't step in at all?!"
Batman shrugged, "Figured you had it."
Hood caught his breath and laughed a bit. "Funny." He put his Eskrima sticks behind his back.
"You're good," Runner admitted.
Koutetsu looked at the defeated gang members. "Very good, I dare say."
Hood chuckled. "Thanks."
"So, seriously, who are you?" Batman asked.
"Just a guy who wants to help."
"I'm here to be a hero, Batman," Hood reassured. "Trust me on that."
"Why here?" Runner asked.
Hood chuckled. "Because it also seems to be the best place to be if I get overwhelmed."
"It would probably be best if we talk."
"We will. One day. Just… not today." Suddenly, smoke emitted from Hood's boots and underneath his jacket. "We'll meet. Soon."
The trio covered their faces and took several steps back. Seconds later, the smoke cleared and Red Hood was gone.
"Wow," Runner said. "He's good!"
"He's descent, to say the least," Batman said.
"This still doesn't answer if he is friend or foe," Koutetsu mused.
"But it does answer he's skilled. And not just with fighting. All of us were standing right here and we lost him. We don't even know where he went."
"We still thinking he might be tied to those murders?" Runner asked.
"I can't tell," Batman admitted. "He doesn't seem to be much older than us and that 15 years thing with the murders is sticking out to me."
"Hmm," Koutetsu said, contemplatively. "A heavy portion on our plates."
"Yeah." Batman sighed. "Another night in Gotham."
While Runner and Koutetsu went to their respective homes, Terry went back to the Cave to go over both cases with Bruce. They were watching video of Red Hood as he fought the Yellowjackets and the Leaders.
"See!" Terry paused the video and pointed. "Right there! That kick was savage! I've never seen someone do that!"
"Hayate," Bruce shrugged.
"Hayate is the exception, literally, every time I say the phrase 'I've never seen someone do that'."
"Stop using the word 'never', then. And 'literally'."
"Fine, Grammar Police," Terry grumbled.
Bruce just smiled.
"Look, all I'm saying is that he's good! Guy has way more skill than I do!"
"Clearly, he's been training longer than you have."
"Yeah." Terry folded his arms. "But how much longer? And by who?"
"And the murders."
"About those," Bruce typed, showing information on another screen. "I'm running a few searches, comparing other mysterious deaths that match the criteria."
"Four more so far, all within the last month." Bruce hit a few keys on the computer. "One in Star City, another in Coast City, and one in Dakota City." He then stopped.
Terry looked at him, confused. "Aaaaand the last one?"
Bruce hit another key. "Blüdhaven."
Terry scoffed and shook his head. "You know saying the name of the city won't make Dick Grayson magically appear, right?"
Bruce remained silent.
"Are you ever gonna call him?"
Terry rolled his eyes. "You're so stubborn."
"Don't listen to him, Terry," Diana said as she walked down the steps, getting their attention. "He's going to. Eventually. Once he feels like he can handle the emotional weight of it."
Bruce rolled his eyes.
Terry smiled. "Hey, Diana."
"Sorry if I surprised you," Diana smiled.
"You're a very welcome surprise," Terry said as they hugged. They separated, "So, what brings you back to town?"
Diana looked at Bruce. "Here to see my love."
Bruce looked away.
"Aww, I think he's blushing," Terry joked.
"Shut up," Bruce growled.
Terry chuckled and looked at Diana, "How long are you in town for?"
"A couple of days," Diana answered. "I'll be making a few trips back and forth for the next few weeks. But, after that… I'll be back a bit longer."
"Oh?" Terry asked. "How much longer?"
Diana smiled. "I'm… thinking… permanently."
Terry's eyebrows shot up then a huge smile spread across his face. He looked at Bruce, who refused to look at Terry, then Terry looked back at Diana. "Go oooon!" Terry said, happily.
Diana giggled, softly. "My current permanent address is a small villa in Tuscany. I'm hardly there since I travel so much. Exploring the world never gets tiring. Until recently. I haven't had a home where I wanted to stay in quite a while. I think… that should change."
"Oh, it absolutely should!"
"I thought that would make you happy."
"It absolutely did!"
"Did you have to tell him?" Bruce asked Diana.
"Of course, darling," Diana replied. "Terry needs to know I'll be at the Manor more. It's as much his home as it is yours."
Bruce rolled his eyes.
"Diana, you are a saint." Terry paused. "Well, goddess, but you get my point."
Diana smiled, "I'm so happy you find this to be good news."
"Are you kidding me?! This is great news! Screw Red Hood and the murders! This is the biggest thing happening right now!"
"Terry…" Bruce groaned.
"Oh, I'm kidding!" Terry replied. "A little. Either way, get off your high horse! This is a good thing! Enjoy it, ya cranky old man."
Diana held her smile. "Thank you, Terry. I mean it."
"Diana. Believe me when I say, I absolutely thank you!"
"If you think this means you'll have it easy…" Bruce said.
"Oh, whatever!" Terry cut him off. "It'll just be worth it to see you smile once a week."
Bruce growled while Diana giggled.
A/N: I will do a story that delves into the Madison Street War, soon. In fact, it's in progress now and, hopefully, it'll be up in the next week or so. The story will be titled "Killzone" and it will be in "Unpack Your Heart Chronicles Part 2".