Roland Desmond looked out from the second floor patio of his palatial estate; the view of Bludhaven during the night almost made the city look beautiful. Almost. Roland sipped on his glass of wine and counted the moments, soon as simple a thing as a phone call would spell the end of the hero known as Nightwing.
"Jeez, Babs!" yelled Dick Grayson. "Can you not go five minutes without either your phone, computer, fax, satellite uplink, or carrier pigeon interrupting us?" A pillow to the face was Barbara Gordon's playful response.
"Hi Dad! No, your not interrupting anything important," she said with a sly smile.
"Ouch!" Dick said as he got out of bed to get a drink. As he passed through the control room of Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Oracle, he noticed that she had a video message waiting for her. "Guess I better check this since she's busy," he said to himself. He clicked on the image and saw a picture of the Robin form on the screen.
Oracle, thought you should know that last night I ran into a new group that had me pretty much on the ropes, a band of ninjas that seemed intent on kicking my butt until their mystery leader said they were out of time. They pulled back, despite having me severely outnumbered. Haven't told the boss yet, I'll talk to him in the morning I guess.
Guess Tim's still smarting over Bruce letting Spoiler in on Tim's secret identity. Can't say as I blame him, if it had been one of us…course I did tell Donna, Roy, Wally, Garth, Gar, Vic, Joey, Raven, Kory, and, boy, I guess I have little room to talk. Maybe there are a lot of people walking around with our secrets. Well at least they are all friends.
Dick got up and walked back in the bedroom to find Barbara already dressed and in her wheelchair, ready for work. "Hey, what the heck is going on? I thought we were in downtime mode?"
"We were," she said stern faced. "My dad says that Montoya has a new case involving some sort on ninja clan."
"I thought your dad retired from the GCPD?"
"He did, but you know James Gordon. Even when he's not working he's working. It keeps him from getting bored and fat."
"Oh, yeah, well, I just checked your messages and Tim says he had a run in with the clan last night, but their leader called them off before they could finish him."
Oracle scrolled through information on six screens at once, "It says here that there are reports that King Snake has left Gotham after having damage done to his legs during a fight with one of his own students."
"Guy must be good to take down King Snake," Dick said as he started to get dressed. "He's like what? Top twelve in the world maybe in martial arts."
"More like the top ten; Jason Dree was killed in Hong Kong last week. Witness accounts describe a man of slight build who moved with cat-like reflexes."
"A Meta martial artist?" asked Nightwing.
"It's possible," Oracle replied, "but they didn't say he was unbelievable, just incredible."
"Guess that puts him a couple of categories below me," he said.
"Oh really? Someone must be feeling pretty confident in their abilities this morning."
"I blame you," he smiled, "you're the one who said I was unbelievable last night." As Nightwing kissed Babs she let out a weak groan and rolled her eyes.
"Watch yourself out there, you and the rest of the gang can go ninja hunting tonight, but be careful."
"Yes, mom," he said as he leapt out of the skylight and made his way down to the parking garage. He revved the car up and tore off towards stately Wayne Manor.
"I hate this waiting thing," grumbled Stallion. He and Blockbuster's chief accountant, James Lucas, were alone inside the warehouse at 1812 S. Sherman Street. Their contacts were supposed to be delivering a special package to them and they were fifteen minutes late. "The damn Cowboys are playin' tonight! I gotta go!"
"Patience, my friend," said Lucas. "You know these men are slow witted, they may even have had trouble with the package."
A shuffling of feet on concrete made them both jump and turn around. "Are you two waiting for me, or did you need some alone time?" asked a shadowed figure.
"Who the Hell are you mister?" asked Stallion
"I, sir, am Mr. Zsasz. And I think I am expected."
Stallion pulled his two pistols out from their side holster. "Where are the two idiots from Arkham?"
Mr. Zsasz came fully into the light, his face and hands scarred in various places. Truth be told he had nearly 189 small scars on his body, all self inflicted, one mark for every person he had ever killed. "I am afraid those two gentlemen couldn't make it. I am fulfilling their obligation by showing myself here at the requested time. I understand someone wants to see me."
Lucas summoned his inner strength and stepped up to Mr. Zsasz. "Sir, I represent a powerful businessman in Bludhaven, and he would like to purchase your services for an upcoming venture," Lucas' voice caught in his throat, as he looked down and saw a knife stuck in the middle of his chest.
Zsasz smiled at him. "Do you remember how they used to teach young children to cross themselves in English churches? The children, as they grew older, had a little rhyme for it." The knife started ripping up, down, left, right. "Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet, and Watch." As Mr. Zsasz withdrew the knife, the innards of James Lucas saw the light of day for the first time as he collapsed to the ground.
Stallion stared in disgust and disbelief. Mr. Zsasz stepped toward him, "I didn't like his voice, why don't you tell me who wants to see me and then we'll go get lunch, okay?" As Mr. Zsasz spoke he pulled the knife across the back of his own neck making his 190th scar.
As Nightwing parked his muscle car in the Batcave he looked around. Haven't been here in so long, but this place still makes me feel like a little kid. The cave's interior was covered in mementos from past cases, many of which Bruce and Dick had worked on side by side on. That was then, they had been through some troublesome times since, but he hoped they were past and now, as Nightwing, he felt more than comfortable with not only his life but also in his relationship with Bruce, not as a sidekick any longer, but as an equal partner.
Lost in his memories, Nightwing ran his hand over a glass display case holding the uniform of the second Robin, Jason Todd. A sound to his left rouses him from his stupor, "Alfred?" he Nightwing asks. Suddenly a pinkish-purple fist flies at his face. "Whoa!" Blocking the punch, Nightwing grabbed his attacker and twisted the arm behind his attacker's back. Before he could begin questioning his attacker, Nightwing's foot was slammed hard by the heel of a boot. The pain in his foot caused Nightwing to loosen his grip on the arm, giving his attacker the opening it had been wanting. Giving Nightwing an elbow to the solarplexus followed by a roundhouse kick that should have rendered him unconscious, if he was still there. Nightwing split his legs and dropped under the kick and, with the grace of a thousand reps of practice, he used his right leg to sweep his attacker's legs out from under them, then nipped up to a standing position.
"Hey, how did you do that?" asked Spoiler.
"I was trained by the best," smirked Nightwing as he looked down at Spoiler's prone body.
"Yeah," Spoiler said as she got to her feet and dusted herself off, "so was I, but I don't remember anyone telling me someone moves that fast. You put the boss to shame in the gymnastics department."
"You should see me make an omelet, I really blow him away," Nightwing joked as he wandered over to the computer terminal. "So, where is he at anyway?"
"No idea, I don't even know where Tim is at right now, I'm just hanging out waiting to get the green light to go after these ninjas that nearly took him down." Stephanie punched her gloved fist into a heavy weight bag.
"You may not be ready for that, Spoiler," said Nightwing. "Why, I remember when I was Robin, I was always trying to go after the bad guys before I was ready. You have a lot of training to go through before you're out there taking on whole gangs on ninjas by yourself.."
"What was that, like twenty years ago," Steph mumbled. Who does he think he is? she thought to herself. "Besides, I've been training with Tim, and we can handle ourselves in any situation."
"You think you can," stated Nightwing. "No one's really that capable Steph, not even Batman. Tim is great, and I've seen him get out of horrible trouble in the past, he's very capable, but eventually everyone meets their match. You just have to hope that when that time comes, you have enough of a back up plan to keep you alive."
"Yeah, sure," Steph said again kicking the training bag. "Tim has yet to meet his match. He's probably a better Robin than you ever were. I mean he's already taken down the Joker, Steeljack, KGBeast, and a whole bunch of others. I heard that when you were Robin, you were nearly killed by Two Face and it shook you up so bad you're still afraid of him."
Nightwing's look darkened slightly, "Afraid? Yeah Steph, I am afraid. Afraid that one day Harvey Dent or Joker or Scarecrow or any of the other crazies we face each and every night will get in that one shot, that one lucky break that they need to kill one of my family members. Afraid that I'll be standing over their grave wishing they had seen it coming, wishing that I could have been there to help them."
"I think Batman and Robin have their situation under control; if there's anyone around here that seems to have a track record of needing to be rescued it would be you," she said as she continued to kick and punch the training bag. "Why, I even heard that Oracle had to send Black Canary to Bludhaven to help you take out Killer Croc. I mean that guy's barely a blip on the radar screen and you even let some cop get killed right in front of you."
The bag in front of Stephanie Brown exploded into sand as Nightwing's foot busted through the outer leather casing. "You don't have a clue about what you're saying!" he shouted. "You think Croc is a pushover? You think he's going down after a few little kicks and some snappy banter? You think that because you're a hero that everything is going to turn out alright? I've got news for you 'Spoiler': the good guys don't always win in our life. This isn't a game! When someone gets shot, they bleed and they can die. And if you have a friend, they are in jeopardy every single moment they are around you. I hope that someday you aren't watching a friend die and are wishing that it was you instead."
Nightwing walked from Spoiler and the destroyed training bag and got inside his car. "When Bruce or Tim show up, tell them I came by to say 'hello'." The car roared out of the Batcave leaving Stephanie Brown alone, humbled, and quite ashamed.
The Student had defeated the Master. He now he looked over his clan of ninjas. "Look at you: Masters of your craft and you hide in the shadows, fearful of the city's guardians. Tonight I'll show you how to kill a bat, and then we make this city ours." He took to the rooftops and began his hunt, followed by a pack of dark ninjas. Batman would be nice but I'll settle for the brat just as much. It would probably be better if I get to the kid first though, the look on Batman's face as he sees his junior partner's corpse. Edward Nigma smiled to himself, Tell me Batman, what's black and blue and red all over? Robin.
"What the Hell is this?" Nightwing said out loud as he was driving down Kane Street. Above him the lights of the Gotham Tower were blinking out one by one, finally the only lights left on the north face of the building formed an arrow pointing to the top of the seventy-story building and the letter "R" formed with the others. "If that's not an open invitation, then I don't know what is." He hit the gas on the car and made his way to the tower.
After one of the longest climbs he could remember, Nightwing found himself on the roof of one of the largest buildings in Gotham City. As the sun set on the horizon, Nightwing felt the cold wind against his back; at this high up the winds could get pretty strong and cold. He scanned the roof for movement; his starlight lenses in his mask were useless with the sun still barely out. The roof was massive, with plenty of hiding places, a perfect ambush spot. He crept out from the shadows, better to spring the trap now, then let the anticipation make him jumpy.
Suddenly, from the shadows to his right, three ninjas appeared wielding swords with expert ease. Nightwing did a handspring backwards and pulled his escrima sticks from his back. "And a good evening to you too," he said as the ninjas advanced on his position. The swords came slicing in and Nightwing met them with his steel sticks, blocking blow after blow, not able to mount any offense of his own. To his left he saw another form move, some sort of bow in it's hand. Nightwing bent his body backwards at the waist, dodging both sword slice and the fired arrow at the same time. The deadly projectile punctured the ninja in the middle, causing him to grasp his chest and fall backwards, dead far to soon for a normal arrow strike. Poison, he thought. Someone's playing for keeps here.
Nightwing threw his left escrima stick into the shadows; the stick ricocheted off a leg of the radio tower and slammed hard into the archer's face. The other two ninjas realized that their opponent was now handicapped with only one defensive weapon and increased the ferocity of their attack. Nightwing pulled a smoke pellet from his belt and slammed it into the ground, trying to confuse the masked men.
As the smoke cleared, Nightwing's supposed escape route was blocked and he found himself surrounded by nearly twenty masked ninjas. "Wow, you guys are really into the whole togetherness thing. He counted the odds in his head and thought to open a channel to Oracle. Then he thought of the poison the ninjas were using. Then he thought about what Spoiler had said. Then he thought of how he was unable to save Tim Fencik. No one else was going to be harmed because of him. "So, what are you waiting for? I've got plenty for everyone." And the ninjas advanced.
Oracle watched as the display in front of her flashed the image again, "Unbelievable," she said to herself. She watched the footage on a Chinese television station as it showed a video sent to them of the death of the martial artist Jason Dree. Jason was battling a masked fighter who used moves she had never even seen Bruce use. Every blow was meant to either cripple or kill, and they were all done perfectly. This new guy was better than good. Suddenly the radio screeched on, interrupting her viewing.
"Oracle, it's Robin. Have you heard from Nightwing in the last couple of hours?
"Sorry kid, last I saw of him was earlier this afternoon, he was heading to the cave, but that was about five hours ago."
"Yeah, he was here. He and Spoiler got into a little disagreement and he left. I guess he's already in Bludhaven by now.
"Yeah, but don't worry, whatever he's mad about he'll get over it. His head just needs a little clearing after the funeral we attended earlier this week. I'm sure if he needed us he'd call."
"You're right, Spoiler wanted to see him again and apologize. I guess they had an argument over something and she's feeling pretty bad. Let us know if you hear anything alright?
"You got it kid." She canceled the connection and replayed the fight scene again. If this was the guy who took down King Snake in Gotham City, then the whole group would need to see this. Knowing your enemy's style could be invaluable in a fight. She made a copy of the tape to disk and e-mailed it to everyone on her list, "I wonder where Former Boy Blunder is, anyway?"
His costume was torn away at nearly a dozen spots, fortunately it seemed as if they had not poisoned their blades, otherwise Nightwing would have died as the first sword stroke ripped into his arm, not to mention the eight other times they had scored hits. His nose was a little bloody and his hands felt like they were going to fall off from all the striking he had done. And yet, he felt good as he looked over the roof of the Gotham Tower and surveyed his handiwork. Twenty ninjas all lying either unconscious or too dazed to worry about. "Guess Babs was right, I am unbelievable," his voice cracked. He felt too drained to get off the top of the building, Maybe just this once, he thought, I should take the elevator.
As he opened the door that would lead to the fire stairs and then somehow to an elevator an open palm blow struck his face. The strike sent him down to the roof hard on his back, knocking most of his wind out of him. His attacker was dressed similar to the others, but his outfit had more of a green hue to it. Nightwing struggled to get back to his feet, his energy quickly leaving his body, "I had hoped that the young Robin would answer my invitation, but you will do nicely. Tell me…does the Batman think of you as a necessary ally? I really do want your death to affect him deeply."
"No one's dying tonight friend," Nightwing breathed heavily. "In two minutes, you'll be about as much as much a threat to me as the rest of your friends here."
"Arrogance," said the fighter, "what and admirable trait. I don't know what it is, but there is something familiar enough about you that makes my disappointment in killing you instead of Robin dwindle."
Nightwing stared at his opponent, he felt his eyes start to swell, the last blow must have broken his nose. "I know that voice," he said. But like a punch-drunk fighter, Nightwing's mind couldn't put together the Riddler's voice and this man's body.
The Riddler moved in again hard and fast, he threw a feint to the right, and followed it with a leaping kick with his left leg. Blood burst from Nightwing's mouth as his head snapped back. "Ha!" yelled the Riddler. "All too easy." He grabbed Nightwing by the collar and struck at his neck, but Nightwing blocked the blow and gave the Riddler a head butt instead.
Riddler saw stars as blood trickled from his own nose. "Oh, really?' asked Nightwing. He charged in with a right hook that the Riddler blocked with ease. Another left and a roundhouse, all blocked by the Riddler, but Dick was on the offensive now. He kept the pressure up and backed Riddler against a wall, and like a heavyweight boxer he waded in and started landing body blow after body blow keeping Riddler from moving away.
"Enough!" Nigma screamed as chopped hard into Nightwing's chest. As Nightwing backed away to catch his breath he saw the Riddler's mask fall to the side. The other ninjas started to rise, and some made their move toward Nightwing. "NO!" cried Nigma, "go back to the building, this one is mine."
"You?! But that's not possible!" said a shocked Nightwing. "You use riddles and commit burglaries, you can't fight!"
"That was then," smiled Nigma through a mouth that was now missing a tooth. He charged in and the fight began anew, as the two combatants parried and struck once more without an audience to appreciate their grace and form.
"Robin, this is Oracle."
Robin and Spoiler were making their nightly rounds near the waterfront in hopes of catching Louie Franoli's gang bringing in a load of cocaine when Oracle's alert came through. "Go ahead Oracle."
"I have a report from the GCPD that there is a strange configuration of lights at the Gotham Tower. Reports say that of the lights that are still working, they form an arrow pointing up and the letter R."
"Sounds like you have a fan club," joked Spoiler.
"Yeah, just what I need. Hey, maybe there'll be groupies!" Tim cried, then he cried out in pain as Spoiler punched him in the arm. "Just kidding, we're on it Oracle, but it's probably just some lightweight looking to try and make a name for himself like Kite Man, Captain Boomerang, or the Riddler. Nothing we can't handle."
Riddler. Ironic huh?
As Robin tuned out, Oracle tried to raise Nightwing, he hadn't checked in for quite some time now. The radio beeped to life, "Nightwing?" she asked. Before she got a response a high pitched squeal and crackling static filled the room. "What the heck was that?"
How long has this been going on? Nightwing thought. His body was ready to fall, but Riddler looked fresh as ever. Course he had just fought his way through Ninjas-R-Us to get to this point. He thought this out…softened me up!, Now he's ready to swoop in and finish it. Nightwing touched the radio on his head as it beeped at him, "Nightwing?" asked Oracle's voice. A kick from Riddler closed his left eye and broke his radio.
"Calling for help?" Riddler asked. "That's against the rules. This is an equal bout, my skills against yours, we wouldn't want to sully your honor by bringing in help from the Bat Squad now would we?" Riddler jumped high into the air and brought both feet down at Nightwing's face. Nightwing rolled to his left and swept Riddler's feet out from under him. As Riddler hit the ground, the back of his head smacked the roof, causing him to lie there dazed just near the edge of the rooftop.
Nightwing crawled on top of Nigma and grabbed him by the collar, "Honor?" he yelled. He slammed his fist into Nigma's face, "What do you know about the word?" Again and again he punched Nigma across the face, the troublesome villain was finally defeated, just one last shot and …
"Nightwing!" cried Robin as he and Spoiler made their way onto the roof.
"Robin," Nightwing looked up to see Tim and Stephanie on the other side of the building, dropping his guard for a second. Riddler only needed half that time. He thrust his bent hand into Nightwing's throat and the bottom of his jaw, Nightwing grabbed his own throat, as if he were choking. Riddler scrambled to his feet and stomped on Nightwing's stomach, rendering his body void of oxygen.
"No!" yelled Tim as he ran to Nightwing's aid.
Riddler gave pause as he saw Robin and Spoiler heading his way, he took a step to retreat when Nightwing's hand grabbed his ankle. "You don't know when to quit and die do you?" Nightwing got to his feet and weakly swung at Riddler, missing by a mile and leaving himself wide open. Riddler shot a front kick into the ribs of Nightwing, causing him to teeter on the edge of the building. Riddler smiled through his bloody mouth, "When the Batman joins you in the hereafter, make sure you ask him how it felt to look at your broken body before he faced me in combat." Riddler's last punch knocked Nightwing off the edge, falling seventy stories to his death. Riddler bounded down the steps to the elevator as Robin and Spoiler raced to Nightwing's side.
"Oh my God! Nightwing…!" Spoiler couldn't finish her sentence. The fight at the cave was racing through her head, why had she been so mean to Nightwing? He was trying to give her helpful advice, but she had to play the hard case, the little know-it-all. Now she would never get to say she was sorry.
Robin and Spoiler raced to the edge and looked over at the street far, far below them. "Tim, I don't believe it, he's really gone," Spoiler started crying uncontrollably.
Robin stared down the side of the building, tears forming in his eyes, "Dick."