My "Coming Soon / To Do" List for Fan-Fic

Okay, so since I'm tired of trying to remember everything that I have planned for in the future for fan fics, I've decided to make a list of everything I need to get done, including future projects I'm not working on. This... is more just for me, but I think there might be, like, one or two people out there who might be interested in what I'm working on, so it never hurts. Note that the list is not necessarily the order in which I'll be doing things, it's just the order that I thought to put them down.

1. Finish reformatting and editing my Ravager series (because I'm a glutton for punishment...). So much work to be done here... at least I'm almost halfway done. But this is first priority, so most of my other stuff won't get done until I'm done this.

2. Start a Runaways fan fic. I miss them too much to not do something with them, and now with Nico and Chase lined up to probably die in that dreadful upcoming series that will not be named, I'm going to be completely ignoring all canon Marvel and just focus on my own version of The Runaways.

3. Continue 'Extraordinary Persons'. I really do want to turn this into an actual comic eventually... but to do that I need to pay an artist, make a pitch, submit to publisher, etc, etc. And even then it's a long shot. So... might as well just keep writing for now.

4. Work on my DC Genesis projects. Most of this is on hold until there's an opening in the current Secret Six series for me to help co-write it, but I need to work on it eventually.

5. Super Secret Project. One that I may announce soon...

Start the Conversation

The Ravager - Night of the Wolf (#41-47) 2nd Edition

Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy/Ruby, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer, Officer Stevens, Officer Harrow, Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all its interior locations of my own creation.

Rating: T+

Note: The seventh arc in my Ravager series to be remastered into prose format and edited to make it better.

My Fan-Fic Archives: http://www.comicvine.com/myvine/ravager4/ravager4s-fan-fic-archives/87-79374/

---

Chapter #41

The building was nothing but an empty shell right now. Rose had only signed the lease on it a couple of weeks ago, and the process of cleaning it out and fixing it up had been a long one. By the time she was finished with it, though, it would be her very own martial arts studio, a place where she would teach others how to do what she did; well, not all aspects of what she did, just the fighting part.

When trying to think of a new job to take on during the day, it only made sense to find something that she was good at. The martial arts, which she had taken to new levels ever since her time under Richard Dragon's tutelage, was probably the one thing she was best at. It had been a part of her life since she was old enough to throw a punch, after all. Might as well get paid to teach it to others.

There was still quite a ways to go, though. Not only did she need to finish fixing up the studio, but she also needed to start ordering equipment, setting up serious advertisements, organizing personal records, and a whole other manner of business aspects that she was still new at. Fortunately, she wasn't in this alone. Becky had been incredibly supportive of this endeavor, even taking days off work to help with the building preparations.

One of those days just so happened to be today, painting day. Both dressed in protective coveralls, the two women worked ardently to apply the selected beige colored paint to the walls, using large, long rollers, and smaller brushes for the edges. They had a lot of space to cover, and most of the day to get it done.

“Thanks again for taking the day off to help,” Rose said, wiping a stray paint droplet from her brow.

“Ah, not a problem,” Becky assured. “I'm burning through my sick days pretty quick, but it's worth it.”

“You'll still let me make it up to you, of course.”

Becky smiled, kneeling down with a small brush and painting along the wall near the floor. “Won't hear any arguments from me.”

“I'm thinking dinner by candlelight, maybe a walk in the park, then back to my place for a little... after dinner entertainment?” she suggested.

“Ha, aren't you the romantic one?” Becky said, flashing a playful smirk.

Rose gave a little grin of her own, as she dipped her roller back into the paint bin. “Only when I want to be.”

“Sounds lovely to me,” Becky said, “but shouldn't you be making time to go out and beat up some crooks?”

“Hey, even superheroes deserve some time off.” Rose took a step back, giving her finished section of wall a careful inspection. “I think the city will survive without me for one night. Hasn't been a whole lot of activity lately, anyway. By the way, your sister can watch Holly tonight, right?”

Becky nodded, uttering a small laugh under her breath. “So long as you keep paying her, she'll watch Holly as many times as you want.”

“Good, then we're all set for tonight.”

“What's on the agenda for the rest of today, anyway?” Becky asked, glancing up from her spot on the floor.

“Well, in a few hours I'll need to pick up Holly from school,” she explained. “Then, we're headed to the mall for a live demonstration.”

Becky lifted her eyebrows curiously. “A demonstration?”

Rose nodded. “Yeah, just something I put together last week. Going to be showing off a few things, give people a taste of what they can learn from me. Just some advance publicity to get my name out there. By the time I open these doors, I want to have people already lining up.”

“And Holly's helping with this demonstration, is she?”

“Well, she is my only student so far, so it only makes sense.”

Folding her arms over her chest, Becky raised an eyebrow. “And what about me, ah? You're teaching me, too.”

“True... but you're still a rookie,” Rose said. “Holly's been learning from me for a year now.”

“Oh, a rookie, am I?” Dropping her paint brush, Becky hopped up to her feet and took a defensive stance, one that Rose had taught to her during the course of the past few weeks. “Care to test that?”

For a moment, Rose just stared at her, studying the woman's form. “Your back foot is way too far forward. Slide it back a bit.”

Glancing down at her feet, Becky pushed her back foot farther behind her, then looked up again. “Okay, now let's go.”

“And your body is too open. Turn it more to the side.”

Frowning, Becky turned her body more to the side, narrowing her stance. “That better?”

“A bit, but now your elbow is-”

“Oh come on!”

“Alright, alright,” Rose said, trying to hold back an amused snicker. “But you asked for it.”

Without even giving Rose a chance to drop her paint roller, Becky lunged in with high kick. Though Becky's aim was fine and balance decent, Rose could see so many openings in the attack that she almost couldn't decide which one to take advantage of. Bringing a hand up, she simply blocked the kick, then threw the leg to the side, forcing Becky off balance.

Becky stumbled briefly before regaining her balance, then came in quick with roundhouse elbow. Stepping to the side, Rose caught Becky's arm, twisted it around behind her, and forced it against her back. Letting out a small yelp, Becky stiffened up straighter, trying to escape from the hold. Unfortunately, she couldn't do anything to free her arm, as even the slightest movement caused the painful and uncomfortable hold to tighten.

“So, what was that you were saying?” Rose asked, curling an amused smirk across her face.

“I can get out of this!” Becky declared. “Just... just give me a second here.”

Again, she attempted to spin and yank her arm away free. After failing multiple times, however, Rose decided to end the futility. Sweeping her leg between Becky's, Rose knocked the woman face first to the floor. Becky landed on her stomach with a surprised groan, air rushing from her lungs. Rose then mounted her from behind, sitting atop her rear end and continuing to force her arm firmly against her backside.

“I'm waiting for your miraculous comeback,” Rose said.

Uttering a frustrated breath, Becky pushed herself slightly upward with her free arm. She managed this for only a brief moment before collapsing back to the floor. “It's coming... just you wait...”

Leaning forward a little more, Rose whistled quietly to herself, as the woman beneath her continued to struggle to no avail.

Eventually, Becky gave up, letting out a long sigh. “Hijo de puta... fine, you win.”

Releasing the hold, Rose lay herself down across Becky's backside, pinning her to the floor. “Still got a lot to learn.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” she said, with a small roll of her eyes.

“Come on, let's get back to work.”

Before Rose could get up, however, Becky suddenly rolled over. Rose was forced to roll in the same motion, ending up flat on her back, with Becky now poised over her, hands holding her wrists.

“You realize I can think of at least twelve different ways to throw you off, knock you out, or otherwise incapacitate you from this position, right?” Rose said.

“Probably.” Moving in closer, Becky brought their lips together for a deep kiss, one of passion and warmth that they held for a long time. When Becky finally pulled back, she smirked knowingly. “But you won't.”

“And what makes you so sure?”

“Because, as much ass as you kick-” Becky leaned closer, kissing along Rose's neck now. “-I'm still the lead in this relationship.”

Exhaling a long breath, Rose reached up her arms and wrapped them gently around Becky's neck. “Mmm... so you are.”

---

The live demonstration, which would begin in roughly five minutes, had brought in a fairly sizable crowd, some of whom had seen the fliers and thought it would be interesting, and others still who were just curious about the stage set up just outside the food court. Dressed in a white gi, Rose stood off to the side doing a series of stretches to loosen up. Holly, dressed in similar attire, did the same nearby, sitting flat against the floor and leaning over her legs stretched out in front of her. Though Rose would be the one doing a majority of the demonstration, Holly had her own small part to play. Aside from that, though, the only others involved were the few guys that Rose had hired to hold boards and set up equipment; basically, the grunt workers.

“Almost ready to go?” Rose asked, looking over to Holly.

Holly glanced up from the floor. She gave a couple nods, but also went through several hand signs. I think so... but I'm nervous.”

“Hey, relax, you'll do great,” Rose assured. “Just do what we practiced and they'll love you, promise.”

People were suckers for talented kids, after all. Once they got a load of what Holly could do, they'd be lining up to register for Rose's upcoming classes. At least, that's what she hoped.

Alright, I'll try to do good.”

Rose smiled, giving Holly a warm pat on the shoulder. “You'll do great.”

Several minutes later, the announcer took the stage, speaking into a microphone. He did a fine job of explaining what the demonstration was all about, what Rose was trying to accomplish through it, and giving out the general information for the future opening of her martial arts studio. By the time he was done speaking, the crowd appeared genuinely captivated with anticipation. Time to give them what they wanted.

“And without further ado, ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer said, gesturing off to the side of the stage, “I give you the owner herself, the lovely, the amazing, the talented, Rose Wilson!”

Okay, so maybe he didn't have to lay it on quite so thick, but he did his job. Taking in a deep breath, Rose walked out on stage and gave the crowd a wave, receiving a small applause in greeting. She began the demonstration by going through various forms that she prepared. Sure, in a real fight, pre-planned forms were generally meaningless, but for a demonstration they sure did look good.

Though starting off slow and basic, she soon mixed in a variety of quick and advanced moves, even showing off some impressive acrobatic techniques. Again, not the most practical moves to make in a fight, but this demonstration was about putting on a show to get people's attention. It just had to look pretty. There would be a time for teaching the proper way to fight, and a time for showing off. Right now, this was a time for showing off.

About twenty minutes into her forms, the crowd really started getting into it, clapping and whistling after each string of moves she made. After finishing the last of her forms, she stepped forward and took a bow, allowing a few moments for everyone to get all the applauding out of their systems. Looking down into the crowd, she spotted Becky standing there in the front row and gave her a wink. Becky responded with a smile, blowing a kiss back at her.

Next up was the board breaking demonstration, a lot of people's favorite for some reason. It really was a simple task, breaking a board, at least once you know what you were doing. Yet, it also looked cool and tended to impress those watching. Once the men she had hired to hold the boards got into position, she didn't just simply kick or chop the boards in half, oh no. She did it in style, unloading quickly, precisely, and gracefully on her targets. She flipped herself around from board to board, each time leading with a new strike that snapped the plank in half. Within several minutes, she broken two dozen boards in the most impressive fashion that she knew how, earning even more applause this time. Again, she walked up to the center of the stage and took a bow.

And then, it was Holly's turn. The announcer took a moment to introduce her, calling her Rose's 'only current student.' The crowd watched with intrigue, as the small, ten year old girl came out on stage and bowed to them, then began going through her own forms. Though not nearly as stylish and advanced as Rose's performance, it was still an impressive sight for someone her age. Within moments, Holly had the entire crowd eating out of the palm of her hand. Before she had even finished her performance, the crowd broke out into cheers and applause. Holly finished her demonstration, coming to the center of the stage to give a bow, with a bright, beaming smile.

With the demonstration now coming to a close, the announcer returned to the stage and brought the microphone up to his lips. “Alright, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for joining us today for this impressive live demonstration. Remember, The Red Rose Martial Arts Studio opens in exactly two weeks, so if you feel like learning a little something cool, be sure to sign up for classes in advance. More information can be found on the fliers being passed out to you now.”

A brief moment later, a couple of snide, mocking voices called out over the the crowd. Two boys stood off to the side, next to the stage, both dressed in black gis. One leaned against the railing casually, while the other, the one voicing his opinion the loudest, stood straight with his arms folded.

“Come on! Don't fall for that crap, that was lame!” the boy yelled out. “Just a bunch of flashy moves!”

The announcer blinked over in their direction, shifting a little on the stage. “Uh... just ignore the peanut gallery, folks, no need to-”

Before he finished his sentence, however, Rose walked up to the man and put a hand on his shoulder. “Give me the microphone.”

“Uh... if you say so.” The announcer shrugged, passing her the microphone. “Here you go.”

Taking a few steps forward, Rose sat on the edge of the stage, looking over at the two boys. “So, I believe you were saying something?”

“Heck yeah I was!” one of them replied. “Just stating how completely bogus that performance was.”

“Now what makes you say that?” Rose leaned forward a bit, a rather amused expression coming to her face. “Really, I'm curious.”

“Trust me, I know theatrics when I see them. I've been doing this for years, and all I saw there was a bunch of showing off,” the boy stated, looking around at the crowd. “People, you really want to learn some serious martial arts, come to the White Tiger Dojo, right across from the food court.”

Glancing behind her, Rose noticed said dojo. Huh, quite the oversight to have a martial arts demonstration right outside another martial arts school. “White Tiger Dojo, huh? Must be some pretty skilled students there, if you're boasting this much.”

“Of course there are. Like me, for example.”

“Hmm, I see,” she said, pursing her lips slightly. “And what's your name?”

The boy folded his arms, smirking. “Name's Jimmy.”

“So, Jimmy, you're saying that I'm all show, no substance, that it?”

“You heard me.”

“So you'd be able to beat me in a sparring match, right?” she asked, lifting an eyebrow at him.

“Of course I would,” he said, maintaining his smug grin. “But I don't fight girls. It's not respectable.”

Rose chuckled. “Sounds more like you're scared to fight one, if you ask me.”

A few laughs emerged from the surrounding crowd, causing Jimmy to scowl. “I'm not scared! I just don't hit girls, that's all.”

“Well, that's good news, then, because I'm not a girl,” Rose said, flipping herself back up to her feet. “What you see here is all woman.”

Jimmy's eyes narrowed, his frown deepening. “I'm still not fighting you.”

“Tell you what, Jimmy. You face me in a spar right here, right now, and if you beat me, I'll publicly endorse the White Tiger Dojo.” She paused a moment, tapping a finger to her chin, and then added, “And, to make it fair, I'll fight blindfolded, with one arm tied behind my back.”

“You're insane, how's that fair?”

“Because then you might be able to hit me.”

More laughter arose from the crowd. Jimmy's scowl grew, jaw tightening. “And if I refuse?”

“Then I get to tell people how Jimmy, the loudmouth from the White Tiger Dojo, was too afraid to man up to a direct challenge,” she answered.

At this point, Jimmy had no choice but to accept, lest he be scrutinized or made fun of for the foreseeable future. After all, with as much as he was boasting, backing down from an open challenge would look really bad for him. So, he uttered out a reluctant breath and then walked up on stage.

“So how do you want to do this?” he asked, loosening up his arms.

“Pretty simple, first one on their back loses.”

Jimmy scoffed. “And I thought this was supposed to be a challenge. Alright, let's get this over with.”

“Hold on just a second there.” At her command, one of the workers hurried over with a blindfold. She took it from him, then quickly tied it around over her eyes.

“Wait, you were serious?” Jimmy stared at her dumbfounded. “Geez, you're insane, lady. I mean, you're already missing one eye, that's enough of a disadvantage.”

Ignoring his comments, she then took her right hand and tucked it behind her back, holding it there firmly in place. “We can start whenever you're ready, Jimmy.”

Frowning, Jimmy just shook his head, then took a fighting stance and ran at her. After all, with her handicaps, it should be simple, right? As he attempted to grab her, though, he quickly realized that he was in over his head. Rose pushed his arms to the side, spun around him, and then swept her leg around behind his feet, causing him to stumble. Before he could recover his balance, Rose followed through with a spinning roundhouse kick straight to his back, putting a little bit more force into it than she probably should have.

Jimmy plummeted to the floor in an instant, just lying there and blinking in surprise. “Wha- what the... how the hell did you do that?”

Lifting the blindfold off, Rose stood over him and folds her arms. “Years of practice. Don't suppose you have anymore smart ass comments you want to make, huh?”

“No...” he muttered,

“That's what I thought.”

Taking the microphone again, the announcer came forward, glancing back at Jimmy for a moment before speaking to the crowd. “And there you have it, let's give a big hand for Ms. Wilson!”

More applause, more cheers. Rose gave them all a parting wave, then finally headed off the stage to regroup with Holly and Becky.

“Pretty fancy moves up there,” Becky said, greeting her with a quick kiss.

“Yeah, well not just me.” She put a hand on Holly's shoulder, giving the girl a warm smile. “Holly did great, too.”

Becky smiled. “Si, she really did. Grats, girl.”

Holly beamed, holding up a hand for a firm high five.

“Now then, I think it's time we-” Becky abruptly paused mid-sentence, however, her gaze falling on Rose's arm. “Rose, you're bleeding.”

“Huh?” Glancing down, Rose noticed that, indeed, her arm was bleeding, a bright red spot beginning to soak through the sleeve of her gi. “What the hell?”

“Are you alright?” Becky asked. “Did you bang into something?”

“I... no, I don't think so,” she said. “Doesn't even hurt. Hold on, let me get this cleaned up. Wait here with Holly?”

“Yeah, sure thing.”

Leaving them, Rose hurried into the nearby women's restroom. Once inside, she stood in front of one of the sinks and raised her sleeve, staring down at her arm. It was the same arm that Kubrick had bitten over three weeks ago, when he was in his werewolf form. The wound had never really fully healed, completely out of the norm for her. An injury like that should have fully repaired itself in no more than a few days. The deep, burning pain had gone away a long time ago, sure, but some of the bite marks had yet to close up. This was the first time that the wound had decided to spontaneously bleed, though.

Swallowing a hard lump in her throat, she thought back to what Dick told her those weeks ago, how bites spread the lycanthropy virus, in most cases. She had never given it much thought, though, after it happened. After all, to think that she could be turning into a werewolf... it was a laughable thought.

Wasn't it?

---

Rose and Becky lied in bed, both taking in deep breaths. Rose wiped sweat from her brow, then let her arm fall back limply against the mattress. She was exhausted, actually exhausted, which was saying something for someone with her levels of endurance. Closing her eye momentarily, she sucked in a large breath of air and held it for a second, then let it out in a sudden puff.

Becky, equally exhausted, held one of her hands out and let it come down to rest on Rose's thigh. “Dios mio... you were... really aggressive tonight. What on earth came over you?”

“I, uh... I'm not sure,” she said, sucking in a large breath. “It just... sort of happened.”

“Well, whatever the reason... I liked it.”

Sitting up straight, Rose uttered a small sigh and rubbed her forehead. Then, she slid out of bed and walked across the bedroom. “Be back in a sec, bathroom.”

Closing the door behind her, Rose swallowed and leaned forward against the sink, staring at her naked reflection in the mirror. She suddenly realized just how much of a mess she looked, her face pale and eye bloodshot. Turning on the faucet, she cupped her hands together, filling them with water and then splashing her face. It did nothing to clear her head or get her body to calm down. She was still breathing heavily, chest heaving and struggling to gain air. But it was not just the exhaustion after a rough night of sex causing it. There was something else... she felt almost ill.

A fit of coughing suddenly ravaged her throat. She leaned forward, hacking out a thick mist of crimson into the sink. When the coughing finally ceased, she wiped her lips clean and stared down at the blood in shock. Then, she slowly turned her gaze back to the mirror, only to emit a surprised gasp at the sight of her reflection. Her eye, it was a different color. Not blue now, but bright red instead. And the pupil was slitted, elongated down the entire length of the iris.

Pulling her gaze away hurriedly, she brought a hand up to her eye and rubbed it furiously, as if trying to scrub the monstrous change away. When she blinked back at her reflection again, she uttered a relieved breath; her eye was back to normal. Still, though, she shrank backwards slightly and clenched her jaw, panicked thoughts running through her head and gaze locked on the bloody sink.

What the hell is happening to me?

Chapter #42

The building was filthy, the floors and furniture caked with thick layers of dust and dirt, and most of the windows were broken. In one of these old, dirty rooms, a young girl named Jennifer, just turned sixteen three days ago, sat tied to a chair with a gag over her mouth. She wasn't there by choice, of course. No, she had been snatched up right off the streets by some lunatic in a white van, gagged, bound, and then thrown in this house where no one could find her.

Taking in deep, shaky breaths, Jennifer swallowed and looked frantically around the room, as though she'd suddenly find something that could help her. Of course, it wouldn't do her any good. She'd already been here for hours, sobbing and crying out muffled screams from behind her gag. By this time, her eyes were so red and puffy that they itched something awful, but with her hands and feet tied together, she couldn't rub them.

The man who had kidnapped her had been gone most of the day, off doing whatever the hell it was he did. He hadn't been back to feed her, let her go to the bathroom, or otherwise take care of her in any way. Then again, why would a scum sucking, kidnapping b**tard bother with that? He didn't care about her, he only wanted her for... whatever he wanted her for. Ransom, maybe... or something more twisted and sick.

As if her situation couldn't get worse, she suddenly heard the front door opening, then footsteps approaching from down the hallway. A small, muffled shriek emerged from her throat, as she struggled in her seat, trying desperately to get away. A short moment later, the kidnapper came into view, entering through the doorway and staring down at her. He titled his head to the side a moment, a sickening grin curling across his face.

“Well, well, almost forgot about you,” he said.

Coming forward, he closed the door behind him and knelt in front of her. Jennifer shut her eyes, turning away and sobbing. She tried to scream for help, but no one was going to hear her quiet, gagged voice. No one was going to help her. The kidnapper reached forward now, grabbing at her clothes, causing Jennifer to fly into full on panic mode, thrashing and struggling to get away.

But he was having none of that. Winding up his arm, he whacked her square across the face, sending her crashing to the floor.

“The more you struggle, the harder this is going to be,” he said, a maniac chortle bursting from his throat. “Just relax.”

He grinned widely, kneeling down and beginning to grab at her clothes again. Jennifer couldn't hear anything over her sobbing, and her heart pounding inside her chest. She wanted to be anywhere else but here, just wanted this to stop! Why is this happening to her?!

And then, a loud crash filled the room. A shadowed figure burst through one of the few unbroken windows, rolling across the floor briefly before popping up with a high kick that caught the kidnapper across the jaw. With a pained grunt, the man tumbled backwards, dazed. He didn't get a chance for respite, however, as the attacker was on him again, lifting him up and slamming him into the wall several times, then brutally beating him across the face, and finally finishing him off with a whirling kick to the side of the head, knocking him out cold.

Jennifer watched the whole thing with wide eyes, hiccuping every now and then, a side effect of her frantic sobbing. She swallowed nervously, as the attacking figure, a woman from the looks of it, turned around and approached her. When the woman removed her gag and began to untie her, Jennifer blinked in surprise, trying to calm her breaths.

“Y-you're the Ravager,” she stammered, pulling her hands free from the loosened bonds. “I-I've... I've seen you on the news. Read about you in the papers.”

“Yeah, that's me,” Ravager replied, moving on to her tied ankles.

“The kids at school, th-they say you're a bad person.”

Ravager gave the girl a brief stare, pulling the last of the rope free and then helping the girl up to her feet. “Sounds like the kids at your school don't know what they're talking about.”

Jennifer just stood there, staring in shock at the woman. “Y-you saved me.”

“That's kind of what I do around here,” she explained, “in spite of some popular theories. I help people.”

Uttering an elated breath, Jennifer then suddenly lunged forward and threw her arms around Ravager in a tight hug. Ravager stood there, releasing a low groan, and then finally raised her own arms up to return the hug, albeit somewhat limply.

“Thank you! Just... thank you so much!” Jennifer called out, sobbing into Ravager's shoulder. “I thought I was... that he was going to... Oh my god, my friends are never going to believe this!”

“Yeah, right.” Ravager held onto Jennifer for a few more moments, then pushed her away slightly. “Come on, let's get you down to the police station. I think your parents are waiting for you there.”

---

Police Chief Gerald Palmer opened the door to his office and let out a small yawn, walking over to his desk. It was getting late now, near eleven o'clock, the time he normally went home. Not tonight, though, with the sudden commotion at the station. A young couple had come in earlier, saying that their daughter hadn't made it home from school that day, and that she wasn't answering her phone. When she didn't arrive back home by dinner, the parents came to the police station to report her missing.

Of course, they technically couldn't file a missing persons report until 24 hours after the believed disappearance, but they were quite adamant and refused to leave the station until the police started searching. Palmer had assured them that the police would do what they could, though he hadn't actually expected anything to turn up. Lo and behold, however, Jennifer, the missing girl, showed up at the station a half hour ago, safe and sound, if a little roughed up. Not only that, but the man who had kidnapped her was waiting right on their doorstep, tied up and unconscious.

“Now I can only imagine how that happened,” he breathed, glancing over towards the door.

As expected, Ravager stepped out from behind the door, arms crossed over her chest. With a small nudge of her foot, she kicked the door closed. “The girl okay?”

“Sure, she's fine,” Palmer replied. “Parents are taking her home soon as they finish filing charges against the kidnapper.”

Ravager breathed deeply, nodding. “Good.”

“So tell me, how did you find her? She'd only been missing maybe eight hours.”

“This gear isn't just a fashion statement, Chief,” she explained. “Comes with a whole slew of nifty upgrades, like enhanced hearing. I heard her cries while on patrol and investigated. Got there just in time, too.”

“Upgrades, huh?” Palmer took a moment to look over the woman's outfit. “That the reason for the new costume?”

“One of the reasons.”

No longer did Ravager dress in her former costume, which had always been a rip off of her father's, of Deathstroke's. Sure, the costume had served her well for years, but it was time to move on from it, time to get away from her father's colors. So, she'd had Dick help her design something new, not only a different style but also more protective and durable. Now, her armored costume was a sleek design of blue and black, with some red, white, and grey trim.

The headgear now consisted more of a helmet than just a cloth mask, offering much more protection to her head. The faceplate was still divided into two halves, like her old mask, one side black and the other white, with an eye hole covered in a red lens. The very back of the helmet opened up to allow her long white hair to flow out of, which she now kept back in a ponytail. She could accomplish much more than just night vision with this new equipment, and she'd been putting it to very good use these past few weeks.

“Well, in any case, good work,” Palmer said, sitting down behind of his desk. “I have to say, I had my doubts about you when we first made this little arrangement... but, admittedly, you've been a big help.”

Ravager nodded. “Like I told you, I'm just here to do some good, in the best way I know how.”

“So you did. I'm just glad you're on our side this time. One less thing we have to worry about, not chasing you all over the city anymore.”

“Works out for the both of us, believe me.” On that note, Ravager opened the window and hopped outside, hanging off the edge of the building.

“Going back out on your, uh, patrol?” Palmer asked, swiveling his chair around to look at her.

“For now. If something major comes up, you know how to contact me.”

Making her way down into a nearby alley, Ravager approached her new ride, an even more advanced motorcycle specially designed by Batman. She tried her best not to think about just how much she was indebted to him, what with him pretty much bankrolling her entire operation in Silverstone. He had insisted that she didn't ever have to worry about paying him back, but still, it was a thought that constantly nagged at her.

As she hopped onto the seat of her new bike, a brief hiss of static came in over the built in headset in her helmet. The following voice echoed crisply and cleanly in her ear. “Nice work on the kidnapping.”

“All in a night's work, Becky. You know that.”

“Of course, of course,” Becky said. “How much longer you plan on staying out, anyway?”

“Couple more hours, at least. Might call it an early night if it's quiet.”

“Just let me know when you're on your way, I'll draw us up a bath.”

“Will do,” Ravager replied, starting up the engine on her bike. “By the way, how's the new command center working out?”

The 'command center' was actually a new, heavily secured panic room setup that Dick had built in her penthouse. Not only did it function as a nearly impenetrable safe area, should anything like Riggs breaking in happen again, but it was also equipped with computer equipment and other technology that could rival Oracle's station. Granted, Becky didn't exactly know how to use most of the stuff yet, but she was learning.

“Like a dream,” Becky said, a certain amount of delight in her tone. “This stuff is pretty sweet, I gotta say. Though, I do have quite a lot of instruction manuals to read up on for half this gear...”

“All in good time. Oracle said she'd be happy to give you some lessons, too, help you out.” Ravager turned onto a back street, gunning forward. “Holly in bed?”

“Si, tucked her in a couple hours ago.”

Ravager paused a moment, thinking carefully, then asked, “You know, with how much time you're spending over my place now, maybe you should consider moving in for good? I mean, hell, you already sleep there most of the time anyway.”

“Well, can't say I haven't thought about it...” she said, uttering a contemplative breath. “And it would be pretty fun, ah? Tell you what, you find time to come help me move my stuff out of my apartment, and I'll be happy to move in.”

Ravager grinned beneath her mask. “I'm sure we can work out a time to do that. In the meantime, keep your eyes and ears on those scanners, let me know if any alerts pop up.”

“Ha, way ahead of you. Alarm just went off at Eastside Jewelers, and you're about five minutes closer than the nearest squad car.

Shifting gears, Ravager spun her bike around and rocketed towards a main street. “I'm on it.”

---

Uttering a long breath, Rose pushed inside her penthouse. She has already changed out of her costume and into a spare set of clothes, now lugging around her gear in a large duffel bag. Heading over to the living room, she tossed the duffel bag to the floor and collapsed onto the couch, putting her feet up on the coffee table. This was just what she needed, to kick her feet up after a long night and relax. Of course, she didn't remain like that for long, as Becky suddenly came up behind her, kissing her cheek.

“Welcome back,” she said. “Bath is ready when you are.”

“Thanks, I'll be right there.” Rose took in a deep breath, slowly letting it out. “I just... need to sit for a minute. Feeling kind of weird.”

“Tiring night, ah?”

Rose snorted out a small laugh. “Well, between the kidnapping, the robbery, the drug dealers, and being shot multiple times... yeah, a bit busy.”

“Ha, you're a tough girl,” Becky said, giving her another kiss. “You'll live.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“So come on.” Becky gave her a pat on the shoulder, then marched back towards the bathroom. “Water's getting cold.”

Rose uttered a tired yawn, then slowly returned to her feet. “Alright, alright, I'm coming.”

She took only two steps, however, before her legs suddenly gave out. She crashed to the floor with a rather loud thud, unable to stand up or even move.

“Rose!” Becky turned around immediately, hurrying to her girlfriend's side and holding a hand to her shoulder. “Rose, what's wrong?”

“I can't... hurts...” she moaned, barely able to get her words out.

“What is it? What hurts?”

But Rose couldn't respond, instead holding her arms around herself and curling up into a ball. Groaning, she began to quiver, shoulder muscles going into spasms. Becky watched in utter shock, having no idea what was going on or what to do. The first thought that went through her head was to call the hospital, but what happened next made her strike that idea. For several brief moments, Rose's face contorted, taking on animal-like features. Becky lurched backwards, a surprised gasp escaping her throat, but the strange transformation disappeared almost as soon as it happened.

And then, without warning, everything was quiet. Rose lied there calmly, motionlessly, hands gripping the carpet. She breathed in deeply, slowly looking up and groaning, a far off look in her eye. “Becky... I think something's wrong with me.”

“Dios... you don't say,” she uttered. “What's going on?”

“When I fought Kubrick... the werewolf, he bit me... I didn't think anything of it at the time, but now I-” Another sudden flare of pain ripped through her body. She held her stomach again, crying out and twitching against the floor.

“Oh Madre de Dios, you're kidding me!” Becky exclaimed, nerves beginning to fly into a panic. “Wh-what do I do? How do we fix this?”

“Call... Dick...” she groaned. “Use the... private line. He might... might still be out.”

“Right, okay, just hold on.” Springing back to her feet, Becky hurried into the command room and put on her headset, then placed an immediate call out to Batman.

The other line was silent for what felt like an eternity, but finally a voice answered. “Rose, is that you?”

“Di- uh, Batman! No, this is Becky. We have a problem here.”

“What is it?”

“It's Rose, I think there's something wrong with her!” Becky explained. “She just collapsed, and she's in pain and she's been changing, and I don't know what do do, and-”

“Rebecca, hold on, slow down,” Batman urged. “Deep breaths.”

Sucking in a deep breath of air, Becky slowly calmed herself. “Sorry, I'm okay, really.”

“Now explain again.”

“She was bitten,” Becky said. “By Kubrick, the werewolf, you remember? She... she didn't say anything about it, but now something's happening and I don't know what to do. She's not... I mean she can't really be turning into one, right?” A long silence came in over the other line. Becky waited a moment, leaning slightly forward over her desk. “Hello? Batman?”

Finally, Batman's voice returned over the line. “I've contacted someone who can help, she'll be there shortly. But Rebecca, listen to me, if Rose turns completely... I mean, if she 'wolfs out', for lack of a better term, you need to get Holly and get out of there. Understand?”

“I... yeah, I think so,” she said, holding a hand to her face and bowing her head. “Thanks.”

“Just sit tight, help is on the way.”

A sound of thunder suddenly boomed from the living room, causing Becky to jump a mile and nearly giving her a heart attack in the process. Staring at the door for a moment, she finally forced herself to hurry back into the living room to find out just what the hell was going on... and then froze at the sight of someone else standing in the middle of the penthouse, a woman dressed up in some kind of magician's uniform, complete with top hat, bow tie, magic wand, and fishnets.

“Wha- who are... how did you...?” Becky stammered, blinking at the woman in confusion.

The woman smiled, then gave a gracious bow in greeting. “Zatanna Zatara, mistress of the mystical arts, at your service.”

“Zat...Zatarn... what?”

“You can just call me Z, if you like,” she said.

“Okay... Z,” Becky muttered, lifting a curious eyebrow. “How did you get here so fast?”

“Magical teleportation, of course.”

Becky slowly nodded. “I'll pretend I understand that. So, can you help Rose?”

“Naturally.”Zatanna came forward, rolling up her sleeves and standing over Rose with her wand at the ready. “Batman tells me she's been afflicted with lycanthropy, nothing I haven't cured before. Should have her good as new in a minute.”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Becky plopped herself down on the floor next to Rose, who seemed to be in some kind of delirious daze, sweating and murmuring incoherently to herself.

Zatanna briefly fixed the white gloves on her hands, then gave her magic wand a few fanciful waves and pointed it at Rose. “Nrut ot snamuh yltnenamrep!”

A bright white flash filled the room, forcing Becky to shield her eyes. When the light died away, she opened her eyes again and looked back to see Zatanna halfway across the room on her back, wisps of steam billowing from her body. After a brief moment, the magician sat up straight and held a hand to her head, groaning.

“Uh... are you alright?” Becky asked.

“Sure, sure, fine,” she muttered. “Just a little headache.”

“Well, did it work? Is she cured?”

Zatanna shook her head. “Afraid not.”

“What?!” Becky's throat went numb, her hear sinking in her chest. “But you said you've done this before!”

“I have done this before,” Zatanna said, stumbling back up to her feet. “Unfortunately, my magic isn't so effective against other magics of a higher power.”

“Wait, magics of a higher power?” Becky rubbed her eyes, trying to make sense of things. “I thought we were dealing with a virus here.”

Zatanna pursed her lips, gently tapping her magic wand against her hand. “So did I. But, apparently ,whoever afflicted the werwolf that bit your friend, here, did so through the use of a very powerful curse, powerful enough that I can't lift it... and that's saying something, because there aren't many many beings with that level of magic.

“Qué mierda...” Becky breathed. “You're saying that Rose is cursed, then?”

“So it would seem,” she said. “This isn't just your average lycanthropy virus, this is something else entirely. I can't cure her with my magic.”

“But what do we do? There must to be some way to help her!”

“Of course there is. We'll just be needing a different sort of help, and I know exactly who to contact.”

Becky lifted an eyebrow, giving the woman a curious look. “And who exactly would that be?”

“An old friend of mine,” she explained. “Another expert in the supernatural. He should know of other ways to cure lycanthropy, outside of magic. We'll just need to pay him a little visit, that's all.”

“Well, I can't go with you,” Becky said, shaking her head. “I'm not leaving Rose here like this, and there's a ten year old girl sleeping in the other room who needs looking after.”

“Of course, I wouldn't expect you to. I'll just have Rose come with me, that's all, assuming I can get her back on her feet. Let's see what I can do for her...” Moving forward again, Zatanna held a hand to her chin, thinking for a moment, and then waved her wand. “Niap eb enog!”

Instantly, Rose's pained groans went away, as she slowly fell out of her delirium. Taking in a few deep breaths, she opened her eye and looked around, pushing herself up to her hands and knees. “What... what happened?”

“No ruoy teef!”

And then, Rose inexplicably lurched upwards to her feet, as if pulled by an invisible hand. She stood there a moment, blinking in confusion and turning her attention towards Zatanna. “I could have got up myself, thanks.”

“You probably could have, given a few minutes,” the magician replied, “but we don't have the time to wait around. There's no telling how far along your lycanthropy has spread, and scientific cures only work before your first full transformation.”

Rose swallowed, letting out a cool breath. “How long do you think I have?”

“Oh, could be a few days, or a few minutes at this point. It's different for everyone, especially given the specific nature of your affliction.”

“Cursed, right...” she mumbled. “I heard you talking.”

“But you can help her, right?” Becky asked. “Or your friend, whoever he is?”

Zatanna nodded. “He should, provided we get to him in time. So, hurry up and say your goodbyes.”

Rose turned towards Becky, taking in a small breath and shrugging. “Well, see you soon, I hope.”

“Just come back without fur and fangs, alright?”

“Yeah, no problem there,” Rose said, uttering a soft laugh. “Take care of Holly, too, let her know what's going on.”

“Will do. Be safe, Rose.” Leaning in, Becky gave her a firm, parting kiss, holding it for several moments before pulling back.

Zatanna then raised her wand, waving it around theatrically. “Ekat su ot eht emoh fo Drahcir Tlucco!”

Another sound of thunder boomed in the living room, followed by a bright white flash. When the light died away, both Rose and Zatanna were gone, vanished into thin air.

“Magical teleportation...” Becky said. “Right.”

Chapter #43

When the two women reappeared, Rose took a second to double over and lose the contents of her stomach on the ground. After several moments of coughing and spitting out every last remnant, she uttered a small groan and straightened herself.

“Uck...” she muttered, wiping her lips clean. “I hate teleportation...”

“Not experienced with that particular mode of travel, I take it,” Zatanna said. “You'll get used to it.”

“You say that like I'm going to have to...”

Zatanna merely smirked, as she began leading Rose up a long, winding road through what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. As far as she could tell, there wasn't any civilization nearby, just a lot of grass, trees, bushes, and dirt. Oh, and it was raining. Not just drizzling, either, but nearly pouring.

“I hardly think I'm dressed appropriately for this kind of weather,” Rose said, hugging her arms around herself as the rain began to soak her T-shirt.

“Hmm, you may be right. Hold on, I can fix that in a second. I take it you don't enjoy bright colors?” Rose's unamused stare answered the question well enough. “ Right, anyway. Sserd Esor ni niar etairporppa eritta!”

Instantly, Rose felt her clothing change. She couldn't really describe how it felt, though, having nothing to compare it too. One second, she was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and the next she was garbed in sturdy hiking boots, leather pants, a turtleneck sweater, black trenchcoat, and a wide brimmed hat. For a moment, she just looked down at herself, trying not to cringe too much over the outfit. At least was keeping her dry.

“Not... quite what I had in mind,” she said. “But I guess it works.”

“Good, now if you'll just follow me, we'll be at my friend's home in a minute.”

Shoving her hands into her coat pockets, Rose hurried after the magician woman down the road. In spite of the rain, Zatanna didn't appear to be getting wet... some kind of magical water repellent, perhaps?

“So, why couldn't you just wave that wand of yours and transport us directly to his home, instead of having to walk there from the road?” Rose asked.

“I'm afraid he doesn't like visitors very much,” Zatanna explained. “He's gone and booby trapped his property. Were we to spontaneously materialize in his house, there's no telling what we might set off.”

“And walking there the old fashioned way makes the traps less of a threat?”

“It does when I can see and deactivate them with a few magic words.”

Frowning slightly, Rose folded her arms across her chest and continued following Zatanna. Eventually, they came to the front of a large iron gate, attached to a tall fence encircling some kind of estate... one built in the middle of the wilderness. Quite the odd place to put such an elaborate and expensive looking home, but whatever.

“Nepo!” The gates suddenly swung open, allowing them entrance inside the property. But Zatanna wasn't finished there, waving her wand again. “Wolla efas egassap!”

A small flicker of light burst along the path leading up to the front door, followed by a high pitched hissing that slowly dispersed.

“And that should do it,” Zatanna said, leading the way up the stone path.

The interior of the mansion wasn't exactly what Rose expected. Instead of all the fancy, elegant décor, one might find in an ordinary home such as this, it was what could only be described as 'creepy'. For a moment, Rose half thought that they had stepped into a completely different building altogether. From the outside it, looked like something out of the renaissance. From the inside, however, it looked like something out of a Gothic horror novel, complete with stone gargoyles peering down from the second story balcony. Medieval suits of armor lined the sides of the main hallway, down the center of which was a long red carpet. Every now and then she spotted a glass case sitting on a small table, inside of which were strange artifacts; she noticed a jeweled scepter, an old, rusty helmet, some sort of serrated dagger, and a box made of shiny, black material.

“So... someone actually lives here?” Rose asked.

“Oh yes, this is pretty normal for him,” Zatanna said. “Heck, you should see my place; much creepier.”

“Right... so where is he, anyway?”

“If I had to make a guess, I'd say he's in the sitting room.”

And so the two made their way down the long corridor, eventually coming to a large, heavy wooden door. Without having to physically open it, or even a word from Zatanna, it swung inwards, giving them access beyond. The sitting room was a warm, cozy area, with two arm chairs situated in front of a blazing fireplace and a table with books stacked on it between them.

While one of the arm chairs was empty, a man sat in the other, his legs propped up on an ottoman and a pipe between his lips. Without even looking up from the old, leather bound tome in his hands, he gave a small wave. “Ah, Zatanna, I thought that was you.”

“Greetings, Richard,” Zatanna said, smiling warmly. “It's been a long time. Rose, I'd like to introduce you to Richard Occult, otherwise known as Doctor Occult.”

Finally looking up from his book, Doctor Occult removed the pipe from between his lips and glanced over at them with raised eyebrows. “Rose, you say? I knew a Rose once... but that was a long time ago.”

“Your last name is seriously Occult?” Rose asked.

“Odd names come with the job,” he said. “Such is how the world works.”

“I'm sure... So can you really help me, or not?”

“Well that depends, what's your problem?”

“She's been afflicted by lycanthropy,” Zatanna explained.

Dr. Occult sat up a little straighter, planting the pipe back between his lips and nodding. “Ah, werewolves. Haven't come across one of them in decades. Don't seem to be quite as prevalent nowadays as vampires, or ghouls.”

“I don't really care what's prevalent or not,” Rose said, shaking her head. “I just need a cure.”

“And you're telling me that your magic was unable to strip this condition from her, Zatanna?” he asked, giving the magician a curious look.

Zatanna nodded. “Unfortunately, yes. Her affliction stems from a curse, rather than the traditional strain that I can usually to cure. Whoever delivered that curse on the werewolf who bit her possesses magics far greater than my own; I can' touch it.”

“Intriguing...” Dr. Occult pressed a hand to his chin, thinking carefully. “Not a lot of beings in the world capable of that, now are there? Tell me, Rose, have you already suffered your first transformation?”

“Uh, no, not yet,” she replied. “I mean, I've been having these... episodes, I guess, where my body will start to change, but I suppress it back.”

“Hmm... you're close, then, but not quite there,” he said. “That means there is still time to administer a scientific cure... good.”

“And what if I had already transformed?”

“If you'd already turned,” he explained, “it would be much more difficult... we'd have to find the being who handed out the original curse, and get him or her to lift it from you.”

Rose folded her arms, narrowing her gaze. “Alright, so what exactly is this 'scientific' cure you keep mentioning?”

“A rather intricate concoction with very specific ingredients,” he replied.

“And those ingredients are...?”

“Hold on just a moment. I'll need to dig out one of my old books; memory is a little fuzzy on the subject.” Dr. Occult walked over to a shelf full of books lining the far wall, running his finger along the spines and examining the titles carefully. Finding the proper tome, he removed it from the shelf and slipped it open, scanning the pages. “Yes, here it is. We'll need a sprig of hemlock, a single ginseng root, aconitum, otherwise known as wolfsbane, a wolf's neck bone ground into powder, and a pint of blood from the werewolf that bit you. Mix it all together into a nice cocktail, and you have your cure.”

As he listed the ingredients, Rose cringed. “And I'm supposed to... drink that?”

“That you are,” he affirmed.

“What was the other option again?”

“If you're worried about the taste,” Zatanna said, “I know a spell that can give it the flavor of honeyed wine.”

Rose shook her head, shuddering. “It's more the thought of having to down a cup of Kubrick's blood.”

Zatanna shrugged. “Yes, well, it's the best we can do right now. Unless you'd rather wait around until you turn?”

Letting out a long sigh, Rose folded her arms and looked off to the side. “So what do we go for first?”

“I have some of the easier ingredients lying around somewhere, if you'll give me a few minutes to gather them together,” Dr. Occult said. “I know I have wolfsbane and hemlock... and I should have a ginseng root, too. I'll be just a moment.”

As he left, Rose began to pace around the room, tapping her fingers against her arm. Zatanna stood there, watching her closely but saying nothing.

Eventually, Rose released a distant sigh and held a hand to her head. “So, what if this... I mean, if it doesn't work, if somehow I don't get cured... what happens, then?”

“Well, you'll have to learn how to live with your... condition,” Zatanna explained.

“And how the hell do I do that?”

“With practice. At first, your transformations will come and go, and you'll likely be uncontrollable while in animal form. In time, though, you'll learn to transform at will, and retain your normal consciousness.” She paused, lowering her gaze. “Of course... there will be the hunger.”

Rose frowned. “Why don't I like the sound of that?”

“Because you shouldn't.” Zatanna's gaze narrowed, growing stern. “Werewolves often possess voracious appetites, craving specifically for raw, red meat. Of course, this hunger can be curbed through simply buying and eating a lot of raw steaks, or something similar, but there are times when you could lose control, and when that happens...”

“When that happens, I'll satisfy the hunger with whatever, or whoever is around...” Rose breathed, bowing her head.

“Exactly.”

A long, silent pause came between them, the only sound coming from the occasional popping of burning wood in the fireplace. Eventually, Rose sank into one of the arm chairs and stared into the fire. “Then we'd better get this cure soon.”

Zatanna nodded, holding a comforting hand to her shoulder. “I will do everything I can to help, I promise.”

Dr. Occult returned several minutes later, carrying various jars of ingredients with him. He carefully handed them over to Zatanna, then headed back over to his arm chair. “Now, you have your ginseng, hemlock, and wolfsbane there. So, you'll still be needing a wolf's neck bone, and the blood of the werewolf who bit you, Rose. I'd love to accompany you myself, but I'm afraid I'm working on a case right now; nasty zombie uprising in eastern Romania, and I still need to figure out who the necromancer is raising them all. So, the best I can do is wish you luck.”

“Thank you for your help, Richard,” Zatanna said, giving her friend a firm nod. “It was good seeing you again.”

“And you, as well, Zatanna Zatara.”

---

A short few minutes later, the two women returned outside, in the rain. A small shiver ran up Rose's spine, forcing her to pull the trenchcoat tighter around herself. She didn't know where they were right now, but wherever it was, the temperature was much cooler than back in Silverstone.

“So, which one are we going after first?” she asked.

“The easier of the two would make sense, I think,” Zatanna said, gazing out into the surrounding woods.

“And where are we going to find a wolf's neck bone?”

“From a wolf.” Raising her wand, Zatanna took in a deep breath and concentrated. “Dnes em a tanvres fo eht noom!”

For several moments, Rose just stood there, arms crossed and waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, she went to voice her concerns, only to suddenly see something appear in the distance, coming through the trees. Squinting, she made out the figure to be a large, grey furred wolf, trotting straight up to them. The wolf stopped five paces away from Zatanna, waiting patiently.

Rose hung her mouth open slightly, eyebrows lifting. “How did you...?”

“Magic, remember?” Zatanna then moved forward and knelt next to the wolf, placing one hand on the creature's head, and pointing her wand at its neck. “Evig em ruoy htfif earbetrev.” The wolf the suddenly shuddered and lied down, whimpering. Holding her hand up, Zatanna revealed a small bone, one of the animal's vertebrae, in her palm. “You see? Simple.”

“Uh... that's great and all,” Rose said, giving the wolf a curious look, “but is he gonna be okay?”

Without answering, Zatanna pointed her wand at the wolf again. “Laeh lla sdnuow.” Instantly recovering, the creature popped back up to its feet and ran away back into the trees and shadows beyond. Zatanna watched the wolf disappear into the darkness, then stood up straight. “Thank you for your aid, dear friend.”

“Okay, so that's done... shouldn't we get a move on now? We have to find Kubrick.”

“Yes, of course,” Zatanna replied, holding her hands to her hips. “I just hope you're ready to give my methods of travel another try.”

“Fantastic...”

---

With a small sound of thunder, Zatanna and Rose appeared out of thin air again, landing on their feet in the middle of a back alley, surrounded by boxes, trash bags, dumpsters, and the like. Rose teetered on her feet momentarily, holding herself up against the wall of the building next to her and leaning forward, ready to puke if necessary. While that bout of teleportation hadn't been quite as bad as the first one, she still felt sick as a result.

“Let's please not do that again,” she uttered.

“No promises.”

Rose bowed her head, groaning. “Ugh...”

“Should I give you a minute?” Zatanna asked.

“No... no, I'm fine.” Rose took a moment, taking in a deep breath and straightening herself. “So, are you sure this is the right place?”

“My locator spell is never wrong,” the magician assured. “This is where Michael Kubrick resides.”

“Okay, well then that raises a pretty interesting question: what the hell is he doing in D.C.?”

“A different question for another time, perhaps. That isn't why we're here.”

“Right...” Rose said. “We need his blood, and something tells me he isn't just going to hand it over.”

“I would tend to doubt that,” Zatanna agreed.

“And we can't just outright murder him, even if we would be doing the local populace a favor.”

“We'll try to do this as peacefully as possible... if we can't, then I have other ways of accomplishing what we need.”

“This is the guy that put me in this predicament in the first place,” Rose explained, giving her ally a sidelong glance. “If it's all the same to you, I think I'd rather skip ahead to the part where I ram a sword up his furry-”

“Calm yourself, Rose,” Zatanna urged. “Aggressive emotions maybe speed up your transformation process.”

Narrowing her gaze, Rose folded her arms and stared back at the woman, unamused. “Probably something you should have mentioned earlier.”

Zatanna let out a small breath, then waved Rose along. “In any case, the hotel where Kubrick is staying should be just around the corner. We should hurry.”

As Zatanna made her way towards the mouth of the alley, however, Rose just lifted an eyebrow at her. “Uh, it's probably not my place to say, but should you really be wandering down the streets dressed like a slutty magician?”

“A slutty...” Zatanna turned suddenly, giving bewildered, and rather annoyed glare. “Excuse me?”

“Well, I mean, with the no pants... and the fishnets... and the...” she breathed. “Well, it just seems like that would attract a lot of attention.”

“I wouldn't worry so much how others see me. A simple spell, and everyone out there views me dressed in normal clothes.”

“Oh...” Rose said, folding her arms. “Can you do the same to me?”

“Of course.”

“In that case, I want my gear.”

Shifting her weight slightly to the side, Zatanna let out a cool breath and uttered another spell. “Sserd Esor ni reh elttab raeg.”

In another instant, the heavier clothing and trenchcoat disappeared, replaced by her new and improved Ravager costume, helmet and faceplate included, as well as her swords. She took a few moments to examine herself, making sure everything was in order. “Now this is more like it.”

Now let us be going,” Zatanna said, waving her along.

Chapter #44

Michael Kubrick released a long breath, leaning up against the back wall of the hotel shower and enjoying the feel of hot water on his tired body. He hadn't been expecting his new boss to be working him so hard right off the bat, but the man wanted to push forward with his plans as soon as possible, which meant that Kubrick and Zaria had been quite busy lately.

Of course, it hadn't been all bad. Coming back to the hotel room every night with Zaria, the little minx that she was, had made these last few weeks quite enjoyable. That, and they had even been given a special 'meal' every now and then, when their boss came across someone who needed to disappear. They were, of course, only happy to oblige.

Finishing his shower, Kubrick turned the water off and grabbed a towel, wrapping it around his waist. He was just about ready to get a good night's sleep, after working so late and then handling Zaria. All things considered, it was almost three in the morning now. Letting out a long yawn, Kubrick exited the bathroom, where Zaria should already be asleep waiting for him. What he found when he opened the bathroom door, however, caused him to fly into a sudden, panicked rage.

Zaria was indeed in bed, but wrapped up impossibly tight with the bed sheets, one section crossing over her mouth and preventing her from speaking. She turned her head to look at him, eyes narrowing; she was not at all amused by the two women sitting on the edge of the bed. One of them, Kubrick didn't recognize, some woman dressed as a magician. But the other, he recognized very quickly. Even if it was a different costume, her scent was the same.

“You!” he growled. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Oh, you know, was just in the neighborhood and felt like dropping in to say hi,” Ravager said, with a little wave. “Hi.”

“Mangy b*tch!” Wasting no time, Kubrick lunged across the room, transforming into his werewolf form in mid leap. He didn't make it even halfway across the room before the mysterious magician woman waved her wand and uttered complete nonsense – nonsense that ground him to a halt.

“Nruter ot namuh!”

Instantly, Kubrick shifted back into his normal, human form, losing momentum and crashing straight into the floor at the edge of the bed. The magician woman again cast a spell, this time binding him.

“Parw mih pu!”

A second sheet swirled off the bed, gliding through the air like some kind of demonic snake. In a brief moment, the wide strip of cloth tightly ensnared Kubrick's body, tying him up and not not letting go. The hold was surprisingly strong, much stronger than an ordinary sheet should be.

“The f**k is this?” Kubrick said, wriggling around on the floor like a caught fish.

“Just a little something to hold you still for a few minutes,” the magician stated.

“Yeah, and who the hell are you, huh?” Kubrick's eyes lingered over her for a few moments, then added, “Can't say I mind the outfit, but this hocus pocus crap is really starting to piss me off.”

“My name is Zatanna Zatara,” she replied, “and it would be wise of you not to get on my bad side.”

“Ooh, I'm shaking. Screw off.”

“Shut it, Kubrick.” Ravager folded her arms, glaring down at him. “I didn't come here to fight and trade insults, even if I'd love to work out some of my stress right now.”

Kubrick narrowed his eyes, scowling. “You barge into our hotel room, attack us, tie us up, and expect us to believe that you're not here for a fight?”

Ravager jumped up to her feet, drawing one of her swords in the process and pointing it at him. They couldn't see her face, but it had contorted into an expression of pure, vile anger. “You're lucky I'm not cutting off appendages! With how many people you've hurt, how many lives you ruined, for what you did to me, I should gut you where you stand!”

A sudden flare of pain and dizziness coursed through her, causing her balance to shift and feet to stumble. Dropping her blade, Ravager teetered back against the bed and fell into a seated position, elbows on her knees and hands clutching her head tightly.

“Rose!” Zatanna exclaimed. “You have to be calm.”

Kubrick watched the two for a moment, an amused sneer forming across his face. “Ah, I see what's going on now. The curse is finally starting to take hold, right? You're almost there... almost the same as me. And now you've come to me for... what? To get your revenge?”

“I came here for a cure, you ignorant b**tard!” Ravager retorted. “I won't live like this! I won't live like you!

“A cure? Ha, ain't no cure for this, babe,” he said, maintaining his grin. “I tried, believe me, but eventually I came to accept what I am. What makes you think I'd even know of a cure?”

“You might not know it, but there is a way of curing lycanthropy before the first transformation,” Zatanna said. “Though I require very specific ingredients. Normally, I would simply cure her with my magic, but the curse placed on you is very powerful... and it has transferred to Rose.”

“Well ain't that just a shame? I'm in tears, really.”

Ravager glowered, taking another stepped forward. “I swear I'll start slicing off chunks, you miserable piece of-”

“Rose, shh, calm,” Zatanna urged.

Groaning, Ravager dropped her head back into her hands and tried to ignore the throbbing pounding inside her skull.

“Then what do you need from me, huh?” Kubrick gave the magician woman a cold stare. “Go make your cure somewhere else.”

Zatanna shook her head. “We need you, Michael Kubrick, because the most important ingredient in this cure happens to be blood of the werewolf who bit her.”

Frowning, Kubrick narrowed his eyes, his frown deepening. “No f**king way. You're insane if you think I'm bleeding for you. Forget about the cure and just learn to live with it!”

“Not gonna happen,” Ravager said. “Either you do this peacefully like you're giving to the Red Cross, or my friend here is going to take it from you.”

“You won't even feel any pain,” Zatanna assured.

“Okay, now just hold on a second, ladies,” he said, letting out a calm breath. “I'm gonna let you in on a little secret-”

“Quit dicking around,” Ravager snapped.

“Not dicking around, no. Just wanted to let you know that, while you've been paying attention to me, you should've been keeping an eye on Zee over there.”

Suddenly, a long blue tail, lined with sharp barbs, swung through the air and curled around Ravager's neck, pulling her upwards off the bed. The sheet wrapping around the Celarian shredded into scraps, as she finished transforming into her true, alien form. With another wild swing of her tail, she sent Ravager flying across the room, crashing into a wall.

Sh*t, what the hell? Ravager slowly pushed herself up to her hands and knees, woozy. Why didn't my precog go off?

It had to be because of her condition, she realized, or at least her current delirium, as the moment of her first transformation drew closer. She needed Kubrick's blood for the cure, and she needed it soon. Of course, there was one very big, blue, toothy problem to take care of first.

As she struggled to get back to her feet, she noticed Zatanna raising her wand, prepared to cast a spell. However, Kubrick suddenly transformed again, ripping through the sheet binding him and slashing his claws outward to rip a gash along the back Zatanna's hand. With a pained cry, the magician yanked her hand back, watching as her wand went spinning across the room.

Before Ravager could do anything to assist her ally, Zaria leaped at her, claws outstretched and fanged jaws open. Ducking beneath the Celarian attacker, Ravager rolled out of the way and went for her sword, picking it up off the ground and preparing to defend herself. Meanwhile, Zatanna flipped herself back over the bed, avoiding another incoming slash from Kubrick.

“Not so tough now, are you, you little b*tch?” Kubrick uttered a low growl, eyes gleaming. “What are you going to do without your wand?”

“This,” she replied, holding her palm out forward. “Teg kcab!”

Instantly, the massive werewolf launched backwards through the air, crashing through the far wall and into the next room. Within that room, a young couple lying in bed and watching television sparng up to their feet, screaming and running out the door.

Zatanna lowered her hand, standing straighter. “The wand is just a prop, you know. My power comes from me.”

Across the room, Ravager let out an agonized cry, as Zaria's razor fangs sank into her shoulder. The jaw strength on this alien being was astounding, teeth cracking straight through the upgraded armor and piercing into her soft flesh beneath. Bringing her leg up, she kicked forward and forced the monster to back off. Then, she swung her blade forward, cutting clean through Zaria's side and opening a long, though shallow, wound. Zaria shrieked in anger, lunging forward again... only to then lift up into the air and fly into the television set, unconscious.

“Thought you could use a hand,” Zatanna said, hands coming to her hips.

“Thanks...” Ravager breathed. “I can normally take these guys no problem, but I can't... I can't... oh god.”

Everything suddenly went dizzy. Ravager took a few steps and collapsed to her knees, trying to clear her head. Taking in deep breaths, she forced herself to push through it, eventually swallowing a large knot in her throat and rising back to her feet.

“Are you alright?” Zatanna asked.

She nodded. “It's okay, I'm good. Where's Kubrick?”

“He's right over-”

Stopping mid-sentence, Zatanna stared into the other hotel room, beyond the broken hole in the wall. Only, the room was empty. Kubrick, in full werewolf form, had already crashed through the third floor window (as well as half the wall surrounding it), and landed on the streets below, causing an abrupt panic amongst the citizens still up at this hour. Cars honked and passersby ran screaming, as Kubrick bounded off through the city.

“Sh*t, he's getting away!” Ravager cried, running towards the window.

“Not for long,” Zatanna said, looking over towards the bed. “I just hope you're more prepared for this method of travel than the last.”

---

“Are you sure you know how to fly this thing?!” Ravager shouted, hanging on to the headboard for dear life.

“Please, I've done this before with a carpet, and that's much less sturdy!” Zatanna replied, a mad grin spreading across her face.

Still, Ravager was unconvinced, as the hotel bed rocketed through the air. Some kind of weird levitation spell had caused the thing to start floating off the ground, and then Zatanna had said something else, causing it to shoot off like a bat out of hell.

“I see him!” Zatanna pointed towards the ground, watching the furry form of Kubrick racing towards the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. “Down there!”

“Yeah, good, down!” Ravager replied. “Take us down!!

Piloting the bed through the air, Zatanna brought the speeding, airborne furniture lower towards the ground, gradually catching up to the fleeing werewolf. Leaping over the side of the reflecting pool, Kubrick raced through the water, moving as fast as he could to escape his pursuers. He never had a chance, however, as Zatanna raised a hand as soon as she was in range and cast a spell.

“Pots!”

Instantly, Kubrick seized up, frozen completely in place, mid-stride. He plunged forward into the water, sliding several feet before coming to an abrupt stop after crashing into the siding. Slowly, he began to revert back into his human form, now lying naked in eighteen inches of water. The bed zoomed in a moment later, coming to a careful landing next to the pool, allowing its passengers to jump off. Ravager did so rather quickly, very pleased to be back on solid ground.

“We tried to do this the sensible way,” Zatanna stated, as she approached. “Now we'll have to do it the hard way.”

Still unable to move his body, Kubrick shifted his eyes slowly up at the woman, scowling. “Stay the f**k away from me, b*tch.”

The magician rolled her eyes. “Oh would you relax, already? This won't take a minute.” Removing the top hat from her head, Zatanna reached inside and pulled out a small jar. Where it came from, or what it had been doing in her hat, was anyone's guess. Holding a hand out to Kubrick's forehead, she took in a deep breath said, “Llif htiw Leahcim S'kcirbuk doolb!”

In the blink of an eye, the jar in her outstretched hand filled with a dark red liquid: Kubrick's blood. Uttering a small groan, Kubrick shut his eyes, feeling suddenly woozy.

“There, was that so difficult?” Zatanna asked. “You didn't need to run.”

“F**k you.”

“In any case, I'd love to stick around and wait for the police to get here, but we're in a bit of a hurry. Rose? Are you ready to-” Turning to her companion, she suddenly paused. Rose was hunched over on all fours, body quivering and twitching. Curiously, Zatanna wandered over and placed a hand on the woman's shoulder. “Rose, are you alright?”

“GET OFF!”

Without warning, Ravager lashed her arm out, striking Zatanna in the shoulder and sending her flying through the air in a display of strength far greater than she should have. Zatanna crashed into the pool water, sliding across the bottom of it and crashing into the siding. She was slow to get up, dazed from the blow, and had no idea where the jar of Kubrick's blood went after she lost her hold on it.

Meanwhile, Ravager's muscles began to spasm, while her bones popped and snapped, rearranging themselves. A horrid scream of pain erupted from her throat; she felt as though her entire body was ripping itself apart.

Kubrick rose back to his feet, the magic spell holding him in place suddenly breaking. Seeing Ravager's agony, he grinned slightly, beginning to back away. “Ah, I remember my first transformation... painful, isn't it? Don't worry, you'll get used to it.”

Holding a hand to her head, Zatanna looked up, realizing what was happening. They were too late. Before Kubrick ran out of range, however, she extended a hand and uttered one more desperate spell. “Laever ruoy sthguoht!”

A moment later, Kubrick vanished. Zatanna sat up straighter, everything starting to spin. She grit her teeth and looked over at Rose again, just in time to see the woman's armor burst apart, as her body grew to monstrous proportions. In mere moments, Rose no longer stood there as the woman she had been, but instead a large, ferocious werewolf, covered in thick, white fur and bright red eyes. Curling back her lips, Rose arched her neck, opened her jaws, and unleashed an ear splitting howl.

“Oh dear Hotath...” Zatanna uttered. Reacting instinctively, she raised her hands to cast another spell, intent on returning Rose to human form. They may have been too late for the cure, but Rose could still be helped. “Nruter ot nam-!”

The snow white werewolf acted too quickly, however, displaying astounding speed and charging straight at her. Before she could finish the spell, Zatanna flew threw the air, swatted aside like a fly. She landed hard in the pool water, feeling her head smack against the granite siding. By the time she came to her senses again, Rose was already long gone, sprinting back towards the streets and into the heart of the city.

---

At about three in the morning, activity on the streets of Washington D.C. wasn't exactly booming, as it was during the day, but still plenty of citizens roamed the city, driving their cars or walking down the sidewalk. After all, a city never really sleeps, whether New York City or Washington D.C. That being said, there were plenty potential victims for the newly transformed Rose to come across.

Mindless and wild, the werewolf burst out of an alley, bounding onto the sidewalk and snarling, looking around earnestly. She could feel a burning hunger deep inside of her, a hunger that had to be quenched. Within seconds, people were running and screaming, desperate to get away from the monster. Her heightened senses took notice of them all, sights, sounds, and scents. Gaze darting to the nearest person, a young woman in a black dress and pearl necklace, Rose charged.

Suddenly, however, an oncoming taxi forced her to stop, tires screeching in attempts to brake before crashing into the beast. Uttering a loud growl, Rose extended her arms and caught the car, bringing it to a dead halt as metal crunched beneath her claws. Within the vehicle, the driver bounced off the airbag face first, then fell back in his seat in a daze.

Darting around the side of the taxi, Rose ripped the door effortlessly off the vehicle, then yanked the man out of his seat, claws digging into the meat of his shoulder. Starting to come out of his daze, the man quickly realized his predicament and began thrashing around, screaming. But it was futile, he couldn't get away. The beast was ready to tear him limb from limb and devour him... until several gunshots went off. Rose felt the bullets penetrate her stomach, but they barely tickled. Werewolf resiliency at its finest.

Turning her head, she noticed a police officer standing outside of his squad car and taking aim at her with his pistol. Two more shots went off, these ones striking her shoulder; they only succeeded in making her angrier. Lips curling back, she snarled, tossing the man in her grasp away and then racing straight at the cop with an ear splitting howl. The officer turned to flee, but he wouldn't get away in time; the werewolf was too fast. Closing the distance, Rose lunged, claws outstretched and teeth bared, ready to sink into her meal.

“Teg kcab!”

Instantly, Rose launched backwards, sailing over a nearby car and crashing against the street. Zatanna came forward from around a street sign, a slight limp in her stride. While she was here, she would not allow Rose to uncontrollably harm innocent people.

“Og ot plees!”

Rose lost consciousness the moment that the spell erupted from Zatanna's fingers, entering into a deep slumber. Shortly thereafter, she slowly reverted back into her human form, now lying naked in the middle of the street with a crowd of people beginning to gather. Zatanna didn't give them a chance to stare, though, as she cast a spell to transport both her and Rose away in the blink of an eye.

“Ekat su ym emoh!”

Chapter #45

Rose slowly opened her eye, everything appearing blurry and watery. Quickly blinking the sleep away, she sat up and looked around. She was in bed, in a room filled with even more books, occult objects, and downright weird ornaments than even Doctor Occult's home possessed. Holding a hand to her head, she tried to remember what happened, but the last thing she could recall before blacking out was Zatanna filling a jar with Kubrick's blood.

“Ah, you're awake, good.” Entering into the room, Zatanna walked over and set a tray of food on the bedside table. “I figured you'd probably be hungry when you woke up; you've been out for nearly sixteen hours. Welcome to Shadowcrest, by the way, my home. Creepy, right?”

“What happened?” Rose groaned, holding a hand to her head. “Did Kubrick knock me out or something?”

A distant, sympathetic look came over Zatanna's face, as a deep sigh bursting from her lips. “No... I'm afraid that we were too late in acquiring the ingredients for the cure. You... transformed.”

A nauseous sensation quickly bubbled up into Rose's gut. She held her arms over her stomach, leaning forward and staring at the bedsheets, eye wide. “I... then I'm... you mean I'm stuck like this now?”

“In all likelihood, yes.”

“But I can't be!” Rose held her hands to her head now, gripping her hair tightly in a panic. “How am I supposed to- I'll end up hurting people! Becky, Holly... I can't stay with them now, I- What... what am I supposed to do?”

“Well... I do still have one idea that may work,” Zatanna said.

Rose snapped her gaze over to the magician, a small flicker of hope rippling through her chest. “What is it?”

“Before Kubrick got away, I cast a spell that allowed me to read his mind. In those brief moments, I was able to learn who cursed him.” Her answer was slow, cautious, as if somewhat concerned or dismayed over the information.

Rose sat sitting up straighter, leaning forward. “That's good, isn't it? We find this person and have him remove the curse from me. That is the plan, right?”

“Yes... unfortunately, things aren't that simple.”

“How so?”

“The one who cursed Kubrick is a being who goes by the name of Circe.”

“Should I know who that is?” Rose asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“Not unless you're familiar with the Greek mythos,” Zatanna explained. “Simply put, Circe is a sorceress of goddess level power, which explains why I can't break the curse myself. I may be powerful, but I'm no goddess. She also has a long history of turning men into animals, though I've never known her to afflict someone with lycanthropy before. Kubrick must have done something to severely anger her.”

Rose looked away, holding her hands in her lap. “I get the feeling she won't exactly be willing to just lift the curse on command.”

“Very unlikely, but that's not even the worst of it. Circe's last known location is Hades, the Greek Underworld. She was sent there by the Olympians to suffer for her crimes.”

“So... what you're saying, basically, is that she's dead?” Rose questioned.

Zatanna shrugged. “As dead as an immortal goddess can be, but if you want to think of it that way, go right ahead.”

“And I don't suppose we can just waltz into the Underworld to talk with her, huh?”

“Of course not, that would be far too simple.”

“But it can be done, right?” she asked. “We can get to her?”

“It's possible,” Zatanna said. “If I pull a few strings, make a few calls, I may just be able to arrange a meeting with her. Of course, meeting her and actually getting her to agree to cure you are two different things entirely.”

Rose let out a soft breath, shaking her head. “We'll have to cross that bridge when we get there. We're wasting time just sitting around here, though; let's get going.”

“Before we go, you may want to select a different attire. I don't think you want to be traipsing about the Underworld in your pajamas.”

Blinking, Rose glanced down at herself, just now realizing that she had been dressed up in bright pink pajama pants and shirt. “What in the hell am I wearing?

“Oh, just something I thought you'd be comfortable resting in,” Zatanna said, with a small grin. “Now, as I was saying, different attire?”

---

“I thought you said we had to go to a bar...” Rose muttered.

“And so we do,” Zatanna replied.

“Then why on earth are we at a strip club?”

Glancing around the dimly lit interior, Rose squinted her eye. The pounding music was bad enough, but the blinking lights on stage, where the current nude dancer was swinging around a pole to the delight of half-drunken men eagerly throwing dollar bills at her, only added to the suffocating atmosphere of this place. The smell of alcohol was thick in the air, too, almost choking her nostrils. Sighing, she followed Zatanna through the club.

I can see why Becky prefers The Fuego Lounge...

“The entrance to the bar is in the back,” Zatanna said, leading her through the main lounge area.

“Wait, there's a whole separate bar in the back of the strip club?” Rose lifted an eyebrow, arms folding. “I didn't see any signs or anything for it... how do people even know it's there?”

“They don't, unless they're one of us.”

“One of you?”

“A being of magic,” she explained. “You see, the Oblivion Bar is a place where we magic folk go to... well, be away from everyone else. It's where we can come together to be among others of magic. Non magical folk, such as yourself, can only enter through invitation.”

Rose paused a moment, digesting the information “And I take it you bringing me along counts as my invitation?”

“Right you are.”

The two pushed past a curtain dividing the front part of the club to the employee only section. Turning a corner, Zatanna led her beyond the dressing rooms, around a storage area, and finally to a small alcove in the very back of the building, where nothing but a simple wooden door awaited for them.

“Well... the entrance is a little less impressive than I thought,” Rose said, eying the door curiously. “You know, for a super secret magical bar.”

“It isn't meant to be impressive,” Zatanna replied. “In fact, to anyone other than a person of magic, there's only a storage closet on the other side of this door. To us, however, it opens into a pocket dimension, where we are welcome.”

With that, Zatanna reached forward and pulled the door open.

---

The Oblivion Bar, a sanctuary for all sorts of magical beings to come and unwind away from non-magic society. It looked like any other bar, with a counter, a bartender, tables, a lounge area, a couple pool tables, etc. Rose even spotted a dart board, currently occupied by Captain Marvel and someone she didn't recognize. Something about the atmosphere, though, seemed somewhat calming and inviting... relaxing, even. As they moved up towards the counter, Rose stood back off to the side, allowing Zatanna to do the talking.

The man behind the counter looked up to see them approach, giving a wide smile. “Ah, Zatanna, been a while.”

“That it has, Jim. Good to see you again.”

“And you, as well,” he replied. “Who's your friend back there? Never seen her around the bar before.”

Zatanna turned, holding a hand to Rose's back and pushing her forward a bit. “This is Rose Wilson; she's here by my invitation. Rose, this is Jim Rook, owner of the Oblivion Bar.”

Rook gave a friendly nod, reaching out with his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Rose.”

“Uh, yeah,” she said, shaking his hand. “Real pleasure.”

“So, what can I get you?” Rook asked. “The usual, or you looking for something special?”

Zatanna shook her head. “We're not here for a drink, actually. I need to speak with Fate, is he in?”

“Sure, he's in his usual spot, meditating or whatever it is he does in there. Want me to show you to him?”

“I know the way,” she assured, giving him a small wave as she moved away from the bar. “Thanks, Jim.”

“Always a pleasure, Z.”

Rose followed closely down a side corridor lined with many doors. Zatanna stopped in front of the third one on the left and knocked three times, no more, no less. After three seconds, the door swung open, allowing entry. Rose probably should have been paying attention when she entered the dark room, then maybe she wouldn't have made such an incredible fool of herself.

Surrounding them was nothing but dark, empty space, with no discernible walls to mark the confines of the room. Tiny twinkles of countless stars flickered in the distance, along with a couple of eerily glowing purple and green nebulas. Rose, however, realized this too late, lurching in mid stride, as if afraid she was about to fall through space. What she didn't know was that there was still solid ground beneath their feet, albeit invisible ground. Thus, she simply lost her balance and toppled to her hands and knees.

“Uh... I'm okay,” she said, pushing her way back to her feet.

But no one was paying attention to her, anyway. Zatanna stood in front of her, looking at a man in a bright gold helmet and cape, who floated cross-legged in mid air. Several glowing ankhs circled him, spinning round and round in a methodical pace.

“Dr. Fate,” Zatanna said, folding her arms across her chest. “It's been a long time.”

“Indeed it has, Zatanna.” His voice echoed unnaturally, as if somehow enhanced and reverberating inside his helmet. “Why have you come here?”

“I have a request to make. My friend here is suffering from a unique form of lycanthropy, the result of a curse cast by Circe. Our other attempts at find a cure have failed-”

“And now you seek the one who cursed her in order to lift it from her.”

Zatanna nodded. “That's right. The problem is, she's sort of... well, suffering in the Underworld.”

Dr. Fate paused a moment, bringing a hand to his chin. “And one does not simply walk into Hades.”

“I was hoping that you might be able to arrange a way for us to meet with Circe.” Zatanna took a step forward, folding clasping her hands gently in front of her. “Whatever it takes and however it needs to be done. You have a lot of pull in these areas.”

“Circe will not merely agree lift the curse, even if I can arrange it, you realize. She will want something in return.”

“You let us worry about that little detail,” she said. “We just need a meeting.”

Dr. Fate paused again, bowing his head as he considered the request. Eventually, he lowered his legs from his floating position and stood tall on his feet. “Very well, it will be done.”

---

Rose stood with her arms folded, glancing around the impossibly large cavern. She wasn't exactly sure where they were, only that, according to Zatanna, they were at the barrier between the Underworld and the living world, specifically the River Styx. And right now, they were waiting.

Tapping her fingers against her arm, Rose slowly moved her gaze over to the third woman, the strange one accompanying them, dressed in a toga, a blindfold wrapped around her eyes, a broadsword in one hand, and scales in the other. Themis, that was what she called herself. Or Justitia, as the Romans called her.

“Thanks again for agreeing to help us out,” Zatanna said, nodding to Themis.

“I did as Fate requested of me, in hopes that some small amount of justice may be done here today,” the Titan replied.

“So, what's with the blindfold, anyway?” Rose asked, leaning in closely and inspecting the garb wrapped around the woman's head. “I mean, are you actually blind or what?”

Themis didn't so much as look in her direction. “It is symbolic.”

“Themis embodies divine order, law, and custom,” Zatanna explained. “In the western world, she's better known as Lady Justice. The blindfold-”

“Blind justice, yeah, I got it,” Rose said, shaking her head. “Lame as hell, though.”

This time, Themis slowly turned her head towards Rose. “I doubt you would fine Hell 'lame', were you to experience its torment.”

“Uh, it's just a saying...” Rose muttered. “But sure, whatever.

“Quiet,” Zatanna interrupted. “There's the ferry.”

In the distance, a small wooden boat appeared in the waters of the River Styx, pushed along by a cloaked and hooded ferryman. In the back of the ferry sat a passenger, another cloaked figure, with long purplish-pink hair coiling out from beneath the hood. Her body was one of near perfection, quite befitting a goddess, though her face remained hidden.

“Circe,” Themis said, moving calmly up to the dock, as the boat came to a stop, “you have been granted these few moments away from torment so that you may participate in this meeting. Use them wisely.”

The hooded woman slowly turned her head, face still veiled by the cloak. Still sitting in the ferry, she crossed her legs, then finally reached up to pull the hood down. Her face was normal, gorgeous even... except her eyes, which were gone, instead replaced by empty, bloody sockets.

“And I thought I had it bad,” Rose said, absently holding a hand up to her own eye patch.

“Caught me at the end of my daily suffering,” Circe explained, her voice silky smooth. “Oh, they'll grow back, of course. Just in time for the vultures to pluck them out again tomorrow.”

Rose cringed slightly. “Remind me never to get sent to the Underworld for eternal damnation...”

“It's excruciating at first, but after a while...” A long, empty sigh escaped Circe's lips. She seemed... tired. “...it just gets old. Now, tell me, why have you called me here?”

“We understand that you cast a werewolf curse on a man named Michael Kubrick some time ago,” Zatanna stated, arms folding across her chest.

“Ah, yes, the name does sound familiar.” A slow grin spread its way across Circe's face, followed by a pleasant, deranged chortle. “The fool, thought he could force himself upon a goddess? Ha! He got what he deserved, living the rest of his life as a monster in constant hunger.”

Rose narrowed her eyes, jaw tightening. “That's great and all, but he bit me, and now I have the same curse.”

“Oh? A shame, really. But I'm not sure why you came all this way just to tell me that.”

“Because I want you to remove it.”

A loud, shrill cackle of genuine amusement erupted from Circe's throat. “And now why would I go and do something like that? Your problems are no concern of mine.”

Rose scowled, taking a step towards the ferry. “Listen to me, you little-”

“Ecnelis.”

Suddenly, Rose's lips snapped shut, refusing to open again. She mumbled through her closed mouth, glaring at Zatanna and folding her arms across her chest, frowning.

“What Rose means to say,” Zatanna explained, clearing her throat, “is that we would like your help with this. Your assistance won't go unrewarded, of course.”

“I am prepared to grant you the removal of five hundred years from your sentence,” Themis announced. “If you cooperate.”

“Ha, five hundred years?” Circe smirked, shaking her head slowly. “Honey, that barely puts a dent in my sentence. I'll still be here when your grandchildren's grandchildren are long dead and buried. You want my help? Make me a better offer.”

Zatanna paused a moment, then turned to Themis. “What about a thousand years? Can we do that?”

Themis was quiet a moment, glancing down at her scales. When they slowly tilted to the left, she looked up again. “It is doable, yes.”

“Sorry, kids,” Circe said, “but you're not going to buy me out by scraping away a few fractions of my infernal suffering.”

“Okay...” Zatanna muttered. “Is there anything you do want?”

“Of course there is. I want out of here for good, to be free again, but that isn't going to happen.”

“Then, is there nothing that will get you to help us?” the magician asked, almost pleading.

For several moments, Circe looked away. She couldn't see anything, obviously, but she still didn't wish to be facing them. Silence dragged between the group, as the sorceress remained utterly silent.

“Speak freely, Circe,” Themis said. “If it is a reasonable request, and within my power to grant, it will be done.”

“You really want to know what I want more than anything?” Circe glanced back at them, breathing out a deep sigh. “I want what any mother wants: to be with her daughter.”

Zatanna's eyebrows lifted with surprise. “You have a daughter?”

“Yes, her name is Lyta.” Circe lowered her empty gaze, a vague, distant smile appearing on her face. “But she was taken from me by her father... until he was killed. Now, my daughter is... I don't know where. Lost in her father's domain, somewhere. Scared. Alone. In pain...”

Raising a hand to Zatanna's shoulder, Rose mumbled something, still unable to speak. Zatanna looked back at her suddenly, then smacked her own forehead.

“Whoops. Nepo ruoy htuom! Sorry about that.”

Finally, Rose's lips burst apart, enabling her to speak again. She gave Zatanna another long glare, then turned her attention to Circe. “Okay, so you're telling us that if we find your daughter and rescue her from... wherever, then you'll lift the curse?”

“Honey, you do that for me, and I'll grant you anything you want,” came the reply.

“Fine, then we'll do it.”

Zatanna gave her a careful look, eyes narrowing. “Rose, are you sure?”

“If it's to get this curse off me, then yeah, I don't care what I have to do,” she said. “Just tell us where she is and we'll go get her. What exactly is her 'father's domain'?”

“Well, her father, the being I conceived her with,” Circe explained, sitting straighter in her seat, “is known as Ares.”

Lifting an eyebrow, Rose gave a curious expression. “Wait... like the God of War, Ares?”

Circe nodded. “That's right. His domain, at least the one he used to rule over, and where you'll have to retrieve my daughter from, is right back the way I came: Hades, the Underworld.”

“Okay, hold on.” Rose lifted a hand to her head, gently rubbing her temple in confusion. “My knowledge on Greek mythology is a little shaky, so correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Lord of Hades, um, you know, Hades?”

“So he is and was,” Circe explained. “Ares usurped rule of the Underworld by stabbing his uncle in the back. When he was defeated and killed at the hands of your Wonder Woman, however, he went from ruler to denizen and fellow sufferer. Leadership was then returned to Hades himself.”

“Of course...” Clearing her throat, Rose turned back to Zatanna. “So... I take it venturing into the Underworld isn't exactly the smartest thing to do, is it?”

“Not even close,” the magician replied.

“But can it be done? Surviving in there, finding this Lyta girl?”

“Well... I suppose, though not without a guide and a way to return still alive.” Zatanna's eyes hardened, giving Rose a long, careful look. “But are you certain you want to attempt this?”

Rose nodded adamantly. “I am not living my life as a cursed monster, knowing that any day I could end up killing the people I care about by accident. Either I go back cured, or I don't go back at all.”

Zatanna let out a cool breath, crossing her arms across her chest. “Alright, I understand. But like I said, we'll need someone to guide us into the world of the dead, and a way to keep our mortal souls rooted with the living.”

“I believe I can arrange that,” Themis stated. “Give me a short while, and I will return with the necessary preparations.”

In a flash of white light, Themis disappeared, leaving Rose and Zatanna to stand there at the edge of the docks with Circe and the ferryman, Charon.

Journeying into the land of the dead... not the brightest thing you've ever done, Rose. Let's just hope it's not the last.

Chapter #46

His name was Hercules. Well, technically, it was Heracles, but his Roman name was far more recognizable. Regardless of what one called him, however, the fact remained that he was a near immortal demi-god, with strength to match the mightiest heroes on earth. And he would also be serving as their guide into the Underworld, at the request of Themis made to the Olympians. Having committed heinous crimes in the Greek world in ages past, Hercules now loyally served the gods to atone for his sins.

Rose stood in the back of the ferry, as Charon, the ferryman, paddled them down the River Styx. Zatanna stood next to her, keeping an eye on Circe, seated in front of them. Hercules, on the other hand, stood at the bow of the ferry, leaning forward with one leg raised up on the low railing. A Xiphos sword hung from his belt, at his left side, while a large, round shield rested against the railing to his right.

“Put some back into it, great Charon!” Hercules declared, voice loud and boisterous. “There is no time to waste!”

The ferryman, of course, ignored the command and continued paddling at the same pace.

Leaning close to Zatanna, Rose whispered to the magician, keeping her voice low. “Would you look at him? Now I know where the phrase 'body of a Greek god' comes from.”

Rose's gaze hadn't shifted from the demi-god's backside since they boarded. Indeed, Hercules was a magnificent physical specimen, his body practically sculpted to perfection. The flowing brown hair, gorgeous face, and simple breastplate with leather skirt that he wore, also didn't hurt.

“Down, girl,” Zatanna said, lifting an eyebrow at her. “You have a girlfriend waiting for you back at home, remember?”

“Of course I do, and I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize that, either.” Tilting her head slightly, Rose leaned back against the rail of the ferry and let out a long breath, still staring. “But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the sight of a natural wonder when I see it.”

The boat ride didn't take much longer, soon reaching the very end of the Styx. As the ferry docked, dark, cloaked figures approached. Circe rose up from her seat and stepped onto land, being escorted back to her torment in Tartarus. Before she left, however, she glanced back over her shoulder at the ferry, gaze focusing on Rose and Zatanna.

“Please...” she uttered, her voice barely more than a whisper. “Find my daughter.”

Once Circe was gone, Hercules turned from the bow and walked over to Charon. He pulled out four silver coins, one for each passenger, and payed the ferryman, then brought his attention to the two women. “Fair maidens, prepare yourself, for beyond these docks lies the Underworld, land of the dead. I will do my best to guide you to safety and find the girl you seek, and protect you when need be, but know that not even I am invincible here.”

“Appreciate the sentiments,” Rose said, “but we can protect ourselves.”

“Of that, I have no doubt,” he replied. “I see great strength in both of you, and am honored to be making this journey with you.”

Rose lifted an eyebrow. “Flattery, huh? Now that I can get used to.”

“Before we step off the ferry, however, I must give you these.” Reaching into a small pouch attached to his belt, he pulled out two vials containing blue liquid and handed one to each of them.

Rose turned the bottle over in her fingers, staring at the contents intently. “What is it?”

“Some kind of potion, it appears,” Zatanna said, popping open the cork of her bottle and holding it beneath her nose for a smell.

“It is called the Draught of Undying,” Hercules explained. “It will keep your souls alive from the pull of death, while you traverse the Underworld.”

Uncorking her own vial, Rose gulped down the mouthful of liquid. It tasted something like stale beer; not the most pleasant favor in the world, but it could have been worse.

“Very good, now we can begin our quest!” Hercules declared, jumping down from the ferry.

“Just one more thing.” Rose turned to Zatanna, motioning down at herself. “Z, if you please.”

“Oh, right,” Zatanna said, holding a hand up. “Sserd Esor ni reh elttab raeg!”

And in an instant, Rose's attire changed to her new Ravager gear, fully repaired. She grinned behind her mask, looking down at herself. “Alright, now we're ready.”

---

The Underworld couldn't exactly be compared with any other place. With a blood red sky, black clouds, trees made of flesh with twisted, screaming faces jumbled along the bark, a dirt ground that oozed bloody puddles with each step, and eyeless crows watching them from the tree limbs above, it truly was something out of a person's worst nightmares. Ravager couldn't even tell if it was day or night, or if they were outside or inside. There was a sky, yes, but they had been in an underground cavern not long ago. It stood to reason that the Underworld was not a domain of their world, instead one of another dimension entirely, separated from the living.

Explains the need for the Draught of Undying to keep us alive... This places reeks of the dead and rotting.

“So, do we have any idea where to even begin looking for this girl?” Ravager asked.

Zatanna shook her head. “All we know is that Circe's daughter was taken by Ares to live with him here. Once Ares fell as ruler, there's no telling where Lyta ended up.”

“If I had to make a guess,” Hercules said, “I would say she was sent to live in the Asphodel Meadows, the region where neutral souls reside upon death.”

“What makes you say that?” Zatanna questioned.

“My uncle may be a twisted, corrupt god, but he is fair when it comes to the rule of his domain. He would not have sent her to Tartarus to suffer with the damned souls of Hades, for she has done nothing deserving it. Perhaps to the Elysian Fields, if virtuous in nature, to be among the blessed heroes of legend, but unlikely for a soul yet to be claimed by death.”

Ravager punched her fist into her palm. “Alright then, take us to these asthma fields.”

“Asphodel.”

“Whatever.”

“There is always the possibility that Hades took it upon himself to keep the girl in his own personal kingdom,” Hercules continued. “We will have to ask around to be certain, though.”

Ravager paused, looking around curiously. “Ask who, exactly? There's no one else here.”

“Of course there is,” he said. “You need only know where to look.”

Moving forward through the twisted forest of dead, fleshy trees, Hercules led them beyond into a barren land, with nothing but soot and rocks as far as the eye could see. Nearby stood an old, stone building, small in stature and falling to pieces. Outside this building, two statues were erected, one on either side of the entrance. These statues were two men, both in the exact same, tortured pose, agony upon their faces.

Hercules walks straight up to one of them, hands on his hips. “Excuse me, oh noble soul, I might have a word.”

Suddenly, the statue's head slowly and awkwardly turned, the expression of anguish shifting into one more of curiosity. “Nothing noble about me, I'm afraid. Just a lost soul in a lost world.”

“It talks?” Ravager's eyebrows lifted behind her mask. “The statue talks.”

“Not a statue, but the last remnants of the man I used to be,” the statue explained, “chosen to become a piece and fragment of the realm you see before you. It is as much a part of me as I am of it.”

“Which is exactly why I must speak with you,” Hercules said. “You know things, see things that go on in this domain.”

The statue nodded. “Yes, all things.”

“We were hoping you might know of a young girl brought here not long ago, a couple years at most. Raised by Ares, during his time in rule, purple hair, strong of heart. Goes by the name of Lyta.”

“Ah, yes... the girl.” A brief moment of silence passed, as the statue slowly nodded his head. “She does sound familiar.”

“Might you know where we can find her?” Hercules asked.

“Let me see... my memory is fuzzy, muddled. So many thoughts all melded together into a seamless flow. Give me a moment to recall...”

The statue, or lost soul, rather, suddenly stiffened up and froze into a motionless object once again. Hercules remained in his stance, hands firmly at his hips, waiting.

“Um... how long is he going to be like that?” Zatanna questioned.

“Shouldn't be long,” he replied. “It is difficult for souls merged with the Underworld to remember things after having their memories wiped with the waters of Lethe, even those memories gained afterward.”

“Well, he'd better hurry,” Ravager muttered. “I'd really rather not stay in this place any longer than I have to.”

As if on cue, the statue began to move again, once more turning to face them. “The girl, Lyta, yes, I remember now. When Ares took over rule here, he brought her to live at the Palace of Hades. There, he raised and cared for her, until his untimely demise. After that, the young girl was left without a caretaker and wandered these unforgiving lands, tired and alone. Once Lord Hades returned, however, he found her and brought her back to the palace. She is still there, to the best of my knowledge.”

“We thank you for your assistance and cooperation.” Hercules held an arm across his chest and took a gracious bow. “May you continue to rest in peace.” And with that, Hercules proceeded into the barren wasteland. “Come, the Walls of Erebos lie just beyond these hills. Once past, we begin our true journey into the Underworld.”

“Wait, you mean we're not actually in the Underworld yet?” Ravager asked.

“Not quite. These grounds are more akin to Hades' front lawn.”

Zatanna lifted an eyebrow, looking back at Ravager. “This place just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it?”

---

The giant, three headed monster canine snapped its jaws at them, standing guard in front of the main entrance with lips curled back and teeth bared. It didn't attack, however, not as long as they kept their distance.

“Alright, how the hell are we supposed to get past that?” Ravager said, taking a cautious step back. She didn't really enjoy the idea of becoming dog chow.

“Relax, this won't be any trouble at all,” Hercules stated. “Cerberus and I have a history together; I once borrowed him to complete one of my many labors. He'll let us by once he remembers me.” Stepping forward, he raised a hand as if to calm the beast. “Be at ease, noble Cerberus. We have come meaning no harm, and wish only to speak with your lord and master, Hades.”

The only response he received was three very large, very vicious jaws lashing out at him. Quickly, he jumped back out of the way in a near panic.

Ravager lifted an eyebrow, arms crossing over her chest. “Smooth.”

“He does seem to be a bit more aggressive than last we met...” Hercules muttered.

Rolling her eyes, Zatanna walked forward, pushing up her sleeves. “This is wasting time, let's just do it the easy way. Og ot peels!”

Within moments, the great furry beast began to teeter on its legs, soon falling forward and landing against the ground with a thunderous impact. Taking in deep, steady breaths, Cerberus swiftly slipped off to dreamland.

Hercules looked with wide eyes. “My, that is effective.”

“Can we keep going, now?” Zatanna said.

---

The next stop on the way to Hades' place was the Asphodel Meadows. As described to them already, it was a place where neutral or unimpressive souls came upon death, if not chosen to merge with the world itself. It was a ghostly place, of bleakness and sadness, nothing more than an expansive, empty field of flowers where the pale shades of departed souls wandered aimlessly.

“I can... feel them,” Zatanna said, looking around carefully. “It's like they're calling out to me, yearning for me to stay with them.”

“Listen not to the voices of the departed,” Hercules urged. “For they will whisper sorrowful persuasions into your ear. If they have their way, you will never leave this place.”

“So just... ignore them? Right, easy...” Several ghostly arms clawed up at them, reaching and pulling. Zatanna waved her arms around through the air, dispersing them.

---

“The last place between us and the dividing roads, which we can follow to the Palace of Hades.” Hercules gestured out before him at fields beyond. “This is where newly departed souls are judged, then sent off to their final place of rest.”

As with the Asphodel Meadows, the Plains of Judgment consisted of vast, open fields. However, there were no flowers, only tall grass, in which colorless figures shuffled forward in seemingly endless lines, waiting to be judged. These figures were much more solid in appearance than the wispy shades in the Meadows, but did not give the passing three even a brief glance, their attention solely on their destination in front of them.

“Ya know, I'm starting to be really glad I'm not Greek,” Ravager said, folding her arms. “This whole afterlife of yours is just... depressing.”

“One of the bleaker afterlifes, it is true,” Hercules said, nodding. “Unless, of course, you are judged virtuous enough to be allowed into Elysium, a true paradise for the deceased.

“Something tells me I wouldn't qualify...”

“I don't know,” Zatanna said, giving her a curious look. “I think you may be surprised.”

“Either way, I'd rather not have to find out the hard way,” Ravager said, breathing in deeply.

“And hopefully, you never shall.” Hercules moved forward, waving them along. “Now come, we are almost there.”

Ravager held her arms across her chest, following closely. “Next stop is the big guy, right?”

“Almost, yes,” he replied. “We do still have one more stop to make along the way first, but I doubt it will take long.”

---

The enormous, obsidian carved Palace of Hades loomed high above them, with pointed spires stretching towards the sky. The jagged edges of these spires gave the palace an appearance as though covered with countless, razor sharp knives, truly a fitting home for the ruler of the dead.

“So... you're sure your plan will work?” Ravager asked.

Hercules nodded. “It should, yes. I would rather not have to find out for, sure, however. It is merely a backup, should words fail.”

“And how likely is that, exactly?” Zatanna said.

“I estimate it at thirty-seventy.”

Ravager lifted an eyebrow. “With the seventy being...?”

“That Hades attempts to destroy us for intruding upon his domain.”

Holding a palm to her forehead, Ravager breathed out a heavy sigh. “Fantastic...”

“But that is why we have a plan,” he stated, taking several steps towards the large entrance doors to the palace. “Now, let us enter and-”

Before he could finish his sentence, however, the earth beneath them suddenly burst open, as thin, skeletal hands began to claw their way to the surface. At first, there were only a few pairs, but they were soon joined by dozens more. Within moments, an entire squadron of bone warriors, dressed in full battle gear, including armor, swords, shields, spears, and even maces, stood between them and the entrance to the palace.

“That's quite the welcoming committee,” Zatanna said, moving cautiously backwards.

“Yes, well I'm afraid my uncle is not very fond of visitors,” Hercules explained, drawing his sword. “These are his personal guards, sent to keep us out. We must fight through them to get inside.”

Ravager drew her own blades, smirking. “Now that I can live with. And with them already being dead-” Without hesitation, she sprinted forward at the legion of skeletal warriors and lunged into the middle of the group, hacking at them with expert skill. She was going straight for decapitations. “-I don't have to hold back!”

Hercules grinned widely at Ravager's enthusiasm, raising his shield and pointing his sword forward. “Shall we join her?”

“Be my guest,” Zatanna replied, lifting her hands up. “I'll be doing this from a distance. Yfirtcele!”

A web of lightning erupted from the magician's fingertips, striking one of the skeleton warriors and scorching it to ash. The lightning then leaped out from its initial target and jumped to several others in a long chain effect, vaporizing those, as well. Normally, she was not so lethal with her spell casting, but as Ravager said, these foes were already dead.

Hercules lowered his shoulder, putting his weight behind the large round shield he carried and battered into a line of guards. He swung fiercely with his sword, cutting another in half, and then spun wildly to bash several more with his shield, breaking them to pieces. All those who stood near the demi-god fell like fodder.

The enemies were fragile, yet they were many. Ravager weaved around enemy attacks, evading them with ease and countering with whirling strikes meant to take off empty skulls, cleave apart bony legs, and otherwise maim these skeletal guards. But even as the guards fall in droves, with each one defeated another two seemed to rise from the ground to take its place. The three fought tooth and nail, but made little progress in pushing forward to the palace entrance.

“This isn't working!” Ravager shouted, ducking below another attack. “We're not getting anywhere this way!”

“I fear you are correct.” Hercules raised his shield, blocking an incoming spear. “We must attempt a different tactic! Can you two keep them off me for a minute?”

Another chain of lightning ripped through a small group of warriors, frying them. Zatanna backed up, coming closer to Ravager, as the bone guards began to surround them. “We can try, but hurry up!”

With a mighty yell, Hercules swung his shield forward again, smashing apart the three guards in front of him. He then lowered the shield in front of him and charged, using it as a battering ram to push his way through the crowd, all the way up to the massive doors that open into the palace. Ravager and Zatanna followed him, beating back their foes every step of the way. Sheathing his sword, Hercules reached forward and placed his hands on the doors, pushing with all his might. It took a mere moment before they began to groan and creak, slowly giving way and opening. When the gap between the doors was wide enough, Hercules waved his allies inside.

Zatanna cast one more spell to drive the guards back, then slipped inside, followed by Ravager and lastly Hercules, who pushed the doors closed behind them. Letting out a deep breath, Hercules placed his hands on his hips and gave a merry laugh.

“I've not fought in a battle like that in ages!” he declared, smiling broadly. “Ah, it feels good to stretch my sword-arm again. Now then, let us proceed. Hades will be waiting in his throne room.”

Chapter #47

The interior of the palace was not much different from the outside, with walls all carved from jagged obsidian and no windows. Flickering torches along the walls provided the only source of light, casting eery, dancing shadows. Along either side of the central corridor were more statues, just like the one they met when first arriving in the Underworld. These ones, however, looked far more tortured and anguished.

“Well, this is... homey,” Ravager muttered.

“Not exactly my first choice in décor, I'll admit,” Zatanna said.

Hercules moved forward, waving for the two women to follow him. “Come, the throne room is straight ahead.”

They followed him down the central corridor to another set of double doors, these ones far smaller in size than the palace entrance. Pushing them open, Hercules stepped inside and walked forward a few steps, then stopped. The other two remained just behind him, looking around in wonder.

The room within was massive, nearly as tall as it was long, with the ceiling so high above that the torchlight did not reach the top, instead casting it in shadow. At the end of the room rose a large throne, the seat also carved out of the same black obsidian as the rest of the palace. Seated upon this throne was a large figure dressed in flowing black robes and armor, with equally dark, stringy hair: Hades.

Leaning to the side of the throne, Hades held his head up with his hand, looking somewhat bored and unamused as he eyed the three before him. “Nephew... why have you returned to my domain? And why have you brought these intruders with you? They reek of the living, an insult to my realm.”

“Dear uncle,” Hercules said, dropping to one knee out of respect, “we have come to make a request of you.”

“A request. Really?” Hades' eyes widened with surprise and intrigue. “And what makes you think that I would grant such a thing?”

“You have aided me before, during one of my many labors in ages past,” Hercules explained. “I humbly ask for your assistance once again.”

Hades took in a deep breath, slowly letting out. “That was a very long time ago, Heracles. But go ahead, make your request. I am... curious.”

Pushing past Hercules, Ravager came forward this time. “We’ve come for-”

“Remove your mask, woman!” Hades interrupted harshly, fiercely, temper suddenly spiking to extremes. “I will not be spoken to by a person who would hide while giving words!”

Pausing briefly, Ravager glanced back at the others for a moment before finally reaching up and removing the faceplate to her costume's helmet. “There, happy now?”

“I would choose your words more carefully,” Hades said, eyes narrowing coldly. “You stand in the presence of a god, and the proper respect will be shown.”

Frowning slightly, she cleared her throat and tried again. It almost physically pained her to try and contort her words into something a god would find respectful. “Lord Hades, we have come to your domain to request the freedom of the girl known as Lyta, daughter of the sorceress, Circe. Our information tells us that you have been raising her within your palace.”

“Ah, you come for the girl.” Hades shifted in his seat, tapping a finger against his chin. “How very intriguing. Tell me, woman, what purpose would one such as yourself have in doing such a favor for that insufferable witch?”

“To complete my part of a bargain.”

“A bargain with a treacherous sorceress...” A soft, almost delighted chuckle burst from the god's throat. “ And what would compel one to agree to that?”

Ravager narrowed her gaze. “That is my own business.”

“Perhaps. But why should I give up the girl? She is happy here, she is cared for, she is safe.”

“She belongs with her mother.”

“Her mother suffers in Tartarus for her sins!” Hades snapped. “You would condemn a girl to a life of eternal torment simply to be with her mother?”

“You let me worry about that,” Ravager stated. “We'll figure something out.”

“Your lack of conviction is uninspiring, I'm afraid. I have no reason to believe she would be better off going with you.”

“Because this place is so good for her, right?” Ravager took a step forward, throwing her arms up as she looked around the nightmarish palace. “I mean, who the hell designed this place? Looks like something out of a bad Hellraiser flick.”

The air around them instantly chilled, following her words. Hades slowly rose from his throne, glaring hotly at her with a gaze that could pierce diamond. Even Hercules took a small step back, posture shrinking.

“You dare to insult a god?!” Hades shouted, voice booming and echoing throughout the throne room.

Another chilling silence followed. Zatanna eased herself forward, whispering into Ravager's ear. “Tread lightly, Rose... tread lightly.”

“Just calling it how I see it,” Ravager muttered, arms folding across her chest.

Hades' expression hardened. “I should cast you into Tartarus!”

“Please, if you were going to, you'd have done it already,” Ravager said, rolling her eyes. Hades did not respond, but maintained his glare. “Tell you what, you show us the girl, and if we're satisfied at how she's being treated, then we'll leave.”

“And if unsatisfied, exactly what do you intend to do about it?” the god asked.

“Well, we'll just have to come up with a different solution, now won’t we?”

Hades gave another long stare, until finally raising a hand. A flash of white hot light seared the ground in front of him, and when it disappeared, a young girl with purple hair stood there, hands folded in front of her. The girl was dressed like a high school goth reject, with a lot of leather, straps, eyeliner, and the like. Her expression seemed empty and sullen, as if not noticing what was happening around her.

Upon seeing this, Ravager frowned. She's no older than Holly... what the hell has this b**tard done to her?

“My dear Lyta, explain to these people how happy you are here with me,” Hades said calmly, his voice almost soothing.

“I... am happy here,” Lyta uttered. “This is... my home.”

“This isn't your home, Lyta, this is a prison,” Ravager said. “We've come to take you back to your mother, where you belong.”

The girl slowly glanced up at them, her expression still void of any real emotion. Her voice, too, was hollow and empty. “I don't... I have no mother... I have never had a mother. This has always been my home, I have always... been here.”

“What do you mean you've never had a mother? Of course you do; her name is Circe.”

“Circe...” Lyta's gaze bowed, emptily. “I don't know that name.”

A triumphant smirk slashed across Hades' face. “You see? She does not even know her mother. She knows only my domain, and her happiness here.”

“Something feels off,” Zatanna said, shaking her head. “What's wrong with her? Why doesn't she remember- oh dear Hotath.”

Realizing the indication at the same time, Hercules came forward, an angry scowl on his face. “You forced her to drink from the waters of Lethe! She has no memory of her past life, none of it! That is how you keep her here!”

Hades merely grinned. “Such a simple solution, don't you think?”

Giving her full attention to the young girl, Ravager took a knee, coming to eye level with her. “Lyta, snap out of it. You do have a mother, and she misses you very much. Everything this monster has told you is a lie, all of it. This isn't your home, and you do not belong here.”

“Bother not with words,” Hercules stated plainly, glaring up at his uncle. “It will take much more than that to remove the forgetfulness inflicted upon her mind. Uncle, we're taking the girl.”

“You will do no such thing.” Hades sat back down on his throne, arms resting calmly at his side. “Not a single one of you will leave this room alive. Lyta, be a good girl and come to your master's side.”

Lyta obediently turned from the others and walked to the side of the throne. She just stood there, waiting and doing nothing else. Ravager clenched her hands to fists, scowling; at this point, Lyta was no more than a trained pet at Hades' beck and call.

“You demented b**tard,” Ravager said, gaze narrowing as she marched towards him. “I swear, I'll-”

“You will do what, exactly? I am a god, and you forget your place, mortal!”

With a wave of the hand, more of Hades' minions began to crawl their way out of the floor, though these ones were covered with bloody musculature, skin removed from their bodies. Not all of them were humanoid, either, some resembling great, hulking monstrosities of nature, animalistic beasts with gaping jaws and piercing eyes.

“Do try to put up a good fight,” Hades mused, grinning slightly. “At least then you might provide some entertainment before your bodies are ripped to pieces.”

“So, is this part of the plan?” Zatanna questioned.

“A minor issue,” Hercules said. “As soon as we deal with this lot, we will be able to-

His words cut off suddenly, as one of the monstrous, sinewy beasts attacked from behind, swatting away the demi-god like a fly. Hercules quickly recovered however, rolling back up to his feet and then sprinting at the creature. With a mighty lunge, he tackled the monster and began grappling with it. Ravager and Zatanna, meanwhile, had their own problems.

“Z, get back to safe spot, hit them from afar!” Ravager said, drawing her swords. Whirling the blades around in a wild frenzy, she leaped into the fray.

“Way ahead of you!” Zatanna retreated backwards a ways, then brought her hands up. “Edolpxe!”

Instantly, one of the undead warriors burst apart in a bloody mist, leaving no trace behind except for a red stain on the floor. She enjoyed not having to hold back almost as much as Ravager did, whose swords cleaved a bloody swath through the undead guards. It felt... empowering, being able to let loose the full might of her magic for a change. Of course, doing so also had its drawbacks. She could feel her power draining slowly, gradually, the more she used it. Her magic tired her over time just the same as her more physically combative allies lost stamina during combat.

Leaping over one of the large, monstrous creatures, Ravager came down on the other side while slashing along its back. The sharp edges sliced cleanly through sinew, spraying blood and dropping the creature to the floor. Following her sharp skills and reflexes, she continued cutting her way through these new enemies. Meanwhile, Hercules had torn apart several of the larger monsters with his bare hands, though now fought again with sword and shield. He did more than his fair share in bringing down their foes.

There was a problem, however. As with the skeletal guards outside the palace, the numbers of these new enemies did not dwindle, no matter how many of them were defeated. Within minutes, they began to swarm and overtake the heroes, far too many to properly fight and keep track of.

“Do these things ever stop coming?” Ravager questioned, scissoring her blades through the neck of a nearby enemy.

“Not as long as Hades wills it!” Hercules declared. “He means for us to fight until we are too exhausted to continue, at which point his guards will cut us apart!”

“Well, that's a bit of a downer, huh? “ Zatanna said. “Teg kcab!”

A small group of the sinewy creatures flew backwards through the air, allowing the heroes some breathing room. This didn't last very long, however, as the numbers continued to grow, enemies closing in on them. Taking in a deep breath, Zatanna raised her hands again, preparing to cast another spell.

Hades, on the other hand, appeared to have other ideas, pointing a finger at her. “Silence, witch.”

Instantly, Zatanna's mouth closed, her lips no longer able to open. She let out muffled cries, trying to cast a spell, but nothing worked. A moment later, one of the guards came forward and thrust its spear, the metal tip ripping into the her side. A quiet scream of pain gurgled in her throat, as she collapsed limply to the floor.

“Zatanna!” Ravager cried.

Cutting through the enemies in front of her, Ravager jumped over several others to reach Zatanna before the attacking guard could finish off the downed magician. Swinging her blades viciously, she cleaved off both the creature's arms, then finally its head, and kicked the body backwards.

Dropping to her knees, Ravager pressed a hand to Zatanna's wound, trying to stop the bleeding. “Just hang in there, Z. Stay with me, we'll get through this, you hear?” Bringing her gaze to Hercules, she shouted, “Herc! Now would be a good time for that plan!”

Bashing a few of the guards back with his shield, the demi-god turned to her. “We'll need a distraction!”

Before Ravager could answer, she was forced to whirl around again and cut down another attacking guard. However, at the same time, three others came in with their blades. She managed to twist herself out of the way of two of them, but the third cut deep into her backside, going through her suit like butter. Her earthly armor was apparently of no defense against these otherworldly weapons. Scowling, she spun around and cut the guard apart.

“Now I'm really pissed.” She could feel a burning beginning to spread through her, the pain of growing muscle and shifting bone. “You need a distraction? I think I can give you one!”

As her emotions ran wild, so did her more animalistic side. Though still not in total control, she concentrated, got angrier, forcing her body to transform. She suddenly felt... hungry. Very hungry. The next time she opened her mouth, a deep, bestial roar erupted from her throat. In seconds, her body grew further and completed the transformation, furry muscle bursting apart her armor from the inside out.

Her suddenly enhanced senses picked up another incoming attack. With agility far greater than her human form, she turned around and grabbed the thrusting spear, breaking it in half with little effort. Pointed ears flicking back, lips curling, and spittle dripping from her jaws, Ravager roared again, this time slashing out with her claws and ripping the squishy guard to shreds.

And then, the snow white werewolf was off and running, tearing through the Hades' troops. She cut them to ribbons, tearing meaty chunks out of them with her teeth. The hunger burning inside her had to be sated.

“By Zeus...” Hercules uttered. He stood and watched the massacre for several moments, then shifted his eyes carefully over to his uncle. Hades was standing now, attention drawn fully to the rampaging werewolf eviscerating his guards. Snapping out of his surprise, Hercules cut down a few remaining stragglers and then knlt Zatanna's side. “Young magician, can you hear me? Are you alright?”

Though bleeding from her side, Zatanna nodded. Her lips were still shut tightly, unable to say anything.

Reaching into his hip pouch, Hercules pulled out a small vial, this one filled with a transparent liquid. “Can you still do your part?”

Again, Zatanna nodded. As Hercules uncorked the vial, she pulled a hand away from her bloodied side and began to rub her fingers across the ground, writing a spell on the surface. There was no stronger magic than blood magic, yet it was to be used only under the most dire of circumstances, as each spell cast in blood siphoned away a small amount of the user's life force. Right now, however, the situation called for it.

Suddenly, the water inside the vial began to float up into the air. It hovered there briefly, quivering and undulating, then flew off in a long stream, heading straight at Hades. During this time, Hades had come forward off his throne, glaring at the werewolf, as it continued to rip apart his minions. Finally losing his patience, he raised a hand. Instantly, Ravager flew through the air and crashed against the wall, pinned there by an invisible force.

“Enough of this! You will burn in Tartarus, wretched beast!”

Before Hades could continue his assault, however, the airborne stream of water abruptly forced its way down his throat in an instant. Coughing, he took a step back and scowled, then glared over at Hercules and Zatanna. “What foolish attempt was that? What did you hope to... to... what did you... who... what's going on? Who are you people? Where are we?”

Zatanna puffed out a breath of relief through her mouth, as the hold forcing her lips shut suddenly vanished. “Laeh em.” Her wound instantly closed up, healing completely. “I can't believe that actually worked. Good call on stopping at Lethe on the way here.”

“The danger has not yet past, I'm afraid,” Hercules stated. “The waters of forgetfulness do not affect gods for very long. We must retreat and leave this place before Hades remembers who he is. Attend to the girl, make her sleep for now if you must. We'll need to take her to Mnemosyne, the river of memory. Its waters will counteract what Lethe has done to her.”

Zatanna nodded, making her way over to take care of Lyta. Hercules, meanwhile, hurried over to assist Rose, who had now come out of her werewolf transformation. During this entire time, Hades looked around aimlessly, as though confused, unable to remember anything about anything.

Holding herself up against the wall, Rose let out a small groan and straightened herself, then stretched out her arms. Hercules suddenly froze in place, realizing that, after shredding her costume, Rose was fully nude. Either not noticing this, or simply not caring (most likely the latter), she walked forward and gave the demi-god a congratulatory pat on the shoulder.

“Good work,” she said, pushing past him.

Hercules merely blinked, his gaze following her with wide eyes.

Finally, Rose acknowledged the situation and glanced back over her shoulder, smirking. “Take a good long look, muscle-boy, because you won't be touching.”

“Great Zeus...”

---

A short while later, Rose, Zatanna, and Hercules returned to the shores of the River Styx, about ready to leave the Underworld for good. One matter did need to be taken care of first, however, a matter for which Themis had rejoined them. Soon, Circe appeared, being led by cloaked and hooded figures. Chains wrapped tightly around her hands, while her eyes were still empty sockets. Because of her current blindness, she did not notice her daughter, not until the girl ran forward.

“Mother!” Lyta called, a broad smile across her face.

Circe's face instantly shifted into surprise and then softened. A brief moment later, mother and daughter embraced. “My girl... oh, how I missed you.”

“I missed you, too,” Lyta said, hugging her arms tightly around her mother.

Taking in a deep breath, Circe then tilted her head towards the others. “Please, my eyes... let me see her.”

Themis gave a slow nod, granting permission for Zatanna to cast a spell.

“Laeh S'ecric seye.”

Once the spell was cast, Circe let out a small gasp as her eyeballs began to reform in their sockets. Within seconds, she blinked and could see once again, the image of her daughter appearing before her. Lyta was no longer dressed in the horrid attire that Hades had given her, now in a much more simple and traditional Greek toga, with her hair tied back out of her face. No atrocious eyeliner to speak of, either.

“Lyta...” she breathed, forming her lips into a soft smile. “You're beautiful.”

The girl grinned back widely at her mother. “So are you.”

After giving the two a couple more moments together, Rose, now fully dressed again after Zatanna had taken the liberty of casting some clothes on her, stepped forward and folds her arms. “There, I completed my end of the bargain, now remove the curse.”

Circe's gaze slowly shifted towards Rose. “Before I do, I want something else.”

“Are you kidding me?” Ravager took a step forward, twisting her face into a scowl. “We just went through hell and back – literally – for your daughter! Now you want something else from us?”

“Not from you, no.” She looked over at Themis, now. “From her.”

Themis remained calm, though her voice boomed with authority. “You are not in a good position to be making demands, Circe.”

“It is not a command, just a request.”

“Then make your request, though I make no promises in granting it,” the Titan replied.

“I want parole, so I can raise my daughter.”

“Circe, you are sentenced to four thousand years in Tartarus, without the possibility of parole,” Themis stated. “That is something I cannot grant.”

“You cannot expect me to take Lyta back with me to Tartarus,” Circe said, raising her eyebrows. “I can't raise her there. Please, have mercy on a mother and her daughter.”

“The same mercy you showed to all of your victims throughout the years?” Themis looked hard at the sorceress, though her eyes still hid behind the white blindfold. “Or, should I say, lack thereof?”

“Put me under guard, lock me up, have Zeus himself keep an eye on me, I don't care!” Circe pleaded. “Just... please, anywhere but Tartarus. I want to be with my daughter, whatever it takes.”

Themis went quiet, apparently considering the words, though her expression did not shift.

Rose glanced between the two for a moment, then uttered a long sigh. “Just do it.”

“You are not the one to decide this, Rose Wilson,” Themis said. “Parole is not something I can grant to one of the most powerful criminal sorceresses in this world.”

“There isn't any way you can make an exception? She just said she didn't care what it took. Shut her up somewhere else and just let her raise her daughter.”

If Circe doesn't get parole, the backstabbing b*tch might not cure me. I am not letting that happen.

Themis paused again, then bowed her head. “There may be one way in which I can grant parole.”

“I don't care what it is,” Circe pleaded.

“Very well, allow me to consult the scales.” Raising her scales, Themis waited a moment. Eventually, the scales tilted heavily to the left, the right side coming all the way up. “I see... it can be done. Circe, you are hereby granted parole-” Circe's face instantly lights up in relief, a smile coming over her face. “-on the condition that you give up your magic. You will hereby be stripped of all your power, and your immortality. You will live a normal, mortal life to raise your daughter.”

Circe's elation suddenly turned to shock and disappointment, a distant frown forming on her face.

“And you will be watched very closely,” Themis continued. “Should you ever give reason, the gods themselves will drag you back to the deepest pits of Tartarus, where you will spend eternity. Are these conditions acceptable to you?”

Breathing in a deep breath, Circe slowly looked down at her daughter. Lyta returned the gaze, their eyes meeting. Eventually, Circe closed her eyes and nodded. “I accept.”

“Then you are free to leave with the others,” Themis stated. “When you return to the living world, your power will be gone.”

“But before that happens,” Rose said, folding her arms across her chest. “You owe me something.”

“Of course... in thanks for bringing me my daughter.” Walking forward, Circe brought her hands to Rose's temples, then closed her eyes and breathed outwardly. A cold ripple spread through Rose's body, followed by a strange warmth. “There, the curse is gone.”

Rose let out a heavy sigh of relief, instantly relaxing. “Good... thanks. Now let's get the hell out of here.”

---

Hercules stepped forward out of the cave entrance and breathed in a deep breath, holding his arms up to the sky. “Ah, a glorious day!” Turning back to the others, he smiled and held out a hand. “It was a pleasure and honor to fight by your sides, young maidens.”

“My sentiments are the same,” Zatanna said, shaking Hercules' hand.

Rose nodded. “Yeah, you do pretty good. I mean, for a demi-god and all.”

Then, Hercules looked over to Circe. He walked up to her and pointed a finger, glaring. “And you, witch, do not squander this opportunity you have been given. Atone for your sins, as I have done, and live a good life. Your daughter deserves that much.”

Circe said nothing in response, simply glancing down at Lyta and tightening her grip on the girl's hand. Lyta looked back up at her and returned the squeeze, smiling.

“And with that, I must be off. Farewell, and good luck in your future adventures!”

With a parting wave, Hercules turned away from them again and made his way down the hill, disappearing from sight soon after. Once he was gone, Circe held her free hand up, staring at it. She splayed her fingers, turned her hand over, then clenched them into a light fist.

“It feels... very strange,” she said. “Being mortal. No magic, no power...”

“You'll get used to it,” Rose said, planting her hands on her hips. “Eventually. Just remember what Herc said: don't you dare screw things up after what we went through for you. You take care of your daughter, got it?”

“At this point, I want nothing more.” Circe bowed her head, giving her daughter a friendly smile. “Once we figure out a place to go and find a home, I will raise her well.”

Rose briefly glanced back at Zatanna, who merely shrugged at her. Releasing a soft breath, she turned to Circe again. Please don't let me regret this...

“Look, if you don't have anywhere to go, I... know of a place,” Rose explained. “Silverstone, the city where I live. It might take some adjusting, but it might be a good fit for you. I look after a girl, too; her name is Holly, and she's about your daughter's age. They... could be friends.”

Circe stiffened slightly, raising her chin, as if trying to show her pride. She didn't respond, at first, simply staring. Eventually, however, she uttered a breath of her own and held a hand to her hip. “Very well... but do not think this makes us friends. I have no need of people like you to call friend.”

“Oh sure, no problem.” Rose rolled her eyes, shaking her head slowly. “I only fought the minions of Hades for you, saved your daughter, and got you freed from four thousand years of pain and suffering, but no, you're right, you wouldn't a friend like that, now would you?”

A long pause passed between them, before finally Circe crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. “Let's just go, already.”

“In a minute. Just hang tight for a sec, kay? Good.” Turning away from Circe, Rose held an arm around Zatanna's shoulders and walked a short ways away with her. “Gotta say, Z, you're not half bad.”

“Well, I do have experience,” the magician replied, with a pleasant smile. “I will say the same of you, though; I'd only heard about you in passing from Dick, every now and then, but you've impressed me.”

“Hey, you're not they only one with experience. Now, I just, uh... I have a question. I noticed you used your magic a couple of times to heal wounds... can you do that with any kind of injury?”

Zatanna paused a moment, lifting an eyebrow. “Well, yes... I can heal any minor injury, past or present, and most grievous ones as well, if they're not too far gone. Why do you ask?

“I, uh... I have a request to make,” Rose said, gently running a finger over her eye patch.

---

Zatanna's magic transported them just outside the door to Rose's penthouse. Circe and Lyta were with them, dressed in normal, casual clothes now.

Reaching forward, Rose pushed the door open and led them inside. “I'm back! Anyone home?”

A moment later, a familiar figure appeared out of the kitchen. Upon seeing Rose, Rebecca let out a heavy, relieved breath, and ran up to embrace her. “Dios mio, I was getting worried. You were gone for days!”

“Yeah, I know, I'm sorry,” Rose said, holding her arms warmly around the woman. “But I'm back now, and one hundred percent normal... well, for me.”

“That's great news, I can still hardly believe that-” Becky stopped suddenly, pulling back to take a better look at her girlfriend. She blinked in surprise, staring with confusion. Gently, she lifted a hand and clutched Rose's cheek. “Rose, your eye...”

Ever since being drugged by her father so many years ago, Rose had been sans one of her eyes. A brief mental breakdown of desperation had caused herself to carve it out herself to prove her loyalty to her father, wanting to show that she was just like him. But now... now she once again had both her eyes, fully restored by Zatanna's magic.

“Yeah... Zatanna healed it for me,” she said, giving a slight smile. “It... it was the last reminder I had of my father, you know? After I changed my costume, I mean. I had to get rid of it.”

“That's... I mean.... I don't believe...” Unable to formulate her thoughts into complete sentences, Becky instead responded with a firm kiss, pressing their lips together for several moments before pulling away. Her gaze then moved over to Zatanna, nodding appreciatively to her. “Thank you, Zatanna, was it?”

“You're welcome,” Zatanna said, returning a friendly smile. “It was my pleasure.”

“And who are they?” Becky was looking at Circe and Lyta now.

“Oh, these are... sort of friends,” Rose said, gesturing towards them. “That's Circe, and her daughter Lyta.”

“Well, good to meet you both.” Becky extended her hand to them, and though Lyta quickly shook it, Circe just folded her arms and glared.

Rose cleared her throat. “Er... don't mind her. She's adjusting.”

Another figure then appeared, wandering out of living room. Holly's eyes lit up, rushing forward and lunging at Rose with a big hug. Looking up to her, she then began rifling through a series of hand signals, while mouthing the words at the same time. “I'm so glad you're back!”

“I'm glad, too, honey, believe me.” Putting a hand on Holly's back, Rose eased her forward and turned to the side, motioning to Lyta. “Holly, I'd like you meet Lyta. She's your age, I think.”

Lyta walked forward now, giving Holly a long look and then extending a hand. “It's nice to meet you.

Zatanna's gaze narrowed slightly, focusing on Holly as she uttered a backwards whisper under her breath.

“It's nice to meet you, too,” Holly said, reaching forward to shake Lyta's hand.

Rose's eyes went wide. “What the-”

“Qué mierda!” Becky exclaimed.

“I- I... I'm talking?” Holly tentatively lifted a hand to her lips in disbelief, eyes wide. “I can... I- I can talk again! I can talk!”

The poor girl was nearly in tears of joy over this sudden miracle, grinning madly. Rose glanced towards Zatanna, meeting her gaze. The magician simply shrugged, giving a small smile. Rose couldn't help it; she smiled, too.

Holly suddenly grabbed Lyta's hand, bringing the girl farther inside the penthouse. “Come on, I'll show you my room! Oh my god, I'm talking again! This is so awesome!”

Circe blinked, watching as her daughter was dragged away. “Hey, wait a minute!”

“Relax, they'll be fine,” Rose said. “Let them play. In the meantime, come inside. We need to figure out where you'll be staying.”

“Anyone want a drink?” Becky asked, as the four women moved into the living room.

“Oh, I'll have something,” Zatanna said. “What do you got?”

“Well, aside the hard stuff, there's some beer in the fridge-”

“Uck, beer!” Circe interrupted, a look of disgust twisting over her face. “Vile stuff, the drink of curs. Please tell me you have wine.”

Rose smirked slightly, lifting her eyebrows. Circe may be mortal now, but she really had to work on her people skills. There's some irony for you, Rose. You thinking someone else needs work on people skills.

“We'll see what we can find,” Rose said, ushering her guests onto the couch. “Just make yourselves comfortable; we have a lot to talk about.”

Start the Conversation

The Ravager - Ravager Rising (#34-40) 2nd Edition

Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy/Ruby, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer, Officer Stevens, Officer Harrow, Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all Don'tits interior locations of my own creation.

Rating: T+

Note: The sixth arc in my Ravager series to be remastered into prose format and edited to make it better.

My Fan-Fic Archives: http://www.comicvine.com/myvine/ravager4/ravager4s-fan-fic-archives/87-79374/

---

Chapter #34

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.

The bedroom was dark and mostly quiet, save for the soft glow of the digital clock on the bedside table, and the steady patter of rain against the window. Clothing littered the floor; a jacket here, a pair of jeans there, a bra slung over a chair, a shirt tossed across the room, underwear near the hamper. Rose lied calmly on her side in the bed,lifting above the sheets. She took in a deep breath, feeling Becky's chest heave against her backside in a steady rhythm.

“Alright, so that was...” She couldn't find the word for it.

A small chuckle brushed its way out of Becky's mouth, as one of her arms latched firmly around Rose's waist. “Fantástico.”

“Yeah, fantástico...” she repeated. “That sounds about right.”

“Ah, it's been quite some time since I've had a night like that,” Becky said, bringing a hand up to gently brush a strand of hair out of Rose's face.

“It's been... never, for me,” Rose admitted. “So, I would like to apologize a little for my, uh... inexperience.”

Becky laughed again, then moved in closer and kissed her lips gently along Rose's neck. “S'alright. Just means I have a lot to teach you.”

“And something tells me you'll be more than happy to.”

“Oh yes, very much.”

Rose inhaled another deep breath, her neck curling a little against Becky's light kisses. Bringing one of her hands up, she grabbed Becky's and interlocked their fingers. “So, about me coming back now... and about you knowing who I am... I suppose we're going to have to figure out what to do about it, right? How to handle things.”

“Mmm... I suppose we are,” Becky said, breathing out a long sigh. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well, you know I'm Ravager. Or The Blade, whatever.” Rose held Becky's hand a little tighter, gently rubbing her thumb along the woman's smooth skin. “And you know why I am... I do it to help people. If I'm back here, I'm going to keep helping people, and in the best way I know how.”

“Somehow, I figured you would. It's in your blood at this point, ah?”

“Pretty much,” she replied. “I know that what I do isn't within the confines of the law, but it works. Most of the time. I'm just letting you know right now that I will be putting that costume back on, and I will be trying to help this city again. I'll understand if you don't want to be a part of it.”

“Please, I'm already a part of it, just by keeping the secret.” A wide grin then curled its way across Becky's lips, as she leaned in to give a few more tender kisses to Rose's neck. “Not to mention, sleeping with the person behind that mask generally compounds my involvement.”

Rose snorted out a tiny laugh, giving a grin of her own. “Good point. So you're okay with it, then?”

“As long as you keep helping people and doing good,” she said, “and tell me all about your nightly adventures... then yeah, I'm okay with it. I can even help you.”

“Help me how?” Rose turned her head a little, looking back over her shoulder. “Becky, I'm not going to take you along and put you in that kind of danger every night, no way.”

Becky shook her head. “Ha, no. I meant I'll keep the police off your back, at least until you build up your reputation again. They still haven't forgotten about you.”

“Oh, right... thanks.”

“Speaking of which, you plan on coming back to the station? I have to say, I miss having you in the car with me.”

Releasing a long breath, Rose slowly shook her head. “Nah... It just wouldn't feel right. I thought about it, but I don't think I can really be a cop again and still do what I do. Plus, I already resigned from the place, and trying to get back on the force again would be too much of a pain in the ass.”

“Well, I suppose...” Becky said, pursing her lips slightly. “But then what are you going to do as a day job now?”

“I'm sure I'll think of something eventually,” she replied. “Right now, though, I'd rather concentrate on cleaning up some of the messes I left behind. It's time for Ravager to make her comeback.”

“Oh, about that... there is something I should probably mention.”

Rolling over onto her other side, Rose gave Becky a close look. “What is it?”

“Well, lately... a lot of strange things have been going on around the city, and the station in particular,” she explained. “The corpses of mob bosses have been showing up all over the place, the investigations are being handled poorly, case files are blank, and then I've had a ninja and a fellow cop try to kill me in the past few weeks.”

Rose's eyebrows raised in surprise. She was leaning up now, supporting herself with her elbow against the mattress. “Are you alright? Who tried to kill you?”

“Ah, yeah, I'm fine. Nothing I couldn't handle. Some chica dressed up as a ninja broke into my apartment and tried to stab me, but I got to my gun first... she didn't have much of a chance. And then there was Stevens, he tried to shoot me right in the middle of the station.”

“The middle of the station?” Rose furrowed her brow, eyes shifting with concern. “Seriously?”

Becky nodded. “Si, and that's not even the strangest part about it. Right before he drew his gun on me, he said something about me getting too close, and that 'they've' been watching me... kinda freaked me out a little.”

“Well yeah, I don't blame you. Did they interrogate him, find out anything?”

“Oh they tried, yeah. But he insisted that he couldn't remember anything. Don't really know where they took it from there, but you can bet he doesn't have a badge anymore.”

“Wow...” Rose let out a heavy breath, glancing down at the mattress. “I mean, I knew Stevens was an odd one, but that... I don't know what to make of it.”

“All I know is that something is very wrong about this whole situation,” Becky said. “Something that isn't getting resolved the normal way.”

Rose raised an eyebrow at her, grinning slightly. “Why Becky, are you asking for my expertise?”

“Well... maybe.”

“Don't worry,” Rose said, nodding reassuringly. “We'll figure it out. In the meantime, you're staying at my place.”

Becky smirked playfully “Hey now, we just got together. Taking things a little fast, aren't we?”

“Very funny. I'm talking about your protection. My place is a lot safer than here.”

“Hmm, how much safer?” Becky asked, lifting a finger to her lips.

“Well, considering Batman built my security system...”

Becky snorted out a laugh, bowing her head. “Ha, alright, point made. In that case, you can help me move my things there tomorrow... on one condition.”

Rose narrowed her gaze, curiously. “And what's that?”

Rising up from the mattress, Becky rolled over on top of Rose, who shifted slightly onto her back. Hands coming down to Rose's wrists, Becky leaned forward and gave her a long, gentle kiss, before pulling away and smirking. “Just that you don't plan on going to sleep yet.”

---

Rose and Becky sat at the kitchen table of Rose's penthouse, pouring over the notes that Becky had made during the past month, regarding the recent strange happenings. They had moved over some of Becky's things earlier, mostly clothes and a few personal belongings. As long as this was going on, with people having already tried to kill her twice, Rose didn't want Becky going back to her regular old apartment, where she was vulnerable.

“These notes are pretty extensive,” she said, tapping a pen against the table. “You've done a lot of work.”

“Yeah, it kept me pretty busy,” Becky replied, lifting one of the papers closer to her face. “Plenty of strange crap going on, and I'd bet my life that it's all connected.”

“Most likely...” Rose paused, staring a little closer at the page in front of her. “So you said that the first person who attacked you was someone dressed up like a ninja?”

“That's right.”

“Just like that guy we found in the warehouse, the last time we went on duty together. Definitely not a coincidence.”

Becky nodded. “He wasn't the only one we saw that day, remember. A couple of his buddies went and took him away.”

“Right,” Rose muttered. “And the man I fought later that night, Shao I think his name was, mentioned something about that guy being one of their ' lesser members'. Question is, members of what?

“A super secret underground ninja society of assassins?” Becky suggested, giving an amused grin.

Blinking, Rose looked up at her with stern expression. “I wouldn't joke about that... there actually is one of those, and it's nowhere near as humorous at you'd think.”

“Oh...” she said, scratching her cheek. “Well, maybe that's what we're dealing with?”

“I suppose it's possible... though, the last I heard, the League of Assassins was basically at war with itself. Still, I'll add it to the list of possibilities.”

“Don't forget that freaky looking metal device you pulled out of the guy's head,” Becky added. “Jueputa, I wouldn't want one of those things drilled into my brain.”

Rose pressed a hand to her chin, nodding. “I haven't forgotten that, but I really don't have any idea what it was. I've seen some scary kinds of tech in my day, so it could be anything. What I'm curious about is those two detectives you mentioned, Kubrick and Riggs. They're the ones handling the cases with the dead mob bosses, right?”

“Yeah, and they give off mucho creepy vibes.” Becky shuddered a moment, shaking her head. “That, and they haven't been handling their investigations the way I'm used to, when dealing with detectives on crime scenes. Add the fact that all their case files I checked were mostly padded with blank forms, and I'd say they're definitely involved somehow.”

“About those blank files, did you mention them to anyone?”

“Just Chief Palmer,” she said, with a small shrug. “He said he'd look into it, but I haven't heard anything back from him yet.”

Bringing a hand to her chin, Rose thought for a moment, staring down at the notes in front of her. “Alright, I think I know where to start.”

---

Ravager leaned over the edge of the rooftop, gazing down at the East District street below. Her target walked casually down the sidewalk, hands stuffed in his pockets and a cigarette smoking between his lips. As he began to distance himself from her, Ravager continued moving, jumping over to the next rooftop and following him.

“He's heading to the shadier part of town,” she said. “I'm in pursuit now.”

A brief hiss of static came in over her ear piece communicator, followed by a familiar voice. “Okay, yeah, copy,” Becky said. “This set up is really cool, by the way.”

“Everything working?”

“Si, everything looks good.” Back in Rose's penthouse, Becky sat in front of the large computer screen, eying a large map of the city. “I'm following you on the map everywhere you go. You are the blinking dot, right?”

Ravager chuckled. “Yeah, that's me.”

“Then yeah, it's good,” she said. “Thanks again for letting me help.”

“I know it's not much, but at I wasn't taking you out with me.”

Becky sighed. “Too dangerous, I know.”

“But at least if anything happens to me, you'll know right where I am.”

“I'd personally rather it not come to that.”

“I wouldn't worry,” Ravager said, smirking. “I'm good at what I do.”

“One of these days, though,” Becky added, “you're going to teach me some of those moves. No way am I going to date someone who can beat up a ninja and not learn a thing or two.”

A small smirk came to Ravager's face, as she descended into a nearby alley. “We'll see.” Peering out of the alleyway, she watched as her target made his way across the street and entered a building. Glancing up at the glowing neon sign of said building, her gaze narrowed slightly.

“Huh... interesting.”

“What is it?” Becky asked.

“He just went into The Fuego Lounge,” she said.

“Oh, the strip club?”

Ravager straightened herself a little, eyebrows lifting. “You... know it?”

A brief pause came over the line. “I, uh... might have been a few times.”

“Didn't take you as the type.”

“The type to enjoy naked women?” Becky rolled her eyes, uttering a small laugh. “No, definitely wouldn't make sense for me.”

“I meant the type to want to hang around a male dominated environment,” she explained, “while watching a bunch of emotionless pin up dancers prance around on stage and cater to the drunken pigs.”

“Um, that really isn't a problem at The Fuego Lounge.”

“Why's that?”

“Because it's a lesbian strip club,” Becky said. “It caters specifically to gay and bisexual women. The atmosphere is completely different.”

“Oh.” Rose paused, scratching her head. “Well then that raises a pretty big question.”

“Yeah...” Becky uttered. “Why the hell did Detective Kubrick go in there?”

---

Ravager pushed the door open, glancing inside. It looked like some kind of back hallway behind the dressing rooms. She heard voices coming from farther down the hall, most likely the workers getting ready to perform, or whatever they do. Easing herself inside, she closed the door behind her and moved cautiously forward. She couldn't afford to be discovered just yet.

“Good call on the back door,” Ravager said. “I'm in.”

Becky's voice crackled over the comm a second later. “Any sign of Kubrick yet?”

“No sign of anyone yet. I'm still in the back of the building, nothing much here except a few boxes and a coat rack.”

“Well, be careful in there.” Becky paused a moment, then added, “And please don't go spooking any of the girls. They're good people, I don't want you giving them a heart attack.”

Ravager raised an eyebrow. “Only been here a few times and yet you know that the strippers are good people, huh?”

“Wha- uh, n-no, I-”

“Smooth recovery.”

“Okay, I used to be a regular!” Becky exclaimed. “It was just a phase! Qué mierda, what do you want from me?”

Ravager grinned widely to herself. “To hear you flustered.”

“You're smiling right now, aren't you?”

“Maybe.”

Stopping near the end of the hallway, Ravager peered around the corner. She noticed a couple women in various states of undress walking to and from a couple of the side rooms. The problem now was that the only way to get to the rest of the club was to walk straight through this area, which she couldn't do in her current costume. Moving back behind the corner of the wall, she thought for a moment, eye scanning the surrounding area. Her gaze fell on the nearby coat rack, an idea suddenly coming to her.

“Think I found a way in,” she said, reaching forward to take one of the long coats off the rack.

Tugging her mask off, she stuffed it into the coat pocket, then removed her swords and hid them off to the side. Then, she pulled the coat tightly around herself, effectively concealing her armored costume. This should at least keep some attention off her.

Moving around the corner again, she walked straight through the women's area, keeping her head down. She received a couple passing glances, but most of the women didn't even notice her. Soon after, she pushed past a small curtain and entered into the main area of the club.

Glancing around, she took a brief moment to soak in the atmosphere. It really was different than a normal strip club... the music wasn't as mind numbingly annoying, the patrons weren't as rowdy, and everything seemed a lot... calmer. Yet, there were still three separate stages, each occupied with a stripper, and quite a number of customers enjoying the performances.

“Anything?” Becky asked.

“Not yet...” she breathed. “I'm only seeing strippers and the women watching them.”

“Well it isn't a big place, he has to be around there somewhere.”

“Wait, hold on.”

Her gaze fell on a table in one of the corners of the room, way in the back. At that table, she spotted Detective Kubrick sitting and speaking with someone, a woman in a red blouse and black skirt, with small, narrow glasses and blonde hair tied back in a braid. They appeared to be in a deep discussion about something.

“Alright, I have eyes on him,” Ravager affirmed. “He's talking to some woman.”

“Any way to hear what they're saying?”

Ravager shook her head. “Not without getting right up next to them.”

A few seconds later, though, Kubrick and the woman got up from the table and started walking towards the other side of the building. Ravager's gaze followed them carefully, watching as they went through a door labeled 'employees only' next to the bar area. Casually, she made her way after them, waiting for the bartender to be distracted with a customer before sneaking through the door herself.

On the other side, she found a long staircase heading down into the basement levels. As she headed down those stairs, she pulled out her mask again and slipped it back over her head. She then shrugged the coat off and threw it behind a stack of boxes.

Probably safe to go in costume now. With or without it, I'm not supposed to be down here either way.

Ravager slowed to a stop when she heard voices. Holding a finger to her ear piece, she whispered through her comm. “Going silent for a few minutes here.”

“Copy,” Becky replied. “Be careful.”

Ravager pressed herself up against a wall, peering around it into a long corridor. At the very end of the hallway, she noticed a door slightly ajar, leading into a separate room. That was where the voices were coming from. Remaining silent, she crept forward towards the end of the hallway and listened carefully.

“And exactly how long after implantation did this occur?” Kubrick asked.

“About seventy-two hours, give or take a few,” the woman replied. “It worked fine before that, but then she just dropped dead.”

Kubrick uttered an annoyed grunt “I see... looks like we keep running into problems. First I've heard about this particular one, though.”

The woman breathed out a heavy sigh. “You know I want to be involved, Michael, but I can't subject my girls to it if they're going to keep keeling over like this.”

“Believe me, Madelyn, we'll work on a fix. Faulty stems aren't good for the plans, anyway. Having puppets to control only works as long as the puppets can be used... dying seriously complicates that.”

“You come back with ones that work, and my girls are yours,” Madelyn assured. “Until then, I'm not going to keep exposing them to... this.”

“Of course,” he said. “I'll report back to Shen immediately and give him the update.”

Ravager's eye narrowed slightly at the mention of the name. Shao Shen... So he's the one in charge? Good... I still owe that guy a serious beating.

“You do that,” Madelyn said, the sound of her footsteps nearing the door. “I have to get back to work, in the meantime, then figure out how I'm going to clean up this mess...”

Ravager quickly slipped back through another nearby door, hiding in the shadows of what looks like a storage closet. The figures of Kubrick and the other woman appeared in the hallway a moment later, walking back towards the stairs. Within a couple minutes, they were gone, leaving Ravager alone in the basement.

“Did you get all that?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Becky said. “Any idea what they were talking about?”

“Not a clue, but I get the feeling I'll have a better idea when I check out what's in that room.”

Moving from the closet, she turned into the other room, flicking on the light. It didn't take her long to notice what the two had been talking about, her eye going wide at the sight. She just stared, unable to utter a word.

“What is it?” Becky asked. “Do you see anything?”

But all she could do was keep staring. My god... this is sick.

Chapter 35

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.

Ravager swallowed, taking a step forward and kneeling down closely to inspect the scene. Her stomach churned a bit, but she forced the nausea down. She had seen some gruesome things before, but this was right at the top.

“Rose?” Becky said, voice crackling over a hiss of static on the comm link. “Hey, you there?”

Ravager shook herself out of the daze. “Yeah, sorry. Was just... thinking.”

“Well, what is it? What do you see?”

“It's... a body. I'll spare you the details.”

“It's that bad?”

Ravager swallowed. “Yeah.”

The body belonged to a young woman, probably one of the strip club's dancers, judging from the conversation Ravager had just overheard. The only problem was, the entire back of the woman's skull had split wide open, like an overripe melon. Brain matter splattered everywhere across the floor, but not even in a solid state. Anything inside her skull had liquified, draining out all over the floor in a bloody, sticky pool. Her eyes had also disintegrated, running out of her head in long, wet streaks. It was as though the contents of her head had just... melted. And then exploded.

Moving forward, Ravager examined the body closer, taking close observation of the woman's head. Aside from the gaping hole in the back of her skull, nothing else appeared out of the ordinary... until she saw something rather familiar. Pulling back the woman's ear, her gaze narrowed.

“Well that's interesting.”

“You find something?” Becky asked.

“There's a small hole just behind her ear,” she said. “Same spot as that needle device I pulled out of the other guy's head.”

“So you think that whatever happened to her has something to do with those devices?”

Ravager nodded. “Looks that way. My only concern is the purpose, though. They mentioned using people as puppets.”

“Wait... you don't mean, like, mind control or something, do you?” Becky asked. “Is that even a real thing?”

“We live in a world where people can fly, shoot lasers out of their eyes, and lift a jet-liner over their heads,” Ravager stated, lifting an eyebrow. “You seriously need to ask that question?”

“Well I don't know!” she exclaimed. “I'm still new to this whole... superhero thing. I don't know the kinds of stuff you deal with.”

“I know, I know.” Ravager sighed, lifting a hand to her forehead. “Sorry, I just... this whole situation is bizarre.”

“Now that I already figured out.”

“To answer your question, though, yes, it could be some form of mind control,” she explained. “Only, it doesn't look like they've perfected it, yet, judging from... this.”

Becky breathed out a long sigh. “Dios Mio... it would certainly explain why Stevens suddenly went loco on me.”

“And why a family man living on Levitt Street was moonlighting–or daylighting, rather–as a ninja,” she added. “But the question is why? What are they trying to accomplish?”

Reaching into one of the compartments on her belt, Ravager pulled out a miniature camera and began taking pictures of the scene. Any evidence was good evidence at this point, especially a dead body. She could add it to their notes and go from there. As she stood there clicking the camera, however, a voice suddenly cut her off.

“Who the hell are you?”

Blinking, Ravager slowly turned her head to see Madelyn, the woman who had been speaking with Kubrick, standing there in the doorway. “Oh... well hi there.”

“What are you doing down here?!” she yelled, taking a step forward.

“Shouldn't I be the one asking you that question?” Ravager asked, tucking away her camera. “You really should learn to clean up after your messes.”

Perfect, now I can take this b*tch down and squeeze some answers from her.

“Wonderful,” Madelyn muttered, “now I have to hide two bodies.”

With an angry growl, the woman charged forward. Ravager merely smirked, ready to put the hurt on... but what she saw in her precog made her suddenly duck and flip out of the way. As the woman swung her arm, it opened up, revealing it to be a cybernetic prosthetic. A long, razor sharp blade suddenly extended from the woman's wrist and swiped forward, just missing Ravager's neck.

“Jueputa, what's going on?!” Becky shouted, voice echoing in over the comm.

“Just a minute!” Ravager replied, ducking below another slashing strike. “Little busy right now!”

Ravager danced off to the side and reached back over her shoulder for her own blades. That's when she remembered that she had removed her swords earlier so she could disguise herself in the coat. “Sh*t!”

The woman charged again, this time thrusting the arm blade forward. Fortunately, her actions were wild and undisciplined, making it easy to evade. Turning her body out of the way, Ravager then lunged forward and tackled the woman. They landed hard on the ground, causing Madelyn's breath to rush suddenly from her lungs.

Another wild swing came in. Ravager ducked below it, then reached her hands out to grab the woman's arm, the one with the blade. In one hard, twisting motion, she bent it the wrong way, causing it to snap like twig. The woman didn't cry out with pain, considering the arm was robotic and likely didn't contain any pain receptors, but at least her main weapon had been neutralized.

The woman raised her other arm this time, trying to land a punch, but Ravager caught the fist, followed by a vicious headbutt to the woman's face. Now, Madelyn felt pain, nose going crooked and nostrils spewing crimson down her face. For good measure, Ravager delivered a hard knee to the woman's gut, then lifted her up and shoved her against a wall, cracking the plaster.

“So, you want to try that again?” Ravager said, narrowing her gaze.

“Who the... f*ck do you think... you are?” Madelyn uttered, spitting out a spray of blood from her lips. “You goddamn c-”

Ravager dealt a swift elbow to the woman's face, silencing her. “I'm The Ravager; remember it.”

“What do you... what do you want from me?”

“I want answers,” she said, her fingers tightening around Madelyn's collar. “And you're going to tell me what I want, or that broken nose will be the least of your worries.”

---

Letting out a long breath, Rose pushed open the door to her penthouse and tugged her mask off. It had been a long night, and she was just about ready to turn in. Uttering a small yawn, she walked into the kitchen to find herself a drink. Before she could even make it to the refrigerator, however, she felt a gentle pair of arms coming around her from behind, and an even gentler kiss on her neck.

“Welcome back,” Becky said.

Breathing inwardly, Rose paused a moment to turn back and give Becky a proper kiss. “Thanks.”

“So, here's a question, how the heck to you make it all the way up to the top floor of this building without anyone noticing you in that costume?

“Easy, I take the elevator from the parking garage, brings me right up to this floor,” she explained. “Not too many people wandering around down there at three in the morning, and even if there are, I'm good at keeping out of sight.”

“Hmm, still sounds risky to me,” Becky replied, pursing her lips.

“I've managed this far, haven't I?”

“Becky smirked. “So you have. Anyway, what are we going to do about this? What that woman said...”

The woman that Rose had interrogated, Madelyn Stravos, had revealed some rather unsettling information. Though Madelyn didn't know many specifics, she did mention that she had been recently contacted by Michael Kubrick, an old friend of hers now working for a man called Shao Shen. He offered her a future position of power in exchange for a few favors, one of them being to offer up her workers as subjects to his new neural devices.

Those devices, the ones that drilled into a person's brain, not only allowed control of the victim, but also increased biological functions, everything from cognitive functions to physical ability. As for what Shao was trying to accomplish through such means, Madelyn had not been informed of.

“We keep digging,” Rose said. “That's what we do. Whatever Shao is up to, I'm going to find out, and I’m going to stop him. Kubrick is still our best lead at the moment, so I'll keep following him, see what I can find.”

“Hey, you're not the only one who can do something here, you know.” Becky folded her arms, her gaze stern. “You're forgetting, I work at the same station as Kubrick. I can look in on him there.”

“No way, I'm not letting you get anymore involved in this any more than necessary.”

Becky narrowed her eyes, frowning. “Then what would you have me do, huh? Just be useless and sit here at night, talking to you over the radio? Come on, Rose, let me help you.”

“They've already tried to kill you twice,” she argued. “I'm not going to keep putting you at risk like that!”

“Rose, my life is already at risk everyday, just by being a cop,” Becky said. “Every time I put on that uniform, I know it might be the last. This isn't any different. Not to mention, you can't be Ravager during the day. That's a whole sixteen hours that you aren't investigating. Please, let me do what you can't.”

Releasing a long breath, Rose leaned forward against the counter and held a hand up to her head. She closed her eye momentarily, then shrugged her shoulders and brushed her fingers through her hair. No way Becky was going to let this go; she was too stubborn for that.

“Alright, fine,” she said. “Just... please, be careful, alright?”

A small smile came to Becky's face. She moved in and gave a light kiss, then rubbed a hand on Rose's back. “I'll be careful, promise. Now, come to bed.”

---

Becky worked quickly, rifling through all the papers in each desk drawer, hoping to find anything useful, anything out of the ordinary. She didn't know how long she had, so she couldn't afford to waste any time. Kubrick might be out on a case right now, but if he came back to find her in his office, things definitely wouldn't end well.

Hearing someone walking down the hall, she glanced up over the desk for a moment and froze. Fortunately, whoever it was kept on walking. Breathing a sigh of relief, she returned to her searching.

Nothing written down in his desk... maybe his computer?

Moving up into the desk chair, she wiggled the computer mouse to disperse the screen saver, surprised to find that the computer wasn't password protected. Digging through the computer’s files, however, she didn't actually find anything very suspicious, just the standard documents she would expect a detective to keep on his computer... except for one thing. Buried deep in the folder containing his personal case notes, Becky came across a folder named only 'X'. Giving it a curious look, she brought the cursor up and double clicked it.

More documents, most of these untitled. She opened one of them and quickly scanned through it, then another. Her heart began beating faster with every word that she read. This was the kind of information she was looking for. Only problem was, she couldn't go and sit here reading it all; she'd have to bring it back to Rose's place, then they could sort through it all there.

Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a flash drive and stuck it into the computer's USB port, then quickly copied the files over. A short few moments later, she yanked the flash drive back out, closed out of the folder, and then headed for the door. Halfway across the office, however, the door opened. Becky froze, heart skipping a beat, as Detective Riggs appeared. For a moment, he paused, just staring at her.

“What are you doing in here?” he asked, taking a step forward.

“Oh, I, uh, was just... looking for Detective Kubrick,” Becky said, moving slowly around the man. “Was, uh... going to see if he wanted to grab dinner some time, yeah.”

“I don't think he'd be interested...”

“Oh, no, sure he would,” she assured “I mean we totally have a connection and-”

“He's married.”

“Oh, uh, ha, imagine that...” Becky swallowed, clearing her throat and scurrying towards the door. “Guess I don't need to worry about it, then. I'll just be going...”

Smooth, Becky, real smooth! How did you not notice a wedding ring?

As she left, Riggs gave her a very long look, then walked around behind the desk. When he saw that the computer's screen saver was off, he narrowed his eyes and reached for the phone.

“It's Riggs,” he said, as a voice came over the other line. “Yeah, listen. We have a problem.”

---

Hovering over the computer, Rose and Becky closely examined the files that they pulled from Kubrick's office. The room was dark, the only light coming from the glow of the screen, which flickered every now and then, as Rose scrolled down or opened a new file.

“So you grabbed these off his computer, huh?” Rose asked.

“Uh, yeah...” Becky said. “Was pretty surprised it didn't have a password, to be honest.”

“No use worrying about it now, we have the files.”

And boy were these files ever revealing. Though they didn't give all the answers, there was plenty of new information. Kubrick wasn't really a member of the Silverstone City police force, for example. Well, he was, but he wasn't just that. He was a sleeper agent of sorts, for an organization referred to as the Fist of Shadows. The files didn't go into detail on the organization itself, though it did describe some of their plans.

“They're killing off mob bosses to take control of organized crime in the city...” Becky murmured, eyes narrowing at the screen. “Weeding out the competition.”

“And then using those neural stems to sink their fangs even deeper, gain control,” Rose said. “Only the devices aren't ready yet, which is why they've been testing them on nobodies. Until they can make stems that don't fail, malfunction, or otherwise kill their victims, they're not going to be attempting to advance their plans.”

“Do I even want to ask what those plans are?”

“I can make a few guesses...” Rose paused, tapping a finger against the desk. “Hold on, I have to make a call.”

Closing out of the folders, she opened her video conferencing software, putting out a call to Gotham. It wasn't too late yet, so hopefully he'd be there... Fortunately, he was. Though they had to wait about five minutes for a response, soon enough a familiar face popped up on the screen. Well, half a face, as Batman's suddenly appeared, in the Bat Bunker.

“Good, you're still there,” Rose breathed.

“Caught me just as I was heading out,” Batman replied. “What is it?”

“Whoa...” Becky leaned closer over Rose's shoulder, eyes going wider. “I still can't believe you're friends with Batman. That's actually really cool.”

Batman's gaze narrowed. “Who's that?”

“Oh! Lo siento, forgot to introduce myself,” Becky said, clearing her throat. “Rebecca Chavez. It's a real, uh, honor to meet you... um, sir.”

“Just Batman, is fine,” he said. “I've heard about you, though, Rebecca. Glad to see you two worked things out.”

Becky grinned, holding an arm around Rose's shoulder and giving a brief kiss to her cheek. “Oh, we more than worked it out.”

Rose cleared her throat, briefly averting her gaze in embarrassment. She hadn't really been intending to mention that to Dick just yet... but oh well.

In response to this, even the mighty Batman shifted slightly, eyes slowly widening. “I see...” He paused a moment, straightening himself in his seat. “So, what is this about?”

“Just a question,” Rose said. “What can you tell me about a group called the Fist of Shadows?”

Batman narrowed his eyes, thinking. “Fist of Shadows... sounds familiar. Let me check.”

In an instant, his fingers were flying across the keyboard, using that super powerful Batcomputer to its fullest. Within minutes, he pulled up the information. “Interesting...”

“What is it?”

“According to my records, the Fist of Shadows is a sub-sect of the League of Assassins,” he explained. “When the main group began warring with itself for control of leadership, a smaller collection of members broke off for good and began their own organization, the Fist of Shadows. I don't have much more information on them, since I haven't come across them myself. I can, however, add that they still hold similar beliefs as their former allies, but go about it in much different ways.”

Rose pressed her lips together, leaning forward. “Don't suppose the name Shao Shen is familiar?”

“Afraid not.”

“Well, add it to your records,” she said. “Because I'm pretty sure he's the leader of this Fist of Shadows. Crossed him once before... it didn't go well.”

“I'll add the name,” he replied, typing his fingers across the keyboard. “Before I go, do you want any help dealing with this? I can have someone on the way tonight.”

Rose shook her head. “Not yet. So far, things are pretty under control. If I do need help, I'll call again.”

“Alright, then I'll leave you to it. I have to get going.”

“Wait, hold on!” Rose pleaded.

Batman lifted an eyebrow, not that one could see it beneath his cowl. “Yes?”

“How, uh...” Rose paused, pasture slouching a little. “How's Holly doing?”

At this, Batman gives a very small smile. “She's doing well. Looking forward to seeing you again.”

“Yeah... I'll be there soon as I finish up this case. Tell her I said hi.”

“Will do,” Batman said, giving a firm nod. “Anything else?”

“Just one more thing.”

“What's that?”

“Stop picturing me and Becky in your head.”

Batman went quiet a moment, clearing his throat. He folded his arms across his chest, frowning at her. “...goodbye, Rose.” The screen went blank a second later.

Becky pursed her lips, shifting her weight slightly and putting a hand to her hip. “Well, interesting guy... not as scary as I would have thought.”

“Should have seen the first one...” Rose said, with a small laugh. “Anyway, time for me to get a move on. I get the feeling it's going to be another long night.”

Chapter #36

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.

Releasing a long breath, Michael Kubrick stepped out of the dry cleaner's and made his way down the sidewalk. Another malfunctioning stem. Just fantastic. That was not what he wanted to deal with right now. Shao was already getting impatient at the slow development; he wanted better results, something he could use without running the risk of killing half the people they implanted. The technicians were working as fast as they could, though. Shockingly, fine tuning a way to control and enhance brain functions wasn't as easy as Shao believed.

In the meantime, Kubrick had to keep other people's noses out of their business; Rebecca Chavez, for example, a woman who just didn't know when to quit. After the previous two attempts on her life, one would have thought that she would learn to stay away, but she just kept coming back. Unfortunate as it may be, now she had to be dealt with.

As he stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to change, his phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket, looking briefly at the name, and then answered, keeping his voice to a low whisper.

“What is it?” he asked.

The voice that came over on the other end was calm, yet eerily sinister at the same time. He thought he'd be used to it by now, but each time was like the first.

“No...” Kubrick sighed. “Things are coming along fine. It's just-”

The voice cut him off in mid sentence, words piercing like knives in spite of how relaxed they were.

“I don't know when they'll be ready,” he said. “We keep coming across more problems than we anticipated... yes, we're working on solving them... no, he doesn't know. I've been careful.”

And there it was, the subtle, yet very noticeable threat. A combination of insult and menace that chilled even someone like Kubrick to the core, and that was saying something.

“I assure you, sir, Shao doesn't suspect a thing. The stems will be completed eventually, and as long as he believes I'm working for him, you'll get what you want.”

The voice seemed pleased, or at least as pleased as a voice like that possibly could be. Kubrick's nerves settled down slightly. He wasn't used to that; usually he was one doing the intimidating, not the other way around.

Kubrick growled out a low breath. “Of course, yes... I'll call you when I have more information. Goodbye.”

Turning his phone off, he stuffed it back into his pocket and moved down an alley. Suddenly, he was really hungry; felt like he could eat a horse. After this next meeting, he'd have to stop somewhere and grab a bite. Breathing in deeply, he glanced back over his shoulder, then stopped outside a small door.

Tucked away here in a back alley right in the middle of the slums, it went unnoticed to the general public. But not to him. No, to him, this was a very familiar location. He raised a hand and tapped his knuckles against the frame. Two knocks. No more, no less. The small eye slot on the front of the door slid open a second later, revealing a blue pair of eyes.

“The sound of winter is cold,” Kubrick said.

The phrase was completely nonsensical, but it got the door to open. He gave the man within a simple nod, then pushed past him farther inside the dwelling. A brief walk through a narrow hallway, followed by a descent down a small set of stairs, and Kubrick finally appeared in one of the least known places of the city. It was no different from a normal pool hall, except that it also acted as a safe house for some of the lowest scum in Silverstone. Thieves, mobsters, murderers, rapists, and so much more, they'd all been known to frequent this place. Of course, that was only if they were lucky enough to find it, let alone be allowed inside. If you wanted in, you needed to make sure that the Silverstone underworld knew your name.

Kubrick moved past a couple of men playing pool, heading straight for the bar. The woman behind the counter gave him an amused look, mouth twisting into a half smirk, and hands going to her hips. She was dressed in torn, low cut jeans, and a half-shirt one size too small.

“Well, well, look who's back,” the woman said, grinning delightedly. “Just couldn't stay way, now could you?”

“You know me, Zaria. Once I get a taste...”

He loved the way she shifted her posture, hips popping out to one side and body leaning gently. If looks could kill, she would have offed him a long time ago. Everything about her, from the toned body, to her silky black hair, near perfectly shaped breasts, it all drove his senses wild. That body of hers was a canvas, too, tattoos in all the right places.

She wasn't a twig, either. She was built well, worked out, even threw a mean left hook. Not to mention, she was like him. Special. He had once seen her lay waste to an entire room full of guys just because she was bored. Bored. Normally, he'd only do something like that when he was hungry, but she was something else entirely. Zaria was his kind of woman.

“Oh I know.” Zaria leaned forward, spreading a playful smirk across her face. “You always come back for seconds.”

Kubrick let out a gruff laugh. “A little beyond seconds, aren't we?”

“Hmm, so we are,” she said, straightening her posture. “Best not let the missus hear that, though.”

Breathing out an indifferent grunt, Kubrick sat down in one of the seats in front of the bar. He rested his elbows against the counter, holding a hand over his wedding ring, as though it would suddenly disappear. “All part of the cover, Zee, you know that. Only thing Stacy is good for is keeping the house clean, and even then not so much. Your beautiful ass is the only one I need.”

Zaria grinned wider. “ Keep talking like that, and I might let you have it later. Now, did you come down hear just to ogle me, or do you have something important to discuss?”

“You know why I'm here.” Kubrick's eyes narrowed, expression growing stern. “Just letting you know the offer is still on the table. What I'm working on right now... it's big. Life changing big. I want you there with me when sh*t hits the fan.”

“Ah, right, the big plan. I told you I'd think about it.”

“And you've been thinking for quite a while.”

Zaria turned from him, grabbing a nearby washcloth. “That's 'cuz I haven't made up my mind yet.”

“I'm offering you something more out of life, Zee,” Kubrick said. “We won't have to hide anymore when this is done. We can be who we are. We can be what we are. And no one will be able to stop us.”

“You know I'm perfectly content with what I have now,” she replied, washing off the counter top with her cloth.

“And what do you have, really?” Kubrick frowned, glancing back over his shoulder at the other patrons. “An underground hangout infested by these fodder, these cattle. That's all they are: food. Yet we're forced to hide from them.”

“Yes, well those cattle also pay my bills,” she insisted. “When I feel like paying them, anyway.”

“Work with me, and you'll never have to worry about paying bills again.”

“Like I said, I'll think on it.” Throwing the washcloth over her shoulder, she folded her arms and gave him a hard stare. “Now, you want a drink or not?”

Releasing a slow breath, Kubrick leaned forward and tapped his fingers on the counter top. “Just a beer. You know my brand.”

“Coming right up.”

Turning around, Zaria moved towards the back of the bar. She bent low, reaching down for one of the ice boxes below the shelves, and purposefully sticking out her rear out as far as she could. Kubrick locked his eyes on her ass, hands held behind his head as he enjoyed the view.

Finally, Zaria slowly straightened herself and turned back around, sliding a beer bottle across the counter at him. “There you go.”

Kubrick smiled briefly, taking the bottle and raising it to his lips. Before he even got a chance to take a sip, however, a commotion drew his attention. He could hear pained shouts coming from up the stairs, back near the entrance. Suddenly, the man who had been working the door came tumbling down the steps, landing hard and rolling across the floor. Another figure then descended the stairs, at first hidden in shadows and then finally stepping into the light.

“Evening, everyone,” Ravager said, cracking her knuckles. “I hope I'm not interrupting anything.”

The two men nearest her abruptly charged. Ravager danced around their attacks with minimal effort, countering with a few hard blows that knocked them out cold. Three more men from the other side of the room came in, two wielding pool sticks and the third with a switchblade. Ravager caught one of the pool sticks and broke it in half with one hand, then kicked the man in the face, sending him tumbling backwards.

The second man swung his pool stick, but he wasn't any more successful. Yanking the stick from his hands, Ravager spun it around like a bo staff and pummeled the guy, dropping him to the floor. The third man, the one with the knife, somehow thought he'd fare better than the last four guys she beat up, and lunged at her. She simply turned to the side, swung the pool stick around, and bashed him in the back of the head. He fell unconscious instantly.

“So,” she said, tossing the pool stick to the side, “anyone else want to try?”

The few other remaining patrons quickly decided that they wanted no part of this woman, running around the sides of the room towards the stairs to get out. Ravager let them go; she wasn't after them.

“What the hell do you think you're doing?!” Zaria shouted, an almost inhuman growl erupting from her throat. “What gives you the right to barge in here and attack my customers?!”

“Technically, I only attacked the guy at the door,” Ravager explained. “The rest of them attacked me.”

Jumping up over the counter, Zaria landed on the other side in a crouch, a scowl on her face. She had that look in her eye, the one she got when she wanted death. “I'll bleed you like a pig!”

“Zee, calm yourself,” Kubrick said.

Glaring back at him, Zaria stood straight and curled her hands into fists. “But she-”

“I'll handle it, relax.”

Though keeping a hot stare on him, she backed down, taking a couple of steps back and allowing Kubrick to deal with the b*tch.

“Kubrick, right?” Ravager asked, cracking her neck from side to side. “Good, you're the one I want to talk to.”

“Oh, you wanna talk?” Kubrick took a step forward, rolling up his sleeves. “Sure, we can talk... but first, I'm gonna grab a bite to eat, if you don't mind.”

“Wasn't really planning on waiting around for you to order a meal.”

“Don't worry about that,” he said, spreading a grin across his face. “You won't have to wait long.”

Ravager stood there patiently, waiting for Kubrick to make a move. After all, he was just a normal guy, right? This really shouldn't take very long. A few well placed punches, maybe a broken kneecap, and she could start interrogating him for more information on Shao Shen and the Fist of Shadows. Unfortunately... things didn't quite go according to plan.

Kubrick grit his teeth, a pained grunt bursting past his lips, as his began to change. Muscles spasmed and grew, splitting his clothes apart. Thick hair, or rather fur, spontaneously sprouted all across his body, covering him from head to toe. His face elongated, narrowed, with his jaws coming together and forming a snout with razor sharp teeth, while his fingers extended and form equally sharp claws. Within a short few moments, the man Kubrick was no more. In his place was a beast, a monster, a... a...

“Hey, Becky?” Ravager said, taking a step back.

A small hiss of static came over her earpiece, followed by Becky's voice. “Yeah?”

“How's your knowledge on werewolves?”

“Uh... pretty limited? ...why?”

“Because I'm pretty sure there's one standing right in front of me.”

“There's...” Becky's words trailed off in confusion “Wait, what?”

The speed at which Kubrick blitzed her was astounding, far greater than a normal man. Guess that made sense, considering he was a giant wolf monster now. On the bright side, Ravager's own speed and reflexes were at a new level, ever since her training in Nanda Parbat. She reacted instantly, ducking below a sweeping claw strike and flipping herself backwards over a second attack.

“Yeah, about your detective buddy, Kubrick?” Ravager said. “He's a werewolf. Or a shapeshifter. Or... or something!

Kubrick lunged forward again, snarling. Spittle dripped from his fangs, lips curled back. When he spoke, his voice was much deeper, scratchier. “ I will rip the heart from your chest!”

“Yeah, I don't think so,” she replied, darting around another claw strike.

This time, Ravager delivered a hard kick to the werewolf's face... which did just about nothing except make him angrier. Kubrick lashed his hand–or paw?–out to grab her ankle, before she could retract her leg. With an effortless motion, he swung his arm around and tossed her through the air. She managed to twist her body around in midair, controlling her flight long enough to land against the wall and push off without sustaining any injuries, but that didn't solve her wolf problem.

“So, does that transformation come with or without fleas?” she asked.

Kubrick growled again, charging in on all fours this time. He leaped at her, but Rose rolled beneath his grasp. In the same motion, she drew both her blades and sliced upwards, feeling steel rip open flesh. The werewolf landed awkwardly, hitting the floor and colliding with the wall. He wasn't down for long, though, returning to his feet a moment later. Though he was clearly bleeding, it didn't seem to slow him down much, as he ran forward again.

Ravager twirled around his outstretched claws and cut downward with her blades, slicing through the tendons of one of his elbows. This time, he howled with pain, clutching at the wound. He might be resilient, but a severed tendon was a severed tendon; he wouldn't be able to use that arm anymore.

“Alright,” Ravager said, crouching and spinning her blades around in her hands, “so are you ready to talk, or do I have to go all 'Van Helsing' on you?”

She really should have remembered to pay more attention to her surroundings. She was so concentrated on the menacing werewolf trying to bite her face off, that she didn't notice the next attack until her precog went off, and even then it was almost too late to get out of the way. Jumping back suddenly, she felt razor sharp claws slicing straight through her armor and tearing open several long wounds across her midsection. Had she not moved in time, her intestines would be on the floor right now.

“You never should have come here!” Zara shrieked, her voice wild and distorted.

Dropping one of her swords, Ravager held a hand to her wounds and looked back at the woman... or at least, the person who used to be a woman. While still feminine in appearance, most of her features had changed. Zaria's skin had become bright blue in color, now covered with what looked like tiny scales, while her mouth had widened and grown multiple rows of sharp, spiny teeth, like a shark.

Her body had grown, too, becoming taller and more muscular, causing her most of her clothes to tear off, while spiky ridges had developed along her backside. Add to that a long, whip-like tail growing out from the back of her waist, and Ravager had no bloody clue what the hell to make of it.

“What the f*ck are you supposed to be?” Ravager muttered.

The only answer she received was an angry, shrieking growl, as the she-beast lunged in again and swung wildly with her claws. Ravager dodged, then countered with another vicious sword slash. Only problem was, she hit air. Apparently, Zaria was quite agile, having no issue moving out of the way of the attack. No only that, but she was strong, too, a lot stronger than Ravager had anticipated. Zaria dove forward landing on top of Ravager and pinning her against the floor.

Not good, not good!

Zaria opened her mouth wide, exposing the multiple layers of of razor sharp teeth, then lunged in with every intent to tear open Ravager's jugular. Unfortunately for her, Ravager managed to twist her blade around at the right angle to place the sharp edge between herself and her attacker. Zaria bit down directly on the blade, and although her jaw strength shattered the sword, she recoiled with a howl of pain, as the razor edge shredded the inside of her mouth.

The grip on Ravager's shoulders loosened slightly, allowing her to slip out from beneath her attacker. She rolled backwards, popped back up to her feet again, and then... flew through the air, as Kubrick body-checked her through a wall and into the next room.

Slightly dazed, Ravager looked up from her backside just in time to see the werewolf standing over her and lunging in again. She just managed to get her arm up in time, feeling Kubrick's jaw clamp down around her forearm. At the same time, his claws sank into her side, puncturing straight through her armor and into flesh. Suppressing a sharp scream of pain, Ravager reached for her fallen sword, the one that Zaria had shattered.

With a deft motion, she thrust the short, broken point forward and stabbed the side of Kubrick's neck. The werewolf instantly released her and howled, staggering backwards through the broken hole in the wall. He knelt there for several moments, then yanked the blade out of his neck and threw it back at Ravager. Coughing blood, he slowly began to revert back into his human form.

Zaria, now also having reverted to her human form, hurried to his side. She spat out a large mouthful of blood, then helped him to his feet. “Michael! We have to get you to a hospital, now!”

“I'll be fine!” he growled.

“You will not be fine,” she said. “You're bleeding too much, and you don't heal as fast in this form. I'm not going to let you die.”

Grumbling slightly, Kubrick held a palm to his bleeding neck. She was right, of course. Even with what he was, he wouldn't last long like this without medical attention. “Fine. Still keep a change of clothes in the back?”

“Of course.”

“Good, grab them.” Kubrick pushed her away, then walked over to the remains of his shredded pants. “I'm going to finish taking care of our problem.”

Pulling a gun from the pants, he stalked back towards the giant hole in the wall. When he made it into the next room, however, he didn't find anything; the woman was gone. Angrily, he beat his fist against the wall, fist crashing straight through the wood. “Damn it!”

---

Making her way up to a nearby rooftop, Ravager collapsed against the parapet and let out a grunt. She was losing blood, but not too much. Her armor, though it had been cut through like paper, had offered some protection, and the wounds weren't too severe. But it hurt. A lot. These weren't normal wounds. She'd had cuts and gashes like this before, and she knew how they felt. But these... they burned. Like fire.

F*cking werewolf, and... whatever that other b*tch was. Was not prepared to deal with that.

As she took in a few sharp breaths, the radio suddenly hissed against her ear. Becky's voice shouted over the comm, practically deafening her. “Rose! Are you there? What the hell happened?!”

“I got torn up by a couple of monsters, that's what happened,” she muttered.

“So, you're serious, then? A... werewolf?”

“Yeah, and some kind of demonic shark/lizard/alien thing,” she said. “I swear, if I run into a sparkly vampire next, I'm gonna be really pissed.”

“Dios mio...” Becky breathed. “Are you alright?”

Ravager shrugged, grunting indifferently. “I'll live. Might need to get patched up quick, though.”

“I'll have the first aid kit ready. Just- huh?” Becky's voice suddenly cut out in silence.

Ravager blinked, eye narrowing. “Becky?”

“Rose, uh, the power just went out,” she said.

“What?”

“I got nothing, I'm stumblingly around in the dark here.”

Furrowing her brow, Ravager looked off into the distance. She could see the Silverstone Residential building from there, and sure enough, it was completely dark. “If something happened to the power, the building's backup generator should have come on.”

“Well there's -ow!” Becky stumbled, shouting out in pain. “Hijo de puta! I do not remember that chair being there!”

“Alright, just hold on,” Ravager said. “I'm not far. Be there in five.”

“Do you have any candles or anything? I could really use-” Her words cut out again, stopping in mid sentence.

At first, Ravager thought it was just a glitchy signal, but she soon realized that Becky went silent on purpose. A second later, she heard the sound of a gun being cocked. “What the hell is going on, Becky?”

“I don't know,” came the whispered response. “I thought I heard something.”

“What are you-”

“Sh*t, there's someone in here. I can hear him.”

Ravager flinched at the declaration. No power meant no security, no matter how advanced it was. No security meant that anyone could waltz right inside. But who was it? Did they come for Becky? How did they even know where to find her? Ravager's heart beat faster, going into full on panic mode. Ignoring the pain from her wounds, she sprinted across to rooftop.

“You see anyone and you shoot them, got it? I'm on my way now, I'll-”

Two gunshots went off. Then, she heard the sound of crashing furniture. A dazed grunt next, followed by glass shattering. And then static, as the communicator died. A numb sensation bubbled up in Ravager's throat. She ran faster now.

Hold on, Becky, I'm coming!

Chapter #37

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.

Ravager crashed through the front door, forcing it open. By now, the building's power had returned, allowing her to get a good look at just what condition her penthouse was in. The entire place was in shambles, ransacked to the fullest degree. Moving past the overturned furniture and scattered belongings, she made her way into the bedroom, flicking the light on. She found it much the same in here, as well.

Becky's gun lay on the ground, two shell casings nearby. Ravager knelt down for a moment to examine it, then looked behind her, towards the door. Two bullet holes in the wall. That meant Becky had missed whoever she was aiming at. But she didn't go down without a fight, either, judging from the scene. The bedroom was an even bigger mess, the entire place torn apart. Regardless of how well she had fought back, though, Becky was still gone.

Ravager suddenly thought back to the vision she'd had in Nanda Parbat, the one of Becky being beaten and tortured by someone for information. She had come back in order to make sure that didn't happen, but now it looked like coming back hadn't change anything at all.

No, no, no. I came back to prevent that, I'm not going to fail. I am not losing her!

Whatever it took, she was going to find Becky. But she couldn't do that in her current condition. Fighting through her worry and panic, Ravager stumbled into the bathroom and pulled out a first aid kit, while stripping off her armor. She worked quickly, trying not to waste any time as she patched herself up. She did a crude job of it, but it was passable for now. The worst of the damage was her mangled forearm; though she could still move and use it fairly well, her effectiveness with that arm was nowhere near top form, and it hurt like hell.

And why does it burn so much? Sh*t, feels like it's on fire.

She didn't dwell on it, though, returning to the bedroom and putting her armor back on. The biggest problem she had right now was that she didn't know where to even start looking. She didn't know who took Becky, or where they could have gone. With no power in the building at the time, it meant there wouldn't be any security footage, either. No leads, no way to find her. Unless...

Alright, please work.

Sitting down cross-legged on the floor, Ravager closed her eye and inhaled a deep breath, trying to calm and clear her mind. The vision she'd had before, it had occurred during meditation. She didn't know how it happened, but it had clearly been a form of her precog. So long ago, Dick had guessed that her power was evolving, and so it had. First to extend to those around her, and now to full on being able to see the future. But... was it a one time thing? Or could she figure out a way to make these visions happen? And could she control what she saw?

Taking in another deep breath, she felt the outside world beginning to disappear. She was retreating into herself, mind delving deep into her subconscious. Slowly, but surely, the world began to change. She opened her eye, witnessing fuzzy images coming into focus. Just like before, everything was washed out and colorless, a bit blurry even, but it was definitely a vision.

Standing up, Ravager moved forward, taking a careful look at her surroundings. Something was wrong; this place was the same as it was before. In the first vision, she'd been in some kind of large tool shed, or something of that nature. Now it looked like she was in a restaurant kitchen. Her heart skipped a beat. Did something go wrong? Was she seeing a different vision entirely, unrelated to Becky?

Damn it! Come on, this can't be wrong!

A sharp sound stung the air. Ravager's gaze snapped towards it, teeth clenching. Sounded like... a pained yelp. Straining her ears, she listened closer. This time, she heard a loud thwack, followed by another yell. And then shouting; a man, angry.

Swallowing a lump in her throat, she followed the sounds through the kitchen, coming out on the other side of large, swinging doors. She was the back area of the kitchen now; extra supplies, a sink, and a partially open door to a large, walk-in freezer.

Ravager ran to the freezer, throwing the door open wide. What she saw made her stomach twist in a knot. It was Becky, tied to the chair just as in her previous vision, only this time she was in worse condition. Knocked to the floor, several long cuts bled across her forehead, and her nose twisted at an odd angle, clearly broken. A large pool of crimson grew rapidly around her face, some from her nose and some from the large crack on the back of her skull.

The man administering this punishment slowly circled his victim, a steel pipe in hand. One end of his weapon dripped with fresh droplets of crimson. Ravager recognized this man now. She had seen him before... Riggs, she thought. Detective Riggs, Kubrick's partner.

“One last chance to tell me who you're working with,” Riggs said. “If you cooperate, I'll make it quick. Painless. Refuse... and I get to have a little fun.”

With a twisted smile, he took the end of the pipe and jabbed it between Becky's legs. A sickening, disgusting laugh chortled from his throat, as he dug the end of the pipe deeper. Becky grunted, closing her eyes and trying to crawl away, but it was no use. There was nowhere to go.

Son of a b*tch...

Ravager clenched her fists tightly, wanting more than anything to rip that man apart. But she couldn't do anything right now. This wasn't real, it was a vision. She had to find out where she was, had to get there before this happened.

Sprinting out of the freezer and kitchen, she headed through the main part of the restaurant until finally pushing outside. The city streets were blank, nothing more than a black, quivering abyss. She wasn't here for the sights, though. Turning around, she stared up at the restaurant's sign. It was blurry, too blurry to read. Taking in a deep breath, she focused, concentrated... The words slowly began to clear up. Just a little more...

Marchini's Italian Restaurant! Got it!

In the next instant, the entire world faded away, as Ravager came out of her vision back into the real world. Snapping her eye open, she lurched upright, a sudden stab of pain ripping through her ribs. She stumbled, but kept going, fighting through the pain. Couldn't let a few scratches stop her now.

---

Rebecca Chavez breathed outwardly, trying to come to her senses. Everything was in a haze, after that shot to the head. She couldn't even remember coming here... one minute, she was fighting tooth and nail against an intruder trying to kidnap her, and the next minute she was waking up here, in some kind of walk-in freezer. Where the hell was she?

“Rise and shine,” a voice said from behind her.

Suddenly, something hard poked the side of her head. She blinked, glancing to her right to see Detective Riggs standing there, holding a long metal pipe. A few more seconds, and things finally cam back into complete focus.

“Pendejo...” she uttered. “Keep that thing away from me.”

“What, this?”

Crack! The pipe smacked into her shoulder, eliciting a sharp cry of pain from her throat. She swallowed, gritting her teeth and glaring back at him.

“Should have just left well enough alone,” he said, shaking his head. “You'd think after the first couple of times we tried to stop you, you'd get the message. But no, you just had to keep digging.”

“Well, I am a curious one. Didn't really think your sloppy work would go unnoticed, did you?”

Riggs scoffed. “Just needed it to go unnoticed long enough. Once you're out of the way, that won't be a problem.”

“How'd you even find me?” Becky asked. “I wasn't at my apartment.”

“Those files you stole from Kubrick's computer? They contained a very special virus. As soon as you uploaded them elsewhere, the virus infected your computer, and long as you were connected to the internet, we could track exactly where the virus spread to. Led us right to you.”

Becky's eyes narrowed. “Must think you're pretty clever.”

“I do my part.” Riggs circled around her, tapping the pipe against his shoulder. “Now tell me, who are you working with?”

“You ask that like you expect me to tell you,” she said, chuckling softly.

“We know she's come back,” he said. “The Blade.”

“Actually, she prefers Ravager. Just an FYI.”

Riggs leaned forward, bringing his face close to hers. “Who is she?!”

“Go to Hell.” Becky crossed her brows, moving her head a little forward and then spitting out a large glob of saliva into Riggs' face.

Riggs recoiled, wiping the spit from his cheek. “F**king b*tch!”

Then, he suddenly swung his weapon at her. Hard. The pipe caromed off the side of her head, knocking her straight to the floor. She landed with a thud, too dazed to even utter a word of pain. Instead, she just lied there, gazing up at the now spinning room. A warm trickle of blood began to spread through her hair, dripping onto the floor.

“Wrong answer,” Riggs muttered. “Care to try again?”

He held the tip of the pipe against her chin, eyes narrowing at her. She didn't say anything, mostly because she was still in too much of a daze to even think straight. He was patient, though; he could wait for her senses to come back.

But he never got that long.

Without warning, the freezer door flew open. A wild figure lunged at Riggs, knocking him to the floor and pummeling his face mercilessly with closed fists.

“Touch another hair on her head!” Ravager screamed. “I dare you!”

She was bloodlusted. Her fists don't stop, driving down against the man's face viciously, beating him to a bloody pulp. She felt bones cracking, blood spurting, and she heard his desperate cries, but still she didn't stop.

“I'll kill you, do you hear me?!” She clubbed her fist across his brow this time, severing one of his eyes from its socket. “Kill you!”

And she was killing him. She could feel it, feel his life slowly draining away as his face split apart farther and farther into a wet, bloody mess.

But then, she heard Becky's voice. “Rose! Stop!”

Her fist froze in mid swing, still raised high above her. She breathed in deeply several times, staring down at the man. Riggs' face was a nothing more than crimson paste at this point, but miraculously he was still alive. He uttered a few, agonized groans, followed by hoarse coughs filled with blood.

Swallowing a hard knot, Ravager stumbled back off of the man and sat on the floor, leaning against her hands. “Right... right, we still need him.”

“Si... he's done,” Becky uttered. “Now how about giving me a hand here?”

Once Ravager had untied her, Becky pushed herself up into a sitting position, teetering slightly as a bubble of nausea found its way into her gut. Holding a hand to her head, she closed her eyes and inhaled. “Oy, that smarts.”

“You alright?” Ravager asked. “You're bleeding.”

“I'll be okay...” she assured. “Just dazed. No big.”

“Becky, I'm sorry... I shouldn't have gotten you into this.”

“I was already in it before you even got here, remember?” Becky smiled lightly, trying not to let the pain show. “Besides, I'm the one who insisted I help.”

Ravager bowed her head, sighing. “And I let you.”

“Like you had a choice,” Becky said, breathing out a soft laugh. “I'm just glad you found me... how did you find me?”

“I'll tell you later. Right now, I need to squeeze a few answers out of mush face over there.”

“And then?”

“Then, we're going home,” she said. “I've had enough excitement for one night, and I could use a hot bath.”

“Mmm.” Becky's lips curled into a pleasant grin. “You and me both.”

---

Rose lied calmly on the bed, trying not to pay attention to how much of a mess her penthouse was in. There would be plenty of time to clean it tomorrow, and right now all she wanted to do was get some rest. The night had been far more eventful and painful than she had anticipated. As she sucked in a deep breath of air, she felt Becky's arm wrap around her, a light kiss pressing against her neck.

“Does it hurt?” Becky asked, tracing a gentle hand over the bandages wrapping Rose's naked midsection.

Rose looked down, flinching slightly at Becky's fingers. Even the softest of touches caused a strong, burning pain to tipple through her body. “Nah, it's fine, really... just stings a little. I heal fast, though, so don't worry.”

Becky inhaled a deep breath, cuddling closer and resting her chin on Rose's shoulder. “Think I'll take tomorrow off, help you clean up here. Don't really feel like going in with this headache, either.”

“Or with Kubrick still on the loose,” Rose muttered. “I messed him up pretty good, but with what he is... well, for all we know he could be perfectly fine by tomorrow. I don't think Riggs will be a problem, though.”

“Yeah... you really did a number on him.” Becky breathed out a sigh, glancing away momentarily. “Even after you tore his face part.”

“He wouldn't talk...” Rose said, shifting her eyes to the side. “And we needed that information. Plus, he hurt you. He was going to kill you. I wasn't letting him get off for that... so I did what I had to.”

“I know, but still... it was hard to watch.”

“Nothing he won't recover from in a month. Or five.” Rose cleared her throat, brushing her hair back over her ear. “The hospital will take care of him.”

Becky paused, bowing her head and slowly nodding. “Right... so what's the plan, anyway?

“Tomorrow, we go after their source,” she explained. “We know where they're building those stems now, so we're going to shut them down. And when I say we, I mean me.”

“But, Rose-”

“No buts, Becky. Even I'm starting to get in over my head here.” Rose moved her gaze firmly back to Becky, locking their eyes together. “I am not putting you in that kind of danger again.”

Leaning up on her elbow, Becky frowned at her. “So what, you're just going to keep me locked up in a protective cage until all this is over? I'm not some helpless kitten that needs to be sheltered, Rose.”

“I almost lost you today!” she countered, sitting up straight in bed now. “And that was just to Riggs! What if Kubrick finds you? Or that monster friend of his? What if I'm not there to... I don't want you getting hurt anymore because of me.”

“So then teach me.”

“What?”

“You heard me.” Becky folded her arms across her chest, glaring. “If I'm not capable of handling myself, then teach me how, teach me what you do. Everything you know.”

Rose let out a small breath, already starting to shake her head. “Becky...”

“You listen to me, Rose Wilson,” Becky said, pointing a finger directly into Rose's chest. “I like you. I really like you. And I want to be with you, no matter the risk, got that? I'm not going to have you feeling sorry for yourself because you can't protect me, because guess what? You're not always going to be able to. If you really want to make sure that your work doesn't get me hurt, then you teach me how to deal with it.”

For several moments, silence came between the two. Becky's stare was adamant, unwavering. Rose knew that look, knew when Becky wasn't going to let something go. Holding a hand to her forehead, she breathed out a long sigh and closed her eye.

Don't do it. You'll regret it. But she argued with herself. It would be for her own protection. It's not like you'd be taking her out with you every night.

Eventually, Rose bowed her head in defeat. “Alright, fine, I'll teach you. Eventually. Something like that isn't going to happen over night, it takes time... a lot of time. Hell, I've had a whole lifetime. But I have to move on those stems tomorrow, and I'm not leaving you alone again while this is going on. If I promise to train you, can you please agree to stay safe until this is over?”

Inhaling deeply, Becky pursed her lips, thinking. Finally, she exhaled her breath and nodded. “Si, I can do that.”

“Good... I know just how to do it, too,” Rose said. “But we can deal with that tomorrow. For now... I just want to get some sleep.”

---

The hospital room was dark and quiet, the only sound coming from the steady beeping of the heart monitor. Riggs took in a deep breath and slowly let it out, barely awake. The drugs they put him on had really taken him for a loop, but they didn't quite knock him out. The whole room was swirling, rippling... but at least there was no pain.

His thoughts were still clear, though. He still remembered the b*tch that put him here. When he got out, one way or another he was going to make her pay. First, he'd carve up Rebecca, maybe leave a few remains behind for Ravager to find. Then, when he got his hands on her... oh he'd have some fun alright.

As he lied there, lost in his thoughts, he didn't notice the door opening. He didn't even notice that anyone else had entered the room until a figure appeared above.

“Kew...rick...?” he mumbled, barely able to out a single word through his broken jaw.

“I heard you were here,” Kubrick said, folding his arms. “What happened?”

“Tat... itch... wit... duh swerds...” he uttered. “She... didis.”

“I see... yes, I can certainly believe that.” Kubrick paused a moment, lifting a hand to his chin. “But you did at least take care of Chavez, correct?”

Riggs ever so slightly shook his head. “She... stot ne...”

Kubrick breathed out a heavy sigh. “Couldn't even complete the one job I assigned to you... and she probably got the location of our base out of you, didn't she?”

All Riggs could do was slowly nod his head.

“Now look at you, lying in a hospital bed, useless,” Kubrick said. “Very unfortunate... Looks like we don't have need for you anymore.”

“Wha... wudda you...?” he groaned, shifting ever so slightly in his bed.

“Although, there is one thing you might be good for... I am still rather hungry.”

And then it happened. The man standing in front of him, the man known as Kubrick, transformed into a monster. That was the only way to describe it. A hulking mass of fur and claws, some kind of wolf beast. If he could scream, he would, but his voice caught suddenly in his throat. The last thing he saw was Kubrick's snarling jaws snapping down at him.

Chapter #38

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.

Rose worked her way around the living room, picking up overturned furniture, sweeping up broken glass, vacuuming, and pretty much cleaning every corner of the her penthouse. Riggs had really torn the place apart when he came to get Becky. Whether it was a product of their fight, or whether he was looking for something, she didn't know. Either way, she had several hours of cleaning ahead of her at least.

“So, are you okay with it?” she asked, holding the phone between her ear and shoulder.

A sigh came in over the line, followed by Dick Grayon's caring, yet also stern voice. “I still don't like it. Her coming here, I mean. I'm happy to help, you know that... but you don't really think she's going to buy that I'm a friend of yours in Gotham, completely unrelated to Batman, do you? She'll figure it out.”

“Yeah, well... maybe,” Rose said, lifting up a fallen picture frame and placing it back on the end table. “But if she does, you don't have to worry. She's a good person; she can be trusted.”

“I now you trust her with your secret, Rose, but this is different. This is bigger.”

Rose frowned, holding a hand to her hip. “What, you're saying your secret is so much better than mine?”

“That's not what I-”

“Look, Dick, please,” she said, breathing out a heavy sigh. “I need your help here. I don't want to risk losing Becky during this whole fiasco, I need her to be safe. I don't want to... I just... I like her, you know? I really, really like her. I...”

Dick uttered a sigh of his own, pausing a moment before his voice came back over the phone. “Alright, I'll do it. For you. If you trust her... then I will, too.”

“Thanks, Dick... really, I mean it.”

“Besides,” he added, clearing his throat slightly, “I have already run an extensive background check on her. She's clean.”

“You ran a...? Of course you did...” she said, shaking her head slowly. “Anyway, thanks again. Silverstone just isn't a safe place for her right now, not after the lengths they've gone to try and kill her already.”

“I understand,” Dick said. “And my offer still stands, by the way. Do you still not need help with this?”

“I'm... not sure.” Rose shifted her weight momentarily, bowing her head. “I thought I was fine, but after last night...”

“What happened?”

She paused a second, clearing her throat. “Uh... well, what do you know about werewolves?

“...werewolves?”

“I know it's a stupid question, just answer it.”

“Actually, it's not as dumb as you might think...” he explained, his tone growing contemplative. “I've encountered one before.”

Rose raised an eyebrow, sitting down on the couch. “You have?”

“Yes, his was Kyle Abbot...” Dick explained. “Although, I'm not certain if he was a werewolf in the sense most people think. Why do you ask?”

“Because I fought one last night,” she said. “Goes by the name of Michael Kubrick. One minute he was just a man, and the next he transformed at will, not exactly your full moon type.”

“I see...”

“And then there was that friend of his, some kind of shark alien chick. I don't know what the hell she was, but same deal. Perfectly human one minute, and then freak monster the next.”

Dick took in a small breath, thinking. “Well, I can't help you on the 'shark alien', but if this Kubrick is in fact infected with some form of lycanthropy, and isn't just a shapeshifter, I'd try silver. From what I've heard, it's like poison to them.”

“Silver, huh?” Rose said. “Pretty sure I can round up some of that.”

“Oh, and try not to let him bite you. That's how some strains of the lycanthropy virus are spread, through the host's saliva.”

Rose froze, her back suddenly stiffening. She swallowed, glancing down at her forearm, the one bitten by Kubrick last night. The noticeable physical damage had already begun to heal, which was pretty normal for her, and the regular pain had all but disappeared. But it still burned. Somewhere deeper in the wound, it was like fire.

No, can't be... just being paranoid.

“Uh, yeah, right,” she said. “I'll keep that in mind. Thanks.”

“You're welcome,” Dick replied. “Now, I'll be sending someone out to assist you later on. She'll be there tonight.”

“Alright, I'll keep a lookout. Becky will be by later, too. I'll give her the address.”

“Sounds good. Goodbye, Rose.”

When the connection clicked off, Rose gave another cursory glance to her bandaged arm, then stuffed her phone in her pocket and continued cleaning. A short while later, Becky exited out of the bedroom, hair wet and dressed in nothing but a towel, having just finished up a shower.

“So, what did that friend of yours say?” Becky asked.

“It's all taken care of,” she assured. “You're good to go as soon as you're ready.”

“And you're sure you'll be fine?”

Rose nodded. “No worries here. If all goes according to plan, this will end tonight. I just need to stop Shao... Kubrick, too. Once the head's been cut off, the snake dies.”

“Ah, but the head can still bite,” Becky said. “So be careful.”

“I will be.”

“Good.” Moving forward, Becky wrapped her arms warmly around Rose, smiling. She leaned closer, pressing their lips together in a deep kiss, and at the same time allowing her towel to drop to the floor. “Then before I go, let's have a little fun, ah?”

---

Leaning back against the rooftop parapet, Ravager looked up towards the sky. Any minute now, that was when Dick said his 'help' would arrive. Of course, he hadn't exactly been specific on who that person was. All she knew was that it was a 'she'. Probably Batgirl, which didn't exactly lift Ravager's spirits. That's just what she needed when battling a master martial artist, a werewolf, and a shark alien: an excitable, overeager spaz.

A short moment later, it appeared on the horizon. At first, it was just a small glow of light, but soon the aircraft approached into full view. It was the Bat-Jet, alright. Definitely Batgirl, in that case. Taking in a deep breath, Ravager tried to mentally prepare herself on how to deal with this girl, while she watched the jet hover momentarily and then descend to park itself on the rooftop. When the cockpit began to open, she pushed herself away from the parapet and walked towards it... only to freeze in mid stride when she saw the person getting out of the jet.

You have got to be kidding me.

Not Batgirl, no. A different member of the Bat Family, and one that was unfortunately very familiar. Her outfit had been modified since they last met, but the stylish domino mask around her eyes did little to conceal her actual identity. The rest of the costume was almost the same, all black with a gold bat symbol and utility belt.

Cassandra-f**king-Cain.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Ravager asked, narrowing her gaze coldly.

“I was sent here,” came the indifferent response.

Ravager shook her head. “No, I get that. But why you?

It was no secret that these two women didn't get along well. They'd had a long outstanding rivalry ever since their first encounter when Ravager had been assigned by Deathstroke – back when she'd been drugged and under his control – to kill Cassandra, Batgirl at the time. But Ravager had been young, then, barely sixteen. She didn't have the skill yet, nor the experience, and even though their battle had been near even, the older woman had bested her in the end.

They were able to have a rematch a couple years later, and by that time Ravager had grown in skill. But, even though Ravager had been winning that fight, the results were left inconclusive due to outside interference. Then, some time later, they had even worked together, albeit rather reluctantly, to take down their mercenary/assassin fathers. Needless to say, however, they had failed in that task, and didn't exactly leave on great terms.

So why on earth had Dick decided to send her?

“Batman... thought I could help,” Cassandra stated. “Problem?”

Grumbling slightly under her breath, Ravager turned away and began walking across the rooftop. “No, fine, whatever. Just try to keep up.”

“I can... do more than that,” she said, giving Ravager a firm look. “You know.”

Leaping down into an alley, Ravager made her way between the line of buildings, stepping around garbage and climbing over a chain-link fence. Naturally, Cassandra kept pace with her the entire way, with little effort.

“So what am I supposed to call you, anyway?” Ravager asked. “Or are there two Batgirls?”

“Black Bat.”

Stopping, Ravager slowly turned her head to stare at the woman. “Uh uh, no way, I'm not calling you that.”

Cassandra lifted a curious eyebrow. “Why?”

“Seriously?” Ravager scoffed out a laugh, shaking her head. “Black Bat? Were you that short on ideas that you just took a color and threw it in front of the word 'bat'? It's almost as bad as Red Robin.”

“I don't see a problem,” Cassandra said, idly shrugging her shoulders.

“If you were that desperate for a codename, I could have come up with a few... like Batb*tch, for example. Yeah, I think that suits you.” Folding her arms, Ravager sneered slightly, trying to get a read on the woman. Cassandra's expression didn't change, though, remaining indifferent, stolid.

“Black Bat is fine,” she insisted.

Ravager rolled her eyes. “Whatever, it's still lame, and I'm still not calling you by it.”

“And Ravager is better?”

“Of course it's-- what the hell's wrong with Ravager?” Without saying anything, Cassandra simply turned away and continued down the alley. Ravager blinked a couple times, then hurriedly chased after her. “Hey!”

---

It all made sense, after she had learned from Riggs that the neural stems were being manufactured beneath the old S.T.A.R. Labs storage warehouse. The day she and Becky had searched this place and encountered that controlled guy dressed as a ninja, he hadn't been breaking in to steal anything; he'd been running home to his puppeteers. Had it been a test run? Maybe. Or just another malfunction that made him go running around the city in broad daylight dressed like that.

And how Shao had 'known' that Ravager would come back. He hadn't known at all. He'd just stopped by to check on progress, and they happened to cross paths. At least, that was how Ravager put it together now in her head. Either way, the plan was pretty straightforward. Get in, break up the operation, and get out. If Shao was there, then that was a bonus. It meant she wouldn't have to go hunting him down later.

The two women kept low, moving through the shadows and making their way to the side of the building. Cassandra paused a moment, glancing at Ravager curiously. “The woman you sent to Batman for... protection. A friend?”

“Partner.”

“Oh, yes.” Cassandra nodded with understanding. “He said you were... a cop.”

“Uh, not anymore actually,” she said. “I meant the other kind of partner.”

Blinking, Cassandra gave her a brief, confused look. Slowly, a look of revelation came over her. “Oh... I see. I didn't think you were, um... with how you-”

“Incessantly flirted with any guy that moved? Yeah, I thought I was hetero to the bone, too.” Ravager walked up to the drain pipe on the side of the building, near the broken window. She gave it a little tug, then hoisted herself up against the wall. “But a little while ago, I realized something: why should I let something stupid like gender get in the way of someone I care about? Becky is... she's good to me. And I really like her. That's all there is to it.”

Cassandra shrugged her shoulders, climbing up behind Ravager. “I meant, with how you... slipped naked into men's beds.”

Ravager turned her head, glaring down at Cassandra below her. “That was one time. And I was drunk. And he kicked me out anyway!”

Cassandra merely held her stare, lifting a subtle eyebrow.

“Okay, it was several times. But I was only naked that once! Ugh, come on, we're wasting time.”

---

It was dark inside, as expected. Ravager clicked a button on her belt, causing the lens on her mask to switch over to night vision. How Cassandra managed to keep pace without stumbling over herself was a mystery, but whatever. After a quick descent down the stairs, they found themselves in the main storage area. This wasn't their destination, however. According to Riggs, the actual base was located in an underground cave system below the building, the entrance to which was across the room and down another set of stairs.

As Ravager and Cassandra made their way in that direction, however, they were suddenly interrupted. Ravager froze, as her precog went off, a hand flying out to Cassandra's shoulder to stop her. Kneeling down, she carefully inspected what appeared to be thin air. However, she could see it clearly now that she was paying attention: an almost invisibly thin line of wire running across the aisle in front of them.

“Trip wire,” Ravager said. “Rigged with explosives.”

Standing straight again, Ravager went to step over the wire, only to feel Cassandra's hand come to her shoulder this time and pull her back.

“A second,” Cassandra stated, pointing. “Behind it.”

Ravager looked down again, her gaze indeed finding a second trip wire, right in the path of where her foot had been coming down. Narrowing her eyes, she turned and gave Cassandra a small glare, then carefully stepped over that one as well. Without looking back again, she continued forward through the warehouse, carefully scanning for the entrance to the cave.

And that's when she realized that they weren't alone. Cassandra noticed it, too, suddenly tensing up and going on guard. It wasn't her precog that gave it away, though, no. Just... a feeling. A feeling that suddenly, something was different. Glancing upward, she saw them. A lot of them, standing atop the surrounding shelves and stacks of pallets, a grand total of at least fifty ninjas. Yeah, ninjas. For a brief moment, she felt as though she were trapped in a badly written comic book.

“You take the ones on the left, I'll take the ones on the right?” she suggested.

Cassandra nodded. “That works.”

The ninjas suddenly sprang down from their vantage point, coming at the two in swarms. A shame, really; Ravager had half been hoping that they'd do the whole 'one a time' thing. No such luck. Still, it wasn't anything she couldn't handle. She found that they all moved incredibly slow, relatively speaking. When they lunged in to attack, she barely even had to move to avoid them, countering with crippling blows. Likewise, Cassandra tore through her opponents with similar ease.

The two allies moved around each other, as the enemy group closed in on them. They covered each other's backs, assisted when needed, and kept the other alive. In spite of their overall distaste for each other, they actually worked surprisingly well together. Within several minutes, every last ninja lay on the ground, either unconscious or rolling around in pain, unable to stand.

“Not bad,” Ravager muttered, brushing off her hands. “For a Batb*ch.”

“Yes,” Cassandra stated, hands coming to her hips. “Not bad... for you.”

Ravager glared again, folding her arms across her chest. She couldn't decide if that comment brought Cassandra up a notch in her book, or down. “Right, well anyway, let's keep moving. We have to- Look out!”

After a sudden flash of precog, Ravager leaped forward and tackled Cassandra, knocking them both out of the way of an incoming attack. The large brown fur ball descended upon them, missing his target and instead colliding with the floor. Unfazed by the impact, the figure recovered and lunged in again for an attack, but Ravager was ready, swinging up one of her blades and forcing the assailant to back off.

“ Impressive, girl,” Kubrick growled. “But this time, I tear you apart!”

A second later, another figure leaped down from above, this one going for Cassandra. With little effort, Cassandra avoided the incoming claws, jumping back and raising her guard to defend herself against the new attacker. It was that Zaria woman, Kubrick's friend. And just like Kubrick, she had already transformed, in all her blue skinned, scaly, razor toothed glory.

“Werewolves and shark monsters,” Cassandra said, blinking curiously. “That's new.”

Ravager scoffed. “Tell me about it.”

Zaria shrieked, rushing in again for an attack. “I am a Celarian, you ignorant sow!”

Cassandra ducked beneath the incoming strikes easily enough, though she had to work for it this time. Zaria's motions were fast, vicious, and unpredictable. Well, unpredictable to anyone other than Cassandra and Ravager, both of whom had their own ways of figuring out attacks before they happened.

But Ravager wasn't dealing with Zaria. No, she had to contend with Kubrick, lucky her. With a bestial roar, Kubrick pounced forward, claws outstretched, but Ravager rolled beneath him out of the way. He landed on his hind legs, turning quickly and clawing at her again. Turning to the side, she flicked her sword out, cutting the underside of his arm. Recoiling, Kubrick, took a few moments to circle her, studying her.

“I guess you heal pretty fast,” Ravager said, holding her blade at the ready. “I could have sworn I crippled your ass last night.”

“One of the benefits to what I am,” he replied, a low growl grumbling in his throat.

“And just what are you, huh? Shape shifter, right? Thought the whole wolf motif was cool?”

If a wolf could sneer, Kubrick would be doing so right now. “I think you already know. By the way, how's your arm?”

Ravager flinched, glancing down briefly at her forearm, still bandaged tightly beneath her armor. Most of the pain was gone, sure, and she had regained most of its functionality, but that deep, dull burning still lingered, and it wasn't going away. Bringing her gaze back up to Kubrick again, she charged him. She wasn't going to wait for him to attack again, no. This time, she went on the offensive.

Kubrick was fast and agile, sure, but so was Ravager. He might have her beat on pure strength alone, but she had a lot of something he didn't have: skill. His actions were wild, unfocused. Hers were graceful, precise. She also had a secret weapon that she just happened to bring with her for this occasion. Ducking below another attack, she thrust one of her blades forward, piercing him through the shoulder. Kubrick emitted a howl of pain, but at the same time dug his claws into her backside, pulling her towards him.

That's what she had been waiting for. Reaching into her belt, she pulled out a small round pellet, something she cooked up earlier. Hitting him square in the face, the pellet exploded in a shiny mist that completely engulfed his head. Theoretically, it should take him down...

So long as it works... It had better work.

Instantly, Kubrick released her, reeling backwards and clawing at his face in agony. Low, scratchy growls of pain erupted from his throat, as the furry beast collapsed to the floor, twitching and slowly transforming back into his human form. He began to cough, spraying the floor with blood droplets.

“Wha- What did you do to me?!” he howled. “What is this?!”

Ravager let out a small groan, feeling the burn of fresh claw marks across her back. But she still managed a cocky, triumphant smirk, arms folding across her chest. “Ionized colloidal silver. Heard it was like poison to you guys... looks it's true.”

With Kubrick incapacitated, Ravager turned towards the other battle. She caught sight of them just in time to see Cassandra move underneath one of the monster's incoming claw strikes, and then deliver a crippling blow to the back of the neck. Zaria went down hard, landing flat on her face and rapidly changing back to her tattooed, human form.

Uttering a small, annoyed breath, Cassandra stood straight and brought her hands to her hips. She refrained from so much as grimacing, in spite of the several long claw marks slashing across her torso, showing no pain.

“So what took you so long?” Ravager asked, sheathing her blade

“Yours didn't have a... tail,” Cassandra explained, glancing down at the numerous scratches tearing open her suit. "With barbs."

“Hmph, fair enough.” Ravager stretched her back out, groaning slightly, and then continued through the warehouse. “Now, let's go stop these a**holes.”

Chapter #39

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.

The underground tunnels beneath the city were dark, dank, and quiet, about what one would expect. Where they had come from or who built them was a mystery, but Shao Shen and his Fist of Shadows had been using the cave system as their hideout. One would think that they'd string up a line of lights or something so they could see where they were going, but apparently ninjas could see in pitch darkness. Not even Ravager's night vision lens was helping, considering there had to at least be some amount of light, no matter how dim, for it to work. Here, there was just blackness. Instead, she and Cassandra were forced to glide their hands along the tunnel wall, using it as a marker to figure out where they were going.

Eventually, however, the darkness broke. At first, it was just a tiny glow in the distance, but the illumination gradually grew as they approached. Soon, they were able to see clearly, as the tunnel emptied out into what looked like a man-made hallway, complete with florescent lights on the ceiling, allowing them to see. The corridor was completely flat and empty, no doors or windows, no furniture, nothing. Just long white walls.

“And I thought a hospital was about as depressing as it got...” Ravager muttered. “They could at least throw up some pictures, or something, to spruce this place up.”

“Giving the enemy... fashion tips?" Cassandra asked, giving her a sidelong glance.

“Wha- no, I'm just thinking out loud. Shut up.”

Continuing down the corridor, they kept their eyes peeled for... well, anything, really. Not that there was much to see. The corridor had no turns, no bends, no markings, no nothing. All they could do was follow it straight to wherever it went, which turned out to be some kind of laboratory, or engineering station. Ravager didn't really know how to describe it, large room they came to was filled with all kinds of mechanical and medical equipment, tools, devices, and the like. As for the workers, they were nowhere to be found.

“Looks like this is where they made those stems,” Ravager said, taking a long look around the chamber.

“But they are not here... or the stems,” Cassandra said. “Batman said they control minds?”

Ravager nodded. “Yeah, something like that, though there's a lot more to it. All you need to know, though, is that we can't let Shao finish working out the kinks and proceeding with whatever his plan is. If it involves mind control, it can't be good.”

“Then we are late.” Cassandra held her hands to her hips, scanning the empty laboratory. “The workers aren't here... they don't need to be.”

“I think you're right... Come on, let's keep looking.”

---

Danny looked back and forth frantically, as the workers hurried to load the massive semi-trailer truck full of their equipment. He so did not sign up for this when that weird guy with the ponytail hired them. He was just a simple guy. He did the work he was paid for, didn't ask any questions. But being invaded by a couple of psycho-b*tches who wanted to beat the crap out of them was not in the job description! And now they had to relocate as many of the completed stems as possible before those two women got to them.

After all, the aforementioned psycho-b*tches had already torn through most of Shao's personal guard back in the warehouse. The security cameras had shown them as much. A few scientists and technicians hardly qualified to go up against that kind of crazy.

“Come on people, move!” Danny urged, throwing up one of the boxes into the back of the truck. “Faster! We have to get this stuff loaded and out of here before they show up!”

“A little late for that,” came a female voice from behind him.

Danny uttered a loud yelp, turning around to see both crazy women standing in front of the rear access tunnel that led back down into the underground workstation. He tried to run away, but a swift kick to the head from Cassandra knocked him out cold. He never had a chance.

Walking forward, Ravager cracked her knuckles and flashed an eager grin. “Alright, we can do this the easy way, or we can do it the fun way. What's it gonna be?”

Answering her question, the workers ran around in a panic, grabbing a few supplies on the way by and disappearing. A few of them loaded up what they could in the back of the truck before taking off.

Placing her hands on her hips, Ravager let out a disappointed sigh. “Man, I was really hoping for the fun way.”

"No need to... complain,” Cassandra said, heading towards the semi-truck. “We have what we wanted.”

Ravager joined her by the trailer, hands coming to her hips. “True... but my job isn't over, not yet. Doesn't look like Shao is here, so I still have a lot of weeding out to do.”

A voice from above, however, gave her other ideas. “Are you so sure, Miss Blade?”

“It's Ravager, actually,” she said, glaring upward.

THe man himself, Shao Shen, stood atop the back of the semi-trailer, arms crossed. At his side were two other ninja-esque goons, only these couple were garbed in red, instead of the traditional black.

So, either they're a step above the others, or they're red shirt fodder... Somehow I don't think it's the latter.

“Ah, my mistake.” Shao gave an apologetic bow, then swiftly straightened himself again. “Miss Ravager, then.”

Cassandra folded her arms. “This is the man who... beat you?”

“He's a lot tougher than he looks...” she muttered. “But it doesn't matter. This time, I'm ready for him.”

“I'm afraid your preparedness will have to be for naught,” Shao explained. “I've already defeated you, and have no interest in fighting again. You, however...” He was looking at Cassandra now. Jumping down from the back of the truck, he landed softly on the balls of his feet, maintaining perfect balance. “I see something when I look at you, something great. Perhaps you can challenge me.”

Cassandra raised her hands on guard, taking a fighting pose. “We will see.”

“So we shall. In the meantime, dispose of Ravager, please.”

On command, the two red cloaked ninjas leaped down as well, landing in front of Ravager and attacking. She jumped backward, defending from both sides as they came in. Yeah, they were definitely a step above the others. The way they moved, the way they coordinated their attacks... she'd never seen anything like it before. From what she could gather, they might only have been a small improvement over Shao's other forces on their own, but together they were quite amazing.

It was a good thing, then, that Ravager was no slouch herself. A couple months ago, this combo probably would have had her playing cautiously, defensively. Might have even beaten her. But now, it just made for a good work out. She didn't play it safe, didn't back away, no. She gave it her all. They came in hard, but she came back even harder, right at them. Her knuckles battered into jaws, boots crashed against bodies, broke bones. It took two minutes tops to put them on the floor.

Brushing her hands off, she took in a deep breath and turned back to where Cassandra had been fighting... and instantly let out a heavy sigh. Somehow, she had been hoping for a different outcome. Standing there with one hand clasped behind his back, Shao held up a dazed Cassandra, his grip firmly on the back of her cape.

“I see you have improved, Ravager. A pity, though, that it comes too late,” Shao said. “Your friend here put up more of a challenge than you did... though, not much more, granted.”

Ravager tightened her jaw, glaring. “Put her down, and I'll show you a real challenge.”

“I am afraid that won't be required. I have no further need to waste my time with you. Consider this one last chance to walk away; continue to pursue me, and I will show no such mercy again.” On those words, he tossed Cassandra to the floor and then began to move back towards the truck, closing the rear doors of it.

Frowning, Ravager sprinted towards him, ready to tear him a new one. “Like hell.”

Before she could get to him, however, a flash of precog flickered through her head. She jumped to the side, spinning out of the way of an incoming sword that would have taken her arm off. Or her head. The red ninjas were back on their feet, having recovered astoundingly quickly for how hard she hit them, and they don't show any signs of lingering injuries. Uttering an annoyed shout, she attacked the nearest one and beat on him repeatedly, this time making sure that he wouldn't wake up.

By the time she was finished with him, though, the large garage door to the building was open, while the truck rumbled out onto the street. The second red ninja hadn't even attempted to attack her, instead completely bypassing her and taking the driver's seat of the semi, while Shao hung onto the passenger door, staring triumphantly at her. Springing forward, Ravager took off in a dead sprint towards the truck. She just needed to reach the back end of it before it got too far away, then she could jump on and find a way to stop it. Just a little more...

On a good day, her top speed on foot was somewhere around thirty-five miles per hour. But that's only when she was in perfect condition. With nagging injuries from the past two days combined, she wasn't in perfect condition. She hit maybe two thirds of her top speed, managing to gain on the truck for a short while, even coming to within two arms length of it.

But then the truck finally began to pick up speed, putting distance between them. In a desperate attempt, she leaped forward, fingers outstretched in attempts to grab on... but she grabbed only air, falling flat against the ground. Just a couple more inches and she would have had it.

“Damn it!” she shouted, beating her fist angrily against the pavement.

Cassandra appeared a moment later, limping towards her. “You were right... he was strong.”

“Yeah, and now he's getting away!” she snapped.

“No.” Reaching to her utility belt, Cassandra pulled out a small device and pushed a button, causing a red light start blinking on it. "He isn't."

“What's that?”

“A tracking beacon.” Cassandra looked to her, giving a very subtle smirk. “I have a jet... remember?”

---

The Bat-Jet zipped through the night air at astounding speed, racing off in the direction that Shao's truck had gone. They should be able to catch up to him shortly now, though Ravager wasn't too thrilled about the current seating conditions. Practically squashed behind the pilot's seat, she was forced to contort her body awkwardly in order to fit inside the cockpit. Needless to say, she had an uncomfortable frown on her face the entire way.

“You know,” she muttered, “with more money than he knows what to do with, I would think that Dick could install a passenger's seat in his vehicles.”

“The smaller jet... is faster,” Cassandra said.

“And why do you get the big comfy seat, huh?”

“You don't know... how to fly it.”

Ravager frowned, narrowing her gaze. “...alright, dumb question, admittedly. Just hurry up already, I'm not losing this b**tard again.”

“Can you beat him?”

“Please, I know I can beat his sorry ass.”

“I see...”

“Gee, try not to sound so convinced,” Ravager said, rolling her eye.

“He beat you once,” Cassandra explained, shrugging idly. “Beat me, too... and I have beaten you before.”

“That was one time. Back when I was, like, sixteen. I would have beaten you the second time if we hadn't been interrupted.”

Cassandra was quiet a moment, easing forward on the controls. “We will never know.”

“Hey, you want to settle things?” Ravager glared, leaning slightly over the pilot's shoulder. “Any time, any place.”

“Later. The truck... it's coming into view.”

They flew low over the highway now, above the overpass that ran through the center of the city. Fortunately, a large semi-trailer truck wasn't exactly the easiest thing to lose. Compared to the Bat-Jet, it moved along at a snail's pace. Cassandra moved the aircraft lower in over the truck, matching speeds and then flipping the jet over. Flying upside down, Cassandra hits a button on the dash, causing the cockpit to slide open.

While the seat straps kept Cassandra firmly in place, Ravager fell out immediately, twisting her body around and drawing her swords in mid air. Hitting the top of the trailer, she stabbed both blades into the roof, using them to stabilize herself and keep from tumbling off the side onto the highway. With a few moments of adjustment, she was able to stand up and begin walking across the top of the truck towards the front. Cassandra, meanwhile, flipped the jet back and followed from above.

Ravager moved forward cautiously, careful of her steps and swaying with each jerk that the rig made. What she was not expecting, however, was for Shao to suddenly crawl out the passenger side window and flip himself up onto the roof of the truck himself. His actions were almost inhuman, the way he launched himself through the air, maintained perfect aerial balance, and landed on his feet without so much as a stumble.

“You should have walked away, Ravager,” he said, striking a fighting pose. “I did warn you.”

“Yeah, yeah, so you keep telling me,” she replied, rolling her eye. “You know, I think it's really time someone shut you up.”

“By all means, you are welcome to try. Just remember that this time I fight to kill.”

Battling atop a semi-trailer truck speeding down a busy highway had not been what Ravager had in mind for her final showdown with Shao Shen, but there was no use complaining about it now. Keeping her balance, Ravager ran across the surface of the trailer and lunged forward, bringing her hand back as if to punch, but suddenly twisting her body instead to deliver a spinning kick. Shao tried to remain calm, uninterested, as he stepped back away from the attack, but she could see it in his eyes: surprise. He hadn't been expecting such an unorthodox approach.

Ravager didn't know if it was pure skill or some kind of enhanced ability, but Shao's combat speed was off the charts. If she had come straight at him with simple strikes, he'd likely block or dodge them all, just as he did before. In order to hit him, in order to beat him, she had to mix it up, instead relying on feints and decoy attacks. This time, she had him actually working to defend himself. She could tell by the harshness of his blocks, the wide look in his eyes... but in the end, he still blocked everything she threw at him.

Now it was time for Ravager to go on the defensive. When they fought before, Shao's counterattacks had been so viciously fast that her precog couldn't keep up. It had forced her to rely on pure skill and muscle memory, neither of which had been on Shao's level at the time. This time, however, she saw the whole fight better than before. Her precog still couldn't keep up, so she ignored it. Instead, she fought through sheer instinct and reflexes. The fact that her natural attributes were already enhanced beyond normal levels only aided her cause.

Ravager's mind was barely even able to process all the actions they made, a large statement considering he enhanced brain functions, but her body reacted just the same. Shao made an attack, she dodged. She made an attack, he blocked. So many actions, all in mere seconds, and neither combatant landed a blow. During one particularly wild exchange, Ravager pushed herself back a little too far, sliding across the top of the truck and very nearly falling over. She retained her footing, however, taking a moment to steady herself.

“I see you really have improved,” Shao said. He looked at her differently now, as if he'd developed a sudden new respect for her as a fighter. “And by much more than you could have accomplished in a mere month and a half... tell me, where did you learn all that in such a short amount of time?”

“Sorry, trade secret,” she replied, shifting her stance.

Shao narrowed his eyes. “Very well. In that case...”

Darting forward again, Shao leaped through the air, a risky maneuver on the back of a moving semi. And yet his precision was astounding, delivering a perfect flying kick straight at his foe. Ravager brought her hands up to block, but the impact pushed her back a step. That step happened to come at the same time the truck took a sudden turn, causing her feet to stumble a little to the side. In order to catch her balance, she fell to one knee, a hand coming down to stabilize herself. That was all Shao needed, spinning around with another whipping kick that smacked directly into her jaw and sent her rolling across the back of the trailer.

Suddenly, Ravager was falling. She just plain ran out of truck, sliding all the way off and plummeting towards the highway below. In a reflexive motion, her hand darted out for something to grab on to, fingers just barely managing to grip the handle on the rear doors. In the same motion, the latch unhooked, causing the doors to swing open. Ravager quickly struggled to get a better grip on the door handle, so she wouldn't slip into a very painful landing below.

Briefly, she brought a finger up to her ear and pressed down on her comm link. “Hey, Batb*tch! A little help here!”

Cassandra's voice crackled in her ear a moment later. “Since you asked nice...”

The Bat-Jet gradually swooped down lower, moving steadily to where Ravager hung off the side of the truck. The passing cars swerved out of the way, honking their horns, while drivers yelled profanity out their windows. One driver in particular threw up a middle finger at Ravager on his way by.

She frowned, bringing up her own middle finger in response. “Hey, screw you, buddy!”

When the jet was in proper position, Ravager pushed off of the swinging truck door and grabbed onto the aircraft. She very nearly slid right off, before finding a suitable place to get a grip. Cassandra then flew the jet higher, back up over the truck, where Ravager jumped off again and landed with a thud. Shao stood there calmly, waiting for her with his hands clasped behind his back.

“Welcome back,” he greeted.

“Bite me.”

Raising her hands again, Ravager took a fighting stance and inched herself towards him. Going against him in straight hand to hand hadn't been working so far, so she needed to improvise. If she could get him on the ground, then maybe... With a sudden idea, she charged him. Shao brought his guard up, preparing to block her attacks again. Unfortunately for him, she wasn't planning on throwing a kick or a punch, or anything like that, no. She figured he wouldn't be prepared to block her entire body.

Leaping forward, she lowered her shoulder and let momentum take her. Shao's hands raised in defense, but he figured out too late that she wasn't attacking by normal means. Instead, he took a few quick steps back and pushes his arms forward, trying to throw her away. But she adapted. Upon impact, she grabbed hold of his arms, disabling him from diverting her direction, and dragging him off his feet with her. They both fell to the top of the truck hard, rolling near the edge.

Ravager righted herself first, sliding into place over Shao, mounting atop him and giving nowhere to go. She rained down several, powerful blows, knuckles cracking against his face. She felt his nose break, lips split open... and then his legs suddenly come up and wrapped around her neck from behind, pulling her off of him.

This time, he made it back to his feet and lunged at her again, fist raised to deliver a crushing blow to her skull. But she was ready for him. Falling purposefully backwards, she grabbed onto his shoulders, planted her boot against his chest, and then flipped him up through the air over her. Shao let out a desperate cry, as he fell over the edge of the truck, just barely grabbing hold with his fingertips. Taking a few moments to gather himself, he kicked off against the side of the trailer and hoisted himself back up top...

...straight into Ravager's awaiting fist. She didn't hold back, either, throwing everything she had into the blow. Her knuckles smashed against the side of his face, knocking him straight to his backside and out cold. Breathing out a relieved sigh, she reached down and lifted the unconscious man by the collar, holding him upwards.

“I told you, didn't I?” she said, looking towards the jet.

“Yes... you did,” Cassandra replied. “Impressive.”

“Now come grab this a**hole. I have a truck to stop.”

Chapter #40

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.

Silverstone Police Chief Gerald Palmer stood calmly beneath a lamp post in the middle of Silverstone City Park, checking his watch. It wasn't often that he was called up in the middle of the night to come meet secretly with someone who claimed to have information about an underground criminal organization. He also couldn't fathom why this supposed informant would call his home number, instead of the police station, but the voice on the other line had sounded urgent. That being said, just where the hell was she?

That's when he saw the silhouette appear at the edge of the lamp light. The figure stood there a moment in the shadows, just watching. Raising an arm up above his eyes, Palmer tried to block some of the light from his eyes and get a better look.

“You the one I spoke to on the phone?” he asked.

“That's me, yeah,” came the reply.

“So why don't you step into the light, where I can see you?”

“I plan to, in a minute,” she said. “I just need you to not overreact when I do.”

He narrowed his eyes slightly, taking a step forward. “The hell are you talking about?”

On that note, the woman slowly walked forward, stopping only for a brief moment at the edge of the light and then stepping into it. She stopped about five paces away from the man, arms folded across her chest. Palmer's eyes went wide, instantly recognizing who it was.

“You!” he exclaimed, hand moving to his hip. “You're The Blade!”

“It's Ravager, actually...” she muttered. “People really need to start getting that right.”

Palmer drew his gun, pointing it straight at her. “Hands on your head, now! On your knees!”

Ravager sighed rolling, her eyes. “See, now that's overreacting.” With a motion far too quick for the chief to react, Ravager snatched the gun out of his hand, emptied the clip, and then popped out the chambered round. She then handed him back the empty shell of a weapon. “Wanna try that again?”

“What the...” Palmer lifted the empty gun, staring at it for a few seconds.

“I came here to talk,” she explained. “Not to get arrested.”

Palmer's gaze hardened. “You expect me to let you go after what you've done around here? Just because you disappeared for a while doesn't mean your crimes went with you!

“I can explain all of that, if you'll just listen. Are you going to listen?”

Pausing briefly, Palmer glanced down again at the useless gun in his hand. “Suppose I don't have a choice, do I?”

And so she told him everything, about how she had been forced to commit those crimes in order to save the life of a friend, about how she was the one who tipped them off about Jerry and his operations, and all about the Fist of Shadows, Shao Shen, Kubrick and Riggs' part in everything, and the mind control stems that they had been creating. She of course left out key details, though, including her identity, Becky's involvement, and the fact that Kubrick was a werewolf.

When she finished, Palmer looked about as confused and amazed as a man can possibly be, blinking back at her and running his fingers through his hair. “That is... quite the story, Miss...”

“Ravager.”

“Right, Ravager.” He cleared his throat, swallowing. “So, you're telling me that some secret ninja society has been working under our very noses to come up with a way to mind control innocent people to further their objectives?”

“That's the gist of it, yeah,” she said.

“Then, Stevens...”

“Was likely being manipulated by one of the stems,” she affirmed. “He's a complete dunce, but an innocent one.”

Palmer lifted an eyebrow. “You say that like you know him.”

“I, uh... have my ways.”

“And you're telling me now that you want my approval to continue running around this city as a masked vigilante?” he asked.

Ravager shook her head. “Not really your approval, no. I'm going to be doing it either way. I'm just trying to get on good terms with you before I do. Believe me when I tell you that I only want to help this city.”

“And why should I believe you?”

“Because I stopped Jeremiah Belmont and his operations,” she explained. “Because I stopped the Fist of Shadows. Because I exposed two dirty detectives in your station. Because I have helped countless other people during my time here in Silverstone, and saved God knows how many lives.”

Palmer's eyes narrowed again, jaw tightening. “So you say.”

“Listen, I may not act within the strictest confines of the law, but that's what you need around here. If I've done anything, it's at least show you that there are some things that go on in Silverstone that the police can't always stop. I can do the things that you can't. Let me help you. Please.”

For a long moment, Palmer stared, studying her. Every instinct he had as a cop told him in his gut not to listen to her, to just throw the cuffs on her now and take her in. Yet, another part of him not only argued that he wouldn't be able to if he tried, but that she might also be right. If she truly did wish to help the city, and work with the police, rather than against them... well, she might just come in handy.

“Before I make a decision on this, you said something about capturing the leader of this... Fist of Shadows, or whatever?” he said. “Where is he now?”

Lifting a hand to her ear, Ravager spoke over her comm. “That's your cue.”

A short few moments later, the sound of an incoming aircraft reached their ears. Palmer looked up to the sky, as suddenly a bat shaped jet appeared overhead, hovering in place. “What in the Sam Hill?!”

The Bat-Jet then descended slowly, parking itself on the cement walkway. When cockpit slid open, Cassandra Cain exited through the top and pulled an unconscious and bound Shao Shen out of the vehicle. Without so much as a shift in expression, she tossed the man to Palmer's feet.

“Wait just a damn minute,” Palmer said, blinking his eyes a few times in disbelief. “You work with the Gotham Bats?”

“I know them, yeah,” Ravager stated, shrugging her shoulders. “Work together from time to time, when I need the assistance.”

“If it... helps,” Cassandra said, “Batman vouches for her.”

Palmer uttered a deep breath, rubbing his fingers against his forehead. “I, uh... I see...”

“Once you take in Shao, here, there's a semi truck parked off exit 29 full of those stems and other equipment,” Ravager explained. “I can also give you the location of their base; you can probably find some more evidence down there.”

Palmer glared down at the unconscious man for a few moments, then slowly turned his gaze back to Ravager. “I have to say... this isn't... I mean you're... not what I expected.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot. Do we have an agreement or not?

“An agreement? Right...” Palmer huffed out a short breath, shaking his head. “I'm probably going to regret this, but yes, we have an agreement. For now. But you ever give me reason to, and I will slap a pair of cuffs on you faster than you can say sorry.”

A small smirk came to Ravager's face. “You're certainly welcome to try.”

---

Taking in a deep breath, Rose stood in front of the door for a brief moment, making sure that she looked presentable. She didn't want to go worrying Becky by looking too roughed up after the past couple days, after all. Reaching forward, she pushed the door open and stepped inside the Gotham penthouse.

At first, she didn't see anyone in the immediate vicinity. It wasn't until she made her way into the living room that she found them. Sitting at the coffee table, Holly toiled away at a coloring book, while Rebecca lounged on the couch, watching television with Damian. On the other side of the room, Alfred was busy dusting the furniture.

“Well,” she said, “isn't this a sorry sight?”

All eyes immediately turned in her direction. Holly was the first to react, running over and partially lunging at Rose with a tight hug. Mute as she was, her greeting was wordless, but words weren't really needed.

“Hey there, Holly.” Rose wrapped her arms around the young girl, holding her close in a tight, loving hug. “Told you I'd be back, didn't I?”

Looking over from his spot on the couch, Damian sat up and folded his arms across his chest. “Heard you were fighting werewolves and ninjas... some people get all the fun.”

“Not as exciting as it sounds, believe me,” Rose said.

Placing her hands on her hips, Becky took a few steps forward and smiled. “So, is it safe to come back yet?”

“Yeah, everything is taken care of. Shao's in custody, Kubrick and Riggs are nowhere to be found, and the cops already raided their underground base.”

“Good,” Becky said, widening a grin across her face. “Because I really did miss having you next to me these past couple nights.” Coming forward, Becky leaned in and gave Rose a firm kiss, hands wrapping around her waist.

At this sight, Damian's eyes went wide, eyebrows lifting up. “Whoa.”

Alfred, on the other hand, barely shifted his expression, going from overall indifference to slightly less indifferent. “Oh my.”

Holly glanced back and forth between the two women, as their kiss came to an end. Confused, she began to sign her question. “You two are... together?”

“Uh... yes, yes we are,” Rose replied, clearing her throat. “Is that... alright?”

Holly merely smiled. “Of course! I like Becky. I'm happy you're together.”

“Ah, gracias,” Becky said, holding a hand on the girl's shoulder. “I like you you too, girl.”

Rose lifted an eyebrow. “Wait, you understand sign language now?”

Becky shrugged. “Sort of. Holly's been teaching me the basics. Can't really hold a whole conversation, but I got a little.”

Suddenly, Dick emerged from the kitchen, sipping from a glass of water as he approached the group. “Finally made it.”

Rose turned her attention, giving him a genuine smile. “Yeah, had to stick around for a couple days to make sure everything was taken care of. Wanted to be sure that the Fist was out for good.”

“Cassandra tells me you did good work.”

“Yeah, well... so did she. As much as I'm loath to admit it, she made for a decent fighting partner.” Rose paused a moment, then narrowed her gaze. “But don't tell her I said that.”

“Not a word.”

Rose then shifted her attention, glancing back and forth between Dick and Becky. The wheels slowly began turning in her head, until she finally realized that he was speaking to her about Bat related information right in front of Becky. “Uh... wait, you're...” A small breath escaped her lips. “She figured it out, didn't she?”

“Please, girl,” Becky said, holding an arm around Rose's shoulders. “I'm not stupid.”

“Right... I suppose you're not,” Rose said, with a small chuckle. “Er, sorry, Dick.”

Dick shook his head. “It's fine. You were right about her... she's a good person.”

“You hear that?” Becky grinned, standing a little straighter. “Batman thinks I'm a good person.”

Rose leaned in again, giving her a brief kiss on the cheek. “That's because you are.” Then, she turned back to Dick again and uttered a deep breath, a soft, appreciative smile coming to her lips. “And Dick... thanks again for looking after Holly. And Becky, too. Really... I mean it.”

“It was no trouble,” he assured. “You're a friend, remember? Friends help each other out.”

“Yeah... thanks.”

“And by the way-” Dick glanced over at Holly, lifting his eyebrows a bit. “-what have you been teaching that girl?”

Holly shifted her weight a little, trying to hold back a wide smirk (and failing miserably at it).

“She's got some real talent,” Dick explained. “Even worked as Damian's sparring partner for a while.”

Damian snorted out a laugh. “Pfft, she still has a long way to go. Can't even touch me.”

“I just want her to be able to defend herself,” Rose said, giving a small shrug. “It's a crapsack world out there, after all.”

“So it is,” Dick said, giving a small nod.

Furrowing her brow, Rose tilted her head to the side, a sudden thought coming to her. “You didn't dress her up as some kind of winged animal and take her out with you, did you...?”

Dick folded his arms across his chest, eyes narrowing. “Of course not.”

“Sorry, had to ask...” she said. “Never know with you Bat people sometimes.”

“Speaking of which-” Becky turned her head, giving Rose a long look. “-you haven't forgotten your promise, have you?”

“No, I haven't forgotten,” Rose said, breathing out a small sigh. “We'll start soon as we're back in Silverstone, alright?”

“Good, because from the sound of it, I'm already behind.”

Holly held her hands behind her back and smiled innocently, teetering back and forth on her feet.

“Just one more thing before we head out,” Rose said, bringing her gaze up to meet Dick with a long look. “We need to talk about some upgrades.”

---

A large black van rolled up outside the plain white building, a secure government facility in the middle of nowhere. Kubrick turned the key, shutting the engine off, then glanced up at his reflection in the rear view mirror. Most of his face was burnt, cracked and peeling. Sure, it would heal in time... but slowly. Silver had that effect on him. Next to him, Zaria sat with her legs crossed and arms folded. She stared out the window silently, frowning.

“Glad you decided to come with me, Zee,” he said.

“Yeah, well, it'll probably do me some good to get out of Silverstone for a while,” she replied. “Plus, I want a little payback after what that b*tch did to us.”

“Don't worry, with what we have planned here... everything will be better soon.”

“You'd better be right.” Zaria turned her gaze, giving him a sidelong glance. “This little meeting isn't going to take long, is it?”

Kubrick shook his head. “Should only be a few minutes.”

“Good,” she said, pushing the car door open. “Because after this, we're hitting up a hotel. I really need a good lay right now.”

---

Kubrick glanced at the men in suits surrounding him. He didn't know why these guys bothered to show up when he visited. It wasn't not like they could do anything to stop him if he decided to attack. Not that he would, of course. He knew his place, when it came to this. If the world was going to change, he certainly couldn't do it alone. No, this man was the one to do it. The one he had come to meet with face to face today. The one whose words gave him that nagging sense of intimidation, and yet at the same time, inspiration.

Zaria still couldn't quite believe what she was looking at. After all, when Kubrick had said that they were meeting a powerful man, she had no idea that he meant him. This man didn't have power in the traditional sense; as a matter of fact, she could transform into her Celarian form and tear him limb from limb if she wanted to. But she didn't. At that moment, she actually believed Kubrick's statement that this man would make things happen, especially when going to these sorts of lengths... just the fact that he was working with Kubrick behind the government's back was a sign of something big

“Good to see you, Sir,” Kubrick said, standing straight and tall.

“Yes, it's been a while, hasn't it?” the man replied.

Kubrick shrugged. “Been busy. But, I do have what you wanted.”

He lifted the box in his grasp a bit higher, allowing the man to remove the lid and reach inside to pull out one of the long metal devices, one of Shao's neural stems. The entire box was filled with them, more than enough for what they needed

The man gave the device a long look. “And these ones work, correct?”

“They should,” Kubrick said. “This is the latest batch that the technicians created, after correcting the problems from the earlier design flaws. They'll give you total control over the people they're implanted in.”

“And if they do still malfunction...”

“Then the host will die, naturally.”

“Works either way, I suppose,” the man stated, placing the stem back into the box. “I'll have your payment transferred to your account, as per our arrangement.”

“Much appreciated, Sir.” Kubrick gave a firm nod, retaining his straight, even posture. “I'd like to continue working for you, too, if that's alright.”

“Of course, not a problem. I could have further use for someone with your... talents. But what about your friend here?”

Zaria lifted an eyebrow. “Who, me? I'll work for you, too, if you'll have me.”

“Zee's cool,” Kubrick assured. “She's like me. Special.”

“In that case, welcome aboard.” The man gave a wide grin, glancing back and forth between them. “I trust the two of you will do your jobs well.”

Kubrick smirked. “I guarantee it.”

“Good. In that case, you two are dismissed. I'll be in touch.”

“Of course, Sir.” Kubrick reached his arm out, pulling Zaria close to him. As they turned to walk away, he brought his hand down and took a firm hold of her rear end. “In the meantime, I have a little business to take care of.”

Zaria's lips curled into a broad, pleasant grin. “Damn straight, you do.”

When the two were gone, the man looked back down at the box now in his grasp and then passed it off to one of the surrounding men in suits.

“Load this on the truck,” he ordered. “Have it delivered to the lab immediately.”

The Secret Service Agent took hold of the box and gave a firm nod. “Right away, Mr. President.”

2 Comments

The Ravager - Prelude of Shadow (#27-33) 2nd Edition

Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy/Ruby, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer, Officer Stevens, Officer Harrow, Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all its interior locations of my own creation.

Rating: T+

Note: The fifth arc in my Ravager series to be remastered into prose format and edited to make it better.

My Fan-Fic Archives: http://www.comicvine.com/myvine/ravager4/ravager4s-fan-fic-archives/87-79374/

---

Chapter #27

Rose worked busily to cook up a big breakfast that morning. She'd been especially careful this time and managed to keep most of the food from burning, a remarkable feat for a person who had a severe track record of destroying anything other than eggs and pancakes. She really was starting to get the hang of this whole cooking thing. Whistling softly to herself, Rose flipped a pancake up into the air, catching it expertly with the skillet upon its descent. She was in an astoundingly good mood that morning, but then her life was going abnormally well.

This could mostly be attributed to her giving up her nightly escapades as Ravager for the past few months, allowing her to clear out the stress she'd been building up during the past year and get her head on straight. Also, with the disappearance of 'The Blade' from Silverstone, the local media and police force had turned their focuses elsewhere. No purpose in trying to chase a ghost, after all. Perhaps she would put her costume back on again some time, but for right now she was perfectly content living out her life the way it was.

Just as Rose finished up the last of her cooking, Holly strolled into the kitchen and sat down at the table, swinging her legs playfully while she waited to be served. Rose's whistling abruptly turned to humming, as she filled up a plate of food for the girl and brought it over to the table.

“There you go, hot off the stove,” she said, with a smile. “Careful not to burn yourself.”

Holly rolled her eyes a little and went through several hand signs. “I'm not going to burn myself.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Rose waved off the comment, placing few dirty dishes into the sink. “Just finish up quick so we can get going. You don't want to be late for your last day of school, do you?”

I won't be late,” the young girl assured.

“Alright, I'm gonna hop in the shower real quick,” Rose said, heading through the kitchen. “You finish up here and brush your teeth. I'll be out in ten minutes.”

Rose quickly made her way into her bathroom, hurriedly stripping out of her clothes and getting into the shower. She was brief, but thorough, cleaning herself up in a little over five minutes, then taking another few to dry herself off and get dressed again. Normally, she'd linger in the shower to enjoy the feel of hot water on her skin, but they were already running a little later than usual.

When Rose returned to the living room, Holly was already waiting there, tying her shoes. The girl looked up at Rose, bringing her hands together and signing urgently. You're going to make me late!”

“Oh I am not,” Rose said, with a playful eye roll. “Now come on, finish tying your shoes and let's go.”

---

Later that morning, Rose sat back in the passenger seat of the police cruiser, with Becky behind the wheel as usual. As much as she had enjoyed driving, for a change, the circumstances had been entirely unfavorable. She was happy with never driving, so long as it meant that Becky was well and not stuck in a hospital.

“So, the kid's last day of school today, right?” Becky asked, turning the cruiser down the street.

“Yeah, then I have to figure out how we're going to handle the summer,” Rose said, tapping her fingers against the door. “I'm hoping Mrs. Silva won't mind watching Holly throughout the day now, instead of just the afternoons. I asked her about it already, but she couldn't give me a definite answer.”

“I'm sure you'll work it out,” Becky said. “Besides, what else does that old woman have to do, ah? She barely leaves her house as it is. Plus, she already took care of Holly when you were in the hospital, remember?”

Rose paused a moment, nodding slowly. “Yeah, good point. It's not like I wouldn't be paying her for the extra time, either.”

“The more important question, though-” Becky lifted an eyebrow, giving Rose a curious glance. “-what are you going to do about vacations?

Furrowing her brow, Rose looked back at Becky with genuine confusion. “Vacations?”

“Well yeah, girl! It's the summer, kids need to go out, have some fun, cut loose. And I know you got some vacation time saved up, right? Take her camping, or head up to the beach or something.”

“I... hadn't even though about that,” Rose muttered, holding a hand to her chin.

“Ha, Dios mio, you really are clueless sometimes, you know that?”

Rose folded her arms, frowning slightly. “Hey, I don't try to be. I'm just... still not that experienced with this.”

“Ah, don't worry about it,” Becky assured, with a soft chuckle. “Happens to the best of us. Besides, you're pretty cute when you're clueless.”

Rose shifted in her seat slightly at the comment, bringing a hand to her hair and casually clearing her throat. Becky immediately smacked a hand to her forehead and groaned softly.

“Oh, mierda, I'm sorry. I didn't mean-”

“No, it's fine, really,” Rose said, waving it off. “Don't worry.”

“Still, sorry.”

Rose rested her elbow out the open window, looking back at Becky closely. “Guess you're not quite over your crush, huh?”

Becky instantly turned her face to the side to hide the blush. “I, uh... guess not. Sorry.”

“Oh come on, stop apologizing,” Rose said, with a flippant wave of the hand and a big grin. “I know I'm awesome.”

“Not quite the word I would use...” Becky muttered quietly. “But yes, you are.”

A brief moment of awkward silence passed between the two, as Rose attempted to think of a way to change the subject. Finally, she came up with, “So, uh, got anything special planned later on?”

Becky shrugged. “Eh, kind of. Picked up an extra shift.”

“Now why would go and do that?” Rose asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Gonna be heading up to Vermont for the weekend with my family,” she explained. “Kind of a traditional camping thing we do every year. But we leave Friday morning, so I'm working those hours tonight.”

Rose leaned forward a bit, smirking. “Oh, so I get the cruiser all to myself on Friday?”

“Si,” Becky said, stifling a subtle laugh. “So try not to to ruin it, ah?”

Abruptly, the car radio went off, interrupting the conversation. “Possible 211 in progress down at the old S.T.A.R. Labs storage warehouse, address 8294 Duster Street. Witness reported a masked individual entering through one of the side windows, need the nearest unit to please respond.”

Becky quickly grabbed the speaker and pulled it up to her lips. “Copy that, dispatch, we're on it. Be there in five.”

“Someone breaking into a warehouse owned by S.T.A.R. Labs...” Rose muttered. “Doesn't sound good.”

“Maybe The Blade's come back, ah?” Becky gained an eager glint in her eye. “She stole from S.T.A.R. Labs once already.”

Rose turned her gaze, breathing out softly. “Somehow, I doubt that... she only operates at night, right?”

“True, true... well, let's go and find out then, shall we?

---

Becky pulled the cruiser up to the front entrance of the warehouse, shutting the engine off and leaning forward to take a closer look. “Don't see anything suspicious yet. Let's check it out.”

The two exited of the car and carefully approached the front entrance. Rose tried the door, giving it a firm push, but it was locked up tight.

“Guess the place is closed today,” she said, taking a step back.

“Dispatch did say the suspect was seen entering through a window, right?” Becky questioned, taking a few steps around to the side of the building.

“I'll check the left side, you go right,” Rose said, heading around the other side.

Rose carefully inspected the row of windows, but they all appeared to be shut tight and locked, too. Except for one, however, a broken window three floors up. The only problem was, there was nothing nearby to climb up to it, save for a gutter drain. Scratching her head for a moment, she pondered if the suspect had indeed entered through that window, and if they did, how did they do it?

“Find anything?” Becky asked, coming around the corner of the building.

Rose shrugged, then pointed up to the broken window. “Only place I can see that he could have gone through.”

Becky furrowed her brow, hands coming to her hips. “What, did he fly up there?”

“Maybe... or maybe not.”

Rose took a careful step forward, taking hold of the drain pipe and testing its strength. When it didn't budge, she lifted her foot and pressed it up against the side of the building. Every few feet or so, there was a small indentation in the paneling, providing very convenient footholds. With her grip firm on the gutter, and using the footholds to her advantage, she began to climb up to the window.

“Oy, be careful,” Becky said.

Within a few moments, Rose made it up to the window and crawled her way inside. She looked back outside, waving for Becky to follow. “You're not just going to stay down there, are you?”

Becky's eyebrows lifted suddenly, as she let out a small, uncertain breath. “I, uh... suppose not.” She glared at the drain pipe for a moment, then carefully took hold of it and began to climb upwards, though going much slower than Rose did. “Qué mierda... They did not teach us this at the academy.”

When both women finally made it through the window inside, they found themselves in a small, dim office. Rose looked around carefully, then led the way through the door into the third floor hallway. She took the flashlight from off her belt and clicked it on, shining the bright beam in front of them. Becky followed suit with her own flashlight. If there was someone here, they don't want to alert that person by turning all the lights on, so their flashlights would have to suffice for now.

Coming to the end of the hallway, the two made their way down the stairs and came out to the main storage area of the warehouse, with a tall ceiling and rows of boxes and crates stacked along the room's length. Remaining silent, Rose waved Becky to one side of the building, while she went the other way, paying careful attention to every dark nook and cranny. If anyone was lurking about in here, they'd find him.

Ten minutes into the search, Rose came around the corner of one of the rows of crates to see Becky standing there and shining her light across the room, staring intently. “You see something?”

“I thought so...” Becky paused, slowly scanning the catwalks above her. “Might have just been my imagination, though. I take it you didn't find anything?”

“Not yet, but there are plenty of places to keep looking,” she said. “I'll try the offices.”

“Right, I'll keep checking this area.”

As they began to go their separate ways, however, Rose's precog suddenly flickered through her head. She turned quickly and threw herself at Becky, knocking the woman to the floor. “Get down!”

A split second later, a pair of razor sharp throwing stars sailed over their heads, embedding into one of the crates behind them.

“Santa mierda!” Becky exclaimed, sitting up on the floor. “What was that?”

Rose didn't have time to respond, though, as her precog went off again. Flipping herself back up to her feet, she lifted her flashlight to deflect another incoming pair of shuriken. This time, the attacker followed, jumping down from a stack of nearby pallets with a flying kick. Rose leaped backwards, avoiding the attack, then came forward with a countering punch to the man's jaw. The blow knocked him backwards, but he recovered his balance quickly and lunged in again, this time drawing a sword on his back and swinging wildly.

As Rose dodged the incoming blade, Becky clambered back to her feet, taking notice of the current situation. Shining her light on the two combatants, she blinked a couple times in disbelief. Not only was her partner pulling out moves straight out of a Jet Li flick, but her opponent was...

“I'm dreaming, right?” she asked herself, watching the fight. “I must be. No way this is real.”

But she wasn't asleep. She was wide awake and this was really happening. Her partner, Rose, was currently engaged in an impressive display of hand to hand combat with a freakin' ninja. Or at least, someone dressed and armed like a ninja. But with the way he was fighting, she wouldn't doubt if he were an actual ninja.

Of course, he wasn't the only one fighting that way. Rose not only matched him step for step, but was actually beating the crap out of him. Not once did the ninja land a hit on her, while she in turn pummeled him back with vicious strikes that sent him reeling. Within a short few minutes, Rose delivered a hard shot to the guy's neck, knocking him out cold.

Taking in a deep breath, Rose brushed her hands off. “Well, that was annoying.”

“Madre de Dios...” Becky took a few steps forward, blinking in astonishment. “What the hell was that?”

“Some doofus dressed as a ninja, from the looks of it,” she answered, brushing her hands off.

“No, that I got. But you- and he was- and then you were- where did you learn all that?”

“Oh, uh...” Rose paused, lightly rubbing the back of her neck. “Twelve years of karate?”

Becky stared, a blank expression on her face. “Oh is that all?”

“I was... really good at it.”

“Well I guess so,” Becky said, slowly glancing down at the unconscious ninja. “Okay, so, we should, uh, probably check the guy for identification now. Yeah.”

While Becky held her flashlight beam on the unconscious man, Rose knelt down next to him and pulled his mask off, revealing a square face with bushy brown hair and a small goatee. He certainly didn't look like your average ninja, but apparently they came in all forms. Rose then dug her hands through the guy's pockets, because apparently standard ninja uniforms included pants pockets.

“Well what do you know?” A second later, she pulled out a wallet, complete with driver's license and credit cards. “I guess ninjas carry around their personal information with them.”

“And go running around in broad daylight,” Becky muttered, leaning over Rose's shoulder. “So what's it say?”

“Jason Higgins,” she said. “Age thirty-five. Lives over on Levitt Street.”

“Not really the kind of guy I'd expect to be dressing up like that.”

“Or pulling off those kinds of moves.”

Becky lifted her eyebrows, nudging Rose with her elbow. “Maybe he took twelve years of karate, too, ah?”

“Maybe...” Rose narrowed her gaze slightly, something strange catching her eye: a small metal chip situated just behind Jason's ear.

She glared at the strange device, no larger than a fingernail, then reached down to try and dig it out of the man's skin. Once she got a good grip on it with her fingers, she pulled, hard. The chip slowly began to slide out, but as it did, she realized that it was connected to something else, a long, thin, needle-like device that punctured deep into the man's skull.

“The hell is that?” Becky uttered.

Rose could only shrug, unknowingly. “I have no idea. Looks like it went all the way into his brain, though.”

“Freaky...”

As Rose stood up, another precognitive flash went through her head. Grabbing Becky, she pulled both of them back to the floor, just in time to avoid another set of sharp throwing stars. Dropping down from the shadows, two more men dressed in ninja attire appeared.

“There's more?!” Becky shouted, eyes going wide. “Ay carumba...”

Jumping back to her feet, Rose readied herself against any impending attack, but the two newest arrivals didn't seem too interested in them at all, instead focusing on the unconscious man in front of them. While one of them leaned down to pick up Jason and carry him off, the other reached down to take the discarded device that had been embedded in the guy's head.

Becky climbed back to her feet, drawing her gun and pointing it at the two men. “Alright, freeze! Hands up!”

Of course, the two ninjas didn't comply. Instead, one of them pulled out a small round object and threw it at the ground, causing a heavy cloud of smoke to engulf the area. That, combined with the dim interior, allowed them to make an easy escape. By the time the smoke cleared, all three men were gone, with Becky and Rose left wondering what on earth had just happened.

Slowly, Becky turned her head, giving Rose a puzzled stare. “So, uh... do you want to fill out the report on this one, or should I?”

---

It seemed like just yesterday that Rose had been standing in this same spot, staring at her display of Ravager gear. Last time, she had come to the conclusion that she needed a break from it, in turn giving up her costumed crime fighting for the past few months. She had wanted a clear head, so she could better decide whether or not she should give it up for good. While it would be easy to do, and while she really did want to (after all, her life so far without it had been near perfect), it seemed that there were some things that still required further action.

Random individuals didn't just go around dressed up as ninjas, break into storage warehouses, and attack police officers. And even if they did, they wouldn't have other ninjas as backup to come take them when they fall unconscious. That wasn't even including the strange metal device that was drilled into his brain. A lot of things about what happened today didn't make a lot of sense, and there was only so much she can do during the day as a cop. Even if she could properly investigate while on duty, a nagging feeling clawed at the back of her brain, telling her that something wasn't right about this, something wasn't normal.

Guess it's time to suit back up, she concluded, letting out a long sigh.

Chapter 28

The warehouse was a good place to start, at least by Ravager's estimation. That ninja guy had to have come here for a reason, but she and Becky had stopped him before he could finish whatever he was trying to do. If she could find out what the guy was after, maybe she could start piecing together what his purpose was. And of course, if that didn't work, she could always go investigate the guy's home and see if she could find anything suspicious there.

Moving through the rows of stacked crates and pallets, Ravager closely examined each container, looking for anything out of the ordinary. It looked like just a normal warehouse full of goods, but then nothing was that simple in this world. Stopping in front of a random crate, she knelt down in front of it and gave it a careful inspection.

Wonder what's inside...

Drawing one of her swords, she thrust the point just beneath the top of the box and pried it open with little effort. Leaning forward, she took a look inside, only to find what looked like a bunch of old computer parts. Whatever she was looking for, this definitely wasn't it. Putting the lid back on the crate, she quickly moved on to the next one.

She continued like this for the next half hour, looking inside every container she could find, but most of the contents were nothing more than scrap metal or spare parts. She supposed that a place like S.T.A.R. Labs wouldn't really leave important or valuable stuff lying around in a warehouse, but still, what had that ninja broken in here for then? Breathing out a small sigh, she slowly walked back towards the front end of the room, away from the rows of containers.

Guess it's time to try Jason's place.

Before she had a chance to leave, however, her precog once again alerted her of an incoming attack. She ducked low, spinning bolas sailing above her head and colliding with the far wall. Turning around immediately, she took a defensive stance in preparation to defend herself against another attack. Standing behind her was s man she had not heard approach, or in any way notice before her precog went off.

The man was tall and well built, but still agile in appearance. He appeared to be of Asian descent, probably Chinese or Japanese, with his long black hair pulled back into a braided ponytail. For the moment, he just stood there staring at her.

“Hey, buddy, the hell you doing?” she asked, narrowing her gaze

“Studying you,” came the simple reply.

“Uh... huh. And why are you doing that?”

“Because,” he stated, clasping his hands behind his back. “I like to learn about my opponents.”

Ravager frowned slightly, keeping her guard up. “So what does throwing a weapon at a person with their back turned tell you, exactly?”

“That the rumors are true.”

“Alright, you lost me,” she said. “What rumors?”

“You are Silverstone's... 'protector', yes?” He lifted a hand to his chin, thinking carefully. “I believe they called you 'The Blade', at least before your sudden disappearance. Yet, here you are now... I find that intriguing.”

“That's hardly a rumor.”

The man took a few steps forward, expression remaining calm contemplative. “The rumors I speak of are those regarding your skill. I thought them to be exaggerated, but already you have impressed me. You 'see' things, don't you? Before they happen. That's how you are able to evade attacks that you could not have otherwise known were coming.”

“Well aren't you the perceptive one?” Ravager folded her arms across her chest, growing steadily annoyed at this guy's 'analysis' of her. “Now, how about you stop with the bullsh*t and tell me who the hell you are, and why you're lurking around in this warehouse at night?”

“Ah, forgive me, where are my manners?” He held an arm across his chest, bowing deeply. “The name is Shao Shen, and I am here to test myself against you in combat.”

A test of combat... well gee, where have I heard that one before? Does Lady Shiva have a following I don't know about?

“And you just happened to know where I was going to be tonight?” she asked.

He straightened himself again, giving a subtle nod. “After hearing of your earlier victory over one of our lesser... members, I had my suspicions that you would return to investigate, yes.”

Ravager flinched, her stance faltering. This guy had already figured out who she was, just by hearing about her fighting another one of his 'members' from earlier that day?

“Relax, please.” Shao lifted a hand, slowly shaking his head. “I won't go targeting your loved ones or anything like that; I am no coward. Though your presence in this city could have great complications to our goals, I would prefer to defeat you in a fair fight.”

“How reassuring,” she muttered, taking a fighting stance again. “Then what are you waiting for, huh?”

“To discuss the terms,” he informed. “Firstly, no weapons. I would do this purely hand to hand.”

Narrowing her gaze slightly, Ravager drew both her swords and tossed them off to the side. She was plenty confident in her hand to hand ability. “Fine, anything else?”

“Yes, actually.” He shifted himself into his own fighting stance, one arm held forward and the other held straight back, body turned to the side. “When I win, I would have you leave this city, or at the very least give up your costumed identity for good.”

“First of all, when you win?” Ravager scowled, raising her fists. “And second, why in the hell would I agree to that?”

“Because if you don't, I will simply kill you.”

“Fine, whatever,” she muttered. “Let's just get this over with.”

The two squared off, briefly circling each other and waiting for the other to make the first move. Growing impatient, Ravager ran in first. She unleashed a flurry of attacks, punches mixed with kicks, some elbows, and a few backhands.... but much to her shock, she didn't land a single blow. Somehow, Shao Shen was able to dodge or block each one of her strikes, with seemingly little effort.

Baffled, she took a step back and glared at him. “Okay, so you're pretty good.”

“Allow me to show you just how good.”

Ravager wasn't even sure what happened next. She knew that Shao had come in with a series of attacks, she knew that her precog had predicted all of them, and she knew that she had reacted to defend herself. And yet... she still somehow found herself on the ground, every part of her body aching with a dull, throbbing pain.

So... fast, she thought, staring up at the ceiling in a daze. Could only keep up with the first few attacks, and then... was all a blur. He's a meta... has to be a meta, like me.

“That was... disappointing,” Shao said, furrowing his brow. “And anticlimactic. I would have expected you to at least provide a bit more of a challenge; I didn't even have to try.”

“Okay, so you're really good.” Ravager sucked in a deep breath, pushing herself up to her knees. “I get it. But I'm not done.”

“Actually, you are.” With a swift blow to the back of Ravager's head, Shao Shen knocked her out cold, dropping her straight back to the floor.

Sighing, he held a hand to his chin and contemplated what to do with her now. He knew that she likely wouldn't comply with the terms, given the degree to which he had humbled her. It wasn't in her nature. But still, she would be an annoyance if allowed to continue her activities, and he really didn't want to have to kill her.

“I suppose I could just control,” he said quietly, pursing his lips. “But the devices are still in development and might end up killing you anyway. That would be waste. No... no, I think I have a more appropriate solution for you.”

---

Becky whistled softly to herself, as she drove the cruiser down the darkened street, alone. Very rarely did she work these late hours, but since she needed to make up for time she'd be missing on Friday, she didn't mind too much. It had been a fairly quiet night so far anyway, and her shift was just an hour from finishing up. Then, she could head back to her apartment and get a few hours of sleep before waking up early to do it all again. It had been quite a bit dull, though, without a partner to talk to. She enjoyed having another person in the car to talk to, and bounce ideas off of.

As her thoughts fell back to Rose, though, she breathed out a small groan and shook her head. That had been one hell of a stupid slip up earlier, calling Rose cute. Becky had made a point after the initial mishap to try and not noticeably come on to her partner again, especially since Rose herself was not into women. Because of that, continuing to have a crush on her was pointless, and yet at the same time she couldn't help it. She'd never met anyone quite like Rose; smart, funny, strong, caring, sexy, adorably cute, and with ninja skills to boot.

Ay carumba, easy there, Beck, she thought to herself, taking in a deep breath. Gotta stop thinking like a lovesick puppy. It's never gonna happen.

A sudden hiss of static from the radio called her from her thoughts. “Attention, all units, we've just received an anonymous tip that The Blade is back again and seen down by the S.T.A.R. Labs storage warehouse. I repeat, The Blade is at the S.T.A.R. Labs storage warehouse. All units, please respond, we're taking her in.”

Becky's heart jumped, a surge of adrenaline pumping through her. Sitting up straighter, she flipped on her sirens and turned onto a new street. She'd been waiting for this, a chance to finally take in that masked vigilante running amok around the city.

“Alright, espada,” she said, a slight grin curling across hr face. “We're coming for you.”

---

By the time Ravager awoke, Shao was long gone, the warehouse around her now dark and empty. She uttered a long moan, pain throbbing in the back of her skull. Add to that the pain pulsing through the rest of her body, and she felt like she had been hit by a truck. Then, add to that the fact that a single man had done this to her, through her armored costume no less, and it became a thoroughly humbling experience.

Alright... that was embarrassing. Who the hell was that guy?

Emitting a pained sigh, she slowly stood up, teetering on her feet for a second before regaining her balance. That's when she heard them: the sirens. Snapping her gaze to the nearest window, she noticed flickers of blue and red light, a lot of it. From what she could hear, there had to be at least half a dozen police cars approaching, already nearly at the warehouse.

“Sh*t!” she exclaimed, taking off in a sprint. She grabbed her swords, then ran for the back of the building, where she had parked her bike. She had to get out of here, now!

Ravager burst through one of the windows at the rear of the building, hitting the ground on her feet with shards of glass raining down around her. The sirens were louder now, the lights bright; the cops were at the warehouse entrance. No time to think, though, just had to act. Hopping onto her motorcycle, she slipped her helmet on and then gunned the engine, peeling out momentarily before taking off like a rocket around the side of the warehouse.

The police didn't see her coming until she was almost past them, driving up a small embankment and launching herself through the air, right next to one of the squad cars. She couldn't hear the officers yelling and scrambling to get back in their cruisers over the roar of her engine, but she knew they were coming after her. They wouldn't catch her, though, no chance. She was already putting way to much distance between them.

Unfortunately, they weren't the only ones she had to deal with. A mere two blocks from the warehouse, another pair of squad cars came peeling around the corner, hot on her tail. She glanced back momentarily, cursing under her breath as she weaved through traffic. If she could just lose them, she could find a place to hide until the chaos settled down.

She never got that chance. As she bolted up the on ramp onto the overpass, another three squad cars came up from her side, already waiting for her. They had been prepared, guessed that she'd try to take the highway. There was more traffic here, but nothing she couldn't work around. Gliding around and in between cars, she gradually increased her speed. The needle hit one hundred and fifty, about as fast as she was willing to push it; any faster and she'd probably lose control and crash. At least she was losing the cops behind her, though.

That's when the spotlight hit her. Ravager glanced up suddenly to see a police chopper flying above her and keeping pace. Immediately, her heart jumped with panic, as she turned her focus back to the road. A numb lump knotted its way into her throat.

Crap, they're serious about this.

Apparently, the police really want to bring her in. She knew that she'd been pretty high on the city's wanted list, but she hadn't realized she was police chopper worthy. Then again, she supposed that any high speed chase was chopper worthy. Still, this greatly complicated things. Now, not only did she have to outrun the ground troops, but the aerial support, as well. She really had her work cut out for her.

Ravager turned sharply, moving from the overpass and heading down a ramp to one of the city's main streets. She didn't get very far before arriving at a wall of flashing lights, a police blockade blocking her path. Hitting the brakes, she spun her vehicle around, tires screeching as she changed directions. This caught the cars pursuing her off guard, as they suddenly hit the brakes, as well. Two of the cruisers smashed into each other, though fortunately it wasn't a serious accident.

While getting away from the squad cars was easy enough, the chopper proved to be astoundingly difficult to elude. No matter what side street she turned on, what new path she took, the spotlight remained on her. It forced her to go faster than she wanted to, almost to the point of losing control from the slightest of turns. Still, she had to take chances at this point or she'd never get away. Coming back out onto a main street, she changed direction and headed towards the East District.

She didn't get very far, though. As soon as she turned onto the next street, she came face to face with another police blockade, going way too fast to stop in time or turn around. No, she had to keep going forward, but she couldn't just drive straight into the squad cars, either. Instead, she lurched the bike to the side, crashing through a chain link fence on the side of the street, rumbling over loose gravel and rocks, and then hitting a small bump on the ground that sent her flying.

That brief instant lasted a near lifetime to her, as she catapulted over her handlebars. The bike skidded out from beneath her, and suddenly she was airborne with no real way to land properly. The only thing she could do was tuck and roll, trying to reduce the impending damage as much as possible. When she hit the ground, her body bounced, spinning wildly and head smacking repeatedly against rocks and dirt. If not for her helmet, her skull probably would have split open.

When she finally came to stop, a long moment went by before she was able to move, her entire body refusing to respond to her mental commands. She forced herself up into a sitting position, but the pain was phenomenal. Her entire body felt like one giant bruise, though remarkably nothing seemed to be broken. Uttering a deep, pained groan, she staggered up to her feet and threw her helmet off. She teetered there for a moment, everything still spinning around her.

Ravager heard the shouts of the surrounding police officers, as they raced towards her location. She didn't see any of them yet, but they had to be close by. A few moments later, she realized where she was: the same construction site where she had fought Lady Shiva several months before. Though a lot more work has been done since then, the place was still a giant metal skeleton of a building, with a lot of debris piles, pillars, and shadows to take advantage of. Stumbling farther into the construction site, she disappeared into the darkness, evading the incoming spotlight as it swept by.

Ravager pushed her way inside one of those mobile offices often seen around construction sites, slamming the door shut behind her. She suddenly collapsed forward, falling to her hands and knees. A brief flash of pain ripped through her arm, but she ignored it, she had to.

Crawling farther into the office, she made her way around a dividing wall and slipped behind a desk, out of sight. She propped herself up against the wall, sucking in deep, agonizing breaths. As much as she wanted to keep running, her body couldn't take it, not in this condition. All she could do now was wait and hope that they somehow overlooked her.

Several minutes later, she heard voices coming just outside the office, one officer giving directions and telling the others to go search another area. The officer giving those directions then headed up the stairs into the office. Ravager closed her eye and held her breath, waiting silently. She heard the footsteps approaching, coming around the dividing wall. A flashlight beam swept just above her head and kept going, searching elsewhere.

One minute went by, then two, then three. The officer took another sweep around the back of the office and then returned to the front, still closely examining every dark corner. Just when Ravager thought that she was safe, that the officer had somehow missed her, the flashlight paused and then swung around again, just above her hiding spot.

Keep going, keep going.

But luck was not on her side. The officer came forward and pulled the desk to the side, shining the flashlight directly on her. Ravager squinted, holding an arm up to shield herself from the light. At first, all she saw was a silhouette of the officer standing in front of her with a gun drawn. When she realized who it is, however, her heart skipped a beat and leaped up into her throat.

“Got you!” Becky said, pointing her gun forward. “Hands in the air, now!”

“Wait-”

Becky went for her radio, clicking the button and bringing it to her lips. “This is Officer Chavez, I have-”

“Becky, wait!”

Pausing, Becky slowly brought the radio down and stared at Ravager. The voice sounded familiar... but it couldn't be, right?” “How do you...”

Swallowing hard, Ravager raised a hand and pulled the mask from her head, revealing herself to Becky. Right then, she wasn't Ravager, or The Blade. She was just Rose.

“Its me, Beck... Just me.”

Becky faltered, gun lowering as she took a step backwards. Confusion flashed across her face, one hand coming to her head while the other held herself up against the wall, legs buckling. She actually looked physically hurt.

“Rose...?” she uttered, staring with disbelief.

“Rebecca, please...” Rose said, breathing out deeply. “I need your help right now.”

Chapter 29

For several long moments, the two women just stared at each other. Rose swallowed again, sitting up straighter against the wall and twinging at a sharp jolt of pain in her side. Becky, meanwhile, was still trying to process the information that her partner and best friend was actually the Silverstone vigilante known as 'The Blade', who had been acting outside the law and, more recently, outright breaking it.

A sudden hiss of static broke the silence, as a voice came in over Becky's radio. “Officer Chavez, can you repeat that? Didn't get all of it. Did you say you found something?”

“Becky, please-”

“No, don't,” she said quickly, taking in a deep breath. “Don't... don't make me-”

Her sentence cut off, words catching in her throat. The look on her face said it all, torn between her duties as a cop and her friendship (though, more than just a friendship, at least to her) with Rose.

The voice came over the radio again. “Officer Chavez, are you there?”.

Bringing both hands to her head, Becky dropped herself into the nearby chair, fingers gripping her hair and gaze pointed at the floor. A second later, she brought her radio to her lips. “I'm here, I-”

She paused, slowly glancing back at Rose. A long breath burst from her lips, followed by a few words in Spanish. Finally, she spoke back into her radio, bowing her head lower. “-nothing, sorry. I'm just... jumping at shadows. Gonna take another look around this area.

“Alright, keep at it. If we don't find anything here soon, we'll spread out our search into the surrounding alleys and buildings; there's a chance we might have missed her sneaking off.”

“Copy that...” Becky muttered.

Rose brought her own gaze to the floor now, releasing a heavy sigh. She didn't dare look up at her partner, though. “Becky... thanks.”

“Don't, Rose, just don't.”

Rose's face went hot, her heart sinking. Slowly, she glanced up to make eye contact. The look on Becky's face, the grief, the pain, the disbelief, the anger... it was enough to make her physically ill.

“I... where the hell do I even start?” Becky said, throwing up her shoulders in a defeated shrug. “This whole time... this whole time it was you?

“Yeah...” Rose breathed. “It was me.”

“Hijo de puta...” Becky's lips curled into a small smile, but it wasn't one of happiness or amusement. It was a pained smile, one of utter disbelief. “How can you do it? I mean how can you... how can you honestly sit next to me everyday, calling yourself a cop, and then go out every night breaking the law? Is it all a big joke to you?”

“No, of course not, I just...”

“What? Explain it to me, Rose. Help me understand, because right now every fiber of my being is telling me to turn you over.”

“I just wanted to do good,” she explained. “That's all I've ever wanted with my life.”

“And you do that by stealing? By hurting people? By driving like lunatic and putting god knows how many lives in danger?” Becky paused, swallowing a hard knot in her throat. “You're supposed to be a cop, for Christ's sake! We don't do enough good?”

Rose turned her gaze to the side, bringing a hand up to her forehead. “It's not- it's more complicated than that. There's only so much I can do on the force, inside the law. Doing this gives me another outlet, another way to get things done, things that I can't do from inside a squad car.”

“Puro cuento!” Becky snapped. “All you've done is be a criminal!”

“Becky-”

“And more than that, this whole time you've been lying! About who are, about being a cop, about being my friend... Has anything you've said been truthful?”

Rose's sat up straighter, her gaze growing stern. “I never lied about being your friend. That's true, that's real. And I am a cop. I just want to do everything I can for this city, and help people every way that I can. I know you might think it's wrong, but what I do in this costume, behind this mask... I'm good at it. I'm damn good at it, and I know I've helped people because of it. People like Holly.”

A brief moment of silence passed between them. Becky's jaw tightened, her hands gripping her knees tightly as averted her gaze. Her anger gradually disappeared, but was instead replaced by a look of pained sorrow. She sucked in a deep breath, squinting her eyes shut to hide the tears.

“But you have been lying about who you are, haven't you?” Another dead silence. “Is your name even Sarah Walker?”

“No...”

“Then I guess Rose isn't really your middle name, is it?”

Rose looked away, closing her own eyes. The longer she looked at Becky, the worse she felt. “It's... my name is Wilson. Rose Wilson.”

Becky kept her gaze lowered, remaining silent for several agonizingly long moments. Eventually, she stood from her seat and pushed the chair back against the desk, turning to the door. “I just... I have to go. I'll lead them away from your location and come back when everything is clear. I'll bring a change of clothes, too... Just don't ask me for anymore favors after this, Rose.”

When Becky left, Rose dropped her head back against the wall and shut her eye tightly, a nauseous bubble quivering in her gut.

You are... such a b*tch, Rose.

---

Later that night, Rose sat quietly at the kitchen table, staring into her full cup of coffee. She had made it because she thought it would help clear her head, or at least soothe her nerves. But she hadn't even touched it, not a drop. She just... wasn't in the mood.

Becky hadn't said a single word after returning to help Rose back to the penthouse. Rose had tried to start a conversation several times along the way, but never got a response. Eventually, she got the message. Becky didn't want to talk, at least not to her.

Couldn't leave well enough alone, could you, Rose? she thought, scolding herself. You just had to put the costume back on. You just had to ruin one of the few good things left in your life, didn't you?

Becky really had been one of the best things in her life. She was a friend, a partner, and someone Rose actually felt a connection with. Sometimes, she had even wondered about Becky's other feelings for her. Due to her own personal preferences, Rose had initially rejected those feelings... but after what they'd been through together, and how much she cared for Becky, there were times when she really had thought that maybe the two of them could have...

Doesn't matter. We'll never find out now, will we? You went and screwed it all up.

Rose clenched her jaw briefly, still staring at her dull reflection in the cup of coffee. Eventually, she couldn't stand the sight of herself anymore, stomach twisting into a knot. In a sudden outburst, she swept her arm across the table, launching the mug across the room. It crashed into a cabinet, shattering and spilling hot liquid onto the floor. She took in a few deep breaths, slowly calming herself, then grabbed a sponge and knelt next to the mess to clean it up.

“Goddamn it...” she muttered.

When she finished mopping up the coffee, she grabbed the trash bin and began picking up the shards of the broken mug by hand, tossing them out. Not the smartest thing she could have done while not really paying attention to her actions, as one of the sharp pieces suddenly cut into her thumb, drawing blood.

“F**k!” she shouted, pulling her hand back and sucking on the cut.

It didn't really hurt that much, especially when compared to the rest of her sore and battered body, but that wasn't what bothered her. What bothered her was the fact that she had been so careless, her mind so enamored in other things that she couldn't even pick up some broken glass without cutting herself.

For several moments, she just knelt there quietly, sucking on her bleeding thumb and staring at the floor. She didn't even notice Holly enter the kitchen. It wasn't until the girl walked up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder that Rose turned to see her standing there.

“Oh, Holly,” she said. “I... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you.”

Though apparently still half asleep, Holly could tell something wasn't right, that something was bothering Rose. Her eyes softened, hands coming together to sign. “It's okay... what's wrong?”

“It's... it's nothing, really. I just... had a bad night.”

Do you want to talk about it?”

“I... yes, I do.” Rose bowed her head, squinting her eye shut and sighing. “But not right now, maybe later. You just... you go back to bed. Sorry again for waking you.”

The girl let out a small breath and nodded, then gave Rose a warm hug before returning to her bedroom. Rose sat there on the kitchen floor for another hour, unable to do anything but stare at the floor, lost in her misery.

---

Rose exited the women's locker room and looked down the hall. Still no sign of her. It was half and hour past the start of their shift, yet Becky was nowhere to be found around the police station. She had a lot she wanted to discuss with her partner, a lot she needed to explain. She... she had to apologize, for one. And she had to help Becky understand better why she did what she did. Why she had to keep doing it. That was, of course, only if Becky even listened to her.

Heading down the hallway, Rose noticed Officer Stevens heading towards her. Though she normally made every conscious effort to avoid talking to him, it didn't hurt to ask.

“Hey, uh, Stevens,” she said, hurrying over to him. “Have you seen my partner around? Haven't been able to find her anywhere.”

“Oh, Rebecca?” Stevens thought a moment, looking back over his shoulder. “Uh, yeah I think I heard Chief mention she called in sick or something, came down with a really nasty bug.”

Rose's heart sank. “Oh... a bug, huh?”

“Yeah, she asked for the rest of the week off. Guess it was pretty sudden, too, I mean she was fine yesterday, right?”

“Yeah...” she breathed, lightly bowing her head. “Right.”

“By the way, you never got back to me on that rain check,” Stevens said, abruptly changing the subject. “What do you say? You, me, dinner, Friday night?”

“I'll, uh... have to take another rain check.” Rose pushed past him, heading for the exit. “I gotta get out on patrol.”

“Wha- hey, wait a second!”

But she ignored him. Her mind was on more important things than turning Stevens down for another date request.

Guess I should have seen it coming, her not wanting to see me. Don't blame her. I only went and ruined our friendship after all.

---

Rose tried calling Becky's apartment later that night. She got the answering machine. So, she tried Becky's cell phone. Straight to voicemail. For the better part of the night, she continued trying to contact Becky, with no success. While it didn't surprise her each time she got the answering machine or voicemail, she felt her heart growing just a little heavier with each call.

Stupid, you're being stupid, she thought. You lied to her, betrayed her trust... she doesn't want to talk to you. She probably never will.

Still, she kept calling. Not just that night, but each day following. Tuesday came and went, then Wednesday, and then Thursday. Rose lost count of just how many calls she made, but never once did she get an answer. Finally, sitting at the living room couch, she breathed out a frustrated groan and threw her phone across the room.

Holly, who had been sitting next to her watching television, looked over to Rose and frowned sadly. She tugged on Rose's arm to get her attention, then quickly went through a series of hand signs. “I'm sorry about Becky.”

Rose sighed, shaking her head. “Not like it's your fault. I'm the one that screwed things up...”

I hope she answers soon.”

“Yeah...” Rose uttered, bowing her head. “Me, too.”

And yet, a small part of her knew that Becky wouldn't answer, no matter how many times she called. Plus, with her taking time off work now and avoiding the station, Rose didn't know when she'd ever get a chance to talk to her. She had contemplated showing up at Becky's apartment... but she really didn't want to cause more problems than necessary. If Becky was trying to avoid Rose, going to her apartment would only make things worse.

“You watch some more TV for a while, Holly.” Rose stood up slowly, posture slouching. “I'll be in my room for a bit if you need anything.”

Returning to her bedroom, Rose sat down at her desk and released a heavy sigh. For a long while, she just leaned against the back of her chair, staring at the blank computer screen in front of her. Eventually, she reached forward and pulled up her video conferencing software, making a different sort of call. It connected to another penthouse about 300 miles away, in Gotham. She just hoped he was there...

To her relief, the familiar face of Dick Grayson popped up on the screen several minutes later. “Rose?”

“Hey, Dick... glad I caught you before you went out.”

“Something wrong?” he asked. “You usually just call my phone.”

“Yeah, well... I don't know, I felt like talking face to face, I guess,” she answered, shrugging lightly.

“I take it you didn't call just to chat about the weather. What happened?”

Leaning forward and holding her head up with one hand, she breathed out a long sigh. “I... I really screwed up, Dick.”

A small pause followed, as Dick went from standing in front of his desk to sitting down. “Go ahead, start from the beginning.”

And so she told him, about running from the police, Becky finding out about her secret, and her subsequent avoidance of Rose. She didn't really expect to feel like such crap when explaining things to him, but just recounting the events put her in a terrible mood, upset at her own stupidity, her own mistakes.

“And now...” she continued, “I don't know what the hell to do anymore. Becky doesn't want to talk to me, and I can barely stomach sitting in that squad car alone everyday. I mean, she was right, who am I kidding? I'm no cop, never was. I'm just a freak in a costume doing whatever I want to do, and I'm not sure if I can even be that anymore.”

“Rose,” Dick said, leaning closer to the screen, “the most important thing you have to remember is that you always tried to do good. You might have different ways of going about it, but it's part of who you are; you want to help people. And you do.”

“But what's the point in doing good if you just end up hurting everyone around you?” she countered. “You didn't see the look she had in her eyes when she found out who I was. She looked so... betrayed. Hurt. I had a life of my own, Dick, a good life. But then I went and ruined it, all because I couldn't keep the costume off.”

Dick uttered a small sigh of his own, nodding in understanding. “It's part of you. We do this for so long, and that's what happens. Our other identities become a part of us, and we can't let it go.”

Groaning, Rose lowered her gaze and shook her head. “How do you do it? I mean, how have you kept it up for so long without going insane?”

“Years of practice, mostly,” he said, with a shrug. “I've been doing this since I was kid, after all.”

“Gee, thanks for your words of wisdom,” she muttered, rolling her eyes.

“I'm being serious, Rose.” His expression grew a bit more stern, as he folded his hands in front of him on the desk. “I don't just mean physical practice, it's a lot of mental practice, too. The kind of life we live, it's difficult, stressful, not to mention dangerous.”

“And pretty much guarantees you no social life.”

“A lot of times, yeah,” he admitted. “But sometimes you find something, or someone, special.”

“But how on earth are you supposed to keep that something special without screwing it up?” Rose fell back into her seat again, holding her hands to her forehead. “I had that... and now it's gone.”

“Well, for starters, I try never to start serious relationships outside of the superhero community.”

Rose narrowed her gaze. “You're still not funny, Grayson.”

“If you really want to know, it takes a lot of care and a little luck to make your regular life work alongside your secret one,” he explained. “Sharing that secret with someone you trust can be a big help, too. Gives you someone to talk to. Plus, it also helps to try and be on good terms with the local authorities.”

Rose scoffed out a laugh. “Little late for that.”

“Maybe, but not for certain.”

“Dick, let's face it, I'm not really cut out for this.”

Dick furrowed his brow, straightening in his seat. “What are you talking about? You're good at what you do, we've been over this.”

“No, not that.” Rose turned to the side slightly, holding her arms out and gesturing around the room. “I mean this. The normal life, the secret identity, the lying, all of it... I was never meant to be a happy person.” Dropping her hands, she lowered her gaze, staring at the floor. “Ugh, I feel like I don't even know who I am anymore. It's like I'm all the way back to square one. The hell am I supposed to do now?”

Dick paused, taking in a small breath and tapping his fingers against the desk. “You still have Holly, right? You're doing a good job with her.”

“Save the pep talk,” she said, shaking her head. “I know I'm not exactly the best person in the world to look after a kid. Hell, I leave her alone every night with nothing but a suped up security system keeping her safe, while I go and get myself shot at. Social services would have a field day with that.”

“You still cared enough to look after her, to give her a home. A lot of people would have just let her go back into the foster system, but you stepped up. What's that say?”

“Either that I have a soft spot for kids, or I like getting in over my head. Maybe both, I don't know.” She leaned forward again, resting her elbows on the desk. “I just... I can't do this anymore, Dick. I'm not sure I even know how.”

Pursing his lips, Dick nodded. “Look, Rose... I can tell you're in a rough spot right now.”

“Gee, what tipped you off?”

“And if you keep going about things the way you are, you'll only keep beating yourself up until there's nothing left.”

Rose rolled her eyes, spinning back and forth in her seat now. Your confidence in me is endearing.”

“Rose, I'm trying to help you,” he said, glaring at her. “Are you going to listen or not?”

“Sorry, go ahead.”

“I may not be able to help you get past what you're going through, or make you gain some kind of sudden clarity on what you should do, or how to live your life... but I do know someone who went through something similar a while back.” He took in a deep breath, leaning back against his seat. “It... might be a bit of an extreme way to go, but she does owe me a favor, if you're interested. She has connections to someone who can help you gain that kind of clarity.”

“So you know someone who knows someone who can help me?” She snorted out a laugh, shaking her head. “Isn't that always the way? But what the hell, it's worth a shot. Even if I don't think it'll help.”

“Well, before you agree to it, I should mention that you'll have to travel; you could be gone a while.”

A long moment of silence passed between them. Rose sat up a little straighter in her seat, staring back at Dick on the screen. Taking in a deep breath, she pressed a hand to her forehead and shut her eye, thinking. It didn't take long to come to a decision, though.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” she said, giving a small shrug. “Not a lot left for me here anyway, is there?”

Dick nodded. “If that's what you want, then I'll make the call.”

“Oh, uh... just one more favor?” she asked.

“What is it?”

“Could you watch Holly while I'm gone? She... deserves someone nice looking after her.”

“I'd be happy to,” he replied, with a reassuring smile. “Alfred's great with kids, anyway. Plus, she and Damian are almost the same age.”

“Ha, right... I'm sure they'll get along great.”

Chapter 30

The phone rang, but there was one around to pick it up. Eventually, the answering machine clicked on, just as it had the last hundred times over the past several days. The only difference was, this time the caller waited for the beep to leave a message.

“Hey, you've reached Becky, I'm not in right now,” the prerecorded message stated. “Just leave a message or try my cell, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Gracias.”

Beeeep.

“Hey, Becky... it's Rose. I know you haven't been around lately, and you haven't wanted to talk to me... but that's okay, I get it.” She sighed, pausing a moment before continuing. “Look, I... I'm sorry about everything, alright? I never wanted to betray you, or hurt you, or lie to you. I just... I screwed up. Maybe I should have told you about it sooner, or I should have just stopped altogether, I don't know... either way, I just want you to know that I'll always consider you a friend, no matter what else happens. Even if you never speak to me again, that's fine... but I want to thank you. For everything you did for me, just being my friend... thanks. That's not something I say to very many people, but you deserve it.”

Rose paused again, clearing her throat. “So... listen, I... I need to figure some things out for myself, try to get my life straight after I went and messed it up. I'm uh.... I'm leaving soon. Tomorrow, actually. Not really sure where yet, but I'll find out eventually. I... I could be gone for a while. Weeks, maybe months... don't really know. I've already gone and handed in my resignation at the station, so no worries there...”

Another pause.

“Sh*t what else am I supposed to say? I'm not very good at this kind of thing, you know. I just... again, I'm sorry. I just wish I got a chance to explain things to you face to face before I leave.”

Suddenly, a figure moved into the living room of the small apartment. Becky stood there calmly, then slowly began approaching the answering machine. She'd been listening to the whole thing, unsure if she wanted to pick up the phone and answer it. For a moment, her hand came forward, as if about to grab the phone, but then she paused. Eventually, she breathed out a small sigh, and pulled her hand back, bowing her head.

“So... yeah, goodbye, Becky. And take care, you hear me?”

A short moment later, the phone and answering machine clicked off. Letting out a small groan, Becky lifted a hand to her head and dropped herself into a chair. She just sat there staring at the wall, shaking her head. She wanted to answer that phone, but something inside her just wouldn't let her do it.

“Adiós, Rose... adiós.”

---

Rose took in a deep breath, staring up at the tall Wayne Tower building in front of her. Holly stood next to her, holding her hand lightly and also gazing up at the massive structure. They'd been standing there now for several minutes, as if hesitant to go inside.

“Well... this is the place,” Rose said.

Looking up at her, Holly pulled her hand back to make several signs. “Do I really have to stay here?”

A small sigh escaped Rose's lips, as she glanced down at the young girl. “I know you don't want to... If I could take you with me, I would, but I don't even know where I'm going yet.”

Can't you just stay?”

Swallowing a hard lump in her throat, Rose knelt down in front of her, at eye level now. She sucked in another deep breath and put her hands on Holly's shoulders.

“I... I want to,” she explained. “I do. But... my head is all over the place right now. After everything that happened with Becky, I don't really know what direction my life is going in right now. Kind of soon for me to be having a midlife crisis, but I guess you could call it that... Maybe I'm just stressed, I don't know, but apparently this mystery guy can help me, or something, so I'm going to give it a try. One thing to remember, though: I will come back. I promise you that.”

A small, sad look came over the girl's face, one of distant understanding. “How long will you be gone?”

“I don't know... I hope not that long, but it could be a few months. Maybe longer. If I'm not back by the end of the summer, though, my friend here will get you into Gotham Academy come September. It's a good school, really, you'll learn a lot.”

Holly pouted, bringing her hands up to sign again. “It won't be the same.”

“I'm sorry, Holly, I really am...” Rose said, bowing her head. “I promise I'll find a way to make it up to you alright?”

I guess so...”

Breathing outwardly, Rose stood up and held Holly's hand again, then began leading her inside the building. “Come on, let's go meet who you'll be staying with. They're good people, I promise.”

---

A short few minutes later, both Rose and Holly stood in the middle of the large penthouse. Dick, Damian, and even Alfred were all present and there to greet them.

“Good to see you again,” Dick said, briefly shaking Rose's hand. “I trust the trip here went alright?”

Rose shrugged. “About as alright as four and a half hours in a car can be. Nothing special.”

Turning to Holly, Dick took a knee, lowering himself down to her level and giving a friendly nod. “Good to see you again, too, Holly. Do you remember me at all? We met briefly a while back.”

Taking a few moments to study is face and contemplate, Holly eventually nodded and held out her hand for him to shake.

Dick smiled, straightening himself again and introducing the others. “This is Alfred. He's been a good friend to me for a long time.”

Coming forward, Alfred took a steady bow. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss... Holly, was it?”

Holly nodded in affirmation, eagerly shaking the older gentleman's hand.

“Can I get you anything to eat?” Alfred asked. “Or perhaps you'd like a drink? You must be famished after such a long car ride.”

That got her attention attention. Holly grinned, immediately going through a rapid series of hand signs.

Lifting an eyebrow, Alfred watched her hands carefully. “Oh dear, my sign language is a bit rusty... but I believe you said you wanted peanut butter and jelly? And a glass of milk.”

Holly nodded firmly, grinning wider.

“Very good,” Alfred said. “I shall prepare it for you at once.”

As Alfred headed into the kitchen to fix up a snack, Dick looked back at the other person in the room, who had thus far been standing off to the side quietly, arms crossed over his chest.

“Damian, you can say hi, you know,” Dick said.

“I could.”

“Holly, this is Damian.” Dick gestured toward the young boy. “He's my brother, through adoption.”

Holly stepped forward with a smile, signing off a greeting. Damian just sort of stared at her, brow furrowed in confusion.

“I have no idea what she just said,” Damian muttered, narrowing his eyes.. “What did she say?”

“She said that it's nice to meet you,” Rose informed, glaring sternly at him. “And you'll say the same, if you know what's good for you, twerp.”

Damian leaned a little closer to the girl, continuing to study her. Then, he brought a finger up and poked it against her forehead. “So why can't she talk? There isn't anything wrong with her, is there?”

Before anyone can answer his question, Holly's hand shot upward, grabbing his finger and twisting it around, while pushing forward. Instantly, Damian recoiled, desperately trying to yank her grip away from his finger.

“Ow, ow, ow!” he shouted. “What the hell?!” He finally managed to break free of the hold a second later, shaking his finger in pain. “Why didn't anyone tell me she could do that?!”

“Shouldn't have let your guard down,” Dick said, fighting to hold back a laugh.

Smirking a little, Rose raised a palm. “Just like I taught you.”

Holly grinned, giving her a vigorous high five.

“This isn't over...” Damian grumbled, glaring at Holly. He marched away from her, heading over to the couch and plopping himself down with his arms folded.

A few moments later, Alfred finished preparing the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, prompting Holly to go join him in the kitchen. Now alone with Dick in the middle of the apartment, Rose looked back at him and shifted her weight slightly.

“I should probably get going soon,” she said.

“No need to hurry,” he insisted. “You can stick around for a while, you know.”

“Yeah, I know...” Rose glanced back into the kitchen, giving Holly a long look. “But if I don't leave now, I might not be able to. My mind is a pretty fickle thing at the moment.”

Dick breathed outwardly, nodding. “Guess I can understand that.”

“So, this friend of yours I'm meeting,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. “She really knows someone who can help me straighten my head out?”

“According to her, yeah. She was in a similar sort of situation a while back, and she had it even worse than you. But this guy helped her figure out her life. I'll bet he can do the same for you.”

“Well, here's hoping.”

“She'll be waiting for you at Gotham International,” he explained. “I've taken the liberty of preparing a private jet for you. Oh, and here, you'll be needing this.”

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small blue booklet, handing it to her. Flipping it open, Rose saw a picture of herself, as well as a bunch of personal information.

“A passport?” she asked, giving him a curious look. “Where the hell are you sending me?”

“You'll see soon enough.”

“Right...” she said, flipping the passport closed. “It had better not be anywhere cold.”

The smirk that formed its way on Dick's face made her cringe. Fantastic. She hated the cold.

“Should probably say your goodbyes, then,” Dick said.

Rose bowed her head, sighing. “Yeah...”

Taking in a deep breath, she made her way into the kitchen, grabbing Holly's attention. At first, she couldn't bring herself to say anything, unsure if she can find the right words. For all she knew, this was the last time she'd see the girl for a long, long time.

It was Holly who broke the silence in her own way, by smiling and holding up a single hand sign, one that caused a hard lump to form in Rose's throat. Reaching out, she wrapped her arms around the girl in a warm embrace.

“I love you, too, Holly.”

---

Rose looked around the tarmac, holding an arm up in front of her face to block the bright sunlight from blinding her. It didn't help that it was about thirty degrees hotter on the sun soaked pavement than anywhere else. Dick couldn't have just had the jet hooked up to the terminal, no, he had be all secretive and force her out onto the tarmac to cook to death.

And then he's sending me somewhere cold. Damn it, Grayson, I hope you're having a good laugh over this.

Hoisting her large duffel bag higher on her shoulder, she marched forward, heading towards the large jet in the distance. By the time she reached it, sweat was pouring off her brow, her breaths heavy. Letting out a long breath, she climbed up the plane's lowered steps and emerged inside. The interior of the plane was completely decked out, looking more like an expensive apartment than anything else, and that air conditioning felt great.

“You must be Rose.”

Blinking a few times to let her eyes adjust to the dimmer interior, Rose glanced to her left to see a woman sitting there in a soft leather seat, holding a root beer.

“And you're... Renee, right?” she asked. “Renee... Montana or something.”

“Montoya. Drink?” Reaching over into the nearby mini-fridge, she pulled out a cold soda and held it up.

Lifting an eyebrow, Rose took the bottle and plopped herself down on the nearby seat. A padded, leather, oh so comfortable seat. “Don't mind if I do.”

“So,” Renee said, “I'm told that you're going through a tough time.”

“Uh... yeah, you could say that,” she replied. “Most of the good things in my life sort of went and collapsed around me.”

“And now you don't know what to do, who you are, or where you belong,” Renee affirmed.

“Something like that... I'm told that you went through something similar.”

Renee breathed out a low sigh, taking a sip of her soda. “That was a long time ago. But yes, I did.”

“And this mystery friend of yours can help?”

“If you let him.” Renee shifted in her seat, leaning closer. “He helped me figure out who I was, who I wanted to be, and I've been on that path ever since. He was my teacher, in more ways than one.”

“Well, this teacher of yours, where's he live?” Rose asked, looking out the window curiously. “I mean, just where are we going?

“Ah-” Smirking slightly, Renee lifted her drink back to her lips. “-that's the question, isn't it?”

---

Somewhere in the mountains of Tibet...

Rose pulled the heavy jacket tighter around her. Normally, she could handle the cold just fine. Hell, she even knew a few breathing techniques to help regulate her body temperature. But this... this was a different kind of cold, the kind that could freeze over Hell. Then again, when you're in the middle of nowhere up in the Himalayan Mountains, that's probably to be expected.

Exhaling a shaky breath, she watched the frozen cloud of air escape her lips and then trudged through the snow, trying to keep pace with Renee. It wasn't that she was slower, no. She was just miserable. Had she mentioned that yet she hated the cold? And snow. She hated snow.

“Better hurry up, I'm pretty close to just leaving you behind,” Renee said, looking back over her shoulder.

“I'm c-c-coming,” she stuttered, barely able to speak through her near frozen lips. “H-hold your horses.”

It had to be somewhere cold. Damn you, Grayson. Just damn you.

Marching up the snowy embankment, Renee focused her eyes on the high tech GPS tracking device in her palm, carefully keeping track of where they were and where they were going. She had learned the hard way the last time she came here, you did not try to find this place without knowing where you were going. Pausing a moment, she looks around and then headed east.

“We almost there?” Rose asked, tripping over a thick snow drift. “I can't f-feel my t-t-toes.”

“If you don't have patience now,” Renee said, giving her a stern look, “then this is going to be a very long experience for you.”

“B-bite me.”

Their incessant trek through the snowy mountains of Tibet continued for another couple of hours. By that time, Rose was sure that her feet were frostbitten. They had to be, with how numb they were. The last time that she had been this cold and miserable, she spent five minutes holding her breath beneath a frozen pond. Now that had been an unpleasant experience.

Finally, the two turned the corner around a rocky outcropping, greeted by the sight of a large walled city tucked between two mountains. Immediately, Rose's eyebrows lifted, her demeanor suddenly changing somehow.

“This... is where your friend lives?” she asked, mouth agape.

“It is.”

“It's... I mean... wow.” Rose could barely formulate coherent thoughts just looking at this place. Something about it just seemed... calming. Peaceful. Awe inspiring.

Renee smirked, trudging through the snow to the front gates of the city. “Welcome to Nanda Parbat, Rose.”

Chapter 31

Nanda Parbat. It was a place of healing and enlightenment, according to Renee, watched over by the goddess Rama Kushna. The inhabitants were mostly comprised of monks in service of Rama Kushna, though there were other residents who had come seeking peace and tranquility. It was a very strange place, and yet very soothing at the same time. To Rose, it felt like a place where might actually be able to find clarity.

They spent the first hour after arrival getting situated in the city. The living quarters were small, nothing more than a single square room, and the furnishings were simple: a small bed, a desk, a few baskets, some kitchenware, and an old fashioned stove. There was no electricity, either, only candles. No television, no radio, no computers, no phones, no distractions.

Rose dropped her single duffel bag onto the bed and took a brief look around; not much to see. She did take a small respite, though, sitting at the desk and breathing in deeply.

I just hope coming all the way out here is worth it... It seems like a nice place and all, but that means squat if I still can't figure out what to do with myself.

Rose left the room a few minutes later, heading back outside. Though still wearing her heavy coat, she left it unzipped, and she could feel her toes again. Each breath she took emitted only a small, barely noticeable cloud now, instead of a huge white puff. It was still chilly, sure, but the frigid, biting cold outside the walls was long gone, as if Nanda Parbat existed in its own little world.

A moment later, Renee came around the corner of a small wooden hut and gave Rose a silent wave, motioning for her to follow. Rose obeyed, hurrying after the woman, but said nothing. Words seemed to have little meaning at the moment, and she already knew where they were going. It was time to meet the mystery man, Renee's teacher.

The two came to a small snowy field near the very back end of the city, behind a grouping of buildings and just beneath the shadow of a temple situated higher up on a rocky precipice. The space was completely empty, save for a single rock in the center of the field, on which a man dressed in nothing but a tight T-shirt and long pants sat cross legged with his eyes closed and fingers pressed together. He was an older man, maybe in his forties, but was in remarkable shape, with lean, hard muscle making up his body.

As the two approach, the man slowly opened his eyes. “It's good to see you again, Renee. How have you been?”

“About as good as I can be, Richard. It's good to see you, too.”

“Glad to hear it.” Richard jumped off the rock to his feet, giving Renee a firm handshake before turning to look at Rose. “Who's this?

Rose didn't know what it was, but something about the man's gaze twisted a knot in her stomach. It was like he could see into her soul or something. Just one look, and she felt like he knew everything about her.

“Don't stand there tongue tied,” Renee said, nudging Rose with her elbow. “Introduce yourself.”

“Oh, right,” she said, clearing her throat and extending her hand. “It's Rose. Rose Wilson.”

Richard gave her hand a long look before finally shaking it. “Richard Dragon. Tell me, why are you here, Rose?”

“Uh, well... I was told you could help me.”

“Help you how?”

Rose shifted her weight uneasily, arms crossing over her chest. “I was hoping you could tell me that.”

“You lack direction in your life, is that it?” Richard's eyes narrowed slightly, a hand coming up to his chin. His expression never faltered, hard and serious. “Or are you just running away because it's the easy thing to do?”

She paused a moment, staring back at him. “I just... can't figure out what to do with myself. I made some big screw ups with my life, and now... I don't know. I just have some problems I need to work out.”

“Everyone has problems,” he explained, “yet most of us are able to deal with them on our own. I can't make you understand what you're supposed to do, or who you're supposed to be. Only you can do that.”

“But-”

“However...” he said quickly, breathing out deeply. “I can help you find the path that will lead you to those answers. If you are willing to learn what I have to teach.”

“I wouldn't have come here if I wasn't,” she assured.

“I hope you mean that.”

“I guess we'll see, won't we?” She shifted her weight again, kicking a little fluff of snow up with her boot. “So when do we start?”

“Not now,” he said. “Take a while first, grow acclimated to the city. Learn the customs, the routine, ready your mind, and then come see me again. That is when we will start.”

Rose lifted an eyebrow, giving him a curious look. “Alright... and about how long should I spend doing that?”

“As long as it takes.”

“Okay...” she muttered. “In that case, I'll go get 'acclimated', then. I think I'll start with the local cuisine. Got anything to eat around here?”

“I'll have someone bring a bowl of rice to your quarters soon, if you want to wait there,” Richard stated.

She stared at him dumbly for a few moments, trying to process that information.

Rice? A bowl of rice? I can't survive on rice! Is he serious?

One look, however, told her that he was quite serious. Apparently, the people of Nanda Parbat didn't eat that much.

“Fine, I'll be in my room,” she grumbled, turning away and marching back to her living quarters. This trip was starting out just dandy.

Richard folded his arms, watching as Rose disappeared around the corner of a building. “I sense she will be a stubborn one.”

“Yeah, I got that vibe, too,” Renee said, with a small smirk. “Try spending fourteen hours in a plane with her.”

“It doesn't make a difference, though,” he assured, giving her a sidelong glance. “I've handled worse before.”

“I wasn't that bad.”

“Weren't you?”

She paused, lifting an eyebrow at him. “Alright, I was pretty bad. But not your worst.”

“True.” Richard hopped back up onto the rock, crossing his legs again. “That prize goes to Charlie.”

---

Later that night, Rose took a long walk throughout the city, just trying to get a feel for the place. She had no idea on how to know when she was 'acclimated 'to Nanda Parbat, but she supposed she'd figure it out eventually. Richard was one weird guy, in her mind, but he should know what he was talking about. At least, she hoped he did. She could do without philosophical-like speech, but whatever, she couldn't change it.

Hugging her coat tighter around herself, Rose let out a deep breath and looked up to the sky. A light snow had begun to fall, the wispy flakes fluttering down calmly in the windless air. At night, the city streets were lit with paper lanterns, casting long flickering shadows. Her own shadow seemed to dance in the pale light, as she walked down the street with her hands stuffed her pockets, footsteps crunching over the snow.

One thing specifically absent from the streets right now, though, was the people. Every now and then she'd pass someone going about their business, but for the most part the place felt deserted. It wasn't even that particularly late, either, and yet once the sun had gone down, most of Nanda Parbat seemed to shut down. Turning the corner of one street, however, she noticed Renee sitting on a nearby bench, sipping from a thermos.

“That seat taken?” she asked, stopping in front of the bench.

Renee motioned o the empty space next to her. “Be my guest.”

Letting out a small sigh, Rose sat herself next to Renee on the bench. Leaning backward, she lifted her hands up and held them behind her head, gazing up at the falling snowflakes.

“So, regretting coming here, yet?” Renee asked.

“Uh, well no...” Rose said. “I mean, should I?”

“It's not for everyone, believe me.” Renee lifted her thermos up to her lips, taking a long sip from the steaming liquid within. “When I first arrived, I didn't know what I was doing or why I was here. I just wanted to leave.”

“But you didn't?”

“I couldn't,” she explained. “I owed too much to the friend who brought me here to just turn my back. So yeah, I stayed.”

Rose folded her arms across her chest, breathing outwardly. “And it worked out, huh?”

“I figured out what I needed to do to put my life in order, if that's what you mean. I'm sure Richard can do the same for you.”

“That remains to be seen...” she muttered. “So where's that friend of yours now, anyway, the one who brought you here?”

“Gone.” Bringing her thermos back up to her lips, Renee took a small sip.

“Oh,” Rose said, quietly. She sank back against the bench and uttered another heavy sigh. “Sorry.”

Stupid question.

After a brief moment of silence, Rose leaned forward, elbows on her knees, and asked, “So, uh... how long did it take you? To complete your... learning or whatever here, I mean.”

“Months, years maybe,” Renee said. “Hard to say.”

Looking up suddenly, Rose's eye went wide in surprise. She had been expecting to be gone a little while, but years? “Seriously? That long?”

“Don't worry too much about it,” Renee explained. “Time passes... differently, here in Nanda Parbat. Days, weeks, months, they don't matter. Pretty soon, they'll all start to blend into each other and you won't be able to tell the difference. You might spend half a lifetime within these walls, while only a fraction of that time will pass beyond them.”

“So you're telling me that this city is in... some kind of time bubble?”

Renee shrugged. “I couldn't tell you how it works; don't really understand it myself. All I know is that I spent a long time in here learning, training, finding myself... and when I returned to the outside world, it was like I'd never left.”

“I see...” she muttered.

It's like the freaking Twilight Zone in here...

Puffing out a heavy breath of air, Rose stood up from her seat. “Anyway, nice chat, but I should get going. Gotta work on getting 'acclimated' to this place, after all.”

“You'll get used to it eventually,” Renee said. “Took me two weeks before I finally understood what I needed to.”

“Right... thanks for encouragement.” She gave a little wave, then moved farther down the street. “See ya around.”

---

It was a rainy day in Silverstone. Hot, too. The kind of rainy day that caused a sudden kick in the humidity once the sun came out again. Officer Rebecca Chavez sucked in a deep breath of that musty air and wiped some of the water from her brow. She gazed down at the dead body in front of her, a man lying face down in a puddle wearing nothing but his boxers. The cause of death was obvious enough. Judging from the massive bruising and the odd angle of his head, his neck had been snapped. Of course, the medical examiner would have to confirm that later.

She didn't touch anything, of course, or tamper with the scene in any way. Couldn't go making life difficult for the crime scene investigator. Instead, she just stood there, looking at the corpse. It had been pure chance that she stumbled upon it, noticing the body behind a few trash bags as drove by on patrol. She had put out the call out immediately, and now waited patiently for the team to get here.

A large white and blue van pulled up just a few minutes later, followed by another couple of squad cars and an unmarked vehicle; the forensics team, more patrol officers, and the detectives assigned to the case, most likely. Becky moved away from the scene, ducking back out of the barricade tape she had set up in front of the alley. Two men in suits were already there to greet her.

“Officer Chavez,” one of them spoke. He looked to be in his mid thirties, face framed by a scruffy beard. “I'm Detective Kubrick, this is Detective Riggs.”

Becky glanced at the other man, a younger guy with short blonde hair and a stolid expression. “Right, yeah. I think I've seen you two around the station before.”

“I understand you're the one who found the body?” Kubrick said, pulling out a small notepad from his front pocket.

“Si, just a little while ago,” she explained. “Followed standard procedure; secured the area, called it in. No witnesses in the immediate vicinity to take statements from.”

“And tell us again how you found the body.”

“Was just driving past on patrol, like normal. Happened to look over and there he was, face down and dead.”

Kubrick paused a moment, scribbling out a brief note on his pad. “And was there anything unusual about the scene?”

Becky lifted an eyebrow. “You mean aside from the dead guy in his underwear? Nothing I can think of, no.”

“Alright, in that case why don't you help us canvass the area, interview some of the people in the neighboring buildings, see if they saw anything?” Kubrick glanced back over his shoulder briefly, waving the forensics team through. “Give us any statements you get, then you can head back to the precinct and fill out a report.”

“Yeah, sure,” she said, nodding. “I'll get right on it.”

The two detectives returned the nod, then moved past her to the crime scene itself. Becky watched them for a couple moments, eyes narrowing. Something about that conversation just felt... weird. But she couldn't put her finger on why.

Qué mierda, calm down, girl. You're just paranoid. Take a deep breath, settle your nerves, and do your job.

As she made her way back to her squad car to get her notepad, however, Detective Riggs, the silent of the pair, looked over his shoulder briefly to give her a hard look. By the time she turned around again, his attention was elsewhere.

---

Becky let out a long yawn, leaning back in the desk chair and stretching out her arms. Exhaustion was starting to set in, but then that's what she got for working another double shift. Seemed like all she had been doing lately was working, ever since Rose left a week ago. But the work helped take her mind off other things that she'd rather not be thinking about. Like Rose.

And yet you're still thinking about her, estúpida. Get over it.

Releasing a long sigh, she rubbed her eyes and finished filling out the last of her report. That was one of the few things she hated about being a cop, the paperwork. They never quite covered just how much of it there would be at the academy. And with double shifts came double the paperwork, naturally. She just hoped that some of this would be useful, especially her report on the John Doe from earlier.

The statements she had taken from some of the people in the buildings next to the alley were... interesting. Some didn't see or hear anything, others thought they heard screaming, and others still claimed they saw some guy dressed in all back leaving the alley. Yet none of them bothered to notice the half naked man lying face down in a puddle.

“Weird...” she muttered, breathing out another long yawn.

Whatever the case, she was about ready to head home and get some damn sleep. She had to be up in about five hours to do it all again tomorrow. Grabbing her jacket, she gave a wave to the couple of other officers sitting around the station and made her way through thee exit.

Another long yawn brushed past her lips as she walked along the sidewalk. Her apartment was just a couple of blocks away, well within walking distance. Helped save a good bit on gas money, at least. Shoving her hands into her pockets, she kept her gaze pointed down and tried not to nod off in mid walk. Maybe she should take a day off soon and just take a nice twelve hour nap. That might do her some good.

Turning down the corner of the street, she didn't notice the shadow following her. The figure peered around the edge of an alleyway, watching Becky near her apartment. Several moments went by, and then the figure scaled the adjacent building in an astounding display of acrobatic prowess. Within moments, the figure was gone.

---

Becky glanced at the clock. Two thirty in the morning. Well, it was about what time she figured she'd get home, give or take a few minutes. Just another late night in the world of Rebecca Chavez. It wasn't going to be easy to get to sleep, though, not when it was this muggy. All she had to keep cool was a small little table fan, and short of sleeping in the buff, she couldn't really do anything else. She'd manage to fall asleep by four, if she was lucky.

Turning the light on in her bathroom, she took a few moments to brush her teeth and wash up, then tiredly walked back into her bedroom. She yawned again, quickly stripping down to her underwear and collapsing on top of her mattress, eyes closed. She was already starting to sweat.

Dios mio, I hate the summer...

That's when she heard it. The sound was very slight, but she knew it well. One of the floorboards in the kitchen was a little loose, not by much, but just enough to creak ever so slightly when someone stepped on it. The fact that it was creaking now had her suddenly wide awake and scrambling to her feet. Whoever else was in her apartment apparently realized that the creaky floorboard just gave away the element of surprise, because suddenly she heard harder footsteps racing across her apartment.

Becky lunged for her bedside table, pulling the drawer open and grabbing for the small handgun within. By the time she turned around, the figure was almost upon her, so fast. She got off two shots before the dark mass hit her, a hot sting burning across her arm.

The two tumbled to the floor hard, knocking over the end table and lamp. For a moment, Becky just lied there, grunting at the combination of the pain and the weight upon her. Eventually, she pushed the person off her and rolled away, clutching at the bleeding wound near her elbow.

“Qué diablos?” she uttered, getting a good look at the intruder for the first time.

Clearly female, judging from the smaller frame and the ponytail sticking out from beneath the head mask. And the breasts, of course. But the woman was dressed up the same as those strange men that she and Rose had encountered a couple weeks ago at the warehouse, like some kind of ninja. Reaching forward, Becky flipped the woman over with her good arm and then sighed, hanging her head.

Well, she's not getting up any time soon. Jueputa.

Two bullet wounds bled freely dead center in the woman's chest, her eyes wide open and staring blankly forward. Her cold grip held a long knife, the one used to slash open Becky's arm. After taking a brief moment to wrap up her wound, Becky sat on the edge of her bed and grabbed the phone. She wouldn't be getting much sleep tonight after all.

Chapter #32

Three weeks. It took three weeks before Richard Dragon began training Rose. At least, she thought it was three weeks. Just as Renee had said, time didn't have much meaning in Nanda Parbat. Minutes flowed into hours, hours flowed into days, days flowed into weeks, all in the blink of an eye. Trying to keep track of how much time had passed was utterly pointless.

Rose uttered a pained grunt, tumbling backwards and crashing to the floor. Holding a hand to her cheek, she sat up and glared at her new teacher, already starting to wonder just what she was supposed to be learning here, other than getting her ass kicked.

Richard stared back at her, not offering a hand to help her up, just waiting for her to make a move. In a quick motion, she flipped up to her feet and lunged in with a vicious kick. He caught her kick with little effort, then twisted it away and delivered a hard palm strike to the chest that sent her stumbling backwards again.

“You're starting to get wild, sloppy,” Richard said. “Giving in to your anger and your frustration.”

“It's not my frustration making me sloppy,” she grumbled, straightening herself. “I have no depth perception right now. You try fighting with one eye and nothing to compensate for it.”

She was really beginning to hate this temple, where Richard had been training her. According to him, it was protected by Rama Kushna, who disallowed all outside powers, abilities, strengths, or whatever. Within these walls, all those who entered were on equal ground, unpowered. That meant her enhanced strength, agility, reflexes, speed, even her precog, it was all gone in here. She had only her skill and her body. That also meant she had nothing to compensate for her missing eye.

Before, her precog and reflexes more than made up for her blind side, but now... now it was like she was missing a part of herself. She couldn’t tell what coming from her left side and her depth perception was shot. She might as well fight while crippled. That matter wasn't helped at all by the fact that Dragon was good, real good. Like, Lady Shiva good. Maybe better, though it was really difficult to tell with her current handicaps.

“You rely too much on your enhancements, and not enough on your skill,” Richard stated. “What happens when those meta abilities of yours are a non-factor, such as now? Then what to you do?”

“I get my ass handed to me, clearly,” she muttered, taking in a deep breath. “This is stupid, I didn't come here for you to beat the crap out of me, I came here to learn.”

“And I am teaching. If you could look past your clouded mind, you might be able to see the lesson.”

Rose narrowed her gaze. “What lesson is that, huh? That I'm next to useless without my enhanced attributes?”

“You must figure it out on your own,” he said, shaking his head. “Until then, we continue. Come at me again, and this time actually try to hit me.”

---

Walking slowly down the long set of stone steps leading down from the temple, Rose clutched a hand to her side and groaned, a rather noticeable limp in her stride. Some lesson. All she had learned was that she barely passed as a fighter when her enhancements were taken away. Fortunately, she didn't ever really ever have to worry about her enhancements suddenly disappearing. She was already back to normal now, outside of the temple, and damn did it feel good.

Of course, the bruises weren't just going to suddenly disappear. Those were still there, and they still hurt. At the very least, they'd be mostly gone by tomorrow, now that she had her enhanced metabolism back. The question remained, though: what exactly was she supposed to do now? It wasn't that late in the afternoon, and Richard already concluded their training for the day, saying that she needed to contemplate the lesson more, instead of looking past it.

Right, because that'll happen.

Upon reaching the bottom of the long steps, she noticed someone already waiting for her. Renee stood in front of a nearby building, arms crossed and watching her approach.

Rose paused, giving the woman a long look. “What?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Just thinking.”

“What about?”

“How hard Richard must have kicked you to cause a limp like that.”

Narrowing her gaze, Rose stood straighter, trying not to favor her leg. “Don't know what you're talking about.”

“Of course you don't.” Renee pushed herself away from the building and waved for her to follow. “Now, come with me. Your lessons aren't over today.”

“Wait, so you're going to teach me something too now?” Rose said, following the woman through the city.

“Good question. Am I?”

“You're not making sense...”

“I mean,” Renee clarified, “are you willing to learn?”

Rose frowned. “Oh, that again... Let's just get on with this.”

---

Rose glanced around at the shimmering, reflective walls of the cave, all coated in a thick sheet of ice. The ice had been smoothed over, too, making them appear as mirrors. Everywhere she looked, she saw her reflection staring back at her. She wasn't sure she liked it. A circle of candles were set up in the center of the chamber, quite a ways from the entrance of the cave, adding to the almost surreal atmosphere.

“This place is... weird,” Rose muttered.

“That's one way of putting it. Come here, sit.”

Renee had already lowered herself to the cold floor of the cave, sitting cross-legged in the center of the candle ring. In front of her was an empty space just large enough for Rose to sit down in the same manner.

Rose crossed her legs, leaning back on her hands. “Alright, so what the hell are we doing here?”

“Here is will you will look into yourself and learn what you want most,” she explained. “That lack of direction you feel? That sense of doubt? This is where you find the source, eventually.”

“Looking into myself...” Rose huffed out a short breath, gazing up at the reflective walls. “So all the mirrors are supposed to be a metaphor? Real cute. But if this is where I'm supposed to figure out the problem, then what's Richard teaching me?”

Renee smirked. “And that's the question.”

Narrowing her gaze, Rose folded her arms over her chest and breathed out an annoyed sigh. She was starting to get a little tired of these ambiguous answers. Why couldn't these people just tell her what she needed to know and let that be the end of it?

“Okay, so how am I supposed to do this then?” she asked.

Renee straightened her posture, hands coming to rest on her knees. “Have you ever meditated before? I don't mean deeply contemplating a problem, I mean true meditation: retreating into your mind to gain a real understanding of yourself. One of the many things I learned while I was here.”

“Meditation... right.” Rose frowned, not liking where this was going. “Tried it, didn't like it. Not my thing.”

“Well, now you're going to make it your thing, because that's what we're doing here.”

“Swell...”

---

Becky quickly sifted through the long cabinet of folders, her eyes scanning the case titles. She heard a sudden noise near the door and looked over to it, but no one was there. Uttering a breath of relief, she turned back to the drawer to find what she was looking for. Finally, she spotted the proper folder and removed it from the cabinet. Then, she stuffed it into an empty folder of her own, closed the drawer, and hurried out of the file room.

She really shouldn't be doing this. She wasn't a detective, she was a patrol officer. This wasn't her case. And yet... too many weird things had been happening lately for her to ignore it. Ever since she had been attacked in her apartment last week, things around the station had been off. She couldn't tell exactly what it was, just that it was... off.

The dead body in the alleyway she had discovered was the body of one Francis Baldoni, suspected family crime boss. While no one would judge that as weird on its own, a Jane Doe surfaced a few days later. Emilia Marconi, another suspected family crime boss. The day after that, it was the body of Colum O'Malley, believed to be the head of the Irish Mafia in Silverstone.

Aside from the simple fact that highly watched, suspected heads of organized crime families were starting to show up dead all over the city, there were the inconsistencies in the investigation to take into consideration. No leads, no forensic evidence, nothing to give them a hint at who the killer was. Or killers. It didn't make any sense. There was always evidence left behind, that much she knew, especially considering the poor methods in which the bodies were dumped and handled. Whoever had killed them didn't bother to cover up their tracks, and yet the crime scene units never found any evidence at all? No, she wouldn't believe that.

And then, there were the detectives in charge of the investigation, Detectives Kubrick and Riggs. Something about those two men... she couldn't place it, but something about them felt wrong. Call it a woman's intuition, but she got a bad vibe from them. The way they had handled themselves at the crime scenes hadn't been what Becky had come to expect from detectives, at least not the ones she'd dealt with in the past. Whatever was going on, she intended to find out.

Sitting down at one of the empty desks, Becky placed the folder down in front of her and slowly opened it. The first couple pages were just basic background information on the case, nothing interesting. The details were what she wanted. Taking in a cool breath, she flipped the pages over, getting into the meat of the case file. And when she did... she froze, glaring in confusion. At first, she thought it was a mistake, so she went onto the next page. And then the next one. And the next.

Qué diablos? They're all blank!

Now she was convinced. Something was very, very wrong. Closing the folder again, Becky stood up and looked around. She spotted a few of her fellow officers in the immediate vicinity, going about their business. Nothing out of the ordinary... But had someone been tampering with the case files? Could it be just an honest mistake, or was something more sinister going on here? Could she even trust to bring this information to anyone?

Calm down, girl, calm down. Take a breath.

The Chief. She could bring it to the Chief. If there was anyone in this station she could trust, it was him. Hurrying quickly down the hallway, she made her way for the Chief of Police's office. Before she got there, however, a voice stopped her.

“Hey, Rebecca!” Officer Stevens called out.

A small groan escaped her lips. She could have gone without running into him right now. Or at all. Turning around, she breathed outwardly and tried to remain as calm as possible.

“Uh, hey look, I'd love to talk right now and all,” she said, attempting to brush off the conversation, “but I'm kind of in a hurry, so-”

“Ah come on, no need to be in a rush,” Stevens said. “I just wanted to ask you a quick question.”

“Alright... and what would that be?”

Folding his arms across his chest, he gave her a friendly smile and said, “Well, I was thinking, we're both single, we know each other pretty well, so why don't we go out some time? We can grab some dinner later.”

It was times like this that Becky wished she had already come out. It would save her the trouble of having to deal with frustratingly annoying men like Stevens.

“Sorry, really, but I'm pretty busy later,” she insisted, trying to break away from him. “Uh... rain check?”

“Man, what is it with you women and rain checks, huh?” Stevens muttered, hands coming to hips.

“Couldn't tell you. Now, I really have to get going...”

“Alright, just one more thing.”

A small sigh left her throat. “Yes?”

“See, we've been watching you for a while now, Rebecca,” he explained. “We know what you're doing.”

A small twinge of nervousness suddenly rippled through her. She stiffened, taking a slight step back and glaring at the man. “Come again?”

“You're getting too close, Rebecca, and we can't have that.” He reached down to his belt, hand going for his gun. “So I'm afraid I have to say goodbye.”

Becky almost didn't react in time, but once she saw his arm coming up to point the weapon at her, she snapped out her own hand to grab his wrist, pushing it away. The gun went off, bullet ripping into a nearby desk, as Becky turned to the side and brought her knee up into the man's gut, doubling him over. With one swift motion, she pulled the taser off her belt, clicked the button, and jabbed the prongs into his chest. He dropped to the floor instantly, flopping around and twitching like a dead fish.

By this time, the other officers and personnel in the building were springing into action to figure out who had just discharged their firearm in the damn station. Rebecca took another step back, lifting a hand to her head and brushing her fingers through her long brown hair. Her heart was beating a hundred times a minute, it felt like. As she leaned back against the desk behind her, trying to steady her breath, she swallowed and gazed down at the unconscious Stevens.

He... he just tried to kill me! Why? And what was he talking about? They're watching me? Who's watching me? Jueputa, what the hell is going on?!

---

Silence. That's all Rose heard. In this cave, all sounds from the outside world seemed to vanish, separating it into its own, quiet void. And yet, it didn't help her concentrate. Though Renee had spent the better part of the last three hours trying to teach her the finer points of meditation, she just could seem to 'get in touch' with herself. Grumbling, Rose opened her eye and stared at the large reflective ice wall in front of her. She didn't like her reflection right now. It was her face, yes, but beyond the appearance, she didn't know anything else.

Who was she really? What was she supposed to be doing? Where did she belong? These were the questions she had come here to get answered, and yet she was no closer to figuring them out than when she arrived. She was now beginning to doubt that she ever would. Maybe coming here really was a mistake.

Leaning back on her hands, she exhaled a long breath and uncrossed her legs. Nope, definitely not feeling it. How the hell is this supposed to solve my problems?

Finally, Rose stood up from her spot on the icy ground and marched back out the tunnel to the entrance, using an oil lantern to light her way. When she returned outside, she looked up at the night sky, watching the bright full moon for a few moments as it floated high above her head. Apparently, she had been in there a lot longer than she thought. Again with the whole time warp thing; it was really starting to creep her out.

“So, make any progress?”

Glancing to her left, Rose noticed Renee standing there, leaning back against the rocky wall and sipping hot tea from her thermos. “Depends. Is no progress still progress?”

“You'll get it eventually,” Renee assured. “Just takes time.”

“Somehow, I'm not so sure.” As the two begin to walk down the trail back to the main part of the city again, Rose folded her arms and let out a heavy breath. “I just... I keep asking myself those questions. Who am I? What am I supposed to do? Over and over again... and I come up with nothing. I don't think this place is helping much, either.”

“As an old friend of mine would have said, those are the wrong questions to be asking yourself.”

Rose frowned. “Of course they are... Then what's the right question?”

Renee took another another sip from her thermos, giving Rose a cursory glance. “Who do you want to be?

“How is that any different?” Rose asked, narrowing her gaze.

“You'll figure it out. Eventually.”

Releasing a frustrated sigh, Rose lowered her hands to her hips and stared at the ground. “Well at least one of us has confidence.”

Renee paused a moment, then turned back to Rose with a contemplative look. “Let me ask you something, do you have anyone special back home? Anyone you regret leaving behind?”

“And what's that have to do with anything?”

“Call me curious.”

Rose hesitated a response, giving Renee a sidelong glance before finally shrugging her shoulders. “Yeah. I mean, maybe. Kind of. I don't know.”

“Sounds like it's pretty complicated,” Renee said, taking another sip of tea.

“It is. I think. I just... ugh.” Rose held a head to her forehead, puffing out a harsh breath. “It's hard to explain. I mean, she was probably the closest friend I had. Ever had. And we'd only known each other for like half a year, but hell, she was a fun one, you know? She added a whole new dimension to to my life.”

Lifting an eyebrow, Renee slowly curled her lips into a knowing smirk. “Just friends, huh?”

“I don't kn- well yeah. Sort of. I mean, she...” Rose stammered, fumbling over her words. “I didn't actually know she thought more of me, not until she made a move... and god, that was awkward.”

“And you didn't feel the same way?”

“No. I mean... not at first,” she said, staring down at the snowy ground. “I don't think. We were close, yeah, but I'm not... I mean, I've never been into women. But she... look, it's complicated. Why are we even talking about this?”

“Like I said, I'm curious.” Renee finished off the last of her tea, then closed the cap to her thermos. “So what happened between you two, anyway? Something tells me you wouldn't be here if things were still good.”

Rose scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Oh, you know. She just found out that I'd been lying to her during the entire time I'd known her. When she found out my other identity... it wasn't pretty. She wouldn't even talk to me after that. I wanted to try and explain things better, but it's hard to do that when the other person shuts you out completely.”

“Sounds like you miss her.”

“So what if I do?”

Renee smiled, turning from Rose and leading her back through the city. “Then I'd say you're already a little closer to answering the question.”

Chapter #33

“Good!” Richard exclaimed, taking a step back and countering with a high kick. “Again!”

Rose ducked below the attack, sweeping her leg around behind his knee and catching him off balance. It was almost too easy, how naturally the flow of battle came to her now, more so than every before. Her actions were reflexive, instant, with newfound muscle memory the likes of which she had never even imagined. The training that she had gone through under Richard's tutelage had taken the potential that Shiva saw in her and not just nurtured it, but brought it out full force.

“Is that all you got?” Rose said, giving her mentor a mocking smirk.

Richard came in at her with a powerful series of blows. His actions were hard, precise, and blindingly fast. But Rose saw them coming, and not because of her precog or enhanced reflexes. No, it was her skill that matched him, deflected his punches, blocked his kicks. Even with her missing eye, blind side and lack of depth perception all, she went toe to toe with Richard freakin' Dragon.

How long had she been here now? Months? Years? Rose couldn't tell. Time had even less meaning now than it had before, and that was saying something. All she knew was that it had been a long time, much longer than she had intended to stay. And yet... she knew she wasn't done. She was getting there, yes, but she still hadn't quite figured out everything she needed to figure out.

Rose grunted, as one of Richard's kicks caromed off her jaw. She stumbled backwards, sliding across the floor of the temple briefly before flipping back to her feet. “Okay... I should have had that one.”

“You over extended during your last attack,” Richard said. “It threw you off balance just enough for me to land a blow at your blind side.

Rose breathed hard, wiping a small trickle of blood from the cut on her lip. “Right, I'll keep that in mind. Let's keep going.”

“No, I think that's enough for now,” he stated, lowering his guard and bowing to her. He then extended a hand. “You've come a long way.”

Reaching forward to shake his hand, Rose chuckled. “You're telling me.”

“So, my lesson.” Richard pulled his hand back, folding his arms. “Have you figured it out, yet?”

“I think so...” she said, holding her hands to her hips. She bowed her head, sucking in a deep breath. “I've doubted myself for the longest time... maybe not on the outside, but deep down. No matter how much good I did or how far my life progressed, I always felt like... like I didn't deserve it. Or that I was going to screw it all up again.”

Richard lifted an eyebrow. “And?”

“And...” she continued, “that little incident with Becky brought out all that self-doubt to the surface. It had me so unsure of myself that my entire life's purpose folded around me. I was lost.” She paused, tilting her head slightly and sighing. “I'd been relying on the people and material things in my life to define me as a person, just the same as I relied on my enhanced abilities as a crutch in battle. When life kicked one of those crutches out from beneath me, I toppled, like a house of cards.”

“That is part of it,” Richard said. “But what have learned from that?”

“That it's time I started trusting myself,” Rose replied. “Time I figured out exactly who I am, exactly who I want to be, so that I can figure out how to live my life without worry, without doubt.”

A small smirk curled its way onto Richard's face. “And have you figured that out yet?”

Rose shrugged, shaking her head. “Not yet... that's what Renee's meditation lessons are supposed to be helping me, with right? I mean... I'm almost there, I think. I just... haven't quite grasped it yet.”

“You'll figure it out soon,” Richard said, holding a hand to her shoulder. “You've been here long enough.”

“Yeah, about that, how long have I been here?” she asked.

Richard paused, turning to a nearby window in the temple and looking out into the mountains beyond. “On the outside world, it's been a month and half, give or take a week.” He then glanced back at her, gaze narrowing. “But in here, it has been about the equivalent of three years.”

Rose's eye widened, eyebrows lifting in surprise. “Uh... wow. Doesn't feel like it's been that long.”

“As Renee told you,” Richard said. “Time has little meaning in Nanda Parbat.”

---

“So, you think today is the day?” Renee asked, giving Rose a curious look.

Sitting cross-legged in the middle of the ice cave, Rose glanced up at her. “I don't know... hope so. I mean, I'm ready, anyway. Really ready.”

“That's good.” Renee smiled, heading towards the exit. “Just need to concentrate. It'll come to you.”

“Hey, Renee?”

“Yeah?”

Rose paused a second, scratching her cheek and looking towards the floor. “I, uh... thanks. For bringing me here, I mean. And... well, for listening to me. You've been a good friend.”

Renee smiled, nodding affirmatively. “You're welcome, Rose. Now, figure your life.”

“You got it,” she said, closing her eye and sucking in a deep breath.

For the next three hours, she sat there motionless. Her mind cleared, breathing steadied, heart rate slowed... It felt completely normal, no different than her other meditation sessions. She wanted so badly to figure out who she was, who she wanted to be, yet she still couldn't get there.

Come on, come one... Concentrate, Rose.

And then it happened, without warning. It felt like her precog, and yet it was something so very different... so very more. It wasn't just a bunch of images flashing through her head this time, no. Her entire consciousness left her body, went elsewhere... or rather elsewhen. She was seeing the future still, of that she was sure, but not just a few seconds or even minutes later. Instead, she was seeing... well, she didn't really know how far, just that it had yet to happen.

Rose opened her eye and looked around, expecting to see the cave. But she didn't; she wasn't in the cave anymore. She didn't really know where she was... some kind of storage shed maybe. She saw a few tools lying around haphazardly, some old boxes, a broom... and blood? She blinked a few times, trying to focus. Everything appeared washed out and hazy, like some kind of old movie.

Getting to her feet, Rose moved forward and inspected a large dark blotch on the floorboards. It was fresh, still wet. Definitely blood. A sharp cry suddenly drew her attention, coming from beyond a door on the opposite wall. She cautiously moved towards it, easing the door open and peering inside.

The square room was mostly empty, with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. In the center of the room were two people, a man and a woman. The woman sat on a chair, bound tightly to it with thick rope, and a handkerchief gagging her mouth. Her head hung forward, stringy hair veiling her face.

The man paced around the chair, a steel pipe in hand. For a few moments, he rested the pipe on his shoulder, just tapping it against himself. Then, abruptly, he turned and swung the pipe, beating it across the woman's shoulder and eliciting a muffled scream of pain.

Rose flew into action, lunging forward at the man. “B**tard!”

But she went right through him, stumbling to the floor as her momentum carried her forward. Right, this wasn't real... it was just a vision. Not a brief flicker of precog, but a full blown vision of the future. But a vision of what?

“Should have just left well enough alone,” the man said, shaking his head. “You'd think after the first couple of times we tried to stop you, you'd get the message. But no, you just had to keep digging.”

He took another swing, this time cracking the pipe across the woman's arm. She screamed again, her strained voice muffled behind the gag.

“Who else did you tell about us, huh?” he asked. “Who else knows?!”

An uppercut swing this time. The tip of the pipe caromed off the woman's jaw, sending her and the chair flying backwards and crashing to the floor. She barely moved, taking in deep breaths and sobbing lightly. And that's when Rose saw the woman's face. Instantly, Rose's heart seized up, body going numb.

“Rebecca-” she uttered, voice knotting in her throat.

Just as the man began moving in again to make another attack, everything around her began to flicker out of existence and fade away. Her consciousness returned to her, and suddenly she was back in the ice cave again. Releasing a panicked breath, she snapped her eye open, multiple reflections of her face staring back at her in the mirrored walls. Only, this time it wasn't just her face that she saw there. This time, there was another face beside hers, a very familiar face... and right then, she realized something.

She had finally answered her question.

But that wasn't any cause for celebration. Her precog was never wrong, and with something as extensive as she had just seen... Lurching from her spot on the ground, she took off down the tunnel, racing back towards the mouth of the cave. She had to find Renee, had to get out of Nanda Parbat.

I have to get back to Silverstone. Now!

---

Twenty-eight hours later...

A steady rain fell from the night sky, soaking the quiet back street of Silverstone. A taxi cab pulled up outside the small apartment building, allowing its passenger to get out. Rose quickly handed over money for the fare, then pushed the door open and practically sprinted up to the front door. Of course, it had to be locked.

“Come on!” she shouted, desperately throwing herself against the frame.

In her current state, it took her a few moments to remember that she had to press the buzzer for the proper apartment and request to be let in, since she wasn't a resident there. Allowing a moment to calm herself, she sucked in a deep breath and pressed to button.

“Rebecca? Are you there? Becky? It's... it's me. It's Rose. I... listen, are you there? I want to talk... I need to talk to you.”

Come on, be there... please be there.

But she received no response. She buzzed in again, but ten minutes later and there was still no sign of Becky. In frustration, she gave the door a solid kick. To her surprise, the sturdy door remained shut, unyielding to her vicious blow.

“Sh*t!” she uttered, wiping rainwater from her eyes.

Was she too late? She couldn't be too late... She couldn't lose Becky like this, not because she was halfway across the world, too busy running away from her problems again. Groaning out another angry breath, she bowed her head, trying to think. Maybe Becky was just out right now, maybe she was working. Maybe she was-

“Rose?”

Spinning around, Rose saw Becky standing there, wearing a long raincoat and holding an umbrella. The woman blinked a couple of times in confusion, wondering what on earth Rose, who had up and left a month and a half ago, was doing now in front of her apartment building.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Rose came forward and threw her arms around Becky. “You're alright...”

“Uh... I'm fine,” she replied, her brow crossing. “What are you doing here, Rose?”

“I... needed to talk to you.”

Becky's eyes narrowed, giving a hard look. “So talk.”

Taking a step backwards, Rose swallowed a lump in her throat and breathed in deeply. “Okay, look... I know when I left before, things between us weren't... good.”

“You lied to me, betrayed my trust, and had been acting as a criminal on a nightly basis. 'Not good' is a bit of an understatement.”

“I know. You're right. And not just about that... about everything.” Rose bowed her head, brushing back a strand of wet hair out of her face. “I lied to you. I betrayed you. I hurt you. But damn it, I never meant to. I never wanted to.”

“Well, it's a little late to change that, isn't it?” she countered.

Rose closed her eye, lifting a hand to her forehead. “Maybe... but I want to explain things first. Everything. I lied to you before, about who I was, what I do... a lot. So now I'm gonna be completely honest. Who I am, where I come from, what I've done, everything. No matter how you feel about me now, I don't want to keep these secrets from you anymore.”

For a long moment, Becky didn't respond. She took in a slow breath through her nose, just staring back at Rose and softening her eyes a little. Eventually, though, she pushed past Rose, heading to the apartment entrance and unlocking it to walk inside. Clenching her jaw, Rose bowed her head, staring at the ground.

But Rebecca didn't close the door behind her, instead turning around and holding it open. “So are you just going to stand there and catch cold, or are you coming up?”

---

The tension within the apartment was thick enough to cut with a radial arm saw. Rose sat quietly on the couch in the living room, while Becky made her way into kitchen. They hadn't said anything else since entering the building, not since they were outside. Shifting her weight uneasily, Rose held her hands in her lap and took in a deep breath.

“So, can I get you a drink or something?” Becky asked.

“Oh, sure,” Rose said, lifting her gaze. “Water's fine.”

Becky quickly poured a glass of water, then returned to the living room and set it on the table next to the couch. She took a seat in front of Rose, crossing her arms and staring. “Alright, so explain.”

“Well, for starters, my name isn't Sarah Rose Walker,” she said, taking a small sip from her glass of water. “But then you already knew that... my real name is Rose Worth Wilson. I grew up in New York City with my mother, until I was fourteen. It was a good childhood... a great one. My mom had me tutored privately, only the best for her little girl. She also taught me to defend myself... yeah, those twelve years of karate I mentioned? More like an entire life of martial arts. My mother... she was the best. I loved her more than anything, up until the day I lost her.”

Becky listened carefully, but she didn't say anything, didn't even move.

Letting out a deep breath, Rose bowed her head and continued. “And then I met my father and his side of the family... that's when things got bad.”

And so she explained everything. It took the better part of two hours, but she didn't leave anything out, covering her entire life: her father's half-brother, Wade DeFarge, kidnapping and torturing her. Her mother's presumed death. Her first stint on the Teen Titans. Her time as Lian Harper's nanny. Wade DeFarge coming back and killing her foster parents. Slade rescuing her and then having her kill Wade to take over his Ravager identity. Her father drugging her with his serum and controlling her for his use, leading to her carving out her own eye to prove her loyalty to him. Finally breaking free of his control and returning to the Teen Titans. And everything else, up through getting Bart Allen killed, causing her to leave the team for the umpteenth time and eventually arrive in Silverstone.

She explained about how she found Holly, how Batman set her up with a new identity as a cop, how she was forced into crime for Jeremiah Belmont in order to keep Rebecca safe, and of her time in Nanda Parbat, where she had finally realized that she needed to stop doubting herself and take charge of her life.

When she finally finished the account of her life story, Rose took in a soft breath and slowly glanced up at Becky for the first time since starting. Sitting there on the edge of her seat, Becky leaned forward, arms wrapped around herself and soft, sympathetic eyes gazing at Rose. For a brief moment, the two just stared at each other, but eventually Becky reached forward, pressing her palm to Rose's hand.

“I had... no idea how much you'd been through,” she said, swallowing a knot in her throat. “No girl deserves that much pain in her life...” She paused a moment, then bowed her head, burying her face into her hands. “And the whole time I thought you were a criminal, you were just... you were protecting me? Dios mio, now I really feel like a b*tch.”

Rose shook her head. “It's not your fault... you didn't know. I... didn't tell you. I should have told you.”

“I guess it couldn't have been the easiest thing to do, though, revealing your secret... your life, to someone.”

“Yeah, well... now I have,” she said, sighing deeply. “I'm sorry I didn't tell you all of this sooner.”

A small smirk came to Becky's face. “Would have saved a lot of drama, ah?”

“Yeah... anyway, that's all I came here for, to tell you that.” Rose stood up, gulping down the rest of her water and then turning to leave the apartment. “I'll go now... you probably don't want me hanging around your place any longer than I need to. So... yeah, goodbye.”

Becky stood up quickly, though, reaching out to gently grab hold of her arm. “Now hold on there. Who said I didn't want you around?”

Rose stopped, turning around. “I... just figured, considering everything that's happened...”

“Ay carumba, Rose. You might be trying to take charge of your life, but you're still one socially awkward woman, you know that?” Becky paused, uttering a soft breath and taking hold of Rose's hands. “Look... we both acted a little loco. It happens. But now that you're back and being yourself, your real self... I'm not letting you walk out on me again.”

Rose swallowed, a warm smile curling slowly across her face. “Well if you don't want me to leave, then I'm not going anywhere. Not this time.”

Taking in a deep breath, Brought her hands up to Rose's shoulders, her touch soft, gentle. She hesitated a moment, looking off to the side, then slowly shook her head.

“Something wrong?” Rose asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“Well, no, just...” Becky started, lowering her gaze. “I want to do something right now, but the last time I tried... it didn't end so good.”

Rose pushed out a soft breath past her lips, expression softening and a small smile coming to her face. Her hands came up and gently turned Becky's head towards her, their eyes meeting again. For a brief moment, she just looked into the other woman's eyes, until finally coming forward and pressing their lips together deeply, tenderly. Her heart began beating at what felt like a thousand times a minute, pounding against the inside of her chest, and her body felt... warm. Hot.

At first, the kiss took Becky by surprise, but she soon melted into it, wrapping her arms around Rose's shoulders and holding her close. When at last they pulled their lips away, she uttered an exasperated breath and grinned widely. “And here I thought you didn't like women...”

“I don't.”

Becky's eyebrows lifted. “But you-”

Her words went silent, as Rose pressed a finger to her lips. “I like you, Becky. Just you.”

“Cáspita... you really know how to make a girl blush.”

Rose smirked. “I try.”

“And you really mean that?” Becky asked. “You're not just... I don't know, being nice? You don't have to do anything just for my sake, you know.”

“I know,” she said. “And to be completely honest, if you didn't want anything more, if you never had a crush on me, then I'd never even consider it. But let's face it, you've been crushing on me hard ever since we started working together.”

Turning her gaze to the side again, Becky smiled slightly, cheeks flushing with embarrassment. “Okay... yeah, maybe a little.”

“And you do want something more. I think deep down, I've wanted that with someone for a long time... and right now, I wouldn't rather it be with anyone else.”

“Well in that case-” Becky said, moving in and locking their lips together again. This time, she was a bit more aggressive, pushing Rose back down to the couch and straddling her lap. When she pulled their lips apart again, she smirked, holding her hands to Rose's waist. “-we have a lot of catching up to do.”

2 Comments

The Ravager - Every Rose Has Its Thorn (#20-26) 2nd Edition

Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy/Ruby, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer, Officer Stevens, Officer Harrow, Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all its interior locations of my own creation.

Rating: T+

Note: The fourth arc in my Ravager series to be remastered into prose format and edited to make it better.

My Fan-Fic Archives: http://www.comicvine.com/myvine/ravager4/ravager4s-fan-fic-archives/87-79374/

---

Chapter #20

Rose ambled into the women's locker room of the police station. When she sat on the bench in front of her locker, she made no move to begin changing into uniform, instead just staring blankly forward. Her body might have been there, but her mind was elsewhere. She was, of course, thinking about the previous night. What had begun as a rather enjoyable birthday outing with Becky had taken a very bizarre turn at the end. Could she really have been that oblivious to what her friend had been doing, not just that night but in the days before, as well?

Rose had always been a master flirt, or at least an incessant one. Even if her actual relationship experience amounted to zilch, she liked to think she was good at flirting, and able to pick up on when someone was flirting with her. But she had never once taken into consideration that Becky, of all people, could be attracted to her, and so it had all gone straight over her head. Now she just felt dumb for missing it. A lot of embarrassment could have been saved last night, if she hadn't been that incredibly dense.

Breathing out a heavy sigh, Rose brought a hand to her forehead and closed her eye. How the hell was she supposed to face Becky today? They were still partners. They'd still be sitting in the same car together all day. They'd still have to coexist, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it was. Sooner or later, she knew that she and Becky would have to talk about what happened, and try to clear things up in a calmer manner than the stammering confusion of last night.

So what do you do about this, Rose? she asked herself. Turns out your partner is a lesbian and has the hots for you, so to speak. But of course you're not, so that leaves you... where?

Rose sat there a while longer, just waiting. She wasn't sure whether she wanted to change as quickly as possible and get an early start on paperwork before Becky arrived, or wait for Becky to enter the locker room and get the conversation out of the way. The longer she sat there thinking about it, though, the more it became apparent to her that she really did just want to get it over with. Might as well just bite the bullet.

Of course, that only worked as long as Becky actually showed up today. After twenty minutes sitting there in the locker room, Rose checked the time on her phone. Becky normally showed up by now. Groaning softly, she bowed her head forward and opened her locker door. Great, that little incident last night probably made Becky call in sick today or something. Finally, Rose stood up and pulled out her uniform to change.

A short few minutes later, Rose shuffled down the hallway through the offices, hands in her pockets and head down. Under different circumstances, she might actually enjoy a day alone in the squad car. She'd get to drive for once, and she'd have plenty of time to collect her thoughts in peace. But given the situation that led to it, she would have preferred Becky be here.

Acting on perfect cue, Rose's gaze shifted slightly, catching sight of a familiar face sitting in one of the adjoining offices. Dressed in full uniform already, Becky hunched over a desk, busily filling out a form. Apparently, she had actually arrived much earlier than Rose.

Well no wonder I didn't catch her in the locker room...

Pausing a moment, Rose sucked in a deep breath to steady her nerves, then made her way to the office. She announced her presence with a small knock on the open door, causing Becky to look up and freeze like a deer in the headlights.

“Hey,” Rose said, giving a little wave.

Becky shifted uncomfortably in her seat, eyes glancing away. “Uh... hi.”

“You came in pretty early, huh?”

“Yeah, I...” Becky started, rubbing the back of her neck. “I just wanted to take care of a few things... no big deal.”

An uncomfortable silence descended over the pair, both women just staring at each other. Eventually, Becky looked away, turning her attention back to the paper in front of her.

“So...” Rose muttered, folding her arms over her chest. “Are we going to talk about what happened last night or what? You kind of ran out in a hurry.”

“Well hell, can you blame me?” Becky dropped her pen, proceeding to bury her face in her hands. “I've never been more embarrassed in my life! I mean, I... I kissed you, for Christ’s sake.”

Rose cleared her throat, casually glancing off to the side and loosening the collar of her shirt. “Yeah, that... was a bit of a shock.”

“So you'll excuse me if I wanted to get as far away as possible at the time,” Becky said, lowering her hands.

“Well, guess I really can't blame you for that, huh?”

Another awkward pause. Becky fidgeted in her seat, then finally returned to filling out her form again. She said nothing, not looking up again at her partner. She couldn't handle eye contact right now.

“What exactly are you working on there, anyway?” Rose asked.

“Oh, this...” she said, giving the slip of paper a long look. “It's a, uh... a transfer request. I mean, I figure I... well that I'd probably be better off at a new precinct, you know?”

Rose's eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Whoa, hey, wait a minute. Why the hell are you doing that?”

“You're joking right?” Becky snorted out a rather uncomfortable laugh, shaking her head. “I can't stay here now, not after what happened last night. I mean, with me... and with you...”

“Look, I get that you're a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable right now,” Rose stated, taking up a seat across from her partner. “Hell, you think I'm not? But you can't just go and leave.”

“And why not?” Becky questioned. “You really want to be stuck in the same car eight hours a day with another woman who... well, who likes you?”

“Believe it or not, I actually like being your partner, Becky.” Rose softened her gaze, breathing out slowly. “And I like you, too. Just... well, in a different way, I guess? What I mean is... okay, look. Friends aren't exactly something I have a lot of. Actually, I barely have any, if I'm being honest. I don't want to lose the best one I have over something this stupid.”

Becky blinked, sitting up straighter in her seat. “You're... being serious?”

“Why wouldn't I be?”

“So, even after what happened last night, even after I...” Becky paused, clearing her throat. “You'd still want to be my partner?”

“I wouldn't want anyone else,” Rose said, giving a warm smile.

“Then, you don't care about, well, that I'm...”

Rose chuckled. “What, a lesbian? Not what I expected, I'll admit, but I'm the last person to be judging someone else, trust me on that. I'm pretty sure I'll get over it.”

Leaning back in her seat, Becky blinked a couple times and held her hands up to her head. She took a deep breath, a bewildered expression on her face. “Wow, uh... I mean, not what I was expecting to hear you say, I'll be honest. I thought I went and destroyed our friendship last night.”

“You really think I'm that shallow?” Rose asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Wha- no, of course not,” Becky insisted. “I just... sorry. I guess I was just a little mortified, is all. I mean... I haven't exactly 'come out' yet, not completely. My sister is the only one who knows, and she's cool with it, but my parents... well, they're pretty religious, you know? Really... really not a big supporter of that kind of lifestyle. It makes it difficult trying to find a relationship, especially when my family lives just ten minutes outside the city, always coming to visit, always checking up on me, wanting to know what's going on in my life... But, I was so sure that you were, too, and... then you weren't. I just sort of panicked, I guess.” A heavy sigh escaped Becky's lips. “I really misjudged that one, huh?”

“Hey, everyone makes mistakes, right?” Rose said, with a small shrug. “Even me. Well, especially me. I mean, let's be honest, I don't know how I missed all that flirting.”

“Well... it was pretty heavy, wasn't it?” Becky chuckled under breath, a small smile coming to her face. “I thought I was coming on a little too strong, actually, but you kept right up with it. I thought you were just flirting back.”

“See, I'm just as guilty as you are.”

Becky folded her arms across her chest, taking in another deep breath. She pursed her lips slightly, giving her partner a long look. “Suppose that makes it a bit better, ah? But you're really okay with this? I mean, you're not just saying it to make me feel better, right?”

“Yeah, it's fine,” she assured. “Don't worry about it. Besides, so what if my partner has a crush on me, right? It's actually a little flattering... means I have options.”

The comment elicited an amused laugh from Becky. She casually averted her gaze and reached a hand up to her head, curling her fingers in her hair. She tried not to smile too much, but she wasn't doing a great job of hiding it. “Ay caramba... you are a very strange person, Rose.”

“You don't know the half of it.” Smirking still, Rose stood up and headed for the door. “Now come on, we should be getting out on patrol soon.”

Glancing back down at the transfer request form, Becky tapped her fingers a couple of times, then crumpled the paper up into a ball and tossed it into the trash bin. “Si, let's go.”

---

As Becky drove the cruiser around the busy city streets, Rose leaned back in her seat with her elbow resting outside the window, enjoying the passing breeze. She watched the people walking by on their way to work for a few moments, then glanced back over to her partner.

“So, just out of curiosity,” she said, “how long have you known that you... uh, don't like boys?”

“Honestly?” Becky paused a moment, thinking. “I think I've always known, in a way. I mean, I didn't know exactly, but I always felt kind of different. Had a few boyfriends in high school, but nothing ever happened, and I never felt quite right with them, if that makes sense.”

“I suppose, sort of.”

“But if you're asking when I first really discovered I liked girls,” she continued, “was about a month after I graduated. Got a job working at one of the local gyms, nothing special. One of the other girls working there, though, she took a quick liking to me, started flirting. Didn't realize it at first, but I ended up flirting back. Was just having fun, being nice, you know?

Rose laughed, nodding. “Now that I get.”

“Anyway, one day she made a move on me in the locker room. Kinda panicked at first, I mean so many things going through my head at the time. But...”

“But you didn't stop her?”

“Yeah.” Becky nodded, a small, absent smile curling across her face as she recollected the memory. “I think something clicked in my head when she kissed me the first time. I finally realized why I'd always felt so different, and... well, the rest is history.”

“So, whatever happened to her?” Rose asked.

“Oh, we were a thing for a little while, but it didn't last,” Becky explained. “Just like any other couple, you have your differences, your arguments... the relationship just didn't work out. You know how it is.”

“Right...”

Of course, Rose didn't really know anything about that. She enjoyed flirting well enough, but she was a real loser when it came to relationships. She'd never had a boyfriend, or even been on a date for that matter. Considering her track record, she had her doubts that she ever would. Letting out a small sigh, she went back to looking out her window.

When lunch time rolled around, Becky changed course and drove over to one of the local food vendors. “You want the usual?”

“Yeah, but no onions this time.”

“Coming right up,” Becky said, parking the car one the side of the street.

As Becky waited in line to order their food, Rose occupied herself with the newspaper. She never thought that she'd ever take enjoyment out of doing word jumbles, but it did help pass the time. Holding her pen to lips, she stared at the page for a few moments of contemplation, then began filling in her answers. With her attention drawn, she didn't notice a black car with tinted windows turning the corner of the street and quickly increasing its speed. In fact, she had no idea that anything was out of the ordinary at all...

Until her precog went off. Snapping her gaze up from the paper, a momentary jolt of panic ripped through her chest. Hurriedly, she pushed her door open and sprinted around the side of the car.

“Rebecca! Get down!” she yelled.

The warning only caused confusion, however. Turning from her place in line, Becky gave an odd look, having no idea why her partner was suddenly running straight at her. Before she could respond and ask Rose what was going on, though, the black car rolled by, one of the windows drawn down. Rose ran faster, but she knew she wouldn't make it in time. She was too far away. The gunshot went off, and then the car was gone, speeding through a red light and turning the corner.

“NO!” Rose shrieked, quickening her pace. She made it to Becky a second later, dropping to her knees at the woman's side. The rest of the crowd was in a panic, screaming and running. “Becky! Becky can you hear me? Come on, stay with me!”

Becky's eyes were wide, her breathing rapid. Her gaze darted around wildly, finally coming to focus on her partner. She tried to say something, but no words came out, only frantic, raspy breaths. Rose pressed her hand firmly against the gunshot wound, dead center in Becky's chest, trying to get the bleeding to stop. With her other hand, she reached up to her shoulder radio and brought it close to her mouth.

“Dispatch, we have an officer down! I repeat, officer down! I need an ambulance at 1756 Timber Street! Now!”

Lowering her hand from the radio, she held onto one of Becky's hands now, giving it a firm squeeze and maintaining eye contact with the woman. Becky barely managed to tighten her fingers in response, strength fading rapidly. A few moments later, her eyes rolled into the back of her head, drooping closed.

Rose's heart skipped a beat, a sickening bubble of panic and nausea bursting in her gut. “Becky!”

---

Twelve hours. That was how long Rose had been at the hospital now, with the brief exception of picking up Holly from school. After Rose had explained the situation, Holly insisted on going back to the hospital with her; she liked Becky, too, after all. Since then, they'd been waiting. Just waiting. Becky had been in surgery for a long time now, and the doctors wouldn't give any information on the progress. Still, she hadn't left this spot, not even to go change out of her uniform.

Sitting in her seat in the hallway, Rose leaned forward, elbows on her knees and gaze pointed at the floor. Holly lay next to her, curled up on the adjoining seats and fast asleep. It was past midnight now, though the young girl had stayed up as long as she could. They were both worried, especially Rose. Normally, she'd be out patrolling the city by now, dressed up in her Ravager gear and taking out street thugs, breaking up drug deals, or busting weapon smugglers. But right now there wasn't anything more important than being there in the hospital, waiting for news on Becky's condition.

She had never felt like this before about anything, never had something so important to her that nothing else mattered. Then again, she'd never had a friend like this before, either, nor had she ever had to go through having such a good friend get shot right in front of her and carted off to the hospital barely alive. This kind of worry, this kind of... torment, it was new to her, a different type than she was accustomed to. She honestly couldn't imagine losing Becky, not like this.

I'll find who shot her... she thought, coldly. I'll find him, and I'll kill him. Doesn't matter who, he's a dead man.

“Miss Walker?”

Glancing up from her seat, Rose noticed a doctor now standing in front of her. She'd been so enveloped in her thoughts that she hadn't even heard him approach.

“Yes, that's me,” she said, sitting up straighter. “What is it? How's Becky?”

“She just came out of surgery now,” the doctor stated.

“Is she alright?”

“She's stable right now,” he explained. “But her condition is still critical. The bullet missed her heart by less than an inch, nicked the aorta, and very nearly hit her spine on the way through. It's quite honestly a miracle that she was still alive when she got to us.”

Rose swallowed a numb lump in her throat. “But she'll recover, right? You'll keep her alive?”

The doctor breathed out a small sigh. “We've repaired the damage as best we can, but the rest is up to her, I'm afraid. The next forty-eight hours will be crucial in telling us how well she will recover, if at all.”

“Can I see her?”

“She's still under sedation at the moment,” the doctor said, glancing back over his shoulder. “But you can go in briefly, if you like. Her room is just down there, second one on the left.”

“Thanks.”

Getting up from her seat, she checked one more time to make sure that Holly was still sound asleep, then quickly headed to Becky's recovery room. The first thing that greeted her was the steady, rhythmic beeping of a heart monitor, the glowing lights of which offered the only illumination in the otherwise dark room. Taking in a deep breath, Rose walked to the edge of the bed and looked down at the unconscious Becky. If not for all the IV's, tubes, and other wires attached to her, Becky might have actually looked pretty peaceful. Instead, the sight made Rose sick.

This... is how she felt when I was the one in the bed, isn't it? Think I'm starting to understand...

Swallowing another lump in her throat, Rose sat down next to the bed and exhaled deeply, bowing her head. Reaching forward, she took Becky's hand in both of hers. “I'm sorry, Beck... I shouldn't have... I mean, I-

She stopped mid sentence, bringing one of her hands to her forehead and closing her eye.

Goddamn it, I can't even talk straight.

“I saw it happen...” she muttered. “I should have stopped it, but I was too slow... f**k, I should been there. I'm sorry...”

Swallowing again, she leaned back in the chair and held both hands to her head, brushing her fingers through her hair. “Just... get better, alright? Please? I don't... I don't want to lose you..”

Breathing out heavy sigh, Rose finally turned and exited the hospital room. She could probably take Holly home now, and at least try to get some real sleep. It had been a long, long day. Halfway down the hall, however, Rose looked up and froze. Holly wasn't alone. A man sat there next to her, his legs crossed. He was a familiar man, with a dark fedora hat and long coat, round glasses, and a smug grin just begging to be slapped off his face.

“You!” she exclaimed, heart exploding in a panic.

“Shhh, keep your voice down, Rose,” Jerry said, pressing a finger to his lips. With his other hand, he gently stroked Holly's hair. “We wouldn't want to wake her, would we?”

Chapter #21

Rose reacted instantly. Still in her police uniform, her hand flew to her gun. Before she could even draw it from the holster, however, Jerry flicked a small knife from his sleeve into his hand and pressed it dangerously close to Holly's neck. With his other hand, he wagged a finger at her, tauntingly.

“Ah, ah, ah,” he mocked. “You really don't want to be doing that.”

Clenching her jaw, Rose's fingers slowly left her gun. She glanced around the hallway, looking for anyone else, but the wing was deserted. “Hiding behind a child? Classy.”

“Simple insurance.”

“What the hell are you doing here?” she asked, spitting venom in her tone.

Jerry shifted slightly in his seat. “I wanted to chat, that's all.”

“Take the knife away from Holly's neck and maybe we'll talk,” she said.

“Ah, but you see, if I do that, then you go for your gun and try to shoot me.” He grinned at her, eyes glinting behind his glasses. “Not much of an incentive, is there?”

Was worth a shot.

“Just talk.”

“Now you're getting it,” he said, taking in a deep breath. “See, your nightly adventures as the vigilante Ravager–or rather, The Blade, as they're calling you nowadays–make it very difficult to get any kind of hold on this city. Before you came along, oh it was easy, you saw yourself what I had going. But now... well, I'm afraid it just isn't the same.”

Rose rolled her eyes, an unamused scoff bursting from her lips. “Well gee, sorry to ruin your fun. Do you want me to buy you an ice cream cone, make you feel better?”

“Ah, sarcasm.” Jerry chuckled. “It really is unbecoming of a lady.”

“You're breaking my heart, really.”

“Are you quite finished?”

Rose narrowed her gaze coldly. “Oh please, continue.”

“Anyway,” Jerry explained, “as you can no doubt assume, allowing you to continue running around at night unchecked and causing trouble is unacceptable.”

“So this is your big plan to stop me? Threaten Holly and tell me to back off?” Rose's fingers twitched, as if ready to make a move. “The moment you get up and she's safe, I put a bullet in you.”

“Yes, that would be problematic, wouldn't it?” He pressed a finger to his lips, thinking carefully. “I suppose I could take her with me, but then kidnapping isn't really my forte. I'm not Pavoni, after all, I have standards. But there are other ways to get you to do what I want, other... people to go after. As you've seen.”

A cold sensation spread throughout Rose's body. She tensed up, flinching at the indication. “You... you're the one who put her in here, aren't you?”

“Well, not me specifically, but I did give the order,” he said. “Was supposed to be a shot to the stomach, though... much greater chance of survival. Oh well, can't go back and do it over now.”

“You son of a b*tch...” she growled. Tightening her hands into closed fists, Rose grit her teeth tightly and glared a hole through the man. The cold numbness from before was gone, now replaced by seething, hot anger. “You're a dead man, I swear.”

Jerry cleared his throat, straightening his posture. “Rose, there is something you need to understand. The people that work for me, well, they're everywhere. There isn't a place you've been where my eyes aren't watching. Take this hospital, for instance; it's no exception. I have people working here for me, as well, and they do what I tell them. For example, should anything happen to me, they have very specific orders to 'pull the plug' on your poor friend. Would be a real shame, wouldn't it?”

Rose flinched, her eye twitching slightly at the declaration. She sucked in a deep breath, arms shaking at her side now. “So what? You want me stop? Fine, I'm done.”

“My, that was quick,” he said, eyebrows lifting. “One would think that such a decision would at least take some time to come to... how much do you care for that woman, I wonder?”

Rose didn't answer, merely swallowing a hard lump in her throat.

“But no, I'm afraid that isn't what I want, either. You see, I wouldn't have you simply give up doing what you do; you are quite good at it. I would merely see your actions... overseen.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You'll be working for me now,” Jerry stated, matter-of-factly. “That's what I mean. If you even think otherwise, your girlfriend dies. Then, I move on to Holly here. Everyone you hold dear, gone.”

The numbness was back. Rose swallowed, her gaze slowly moving towards the floor.

“Thinking things through, are you? Please, take your time, I don't have anywhere to be tonight. A tough decision, though, isn't it?” Jerry raised his hands, slowly moving them up and down, imitating a scale. “On the one hand, you could just shoot me now. Of course, the aftermath would lead to that cop, and this girl, both dying. You'd stop me, yes, but lose everything in the process. Or, you simply listen to what I tell you, and everyone lives. Your move.”

Slowly, Rose's hand moved back to her gun. She fingered the side of it with her thumb, contemplating whether or not she really should just shoot the b**tard.

Maybe he's bluffing. Maybe he doesn't have sh*t against me, maybe Holly and Becky aren't in any danger... As soon as the thought went through her head, however, she dropped her hand back down by her side again, closing her eye. No, I'm not making that mistake again. No one else is dying because of me.

“Fine...” she mumbled.

“What's that now? Speak up a little, I couldn't quite hear you.”

“I said fine, a**hole. I'll work for you.”

Jerry's eyes narrowed. “Really now, that is no way to talk to your employer. I suppose we'll have to work on that.”

“Just tell me what I have to do,” she said, glaring coldly.

“For now, take dear Holly here back home, get some sleep, go to work in the morning, all that good stuff,” he explained. “Tomorrow night, nine o'clock, come to the old toy factor in the East District. Be sure to dress for the occasion.”

On that note, Jerry removed the knife away from the sleeping Holly and stood up, slipping his hands into his coat pockets. He gave her a small nod, then turned to leave. “Have yourself a goodnight, Rose.”

---

Rose kicked the door open lightly with her foot, her arms occupied by the sleeping Holly. The poor girl was able to wake up long enough to make it back to the car, but then she fell fast asleep again. Rose didn't have the heart to wake her up again, instead carrying the girl into the building and up through the elevator. Letting out a long breath, she brought Holly into her bedroom and tucked her in. Then, she returned to the living room and just stood there, staring out the window.

There was nothing she could do, that's what she kept telling herself. If she wanted the only people in this world who mattered to her to stay alive, then she had to do whatever Jeremiah Belmont told her to do. There wasn't any way around it; the b**tard had her on a leash.

Still, she wouldn't let Jerry get away with this. Somehow, someway, she'd find a way around it. She'd find a way to make him pay without putting Holly or Becky in danger. She just... needed to think on it, that's all. Surely, she could come up with a plan. For now, though, all she could do was go to sleep and prepare herself for the next day.

And what a fine f**king day it'll be.

---

Sitting at the edge of the Becky's hospital bed the next day, Rose leaned forward, elbows on her knees. She had brought her lunch with her, but she didn't eat. The nausea in her gut was too strong, only strengthened by the sight of Becky sleeping and hooked up to all those machines, barely hanging on to life. Instead, she just watched and waited, hoping to herself that Becky would pull through.

“You know, the day, uh... it's been pretty boring without you,” Rose said, bowing her head. “I mean, I finally got to drive the cruiser, but... there's no one to talk to. The day just... kind of drags when you're not there.” She paused, holding her arms around herself and sighing. “Everyone's pulling for you down at the station, you know. They, uh... they already bought your cake; it's vanilla, your favorite. Because you'll pull through, right? Of course you will...”

A long moment of silence passed over the room, broken only by the methodical beeping of the heartbeat monitor.

“I, uh, I just wanted to say, I... might have to do some things,” she continued. “Things you probably wouldn't be happy about. I don't know what, yet, but I will... eventually. But, I'm doing it to protect you, I want you to know that. You and Holly... as long as I keep you guys safe, then I'm still doing good, right? Yeah...”

Swallowing, Rose took in a shaky breath and then slowly stood up, running her fingers back through her hair. “Well, I should probably get back out on patrol... already been here a little too long as it is. I'll be back tomorrow, Beck... just keep fighting, you hear me?”

---

Ravager drove her bike up to the front gates of the old factory, giving the place a long look as she killed the engine. It struck her as an odd place for a meet up, but then villains were never ordinary. Removing her helmet, she hopped off her ride and walked up to the chained, iron fence, wondering just where the hell Jerry was. She got here on time, with a minute to spare, actually. So where was the b**tard?

As soon as the thought went through her head, a phone began to ring, the high, shrill sound grating the insides of her ears. Scowling, she glanced around, searching for the source. Her gaze fell upon a small, pink cell phone taped to the gate in front of her. She stared at it a few moments, then walked over to retrieve it. According to the caller ID, the person on the other end was someone called 'J'.

“Cute...” she muttered, flipping the phone open and holding it to her ear. “Real cute.”

“Ah, you're on time, I see,” Jerry said, on the other end. “Good. I do love it when my workers are punctual.”

“Just get on with it,” she groaned, rolling her eyes in annoyance. “What do you want me to do?”

“Have you heard of S.T.A.R. Labs?”

“The research company?”

“That's the one.”

Ravager paused, narrowing her gaze. “What about it?”

“Well, it just so happens that they have a facility located right here in Silverstone,” he explained. “As luck would have it, this particular facility also contains something of great value to me, something I need you to get for me.”

“So you want me to steal you something from S.T.A.R. Labs?”

“Will that be a problem?”

Ravager sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “Just tell me what it is.”

“Good,” Jerry stated. “Now, what I'm looking for is contained in their storage vault, under the file name C-67. The code to open the vault is 83934.”

“And you know this... how?”

“Eyes everywhere, remember? I just need someone like you to go and get it for me. But do be careful, security is pretty tight around S.T.A.R. Labs these days.”

“Why am I not surprised?” she muttered.

“I’ve uploaded the building's blueprints to this phone,” he added. “Do study them carefully before running in without a plan. When you've retrieved the objective, give me a call; it's the only number on speed dial.”

“I'll try to remember.”

“And keep in mind, Rose-” Jerry's voice suddenly took on a darker, colder tone. “-if for any reason you should fail, Rebecca dies.”

---

It was times like these that Ravager wished she had a little bit more training in the art of stealth. Sure, she was good, but she was certainly no Batman. That fact made itself quite apparent when she tripped the alarm that alerted the entire S.T.A.R. Labs facility of her presence. This included a blaring horn, flashing red lights, and swarms of security guards. A few teams of goons had already tried their luck in stopping her, but they didn't last long. Ravager wasn't screwing around right now; she had a mission to accomplish, and failure meant... well, failure isn't an option.

Turning the corner of the wide, open corridor, she came face to face with another group of five or so security officers. One of them raised a large, bazooka-like weapon, pointing it at her and firing. Ravager saw it coming before he even pulled the trigger, though, in turn jumping up and over the incoming projectile, a glowing red energy net. She landed on the guy's shoulders, kicking off of him and tearing through the other guards in seconds. She threw punches, kicks, elbows, all strikes meant to cripple her enemies. She didn't kill any of them, of course. Stealing from these people was bad enough, she didn't need to add murder to the list.

Storage vault, storage vault... come on, where are you?

She arrived at a fork in the path, stopping only a moment as she tried to remember which way to go. Eventually, she turned left, sprinting down the corridor. Coming around another corner, she halted at a large metal door blocking her path, a door with the word 'storage' written across it in big yellow letters.

Jackpot!

Standing in front of the access panel, she paused a moment, gaze narrowing. With her heart beating so fast and adrenaline pumping through her, she was having trouble thinking straight. Within a few seconds, however, she remembered the code, typing it in and taking a step back as the security panel emitted a loud whirring noise.

“Override recognized,” the computerized voice announced. “Security disabled.”

The heavy door slid open, revealing a long chamber beyond. Ravager sprinted inside, looking around for her target. She saw several rows of storage containers, each one marked with a different label. Finding row C, she ran down the length of the room until coming across the sixty-seventh container. She quickly pulled it open, reaching in to take hold of the object inside. It was a small metal cylinder, no bigger than a ruler, and cold to the touch.

“She's in the vault!” a guard shouted. “Spread out and find her!”

Ravager looked up, peering over the row of containers towards the entrance to the vault. Another team of security goons moved in, these ones wielding what looked like some kind of electric energy weapon, a gun with metal prongs that crackled with sparks.

Mental note: don't get hit by that.

Moving towards the back of the room, Ravager ducked around the side of an empty row of containers. She hid herself behind what looked like a large drilling device, equipped with lasers and computer screens. Not even worth thinking about what something like that was used for. When one of the security guards wandered into range, Ravager jumped out and attacked with a sweeping kick to the head, dropping the guy instantly.

The other men in the room began to converge on her location, but she was already on the move, sprinting towards the door. As she neared the end of the room, one of the guards poked around the edge of a container and fired his weapon, emitting an explosive wave of electricity at her. Unfortunately for him, she saw it happen before he even fired, allowing her to lunge forward, ducking beneath the beam and kicking the weapon out of his hands.

“You don't mind if I borrow this, do you?” she asked, catching the weapon and flipping it around in her hand. Didn't think so.”

Sprinting past him, she fired off a couple of potshots at the morons who got in her way. She had seen the effects of the weapon in her precog, nothing more than a high caliber stun. The men went down hard, but they were still breathing. Wasting no time, she continued out of the room and back down the corridor. Just a little more and she was home free.

---

Ravager pulled her bike into a back alley, away from prying eyes. After her escape from the facility, she had no doubt that people would be looking for her, and she wasn't exactly easy to miss. Staring down at the small metal cylinder in her hand, she briefly pondered what the contents could be. Unfortunately, she didn't really see a way to open it, and so her curiosity went unsated for now. Instead, she pulled out the pink cell phone from earlier and dialed the number.

“Ah, Rose, good to hear from you,” Jerry said. “And sooner than I expected, too.”

“I got your... whatever this is.”

“Of course you did, I never had any doubts.”

Ravager turned briefly, gazing down the alley. “Now what?”

“Now, we meet up so you can deliver the item to me,” he stated. “I'll see you shortly.”

Chapter #22

Ravager glanced to each side of her, eying the two big guards with contempt. She knew what they were there for. They weren't just escorting her through the underground facility to meet with Jerry, no. They were watching her, making sure she didn't do anything unfavorable, as if threatening Holly and Rebecca wasn't enough to keep her in line. Being in this place again gave her the creeps, though; the last time she was here, she was strapped naked to an operating table about to undergo some insane doctor's twisted experiments.

The guards brought her down the long corridor to a set of double doors and stopped outside, gesturing for her to enter. She gave them another scowling look, then walked forward. The doors opened automatically, allowing her to enter inside what appeared to be a laboratory of sorts, with some heavy duty equipment. What the equipment was for or what any of it did, she had no idea, but it sure looked expensive.

Near the center of the laboratory, Jerry stood with his arms crossed, dressed in his plain dark business suit. As she approached, he curled his lips into a pleased smile. “Ah, Rose, there you are. I was beginning to wonder when you would arrive.”

“The traffic on the way here was killer... here's your whatever.” Raising a hand, she tossed the metal cylinder at him.

Jerry caught the container with a single hand, holding it up to his eyes and examining it carefully. “Excellent, this will do nicely.”

“Doesn't look so special to me,” she said, hands coming to her hips. “Actually, looks more like something you'd find in your standard adult toy store... were you that embarrassed to go buy one yourself?”

Jerry ignored her, instead heading towards the back of the lab and placing the cylinder in a small glass container, then sealing it tightly shut.

Ravager narrowed her gaze at him, folding her arms. “So am I done here or what?”

“Oh yes, for now,” he said. “I'll be calling you again tomorrow night for your next assignment.”

“Good, then I'm leaving.”

Turning away from him, Ravager made her way back towards the doors. However, they slid open before she got there, revealing another man on the other side. He was bald, with a bushy grey beard and reflective, yellow-tinted round glasses, and wore a white lab coat over a clean pressed suit. The man gave Ravager a brief, curious look, then switched his attention over to Jeremiah.

“I take it the sample is ready?” the man asked, in a deep, eerily calm voice.

“Ah, yes, you're just in time,” Jerry said, turning to his associate. “Rose, before you go, I'd like to introduce you to a dear friend of mine, Professor Hugo Strange.”

“Miss Wilson, I presume?” Strange said, giving her another close look. “Jeremiah here has told me a great deal about you.”

Instead of answering his inquiry, Ravager uttered a loud, boisterous guffaw, bringing a hand up to her mouth and snickering with amusement. “No way, seriously? Your name is Strange? Real subtle for a villain. Why not go with something like Dr. Evil?”

Strange merely lifted an eyebrow, holding his hands calmly behind his back and gazing at her intently.

“Or if that is your real name, then wow, you never had a chance, did you?” she said, wiping a tear from her eye. “Oh man, that's good, though, I needed a laugh today.”

“Hmm, sarcasm,” Strange muttered, bringing a hand to his chin. “If you're trying to get a rise out of me, then I am afraid I must disappoint you.”

“Well shoot, now you've gone and ruined my day,” she replied, rolling her eyes.

Strange uttered a slow, calm breath, carefully studying her. “I should mention that such passive aggressive behavior suggests a mask of your own insecurities, requiring the use of put downs in order to make yourself look or feel better.”

Ravager's gaze narrowed. “Who the hell you calling insecure?”

“Sarcasm is common in individuals with poor self esteem,” he explained. “By bringing down others, you attempt to make yourself appear more intelligent than you actually are, try to raise your social standing, so to speak. You think it makes you sound clever, but in truth it is the lowest form of wit, and only succeeds in making you appear a fool.”

Glaring at the man, Ravager reached over her shoulder and slowly began drawing one of her swords. “You want to run that by me again, chrome dome?”

“I believe I made my point the first time.”

“That's what I thought,” she said, dropping her sword back into its scabbard.

“However,” Strange continued, “I would like to take this opportunity to comment on your choice in wardrobe.”

Ravager frowned, expression souring. This guy didn't know how to quit when he was ahead.

“In spite of distancing yourself from your father and making it a point to let others know just how much you hate the man,” he explained, “you continue to dress in his style, and his colors.”

“What business is it of yours how I dress?” she questioned. “It's just a costume.”

“Perhaps.” Strange pursed his lips, leaning a little closer and examining her outfit carefully. “However, it could also indicate a subconscious desire to live up to your father's expectations, in turn suggesting a deep-seated love for the man, regardless of how he has treated you in the past.”

Ravager flinched at the comment, but only briefly. Taking a step forward, she lashed out and grabbed the professor by the shirt collar, lifting him off his feet. “You don't know what the hell you're talking about!”

“Ah, did I strike a nerve?” A wicked, satisfied grin spread across Hugo Strange's face. “Yes, I see. Possible Electra complex.”

“You little-”

“Rose, that's quite enough,” Jerry stated. “Release Professor Strange at once.”

Ravager glanced back at the man for a moment, scowling with her teeth clenched. Eventually, she let go of Strange's shirt and shoved him back a few steps. Then, she pushed past him for the door. “I'm out of here.”

“Just remember-”

“I know, I got the phone!” she snapped, disappearing from the lab.

Strange took a moment to straighten his tie. Clearing his throat, he added, “And a short temper, too, I see.”

“Don't worry about her, she's just having a little difficulty... adjusting,” Jerry said.

“Not worried at all. In fact, I very look forward to analyzing her in the coming days.”

Jerry briefly glanced back at his partner. “I can imagine. You've spent so much of your time obsessing over Batman, it must feel good to get a breath of fresh air.”

“Quite,” Strange affirmed. “I suppose it was inevitable, though. The Batman currently in Gotham is not the original, the one I... obsessed over, as you put it. It's just not the same.”

“Always glad to help an old friend.” Turning towards the counter at the back of the lab, Jerry waved him along. “Now, shall I show you to the samples?”

“Yes, please.”

Standing in front of the research table, Jerry removed the metal cylinder from the glass container he put it in earlier, then twisted the thing open by a near invisible seam. Within the container were a dozen vials inserted into separate storage compartments, each one containing a small glob of what looked like putty.

Strange leaned in close, examining the samples. “Interesting.”

“Will this be enough to work with?”

“Oh yes, it should plenty,” Strange said. “However, I will need a few more materials to make this work.”

Jerry grinned. “And I know just the person to get them for us.”

---

Rose walked through her kitchen, carrying a mug of coffee over to the table. She was up a little earlier than usual, mostly due to the fact that she simply couldn't sleep. There was too much on her mind. Right now, though, she planned on sitting down and enjoying her coffee. Releasing a small sigh, she sank into her chair and grabbed the remote for the small television nearby. She clicked it on, turning to the news.

Almost instantly, she spit out a mouthful of coffee, coughing in surprise. A breaking news story was currently in progress, detailing the break in at S.T.A.R. Labs last night. She stood up from her seat a little, staring at the screen and watching as the reporter described what happened.

“According to the lab's security staff on duty last night, the person who broke in was in fact 'The Blade', the mysterious vigilante who has been lurking Silverstone's streets for the past seven months,” the reporter explained. “There also appears to be video footage to back up this claim. Witnesses describe the woman as fast, faster than a normal person should be. So fast, in fact, that she was able to fight her way through facility's entire team of guards, enter the lab's private storage vault, and then escape the building with little effort.”

Rose felt her throat go numb. She swallowed, running her fingers through her hair and sucking in a deep breath.

“The men on duty did everything they could to subdue the intruder, following all standard protocol, but were still unable to do so,” the reporter continued. “This break-in also raises quite a few questions. Though acting outside of the law, The Blade has been known for stopping criminal activity, not for committing it. So, why has she suddenly turned into a common thief? And what exactly did she take? I asked the staff that latter question earlier, though they would not release any details on the matter. This has been Jane Valdera, with another breaking news bulletin.”

Rose dropped back into her seat, holding her hands to her forehead. At first, she was caught in utter disbelief, but it didn't take long to work through that.

Well sh*t, what did you think was gonna happen, huh? You only broke into a facility of the most widely known research company in the world.

Still, this greatly complicated things. The police had always been on the lookout for her before, sure, but they'd never been actively searching for her. With this, though, it was only a matter of time before they'd be on her tail every single night. A few more of these jobs that Jerry had her doing, and what little reputation she had up until this point as 'The Blade' would be long gone.

---

The station was abuzz with the recent news story. It was all anyone could talk about, how The Blade broke into S.T.A.R. Labs and stole some secret item. A lot of the officers had their theories over why their local vigilante would go and do something like this, but of course they were all wrong. That wasn't what concerned Rose, though. Her concerns were in the increased efforts in locating The Blade.

They had all had their fair share of differing opinions around the station about her, some not minding so much to have their very own 'Batman', so to speak, and others wanting to bring her in for going about things outside the law. Now, however, it was a different story. Now, The Blade had officially committed a blatant crime, and they needed to track her down.

Rose kept her head down, trying to ignore all the passing conversations on her way out to her cruiser, but she didn't go unnoticed. A fellow officer, Stevens, looked up just in time to see her marching through the station. Moving around his desk, he hurried up to her, waving.

“Hey, Sarah! You hear?”

Rose cleared her throat, slowing to a stop. Officer Stevens wasn't a bad guy, per se, but he did have a tendency to get on her nerves. “Oh, The Blade thing, right? Yeah, uh... heard it on the news this morning.”

“Crazy stuff, right?” he said, folding his arms casually over his chest. “I mean, I always thought she was one of the good guys, like Batman or something.”

“What if she still is?”

“What do you mean? She stole from S.T.A.R. Labs for crying out loud. Doesn't seem too heroic to me.”

Rose narrowed her gaze, shifting her weight uneasily. “Well, no, right, I just... I mean what if there's a good reason for her to be doing what she's doing?”

“Oh come on,” Stevens said, snorting out a laugh. “What reason could someone have to go from fighting crime to committing it, just like that? Doesn't make sense. Ask me, I'd say she's just been putting on an act, trying to get over with the city, and then bam! She takes it for everything it's worth.”

Yeah, well I didn't ask you.

“Right...” she muttered. “Well, I have to be getting out on patrol, so...”

“Oh, of course, yeah. Hey, you going to visit Becky again today?”

Rose nodded. “Yeah.”

“If she's awake, tell her I said I hope she gets well soon, alright?” Stevens softened his gaze, uttering a deep sigh. “All the guys at the station are really pulling for her. I've been meaning to get out there myself, but the job keeps me busy, haven't had a chance. Been working extra shifts lately.”

“I'll tell her, sure,” she said. “And thanks, really.”

Stevens nodded to her, giving her a small wave as he headed back through the station. “No problem, Sarah. Catch you later.”

As Stevens left, Rose uttered a long breath and brushed a hand through her hair, trying to compose herself. If Becky was awake. The word ran through her head multiple times.

If.

---

When Rose arrived at Becky's hospital room later that afternoon, the doctor was already there, checking up on the patient and making notes on his clipboard. He glanced up as she entered, giving a small nod of recognition.

“Miss Walker.”

Rose approached the bed, crossing arms tightly over her chest. “How is she?”

“Same as before, I'm afraid, which is both good and bad. Her condition hasn't much improved, but at least it hasn't gotten any worse. She's stable, though.”

“Has she woken up at all yet?” she asked, shifting her gaze down to the sleeping Becky.

“For now, we're keeping her on heavy medication,” the doctor explained. “It's better if she's sedated right now. Not only does it help with her physical recovery, but I don't want to put her through the excruciating pain that simple acts such as breathing would give her. Once her condition begins to improve, though, we'll wake her up and go from there.”

Sighing deeply, Rose nodded. “Alright, thanks. I think I'll just sit with her a while.”

“I'll be right outside if you need anything,” he said, making a final note on his clipboard before leaving the room.

Rose moved forward, lowering herself into the seat next to the bed. She gave Becky another long look, then reached forward to take the woman's hand in her own. She remained like this for the next hour. Just sitting, just waiting... hoping.

Praying.

---

It was late, really late. Rose had put Holly to bed nearly three hours ago, and had since been sitting quietly at the kitchen table, staring at Jerry's cell phone. He never told her exactly when he'd be calling, only that it would be sometime tonight. By now, however, she was starting to grow more than a little impatient, tapping her fingers incessantly against the table. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the phone rang.

“About damn time,” she said, holding the phone close to her ear.

“Yes, terribly sorry about that,” Jerry said. “I got a bit held up.”

“Of course you did.”

“In any case, I do hope you're ready to get to work. You'll be heading over to the Sapphire Industries building in Midtown tonight,” he explained.

Rose sighed, tapping her foot rhythmically against the floor. “What do you need this time?”

“Sapphire Industries is a well regarded R&D firm, focusing in the development of very advanced technology to improve the scientific world. I'll need you to take one of their latest prototypes for me. It's currently in cold storage in a laboratory on the twentieth floor.”

“And let me guess,” Rose said, rolling her eyes, “security is tight.”

“Naturally,” he replied. “However, considering the little hiccup you had last night with security, we're going to do things a little differently this time. I've arranged for a chopper to pick you up on the roof of your building in approximately thirty minutes, so be ready. We'll drop you off on the roof of Sapphire Industries, from where you will be entering. I'll also be giving you a wireless comm link. With it, I can track your position and guide you along the best path to your objective. Hopefully, things will go a little bit more smoothly this time.”

A small groan escaped her lips. “Can't wait.”

---

The chopper flew in low over the building. Ravager hung out the side on a rope ladder, which slowly lowered closer to the roof. When she was safely within range, she leaped off and landed flat on her feet, taking a brief moment to look around. Nothing out of the ordinary, just a flat roof with various equipment; some air conditioning units, a large satellite dish, etc. A few moments later, that annoyingly familiar voice echoed in her ears.

“No time to waste,” Jerry said, his voice mixed in with a it of static over the comm. “The night is already getting old. Proceed straight forward and enter through the door. This will take you down into the main stairwell.”

Walking up to the door, Ravager noticed a bunch old rusty chains barring it shut. “Oh look at that, it's padlocked. Guess we're gonna have to abort.”

“Rose...”

“Fine, fine,” she muttered, spinning quickly and delivering a thunderous kick.

The chains snapped, as the door flew violently off its hinges. Ravager paused, briefly glancing back over her shoulder at the chopper disappearing in the distance. Then, she proceeded down the stairs beyond.

“You're currently on the twenty-fifth floor,” Jerry explained. “So, you'll want to head down five levels to the twentieth.”

“I can count, thanks.”

Moving swiftly down the stairs, she kept a close eye on the numbering of each floor, passing the twenty-fourth, the twenty-third, and so on.

Jerry's voice hissed over the radio again. “I've already taken the liberty of having one of my associates disable the building's alarms and security cameras, so you'll only need to deal with physical guards. I trust that shouldn't be a problem.”

“Please,” Ravager scoffed, “who do you think you're talking to?”

“Just checking.” He paused briefly, waiting for her to arrive at the proper floor. Then, he added, “Now, once you go through the door, you'll come out to a small lobby. There should be three security guards stationed there, one behind a desk and the other two somewhere in the general vicinity. You'll want to disable them all before they can radio for backup.”

Ravager inched forward towards the twentieth floor door, taking in a small breath to prepare herself. “They won't know what hit them.

Shoving the door open, she sprinted out into the lobby area, processing the layout of the room and the location of the three men in fractions of a second. In an instant, she turned straight at the nearest guy and leaped forward with a flying kick to the head. He was out cold before he even knew he was under attack. The other two guards began to react now, going for their clubs.

Yeah, that'll work. Morons.

She smirked slightly to herself, as she darted in with superior agility and threw a few deft blows at the next nearest man, disarming and in turn disabling him in seconds. By the time he was on his way to the floor, she was already attacking the last one. He took a swing at her, but she dodged easily and countered with a brutal chop to the back of the head, rendering him unconscious just like the others.

“They're down,” she informed.

“Excellent, now-”

“I need backup on the twentieth now!” a guard shouted. “We have an intruder! It's her, it's The Blade!”

Whirling around, Ravager caught sight of a fourth guard standing behind her near the other end of the room. She lunged at him, delivering a crippling strike with her elbow to the back of his skull.

“I thought you said there were three!” she shouted.

“Did I?” A small chuckle came in over the comm. “Oops, how clumsy of me.”

“You son of a b*tch, you did that on purpose!”

Though she couldn't see it, an amused smirk slowly curled its way onto Jerry's face. “I do hope you're good at improvising.”

Chapter #23

Ravager ran around the corner of a hallway, following Jerry's directions. It wasn't exactly quick going, though, with security guards constantly showing up in front of her, after Jerry went and purposefully allowed them to alert the building. A test, he had said, to see just how capable she really was. Of course, the same rules still applied: if she failed, Becky died.

“Take your next left,” Jerry said.

Sprinting faster, Ravager practically slid across the floor as she turned. She couldn't afford to take her time. Right now, speed was everything. Several guards came around the corner in front of hr. When they noticed her heading straight at them, they halted and raised their weapons, nothing more than basic stun guns.

Idiots.

Ravager ducked out of the way of one of the incoming shock projectiles, then spun away from another one and leaped over the third. Before they even realized that they had missed, she landed in the middle of them and attacked. She assaulted pressure points, broke bones, knocked them out, but still did not kill. That was the last thing she needed, for the media to brand her a murderer.

“The lab is in the next hallway,” Jerry informed. “Second door on the right. It's marked with white and black stripes.”

In a short few moments, Ravager found herself outside the specially marked door and kicked it open. The temperature instantly dropped about twenty degrees. A burst of air pushed past her lips, emitting a visible, wispy cloud. For some reason, the lab was kept extremely chilled.

“Alright, where is this thing?” she asked, walking past a table of laboratory supplies.

“Near the back, there's a hatch on the wall that opens to a small freezer. It's inside.”

Locating the hatch, she spun the handle several times before it finally opened, a small hiss of air surging forth. The compartment within was coated with ice, and empty except for a fist sized: heavy duty metal canister, with buttons on one side of it. Reaching forward, she lifted it into her grasp, feeling the intense chill through her glove.

“Geez, it's heavy,” she groaned, testing the object's weight in her hand. “Even for me. What the hell is in this thing?”

“I assure you, most of the weight is in the container itself,” he said. “What's inside weighs very little.”

“Uh huh, great. Now I still have to get out of this place while carrying-”

“Freeze!”

Turning to look behind her, she noticed a security guard standing in the doorway. Another couple men stood behind him, all wielding pistols and pointing them at her. Apparently, they'd finally decided to bring out the serious weapons. A lot of good it would do them.

“Put the container down, and step away with your hands up!” the guard ordered.

“Hey, is this thing fragile at all?” she whispered.

“Well, no...” Jerry responded, trepidation in his tone. “Why?”

“Just checking.”

“Do it now!” the guard shouted. “Put it down!”

“What, this?” Ravager glanced down at the canister for a second, tightening her grip on it with her right hand. She then turned to the side, wound her arm up, and launched the thing through the air, as if throwing a baseball.

Her enhanced strength projected the object like a missile, drilling the first guard in the chest and knocking him violently backwards. His gun went off, the bullet impacting the ceiling above. The other guards caught the man before he hit the floor, but quickly worked to get into a better position to stop their intruder.

By the time they managed to push past the other man into the doorway, however, Ravager was there to greet them with a flying kick, drilling the first guy in the head. Then, she spun low, sweeping her leg beneath the other guard's feet and flipping him onto his backside. With a quick palm strike, she knocked him out cold, then retrieved the small metal object.

Jerry's voice came in over the comm, through a hiss of static. “You threw it, didn't you?”

“It got the job done, didn't it?”

Jerry uttered a deep sigh. “Proceed back to the stairs and head to the roof. The chopper is on its way back now to pick you up.”

---

Ravager ran out onto the rooftop, doing a full 360 as she scanned the skies above her. “Where the hell is the chopper?”

“Almost there,” Jerry said. “Hold tight.”

Glancing back over her shoulder, she noticed another team of security guards appearing through the doorway. She hurried towards the opposite end of the roof, taking cover behind a grouping of air conditioning units as the men open fired on her position. A few moments later, the hum of a chopper's rotors reached her ears. Turning, she saw the aircraft fast approaching, its rope ladder already hanging out.

“Better get moving,” Jerry urged. “You're only going to get one chance at this.”

Well this is gonna be a blast.

Sprinting out from cover, Ravager headed straight for the edge of the rooftop. The security guards raised their weapons and fired, some shots missing wide, others requiring careful use of her precog to avoid without slowing down. She reached the ledge at near full speed, kicking off and leaping through the air. For a brief moment, she hovered over twenty-five stories of empty space, nothing but the city streets below.

Holding out her left arm, she clamped her grasp around the bottom rung of the rope ladder, just as the chopper flew by. She struggled with every ounce of her strength to hang on without having her arm ripped from its socket, and all while trying to maintain her grip on the canister without dropping it. Within several seconds, the chopper made it out of range of the security guards, flying back to a drop off point.

Jerry's pleased voice echoed in her ears. “Very well done, Rose, you've proven your value yet again.”

“Screw off, a**hole. You alerted security on purpose just to make me sweat.”

“And you still came through, just as I knew you would,” he stated. “I'll see you shortly.”

---

Four days later...

Rose stood quietly at the kitchen table, leaning forward against it with her hands pressed on either side of the newspaper. She stared at the front page headline, which read: 'The Blade Strikes Again, Hits Keifer Chemicals.' Tapping her fingers incessantly against the table, she scanned the article itself, reading carefully for a few moments before pushing the paper away in disgust. Finally, she dropped herself into her seat and gazed up at the ceiling.

I'm a criminal now, plain and simple, she thought, shaking her head slightly. I might be doing it for a good cause, but that doesn't matter to the cops, or the media, or anyone else.

Not to mention, she had also been helping Jeremiah accomplish whatever goal he was working towards. She highly doubted that he was sending her out to steal this stuff for kicks. No, he had a purpose behind it, a plan. If she didn't figure out a way to stop him fast, without putting Becky's life in danger, then there was no telling what kind of ramifications it could have.

As Rose sat there, her cell phone rang. It wasn't the one that Jerry had given her, but rather her actual, personal phone. She glanced at it for a moment, watching it vibrate across the table. She briefly contemplated whether or not to answer; the caller ID read: 'Grayson'. She wanted to answer it, she really did, but she knew she couldn't. He was calling about what she had been doing lately, no doubt about that. With his resources, there was no way he didn't know about it.

She couldn't talk to him, though, not yet, not while Jerry still held Becky's life in his hands. If she spoke to Dick, he'd want to know what the hell was going on. If she told him, he'd want to help her. If he helped her, then Jerry would pull the trigger on Becky. She didn't know exactly the extent of that man's 'watchful eyes', but she didn't want to test it. Instead, she allowed the phone to continue ringing until her voicemail picked it up, then stuffed it in her pocket.

A few moments later, she looked up to see Holly entering the kitchen and sitting down at the table. The girl held her hands up to her chin, kicking her legs back and forth in her seat and just staring at Rose.

“Oh, Holly... I'm sorry, just cereal this morning,” Rose said, breathing out a sigh. “I... didn't get a chance to make anything.”

Holly pursed her lips in thought for a moment, then brought her hands together in several, distinct motions. Rose had been teaching her sign language finally, and the girl's vocabulary with it had actually been coming along rather quickly.

What's wrong?” Holly signed.

“It's... nothing, don't worry about it.” Rose shifted her gaze, glancing back at the newspaper. “I've just had a lot on my mind lately.”

Are you worried about Becky?”

“Yeah... I am.”

Holly frowned slightly, her expression saddening. “I'm sorry.”

Rose smiled gently, shaking her head. “It's alright, really... everything will be okay. Becky's healing well, too. The doctors are even considering taking her off the painkillers today, so she might be awake when we go see her later.”

Holly grinned broadly at the declaration. That's really good!”

“Yeah, it is...” she breathed.

Rose tried to maintain her smile, but the sad, depressed look on her face could not be hidden. Seeing this, Holly got up from her seat and gave Rose a big, friendly hug. Rose swallowed a knot in her throat, returning the hug deeply.

“Thanks, Holly,” she uttered, squinting her eye shut. “Thank you.”

---

Rose knocked very gently on the hospital room door as she opened it, slowly peering inside and hoping for a response. Holly stood behind her, rocking back and forth on her toes, hands held behind her back and waiting patiently. A short distance away, the figure lying down in bed moved a little, turning her head to look at them.

“Hey...” Becky uttered, her voice weak and raspy. “You guys came.”

Rose couldn't hide the beaming smile that spread across her face. After days of watching Becky lie motionless and unconscious, her condition barely improving, seeing her awake sent a rush of relief filled Rose's body, the likes of which she couldn't describe.

“Of course we came,” Rose said, seating herself in the chair next to the bed. “We've been here everyday, you know. Your family was here, too, a few times. They seemed nice.”

“Yeah, the doctor told me.” Becky spread a large, if somewhat pained smile across her face. “Thanks, I mean it.”

“Hey, you did the same for me, right? That's what friends do.”

Becky chuckled, wincing slightly at the resulting pain. “The very best, right?”

Rose nodded. “The very best.”

Holly walked forward with a big smile, then began rifling through a series of hand signs.

“Ha, slow down there,” Becky said, grinning at the girl. “I don't know sign language.”

“She says she's glad you're better,” Rose informed.

“Ah, gracias, Holly. I'm glad too.” A harsh cough burst past Becky's lips, forcing her to lie back flat against her pillow. “Though, I still got a long way to go, ah? Hurts just to breathe.”

Sitting down next to the bed, Rose leaned forward and took one of Becky's hands into her own. “She, uh, she's not the only one who's glad, you know. I... I was really worried there for a while.”

“Easy there, girl.” Becky lifted an eyebrow, giving Rose a playful grin. “You're gonna make me blush.”

Rose blinked momentarily, then looked down and quickly pulled her hand back. Her cheeks were already beginning to flush red. “Oh, right, sorry. I was... just a reflex. I, uh... held your hand a lot when I was here before, guess I thought it would help or something. Stupid, right?”

“Nah, it's sweet. Thanks.”

“Uh, yeah, of course. You're welcome.” Clearing her throat, Rose looked away briefly, fidgeting in her seat. Now she didn't know whether to feel embarrassed or flattered. Maybe a little of both. “So, uh... I don't suppose you've seen the news yet?”

“Si, watched it this morning,” Becky said, a small sigh leaving her throat. “Didn't I tell you that Blade person was bad news?”

Well, guess that was a bit too much to hope for.

“Uh... yeah,” she said. “I guess you did.”

“I mean, I can't say I expected something like this to happen, but I knew she'd be trouble. Looks like we got a lot of work to do once I'm back on my feet, ah? That is, of course, unless you guys catch her before then.”

“I wouldn't count on that...” Rose muttered.

A soft chuckle found its way to Becky's lips. “Ha, yeah, she's a tough one, I hear. Probably one of those metas or something. Boy do we have our hands full.”

A brief silence passed between them. Rose shifted her position awkwardly, bringing a hand to her head and gently running her fingers through her hair. Holly, meanwhile, hopped up onto the other seat and grabbed a nearby remote, using it to turn on the television.

“So, what do you two have planned for today, anyway?” Becky asked. “It's Sunday, right?”

Rose nodded. “Yeah, Sunday. But we don't really have much going on today, didn't really make of a schedule. We'll probably just stay here a while, unless you need your rest?”

“Please, I'm good for as long as you're here.”

A soft smile came to Rose's lips. “Then yeah... we'll stay here.”

---

Later that night, Rose stood in her bedroom and stared down at her mask, taking in a small breath. The more she did for Jerry, the more she hated putting it on, and yet she didn't have a choice. It took her a while to finally pull it over her head and continue getting dressed, but eventually she was fully geared up and ready to go. According to her phone conversation a short while ago, this was her last job, at least for now. That meant she was running out of time. Whatever Jerry had planned, he was almost done. She needed to find a way to stop him, soon.

But I can't do that as long as Becky's in danger. So what the hell am I supposed to do?

Letting out a frustrated breath, she held a hand against the wall, bringing the other up to her forehead. She remained like that for a few moments, desperately trying to think of something, anything. But nothing came came to mind. Eventually, she pushed herself away from the wall and headed back through the penthouse. When she got to the living room, however, the ring of her cell phone stopped her.

Glancing back at the coffee table, she stared at the phone for a long moment, watching it glow and vibrate. Then, she walked over and lifted it up, reading the name: 'Grayson'. Breathing outwardly again, she placed the phone back on the table and continued on her way.

Sorry, Dick, can't come to the phone right now.

---

Ravager leaped through the third story window, blowing apart the glass in a shower of tiny shards and plummeting through thirty feet of empty air. She braced herself for impact, tucking and rolling when she hit the ground. Her enhanced durability prevented any broken bones, though she could still feel a few bruises already springing up, and her ankle felt a bit funny. Still, she didn't let any of that slow her down.

As she sprinted across the grass outside, she looked back over her shoulder to see the building's security staring at her from the broken window, three stories above. None of them were about to make an attempt in following her. Hopping onto her bike, she placed the strange electronic device she stole into the back compartment, then gunned the engine. Within seconds, she rocketed down the street, leaving the GenTech building behind.

“It's done,” she said, breathing out a heavy sigh.

“Very good,” Jerry responded, his voice hissing in over a crackle of static in her ear. “I'm sending someone to meet up with you back at the toy factory. Go slow and stick to the back roads, we don't want you catching the attention of the authorities. That would be most problematic.”

Ravager narrowed her gaze, slowing up her ride a little to a normal speed. Veering left at a fork, she remained on the lesser traveled roads, the ones that would snake their way back into the less busy areas of the city. Getting noticed by the police and then caught up in a high speed pursuit right now would not be desirable.

About ten minutes into her ride, she became acutely aware that she was being followed. Glancing down into one of her mirrors, she watched the vehicle behind her, another motorcycle, maintaining a fair distance; it was just far enough away to be less noticeable, while still close enough to keep an eye on her. When she sped up, so did her pursuer. When she slowed down, he did the same.

“You know, I'm really getting tired of you having your goons follow me around,” she said, uttering a frustrated groan.

“What are you talking about?”

“The guy behind me is one of yours, right?”

Jerry paused briefly, letting out a contemplative breath. “I assure you, he is not.”

This time, Ravager turned her head and looked behind her. Now that he knew he had been discovered, the vehicle sped up, rapidly closing the gap.

“Someone's tailing me,” she said. “Not a cop, though.”

“Deal with it, then,” Jerry ordered. “And be quick.”

Squeezing the breaks, Ravager spun her bike around with a screech of the tires. She faced towards her pursuer now, sitting there and waiting for him. Whoever this guy was, she intended on putting a stop to him quickly. She really didn't like being followed.

When the vehicle came closer, however, she suddenly realized exactly who was riding towards her. She tensed up, sitting straighter and glaring with a mix of confusion, surprise, and frustration. When the bike rolled to a stop, the guy sitting atop it straightened himself.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she questioned, hardening her gaze.

“Rose...” Red Robin stated, lifting the helmet off his head. “We need to talk.”

Chapter #24

Ravager tightened her grip around the handlebars of her cycle, maintaining her glare. Sitting across from her on his own bike was Red Robin, aka Tim Drake, one of her former teammates on the Teen Titans. She hadn't seen him now in almost a year, not since she left the team after screwing up one of their alerts and getting Bart Allen killed, along with a bunch of cops. But what was he doing here now?

“I don't have time to talk right now, Tim,” she stated, leaning forward on her bike.

“Then make time,” he countered, narrowing his eyes.

Ravager paused, arms folding across her chest. “Quite a ways from San Francisco, aren't you?”

“I was already in Gotham when Batman asked me to check up on you,” he explained. “You've been stealing, hurting innocent people, haven't been answering your phone. That's not like you.”

“Maybe you just don't know me as well as you think you do.”

“I know you better than you think.”

Ravager's gaze hardened. “Somehow, I doubt that. How did you even find me?”

“There's a tracer built into your ride,” he said. “Batman put it there in case of emergencies.”

“Of course he did...” Ravager breathed. “Guess I should have seen that one coming.”

“Tell me what's going on with you, Rose,” Red Robin urged. “If you're in trouble with something, I can help. You might have left the team on bad terms, but you're still one of us. You're still a friend.”

“Is that you talking, or is that Dick?”

Silence followed. He turned his gaze slightly, leaving her question unanswered..

“Yeah, that's what I thought,” she said, tightening her jaw. “You guys still haven't forgiven me... probably never will. That's fine, I don't care. I know what I did and I've paid for it. But I have my own life now, I don't need to go running back to your team, begging for forgiveness.”

“I know, and I'm glad you're finding your own way, Rose, really.” In spite of his gentler tone, Red Robin's glare remained firm. “But something is going on right now with you. Something's wrong. You need to let me help you before it gets out of control.”

Ravager's comm suddenly activated in her ear, emitting Jerry's annoying, scolding tone. “Not a word, Rose. You know what will happen.”

“I know...” she breathed, lowering her gaze. “But I can't, Tim. I sorry.”

“Don't suppose there's any way I can change your mind?”

“Not a chance.”

A small, disappointed sigh left his lips. “Then, I'm sorry, but I have to stop you.”

“You so much as try, and I'll snap your arm,” she said, scowling at him.

He ignored her, hopping off his bike and reaching into his utility belt. Ravager's frown deepened, jaw clenching. She wasn't about to let him stop her, there was too much at stake. Best to put him down quickly so she could get on with her job. Jumping off her own ride, she evaded an incoming pair of throwing disks without even trying.

“You'll have to do a lot better than that,” she said. “I could have dodged those in my sleep.”

Red Robin said nothing, instead tossing down a few smoke pellets and enveloping them both in a thick haze. Ravager frowned, straightening herself a little and carefully looking around.

“Smoke?” She turned to the sound of his footsteps, readying herself for an attack. “You're kidding, right?”

“Just tell me what's going on and we don't have to do this,” he said, drifting to her side.

Her precog went off, showing an attack coming in from the left. She spun instantly and pushed the incoming kick away, then countered with one of her own. But she missed, hitting only air as the smoke threw off her aim. Red Robin's shadow quickly disappeared back into the smoke.

“You say that like I'm afraid to.”

Another flash of precog; more disks this time. She twisted her body to avoid them, then jumped backward to dodge a swinging strike from Red Robin's bo staff. He charged in again, thrusting and swinging his weapon. She ducked, weaved, then lunged forward with a flying elbow. The blow struck true, snapping Red Robin's head back and sending him rolling into the smoke. But the haze was beginning to dissipated now, thinning out under the mercy of a gentle breeze. She could see him again.

Wasting no time, Ravager charged at her downed opponent. Now that she could see him, she'd take him out with a single blow. But she didn't get very far before a paralyzing, electric pain ripped through her body. She screamed, muscles tensing up and beginning to spasm, as several thousand volts of electricity coursed through her.

A few seconds later, the pain vanished, leaving her body fried and numb. Heart pounding furiously in her chest, she stumbled back a little bit, just barely maintaining her balance. Looking down at her feet, she noticed a round, flat device on the ground, some kind of stun mine; Red Robin had used the smoke as a cover to place it, then lured right into the trap.

“Okay...” she wheezed, sucking in a deep breath. “That really hurt.”

“Please, Rose,” he said, taking a step towards her. “Tell me what's wrong. I don't want to hurt you.”

“Well good, then,” she said, running at him again. “Because that's the last time you're going to!”

Ravager forced herself through the pain, but her actions were sluggish, body still tingling and numb. She threw a punch, but he dodged, twirling his staff around and cracking her across the jaw, causing her to stumble backward.

“You may want to hurry things up a little bit, Rose,” Jerry chided. “And maybe try harder. Would be a shame if he stopped you, so close to finishing your last job. Just think of Rebecca...”

Holding a hand to her jaw, she glowered and charged Red Robin again. This time, she toughed it up, ignoring the numbing results of the electrical charge. Her adrenaline was pumping now, and she wasn't screwing around. Red Robin readied his staff, prepared to defend against her attack, but as she approached, she drew one of her swords. Seeing her pull such a lethal weapon caught him by surprise, eyes going wide and body tensing. That one flinch was all she needed to capitalize.

Ravager swung her blade viciously, forcing Red Robin to raise his staff to block it. Unfortunately for him, her weapons were a lot sharper than anything he was familiar with. She sliced cleanly through the metal pole, throwing him off balance off as his arms came apart, each hand holding one half of the weapon. This time, when Ravager snapped her fist forward, she caught him squarely across the side of the face. She didn't stop there, however, throwing a high kick to his ribs and then punching again with her other hand, the one holding her sword. The hilt cracked firmly against his jaw, causing him to stumble backward. Finally, she finished the assault with a leaping kick, drilling him flat in the chest and sending him tumbling to the ground.

With a pained grunt, he rolled over onto his front and slowly pushed himself upward. “Rose, you don't have to do this.”

“Stay down, Tim.” Ravager raised her boot, stomping down on his backside and pinning him to the ground. “You can't beat me in a straight fight.”

“I know,” he muttered, inching a hand down to his belt to press a small button. “That's why I brought help.”

Ravager's eyebrow lifted a little, as the sound of an incoming aircraft reached her ears. It was quiet, at first, then grew louder as it approached. Glancing upward, she watched as the Bat-Jet came into view, slowing down above them and hovering.

“You have got to be kidding me,” she groaned.

Suddenly, a large metal net flew out from one of the jet's many on board launchers. Ravager jumped to the side, evading it easily enough. The jet turned, following her, and fired a couple more times, but never hit its target. With her attention occupied, however, Ravager didn't notice Red Robin returning to his feet. As she flipped backward to avoid another incoming net, he pulled out pair of round disks and threw them at her in mid dodge.

Though her precog went off, Ravager was in a poor position to suddenly change her direction. She tried to turn and spin away, twisting her body into an awkward position, but only succeeded in tumbling clumsily to the ground. Before she could get back up, a large weighted net wrapped around her, pinning her against the ground.

“No!” she shouted, angrily pushing up against the metal cables. She could barely get to her knees. “Let me out of this!”

Breathing out a long sigh, Red Robin bowed his head. “Sorry, Rose.”

Meanwhile, the Bat-Jet lowered itself from the air, coming to a stop when it reached the ground. The cockpit slid opens up, revealing another member of the Bat Family inside, a blonde girl in a black and purple Batsuit.

“Awesome!” she exclaimed, hopping out of the jet. “We got her!”

“Yeah, thanks for the hand, Steph.”

Batgirl gave him a firm salute, a big smile on her face. “Always happy to help.”

“You don't know what you're doing!” Ravager shrieked, struggling beneath the net. They ignored her.

Jerry's voice suddenly crackled back over the comm link. “Things not going well? That's a shame. I'm not going to have to make a call, am I?”

Ravager flinched, a bolt of panic surging through her. She gripped two sections of the net with both hands, then started tugging on the metal cables with every ounce of strength she could muster in her body.

“Wow,” Batgirl said, closely inspecting Red Robin's bleeding nose and bruised jaw. “She really got you good, huh?”

“I'll be fine,” he assured, pushing past her to the jet. “Just keep an eye on her while I make a call to Dick.”

“You got it.” Batgirl folded her arms, turning back around to watch their prisoner. A moment later, she paused, lifting an eyebrow and looking back to her partner. “Hey, uh, should she be able to do that?”

Red Robin looked over from the jet to see Ravager yanking apart the metal cables on the net, her arms shaking and muscles straining. She had almost made a hole large enough to fit through. Reacting quickly, he dug around the cockpit and pulled out a stun gun. He didn't want to use it, but he had to put her down long enough to at least get her properly tied up.

“Don't do it, Rose!” Red Robin ran forward, stopping ten paces from her and pointing the stun gun squarely at her chest. “Don't make me use it!”

Ravager didn't listen to him. She continued pulling, harder now. Her arms had gone practically numb with how hard they were struggling. Groaning, she tightened her grip and put everything she had into it. She could feel the net beginning to strain, almost ready to give way. Just a little bit more...

That's when the stun gun's nodes hit her square in the chest, sending a powerful electrical current surging through her body. She worked through it, feeling her entire body tingling and crying out with sharp pain. Not once did she stop pulling, though, her mouth hanging open and emitting a horrifying, agonized scream.

Red Robin's eyes went wide with her surprise, fast growing concerned at how long he had to keep the charge going. “Rose, just stop!”

Ravager clenched her jaw, squeezing her eye shut and giving one last, final tug. “NO!!!”

With a loud crack, the metal net snapped and ripped apart. Ravager instantly thew it around her, stepping out of the newly created hole, then grabbed the cables running from the nodes to the stun gun. Glaring coldly at her attacker, she plucked the wires from her chest and dropped them to the ground. Though her body had gone almost entirely numb, tingling like pins and needles, she didn't let it stop her. Breathing in deeply, she took a shaky step forward, hands clenching into fists.

“Uh... Holy crap,” Batgirl said, blinking in astonishment. “How did she do that?”

“Never mind that, just stop her!” Red Robin declared.

But before they could converge on her, Ravager reached a numb hand to her belt and pulled out a small round device, cracking it down the center. Then, she threw it straight at the ground, in the process covering her eye. A bright, blinding flash went off, temporarily stunning them.

“You're not the only one with toys,” she muttered, turning around to retrieve her sword.

She stumbled towards her bike, legs trembling and threatening to give out at any moment. Collapsing on top of her ride, she revved the engine back up and burst forward with incredible acceleration. She couldn't stay here, couldn't keep fighting them like this. She had a delivery to make

---

As their vision slowly returned, Red Robin squinted forward and blinked a few times, just in time to see Ravager fleeing the scene. Cursing under his breath, he ran for his R-cycle.

“Ow, damn it!” Batgirl groaned, rubbing her eyes. “What the hell was that thing, some kind of super flash grenade?”

“I don't know, but we need to stay in pursuit, Batgirl.” Hopping aboard his bike, he revved up the engine and pulled his helmet back on. “In her condition, she'll end up getting herself killed, if not someone else. I'll follow on the ground, you take to the air. We have to stop her!”

---

Ravager's control was shaky. She swerved, struggling to keep straight on the road, her breaths heavy and arm muscles begin to spasming at random. Of course, taking extended electric shocks capable of turning an ordinary grown man into a twitching mass on the ground would do that. But couldn't can't stop to take a breather or recover; she was still being pursued. Batgirl had passed overhead a couple times, and she couldn't seem to lose Red Robin on the ground, no matter what streets she took. Even though she knew the city a lot better than he did, he was good, and she in poor condition.

“You'd better lose them quickly,” Jerry urged.

“I can't!”

“Well I can't have them following you right to me, now can I?” Jerry's tone hardened. “Figure it out.”

Letting out an annoyed breath, Ravager turned onto a busier street. Now she had to make her way around other cars, weaving through traffic in order to keep her distance from her pursuers. Glancing upward, she noticed the jet coming back overhead, this time managing to stick right above her. Red Robin was catching up, too, she knew it.

Sh*t. Time to take some chances.

Taking a sharper turn, she picked up speed and raced toward an on ramp, leading up to the highway overpass that ran through the west side of the city. In seconds, she was gunning it down three lane traffic, darting her bike in between numerous vehicles. Red Robin kept up with her, though, regardless of how much faster she went.

“Can you get your guys to come to me?” she asked. “Could use some backup here!”

“I suppose I could,” Jerry replied. “But you're supposed to be doing this on your own, you know.”

“Save the lecture!” she spat. “They're tracking me through my ride, so even if I manage to lose visual contact, they'll still find me, and I'm in no condition to keep this up much longer. You want this device of yours or not?”

Jerry sighed indifferently. “Very well. Head east along the overpass and take the next exit. You can work your way around to the factory and I'll have my men meet you halfway.”

Ravager shook her head, swallowing a hard knot in her throat. “The tunnel would be faster, it's a straight shot to the East District.”

“No,” he said. “I'll lose your comm signal through the tunnel. I won't be able to keep in contact or guide you.”

Ravager went quiet, a rapid series of thoughts flickering through her head. She suddenly had a plan. “I'm taking the tunnel.”

Another sigh. “Your decision, I suppose. Just remember the consequences, should something go wrong.”

“I haven't forgotten. See you on the other side.”

---

The tunnel was a long stretch of road that traveled underneath most of the city, dark except for the lines of florescent lights along the walls. Ravager pushed her bike faster, moving around the traffic of other cars. It wasn't heavy traffic, but still thick enough that one mistake, one wrong jerk of the handlebars, could end in catastrophe. At least she had lost one of her pursuers, though; no way Batgirl was going to fly her jet inside the tunnel.

Glancing into one of her mirrors, she noticed Red Robin still hot on her tail. Good, she wanted him to follow now. Speeding up, she turned into a side tunnel, one meant for maintenance personnel. Her bike barely fit through the narrow passage, walls tight on either side of her. Eventually, though, it widened out into a work area, allowing her to slow down and jump off her bike.

“So, can you hear me?”she asked. The only response she received from the comm was static.

Good.

A few moments later, Red Robin appeared. He slowed his cycle down to a halt and slid off, tearing his helmet off. “Rose, what the hell are you doing?! You know how many people you could have hurt driving like that? And in your condition?”

“In my condition? Please, I'm just fine.” Though her body was still a little numb and tingly, she could feel most of her normal sensations beginning to return to her, and her heart wasn't beating so fast anymore. “So, just you and me now. Batgirl won't be joining us down here.”

“Don't do this again,” he pleaded. “We don't have to fight. Just talk to me, tell me what's wrong.”

“Oh, you want to talk?” She cracked her knuckles, glaring at him intently. “Then let's talk.”

---

A short while later, Ravager emerged from the tunnel, driving out into the East District. She sat atop Red Robin's bike now, leaving her own ride, the one with the tracking signal, behind.. Batgirl wouldn't be looking for this one, after all. Turning into a side alley, she parked and waited for her other transportation to arrive.

As she sat there, however, the radio on the vehicle's dash suddenly clicked on. “Tim, are you alright? What's going on? I couldn't reach you while you were in the tunnel.”

Reaching forward, Ravager clicked the button to respond. “Sorry, Tim isn't available at the moment.”

“Ravager?” Batgirl's voice pitched higher, in a panic. “What did you do to Tim?!”

“If you want to find him, you should probably head back down the tunnel. That's where I left him.”

Turning off the engine, Ravager stood up and retrieved the stolen item of the night from the bike's side compartment. She stared at the strange device for several moments, then walked down to the end of the alley.

Another hiss of static came in over her comm, followed by a familiar voice. “You took a little longer than you should have getting through that tunnel. Trouble?”

“No, just taking care of a little business,” she assured.

“Then I trust those two that were following you won't be a problem anymore?”

As she stepped out of the alley, a sleek black car with heavily tinted windows pulled up in front of her. One of the rear doors opened up, allowing her to get inside.

“Trust me, they're taken care of.”

Chapter #25

Ravager strolled into the laboratory, trying to keep her stride steady. The numbing effects of being shocked earlier, though not nearly as bad as before, still lingered. Her muscles were sore, and the tips of her fingers tingled incessantly, but it wasn't anything she couldn't work through. She still had plenty of juice left in her system.

“Welcome, Rose,” Jerry greeted, taking several steps forward from across the laboratory. Next to him, Hugo strange worked busily at one of the tables. “Glad you could join us. I have to admit, you had me worried there for a while.”

“Yeah, well I got the job done,” she said, holding out the device she had stolen earlier. “Here's your... what is this, anyway?”

Strange moved over to her, taking the device and returning to his workstation. “This would be a genetic material splicer. Very advanced and hard to come by, usually only owned and used by genetic research companies, such as GenTech, where you got this one.”

“Uh... huh. And what exactly does it do?”

Strange paused a moment, glancing back at Jerry. At the nod of confirmation, he explained, “It joins together two separate DNA sequences. So long as the two genetic samples are compatible, one can use this to create something entirely different, such as new animal species, or giving a person animal-like characteristics, or-”

“Manufacturing superpowers?” Ravager narrowed her eyes, arms folding across her chest.

“Yes...” Strange replied. “Even that, if you know what you're doing.”

Her gaze shifted over to Jerry. “You're kidding, right? This is the reason you tried to ruin my life, had me steal for you? So you could turn yourself into some kind of supe?”

Jerry chuckled, an amused grin spreading across his face. “My dear Rose, as always your thinking is entirely too simplistic.”

“So enlighten me.”

“I think you've been told quite enough already, actually.” He turned, looking to Strange now. “Hugo, how is the process coming along?”

“Should only take a few more minutes,” he answered.

“Good,” Jerry said. “This has taken long enough already.”

Ravager glared coldly at him, hands twitching as if about to make a move. But she didn't, not yet. She was waiting for confirmation.

“You're free to go, by the way.” Jerry waved a hand at her, as if shooing her away. “I'm sure there are other places you'd rather be right now.”

She shook her head. “If you think I'm just going to walk away and let you go through with... whatever you have planned, then you're delusional.”

“Oh, am I? And what exactly are you going to do about it? Remember, if anything happens to me-”

“Then Becky dies, I know. But only if your goons at the hospital can get to her.”

The man's eyes narrowed at her, a curious expression growing on his face. “You think they can't?”

“I know they can't.”

Come on... come on...

And then the signal came in, a hiss of static and a verbal confirmation crackling in over her comm. It was faint and weak, having to make it down to her underground, but it was just enough to let her know that now was the time to act. She immediately drew her swords and began a slow march toward Jerry.

“You're finished, you b**tard!” She lunged at him, wasting no time. She was going to end him.

In mid leap, however, her precog went off. Though she saw the attack coming, she couldn't do anything about it while in mid jump. In the air, there wasn't anywhere to go, no way to change her trajectory or dodge. The energy blast exploded against her stomach, sending her spinning back to the floor with a smoking, charred spot on her armor. She lied there for a few moments, blinking upward as the room began to spin around her.

“Thank you, Hugo.” Jerry smoothed out the front of his suit, then carefully straightened his tie. “Your timing is impeccable, as always.”

Putting the small energy gun back down on the table next to him, Strange returned to his work. “Anything to help.”

Groaning, Ravager rolled over and slowly pushed herself up to her hands and knees, her entire body shaking. “Pretty quick on the draw there, Professor. I'll hand you that one.”

Jerry walked over to her, raising a boot and stomping down on Rose's spine, forcing her back to the floor. “And I had such high hopes for you.”

“I'd be... a little bit more concerned if I were you, buddy,” she breathed, stifling a hacking cough.

“Concerned? No. Disappointed. Now I have to make a point.” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a wireless radio and brought it to his lips. “Go ahead and make a call to Mira, tell her to pull the plug on the cop.” Lowering the radio, he gazed back down and shook his head. “I was rather hoping I didn't have to do that, but then you had to go and be rebellious. Pity.”

At this comment, Ravager chuckled softly, lips curling into a knowing smirk

Jerry lifted his eyebrows, digging the heel of his shoe harder into her shoulder blade. “What's so funny?”

“Oh, nothing. I just feel bad for Mira.”

---

Becky's hospital room was dark and quiet, save for the soft glow and steady beeping of her heart monitor. She was sleeping now, under enough sedation to help get her through the night. During the day, she could handle the pain just fine, but sleeping proved to be another challenge altogether.

Though the doctors and nurses on this floor shouldn't have reason to come into her room this late at night, with no emergency to attend to, the door slowly opened. A blonde haired woman with round glasses entered, dressed in a nurse's uniform. She carried a clipboard in one arm, and a syringe in her other hand. For a moment, she just stood there and stared at the sleeping patient. Finally, she approached at the side of the bed.

“Sorry about this, really,” Mira stated, with a soft breath, “but orders are orders.”

Holding up the syringe, she brought the needle up towards Becky's IV bag. The death would look like natural causes, nothing to trace it back to her or Jeremiah. Before she could deliver the contents into the bag, however, a firm hand gripped her shoulder, turning her around sharply. A man stood there behind her, a man with a long cap and armored suit.

“I really wouldn't do that if I were you,” Red Robin stated, shaking his head.

“Who-”

She never got a chance to finish her question, as a sudden blow to her neck forced consciousness from her in a matter of seconds. As the world went black, she slumped to the floor in a motionless heap; she'd be out for hours. Red Robin gazed down at the unconscious woman for a brief moment, then relayed the message over his comm.

“Ravager, don't know if you're getting this even with the signal amplified, but if you are, Rebecca is safe.”

---

Jerry glared down at Ravager, quickly putting the pieces together in his head. “That's why it took so long to get through the tunnel, isn't it? You told your friend about your situation while I couldn't hear you... I assume he's at the hospital right now?”

“Oh yeah.”

“And the other one...”

“Covering Holly. Sorry, but you got nothing on me now.”

Jerry's eyes narrowed. “Clever girl...”

“Oh and one more thing-” Ravager's smirk grew wider, as she turned herself around to grab Jerry's foot. “-that energy blast just now? Didn't really hurt that much.”

With a hard yank, she pulled the man's leg out from under him. He stumbled, pinwheeling his arms for balance before finally crashing to the floor, allowing Ravager a moment to flip herself back up to her feet. Jerry scrambled back up to his own feet in attempt to get away, but she instead promptly greeted his face with her boot.

“Oh I am going to enjoy this,” she said, grinning madly.

“Hugo!” Jerry called crawling backwards with his hand pressed to his jaw.

Strange already had the energy gun raised and aimed. This time, however, Ravager was more than capable of dodging the incoming shot. She sprinted at the man, bringing her leg up and knocking the weapon from his hands, then followed up with another blow aimed at his head. Before her boot could connect, however, Strange leaped backward, flipping away in an impressive display of acrobatics.

“Fancy moves, Professor.”

“I've spent years going up against the Batman,” he replied. “What did you expect?”

“Fair point, I suppose.” Ravager charged at him again with renewed focus. “Too bad it won't help you.”

This time, Strange defended himself, trying to go hand to hand. It was biggest mistake he could have made. In seconds, she broke through his guard and delivered a hard shot to his head that put him on the floor, dazed. That was good enough for her, for the moment.

“Now, where was I?” she said, turning to look for Jerry.

He was running across the lab now, heading for a small red button on the wall. With too much distance between them, she couldn't stop him from hitting it, triggering a loud, blaring alarm. Frowning, she chased after him, grabbing her swords on the way by. She beat him to the exit, body-checking him into the wall and then crossing her blades over his neck.

“Going somewhere, Jerry?”

He glared at her, expression calming. “You won't kill me, Rose.”

Ravager frowned. “Oh, and what makes you say that?”

Swinging one of her weapons, she cut open a long gash across his arm. He recoiled, falling backward and clutching at the bleeding wound. His sudden cry of pain was so very satisfying.

“You used me,” she said, jaw tightening, “made me steal for you, made me hurt people who didn't deserve it. You threatened the people I love. You nearly killed Rebecca! What makes you even think that I'll let you off this time?”

“Because, Rose...” he explained, lips curling into a grin. “I'm not out of tricks yet.”

On cue, the wall behind her burst open in a shower of debris. Stepping through the newly created hole was a large, hulking monstrosity of pure muscle.

Jerry's grin grew wider. “I believe you remember Blockbuster?”

Ravager stared back at the beast, their gazes meeting. A brief moment passed before Blockbuster roared and then charged at her.

Crap.

As Blockbuster lunged in with a swinging, overhead strike, Ravager leaped backwards out of the way. This could get problematic. She still hadn't forgotten her last fight with this guy, which she had barely won. Fortunately, she was in better condition this time around... slightly.

“I could have sworn I killed this ugly b**tard,” she muttered, ducking under another attack and leaping back out of range. Remaining close to him for extended periods of time was suicide; she needed to pick her strikes and make them count.

“You did,” Jerry said, wrapping a cloth tightly around his bleeding arm. “So I made another. Now, you two play nice.”

On that note, Jerry ran back to Strange's workstation and grabbed the gene splicer. The device emitetd a steady hum, vibrating rapidly. He quickly took out a glass vial from the center compartment and slipped it into a medical injector, then sprinted out of the lab as fast as he could, leaving a trail of blood splatters behind him.

“No you don't!” Ravager yelled, evading another attack.

She leaped forward, planting her hands on Blockbuster's shoulders and flipping behind him. With one swift motion, she swung one of her swords across the back of his ankles, slicing clean through both Achilles tendons. Blockbuster howled, falling to his knees and struggling to get back up. It was useless, though; he couldn't stand anymore. Taking a step back, Ravager briefly looked down at her bloodied sword, a smirk snaking across her face. Last time, her swords barely left a scratch.

“Thanks for the upgrade, Dick.”

---

Jerry pushed out the entrance of the abandoned building, hand clenched firmly around the medical injector he'd taken from the lab. He took in a few deep breaths, gripping his slashed arm tightly as he hurried across the street to his car. Though Blockbuster was a formidable bodyguard, Ravager already proven once that she could defeat him. She likely wouldn't be kept busy for long.

Before he made it even halfway across the street, the door to the building burst open, revealing a very angry, very hateful Ravager. She stood there, breathing in deeply with a vicious scowl on her face. Jerry paused only momentarily, looking back at her and then quickening his pace.

“Get back here!” she called, chasing after him.

A grunt burst from Jerry's lips, as Ravager drove her boot squarely between his shoulder blades. He plummeted forward, losing his grip on the injector. Sliding violently across the pavement, he could only watch as the device clattered several feet away, out of reach. Before he could make any move to get up, Ravager's knee buried into the back of his neck, pinning him against the ground.

“Well played, Rose,” he uttered, breathing deeply. “Well played. I suppose this is the part where you kill me, yes?”

“It should be... but death is too good for you.”

“Oh really?” Jerry lifted an eyebrow, lips pursing with curiosity. “It wasn't too good for Pavoni.”

“Pavoni was scum!” she shrieked, digging her knee in harder against his neck. “You're just... not even worth it. I think you'll enjoy prison, though. I hear Blackgate is lovely this time of year.”

“Blackgate? I'm afraid that's in Gotham, my dear. A bit outside your jurisdiction.”

“Trust me,” she said, coldly, “I'll make it happen.”

“And what are you going to put me there for?” he asked. “You don't have anything on me, at least nothing you can use without revealing your secret.”

“No?” She lowered her lips next to his ear, smirking. “I'm sure the police will find something when they get an anonymous tip to check out your hidden facility.”

At this comment, Jerry frowned. That frown then quickly turned into a pleased smile, followed by a soft chuckle. “Once again, Rose, well played, indeed. I was right, you are a worthy opponent. In spite of everything against you, still you managed to find a way out of it and stop me.”

“Yeah, I'm great like that.”

“Do you remember the last time, when I let you live after your victory over Blockbuster?”

“I haven't forgotten.”

“I told you to consider it a reward, because your efforts were deserving of it,” he explained. “I think the same applies now, don't you?”

Furrowing her brow in confusion, Ravager eased her knee up slightly, not pressing down on his neck quite as hard. “What are you talking about?”

“I mean, you deserve another reward. For stopping me here tonight, I'll call off the orders against Rebecca and Holly. They won't be bothered again, you have my word.”

“And why the hell should I trust your word?”

“Because, Rose, I enjoy this.” He turned his head slightly to look at her, eyes flickering with delight from behind his broken glasses. “You make life very difficult for me and my plans, but that doesn't upset me, no. You provide a very entertaining challenge, and I wouldn't change it for anything. Call it keeping the status quo.”

Ravager narrowed her gaze. “That is the dumbest logic I've ever heard.”

“And yet it is the truth,” he assured. “If you're looking for a more logical answer, however, I can say that I have no real desire to die just yet. If I go and kill your loved ones, well... you're not exactly a saint like Batman, are you?”

“Okay, fair point. This doesn't change anything, though. I'm still sending you to Blackgate.”

Jerry grinned. “I'm looking forward to it.”

As she removed her knee from the back of his neck to pull him up from the ground, his gaze shifted forward, coming to focus on the medical injector he'd dropped when she took him down. The vial at the center of the injector was empty.

---

Rose stood quietly out in the hallway, just outside of Becky's hospital room. She'd been there for hours now, waiting for Becky to wake up, but it didn't matter how long it took. She had called in to work sick that morning, so she had the entire day. Letting out a long yawn, she lifted up her cup of coffee to her lips to take a sip, arm trembling rapidly.

“Sorry about that,” a voice announced.

Glancing up, she noticed Tim approaching, his hands stuffed into his pants pockets. He was referring to her shaking arm, a lingering result of the massive electrical shocks she had suffered the previous night at his hands.

She merely shrugged, lowering her coffee cup. “Likewise.”

And of course she was referring to his black eye, bruised jaw, and split lip. She hadn't been holding back when hitting him last night, so her blows had left behind quite the noticeable after effects.

“Don't worry about it,” he said. “I've had worse.”

“Of course,” she said, taking another sip of coffee. “So where did Batgirl run off to?”

“She's already back in Gotham, had to return the Bat-Jet.”

“Ah, right, right...” She paused briefly, holding a hand to her opposite elbow. “Tim, I... thanks, really. If you guys didn't come...”

“Look, don't worry about it.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, nodding. “You were in a rough spot and you needed help. That's what we do, we help our own.”

“Doesn't mean I can't thank you for it.” She paused again, lifting up her shaking to finish the last bit of coffee in her cup. After tossing the empty cup into the trash can, she folded her arms around her chest and leaned back against the wall. “So, uh... how are things back at the tower?”

Tim shrugged. “Pretty normal, I suppose, at least now. It took a while after Bart's death before things finally. calmed down again... but we've worked through it. Got a couple new members now.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” he said. “We managed to contact Bombshell and Static, and both decided to rejoin the team.”

“Hmph.” Rose narrowed her gaze slightly, lips pursing. “Keep your eyes on that Bombshell, she's trouble.”

“She'd say the same about you.”

A small smirk came to her face. “Yeah, I know.”

Another brief pause followed, broken only by the steady ticking of the clock on the wall behind them, and a few faint voices coming from farther down the hall.

“Listen, Tim... I don't think I ever got a chance to say this before I left last time, but...” She bowed her head, sucking in a deep breath and closing her eye. “I'm sorry. For what happened to Bart, I... I made a mistake. A bad one, and it got a lot of people hurt. I should have listened to you.”

Tim leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms and breathing outwardly. He didn't say anything yet, instead allowing her to finish her thoughts.

“It's just... he was my friend, too, and I didn't want him to die anymore than you guys did,” she continued. “But I'm responsible for it, and I have to live with that fact. I'm sorry for everything, for screwing up the mission, for getting Bart killed, for... well, I'm just sorry, alright?”

“I know you are, Rose,” Tim said, giving her a stern look. “But you didn't have to leave the tower like that. We could have worked things out.”

Rose scoffed. “Please, I heard you guys talking. No way Wonder Bi... uh, Cassie, was going to let me stay. Even if you didn't make me leave, she probably would thrown me out a window herself. I just saved you the trouble of having to deal with that.”

“Things have calmed down since then, believe it or not.”

“Right, so she doesn't still want to punt my head off?”

Silence.

“Yeah, thought so,” she muttered.

“You could still come back, you know,” Tim suggested.

Rose shook her head. “And deal with all that drama? No thanks. Besides, I have my own life now, and it's one I intend to keep.”

Taking in another breath, Tim nodded to her. “I understand, and I'm glad you're building your own life. I think it's good for you.”

“Yeah, right,” she sighed. “Still got a lot of things to work on though... but thanks.”

“You're welcome, Rose.” He gave her another brief nod, then slowly headed back down the hallway. “I'll see you around. Don't be afraid to call if you ever need anything alright?”

“I'll try to keep that in mind,” she said, waving. “But yeah, see you around.”

Chapter #26

Becky let out a long groan as she awoke that morning. Yawning, she brought a hand up to rub her eyes, quietly wishing she could just fall back asleep again. The pain her chest grew by the second, throbbing harder with each breath she took. She might have been healing, but the pain still sucked something awful.

Her woes were forgotten, however, when she realized that she wasn't alone in the room. Blinking a couple of times, she noticed Rose sitting there in the chair next to her. “Hey... shouldn't you be at work?”

“Took the day off,” Rose said, smiling. “Thought I'd spend it here.”

Sitting up straighter, Becky let out another yawn, wincing a little at a sudden flare of pain. “Didn't have to go and do that.”

Rose shrugged. “I wanted to. Besides... I wasn't gonna let you be alone on your birthday.”

“Say what?" Becky uttered, blinking her eyes in confusion.

“March third, right? That's your birthday.”

“Oh Dios, is that today?” Slapping a hand to her forehead, she chuckled softly. “Oy, I've lost all track of time since I've been in here.”

“Well that's why you have me, right?” Rose said. “To remember these things for you.”

Becky laughed, holding her arms up to her chest and crossing them. “Si, couldn't imagine where I'd be without you. So, guess I'm twenty-four now, ah? Funny, don't feel any different.”

“Probably because you've been high on painkillers for the past week.”

Becky laughed again, smirking widely. “Might have something to do with it, yeah.”

“So, I got you a little something here.” Leaning over the side of her chair, Rose reached for a small white box and brought it up into her lap.

“Oh come on, you didn't need to do that,” Becky said.

“Actually, this I did,” she insisted. “You'll see when you open it.”

Becky took the box from Rose and set it in her own lap now, giving it a curious look before gently opening it. Inside was a small vanilla cake with 'Happy Birthday' written in icing. When she saw it, Becky's mouth went into a wide smile, eyebrows lifting up.

“I figured you'd probably prefer a birthday cake over a 'glad you're not dead' cake,” Rose explained. “It's not much, but-”

“No, it's great,” Becky said quickly. “Really, this is... thank you.”

“Also gotta be better than the crap they're feeding you here, right?”

Becky grinned. “Ha, very true. Not sure I could stomach anymore cleverly disguised TV dinners.”

Rose reached down to pull out a couple of plates and some plastic utensils, then handed them over to her partner to cut the cake. Becky did so gladly, more than eager to dig in to something that wasn't hospital food.

“Oh, and more good news,” Rose announced. “We caught the guy who shot you.”

Becky's eyes went wide. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, he should be on his way to Gotham now to await his trial.”

Becky furrowed her brow, confused. “Why Gotham?”

“Because that's where Blackgate is, and I didn't want that b**tard going any place else,” she said.

“And how'd you pull that one off?”

“I pulled some strings.”

Lifting an eyebrow, Becky tilted her head curiously. “You pulled strings?”

Smirking, Rose took a bite of cake. I have a few connections up in Gotham.”

“Ha, I had no idea,” Becky said, with a grin.

Rose stayed there with Becky for the better part of the day, eating cake and talking about recent events, mostly about how things were going down at the station. The place hadn't really been the same ever since Becky wound up in the hospital, and everyone was looking forward to her return. When their conversation eventually shifted to The Blade, however, Rose fidgeted uneasily in her seat.

“You guys any closer to catching her yet?” Becky asked.

Rose shook her head. “Can't say we are. She's uh... she's a slippery one.”

“Guess that's alright, we'll work on it when I get back, ah?” Becky grinned. “Maybe we can bring her down together.”

“I don't know if we'll even have to worry much about her anymore,” Rose insisted.

“And why do you say that?”

“Just a feeling, I guess,” she said, shrugging softly. “The only reason we caught the guy who put you here was because of an anonymous tip that led us to him.”

Becky paused a moment, crossing her arms over her chest. “And you think she's the one who tipped you?”

“Maybe.” Rose slowly averted her gaze, breathing outwardly. “I mean, it's possible, right?”

“And I suppose her little crime spree helped her to 'tip' you?” Becky shook her head. “Doesn't make sense if you ask me.”

“I know, was just a theory,” she said. “Just wondering if maybe she isn't as bad as we think she is.”

“Well, the only way to find out is to catch her, then, right? Find out who she is, have her answer some questions.”

“And then lock her up for her crimes?”

“Maybe.”

A soft sigh left Rose's lips, as she leaned back in her chair again. “Guess we'll find out if we ever catch her... anyway, I gotta get going. I have to be at the school in thirty minutes to pick up Holly.”

“Tell the kid I said hi, ah?” Becky said, nestling gently against her pillow.

“I'll bring her back here and you can tell her yourself, how's that sound? I'm sure she'll want to wish you a happy birthday, too.”

Becky smiled. “Works for me.”

---

Rose sat on the edge of her bed later that night, just staring at the back wall, where all of her Ravager gear was displayed. She took in deep breaths, thinking carefully. Though she'd been here before, contemplating the same thing, this time it felt like a much more important decision, much more real. Should she continue trying to help this city outside the law? Should she keep donning her costume and going out at night?

Sighing, she glanced down at the floor, gaze narrowing. It would certainly be a hell of a lot more difficult now with the police actively on the lookout for her. Sure, she stopped much more crime than she could just acting as a police officer, but was that really worth it? There was a lot wrong in Silverstone, a lot that needed to be cleaned up, but maybe she should concentrate on doing it within the confines of the law...

But if I do that, then people like Jerry won't ever be caught, she reasoned. Acting as Ravager lets me do the things I can't as a cop.

Still, though, every time she went out as Ravager, she wasn't just putting herself in danger, but everyone close to her, too. If someone else learned who she was, they could go after Holly, or Becky, just like Jerry did. And next time, she might not be as lucky. Next time, someone might end up dying. But at the same time, the more crime she stopped overall, the safer a place Silverstone became for all of them, right?

Letting out a frustrated groan, Rose fell back onto the mattress, staring up at the ceiling now. Why did this sort of decision have to be so damn difficult to make? There were pros and cons no matter which way she went, none seemingly outweighing the other. So what exactly did she do about it?

A break, she decided. That's what I need, a break. The Blade needs to disappear for a while. Then... well, we'll see.

Perhaps after an extended period away from her mask, she'd have a clearer head on the matter. Then, she could make a real decision.

---

Jeremiah Belmont sat quietly in the back of a police transport vehicle, as it rumbled down the highway, his wrists and ankles cuffed together. He had had his doubts, but Rose pulled through on her threat to send him to Blackgate, with his trial now taking place in Gotham. With the amount of evidence they had turned up at his laboratory, there was no doubt that he'd receive quite a hefty sentence. That was, of course, only if he ever made it there, which he wouldn't.

He held his hands up, glaring at them while he attempted to gain control over his newfound 'gift'. He had had just enough time to inject himself with Hugo's finished sample before being assaulted by Rose and brought in. However, getting it to work was a different can of worms altogether. All he needed to do was concentrate, will it to happen... and it should happen. So far, though, nothing. Letting out a small breath, he looked up to the small, barred window between the prisoner's section and the driver's section of the vehicle.

“How much longer until we reach Gotham?” he asked.

The officer in the passenger seat glanced over his shoulder, narrowing his eyes. “What's it to you?”

“Merely curious, is all.”

“Couple hours,” the officer said. “Think you can shut up for that long?”

“Of course, officer.”

He returned to staring at his hands. Still a decent amount of time left to figure this out. He just needed to concentrate. A few more uneventful moments went by, and then it finally happened. His fingers began to quiver and change shape to how he pictured. Caught off guard by the sudden transformation, he lost focus and his fingers return to normal. That was good, though, he was finally starting to get the hang of it.

For the next solid hour, he continued practicing, going completely unnoticed by the two officers in the front of the vehicle. After he grasped the initial hook, advancement came quickly. Every minute that went by, he gained astoundingly more control over his ability, until he was certain that he had it nearly mastered. Now, it was time to act. Turning in his seat, he brought one hand up to the dividing wall between him and the front, placing a finger against it.

Instantly, his finger elongated, hardened, and sharpened into a blade-like structure, puncturing through the wall and piercing the officer in the passenger side through the throat, with the sudden, sickening sound of flesh being ripped open. The officer in the driver's seat screamed out in shock, jerking the steering wheel harshly and trying to pull over on the side of the street. Jerry pulled his finger back and returned it to normal, as the fatally wounded officer twitched and gurgled on his own blood.

After coming to a complete stop on the side of the highway, the remaining officer pushed his door open and rolled out of the truck. He stumbled briefly, hand going to his gun as he ran around the back to open the doors to the prisoner's section. When he did, he pointed his gun at Jerry, who sat calmly at the back with his hands folded.

“What did you do, huh? “ the officer asked, his hands shaking nervously. “The hell did you do?!”

“Me?” Jerry lifted an eyebrow. “What could I have possibly done from back here? I'm cuffed, unarmed, and have no way of defending myself, let alone attacking a man through solid steel. What makes you think it was me?”

“Don't f*ck with me! I know it was you!” The man's finger twitched against the gun's trigger, threatening to fire any second. “What are you, some kind of meta freak?”

Jerry grinned. “Would you like to find out?”

“What are you-”

The man never got a chance to finish his sentence. Jerry pointed his arm forward, the entire limb extending the distance between them in an instant, while forming into the shape of a spear and piercing the officer through the chest. He then altered the shape slightly, wrapping it around the man's body and pulling him inside the vehicle. When Jerry's arm returned to normal, the officer crumpled to the ground, already dead. Jerry took a moment to examine himself, impressed at his newfound gift.

“Fascinating,” he uttered. “Now, let's see what else I can do.”

Altering the shape of his arms and legs, he easily slipped out of the cuffs. Then, kneeling down at the dead officer's side, he placed a hand against the man's face, closed his eyes, and concentrated. The top layer of his skin began to liquify, dripping over the the cop with the texture of liquid metal, and then slowly reconfiguring the man's facial structure. In moments, the officer had a new face, a very familiar face: he had Jerry's face.

Standing up again, Jerry's own face began to morph, obtaining the consistency of liquid for a moment until finally settling on something new, a face of his own creation. Now with a brand new appearance, he quickly worked to exchange clothing with the man. He gave the officer his suit, then reapplied the same injury to match the clothes with the wound. Then, he dressed himself in the officer's bloodied uniform; he'd have to do something about finding cleaner clothes later, but for now this would do. As far as anyone coming across the scene would be concerned, Jeremiah Belmont was dead.

Hopping out of the back of the truck now, Jerry glanced both ways down the highway, watching the traffic go by. He received a few stunned expressions from the drivers who happened to look over and see the big red stain on the front of his uniform, but there wasn't anything they would do about it. Turning from the highway, he began to head down the nearby embankment, into the surrounding woods. He wasn't returning to Silverstone, though, no. He'd meet Rose again, he was sure of that, but in the meantime, he had some work to do.

---

Six weeks later...

Becky took in a deep breath, wincing only slightly at a small twinge in her chest. The pain was mostly gone, but every so often it was enough to make her flinch. Still, now that she was back near a hundred percent, she could finally return to not just work, but her life. It felt good to be out of that stuffy hospital.

As she walked down the hallway, whole groups of her fellow officers stopped to greet her, some clapping, others calling out to her, and all of them telling her how glad they are that she was back and that she made a full recovery.

It took her about twenty minutes to get down to the women's locker room because of the frequent stops, but she didn't mind. She was glad to be back, just as much as they were to have her back. When she did eventually reach the locker room, she opened the door to find a few other female officers getting ready for the day. They took a few minutes to greet her the same as everyone else did, then continued changing into their uniforms.

Becky walked over to her locker, glancing around a little. It was strange for Rose not to be hear yet; she was usually early. Must have got held up in traffic after dropping Holly off at school, or something. When Becky sat down on the bench in front of her locker, however, a friendly arm reached around her shoulders. Looking up, she saw Rose standing there next to her and smiling.

“Welcome back,” Rose said.

A broad smile of her own quickly formed across Becky's face. “Good to be back, believe me. I couldn't stand another second of that hospital.”

“I know the feeling.” Rose laughed, taking her arm off Becky's shoulder, sitting down in front of her own locker. “So listen, I was thinking, since you were stuck up in the hospital on your birthday, maybe you want to go out and do something later on? You know, as an official birthday... thing.”

Becky raised her eyebrows in surprise. “You're suggesting we go out?”

“Yeah, we could, I don't know, go bowling again or something,” she said. “Whatever you want.”

“Okay, who are you and what have you done with Rose?”

“Very funny. So what do you say?”

“Please, girl,” Becky said, spreading her lips into another wide grin, “you had me at bowling.”

Rose broke out into a small, yet very pleased smile of her own. “Meet you around eight?”

“Sounds perfect.” Becky closed her locker door, standing up and buttoning her uniform. “Now come on, I want to get out on patrol already. I can't imagine what you've done to our poor cruiser.”

2 Comments

The Ravager - Game of Assassins (#14-19) 2nd Edition

Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy/Ruby, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer, Officer Stevens, Officer Harrow, Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all its interior locations of my own creation.

Rating: T+

Note: The third arc in my Ravager series to be remastered into prose format and edited to make it better.

My Fan-Fic Archives: http://www.comicvine.com/myvine/ravager4/ravager4s-fan-fic-archives/87-79374/

Chapter #14

Six months.

It seems like a long time, but if you don't pay attention, it goes by in the blink of an eye. For Rose Wilson, those six months went by even faster. It had been difficult, at first, adjusting to her new life, trying to juggle looking after Holly with working more than eight hours a day and fighting crime as Ravager. For a while, she honestly couldn't understand how Dick, as Batman, did the same thing, but eventually she'd fallen into a routine that she stuck to: get up early, make breakfast, get Holly to school, go to work, take a lunch break to pick up Holly from school, take her to a sitter, go back to work, go back to pick up Holly after work, return to the penthouse, make dinner, spend some quality time with Holly, put her to bed, set the security system, head out and beat up thugs for most of the night, come back and sleep for a few hours, then get up and do it all again.

It was, quite simply, an astoundingly hectic and tight schedule. However, Rose wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. For the first time in her life, she felt like she actually had, well, a life of her own. She wasn't living in anyone's shadow, she wasn't the sixth wheel on some team, and she certainly wasn't being controlled by a manipulative, b**tard father. So what if her weekdays were busy and chaotic? At least her weekends were completely free, allowing her to catch up on sleep and spend even more time with Holly.

When Rose had first decided to take in Holly, it had been out of sheer desire to want to do something good for the girl. She hadn't known what she was getting herself into, raising a kid, nor had she realized how much she would end up liking her. Something about Holly just made her happy, put her at ease. Holly truly was a sweet, nice, and adorable young girl, who just happened to have been thrust into a horrible situation. In many ways, she reminded Rose of Lian Harper, the girl who she had been a nanny to for a short while, several years ago. Deeply hidden maternal instincts? Perhaps. Whatever it was, Holly always had a way of putting a smile on Rose's face.

Sitting at the kitchen table, Rose sipped from a cup of coffee while reading the newspaper (two things she never thought she'd be doing, least of all at the same time). Her eye focused on a front page headline that read: 'The Blade Sighted Again, Breaks up Mugging.' Yeah, 'The Blade'. It was the media's nickname for her, ever since she'd begun frequently showing up as Ravager. Originally wasn't a prominent concept these days.

A short while later, Holly shuffled into the kitchen and hopped up into a seat at the table. She swung her legs back and forth, smiling.

“Well, look who's finally up and about,” Rose said, lowering the paper. “Finish your shower?”

Holly responded with an earnest nod.

“And you got all your homework done yesterday, right?”

Another nod.

“Then I suppose you'll be wanting your breakfast now, huh?”

The girl's smile widened, as she nodded yet again.

A friendly smile of her own curled onto Rose's face. “Alright, alright, hold your horses.”

One of these days, she really needed to get around to teaching Holly sign language. Head nods and written messages could only go so far. Getting up from her seat, Rose walked over to the stove to dish out the already prepared eggs and bacon, pretty much the only real breakfast foods she could cook without ruining. She had tried pancakes once, but that didn't turn out so well, and her sausages somehow ended up rock solid. Of course, she always had cereal on standby, for just such occasions.

Returning to the table, she set the big plate of food down right in front of Holly. “Alright, so I should still be around to pick you up at the same time as always to take you to Mrs. Silva's. Today's my first 'real' day on the job, though. No more training, no more being babysat by an FTO, I'm all on my own now. Well, and my new partner, of course.”

Swallowing a mouthful of eggs, Holly tilted her head slightly, holding it against her hand and nodding affirmatively.

“Just remember to wish me luck,” Rose said, crossing her arms and smirking.

The girl gave a quick thumbs up this time, mouthing the words 'good luck'. Rose had no doubt that Holly was really trying to say the words, yet completely unable to make a sound with her vocal cords surgically cut. For a while, Holly had been completely devastated to learn that the condition was not temporary, and that she would never be able to talk again. In time, though, she moved on, recovering from the initial anxiety.

That was another thing Rose adored so much about the girl: her strong will. In spite of everything that had happened to her with Pavoni, somehow Holly found a way to stay happy. Both she and Dick had assumed that Holly would need therapy to get through the experience, but to their surprise, she coped in her own way.

“Alright, kiddo, finish up your breakfast and let's get going,” Rose insisted, dumping her dirty dishes into the sink. “If we don't leave in the next five minutes, we'll probably get stuck in traffic. Your backpack is by the door, and your lunch money is on the counter.”

Polishing off the last bit of food, Holly then scampered out of the kitchen to finish getting ready for school.

“And remember to brush your teeth!” Rose called.

Listen to yourself, Rose, you sound like a real parent. Totally bizarre.

---

Four months of eight hour a day training, and two months of supervision under a field training officer, that's how long it took Rose to earn her spot on the SCPD. The Silverstone Central Police Station had hired her shortly after a recommendation by Dick, a former police officer himself. It had been largely due to his word that she had been able to start training so quickly, and of course her new identity helped, too. The worst thing that a background check brought up on her now was that she had graduated high school as a B student. Today marked her first official day on the job, however, as a full-fledged officer, no longer a trainee. A rookie, sure, but at least she doesn't have to endure an FTO breathing down her neck anymore.

There were two primary reasons that she and Dick had settled on this career choice for her. One, it gave her a chance to do a different kind of good, when she wasn't stalking the city streets at night, in costume. And two, it allowed her access to a lot of resources that she would not have access to otherwise, which could only aid her in some of her side 'investigations' as Ravager.

Sitting calmly in the middle of the women's locker room, Rose closed the door to her locker and took a brief moment to make sure that her uniform was in order. Belt, check. Radio, check. Cuffs, check. Gun, check. Badge, check. Flashlight, check. Baton, check. Taser, check. Everything else that went on her belt... check. Hat... hat...

Where the hell is my hat?

She opened her locker again, peering inside to see if she had accidentally forgotten her hat.

A brief moment later, she was interrupted by a lightly accented, female voice “Looking for this?”

Pulling her head out of her locker, Rose turned to see another officer, a Latina woman, standing behind her. The woman was tall, perhaps four inches or so taller than Rose, with long, naturally coiling hair and tanned skin. She was pretty, too, her body tight and toned, the kind of woman that any guy would kill for.

Rose blinked, gaze moving from the woman herself to the standard issue police hat that she was holding. “Uh... that mine?”

“Si,” she replied. “Was on the floor under the bench; you must have knocked it off.”

“Damn it,” Rose grumbled, taking the hat from the woman. “Figures. Thanks, though.”

Taking a moment to tie her long white hair back into a ponytail, Rose then slipped the police cap atop her head.

“So, you Sarah Walker?” the woman asked.

Rose blinked, confused. “Hm?”

“Sarah Walker. That's you, right?”

Sarah, right, that's me. New Identity.

“Oh, yeah, sorry,” Rose said. “I'm Sarah, but you can call me Rose. Everyone does. It's my, uh... middle name.”

“Well, Rose, pleasure to meet you,” she replied, holding a hand out to shake. “Name's Rebecca Chavez, but you can call me Becky.”

Rose gripped the woman's hand firmly, shaking. “Chavez? So you're my partner, huh? Nice to have a face to go with the name.”

“I saw your marks from the training course, you know,” Becky said, opening her own locker to begin changing into uniform. “Highest I think in the last decade... at least in the field. Your written tests, though... not so good.”

“What can I say? I'm more of a hands on kind of girl.”

A small laugh escaped Becky's lips, as she buttoned up the top of her police uniform. “That's good, so am I. Never liked tests much, couldn't stand them in high school. Hell, I might have gone loco if I'd gone to college.”

Rose folded her arms, tilting her head to the side. “You never went to college?”

“Nah, my family could never afford it,” Becky explained. “I took a year off after high school, worked a few odd jobs, then decided to do something good with my life. Got myself hired here, went through training, and been on the force ever since. That was about... oh, four and a half years ago or so.”

“So that makes you, what, twenty-three?” Rose asked.

“Twenty-four in a couple months.”

“So shouldn't you still have an older partner?”

Becky shrugged, slipping her own police hat onto her head. “Had one, sure, then he went and got himself transferred over to the second precinct. Was working solo for a while, then they assigned me to the new bisoña, the rookie. But what about you, ah? You don't look old enough to have been through college, either.”

“Same story; out of high school, worked some... really odd jobs,” Rose muttered, pursing her lips thoughtfully. “Then I found myself here.”

“So that makes you pretty young then, ah?”

“Twenty, next month.”

According to my new birth certificate, anyway.

Becky's eyebrows lifted, an amused laugh bursting from her lips. “Oh Dios, you're practically a baby! Got a lot to learn, you do, but not to worry; I'll teach you everything you need to know.”

---

Rose sat passenger side in the police cruiser, while Becky drove carefully through their designated patrol area, consisting mostly of Midtown and some of the East District.

Tapping her fingers against the side of the door, Rose gave her partner a sidelong glance. “So, you get to drive, huh?”

“Of course I get to drive, girl,” Becky replied, flashing a playful smirk. “I'm the senior officer, aren't I?”

“Well, I suppose if you want to go by that logic,” she muttered.

Becky snorted out a soft laugh, looking at Rose from the corner of her eye. “Don't worry, I might let you drive sometime. Eventually. Maybe.”

A small, amused smile gradually formed its way onto Rose's face. As much as she had never been a 'people person', this woman was already starting to grow on her.

“So, Chief told me about your situation,” Becky said, resting an elbow against her open window. “Single mom?”

“Uh, something like that.” Rose paused, rubbing the back of her neck softly. “I mean, she's not mine, but I look after her; legal guardian and all. Her name's Holly, great kid.”

“Oh yeah? How'd she end up with you, anyway?”

Rose shrugged. “She just doesn't have anyone else. It was chance that I even met her, let alone got to know her well enough to want to look after the poor girl. She was in foster care before, but... well, it didn't work out for her. She went through a lot of crap.”

“Ah,” Becky said, slowly shaking her head. “Pobrecilla.”

“Pobr... what?”

“Poor thing.”

Rose lifted an eyebrow, arms crossing over her chest. “I'm not gonna have to hire a translator to stick in the backseat, am I?”

A slight smirk curled across Becky's face. “I'll try to keep it at a minimum, promise. Anyway, you heard about this 'Blade' character running around at night?”

“Ah, yeah, I think so,” she said. “Read about it in the papers... some nut going around with swords and fighting crime, right?”

Becky nodded. “Si, and it seems like every time she shows up, no one gets a good look at her. Gotta say, the mystery is intriguing.”

“You think?”

“Sure,” Becky said, with an absent shrug. “Mystery always makes for a good story.”

“I sense a 'but' coming.”

“Ha, so there is.” Becky sat up straighter in her seat, turning the squad car down another street. “I mean, I think it's great that someone out there wants to do some good, you know? But that isn't the way to go about it.”

“And what about guys like Superman, or Wonder Woman?” Rose questioned. “Should they be going about it a different way?”

Becky shook her head. “It's one thing to have super powers. It's another thing entirely for an ordinary person to be dressing up in a costume and running around the city at night with swords. She'll get herself or someone else killed real soon.”

“Batman might disagree,” Rose said, smirking softly to herself.

“Well... okay, maybe there are some exceptions,” Becky admitted, clearing her throat. “But guys like Batman, they've proven themselves. And this isn't Gotham, either; Silverstone doesn't really need someone like him.”

At least as far as you know, Rose thought. But there's a lot going on in this place that the police aren't aware of... case in point, Pavoni.

A few moments later, their police radio went off. “We have a 211 in progress over at 324 Turckott Street, requesting immediate response.”

Becky quickly lifted their car radio to her mouth. “Copy that, dispatch, we're on our way.” Flipping on the lights and siren, Becky turned the cruiser around and began heading back down the street in the proper direction. “A robbery on your first day, think you can handle it?”

Rose grinned, leaning back calmly in her seat. “I'm pretty sure I'll manage.”

---

The door to Marchini's Italian Restaurant opened, revealing a finely dressed woman in a fur coat. Her name was Emilia Marconi. She strode calmly across the floor, heading straight for one of the tables in the back, the only table with anyone seated at it. In fact, the entire place was closed right now, something they had taken care of ahead of time.

At the table were two other men, one aged and balding, the other younger with a neatly trimmed goatee. Both were dressed in clean suits, the older gentleman in blue, and the younger in black. She knew them both well; the older one was Rupert Thorne, and the younger Frankie Baldoni. Both of them being the heads of rival crime families, however, she didn't particularly like them. In fact, she rather detested them. Today, though, they were meeting on neutral terms.

“Emilia,” Thorne greeted, sitting up straight in his seat. “Good of you to finally show up. Can I offer you anything to drink?”

“Skip the pleasantries, Rupert,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him. “Let's just get down to business.”

Thorne shrugged, folding his hands in front of him. “Very well. So, I should assume we all know why we're here?”

“Yeah,” Frankie muttered. “That new cape in town, the one everyone's calling 'The Blade'. She took down one of my smuggling trucks last week, lost the shipment.”

“And she caught my son last month breaking into the local jeweler's,” Emilia added.

Thorne lifted an eyebrow in confusion. “I thought you hated that boy.”

“Don't get me wrong, Jonathan is a real screw up,” she assured, “but he's still family.”

“I see...” Thorne leaned forward, tapping his fingers against the table. “In any case, my point is that we've all been hit by this new 'hero' running around Silverstone, and it doesn't look like she's going to stop any time soon. The whole reason I packed up and left Gotham was to get away from those costumed freaks.”

“So what do you want to do about it, then?” Frankie asked, leaning casually against his elbow.

“Well, that's why we're here,”Thorne said, “to figure it out. For now, I'm suggesting that we set aside our differences and work together on this, come up with a way to get rid of this Blade.”

Emilia paused, mulling over the prospect in her head. “I... suppose I can live with that. For now.”

“Yeah... for now,” Frankie said. “But no funny business, Thorne, you hear?”

“Of course, I wouldn't dream of it.”

Emilia leaned back in her seat, crossing her legs. “Did you have anything particular in mind?”

“Well, I think we can all agree that our families and the people who work for us aren't anywhere near talented enough to take on someone like this,” Thorne said, with a certain mocking truth.

“Hmph, you can say that again,” Frankie said, shaking his head. “This broad knows what she's doing, I'll give her that.”

Thorne lead in closer, lowering his voice. “So, perhaps it might be fitting that we bring in some... professional help.”

Emilia's eyebrows lifted. “You mean hire someone to do it for us? I don't see why you would need us to do that.”

“If my experiences with the Bat have taught me anything,” Thorne explained, “it's that one pro is never enough. But these... assassins, you see, aren't what you'd call cheap. Spending that amount of resources to guarantee the job isn't something I'm willing to do.”

“So what, you want us all to pool our resources and put up multiple contracts on her?” Frankie asked.

“That's one way of looking at it, yes.” A small grin spread itself across Thorne's face. “But I also thought I'd make things a little more interesting than that.”

Emilia's eyes narrowed, arms folding over her chest. “Go on.”

“I propose that we each choose one person, one professional to hire. With three killers on the job, there's no doubt that The Blade will fall eventually. However, we'll each be wagering a fair sum on our guy; the one whose assassin kills her, wins the pool.”

The other two considered the suggestion for a moment. Emilia brought a hand to her chin, giving Thorne a long, careful look, while Frankie lit up a cigarette.

“I will admit,” Emilia said, “that does sound intriguing. How big a wager are we talking, exactly?”

“A hundred grand.”

Frankie nearly choked on his cigarette. “A hundred G's?!”

Thorne's gaze shifted to the younger man. “What's the matter, Frankie, too rich for ya?”

“No, no. It's fine... A hundred it is.”

“In that case, I suppose the next step is deciding who to hire.” Thorne quickly reached into his pocket, removing a small pad of paper and a pen. “I suggest we do it here and know, so no one ends up trying to hire the same person. There are only a handful of people out there capable of taking on a task like this, after all.”

“Very well,” Emilia stated, waving a flippant hand at him. “We'll even let you pick first.”

Thorne grinned writing down a name on pad of paper. He then slid it across the table for the other two to take a look.

Frankie snorted out a laugh. “Come on, Thorne, guns? Really? No way, my guys have gone up against her enough to know that there ain't anyway you're going to take her down with guns. She moves like a demon, I tell ya.”

“Then I suppose you have a better choice?”

“You know I do.” Frankie took his turn to write down a name on the paper, passing it over to the others to see. “With someone like this, subtly is key. A little poison goes a long way.”

“Maybe,” Thorne said, “but only if you can get close enough to her to use it. Now then, Emilia? Your go.”

Giving them both a careful glance, Emilia quickly wrote down her selection and passed the paper back to them. “I believe the direct approach will be the successful one.”

Upon seeing the name, Thorne scoffed out a hearty laugh. “Sure, if you can find her! I don't know anyone with those kinds of contacts.”

Emilia's gaze remained stolid, calm. “You obviously don't know me very well, Rupert.”

“Alright, alright, it's settled then.” Thorne gave them both a careful look, spreading a pleased grin across his face. “You have one week to contact your selections and make the hire. Then... we let the games begin.”

Chapter #15

It had been two weeks now since Rose officially began her career as a cop, and so far everything had been going smoothly. Her partner, Becky, was a lot more fun and interesting than she would have thought, and it made the days go by fairly quickly. There hadn't been a whole lot of interesting events so far during her workday, other than a couple of robberies, pulling over a few speeding cars, and breaking up the occasional domestic disturbance, but she enjoyed it regardless.

A long sigh escaped Rose's lips, as she pulled off her uniform. With the workday over, she was looking forward to spending some quality time with Holly before her bedtime. Then, it was back out on the streets as Ravager. The slums were probably a good place to check out tonight; there was always something shady going down in that region.

As Rose tended to her thoughts, Becky walked through the door to the locker room. “Hey, girl, leaving already?”

Rose glanced up at her partner, while tossing her shirt into her locker. “Yeah, I gotta get going and pick up Holly, soon as I shower.”

“You know, I seriously gotta take you out some time,” Becky said, sitting down on the bench. “I mean, you work all day, then go home and take care of your girl; when do you ever get a chance to go out and have some fun, ah?”

“There's a lot of things going on in my life right now,” Rose said, shrugging calmly. “Fun just isn't one of them at the moment;.”

Becky leaned forward, holding an arm around Rose's shoulders. “Ah, come on, you'll go loco if you never get out once in a while. Even the best parents need to escape from their kids now and then. Should take a night just for yourself.”

“Yeah, and do what?” Rose stood up, unbuckling her belt and stripping out of her pants. “Go to a club? Get drunk and end up in some random guy's bed? No thanks, not my thing.”

“Ha, not quite what I meant,” Becky said, crossing her legs. “That isn't my kinda thing, either. But hey, there's plenty of other things a couple of amigas can do together to unwind, ah? Grab a sitter for the kid one of these days and I'll show you.”

Closing her locker, Rose looked back at her partner. A contemplative sigh slowly flowed from her lips. “I don't know... maybe. I'll think on it.”

“Hey, that's all I'm asking. Open up a little, take it easy, leave the stress of this job behind, that sort of thing.”

Rose gave an ever so slight smile, as she grabbed a towel and headed into the locker room showers. “We'll see.”

---

Rose turned the kitchen sink off, finished with washing the dirty dishes from dinner. She grabbed a dish rag to dry her hands, then walked back out into the living room of the penthouse, carefully looking around. Bringing her hands to her hips, she pursed her lips and exhaled a curious breath.

“Now, I wonder,” she said, taking a few steps forward, “where could Holly have run off to?”

A few moments later, Holly herself appeared, crawling partway out from beneath the coffee table. She lied there for a moment, head propped up against her hands, merely smirking upwards at her caretaker.

Rose folded her arms, returning the smirk. “Oh, thought you could hide from me, did you?”

Holly shrugged, then quickly rolled back under the table.

“Hey now,” Rose said, kneeling down in front of the coffee table, “hiding under there isn't going to keep you from brushing your teeth before you go to bed.”

Lowering her face beneath the table, Rose just managed to catch sight of the girl crawling out from under the other side and then scurrying down the hallway to the bathroom. Letting out an amused breath, she stood back up again and folded her arms again, smiling.

“Just remember to use the toothpaste in the blue container this time. The one in the white container is the one that tastes nasty.”

Holly returned several minutes later, now dressed in her pajamas and seemingly all set for bed. Still, it never hurt to make sure.

“You brushed your teeth and washed up?” Rose questioned.

The girl returned a vigorous nod, indicating that yes, she remembered to wash her face this time. Rose gave her a careful inspection, noting that her face was indeed still a little damp.

“Alright then, kiddo,” she said, patting the girl's shoulder, “off to bed. I'll be there in a minute.”

Once Holly left for her room, Rose returned to he kitchen to pour a glass of water. Then, she made her way back down the hallway into he bedroom, where Holly was waiting there for her, settled in beneath the covers.

“And here's your water.” Rose placed the glass on the bedside table and smiled. “Just don't drink too much, you don't want to be getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.”

Holly playfully rolled her eyes, as if the thought that she could make that kind of mistake was simply ridiculous.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Rose took in a small breath and placed a hand to the girl's shoulder. “Okay now, before I tuck you in, let's go over the rules again.”

She hated having this discussion every night, but it was the only way to ensure that Holly remembered it down to the letter, especially considering the nature of the situation.

“If for some reason anyone other than myself is trying to get into this apartment, you stay in your room and lock the door, then use your phone to call me immediately,” she explained. “The security system will take care of everything else.”

Holly nodded affirmatively, taking careful note of every word.

“And if I'm not back in the morning, what do you do?”

Reaching over to her desk next to the bed, Holly pulled up a piece of paper with something written on it. She pointed at the writing firmly, bringing a smile to Rose's face.

“That's right, you call 911,” she said, nodding affirmatively. “Even though you can't say anything, they'll trace the call and send an officer over. You just let them know that I went out the previous night and never came back, they'll take care of it. You can also call them for any other emergency.”

Holly smiled again, giving a thumbs up.

“Good, now get some sleep. You have a big math quiz tomorrow.”

Leaning closer to the bed, Rose lifted the blanket farther over the girl to tuck her in. Before she could get the blankets properly fitted around her, however, Holly lunged upward and wrapped her arms tightly around Rose.

Rose blinked in surprise, a smile coming to her face as she returned the hug. “Night, Holly, sleep tight.

---

A large box truck sat motionless outside the old, run down building in the back alleys of Silverstone City's slums. A group of young men busily carried large brick-like packages of white powder from the building to the truck, loading everything neatly but quickly. One of them, a twitchy guy by the name of Dave, periodically looked over his shoulder while he worked.

“Come on, Jim, hurry up,” he urged, quickening his pace. “We shouldn't be out here.”

His friend gave him an odd look, eyebrows lifting. “And when else were we going to do this, in broad daylight?”

“It's not that, I just mean... you know, she's out here,” Dave said. “Somewhere. Probably watching us right now.”

“Well that's the whole point, isn't it? Quit being a baby and stick to the plan.”

The two men threw up their load to the guy standing in the back of the truck, then hurried back towards the building to get more.

“I still can't believe you signed us up for this.” Dave glanced over his shoulder again, scanning the shadows. “I mean, a buddy of mine, name's Marco, he came across her a few weeks ago while on a job. She broke his jaw! He'll be eating through a straw for who knows how long, and then he'll be in court and-”

“Oh would you just shut up already?” Jim groaned. “Starting to give me a headache. Just quit worrying about it; it's not like we're here to fight her or anything.”

“But what if she catches us? What if she-”

“Like I said. Stick to the plan, and everything will work out just fine. You want to earn that hundred bucks I was talking about? Then keep working.”

They returned outside a moment later, now carrying another bundle each. When they got halfway to the truck, however, movement atop a nearby rooftop caught Dave's eyes. He turned suddenly, staring upward. Most of the structures in this area weren't very tall, three stories at the most, and overall the city was built more like Gotham than, say, Metropolis. Still, whatever he saw a second ago, it wasn't there now. Thinking that it must have been a stray shadow, he uttered a long sigh and continued his work.

A mere second later, though, a figure jumped down from the building behind them, landing just beyond the illumination of a nearby street light. She waited only a moment before stepping out of the shadows and revealing herself, drawing one of her swords in the process.

“Greetings, boys,” Ravager said, flipping the blade around in her grasp. “Out a little late tonight, don't you think?”

Everyone immediately turned to look at her, half of them dropping what they were carrying out of sheer instinct.

“Sh*t, I told you, man!” Dave shouted, turning tail and running. “Move!”

Without any hesitation, every single one of the men turned and sprinted in the opposite direction. They didn't even bother to save any of their stash, leaving the entire truckload behind. Ravager stood there for a few moments, staring blankly.

“What the...” she muttered, utterly dumbfounded.

Normally, the crooks she came across at least made an attempt at attacking her. After all, why should a group of men with guns be afraid of a single woman with swords? Half a dozen guys running in the other direction at the first sight of her, on the other hand... that was a first. Instead of chasing them all down, though, which would have been far too tedious and annoying a task, Ravager focused on the truck and the cargo that the men left behind.

I wonder what the reaction would be if I parked this thing right outside the station...

Moving forward, she eyed one of the fallen packages and noticed that one of the corners had torn open when it hit the ground, leaking out a small portion of the white powder inside. Kneeling down, she carefully inspected the substance. Something seemed a bit off about it... it wasn't as white as cocaine, and it seemed a bit thicker, as well. Curiously, she tapped one of her fingers against it and lifted it up to her lips, licking off a tiny taste.

Flour? She blinked back at the powder on the ground, thoroughly confused. Why the hell were they moving flour disguised as cocaine?

She never got a chance to think any further on that question, though, as her precog suddenly flashed through her head, this time showing an incoming bullet ripping through the back of her neck. Reacting instantly, she dove to the left, just as a loud gunshot split the quiet of the night.

BAM!

A brief second later, another flash went through her mind, forcing her to scramble out of the way again, as yet another gunshot followed. This went on for several more shots, until Ravager finally threw herself behind the truck, blocking the shooter's vision.

Those guys were never moving anything, she realized. They were just trying to draw me out. And whoever's shooting at me now is using a sniper rifle aimed at this position, if my visions are anything to go by.

As she contemplated what action to take next, yet another precognitive image flickered through her head, but this time she didn't see a gunshot.

“Sh*t!” she exclaimed, lunging forward from her position.

She sprinted for the nearby alley, making it only several feet before the truck exploded. The resulting impact forced her from her feet, rocketing her through the air. She crashed into a pile of trash bags halfway down the alley, but at least she was out of view from the shooter now. Rolling out of the trash, Ravager climbed back to her feet and brushed herself off.

Okay, two things, she thought, looking back down the alley. First, I can't run back the way I came, or I'll be dodging bullets again. Second, I need to figure out exactly where those shots are coming from so I find the b**tard shooting at me.

Reaching down to a small button on her belt, she clicked it and then waited. Another one of her new upgrades included a homing beacon connected to her new mode of transportation. Within a short few moments, the hum of the high powered engine reached her ears. Moving out the back end of the alley, she looked to her right to see the new bike rolling up, currently acting on autopilot.

This thing wasn't just an ordinary motorcycle, no, this one has been geared up specifically to act as her crime fighting transportation. The frame was sleek, extending down around the wide tires close to the ground, and built from a bulletproof alloy. When riding it, she was closer to lying down than sitting up, offering superb control over the beast of a machine. And the engine... well, the amount of horsepower between her legs put her in a very happy place.

“Alright, mystery man,” she said, climbing aboard her ride and switching back over to manual control, “let's see where you're hiding.”

Before taking off, however, she hit another button on her belt, this one connected to the built in micro computer installed in her new mask. Instantly, a small HUD appeared in front of her eye, projected on the inside of the mask's eye lens. With another click of a button, she set it to scan for sound waves. One advantage of having Batman as a friend, it came with a lot of neat toys.

With that taken care of, she gunned the engine and lurched forward, driving straight back down the alley and out the other side. In seconds, she was back on the main street, flying in the direction that the gunshots had come from. Her precog went off again, and she swerved slightly to the side in response. Another gunshot, this one deflecting off the side of her vehicle. Her lens HUD flickered, focusing in on the sudden burst of sharp noise.

Just a couple more now, come on.

A second gunshot rang out, the bullet embedding itself into the bulletproof glass of her windshield. The scanner focused again on the burst of sound, getting closer to pinpointing the location. Rose began swerving around traffic in complete control, never in any danger of striking another vehicle. Of course, some of the drivers didn't exactly take too kindly to the apparent close calls, but she ignored them.

Then, a third shot. She swerved sharply to the side this time, causing the bullet to drill straight into the street pavement. Finally, the scanner pinpointed where the shots were coming from, a small red target on the HUD focusing around the top of the tallest building ahead of her, the old clock tower.

Gotcha.

---

Ravager sprinted up the spiraling stairwell, which led all the way up to the top of the clock tower. It was an old building, no longer in service. The only reason that workers still maintained it was because it had come to be admired for its aesthetics, a long standing part of the city dating back in the early 1900's. For that same reason, it hadn't been demolished yet, sticking around as a sort of landmark from Silverstone's past. Right now, however, it was the site where her shooter had holed up in, taking his shots.

Because it was such an old building, however, it didn't have an elevator. With the thing being about thirty stories tall, even Ravager was growing fast annoyed at having to run up the entire stairwell. She slowed up a little when she neared the top, listening, readying herself. Waiting a few moments longer, she quietly opened the door and slipped inside.

Ravager kept to the shadows, gazing up at all the massive gears and other machinery that once moved the large dials of the tower. They weren't moving now, though, as the clock itself no longer worked. Leave it to this city to keep the building around to look at, but not function. Making her way up to the platform in front of the clock face, she looked around carefully, not finding anything out of the ordinary. She was definitely in the right place, though; this was the only location where the shooter could have had sights on her in the slums, and on the main road coming through Midtown.

Noticing a portion of window pane removed from the clock face, she moved over to it and gazed outside carefully, squinting into the distance. She couldn't even see where she had been in the slums, not with her naked eye alone. One thing she could admit, whoever this shooter was, he knew what he was doing. Even with a high powered scope and rifle, making such accurate shots in quick succession was impressive. This definitely wasn't some street gang thug, this was a professional.

Guess I caught someone's attention, she thought, moving away from the window. Too bad he packed up and left already.

As she turned to head back out of the tower, however, her precog went off again. She dove to the side, flipping down off the platform as another gunshot ripped apart the silence. Immediately, she looked upwards to see someone standing there on one of the massive gears, a man wearing an odd body suit and silver helmet, equipped with a red optic lens over the right eye.

The man let out a frustrated breath, glaring coldly at her. “That's the last time you make me miss, sweet cheeks.”

“Oh, I wouldn't count on that,” Ravager said, taking a defensive stance. “So, who are you supposed to be?”

“You can call me Deadshot,” he replied. “Better known as the man who's about to put a bullet between your eyes.”

“That so? Alright then... give it your best shot.”

Deadshot paused, tilting his head to the side. “That supposed to be some kind of pun?”

“Maybe.”

“Well it ain't funny.” Raising an arm, Deadshot pointed one of his wrist-mounted guns at her. “Sweet dreams.”

Chapter #16

Deadshot fired, aiming right between his target's eyes. Unfortunately for him, Ravager reacted much too quickly, already moving out of the way by the time he pulled the trigger. He clenched his jaw, scowling. Each time she dodged, each time she made him miss... it was like she was purposefully mocking him.

“You can't jump around like that forever,” he said. “Just hold still and make this easier on yourself.”

Another shot went off, as Ravager ran behind a large iron pillar, then ducked beneath one of the large clock gears. “What's the matter, can't handle a target that's faster than you?”

Moving across some old scaffolding, Deadshot gazed carefully into the shadows below. His optic lens switched over to thermal mode, tracking heat signatures now. He spotted her shortly after and raised his weapon again, firing twice. Again, she was gone before either bullet got there.

Rose carefully crept behind another large piece of machinery. “Bit of a quick shot, I see. That's okay, a lot of guys have that problem.”

She raced across the floor, darting in behind various pillars, machinery, and gears. Though he clearly had a way of seeing in the dark, she could still find a way to get to him without him seeing her. Judging from his sudden ceasefire, it seemed that he'd already lost her, as she made her way behind his position. Within a few moments, she began silently climbing up on the scaffolding behind him.

“You're a bit more impressive than I would have thought, I'll give you that,” Deadshot said, taking a few steps forward and gazing over the edge of the platform. “I don't think I've ever met a target who made me miss this much... but then, I've also never met a target who can see the shots before they happen.”

Ravager stopped a moment, remaining silent so she didn't give away her position. Glancing upwards, she spotted a well placed gear overhead and swung up to it, quietly.

“That's your secret, am I right? Some kind of sixth sense, or something? Like ESP. I'd just call it super speed, except that you still dodge even when you don't know the shot's coming.” He stopped moving momentarily, raising his weapon. He was listening, carefully. “That, and speedsters don't need a bike for transportation, so you couldn't be one of those. It's a neat trick, I'll admit, but you're not the only one with tricks.”

Ravager carefully moved into position, now poised close behind and above him. She bent her legs and crouched low, waiting for the right moment. He began moving again, turning his back fully to her.

“Take this bodysuit, for example. It's not just for the protection, or even the fashion. It also enhances my senses. Like my sight, my reflexes...”

When Deadshot paused again, Ravager made her move, lunging through the air straight at him.

“And my hearing.” Spinning around, he raised both his wrist guns at her. He grinned, knowing that he'd just caught her in midair with nowhere to go. Gotcha.”

He got off six shots, three from either gun, before she crashed on top of him. They both rolled back a bit across the scaffolding, until he finally kicked her off and sent her crashing down through a lower platform. Ravager finally landed with a thud on the ground below, coughing out pained breaths. The impact from the fall, as well as the six shots that hit her center mass, had knocked the air from her lungs in a hurry. Groaning, she rolled over and picked herself back up.

Feels like I just got hit by a train...

Her upgraded armor was the only reason she was still alive, or at least not in critical condition. Had she been wearing her old armor, it would have been six shots straight through the heart, but the new materials had stopped the bullets from penetrating. Still, she could feel the result of their impact, every movement causing a stabbing pain in her lungs.

But she couldn't let a little pain bother her, not right now. Another shot went off, her precog alerting her of it just in time. Grunting, she threw herself out of the way and rolled behind a pillar, taking cover.

“Fancy suit you got yourself there,” Deadshot said, flipping down from the scaffolding and landing at ground level. “My rounds are designed to pierce simple body armor, yet yours stopped 'em all cold. Makes me wonder where you got your hands on it.”

Ravager took in a few deep breaths, each one causing her to flinch at a sharp pain in her chest. Can't drag this out anymore. Gotta end it quick.

“Doesn't make a bit of difference, though; just have to shoot your exposed neck, is all.” Deadshot took a few careful steps forward, scanning the darkness for signs of his quarry. “Don't know what it is about you crime fighting loonies that makes you leave the lower half of your face exposed, but I'm not one to complain about an easy target."

Though his footsteps were mostly quiet, Ravager could hear the creaking of old wood beneath his boots; he was getting closer. Time to make her move. Rolling out of cover, she sprang up to her feet and charged him, at the same time drawing one of her swords. Her chest throbbed, but the adrenaline pumping through her allowed her to ignore the pain for now.

“Dumb move,” Deadshot said, taking aim at her throat this time.

When he fired, however, she leaped upwards and flipped over the bullets. Deadshot quickly raised his aim, following her motion and taking another shot; this one hit her armored suit just below her neck. In the same motion, Ravager swung her blade, forcing Deadshot to roll out of reach. Landing on the other side of him, she crouched low, teetering on her feet. She clutched at the new pain exploding near the top of her torso; again, the bullet didn't penetrate, but it hurt nonetheless.

Deadshot straightened himself again, turning to his opponent. “Nice try, but you missed.”

“Not exactly,” Ravager said, sheathing her blade. “I wasn't aiming for you.”

Glancing downward, Deadshot raised his hands to see that both his mounted guns had been cut clean in half, rendering them useless. “ Son of a-”

His voice cut off by Ravager's fist impacting the front of his helmet. He staggered backwards, another punch smashing into his face. A third blow, a kick to the gut, sent him tumbling head over heels across the floor. He grunted out a pained breath, staggering back to his feet and holding his head tightly, fighting the ringing in his ears. When he finally looked back at his opponent again, he caught sight of her sprinting at him, sword drawn again.

“Looks like we'll have to finish this another time,” he grumbled, ducking beneath a pipe and scurrying off into the darkness.

Ravager contemplated chasing after him, but only briefly. The moment she attempted to pursue, she staggered forward again from the throbbing agony in her chest. She wheezed, taking in deep breaths and uttering a few hoarse coughs.

Another time, then. Looking forward to it.

---

Rose stood in front of her bathroom mirror, costume removed and lying haphazardly on the floor. Lifting up her white undershirt, she carefully inspected the result of the gunshots. Even through the bulletproof armor, the shots had left behind an immense series of large purple and blue bruises that bled into each other. Tenderly, she pressed a couple fingers against her chest, flinching instantly.

“Sh*t...” she muttered, pulling her shirt back down.

Opening the medicine cabinet, she grabbed the bottle of painkillers inside. She didn't know how else she was going to be able to fall asleep and get up in the morning, if every time she breathed it felt like someone was stabbing her chest. Releasing a long sigh, she dragged herself back into the bedroom and sat calmly on the edge

Deadshot is a professional assassin, one of the best in the world... So, who hired him? And why do they want me dead?

Also, with Deadshot getting away, it meant that she hadn't seen the last of him. He'd be back, eventually, and she'd need a better strategy than the last one or things might not go as well as they did tonight. Holding a hand to her head, she breathed outwardly and shut her eye. She could think more on this tomorrow, because right now she needed rest. After removing her eye patch and placing it on the desk next to her bed, Rose collapsed against the mattress and quickly fell into a deep sleep.

---

Rose sat on the edge of the bench in the empty women's locker room, half stripped out of her clothes. She needed a moment to catch her breath; the bruises were worse today than they had been last night, and just breathing was a pain in the ass, let alone getting up and walking around. Rubbing a hand gently across her bare chest, she flinched, another knife-like pain exploding beneath her skin.

Suddenly, the locker room door opened. Frantically, Rose reached for her uniform shirt, trying to pull it around herself in time. But she was too slow.

“Dios mio!” Becky moved quickly around the side of the bench, pulling back Rose's shirt for a better look at the bruises. “Girl, what the hell happened?”

“It's nothing, really, I-”

“Oh no, don't you go saying it's nothing,” Becky said, giving a stern look. “Who did that to you, huh? Boyfriend? Ex-boyfriend? Let me know and I'll beat their sorry asses to-”

“No, whoa, slow down there,” Rose insisted. “Nobody did this to me, honest. You really think I'd let someone get a hand on me like that? Come on, they taught us more than how to slap on a pair of cuffs in training.”

Becky slowly began to calm down. “Well, yeah, but... still doesn't hurt to ask. Sorry, it's just- I mean, it looks serious, is all; had me worried. So what did happen?”

A small sigh brushed past Rose's lips, as she buttoned up her shirt. “Just a little... car crash, no big deal. Wasn't paying attention and I ended up swerving into a pole to avoid a dog. The bruising is just... from the seat belt, and the airbag.”

Becky's eyebrows lifted, arms folding across her chest. And you wonder why I'm the one who drives, ah?”

“Sure, make all the fun you want,” she said, smirking.

“Just glad to hear it's not abuse.” Becky lowered herself to the bench, leaning forward to open her own locker. “My sister went through that once. B**tard nearly put her in a coma.”

“Sorry to hear that...” Rose fidgeted slightly, pulling her belt around her waist and buckling it firmly in place. “Don't have to worry about me, though. Men are the furthest thing from my mind right now.”

Lifting an eyebrow, Becky gave her a sly look. “Ohhh, not big on the men, ah?”

“Let's just say I have a long history of failing miserably at relationships,” she said, snorting out a small laugh.

“See, this is why you need to get out more.”

“Yeah, well... I said we'll see.”

Becky flashed a smile, standing up to change her pants. “So you did.”

When the two women finished changing into their uniforms, they headed out of the locker room and back out into the main part of the station. While Becky waved to some fellow officers and stopped a few times to make some small talk, Rose was caught deep in her own thoughts about the previous night. She needed to think of a way to not only find Deadshot again, but learn who hired him. Her detective work might be shaky at best, but she still did have an idea.

“Say, Becky,” she said, casually broaching the subject, “you ever heard of a hit man called Deadshot?”

“Uh... doesn't ring any bells, no,” she replied, scratching her head. “How come?”

“Saw on the news that someone sighted him in the Silverstone the other day. Was wondering if it's something we should look into.”

Becky paused a moment, thinking carefully. “Strange... I didn't see that story. And you'd think information like that would have come by the station... but if it is true, I suppose it would be worth checking out.”

“Can you get us his file from the national databank?”

“Sure,” Becky said, with a small shrug. “Might take a few hours to put in the request, but we should have it after lunch.”

Rose nodded. “As long as we get it.”

“You have that look in your eye...” Becky stated, lifting an eyebrow.

“Just coming up with a plan, is all.”

---

Becky stopped the cruiser just outside of Marchini's Italian Restaurant, across the street. She looked over carefully, watching some of the patrons eating through the big glass window. “You sure this is the place?”

“According to this, yeah,” Rose responded, double checking the files in her grasp.

First, the file on Deadshot, aka Floyd Lawton. Scanning down through his list of known clients, her eyes fell again on one specific name: Rupert Thorne. That was the connection. Rupert Thorne, a former crime lord, had moved to Silverstone after serving his prison term. Moving on to Rupert Thorne's file, she read through his information, specifically regarding his activities in Silverstone. Having been such a prominent figure of crime so many years ago, the police and other agencies still kept tabs on him today.

“Yup, says he frequents Marchini's Italian Restaurant, 127 Pleasant Street,” Rose informed. “Comes in for lunch every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday.”

“And today is Wednesday.”

Glancing up from the files, Rose glanced up and down the street. A few moments later, she caught sight of an older man in a blue suit, his hair grey and thinning.

“There he is,” Rose said, pushing the squad car door open. “Wait here, I'm going in to ask him a few questions.”

---

Inside the restaurant, Rose walked up to Rupert Thorne's table. She moved gingerly, keeping the pain in her chest at a minimum.

“Rupert Thorne?” she said, standing in front of the table

The man glanced up at her, his eyes just visible over the top of the menu. “Yes, can I help you, officer?”

“Just hoping you could answer a few questions for me,” she explained, sitting down at the table across from him.

“Of course,” Thorne stated, eyes returning to his menu. “Anything you need.”

Rose cleared her throat, folding her hands in front of her. “Does the name Floyd Lawton mean anything to you? Also goes by Deadshot.”

“Afraid I can't recall.” Thorne reached for his glass of water, lifting it to his lips and taking a small sip. “I've met a lot of people over the years, and I have a hard time remembering them all at my age. You understand.”

“That so?” she said, lifting an eyebrow. “Well, then it might surprise you to know that you hired him on a couple of occasions before.”

“Ah, did I now? Well, I'm sure he was a fine employee, but-”

“He's a contract killer, Mr. Thorne.”

Slowly lowering his menu, Thorne glared at her. Apparently, the amnesiac old man routine wasn't going to work this time around. “Fine, sure, I know him. What do you care, though? That was a long time ago.”

“According to my sources, he was sighted in the city recently,” Rose answered.

“And you think I had something to do with it?” Thorne chuckled, waving off the comment. “Officer, I assure you, I didn't hire that man. Haven't spoken to him in near a decade. In case you haven't noticed, I'm on the straight and narrow now; my criminal days are long behind me.”

“That so?” Rose paused a moment, then slowly stood up from her seat. “For your sake, you'd better be telling the truth, Mr. Thorne. If you're not, I will find out, and I will be back.”

Thorne's gaze narrowed coldly at her. “I'm sure you will. Now, if that's all, I'd like to eat in peace. Good day, officer.”

That's about all I can do for now, she thought, pushing through the front door of the restaurant. But tonight... tonight, I'll find out what you're hiding, Thorne.

---

Three hours. That's how long it took for Thorne to finally leave his apartment. Rose leaned against the parapet of the adjacent building, watching the man stepping into his car on the streets down below. She'd been staking out the place for those previous three hours, a mind numbingly boring task. At least the rain held off while she waited, though the dark clouds overhead had grown bigger now, threatening to open up at any moment.

Once Thorne drove off down the street, Ravager made her move. She leaped across the alley to the apartment building's rooftop, then descended the fire escape. When she reached the correct window, she carefully slid it open and slipped inside. The apartment wasn't huge or elaborate, but it wasn't anything to scoff at, either. It was also exactly what Thorne should be able to afford on his current salary. If he was obtaining dirty money from other dealings, he was careful not to show it.

Still, there had be some clues around this place that could link him to Deadshot, or something else. She was very careful in her search, making sure to put everything back exactly where she found it. When she was done here, Thorne wouldn't have any reason to suspect that anyone was ever in his apartment.

An hour later, though, she was no closer to finding a clue than she had been when she started. Whatever Thorne was up to, he hid his tracks well. Standing now in the middle of the apartment, Ravager slowly scanned the apartment one last time, trying to think of another place she could look, short of cutting open the furniture. She didn't get a chance, though, as voices suddenly came from the hallway; one of them was Thorne's.

Darting back across the apartment, she slipped out of the window and closed it behind her, already on her way back up the fire escape by the time Thorne opened the door to his apartment. Ravager looked back down for a brief moment, then leaped across the alley over to the rooftop of the next building. It was raining hard now, a cold wet sheet blowing in the wind and soaking her instantly.

Not going to find anything here, better keep looking. Maybe his office.

Fighting through a dull pain throbbing in her chest, she continued across the rooftop, jumping over to the next one, and then the one after that, and so on. She needed to get back to her bike, then she could head to Thorne's office, across the city.

Before she reached her destination, however, her precog suddenly interrupted her. Falling forward immediately, she slid across the slick, rain-covered roof, as an incoming pair of shuriken whistled above her head. Without any reprieve whatsoever, Ravager flipped herself upwards to avoid a lunging sword strike. The assassin's blade clanged against the roof instead, though it didn't stop there, coming in for another attack. Ravager ducked, rolled, and then slid out of the way until she was far enough back to gain her bearings and draw her own blades.

“Not bad,” the assassin stated, shifting her stance, “but I wonder how much longer you can keep it up.”

Ravager gazed carefully at the assassin, through the rain. The woman was dressed in a green outfit, with an assortment of knives hanging off her belt, and a sword scabbard strapped to her back. The most striking feature about her, though, was the white mask over her face, in the form of a grinning cat.

You having to be kidding me, another assassin? And why does this one feel so... familiar?

The woman charged forward again, sword prepared to strike. “Let's find out!”

Chapter #17

The assassin charged quickly through the driving rain, swinging her blade with expert precision. Ravager stepped to the side, parrying the sword with one of her own and then countering with a strike from her second. The woman ducked below the attack and spun low, sweeping her leg. Ravager jumped over it, delivering a hard kick to her opponent's side. The assassin recoiled slightly from the blow, but quickly recovered. She grabbed Ravager's leg, trapping it between her arm and body, and then kicked upward, knocking one of Ravager's swords away.

I don't get it, she thought, flipping backward to avoid another sword-strike. I've never seen that mask before, but something about this woman feels so familiar. The outfit, the voice...

The two reengaged in a rapid series of sword strikes, parrying, dodging, and blocking the the other. Ravager could sense that this woman wasn't nearly as skilled as she was, nor had any sort of enhancements to give an edge. But the lingering bruises from the previous night made Ravager slow, hampered her ability. When she twisted to the side to avoid another attack, a sudden burst of agony ripped through her chest. She cringed, allowing the assassin to knock away her remaining sword.

Ravager ducked beneath the woman's sword, quickly recovering from her momentary lapse. She spun, sweeping her leg upward and kicking away the assassin's weapon. Not letting up, she pressed her assault, delivering a harsh series of blow to the woman's midsection.

The assassin fell backward, rolling back up to her feet. Without missing a beat she lunged forward, attacking with small metal finger claws now. Her assault was relentless, forcing Ravager on the defensive. Ravager stepped left, then right, then moved in for a counter attack. But another swipe from the woman's claws forced her to awkwardly throw herself to the side. She winced, feeling one of the claws rake across her exposed neck. The cut wasn't deep, but it stung something awful

Ravager took a step back, ducking below another attack, and then kicked her leg straight upwards. The assassin's head snapped backwards, boot caroming off her jaw. She tumbled to the ground, landing with a huff as the white cat mask flew from her face. The woman groaned, holding a hand to her head and staggering back to her feet. When Ravager saw her face, however, a wave of revelation hit her like a train.

“...Cheshire?” she uttered, lowering her guard. "Jade?"

Though it had been nearly five years since they last met, there was no mistaking the Vietnamese woman with long, silky black hair standing before her. For a time, Ravager served as a nanny for this woman's daughter, Lian Harper.

Cheshire blinked at her, eyes narrowing. “Do I know you?”

Reaching up to her head, Ravager pulled her mask off, exposing her face. “It's Rose. You probably don't remember me, but-”

“You were Lian's nanny...” Cheshire breathed, eyes slowly widening. It had been a long time, but her memory was sharp. She paused, lowering her gaze to a nearby puddle. “So... you are my target?”

“Looks like it,” Rose said, folding her arms. “But why? I heard you gave up this business after...”

Cheshire continued averting her gaze, looking absently to the side. “You mean after my daughter died?” A stone dead silence fell over the two for a moment. “So I fell back into it. A woman has to live, right? This is what I'm good at.”

Rose's gaze softened. “I used to think that the only thing I was good at was fighting, too. But believe it or not, I've managed to do more with my life than just beat the crap out of people.”

“Is this the part where you make your big hero speech, and tell me how I don't need to do this, and that you just want to be friends, and all the other clichés?”

“Not even close,” Rose replied, shaking her head. “I will say that I don't want to fight you, and I don't want to bring you in, but not because I want to be your friend. You're still an assassin, a dangerous one at that, and you're trying to kill me.”

Cheshire lifted her gaze, narrowing her eyes. “So then why are we even having this conversation?”

“Because I know that life has kicked sh*t in your face for a while now, and even you don't deserve that anymore.”

“And what do you know about it?” she snapped, jaw clenching.

“I know that you loved Lian, no matter what kind of life you led, and I know what it's like to lose someone you love.” Rose folded her arms, sucking in a deep breath. “That's why I'm giving you the chance to turn around right now and leave. And maybe reconsider your career path.”

Cheshire paused a long time before responding, slowly lowering her gaze again. “And if I instead decide to finish my job?”

“Then I'll break both your legs and drag you to the police station myself.”

Another cold silence followed, broken only by the patter of raindrops around them and the whistling wind blowing across the rooftop. Cheshire gave a long look, then quietly picked up her sword and sheathed it.

“You helped care for Lian when I could not,” she said, turning her back. “For that, you have my gratitude... I will leave you be.”

“Thanks,” Rose said, giving an understanding nod. “Can you tell me who hired you?”

Folding her arms, Cheshire breathed out a deep sigh. “A man named Francis Baldoni.”

“Is there anything else you can-”

“You have the name, don't push it any further.” Retrieving her mask, Cheshire leaped atop the parapet, looking calmly back over her shoulder before disappearing over the edge. “Goodbye, Rose.”

Rose sighed, hands coming to her hips. Francis Baldoni... well, at least I have a new lead.

As she moved to retrieve her swords, a sudden sharp pain stabbed at her neck. Gingerly, she reached up and pressed a hand to the small the cut, only to let out a yelp of surprise as it burned like fire.

Sh*t, what the hell?

The stinging pain disappeared as soon as it came, however, once she removed her fingers. Taking in another breath, she shook it off and kept moving. She knew she should continue with her new lead, but instead she started towards home. She suddenly didn't feel very well, and she knew that she wasn't in any condition to keep patrolling tonight.

---

By the time Rose made it back to her penthouse and out of her costume, she was struggling to breath. Her chest felt heavy, strained, and not just from the bruises. The cut on her neck burned again, this time refusing to stop, and her vision was beginning to blur. As she tripped her way into the bathroom, the room started to spin.She paused, trying to regain her balance.

Poison, has to be. Cheshire's claws... she must have laced them with something.

Making it in front of her bathroom mirror, she carefully inspected the cut on her neck; it was bright red and swelling, while the blood vessels directly surrounding it were traced in black. That definitely wasn't good. Doing her best to maintain consciousness, she returned to her bedroom and hurriedly put her gear away. Then, she grabbed desperately at her cell phone to make a call.

“911, what's your emergency?” the operator said, voice calm and polite.

“Please.. need...” Rose wheezed, wiping a thick sheen of sweat from her brow. “...send... ambulance.”

“Ma'am, I can barely hear you, you'll have to speak up. Please state your emergency.”

“Just... send a f***ing ambulance... goddamn it.” Rose held a hand against the wall to steady herself, teetering on her feet. “Residential Towers, top floor... suite number H... H356...”

Her grip suddenly loosened on the phone, as her right hand went numb. No, not just her right hand, her entire arm. Falling against the wall, she frantically entered a code onto the security panel, in turn deactivating the alarm system. She lasted only a few more seconds before plummeting straight to the floor, unconscious.

---

Rose awoke suddenly, eye snapping open and body bolting upright. She took in a deep breath and looked around, blinking the blur out of her vision. Judging from the atrociously depressing atmosphere, it looked like she had made it to the hospital. Groaning, she brought a hand up to her neck, pressing it against the poisoned cut from before; she felt only a gauze pad, with tape holding it in place. No pain.

“Rose?” a soft voice uttered.

Turning to the door, Rose swallowed, seeing Becky standing with there a cup of coffee in her hand. Two second later, Becky dropped the cup of coffee and ran across the room.

“Gracias a Dios!” she exclaimed, pulling her friend into a tight hug. “Goddamn, girl, you know how to cause a scare.”

Rose winced, struggling beneath Becky's grasp. “Ow, ow, Becky- hurting.”

“Oh, right! Sorry.” Becky released her grip, taking a step back. She shifted her weight, brushing back a stray strand of hair out of her face and looking away, embarrassed. “My bad, I just- I didn't think you were going to make it.”

“Didn't think... how long have I been here?”

“Three days,” she informed. “You've barely moved the entire time. The doctors, they... well they didn't know if you were going to wake up.”

Panic suddenly ripped through Rose's mind, her eyes going wide. “Three days?! Where's Holly? Is she alright? Who's looking after her?”

“Easy, relax.” Becky came forward, holding her hands reassuringly against her partner's shoulders. “Holly is at Mrs. Silva's right now. I brought her by a few times to see you; she's worried, you know.”

“Mrs. Silva...” she muttered. “Guess I'm going to have to pay her some crazy overtime. But still, no, that's good. As long as Holly's alright.”

“Well she might not have been if you didn't wake up.” Becky's expression suddenly grew cross. “Dios mio, girl, what the hell happened? The doctors said you were poisoned by... something. They couldn't even figure out what it was. They did what they could to keep you alive, but... it mostly came down to just hoping the poison ran its course and you pulled through. Luckily, it was a very small dosage.”

Rose lowered her gaze. I bet my heightened immune system and metabolism didn't hurt, either.

“I, uh... I don't really remember,” Rose said, shrugging indifferently. “I was in my bathroom and then... I don't know, I just collapsed. Maybe it was something I ate.”

Becky frowned, stepping back and folding her arms firmly over her chest. “Something you ate? And I suppose that cut on your neck just appeared out of thin air? Come on, Rose, don't you do this to me.”

“Do what?”

“Lie through your teeth!” Becky shouted. “Poisoned cuts, massive bruising? Which, by the way, the doctors said could not have been caused by a car accident. What the hell is going on with you, girl?”

Rose tightened her jaw, shifting nervously. “Nothing, really, I-”

“Jueputa!” Letting out a frustrated breath, Becky threw up her hands and began muttering to herself in Spanish. Eventually, she turns back to Rose and pointed harshly at her. “Would you listen to yourself? Do you have any idea how full of it you sound right now? Who did this to you? Who are you trying to protect? If someone's roughing you up and you're keeping it bottled in, I swear-”

“Rebecca, it's no big deal,” she insisted. “I swear, I'm fine.”

“You were just in a coma for three days!” Becky countered. “You're not fine! Whatever it is that's happening with you, it's getting you hurt and... for Christ's sake, at least think about Holly. You think she wants to lose you, huh?”

Rose paused, slowly lowering her gaze. “Why do you care so much about it?”

“Because you're my partner! And my friend. And... and maybe I don’t to lose you, either.”

A long moment of silence passed between them. Rose held a hand to her head, closing her eye and swallowing back a lump in her throat.

“I... I'm sorry,” she muttered. “I just... I'm not used to this, you know? Having someone... care about me like that.”

Becky breathed outwardly, taking up a seat in the chair next to the bed. “Well, maybe I kind of like you, ah? You're a good friend.”

“Right... friends.”

“So you still gonna say you can't remember anything, or are you going to tell me what happened?” Becky asked.

“It... was an old acquaintance.” Rose sighed, folding her arms across her chest. “Not something I want to go into detail about, just some of my past trying to crawl its way out of the gutter.”

Becky narrowed her eyes. “And you went and let him get away with that? Christ, girl, he nearly killed you! Whoever this guy is, I swear I'll have his head for it. You don't get to attack a cop and walk away free.”

“No, don't, really... was just an accident.”

“An accident, right.” Becky's gaze hardened again. “And I'm supposed to buy that? Ni en sueños.”

Rose shrugged. “Believe what you want.”

“So what, you expect me to sit back now and let these 'accidents' keep happening?”

“No, of course not...” Rose said, quickly. “But I wouldn't worry about it anymore.”

“And why's that?”

“Because I took care of it.” Rose gave a stern look, gazing directly into Becky's eyes. “That's all I can say about it, but you don't need to worry anymore. It's done.”

Becky breathed out a long sigh, bowing her head. “Alright, fine. I'll take your word for it.”

“It was a personal issue, Becky... I had to handle it myself.”

“If you say so...” she muttered, shrugging absently. “Anyway, I'm glad you're alright, I really am. Just be more careful, alright? I... don't want to see you in another hospital bed.”

Rose nodded, bowing her head. “Yeah... got it.”

“Guess I should probably let you get your rest now,” Becky said, standing up from her seat. “I took the day off, though, so I'll stick around for a while. I'll be right outside if you need anything, kay?”

“Sure, alright. Talk to you later.”

Smiling slightly, Becky gave a small wave and then finally left the room. Now alone, Rose fell back against the bed and exhaled a long breath.

Just keep spinning your lies, Rose... god, you are such a bi*ch.

Chapter #18

Two days later, Rose was finally cleared to leave the hospital. She honestly could have walked out of there under her own power just fine when she first woke up, but of course the doctors wouldn't let her. Neither would Becky. After all, she could hardly tell them that she was an enhanced metahuman with accelerated healing. At least now, though, she was finally out.

“See, is this really so bad?” Becky asked. “Doesn't kill you to get out and spend some time with a friend, ah?”

“Yeah, okay,” Rose said, curling her lips into a subtle smile. “You were right. I guess this is... nice.”

It was Saturday, meaning that Rose had the entire day free. No work, no errands, and plenty of time to relax. So of course, Becky had been more than a little insistent that they hung out together somewhere other than their squad car, for a change. Right now they simply walked down the sidewalk together, enjoying one another's company.

“And you even got to bring the kid along,” Becky added, turning her head with a smile.

Holly, one hand holding onto Rose's arm and the other holding an ice cream cone up to her mouth, looked up and returned the smile. She liked this Rebecca person; not only was Becky a police officer just like Rose, but she was nice, and friendly, and funny, too.

Becky winked at the girl, then lifted her attention back to Rose. “Like I said, going out and getting drunk, meeting random guys, so not my thing. Sometimes, it's nice just to walk around and enjoy the city. Even better when you're with a friend.”

“Well, I will admit that the additional company is welcome,” Rose admitted.

“Ahh, just welcome?” Becky lifted her eyebrows and grinned, jabbing a friendly elbow into Rose's side. “Come on, you like me.”

“Okay, maybe a little,” she said, a soft chuckle bursting past her lips.

A small smirk curled across Becky's face. “That's what I thought. Now, have you been to the Silverstone Park yet?”

Rose shrugged. “Can't say that I have, no.”

“Dios mio, seriously?” Becky's eyes widened in genuine surprise. “You've been living here for more than half a year and you never once took a walk down to the park? Girl, you really don't get out much, do you?”

“I just... never got around to it.”

“Oy, come on, I'll take you.” Becky grabbed hold of Rose's other hand, tugging her along down the sidewalk.

As the three headed farther down another street, a calm figure watched them from the corner of a nearby building. Holding up a small, ocular device to one eye, the woman focused through the lens to get a closer look, as the image of her target grew larger. After nearly a week of careful planning, observation, and contemplation, she had finally decided to move in.

She had only one question she wanted answered out of the inevitable confrontation: how would this one compare to the others? Emilia Marconi had assured her that the one known as 'The Blade' would be a worthy opponent, one deserving of her skills, but from what she had seen so far, she had her doubts. This 'Sarah Walker' was still very young with much to learn. She could only hope that this whole venture would not be a complete waste of time. Lowering the magnification device from her eye, she stuffed her hands in her pockets and swiftly followed.

---

“So this is nice, right?” Becky asked. “Unless you're one of those people who really hate nature.”

“No, no, it is,” Rose said. “Nice, I mean.”

The park was a natural haven amongst the concrete and steel of the city surrounding it. Open fields, well tended grass, large oak trees, bike paths, flower gardens, a pristine pond, and even a children's playground were among its many attractions, making it an ideal place for stressed out individuals to catch their breath and relax. Rose had never been one for just sitting around and enjoying nature, admittedly, but she still found some weird sense of calm about the place. Becky's positive attitude probably helped a little, as well.

Becky sucked in a deep breath through her nose, leaning back against the bench. “I like coming here, just watching the people go by. Helps pass the time.”

“I guess you weren't kidding when you said you weren't a party girl, huh?” Rose said, resting her elbows on her knees.

“Ha, nope. One hundred percent true.”

Holly, having finished her ice cream cone a few minutes ago, quickly made her way over to the playground, quite intent on having a blast. Rose watched the girl carefully, smirking absently

“I would have thought she'd started outgrowing things like playgrounds by now,” she said. “She's almost ten.”

Becky laughed, a small grin on her face. “Please, you're never too old. Well, except maybe when you're too big to fit down the slides anymore.”

Rose chuckled softly. “Yeah, suppose so. Wouldn't really know, though, was never much of a playground kind of girl.”

“So, even as kid you were a stiff, ah?” Becky nudged her elbow into Rose's side again.

“That's one way of putting it.”

Smirking, Becky sucked in a deep breath. “Mmm... s'a good day, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Rose said, giving Becky a sidelong glance. “Yeah it is.”

---

From across the park, the woman folded her arms, watching the pair. She couldn't make her attack here, not in public, not during the day. Until the proper moment presented itself, she would keep her distance, observing. Several moments later, her cell phone rang. She allowed it to ring three times before finally picking it up to answer; she already knew who it is.

“What is it?” she asked, sounding unamused.

“Just checking in.” It was Emilia Marconi on the other line. “It's been nearly three weeks now since I contacted you.”

“You shouldn't worry; I know what I'm doing.”

“Yes, of course you do,” Emilia said. “I'm simply concerned about your sense of timing, is all. Cheshire may have already ducked out on Frankie, but Deadshot is still on the job,. If he gets to her first, you don't get paid. Remember that.”

The woman remained indifferent, showing no concern over possible lack of payment. “The money doesn't concern me.”

Emilia breathed out a sigh. “Yes, right, your whole sense of purpose thing. I don't suppose it bears repeating that if Deadshot kills her, then you'll never get a chance to test yourself against her.”

“If he kills her,” the woman countered, “then she won't have been worthy of my time anyway. Regardless, I am keeping a close eye on her.”

“Keeping a close...” Emilia paused, understanding slowly coming to her. “Are you telling me you know who she is?”

“Yes.”

“What, how?”

The woman paused, lifting up the ocular device to her eye again, zooming in. Her target was in line at the hotdog stand now. “Figuring it out wasn't difficult. You just need to know what to look for.”

“Well, who is she?” Emilia asked, urgently. “What's her name?”

Saying nothing more, the woman hung up her phone and put it back into her coat pocket. She still had her honor, if nothing else, and handing out a person's secret identity to some lowly crime boss was not on the top of her priority list. Crossing one of her legs over the other, she continued watching.

---

“So, the guys down at the station are pitching in for a cake when you make your big return on Monday,” Becky said. “Just giving you a heads up.”

Munching on her hotdog, Rose let out a small groan and rolled her eyes. “A cake, really? They're not going to buy me one for my birthday next week, too, are they?”

Becky snorted out a laugh. “Oh no, you don't get birthday cakes here. Only 'glad you didn't die' cakes.”

“Sounds thrilling.”

“Oh, it is,” Becky assured, biting into her own hotdog. “But it's okay, we'll do something together for your birthday, my promise to you. I know this great little place over on Levitt Street; best burgers in the city.”

“As long as you don't have them come out with one of those little cakes and sing 'Happy Birthday' to me...” Rose said, slowly lifting an eyebrow.

“Oh please.” Becky grinned, taking another bite of her hotdog. “I would never.”

---

Rose stood in the center of her room, staring down at the Ravager mask in her hands. Though she had put Holly to bed a half hour ago, she hadn't left yet. She'd just been standing there, contemplating, wondering... Was this all really worth it? She knew that she was putting her life at constant risk, knew that every night she went out could be her last. Even with her enhanced abilities, she wasn't invulnerable like Superman, or Wonder Woman. Aside from some increased resistance to blunt force, she still took damage just the same as everyone else. All she did was heal a little faster than normal.

Those facts had never mattered to her before, though. Before, she'd never had anything to lose. She did what she could, and if she got killed then so what? Just another cog in the wheel that needed to be replaced. Now, however, she had Holly. She had a best friend in Becky. She had a job, with people who actually cared about her. She had a life, a real one. If she went out and got herself killed now, she'd be leaving a lot behind, more than she'd ever had before.

It would be easy, too, to just put her swords down and go on with her life, settle down with what she had and simply handle things as the police officer she trained to be, not a vigilante. So, was it worth it? She kept going back to that question again and again, asking it in her head repeatedly. Was it worth going out every night, risking her life, and lying to everyone around her to cover her ass?

The answer finally came to her, when she thought about Holly. If not for Rose's actions, if not for Ravager's actions, Holly's life would still be hell.

Yeah, it's worth it, she realized. No matter how much I have to lie or risk my own neck, if I can help more people like Holly, then it's worth every second... at least for now.

---

The night was quiet. Ravager had made sure it stayed that way during her infiltration, taking out the few thugs patrolling the property with stealth and precision. They'd be out for a while. Now, she stood in the shadows of the master bedroom, near the foot of the bed. Her target, Frankie Baldoni, was sound asleep with his wife, beneath the covers.

Normally, she wouldn't invade a man's home like this and grill him for information with his family close by, but she didn't have much of a choice. Night was the only time she could approach him; she had to do this as Ravager, or she'd give away her identity. If she had the time, she'd dig up some information on him, where he worked, the clubs he frequented, things like that. But the longer she took, the more at risk she was. Cheshire might be off the job, but Deadshot was still out there, no doubt still looking to put a bullet in her head. The next time, he might very well succeed, too.

Moving forward, she grabbed Frankie by the collar and yanked him out of bed. He awoke instantly, just in time for Ravager to force him up against the wall.

“Holy sh*t!” he shouted, eyes going wide. "What's going- who are- oh no, f**k! What the hell are you doing here? What do you want with me?!”

“I want some answers.”

“Answers for what? I don't know what you expect from me, I'm just and honest guy who-”

“Don't jerk me around!” she snapped. “I know you hired Cheshire to kill me. Did you hire Deadshot, too?”

Frankie whimpered, swallowing a nervous lump. “Oh sh*t, she told you I hired her? Backstabbing little c-”

Ravager yanked him forward, then shoved him hard against the wall again, silencing him. “Just answer the question!”

“No, alright?! The only one I hired was Cheshire!” he insisted. “They hired the others!”

At that moment, movement came from the bed. Frankie's wife awoke with a yawn, rubbing her eyes clear. A moment later, she saw her husband being held up against the wall by a psycho woman with swords, instantly recoiling in shock.

“Oh my god! Frankie!” she shrieked. “Put him down!”

“Donna, don't worry,” Frankie said. “Just get out of here. Call the cops or something, just let me handle this.”

Ignoring the woman, Ravager allowed her to leave. It didn't matter if the cops showed up or not, she'd be long gone by then. Besides, with the kind of stuff that Frankie was involved in, she doubted that he really wanted the cops snooping around the place anyway.

“Others?” she questioned. “You mean there's more than Deadshot? How many?”

“Just one, I swear.”

Ravager's gaze narrowed. “And who hired them? Who else is involved?”

“Oh come on, I can't go and-”

In the blink of an eye, Ravager drew one of her blades, bringing the point of it to his neck. The scare tactic worked beautifully.

“Oh god, alright!” Frankie blurted, in a panic. “Rupert Thorne hired Deadshot! The other one is Emilia Marconi, she hired the third.”

“And who is this third assassin?” she asked. “What's the name?”

---

Running across the yard, Ravager quickly scaled over the surrounding wall and landed on the other side, heading across the quiet, deserted suburban street to her motorcycle. Suddenly, however, she realized she wasn't alone. She froze, turning her head and gazing at a nearby tree. She was sure she saw movement. It may have been slight, but it was there.

“Come out,” she said. “I know you're there.”

On command, a shadowed figure stepped out from behind a the tree. It was a woman, Asian with dark hair down past her shoulders, and dressed like she had just stepped out of the Matrix, minus the d**chey sunglasses.

Ravager's gaze narrowed. No question who it was; Frankie had just given her the name minutes ago. “...Lady Shiva”

“Very perceptive,” the master assassin replied. “You're off to a good start, so far.”

Ravager breathed outwardly, folding her arms across her chest. “So, you're Shiva, huh? I've heard of you... just never had a face to put to the name before.”

“Correct,” Shiva stated. “And you are 'The Blade', as the media calls you. Or Ravager, as you are more well known. Also known as Sarah Walker. Or Rose Wilson, daughter of the mercenary, Deathstroke.”

Ravager's eye went wide. “How do you-”

“I've been watching you for a while now, and I like to do my homework before confronting an opponent.”

“Right...” she muttered. “So now you're gonna try to kill me, too, huh?

“Perhaps, if you're worthy,” Shiva said.

“The hell do you mean by that?”

Lady Shiva's arms folded across her chest. “I mean, I have yet to be convinced of your skill. Your father is a man well known for his talents, and I have often wondered which of us would triumph if we should do battle. However, you are yet unproven. Though the scum of this city seems to fear you enough to put a hit out on you, I will be your true test.”

Ravager furrowed her brow, straightening her stance. “A test?”

“The only ones worthy of falling by my hands are the very best fighters in the world,” Shiva explained. “If you fall short of my expectations, I will not give you that honor.”

“You say that like you could,” Ravager muttered. “But please, you're welcome to try.”

“If that is what you wish. But not here. It is too...public. If you follow me, I have a better location in mind.

Ravager pursed her lips, briefly considering the suggestion. “Fine.”

Right, follow the assassin trying to kill you to an unknown location. Brilliant idea, Rose, it's totally not a trap.

Still, something about this woman struck her as trustworthy. Vicious, lethal, and cold blooded, sure, but somehow strangely bound by honor. No, Ravager was sure that Shiva wouldn't try anything funny. Waiting a moment, she watched Shiva walk to a cherry red motorcycle parked nearby. Ravager followed suit, mounting her own bike and gunning the engine.

---

Massive steel beams and girders towered above them, a mere skeleton of a building. A construction site in the middle of Silverstone would not have been Ravager's first choice as a location to do combat in, but apparently Lady Shiva had a liking to it. At least it was private, long deserted this late at night, away from prying eyes. Neutral ground.

“So, what are you waiting for?” Ravager asked, turning to the woman.

Taking a few steps forward, Shiva removed her long coat and folded it neatly, placing it on the ground next to her. Then, she entered a ready, fighting position, body turned and arms stretched out to either side. She said nothing.

Ravager merely raised her eyebrows. “You realize I have swords, right?”

On that note, she drew her weapons and charged forward. When in range, Ravager swung her swords with careful precision, aiming to cripple but not kill. She never got the chance. Before she even realized that she missed, Lady Shiva's fingers drilled into Ravager's wrists. A sudden spasm rippled through both her arms, nerves tingling. Instantly, her hands went limp, dropping hold of the blades.

“No weapons,” Shiva said, flatly.

A lightning quick palm strike whipped up and cracked into Ravager's face, sending her stumbling backwards. Though dazed, her precog went off a second later, allowing her to flip away from an incoming kick. Holding her nose, Ravager stared back at the woman, eye wide with shock.

She's so fast, she realized. Can't fight her like I normally do.

“Alright, fine,” Rose muttered, taking a defensive stance. “No weapons.”

Shiva came in fast, pressing her attack with a vicious series of blows. Ravager's precog alerted her of the first couple, but within moments the fight was moving too fast for her mind to keep up, forcing her to rely solely on skill and instinct. While she managed to trade a few blows with the woman for a while, she soon faltered. Shiva's knee plunged against her chest, followed by a leaping kick that cracked her face to the side. Ravager went down hard, catching herself on her hands and knees. She held a hand to her lip, felt warm blood oozing down her chin.

“You're good, but not great,” Lady Shiva determined. “Fast, yes. Strong, yes. But your skill is lacking. In a fight like this, you fall behind.”

“Oh yeah?” Ravager said, springing back to her feet. “Well this fight isn't done yet. Keep it coming.”

And so Shiva came in again, unleashing another brutal assault. This time, Ravager was ready for it, waiting for her precog to flash the first time and then countering instantly. Her fist connected viciously with Shiva's jaw, but at the same time she felt the woman's boot carom off the side of her head. Staggering, Ravager managed to maintain her balance, shaking it off.

Shiva brought a hand to her jaw. A bright streak of crimson gushed from her own split lip. “I will say, you hit hard. That's good, you're starting to impress. A little.”

Glowering at the woman, Ravager regained her poise and lunged in for another attack, leading with a hard kick to the chest. With about as nonchalant an action as possible, Shiva raised an arm to block the kick, then countered with a jab to her throat. Though Ravager managed to move enough to the side to lessen the blow's impact, she still found herself entering a sudden fit of coughing and gagging. She stumbled backwards, holding a hand to her throat and struggling for air.

Shiva didn't stop there, however, rushing forward and throwing a hard punch to her opponent's chin. Ravager stumbled backward, but remained standing. She lashed her hand out, grabbing hold of Shiva's wrist and stopping the next blow cold. Then she reached her other arm forward and took hold of Shiva's other wrist, locking her up with superior strength.

“Okay, now-” she said, smashing her head forward into Shiva's nose. She followed with a spinning kick to the head, dazing the master assassin. “-you're really starting to p*ss me off.”

Shiva fell to a knee, holding herself up with one hand on the ground. Her other hand pressed against her now very broken nose, which gushed bright crimson over her lips. “Better. Much better.”

“So-” Ravager cracked her knuckles, grinning slightly. “-am I worthy yet?”

Shiva straightened herself, once again shifting into a ready stance. “We shall see.”

What followed could only be described as a brutal, unrelenting, even-sided beat down. The two women came in at each other again without mercy, engaging in a long series of lightning quick attacks. They each traded blows, taking turns in smacking the other around. Though Ravager landed fewer strikes, hers hit a lot harder, backed up by meta level strength. Still, with as much damage as she inflicted, she took the same in return.

After what seems like an eternity of prolonged combat, both women landed a vicious blows to each other's jaw, sending them both stumbling to the ground. Taking in deep breaths, Ravager pushed herself back up to one knee, spitting out a glob of blood. Shiva, too, rose to her hands and knees, gasping for air.

“It appears... I may have underestimated you,” the master assassin uttered, her breaths short and raspy.

Ravager wiped her lips clean, slowly returning to her feet. “Told you...”

“That means I can end this now,” Shiva stated, taking a few careful steps forward.

Ravager held her guard up, prepared to defend against whatever the assassin has planned. For a long moment, they both just stared at each other. Then, Shiva struck without warning, throwing her hands forward viciously. Ravager saw it coming; she blocked the strikes and attempted to counter with one of her own, but Shiva had anticipated it.

Leaning to the side, Shiva evaded the blow. Then, with a punch that traveled nearly too fast for the naked eye to follow, she exploded the points of her knuckles against her opponent's sternum. Even through her armor, Ravager felt the blow go straight through her, bringing with it sudden pain that sent her hobbling backwards with a hand pressed to her chest.

“What... the hell...” Ravager uttered, dropping to her knees. She doubled over heaving several times before finally vomiting up a mouthful of scarlet, blood showering the ground. She coughed several times, spitting out the last of it, and then very slowly rose back to her feet. Her legs trembled, feeling like jelly.

“That was merely the precursor,” Shiva stated, raising a hand. “Now, for the finishing blow.”

Taking in a deep breath, Shiva lunged forward, her palm flat and fingers extended. With a fierce yell, she thrust her hand forward, the tips of her fingers aimed straight at her opponent's throat. This was the killing strike, the leopard blow. Ravager blinked, bringing her shaky arms up to defend herself, but at that moment her precog went off. However, the flash that flickered through her mind didn't show her own imminent death at the hands of Shiva. Instead, it showed something else.

Adrenaline surging through her body, Ravager threw herself forward and tackled Shiva to the ground. A split second later, a gunshot went off, the bullet ricocheting off a stone on the ground. Immediately, Ravager grabbed Shiva and dragged her safely behind a rubble pile. Several more shots went off, until finally all was quiet again.

“Ya know,” Deadshot said, looking down from his spot high above on one of the steel girders, “that's really starting to get annoying. Come on now, ladies, can't hide forever. I got a bullet for each of you; one for the paycheck, and the other for the b*tch trying to steal it.”

Chapter #19

Ravager took in a deep breath and glanced around the side of the rubble pile. With Deadshot here, things were definitely more complicated, especially if Shiva decided to keep fighting her. She turned her attention back to the master assassin, ready to make a move just in case. However, Shiva sat calmly against the ground, a hand pressed to her bloodied shoulder and a scowl on her face.

“He interrupted our fight,” Shiva said, coldly. “I hate having my fights interrupted.”

Ravager's eye narrowed at Shiva's wound. “You hit?”

“It is minor,” she assured. “I'll be fine. However, I would be dead had you not knocked me out of the way of the first shot. Why did save me?”

“Because I'm the good guy,” Ravager stated. “It's kinda what I do. Now, can you stand or what? We got a madman with a gun breathing down our necks and we're both in bad shape.”

“Of course I can stand.” Pushing herself back up to her feet, Shiva leaned against the rubble pile, taking in a deep breath. The gunshot may have been just a flesh wound, but it was still painful, and she was losing blood.

Deadshot paced calmly along his perch, eying the ground below him closely. “Ladies, ladies, you're not seriously gonna make me come down there, are you? Come on out and give me a challenge, make it interesting.”

“We will need to work together or he will kill both of us,” Shiva stated.

Ravager paused, pursing her lips. “I can agree on that... for now. Don't suppose you have a plan?”

“One of us could draw his fire, while the other climbs the beams up to his vantage point to strike when he is distracted.”

“No, can't sneak up on him.” Ravager lifted her gaze, looking up at the steel girders above. “Believe me, I tried that already. We'll need to bring him down to us, without getting shot in the process.”

Lady Shiva paused, thinking carefully. “Can you keep him occupied for a moment?”

“Uh... I can try, yeah. Why?”

Reaching down beside her, Shiva picked up a long steel pipe with her good arm. She tested its weight, spinning it around casually in her hand. “I know how to bring him down.”

“Fine, just don't miss,” Ravager said, easing towards the edge of their cover. “I don't really feel like getting shot. Again.”

Taking in a deep breath, she darted out of cover, racing across the construction site. She was relying on her precog to keep herself alive here, ducking and rolling and lunging away from the incoming shots before they happened. If not for that ability of hers, every single one of those shots would have hit, most of them probably fatal.

“Like trying to shoot a jackrabbit on crack...” Deathstroke muttered, trying to get a better shot. “Hold still you little....”

With his attention occupied, Deadshot didn't notice Shiva coming out of cover, pulling back the steel pipe behind her. With a small grunt, she whipped her arm forward, tossing the pipe with pinpoint accuracy. Deadshot's enhanced hearing picked up the object as it flew through the air, causing him to turn back around in surprise. By the time he saw the pipe spinning at him, though, it was far too late for him to get out of the way. The best he could do was hold his arms up to try and protect himself from of the impact. A lot of good it did him, as the resulting blow pushed over the edge of the girder.

“Son of a b-”

His words cut off when he smacked into another girder below, bouncing away and then spinning to the ground with loud thud. Grunting, he slowly pushed himself back up to his feet, teetering momentarily. He shook himself out of the daze, looking around carefully for his opponents... and turned directly into a vicious fist to the face.

Ravager followed through with another blow, this one to the ribs, and then finally put him on the ground with a kick to the chest. Before Deadshot could get back up, Shiva came in with a flying kick to the back of the head. This time, he toppled forward and didn't even try to get back up, lying there and groaning absently in pain.

Letting out a deep breath, Ravager fell back against a nearby pillar and bowed her head. “Well, that was annoying.

“I don't think he'll get up for a while,” Shiva said, glancing down at the barely conscious man.

“I'd better find something to tie him up with, anyway,” Ravager muttered. “He's my link to Rupert Thorne's involvement in this, plus two other crime bosses. I can't risk him getting away again.”

Shiva nodded. “In that case, I will take my leave now.”

“What, not gonna try to kill me first?”

“Our battle was interrupted and its outcome tainted,” she explained. “Finishing it now would be pointless, and would not tell me what I needed to know.”

Ravager's gaze narrowed. “ What would that be?”

“Which one of us is the better?” Shiva declared.

“You seemed pretty confident that I wasn't on your level earlier.”

“And you proved me wrong by holding your own, even evading my leopard blow.” Shiva retrieved her jacket, slipping it back on. “Regardless, the results of our confrontation are inconclusive. In a way, I suppose I am pleased that we were not able to finish this fight now.”

Ravager slowly eased her way back to her feet. “And why's that?”

“Because,” she said, “you still have a lot to learn. Your skill is growing, and I see a lot of potential in you. In time, I think you could very well surpass me, just as my daughter did when she reached her full potential. If I had killed you tonight, though, we would never know.”

“And I suppose you do want to know?” Ravager questioned.

“You are correct. Once you have further improved, I wish to test myself against you again to determine which one truly is better.”

Ravager smirked. “You just say when and where. I'll be glad to put you in your place.”

“One year to the day,” Shiva stated. She returned to her motorcycle, mounting atop it and revving the engine. “Look for me to contact you then.”

---

The next week was hectic at the station. After a bound and unconscious Deadshot, armed and in full costume, inexplicably showed up on their doorstep, they had been working overtime to try and figure out just what was going on. Namely, why was Floyd Lawton, a well known killer and highly wanted man, in Silverstone, and who had hired him? Also, who took him down and dropped him off at the police station? Rumors circulated that it must have been The Blade, though some had their doubts. After all, how could a regular citizen take down one of the deadliest assassins in the world? Unless, of course, The Blade wasn't ordinary at all.

Eventually, interrogators got Lawton to talk in exchange for a deal, and in turn he implicated Rupert Thorne as the one who had hired him. Along with the confession came a bank record showing Thorne's down payment as proof. The former crime boss was brought in just hours later for the crime, and further digging uncovered the rest of his underhanded operations. Thorne tried to bring Emilia and Frankie down with him, but with no evidence to back up his testimony that those two had also hired assassins to kill The Blade, they get off scott free.

Standing in front of her locker, Rose calmly dressed out of her uniform, ready to get off for the day. Hiding the injuries she had sustained at the hands of Lady Shiva had been a bit of a challenge, but fortunately her accelerated healing had reduced the visibility of most of the minor cuts and bruises over Sunday. By the time she came in the following Monday, she had been able to hide whatever was left with a bit of well placed make-up (probably the first time she'd ever even bothered to wear make-up at all). At least that way, it hadn't looked like she got the crap beaten out of her again, especially just a few days after having that whole conversation about it with Becky. That had been a week ago, though. By now, her body was back to one hundred percent.

As she she carefully gathered her clothes together so she could go hit the showers before leaving, the locker next to hers closed. Becky stood there, arms folded casually over her chest.

“Trying to duck out early?” Becky asked.

“What? No, of course not,” Rose said. “Just... really needed a shower. It's been a long day.”

“Mhm.” Becky pursed her lips, lifting an eyebrow. “You haven't forgotten what today is, have you?”

“Uh... Monday?”

“Very funny.”

Rose blinked, scratching her head in genuine confusion. “I'm sorry, I really have no idea...”

Becky breathed out a sigh, smacking a palm against her forehead. “Dios mio, I swear there's something wrong in that noggin of yours. It's your birthday, girl!”

“My...” she started, suddenly remembering that today was, indeed, her birthday. “Oh, yeah, right. I honestly forgot.”

Forgetting your own birthday.” Becky shook her head. “That's a new one.”

“Yeah, well things have just been a little crazy around here lately,” Rose said, shrugging her shoulders. “Completely slipped my mind. But what about my birthday, anyway?”

Becky rolled her eyes. “Come on, I told you we were doing something together, didn't I? Wasn't just blowing smoke when I said that. You and me, tonight, we'll go out, have a good time, celebrate; I'm gonna make your birthday special.”

“You're... serious?”

“Of course I'm serious, girl! Why wouldn't I be?”

“It's just... I don't know, I guess I'm not really used to people making a big deal over my birthday.”

Becky smirked, holding an arm around her partner's shoulders. “Well, then I guess you've never had a friend quite like me, now have you?”

Rose couldn't help but utter a genuinely amused laugh. “Yeah, you don't know the half of it. But still, I don't know, I mean I have Holly to look after...”

“Oh come on,” Becky groaned. “You'll come up with any excuse not to go out, won't you? Hire a sitter. I'm sure you can manage one night, ah?”

“Well, it's just a little short notice to find a sitter. Mrs. Silva isn't available after six, and I don't know any others who-”

“Then my sister will watch her,” Becky insisted. “She's great with kids, and she lives over on the other side of the city. I can have her over your place at any time, she's not doing anything else tonight.”

“Uh... well, I guess.”

“Perfect!” Becky broke out into a big grin, giving Rose a friendly pat on the shoulder. “In that case, I'll pick you up around seven, ah?”

Rose uttered a long sigh, shrugging gently. “Yeah, sure, seven. Sounds good.”

Becky's grin grew wider. “Trust me, you won't regret it.”

---

Celebrating her birthday wasn't something that Rose was very accustomed to, at least not for quite a few years. Ever since meeting her father, which had sent her down into a dark period of her life, it had always been just another day. She couldn't even remember the last time she had a birthday cake, definitely not since her mother was alive. All those facts taken into consideration, she really hadn't been expecting much out of tonight. However, she ended up enjoying herself a lot more than she thought she would.

As discussed before, Becky brought her down to the restaurant on Levitt Street, where she had boasted about the the best burgers in the city. Rose had to admit, the burgers were indeed quite good. Of course, towards the end of the meal, Becky had to go and mention to the waitstaff that it was Rose's birthday, which resulted in a little chocolate cake with a candle in it, and a group of people singing 'Happy Birthday' to her.

While she felt like punching the entire staff throughout the ordeal, she never once felt ill about it towards Becky, who was just having her fun. A few years ago she might have gone and flipped the table on her, then stormed out of the restaurant in annoyance, but that was the old her. The old her didn't really have a best friend, not like this. She couldn't be mad at Becky for something that stupid, even if she did want to kill someone during the entire song.

Following dinner, Becky took her down to the local ice rink to try out some skating, something she'd never actually done before (because really, when was there ever time to ice skate when you're fighting crime?). Still, Becky was adamant that Rose try something new, and at that point she couldn't really say no. From that experience, however, she discovered that she was a terrible ice skater. All her enhanced attributes, training, and skill were nothing when strapped to a pair of blades and sliding over frozen water. No matter how much Becky tried to help her, she ended up crashing and burning more than a few times.

Still, as much as Rose ultimately decided she hated ice skating, she somehow managed to enjoy herself, if only because of Becky constantly making witty quips about her failure, giving her opportunity to shoot back snarky remarks of her own. Witty banter between friends: 1. Ice skating: 0.

From the ice rink, they went down to the local bowling alley, something else Rose had never tried before. She honestly couldn't understand how people could find fun in rolling a ball at a bunch of white sticks. However, when she discovered just how amazing she was at the game, she suddenly changed her tune. In the end, she beat Becky by about a hundred points.

With all that behind them now, though, and the night drawing to a close, the two women walked together down the street, heading back to Rose's home. They stopped briefly at an ice cream stand, buying a cone each, and then continued on their way.

“So, and be honest now,” Becky said, “was that not the best birthday you've ever had?”

“Honestly?” Rose replied, giving her ice cream cone a gentle lick. “It really was, actually.”

Raising an eyebrow, Becky gave her an odd look. “I was only joking, I swear.”

“I wasn't kidding before when I said people have never really made a big deal out of my birthday,” Rose explained. “It's just... never been different than any other day for me, really.”

“For real? Even when you were growing up?”

Rose paused, thinking back to her childhood, growing up under the care of her mother. “Well, I mean maybe I got a cake and a present when I was growing up with my mom, but I never went out and did anything special. Then when she died, I ended up in my dad's care and... well, let's just say he was never one to bother with cakes and presents.”

“So you've never had a big party, or gone out and celebrated, or anything like that?” Becky asked, sounding completely dumbfounded

“Nope.”

“Qué mierda...” Becky paused, licking her ice cream and shaking her head. “That's just not right.”

“Maybe, but it's all I ever knew,” Rose said.

Becky smirked. “Guess that just makes this day all the more special then, ah?”

“Could have done without the singing, or falling on my ass ten dozen times...” Rose muttered, trying to withhold a smirk of her own. “But... yeah, I suppose it does.”

“Ha, next thing you'll tell me is you've never even had a best friend!”

A brief moment of silence passed between them. Rose occupied herself with her ice cream cone, not saying anything. She didn't need to, though; her silence got the point across.

“Get out,” Becky said, eyes going wide. “You're kidding.”

Rose shrugged. “Don't get me wrong, I've had... friends. Sort of. A couple good ones, even. But as far as a 'best friend', as you'd define it, not really.”

“Wow, rough life?”

“That's... one way of putting it,” Rose said, nodding slowly. “Rough.”

Becky shook her head, a small sigh exuding from her lips. “Ya veo... but hey, at least now you got me, ah?”

Rose laughed, a genuine smile curling across her face. “You're a definitely lot more fun than I would have thought, I'll say that much.”

“So then you really did have a good time, ah?”

“I know, I'm shocked, too.”

“In that case, we should do this again.” Becky smiled, glancing at Rose out of thee corner of her eyes. “You know... go out?”

“Well...” Rose paused, thinking a moment. “Yeah, actually. I'd like that.”

---

Rose opened the door to her penthouse, followed by Becky. It was dark inside, and mostly quiet except for the sound of the television on in the living room.

“Abby, hey, we're back,” Becky called out.

A few moments later, a pint-sized woman emerged from around the corner, a couple years younger and about a foot shorter than Becky. This was Abigail Chavez, Becky's sister.

“Oh, hey,” Abby said, with a small wave. “You two have fun?"

“Of course we did,” Becky assured, holding an arm around Rose. “I mean, come on, I was there.”

“How's Holly?” Rose asked. “She didn't give you any trouble did she?”

Abby laughed, arms folding across her chest. “Heck no, that kid's a damn angel. I've babysat a few kids in my day and they were terrors, every last one of them. But Holly, sweetest girl I ever met."

“Yeah, that definitely sounds like her,” Rose said, smiling. “She sleeping?”

“Like a baby.”

“Alright, good. Here, let me pay you.” Reaching into her wallet, she pulled out a fifty and passed it to Abby.

“It's been a pleasure,” Abby said, slipping on her shoes and heading for the door, “but I think I should be going now. I'll leave you two girls... alone.”

When she was gone, Rose led Becky into the kitchen. “So, you want a drink or anything? I got... well, I got beer. Unless you want orange juice.”

“What's that now?” Becky's arms folded, a mocking smirk coming to her face. “Oh girl, you're only twenty, you know. Am I going to have to slap my cuffs on you?”

“Very funny, you want one or not?”

“You kidding? Hook me up.”

Pulling out a couple of beers from the fridge, Rose passed one to Becky and then made her way into the living room. Releasing a long sigh, she plopped herself down on the couch and stuck her feet up on the coffee table. Becky sat down next to her, curling her legs up on the couch.

“So, you seriously afford this place on a cop's salary?” Becky asked, gazing around in wonder at the penthouse.

“Well, uh... no, not really,” Rose said, taking a swig of beer. “My, um, uncle helps pays for it.”

Becky lifted an eyebrow. “So you have a rich uncle?”

“Something like that.”

“Ha, wow,” she said. “Never thought I'd actually meet someone with a rich relative. Not complaining about the set up, though. I mean, this a damn nice place.”

Rose nodded, gulping down another sip. “Yeah, tell me about it.”

“So...” Becky shifted her position on the couch, leaning a littler closer to Rose. “You really did have a good time tonight?”

“I told you I did, didn't I?”

“Yeah, I know... just checking.” At that moment, Becky's hand slowly drifted over and came to rest on Rose's thigh. “I, uh... I had a really good time, too.”

Rose's eyebrows lifted in surprise. She looked down curiously at Becky's hand, stiffening slightly. “Uh, Beck, what are-”

With quite possibly the last thing she expected to happen, Rose's words were cut off by Becky's lips coming into contact with her own. For the briefest of moments, she just sat there like an idiot, dumbfounded. Then, she hurriedly pulled back, eye wide.

“Becky, what the- what are you doing?”

Seeming genuinely surprised at this reaction, Becky blinked back at her, confused. “I'm... well, I- I mean I was...”

“Becky, hold on.” Rose narrowed her gaze, staring at her partner with curiosity. “You're...?”

“Yes? I thought... I thought you knew I was- wait, you're not?”

“Uh, I don't... I mean, I've never really...” Rose uttered, stumbling over her words. “Well, no.”

Quickly, Becky sprang off the couch, holding her hands up to her head and looking utterly flabbergasted. “Oh Dios mio! You're serious? Oh my... Oh I'm sorry, I'm so- Oh, stupid, stupid, stupid! Rule number one, Becky, don't make a move if you're not completely sure!” She started pacing back forth, eyes wide in a panic. “I just thought, I mean... I mean you just seemed so... and you said you weren't into men, and, and-”

Putting her beer down, Rose stood up as well, giving Becky a confused look. “I... meant I wasn't really looking to be involved in a relationship right now... I didn't mean... wait, did I really come across as...?”

“Well, sure, you- I mean, no!” Becky recoiled sharply, smacking a hand against her forehead. “No, I didn't mean that, it's just... well I thought that we were close, and you liked me, and then there was tonight, and, and-”

“Tonight...” Rose's mind suddenly exploded with understand. “Wait, was this whole thing supposed to be a date?

“I thought it was obvious!” she exclaimed. “I, I mean I thought I was clear, I was trying to... to get closer, and- and I was flirting with you all night, for Christ's sake!”

Rose just stared, an utterly blank look plastered across her face. “I thought you were just being nice. I wasn't... thinking about it that way. I had no idea you were...”

In retrospect, though, now that she was thinking about it that way, it left her wondering just how the hell she didn't pick up on it before.

“Oh hijo de puta, I'm sorry, I'm such an idiot,” Becky said, heading towards the door. “Sh*t, I should go, I should really go, I- I shouldn't be here now.”

Rose blinked several times. It took her a few moments to react, frozen by her utter shock over this odd turn of events. Finally, she snapped out of it and ran back across the apartment.

“Becky, wait, hold on!”

But Becky wasn't listening. Within seconds, the woman was out of the penthouse and hurrying down the hallway to the elevator. Rose briefly contemplated chasing after her, but really, what would she say? Instead, she just stood there, staring at the open door.

Did that... seriously just happen?

2 Comments

The Ravager - Secrets in Silverstone (#8-13) 2nd Edition

Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy/Ruby, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer, Officer Stevens, Officer Harrow, Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all its interior locations of my own creation.

Rating: T+

Note: The second arc in my Ravager series to be remastered into prose format and edited to make it better.

My Fan-Fic Archives: http://www.comicvine.com/myvine/ravager4/ravager4s-fan-fic-archives/87-79374/

---

Chapter #8

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.

Rose sat quietly on the small, wooden bench of the locker room, carefully wrapping her knuckles with white tape. She was currently two levels below the Orchid Lounge, a nightclub near the heart of Silverstone City, about three hundred miles away from Gotham. It had been three weeks since she left, three weeks since she went looking for a new place to stay... three weeks since she made a fool of herself trying to come on to Dick Grayson, only to be shot down.

That was all behind her, though. Now, her mind was focused only on the upcoming fight. She had heard about it shortly after arriving in Silverstone, whispers of an underground fight club with no rules, no limits, and huge cash payouts to the winners. In serious need of funds, she had decided to find the place and enter; her skills weren't much suited for anything else, after all. No way in hell was she about to go work at a Taco Bell.

According to the manager, the fight club functioned as a series of tournaments, with different brackets depending on a person's renown and skill level. One tournament took place per night, three nights a week, and in front of an audience consisting of some of the biggest criminal scumbags in the city, from small timers to mob bosses. Bets were made on each fight, with payouts taking place at the end of the night.

Tournament entries came from all different backgrounds: mafia thugs, MMA hopefuls, boxers past their prime, and then the more talented fighters looking to make themselves or their bosses heaps of cash. Since Rose was a brand new entry, with no background on her whatsoever as far as these guys were concerned, she was forced to start out on the bottom bracket, basically the fodder tournament. It consisted of only the more unskilled entries, and offered only menial entertainment. The audience wouldn't be nearly as large for these fights as it would be for the upper level brackets, where the real betting took place.

As such, Rose's payout at the end of the night wouldn't be huge, not yet, not until she earned her place and made herself known. She didn't like being around this much underworld scum--thieves, murderers, rapists, and the like--but she could put up with it for now. She wasn't here to bust them. She hadn't come to Silverstone to be the new cape in town. All she wanted was to make her own way in life, and right now that way involved beating the crap out of a bunch of nobodies and getting paid for it.

Finishing her tape job, Rose sat up straighter and looked around the small locker room. It was silent right now, save for the muffled thump-thump-thumping of the club music coming from two levels above her. The fight club itself was fairly well hidden, not to mention well guarded. The only way to get in was to know about it, and to know about it, you had to have the right kinds of connections. It had been mere chance that she overheard the manager and one of his clients talking about it a few nights ago, while visiting the club herself.

A knock on the door suddenly called her from her thoughts, followed by a man's voice on the other side. “Miss? You decent?” It was the manager.

“I'm good,” she replied. She was wearing her workout shorts and a sports bra, the only real attire other than her actual Ravager costume that would be suitable for sanctioned fights. As the door opened, she stood up from her seat and cracked her neck from side to side, loosening herself up.

The manager was a small, portly, and balding man, dressed in slick, dark clothes that really only someone taller and better proportioned should be wearing. A pair of sunglasses sat loosely atop the bridge of his nose, despite the fact that they were indoors at night, and wore a variety of jewelry, from large gold rings around his fingers to dangling chains around his neck.

“You almost ready?” he asked. “You're on in five.”

Rose punched a fist into her palm. “I'm plenty ready. Just show me to the ring and let's get this done with.”

The manager took a step forward, arms crossing over his fat chest. “You're absolutely sure you want to do this? I mean, while there aren't any rules restricting women from participating, and you are in very fine shape, these are some real tough guys we're talking about here. Would be a real shame to see a pretty thing like yourself get roughed up.”

“You set 'em up, I'll knock 'em down,” she said. “That's all you need to get through that bald head of yours, got it?”

“Sure, sure, got it,” he replied, shrugging indifferently. “Just know that we're not responsible for any injuries you may incur as a result from these bouts, nor do we cover any medical expenses you might find yourself with as a result. Capiche?”

Rose gave him a brief, sidelong glance. “I hope you gave my opponents the same speech; they're the ones who need to worry about it.”

“Right, of course, whatever you say.” The man paused a moment, taking a step closer and focusing his gaze on her eye patch. Curiously, he raised a hand towards her face, as if to touch it. “How do you expect to fight with this thing, anyway? You making some kind of fashion statement, or are you really missing an-”

Rose lashed a hand upward, taking a firm hold of his wrist and forcing his grubby fingers away from her face. “Hands to yourself, or you'll be missing one.”

“Alright, alright, sheesh,” the manager said, pulling his hand back. “Anyway, better get going. Fight starts in... two minutes now.”

He motioned for her to follow him, heading through a pair of doors into the connecting corridor that led into the fighting ring. When they finally arrived, Rose's eyebrows lifted up in surprise. The 'ring' that she was supposed to be fighting in was more like a small arena. Not quite as large or elaborate as the one she fought in during her stint with the Terror Titans, but impressive nonetheless.

The audience wrapped around the whole arena, in raised seats made of soft, padded leather, along with electronic betting devices integrated into the arms of each. As expected of her entry level bracket, the audience itself was rather small. There were far more empty seats than occupied ones, and those present didn't look to be eagerly anticipating the upcoming fights. They were likely there only to scout the up and comers, and maybe throw in a few small bets here and there.

As Rose made her way to the center of the arena, she noticed her opponent entering from the other side. He was a tall man, going by the name of Ken Burke, built broad with moderate muscle definition and dressed in boxing trunks. She calmly refrained from grinning in delight; this poor guy didn't know what he was getting himself into. If all of her opponents were as big a pushover as this one looked like, she'd be walking through these fights.

When Rose made it to the center of the ring to greet her opponent, he gave her a quick look and scoffed. “Are they serious? I gotta fight a chick?”

Rose lifted an eyebrow, hand coming to her hip. “There a problem with that?”

“I just didn't sign up to be beating on women, is all,” Ken insisted, with a shrug. “You know what you're getting yourself into?”

“Do you?

A few moments later, the announcer's voice boomed out over a loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another exciting night of the Orchid Lounge Fight Club. We have a lot of new contestants ready to show off their skill, so let's get things started, shall we? Remember, you can place your bets using the monitors located on the right arms of your seats, and there is no limit to how much you can put down. Now then, allow me to introduce to you the first fighters of the night! From our very own Midtown district, we have Ken Burke, a regular here at the Orchid Lounge, and a real rising boxer.”

This time, Rose couldn't keep the grin from forming. If this guy was trying to become a boxer, he was in the wrong place. She almost felt bad for him, having to fight against her in the first round tonight. This wasn't a boxing match, after all, and Ken would soon find himself way out of his league.

“And then we have a brand new entry tonight,” the announcer declared. “The very beautiful, and very talented Lillian Worth!”

Rose wasn't stupid; she wasn't going to give her real name in a place like this. Instead, she had chosen to use her mother's name as her alias. It fit her just fine.

“At least, I'm told she's talented,” the announcer added, with a chuckle. “We have yet to see what she can do in the ring! Is anyone out there daring enough to place a bet on an unknown? You have three minutes to decide, before the match begins, so choose wisely!

Ken hopped around on his toes to keep loose, as they waited for the match to begin. He briefly shadow boxed, throwing a few punches into the air and taking in even breaths. Rose was sure he was a plenty talented boxer, at least for the amateur that he was, but she knew this wouldn't going to end well for him.

The three minutes went by fairly quickly, all bets placed and ready to go. With preparations taken care of, the announcer started things up. “Is everyone ready? In that case, let's get started! Contestants, keep in mind that the fighting continues until someone gives up or is unable to continue. Aside from that, there are no rules. Now, begin!”

“Don't worry,” Ken said, flashing a smug grin, “I'll go easy on you; wouldn't want to mess up that pretty face of yours, after all. Maybe after this is over, I can buy you a drink upstairs. Or we can head back to my place, whatever floats your boat.”

Instead of saying anything in response, Rose dashed in quickly and delivered a hard cross to the guy's jaw. He reeled backwards, clutching his cheek and stumbling to keep his balance; the blow nearly knocked him off his feet.

“Got anything else you want to add?” she said, raising her fists.

Ken clutched a hand to his jaw, staring back at her with wide eyes. “Sh*t! What the hell?”

“This is a fight remember? Might want to keep that in mind.”

Ken glowered, shaking off the punch and countering with a couple jabs of his own. He didn't even come close to hitting her, though; by the time he finished throwing his second punch, she was already coming up from beneath him with an uppercut that snapped his head backwards, followed by a spinning roundhouse to the gut. Surprised murmurs began to travel through the audience. Clearly, not many had expected the fight to go this way.

Rose bounced up and down on her toes, taking a boxing stance and smirking. When Ken caught sight of the mockery, he frowned, eyes going cross. The blow to his pride hurt more than the physical beating he was taking. Wiping a dribble of blood from his lips, he charged in again, this time throwing all care or skill out the window and swinging wild. Rose sidestepped out of the way, keeping light on her feet, then brought in a hard punch to his side, knuckles digging in between his ribs.

When he doubled over from the stabbing pain, Rose leaped straight upwrad, raising her knee hard and exploding it straight into his face. Grunting in surprise, Ken stumbled backward, blood gushing out his nostrils. Before he could even comprehend just how badly he was losing, Rose finished things with another spinning kick, this one crashing across his face and knocking him straight to the ground. He didn't get back up, instead lying there and groaning, likely having no idea where he was anymore.

“What a shocking result!” the announcer shouted over the speakers. “And quite the impressive show from Lillian; I can't recall a more one sided fight. I hope a few of you out there took a chance on the new girl!”

Turning from the arena, Rose walked casually back towards the corridor that led to the locker room. With that win, she'd have another fight soon, whenever the rest of the round-one bouts finished up. She couldn't recall exactly how many participants were in the tournament, but she shouldn't have to fight more than maybe four times in total. What she did remember, though, was that whoever won the whole tournament got an extra bonus, in addition to the sum given for each individual victory.

As she neared the hallway, the fight club manager suddenly appeared, running up to her in a hurry. “Okay, okay! I take back every doubt I had about you! I mean, that was great! Incredible! Where did you learn how to fight like that?”

Rose shrugged. “I've been around.”

“Of course, gotta keep the mystery, I get it,” he said. “But damn, you can bet people took notice of you for that one. I mean, sure, Ken isn't the best we have to offer, but people know him. He's been a pretty prominent figure in the lower brackets for a few months, even won a couple times. But then you come in out of nowhere and beat the ever loving hell out of him! Keep this up, kid, and you'll be on your way to the upper brackets; that's where the real money is.”

“Well, that is the goal,” she said, turning her gaze to him. “I didn't come here to lose, I came here to make some cash.”

“Just keep doing what you did back there, and I'll see that you get there myself!”

---

It was close to three in the morning by the time she got back from the Orchid Lounge, but it was worth it. Following her bout with Ken, she beat the next three fighters, and did it just as seamlessly as she had the first time, becoming the first person in any bracket of the tournament's history to win during her debut. Even more impressive was that no one had even heard of her until several hours ago. In a single night, she'd gone from a complete unknown to a favorite. When she returned the following week for the next tournament, she'd have a lot more eyes paying attention to her.

Overall, she had won two-hundred and fifty dollars that night; nothing spectacular, but it was two-hundred and fifty dollars more than she had going into the night. She was happy just to have it, especially considering it would be the only money she made all week. Presently, she could barely afford the tiny rat-hole of an apartment that she recently set herself up with.

Just temporary, she told herself, as she stood in the middle of the living room and stared at the run down, dirty, mold infested apartment. You start getting a steady income, Rose, then you can find a place that doesn't look like it should be the scene of a murder investigation on CSI.

---

One month later...

“Alright, this is it, Lil,” the fight club manager stated. “You're debuting in the upper brackets tonight, so things will be a little harder than you've been used to so far. Just remember, I vouched for you to get you up here; no one's advanced this much in such a short amount of time, and you're the first to skip over the mid brackets completely. So, you know, don't go getting your ass handed to you and making me look bad, now.

Rose glanced up from her seat on the locker room bench, glaring intently at him.

“Uh, not that I think that's going to happen, of course!” he added. “Let's be real here, you're a machine. Four weeks at this and you haven't lost a match yet! I tell you, I've never seen anything like it.”

“I've had a lot of practice.”

“Right, right, I'm sure you have,” the manager said, straightening out his suit. “Either way, you're gonna turn a lot of heads tonight, I'm sure of it. You keep on winning, and you're in for a real treat, I'm telling you. You said you were in this to earn some cash? Well, the winner of these tournaments can take home up to five grand a night, if the bets are good.”

At the mention of potential earnings, Rose's eyebrows lifted in surprise. Five grand in one night? Now that was something she could live with. “Then let's get this show started; we're wasting time.”

Within the next few minutes, Rose was standing in the middle of the arena again, facing off against her newest opponent, a man named Sheamus Finnegan. The only thing she knew about him was that he apparently had ties to the Irish Mob. She knew that he wouldn't be the pushover that the others in the lower brackets had been, even if she would still win in the end. He certainly didn't look like a pushover, at least, with his body absolutely ripped with hard muscle, a body honed into a weapon.

Rose only half heard the announcer introducing the two combatants and telling the audience to place their bets. She was too busy studying Sheamus, trying to get a feel for how she should approach him. He did the same to her, remaining silent and simply staring. He wasn't taking her as lightly as Ken first did; if she had made it into the upper brackets, then he knew she was good.

“And begin!” the announcer declared.

As the bout commenced, Rose instantly came out of her thoughts and fell into a determined focus, squaring off against her opponent. The two began to attack each other, coming in with quick, precise blows. She had to admit, this Sheamus guy was fast, and he knew what was doing. Unfortunately for him, he didn't have metahuman enhancements or the kind of training that she did. Rose was on an entirely different combative level.

Even though she knew she could end the fight quickly, she instead found herself putting on a show, letting him land a few hits only to come back with counters of her own. It wasn't anything she couldn't handle, and the crowd ate it up. The audience was packed full tonight, too, here to see the real competition that this fight club had to offer. They eagerly leaned forward in their seats, hanging on each punch, each kick. Eventually, though, Rose had to bring things to a close; she had more fights to win tonight, after all.

She made sure it looked good, going for a more stylistic approach than a practical one. It wasn't something she'd try if she were fighting a person of equal skill, but this wasn't someone like Dick Grayson, or Cassandra Cain. This was a mafia goon; one with superb skill, admittedly, but not the kind of fighter she was used to dealing with. So, with a theatrical series of spinning strikes, she delivered the final blow and knocked him out cold.

The announcer's voice exploded over the loudspeaker. “And the victor, Lillian Worth! Let's give her a round of applause, folks, because that was impressive!”

The crowd responded in kind, applauding her victory. There was of course no cheering, or other vocal congratulations. These were important, dignified people, as far as the criminal underworld went, not a bunch of wild drunks at a UFC fight. With her first fight completed, she returned to the locker room to await her next opponent. As she did, a single thought ran through her head.

I could get used to this.

Chapter #9

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.

Weaving around her opponent's attack, Rose delivered a hard uppercut to the man's chin, then followed with a thunderous knee to his chest. As the man stumbled backward, she leaped into the air and spun, whipping her leg around and kicking him square in the side of the face. He went down hard, unmoving.

“Folks, I don't believe it,” the announcer proclaimed, “but we have our winner of the night! In her debut here in the upper brackets, Lillian Worth has come out on top! Keep in mind that she participated in her first fight just one month ago in the lower brackets, and now she is the one to beat. Simply incredible!”

Releasing a long breath, Rose placed her hands on her hips and walked out of the arena, heading toward the corridor that led back to the locker room. Right now, she planned on taking a long, hot shower to relax her sore muscles.

This really hadn't been like the lower level tournaments; she'd actually had to work for it after a while. Even though her first fight had been simple enough, the following ones had grown increasingly difficult. Sure, she had still emerged victorious with little difficulty, but this new crop of fighters was far more talented than the fodder she beat before. She made a mental note to not purposefully let her opponents land as many hits as they did tonight.

As she entered into the locker room, the fight club manager came running up to her down the hall, waving his arms at her and laughing. “Aha! I knew you wouldn't disappoint! I can't believe what you just did, that was freakin' amazing!”

“You mind?” she said, eying the grubby little man coldly. “I really just want to take a shower right now.”

“Right, right, of course, no problem,” he said. “I just wanted to let you know that you really impressed a lot of people tonight. You came in like you owned the place and tore those other guys apart! You got a real future here, kid, if you keep winning like that.

Rose shrugged, sitting down on the locker room bench and opening her locker. “Yeah, well I'm hoping I don't have to keep it up too long. Just need a bit of cash to last me a while.”

“Whatever you say, Lil. Just passing along the info.”

“Another thing,” she said, glaring up at him again. “Don't call me Lil.”

The manager cleared his throat, smoothing out the front of his shirt. “Uh... right, sorry. Lillian.”

“By the way, you can leave my earnings in my bag while I shower. I don't want to stick around here any longer than I have to.”

At that command, he shook his head firmly. “Sorry, no can do.”

Stiffening in her seat, her gaze narrowed hotly. “I just fought my ass off out there, you a**hole! Now you're not going to pay me? What the hell are you trying to pull?!”

“Whoa, no,” the manager insisted, waving his arms in a desperate defense. “You don't understand. I can't leave you your earnings because the boss wants to pay you himself, meet the new champ. He'll be waiting upstairs in his office when you're done; I can show you the way.”

“Oh...” she said, uttering a cool breath. “Alright then. Give me fifteen minutes.”

---

Fifteen minutes later, Rose followed the manager up to the main area of the Orchid Lounge. The pulsing music assaulted her eardrums as soon as they pushed past the doors, moving through the crowds of dancing patrons, past the bar, and around the tables. He led her up to the second level of the club, away from the noise and the people, and down a long, dimly lit hallway. A sign on the door at the end of the corridor read: Arnold Pavoni – Owner. A pair of tall, bald, and massively built men stood on either side of the doors, their eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses; no doubt the club owner's own personal security bouncers.

“Alright,” the manager said, “the boss is right through there. Just keep in mind that he runs everything around here, and he's the one paying you for tonight, so be respectful.

“Uh huh, sure,” she said, completely indifferent.

“Okay, uh... well, he's waiting, so go on in. I'll see you next week.” With that, the manager headed back down the hallway.

When Rose stepped forward, one of the big goons reached for the door handle and opened it, nodding her through. She gave him a curious look, then walked inside the office; the door slammed shut behind her.

The man sitting behind the desk was dressed in a white suit, with a black tie. He was overweight, too, his large gut squished against his desk, and though his hair still had its dark color, he had lost all but a small strip around the sides of his head.

He noticed Rose enter, but didn't address her right away. He had his finger pressed against the button of an intercom on his desk, currently engaged in a conversation. Standing behind him in the corner of the room was another one of his security goons, this one even bigger than the previous two.

“What's taking you so long, Jerry?” Pavoni said, leaning farther over his desk. “She ready yet or what?”

“Yes, just about,” the calm, smooth voice responded from the intercom. “You did want Holly this time, correct?”

“Yeah, yeah, the one with the two different colored eyes,” Pavoni affirmed. He absently reached into a small box on the corner of his desk and pulled out a cigar. “Haven't seen her in a while, we'll have some real fun.”

“In that case, I'll bring her right up.”

Rose glanced at the intercom curiously, as the voice cut out. Did this guy send his employees out to pick up prostitutes for him or something? Because it sure sounded like it... talk about sleazy. But it wasn't any of her business, so she simply wiped it from her mind and folded her arms.

“So, you wanted to see me?” she asked.

“Ah, yes, welcome,” he said, lighting the the cigar and lifting it up to his lips. “I saw your performance tonight, you know, and I have to say that you put on quite a show. I was a little skeptical when my manager came to me and urged me to put you in the top bracket, but you proved that you're one hell of a fighter. Not only that, but you kept the crowd entertained, and that's important. The more entertained they are, the more they bet; the more they bet, the more money I make.”

Rose held her hands to her hips. “Yeah, well I'm not here to make you money, just so we're clear. I'm here to make myself money.”

An amused chuckle exited Pavoni's throat. Taking a puff of his cigar, he nodded understandingly. “Of course, I expected as much. Just thought I should let you know how good you are for the business; that means I like you, and when I like you, I pay you more. Nico, the safe.”

The big guy standing in the corner move on command, walking over to the other side of the room and entering the combination of the wall safe. Once unlocked, he reached inside and pulled out a few thick stacks of hundreds, then passed them to his boss. Pavoni thumbed through the cash, placing each hundred dollar bill out in front of him one at a time, counting the total out loud.

“Five hundred per victory, that's two thousand off the bat,” he explained. “And then of course the bonus, since you won tonight's tournament; normally another two grand, but as I said, I like you. So, I'll throw in a little something extra. That brings the total to six thousand.”

Rose's breath caught abruptly in her throat, stifling any sort of response she might have made otherwise. In one night, she more than tripled the amount of money she had saved up so far. When the money had been completely counted, Pavoni stuffed it all into a large envelope and slid it across the desk to her.

Yeah, I could definitely get used to this.

“Once again, I want to tell you how much you impressed tonight, not only me, but our frequent customers, as well.” Pavoni grinned, lowering his cigar and waving it around in his hand as he spoke. “They like you; you're young, you're sexy, and you kick a whole lot of ass in the ring. That's the kind of thing that really gets them going!”

Rose nodded. “Just trying to make a living.”

“Of course, of course. Now, here, take your money and go get some rest. I'll see you back here next week, yes?”

Taking the fat envelope from him, she briefly looks inside and runs her thumb over the wads of bills. “Oh yeah, I'll be back.”

Pavoni grinned wider. “Excellent, I look forward to it!”

He briefly leaned forward over his desk and extended his hand. She very tentatively gripped it, giving a firm handshake, and couldn't help but cringe at how grimy and sweaty his palm was. Pulling her hand back quickly, she gave him a small wave and finally left the office. The dim hallway was just as quiet and empty as before, with the exception of one small change. About ten paces away, sitting in a chair up against the wall, was a young girl, no older than nine or ten years old.

Dressed in a simple white dress, the blonde haired girl swung her legs slowly back and forth, feet not even touching the floor. She raised her gaze briefly to look at Rose, then quickly turned away again. Rose paused a moment, narrowing her eye at the girl and wondering what she was doing there of all places, at a nightclub.

Must be the daughter of one of the guys who works here... she inferred. Maybe even Pavoni's.

Still, there was something strange about the girl, something that Rose couldn't quite put her finger on, even though she felt like she should know exactly what it was. Several moments later, Rose shook her head and continued on her way, now with a strange, nagging sensation in the back of her head.

---

Two minutes later, Rose sat outside and on her brand new motorcycle, which Dick had given to her as a parting gift when she left Gotham. She never would have accepted it, if not for the fact that her previous ride had been totaled during her crash while under the influence of Scarecrow's fear gas. With no other mode of transportation, what choice did she have?

As she sat there, though, holding her helmet up and staring at her reflection in the visor, she couldn't shake that weird feeling that something was wrong. She was missing something... and it was killing her, not being able to figure it out.

That's when it happened, a precognitive flash flickering through her mind. But this wasn't like anything she had experienced before. Normally, her precog gave her a brief look of an incoming attack, no more than a couple of seconds notice. But this... this was something else entirely. It wasn't just a couple seconds, it was near ten, and it didn't involve any attack directed at her.

Rather, it was a series of several different images, all pasted together quickly like some kind of crazy slideshow. She saw the girl that she'd just passed in the hallway. She saw Pavoni's office. Then she saw Pavoni and the young girl together. And then...

Oh my god!

Instantly, she sprang off her motorcycle and sprinted back into the club, pushing past and practically knocking over the bouncer at the front door. Rose had finally realized just what was so odd about that girl.

She had two different colored eyes.

By the time she made it halfway down the hallway leading to Pavoni's office, a half dozen security goons were chasing after her. She didn't care, though; they wouldn't reach her in time, and even when they did catch up, they'd find themselves in a world of pain. Sprinting towards the double doors at the end of the corridor, Rose plowed straight through the pair of men guarding it. Two punches, an elbow, and a knee is all it took to drop both of them to the floor.

Bursting into the office, Rose didn't slow up. She lunged straight over the desk at Pavoni, whose shirt was already mostly unbuttoned. He barely even had time to register what was going on before she landed on him, driving him down to the floor.

“You sick son of a b*tch!” she shrieked, unloading a flurry of blows on him. One punch, two punches, three, four... she was crazed, wild, swinging with everything she had. Within seconds, her hands were coated with thick streaks of blood. “You'll be lucky if I don't kill you!”

Before she could continue her assault, however, multiple pairs of hands grabbed at her, trying to get her off; security had finally caught up. Instantly, she turned from Pavoni and attacked the other men. In minutes, the half dozen goons lay motionless on the floor.

Taking in a few deep breaths, Rose glanced back down at Pavoni; the man was barely moving, face painted bright scarlet. Slowly, she began to calm herself. As much as her gut was telling her to continue pummeling the scumbag, there was something far more important to take care of first. Her eyes darted around the room, finding the young blonde girl standing in the corner. The girl trembled, watching everything with wide eyes, terrified. Swallowing a hard knot, Rose moved forward slowly, gently, not wanting to startle her.

“It's alright, I'm not here to hurt you, promise. I just wanted to stop the bad man, that's all.” When the girl didn't try to run away, Rose leaned forward and lifted the white dress up from around her ankles, putting the girl's arms into the sleeves. Rose's jaw tightened, nausea bubbling into her stomach. “Holly, was it?”

The girl didn't say anything, but nodded quickly in confirmation.

“Right, Holly,” she breathed, pulling her hands back as she finished clothing the girl. “That's a pretty name. Everything's going to be okay, Holly, I promise. No one is going to hurt you anymore. Come on, let's get you out of here.”

Unfortunately, they never got the chance to leave. Whether she wasn't paying attention or her precog just didn't feeling like kicking in at that moment, Rose didn't see the attack coming. An inhumanly powerful blow connected with the back of her head, sending her stumbling forward in a daze. The next thing she realized, a massive hand lifted her up by her neck and slammed her into the wall, putting several large cracks in the plaster.

Standing there and holding her against the wall in a grip that she couldn't break free of was the big guy from before, Nico. She wasn't not about to let him hold her, though, oh no. Winding up her fist, she threw a vicious punch directly at his face, connecting with full force... and barely even caused his chin to move. Instead, he just stared at her, emotionless.

Okay, not good.

Nico pulled his arm back, still holding onto Rose, then swung her over his head and smashed her through the office desk. She crashed against the floor, coughing up a small spray of blood and trying to blink away the bright spots forming in front of her vision.

Meanwhile, Pavoni slowly crawled back to his knees, wheezing in small, pained breaths. “You little c**t!”

He tumbled to his feet, then carefully wound up his leg and brutally kicked Rose across the face. Still dazed from being slammed through a desk, and still held down by Nico, she couldn't do anything to stop it. She uttered a sharp cry of pain, feeling her lip split wide open. Pavoni took a few steps back, wiping his bloodied face clean with his shirt.

“F**k, I need to get cleaned up,” he muttered. “Call Jerry, have him come take Holly back. And take this piece of sh*t down to the facility, tell Mordred I got another subject for him.”

Rose made one more desperate attempt to escape Nico's grasp, but his strength really was incredible, easily superhuman level and much greater than her own. Realizing that she wasn't going to get away, she slowly glared up at Pavoni, ire seething from her body.

“You will suffer for this, do you hear me?” she growled. “If it's the last thing I do.”

Pavoni smirked. “Don't worry, girl. It will be.”

The last thing Rose remembered before blacking out cold was Nico's huge fist driving straight into her face.

---

Rose awoke sometime later, groggy. She blinked several times, trying to clear up her vision. Everything was blurry, and a bright light shined directly into her face, practically blinding her. And ugh, her head throbbed something awful, a pounding ache directly between her ears.

Okay, that Nico guy hits way to hard to be normal.

As things slowly came into focus, Rose lifted her head and looked around, wondering where she was. The room was large, with a tall ceiling and white walls. A large variety of various medical equipment, from IV drips, to heart monitors, to tables of different sized scalpels and drills and devices that looked like they were straight out of a horror movie, surrounded her.

Releasing a pained groan, Rose blinked a couple more times and then attempted to sit up, only then realizing that she couldn't move. Glancing down at herself, she noticed that she was lying on a slanted medical table, with thick leather straps wrapping tightly around her chest, arms, waist, thighs, and ankles. Also, her clothes were gone, a revelation that sent a a disgusted shiver down her spine.

Okay, Rose, so you're bound, naked, and in some kind of operating room. This had so better not be some pervert's idea of a good time.

Just as that thought ran through her mind, a voice reached her ears. It was a calm, yet very creepy voice, sounding half deranged and half giddy. “Ah, you're awake, good. I was wondering when I'd get a chance to begin.”

Rose moved her head, spotting a thin man dressed in medical scrubs, a white doctor's jacket, latex gloves, and a stethoscope around his neck. His scraggly black hair was peppered with a bit of gray, and stood wildly on end, as if he'd never touched a comb before in his life. And those eyes... one of them was milky white, almost dead, and seemed to stare off in a completely different direction than the other. Just the sight of it made her want to throw up.

“And who the hell are you supposed to be?” she asked, narrowing her gaze.

“Ah, ah, a good question, my dear,” he stated, taking a few careful steps forward. He walked with a very clear limp. “You may call me Dr. Mordred. Pleasure to be acquainted with you.”

The doctor then took an overly theatrical bow, before standing straight again and grabbing a fool medical supplies from the nearby counter. Rose's eyes followed him carefully, not enjoying on bit the possibilities of what he would want with those tools.

“Yes, yes, you are a fine specimen, indeed,” Dr. Mordred insisted. “But I heard you won tonight's tournament; makes our meeting odd, premature. Must have done something to upset the boss, yes. Otherwise, you would not be here yet, no.”

“What are you babbling about? And why am I strapped to a table? And for that matter, where the f**k are my clothes?”

The doctor chuckled, turning a cold eye towards her. “No worries, no worries, I just needed access. I have a little bit of work to do, you see. Well, a lot of work, okay, yes. Can't do it when those pesky clothes are in the way, no.”

Rose's gaze narrowed venomously at the man. “I swear, if you even think about-”

“Oh, no! Not that!” he insisted. “Please, you insult me; I am a professional. Things are strictly business, I assure you.”

“Yeah, that doesn't reassure me at all...” Rose muttered.

Giggling like a madman, Dr. Mordred grabbed at a syringe, then poked the needle into a bottle of unknown liquid. “Don't worry, my dear, it will aaaall be over soon. You won't feel a thing, I promise.”

Chapter #10

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.

Dr. Mordred gently flicked the end of the needle, after pulling it out of the bottle. The syringe was now filled and ready to be put to use. Turning back to the restrained Rose, he took a few careful steps towards her. She cringed slightly at the sight of the needle; it brought back bad, vivid memories of her father drugging her with his serum.

“I don't know exactly what you plan on doing,” Rose said, swallowing a knot in her throat, “but you'd better keep that thing away from me.”

“What, this?” Mordred brought the syringe closer to her, pressing his thumb down slightly on the the back end of it and causing a small spray of the liquid inside to leak out.

Rose flinched again, her eye twitching. Her hands balled into fists, muscles tensing up. “Just... keep it away.”

“Oh, the syringe bothers you, yes? I see, I see.” Dr. Mordred nodded understandingly. “Trypanophobia, fear of needles; quite common, really. But I wonder, is it a natural fear? Were you born with it, hmm? Or maybe it was brought on by some... traumatic experience in your past? Ah, perhaps the latter, I would bet on it, yes.”

“Don't try to pretend you know anything about me,” she said, frowning.

“No, no, of course not, I don't pretend anything. I am simply here to work, you see, and that is exactly what I intend to do.” Mordred held his free hand up and pushed her head to the side, while bringing the syringe up towards her neck. “Just relax, you'll only feel a small pinch, yes. Then, you won't feel a thing.”

Rose breathed out carefully. “Let me ask you something before you stick that needle in me, Doc.”

The doctor's hand paused, as his creepy, half dead eyes glanced up at her. “Mmm, perhaps, I think. Alright, go ahead, one question.”

“Are these straps really just made of simple leather?”

“Why, I don't know if- what do you mean?” he asked, a puzzled expression coming to his face. “I fail to see the relevance of-”

“So they're not reinforced in any way against someone with enhanced strength?”

“Well, I mean, I'm not sure if- why do you ask?”

Rose grinned. “Oh, no reason.”

Clenching her fists harder, she strained her muscles, forcing her arms and legs outward. She pushed hard against the leather straps, giving it everything she had. Within seconds, the leather bindings began to tear away from the table, gradually freeing her. Soon, she burst free of the bonds and brought one of her hands forward, grabbing Dr. Mordred by the neck. With an effortless motion, she shoved him backwards.

“Oh my word!” the doctor exclaimed, stumbling against the counter. “No, not supposed to happen! Not supposed to happen!”

With a violent shout, Rose pounced off the medical table and lifted the doctor up off his feet. Swinging him around through the air, she slammed him down upon the counter with enough force to dent the metal.

“The needle,” Rose said, glare hardening. “Drop it or I crush your windpipe.”

Without hesitation, the doctor released the syringe and held his hands up in surrender.

“You're going to answer a few questions for me, got it?” Her voice was cold, commanding.

With a nervous gape, Mordred rapidly nodded his head. “Yes, yes, of course, whatever you want!”

“Good. First, what is this place?”

“Oh, this, you see, just a special facility,” he explained. “Secret, built underground. Few know about it, I just work here, do what I'm told.”

“And it's run by Pavoni?”

“Ah, yes, he owns it. Sends me his subjects, I work on them, and give him back the results.”

Rose's eyebrows lifted slightly. “What subjects? And what for?”

“Oh, just the fighters, the one from your tournaments, yes?” Mordred swallowed nervously, fidgeting beneath her grip. “You know them. The top ones he keeps, let's them fight to make him money. But the not so profitable ones, he sends them to me, has me make them better.”

“Better, how?”

“Stronger. Faster. How did you call it? Enhanced? Yes, that's a good word. Enhanced. But the success rate is very low, few successes.”

A few quick thoughts ran through Rose's head, new questions coming to the surface. “Like that guy he has with him, Nico?”

“Ah, yes!” the doctor proclaimed. “My first success, a very good one, very strong. But, not so bright. Not supposed to be.”

“Not supposed to... what do you do to their heads?”

Mordred blinked, struggling slightly. “I... nothing, no. Well, maybe. I just make them listen, that's all.”

“You mean you brainwash them, make it so Pavoni can control them,” Rose said. “That it?”

“Well... maybe a little, yes.”

“Why? What's he need with a bunch of brainwashed supes?”

“For muscle, yes, why else?” The doctor took in a short breath, clearing his throat. “He has plans, rivals, needs the firepower, so to speak.”

“What plans?” Rose questioned. “What rivals?”

“Please, I don't know,” he insisted. “He tells me little, understand? I'm just the doctor!”

Letting out an annoyed grumbled, Rose's fingers tightened slightly around the man's neck. He might be lying, but then it didn't matter what Pavoni's plans were, or why he really needed his own private meta army, because she was going to end him before that became a factor. After what he did, after what she had discovered... he would pay dearly for it.

“And the girl, where is she?”

Mordred blinked, looking genuinely confused. “I- wait, what are you-”

“The girl!” Rose shouted. “Don't play dumb!”

“What girl?! I swear, I have no idea what-”

“Her name is Holly! She has two different colored eyes, one green, one purple! Your boss is using her for- he's-” She couldn't even bring herself to say it. Just thinking about it made her eye burn hot in grief. In a brief outburst, she lifted Mordred's head upward and slammed it back against the table. “Just tell me where she is!”

“I don't know!” Mordred pleaded. “I haven't seen her in weeks, I swear, okay? They come through here, I do my work on them, and I send them back. You understand, yes?”

Rose's throat went numb, heart suddenly dropping to a cold pit in her chest. “Them? There's more?!”

Mordred swallowed again, beginning to tremble frightfully beneath her grip. “Th-there have- yes, a few, now and then. They come in, Pavoni tells me to do my work, so I just listen. He pays me, I do the job, simple.”

Rose tightly clenched her jaw, anger growing inside of her, spreading like wildfire. “What work? What the hell do you do to those kids?”

“I- I- I-”

“Spit it out!”

“I sever their vocal cords!” the doctor finally blurted out. “They make no noise that way, yes? That's all I do, no more, no more!”

Rose took in a deep, slow breath. She was quite literally a hair's breadth away from going berserk. “Why... why would you need to sever their vocal cords?”

“Because, Pavoni, he...” Mordred paused, sucking in a deep breath and closing his eyes. “...he doesn't like it when they scream.”

That did it. She snapped. Taking hold of the doctor in both hands now, Rose whirled him around, throwing him as hard as she could through the air. His body crashed over an IV stand, skidded across another table, and finally smashed into the far wall with a sickening crack, his neck twisting at an odd angle. He didn't get up, didn't even twitch a finger.

“Damn it!” Rose shouted, driving her fists down on the counter and leaving behind two large, deep dents.

Breathing in deeply, she bowed her head and squinted her eye shut. Hot tears of rage seeped out from behind her eyelid, dripping onto the table below.

What the hell is going on here? What is wrong with these people? How can... so many be in on this, seeing these children get hurt and... and doing nothing about it?

An image of Holly, frightened and alone, flashed suddenly into her head. Rose's eye snapped open again, staring a hole through the counter. Not her precog, just her own guilt at not being able to save the girl when she had the chance. But this wasn't over, not yet, not while she was still breathing. If it was the last thing she did, she would find Holly, and she would save her, along with all the other children that Pavoni had hurt.

And once I've done that, she thought, searching around the room for her clothes, I'm going to fix everything else that's wrong with this city.

It took a few minutes of looking, but she eventually found her clothing stuffed in a nearby storage locker. She dressed quickly, feeling relieved to no longer be so exposed in such a strange place. Now, it was time to get out of here. She couldn't do a thing to help those children if she was stuck in some madman's meta breeding facility. Grabbing two large scalpels form the table next to her, she hurried into the hallway.

The corridor was empty, running straight in either direction. Just as in the previous room, the walls and ceiling were pure white, with a black tiled floor, giving the whole place a rather creepy, surreal feel to it. Briefly, Rose contemplated which direction to go in, glancing back and forth. She had no idea how to get out of this facility, which meant she had to make a guess and hope for the best.

And then, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye, something that forced a quiet curse past her lips. Up near the ceiling, a sleek black security camera pointed straight at her. Whoever else was in this place, they knew that she was free. Sure enough, she soon heard the voices, shouts echoing from down the hallway to her right. She looked in that direction to see several guards running towards her.

Well, looks like I'll be taking the left path then.

Turning, she sprinted full speed down the left end of the corridor. With the distance already between her and the men chasing her, and how much faster she was than them, they wouldn't catch her any time soon, not unless she hit a dead end. No matter what, though, she couldn't let anything stop her from escaping. Too much was counting on her.

Rose arrived at the end of the hallway and quickly turned the corner, keeping an eye open for any stairs, elevator, or other exit she might come across. Instead of an exit, however, she found herself face to face with another group of armed guards. They raised their handguns, taking aim at her, but by that time she was already moving between them and delivering knockout blows to their skulls.

More guards appeared. This time, she swung her scalpels at them, aiming at tendons and ligaments, disarming and disabling them in a flurry of graceful, acrobatic strikes. With the miniscule blades, she couldn't really cut very well, so instead she thrust, stabbed, gouged. She was like a demon, constantly moving, never letting them get a clear shot at her. The few that did fire off a shot only ended up shooting a wall, or one of their comrades.

The moment that a path was clear, she continued sprinting down the hall, searching frantically for a way out. Turning another corner, she finally saw something that surged her nerves with relief: an elevator. Coming to a stop in front of it, she reached forward to hit the button, only to then notice that it was already on its way down. No doubt more security. Moving away from the elevator, she hurried through the nearby door into a stairwell.

Evidently, she was at the very bottom level of this place, because the only way to go was up. Dr. Mordred had said it was underground, and from the looks of it, she had a long way to go. She raced up the steps, taking them three at a time and hitting her top speed, or at least as fast as she could go up a flight of stairs. When she neared the third landing, a gunshot rang out. An instant later, a bullet clanged off the railing next to her and ricocheted in another direction.

Rose gazed upward, spotting several more armed men moving down the stairs from above. One of them leaned over the railing again, trying to aim at her. She never gave him the chance, whipping one of her scalpels at him with deadly accuracy. The surgical blade embedded itself in his wrist, eliciting a sharp cry of pain as he dropped his weapon down the center of the stairwell. Reaching outward, Rose snatched the pistol out of midair and kept moving.

She had never liked guns. They were too simple, too boring. Her father had always mocked her about it, saying that she wasn't any good with firearms. In reality, she handled a gun just fine; they had, quite simply, just never appealed to her. On occasion, though, such as right now, she had been forced into using them. Taking aim up the stairs, she fired off a few shots. The men above her went down, bleeding but still alive. She sprinted past them, not once looking back.

---

Rose sucked in deep, exhausted breaths, as she pushed through the building's exit. It was a condemned, abandoned building, good cover for an underground hideout built deep below the surface. Too bad the security sucked. She made it out, and now that she was out, nothing was going to stop her from taking down Pavoni and putting an end to him.

Couldn't be tonight, though, too many things preventing it: she was tired, beat up, a little dazed, and starving. She had just fought her way out of a heavily guarded facility with nothing more than a couple scalpels and a handgun. The Orchid Lounge would be closed by now, this late, so Pavoni wouldn't be there, and she didn't know where he lived

Too many disadvantages.

Tomorrow night, she decided, staggering down the sidewalk. That's when I'll strike. And by god, I will strike hard.

Breathing deeply again, she dropped the single scalpel and empty handgun that she had been carrying to the ground; they clattered into a puddle below. It was raining, she realized, but she barely even felt the raindrops hitting her skin. She was too numb from tonight's event to feel much of anything right now, really, except the ever growing disgust she had with the lowest piece of scum on earth, Arnold Pavoni.

“You're dead, Pavoni...” she muttered, bowing her head low and stuffing her hands into her pockets. “I swear to god, you're dead.”

---

Meanwhile, a man sitting in a car parked across the street carefully followed Rose with his gaze. He wore a grey business suit, round glasses, and dark, slicked back hair. Lifting up his cell phone, he made a call.

“What the f**k is it, Jerry?” It was Pavoni, his voice grating over the phone. “I'm trying to sleep!”

“She escaped,” Jerry informed, remaining stolid and calm.

A dead pause followed, before Pavoni finally spoke up again. “And how the f**k did that happen? Where's Mordred? And what happened to security?!”

“You should have checked up on her a little bit more, before sending her straight to the facility,” Jerry said, breathing out a long sigh. “She isn't normal.”

“And what the hell do you mean by that?”

Jerry rolled his eyes, already annoyed by the pig of a man. “I mean, she's a meta. She could not have escaped otherwise, with what she did tonight.”

“Goddamn sh*t!” Pavoni shouted. “Is she gone? Can you find her?”

“I'm already working on it.” Jerry reached forward into the glove compartment, pulling out a small piece of laminated plastic. “I'm disappointed, though, Arnold. You really should have done a better job checking her background before you allowed her into your tournaments.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Jerry glanced downward at the object in his hand. It was a driver's license, the name reading: Rose Wilson. “Well, for starters, her name isn't Lillian Worth. It's Rose Wilson.”

Pavoni uttered an indifferent grunt. “So, what's that got to do with anything? People lie about their names all the time in my tournaments, never makes a difference. It's their ability and performance we're after, not their names.”

“Well, you'd have found some intriguing information about her if you'd bothered to run a check on her name through my files,” Jerry stated. “I went ahead and took the liberty myself, after you sent her to Mordred.”

“Alright, humor me.”

“Ever heard of a man who calls himself Deathstroke the Terminator?”

Pavoni paused briefly, thinking over the name. “Sure, the crazy mercenary who wears the mask, right? With one eye? Some kind of super soldier or something, real cold blooded.”

“Yes, and do you know his real name?” Jerry asked. “It's Slade. Slade Wilson.”

Another long silence followd, before the wheels in Pavoni's head began turning. “Are you telling me-”

“Yes, Arnold.” Jerry sighed, tossing the driver's license back into the glove compartment. “She is his daughter, and according to my information, she's been enhanced with the same serum that gave Slade his super soldier abilities. Are you starting to realize why sending her to my facility was such a stupid move? You should have just killed her.”

“Well, sh*t,” Pavoni muttered, “if I had known, I would have-

“But you didn't know, because you were sloppy. You didn't do your homework, and now I'm cleaning up after your messes, again. I've put up with your screw ups for a long time, Pavoni. I've even allowed your disgusting habit to continue. But that's only because I need someone in your position as a figurehead to my goals. The moment you become more trouble than you're worth, you're done. Keep that in mind.”

On that note, he hung up. Jerry sat there in silence for a long few moments, trying to remain calm; he was always calm, no matter how much Pavoni ticked him off. Eventually, he turned the car on and shifted into gear. He still had work to do tonight.

Chapter #11

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.

The rain came down harder now, almost a full on downpour. From his car, Jerry watched the apartment building across the street closely, one window specifically. The light had gone out an hour ago, a sufficient amount of time to wait before attacking. Of course, he wouldn't be the one doing the attacking, no. He never acted directly, not if he didn't have to. Instead, that duty fell on the 'hired help'.

Holding a finger to his ear, he made contact through his wireless headset communicator. “She should be asleep now, Drasko. Do as instructed.”

On the roof of the building across the street of the target's apartment, the large, muscled man, Drasko, acknowledged the command and got to work. His expression remained emotionless, actions robotic, as though he had no real mind of his own, instead carrying out orders without a second thought. Lifting up the RPG-7 launcher, he rested it on his shoulder and took aim at the designated window. Even through the rain, it was an easy shot, being so close. When the sights were lined up correctly, he fired.

The rocket surged through the air, covering the short distance in the blink of an eye and crashing through the window's glass. A split second later, it detonated upon impact with the far wall. The subsequent explosion ripped apart everything inside the apartment with the resulting pressure wave and shrapnel. Within moments, everything was quiet, save for the other residents of the building awakening in a panic.

“You'll have approximately ten minutes before the police arrive,” Jerry informed. “Take aim again and hold for five. If you don't see a target, then you are to go in and investigate yourself. Make sure that she's dead; I want a body.”

Drasko obeyed, this time raising a specially modified sniper rifle and taking aim on the devastated apartment. He waited for any sign of the target moving within, as unlikely as it was that she survived the explosion. The minutes ticked by, but he kept track, counting in his head. Three minutes, three and a half minutes, four minutes, four and a half minutes... almost time to move.

Suddenly, a dark figure appeared in front of him, blocking his vision of the building beyond. Lowering the scope from his eye, he glanced up to see a woman standing there, a woman garbed in an odd, armored costume, and a one-eyed mask covering the upper part of her face and head, with long white hair flowing out the bottom of it. She held a sword in either hand.

“You people must think I'm pretty dumb,” Ravager said, lunging forward with a vicious growl.

She swung both blades with lethal precision at Drasko's body. He reacted quickly, however, in spite of his size, reaching forward and grabbing her wrists. Her action stopped cold, held firm by his far superior strength. Raising his foot, he kicked her away with a boot to the chest.

Recovering her balance, Ravager narrowed her gaze at him, turning her body to the side. “So, you're one of them, huh? Pavoni's metas. Guess I'm gonna have to take it up a notch.”

She moved in again, faster this time. Drasko took a swing at her, but she was already out of the way by the time his fist even began moving. A powerful kick smashed into his jaw, followed by two whirling blade strikes. He tumbled backward, grunting out with pain as blood began to spill from the deep cuts running across his arms.

Drasko didn't let the pain stop him, though, instead charging forward again. But Ravager was far too quick for him. Dancing around the side of his attack, she slashed him again, cutting the backs of both his knees. This dropped him to the roof, unable to stand. He tried to stumble back to his feet, but his legs wouldn't respond. Instead, he rocketed face first into a puddle, as a vicious blow exploded at the base of his skull.

“Strong, but slow,” Ravager muttered, glaring at the unconscious man. “And stupid. Not a good combination.”

Narrowing her gaze, she heard a muffled chatter coming in from the earpiece the man was wearing. Curiously, she reached down and took the device, holding it up to her own ear and listening.

“Drasko, where are you? It's been seven minutes, you're running out of time.”

Glancing over at the edge of the rooftop, Ravager moved forward to the ledge and carefully examined the street. Whoever was on the other end of the communication must be nearby... there. The car was parked just a short distance away, the same car that she'd seen across the street when she escaped the facility. Leaping from the roof, she landed on the hood of he car with a thunderous crash, denting the frame inward. Staring back at her through the windshield was a neatly dressed man in a business suit and glasses.

“Out of the car, now,” she said.

The man smiled back at her for a moment, as if pleasantly surprised by her presence. Casually, he grabbed his overcoat and hat, then opened the car door and stepped out into the rain. By now, the weather had lightened into a soft drizzle.

“Most impressive,” he said, taking a moment to slip into his coat and place the stylish fedora atop his head. “Your ability matches your reputation, Rose."

Ravager's gaze hardened, as she hopped down off the hood and landed on the street. “How do you know my name?”

“I have a lot of resources,” the man claimed, reaching into his pocket. “Oh, and this helped.”

Removing her driver's license from his pocket, he tossed it to her. Ravager caught the license without ever taking her eyes off the man's face. “I really don't like it when people go through my things.”

“Of course you don't.”

“So who are you, huh?” she asked. “One of Pavoni's goons?”

“Not exactly,” he said, stuffing his hands back into his pockets. “The name is Jeremiah Belmont, but you can call me Jerry.”

“Well, Jerry-” she started, lifting one of her blades to his throat, “-you have about ten seconds to come up with a reason why I shouldn't maim you for trying to kill me.”

Jerry's eyebrows lifted in mock surprise. “Ten seconds? My, we are impatient, aren't we?”

Without the slightest shift in demeanor, Ravager inched the blade's edge close to his flesh. “Five seconds.”

“Well, if you insist,” Jerry said, growing an amused grin, “I can give you Pavoni.”

Ravager's demeanor shifted, confused. “You'd sell out your boss, just like that?”

“My boss?” A brief, though sharp laugh burst from his throat. “Ha! Please. That man doesn't have half the brains to run what you've stumbled upon. He's nothing more than a front, an illusion. He would be only a marginal loss.”

“Then who's really in charge?” she asked.

“Ah, but that isn't part of the bargain I'm trying to strike,” Jerry said, wagging a finger at her.

“Well you'd better come up with something else, then,” Ravager said, gaze hardening, “because I don't need you to find Pavoni. I know where he works.”

Jerry calmly held his hands behind his back, looking her square in the eye. “Yes, but I know where he lives. There is a lot that can happen between now and whenever you decide to make your move on him. You don't want to fail because you took too long, do you? I can have you there before the sun rises.”

“I'll take my chances, thanks. What else you got?”

“My, you do know how to haggle,” Jerry said. “Very well, perhaps you'd like the location of the children he keeps?”

His words garnered a brief rise out of Ravager, her eye widening slightly behind the mask. “You know where they are? Tell me.”

Jerry shook his head. “Not before we agree on the terms. If I tell you where they are, you leave me unharmed and go on your way, and forget we ever had this conversation. Remember, the longer you take to act, the more chances that Pavoni has to harm them.”

“Give me Pavoni's residence, too.”

“Very well,” he replied, removing a small pad of paper and a pen from his pocket. He began to scribble something down. When he finished, he passed the paper over to Ravager. “That is Pavoni's address. As for the children, he keeps them locked in a sub level of The Orchid Lounge, the floor below the tournament arena. It's inaccessible by stairs, and in order for the elevator to bring you there, you must have a properly encoded key card.”

“And where am I supposed to get one of those?” she asked, breathing outward in annoyance.

Reaching into his pocket again, Jerry pulled out a blue colored card of laminated plastic, with a magnetic strip on one side of it. “It just so happens that I have one.”

Without hesitation, she snatched it from his grasp. She gave it a long look before tucking it away with her license. “Why are you so willing to help me, anyway?”

“Let's just say that Pavoni has outlived his worth,” Jerry stated, “and that I wouldn't mind one bit if he were gone. Of course, being threatened by those swords of yours is... persuasive. In any case, we're done here. You go do your business, and I'll take my leave.”

“Yeah... I don't think so,” she said, taking a firm hold on her sword again.

Jerry's eyebrows slowly lifted, giving her a curious look. “Oh? And here I thought we had a deal.”

“How else was I going to get the information out of you? But now that I have it, I can't have you warning anyone that I'm coming, can I? Don't worry, I won't kill you... but I will put you to sleep for a while.”

A soft chuckle escaped Jerry's throat, a grin forming on his face. “You are smarter than you look, Rose, I'll give you that. Too bad it won't help.”

Before Ravager could make a move, Jerry tossed something by her feet, a small round device. It went off instantly, emitting a blinding flash that held strong for several seconds. She tried to move through it, but found herself disoriented, her vision blocked. By the time the flash dissipated away, Jerry was gone.

“Damn it,” she muttered, turning back around and hurrying towards her motorcycle. Fortunately, she had remembered to pick that thing up before heading home.

---

From a nearby alleyway, Jerry watched carefully as Ravager sprinted out of view. Things hadn't gone quite according to plan, but this worked well enough, too. Judging from his interactions with her, Jerry estimated that only one thing currently overshadowed her hate for Pavoni: her concern for the children. That being the case, he knew where she'd go first.

Taking out his cell phone, he placed a quick call. “Nico, you still at the the Orchid Lounge? Good... get your men ready, you're about to have company.”

---

The Orchid Lounge was closed by now; it shut down at two in the morning, and it was currently near six, the streets still quiet and empty. In spite of that fact, Ravager wasn't expecting to just walk right in there, free the kids, and get out with no resistance. No, there was bound to be some sort of security still in the place. If she had some time to come up with a plan, she could probably go about things a little more carefully, but she wasn't about to waste any time standing there like an idiot. Instead, she went with the direct approach.

Her precog went off the second that she kicked down the front door. She managed to lunge behind a low wall for cover just as the gunfire went off, automatic weapons tearing up the club entry. Moving as fast as she could, she kept low and worked her way around the side of the nightclub, all the while hoping that they didn't get a lucky ricochet.

They were waiting for me... figures. I'll have to deal with that b**tard, Jerry, later.

Over the gunfire, she heard someone shouting out a command, and then the chaos abruptly ceased.

“Hold your fire, damn it!” one of the gunmen yelled. “We're supposed to be keeping the damage to a minimum! Spread out and find her!”

Ah, the old split up and look for me routine... I love it when they do that.

Without having to worry about jumping into random gunfire, Ravager moved swiftly behind counters, tables, and everything else that she could use for cover. A few of the gunmen caught a brief glimpse of her out of the corners of their eyes, turning with a sudden gasp only to find nothing. Within minutes, she had them jumping at shadows.

Then, once they were sufficiently spread out, she attacked. These mooks were nothing but a bunch of idiots with guns. Easy. Remaining quiet and hidden, she took them out one at a time, crippling each with vicious blows to the neck and head. Though she only intended to put them to sleep for a few hours, the current urgency of her mission caused her to strike a little harder than she should have.

The final gunman caught sight of her and fired a shot, but she dove behind the bar in plenty of time to avoid being hit. The bullets instead blasted into the wall of liquor bottles on the shelves above her, splashing a cocktail of alcohol down upon her. She waited until there came a break in the fire, then sprinted quickly away from the bar and behind another waist-high wall. This time, he couldn't get a clean shot, and he paid the price for it. Ravager lunged out from cover close to his position, kicking his gun away and then hitting two precision blows to his neck. The man collapsed instantly.

Still on guard, she gazed around carefully and listened, searching for any sign of more guards. When she was certain that they were all taken care of, she hurried towards the back of the club, beyond a door marked 'restricted access', and came to the elevator. Once inside, she found the slot to swipe the key card that Jerry had given her, but on her first few attempts, nothing happened.

“Oh come on!” she shouted, sliding the car repeatedly through the slot.

Finally, after about five more attempts, and making sure to put it through slowly the correct way, the elevator lurched into motion, bringing her down past the fight club arena to the level below it, where the children were being held. She wasn't quite fully prepared for the condition that they might be held in, but she couldn't think about that. She just had to free them.

When the elevator doors finally opened, Ravager held up her guard, ready to react to anything on the other side. To her surprise, however, there was nothing. No guards, no ambush waiting for her, just a long, empty hallway with a few doors along its sides. Glancing around carefully, she slowly walked down the corridor, checking each room behind the doors.

Playroom, kitchen, bathroom, dining area... The implications sent a disgusted ripple down her spine, while a bubble of nausea knotted into her stomach. He locks them up, but keeps them in an illusion. Treats them well, gives them nice things... but all while using them. All while... I swear, he's dead.

Finally, she came to the door at the end of the hallway. It was locked, but that didn't really stop her for long. With one hard kick, she sent it flying off its hinges and crashing to the floor. Flicking the light switch on, she swallowed down a numb lump in her throat at the sight inside. It was a small room, with two rows of beds, one against either side wall. In those beds were about a dozen young children, all dressed in their pajamas. They appeared to range in age from maybe seven to twelve years old, both girls and boys.

As she stood there, just staring at them for, some of the children began to awaken, partly because of the light and partly because of the fact she had just broken their door in. They rubbed their eyes tiredly and looked up at her, uttering silent surprise. That was when she noticed the scars on their throats, all in the same spot.

Their vocal cords... they're all mute.

The only solace she took from that was the fact that she had already dealt with the one who had done that to them, Dr. Mordred. Still, the doctor's crimes paled in comparison to Pavoni's.

“It's alright,” she announced, taking a slow step forward. “I'm here to help.”

The children stared at her with wide eyes, some trying to hide beneath their covers. She quickly realized that they were afraid of her, though considering the outfit she had on, it was no real shock. In an attempt to put them at ease, she removed her mask.

“See? I'm not scary. I'm gonna get you all out of here... the bad man won't hurt you anymore, I prom-”

A precognitive flash suddenly exploded inside her head. This time, Nico didn't get the jump on her, as she reacted instantly and rolled forward just in time to avoid his wide, swinging punch.

Sh*t, he's going to fight me here, right near the kids!

“Everyone get to the back of the room!” she said, springing back to her feet.

The children all clambered out of their beds and hurried as far back as they could, while Nico rushed in for another attack. He brought his fist downward at her this time, but she flipped away. The tile floor rumbled and cracked upon impact, clearly indicating the man's level of strength. But strength was all he had, just like Drasko from earlier. She had the speed advantage, with much greater reflexes.

She also had her swords.

“I'm ready for you this time, you big oaf.” Drawing her blades, she coiled herself into a ready position, prepared to strike. “Give me your best shot.”

Nico turned, his expression and actions completely robotic, then charged at her. This time, he brought both arms in, trying to grab hold of her. He never came close, as she jumped upwards and pushed off his shoulders, then flipped around behind him. In the same motion, she slashed her blades down and left behind two long cuts at both his elbows, rendering his arms useless. Before he could so much as register where she was, Ravager delivered a crippling blow to the back of his skull, cracking the hilt of her sword into his flesh. Finally, he went down.

Releasing a long breath, Ravager sheathed her blades and glanced back at the frightened children huddled near the back wall. “Come on! Everyone, let's go, get out of here!”

Her voice snapped them out of it; they looked back at her, blinking for a few moments before running out of the room and heading down the hall, with her at the lead. She took them up the elevator, and finally out into the main part of the nightclub. Putting her mask back on, she told them to wait at the front area, while she made a quick call. She just hoped that the response was quick.

When finished with her phone call, she rejoined the children again at the front entrance of the nightclub. Her eyes carefully scanned them, looking for someone in particular. She didn't recall seeing her down in the bedroom with the others, but that was probably because she simply been distracted by Nico. But even right now, the girl was nowhere to be seen.

“Holly... “ she breathed. “Where's Holly?”

The kids blinked at her in confusion, none of them able to utter an answer.

“You know, Holly, she's one of you, she... blonde hair, two different colored eyes? Tell me you know her.”

A young boy, maybe twelve, stepped forward and started making frantic hand motions. His lips moved, as if trying to speak, but no sound came out.

“Alright, hold on.” Ravager searched around the welcoming podium briefly, soon discovering a pad of paper and a pen. She quickly passed them to the boy. “Write it down.”

The boy quickly scribbled a response onto the paper. When she read the message, her heart plummeted deep inside her chest, growing numb. Clenching her jaw, she crumpled the paper into a ball and tightened her fist around it.

He took her.”

Chapter #12

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.

It took fifteen minutes after she called them for the police to show up, and by that time the sun was beginning to poke its way over the horizon. That was fifteen minutes that Ravager could have been using to get to Pavoni's home. But she couldn't just leave the kids there with no supervision, not after what they'd gone through. Now that the cops were finally there, however, she could keep moving. The moment that the squad car rolled up and parked in front of the club, she sprinted over to her motorcycle.

“Hey, hold up!” one of the officers said, scrambling out of the squad car. “Are you the one that called this in?”

“Uh huh,” she replied, hopping on her ride. “The kids are safe, and the guys inside were the ones holding them here. Just do your job, investigate the place, and make sure they get taken care of. I still have work to do.”

“Sorry to burst your bubble, Missy, but you aren't going anywhere,” the other officer stated. “We'll need to take you in for you questioning.”

The second officer placed his hands to his hips. “Yeah, like what the hell are you doing dressed up like that?”

“And you do realize it's illegal to carry a blade over three inches in length in this city, right?”

Ravager ignored them, placing her helmet over her head. “I don't have time to answer any questions. Just take care of the children, will you?”

One of the police officers drew his weapon and pointed it at her; there were too many questions about this situation to just let her go. For all they knew, she could be the one responsible. “Ma'am, step off the bike and put your hands up. Now.”

“If you want to stop me, Officer, you're going to have to shoot me.” She revved the engine, slowly turning to look at him.

He didn't back down, holding his weapon steady. “I don't want to have to do that, Ma'am. But if you don't shut your vehicle off this instant and get off, I will.”

“Whoa, hold on,” the other officer stated, glancing at his partner with surprise. “We don't need to actually shoot her. We got tazers, don't we?”

Wasting my goddamn time.

With a lightning quick motion, Ravager kicked her leg upward and knocked the man's gun out of his hand, sending it hurtling through the air. Without so much as another second's hesitation, she gunned the throttle and raced down the street.

“Sh*t!” the officer said, running to retrieve his gun. “Call that in!”

---

Unfortunately for the Silverstone police, they didn't catch up to their suspect. By the time the alert went out and the other officers on duty began searching for her, Ravager was already halfway to her destination. Pavoni's home was actually located outside the city itself, in a rather secluded area of countryside. Ten minutes later, she pulled up outside the gate of the mansion, an overly elaborate residence with marble statues lining the walkway, walls of hedges, and a pair of fountains on either side of the yard. Half the money that went into this place was dirty, no doubt.

Ravager stopped her bike just outside the front gates, shutting the engine down and looking straight up at the top of the wall that wrapped its way around the property. A pair of cameras pointed right at her, and no doubt Pavoni had armed security inside to keep out intruders. Just as with her infiltration of the Orchid Lounge, this wasn't going to be subtle. Stepping off her motorcycle, she removed her helmet and walked up to the iron gate; it was locked, but not with anything she couldn't get through.

It took only two kicks to the center of the gate to break the lock, swinging the gate inward with a loud thud. Her precog went off just a second later, giving her a view of multiple assailants firing at her. She didn't need the precog to tell her that she needed to take cover, though, already moving behind one of the nearby statues. The rapid gunfire went off a split second later, sending sprays of marble chips flying into the air.

The men attacking her, however, didn't realize what they had just gotten themselves into. Ravager wasn't screwing around, she wasn't wasting time, she wasn't holding back. She was in her 'zone', so to speak, so focused on her goal that she wasn't going to give any of these untrained gunmen a chance to stop her. They didn't have any experience other than pointing and shooting. They didn't coordinate, they didn't try to flank her, they just fired on her position until their clips emptied, forcing them to reload.

Ravager made her move during that brief moment of reprieve, darting out of cover and racing across the lawn. She moved behind the fountain, behind hedges and trees, racing up to the front of the mansion. They took aim and started shooting again, but their weapons weren't built for accuracy, nor were they able to keep up with her impressive speed. Within moments, she leaped over the railing surrounding the outdoor patio and attacked the first man she saw.

Though she always kept the man she was attacking in between her and the other gunmen, they still assumed it to be a good idea to keep shooting at her, only succeeding in hitting their own comrades. Then, when she had to move to another man, she darted in and around cover, leaping up over walls, diving through surrounding bushes and hedges. Halfway through the whole attack, the men finally realized just how outclassed they were, and decided to be more careful, sticking together.

But there were only five left now, and even with them all grouped together and waiting for her, she tore them apart. Lunging up and over a low wall on the patio, she landed right in the middle of them, sending them into a panic at her sudden appearance. Before they had chance to recuperate and attack her, she dropped them to the ground with vicious blows.

“I am getting real sick and tired of people shooting at me today,” she muttered, kicking in the front door of the mansion.

The inside was about as much as she would have expected out of a mansion: large, elaborate décor, expensive furnishings, etc. A little ways past the open foyer was a second floor balcony, with two separate staircases leading up to it. She contemplated briefly where to begin searching; it was a huge residence, after all, and Pavoni was a single, slimy man.

“Pavoni!” She waited, listening for a response. Nothing. “Pavoni, get out here, you son of a bi*ch!”

Again, nothing. Well, it was worth a try. Letting out a calm breath, she walked slowly through the mansion, keeping an eye out for anything. She wasn't about to let Pavoni get away, not this time. She didn't make it very far, though, before a gunshot rang out and forced her into cover behind a display case. Another gunshot, and this time an expensive piece of pottery exploded in a shower of fragments.

“Damn it!” Pavoni yelled. “Do you have any idea how much that cost?!”

“You're the one that shot it, moron!”

Glancing around the side of the display case, Ravager spotted the man up on the second story balcony, his face still swollen and bruised from the beating she had given him earlier. He was also dressed in a loose bathrobe and silk pair of underwear, not a sight she wanted to see. Raising his pistol, he took another shot, but he missed wide. She didn't need to even duck out of the way that time, though; apparently, he had never been to a shooting range before.

Not wasting any time, Ravager raced through the foyer and headed straight up the stairs after him. He took another shot, missed again, and then his gun jammed. He hit it a few times, cursing, trying to get it to work. Realizing how fast she was covering the distance between them, however, he quickly retreated back down the hallway and through a side door. A few seconds later, Ravager burst through that same door, body-checking her way through it.

It was the master bedroom. A large, canopied bed sat near the back of the room, next to what appeared to be some kind of hot tub. A large, sliding glass door led out onto a balcony outside, overlooking the pool in the backyard below. She didn't pay attention to any of that, though; rather, her eye focused on Pavoni, and the young girl in a white dress he had wrapped in one of his arms, holding her around the neck. With his other hand, he pointed his gun at the girl's head.

“Take another step and I blow her brains out,” he said.

Ravager wasn't sure know whether or not the gun was still jammed, but she wasn't about to take any chances. As much as she hated to obey the command, she remained still, not about to put Holly's life at risk. The poor girl was in tears, her hands clawing at the much larger man's arm that had her trapped; she couldn't get away.

“Holly... it's going to be alright, you hear me?” she said, attempting to console the terrified girl. “I'll get you out of this, I promise.”

Pavoni scowled, moving the gun and pointing it at Ravager. “Shouldn't make promises you can't keep, lousy bi*ch. Do you know how much trouble you've caused, huh? How much you've cost me?! By the time I'm through with you, you'll wish you'd never been born!”

His mistake was ever thinking that turning the gun on Ravager herself was a good idea. It was the worst thing he could have done, as he immediately lost his leverage. The moment that Holly was no longer the target, Ravager sprinted straight forward, catching the man off guard with her speed.

Pavoni's eyes went wide, his throat emitting a gasp of surprise. In a panic, he got off two quick shots; one of them sailed past her head, missing wide, but the second ripped into her shoulder. In her current state of mind, though, she didn't even feel it, closing the rest of the distance and cracking her fist across the man's face. At the same time, she disarmed him of his weapon and wrenched his grasp away from the young girl, putting her in the clear. Before Pavoni could comprehend what was going on, Ravager delivered hard shots to his body, precision strikes meant to cause as much pain as possible, while making sure he retained consciousness.

“No! F**k!” he shrieked, as a vicious palm strike shattered his nose.

A following jab to the throat brought the man to his knees, coughing and sputtering, as he struggled to breathe. With a kick to the jaw, Ravager knocked him flat on his back. Taking a small step forward, she loomed over him, hands clenching to fists.

“I told you I'd make you suffer, Pavoni,” she said, gritting her teeth with an anger she hadn't known in a long, long time. “Time to make good on that.”

---

A figure garbed in a long coat and fedora hat moved casually up the walkway of Pavoni's property, taking careful notice of all the bodies littering the yard. Some were unconscious and some were dead, most of those being shot up by each other, the careless idiots that they were. Even still, Ravager certainly had done a number on them, and from the sounds of it, she had finally found Pavoni. The man didn't stand a chance.

Pushing his glasses farther up on his nose, Jerry stopped momentarily, glancing up towards the second story of the house. He wondered just how much time she'd take with Pavoni, whether she would make it quick or drag it out. Either way, he had to hurry; while he had no doubt that Ravager would end Pavoni, her still being alive would leave a loose end, one that he couldn't have lying around. He had to be certain that neither she nor Pavoni left this house alive.

---

With a furious shout, Ravager threw Pavoni as hard as she could through the air. He crashed through the door on the far side of the room, landing inside the bathroom beyond. He tried to get up, but a sharp bolt of pain kept him on the ground, writhing. A large, red stain grew rapidly at his groin, soaking through his underwear and spilling out across the floor.

“You... you're insane...” he uttered, lifting his head to see her approaching. “F**king psycho!”

“You don't know anything about me, Pavoni.” Walking into the bathroom with him, she delivered a malicious kick to his already bleeding face. She felt his jaw snap beneath her boot. “But allow me to explain a few things.”

Driving the point of her sword down, she stabbed the man's thigh, eliciting a horrid scream of agony. “I hate killing, you know, I really do. Mostly, it has to do with my father; he's a real cold blooded b**tard, and for the longest time I tried my hardest to be the complete opposite of him.”

Removing the blade, she lifted Pavoni up by the neck and smashed his face against the edge of the sink. “I did my best to never kill, to show everyone around me that I was nothing like him. It was difficult, especially when killing came as a second nature to me at that point.”

Gripping the man's arm tightly, she twisted and yanked it backwards at an odd ankle, breaking it with a loud snap. A horrid screech of pain burst from his lips in response.

“My old team had a large part in keeping me in check, though, making sure I never crossed that line,” she said, slowly lifting him back up from the floor. “For a while, it worked. I didn't kill anyone, no matter who I thought deserved it. Thing is, I came to realize over time that I wouldn't be able to abide by that policy forever, especially not when I was on my own.”

Ravager shoved him forward through the plexiglass door of the shower. He crashed over the side of the tub, landing in a broken heap. “ I tried so hard to be as different from my father as possible that I realized I wasn't being true to myself; I wasn't being my own person. My experiences, everything that I've been through in my life, have shaped me.”

Reaching out to grab the collar of his bathrobe, she once again lifted the beaten man upright, holding her at eye level with her. He couldn't even look back at her, his head dropping off to the side, eyes swollen shut. He was weak, defenseless, and near death; she still hit him again, driving him back to the floor with a wild punch.

“Through those experiences, I've built up my own moral code, a code that I choose to follow.” Ravager sucked in a deep breath, steadying her rapidly beating heart. “See, it isn't the act of killing itself that's difficult. No, it's what comes after, knowing that I have to live with the consequences of taking a life. It's all a matter of asking myself if I can deal with it, if I can cope with that decision. That's why, in most cases, I don't kill. Yet, sometimes...”

She grabbed the back of Pavoni's head again, this time dragging him over to the toilet. “Sometimes, there are some people that just flat out don't deserve to live.” She forced his head down, sending him face first into the toilet water. He tried to struggle away, tried to resist, but her powerful grip was firm, unyielding.

“The list of people that I allow myself to kill is very small,” she explained. “I'll kill if I have to, for example, if my life depends on it. You know, survival of the fittest, me or the other guy. But then, there are people like you... people who take advantage of children, hurt them, rob them of their innocence... you're the lowest kind of scum on this earth, Pavoni.”

Pavoni's struggles grew fiercer, more desperate. The air in his lungs had depleted, having no way of refilling with anything but water.

“A lot of my fellow heroes would call this murder. But you know something?” Ravager's eye slowly shifted downard, watching as the man's frantic struggles became weaker and weaker. “I don't care what they'd think, not one bit. I'm on my own now, and I'm doing things my way. To me, this is the first step in righting all of your disgusting wrongs. To me... this is justice.”

Eventually, Pavoni's actions became nothing more than small twitches and spasms, until he finally ceased moving altogether. Ravager stood there a few moments longer, just staring down at the lifeless man in her grasp. A nauseous sensation churned somewhere deep in her gut, but she ignored it. It didn't matter what anyone else would think; in her mind, she had done the right thing.

Releasing Pavoni, she turned from the bathroom and walked back into the bedroom. “Holly? Holly, you there? It's alright, you can come out now... he won't be hurting you anymore.”

A few moments later, the little blonde girl poked her head around the side of the bed. She paused a second, then cautiously walked into the open; poor thing was in tears, terrified, and clutching at a teddy bear for comfort. Taking a knee, Ravager removed her mask and gave the girl a small smile.

“You're safe now,” she said, with an assuring nod. “I promise.”

After a brief moment of dumbfounded staring, Holly ran across the room and dove into Ravager's arms, hugging tightly. Though she sobbed nearly uncontrollably, nary a sound escaped her lips, the result of her surgically removed vocal cords. At first, Ravager just knelt there, allowing the girl to hold onto her but not reciprocating. Eventually, though, not even she could resist returning the hug, wrapping her arms warmly around the girl's shoulders.

“It's okay,” she uttered, taking in a soft breath. “Everything's okay now.”

By now, Ravager was finally beginning to feel the pain from the gunshot wound, her shoulder growing stiff as a result. Still, she did her best to ignore it and push on. After all, she still needed to get Holly out of there, to a safer place, back to her family. Rising back to her feet, she lifted the crying girl into her arms and held her close.

“Come on, let's get you out of here.”

As she turned to exit the bedroom, however, a precognitive flash stopped her cold. It was different again, not like normal. She saw more than just one brief image, instead witnessing a whole series of events: a leaking gas pipe, a man in Pavoni's kitchen, the man placing a newspaper in a toaster, setting the timer, and then...

“Sh*t! Hold on!” she exclaimed, turning and sprinting straight at the glass door dividing the bedroom and the balcony.

Lowering her shoulder, she charging straight through the glass wall, making sure to cover Holly as best she could with her arms so the girl wouldn't get shredded by broken shards. Without slowing down, she sprinted across the balcony and leaped through the air, aiming for the pool. About midway through the fall-

KABOOM!

-the mansion behind her erupted in a massive explosion, scorching fireballs bursting through the windows. Ravager felt the heat on her back as she plummeted into the pool water. The shock wave from the explosion left her dazed below the surface, but she held onto Holly tightly, protectively. When at last she managed to swim back to the surface, she hoisted the utterly horrified girl onto the edge of the pool and then pulled herself up.

Ravager just barely crawled her way out of the pool. The gunshot wound was throbbing harder now, and her entire body felt as though it had just been run over by a truck. No, scratch that. By a train. Gasping for breath, she collapsed on her backside and stared straight up at the morning sky. Holly moved next to her, gently shaking her shoulder in attempts to get her up.

“Just... a second...” she wheezed sucking in deep breaths. “Just... need a breather.”

But she never got that breather, as she suddenly realized they weren't alone. Bolting straight upright, she turned and leaped up to her feet, putting herself between Holly and the new enemy. Jerry walked slowly forward, the burning mansion in his background. Slowly, he brought his hands together in a rhythmic, mocking applause.

“Once again, Rose, you don't fail to impress,” he stated, flashing a pleased grin.

Glaring at him, Ravager drew a sword with her good arm, while holding her other over Holly. “Stay behind me, Holly.”

“You know, killing you is proving to be quite the challenge,” Jerry said. “You're like a cockroach... and cockroaches need to be squashed.”

“Well what are you waiting for, huh?” Ravager took another step forward, holding her blade at the ready. “Give it your best shot.”

Jerry chuckled softly. “Oh, but I won't be doing anything. I loathe getting my hands dirty, you see, so on the off chance that the explosion didn't kill you, I brought backup.”

As if on cue, a thunderous crash erupted near the side of the pool area. A portion of the wall surrounding the yard suddenly exploded inwards, bits of brick and mortar flying in all directions. Standing there in the newly created hole was a hulking behemoth of a man; no, it couldn't even be called a man, not really. It was more monster, a towering mountain of muscle with a brutish face. The monster slowly moved its gaze, eventually focusing on Ravager.

“You like him?” Jerry asked. “One of my newest metas, fresh out of the facility. The formula we used on him was a little... unstable, though. He wasn't exactly supposed to mutate like that, but beggars can't be choosers. He's still far more advanced than any of the others, and he listens to his commands just fine, in spite of his... limited intelligence. I call him Blockbuster, after those other brutes that were created in a similar fashion.”

Ravager swallowed, staring up at the beast. Things had just become a whole lot more complicated.

Jerry grinned. “Blockbuster... kill her.”

Chapter #13

SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.

The hulking beast known as Blockbuster took a few steps forward, glaring and grinning at Ravager. He growled a real, bestial growl, then full out roared as he charged, swinging his massive arm like a club. Ravager reacted instantly, grabbing Holly and pulling the girl out of the way while dodging the incoming strike. Blockbuster was a lot faster and a lot stronger than the previous metas she had fought, but fortunately she still had a speed advantage, if only a marginal one. Her precog and reflexes really had to work on overdrive if she wanted to get out of this alive.

“Holly, run,” she urged, taking a few careful steps to the side. “Get as far away from here as you can.”

The girl looked up at her in a panic, pulling at her arm.

“I can't go with you right now, just go!” she said, running away from Holly. Blockbuster rushed her again, roaring loudly. “Holly, just run!”

Finally, the little girl managed to sprint around the pool and across the lawn. With her arms still clutching onto her teddy bear in a death grip, she raced through the newly made hole in the wall and disappeared.

Ravager flipped backward to evade another attack by Blockbuster, but her landing was unsteady, causing her to tumble backward to the ground. In top form, she'd have a much greater chance against this beast, but she was currently suffering from a gunshot wound and a body battered by an explosive shock wave. She could feel her balance thrown off, legs throbbing.

Running at the downed Ravager, Blockbuster raised both fists above his head and brought them crashing down at her. She rolled to the side, narrowly avoiding the incoming strike. Reacting quickly, Ravager drew one of her blades and slashed it at the monster's arm, an attack that barely left a scratch behind. She drew blood, yes, but what would have normally been a limb-removing blow on a normal person was about the equivalent of a paper cut to him.

“Well sh*t,” she muttered, ducking below another wild attack.

Taking her blade in both hands, Ravager hacked at the brute's kneecap, trying to go for the more vulnerable points on his body now. However, the attack again barely had an effect him, drawing only a small trickle of blood. As she attempted a followup attack, a sudden kick caught her off guard. Blockbuster's leg swung upward hard, smashing into her injured shoulder and rocketing her through the air. She crashed into a nearby gazebo, coming to an abrupt stop.

F**k, that's a broken arm.

Rolling out of the collapsed wooden structure, Ravager forced herself back to her feet, holding her limp arm and gritting her teeth. Fortunately, the broken arm was the one already weakened by the gunshot; if it had been her only good arm, then she'd really be trouble. Still, things weren't looking good and they were only getting worse.

Blockbuster leaped at her this time, threatening to land right on top of her and flatten her against the ground. Ravager moved fast, rolling forward and narrowly avoiding the impact, as the beast crashed back to earth. He followed through with another couple of smashing fists that Ravager's enhanced reflexes and precognition could only barely evade. She knew she couldn't keep this up forever. Her body was starting to feel sluggish, and the pain grew stronger by the minute. If she didn't figure out a way to end this soon, she'd be a goner.

Ravager dove out away from another attack, then lurched backwards to avoid another. In the process, her feet slipped out from beneath her, causing her to fall suddenly to her backside. Blockbuster didn't miss the opportunity, reaching down with both hands and scooping her up into his grasp. With a chuckling growl, he began squeezing harder and harder, holding her up close to his face so he can watch her pained reaction.

A scream erupted from Ravager's throat, as she felt her bones caving beneath the pressure. A few more moments and they'd likely shatter, with Blockbuster mushing her into a bloody paste. But she couldn't let that happen, wouldn't let it happen. Just managing to wriggle her good arm free from the monster's clutches, she reached back over her shoulder and drew her other sword. What she had in mind was pure conjecture, but she didn't have a whole lot of options remaining.

Clenching her jaw tightly, she thrust the blade forward at the monster's face, driving the point straight through his right eye socket. While most of his body was highly durable, some parts of him still had be squishy, and his eyes proved to be one of them. With a howl of sudden pain, Blockbuster dropped his victim and held one of his massive hands up to his face. He fell to a knee, shaking his head and beating his other fist against the ground in frustration.

Ravager took a moment to catch her breath, flipping the blade around in her grasp. “I have had... just about... enough of this.”

Moving around his thrashing arm, she lunged straight at his chest and stabbed her sword at where his heart should be. The blade pierced his hard flesh, but sank in only a few inches, likely not reaching anything vital. Still, it caused Blockbuster pain. The beast howled again, lifting a hand to grasp the weapon lodged in his chest. That's the moment Ravager was waiting for; the second that his big palm raised up in front of the sword's handle, she threw herself against the back of his hand as hard as she could.

The abrupt force caused Blockbuster's palm to lurch against his chest, driving the blade straight through his body and out the other side. The monster blinked a couple times in shock, staggering backwards and falling to the ground. He opened his mouth as if to growl or utter some other sound of agony, but nothing comes out except a blood-filled gurgle. Several long, teetering moments later, Blockbuster toppled back to the ground, lying motionless.

“Asshole,” Ravager muttered, falling to her knees.

She sucked in deep, tired breaths, the adrenaline from battle beginning to drain from her body. Her broken arm screamed in agony, while the rest of her body practically shut down with exhaustion; she could barely even hold herself upright. But at least now, she could finally catch that break she so desperately needed...

Or not.

Jerry suddenly appeared in her vision, walking up in front of her and pointing a simple handgun at her forehead. Under normal circumstances, she'd be able to disarm him and have him begging for mercy in a matter of seconds, but right now she could barely raise her head to look at him, never mind jump up and attack.

“It would be so easy to kill you right now,” he mused, “and after all the trouble you've caused, I really should.

Ravager swallowed a hard lump in her throat, clenching her jaw tight. “So what... the hell are you waiting for?”

Jerry stared at her a moment longer, firelight from the burning mansion glinting off his glasses. Eventually, he lifted the gun away from her and took a step back.

“The hell are you doing?” she said, eying him curiously.

“Letting you live.”

Ravager narrowed her gaze, posture slackening further. “Not that I'm complaining... but why?”

“Killing you now would be in poor taste,” he explained. “You're a worthy adversary, Rose; I won't dishonor you by putting you down like a dog.”

“Says the man who tried to blow me up.”

A pleased smirk spread across Jerry's face. “Yes, and you survived it. Then, even weakened, you triumphed over Blockbuster, as well. You're impressive, very impressive. Putting a bullet in your head while you can't even stand would just be a waste. Consider this a reward for your feats this past night.”

Ravager lifted an eyebrow a him. “You realize I'll still bring you down if I ever see you again.”

“Of course I do, Rose, and I wouldn't have it any other way,” he said. “Now, you may want to gather your strength and get out of here; this is a secluded location, yes, but home explosions don't exactly go unnoticed for long. The authorities will be arriving shortly.”

“Sh*t,” she grunted, slowly pushing herself up to her feet. She staggered there for a few moments before finally able to walk again.

“Oh, and that girl, Holly?” Jerry gestured towards the hole in the perimeter wall. “I do believe you should go find her before she gets lost in the woods. You went through all this trouble to save her, after all.”

Ravager grit her teeth, glancing back at where Holly had run off to. “We'll meet again, Jeremiah... count on it.”

With those parting words, she hobbled away from the burning property. In her weakened state she could barely keep her balance, half running and half tripping over herself. But she pushed on. Holly was counting on her.

“Oh, I am, Rose,” Jerry whispered quietly to himself. “Believe me, I am.”

---

“Holly!” Ravager called, stumbling through the wild terrain of the forest. “Holly!”

She took deep, slow breaths, forcing herself to move onward, despite the crippling pain racking her body. She tripped over fallen trees, slid down hills, even trudged through a small swamp in her search for the missing girl. It had been nearly half an hour since she entered the woods, wandering aimlessly to find her. Still, she wasn't going to give up. She couldn't, no matter what.

“Holly!”

Still nothing. Even if Holly could hear the calls, she couldn't answer. The best that Ravager could hope for was that they stumbled across each other, or that she spotted the girl somewhere through the trees. Pushing herself beyond her limits, she began crawling her way up another hill, her breaths growing quicker and raspier. Suddenly, her legs gave out, plunging her face first against the ground. A surprised groan burst from her lungs, as she slid back down to the bottom of the hill.

“Holly...” she uttered, rolling over onto her back and staring straight up at the sky. Everything was spinning.

Get up, Rose, come on. She tried to move, but her body refused, remaining motionless. Goddamn it, get up, you lazy b*tch! She's counting on you!

But she couldn't, her body simply did not obey her mental commands. She had finally pushed herself well beyond what she could, and her muscles decided to shut down on her. All she could do now was lie there, gazing emptily up at the spinning sky, while consciousness gradually left her.

As the world went dark, she could have sworn that she saw something out of the corner of her eye, a small figure approaching from the nearby trees. Before she can even begin to wonder if something was really there or if she was just seeing things, though, she passed out cold.

---

Several hours later...

Ravager blinked her eye open, slowly awakening. Her vision blurred, drifting in and out of focus, until finally things became clear. With a weak groan, she went to sit up straight, only to elicit a a sharp gasp as her body seized up with a paralyzing pain. Dropping her head back to the ground, she took in deep breaths, allowing her body some more time to recover before making another attempt. She finally made it into a seated position on her next attempt, though she was not without an explosive pain ripping through her ribcage.

Sh*t, I feel like I just went ten rounds with Superman.

She soon became aware that she wasn't alone. Turning her gaze to her side, she noticed a small young girl with blond hair nestled against her, fast asleep. Her heart immediately skipped about three beats in pure relief.

“Holly...” she breathed. “You found me. Good girl.”

She uttered out a small laugh of disbelief and then collapsed back against the ground. She had found Holly, but there were still a few problems with the current situation. One, she could barely move. Two, they were lost somewhere in the middle of a thick forest. Three, as the day went on and the sun began to fall, the temperature would go down, and neither of them were really dressed to survive a cold night lying there in the woods. Realizing the severity of the circumstances, she knew she had no other option.

Really, really never wanted to have to use this.

Carefully, she reached into one of the small compartments on her belt. She didn't have nearly as versatile a utility belt as, say, Batman, but she did keep a few things of importance in there for when the occasion arose. Pulling out a small, round communicator, she flipped it open and clicked the call button. Dick had given it to her when she left, telling her to call him if she ever needed anything. She really had planned on never using it, not wanting to go running to Dick whenever she had a problem but right now she didn't have much of a choice.

“Come on, come on...” she muttered, waiting for someone to pick up. “Work you piece of-”

Her words cut off when the communicator began hissing with static, followed by a familiar voice.

“Rose, is that you?”

“Ha... what do you know, it still works.” Ravager dropped her head against the ground, sucking in a deep breath. “You sure build them to last, Dick.”

“What do you need?” he asked. “Is something wrong?”

“Oh, you could say that... listen, I'm gonna need, well... a favor. How fast can you get that Bat-Jet of yours here for a pickup?”

A brief silence followed before she received a response. “According to your coordinates, it says you're almost 300 miles away from here.”

“Yeah, so sue me,” she groaned. “Just answer the damn question.

“A couple hours at the most, shorter if I hurry. Why, what's wrong?”

“Look, I'll explain when you're on your way, if you really want me to. Just hurry up, okay?” Ravager held a hand to her forehead, closing her eyes. “I... really need some help right now.”

“Alright, I'll be there as soon as I can,” he assured. “Just hold on.”

---

It took an hour and a half from when Rose first called Dick to come get her before he finally arrived, and another hour after that to get her in a change of clothes, come up with a story, and then transport both her and Holly to the hospital to get looked at. Only when Rose knew that the young girl was being taken care of did she allow herself to be treated, pumped up so full of pain medication that she passed out for about six hours.

When she finally awoke, Rose breathed in deeply and slowly opened her eye. The hospital room was dark, yet strangely inviting; then again, after lying for several hours in a forest, even her old apartment would be inviting right about now. Letting out a long yawn, she raised up her unbroken arm and held it to her forehead, trying to fight the dull throbbing between her ears.

“Finally awake?”

Still yawning, Rose looked to the corner of the room, where Dick sat calmly in a chair. “You're still here? Figured you'd have been back to Gotham ages ago.”

“I wanted to make sure things went smoothly, no complications or anything,” he said. “I've been answering police questioning all day.”

“They bought that I found Holly in a back alley, being assaulted by some random street thugs?”

He nodded. “And that they roughed you up when you tried to help her. Explains the broken arm and the gunshot, as well as the internal bleeding.”

“And then you showed up and ran the goons off,” Rose muttered, sighing deeply. “Huh, almost didn't think that would work. So, how's the girl, anyway?”

“Just fine,” said. “Her injuries were pretty minor, just some scrapes and cuts... well, and the internal scarring.”

A long breath escaped her lips, eye closing for a moment. She forced down the numb lump forming in her throat. “That poor kid's been through more than any child should have to. I hope that b**tard Pavoni rots in hell for what he did to her.”

“About that... you weren't the one that blew up his house, right?”

Rose narrowed her eyes at him. “That's what I said, isn't it?”

“Yes, and I believe you.” Dick shifted his posture, leaning back in the seat. “Just double checking; turns out that explosion completely destroyed his body. It makes determining the cause of death nearly impossible... well, if it wasn't, of course.”

“Huh, imagine that.”

Folding his arms across his chest, Dick's eyes slowly narrowed at her. “Yeah... imagine that.”

“So, if Holly's alright now, did her family come by to pick her up yet?” Rose asked, changing the subject. “They were probably worried sick about her.”

A brief pause lingered in the air, as Dick hesitated to respond.

Rose lifted an eyebrow. “Something wrong?”

“The girl, Holly...” he explained. “...she doesn't have a family.”

“What?” Rose said, suddenly bolting upright in her bed. “You're telling me she has no family? No parents, cousins, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles.... nothing?”

He nodded again, bowing his head. “That's exactly what I'm saying. Her full name is Holly Anne Sanders; her parents died in a car crash four years ago, and she was an only child. Most of her extended family passed on before she was even born, and those that are left are either in prison or in no way fit to take care of a child. She was in the foster system before her disappearance.”

“Wait, so... so she was a foster kid?” Rose held a hand to her forehead, trying to make sense of the situation. “Well, who was looking after her, huh? Shouldn't they be here?”

“The couple that was taking care of Holly before isn't... available anymore,” he informed. “Somewhere along the road, their life took a downward spiral. Drugs, alcohol, domestic disputes, things like that. They didn't even report Holly as missing until a week after it happened. Right now, they're being held up on a laundry list of charges, not the least of which includes negligent endangerment of a child.”

Dropping her head back to the pillow, Rose closed her eye for a uttered a small groan. Her headache was getting worse. “Then, what now? What's going to happen to her?”

“Well, she's in court custody at the moment. I imagine they'll insert her back into the foster system soon.”

“What? So she can end up in another sh*t hole like the last one?” She sat upright again, glaring at Dick. “No, no way! After what she's been through, she deserves better!”

Dick straightened himself, clearing his throat. “Rose, I wish there was something else we could do for her, but that's the way things work. She has no place else to go.”

A long pause followed. Rose took a deep breath, carefully thinking over the situation. She couldn't just let them throw Holly back into foster care, not after how it had treated her before. But what could do? How could she help?

Suddenly, she came to a wild, snap decision. It was a long shot, but to her, it made perfect sense. “What if I looked after her? Doesn't have to be permanent, just temporary, at least until something else can be done.”

Dick gave her a funny look, lifting an eyebrow. “Rose, I don't really think that-”

“No, quiet, just hear me out on this, alright?” She straightened herself, steadying her breath. “I know I can be a real b*tch at times, and I know I don't have a great track record as a 'people person'. But there are some things I'm serious about, and right now, I'm serious about that girl. She's been through too much for her life to be left up to chance now, and I know I can help her. I... I can do something good for once that doesn't involve punching someone in the face.”

“Listen, Rose... I can understand your wanting to help her,” Dick said, “but becoming someone's legal guardian isn't something that's accomplished with a snap of your fingers. There's a process, petitions to fill out, court proceedings, they have to determine if you're fit to take care of her, and-”

“What, you don't think I'd make a good caretaker?” she snapped, folding her arms.

Dick cleared his throat briefly, shifting in his seat. “It's just... you don't have a job, you don't have any money, you don't have a home, and then there's the dark stuff they'd dig up on you when running a background check... Your current identity and position doesn't exactly fit the right profile.”

“Yeah, well... okay, so all that could be a problem,” she groaned, lowering her gaze. “But, maybe you could help me out with that? I mean, you do have the resources to make it happen, and... please, Dick, let me do this. For Holly.”

Looking back at her carefully, Dick sucked in a deep breath and slowly let it out. Eventually, he gave a small shrug and held a hand to his head. “I know I'm going to regret this, but alright, fine. I'll see what I can do.”

A small, satisfied smile forms across her face. “Thanks, Dick, really. You're... a good friend.”

“You're welcome, Rose,” he said, nodding at her again. Then, he stood up from his seat and walked over to the door. Before leaving, though, he stopped and glanced back at her. “Rose, another thing... about how we left things between us last time, I didn't mean to-”

“Let me stop your right there.” She held a hand up to silence him, shaking her head. “Listen, you were right; I did some thinking on it, and yeah, it never would have worked. I just... I don't know, guess I was feeling emotionally open at the time, and you were being good to me, and... just don't worry about it, alright? It's in the past, case closed.”

Dick smiled, uttering a soft. “You'll find someone eventually, you know.”

“Ha! Right,” she said, chuckling. “You find someone who can put up with this personality, have them give me a call.”

Pausing briefly, Dick nodded to her again. “Get some rest, Rose, you've earned it.”

---

Three weeks later...

“So, this is the place, huh?” Rose said, planting her hands firmly on her hips.

“Yup, everything's set up and ready to go for you,” Dick replied. “Fully furnished, best home security system known to alien and man alike, and all expenses paid for by Wayne Enterprises.”

“Not bad, Grayson, not bad. I could get used to this.”

They were currently on the top floor of the Silverstone Residential Towers building, which consisted of some of the most expensive apartments in the city. When Rose had mentioned that she needed a new place to live, this wasn't what she had been referring to, but she certainly wasn't going to start complaining now.

Rose glanced behind her at the front door. “Holly, come see this, you're gonna love it.”

The young blonde haired girl with two different colored eyes poked her head into the doorway curiously, gazing around in wonder. She was dressed in proper clothes now, a nice blouse and jeans, and real sneakers. Though she couldn't speak, her wide eyes said it all; she was impressed.

Clutching her teddy bear to her chest, Holly came farther inside to investigate, eventually hopping up onto the leather sofa and smiling. A few moments later, she found the remote and turned on the large, flat screen television across from her. With a large smile, she settled back against the couch and watched some cartoons.

“I think she likes it,” Dick said, folding his arms.

Rose smirked. “Certainly seems that way.”

It had been a long process going through court and filing petitions to become Holly's legal guardian. The whole thing had really been a pain, but Rose never once considered giving up on it. Dick had really been the one who made it happen, though, setting her up with a completely new, squeaky clean identity, providing everything from birth certificates, a social security number, driver's license, a new bank account, a job, health insurance, the works.

Once all that was in order, she had been able to start the court proceedings, which involved everything from paperwork to private interviews with both her and Holly, making sure that this was something they both wanted. Though Holly hadn't known her new caretaker for very long, Rose did more good for her than anyone else had in a long time. Rather than face the unknown of foster care again, the girl had gladly accepted Rose's offer to become her legal guardian.

“That's not all, though,” Dick said, waving her along. “Follow me.”

Giving him a curious look, Rose followed him into the master bedroom. Her eyebrows lifted, a small smirk crossing her face. “And here I thought we put that behind us. But now isn't the best time to change your mind, Dick, there's a kid in the other room.”

“Very funny.”

Heading to the far wall, Dick entered a numbered code on a small security panel, causing a section to swing around. On the other side of the wall, now facing them, was Rose's Ravager gear, everything from her full costume, including a backup, to various swords, masks, and a few other unknown gadgets. Eye going wide, Rose's lips curled into a pleasant grin.

“Grayson, you really know how to make a girl all tingly.”

“I'll keep that in mind. Go ahead and take a look, though, I've gone and given your stuff a few upgrades.”

Acknowledging his suggestion, she took a walk over to the equipment wall and closely examined her new armor and weapons. “What kinds of upgrades?

“Well, for starters,” he explained, “I took the liberty of finally outfitting your armor with some Kevlar materials, or a mix really. Some Kevlar, some Promethium mesh. Point is, you're now as bulletproof as Batman.”

“These swords look sharper, too,” she said, bending down to get a closer look.”

Dick nodded. “They are, about 500% sharper, to be exact. Filed them down with some of WayneTech's top laser sharpening tools; they'll cut through things like steel, concrete, stone... well, most normal materials really. Still won't help against the really tough stuff, but at least they're more effective than your average blades. Just be careful with them; we don't want any accidents.”

Smirking, Rose gently ran her thumb against one of the blades; her skin barely even touched the edge before feeling the sting, followed by a trickle of blood. “You know there's no way I can pay you back for all of this, right?”

“Don't worry about it. You just do what you do best, stop the bad guys.”

She gave him a firm nod. “You can count on that. If anything good came out of my run in with Pavoni, it's that I learned just what kind of crap goes on in this city. Well, now they have someone who's going to clean it up.”

“I'll hold you to it,” he said, giving her a confident smile.

Reaching forward, Dick extended his hand. She returned the gesture in kind, shaking it and taking in a deep breath.

I hope you're ready, Silverstone City. There's a new hero in town, and her name is Rose Wilson.

5 Comments

The Ravager - Gotham Nightmares (#0-7) 2nd Edition

Disclaimer: I do not own any DC characters or locations. All rights belong to DC Comics. I do, however, retain the rights to all characters and locations of my own creation, which include: Rebecca Chavez, Holly Sanders, Apathy/Ruby, Sophie, Jeremiah Belmont, Michelle Blanchett, Isaiah Slaton, Michael Kubrick, Zaria (as well as her Celarian race), Shao Shen, Trance, Police Chief Gerald Palmer , Emilia Marconi, Francis Baldoni, Arnold Pavoni, Senator Thomas Greene, Agent Croft, as well as Silverstone City and all its interior locations of my own creation.

Rating: T+

Note: Well, because I am apparently an extreme glutton for punishment, I've decided to go back and rewrite/reformat my entire Ravager series (yes, all 109 chapters of it), by turning it from its original script-y form into normal prose, not to mention cleaning up typos, making some awkward paragraphs flow a little better, even adding pictures when necessary (because everyone likes pictures, right?), and generally improving it all around. I'm not expecting anyone who's already read the series to re-read it (though you can if you want to, by all means); I'm doing this mostly for myself, wanting to take my first ever fan-fic (and a doozy of one it was) and make it as good as it can possibly be. Who knows, maybe I'll even gain a few new readers who prefer reading a story in this format. I won't expect to finish this project for a while (probably around three weeks or so), but I should be able to get a fair amount done each day.

My Fan-Fic Archives: http://www.comicvine.com/myvine/ravager4/ravager4s-fan-fic-archives/87-79374/

---

Chapter #0

“Next,” the teller said, watching the line of people shuffle forward through the large bank.

The next person in line, a young woman with long white hair and an equally colored eye patch over her left eye, stepped up to the counter and uttered a disinterested sigh. Her name was Rose Wilson, also known as the Ravager, a former member of the Teen Titans.

“How can I help you today?”

“I'd like to close my account,” Rose said, rapping her fingers gently against the counter.

The bank teller lifted an eyebrow. “Oh? Well, we're terribly sorry to be losing your business.”

“Trust me, you're not losing much,” Rose insisted.

“I see...” The bank teller cleared her throat, straightening herself. “In any case, I'll need your account number and your identification.”

Rose dug into the pocket of her leather jacket, fishing her fingers around for several moments. As she pulled out her wallet, however, the bank doors behind her opened. Three men in ski masks and wielding shotguns stormed inside, spreading out across the floor. One of them cocked his gun, pointed it up at the ceiling, and fired. Instantly, people ducked for cover, screaming madly in terror.

“Everyone on the ground, now!” one of the robbers shouted.

Rose, still standing at the counter, slowly looked up from her wallet. Her expression slackened, more in annoyance than anything. “You must be joking.”

While everyone else scrambled to the floor as instructed, Rose continued standing there, unmoving. She wasn't in the mood for this right now, not in the least. She just wanted to come to the bank, close her account, and be done with it. But no, these ass clowns just had to show up.

“Hey, did you hear me?” One of the gunmen walked up behind her, holding his weapon to the back of her head. “On the ground! Are you stupid or something? You want to get shot?”

“I really just wanted to close my account,” she said.

“Well tough sh*t!” the man yelled. “Now, get on the ground before I redecorate the counter with your brain!”

The robber never got a chance, as Rose suddenly moved out from the path of his gun. He fired once out of panic, buckshot ripping apart the wall behind the counter. The last thing he remembered before blacking out cold was the white haired woman's hand chopping into the side of his neck. The other two bank robbers looked up from their work behind the counter, one of them going for his own shotgun.

“Sh*t, man, don't just stand there!” he yelled back to his buddy. Raising his gun, he took aim at where Rose had been standing just a second before.

But she wasn't there anymore.

Instead, she launched herself over the counter through the air, coming in straight at him. He tried to raise his aim in time, but he was far too late. She was on him in an instant, moving faster than a normal person should be able to. With two well placed shots to the neck, he, too, dropped like a bag of lead bricks. The only remaining robber backed up in panic, after seeing this woman take out his buddies so quickly.

“Goddamn psycho!” he shouted, fumbling with his shotgun.

He managed to get a shot off, but Rose had already rolled behind a desk for cover. What the man didn't realize, however, was that the woman had taken his friend's shotgun with her. Before he got a chance to fire again, buckshot ripped into his left thigh, eliciting a scream of pain as he collapsed. Rose then leaped over the desk and silenced him with a firm jab to the head with the butt of the shotgun.

With all gunmen subdued, Rose returned to her spot in line at the counter, while the other customers and employees quickly worked to get things back to normal. The bank teller behind the counter glanced over at the unconscious robbers in shock, already scrambling to dial 911.

“After you're done calling the cops,” Rose said, slapping her ID down on the counter, “I'd really liked to close my account."

---

Sitting calmly on her motorcycle outside the bank, Rose stared down at the amount of cash in her hands.

Three-hundred twenty-five dollars and thirty-two cents? she thought, breathing out a disappointed sigh. I could have sworn I had more... I really need to budget better. Maybe I should stop spending so much on booze.

Stuffing the money into her wallet, she reached over to her helmet and slipped it over head. Revving the engine, she took off down the street like a rocket, heading for the on-ramp to the highway.

So, Rose, you got a full tank of gas and a few hundred dollars to your name. Where should you go now?

Chapter #1

You shouldn't be here, Rose. This is his territory. He doesn't want to see you. Then again... who would, after what I did?

Standing out on the sidewalk, Rose tilted her head upwards, gazing to the very top of the large tower in front of her. Against the dark backdrop of the sky, the tower stood out like a beacon, bright lights beaming from many of its windows. Then again, much of the surrounding neighborhood was the same way, being one of the few decent areas in the city. She hadn't been to Gotham a lot, but when she had, she knew it to be quite the dark and dismal place.

Lowering her gaze again, Rose uttered a long, steady sigh. Well, it's not like I have anywhere else to go... just hope he doesn't mind a visitor.

---

A small, almost unnoticeable sound awoke Dick Grayson that night. His trained ears caught the noise well enough, even in sleep. Flickering his eyes open, he bolted upright in bed and listened carefully. The close of a door, the shuffle of feet, the sound of a microwave humming... someone was in his kitchen.

“The hell?” he muttered, slipping out of bed in nothing but a pair of dark boxer briefs. No time to get dressed if there was an intruder in his home.

Keeping to the shadows of his penthouse, Dick moved across the living room floor. Sure enough, a small thatlight glowed from the kitchen. The refrigerator door was open, too, and someone was on the other side, rummaging through his food. Silently, he positioned himself behind the refrigerator door, waiting for the culprit to pull back and close it. The instant that it began to swing close, he made his move, coming in with a precision strike meant to knock the person out.

“Whoa!” Rose said, turning her body to narrowly evade the attack. She entangled his arm with hers, pulling him towards her, and for a long moment the two just stared at each other in quiet surprise. Eventually, Rose's lone eye lingered downward, taking note of the man's perfectly toned body. “Well, hel-lo Mr. Grayson.”

“Rose?” Dick said, finally. He pulled his arm free and took a step back, arms folding over his muscled chest. “What are you doing here?”

She merely shrugged, taking a sip of water from her nearby glass. “Just passing through. Needed a place to crash for the night, figured you wouldn't mind.” She turned to the microwave as the timer went off, reaching inside to pull out her plate of food. “I mean, hell, this place is plenty big enough, right?”

Dick held his glare. “Rose...”

“So, you always have Chinese takeout for dinner?” she asked, trying to evade the questions she knew were coming. “Because your fridge is stocked full of it.”

“They've been looking for you, you know,” Dick said, tapping his fingers gently against his arm. “This makes it, what, the fifth time you've left the team?”

Rose shrugged. “Something like that. Hey, you want an egg roll? I'm not gonna eat both.”

“They're worried about you.”

Ignoring him, Rose took a bite of fried shrimp. Holding a piece up to him, she asked, “Sure you don't want some?”

Stop avoiding the subject,” Dick said, sternly. He wasn't smiling, wasn't joking. He was serious.

Finally, Rose's expression changed, a distant look coming to her eye. Breathing outwardly, she threw the piece of shrimp back onto her plate.

“Oh yeah, they're real worried alright. I could tell by the way they listed all the reasons I shouldn't be on the team.” A small pause followed her words. Turning towards the counter, she leaned on her elbows and hung her head. “I've never seen them that furious, you know. Wonder B*tch wants my head on a pike, and Tim wouldn't even look at me.”

“They're your family, Rose,” Dick said. “Family get angry at each other every once in a while, but that doesn't mean you should run away every time it happens.”

“Tell them that,” she countered. “I seriously doubt they were sad to see me go.”

Moving forward, Dick placed his hands on her shoulders, looking her square in the eye. “But they're still your family. I know you hate to admit it, but that's the truth deep down, right? They will forgive you, in time.”

Rose shrugged his grip away, taking a few steps back. You think it's their forgiveness I care about? I took off because of what I did. Not them, me.” She leaned forward against the counter again, holding herself up with her hands. Gaze growing distant, she bowed her head further. “I'm just... saving them the trouble from having to deal with me anymore.”

Dick lowered his own gaze, holding a hand against his forehead. He wanted to say something smart, something comforting, but for the life of him, he couldn't think of anything. Instead, he allowed a long moment of silence to linger between the two, until Rose finally spoke up again.

“So... can I stay here or are you gonna kick me out, too?”

A long, defeated sigh burst past Dick's lips. “No, Rose... I'm not going to kick you out. You can crash here for a few days."

Rose's demeanor instantly shifted. She raised her head, turned around, and flashed him a small grin. “Awesome! So, where am I sleeping? Your bed has to be big for the both of us, right?” Her smirk grew, becoming playful and suggestive.

Dick merely raised a hand, pointing across the penthouse. “You get the couch."

Expression slackening, Rose frowned at him. “You're no fun, you know that?”

“Goodnight, Rose.”

---

The next morning, Dick walked out into the kitchen, dressed in fine clothes and drying his hair with a towel. Rose was already up, dressed in nothing but a too-small towel wrapped tightly around her body, as she cooked herself a rather large breakfast in the kitchen. She hummed quietly to herself, flipping a couple of pancakes.

“So,” Dick said, buttoning up the top of his shirt, “judging from the underwear you left hanging up, I take it you found the shower.”

“Oh, yeah don't mind that,” Rose said. “I'll wash my clothes when I'm done eating.”

Shifting his gaze over to the kitchen table, Dick lifted his eyebrows in confusion. “You really plan on eating all that?” Spread out over the table was more food than any one person could possibly eat in a single sitting. Well... at least, a normal person, anyway.

“Just stocking up on fuel,” she insisted. “Figured I'd get an early workout on that home gym of yours.”

“Uh huh...” he muttered, grabbing his keys from the rack near the door. “After you get dressed, I hope.”

Rose glanced at him, grinning slyly. “Want to stick around and find out?”

Dick stared at her for a long moment, no amusement present in his expression whatsoever. “I have business to take of.”

“Right, right...” she said, shaking her head. “Gotta play up the whole rich boy persona to the media.”

“It's... not quite like that. It's complicated.”

Snorting out a laugh, Rose rolled her eyes. “Right, complicated.”

“What do you plan on doing today anyway?” he asked.

“Not sure,” she said, with a casual shrug of her shoulders. “I'm sure I'll figure out something.”

“Well, if you plan on sticking around, then you're coming out with me tonight.”

Rose's eyebrows lifted in surprise. Turning to him, she smiled, eyes brightening. “Out, out? Like-”

“Like on patrol."

“Oh...” Huffing out an annoyed breath, she turned back to the stove and continued cooking. “Gee, Grayson, you sure know how to get a girl's hopes up.”

“Just be ready by ten,” he said, heading for the door.

Flipping over another pancake, Rose shook her head slowly. “Whatever you say, Grayson. Whatever you say.”

---

This early in the afternoon, the bar was quiet. In fact, only three people were present. The bartender, busily hand washing glasses, stood behind the counter, while an older gentleman sat near the back, quietly enjoying his drink. Rose sat at the counter, lazily holding her glass and taking small sips. Technically, she wasn't even old enough to legally be in a bar and drinking yet, but fortunately the man behind the counter hadn't bothered to examine her fake ID very closely.

Brilliant, Rose, she thought to herself. You're strapped for cash and supposed to be budgeting your money, yet here you are wasting away in a bar at three in the afternoon. Couldn't even wait for happy hour.

The door to the bar opened a few moments later, activating the jingle of the small bell hanging above the frame. Two men walked in, one short and one tall. Both were dressed in fine business suits, not the kind of attire one would normally to wear to a bar. It made Rose, in her worn black leather jacket and faded blue jeans, look sorely out of place.

“Hey, John,” the taller man said, waling up to the counter. “Got everything ready for us?”

The bartender immediately stopped washing glasses, heading out from around the counter. “Sure thing, Danny. Follow me.”

The tall man, Danny, motioned to his partner. “Go with him, Gavin. I'll watch things up front.”

The bartender and the second man disappeared through a side door marked “Employees Only”, heading into the back of the bar. Rose glanced up from her glass, watching the door swing closed behind them, then slowly turned to look at the remaining man. She eyed him momentarily, before finally turning back to her drink and taking another sip.

Walking calmly up to he counter, Danny turned around and leaned back against his elbows. “Bit early to be hitting the bar, isn't it?”

“I could say the same to you,” she replied.

“Nah,” he said, shaking his head. “I'm here on business. Not looking to get plastered.”

“Me neither. Just... keeping myself occupied.”

“That so?”

She didn't answer, instead taking another sip.

“You look like you got a few problems on your plate,” Danny said, arms crossing over his chest.

Rose scoffed, keeping her gaze focused on her drink. “More than a few.”

“Ah, what's wrong?” he asked, leaning a little close to her. “Family? Boyfriend?”

She still didn't say anything.

“...money?”

At the mention of money, Rose briefly lifted her gaze, turning her head slightly to look at him. The action lasted only a second before she returned her attention back to her drink, but it didn't go unnoticed.

Danny smirked. “Aha, so it's money, is it?”

“Maybe,” Rose said, with a small shrug. “Why do you care?”

“Oh, no reason. Just my boss is always on the lookout for some potential new... employees. You're just the kind of person he's looking for.”

"What kind of person? Female, or just desperate?”

“Ha, maybe a bit of both, yeah?” Danny said, with a small chuckle. “But if you're interested, I could put in a word.”

Rose very slowly turned again to look at him, eye narrowing. “You're not some kind of pimp, are you?”

“Ha!” The man tilted his head back, uttering a boisterous, jovial laugh. “No, no, no, not a pimp! Here, let me give you my card, yeah?”

Digging into his suit pocket, he pulled out a small business card and passed it to her between two of his fingers. Rose stared at it for a few moments, then gingerly took it from him. In large lettering, the front read: Daggett Industries. She flipped it over, noticing the name 'Daniel Costello', and then a phone number beneath.

Meanwhile, John and Gavin reappeared through the side door, that latter of whom carried with him a rather large, unmarked box. Danny turned to them, giving a small wave.

“Well, looks like it's time for me to go,” Danny said, straightening out his suit jacket. “Maybe I'll hear from you?”

“Sure...” Rose breathed, still studying the business card. “Maybe you will.”

---

Dick Grayson, in the cape and cowl of Batman, and Rose Wilson, in her Ravager gear, both stood silently atop one of the many flat rooftops in Gotham's East End. Batman held a pair of binoculars (or as he called them, bat-noculars) to his eyes, closely watching the front of a particular building. Ravager, on the other hand, leaned back on her elbows against the rooftop's parapet, bored out of her skull.

“So, where's the brat, anyway?” Ravager asked, shifting her feet a little.

“Damien had prior obligations to take care of,” Batman informed, his voice deeper and gruffer than usual. “He won't be joining us tonight.”

“Oh,” Ravager said. “Shame... I was actually somewhat looking forward to seeing him.”

Another few quiet moments passed between them. They had been sitting here now for close to thirty minutes, just watching the same building, as if something were supposed to happen. Running out of patience, Ravager released a long breath.

“So, let's see...” she said, starting to count off on her fingers. “You have Batman, Batgirl, Batwoman... and then Robin. I don't know, seems a little out of place, if you ask me. Why not something more like... Batboy?”

Batman's gaze slowly turned towards her, eyes hard. Ravager frowned, folding her arms firmly across her chest.

“Well sorry,” she grumbled. “Just trying to make conversation. What are we doing here, anyway? Shouldn't we be roaming the whole city instead of just sitting in one spot?

“There have been reports lately about suspicious activity in this area.”

Ravager lifted a confused eyebrow behind her mask. “Uh, this is Gotham's East End.”

She turned briefly to look down at the streets below. The entire neighborhood was run down and in disrepair. The streets were dirty, trash littering the sidewalks and old abandoned cars stalled on the sides of the road. From her position, she spotted a homeless man sleeping beneath the cover of cardboard boxes in an alley, two men involved in what could only be a drug deal, and a couple of highly inappropriately dressed women standing on the street corner. She'd be damned if those weren't prostitutes.

“The entire place full of suspicious activity,” she concluded, glancing at Batman.

“More suspicious than usual.”

“Uh huh...” Rose said, rolling her eyes. “Well, you are the expert, so whatever you say.”

Needing a way to pass the time, Ravager reached over her shoulder and unsheathed one of the swords crossed over her back. She held the blade up, carefully inspecting it. Within a few seconds of examination, she noticed a small smudge and carefully scrubbed it with her thumb.

“I really wish you used less lethal weapons,” Batman stated, still watching the building.

“Right, because bat-shaped shuriken are so much safer,” she mocked. “All it takes is one misplaced shot to some poor guy's artery and whoops, you've gone and killed him.”

Batman's demeanor remained stolid. “Theoretically. But I don't miss.”

“Yeah, and neither do I.” Ravager sheathed her sword again, then crossed her arms back over her chest. “Trust me, I've had enough practice to know where to cut someone without killing them.”

The pair continued surveying the building. Within the next ten minutes, a white, windowless van rolled up out front and backed up towards the small garage off to the side. Several men in hooded jackets jumped out, one from the driver's side, one from the passenger's side, and four from the rear doors. They spoke quietly to each other, voices too low to hear from across the street.

“This kind of reminds me when we were working together in Blüdhaven,” Ravager mused, still not paying any attention to the building across the street. “Back when you were going by 'Renegade', remember? Gotta say, that costume looked a lot better than this one...” She turned her gaze slightly, looking at where his rear end would be. “The cape is blocking my view.”

“Get ready,” Batman said, ignoring her statements. “We're going to act shortly.”

Narrowing her eye, Ravager followed his watchful gaze over to the front of the building. The men were busily bringing out large boxes from the garage and loading them into the back of the van.

“What's so suspicious about a bunch of guys loading their van with boxes?” she asked.

“It's sixty degrees out,” he explained, “and they're all wearing heavy jackets with the hoods up.”

Understanding slowly came to Ravager. “To conceal their identities... right, but still-”

“And the one standing watch at the front door is carrying a mini uzi.”

Ravager blinked in surprise, focusing on the man guarding the front door. “Oh...”

“Attention to detail, Rose,” Batman said, reaching into his utility belt. He pulled out three small smoke pellets. “One of the first things I taught you. Or did you forget that already?"

“Shut up,” she mumbled. “Let's just get this over with.”

Batman tossed the pellets directly into the middle of the group. A small hiss greeted the air, as they released a thick blanket of choking haze over the surrounding area. As the men began running around and coughing, trying to gain their bearings, Batman pointed his grappling hook across the street to the opposite rooftop. In seconds, he glided down across the street, leading with his feet and smashing into the man carrying the uzi.

Ravager was right behind him, though she didn't have any fancy gadgets to make as cool an entrance. Still, not one to be outdone, she moved through the smoke and began picking apart the men with strong, precise blows. She might have attacked a bit harder than she needed to in order to subdue them, but she didn't care. As long as they went down and stayed down, she was satisfied.

When the smoke cleared, Batman and Ravager stood above five unconscious men. Batman studied them carefully, making sure none of them made a move to get up, then turned towards the van.

“Is this all you do every night?” Ravager asked, holding up a palm in front of her mouth and uttering a mock yawn. “Piece of cake.”

Batman ignored the comment, reaching for the van's rear door handles. “Let's see out what they were trying to move.”

At that moment, a sudden flash ran through Ravager's head. She saw the van, and Batman opening the doors. There was a gunshot, from a man waiting inside with a shotgun. Buckshot tore into Batman's face, ripping his jaw to pieces. He went down, bleeding, twitching... and then the vision ended, her mind back in the real world. In a near panic, she lunged forward just as Batman threw the doors open.

“Get down!”

The thug waiting inside the van fired off a shot, but instead of hitting Batman, Ravager felt the buckshot blast through her armor and tear open the meat of her shoulder. Immediately, the thug turned around and scrambled toward the front of the van. In seconds, the vehicle took off down the street, tires screeching. With the rear doors still wide open, however, several boxes tumbled out the back and clattered to the street. Grunting in annoyance, Batman carefully helped Ravager back to her feet.

“Hold still,” Batman said, taking a look at Ravager's shoulder. “Let's see it.”

Cringing in pain, Ravager recoiled and breathed out a sharp breath. “Careful! That hurts!”

He took a few moments to examine the damage. The armor reduced most of the impact, but bright crimson still leaked out the wound down her backside.

“It's not too bad,” Batman stated, turning to look at one of the fallen boxes. “But we'll have to get you back to the bunker so I can remove the buckshot and properly clean the wound.”

“Don't worry about me, really,” Ravager said, clutching a hand over the growing trickle of blood. “I'll be fine.”

Crouching low to he ground, Batman reached inside the box and pulled out a small chemical canister. “How did you know there was another gunman inside the van, anyway?”

“I'm a precog, remember?” she reminded, breathing in deeply. “I saw it before it happened."

Glancing back up at her, Batman's eyes narrowed. “I didn't realize your precog activated for anyone other than yourself.”

“Yeah...” she muttered. “Neither did I.”

Chapter #2

Later that night, Dick and Rose retreated below Wayne Tower into the Bat Bunker, a replacement for the original Batcave. In the upper levels of the bunker, Rose lied flat against the padded exam table, the back of her costume open and exposing her injured backside. The flesh just below her shoulder was torn apart from the shotgun blast, though it would have been much worse if not for her armor.

With a strong light shining down directly on the injury, Dick carefully worked to remove the large pellets of buckshot with a long pair of sterilized tweezers. He kept a wet cloth nearby, using it to mop up any excess blood that oozed out whenever Rose's muscles twitched from the touch of the invasive prongs. Each metal pellet that he removed from her tattered flesh, he tossed into a small dish just within arm's reach.

Though she flinched slightly each time the tweezers dug in, Rose made no sound, no audible gasp of pain. Whatever pain that she had felt after receiving the initial injury appeared to have subsided; either that, or she simply refused to show it.

“You should really consider upgrading your armor to make it bulletproof,” Dick said, carefully clasping another round pellet with the tweezers. “A little Kevlar goes a long way.”

“In case you haven't noticed,” Ravager said, resting her head against her folded arms in front of her, “some us don't have the means or the funds to acquire new gear whenever we feel like it.”

“Then, maybe I can help you out, design you something myself?”

Rose breathed out a long sigh and slowly shook her head. “Appreciate the offer and all, but I don't need anymore favors. You're already letting me stay in your home.”

“Rose, you just took a bullet for me,” Dick insisted. “The least I can do is improve your armor for you.”

Rose flinched briefly, as the tweezers again dug into her damaged flesh, causing a sudden spurt of blood to seep out of her wound; Dick quickly dabbed it up with his cloth.

“Don't worry yourself over it, really,” she said, staring blankly forward. “I'm not worth it.”

Dick ceased his work for a moment, raising his gaze from her shoulder to the back of her head. A frown formed on his face, followed by a heavy sigh. “Rose, how do you expect others to like or respect you when you hold such a low opinion of yourself?”

Forming her own frown, Rose turned her head slightly. “Really, Dick? A lecture is the last thing I want right now.”

“I'm just saying-” He went back to removing the buckshot from her shoulder, digging the tweezers into a particular deep entry point. Rose's fingers gripped the edge of the table suddenly, tensing up. “-you don't give yourself enough credit. I mean, yeah you can be obnoxious, self loathing, and rather grating at times-”

“Gee, don't sugar coat it.”

“-but you're a much better person now than you used to be, whether you see that or not,” Dick continued. “Just the fact that you blame yourself for what happened back with the Titans, it shows a level of maturity that I used to doubt you'd ever find.”

Rose lifted an eyebrow. “What are you talking about? How could I not blame myself for that? It was my fault, there's no way around it. What happened then... it was my doing, and I have every reason to suffer for it.”

“But that's what I mean,” he explained. “Yeah, it was your fault. You made a mistake, and people paid the price for it. But you're accepting the responsibility of that mistake, and that's where the maturity comes from. There was a time when you would have thrown blame at everyone other than yourself, but not anymore. Now, you're owning up to it.”

A silence passed between them. Rose lowered her gaze to the floor, expression growing distant. She wanted to argue with him, to tell him he was wrong, but she couldn't think of any witty or biting remark to make. Instead, she breathed out a weak, “Maybe...”

“My point,” he said, dropping another pellet into the metal dish, “is that you've come a long way from the impulsive brat you used to be. You should be proud of yourself.”

At his words, a long sigh escaped her lips. “Proud of myself, right... maybe when I'm not getting innocent people killed."

“Rose-”

“No, don't, please,” she said, cutting him off quickly. “Just don't. No matter how much I've matured, it doesn't change what happened. I still have to live with it.”

Another small pause. Dick breathed out a sigh of his own, shaking his head. “It's not a crime to forgive yourself, you know. It was a mistake; a pretty bad one, sure, but we all make mistakes. I'm no exception.”

Rose didn't answer, instead allowing an uncomfortable silence to consume the bunker. The only sound came from the steady metallic clink of each pellet that Dick tossed into the dish. Eventually, Dick spoke up again, deciding it better to change the subject this time.

“So, was that the first time your precog ever activated for someone else?” he asked.

“As far as I can remember, yeah,” she replied. “Usually only goes off when I'm in battle, when someone's attacking me. For it to kick in when something's about to happen to someone else... well, it's new.”

“Interesting...”

Rose glanced back over her shoulder at him. “What?”

“Well, it is possible that your ability is evolving somehow, no longer restricting itself to activating only when your own well-being is at stake,” he said.

“Maybe...” she said, taking his words into consideration. She supposed it made sense. “Are you almost done back there, by the way? Or do you just enjoy staring at my backside that much?”

“Just about...” he informed, grasping at another pellet. “Last one. And... got it.”

The last pellet hit the dish with another echoing clink. Dick took the next several minutes to stop the bleeding completely, then clean and sterilize the wound, before applying a dressing and carefully covering it with bandages.

“There, all set. Just don't strain yourself for a while.”

Rose chuckled. “Please, I've always been a fast healer. “Give it a day or two. I'll be good as new.”

Pushing herself up on the table, Rose took a moment to slip her costume completely back on. Dick respectfully turned his attention elsewhere during this time, and she couldn't help but frown a little when she noticed it. For whatever reason, he had always been able to completely ignore or reject any sort of advance she made on him. Granted, most of the time she was simply having her fun, teasing him to get a reaction, but even when she was being somewhat serious... he never took the bait, not once. Perhaps he could just sense that she only desired the physical aspect, and for that he would never accept her advances.

Dick Grayson, ever the gentleman.

“Anyway, you stay here, recover,” Dick said, pulling his cape and cowl back on. “The lift over on the far side of the bunker will take you straight up to the penthouse; the access code is 367814.”

“And where are you going?”

Heading toward the stairs, he looked back over his shoulder. “Need to set up the computer to run a chemical analysis on the contents of those canisters we found, then I'm going back out. The night isn't even half over.”

“You know, I'm injured, not crippled. I can still-”

He merely held up a hand and shook his head. “Don't worry about it. Just take it easy, alright? Besides, I thought you were against the whole 'rooftop-to-rooftop crime fighting' thing?”

“Well, I...” she started, before finally deciding against it and shaking her head. “Whatever, just go. I'll be here when you get back.”

“Right, see you later.” He gave her a nod, then started down the stairs. He stopped briefly to give her one last look. “Oh, and Rose... don't touch anything.”

When he finally disappeared, she folded her arms across her chest and frowned. “Don't touch anything... like I'm a freakin' child or something...”

Groaning quietly to herself, she grabbed her Ravager mask and began walking towards the back of the cave, with every intention of returning to the penthouse. About as quickly as that intention went through her mind, however, she decided to further explore the Bat Bunker.

She spent some time examining the garage area, containing a whole assortment of different bat-vehicles, as well as the training area, and what appeared to be the research area, complete with a large, multi-screened computer. Nearby, one of the canisters they had found that night sat in some kind of automated chamber emitting a small hum. Eying the computer curiously, she held a hand up to her chin and closely inspected it.

Well, I'm sure he wouldn't mind if I just used it for a few minutes...

Before she got the chance, however, an abrupt yet calm voice with a noticeable English accent interrupted her. “I believe Master Dick told you not to touch anything.”

Turning around quickly, Rose snapped her gaze behind her to see an older gentleman in a black tuxedo, carrying a silver tray with him. “Who the hell are you?”

“Alfred Pennyworth, longtime friend and butler of the, erm... Bat Family,” he informed.

Rose's eyebrows lifted. “So, being Batman comes with its own turndown service? Not bad.”

Reaching up to the tray he carried, Alfred lifted the cover to reveal a steaming bowl of soup, a plate of biscuits, and a hot cup of tea. “May I offer you something to eat or drink, Miss Rose?”

Eying the plate carefully, Rose took a small step back. “Um... as appetizing as that looks, I'm not really that hungry. Think I might just head back up to the penthouse."

“Shall I escort you to the lift, then?”

“I remember where it is, thanks.”

Marching away from the butler, she headed back up the stairs to the back of the bunker, where the lift was located. She couldn't help but notice Alfred idly following her, as if expecting her to run into some kind of trouble. Stepping inside the lift, she found a large panel of numbers next to the door, obviously used to punch in the access code. Lifting a finger to the panel, Rose merely stared at the numbers.

“Anything I can help you with?” Alfred asked.

Slowly, she glanced toward him, giving a curious expression. “...what was the access code, again?”

“The access code is 367814.”

“Right... uh, thanks.” Rose swiftly punched in the proper numbers, then leaned back against the wall, as the lift doors began to close. “Later, Jeeves.”

“It's 'Alfred', actually,” he stated.

Rose shrugged. “Alfred, Jeeves, whatever. They're both butler names.”

---

The next day, Rose drove her motorcycle up to the front of an old warehouse, slowing to a stop and giving the front of the building a long look. Several men sat outside by the entrance, playing cards on a small crate. Unlike last night, this time she was paying attention; she spotted the top of a handgun stuffed into the back of one's pants. It was safe to assume that they were all similarly equipped.

So, armed guards in front of a back alley shipping warehouse, down by the docks. Not suspicious at all.

That morning, she had given a call to Danny, the man she'd met in the bar the previous day. She normally never would have called some random guy like that, but hey, she needed cash and he said he had a job for her. So, might as well at least check it out. Of course, it was fast becoming apparent that the work he had was probably not legal. Not that that was a bad thing, of course. If it was illegal, then she could always investigate further as Ravager, maybe bust of a smuggling ring or something while she was staying in Gotham.

After her initial inspection, she hit the throttle on her bike and closed the distance between her and the front of the building. She came to a halt right in front of the men playing cards, then reached up to remove her helmet. The thugs glanced up at her warily, hands reaching for their firearms.

“This ain't a place for pretty dames t'be wanderin',” one of the men said. “Get goin' back the way ya came.”

“I'm here to see Danny,” she explained. “I called earlier.”

The men's hands suddenly relaxed, moving away from their weapons. They gave each other curious looks, whispering to each other for a couple moments. One of them nodded commandingly, causing another to get up and head inside the warehouse to get Danny.

“He'll be right out,” the goon said. “Y'know... when Danny said he was expectin' company, you ain't quite what I imagined.”

“Oh really, and what exactly did you imagine?”

The man let out an amused laugh, lips curling into a lecherous grin. “Just, y'know... not you.”

Rose rolled her eyes in annoyance, proceeding to now largely ignore the man while she waited for Danny to arrive. Fortunately, she didn't have to wait very long. The warehouse doors opened a short moment later, with Danny walking into view. He smiled broadly, motioning for her to follow him inside.

“Aha, I knew you'd be giving me a call!” he exclaimed. “I just didn't expect it so soon, yeah? Welcome, welcome!”

“Well, you said it yourself, right?” Rose said, quickly following him into the warehouse. “I got money problems.”

Danny chuckled, leading her down past the loading docks and into the main storage area. “Good, that's good. I mean, that you came to see us so soon. We just lost a few guys recently.”

Rose lifted an eyebrow. “Lost a few guys... how exactly?”

“Nothing to worry about,” he assured. “Just had a... bit of a rodent problem, is all.”

A rodent problem? Either he means Batman, or there are some giant killer rats living in the sewers that I'm not aware of.

Rose made a mental note of everything she saw, mostly just various workers using forklifts and pallet jacks to move large crates around the building. So far, it looked like an ordinary warehouse, but there had to be something else going on behind the scenes. It didn't take the world's greatest detective to realize that there was some shady activity going on here.

“So, we got a delivery going out soon, lot of boxes that need to be moved,” Danny said. “I don't judge just because you're a woman; you look plenty strong enough to me. Think you can handle a bit of heavy lifting?”

“Not a problem.”

“Excellent, just what I like to hear!” he proclaimed, laughing. “I think you'll fit in just fine around here.”

Reaching a hand out, he gave a friendly, firm slap to her left shoulder, right on top of the wrapped wound. A sudden, raw jolt of pain surged through her, but she made no indication of it. She merely grit her teeth, choking down any audible utterance of pain she might have given. Taking a deep breath, she allowed the dull throb to work its way out and finally disappear.

“So, judging from that card you gave me, I take it you work for Daggett Industries?” Rose asked.

“Yes, yes, right under Mr. Daggett himself, in fact. Right now, I'm in charge of overseeing most aspects of this operation, making sure that everything goes smoothly.”

Rose paused momentarily, looking back over her shoulder as they came to the offices. “And... what operation is that, exactly?”

“Mr. Daggett has ordered a very large shipment from a very particular supplier,” Danny explained. “I'm here to see that we get everything we need, and the supplier gets everything he needs.

“Wait, if you're the ones that ordered the shipment, why are you making a delivery?”

Danny chuckled. “Ah, it's a little more complicated than your average order. Mr. Daggett ordered a very special product from an independent supplier. The only problem is that this certain product is difficult to make, and the materials are not usually readily obtainable. However, Daggett Industries possesses an ample supply of these materials. We provide the supplier with the materials, he uses them in the creation process, and we buy back the completed product at a discount.”

“I see...” Rose breathed, contemplating what kind of supplier this could be. “I guess that makes sense, but why not just hire this supplier, whoever he is, and have him make the product for you directly?”

“We tried that, but he was very adamant about not being tied to any big business,” he said, shrugging. “Prefers his independent work.”

This entire operation had criminal activity written all over it, Rose was certain by now. There were too many oddities for it to be entirely legal. Now, she just needed to figure out what exactly this special 'product' was, and find a way to stop it, or at least a way to expose the operation itself.

“And this shipment, what's in it that makes it so special?”

“Sorry, can't say.” Danny led her through the office area of the warehouse, coming out through the rear exit. A windowless, unmarked van waited for them. “That information is restricted. Just do your work and don't ask too many questions about it; you'll get your pay at the end of the day.”

Sitting in the driver's seat of the van was Gavin, the man who had accompanied Danny to the bar yesterday. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel impatiently, whistling to himself.

“Gavin, I got you some help,” Danny said, slapping the side of the van. “Make sure to get this to Mr. Crane on time, yeah?”

Gavin's only response was a simple thumbs up.

Turning back to Rose, Danny gave an affirmative nod. “Alright, go with Gavin, help unload the delivery, then come back here and we'll see if we can find something else for you to do, alright?”

“Sure thing,” she replied, hopping up into the passenger's seat.

By the time she got her seatbelt around herself, Gavin already had the engine started. Within seconds, he shifted the van into gear and took off down the street.

Chapter #3

The van came to a slow stop outside the front gates of Ace Chemicals, an old abandoned chemical plant near the west end of Gotham. Gavin shifted into park, then hopped out of the van and hurried forward to open the gate. Rose waited in the van, leaning forward in her seat and taking a good look at the chemical plant. The place looked more than a little run down, with a rusted exterior, dirty and broken windows, and chains padlocked across the main entrance. It had clearly seen better days.

With the gate open, Gavin returned to the van and drove on through, stopping briefly to close the gate again behind him again, and then continuing around towards the back of the plant.

“If I didn't know any better,” Rose said, giving Gavin a sidelong glance, “I'd say this place was closed down.”

Gavin didn't respond, instead merely shrugging his shoulders. Raising an eyebrow, Rose folded her arms and leaned back in her seat.

“You're not very big on conversation, are you?” she asked.

Again, no response. Rose released an audible sigh and turned her attention out the window, watching as the van moved past large storage tanks behind more locked gates. Signs in front of the metal fences warned of electrical danger, though she highly doubted they were still active. The van finally rumbled to a stop just outside a small, fenced off area behind the main building of the chemical plant. Strings of barbed wire coiled around the top of the fence, and the metal door beyond that led into the building was thick and heavy.

“Wait here,” Gavin said, getting out of the van and making his way to the small gate of the fence.

“Sure, now you talk,” Rose muttered, folding her arms.

Gavin stopped in front of the heavy door and pounded his fist firmly against it several times. Then, he waited. Several moments later, the door pushed outward, opening. Two men were on the other side, both equipped with automatic weapons strapped over their shoulders. After a brief conversation, the two men eventually gave Gavin a nod of confirmation and waved him on inside. He hurried back to the van, giving Rose a gesture to get out.

“Now, we bring the boxes inside,” he said.

Gavin opened the rear doors of the van, revealing a stack of twenty sturdy boxes. When he hoisted one of them into his arms, the contents within clanked against each other. Rose listened carefully. Sounded like... some kind of metal containers holding liquid, maybe. She couldn't be entirely sure from the sound alone. With a soft breath of curiosity, she lifted a box into her arms and hurriedly followed Gavin into the building.

Though her left arm was weakened at the moment, coupled with strong throbs of pain, her enhanced strength more than compensated, enabling her to show no signs of injury while carrying the heavy load. However, she could feel the warmth of blood beginning to ooze out from beneath the wrapping, a direct result of the strain. Fortunately, her leather jacket hid any signs of that, as well.

As they made their way through the chemical plant, Rose carefully observed the activities inside. Though the place had been shut down for over a decade, someone had decided to set up shop. She noticed several more armed guards walking around and supervising, while other men in white coveralls, rubber gloves, and breather masks, handled various chemicals.

“Over here,” Gavin called, turning a corner. He led them into a storage area, away from the work. There, another armed henchman was waiting for them.

“Stack the boxes right over here, neatly against the wall,” the henchman ordered. “Emphasis on neatly. And make sure you're careful; we don't want any accidents like last time.”

“We'll be plenty careful,” Gavin insisted.

“Good...” the man breathed. “Then hurry up and get out of here.”

“First, Mr. Daggett wants to know how production is coming. He's getting impatient.”

The henchman uttered out a gruff breath. “It's going just fine. This stuff isn't exactly easy to make, you know; it's not a simple process, and after the last time the boss got busted, he lost his entire stock. He's doing things the best he can with what you're giving him.”

Rose set her box down on the floor, listening carefully. Her hunch had just been further proven at the mention of this guy's boss being 'busted' in the past. Definitely illegal activity.

“Just make sure this stuff gets out soon,” Gavin said.

“Uh huh.” The henchman turned, glancing up at the catwalks above them. “Now, get moving; the boss is watching.”

Rose's gaze followed, where she noticed a tall, lanky figure standing in the shadows of the dimly lit building. She focused her vision, trying to get a good look at him, to make out any features she could, but Gavin interrupted her.

“Come on, we have more boxes to move.”

Rose glanced back at Gavin momentarily. The guy was halfway across the floor, heading back out to the van. She began to follow him, while taking another brief glance up at the catwalk; the shadowy figure was gone.

Looks like you have some work to do tonight, Rose.

---

Getting inside had been easy enough; for all the effort taken to securely lock the entrances and exits, nothing had been done to cover up the many broken windows on the second story of the Ace Chemicals building. With her agility and skill, reaching one of those many entry points had been easy. Add to that the cover that a very dark night brought, and she managed to make it inside completely unnoticed.

Granted, her injury still throbbed painfully, and she could feel the fresh wrapping already beginning to soak through, but she ignored it. Now wasn't a time to let a little scratch slow her down. She had contemplated informing Batman about what she'd discovered earlier that day, but instead had decided against it. There were plenty of other crimes that he could be stopping, and this wasn't anything she couldn't handle herself.

Crouching quietly on one of the upper level landings, she took a moment to make sure that her Ravager costume was securely in place, from the mask to the swords adorning her back. When satisfied, she quickly moved throughout the darkened chemical plant, keeping low and to the shadows. She remembered the general layout of the place from earlier, and navigating through the straight corridors was easy enough.

Slowly easing open a set of doors, she peered into the room beyond, allowing a moment for her vision to adjust. She recognized it as the main processing area, where she and Gavin had delivered the boxes. Her goal right now was to find those boxes and get a good look at whatever was inside. Maybe with a little information on what materials they were using, she could later figure out what they were producing.

Moving along the catwalks, she paid careful attention to the area below. A few dim lights were on, casting long shadows around the corners of various machinery. Though the workers who had been handling the chemicals had all apparently gone home for the night, she could still make out quite a few armed henchmen roaming around the area. Whoever was running this operation wasn't taking any chances with intruders, no matter what time of day.

Ravager navigated the network of catwalks until she discovered the stack of boxes that she helped deliver. There were significantly fewer than before, with the contents of most of them likely already having been used up. But, there was still enough for her to investigate. Dropping down gracefully to the floor below, she quickly pressed herself up against the side of a chemical vat, watching as a guard's shadow gradually approached from around the corner.

Being as silent as humanly possible, she subdued the man when he came into view, swinging a well placed chop to his neck. He went down instantly, falling like a bag of bricks. She caught him to keep him from making any excess noise, then laid him down gently out of the light. With no other thugs in the immediate vicinity, she at last made her way to the stacked boxes. While she could rip apart the thick cardboard like tissue paper, she didn't; that will only alert the other men of her presence. Instead, she swiftly drew one of her blades and used the razor edge to cut through the tape of one box, allowing her to open it normally.

Ravager's gaze narrowed at the contents within. Reaching inside, she lifted out a small, torpedo shaped canister, the only opening of which was a small valve at one end. Rolling it over in her hands, she noticed a label with a skull and crossbones on it, as well as an exclamation point inside a red diamond. She gently shook it, hearing the sloshing of liquid inside.

Well, that's interesting... she thought to herself. These are the same kinds canisters that Dick and I found last night.

Before she could contemplate any further, however, a voice interrupted her. “Hey, who the f**k are you?!”

Ravager snapped her gaze towards the direction of the voice to see one of the armed henchmen standing about ten paces away from her. He already has his gun raised at her. “Oh, hell.” She quickly darted back through the shadows, already on the move well before the shots went off.

The man ran forward, looking around frantically, but he couldn't find her. “Sh*t!”

Before long, several of his buddies joined him.

“What is it? The hell you shooting at?”

“I don't know, some chick in a crazy looking costume!” he yelled. “I think it's one of those Bat freaks!”

“F**k man, are you serious?”

“Alright, no big deal, just spread out and find her. We got the guns, remember?”

“Yeah, right, of course. Sorry, she just spooked me, is all.”

“Just get your head in the game, man.”

A few seconds later, the men split up, spreading out in various directions to cover the entire chemical plant. Unfortunately, splitting up was the worst thing they could have done. Ravager was an expertly trained fighter, with enhanced physical attributes and a precog ability to alert her of attacks before they happened. These guys were nothing more than a bunch of scared thugs with guns. They didn't have a chance.

Ravager doubled back around the processing area, sticking closely to the shadows. She moved silently, her footsteps soft. Then, she began taking them out one by one. She actually fought at her best when surrounded and forced to pull out all the stops, but this worked just as well. Pouncing out from the darkness and brutally taking down each man with crippling knockout blows was almost as satisfying. Very 'Batman-y'.

The first two were relatively quiet take downs. The third one, however, managed to get a couple of shots off before she could bring the handle of her sword down on the top of his skull. The remaining gunman turned frantically at the sound, his eyes darting to and from each shadow like a nervous kitten.

“Guys? You there?” He eased forward, keeping his weapon pointed in front of him with his finger already brushing against the trigger, ready to fire at a moment's notice. “Hey, come on, somebody say something!”

The last thing he saw before everything went dark was a white haired figure lunging down at him from above. He screamed, as a powerful blow exploded at the back of his neck, and collapsed to the floor. Ravager gazed at the unconscious body briefly, then marched back toward the canisters she had been examining before.

“Should have just done that from the start...” she muttered. “This Dark Knight stuff is easy.”

As she knelt down again to reinspect the chemical containers, a precognitive flash ran through her head. She saw someone coming at her from behind, a fist lunging forward. By the time the attack came in real time, she had already turned around, crouching low and bringing her own fist around to strike the would-be attacker.

“Sneaking up on me? Don't even think-”

But before her fist can connect, before she can even finish her sentence, she turned face-first into a green cloud. Instantly, she reeled back and began coughing, as the gas, or mist, or whatever it was, started to burn the inside of her nostrils. It took only a few moments to recover from the initial shock, though her eye was already watering, vision going blurry.

“The hell?” she said, staggering backwards.

A grating, rather horrifying voice spoke out to her, the very sound causing her heart to thump faster and faster. “That's it, take a deep breath. Let the fear consume you.”

Stumbling back a few steps, she looked towards the voice, having to strain her eye to see. The entire building around her appeared to be quivering, squirming. Were those cockroaches skittering along the walls? Thousands and thousands of cockroaches... and the floor was beginning to spread with thick pools of blood, crimson droplets raining up toward the ceiling, against gravity.

She knew that none of this could be happening... it was too bizarre, too unreal. Yet, she could see it all plain as day, and it made her heart pound in her chest.

What's... going on? Am I losing my mind?

“How does it feel?” the voice questioned. “Is your hair standing on end? Has your heart leaped into your throat?”

That's when she saw him. Or it. Her entire body tingled with a sudden quiver of fear, as the figure loomed above her, some kind of horrible abomination. It had limbs made of straw, covered by old, tattered clothing, and fingers made of needles. It's head was made of burlap, fashioned into a hideously twisted face, complete with bugs and maggots crawling out of its eyes and mouth.

The creature took a step forward, and Ravager took a step back. She wanted to turn and flee, but her body wouldn't obey her will; ice cold fear gripped firmly at her heart, and it wasn't letting go.

“Wh-what... what are you?” she uttered, voice quivering.

“I am the thing that lurks in every dark corner of your mind, the thing you try desperately to outrun in your nightmares-” The abomination leaned in close, grinning; a cockroach fell out of its left eye hole and landed on the floor. “ -I am the Scarecrow!”

Ravager let out a desperate cry, lurching away as the Scarecrow reached out at her. She crawled backwards hurriedly, trying to get as far from it as possible. Her heart only beat harder, faster.

“Tell me, girl... are you afraid?

Chapter #4

She shouldn't be afraid. She had faced worse than this and never cowered back like a frightened rabbit before. So then why did ice cold terror claw at the depths of her very soul? Her short breaths were numb and rapid, while goosebumps raised up all across her body, even beneath her rather warm costume. As the Scarecrow moved forward, closer to her, she felt a wet streak falling from her one eye.

The terror had her in tears.

Sh*t, I really am losing my mind.

Ravager saw the attack coming, but her body didn't do anything to defend against it. She was frozen in place, rooted to the floor in horror. The blow landed across her face, a whipping blow that snapped her head to the side. She fell back to the floor, a sharp pain flaring through her cheek. Desperately, she forced herself to move and began crawling away again, eventually scrambling back up to her feet.

Another blow struck her, this time a kick ripping into her ribs. It wasn't a terribly painful kick, though it did cause her to stumble. She reached out toward the wall with her left arm in attempts to keep herself from falling, but the action emitted a sudden, violent strain on her shotgun injury. A gasp of pain rushed out past her lips, her arm going limp and body smacking against the wall.

“What did you think was going to happen, Girl?” Scarecrow asked, looming over her. A terrifying cackle erupted from the Scarecrow's throat. He lunged forward again, swinging a backhand across her face. “That you'd just come in here, expose my operation, and get away without consequence?”

Another kick ripped to her torso. It was a vicious blow, but her armor thankfully absorbed most of the impact.

“I haven't seen you before,” Scarecrow stated. “You're obviously new to Gotham, so allow me to show you how things work around here.”

A hard stomp drove down into the back of her left shoulder, battering directly into her injury. She felt the wrapping pop and warm blood spurt beneath her armor, oozing down her arm. Her whole body locked up for a moment, twitching as she screamed out and clawed a hand at the wound. She curled up on the floor and quivered, nausea bubbling up deep in her gut.

A malicious grin spread across Scarecrow's face. “Oh, what's this? Did I hit a... tender spot?”

Ravager glanced up to see him now holding a long wooden cane, with twisted, horrified faces carved into the bark. She scrambled forward, but couldn't get away in time. The cane smacked hard into her left shoulder, and it hurt. Couldn't be made of wood... felt more like steel.

The Scarecrow swung the cane again, this time nailing the bottom of her jaw. A bright flash of light exploded in front of her face for a brief moment, and the next thing she realized, she was sprawled out on the floor, gazing lazily upward.

“So, tell me,” the Scarecrow said, tapping his cane gently against his palm, “how are you feeling? On a scale of one to ten.” Winding up the cane once more, he delivered a hard shot to right shoulder. “Ten being 'like crap'-” A shot to her knee this time. “-and one being 'like death'.”

Get it together, Rose! You can't take much more of this!

The Scarecrow gripped his staff with both hands, raising it high above his head. He swung it downward, aiming to smash it straight through her skull. Fighting through the pain and mind numbing fear, Ravager rolled to the side just in time, avoiding the blow.

Fight it. It's just fear. It doesn't matter how afraid you are, you can fight it!

“Ah, still got some life in you, after all.” Scarecrow crept forward, waving his cane around in preparation for another attack. “Good, it'll make this all the more satisfying.”

He ran at her now, swinging the cane wildly with all his might. Ravager ducked below the attack, sliding to the side and scrambling back to her feet. With every movement she made, her entire body throbbed with stiff pain, but she ignored it. It wasn't the pain she was worried about, it was the paralyzing terror, which she was finally beginning to work through.

Ravager took in a deep breath, trying to steady her nerves. She turned in time to see Scarecrow running at her again, his maggoty mouth curled into a horrific grin.

It's just fear, Rose. You can beat it... don't let it be the death of you. Just... fight it!

This time, when the Scarecrow swung his cane, she ducked below it and lunged forward, bringing a sharp palm strike directly to his face. The Scarecrow grunted, stumbling backwards, but Ravager didn't stop there. She continued her assault with a kick to the midsection, an elbow to the sternum, then a powerful cross to his jaw. Scarecrow fell to his backside, howling in pain as he tried to crawl away. But she was already on him, sword drawn. With one deft motion, she thrust the point of her blade into his shoulder.

“AHHHH!” he screamed, writhing beneath her. “Stop! Take it out! Take it out!

“So, on a scale of one to ten-” Ravager said, slowly twisting the blade around and further ripping apart Scarecrow's flesh. “-how do you feel?”

The Scarecrow began to whimper as the pain took hold. He squirmed, trying to get away, but the sword pinned him firmly against the floor. Realizing his now precarious predicament, he frantically reached into his shirt, fumbling around for something. Clearly noticing this, Ravager reached down to grab his wrist.

“What do you think you're trying to do?” she asked, yanking his arm back.

But she didn't see the device in his hand, not until it was too late. She heard the small hiss of a valve being opened, followed by a thick green cloud wafting forward straight into her face. Reeling backward, she removed her sword from the Scarecrow's shoulder and began coughing again.

“I think... you need a larger dose,” Scarecrow said, hobbling back up to his feet with a hand pressed firmly against his wound.

Oh, sh*t! Damn it!

It was the same green mist that first induced her overwhelming terror, only this time the dose was stronger, more concentrated. Her breathing went rapid, keeping in pace with her frantic heartbeat. Darting her gaze around the room, she caught sight of Scarecrow running off into the shadows. She tried to chase him, but her nightmarish hallucinations began to increase tenfold.

Fighting against the ever more powerful fear, she turned and ran. She couldn't stay here, not in this condition. Not only was that cold, frightening sensation in her heart growing stronger by the second, but her entire body felt as though she'd just been hit by a truck. If she stayed, she'd just end up getting herself killed.

With a limp in her stride and her breath heavy, Ravager looked around desperately for a way out. Everywhere she turned, however, she found a new, horrifying sight. Reanimated corpses, hellish creatures, walls made of tormented human faces, thousands of needles raining from the sky... It was like trying to navigate a fun house straight out of Tim Burton's worst nightmares.

Eventually, she located a window on the far side of the plant. She doubled her pace, trying not to let the explosive pain in her knee slow her down. Leaving the frightening images behind, she dove through the window and tumbled outside.

Ravager hit the ground hard, broken shards of glass raining down around her, peppering the ground. It took her a long moment to force herself back up to her feet; she couldn't keep her posture straight, the pain far too great. Instead, she hobbled, limped forward with her shoulders slouched, left arm dangling limply at her side.

That's when she heard his voice.

“You don't look so good.”

Ravager's eye went wide, a surging jolt of shock and horror ripping through her. It couldn't be! She turned quickly, praying that she wouldn't see him standing there. But she did. There he was, her father, Deathstroke the Terminator, dressed in full costume and standing stationary with his arms clasped behind his back, just glaring at her.

“N-no... not you...” she uttered, stumbling backwards. “It can't be you!”

“Oh, it's me,” Deathstroke said, taking a few steps forward. “You didn't think that you could run from me forever, dear daughter, did you?”

She pulled back in panic, tripping to the ground momentarily. “No, you... you're not real. You're just... just another hallucination. You're all in my head.”

“Is that so? Tell me, Rose, if I'm just in your head...” He stood over her, glaring down and narrowing his cold, menacing eye. “...then what are you so afraid of?”

Ravager swallowed a nervous lump in her throat, stumbling back up to her feet as he advances towards her. She watched him carefully, waiting for any sudden movements. That's when he pulled one of his hands out from behind his back to reveal a fully loaded syringe and needle.

“You remember my serum, don't you?”

“No!” she screamed. “Keep that stuff await from me!”

“It's time for your shot, Rose.”

“NO!”

Breaking away from the overwhelming fear rooting her to the ground, Ravager turned and sprinted, desperately trying to get away from him. She raced around the side of the chemical plant, fighting to keep her balance as her battered body threatened to give out. Without looking back, she mounted her motorcycle and gunned the engine. She could barely hold on to the handlebars, but she didn't care. She just wanted to get away from here as fast as she could, away from this nightmare.

---

Lights and sounds zipped by, as Ravager pushed her motorcycle faster and faster down the road, passing other vehicles when she shouldn't be, running stop signs, and being generally reckless. Her heart raced even faster now, despite apparently being free of the hallucinations from the chemical plant. She could still feel the effects of that fear inducing gas wreaking havoc on her body and mind, though. If she could just get back to the Bat Bunker, maybe Dick could figure out what the hell was going on with her.

When she rounded the corner of the street, her eye suddenly widened in surprise. Standing there, directly in the middle of her path, was Deathstroke, holding the syringe. She jerked on the handlebars in a panic, causing the vehicle to fall and slide on its side. The abrupt action forced her to let go, sending her skidding across the street at a wild pace and eventually coming to an abrupt stop by slamming into a newspaper dispenser.

Onlookers yelled out in shock, some rushing over to see if she was alright, and others just trying to get away and avoid the scene, not wanting to be involved.

“My god! Did you see that?” one of the onlookers called.

“Is she alive?” another said.

Ravager very slowly began to move, pushing herself up to her hands and knees. She tried to stand, but her legs gave out, too weak to hold herself upright.

A nearby woman took a cautious step forward. “Miss, are you alright? Can you hear me?”

“For Christ's sake, someone call an ambulance!” a man shouted, looking at the crowd.

Ravager attempted to get back to her feet again, but still she couldn't stay standing. She tumbled against the newspaper dispenser, using it to hold herself up. “Fine... I'm... fine.”

Another nearby pedestrian came forward, offering assistance. He reached out, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Why'd you do it?”

“I... just lost control. No big deal.”

“No, really, Rose.” The voice suddenly changed into one that was entirely too familiar. “Why did you do it?”

She flinched at the sound of her name, lurching away from his grasp. When her gaze found him, her heart nearly stopped, a numb lump bubbling into her throat. Standing there, in his torn costume and with burns covering a large portion of his body, was Bart Allen, the former Kid Flash.

“Why'd you have to go and get me killed?!”

Ravager fell back to the ground again, holding a hand to her head and shaking it. “No, no, not you, too. I didn't mean... it wasn't supposed to happen... I swear, I wasn't trying to...”

“Oh sure, you didn't mean to, but that doesn't really help me, now does it?” Bart took another step forward, holding out his burnt, bruised arms. “Look at what you did to me, Rose! Look!”

Closing her eye, she turned away and shook her head, crouching lower and whimpering. “I know what I did! Just... stop, please! I don't need this! Just go away!”

And then more voices joined in, all chastising her. She flinched again, snapping her eye back open and daring to look up. There they were, the rest of the Teen Titans, all standing over and glaring down at her.

“I told you not to go in, didn't I?” Red Robin asked. “But you disobeyed, and look what happened!”

Wonder Girl's cold glare burned a whole straight through her. “You are unbelievable, Rose. What the hell were you thinking?!”

Even Superboy was there, the one Titan she had actually been growing really close to before her untimely departure. “You got a lot of people killed. You got our friend killed.”

“You should have known better... should have listened...” Raven said.

“Even when you try to do good, you just screw everything up,” Beast said, shaking his head and uttering a long sigh. “What's wrong with you?”

Ravager closed her eye again, now holding both her palms up over her ears. She shook her head rapidly, trying to make the hallucinations go away. “Stop it! Stop it! SHUT UP!”

“Miss, calm down!” another voice shouted. This one was different, unfamiliar.

Letting out a sharp breath of air, she looked upward again. The Teen Titans were gone, and in their place were a group of pedestrians watching curiously, as well as a couple GCPD police officers, their squad car parked just a short distance away.

“What are... who are you?” she asked. “What's going on?”

“Miss, you've been in an accident,” one of the officers stated. “You probably have a concussion. Just calm down, and we can get you some medical attention.”

Though her heart pounded rapidly, Ravager let her guard down. These weren't hallucinations, these were real people. They weren't here to frighten her... But as the officer reached out to help her, his face suddenly twisted into a horrible, deformed scowl. Instantly, she pulled back screaming.

“NO! STAY AWAY!”

“Whoa, Ma'am, please!” the officer shouted, backing off a few steps. “Just calm down. Don't do anything-”

“No!” With another frantic yell, she spun around and delivered a hard kick to the newspaper dispenser, denting it inward. “Just make it stop!”

Suddenly, a dark figure descended from the rooftops next to her. Another nightmarish hallucination, she was sure. But she couldn't do anything to stop it before it lunged at her and stung her, releasing its venom into her. Within seconds, she felt her body slackening, relaxing. Then, everything went dark.

“Batman?” the officer said, slowly relaxing.

“Everything is under control, Officer,” Batman said. “Just a sedative.”

“Is she going to be alright? She took a pretty nasty fall.”

Batman bent down, taking hold of Ravager and lifting her into his arms. “She'll be okay; she's a lot more resilient than you'd think. She just needs a little time to rest and recover.”

“So, then she's with you?”

“Yes.”

The officer breathed out a small sigh, then shrugged. “Well, alright, I guess. But really, we should still get her to a hospital, and I'm gonna have to fill out a report on the crash and-”

“You just let me worry about it, Officer. Have a goodnight.” And with that, Batman made his way over to the shadows of a nearby alley, carrying the sleeping Ravager in his arms. Another figure was already there waiting for him.

“Well, she looks like she had one heck of a night,” Robin stated, hands on his hips. “Pfft. Amateur.”

“We need to get her back to the bunker, treat her injuries,” Batman said.

Robin held a hand to his chin, giving Ravager a careful look. “Looked like there was a little more wrong with her than just a few bumps and bruises.”

“Yes... seems like she was hallucinating,” Batman inferred. “She was frightened, panicked.”

“Scarecrow's fear gas, you think?”

“That would be my best guess,” he replied. “The canisters that we found last night contained a particular chemical used in the creation of Scarecrow's fear toxin, making it even more likely, but we'll have to analyze a sample of her blood to be sure. And when she wakes up... she can tell us just what happened to her tonight.”

Chapter #5

Rose dreamt that night, while Dick worked to patch up her wounds. Even when knocked out cold, her mind suffered from the lingering effects of Scarecrow's fear gas. Her eyes flickered rapidly beneath her eyelids, fingers twitching and jaw clenching. She couldn't escape it this time; there was nowhere to run. All she could do was lie there and suffer her nightmares...

---

Three months ago...

A swarm of cop cars gathered around the San Francisco Central Police Station, lights flashing. Officers stood behind their squad cars, staring at the building and waiting. Hostage negotiations hadn't been working, and the perpetrators were starting to get impatient. Snipers hadn't been able to get a clear shot, either. As far as hostage situations went, though, it was pretty normal.

Or at least, it should have been. But the victims weren't just nameless civilians, no. This time, the hostages were some of their own, fellow police officers that were taken when heavily armed men assaulted the station. They fought back, sure, but they hadn't been prepared for it. The gunmen overpowered them and set up inside the station, barricading themselves within. They wouldn't come out, they said, until their demands were met.

“If we can just all calm down here, I'm sure we can get everything sorted out in a timely manner,” the negotiator said, speaking carefully into the phone. One of the hostage takers was on the other line. “We just need to-”

“No!” the gunman yelled back. “Quit stalling, man! We're sick of you stalling! We told you, we want our buddies out of jail. That's it!”

The negotiator breathed out a heavy sigh. “I assure you, we're doing everything in our power. But, it isn't as simple as you think, we just need more time.”

“No more time! Just get it done, or we start shooting people!” And with that sentiment, the man hung up.

“That's it” the Police Chief said, turning to the officer behind him. “I want this situation ended, now. I won't have police deaths on my hands, not today. Send them in.”

The officer cleared his throat and nodded, hurrying over behind the police line. The Teen Titans had been on standby now for the past twenty minutes now. Hostage situations weren't normally what they were brought in to deal with, but given the urgency of the situation, they had been called in to put a quick end to things, if needed. Now that standard negotiations had all but failed, it was their job to put a stop to it.

“Alright, we want to be quick and precise,” Red Robin said. “There's no reason why there should be any casualties. Bart, I want you in first to disarm them. Make sure they can't hurt anyone.”

“You got it,” Kid Flash replied.

Red Robin nodded, turning to the others. “Once their weapons are gone, it should be pretty standard. Get in there and bring them down. Wonder Girl, Superboy, you take the east entrance. Kid Flash and I will take the front. Beast Boy, Raven, take the west entrance. Ravager, you take the rear.”

The Titans hurried off to get into position, waiting for Red Robin's orders to commence the attack. However, they were soon interrupted by one of the gunman's voices coming in over a bullhorn.

“I sure hope you costumed freaks don't intend on storming this place!” the man shouted. “That'll only get everyone killed. The entire place has been rigged with high powered explosives; any of those doors open without my say-so, and boom!” The man laughed smugly, before the his voice cut off from the bullhorn.

Red Robin gave a concerned glance to Kid Flash, then spoke in over his comm link to the other Titans. “Alright, we're going to need a new plan. If the place really is rigged to go up, we can't go in. We risk the hostages dying in the blast.

“Or he could be bluffing,” Ravager said. “I mean, come on, you really think they had time to set up that many explosives in the past hour?”

“It's possible, and it doesn't matter if they are bluffing,” Red Robin countered. “We can't take the chance. Our job isn't just to stop the bad guys, Rose, it's-

“-to save the hostages, right, I know.” Ravager let out a small groan of frustration, shaking her head. “But come on, you don't really think these guys are serious enough to be suicidal, do you?”

“I can't answer that, I'm not a psychologist. Either way, I don't want to take the chance that-”

Ravager scoffed, cutting him off. “You know, for a leader, you really don't like taking chances. I thought being a leader meant making hard decisions? Doesn't that mean taking risks?”

“Risks, yes, but not unnecessary ones,” Red Robin explained. “We can still find another way around this.”

“What if Raven teleports us inside with her soul-self?” Wonder Girl suggested.

Raven's passive voice came in over the comm link a second later. “That would not be advisable... we do not know the specific nature of how these explosives are set to go off... if they do exist.”

Red Robin nodded. “She's right; if they're rigged with proximity detonators, we could end up setting them off the moment we materialize.”

“Well, hurry up and figure something out quick,” Ravager urged. “Those cops are still in there, and the gun toting psychopaths are going to start killing them soon.”

Red Robin breathed out a sigh of frustration. “I haven't forgotten that, Rose, just give me a minute!”

“Screw it, I'm going in. They're bluffing, I know they are.”

“Do not go in!” Red Robin shouted. “I repeat, do not go in, Ravager, that's an order! Even if there aren't explosives, Kid Flash goes in first to disarm them!”

“If I go in there, they'll be shooting at me, not the hostages,” she insisted. “And I'm more than capable of handling a few idiots with guns. Or, when no explosives go off, then you send him in and we handle things as planned. Just trust me on this.”

“Ravager, I'm warning you, don't you dare go-”

“Oh, shove it.” Ignoring his orders, Ravager pushed the rear door open; it wasn't locked. When nothing exploded, she walked inside to the center of what looked like a collection of offices.” See, nothing to worry-” And that's when she spotted the blinking lights, coming from small metal devices attached to bricks of explosives. “-oh f**k!”

She instantly dove into cover, just as the explosives went off. The thunderous booms deafened her for several moments, leaving behind a loud, annoying ringing deep her ears. She wasn't quite certain of what happened next, only that the walls and ceiling began to collapse above her. The only thing that saved her from being buried alive was the heavy metal desk she crawled under just before the chaos.

When everything was quiet again, Ravager pushed her way out of the rubble, coughing as she breathed in a thick plume of smoke. It took her a moment to get her bearings, looking around in a daze. Bright hot flames burned all around her, with half the room obliterated by the explosives. A hiss of static erupted in her ear a second later, no doubt the other Titans trying to reach her. It wouldn't do them any good, though, since she couldn't make out anything they were trying to say.

Rolling over a pile of burning wood to the floor, she coughed again and crawled back up to her feet, trying to find the exit. It was difficult to see through the smoke and flames, but she knew she couldn't be that far away from making it outside. Before she took three steps, though, another section of burning ceiling collapsed directly above her.

“Oh son of a b-” she muttered, holding her arms above her for cover and preparing for impact; there wasn't anywhere for her to jump out of the way.

A yellow blur suddenly zipped in from out of nowhere and pushed her out of the way. A small grunt escaped her lips, as she rolled across to the floor, just barely escaping the falling rubble. When she looked back to where she was a moment before, her gaze found none other than Kid Flash lying there, his leg trapped beneath a heavy beam.

“Bart!” she called, hurrying over to help him. “The hell are you doing?”

“Oh, you know, just saving your beautiful behind,” he replied, with a grin.

“You should be helping the hostages, not me,” she said. Gripping the beam in both hands, Ravager forced it off Kid Flash's leg and moved it aside. She then offered him a hand, helping him to his feet. “That's our job, remember?”

“I already checked on them,” he said, his voice growing softer. “They're dead, Rose; the hostages, the gunmen... all of them.”

Ravager felt a numb sensation begin to form in the center of her gut. She bowed her head, releasing a heavy sigh. “Well sh*t... I really screwed up on this one.”

“Yeah, but we can discuss that later,” he said, taking a step forward. “For now, let's just get the hell out of- OW!” The moment that he put pressure on his leg to run, Kid Flash recoiled sharply in pain, hopping on one foot. “Crap, I think my ankle's twisted, maybe broken. Can't run on it.”

“Hold on, Freckles, I got you.” Throwing his arm over her shoulder, Ravager allows Kid Flash to lean against her for support, then started walking with him through the smoke. “I'm pretty sure the exit is somewhere over here.”

“Somehow, that doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence.”

“Oh shut it.”

Within a few moments, the partially blocked doorway came into view, about fifty feet away through the smoke and fire. Ravager led them both towards it, trying to quicken their pace.

“Where the hell are the others, anyway?” she asked. “I mean, I'm grateful and all for your help, sure, but wouldn't it make more sense to send in the invulnerable duo?”

“Superboy and Wonder Girl are trying to keep the whole building from going down,” Kid Flash explained. “The others are trying to handle the riot.”

“Riot? What are you talking about?”

Breathing out a sigh, he replied, “The cops, Rose, they're in an uproar. You just got a bunch of their friends killed and they're pi**ed, not just at you, but the Teen Titans as a whole.”

“Well sh*t, it was just an accident,” she muttered.

“Yeah... a pretty big one.”

Just as they begin to near the the exit, the whole building began to shake. The walls quivered and the foundation groaned, while more and more flaming debris rained down from above.

“I thought you said they were holding the building up!” Ravager exclaimed.

“Well they can't keep it up forever!” he yelled back. “Move!”

Ravager picked up the pace, going as fast as she could while dragging along the injured Kid Flash. A mere five paces from the doorway, however, a large burning section of ceiling caved inward, crashing down above them.

“Look out!” Kid Flash pushed her forward, super accelerating his limbs to send her flying. Ravager lurched over the burning rubble pile in front of the exit, going airborne and landing hard on the pavement outside, sliding a few feet before finally coming to a stop. Groaning, she slowly pushed herself upright.

“Geez, Bart, what the hell were you-”

When she looked back over her shoulder, however, she didn't see him there with her. That was because he never made it out of the building, instead sacrificing himself to make sure that she got out in time. All she could do was watch in horror, as the police station crashed in on itself, engulfed in an ever growing inferno.

“BART!” She stood there, stunned, just staring at the flames.

She tried to take a step forward, but her body wouldn't respond, legs like Jello. Somewhere deep in the pit of her gut, a bubble of nausea began to form. She didn't even notice the other Titans approaching behind her, looking around in confusion.

“What's going on?” Beast Boy asked. “Where's Kid Flash?”

“He... in there...” Ravager uttered, weakly pointing at the burning rubble.

“What?!” Superboy shouted, eyes going wide.

Wonder Girl flew forward, staring at the inferno in shock. “You left him behind?!”

“No, I didn't!” she insisted. “I swear, I was helping him and he-”

“Helping? “ Red Robin said, glaring at her. “You were helping?! You're the one who set off the explosives off in the first place! I told you not to go in there, Rose! I gave an order!”

Superboy suddenly flew forward like a rocket, heading straight for the wreckage and digging through it. Wonder Girl joined him a second later, throwing aside large pieces of debris as if they were made of paper-mache. The leaping flames surrounding them didn't hurt at all, though their clothes quickly began to singe. Fortunately, they found Kid Flash shortly afterward. Lifting up a large beam, Superboy tossed it away and then reached down to lift up the barely breathing speedster. With a short leap, he and Wonder Girl exited the wreckage, with Superboy placing their friend on the ground gently.

“Bart!” Superboy called, kneeling down. “Can you hear me?” The only reply he got was a few pained coughs that emitted sprays of crimson droplets.

Screaming angrily, Wonder Girl spun around and grabbed Ravager by the throat. Tears glistened in her eyes, reflecting sparkles of firelight. “What the hell is the matter with you?! Look at what you did, Rose! Look what you did!”

“Cassie, hey!” Beast Boy yelled, trying to pry Wonder Girl's grip away. “That isn't the way to deal with it, let her go!”

Ravager made no attempt to escape, merely choking in weak breaths as Wonder Girl's tight grip threatened to crush her windpipe. At the sound of Bart's pained wheezing, however, Wonder Girl let go and turned back to their injured friend, kneeling at his side.

“Raven, can you heal him?” she asked. “How bad is it?”

Also kneeling at Bart's side, Raven brought her hands over his chest and closed her eyes, concentrating. “The damage is... extensive. Very extensive... more than even I can heal. I can relieve some of it, but we must take him to a proper hospital as soon as we can. His increased metabolism will heal these injuries in a matter of hours, but they will not heal correctly... they may even heal fatally.”

Another groan escaped Kid Flash's lips, his body cringing and starting to shudder.

“We never should have let Bart go in after her!” Wonder Girl said, holding her hands to her head. “We should have just left her in there!”

Superboy glanced back at her, jaw tightening. “Cassie-”

“No, Conner, don't try to defend her!” she riposted. “Her life isn't worth Bart's! If he dies...”

Turning her back on them, Wonder Girl stormed off in a fit. If she didn't leave right then, she might have ended up ripping Ravager apart. The others gave Ravager a long look of their own, then went off to try and help with damage control. Raven, meanwhile, teleported herself and Kid Flash to the nearest hospital, to get him immediate medical attention. Only Red Robin remained behind, glaring sternly at Ravager.

“Tim, I-” she started.

He cut her off, shaking his head and turning from her. “Not now, Rose. Just... not now.”

Ravager hung her head, staring at the ground. Never before had she ever felt like more a worthless screw up in her life.

---

Bart passed away later that night. It had been a race against time that they had simply lost. The surgeons had tried everything they could, but there had been far too much damage, and his body regenerated much too quickly. While the external damage had healed fine, the internal damage healed awkwardly, clumsily. He had survived for another couple hours afterward before his body began to shut down. The doctors pronounced his time of death at 11:54 P.M.

Head hanging low, Rose walked slowly down the halls of Titans Tower, alone and isolated from the other members of the team. The only time they had even spoken to her since the incident was to inform her of Bart's passing. She didn't dare try to talk to any of them. Right now, she was their least favorite person in the world. Of course, she didn't blame them. She screwed up big time, and it resulted in Bart paying the ultimate price.

Rose had never been Bart's biggest fan. The kid had always been impulsive, grating, immature... however, while she would never admit it out loud, she really did have a soft spot for him. Deep down, he'd always had a good heart, and he had always meant well. Of course, she never got a chance to tell him that... now, she never would.

She kept replaying that moment over and over in her mind, the biggest mistake she'd made in recent memory. Tim had told her not to enter the building. It had been a flat out order, and she should have listened to him. But she hadn't. She had thought she knew better, and instead ignored him. Her actions got Bart killed, and that was something she now had to live with for the rest of her own life. There was a time not too long ago where she would have been blaming everyone but herself, but this time she knew that there was no denying it. This was her fault, plain and simple.

As Rose rounded the corner of the hallway, she heard voices coming from the main lounge of the tower. She came close to the door and stopped, suddenly hearing her name mentioned. Instead of entering, she remained there by the door, just listening.

“She's a menace!” It was Cassie's voice. “I knew that trusting her would be a mistake, Tim. I told you. Sooner or later, something bad was going to happen, and it did!”

“You know she didn't mean it.” Beast Boy now. “We all know it.”

“It's not about whether or not she meant it; she was reckless, hot headed, and arrogant!” Cassie really had a way with insults. “That arrogance got our friend killed!”

“I thought she'd changed... Heck, I liked her, I really did, but this...” It was Conner. Hearing his voice with that kind of... disappointment in it cut deeper than any one of Cassie's insults ever could. “She got a lot of people killed today, not just Bart.”

“She knows this... I can feel it.” That calm, soft voice. Very clearly Raven. “She understands the mistake she made, and feels remorse... grief.”

“That's not the point, though...” The leader's voice, Tim Drake. “I don't doubt she feels sorry for what she did, but feeling sorry doesn't change what happened. She acted like a child, and the results were catastrophic.”

“She shouldn't be here,” Cassie said. “She'll only keep causing problems for the team, and who knows who else will get hurt because of her?”

Beast Boy at least tried to stick up for her, though she could tell that his heart wasn't in it. “We can't just kick her off the team for one mistake, though. Yeah, it was a terrible mistake, and I'm not saying she shouldn't be reprimanded; Bart was a friend to us all, and his loss is...”

“Tragic...” Raven muttered.

“Yeah...” Beast Boy said. “But are we really just going to kick her out the front door?”

“You're forgetting, though,” Cassie went on, “this isn't just an isolated incident. Rose has a long history of destructive behavior, and you can bet it'll happen again if she stays.”

“I know how you feel, but it still isn't that simple. It can't be...” Conner said.

A small pause passed between the group, before Tim finally spoke up again. “I wish this were a simple matter, but Conner's right... it's not. She has been an important member of the team for a while, but Cassie also has a point. Rose hasn't really ever... fit in, not completely, and her behavior has a history of causing problems. This latest incident seriously compounds those issues.”

“Then what do you propose?” Beast Boy asked.

Tim breathed out a heavy sigh. “I... don't know. I'll think on it.”

Rose turned away, walking quickly down the hall. She couldn't sit there and listen to them talk about her anymore. Already, her throat was numb, nerves tingling hotly. She felt more and more like crap every moment. Clenching her jaw, she balled her hands into fists, trying to make herself angry to cover up for the fact that her eye was beginning to dampen.

“Don't waste your time,” she muttered to herself. A short minute later, she was in her room, beginning to pack her belongings into a single, heavy duffel back. “I'll make it easy.

---

Rose took one last look across the San Francisco Bay at Titans Tower, the dark structure dotted with a few bright lights coming from several different rooms. She doubted that they even knew that she'd left yet; they seemed pretty keen on avoiding her for the time being. When she could finally stand gazing at the tower no longer, she turned from it and slipped her helmet on, then revved her motorcycle's engine.

“Later... losers.”

Chapter #6

Rose awakened with a startled gasp, snapping her eye open and lurching upright. Thick beads of perspiration rolled down her forehead, dripping onto the sheets below. After taking a careful look around, she realized where she was and began to relax.

Back in the Bat Bunker... safe and sound.

Glancing down, she noticed that she was lying in what she assumed was supposed to pass as a hospital bed, covered up to her midsection with a blanket. Her costume was gone, the only other coverage being a roll of white bandages wrapped around her ribs and chest. Questioningly, she lifted up the blanket for a brief moment to see only her underwear covering her lower body, with a lot of other bandages and patchwork wrapped over her lower injuries.

“Good, you're up,” a voice said from behind her.

Dropping the blanket back down, she turned towards the sound of the voice to see Dick approaching from across the room. She folded her arms across her chest, frowning at him.

“So, you finally get me out of my pants, and I'm not even awake for it,” she muttered, shaking her head at him. “Figures.”

“What were you doing tonight?” he asked, tone remaining stern.

“Right to business, huh? No fun at all, I swear...”

Pulling up a seat at her bedside, Dick sat up straight and glared at her. “What the hell happened to you, Rose?”

Eventually, she gave in, breathing out a long sigh and shrugging her shoulders. “Just got a bit roughed up, nothing to worry about.”

“A bit roughed up?” his expression grew cross. “Rose, you got the life half beaten out of you. It's a miracle that you don't have any broken bones, but there's bruising across most of your body, your left knee is sprained, and the gunshot wound is worse than before. What happened?

“Fine, you really want to know?” she asked. “I was investigating a pretty shady operation down by the docks. Turns out, it's connected to our little bust last night.”

Dick's eyes narrowed further, posture stiffening. “And why didn't you tell anyone? We could have helped you.”

“Because I knew I could handle it on my own.”

“Clearly, you couldn't! You went off on your own, already injured, and nearly got yourself killed!”

“So what if I did, huh?” she snapped, staring coldly at him. “The hell do you even care?!”

“Damn it, Rose, would you stop it with that?!” Dick countered right back.

His tone was so severe and angry that Rose actually paused, blinking in surprise for a couple moments. She couldn't recall ever hearing him sound like that before. She swallowed, shrinking back slightly. She didn't think she liked angry Dick.

“You don't get it, do you?” he asked, folding his arms. “You've built up this feeling that everyone hates you because of your mistakes, to the point where you don't even care about your own well-being anymore. You're so willing to go rushing off into danger to prove your worth that it puts yourself and others at risk. That's why the Titans are upset at you so much, and why Bart's death set off such a damn firestorm. If you just stopped to think for a minute, you might realize that the people around you actually do care about you. Instead, you're so busy being such a self-loathing, narrow-sighted child all the time, that you can't see it!”

Rose clenched her jaw, staring back at him. His words cut through her like sharp knives, hurting a lot more than any of her physical injuries. It wasn't the sheer bluntness of the words that hurt, though, but rather the truth that they carried. She maintained her glare on him for a few moments before finally lowering her gaze to the blanket, expression slackening.

“So, what? You're telling me you care about me?” she questioned.

“Believe it or not... yes, I do.” His tone was calmer now, softer. “In spite of all your mistakes, and all the times you've put yourself down, I know that you really are trying to do good. It might have taken me a long time to see it, and you might have some serious issues in accomplishing that goal, but the fact remains. I don't want to see you get yourself killed, Rose.”

A long pause passed between then. Eventually, Rose raised her head again, meeting his eyes with her own. “I know a few people who might disagree with you.”

“They'll forgive you,” he insisted. “Maybe not now, maybe not even soon, but eventually. Of course, it might make things easier if you actually went back and talked to them. Running away doesn't exactly help the process.”

Rose uttered a long sigh, bowing her head again. “No... I mean, just not now. I'm not ready for that.”

“Just remember, Rose, only you can choose how alone you want to be. All you have to do to let people into your life is open yourself up.”

Letting out a scoffing laugh, Rose mockingly rolled her eyes. “Gee, I'll try to remember that, Dr. Phil.” Dick merely stared her, and eventually she released another small breath and smiled slightly. “But really... thanks.”

Before another word could be spoken between the two, another person made his presence known. Damian Wayne scampered down the stairs in a hurry, marching right up to Rose and crossing his arms smugly over his chest, smirking at her.

“Well, look who's finally awake! Had a rough night, did you, One-Eye?”

“You know, kid,” she said, narrowing her eyes with a little smirk, “I can still kick your ass, even in this condition.”

He smirked right back at her. “Dweeb.”

“Brat.”

“Cyclops.”

“Baby chick.”

The two stared at each other a few moments longer, then widened their grins.