What was going down at the recycling plant was bad enough, but when shots rang out outside Gotham Central itself, the Commissioner knew it was going to be a bad night. He was out of the way of his window with his pistol drawn in a moment's notice – once, he had liked to think that when it came to a firefight, he was simply the best there was. But he knew better now. It was a strange world, and it had done some humbling things to Eridan Ampora over his decades on the force.
"This is Ampora, what's going on?" he hissed into his cell, as soon as he found a number on the ground floor that would pick up.
"Someone opened fire just by the front desk!" called back a panicked officer. "There's seventeen of them, and three lusii!"
"Nothing we couldn't handle at first. We've pushed them out the door but they're firing in the windows!"
Eridan had to ponder that. Gotham Central was no normal police station, structurally. Not in this town. He understood the gang trying to get in before attacking, but having lost ground, he couldn't imagine them trying to hold out from outside. The place was a fortress.
"Keep them out, I'll be right down." Eridan tried to shake off the sleep that had been sneaking up on him as he had done his paperwork. Another thing he had learned about this city was that anything could happen, at any time, but usually at night. Unfortunately, the city had decided to do both, and he had been up for nearly thirty hours and counting. It was why he wasn't at the recycling plant, and it was why he was not prepared for what happened next.
The sound of glass breaking in his office behind him caused him to turn, and he did not have time to react further. The invader had fired first, and soon the other guns were silent.
"but you know, bats? you're not doing so bad tonight! IN FACT I'D SAY YOU'RE ON A ROLL! aHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa!"
The Joker kicked a switch and up-ended an entire roll of recycled paper, which tumbled toward Batwoman at alarming speed. Like virtually everything else in the plant, it had been tinted purple, but that was hardly her immediate concern. She pulled her grapple gun out of her belt and hooked it to an overhead beam, clearing the stampeding roll easily. She swung over toward the Joker, but he had well enough warning to step away.
Batwoman took her in new surroundings, keeping her eyes on her opponent. She knew better than to let the Joker get the drop on her. All around them she could see machines working at the blink of an eye to spritz raw materials with liquid Joker Gas where they would have used plain water. She had no idea how he had planned to smuggle toxic but obviously purple products onto the market, but knowing the Joker, perhaps the point had less to do with the damage and more to do with the purple.
"DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR PROBLEM IS?" asked the Joker, who then started to chuckle. "i mean besides you being dressed up as a bat?"
Batwoman closed on him. He was keeping his arms wide and she could see they were free of weapons or even his usual lethal joy buzzers or needles. The moment's relief from caution proved her undoing, as she was struck in the back of the head by a jarring force. Her cowl, armoured and designed to conceal the shape of her horns, took most of the blow, but she still slumped to the ground. To her side, she saw the ridiculous shadow of a boxing glove affixed to a spring.
"No people skills," said Harlequin. She dropped to her knees, the bells on her hat jangling, and popped the glove back into her gun. "Geeze, Batsy, you're a wreck." To the Joker, she said, "It's like she's all dressed up for a Halloween party but never got an invitation. Smile, Batsy!" She reached over and forced Batwoman's lips into a contorted smile past the cowl. Batwoman shut her eyes: colour had long since flooded her pupils and she was not going to trust the contacts and cowl alone at this range. "You're never gonna get to a party scowling like that."
"of course, we've got our own party to attend, rosie!" The Joker pulled a remote from one of his seemingly infinite pockets and used it to open a door to the high-ceilinged garage that had once accepted recycling trucks. Beyond was nothing short of a hot air balloon, already inflated with the Joker's sneering grin stretched across it. "A PARTY FOR THE WHOLE MOTHERFUCKING CITY!"
Batwoman smiled. Give the supervillains enough time and they'll always tell. Harlequin, her gloved hands still on Batwoman's face, noticed at once.
"…Uh-o—" was all she managed before Batwoman tossed out a batarang, which knocked the remote out of the Joker's hands. Batwoman then landed a fist straight at the base of Harlequin's ribs, but though she reeled, she was flexible enough to kick Batwoman across the face in return without even standing. Adrenaline wasted, she had a harder time getting back to her feet. Batwoman was not so disadvantaged. As the Joker made his break for the blimp, cackling, she was hot on his tail.
Batwoman felt another impact from behind, this one poorly aimed and hitting on the back of the knee. She faltered, and rounded to grab the glove and yank the gun out of Harlequin's hands before doing anything else. She tossed it far aside.
"I got her, Mr. J!" Harlequin called eagerly toward the Joker, to no response. She continued to stare in a happy smile after him. "Y'know," Harlequin said as she got to her feet, one hand still clutching her gut. "I was serious before, you really need help. Some kind of animal-based repressed memory sort of condition. You're a real psychopomp." Batwoman raised an eyebrow. "Why don't you try talkin' to a shrink?" Harlequin suddenly bolted toward Batwoman, and vaulted over her with a handspring. Landing opposite her opponent, Harlequin struck Batwoman with a roundhouse. "Oh yeah! Like me!"
Her roundhouse twisted into a second, but that one stopped short, caught in her opponent's hand. "I Think" Batwoman said, "You're A Little Out Of Practice" She hefted Harlequin by the ankle by virtue of her Trollish strength and height, and handcuffed her there to a nearby beam, upside-down. "I'll Be Sure To Think About The Psychopomp Suggestion"
"You don't have to be so rough, you know!" Harlequin called after her, as she walked off. "You might give a girl the impression you don't like hanging around with her any more! Eh?" Harlequin harrumphed at the silence, and then bent up on upper body strength in hopes of reaching the cuffs. It took two attempts, but she eventually reached it and extracted on of the lock picks from under her hood.
"Freeze!" shouted a cop, part of a group that had approached in Batwoman's wake. "Hands up!"
Harlequin turned her head back, looking at the cops upside-down. "Y'know, technically they are," she said.
Meanwhile, Batwoman hung on her reserve grapple, dangling in the air above the police barricade. The Joker and his balloon had escaped through a hole he had blown in the roof, and it had been all she could do to catch hold. She had almost cleared the gap between them when he returned to the side.
"y'know, i just came up with the best game for my party! we'll call it 'splat!'" He pulled out a giant pair of novelty scissors that had just apparently been lying there in the basket. "WHOEVER GETS BATWOMAN FALLING THROUGH THEIR ROOF WINS A PRIZE! eeeaH-hAhAhAhA!"
Batwoman deflected the scissors from her cable with another batarang and they went tumbling past. The Joker, as though he had already forgotten she was a threat, turned away. "careful with those!" he shouted. "ONE HOLE AND WE'LL ALL BE SOMEONE'S 'PRIZE'! heheheHEHEhe" He slammed his hand onto a nearby tank, which Batwoman figured must be full of more Joker Gas. She pulled up over the edge of the basket, though the Joker kept her back to her until the last moment, when he turned about and attempted to spray her with the trick flower pinned to his lapel. She ducked to one side. Sure enough, the liquid spurted from the flower began to melt away a side of the basket. Once the flower had been filled with off-brand soda, but Batwoman had long since learned not to count on that being the case.
"What Was That You Said About Holes" she asked. The Joker gave an innocent shrug, but Batwoman could not help but notice the balloon's heading: straight toward the river. Nonchalantly, she reached into her belt and tossed a batarang straight up into the air. It cut through the balloon twice, before returning just above her hand, as they had begun to plunge.
"w-WhAt ArE YOU DOING?" the Joker shouted.
"I Get The Impression…" With a sudden jarring motion, the balloon was snapped up in white coils. "…That You Had Planned For This Contingency"
The Joker's lusus lowered them to the ground, its hideous, distorted smile leering down at them. Batwoman tried not to look up at the creature, into its blind eyes. That face was torn, muscles wasting from disuse, jaw locked and indigo rips carved into its mask. It had barely survived the Joker Gas she had deflected into it, months ago. Better it than every man, woman and child in the Gotham Museum of Art, but if she had ever needed a sign that the Joker still bore some emotion, it was how he had complimented her "art" in between retaliatory blows.
Instead, she ran her thumb up the touch sensor on the butt of one of her guns, and fired a tranquilizer dart into the lusus, at nearly full dosage. It lashed out, spraying water and sand in every direction, laughing hideously as its diseased nerves felt every touch as a tickle. It did not notice the sedatives at once but the Joker did, diving onto its back as it squirmed below it, rasping breath shooting out past its rigid grin as it thrashed in painful laughter. "you've go the sense of humour of a wet mop, Batwoman! YAH!" he shouted to his lusus, who turned back to the water.
Batwoman had fought the Joker and his lusus long enough to know his blood colour, and knew he could outlast her underwater. She grappled for her breathing mask, only to be deliberately smashed by the lusus' tail, its loyalty to its child still obvious after all it had been through. Instead, she grabbed a tracker dart and fired that instead. It clipped on the lusus' tail, but the lusus did not even flinch: too many Trolls tried to use their large-scale lusus to escape, and so Batwoman had long since tipped her darts with a solution to prevent their notice.
She knelt in the sand for a moment as the lusus disappeared, until she finally lost track of it visually. When she took to her feet, she realized they had crash landed not far from the plant, and the police that surrounding it. A familiar silhouette beckoned to her, and she took to her feet.
She tapped a button hidden just under her cowl. "Oracle," she said, not losing the scratch in her voice less she be overheard. "Im Tracking The Jokers Lusus With Dart… 0524. I Need A Minute But Tell Me The Moment He Comes Up For Air For More Than A Breath"
"uH, gOT IT, kANAYA,"
Detective Bullock met her at the perimeter, where she stayed. "Did ye get him?" he asked, clearly not expecting the best.
"Tracking Him As We Speak" she replied. "Harlequin"
Detective Bullock grunted and tossed his head toward a squad car in the back. There, her hood removed, stood Rose Lalonde, hair mussed but otherwise orderly, proper and cooperating.
Rose looked up. "Batwoman," she called. "You were right. Psychopomp's a mythical figure. I was completely off base. I'm going to have to get my lawyer to bring me a copy of the DSM-IV, along with… -snerk-… oh…" She pondered, her face muscles twitching to bury her smile. "…Ovid, perhaps." And then she began to giggle, her prim demeanour almost hiding the motions. Batwoman could look at her unmasked no more than she could the lusus. She had known Rose Lalonde: promising, bright, and almost immune to the stress of her work. She had tried to reach Noir, past his tally-scars. Rose had even tried to speak to her own brother, after he had given up his mind to his puppet, with no sign of psychological wear. But when she had tried to speak to John Doe, Rose Lalonde had disappeared forever. Harlequin wore what left of her as a mask stretched taught across her face and personality, far more than the inverse. Harlequin, not Rose, smiled at Batwoman as they pushed her into the car, in hopes of seeing her flinch. Batwoman did not, and she did not look back.
"Every Item In That Plant Is Poisoned" Batwoman cautioned Bullock. "They Will Have To Be Disposed Of Properly And Promptly"
"Well, we've got bigger problems than that," Bullock said. Batwoman could see the rest of the police backup already scrambling to clear the area. "And unless the Joker's got something else up his sleeve, you might want to see this one."
"I Know" Batwoman said. She had got the report from Oracle in the middle of the chase. "Gotham Central Was Just Attacked"
"What, are you a genie or something? Well how about this?" He held up his cell. "This just came straight to me. Maybe it hasn't made its way through your crazy psychic network yet. Whoever it is? Made off with the Commish. He's been kidnapped." He turned around. "Chew on that, will you?" He then counted to three, and turned back, to find Batwoman gone. "…good," he said. "Looks like we understand one another here."