That night was the hell night, the first of them. The call came in around nine o'clock. The cops were there first, but Terry slipped invisibly through their cordons. Inside there were two bodies, eerily white, with puncture-wounds on their necks and a small, bloody handprint on the wall.
Terry had his vidlink on, and Bruce swore in his ear before Terry had a chance to fully take in the scene. His curse was cut abruptly short along with the light that indicated his outgoing signal.
Terry left quickly and took to the air.
"Old man? You there? What's up?" Nothing. He angled for the Batcave. "Talk to me, gorramit."
"I'm fine," Wayne said at last. "Keep patrolling."
Further demands for information were interrupted by the second call. And the third. And then the fourth.
Terry frowned down at the latest call, number six, brooding with the gargoyles. The clouds were as thick overhead as they had been all week. They looked so much like blood he could almost smell it.
"There's something weird about all of this."
"What were the names of the families?" Wayne prompted.
"Carver, Tian, Andropov, Valiska..." Terry flinched. "Oh, shit. They're the kidnapping victims. But we found the kids!"
"...and there have been no juvenile victims at the scenes." 猴子 的 屁股 чёрты. "No blood, which is weird. No signs of break-in."
"Get back here. Now."
"You know something about this!" Terry accused flatly.
"Don't make me repeat myself."
Terry took the long way home, sweeping past the Narrows and over the Hill towards the old-but-still-rich part of town Wayne Manor stood back from.
There was an odd, scurrying movement below. A kid, and somebody was chasing him.
"I've gotta take this."
"No! Listen to me—!" If he'd been listening, he'd have heard the edge of desperation in Wayne's voice.
"It's a kid, господи!" he snapped instead and dropped into the fray.
The hood had hold of the kid's arm.
"Back off," Terry growled.
The дрянь turned and ran. Terry turned to the kid, put a hand on his shoulder. His face was crumpled unhappily and turned away.
"Hey, buddy. It's not safe out here tonight. How's about I take you home?"
The kid turned his face towards Terry, but there was something wrong with the movement. And his eyes—
Terry didn't have much time to process before he was sailing through the air. He swore and scrambled to his feet, disoriented.
The kid was on him, he was fighting the suit. Terry struggled wildly against an opponent both smaller and faster than himself. He didn't want to hurt the kid.
It had to be drugs, kid had got into something, maybe wandered up from the Narrows, except he wasn't ragged enough. An older sib's stash?
Terry lost track of him for a split second, how the fuck did he move like that? A skinny, freckled arm cut across his windpipe, choking him despite the suit's reinforced neck.
He tuned out Bruce's frantic calling over the radio in favour of trying to pry the kid's too-strong fingers off his neck. He got what sounded like an angry growl for his effort.
Bruce wasn't saying anything useful anyway, and if he'd been thinking about it, the panic in that alone'd be a bucket of ice water down his spine. Bracing himself, Terry summoned up some judo and wrenched the little bugger off his back.
Too much force; the kid went flying across the alley in a slow, awful arc. Terry was too slow, too slow to catch him, stumbling over his own feet to stare in horror at the broken slat of some discarded wooden pallet protruding grotesquely out of the child's chest, coated in thick, dark blood.
Terry froze. His stomach twisted slowly, bile creeping up his throat. He met the mad, gold eyes glancing at him out of the kid's deformed face, unable to look away from what he'd done. What he'd—
The gold eyes flashed like fire and suddenly crumbled away to dust. Even the blood was dust. Terry reeled back, a strange roaring in his ears.
"What's happening? What's happening?" Wayne's voice broke through at last.
"He just—melted. I—and then—and he—господи, he melted. I think I'm gonna be sick."
"Terry! Listen to me. Get back here right now. Now, do you understand? Don't stop for anything. I've sent the Batmobile on autopilot."
"I—I don't think—"
"Terry. Do what I say. Come back home."
Terry took a deep breath and focussed on the sound of Bruce's voice. Steady. Calming, like firm pressure on a wild see-saw.
After a minute, he found he could follow orders, acting almost mechanically. There was a blank space at the forefront of his mind now, but beneath was still a seething mass of shock and self-loathing. Terry clenched his teeth. He was out of the batmobile, in the cave and ready to slug Wayne because he needed to hit something. God. God. Fuck.
A sharp, stinging sensation spread across Terry's now-bare cheek. He turned his head back to face Wayne, who had already lowered his hand.
"Listen to me, Terry. We don't have time for this. Your vid-link was turned off. You have to tell me what happened."
"There was a kid. He was on drugs or something. Messed up his face. Some guy was chasing him, but after I ran him off, the kid turned on me."
"His eyes," Bruce interrupted urgently. "Was there anything odd about his eyes?"
They were evil. Terry rubbed his face, grounding himself against the memory that threatened to overwhelm.
"They were gold. Might've been the drug, or—"
Wayne cut him off. "He was a vampire."
Terry stared blankly at him. "He, who, what?"
"A corpse, reanimated by a demon. In my day, the Narrows was crawling with them. I thought we'd eradicated the entire population years before I...retired."
Terry was still staring open-mouthed.
"Demons?" he ventured at last. "Vampires? I think people would remember—"
"It was never news," Wayne said shortly. "They stuck to the Narrows. When they didn't, it was always something...else." The grim line Wayne's mouth set in was a bleak smile even by his standards.
Terry collapsed heavily into a chair.
"Demons and magicians come in all flavours, but vampires are soulless at best. To my knowledge, they only feed on blood; but some of their," Bruce's lips rippled in distaste, "dinner habits are unsavoury."
Terry flinched from considering the possibilities. "But you can kill them?"
"Strictly speaking, a vampire isn't alive. It can be destroyed by fire, sunlight, beheading, or a wooden stake through the heart: a surprising accuracy on the part of folklore. A destroyed vampire disintegrates. If it's not dust, don't turn your back on it."
Terry flinched again, he knew it. Hands griped each other tighter and he glanced up at Bruce, but Bruce wasn't looking. Screens of data flashed past searching eyes.
"That kid. I—he—" melted, like a sandcastle under waves.
"The description matches." Deep and flat. "Not a child: a monster. The child was murdered; and that's not the worst of it."
"But I—" Terry swallowed, hard, and forced it out. "If he'd really been a little boy, I'd have—"
"We can step up your training programme after this."
"And what is this?"
"Twelve families, all influential, all kidnapping victims. Now seven of the twelve families are dead in their homes, no signs of struggle or forced entry. Just two puncture wounds on the carotid artery and several litres of missing blood."
Bruce called up a crime-scene photo tagged as being from his cowl-vid, already heavily annotated. It was the body of Karl Andropov, pale and shocked in death, headshot, with a good view of the—the fang marks?—on his neck. Terry stared at them for a long moment before he realised the distance between the wounds had been measured.
"They're too close together."
Terry could feel Bruce waiting for him to see it. He looked, concentrating on the wounds, on the annotated numbers.
He saw it like coloured dots resolving into numbers, a shift in his perception of the universe. The impact of realisation was like a lead weight dropped on his stomach. Хуй. No wonder Bruce'd blowtorched all the suckers he could find.
"The kids," Terry breathed. His own voice sounded alien, leaking out from a chest constricted by steel bands.
He inhaled and it fed a fire in his veins. He was on his feet again, mask gripped tight in one hand, aimed at the batmobile.
Terry didn't stop; he wheeled on Bruce, sick and furious.
"What do you mean, stop? Someone murdered those those kids! Turned them into little monsters and sicced them on their parents! I'm not gonna let that happen!"
"And where are you going to start?" Bruce cut in. "This isn't a situation you can just barrel into headlong and solve with brute force. You need to know what you're dealing with, and how to stop it. Someone planned this. Someone with a sense of humour."
"Let's see how hard he laughs with a stake through his chest."
Bruce's voice was hard and chipped now. "This is strategy, McGinnis. Chess. Whoever did this is looking for attention."
"They've got it," Terry said darkly.
Bruce ignored that.
"The point is to spread fear. These were all wealthy families. Important, secure. The children were abducted in the middle of the night out of houses with state-of-the-art security perimeters. No sign of entry or struggle. Their beds were even made.
"No news. No ransom demands for three days, and now this. The same twelve families targeted. No way to pretend it's not related. Not even an attempt to disguise the nature of the killings."
"All twelve?" The count had been six last he'd checked.
"You're going to call Chief Belker and tell him to post a watch on the other families, if he hasn't already."
"What about the kids? If that was...one of them in the alley, the cops aren't going to be able to handle it."
"Tell them it's drugs, makes them photosensitive so keep them someplace dark."
"No. You need to know what you're looking for. And where you're aiming. Make the call.
Terry dragged into school the next morning completely exhausted. Bruce hadn't let him out again that night. He'd kept him in, drilling him until he put the stake into the dummy's heart every time and his reflexes were primed. Which really fucking scared him, because the one thing Wayne had emphasised was that he could never, ever kill a live person. Never stake something unless it had its game-face on. Never, ever do it in front of people.
The news was everywhere this morning. It surrounded him like a following swarm of a thousand angry wasps, even drowning out the Policeman's Ball tonight. Eight families, twenty-one people dead. No survivors, the news and rumour buzzed, and Terry didn't really want to think about explaining vampires to Chief Belker. Then again, Belker was notorious for going anywhere, even the Narrows. Thirty-three dead, he thought staring at a blank screen which contained no history notes.
Terry napped in lieu of lunch, and he would have missed PE as well as physics if Dana hadn't roused him out of a dusty corner in the library. He was almost too tired to worry about his bruises in the locker room—the suit absorbed a lot, but it hadn't taken everything last night. Terry was too slagged to worry about that, either. Tonight would come soon enough, and there was shit he could do about it.
Night came. Well, not even night, but it was dark and brooding by the time Terry mounted the mansion's steps three at a time.
Bruce didn't ghost up behind him while he was making coffee, so he was probably down in the cave. How the batcave didn't have its own coffee maker, Terry wasn't sure; but he thought the old, seldom-mentioned butler might have put his foot down. Terry brought down the whole pot, a couple of mugs, and a box of chocolate beignets he'd picked up on the way over because, despite Bruce's monologues on healthy living and medical orders, he'd actually eat the damned things.
Sure enough, there was the old man, looking like he'd grown out of the computer chair.
"We have a problem," Bruce said, picking up as though Terry had never left.
"Tell me something I don't know."
"They found blood on some of the victims' lips." Bruce sucked down the mug of coffee Terry poured him like it was—er.
"It wasn't theirs."
"The police reports don't mark it because they don't know what they're looking for. I hate working from second-hand data. But there's only one logical explanation.
"You don't mean they're going to—"
"We'll find out at sundown," Wayne said grimly.
Terry's stomach turned. That was just sick.
"All of them?"
Wayne grunted. "The cops haven't checked them all. They don't have reason to. Yet. The children's blood may still be identifiable. Keep your eyes open tonight. Something tells me whoever's behind this isn't very concerned with discretion."
"Your decades of experience tell you that?"
Well, to be fair, Wayne wasn't sharing what his decades of experience were probably suggesting, which Terry's increasingly morbid turn of mind helpfully approximated for him. Things like, whatever it is, try to steer it away from people, and you're probably going to be outnumbered and this is going to be a thing for a while and try not to get yourself killed right away. Отлично.
"You don't want me staking out the morgue?" Terry asked, stretching a little. Ow.
"No. It smells too much like a trap. I'm more concerned about those last four families."
"Doesn't Belker have people on that?"
"Protective details. You have a different job. Disrupt the plan, and we might draw the mastermind out. Try not to get distracted by the decoys."
"What if they start killing people?" Terry asked, straightening abruptly.
"Do you think it's a coincidence that this started the night before the police charity ball? Just don't lose sight of the big picture."
Terry narrowed his eyes. "You think this guy's going to spring something worse, don't you?"
"I don't know. But I recognise an overdeveloped sense of melodrama when I see one."
"You would," Terry said, but his voice was almost as flat as the old man's.
The clouds were ugly tonight, the usual smoggy night-purple gone black. Some Core worlds had nets of satellites to rein in the weather, but Gotham was in for a wild storm tonight. As if people wouldn't have been staying in anyway.
Terry tried not to feel naked skimming just above treetop level, listening to the thunder closing in. The suit's conductors were better, but Terry was in the batmobile because the rain that had started falling like drops of darkness and extinguished the last of the daylight as he'd walked up the steps to the Manor was now blasting sideways. He had been flying this pattern for the better part of an hour, a little wider than the old man had dictated when he'd gone out on patrol. The houses of two of the four families still in danger were within ten blocks of River Hall, where the annual Policeman's Ball had got underway, heralded by the hostile growling of thunder.
Not a lot out tonight, and the parking lot was a little empty. Looked like the cops were all off on protective detail. Terry glanced uneasily at South Bay with all its fancy houses.
"You know they're gonna hit again tonight. I can trail 'em, find out where they're coming from!"
"No. It's a distraction. This is where you need to be; trust me."
"I'm not going to sit here and let this happen again. Besides, who'd be stupid enough to attack a hall full of policemen?"
"—who are outnumbered four to one by socialites and two to one by vid recorders," Bruce insisted. "It doesn't get much more public than that."
"After tonight, that may no longer be an issue."
"У 我們 был 幫助."
"Help? What do you mean, you had help?"
"It's not relevant now."
Internally, Terry made a face. "Why am I never reassured when you say that?"
"Focus on what's happening now. Is there any unusual activity at the hall?"
"No, everything's still quiet." Terry banked and circled the gargoyle-encrusted building one more time.
"It's still early."
His glance kept sliding north, to the five-storey houses nested inside their ornamental walls with trees and ponds, hiding four little time bombs somewhere in their orchid-lined paths.
"I hate this," Terry grumbled.
Wayne grunted. He was too much of a closed-mouthed bastard to say anything more. This was the twenty-thousandth time tonight he'd said that, though, and he could feel the Battier-than-thou projecting through the radio link.
Terry kept his eyes on the monitors, watching for even the slightest hint of suspicious movement. Something was going to happen to these people, and he wasn't going to let it slip past him because Wayne had him circling like a vulture over the carcass, metaphorical this time, of high society. Still nothing. The police channels were quiet on his HUD—wait. That was a call for back-up from the detail assigned to the Grimm family. Another, this one from the Novoseltsjevs'—Mannings'—Sinclairs'—
Mannings were closest. Terry hissed and hit the brakes instead of turning back to circle the boring, boring parking lot again.
"What are you doing?"
"What does it look like? Keep up, old man."
"You can't save everyone."
He was out and moving before Wayne could say anything else. The wind hit like a fist all over. It was a fight to get past the ornamental wall, but then his feet were on the ground. He tripped onto the grass more than landed, and stumbled to his feet. Where was the шалопай, where was the house? Terry switched frequencies, swearing.
It was the movement, not the heat signature that caught his eye, cold as a corpse, slipping on the slick patio. Terry threw himself at it in sheer blind panic, ready to grab one of the sharp wooden sticks now fitted into the suit as soon as he connected.
The vampire shrieked a piercing yowl that sent all the hair standing on the back of his neck, where he was vulnerable. He grabbed the thing and slammed it down again bodily. It thrashed and spit like a cat.
"Hold still, козёл!"
Terry grit his teeth. It was taking both hands to keep the sucker down. Wayne was shouting in his ear, but it was all white noise. He couldn't get a stake into position. Fuck the Buddha blind.
He tried to pin it with sheer body mass. One arm free. A kick to the stomach and he almost lost the damned stake, not to mention his dinner.
Terry's wildly flailing stab was deflected as the thing scrambled to its feet. Catching his own balance, Terry set himself for another try.
Terry set his jaw and attacked again, in better form. The little bugger got clipped, spun out of range.
"Мышь, мышь, летучая мышь!" it sang, dancing across the slippery patio so Terry had to turn to track it.
Wait for it, wait for it. Bruce had subsided to a growling silence on the other end of the radio. The small, cool figure flickered right and left, in and out, bands of blue and green sliding in and out of focus.
Terry's arm flickered out; it met only with laughter.
Again the laughter, high and happy like a park on a summer afternoon. Terry shivered. But he also saw something.
Terry feinted. There, there it was. He leapt sideways at the little figure. It growled at him and then went limp. The stake punched through with a sickening jolt that travelled all the way up Terry's arm.
"Get out of there!" Bruce barked over the radio.
Terry looked around wildly. There was a light in the sky to the east. All the weight on his arms just melted away. The space in front of him was empty.
The veil caught fire.
"Oh, don't tell me."
Terry was already in the air.
River Hall should have been pitch black when Terry slipped inside, since he'd just cut the building's power; but there were bright, flaring shapes that were definitely neither human nor vampire scattered throughout the room. About half of the tables had been knocked over and socialites were huddling behind the ones that hadn't caught fire from the stupid mood candles, almost as spectacularly as the hulk in the parking lot that had been the police mobile command airvan. The reporters had abandoned their state-of-the-art vid cameras (jammed by the batmobile) and were pointing their phones over the huddling socialites at the podium. Great.
There were no bodies on the floor, yet. Terry had the impression that someone had stopped talking just before he walked in. Bruce was silence in his ear.
It was a woman's voice, but there was a sing-song cadence to her speech that made her sound even more child-like than the vampire kid he'd just staked. For some reason, it sent a cold shiver down Terry's spine.
He looked up sharply. There was a lady in a fancy dress standing in the middle of a lot of empty space at the front of the room. She was looking up at him almost shyly, and the night vision filter gave her eyes a cat-luminous flare. Looks like I've found my mastermind.
"Летучая мышь, you're ruining my party."
A sharp motion caught the corner of Terry's eye. Belker? He gestured again, and Terry saw the gun in his other hand.
"Funny, I thought you sent me an invitation." He took a step forward and away from Belker's line of fire.
"Little boy playing in daddy's closet. Did you need help to reach the hats?"
"You are wrong on so many levels, lady."
"The message isn't for you, мышк—"
Freaky lady jerked as Belker emptied six rounds into her. Well, if Terry hadn't guessed she was the bad guy before, that would have been a big hint.
"Belker! Get everybody out of here!" someone shouted as shadows converged from the sides of the hall.
"No one's going anywhere," another voice snarled from the direction of the door.
"Oh, bite me."
"I'd be glad t—ow!" Terry pivoted in time to see Commissioner Gilmore deliver a swift kick to vampire groin and then a very business-like coldcocking.
"Go granny g—хуй! Отпусть мне!"
A pair of rough hands seized him. And then another, and another, until even the suit was useless. They pushed him to his knees in front of lady-fangs, who was staggering upright on the arm of a vampire Terry was pretty sure used to be Ariel Carver.
"Oh, look what you brought mummy! You shouldn't have." She clasped her hands in rapture as two young children, a girl with black hair and almond eyes and a boy with soft brown curls, hauled a a struggling man forward. The way she ran her hand through his hair and under the open collar of his shirt was sensual. Caressing. "So soft and tender. He still has his baby-heart."
Her smile was the only warning. There was terror in his eyes, but it was Terry screaming no! at the top of his lungs as lady-fangs tightened her grip and bit down.
Oh, god, oh jesusmarybuddha. He should look away. He should be checking to see how many people Belker and Gilmore had managed to lead out. Instead, he watched as the life drained from the poor bastard's face in the green light of night vision. The greenish-black colour of the blood seeping past her lips somehow did not make it any less sickening. When she was done, she dropped him like a dirty rag.
"Who are you?"
"You ruined my coming-out party." The bullet-holes were clearly visible in her pale dress, but there was nowhere near as much blood as there should have been. "I was going to tell the whole world. The sky would shake and the earth would rise..."
She inhaled, like the suit smelled anything like prey or sweat or sex and circled him. Clack. Clack. Her footfalls sounded with a precision at odds with her body language. The backhand caught him entirely off guard as she came around again. It might have snapped his neck without the suit's reinforcements.
"Shall I tell you? Shall I whisper it in your ear?"
Bruce said nothing; he had to know she was close enough to hear. Terry grit his teeth and said nothing. He had to wait. The police would be coming soon and man, he did not want to explain this to them, but he was in no position to be choosy.
She kicked him in the stomach. He fucking hated stilettos.
She pushed the vamps holding him away and toppled him with the insistent pressure of one foot on his collarbone. He was still trying to get his breath back when, straddling him, she grabbed his face and slammed his head into the tiled floor.
"You said like dainty cat's feet. And then there they were, all dangling above my bed."
"Get off me, you psycho-bitch!" Terry gasped and ripped her arm away from his cowl. With the other, he started groping at his utility belt for a stake.
"Hold him down!"
It took both of her hands to force his down, but she managed it, and the rest of him was pinned again. "I'll taste you, мышка," she purred. "How do you think dear Gotham will like a vampire bat?"
She smiled her little girl's smile, this time at the coined ceiling. "Will you take me flying again?"
It was Bruce who said it. Terry had almost forgotten he was there, the staticky crackle of the storm playing on the open line as ignored as the gasps and whimpers of the terrified crowd, who saw nothing but what the dwindling flames highlighted.
"He remembers me. Such a long, long brain. If I spread it out all over, will I see my face? Am I still a princess? Or did you lie awake at night, so guilty, imagining how the maggots would eat my flesh?"
I'm sure I will now, you whack-job. She kissed him. Terry could smell the blood on her lips. Господи, if he vomited now, he'd choke on it.
"Mmm, nnng." She growled. "Yuck! Mother always said to be sure and take my food out of the wrapping."
Terry tensed as Drusilla's claw-like fingernails searched for the seam of his cowl. At this point, he couldn't really tell if Bruce was talking to him or the police were storming the hall or even if his lower half was still attached. He concentrated on breathing. Drusilla wasn't breathing except to speak.
Thin fingers found the overlap and tugged. The shock circuits functioned perfectly; after all, he'd just repaired them.
Functioning more on instinct than anything else, Terry threw off Drusilla and the dozen other, abruptly limp, hands pinning him to the floor. The stake he flipped into his hand felt like a life-line.
He staked three suckers before they recovered enough to fight back and things got really ugly. He would listen, later, to the recording, to Bruce shouting, game-face! only if it's got its game-face on! over and over into his ear, because by the time he saned up and the police returned in force, Drusilla had disappeared and he was covered in grisly particles. Some part of him must have still been listening, though, because he hadn't hit anything except the vamps. Not to mention the several thousand saints and angels who must've been on his side because none of the crappy vid clips on the news the next morning showed anyone disintegrating into dust.
No one mentioned the word vampire either, and no one had as yet identified the leader of the 'terrorist attack' as the orphan Drusilla Crewe, found murdered forty years ago and laid to rest in the family tomb. Everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off, Bruce had had to practically whitewash his face to stop the bruises showing before he could even go home. It wasn't until the fourth time Dana snapped at him during lunch that he remembered the fucking slave boat to Pará.
__ __ __
 仕麼?—shen ma?; what?
 猴子 的 屁股 чёрты—houzi de pigu chjorty; devil monkey-ass
 господи—gospodi; good god
 дрянь—drjan'; scum
 xуй—huj; fuck
 Мне надо быть там—mnje nado byt' tam; I need to be there
 Ну, чья?—nu, ch'ja; then whose?
 Отлично—otlishna; outstanding
 要是—yaoshi; if
 почему не—pochmu nje; why not
 сам себя?—sam sebja; all by myself
 Мне кажется 一黑兒 сумащедщий—mnje kazhetsa yi diar sumaschedshij; That sounds just a little bit nuts to me
 Как же вы сделали сорок лет назад?—kak zhe vy sdjeali sorok ljet nazad?; then how the hell did you do it forty years ago?
 У 我們 был 幫助—u women byl bangzhu; we had help
 Ну, блин!—nu, blin; dammit!
 шалопай—shalopaj; little brat
 козёл!—kazjol; you fucker! (literally a billy goat, but in practice it is always vulgar)
 Летучая мышь—ljetuchaja mysh'; bat (the Russian word for bat means, literally, flying mouse)
 Чёрная мышь. Ты скоро станешь прахом—chornaja mysh'. ty skora stanjesh' prahom; Black mouse. Soon you will be ashes.
 看看—kankan; look
 Само и было пламенно—sama i byla plamjena; [the veil] caught fire (This is a quote from the Bulgarian folktale The Sun and Grozdanka which I, er, Russified.)
 мышк[a]—myshk[a]—; little m[ouse]
 хуй! Отпусть мне!—huj! atpust' mnje; fuck! Let go of me!
 милая мышка—milaja myshka; my dear little mousey
 你記嗎?—ni jide ma; do you remember?