When Batman first saw the familiar glint of sharpened knives smothered in shadows, he'd briefly panicked. For one reason, it was behind him and the only reason he'd seen it was because he'd been inspecting a batarang for dents (he'd threw it earlier in an attempt to get Poison Ivy but it had been deflected into a wall.) And the second reason, he was standing up on the twelfth level of Wayne Tower, blending in smuggly with the looming gargoyles, and frankly no one should be up there and behind him.
Keeping his breathing even, Batman had waited for the glints to move or shift, to give any indication that the figure was moving, but none came. Instead, staying buried in the shadows until Alfred called him over the comm link, saying something about an attempted break-in on 33rd street, and he'd grappled away, downtown.
Silently, as he grappled onto another building to land in a roll, Batman pulled out the batarang, feeling satisfaction when it glinted menacingly in the brief light the smog allowed the moon, and watched with rising curiosity as the Shadow staggered out and climbed up to what seemed to be a space between the twelfth and fourteenth floors.
The sealed thirteenth floor.
He made a mental note to check that out, sooner rather than later.
Twelve days later, dodging a rolling can of Joker’s laughing gas, Batman ignored but filed away the glint of knives hiding in the shadows just to his left incase they (or, it) attacked any time soon.
Thirty minutes later, with an unconscious Joker lying at his feet, Batman looked over to the shadowed alley which had held the glint of knives but found nothing but garbage and rats staring back out at him.
The third time he'd seen it he'd gotten the full image of what it was. A dagger, embellished with a golden owl-shaped hilt. It was pinned through a local druggies chest, keeping him against the wall.
He'd been dead for hours.
His heart ripped out.
Nineteen days later, Batman thought that grappling from building to building made him feel a certain ounce of adrenaline he didn't feel as Bruce Wayne.
Maybe that was why he enjoyed being a vigilante so much, or maybe it was the satisfaction he got when he took down a particularly hard enemy or maybe it was the thrill of something new happening.
Like the knife with a golden owl embroidered handle that flew out from nowhere and suddenly cut his line in half. It sent his adrenaline higher than grappling ever could. Although, it left him free falling for a few feet before he got over his shock and pulled out his other grapple and, with a grunt, hooked onto the next building.
He saw the knife embed itself in the dark grey wall of the building his line had been adjacent with and made a mental note to get it later because suddenly Alfred’s voice came over the Comm to say Scarecrow was laughing about some master plan outside Gotham City PD and Commissioner Gordon was five minutes away from an aneurysm.
When he returned, two hours later with Scarecrow knocked out and on his merry way to Arkham, - supposed master plan successfully averted and stopped - the knife was gone. Nothing but a thin hollow hole in the dusty bricks to say that it had ever been there.
He seen it a fifth time, on a brisk spring evening.
This time he went after it, catching it by surprise as it jerked and scrambled away, throwing a few more daggers which his cape only just deflected.
Batman never did explore the sealed thirteenth floor or that shadow any further, until he found it was too late.
Now, as Bruce Wayne stiffened at the feather light tap of a blade on his neck, he wished Batman had paid more attention to it. Suddenly, without the fluttering of overturned papers (courtesy of his desk that had been tipped in his surprise) his personal study seemed eerily silent. Expect, of course, for Bruce’s heartbeat in his ears.
Now, Bruce Wayne stared down the gold and black armoured thing standing just behind him, only visible by its reflection in his window. He inwardly cursed.
By all appearances it looked deadly, from the sharp golden claws to its pointed goggle tips that sat on its horrifying mask.
Bruce was pretty sure it was an assassin. He wasn't too worried about that though, he'd dealt with his fair share of them (Ra's and Talia being two easy to name ones). What was worrying was that this one (unnamed to his annoyance) had gotten past over twelve layers of decrypted security codes, multiple cameras and too many other things to make him happy.
"Bruce Wayne," The voice was hoarse and raspy but if he searched, Bruce swore he could hear a feminine lilt to it. "You've interfered. The Court had sentenced you to die."
Bruce tried to shift, to do anything, something, but froze when the thing hissed in warning. He wasn't even sure if it was human. It certainly didn't look it. He had no idea how this thing had snuck up on him.
He felt and seen the thing behind him tilt its head. He realised it was, quite possibly, enjoying this.
The sardonic lick to the voice confirmed his suspicions and he rethought his plan of not hitting the panic button - he could, at least, warn them but they probably wouldn’t understand till it was too late for them. "Last words, Bat?"
Bruce suddenly felt sick, if this thing knew who he was then- he'd worked so hard to--
It must've seen his panic for it let out a maniac cackle that made him shiver and seemed to rock back and forth on its feet as it playfully hushed him, running a cold, slim ( if was definitely female) hand down his cheek. "Hush, hush. No tell, no tell. Words?"
He swallowed carefully, mindful of the knife that was suddenly pressed harder against his pale throat, and pushed down the surging panic and fear that was threatening to show. “What are you?” He felt like it was the best question, even if he could've worded it better.
The thing's thinly veiled twitch almost rammed the knife into his exposed flesh.
He made a metal note that his antagonist couldn't take antagonism. Out if the corner of his eye he realised he could just about make out the handle of the dagger.
It had an embroidered golden owl. He mentally frowned, that was the exact same knife that had cut Batman's line not three weeks ago and the one that had been in the druggies corpse.
"Talon." Talon seemed giddy now and Bruce deduced that this ‘Talon’ wasn't in the best mental place. What disturbed him more was that Talon seemed to coo like an owl before speaking again.
"Beware the Court of Owls.
Ruling Gotham from a shadowed perch,
Behind granite and lime.
Or they may come.
For they lurk under your bed
And in your head.
Beware the Court of Owls,
For they'll send the Talon for your head."
And then Talon was gone. Vanished with the echo of a cold, hard cackle. Nothing but a wisp of wind left behind in his otherwise empty study.
Suddenly, Bruce was very happy that Alfred was on holiday.
Seems that the Court of Owls isn't as much a fairytale as Gotham thinks it to be.
He beelined it for the Cave. Maybe it was time to update security.
The next time the Talon showed up, Batman and Bruce were both ready.
The thing had decided to lurk in his mansion’s shadows while it subtly stalked him and upon seeing the tell-tale swish and glint of metal Bruce had went into Batman mode. Idly pulling a Batarang from his belt - after feeling a brief surge of thankfulness he'd decided to keep a few in his civvies - Bruce bent his knees and swished around in a circle, shouting. “Come out, now!”
The far corners shadow twitched and black clothed arms with golden punches of armour here and there raised weakly, before Talon came out of the shadows, hunched over as if it were about to drop dead. "Bat o...or Bruce?"
Bruce thought the question over quickly, confusion surging through him at the mere sight of the assassin. “Bru--”
He was cut off as it winced. "Bat. Be Bat. We no kill.. no.." Talon broke off into a coughing fit as its arms hurled down back to its body. One to its mouth and the other to its side. It took a sickening gasp of air. "..no kill Bat. Forced to.. Wayne."
It was injured. Bruce realised with startling accuracy and everything fell into place. In the Talon’s mind, Bruce Wayne and Batman were different people and it had only been told to kill one, not the other. “Yes, I'm Batman.” He said, taking on his persona’s gravelly voice for extra effect. He felt a tidbit of satisfaction when the Talon sighed and slumped, leaning against the wall as it slid down it to sit on the floor.
It pulled it's goggled mask off to reveal a pale young girl. She was far too pale to be safe, with blackened veins running up the sides of her face that disappeared down the collar of her suit, down her neck, and her golden eyes were slitted tiredly. Her mouth opened in a silent gasp for air but she only got halfway before breaking into a coughing fit which forced her to drag her once limp arm up to cover her mouth. Bruce swore mentally when she removed it and he spotted a trickle of black blood dribble down to her chin while she plopped her head onto the wall, looking exhausted and older than her years.
He had to help her.
Raising his arms he slowly stalked forward. “I can help you,” He made sure to speak softly as to not scare her but it didn't seem as if she was listening to him anymore. “Can you tell me what happened?”
She rolled her head to the side where she gave him a tilted, sickly stare. "Court angry. Failed to kill..." She broke off into a cough that forced her hand to her mouth again. She stared at it miserably when she stopped a5nd pulled it back, licking the black blood from the line it had dribbled into. "Failed. Wayne target. Failed to execute. Court angry. So.. pain."
Something clicked and Bruce swore mentally again, going into Bat mode. “Can I approach you?”
The girl glanced at him, unfocused eyes honing in on the only source of movement.
"Yess." Her voice slurred differently from how it had been earlier and Batman stepped forward cautiously.
“What’s your name?”
She didn't even blink. "Talon."
For some reason pain welled up in his chest when the girl said that, but that wasn't what he wanted for an answer so he tried again. “No. Your real name.”
This time she blinked fuzzily at him before her forehead creased in thought and she took on a pained look. "Don't... We don't..." Her head plopped down as she whined and Bruce felt sick that the girl didn't know who she was. She didn't know her own name. "Don't have. Don't have. Don't. No. Me Talon. Talon." Her eyes snapped open as she lurched forward. Her eyes glittered gold as a maniac glint filled them. She spluttered and slumped back against the wall, marking a trail of black blood down it. "Talon."
Avoiding the touchy subject Batman linked the information together.
She'd failed to kill Bruce Wayne. So, she'd went back to the Court and they had… punished her?
It wasn't much to go on, or make sense with her recent actions, but it was all he could link together right now with the evidence. “Will you heal?”
Her gasps for air suddenly stopped and her head tilted to the side in a mocking gesture as her mouth slid into a dangerous grin, showing off sharp canines. She gave a harsh cackle. "Run Bat for they have found you."
Her voice turned raspy and hoarse, like the time she'd threatened Bruce Wayne. She started humming. "Trapped Bat! Trapped Bat!"
He didn't even get to process that before the window smashed inwards, too many Talons to count jumping through.
A scorching pain seared through his head and he seen darkness.