The first sign of trouble came on a soft, quiet January night. It had been relatively lazy, with most people staying indoors at the most recent flurry of snow and foreshadowed snowstorm set to hit in nine hours.
Surveying his City from a parapet of Wayne Tower, he let himself smirk in the self-satisfaction of a job well done. He'd managed to take out Croc in ten minutes for the first time, and that alone had scared off any straggling wanna-be's.
Batman (superpowerless, gadget aided Batman) had singlehandedly taken down Killer Croc like he was nothing more than a back alley thug. He couldn't wait to see tomorrow's newspaper's front page.
A sharp glint caught his eye as he turned his head to cast his gaze further, at what he thought was a crack in one of the gargoyles' ears.
Stomach twisting and shrivelling like he'd digested something very bad, Bruce let out a slow breath. The temperature had dropped, his warm exhalation turning into a white misty cloud at contact with the air.
Whatever was causing the glint was faraway but near enough that he could see it dauntingly. Doubtless, if he turned now his stalker would know he knew and flee.
So he waited, appearing to survey his City once more as his trackers and heat sensors locked onto the figure.
Becuase that was what it was. A lanky, shadow infested thing that was hiding between the gap of the twelfth and fourteenth floors. On the sealed thirteenth floor that practically no-one knew about.
Bruce knew his great-great grandfather, Alan Wayne, had succumbed to great paranoia in his later years. He'd raved about birds chasing him and had hated anything to do with thirteen. Apparently, he'd claimed it was when he was going to die. He'd been the one to have the floor sealed.
Ironically, he'd died on December 13th, late nineteenth century.
Heat signatures showed nothing other than the hunched thing. Both a good sign and bad. Bruce wondered if it wanted to kill or just spy on him.
//There seems to be a small mugging in the alley between sixth and ninth avenue, sir.\\ Alfred interrupted.
Nervous to leave, Bruce grunted a response and grappled away. When he was heading home an hour later he swung back around the Tower. The thing was gone, the area was colder than ever and the Thirteenth Floor was securely sealed.
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, tongue shoved down his throat.
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.
It lunged at him, sharp long claws expanded and reaching out for him, so naturally he pulled him his cape to shield himself. When nothing but the wind made the cape flutter he pulled it down to find the dirty rooftop of the building he'd ended up upon. Nothing else.
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 it, Bruce swore he could hear a feminine lilt hiding just under the surface layer of growl. "You've interfered. The Court sentences you to death."
Bruce tried to shift, to do anything, something, but he froze when the thing hissed in warning. He wasn't even sure if it was human. It certainly didn't look it, all gaudy gold and black armour, a goggled mask that seemed to pierce into his soul. 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,
Else they'll send the Talon for your head."
And then Talon was gone. Vanished with the echo of a cold, harsh 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 made a beeline for the Cave. Maybe it was time to update security.
The next time 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 that made everything in the room freeze. "..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 Talon sighed and slumped, leaning against the wall as it slid down it to sit on the floor.
It pulled its goggled mask off to reveal a 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. Her unruly golden eyes were slitted tiredly.
Mouth opening in a silent gasp for air, she froze, body vibrating as she suddenly started coughing like she'd popped a lung. Her once limp arm swerved up to cover her mouth, eyes widening slightly. Bruce swore mentally, spotting 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 anyway. “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 and 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. “What's 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 carmine as a manic 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.