The Apprentice, part 10

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

"I know you're there."

Minutes passed.

"Your silence does not scare me. I am a master of fear."

More time passed.

The tiniest shuffle sounded.

More time.

"You want me uncertain. Uncertainty breeds fear. But I am certain you are there. My only uncertainty is what you might want. To prove a point?"

Silence.

"I am still master. You can sit in the dark as long as you want; that will not change."

No answer came from the darkened halls of Arkham Asylum.

"Heh. It occurs to me that your being here announces my mastery. I must have something you want."

There was a rustle, as if cloth against concrete.

"Perhaps you seek advice on dealing with the Bat and his acolytes? Or you want to free me?"

The dark offered no reply.

"No, you learned your lesson well enough. You would not risk freeing me again. But you must have some scheme. What are you plotting, my student?"

Utter stillness.

"Ha ha. Of course. A wise general reveals only what his collaborators need to know. You were ever the clever study. Listening in silence. That's why I picked you, you know."

No response.

"See, even now you show how well you learned. Should you acknowledge me, then the guards could not dismiss my words as the ramblings of a paranoid. But you and I know I am not paranoid. That is what matters."

A scuffing whisper seemed to radiate from the quiet hall.

"So I must assume that you are here to review for some scheme that will involve the Bat. Attend, my student, and I will explain again the Achilles Heel of that scourge of the night.

"You see, many believe that he is inhuman, but we know better, don't we, my student? Oh, yes, beneath that dark visage beats the heart of a man, and that man knows fear as well as any man."

A soft click signaled the cycling of the climate control.

"Heh. Perhaps he knows it better. Remember how his little blonde chickie screamed for him."

A creak like that of leather punctuated the silence.

"Yes, this is his weakness. He fears loss, fears death. Not for himself. No, you cannot defeat the Bat by threats to his safety. He would welcome death, methinks.

"Hmm. This would be thought on. I have watched him; oh, yes, I pay attention. For himself, no flutter, no whisper of fear. But threaten those precious acolytes - mmm, then you can taste it."

The dark seemed attentive, waiting.

"This is what you must do. You must attune your plans to the skills of his followers. Perhaps... mm, yes, it would be wise to begin in Bludhaven. His most trusted squire is there; you will not risk alerting the Bat before you are able to claim your hostage.

"Yes, that was the error of our previous plan. We left too much to chance, trusting he would move with his team so that we might pluck one of his trainees away from him. This one in Bludhaven will be trickier than those he keeps closer, but there is less threat of premature discovery."

The heating system powered back down, intensifying the silence.

"A feint, then. Some red herring to allow you to capture Nightwing, to use him against his master when your real plan is put in motion. Very wise. You see you did not know about this Nightwing before, because I am still your master and must know things you do not."

A faint squeak of rubber on linoleum answered him.

"I know other things you do not know, you realize. Many other things. Many many other things. You understand that, right?"

Silence.

"Right?"

More silence.

"Say something, dammit!"

Nothing.

"You - you do not think you have bested me, do you? I am still master here. Despite the fact that I do not enjoy your freedom, you must not believe I have no plans."

A soft chuff sounded.

"Oh god. Guards! GUARDS! He's going to kill me! Don't let him - oh my god! GUARDS!"

A klaxon sounded and light flooded the Arkham halls, but there was nothing there but Jonathan Crane's screams.

Batman keyed open his comlink as he cleared the Arkham perimeter. "Did you get it all?"

"He doesn't know anything more than we do about Du Bois or his plans," Oracle confirmed. "Should I contact Nightwing?"

"Negative. Status of the others?"

"Robin and Batgirl are finishing the usual patrol routes. A couple random crimes, but no sign of Du Bois. And don't you think you should warn-"

Batman ignored her. "Huntress?"

"Huh? Oh, right. She's not out tonight. Grading papers."

"Black Canary is still in Europe."

"Yeah. But why-"

"Du Bois may know about her from February and misunderstand her connection to me."

"Fair enough. I still-"

"Any word from Azrael?"

"No more than usual. You really think Du Bois would go out that far?"

"Put him on alert anyway. And Huntress. I'll talk to Robin and Batgirl." He paused as he shot off a jumpline and regained the rooftops. "How is Spoiler?"

"Back home and recovering." Now it was Oracle's turn to pause. "Have you decided what you're going to do with her?"

"Batman out." He closed the comlink connection and continued toward where he had left the Batmobile. It was time to do more detective work.

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