Batgirl, Batman, and Gotham City are copyrighted by DC Comics. No profit or other material gain is being pursued as a result of their use in this story. This story contains descriptions of bondage, torture, and non-consensual sex. Needless to say, it is not intended for children.
The mid-morning sun blazed steamily through the clear walls of Batgirl’s prison as she pulled feebly at her creaking leather restraints. The Dark Angel was tied spread-eagle on the sandy floor of the Sun King’s crystal pyramid, and already the temperature neared 130 degrees. She had been tied down shortly before dawn, and her captors assured her that the leather thongs had been stretched and soaked in water for days awaiting use. As the leather dried it contracted, drawing cruelly tight. Each shallow breath was slow and painful. Her frequent coughs ignited fiery pain in her joints.
Batgirl was still dressed in the black dive costume she had worn for her ill-fated amphibious rescue mission into the Sun King’s stronghold. The catsuit covered her entire body with thin rubberized Lycra and bore the yellow symbol of the bat on her chest. Her hood had been pulled back by her captors, freeing her thick red hair which was bunched in a loose ponytail. They had also left on her mask that covered her face from hairline to cheekbones with wet looking vinyl. Slim spikes of hardened vinyl protruded from the top of the mask and just peeked up above her bangs. Batgirl’s utility belt was gone, and an empty knife scabbard was strapped to her right calf.
Batgirl raised her head weakly to check the progress of the intense light beam that inched towards her body. At the apex of the pyramid was a huge lens that focused a beam of sunlight on the sandy floor. The beam migrated with the sun, and by noon it would be at the center of the pyramid--directly over the abdomen of the trapped vigilante. The beam was still several feet away, but already the heat it radiated was withering. Batgirl’s face was wet with sweat and her stretched body swam in a pool of hot perspiration within the seamless, watertight jump suit. The Dark Angel’s mouth was dry and sticky, her lips were cracking from the long hours she had endured in the terrible heat. She wondered if she wouldn’t die of heat stroke long before being fried by the beam.
But her sadistic captors weren’t about to let that happen. Just as Batgirl was slipping into delirium, the door to the temple grated open. In strode Lord Malkin, the Sun King’s second in command, wearing a velvet suit of ancient design over his bony, angular frame. Three children trailed behind him dressed like English choirboys. One waved a large palm frond to cool the insane anachronism and the other two carried metal buckets.
"Good morning, dear Batgirl," Malkin smiled. "Enjoying your stay in the Crystal Pyramid? I must say you look parched. Louis, give the woman a drink."
One of the boys withdrew a ladle from his canister and held it out to Batgirl. Though she was barely able to move, the red headed vigilante lifted her head enough to drink in the cool, sweet water. She drank greedily and Louis refilled the ladle. When Batgirl finished the second ladle, he reached in again.
"Just a little more Louis," Malkin warned. "We don’t want her getting sick. I have good news, dear girl! I’ve been in touch with the captain of the Minataur. The Sun King is devoting his full attention to the interrogation of your friend off Montross Island. He is not to be disturbed, so your fate is in my hands. One more long drink, Hansel, that’s a boy."
Batgirl sucked down the sweetish water, and even tried to lick the ladle despite herself.
"Such a beautiful woman," Malkin mused. "It grieves me to see you suffering so cruelly. Its a pity the Sun King sees you as a threat. Perhaps you and I could reach some sort of accord."
"Shut up, Malkin," Batgirl panted. "We both know your deals are worth nothing."
Lord Malkin stared at her stonily. At last he used his walking stick to steer Batgirl’s beautiful face towards him.
"Neither, dear, is your life." He ran the cane down between her breasts across her flat abdomen and down between her legs. "Antoine, please release the lady’s little friends."
The other servant removed the lid from his canister and threw it into one corner of the temple. Small black scorpions began scurrying out of the container and across the hot sand.
"The fluid you drank was laced with a scorpion astringent, normally exuded by females seeking mates. Soon it will be seeping through the pores of your body. All of the scorpions in that pail are females, but sterile. Still, they will defend their territory to the death against any other mating female. Unfortunately, the only female exuding the mating scent will be you. The sterilization process weakens the venom significantly, so you may still be alive when the light reaches you."
"Sadistic bastards," Batgirl’s voice quivered.
"This is your last chance, Batgirl," Malkin loomed over his captive. "Submit to me or die."
The young vigilante locked eyes with Malkin, then up at the lens, supported by an elaborate system of brackets for precise focusing.
"Getting breezy in here. You’d better close the door."
Lord Malkin gave Batgirl’s crotch a final rub. "Goodbye Batgirl. We must make haste to avoid any chance encounters with your friends. I want to reserve all the encounters for you."
"Arrrrhhh!" Batgirl strained against her bonds while Lord Malkin and his entourage left the pyramid. Then the door ground shut again, leaving Batgirl alone in the sweltering death trap, now literally crawling with poisonous insects.
"Oh God, no," the young heroine moaned to the blistering walls. The infusion of fluids had revived her just enough to enjoy ever minute of the wait for the deadly scorpions. She looked about nervously, trying to spy their approach. The fifteen minutes wait seemed an eternity to the trapped heroine.
She had come in response to a distress call from Detective Erica Lane, who was starting her fledgling career as the superheroine Melee. Erica had given Batgirl a signaling device with the understanding that Melee could help Batgirl in her war against crime. Lucky for Melee, the tracker was two-way so Batgirl could receive as well as transmit. The Dark Angel instantly recognized the signal as a distress call, since Melee’s coordinates put her right in the center of Falconers Island, owned by the super-criminal the Sun King. If Detective Lane had fallen into the hands of the Sun King, Batgirl knew she was the only one with any chance of getting her out alive.
But the Dark Angel herself was in no condition to take on such a deadly enemy. Though the rest of her body had completely recovered from Pandora’s deathtrap at the Manticore complex, she still suffered frequent and terrible headaches. She knew it was the work of the "gold bug"--the small golden scarab that Batgirl had allowed Pandora to implant in her brain in exchange for release from the fiery death that awaited her beneath the main engines of the Phoenix rocket. At the time it seemed like a bargain. Now Batgirl wasn’t so sure.
"Ahhhhh!" Batgirl moaned, and raised her head weakly. "Ahhhh! Ahhhhh!" The stabs came again, one at her right hip and another on her abdomen.
She never saw them coming, but now she could feel the tickle of half a dozen insects scurrying across her 5'7" frame. At irregular intervals the frenzied scorpions would stop and bury their stingers into her defenseless body. Each sting was slow and unrelenting, starting with a sharp prick then burning as the poison was slowly injected. It was all she could do to fight down the screams of pain.
"Hmmm! HMMMM! God, no!"
She could just barely handle of onslaught of the scorpions, but then her headache returned with explosive force. It was the same blinding pain that caused her to fall from the ledge of the Sun King’s palace. She knew exactly where the headaches were coming from, and this filled her with even more dread than her easy capture by the Sun King’s men. It was golden scarab moving in her skull.
"Arrrrhhhhhh!" The pressure seemed to build behind her temples and her head throbbed. Then the pain rapidly subsided to be replaced by a buzzing in her ears.
*Such a noble display of masochism. And so pointless.* The voice echoed in the Batgirl’s head. *Just vaporize those bugs and shatter the ropes.*
"Get out of my head Pandora!" Batgirl panted.
*Look at the beam dear. Time's running out.* Batgirl looked dejectedly over at the beam. It was now less than a foot away.
"I…don’t care. I don’t want your help."
*Soon the scorpions will cover your body. You will be awash in their poison. If you don’t destroy them your final hour will be living hell.*
"I won’t be your slave Pandora."
*Ahh, but you will be--my servant and mightiest champion. You made your choice beneath the rocket, to die free or become my slave. You chose life and slavery. It is inevitable.*
More scorpions were finding their way to Batgirl’s stretched body. The stings were landing with agonizing frequency, as Batgirl writhed helplessly. Her whole body tingled from the skittering feet. At last Batgirl lost her composure.
"Arghh! Noooo! AHHHHH!"
The voice in Batgirl’s head pressed its advantage. *In minutes you’ll be dead, and all your suffering will have been for nothing. Batman, your true love, will be lost forever. Such a pity.*
"I will find him," Batgirl hissed through clenched teeth. "AHHH! I will."
*Tightrope was wise in trusting the truth about Batman’s fate to a pretty little fool like you. Even with all the power in the world at your fingertips, still you lay there squirming like a cat in heat. All the while Batman swims lost in the void.*
Dehydrated as Batgirl was, tears were rolling down her dusty cheeks. Pandora was right: if she died in the pyramid, then Batman was truly lost forever. If she gave in to Pandora, she would be dragged inexorably toward slavery. Her only hope was to escape on her own, but the Sun King’s deathtrap was fiendishly inescapable.
"No!" She bellowed as she began pulling at the leather thongs with all her waning strength and more. "You’ll…never…have me."
Batgirl was literally lost in herself, resolved to break free from the bonds or burst her own heart in the attempt. She pulled so hard and with such concentration that it seemed as if she pulled her very soul in two. And from the rent came power--power she never knew existed. Even as she strained, her body began to glow faintly violet.
*Yes, Batgirl, channel your frustration at the ropes. At the skittering insects. They stand between you and your true love. Without you Batman is lost.*
Focusing on her image of Batman floating in Tightrope’s endless void, her mind continued to draw on reserves she had no idea she had. The leather began stretching even as the unnatural violet glow brightened.
*You know the password to the Shaolin Temple, Batgirl. Knowledge that many will labor their entire lives in vain to obtain. You only have to get there to learn its secrets!*
It was the gold bug! Somehow Batgirl was tapping into its power and Pandora was using her love for Batman to rob her of self-control! But power was not all that Batgirl felt. Also from the schism in her soul came bubbling up another essence that flooded her subconscious. It was almost a completely different personality, with different passions and motives than Batgirl herself. And that new part of her reveled at the release of raw power, of destruction, even of the strict bondage.
"Nooooooo!" Batgirl struggled to force the power back into herself, like fighting down an orgasm of unimaginable power. For long moments she hung on the brink, half Batgirl and half Pandora’s monster. The aura around her crackled with power, then finally subsided.
*Amazing, Batgirl!* Pandora was impressed, as if praising her child. *I didn’t think it was possible to resist the power of the scarab. You even turned it to your advantage.*
Indeed she had. The scorpions were all gone, consumed by the energy field. Likewise, her leather restraints were deeply singed. A gentle tug freed her from the heavy wooden posts. The field also seemed to have completely restored her body to its original condition. Actually, she felt better than ever.
*But don’t think you’ve escaped me. It is your destiny to become Nightvision, my champion and plaything. I see in your eyes that you even met her during your struggles.*
"You’ll have nothing on me once I get this thing bug out of my head!" The Dark Angel panted. "And gold bug or no, I’ll see you brought to justice. If were you I’d prefer Batgirl’s justice over Nightvision’s."
*Perhaps, but I think Nightvision would stand a much better chance against one of Dr Maelstrom’s hunter-killers, don’t you?*
"Maelstrom? What’s he got to do with…" Batgirl turned just as a huge robot dropped from the sky outside the pyramid. "My God!"
Its jet engines were loud even outside the pyramid, but Batgirl had completely missed its approach during her struggle with Nightvision. She rolled to the side even as the robot raised an arm and cut loose with its magnetic cannon. The wall of the pyramid shuddered as the hail of slugs shattered it. Jet engines continued to wind down as the mechanical nightmare entered the pyramid.
Batgirl backed up, cornered. The hunter-killer completely filled the massive hole in the wall of the pyramid. It bristled with weapons and sensors mounted atop a heavily armored chassis. Its hot breath smelled of jet fuel and ozone. Even with her utility belt she was hopelessly outgunned. Without it she was powerless.
The hunter killer leveled an arm at its dark-clad prey and fired. Rather than being instantly vaporized, however, Batgirl was struck by a burst of compressed air that threw her violently back against the wall of the pyramid. Even as she dropped to her knees, the robot hit her again, forcing her against the wall with great force. Almost unconscious, Batgirl slipped to the sandy floor. At least it was trying to take her alive, and that meant there was hope.
She managed to roll up onto all fours when the lead of a taser line embedded itself in the small of her back. Suddenly her body was awash in high voltage, high frequency electricity. Batgirl dropped again the floor, writhing as the signals overrode her own nervous system.
"Ahhhhhh! Ahhhhhh1" The Dark Angel moaned as she desperately willed her body to move. She could see the mechanical monster now moving in. A small hatch opened near its belly and several long steel tendrils were snaking their way toward the powerless heroine to drag her inside. Apparently the hunter-killer intended to take her with it.
Looking up at the high-tech monster, Batgirl seized on a desperate plan. By shear force of will she raised her arm to the taser line and pulled it off her back. Then with a graceful leap she was able to evade the initial groping of the steel tentacles, and raise shakily to her feet. The green-eyed vigilante faced off with the towering robot as she was slowly backed into a corner. Then she did the only thing she could do.
Batgirl sprang at her invincible attacker.
Instinctively, the robot electrified its skin to fend off the meager assault. The contact was jarring, but one foothold was all the Dark Angel needed. She leapt up and seized the powerful lens near the roof of the pyramid in her gloved hands. Careful to keep her own body away from the beam she focused its light instead on the hunter-killer at the point that seemed to be the most laden with sensors.
The steel tendrils suddenly stopped. Motors whirled as protective irises closed over its sensitive "eyes." Hoping that the beast was at least temporarily blinded, Batgirl dropped from the lens assembly and landed lightly on the sand. Then she was gone like a shot, squeezing between the shattered wall and the hunter killer and out into the cold noontime sun. She expected to feel the blast of a weapon to her back at any moment, but it was not to be. By the time the hunter killer had reactivated its sensors and turned around, Batgirl had plunged into the water and disappeared from sight.
Batgirl was lost in thought while she donned her scuba equipment, which she had hidden in ten feet of water just off the island. She now understood Pandora’s plan. The tremendous power of the Gold Bug was now at her disposal but if she ever called upon it, the personality of Nightvision would take control. Even if she never used the power, the disturbing personae of Nightvision was already present, in the depths of her mind. Those suppressed thoughts would certainly get stronger like a creeping mental illness. It was only a matter of time before Batgirl was no more, converted into a powerful assassin at the beck and call of the White Witch of Gotham City. The Dark Angel only hoped that she could save Batman before the transformation was complete and somehow remove the golden scarab from her brain.
But first, she had a little unfinished business with the Sun King.
The 150-foot luxury yacht Minataur sat at anchor just off the small, rocky crag that was Mariposa island. The day was cold and bright, and flocks of birds chattered among themselves as they feasted on the teeming sea life of the scenic bay. The water was so clear that the ocean floor was clearly visible. That is, except for a small patch directly beneath the Minataur. A sinkhole perhaps 200 feet across disappeared into unfathomable depths.
In the infirmary of the ship, Erica Lane slowly regained consciousness to find herself lying naked on an examining table. A woman dressed like a nurse stood close by, monitoring her condition. An oxygen mask was strapped to Erica’s face and beside the table was a stand supporting an inverted bag filled with blood. It was a standard hospital transfusion kit, with two red tubes running from the bag to her arm. She would almost have thought she was in good hands except for the straps holding her to the examining table and the armed guard standing at the door.
"Where am I?" She asked groggily. The woman pushed a button on the wall.
"You’re on the Minataur," The nurse smiled. "But I think you’ll be leaving very soon." Her words were innocent but Erica didn’t like the tone in the nurse’s voice.
As Erica watched the blood dripping through the bags and slowly, the events of the last day came seeping back. She had been on a mission as the vigilante Melee to infiltrate the Sun King’s lair. In her job as an investigator for Gotham’s Organized Crime Unit, she had learned that most of the criminal figures in the city were funneling large amounts of money to the Sun King. A snitch had told her that almost all were planning to leave the country at the same time to attend a mysterious event or ceremony. Apparently, the money and the event were related, but Erica had been unable to learn any more within the law. She had stepped outside the law as Melee to find out what was going on.
She had been captured in Sun King’s mansion on Falconer Island. She was walking carefully down a hallway in the servant's area when Plexiglas walls fell before and behind her. The small area quickly filled with a heavy mist and in moments she was asleep.
She had endured the next twelve hours as the Sun King’s "guest," spending the majority of that time strapped to a chair undergoing a chemically aided interrogation. After answering far too many questions, the drugs had overcome her and she passed out.
Just before her capture, however, she had managed to activate the distress signal on her utility belt. Two other police-turned-vigilantes--Slammer and Hip Hop--had similar signaling devices. She was confident they would come save her with guns a blazing. That hope had carried her through the long and degrading interrogation. But now she was forced to confront the fact that no one would come to her rescue. Any rescue attempt--if indeed there was one--had failed. She was the Sun King’s to use as he saw fit.
With new appreciation for her predicament, she looked again at the stand next to her. Even through the remains of the drugs from the interrogation the answer came to her: blood doping. The bag contained a high density of red blood cells. As her blood circulated through the bag her red cell count would be increased. The pure oxygen would saturate the red blood cells, giving her dramatically enhanced endurance. But endurance for what?
Three, she suddenly interrupted her own train of thought, Three people have my beacon. She had given one to the legendary and enigmatic Batgirl who she had met by chance at the infirmary of the Greely Institute. What prompted her to reveal her secret identity to Barbara Gordon she could only guess--hero worship perhaps? Still, Barbara seemed little interested in working with rookies. A daring rescue by the Dark Angel of Gotham City was certainly beyond hope.
The guard snapped to attention as the Sun King whisked into the room with his bevy of beautiful "assistants." All of the women looked very similar with dark complexions, brown eyes, short hair, and athletic physiques. Each was costumed, however, according to her function. The Sun King’s secretaries wore exquisitely tailored business suits with short skirts and hose. His advisors wore blouses of white starched linen and tulip skirts. His bodyguards wore black leather body suits with holstered machine pistols at their belts and oriental fighting swords sheathed on their backs.
The Sun King himself was garishly dressed in a white silk suit encrusted with precious gems. He wore a small golden crown over his powdered wig and a velvet robe of royal purple. In short, he would have looked ridiculous if he didn’t hold the power of life or death over the young police investigator.
"Ahh, dear Melee. It's good to see you again. I enjoyed our conversation last night immensely. I trust you have nothing else to tell me. No, you couldn’t possibly." Melee said nothing, but her cheeks flushed with humiliation. "As a superheroine, I’m sure your heart-felt desire is to die for the cause of justice, so I will give you your way. Since you’ve cooperated so splendidly, I’ve decided to allow you to die in costume." The madman held up Melee’s black latex body suit. "With, of course, one small modification."
From a jeweled mahogany metal box, the Sun king produced a long, thick black rod apparently made of rubber covered with round knobs and many small openings. Small holes formed a ring around the base of the rod, and another, larger hole topped its tip. The young vigilante’s eyes widened with understanding and revulsion. It was a phallus.
"I’m confident it will make your final struggles much more enjoyable." Sun King activated the device and the phallus began to vibrate. Some of the knobs spun in their sockets, others agitated, entire sections of the insidious rod rotated about its axis of symmetry. Several ports oozed a clear lubricant.
The murderous madman held his hands up and an assistant crisply pulled rubber gloves over his hands. Melee stared straight ahead as he ran his hands down her sex and pried open her soft lips. She closed her eyes and bit her lip as the Sun King slowly forcing the monstrous black dildo into her vagina. The device filled the lithe brunette to her limit, but her canal completely accepted the phallus so that only the slight spread of her legs betrayed its presence. Delicately, the Sun King pulled a telescoping arm from the very base of the phallus. He slipped the arm up between the helpless crime fighter’s labia and precisely positioned the rubber knob at the end of the arm over Erica’s clitoris.
"What do you want from me?" Erica whispered, tears flowing down her cheeks and over the oxygen mask.
"Why nothing. I know everything about you I care to. I know why you’re here, and what you know about my operations. I even know who your informants are, who your partners are, and even that you secretly love bondage games prior to sex. Now I plan to use you as bait for a little fishing expedition."
Erica was wide-eyed, while the Sun King withdrew a small remote control unit from the box that contained the dildo.
"Yes, you see for years I’ve believed that a strange creature lives deep in the sinkholes which surround this island. So I’ve constructed a capture device, and occasionally I go trolling for the creature using young women as bait. It's a long descent but I still want your struggles will help attract its attention. Therefore, I’ve more than doubled the number of red blood cells in your circulatory system and you are currently breathing pure oxygen. You should be able to hold your breath for at least ten minutes before drowning."
He pushed a button on the remote control.
Melee tried to say something, but her words were converted to a tight-jawed hiss as the dildo sprang to life. She went taught in her bonds, shocked by the onslaught of stimulation. She tried to remain relaxed, but it was simply impossible. Soft moans were pulled from the raven-hared beauty’s throat as the dildo went to work on her most sensitive flesh.
Two guards then stepped forward to help the doomed woman into her combat uniform a final time. The rubbery body suit stretched liberally as it enfolded Melee in a sheath of glistening black. The material sank deeply between her breasts and the crack of her buttocks as the men ran the zipper up her back and to the turtle neck collar. Then they slipped on long latex gauntlets and thigh-length rubber boots. Lastly, they fastened a tight-fitting weapons belt, now devoid of its gadgets, around Erica’s waist. Now dressed for sacrifice, the latex-clad crime fighter was chained hand and foot and escorted to the audience hall.
Erica was led into the long, low gallery flanked on all sides by sexy assassins. There stood the Sun King beside the implement of her execution, a steel frame with heavy metal jaws like a bear trap. The frame itself was some seven feet tall with chains and manacles set into each corner. A heavy spring was secured to the bottom of the frame, and attached to the spring were the four-foot jaws of the monster trap. The monstrosity was connected to the boat via a long coil of chain.
The Sun King drank her in with his eyes, then smiled as he saw her subtle hip gyrations.
"A warrior even to the end, but not without passion, no? But we’ve no time to lose--our prey awaits. Please prepare the monster trap."
Erica watched in horror as strong men inserted cranks into the spring mechanism and slowly pulled the jaws apart. The spring groaned as the teeth were pulled until they were open wide like a deadly flower, the frame and its steel manacles waiting at the point where the two jaws would close.
"No! No!" Melee begged as she was escorted to the frame. She was lifted lightly by her captors and positioned in the frame, directly between the two heavy jaws. Her wrists and ankles were chained while the wide-eyed superheroine struggled. If and when the jaws snapped shut, they would meet right at her abdomen, probably cutting her in half.
Once Melee was secured the assistants backed gratefully away from the dangerous contraption. Though her latex costume would provide little protection against the frigid depths and crushing jaws it did exquisitely showcase her feminine physique--taut muscles, firm breasts, and now engorged nipples. The thrusts of her hips were now quite noticeable as she hung in the midst of the monster trap.
The Sun King addressed his victim.
"Thanks to your free sharing of information, your disappearance will never be traced to me. I will erase every shred of evidence that led you here. And speaking of information, let me tell you what you came to learn. All of Gotham’s underworld is heading to the Isle of Nod where Dr. Maelstrom is putting on a very special show. He has rounded up four of the most renowned heroines in the world to compete in the Tournament of Death. It will be the social event of the season, and fortunately, I’m the only person in the country who actually knows how to get to the Isle of Nod. Naturally my transportation services go at a premium."
Melee looked on the evil genius almost not comprehending. Fear and rising passion all but consumed her attention. A tournament of death?
"I would invite you to participate in the tournament, but I’m afraid Maelstrom has already selected a champion for this part of the world: Batgirl. So I get to go fishing."
He tapped on the teeth of the terrible bear trap with his walking stick. "You’ll forgive me if I don’t kiss you goodbye. Throw her overboard."
A winch suddenly jerked the trap skyward, bearing its tightly bound victim. Melee was positioned directly over the small pool in the middle of the room. Beneath her feet she could see the dark maw of the abyss framed on all sides by the brightly lit ocean floor. The Sun King let her hang for a moment, as the terror built in his captive.
"Please no!" Melee pleaded with the Sun King. "I’ll do anything!"
"Of course you will, my dear. Good bye."
Melee screamed as the chain was suddenly released and the deathtrap plummeted into the water. She half expected the jaws to close with the sudden impact, but they remained spread wide. The crowd gathered around the pool to watch the beautiful heroine’s descent into the depths. The chain unwounded quickly as the frame grew smaller and smaller in the distance.
The Sun King laughed evilly as yet another of his enemies was sent to a terrible death.
Batgirl saw the cross drop in an explosion of bubbles as she swam along the ocean floor towards the Minataur.
My God, she gasped inwardly as she spied the dark-haired police inspector lashed to the frame in the midst of the deadly spring trap. With all the power her recently rejuvenated body could muster, Batgirl swam to intercept the frame. Under normal circumstances she never would have made it, but residue of the energy aura must still have run through Batgirl’s veins. With a final burst of speed she swam over the mouth of the aquatic chasm and reached the struggling vigilante.
Melee was understandably hysterical, even more so when Batgirl suddenly burst on the scene. At first she thought Batgirl’s appearance was yet another dimension to the Sun King’s death trap. But when she saw the yellow bat on the Dark Angel’s dive suit her eyes went wide with joy and relief. Batgirl winked and offered Melee her regulator for buddy breathing, but Melee refused. Unaffected by Melee’s apparent immunity to drowning, the Dark Angel grabbed the still descending frame and began pulling it to one side, away from the maw of the chasm.
"Somethings wrong!" one of the Sun King’s advisors exclaimed far above. "The monster trap is diverting towards the edge of the grotto!"
"Diverting? Impossible!" The Sun King pulled an antique brass instrument from the wall. It looked like a squat telescope from an H.G. Wells novel. He put the large primary lens of the instrument into the water and looked through the eyepiece. For long seconds he adjusted various knobs on the device.
"BATGIRL!" The odd telescope clearly showed the Dark Angel of Gotham City pulling the frame to the side of the abyss. Once the cross touched down she started removing Melee’s chains. "How could this be? The tournament is in two days--Maelstrom should have her by now! After Batgirl at once, my assassins! I want her alive!"
Instantly the team of female assassins complied, pulling scuba gear and harpoon guns out of a nearby storage locker. Even as they shouldered the scuba tanks and strapped on weight belts they were in the water. If the chilly water bothered them through their thin combat uniforms, they gave no indication.
Even as Batgirl worked to free Melee, the assassins descended menacingly towards them. Both heroines looked up and saw the company of some eight divers fanning out in an inescapable human net. They exchanged troubled glances but Batgirl continued unwinding the chains. Once the last loop was removed, Batgirl gestured for the exhausted Melee to swim for the island where she would at least have a fighting chance. Then, taking a final deep breath, the young vigilante slipped out of her scuba gear and handed it over to Melee. At first Melee tried to protest, but there was no time to argue. Batgirl forced the regulator into her friend’s mouth and shoved her toward the island. Realizing that Batgirl was right about her inability to defend herself, Melee reluctantly began to swim. Batgirl was left to face death alone.
Though limited to only the oxygen she had in her bloodstream, at least Batgirl was much more agile than her attackers without the bulky scuba gear. She swam for the first assassin with a sudden burst of speed arching her body just in time to avoid a flashing harpoon. The lead assassin pulled a long dagger and prepared for a lethal strike at her seemingly defenseless prey. But Batgirl timed her movements carefully and, just as the blow was about to strike, flipped off her enemy’s mask. The assassin lost her composure briefly and an instant later found her own dagger buried between her ribs.
Even as the dying woman struggled, Batgirl pulled two pellets from her utility belt and broke their cases. A dense cloud of black ink enveloped the Dark Angel. Two other assassins braved the murk, but the others stopped short. With such limited visibility there was too much chance of the assassins attacking each other. They waited and watched anxiously.
As the small dense cloud dissipated into a huge cloud of hazy water, the gathered divers were greeted with a joyful sight. Batgirl floated lifelessly, oozing blood from several points on her chest. Two dead assassins also drifted slowly towards the chasm, but the third loomed over Batgirl's corpse brandishing her knife triumphantly. With a mighty heave the assassin pushed Batgirl’s corpse towards the other divers then motioned to the remaining four assassins to follow her. Melee was still at large.
The five women kicked madly, rapidly gaining on the exhausted vigilante. Soon they caught site of her, working her way carefully along the ocean floor. The assassin in the lead--the same one who had defeated Batgirl--pointed out the fleeing heroine to her comrades. All smiled in their masks at their doomed prey. The master would be pleased indeed. Tonight they would be rewarded...
The smile was still on the face of one lovely assassin when a harpoon buried itself in her chest. The other three looked up from Melee just in time to see their "leader" calmly reload her gun with a deadly projectile. For the first time, they got a good look at their guide and saw they she looked unlike any of their sisters. The ink had begun rinsing from her hair and it now looked deep red. Her skin was much fairer than theirs and she had striking green eyes. Those eyes showed only malice as she lowered the harpoon gun and fired. The bolt struck no one but instead pulled the Dark Angel like a bullet into their midst. With three graceful swipes Batgirl severed the air hose of each woman. Left with no choice, the assassins made for the surface. Batgirl watched them ascend, then hurried to join her friend.
After the long swim to the mainland, the two exhausted heroines gratefully trudged up onto the beach.
"That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!" Melee gushed as she caught her breath. "The odds were eight to one against you, and you didn’t have so much as a pocketknife to defend yourself!"
"Numbers don’t always work to your advantage," Batgirl shrugged. She led the way to her car, which was hidden near the beach. Melee continued talking excitedly as she processed the experience."
"I can’t believe it. I was good as dead. I’ve never been so scared in my entire life--or so exhilarated!"
"There’s nothing quite so exhilarating as being shot at and missed."
"Just quoting Winston Churchill." Batgirl unlocked the car and pulled out a towel and a huge Gotham University sweatshirt. She threw them over to Erica.
"I don’t know how to thank you. I sent the distress signals to my partners just before I was captured, but I guess they couldn’t find me. How did you know where I was?"
"I had a little talk with Lord Malkin, one of the Sun King’s lieutenants. He told me where you were."
Jet engines whined in the distance. Barbara glanced nervously at the sky and slipped quickly into her spare set of sweats. She noticed that she still wore the costume of the dead assassin and forced down a shameful rush of pleasure. "Look, Erica, I really need to go. You going to be alright?"
"Yeah, I’ll be fine as soon as I come down off this adrenaline rush. But what are we going to do about the Sun King?"
"Nothing, right now. And I’d suggest you keep away from him as well, until you’re…"
"But I know about his plan now! He’s serving as some sort of middle man for a supercriminal called Lord Maelstrom."
"Maelstrom?!" Barbara’s attention was suddenly focused on Erica. Her encounter with the hunter-killer still loomed fresh in the redheaded heroine’s mind.
"Yes, the Sun king said he was holding some sort of event called the Tournament of Death at his stronghold, called the…" Erica trailed off, trying to remember the brief exchange.
"Isle of Nod."
"Exactly! The Sun King said it would be the underworld event of the decade and he was the only one in Gotham who could transport people to the Isle of Nod. Millions and millions of dollars are flowing into the Sun King’s Swiss bank accounts, from all over the country."
"Did he say anything about the tournament?"
"Only that it would involve some of the most famous superheroines in the world. I wonder why you’re not involved?"
Barbara was silent for a moment, admiring Erica’s understatement. The sound of jet engines had faded, as some innocuous airliner cleared the Gotham airport. But if Erica’s report was true, then the hunter-killer would be back, and soon.
"When is the Tournament of Death? Did the Sun King tell you?"
"In two days."
"Erica, I don’t want you getting involved in this. Stay away from the Sun King until after the tournament. After that, do as you see fit. Understand?"
Erica nodded. "So what’s it all about?"
"I don’t know," Barbara lied as she climbed into the car. "But Maelstrom makes the Sun King look like Howdy Doody."
The car roared to life when Barbara turned the key.
"One more thing!" Erica pulled the sweatshirt close around her. "I didn’t think Batgirl ever killed anybody."
Barbara hadn’t considered it, but Erica was right. Those assassins were the first people Batgirl had ever deliberately killed, and Barbara hadn’t given it a second thought. She closed her eyes, thinking of Nightvision. "I guess I haven’t been myself lately."
Then Barbara was gone, leaving Erica Lane to the relative safety of obscurity.
"Gotham tower, Starjet November 477 Foxtrot, number one for takeoff, 63 left." Barbara spoke into the thin microphone attached to her lightweight headset.
"Roger, Starjet 477 Foxtrot, cleared for immediately, takeoff, no delay. Landing traffic at 4 miles."
"Starjet November 477, cleared for takeoff."
Barbara nudged the throttle and the sleek business jet slipped forward, crossing the hold-short line and onto the active runway. Starjet 477 was one of Bruce Wayne’s three commuter aircraft, one of which he made available to Batgirl in case of emergencies. Barbara wished she had use of the heavily armed and armored Batjet. As it was, the plush twin-engine liner would have to do.
Barbara centered the jet over the huge "63L" painted on the runway, ran through the last few items on the pre-takeoff checklist, and pushed the twin throttles all the way down. The two jet engines quickly wound up to full thrust and the young redhead was pushed into the black leather seat as the plane rapidly accelerated.
It was dusk in Gotham, and the sunlight leaking through the high patchy clouds was glorious even through Barbara’s aviator sunglasses. Under any other circumstances, she would have loved to be flying on an evening like this. But with the hunter-killer still at large she had the creeping feeling that she was taking a knife to a gunfight.
The Starjet lifted smoothly in to the sky and Barbara raised the nose until the appropriate climbing speed was reached. Once clear of the Gotham Airport traffic area she throttled back and continued her slow climb to 26,000 feet. After activating her flight plan with the flight service station, the exhausted vigilante activated the autopilot and leaned back in the leather chair.
It would take over 30 hours to reach Thailand, with two stops for refueling. It anyone would try to intercept her it would likely be at the refueling points or between the airport and the temple in Thailand. Still, she couldn’t rule out the possibility of a mid-air intercept, so she would have to keep sharp for the entire trip.
With Pandora’s warnings still fresh in her ears, Barbara had decided to dress for action. Beneath her loose-fitting black nylon flight suit she wore her Batgirl costume of midnight blue slitex. The stretchy, self-healing slitex snugly encased Batgirl’s shapely body in a second skin that was infinitely more comfortable than any costume she had ever owned. Her back-up utility belt was fastened around the outside of the flight suit in case she needed it promptly. And now, clear of the airport, the young vigilante pressed her mask up against her face and held it for a moment until the facial adhesive was firmly set. She had once again left Barbara Gordon behind to become Batgirl.
In her exhaustion, Batgirl’s mind whirled with facts. Lord Maelstrom’s hunter-killer had almost certainly come to take Batgirl back to the Isle of Nod for the Tournament of Death. The nature of the tournament wasn’t clear, but given the host and the targeted participants, it was certainly some kind of lethal blood sport. The huge amounts of money Erica mentioned couldn’t possibly all be transit fees to the party, so there must also be a lot of wagering taking place.
The real question in Batgirl’s mind was whether the Tournament was the real danger Pandora had warned her of or was it just a diversion to hold Batgirl’s attention. Perhaps Pandora had expected her to fall to the hunter-killer. If so, then she might have beaten Pandora already.
And there was the temple. Pandora had told her a password, but Batgirl had no idea if it was correct. She could be running a gauntlet based on misinformation or even information that could lead to her persecution by the Shaolin monks. Still, Batgirl didn’t think the monks would ever do harm to those sworn to protect law and order. But would they be able to detect traces of her internal battle with Nightvision?
And if she had the right password, and was admitted to the Temple of the Sky, what would she ask for first, the removal of the gold bug or the location of Batman? Perhaps the Temple master--certainly a meta human--would only assist her with one or two matters. If she saved Batman she could be dooming herself. If she saved herself, then Batman may be lost forever…
With a troubled mind, Batgirl drifted off to sleep and found herself in the Temple foyer. Clouds filled the sky overhead and they boiled with unnatural fury. She approached the Temple Watcher, who lowered a huge cudgel to bar her path as she approached.
"Who seeks entrance to the Temple of the Sky," the Golem creaked in an incredibly low voice.
"It is Batgirl, Champion of Gotham City."
"What is the key to heaven, Champion?"
"The key is but a word, elemental. It is Gruum."
The doors creaked open and to reveal a long grand hall, lined with towering granite pillars. Torches burned like stars in the sky, reflecting off the polished marble floor. The sounds of her own footsteps were almost deafening as she swept past the Temple Watcher and into the hall. Though awed by the grandeur of the chamber, Batgirl continued resolutely to the raised stone dais directly in the center.
On the dais stood a robbed man with his back to Batgirl, warming his hands over a brazier of coal. He seemed not to notice her approach, and continue warming his hands even as she stopped at the foot of the raised platform.
"Why have you come, Champion of Gotham City? Your city burns while you pine for lost love."
"I seek only what I always seek. Justice. Justice for the true Champion of Gotham City: Batman. An honorable death fighting crime is exactly what he would have wanted. Eternal life as the plaything of a madman, I cannot accept."
"You have it all wrong, Batgirl," The man slowly turned. Batgirl’s eyes opened wide with horror when she saw the face of Tightrope, the villain she had left burning in the flames of the Circus of Destiny. His was charred and misshapen, but still characteristic of the Master Showman of Crime. "Batman is dead. We saved the eternal torment for you!"
"Nooo!" Chains suddenly appeared at Batgirl’s wrists and ankles. Her arms were pulled straight out from her body, and her legs were held tightly to the floor. The floor before her crumbled away and a coffin rose to take its place. The door to the coffin opened to reveal Batman, long dead, with an iron torture mask still secured to his face.
"Stay away from me!’ Batgirl gasped in horror as the charred Tightrope slowly descended the steps of the dais.
"Now Batgirl, you didn’t really think you had defeated me." He went to Batman and began loosening the screws holding the iron mask on the corpse's rotted head. "You’ve been our plaything all along."
After loosening the screws, Tightrope withdrew several long spikes from the helmet, perfectly aligned eyes, ears, and nose. With the spikes withdrawn Tightrope easily peeled the helm open and lifted it from Batman’s virtually mummified countenance.
"My God no!" Batgirl begged as Tightrope stepped towards her with the murderous helm.
"It was really quite an equitable arrangement." Tightrope smiled as he slipped the helm over the Dark Angel’s head and bolted it into place. "Pandora gets your body; I get your soul."
For a moment all was terrifying darkness and silence as the helm descended over her head. The dark, stifling terror was suddenly magnified by the screech of ancient metal on metal as the spikes were pushed suddenly inward. Then exploding pain and darkness and silence…
Batgirl’s shot upright in the pilot’s chair just as the bulky shape shot past her plane. The Starliner shuddered as it was peppered with slugs from the hunter-killers magnetic cannon. Acting on pure instinct, Batgirl dove down, seeking speed and the natural radar jamming effects of the sea.
For long minutes there was nothing but the whistling of the air and the whine of the engines as they approached their maximum RPM tolerances. All the dials still read in the green, so the first pass didn’t seem to damage anything vital. Batgirl desperately searched the skies for some sign of the hunter killer but found only dark sky and silvery water.
Then Batgirl was thrown into her seat belt as the plane suddenly decelerated and pitched downward. The airframe above and behind her crumbled like paper as long steel talons dug into the plane. The decompression of the cabin was explosive and Batgirl had to suck in air for all she was worth to remain conscious. The thrust generated by the engines of the small jet now forced both the plane and hunter-killer into a sickening spin. Batgirl could do nothing except struggle for every breath until the hunker-killer at last disabled the aircraft’s engines using machine gun fire.
They were flying level again. Panting wildly, Batgirl fought free of her harness and made her way across the wildly tilting deck of the Starliner. The young vigilante managed to unlatch the hatch in the floor leading to the small cargo bay of the plane. Once in the cargo bay she opened the external luggage hatch and slipped out of the captured plane.
As she dropped Batgirl was astounded at the sight above her. The hunter-killer that had crippled her plane was much larger than the unit that had cornered her in the crystal pyramid. This monster seemed optimized for flight with huge jet engines, aerodynamic lines and swing-wind airfoils. The huge claws that held the plane could easily have crushed her to death, but the machine apparently still wanted to capture her alive.
The Dark Angel waited until she was nearly at sea level before daring to deploy her chute, and used the free fall to survey the area. It seemed that she was surrounded by nothing but water. She did see, perhaps, a small dot of land on the horizon, but she couldn’t be sure. She noted the direction to the tiny dot on her wrist compass/chronograph. If she evaded the hunter-killer she would head for that dot.
At 5,000 feet Batgirl pulled the ripcord and paraglided down into the water. Without ever resurfacing, the young superheroine slipped out of the parachute harness and began swimming, breathing using the small oxygen mask in her utility belt. If she could get far enough away from her drop point, maybe the hunter-killer would be unable to track her…
There was the sound of something heavy hitting the water. Batgirl thought it might be her plane until she heard the faint sound of pings reverberating through the water. It was a sonobouy! Batgirl now knew the race was hopeless, but still she kicked madly, hoping beyond hope to out distance the hunter-killer.
Batgirl heard the sound of an angry bee hitting the water and knew it was meant for her. Suddenly the steel line struck her with tremendous force and wrapped itself tightly around her abdomen. Nothing could have prepared her for the impact. The breathing mask flew off her face and Batgirl was knocked all but unconscious. The next thing she knew, the Dark Angel was being pulled skyward amid the scream of jet engines. She clutched at the coils of cable binding her, but she could barely breath much less escape.
The water churned madly under the down wash of the jet engines and the redheaded vigilante was blasted with the super-heated exhaust. But the steel tentacle was tight to within a fraction of an inch of crushing her ribcage, so the Dark Angel could only watch through squinted eyes as a hatch on the belly of the flying monstrosity opened like a maw to accept her for transport. With grim certainty she knew her next stop was the Tournament of Death.
One thing about Lord Maelstrom, he certainly took no chances with his contestants. For the entire two hours since Batgirl had regained consciousness she had been held in a small stainless steel vault, stripped naked except for her mask and strapped to a black contour-hugging couch resembling a high-tech dentist's chair. The soft, leather-covered couch would have been wonderfully comfortable except for the custom-fitted steel bands securing her ankles, thighs, waist, throat, wrists and biceps. The chair was the only major piece of furniture in the dimly lit vault shared by Batgirl and her two black uniformed guards. To her right was a massive pressure door that could only be opened from the outside. To her left, the wall was lined with electronic equipment. Wires from one blinking panel connected to a snug headband that seemed to all but completely paralyze the young heroine from the neck down, while a rubber hose from a second panel slowly dripped some kind of powerful muscle relaxant into her system through an IV needle. Behind her hung her luxurious slitex Batgirl costume, or at least a virtually flawless replica, apparently waiting the proper time to suit up. Before the Dark Angel was a bank of television monitors showing three other women in virtually identical restraints but in other inescapable vaults–clearly the other contestants for the Tournament of Death.
Her treatment had been cordial since becoming a prisoner of Lord Maelstrom, if intimately intrusive. Even while she was still in the belly of the hunter-killer, the Dark Angel had been stripped and finely scanned for any kind of hidden devices that might betray the location of the Isle of Nod–Maelstrom's stronghold. Then she had been securely chained, blindfolded, gagged and sedated for her trip to the island. Batgirl had awakened once only briefly to find herself strapped spread eagle on a stainless steel examining table while half a dozen white-coated women attended to her, cleaning her body with warm soapy water and carefully shaving her legs with straight razors. Their work was gentle and almost relaxing but the Dark Angel could see that other technicians were drawing long black suction hoses out of slots in the wall, foretelling of less pleasant internal cleaning procedures to come. Fortunately, the attendants quickly realized she was conscious and promptly sent her back to oblivion with a simple adjustment to her IV. The next time she awakened she was in the vault secured to the black couch, feeling quite refreshed. Her entire body was perfumed and silky smooth--they had even given her a custom hair and facial makeover that would rival the greatest Beverly Hills beauty salon. Apparently Maelstrom liked his heroines comic-book perfect for the Tournament of Death. Batgirl couldn't remember a time when she felt cleaner, stronger, more attractive, or more utterly doomed.
Despite her internal despair, she dared not display any outward emotions because her image was almost undoubtedly being displayed on the video consoles of the other three contestants. Barbara recognized them all on first glance, by reputation if not by personal contact. The first woman was Olympia, the famous Greek vigilante. She was a legacy, following the tradition of famous Greek women stretching back into distant history. Of all the heroines, Batgirl knew the least about her, except that she was universally hated and, with Batman, was one of the few mortals that had dared to intervene in the affairs of the world's almost universally villainous metahumans. The Olympia Barbara read about as a child had been killed by the Reaver, and this new Olympia had only been in the position for some four years. She was tall and striking with long raven-black hair, dazzling gray eyes, and the physique of a body builder. Barbara would have expected her to be more amazon-like but Olympia's large pouting eyes, lush lightly glittered hair, and soft features better resembled a concerned counselor than a warrior princess. Unlike the other heroines she was already wearing her two trademark pieces of jewelry–an ornate silver tiara bearing the sign of Athena and a silver filigreed arm band over her powerful left bicep. Next to her hung her short-sleeve white body suit, trimmed in silver with a short integrated Trojan skirt, sandals, hose, and belt.
The second contestant was known as Monsoon, a young oriental superheroine who Batgirl knew both by reputation and through mutual acquaintances at the Shaolin Temple. Monsoon was the youngest of the group–perhaps 18–and was well known across the world as a prodigy at hand-to-hand combat. It was said that she was able to knock aside even bullets with a titanium blade. She had been the star pupil of Master Jung, the man who later became Barbara's teacher at the Temple. He had called her Little Wind and he had thought it inevitable that she would one day take her place as one of the few female Defenders at the Temple of the Sky. His brilliant student had left the service of the Temple unexpectedly, however, when the Ho San triad invaded the land of her family, and Master Jung never fully recovered from the loss. He spoke of her often, his Little Wind who was now Monsoon.
In appearance you would hardly guess that she was one of the most hated and feared champions in the Orient. In contrast to the shapely Olympia, she was slim and girlish, with long dark hair and lovely almond eyes. She was a member of one of the most elite families in Siam; her surprisingly light complexion and angular features betrayed her ancestors' intermarriage with officers from the army of Alexander the Great. Her costume was a crimson body suit of opulent noble silk, sleeveless with a halter-top and a silk scarf at the waist. Beside the suit hung arm and leg wraps of black leather and low soft boots. Barbara knew that Monsoon also usually carried a number of edged weapons in black sheathes, including her simple training katana which had already tasted the blood of countless triad henchmen. For obvious reasons, these details were missing. On her china doll face Maelstrom's remarkable makeup artists had drawn her stylistic mask in red the same color as her costume. Batgirl knew that the objective of the mask was not to conceal Monsoon's identity, rather it was a sexy modern interpretation of the ancient Siamese Mask of Vendetta. According to ancient oriental law, killings were not punishable as murder as long as they were committed by someone clearly displaying the Mask of Vendetta as fair warning. Apparently, Maelstrom didn't much respect ancient Siamese traditions, though he did a meticulous job reproducing Monsoon's fiercely erotic war paint.
The last woman was the infamous Gray Mouser, hard-fighting and quick-witted vigilante from Great Britain. In real life she was Katherine Sterling, youngest daughter of the Duke of Kensington and an ally of the Batman. As the Gray Mouser she had actually been made a Knight of the Bath; only the second time such an honor had been bestowed upon a masked vigilante. Katherine was a unique but thoroughly British noblewoman: rapier-quick, highly educated, utterly fearless, and stunningly beautiful. She was about Barbara's height and build, though with a noble carriage Batgirl could never hope to emulate. Her face and neck were long and lean, with fathomless blue eyes and high cheekbones. Her hair was a luxurious blonde cut chin length. In her duties as the daughter of a Duke, Katherine wore her hair in a neat professional bob, but as the Gray Mouser she styled it into a wild animated mop, held off her head with a black leather headband. Somehow Maelstrom's makeover wizards had managed to duplicate Katherine's gorgeously animated hairstyle without her participation. Beside her chair hung her costume, a sexy, form-fitting gray catsuit with a broad black belt, thigh-length high-heeled boots, and long leather fencing gloves. Her famous, sly-looking black eye mask waited on a plastic wig head beside the stoic guards. Nina would have been especially sorry that the Mouser was in this predicament except she knew Katherine Sterling all too well: the Gray Mouser would have gladly changed places with any of the contestants had she been passed over for the tournament. And the Mouser was going to have to have all the danger she could stand tonight, and more.
Suddenly, the door slid open and a graying stranger walked into Barbara's cozy little cell. He was distinguished and ruthlessly self-confident in a manner that reminded her of a CEO from an international conglomerate. He wore a dress coat and slacks but no tie, as if trying to dress casual after just negotiating a deal to purchase the Panama Canal. The clothes, stature, and few pieces of magnificent jewelry he wore indicated that he was from the world's elite. In such distinguished company is was hard to overlook the fact that she was secured naked to a chair looking like a spoiled princess with her legs spread jauntily open.
"Good evening, Batgirl. If I may say you're much more beautiful in person than I had anticipated."
"Well, you know what they say, the camera adds ten pounds. I'm afraid you have me at a bit of a… disadvantage," Batgirl inclined her head toward her bondage. "I don't believe we've ever been formally introduced."
"I'm Nels Praxton, I'll be your Player for the Tournament this evening. I must say I've been looking forward to this moment since the moment I learned of Maelstrom's operation."
"My Player? I thought it was my butt on the line here."
"Oh that's right, Dr Maelstrom informed me that you had only recently been brought in. You have every right to be a bit confused. Think of the Tournament as a game, the ultimate decadent game of life and death, and we are a team: I am the Player and you are my Proxy in the arena. My function is to protect you as best I can while destroying the other three Proxies. Likewise, the other Players will attempt to kill you while protecting their Proxies. We both have a lot riding on this night: me, my entire fortune; and you, your life."
"So I'm to be your pawn in some kind of twisted board game so the idle rich can get their perverted thrills."
"You're not exactly a pawn. Though the Players determine your environment, it is up to you to overcome the inevitable perils that await you. The game is only over when you die, but the harder you fight, the better our chances to win. "
"Why should I do anything to help a sick bastard like you?"
"Because only one heroine will leave the arena alive. The cards can be quite harsh even to the survivor, but I promise you the best of medical attention after we win."
"Cards?" Batgirl raised an eyebrow.
"Yes," Praxton smiled wryly, "The Tournament of Death is essentially a card game, with the results of the cards acted out in the arena. They're a bit like Tarot cards–fiends, fates and fortunes–except that the event indicated by the card is immediately carried out in the arena."
"And if I welcome my fate without complaint?"
"Then you will be killed–eventually–and your highly-trained body used for spare parts in Maelstrom's cybernetics lab. I on the other hand will be penniless, and will be unable to help you find the Batman."
Barbara's eye flew open wide. How could he possibly know?
"Nels Praxton! You own Praxton Biotech."
"And Praxton Genetics, and Praxton Syntech, and the Praxton Orbital Research Centers, and a chain of fried chicken stands, if I'm not mistaken."
"And Manticore Aerospace."
"Yes, that is another profitless backwater of my holdings. Though the details are sketchy, I know you're hoping to rescue the Batman and that you've recently crossed swords with Pandora, the White Witch. You win the tournament and I can help you locate Batman, though I must admit that I will have to leave Pandora up to you."
"Why should I trust you?"
"Because you don't have a choice. And because I know you'll fight–I have a video tape of you climbing a 350-foot ladder and disabling the electrical gantry on a rocket within ten seconds of ignition. You don't see that kind of pluck every day."
"It seems my options are extremely limited right at the moment," Barbara sighed. She glanced up to the monitors at the other three women who would be joining her in the Tournament. Katherine looked calm, collected, and gorgeous as she awaited her fate--Pandora's cold wisdom of manipulating Praxton to bring Batgirl to the Tournament was impressive. Batgirl would likely be killed or forced to watch her friends die unless she invoked the power of the gold bug. Unless, of course, she could think of another way out. "Tell me more about the tarot deck."
"Well, the cards fall into two categories: black and white. The black cards are offensive used to attack your opponents Proxy–they summon creatures, introduce hobbling equipment, invoke unpleasant environmental effects, or create punishment apparatus. Every creature is programmed to kill, though the most lethal foes will only appear later in the game. In the early stages the Players will work together occasionally to play combinations of opponents with complementary abilities to overcome you early in the Tournament. The white cards are protective and used only in your own quadrant–they allow me to introduce equipment for your use and undo some of the effects created by the black cards of the other Players. There are also black and white karma cards that are required to invoke the other fates. The most powerful effects require a great deal of karma to invoke and the Players can only introduce one additional karma card per round, so this regulates the Tournament."
"So the more powerful cards can only be played later in the game."
"I don't suppose there's a get out of jail free card in there?"
"No, but any creature or effect you can overcome without my assistance greatly aids our cause. The precise cards are kept secret until the Tournament, but I understand Lord Maelstrom has added some particularly grueling cards for this tournament. He has a deep antipathy towards your profession, and the crowd has paid handsomely to witness your intricate and protracted deaths."
"Its reassuring to be hated by men such as Maelstrom."
At this point the doors opened and four attendants wearing white lab coats entered the small room.
"I see its time for you to dress for the tournament," Praxton continued. "So I must be off. Good luck, Batgirl. I hope the we will be meeting again soon."
"Wish we could be meeting again under better circumstances, Katherine." The four heroines, now dressed in their costumes and bound at the wrists, elbows, and ankles waited in a small stainless-steel room for their formal introductions. Short chains connecting their leg manacles ensured they could only walk in small steps. They had been ushered into the small room through a heavy steel door. The second door in front of them presumably led into the arena. Outside, the crowd noise was thunderous.
"It's a tight spot," Katherine Sterling–the Gray Mouser–agreed with classic understatement in her sultry British accent. She was an inch taller than Barbara and looked marvelous in her skin-tight catsuit with black leather accessories. As always, her black headband held her blonde hair off her regal face. "I prefer to watch my sport from the stand with the other hooligans."
"Maelstrom is getting reckless in his antiquity. I never would have thought he would have given us the opportunity to talk before being subjected to one of his blood sports."
It was Olympia who answered. Barbara had never met the famous Greek heroine, but her voice was surprisingly calm and soothing. "I am certain the walls in here have ears. Perhaps he is just hoping to learn if we have any hopeful words to share in our moment of need. He would be pleased to learn if any of us had any surprises in store."
"My Player met with me just before dressing. It sounds like all the surprises are waiting for us."
"It matters not." Olympia smiled. "A cruel death fighting a man like Maelstrom is infinitely better than dying in bed fearing him. His arena is complex and complexity leads to weakness. He may well rue the day he asked four of the world's most resourceful champions to play his little game."
"Still, I wouldn't mind a drop right now," the Mouser grinned. "And perhaps a grenade launcher."
The women chortled, taking comfort from the fact that one of them could make light of their situation. Barbara had to admit she was in elite company.
"I understand you trained at the Shaolin Monastery, Batgirl, after the disappearance of the Batman," Monsoon said, her voice sweet and young. She looked absolutely stunning in her crimson costume, both infinitely dangerous and obsessively desirable at the same time.
"Yes, with Master Jung. But don't worry, you are still his favorite student. He still calls you his Little Wind."
"How is my teacher?"
"He's still saddened that his most advanced combatant is not now the Temple's youngest Defender."
"The Temple needs no defenders, the Temple Master has great power. Only I could challenge Scythe, maser assassin of the Yo Han." She spoke it as a statement of fact, with no hint of arrogance. The death of Scythe at the hands of Monsoon--then only a 16-year old girl–was a terrible blow to the power of the triads. No other mortal could possibly have achieved such a feat against the mystically enhanced mass-murderer who was the lynchpin of organized crime in Southeast Asia.
"Perhaps you will return one day, when Monsoon is no longer needed."
"When Monsoon is no longer needed, the Temple will be superfluous as well. Patience is required of the Defenders. And I daresay we are both short of it, much to Master Jung's discontent."
At that moment, the bolts securing the door before them suddenly shot open and the vault swung slowly open. The lights beyond were blinding as the door opened into what appeared to me a large open area with a padded white floor. Two robotic guards stationed on either side of the door quickly drew Olympia out into the open area. The crowd burst out into cheers at the site of the first heroine as a glass panel slid over the doorway, preventing the other women from following Olympia into the arena. Then the glass slid open again, and two ponderous guards drew Monsoon out into the arena to be met with renewed howls. Then the glass slid over the doorway again, and Batgirl blinked as she noticed that the floor color had changed from white to red.
"The arena is a huge circle, like a covered glass pie plate divided into four segments," the Mouser explained. "They are rotating the arena to put us in our appropriate sections. We must have two identical sentries each, in case we cause any trouble. "
"This must be my stop," Batgirl said as the Plexiglas wall again slid away, to reveal an open area with a black padded floor. "Good luck, Katherine."
"And you, Barbara."
A sentry seized Batgirl by either arm and pulled her unceremoniously out into the arena, accompanied by an appropriate roar from the crowd. The Dark Angel was drawn struggling to a point immediately adjacent to the door through which she had emerged, turned so that her back was against the wall, and secured into place with metal bands set into the wall. Her original bonds were only off for a moment before she was again bound at the ankles, wrists, waist and throat, with her legs spread shoulder-width and arms out and to her sides. Once finished securing their charge, the robots withdrew from the arena, giving the redheaded dynamo a clear view of the Tournament of Death.
The Tournament facility was an amazing cross between a high-tech arena and a merry-go-round. As the Mouser had explained, it was a large circular area divided into four quadrants by the color of the floor. The quadrants were perhaps 40 feet wide at the outer perimeter of the arena tapering to 10 feet at the central hub. At the center of the wheel, directly before Batgirl and some 50 feet away, was a round tower with doorways opening into each quadrant. The tower continued up beyond the Plexiglas ceiling of the arena and up to some kind of control tower. Above the level of the 360-degree control room were huge monitors showing the status of each heroine. At the moment Barbara could only see one screen showing a radiant Olympia secured just as Batgirl to the outside wall of her white quadrant. The other two girls–Monsoon and the Mouser–Batgirl could see just by looking to either side; they were no more than 70 feet away from her.
Just above each heroine's quadrant, on the roof of the arena, was a Player's station--a plush black leather chair sitting before a huge desk resembling a high-tech drafting table. The Players were close enough to their Proxies that they could experience every detail of what was happening though suffer none of the ill effects. Beyond the colorfully lit circumference of the arena and the perches of the Players was a huge crowd of perhaps 10,000. The bright lights and slowly rotating arena made it impossible for Batgirl to get an exact count. Huge monitors were distributed throughout the audience, some showing the status of each Player's board and others slowly panning the sexy Proxies. Batgirl's quadrant, like the others, was currently nothing more than an open expanse with a black rubber floor. There didn't seem to be any mechanism to prevent the Proxies from moving freely about the arena once released.
The crowd stomped and jeered for a full ten minutes, with all four heroines enduring the verbal hazing with forced indifference. The crowd was so enthusiastic that it was several minutes before Barbara realized that loud, sinister sounding music was playing in the background. Despite her cool demeanor, Batgirl was absolutely terrified. The name of Lord Maelstrom was synonymous with cruelty and torturous genetic experimentation on human subjects. Despite Olympia's brave words, no hero had ever been captured by Maelstrom and survived. Batgirl, Olympia, Monsoon, and the Gray Mouser were almost certainly about to die in the most degrading and painful manners possible, merely for the enjoyment of the world's criminal elite. If Praxton thought that he could somehow leave with her still alive, he was sadly mistaken. Barbara grimly knew there was only one way to save herself and her colleagues from the Tournament; she only hoped that she had to strength to endure whatever tortures awaited her without invoking it. Since activating the Gold Bug would certainly destroy her, it seemed inevitable that the Tournament of Death would one way or another mark the end of Batgirl.
Batgirl's thoughts were suddenly interrupted when the lights of the complex went dark, and the rotating arena came to a slow stop. A hush fell over the crowd as red lights came on in the control tower, backlighting a huge man sitting on a vast swiveling control chair. It could only be Lord Maelstrom himself. The crowd waited in reverent silence while the man in the chair surveyed them, light from some unseen electronics on his chair occasionally causing a flicker like lightening to dance across his face. When he spoke his voice was deep resonant, powerful, and utterly evil. Hair raised on the necks of 10,000 spectators as he made his pronouncement:
"Fate–monstrous and empty,
You whirling wheel,
You are malevolent,
Well-being is in vain
And always fades to nothing
And veiled you plague me too;
Now, through the game
I bring my bare back
To your villainy.
The wheel of fortune turns;
You go down demeaned;
Another is raised up;
Far too high up
Sits the king at the summit–
Let him fear ruin!
For under the axis is written
Welcome, my dear friends, TO THE TOURNAMENT OF DEATH!!"
The crowd cheered but with manic enthusiasm as sinister, pulsating music filled the stadium and millions of dollars of dancing high tech lights came to life. The stage began to slowly rotate again until a dozen spotlights came to rest on Olympia, who now stood bound directly before the throne of Lord Maelstrom as if in judgement. She looked radiant and stunningly beautiful in her high-cut white body suit with short skirt, hose, sandals, and short white cape. Her bracers, left arm band, and tiara bearing the symbol of the goddess Athena were dazzling in the intense light, despite the fact that the silver jewelry was thousands of years old. Her gray eyes smoldered beneath her luxurious black hair.
"Olympia, descendent of Cresia, heiress to the guiles of Athena, you come before us tainted by a lifetime of crimes against individual initiative, defending the tyrants and oppressors of this world with ferocity born of centuries of deceit. You have opposed the state-sponsored terrorist movements of my allies Libya, Syria, and North Korea. You have recovered stolen nuclear materials from my agents and imprisoned my servants across the world. Recently you disrupted by cloning organization and stolen the children of several world leaders from my safekeeping and returned them to their venomous, corrupt families. For these crimes you have been summoned to the Tournament of Death."
The crowd cheered as the lights went out and the arena rotated again. When the light came on, the Gray Mouser stood before Lord Maelstrom bound in the same manner as Olympia. Her gray catsuit covered her like a second skin, and her broad black belt highlighted her hour glass form. Her trademark mask and headband did little to conceal her identity, but added to her feline appearance.
"Ahhh, the Gray Mouser, youngest noble of Kensington, and Knight of the Bath. Toady for the most oppressive regime the world has ever known. You come before me as the perpetrator of a hundred crimes against free men, including the death of the Creeper, the banishment of the Lord Dred, the destruction of my banshee insurgency, the imprisonment of the Countess of Cruelty, and the destruction of Toth's Citadel of Suffering in the remote Alps. Your unraveling of my carefully orchestrated schedule of assassinations within the high courts of Europe displeases me to no end. It gives me great pleasure to finally welcome you to the Tournament of Death."
The wheel of fate rotated again and the lights came up on Monsoon. Her scarlet body suit glittered in the harsh light, giving her a sleek lightening fast appearance. Her long ponytail hung over her left shoulder, bound at regular intervals with elastic bands that matched her costume. The short, silky V-shaped skirt added a touch of girlish modesty to the otherwise highly sensuous Monsoon.
"Ah, Monsoon, dedicant to the Temple, dupe who has brought destruction on your people, young prodigy who dared to battle even Scythe the Reaver, costing me billions by interrupting the world-wide opium trade. You have destroyed Lord Ching's slave enterprise, and interrupted the Raven's popular gladiatorial games. You somehow evaded Fong's Phantom Slasher, escaped my own conditioning program to make you my servant, and delivered Singapore from the Legion of Night. Your enemies are many, and it is by special request that you meet your fate in the Tournament of Death."
The crowd seemed especially encourage by this announcement. Apparently, Lord Maelstrom's words were true– Monsoon had created many enemies during her short but brilliant career standing alone against evil on the Pacific Rim. But the crowd turned strangely silent when the stage shuffled a final time and the lights came to rest on the bound form of Batgirl. Her green eyes were distant and oddly menacing behind her eye mask and her magnificent body rippled beneath her skin-tight slitex costume. Her black cape flowed down in silky folds almost to the ground. The crowd knew all too well the legacy of the bat, no criminal enterprise on earth was untouched by dark wings. Batgirl had long been a disturbing element of the legend–rarely seen, infinitely resourceful, rumored to be the force that kept the Batman one step ahead of his opponents. The Oracle, she was sometimes called Batman's Dark Angel who could peer into the souls of men. By its silence the crowd betrayed that they felt her an unsettling addition to the Tournament.
"Batgirl," Maelstrom almost spat. "Common peasant girl grown to infamy on the shoulders and perhaps in the bedroom of a power-crazed billionaire. With Batman and Robin slain on the Plateau of Mirrors, a grim chapter of Earth's history --Batman's reign of terror--was at an end. Yet somehow their dying bodies were spirited away from the plateau, their wounds tended, and their lives saved. Though Robin would never interfere in my affairs again the Batman returned with vengeance, sparing no expense to crush all who did not bow to the world order. And he brought with him to the battle a new ally, saddled by the empty-minded media with the depreciating name Batgirl. I hold you, Batgirl, responsible for all losses I have incurred due to Batman's presence since the Plateau of Mirrors–the unraveling of the Paradox maxim, the destruction of my Steel Rain, the loss of my Darklight Portal, seizure of nearly all of my Gotham operations. You have imprisoned dozens, driven others out of my service, and dared to overcome three metahumans, including my dear associate Tightrope. You have inhibited the efficiency of my operations world-wide, Batgirl, so you I welcome to the Tournament of Death."
The crowd cheered again, reassured by the stern words of Lord Maelstrom and the apparent helplessness of their feared enemy. Then the evil Lord held up his arms a final time and the crowd immediately fell silent as if it were a recorded sound track. He held up a large, intricately designed playing card with its back to the audience.
"It is customary that I should open the tournament with the first card. I choose to play a Dark Karma multiplier card on the black quadrant." He dropped the card onto the table before him and a holographic image of the card immediately appeared on the Players' tables within the confines of the black square indicating the cards effecting Batgirl's quadrant. "All cards played against the Dark Angel of Gotham City will have double effect. Players you may release your Proxies."
With that the throaty music started again and the Players all pushed a button of their consoles. The four vigilantes were released as one, their restraints withdrawing quickly into the wall. Unbound for the first time in days, Batgirl moved to the middle of her quadrant and surveyed the arena for any signs of weakness. The outer wall and ceiling were crystal clear but undoubtedly thick and quite strong. The ceiling was perhaps 20 feet overhead and lined with holes approximately the size of a basketball. The central tower was lined with wide hatches, and as the arena turned any hatchways could be aligned with any quadrant. Presumably these openings would be used to introduce various horrors into the arena based on the play of the unseen cards. There was also the single hatchway on the outer perimeter of the quadrant through which the contestants had entered but it was now little more than discolored outline of a door on an otherwise smooth surface.
"Players, draw your cards," came a slick feminine voice over the intercom. "Mr Hafaz, you will begin, white karma must be played first. Mr Hafaz plays white karma, 2-point card." The card showing a white pyramid appeared within the white portion of the huge scoreboard and a small but bright light appeared over Olympia's quadrant. Apparently, Hafaz was Olympia's Player. "Hafaz plays a white card, create fighting staff for one point. Hafaz plays another white card, create shield, one point." On the monitor Batgirl could see Olympia bend down to pick up her weapons. "Hafaz plays a black card against the black quadrant, summon sparring droids. This card will have double effect."
The door at the hub of Batgirl's quadrant suddenly slid open to admit two robots. They were much smaller than the sentries that secured her in the arena, with padded black vinyl exoskeletons and glowing red eyes. Each carried a fighting stick of weighted black plastic.
"Guess its game time," the Dark Angel muttered, assuming her most efficient defensive posture as the robots approached. "Wouldn't mind having Olympia's fighting stick about right now."
"Hafaz done, Lady Tong plays white Karma, two points. Tong plays a white card, create nunchuks. Tong done."
Barbara looked briefly over into Monsoon's chamber. The crimson-clad girl knelt down to pick up the two shafts of wood, connected with a short length of chain. In her hands the simple weapon seemed to take on a life of its own, transformed into a blurring menace around the martial arts savant. Barbara smiled at herself wondering if Lord Maelstrom could possibly have enough robots to wear down Monsoon.
But the time for thinking was over, the two sparring robots were closing in. Batgirl dashed in at one, leapt out to allow the staff to pass just grazing her abdomen then seized the staff when the droid was at full extension. Instantly she leapt up into a quick handstand on the staff, raising her body out of the way just as the second sparring droid came through with a powerful blow. Instead of hitting Batgirl, the droid struck its partner just below the knees. The lightweight robot immediately lost balance and began toppling to the ground, loosening its grip just enough for the Dark Angel to relieve it of the staff. Immediately Batgirl came around hard and low with the staff and swept the other unit to the ground. A vicious axe-like chop to the head of the fallen droid shattered its plastic faceplate and smashed one of its visual circuits. The crowd cheered her on, pleased to see that these contestants would be much more entertaining than those in past Tournaments.
The announcer was speaking and Batgirl glanced over to see the Mouser picking up a slim sword. With characteristic moxie, she gave Batgirl the high sign of approval then sprinted in towards the inner door to try to take any attackers by surprise the moment they emerged from the door. But there was something else … the way the saber had been introduced into the arena. It happened very quickly, but one of the rubber tiles had seemed to open briefly jut long enough to spit the sword out. The sword had flown a good distance from its ejection point but if Barbara's quadrant was equipped with a hatch in the same relative location, she could make a good guess at its location …
Then the sparring droids were upon her again. Now they were easier to tell apart, since one was dangling circuitry from its smashed faceplate. In the moment of passion she decided to call the cracked one Ying and the intact unit Yong. Yong went low and Batgirl leapt, while Ying attempted to seize her but found only empty air. Batgirl feigned a counter attack, then parried the blow by Yong. With weapons locked the droid forced the lithe heroine back toward the Plexiglas wall.
"… Praxton plays a white card, create vibrosaw."
Good old Praxton! The unarmed Ying came in to seize Batgirl even while she was locked up with Yong. But again Batgirl was just trying to draw the damaged robot in. Once her target was in range, Batgirl just melted away from her contact with Yong, and caught Ying again on the faceplate. The robot seemed almost stunned at the force of the blow, giving Batgirl time to step through and push Ying again to the ground. Yong swung now in attack and forced Batgirl away from the downed robot, but after parrying another blow, she returned to find Ying rising up on its arms. The Dark Angel almost shook her head in disbelief at her inept foe, but then promptly took advantage of the situation by striking Ying's arm at the elbow in the opposite direction of the bending joint. The joint shattered with a snap of breaking plastic and sizzled as its circuits fried. Clearly, the droids were just the warm-up act for the real opponents to follow.
Then she saw it, right near where she had anticipated. A meter-square section of the black rubbery floor opened like a hatch, ejected a long sword-like weapon, and promptly closed again. The entire transaction took only a fraction of a second but the hatch seemed to be the only hope of disrupting the Tournament. Batgirl was so pleased by her discovery that she very nearly got brained by Yong's wild swings. But at the last moment, she leapt away and rolled, uprighting herself right beside the stout, sword-like object resting on the ground.
"Oh yeah!" Batgirl seized the vibrosaw with glee and prepared to finish off her playmates. The vibrosaw was a cross between stout sword and chain saw. The blade was slim but flat, not tapered like a conventional weapon. Around the circumference of the blade was a shallow groove and a thin filament caked with diamond dust slid rapidly through the groove like the chain of a chain saw. Praxton must have paid dearly to get such a powerful weapon introduced so early in the game.
The undamaged Yong bought it first. Upon its next strike, Batgirl neatly sliced off one arm, then just as efficiently sliced its head off its shoulders. Ying Batgirl tripped to the floor with a crouching sweep of her leg. Then the blade of the vibrosaw sliced his head in two at eye level.
"Chance plays a black card, summon cyberwolves, on the black quadrant. This card will have double effect."
While the entire arena spun to align Batgirl's quadrant with the appropriate door on the hub, the red-haired avenger glanced to either side. Both Monsoon and the Mouser were engaged in battles of their own, the slim oriental girl fighting what looked like large mechanical hummingbirds and the Mouser fighting a black robot approximately the same size as those Batgirl had dispatched, but coated with tar-like goo that made it very difficult to disengage her sword. Both heroines seemed to be holding their own though Batgirl couldn't help but wonder how long they could hold out against an endless stream of even such average opponents.
The arena spun to a halt and Batgirl dashed to the center of her quadrant to arrive at the side of the door just as it opened. From her position of partial concealment, she held the blade of the vibrosaw out into the doorway at knee level. The four howling, robotically enhanced wolves surged recklessly toward the doorway as soon as the sliding door opened. The first was cut neatly in half and a second lost both front legs to the vibrosaw. Only two of the four survived their first two seconds in the arena.
"Tong plays a black card, introduce sling chain, on the black quadrant. This card will have double effect."
Batgirl could have easily dispatched the remaining two wolves, but with the imminent activation of the secret door she had no time to press her advantage. The Dark Angel hurried back toward the approximate location of the hatch, and was at first bitterly disappointed to see it open while she was still some 3 meters away. The hatch flicked like the tongue of a snake, ejecting a long chain with a manacle on one end, then snapped shut. She was a few steps too slow. But even as she reached the hatchway it remarkably opened again. Of course, it was ejecting a second chain to comply with Maelstrom's double jeopardy card! With a flush of victory Batgirl thrust the stout blade of the vibrosaw into the rapidly closing hatchway and felt the satisfying vibration of cutting steel. But the hatch continued to close, drawing downward with the powerful force of whining electric servos. The blade of the vibrosaw slowly buckled and the sliding chain jammed. To her dismay, Batgirl watched as the servos forced the rubber to warp until the hatch was pulled within an inch of its invisible closed position, despite the intervening blade. She had sacrificed her excellent weapon and quite possibly jammed the hatchway that supplied her with weapons, and the Dark Angel had nothing to show for it except a short 1-inch gap in the rubber floor with a sharp fragment of protruding saw blade.
"Praxton plays a black card, iron cuffs, on red quadrant. Praxton plays a black card, cytowarrior, on white quadrant."
"Chance plays a black card, ninjack, on the black quadrant. This card has double effect. Chance plays a black card, mantis hybrid, on the red quadrant. Hafaz plays a black card, sparring phalanx on green…"
Batgirl was caught in a squeeze. The mangy wolves stood between Batgirl and the fighting stick, and from the arena core were charging two new combatants, pasty white humanoids in black rubber coveralls carrying knobbed fighting staffs. Though plainly artificial, their faces looked disturbingly human, and Batgirl couldn't help but wonder if the DNA of the Tournament losers would find its way into similar unnatural horrors in later competitions. With a graceful leap she sprang for the discarded fighting stick, using the upturned nose of a cyberwolf as an extra spring point. Whipping around with the sturdy weapon, she caught a snarling animal in mid-pounce, sending it sprawling with a surprised whimper. She recovered just in the nick of time to meet the dual attack of the artificial assassins, and could vaguely hear the deceptively soothing female voice announcing that she soon would have other visitors – saberskites (whatever those were). Her brief opportunity to innovate had evaporated and she was drawn quickly into a grueling and steadily intensifying fight for her very life.
The pace of the tournament rapidly reached fever pitch, with all four quadrants rapidly flooding with a nauseating array of Maelstrom's unnatural creations in response to the rapid play of the cards. Some creatures were clearly modified wild animals, humans, and even enlarged insects. Others were entirely robotic, or living creatures so dramatically altered that they appeared as robots. Some of the more formidable and disturbing creatures were the "designer life forms" created by Maelstrom in the nightmare vats deep beneath the lush island of Nod. The battles were intense but all four heroines put on awesome displays of fighting prowess. Despite the bizarre appearances, unpredictable weapons, and sheer numbers of Maelstrom's attackers each quadrant was soon piled high with lifeless, twitching creatures and was awash with a dozen variants of blood. But the sexy vigilante's were rapidly tiring, and the unavoidable blows they were receiving were taking their toll. At one point a blood-soaked Olympia slipped on the slick floor and had been instantly buried under a wave of mechanized human skeletons. Only a desperate and exhausting last-ditch defense had prevented her from being torn to shreds by a score of bony hands. The crowd grew giddy with anticipation as they felt that the first fatality of the Tournament was imminent. The Players, however, had other ideas.
"Hafaz plays a black card, inhibitor field, on red."
Batgirl could feel the ground near her starting to vibrate, and she glanced over at Monsoon's chamber. The fierce warrior had reduced the number of grisly opponents in her quadrant to only a handful, and they were keeping a cautious distance. Monsoon seemed to glide about the body-littered floor, her posture relaxed and her eyes calm as if she were teaching a Sunday karate class. But as the rumbling increased Monsoon slowed her movement. The speed of the double-bladed razor sword she had just been given slowed its steady circling and then stopped; her muscles quivered from exertion just trying to keep it in a defensive position. The "inhibitor field" apparently had the effect of increasing the gravity in the red quadrant. For the moment the other creatures were effected as well, greatly weakened by the punishing field. But against some kind of high-gravity hybrid creatures (which were almost certainly coming), Monsoon would be virtually defenseless.
With one Proxy operating under a significant disadvantage, the other Players quickly followed suit, playing powerful environmental cards that equally hampered the other heroines.
"Praxton plays a black card, aquis, on green."
The Mouser seemed almost untouched by the battle, despite the piles of vanquished foes all around her. The repulsor field belt that her Player had supplied her with early on had kept her costume clean and her body relatively uncut. But even as she placed her foot on the chest of yet another opponent to draw her heavy saber out of its chest cavity, heavy Plexiglas walls descended from above, trapping the daring Brit in a rectangular tank that dominated much of the red quadrant. The good news was that she was now separated from the other five creatures still queued up to take her on. The bad news was the tank was rapidly filling with greenish water. Now she too was far out of her element.
"Chance plays a black card, aria, on white."
Though the white quadrant was on the other side of the tower from Batgirl's perspective, she could none the less see the intense glow and feel the even more intense heat as blinding lights suddenly activated over the Greek beauty. If Olympia was to vanquish any more foes in the Tournament she would have to accomplish it almost totally blinded and under punishing heat.
"Tong plays a black card, orbius, on black."
Batgirl suddenly fell to the ground immobile, now at the mercy of 14 deadly opponents. But they didn't attack. Instead they seemed to obey some unspoken command to remain in place as a large spherical cage made of generously spaced steel bars was rolled into her quadrant. A hatch opened on the side of the sphere and two of her more powerful opponents – minitaur-like anthromorphs wielding huge axes – laid down their weapons, scooped up their foe and dropped her in the cage, then closed the door with a heavy clang. Still paralyzed and unable to break her fall, Batgirl landed face-first against the matrix of bars forming the bottom of the cage and grayed out. When she regained her senses the paralysis had passed, but she was now trapped in a spherical cage some seven feet in diameter, protected somewhat from direct contact with her opponents, but quite exposed to any type of indirect attack through the bars. Further, a manacle was secured to her left ankle and attached to the wall of the cage by a two-foot chain. This significantly limited her ability to dodge attacks coming at her from the outside.
"Hafaz plays a black card, swamp constrictor, on green. Tong plays a black card, desert strider, on white. Hafaz plays a white card, polarized goggles. Chance plays a black card, morbus lancer on black, this card will have double effect."
The Players were now playing their "designer creature" cards, introducing opponents with the ability to exploit the weaknesses of the Proxies. At least the designer creatures were relatively expensive to invoke so would be introduced at a slower rate.
Outside of Batgirl's sphere the minotaurs were enraged when they found that they could no longer reach their prey. Hands, talons, and tentacles reached in for her from all sides and the Dark Angel made them pay by seizing their offered members with both hands, and kicking with her one free leg at the point where their limbs entered her prison. Only when she had shattered a sickening number of appendages did the vicious creatures finally relent, contenting themselves to rolling the sphere around the quadrant instead, crushing to a bloody pulp all the injured creatures that were unfortunate enough to be in the heavy ball's path. This turned out to be a very effective tactic, however, since the chain did not allow the captive Batgirl much room to maneuver. Every time the attachment point of the chain rolled to the top of the sphere the Dark Angel was pulled off her feet and left dangling briefly upside down within her inescapable prison. Given the erratic motion of her tormentors, it was only a matter of before she battered herself senseless against the steel walls.
It was a pure stroke of luck that the shapely heroine spotted one of the two sling chains just ahead, directly in the path of the sphere. It was tricky business – she had to reach her hand through the bars and grab the chain even as the sphere was settling in against the floor with a thousand pounds of pressure. The slightest timing error and her fingers would be crushed to paste. The Dark Angel dipped her hand beneath a rapidly descending bars and snatched the chain, pulling a dozen links into the cage before the sphere came to rest on it, freezing all movement. Batgirl was pulled upward by the leg manacle even as she struggled to maintain her grip on the chain. For a horrible moment she was pulled taut between the sling chain and ankle bondage and she could feel the weapon slipping from her grip. But then the weight of the sphere eased, and the green-eyed avenger pulled the balance of the 6-foot chain into her prison. Now if she could wrap it around the point of the sphere furthest away from the attachment point of the leg manacle she could easily control her tumbling as the trap rolled…
But Batgirl's concern for the sling chain very nearly cost her life. Even as she regained her feet in the constantly tumbling ball, she saw a huge shape loom up with a glint of razor sharp death. The "morbus lancer" – an 8-foot insectoid nightmare that appeared to be part grasshopper and part television tower, stabbed its long, slim and razor sharp center talon cleanly through the entire sphere, aimed precisely for Batgirl's abdomen. Her instincts saved her, just barely. She dropped the chain and twisted frantically to avoid the skewer, reducing agonizing impalement to a deep gash just above her left pelvis bone.
Now the peril of Tournament had reached the breaking point. The other creatures in the black quadrant backed away as the huge abominations with their three-fingered sword-like talons took up station to either side of the sphere. They bleated like castrated pigs as they focused on their gorgeous prey, separated from them by paltry steel that they could surely rend like paper. They leveled their central talons on Batgirl like a medieval pole arm before stabbing in at her as if they were skewering a particularly stubborn clam in its shell. Against one of them Batgirl might have had a chance, the huge talons were difficult for the creatures to maneuver and once in-coming, relatively easy to avoid, but against two her eventual impalement was ensured.
But still she fought on, carefully judging the location of the next strike and moving only at the last moment, when the beasts had already committed to their attack. After a dozen attempts they had only achieved one additional hit, on her calf just above the manacle. The escalating tone of the haunting cries gave evidence that they were growing frustrated. Then one seemed to have a terrible and quite lethal idea. It ceased its attacking and began to roll the sphere, experimentally at first but then with increasing precision and growing confidence. In horror, Batgirl realized what it was doing – it was moving the leg chain to the very top of the sphere. Once hanging upside down, her quickness and defensive skills would be negated. Batgirl would just be a piece of meat to be skewered, stabbed and bled at their leisure. The feeling of absolute helplessness was horrifying as the morbus lances slowly repositioned the sphere, lifting her left leg higher and higher, threatening at any moment to pull her of her feet. The she was swinging free, hanging by her firmly chained left ankle, torn and blood-soaked cape hanging to the ground. A feeling of unpleasant warmth began working its way up her left side as blood oozed from her nasty gash.
One chance left, Batgirl admitted to herself coldly, but in all likelihood the Tournament of Death ended for her right here. She wrapped her free right leg around the leg chain, then pulled herself up into a tight ball near the top of the sphere, seizing the very top of the chain in her hands. Then she waited. It was only a moment before the lancers attacked simultaneously from both sides, aiming for the small red-headed bullseye. But at the last moment the Dark Angel went limp, falling away from the position she had been a moment ago and leaving only…the heavy steel chain.
Two razor-sharp talons rubbed across the chain from either direction and it melted like butter, dropping the Dark Angel to the floor of the cage. Thinking quickly, Batgirl scooped up the sling chain which was still partially threaded among the bars of the sphere, and wrapped it quickly around the two inserted talons. The chain pulled the two sharpest edges of the talons together and held them together fast, seating in the many ridges lining the dull face of each. In the space of a moment, the two lancer-horrors found themselves joined together by their central talons. After trying for a moment to free themselves from the monster equivalent of Chinese thumb cuffs, both creatures became enraged, and their reaction was horrible but predictable: they reached up with their opposing sets of talons and tore the sphere to pieces.
Batgirl leapt at the first breach, knowing full well that to remain in the sphere meant instant death. She had to act and act now. Unless she could come up with a desperate strategy, or Praxton could equip her with a powerful weapon, she had done nothing but prolong her dismemberment at the hands of Maelstrom's blasphemies.
Her first survey of the arena in many minutes, however, was not encouraging. Monsoon had been overcome by a nightmare creature that resembled a truck-size high gravity spider that was part machine and part arachnid. She was now suspended from what seemed to be a thick sticky web, while miniature spider creatures busied themselves wrapping her in a tight cocoon of sticky webbing. The Thai daredevil was deathly still as the spiders worked their way over her thighs, so Batgirl couldn't positively determine if she was even still alive. Her heavy twin-bladed sword rested just on the boundary between the red and black zones as if hurled with great force.
The Mouser, by contrast was definitely still alive. The tank had filled to about 8 feet with water and was now populated with snake-like horrors with the body of huge constrictor snakes and the toothy circular mouths of lampreys. The Mouser was completely submerged and struggling madly in the crushing embrace of her mindless attackers. Her Player had apparently managed to give her some sort of water breathing apparatus to prevent her from drowning, but the fight was completely one-sided and the crowd seemed to be enjoying it immensely. The tank was approximately three-quarters full, surely at least 5,000 cubic feet of water – a lot of stress even for the thick walls surrounding the Mouser. It certainly wouldn't take much damage before one of the walls would simply burst. The floor was apparently waterproof since the walls for water trap had descended around the Mouser from above. The entire floor, that is, except perhaps for the gap Batgirl had created earlier in the black quadrant, exposing the electric servos of the hatch!
Suddenly, Batgirl grabbed at a last desperate hope. She limped to the boundary of the red zone and snatched up the Monsoon's heavy sword getting a taste in the process of the crushing weight of the inhibitor field. Then she headed with as much speed as she could muster toward the green zone. She was intercepted by one creature and then two, which she dispatched with cold precision. Then a third joined in and it too quickly lost an arm, then a leg and finally its head. Batgirl plunged into a new world of focus and desperation, and fought with strength and ferocity that was virtually beyond her. And, disturbingly, she found that she was beginning to enjoy the carnage, the sight of their spurting blood, and the moans of her opponents. It was almost as if she were invincible, completely in charge of the outcome of the Tournament of Death. Then she reached the green zone.
The moment her boots touched green rubber her body tingled and her nervous system immediately lost coordination. Her heart began fluttering and her muscles instantly weakened and she realized with horror that some force was jamming her autonomic system – the penalty for violating the zone boundaries of the arena. In only a few moments within the green quadrant she would be dead but her only hope now was to reach the water tank so she willed her feet to continue moving. She took one step, then another, then … another. But her muscles were twitching and the sword was growing infinitely heavy in her hands. With an inward moan of defeat, the weapon dropped, and Batgirl pitched sideways to the ground beside it, quickly dying.
"No!" Batgirl hissed between clinched teeth. She tried to roll up onto all fours but her supreme effort produced nothing more than a lazy flop onto her stomach, her head all but lost in a riot of lush coppery hair. Her vision was swimming and fading, and her heart was fluttering randomly in her chest. "Can't…" Her cry was tortured as her muscles convulsed and her hands contracted into uncontrollable claws. Her breathing was reduced from exhausting rasps to sob-like heaves and even the heaves grew less and less frequent. "Die…"
"NO!" Batgirl's last word was as forceful as her previous words had been weak. The Dark Angel suddenly rolled easily up on all fours like a cat, and snapped her hair back to reveal cold eyes glowing faintly violet. Inside Barbara's mind, she was ablaze with warring emotions, but none of it managed to penetrate her suddenly icy-cool demeanor. Only the few spectators who were still watching the uninteresting death of Batgirl were fortunate enough to witness her dramatic and inexplicable recovery.
The blood-spattered, abused, and exhausted vigilante picked up the heavy fighting sword beside her as if it were a toothpick and trotted lightly to the sloshing tank where the Gray Mouser had at last all but given up her hopeless struggles. For a moment Batgirl worked the two-handed sword end-over-end, the blades losing definition as the rate of the rotation quickly increased. Then she raised the sword briefly overhead and brought one blade down against the wall of the tank with superhuman force. The blade dug deep into the Plexiglas, then shattered in a cloud of shredded metal. And the wall of the tank quickly followed suit, buckling at the point where Batgirl had inflicted a foot-deep gouge and sending a bow wave of fetid water flooding into the arena. Batgirl managed to remain on her feet by clamping one vice-like hand onto the out-thrust lip of the breached tank and lurched forward as soon as the waters had drained sufficiently. Inside the lamprey-horrors had physically attached themselves to the Mouser, slowly draining her body of its life fluids and accounting for her mounting weakness. Using the remaining blade, Batgirl hacked off the heads of the 20-foot creatures and freed her friend. The blonde dervish was alive but on the verge of shock but there was no time for recovery; Batgirl scooped her up as if she weighed nothing and carried her from the blasted ruin of the tank.
The arena, understandably, was in chaos. The water had shorted out many of the combatants and the surviving creatures milled about ineffectively as armored combat droids advanced into the arena to restore order. But it wasn't time to fight…not yet. Instead Batgirl located the partially opened hatchway in the black quadrant and pried the door open using the broken vibrosaw blade as a lever. As she had anticipated, the salt water dunking had taken out the electrical servos so opening the hatch was a trivial exercise. Controlling the enraged lancers, however, was not but after sheering off their talons with ferocious swipes of the heavy blade they were much less threatening.
"Knew you'd get us out of here…" The Mouser had regained her senses even as Batgirl was dispensing with the monsters. But she was shocked when her friend turned to regard her. Something was wrong; very, very wrong. Perhaps the Mouser's eyes were deceiving her, but Batgirl seemed to almost…well glow. The radiance was a deep, sinister violet that was infinitely disturbing. Then the effect was gone, leaving Katherine to wonder if she had imagined the whole thing.
"Barbara, what's happened to you?"
"Nothing that wasn't inevitable. Go on down the hatch, you don't have much time."
Batgirl could feel herself slipping. The transformation wasn't immediate or violent, instead she could feel the essence of Nightvision spreading slowly to overtake her like the black dye she had hidden herself within beneath the Sun King's boat. For the moment, the fading presence of Batgirl still held some sway, but she was clinging to a greased pole. The best she could hope for was to accomplish a last few acts of good before the darkness descended, perhaps permanently. But there was no time to explain all this to the Gray Mouser, and perhaps no point. The next time Nightvision encountered the daring Brit they would certainly be mortal enemies.
"On the highest point of the island Maelstrom maintains a satcom station. That's where he controls his hunter-killers. Radio the SAS, the RAF, the queen, anyone who can take this island apart at the seams."
"What about you?" Though Mouser slipped into the hole.
"I'm going back up to create a diversion, try to help the other girls. Should give you at least a 20 minute jump on the shock troopers."
"Batgirl, they'll kill you."
The Dark Angel smiled and the Mouser almost instinctively recoiled. She had never seen such an expression on anyone that she wasn't trying to kill. "I think they will find that quite a challenge."
After a moment of uneasy eye contact, the Mouser disappeared into the darkness beneath the arena. Batgirl closed the hatch to conceal her avenue of escape and picked up the sword. Yet even as she prepared to take on Lord Maelstrom she couldn't help but look forward to the time when she would get the pleasure of rending the Gray Mouser limb from limb. What could have possibly possessed her to let such a succulent victim escape?
But for now she had a much more dangerous opponent to contend with. She would have to be very careful with Lord Maelstrom; he was a very powerful and very evil man. He mustn't know the truth about the dual nature of Batgirl and Nightvision…until of course it was too late. Only after Nightvision had managed to completely suppress her telltale aura and had practiced wearing the foolishly noble facial expressions of the Batgirl did she finally set out to find her next victim.
Batgirl had never felt so used and humiliated in all her life. It was worse than the most intimate physical invasion she could possibly imagine. The power of the Gold Bug had manifested itself in a bizarre sort of schizophrenia, except that both of poles of Barbara's personality sprung from the same source and, consequently were fully aware of each other's hateful existence. The scarab had seized upon even the slightest of her natural tendencies toward chaos and evil and multiplied them far out of proportion to her normally dominant heroic side. The portion of Barbara Gordon that was Batgirl was still fully intact, but she was trapped in a psychic bondage far more compelling than the strongest of Maelstrom's chains. The inputs of her own senses were reduced to an evil dream, a nightmare that would never end and that she could never fully awaken from. And now Batgirl learned of an even more horrifying aspect of her foolish surrender to the seduction of the scarab: Nightvision was apparently able to thrust Batgirl fully back into her own sensorium at will, donning and removing her heroic personality like a cheap Halloween costume. So great was the power mismatch between Barbara-Gordon-the-heroine and Barbara-Gordon-the-supervillain that Batgirl was nothing more than a puppet. Even when Batgirl seemed to be in control, all of her actions and words were virtually dictated by the icy thoughts of her merciless twin. The Dark Angel's thoughts were still hers, but they only served to help her realize the horrors Nightvision could inflict on her by strategically thrusting Batgirl back into her former senses to absorb the brunt of their enemies' wrath.
The internal turmoil and horror of the redheaded vigilante was completely lost on her impassive exterior. Though Batgirl resisted with every step, the power of Nightvision ensured that she walked quickly and confidently in search of Maelstrom. The house lights were now turned on and the crowd noise had changed character from a sporting event to a medical conference. The huge body of people was now sealed inside the stadium by heavy blast doors designed to keep the contestants contained. Now they could only watch and grumble while Maelstrom's heavy combat droids sorted out the mess Batgirl had made of the arena. As soon as Batgirl straightened up from closing the hatchway she found herself in the sites of a dozen particle cannons. The brief confusion, however, apparently had concealed the Mouser's escape, at least for the moment.
Batgirl quickly gained an entourage of bulbous 25-ton gray-black killing machines. The Dark Angel, however, ignored the powerful robots and walked confidently toward the white quadrant, cape drifting lazily off her squared shoulders. There she found Lord Maelstrom who had come down from his perch to oversee the binding of a struggling but exhausted Olympia to high-tech torture frame. Additional torture frames waited for the other heroines and the announcer was declaring that the cards for the next round of the Tournament would dictate the various tortures to be applied to the proxies. Clearly, he hadn't given up hope on a successful conclusion to the tournament.
Nightvision forced Batgirl to whip up some tears.
"Please, let her go."
Even Lord Maelstrom seemed surprised to find Batgirl suddenly standing before him. The super villain was a seven-foot giant in black leather and thick fur that might have been from a huge black bear. His massive arm rested on his belt while the other stroked the long black goatees adorning his cruel, chiseled face. His wild clothing, long cape and heavy brow invoked images of a Mongolian prince, but his eyes reflected cold malevolence that transcended his appearance. Maelstrom was an archfiend with the power to crush armies and the influence to turn entire nations to his will. Every fiber of Batgirl's being yearned to flee, to disappear into the shadows she knew so well and stab at Maelstrom from behind. But, of course, Nightvision would not allow that: she preferred that Batgirl deliver herself into the clutches of her most hated enemy.
"Ahhh Batgirl, I'm glad you've chosen to return to the tournament. I'm afraid you've made a mess of the second round, so we're proceeding directly to round three." He motioned to the complex frame that held Olympia in a web of stout restraints. The endless variety of clamps, pumps, blades, probes, cups, domes and needles gave mute testimony to the sinister tortures that awaited. "Bind her to a frame, and bring the other two."
"No Please!" Batgirl squealed in sudden, pathetic, girlish horror. "I beg you, no more!" She threw herself at Maelstrom's feet and blubbered.
"Really, Batgirl, I expected more from you. I didn't expect to hear your blubbering until well into the third round."
"Mercy, Lord Maelstrom," Batgirl sounded almost hysterical. "Please have mercy!"
Maelstrom walked closer until Batgirl was just at his feet, "I have waited years to break you, mortal fool. But I think you will find that your suffering has only just begun."
Batgirl looked white with fear but her youthful face hardened even as she spoke. "Oh...that…sounds…so HORRIBLE!" She reached out with her hands and seized Maelstrom's ankles. Suddenly, the air around them crackled with a deep violet aura.
"AHHHHHHHHH!" Maelstrom screamed, even as the robot sentries vaporized all around him. Now Batgirl was gone, returned to her psychic prison, and Barbara Gordon's face was completely controlled by Nightvision. She beamed with delight as Maelstrom screamed and quivered, even as he was roasted alive. Her aural radiance steadily gained in intensity until Maelstrom was a blackened corpse, finally bursting like a fetid boil spilling its gory contents. Only then did Nightvision relent. Then she looked about with a look of mock surprise at what she had just done.
The complex, understandably, was in complete chaos. People were scrambling for the exits and hurling themselves against the heavy blast doors. There was no telling how many had been crushed to death in the mad dash to escape. The arena was now littered with half-consumed combat droids. Apparently in their zeal to save their master they had ventured too close to Nightvision until their components had simply melted and fused in the intense heat. She was all alone in the charred wasteland that had been the arena. Smiling mischievously, Nightvision rose slowly in the air, red hair crackling with power and body slightly glowing.
"What is the matter, dear friends?! Didn't they tell you that this is the Tournament of DEATH?!!" With that she leveled a finger and out shot a bolt of blinding violet that cut through the crowd like a laser, taking a horizontal slice through everything it touched. Nightvision rotated as she slowly ascended, cutting a corkscrew pattern through steel, cement, glass and flesh. Now the crowd was REALLY desperate, but they had absolutely nowhere to go. They were trapped in a steel and class cylinder with a being of incredible power. And she was pissed.
But suddenly Nightvision jerked to a halt. A collar and had mysteriously caught her around her throat, heavy steel that surged with some kind of strange and horrifying power. Her aura was just…gone, as was her ability to fly. Now inexplicably powerless, Nightvision plummeted to the ground grasping at the painful, smothering collar. Even as she fell she tried to bring Batgirl back to the fore, so that she could absorb the punishment for them both, but Batgirl seemed hopelessly out of reach. And Nightvision was horribly exposed.
She crashed to the ground and the impact all but knocked her unconscious. Through bleary eyes she saw a man loom over her, of average height and average build, with long dark hair, a spindly goatees and violet eyes. He wore a business suit of fine oriental silk, with a red carnation for a boutonniere. He wore a stick pin in his tie bearing a huge ruby, and the top of his walking cane seemed to be tipped with a huge diamond that glowed with its own unholy light.
"Foolish girl, didn't it ever occur to you that I would have a Proxy for the Tournament as well?
"Place her in an execution suit, then bring her to the Nexus Chamber. After extracting a bit of retribution I think its time to hurl our…surprising…little friend Batgirl into the Trackless Void to join her dear Batman."
Five heavy containment structures separated the Nexus Chamber from the rest of the world, and even Maelstrom was carefully scanned before being allowed through the series of depleted uranium vault doors. Each containment vessel had unique properties that would in theory protect the living world from some of the godlike horrors of the Trackless Void. The five-fold security provided protection from all entities that Maelstrom was aware of, but even his knowledge was far from complete – every time the portal was opened there was a very real chance that a horror unknown to even the greatest of metahuman sorcerers could notice the breach and take up residence on the earth to feast on all life. That was just part of the charm of inter-dimensional travel!
Upon gaining admittance through the last of the five seals, Maelstrom and his entourage of military cyborgs emerged onto a narrow balcony overlooking a dimly-lit dome resembling a spacious planetarium. Indeed, the stars of the cosmos were clearly visible all around, except that they were not being projected by any kind of machine. In this room the earth, the sky, the sea and the ether were as one – the nexus. The room vibrated with tremendous power and the distant sounds of a million non-human voices. Strange forces tugged, vapors collected briefly into nightmarish forms only to reluctantly dissipate, and the weight of a thousand eyes pressed down physically. This was a dangerous place even for a metahuman even with the protective fields fully activated. Maelstrom grinned to himself at the horrors that awaited Batgirl when the breach was fully opened.
Batgirl was now chained hand and foot to a heavy titanium T-frame on an isolated steel platform at the center of the sphere. Her black titanium alloy restraints were capable of towing a battleship and terminated at heavy seamless manacles completely enveloping her calves and forearms. She was dressed for execution in a catsuit of glossy black rubber that caught the bright blue light of a nearby worker droid that was doing a final reinforcement on the welds holding her chains to the forlorn platform. The suit was seamless and skintight, with integrated gloves and high-heel soles. A bondage belt of black rubber highlighted Batgirl's narrow waist and Maelstrom's technicians had thoughtfully added a yellow bat over her left breast. Only Batgirl's head was still uncovered, though the high turtleneck rose almost to her jaw line, covering the energy collar which she still wore. He hair had been cut off at chin length and had been slicked back behind her head with oil. Though the face was definitely Batgirl's the expression certainly was not: her glare was cold a cruel, though even her harsh exterior could not hide the fear of being triple welded spread-eagle to a frame of foot-thick titanium bars in the midst of an inter-dimensional nexus.
"Ahhhh, dear Batgirl, I have long suspected that you have powers you kept carefully concealed. But even I never suspected that you possessed the powers of a lesser fury."
"Release this collar, Maelstrom, and I have a few other talents I'd like to share with you."
"Plucky words, considering were you are. Do you know what this place is?"
At this even Nightvision softened, her bravado collapsing. "In a nexus portal."
"Excellent. We are currently protected by the most advanced spectral absorption field known to man, but still you can feel their hunger, can you not? I can almost feel the icy embrace of the Lurkers in the Void when I deactivate the field. To them, your life essence will burn like a candle in the endless night, at least for a bit."
Nightvision had to admit that it was true, she could already feel the caress of the mindless entities as they tried to feed on her life. They lapped at her crotch and whispered in her ear even as they sank icy hangs into her heart. This would not be pleasant or quick.
"What do you want, Maelstrom? As you saw, I could make a valuable assassin."
"I'm afraid its too late for that now. You've prostituted yourself out to the Batman and have made a mockery of my Tournament. For that I must commit your warm, delicious body to the pleasures of the demons beyond. But fear not, after a few weeks you yourself will be reduced to a wandering vapor, cursed to float forever in the Trackless Void – the very incarnation of hell."
"You don't understand, I'm no longer Batgirl. I'm no longer your enemy."
"I considered that as well, but whoever you are, you and Batgirl stem from the same core personality. By letting you live I also let my enemy live. I can only destroy her by destroying you. My, but it is chilly in here. Ready to meet your new playmates?"
"Maelstrom you can't do this!" Nightvision pulled at the chains. She was only just strong enough to budge them, breaking them was out of the question. "I've waited so long to escape!"
"Good bye, Batgirl. Now if you please open wide for your executioners hood."
The support droid had come up behind Batgirl and pulled a full hood over her head, complete with a built an inflatable gag."
"Maelstrom, no you can't do this, I won't be cheated like hmmmmmmgh!" the hood was as skin tight and the rest of Batgirl's suit, forming a perfect representation of her face. The gag was huge and once inflated filled her mouth painfully tight. When the hood was secured to the rest of the suit she was ready to die.
"I mustn't tarry, Batgirl. Even with the shields up its very unsafe in here. I must say you are very beautiful on your the platform. And very, very alone."
Nightvision tried to struggle but the chains held her fast. She tried to scream but the gag kept her mute. She tried to change places with Batgirl but her pathetic twin remained safely ensconced in the dark recesses of their shared consciousness. Nightvision could do nothing but wait until her nameless executioners came to suck her slowly down into the nether realms of madness.
She didn't have to wait long. There was a loud CLANG like the slamming of a huge door, and a crackling in the air. The chilly air in the chamber suddenly turned icy and flew at her with gale force. But this was no ordinary wind. These were the fingers of creatures that had no form, creatures that thirsted for her warmth, for her sanity, and for her soul. The muffled screams of Nightvision were loud in her head, but were less then nothing in the immensity of the Trackless Void.
The wind continued to whip, often with enough force that Nightvision feared her limbs would be pulled free from their sockets. Her body was numb from the intense cold but it failed to reduce the pain. It seemed that Maelstrom had designed her permanent bondage very well. Despite the fierce buffeting, the creatures were unable to carry Nightvision off altogether. But after countless hours in the agonizing embrace of ghostly tormentors listening to their whispered secrets of madness and suffering, even Nightvision was being reduced to a pathetic, screaming wretch. And things were about to get worse.
*Hello Nightvision,* an unspoken voice whispered into her ear.
*Stay away from me please. No more.*
*You have no idea how long I've been waiting for this moment, when even the haughty Nightvisoin would find herself a plaything in hell.*
*MY GOD MY GOD MY GOD. No more, please!* Nightvision's mind was cracking, and with it her hold on Batgirl.
*Your retreat into the scarab could only delay the inevitable. The powers of hell command the wages of hell, my dear and now I have such sights to show you.*
*PLEASE, NO. PLEASE!!!!!*
Clammy tendrils of hate sank into Nightvision's mind and wrapped themselves around her soul. The winds threw her body against the heavy chains like a rag doll, but the cold teeth were lost as Nightvision screamed into the nothingness. The essence of Nightvision that had been contained in the scarab for a thousand years was now being drawn from her new host. Hell, at last, had come to collect.
But suddenly Nightvision's ethereal extraction halted. She was being held somehow within the confines of her fragile human host.
*Your tricks won't save you this time, Nightvision,* the Voice hissed. *You're my plaything now.*
*No she isn't,* a calm voice replied firmly. *She's mine.*
*So Nightvision isn't alone in there after all! You have made a poor choice in associates mortal.*
*That's an odd statement, coming from a demon.*
*Agreed. Now let her go.*
*Of course, but only on one condition.*
*The Batman. I want you to free him from the Trackless Void.*
*Perhaps I could locate him. But you realize that are no pardons, only trades.*
*I give you Nightvision and you return Batman. That's the deal.*
*But you aren't exactly bargaining from a position of strength, mortal. That's not exactly what I had in mind.*
*You're here for Nightvision only, otherwise your tendrils would have found me as well. I'm confident that I can hold onto her until she is fully consumed by the Lurker's leaving you with nothing. And I imagine your masters would be very disappointed.*
*And what do you know of the hierarchies of hell, slutling!? Trifle with me and I will destroy you.*
*No one is braver then one with nothing left to lose, demon. I am a ghost in my own body.*
*NO, PLEASE, THE PAIN! CAN'T STAND ANY MORE PAIN!*
*Very well, Barbara Gordon is it? Batman is not ours, so I will guide him back to the material plane. But I never forget a wrong, zealot. I will yet feast on your soul in eternity.*
*Perhaps, but you feast on Nightvision right now.*
With that Barbara let go and Nightvision was pulled free from her body, scarab and all.
*NOOOOOOOOO, GOD NOOOOOOOO!*
The hellish screams of the metabeing known as Nightvision filled Batgirl's ears as she found herself again thrust into the her own realm of senses. Now it was once again her limbs being torn from their sockets, and her mind being assailed by the icy winds, her ears hearing the whispers of madness, and her screams lost in the gag. She could only pray to God that Maelstrom would come for her shattered fragments soon.
"I think she's coming around," came a voice from far away. Slowly, Barbara opened her eyes, then squinted under the bright lights.
"She is? Thank god!" A hand took Barbara's; a warm, human hand. A face hovered over her, with blonde hair, delicate features, and a icy blue eyes. It was Katherine Sterling, looking none the worse for having just survived the Tournament of Death. The smell of her perfume was light and full of pleasant memories.
"Barbara, can you hear me?"
"Course I can," Barbara opened her green eyes and croaked. "You're two inches from my face. And you're shouting."
"Oh, so I am," Katherine grinned. "The doctors told me not to expect too much when you woke up. You've had quite a bout."
"How long have I been out?"
"Three days since the SAS brought you in from Nod. They found you in a cybernetics tank, marked up for cutting– spare parts."
"I feel like spare parts." Every part of her body ached, and nightmarish memories of being endlessly hurled against the chains in the Trackless Void tugged at the edges of her subconscious. "The others?"
"Olympia's dead, killed in the Tournament. Not sure about Monsoon, but I suspect Maelstrom took her to try and break her again, or at least copy her neural patterns before he kills her. Maelstrom cleaned most of his operation off the island before the marines hit. But there's something else."
"Yes," Elizabeth sounded surprised. "They found him on the banks of the Gotham East River, half frozen and quite mad I'm afraid."
"News isn't all bad, he's been taken to Arkham for treatment and the doctors say he's improving. He's certainly no worse off than you."
Batgirl looked down at her hands; it seemed as if she were one huge bruise. Her hands were also shot through with white necrotic tissue. Her wounds were unearthly, and the sight of her own body made her shudder.
"Don't worry love, you're still pretty, in a Dawn of the Dead sort of way. The Docs assure me it's all superficial. You'll be back on your feet breaking hearts in a few weeks."
"Knew I could count on you to pull us through, Katherine."
"It's I who should thank you. I must admit you gave me quite a scare there for a moment. You didn't seem to be yourself."
"I wasn't, but its over now. And Lady Katherine?"
"When I get out of here, Pandora's dead." With that Barbara closed her eyes and drifted off into her first peaceful sleep she could remember.