Rose looked down on the chaos that was the massive City Hall building across the street from them. The wind whipped at her hair and she shivered in the cold as far below the street swam with police and emergency personnel. The red and blue lights bounced between the buildings and made madness of the night.
“How will we get over there?”, she asked, turning to her silent companion.
He had said little on the mad journey across rooftops, and down the sides of buildings, racing across streets and alleyways, and back up into the night. He seemed, at times, able to fly, and others to be swinging from cables and webs that interlaced and connected the city. He often carried her, while they flew or fell or slid through the night, and then she was on her feet and running with him. It was unreal, and magical, and she was terrified at how the journey would end.
But now, here they were surveying the insanity from afar.
“We may not have to,” he said, gesturing down to the milling police below.
From the front of City Hall, a great entourage of people came spilling, and Mayor Page was in the middle of it, carrying a bullhorn before him. It was obvious he was planning on informing the troops of the situation, and Rose wanted to be close enough to hear, not ten stories up from the news.
Reporters were milling around, many in their bedclothes, called by city editors and informants from their beds to get the scoop, to make the story, to find the ten point headline for the morning edition. Whatever was happening was hot, and she was, quite literally, in the thick of it.
She stood, looking down on the street theater, watching it play out, behind the two foot high wall that separated her from a fall to her death, the wind whipping her hair.
He knelt on the wall, his coat billowing out about him, staring intently down as if he could see it all perfectly.
The Mayor came to a halt, held up his hands for attention.
Rose leaned forward to see better.
The Black Mask held his hand out to her, and she thought he was inviting her onto the ledge, until she noticed he held a small round object in his hand.
The Mayor raised the bullhorn to his mouth, and began to speak.
Words came out of the tiny disk in the gloved palm. She snatched it up and put it to her ear.
It was like a thin seashell, and the sound of the ocean could be heard, but within the waves was a voice, Mayor Page's voice.
“Gentleman, we have a dilemma on our hands this morning.”
He looked at his watch, and returned to speaking.
“Fifty minutes ago, I received a letter of ransom through the tube that states I am to relinquish control of the city government to an unknown party or else they will unleash the horror from the subway onto the public.
“As you officers know, we've lost several men tonight while investigating two strange deaths in the train tunnels. Two squads of detectives, several members of the city coroners department, and many bystanders have died violently, but most horribly are the two that were being investigated.
“Evidently, two men, one a known pick-pocket named Thomas Nelson, the other a scientist working at the University named Ted Sturgeon, both appear to have melted into liquid.”
He paused, cleared his throat, and then returned the horn to his lips.
“I am told it was quite horrible. We don't know how it was accomplished. We believe that the group who is currently threatening our fair city is responsible, though.
“It is our duty to see to it that we maintain order, that we keep a clear head, and that we...”
The clock in the city tower began to chime, deep, long bells that called the hour into the night.
“We must not allow ourselves...”
“...to be brought to ground by...”
“...by any criminal force wishing...”
“...to ransom our freedom and...”
The Mayor stopped speaking. He held the bullhorn to his lips, but he went rigid. His hands and body began to shiver.
Rose pressed the shell harder to her ear.
“Do you hear that?”, she whispered, listening to a hum that seemed to be growing in her ear. Her teeth clenched violently, and she stiffened along with everyone on the street below.
The sound. It was vibrating through her body, and she could feel it all the way into her bones, thrumming and quivering.
The Black Mask stiffened too, but propelled himself backward before he could pitch forward off the wall. He shut down his listening device and slapped the shell from Rose's hand just as her teeth began to chatter, and a small drop of blood began to form at the corner of her nose.
He grabbed her, pulling her back across the rooftop, leading her as far away from the damning sound as he could get her, until they were behind a brick elevator tower where he collapsed with her in his arms, wrapping his coat around her, praying the sound couldn't pass through the barrier and destroy them both.
Far below, in the city street, the gathered police officers, the Mayor, his chamber, nearly all of the emergency personnel of the city, quivered and shook and collapsed while their bones and tissues fragmented and liquified and melted into a violent splash of gore that turned the street and steps in front of City Hall into a river of blood that swept down the steps and towards the grates in the streets, washing uniforms and nightclothes away.
One hundred and eighty-five men, twenty-three women, melted like candles in an invisible fire on the street. And then there were all those in the surrounding offices up to the 18th floor. Liquified. In total, when all were counted,it would be nearly three hundred people.
But on the top of the building across from City Hall, two survived.
They huddled together, she shaking and with a headache so stunning she could barely focus her eyes. He softly rubbing her back, but feeling every strain of every muscle in his body, protected only by his armor and his skill. He staggered upright, dragging her with him.
“Wait here,” he said while moving to the edge of the building again, but she wouldn't wait.
She held his hand and he lead her to the edge.
She tried not to scream when she looked down, but there was no stopping it.
She tried not to notice the sprays of blood on the windows of the building across from her. Not to believe that all of the police officers and emergency personnel who had filled the street mere moments before were now blood-soaked rags sloughing through the street towards their ultimate end in the sewers beneath the city.
She gagged, turning away from the edge of the building, coughing and crying and wiping the blood from her nose.
It was a nightmare, she assured herself. None of it was real, not the headache that was even now beginning to subside, not the clenching of her stomach, not the whispered sound of his cloak flapping in the wind.
He was stoic, rigid, silent.
She turned to him, his back to her.
She wailed into the night. She screamed again, just to get it out. She filled with horror and disbelief and rage.
“How? How are we supposed to stop this? Who is going to help us? What the hell are we going to do now?” she screamed, railing at the night and his back.
He didn't slump under the weight of it. He boar it as if the weight of the world was his to bear, and he did it with dignity, but when he turned to her, when that faceless, cold mask, with it's round emotionless gaze turned to her, she stepped back from him.
If her rage was a fire, his was hell itself, and his voice was as hard and dry as the throat of the damned when he answered her.
“We're going to stop them. And we're going to make them pay while we do it.”
And with that, he swept her into his arms and leapt off the building, falling into the night like the avenging demon he might actually be.
Falling and twisting and sailing among the buildings, he carried her across the city, away from the horror and into the darkness.
The darkness. She was beginning to feel it all around her, like a fog thick enough to actually feel sliding across her face. This was the world, the real world that she had never known. That no one knew, and didn't want to know. This was the evil that twisted and molded the world silently, that drove men mad in their beds, and women to suicide in their kitchens. This was what made countries destroy whole races, and broke children while they were too young to understand what it was to be whole. This wasn't a criminal looking for a fast couple of dollars, or even the mastermind who commanded a legion of enforcers for money. This was evil, pure, hateful, power-mad and hungry for chaos to rule the streets, the hearts and the minds of the world.
She felt his arm tighten around her waist as they twisted in the air again and he caught onto a wire, sliding along it another hundred yards and then dropping again to catch another. She felt him gather his strength and shift her to the other arm in mid drop to swing along the rocky edge of a building and fly out over a chasm only to spin in mid-leap while catching onto yet another cable, their momentum carrying them up into a flying leap that landed them onto another rooftop.
Here he stopped. Here he released her from his arms.
Here she stayed, holding him, tightening her grip about him, suddenly understanding that the evil, the evil that was constantly stripping away at the world, twisting it for it's own purpose...
That evil had twisted him, somehow. Twisted him into this shadow/monster/savior.
She cried, all of the emotion of the night filling her with the realization that he wasn't immune, but had been through some horrid fiery hell, and had been forged into this.
A weapon that was going to fight back against the evil.
And he reached his arms around her.
And held her.