Chapter 3: Games Begin
Etrigan was quiet. That was never a good sign.
Outwardly, Jason continued to talk to Bruce. Inwardly, his mind scanned the fairgrounds. Something… no someone was here that… ULGH!
“Something wrong?” Bruce asked, noting a sour expression.
“I taste… flame retardant?” Jason said quizzically.
Bruce laughed—which Jason found almost as troubling as Etrigan’s silence. Jason had often thought how Batman was a blessed exception to the usual flippant wisecracking superhero. Strictly speaking, this was Bruce Wayne standing here laughing, and not Batman. But in Blood’s experience, Bruce Wayne, when not masquerading as a moron, was simply Batman without the cape. And he was laughing—or chuckling, certainly.
“Come on,” he said. “My son, Dick, is competing in the games. You can watch from the Wayne enclave, right over there beside the grandstand,” he pointed, “Go on ahead, I’ll be there shortly.”
Jason looked towards the enclave, with the faint alkaline sour of flame retardant puckering his lips.
Bruce made his way through the crowd, the laughter tamed into a twitchsmile. Flame retardant. He hadn’t been able to stifle a chuckle at the chain of thoughts: he recalled Green Arrow firing a fire extinguisher arrow into Etrigan’s mouth… “I will never ever mock your trick arrows again,” Batman had told him… Roy must be here… Dick in a kilt. How could the Titans resist that?
At last, he reached his destination, a sign his peripheral vision had detected on the walk in to the festival. It was a brisk day and a dozen booths were selling coffee and tea, but only this one had hot cocoa. Selina had such a weakness for chocolate.
Bruce turned, thinking for a minute he heard manic laughter buried in that drone of distant of bagpipes.
Never in all the years he’d known her had he seen anything like what she did to Joker. He thought he’d witnessed every variation of Catwoman’s fighting styles, from playful to vengeful. But to use a blind man’s Adam’s apple as a fulcrum to smash his head into a marble-top coffeetable, that was in a category by itself. If he had surprised her with his violence during the search for Nightwing (and he had no doubt that he had), that surprise must surely be weighed against her utterly clobbering Joker with such total abandon.
JOKER! Who would just as soon rip her left lung out through her right ear. Joker, who was too insane to ever be convinced of anything no matter how hard you hit him or how often. Joker who—she freely admitted—she never tried to enforce her ‘rules’ with because a) he seldom held on to a thought for more than a week anyway, b) he wouldn’t consider her whips and claws a deterrent and c) he would only take the stating of rules as a blueprint to pushing her buttons and a challenge he must accept.
Yet there she was, an hour after the incident, in the Batcave using his forceps to pluck green hairs out of her watchband.
“That was Catwoman’s idea of ‘Humor ‘em and Handle ‘em?’” he had asked in Batman’s most disapproving gravel.
“Special case, he pissed me off.”
“Of course he pissed you off. He’s Joker, that’s his M.O. Selina, every time I’ve run in to him as Bruce Wayne, it takes me hours of Zogger to work through it afterward. I can’t stand sitting there not being able to pound that grin off his face because I’m stuck being—”
Bruce winced as an unexpected bearhug spattered cocoa on his shirt. Not again. Not twice in one week.
“Good to see ya, Brucie,” the too-chipper blonde greeted him, “Why, I haven’t seen you since Christmas. Remember—my little appearance at the benefit to get a present for my Puddin’?” Then to remind him, she started singing: ♫ LOVE FOR SALE, KookyKookyCrazy LOVE FOR SALE …If you want the thrill of love, I’ve been through the mill of love… LOVE FOR SALE! ♫
:: And now, throwing the hammer for Clan Gordon, winner of the sheaf-toss, newcomer…RICHARD GRAYSON! ::
Jason watched the young man grasp the iron sphere by the bamboo shaft, twist, spin for momentum, and release at the perfect moment for optimum distance. As a warrior, Blood could appreciate the triumph of technique. He recalled a young squire on a training field much like this, discovering that by mastering precise timing, he could outperform larger and stronger knights.
In the same way, young Grayson was outperforming athletes who had trained for years in these games, simply by applying superior physical skills honed in his life as Nightwing. It was, Jason would admit, an impressive display. Still, he was happy to be watching from a quiet spot, alone and away from the “Wayne enclave.”
Alone you may be, except for me,
But not for long, for look, a She.
Jason looked up. A woman was indeed standing before him.
A sorceress of the Poison Tree,
Etrigan laughed heartily.
With a PhD in Botany.
The air was heavy with sweet leafy scents.
“Do not speak,” Poison Ivy instructed, “for moments such as this, there are no words.”
Stench of moss and hair of fire
Is meant to spark a man’s desire?
This passes for a witch today?
Not for we, who knew Morgan Le Fey!
Jason allowed himself a distant smile at this. Poison Ivy, assuming her enthralled subject’s smile was for her, decided he had basked long enough in the deep jungle mists.
“Now that you feel the wonder of the Green, now that you long for your very being to enter into the Green and become one with the beauty of Nature, you will surely realize how wrong it is for wretched human animals to harm a living plant. You will want to put a stop to this barbarous ritual at once, and do penance for all the harm you have done.”
There was silence as Ivy waited for the inevitable declaration of slavish devotion.
Then Jason Blood spoke:
“Just because I look at you when you speak, you shouldn’t assume that means I’m listening to or care about what you say. That’s just something I do to be polite.”
Poison Ivy stared, unbelieving. She concentrated on pumping more intense pheromones from her body and tried again, “None initiated into the enchanted mysteries of the Green can resist the beauty of Nature’s chosen vessel. I am the Green, irresistible to all that-”
“How quaint,” Blood cut her off, “You’re also blocking my view of the field.” Then, when it became apparent she wasn’t moving, he tried: “Your companion has met with an unfortunate accident. You should go to the first aid tent by the entrance if you wish to see her before she is taken away.”
Tim figured he had just enough time to get a bag of kettle corn and a couple sodas before the next event. It was waiting in line for the corn that he noticed a curious booth. The sign read “Crystals of Avalon.” Beneath it, an older woman, shortish, with half-moon glasses, polished a small tabletop gargoyle. It was a miniature of a gargoyle he knew, atop the Grupnel Towers. Robin had named him “Jowls.”
Tim couldn’t resist going over for a closer look.
“He’s a cute little guy, isn’t he?”
Miriam Nash looked up.
“$12.95,” she said sweetly, concealing her thought that Maxilas Do Blostiban, Guardian of the Fifth Circle, was neither cute nor a he. For the customer was always right.
“Nah, that’s okay,” Tim said, patting the gargoyle on the head, “Dorm room. Small desk. Not much extra space.”
“What about this one?” Miriam said, holding out a smaller version, “This is cut so it can sit on top of a computer screen.”
“I’ll take it.”
As Miriam began wrapping his purchase, Tim glanced at the other items displayed on her counter. Miriam was quick to notice. “Anything else, young man? A mystic crystal, perhaps? For your own protection, if you believe, or a charming piece of jewelry for your lady if you do not.”
“How did you know I had a girl?”
“You’re holding two Cokes.”
“So I know you don’t need a love potion,” she joked.
“No, but if you’ve got anything to shoo away my ex, that’d be a help.”
“So young to be so victimized,” Miriam teased, not unkindly. “And what has your scorned lady done to you?”
“Fed me haggis and told me it was meatloaf.”
“You may consider yourself lucky, young man. Some lessons are best learned early, when the price is a plate of haggis and nothing more dire.” She thought over the parade of jilted wives, lovers and girlfriends who came to her shop requesting, and occasionally receiving, ingredients for vengeance spells. She tossed the protection crystal into Tim’s bag, just because. “In my opinion,” she remarked, handing him his purchase, “you got off cheap.”
“ow, ow, Ow, Ow, OW!” Harley cried.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many separate bruises on one leg, Miss,” the first aid volunteer remarked. “How did you ever do it?”
“She’s a klutz,” a harsh voice declared as the smell of pungent lemon filled the tent.
“It’s not my fault, Red. I was tryin’ to keep him away and distracted, but he was walkin’, so I had to get in front of him and walk backwards, and I guess I kinda… tripped?”
“Tripped?! Harley, you’re one big bruise! What did you trip into?”
“Surprise,” Bruce said, handing Selina a steaming cup of hot chocolate, “you won’t believe what I went through to get that.”
From anyone else, it would have been a pleasantry. But Selina heard a curious edge in his voice.
“I missed fun,” she noted with a twinkle in her eye.
“Considering your bizarre ideas of fun, possibly.”
Then he switched to their sign language:
˜˜Harley Quinn.˜˜ ˜˜At first, I was worried.˜˜ ˜˜I thought, maybe payback for what you did to Joker.˜˜ ˜˜I tried to get back here to you.˜˜ ˜˜But it was like she was blocking me.˜˜ ˜˜Made it easy to steer her into harm’s way.˜˜
Selina chuckled. Unable to sign back while holding the hot chocolate, she settled for asking aloud, “Any permanent scars?”
“No,” answered an unexpected voice, “But there is a worse injury still in store for her by nightfall.”
“Jason! You came after all!” Selina cried.
“Y-yes… and no. Actually, Selina, I did not realize you…” he looked to Bruce, then back to her, “…were together.”
“But you know Harley Quinn’s scars aren’t permanent. Jason, you need to get that second sight tweaked.”
Bruce cleared his throat. “I didn’t realize you two knew each other.”
“You know what you need tweaked,” she teased.
“Bruce, if I might speak to you privately,” Blood said. Cassie was still at the grandstand, so Selina wandered over to join her. When she was gone, Jason resumed, “You know, of course, that she’s Cat—”
“Of course,” Bruce answered soberly.
“And yes. She knows. About me.”
“I wasn’t about to ask that.”
“Jason, I may not have known you and Selina were acquainted, but I did know the vendor shortchanged the man in blue. I know you were burning to ask. Now you don’t have to. I also know this isn’t what you came here to talk about.”
Jason took a deep breath, deciding whether to share his knowledge or keep silent.
“Another of the costumed children is here. Poison Ivy, I believe. Red hair, odd complexion, not the enchantress she thinks she is.”
Bruce glared a dangerous glare.
“Where is she?” he growled, shifted instantly in Bat-mode.
Jason seemed to think, then said: “I don’t know. She was at First Aid with that unfortunate creature that loves the madman… But now, I can’t quite…”
I’ll hunt her, Jason,
If you’ll set me free.
I’ll find you the vixen
Of the Poison Tree.
“It’s nothing, bit of a headache. Etrigan took an instant dislike to this woman. He is fire and malice. Green, growing things are not something he particularly enjoys.”
Druids are to blame!
Cult of trees, and rites of wood!
We should have set the world aflame,
Before your kind brought down the neighborhood.
Once Earth belonged to Demonkind.
No stench of Man did land pollute.
’Til wretched trees made air refined,
And then could life like you take root.
So, no, “green growing things”
Are not to Demon’s taste.
I’ll gladly spew ten thousand stings
To see the curse-ed blooms laid waste.
And if no bloom or tree be seen
To feel my wrathful breath,
The druid witch who worships green
Can taste of fiery death.
Poison Ivy was mad with burning rage. Hollywood claptrap or not, she would unleash an army of trees upon these games and that horror of a man behind them. He spurned her! Impossible! No man could resist her. How could that… that… that… AAARRRGGGHHH!
“Excuse me, dear, I don’t wish to intrude, but you are clutching that bayleaf rather… emphatically. Herbs are living things, you know. And even if you don’t care about that, well, this is a business, after all. If you bend it, you bought it.”
“You tell ME plants are living things! You say I DON’T CARE about that!” Poison Ivy intended to build her outrage into a crescendo’d “HOW DARE YOU!” but only managed to sputter when she realized she was choking the life out of the bayleaf.
Miriam simply watched this with a terse, tight-lipped expression and picked up several plants from the herb display. At first, Ivy thought they were valuable specimens the woman was moving away from her grasp, but then she returned holding a small glass vial.
“Here. Sacred Glen for attuning to natural elements, Dragon’s Blood Resin and Flax Seed for converting negative energy into increased power and will for invocations, and chamomile because you need to calm yourself down. Together with the bayleaf you destroyed, that’s $47.95.”
To be continued...