Welcome to the oldest planet in the universe. It doesn’t have an actual name and does it really need one with a title like that? It’s simply a planet sized corpse drifting through the void, scarred by seismic catastrophes and bruised by lakes of broiling magma. This provides more than enough light and heat, given that its sun burnt out millennia ago. To think this once held life that built great monasteries and citadels to honour their time-old civilisations.
Today, it’s the largest possible murder weapon.
The murderer and witnesses? Well altogether there’s Seventh Self, FutureHH, Womble, Joker and myself. You join us all atop a steep cliff, overlooking one of the many seas of lava and noxious gases. I wanted to christen this black/orange mass the ‘Hellfire Lagoon’. Joker since named it ‘Firefly’s Discharge.’ Oh, and let us not forget the four victims of course, or else this becomes an utter failure of a field trip. The four Robins, Batman’s companions at one point or another, currently lashed together and the closest to the edge overlooking the smoking sea of eternal flames.
Quite a good spot for an existential crisis, wouldn’t you agree? Because I don’t even know who I am anymore. My Pause() ability was enough of a shockwave to remove my inner demon, but now I’m more worried about the damage it left behind. My mind feels heavier, fuller, as if I’ve been sharply awoken from a deep sleep. Something else has been woken up as well, and it completely terrifies me, because I think I know what it is.
If anyone wanted to turn me into a murderer, they could just force me to do it as I believe was the inner-demon’s original plan. The alternative is to break aside my centuries of mental repression and identity redevelopment, and unleash the other side of me, the one that’s perfectly happy to kill these four before me.
The side of me before I came HH.
It’s funny.* Once you’ve done it once, you can never imagine yourself not a killer. Rather like being ill, in that respect. I guess no matter how hard I’ve tried, I can never forget the man I was. The man’s who trying to come back.**
“Tell me that I walk away from this. Tell me that everyone leaves, together, and never look back. Tell me what I do.”
“What you always do.” The disappointment in his voice is unavoidable, like several more weights dropped on my shoulders. “Blame it all on your past.”
I actually wince at his words. After his attempted life-changing visits, here I stand. I have some true disappointment coming when I get to his age. Blame it all on your past. Is that what he does? What I’ll do? What I’m doing…
…”Womble? Why are you crying?”
He turns, and for a brief moment in…time (whatever relevance that still has)…his face changes. Less scrap-heap challenge, more religious-hipster-with-a-long-glowing-stick. Noble, perhaps, with a touch of Lucas.
“…you have allowed this dark lord to twist your mind, until now, until now you’ve become the very thing you swore to destroy…”
Errm- what? This is new. But Womble is deadly serious, and stares hard at Seventh Self like a librarian who’s discovered the source of all the bent books. Words tumble from his mouth like an avalanche, gathering momentum, becoming colder and more furious with every sentence. I try to catch Future HH’s eye, but he seems just as confused as me. I guess I’ll never find out why THIS happened.
“I have failed you…I have…failed you…failed you!”
Womble’s body is shaking. Even Seventh seems uneasy now, as any living entity would when it’s faced with something currently pounding on the secret red button labelled “FOR EMERGENCIES ONLY”, and it’s only getting worse. The space around Womble is blurring; a prime symptom of something bad about to happen.
“You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the tides, not join them!”
“What tides? Womble, what are you-?”
“You were to bring balance, not leave it in darkness!!!”
“WHAT ARE YOU ON ABOUT?”
This, finally, seems to do it- sort of. Womble looks at me, his eyes a toxic shade of violet. Future HH moves, ever so slightly, in the way a lion shifts its weight before leaping to attack. Whatever rage was in Womble has receded, but I’m not liking the Look in those eyes one bit. Pure hunger, as eternal and merciless as a gaping maw- and yet still Womble, somehow, stripped of everything that held it down.
“You really are lost…” it whispers, gobbets of hissing black ichor trickling through fangs that appear for the briefest second…before Womble’s face suddenly drops, and reverts back to his previous bemused expression, just as if the last five minutes never happened. He appears shaken, as I imagine anyone would after experiencing the mother of all hunger pangs, but at least his shadow is in the right place and his eyes aren’t glowing. Good. Phew.
Collectively, the rest of us let out a sigh of relief, and Future HH attempts to look as though he wasn’t moments away from using some concealed device that he really hadn’t wanted to use. I aught to call him up on this- did he forget? Can we forget? Keys aside, because that’s merely a symptom of owning keys…hmmm…
Y’know, between all of us, we’re starting to make the Joker look like a double glazing salesman. Me, Womble, Seventh Self…
…who is still playing the part of the walking war memorial. Looks like he’ll be saying four more names, very soon.
…blame it all on your past…
……is there any distinction between a new idea and a divine hope? Because right now, I’ve got one real bad.
I drag Seventh Self up towards the four Robins and the cliff edge, and face him.
“Hey, Seven. Listen, and repeat after me: Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Damien Wayne.”
All four named watch me, their eyes a mixture of fear and uncontained hatred. Not the first time I’ve experienced that Look/Glare.
“Dick Grayson. Jason Todd. Tim Drake. Damien Wayne.”
“…Geigerise…Zeller…Dick Grayson…Jason Todd…Tim Drake…Damien Wayne…”
His listing-off finally takes a pause. I watch his face, see things slowly clicking into place. His aged gears shift, thoughts cross his mind and return back again, one plus one must equal two…and then his eyes light up. He won’t become HH, not for a while, and to him the Silent Plains War is only a few years gone, now. What comes next will be all too easy for him. Like an addict facing four particularly inviting needles.
Then he moves, descending on the four-man-group like Death itself. Each of them makes a noise of protest, struggles against their bond, even gives me another Glare…
Four of them fall…
And in moments, it’s over.
Joker reaches the cliff edge first, cackling and howling in his ecstasy, pointing down at something I’m not going to look at. Seven shuffles off to re-join FutureHH’s side, now no longer chattering his list of names. Womble watches me. I try not to show anything in my face, try not to reveal to him that part of my mind is now bristling with grim satisfaction. I attempt to feel remorse, guilt, pity, anything. But am rather drowned out by the other side to me.
A white hand and purple arm snake around my neck; Joker pats my head with one hand and wipes away a tear with the other. “Oh hoh, you make quite the psycho! The venue, the victims, and after all that build up, you pin it all on somebody else! Remind me to sit next to you at parole, you’re making me look good, kiddo.” He knocks a fist against my chin.
“Enough,” mutters FutureHH. He waves a hand and Joker evaporates.
“Back in his cell in 2015, laughing hysterically. Moving on.”
“So what happens now? What’s going on in my head?”
He instead turns to Womble. “I told HH, before we all came here, that he will need you here. That is correct, for a moment that is to arrive very soon.” I can see that he’s fixed his ‘eyes-made-of-galaxies’ stare onto Womble, who hasn’t even blinked in return. “He will need your help. But given what you’ve just witnessed, when – if at all – you choose to help, I leave entirely to you.”
I step towards him. “Hey! You may enjoy playing the high and mighty role, but let’s not forget, you did exactly the same thing. Remember what you once said about ‘history and hypocrisy’?”
His ‘gaze-of-a-billion-stars’ then turns on me. “Correct, we have now both committed the same offence. But what comes next taught me a valuable lesson and like or not, you’re going to suffer the same fate as well.”
“Your call, Womble. I’ll be seeing you.”
And with that, my future and Seventh selves evaporate together.
Leaving just Homeless Helper and Womble, to completely revolutionise the meaning of the word ‘awkward’. The silence is deafening.
Fortunately, it doesn’t last very long. In this grand scheme of insanity, Ned (or whoever’s calling the shots around here) pushes another piece forward on Life’s Chessboard. A four-legged beast bursts out the semi darkness, latches itself onto me and drags us both down towards the same fate as the four Robins.
Womble finally blinked.
“Why…do I get the feeling you’re going to be the death of me?”
*Not har-har funny, despite how much the Joker has been laughing it up since we arrived. Each tear, each whimper from any Robin and he goes into A Death in the Family monologue mode.
**Ever wondered how the Rapture Mask and Chompy managed to dominate my consciousness? Easy when there’s a contained, deranged war veteran in there just itching to open the door to them.
~ * ~
Congrats, you’ve reached the end of our 150th post so far! Rather suitably, its also the first post to which both HH and W have contributed. Separate or combined, the madness never stops.