BATMAN: DEMON KNIGHT, CHAPTER I
Another night, another murder in Gotham City.
The white lenses in Batman’s cowl lit up, as he began scanning the crime scene. An elderly man found dead in his study. Given the man’s age it would have seemed an unremarkable story, as the victim was clearly not long for the world, but the multiple stab wounds told a different tale.
A tale more remarkable than Batman could yet fathom.
The study would be better described as a small library, one much older than it’s resident. Volumes upon volumes of dusty tomes rested upon the shelves, stacking all the way up to the ceiling. Across the victim’s desk were scrolls of ancient-looking parchment, elaborate quills, and and half-spilled ink. The walls not obscured by towering bookshelves were covered with beautiful Renaissance artwork. One particular painting caught the Caped Crusader’s attention: an Arthurian depiction of a knight on horseback, clad in entirely black armor.
Pulling his attention away from the painting, Batman examined the victim more closely. Upon seeing the man’s face, Batman couldn’t help but let out a small sigh. He touched the side of his cowl, contacting Alfred back in the Batcave.
“I’ve identified the victim,” said Bruce, “Professor Alastair Blake.”
“Pardon me for saying sir, but it seems as though you are somewhat familiar with Mr. Blake…”
On the desk next to the parchment, an open book displayed a rather grotesque image of a winged and horned beast, equal parts male and female, sitting in a cross-legged position. Baphomet.
“I’m familiar with his work.”
Removing a device from his utility belt, Batman scanned Professor Blake’s wounds. Data readings from the scanner appeared on the computer monitor in the Batcave. The aptly named “Batcomputer.” Taking a seat in front of the large screen, Alfred pressed several buttons.
“Running an analysis, Master Bruce.”
Seamlessly, the results were transferred back to Batman’s cowl.
“The incision patterns of the stabs wounds are highly distinctive,” said Bruce. “They match a very particular weapon…”
“The Sword of Azrael,” said Alfred, concluding the thought.
Azrael. The so-called “Angel of Death.” Enforcer and assassin for a cult-like secret society known as the Sacred Order of Saint Dumas. Upon even closer inspection, Batman noticed a small mark above Professor Blake’s heart. A brand, burned into his skin. A six-pointed star within a perfect circle. The Seal of Solomon. An insignia of the Sacred Order.
Bruce was familiar with the Seal. It was the symbol of King Solomon, the Biblical figure, a figure to whom a great many myths and legends could be attributed. The Sacred Order of Saint Dumas was a radical splinter faction of the Templar Knights, who were also once commonly referred to as the Knights of Solomon.
“The killer wanted to send a message,” said Batman. “Not just to Blake, but to whoever discovered him. The Sacred Order was responsible for this. It’s not just a murder. It’s a warning.”
Wayne Manor. Three days later.
Just shy of noon, Bruce Wayne rolled out of bed. He was greeted by the aroma of coffee beans emanating from the piping hot cup on the end table next to him. Still feeling exhausted from the previous night’s activities, Bruce was especially grateful. He lumbered across the bedroom and drew back his curtains, flooding the space with blinding light. If one listened closely, they could almost hear a faint hiss coming from the Dark Knight as the daylight struck his eyes.
Morning robe on and mug in hand, Bruce made his way down the spiral staircase to Wayne Manor’s entry hall where he was greeted by his trusted butler… and a pair of uniformed officers.
“Had I known we were expecting a visit from Gotham’s finest, I would’ve had Alfred prepare more of this coffee.”
“Already taken care of sir,” said Alfred, “a coffee contingency plan as it were.”
Bruce shot Alfred a sideways glance.
“Now if you would be so kind as to follow me into the lounge.”
Alfred turned sharply on his heel, leading Bruce in their guests through a door on the left side of the entry hall. The lounge was filled with an assortment of expensive furniture, a cozy stone fireplace, with a bronze bust of Bruce’s late father, the distinguished Dr. Thomas Wayne, displayed prominently on the mantle. Somewhat irritated by the grandiose display of wealth, the officers sat down on the sofa as Bruce situated himself across from them in his favorite recliner. In the background, the sound of the butler pouring two more fresh cups of coffee could be heard.
One of the officers Bruce recognized from his other line of work, with his fading red hair, distinctive mustache, and otherwise grizzled features, it was unmistakably Captain James Gordon. One of the few cops Batman knew he could depend on. Trust Gordon though he did, the maintenance of his secret identity was still paramount. As much for the Captain’s safety as his own. Alas, it seem fated that while Gordon would respect and admire Gotham’s Caped Crusader, he would hold the man behind the cowl in thinly-veiled contempt.
“A few nights ago, a man named Alastair Blake was was found dead,” Gordon informed Bruce. “He was murdered-- thank you, Alfred.”
Gordon accepted the cup of coffee as Bruce did his best to feign surprise at the news.
“Well I’m sorry to hear it, Captain Gordon, but I hardly understand what that has to do with me, said Bruce. “If I’m being accused of something, I can assure you that I have an alibi for all of last week…”
Gordon’s partner raised an eyebrow, Jim’s expression was unchanging.
“Her name was Gabriella. She’s French… or was it Italian?”
“Here’s what this has to do with you,” said Gordon, unamused. “Just before he died, Professor Blake sent a letter. A letter addressed to one Bruce Wayne. Last I checked that’s you.”
“You know what… I think it was French.”
Gordon trudged forward. “The GCPD intercepted the letter before it could be delivered.” Reaching into his pocket, Gordon pulled on an envelope. Sure enough, the name Bruce Wayne was scratched across the envelope in messy handwriting.
“In addition to the regular postage,” said Jim, “the letter is stamped with a peculiar symbol.” As he turned the envelope over, Bruce already knew what was coming. A six-pointed star within a perfect circle.
“Ever seen it before?” asked Gordon.
“Not that I recall.”
“It’s the Seal of Solomon. Blake had the same symbol burned into his skin when he was killed.”
“You don’t say…”
Gordon handed the envelope over to Bruce, eying him suspiciously. “Open it.”
Following the officer’s instructions, Bruce removed the letter from the envelope. It was a piece of old parchment, not dissimilar from the parchment Batman had seen on Alastair’s desk. Bruce turned it over to see that the parchment was covered in a random array of symbols and alphanumeric characters. Very cryptic.
“When I knew the professor,” said Bruce, “it was quite a long time ago. We shared a few similar interests and would discuss them occasionally, but I’ve never seen anything like this…”
“The GCPD crime lab ran every conceivable test on that parchment. There’s nothing. No hidden writing. No hidden messages. Our best cryptographer couldn’t make anything out of the gibberish on it.” It was clear that Gordon was frustrated.
“If Alastair died recently, he would have been pretty old,” said Bruce, “and he was eccentric even when he was young. I hate to say it Captain, but I can’t help you. I’m afraid nobody can. These are clearly the senile scribblings of an aged scholar.”
“I find that to be highly unlikely,” replied Gordon. “...However, since the GCPD could not find anything with the letter, it’s yours now. We were hoping that you’d be able to at least glean some personal meaning from it, but clearly our hopes were misplaced. It was our last shot.”
“Again, I’m sorry Captain,” said Bruce, “I just don’t deal in symbols and secrecy. And I can’t say I’m much of a detective.”
“Good day, Mr. Wayne,” said Gordon, tipping his hat, “and thank you for the coffee, Mr. Pennyworth. We’ll see ourselves out.”
Bruce watched as the police cars peeled out of the Wayne Manor courtyard, down the winding driveway to the gate at the end of the grounds. As the officers left, Bruce’s expression immediately changed. Still clutching the cryptic letter, Bruce sat by down in his lounge chair and flicked on a lamp, running the letter carefully through his hands, gently grazing each symbol with the tips of his fingers. He held the letter close to his face, catching the scent of the ink with which the symbols and numbers were drawn.
“Shall I meet you downstairs, sir?”
Getting up from the chair, Bruce approached the fireplace where the bust of Thomas Wayne stood proudly. He pulled back the head, revealing a hidden button. He pressed the switch, setting off a chain reaction of clicking gears, as the fireplace slowly shifted over the side. A secret passageway. Without speaking, Bruce entered.
“Very well,” said Alfred, following suit. “To the Batcave then.”