Batman: Demon Knight #2
By the time Alfred arrived, Bruce was already hard at work putting the mysterious letter through rigorous analyses using the Batcomputer.
While the central platform housed the massive computer monitor and state-of-the-art mainframe, the Cave itself was much more expansive. This was Batman’s base of operations, in every sense of the term. A data center, a crime lab, an armory, a garage... at times an operating room… the Batcave was multifunctional. Most importantly however, it was a home. More of a home now than the mansion standing on the land above it. Wayne Manor just hadn’t felt the same since the night Bruce’s parents died. Nothing felt the same. Nothing was the same.
In addition to the endless array of gadgets strewn about the Cave, Batman also housed some… interesting… souvenirs from his many cases throughout the years. Reminders. A giant penny, the Joker’s calling card, and a life-sized replica of a tyrannosaurus rex. However, the most important reminder of all was far less whimsical. A glass case containing the costume worn by him fallen protege, Jason Todd, formerly known as Robin.
“Am I correct in surmising that you were not entirely truthful with Mr. Gordon… or with myself for that matter… regarding your connection to Alastair Blake, sir?”
Bruce didn’t look up from the monitor, continuing to work as he spoke.
“In the years I spent traveling the globe, before becoming Batman, I studied under many different teachers, Alfred. Professor Blake was one of them.”
“I had suspected as much.”
“Blake was a scholar of ancient history, languages, and symbols…” Bruce paused for a moment, “and he had a particular fascination with the occult. Dark mysticism. The Black Arts. It was an obsession really.”
“An obsession, you say...” replied Alfred, looking around the Batcave.
“Blake was a conspiracy theorist. An avid one. He saw hidden messages everywhere…”
“He also left hidden messages everywhere.”
Though the GCPD had undoubtedly subjected the letter to intensive scrutiny, they were unsuccessful in locating such a message. Gordon had clearly remained unconvinced however, believing they had somehow missed something. Bruce was inclined to agree, and with Batcomputer’s advanced technology he was determined to find what the police had failed to see. Satisfied with his algorithm, Bruce finally turned away from the monitor and allowed the computer’s program to run.
“So what, exactly, did you learn under this Professor Blake?” asked Alfred.
Bruce looked back at the screen: “Analysis: 0.5% complete.” This would take some time, but it could never be said that Batman was not thorough. He faced Alfred again.
“I learned the importance of considering all possibilities...”
Kahndaq. The Middle East.
The dry heat in the Kahndaqi Desert made it damn near impossible to breathe. The Professor and I had been traveling for what felt like weeks on camels, and our supplies were beginning to run dangerously low. So far, we had nothing to show for our troubles. All we had come upon was sand. Endless sand in every direction. More than once already during the expedition I had wondered what the hell I was doing there, and the feeling was becoming more frequent with each passing day.
As we continued our journey the winds started to kick up, and I feared we were riding straight into a sandstorm. I covered my face with a scarf and pulled down my goggles as Blake urged that we push forward. Though the blowing sand I could see him consulting the map again, peering at it through his monocle.
“We’re nearly there Bruce, we’ll be able to find shelter in the canyon over this ridge!”
I could barely make it the words. The storm was getting worse. Quickly.
“What in heaven’s name were you looking for the Kahndaqi Desert, Master Bruce?”
An ancient burial site, belonging to a long dead vizier. And we found it in that canyon.
“So am I to add grave robber to your growing list of exploits?”
As we entered the old tomb I lit a torch, illuminating the drawings and glyphs that had been etched into the sides of the stone tunnel. As we pressed forward, the natural light from the tomb’s entrance had completely faded, and the the torch was our only means of sight. I was younger then, and had not yet grown accustomed to the dark. To say I was scared would be putting it mildly.
At long last, we stepped into the antechamber. In accordance with ancient Kahndaqi ritual, the vizier’s sarcophagus had been to laid to rest here, surrounded with the material riches he intended to carry on into the afterlife. As I swung the torch around they shimmered brilliantly in the light. The chamber was covered with gold coins, precious gemstones, and beautiful artwork. The sarcophagus itself was exquisitely crafted, an impressive piece of art in its own right. Not a bad place to spend eternity.
As I tried to get a closer look at the casket, I felt a crunch under my boot. A scarab beetle. Instinctively, I waved the torch near the ground, causing several more beetles to scatter and scurry away… through a small crack in the wall.
Professor Blake eagerly inspected the wall, then invited me to do the same. It’s structural integrity had been significantly weakened.
“Things are not always as they seem Bruce,” Alastair said. “If one looks closely enough… secrets may reveal themselves…”
A false wall, with something hidden on the other side.
“On the count of three then?”
Alastair nodded as we readied ourselves.
SMASH! I charged shoulder-first at the wall, breaking through the loosely laid bricks and kicking up a cloud of dust. Blake had pulled up at the last moment.
“Well done, Bruce.”
As the dust cleared I looked up and saw that we were in an even larger room, lined with monolithic stone statues. Demons. At the center of the room was an altar, or perhaps a shrine, either way it was clear we were no longer in a tomb. This was some kind of temple. As Alastair approached the altar, I couldn’t help but feel a creeping sense of dread.
Around the edge of the altar, more symbols were engraved, similar to the ones from the tunnel. Professor Blake ran his fingers over them, translating as he went along.
“Like a flame in the shadows,” Alastair whispered, “...wisdom illuminates truth.”
On the shrine sat an intricately constructed gold medallion. It was mechanized, like a dial, with two triangles of equal size pointed in opposite directions.
“Forming a perfect, six-sided star within a circle.”
Exactly. The Seal of Solomon. But with one key difference. At the center of the star there was an eye.
Alastair stared at the dial, a triumphant expression on his face. He had finally discovered what he had so long been searching for. This was the reason we had come to Kahndaq. His theories had been validated. Carefully taking the dial in his hands, Blake began to slowly rotate the two triangles until they completely overlapped. The triangles clicked into place, and the eye at the center opened, revealing a crystalline lens.
“The All-Seeing Eye…”
Suddenly, a rumble. I whirled around to see what caused it and watched with amazement and terror as one of the statues began to move.
“DEMONS!” yelled Alastair, as the statues surrounding us came to life.
Alfred could not help but interject, utterly perplexed by the absurd turn of events in Bruce’s tale. Seeing the butler’s bewildered expression, Bruce couldn’t help but smile.
“Forgive my skepticism, Master Bruce,” Alfred began, “but honestly... a cursed tomb? Mystical artifacts? Demons? Is it possible that you are actually developing a sense of humor?”
As amusing as Alfred’s frustration may have been, it was not the intent of Bruce’s story. More of a fortunate accident.
“It wasn’t a curse, Alfred,” he replied, “it was a booby trap. Removing the dial from the altar triggered the release of an airborne toxin. A toxin derived from a rare plant native to a Kahndaqi oasis. They weren’t really demons, they were hallucinations. Prolonged exposure would have driven us to suicide.”
“Quite a ghastly thought, Master Bruce,” Alfred said quietly.
“Quite. But I’m happy to say, that’s not what happened…”
I still remember the horrific, guttural screeches that seemed to echo throughout the tomb as the demonic creatures swarmed around us. With the wings and fangs of a bat, perhaps the demons had taken a form rooted somewhere deep within my unconscious mind.
Out of desperation, I reached into our dwindling survival pack, removing a small needle and vial. I was drenched in sweat, making the task of handling the needle rather difficult. I heard myself scream as I slammed the needle into my leg, injecting the contents of the antidote. A contingency plan. As my mind started to clear, I quickly removed a second vial from the pack, and injected Professor Blake with the cure as well. The room returned to normal, and I could hear the sound of the Seeing-Eye dial clicking back into its original position.
“Wisdom illuminates truth indeed...” said Blake, shakily getting up and brushing himself off. “Excellent work, Bruce. Always prepared.”
“So yes, Professor Blake did teach my the importance of considering all possibilities,” said Bruce, “but also the importance of applying logic and rationality to determine which of many possibilities is most likely.”
The Batcomputer’s analysis of Professor Blake’s letter was complete, but just like the GCPD it seemed as though the Dark Knight Detective had come up empty. Nothing could be found. Batman’s irritation was palpable, though he tried his best not to show it.
“And which possibility seems most likely in our current situation, Master Bruce?”
Bruce remained stoic.
“I need to suit up and head out.”
He abruptly got to his feet, heading for the armory.
“Might I inquire as to your destination, sir?”
“Gotham City Museum.”
“Suspecting a break-in are we? Miss Kyle perhaps?”
“Something like that.”