Lightest of Nights: A Deck of Minds
An Act's Close
A burning sensation in Conan's legs heightened with each stride. How much time passed since the discovery was made? How much time remained before the deadline? Those very thoughts ran through his mind.
"I can't fail.. I won't."
After making a left turn around a large tree the exit was now in sight. "Almost there!" Conan pressed himself further, feeling the urge to collapse with each step. He willed himself through the exhaust and sharp sting in his legs. With a leap toward the finish line Conan launched himself past the doors. He then looked to his wrist to find the timer had come to a complete stop. He had beaten the buzzard by twenty six seconds. "I.. did it."
Conan immediately fell to the comfort of the grass, gasping for air as he managed a smile.
"Shinichi, do you copy?" Batman radioed. "The countdown has seized, did you make it out with the bell?"
Conan tiredly raised the bowtie to his lips. "I'm never running that fast again." That all but confirmed the questioned.
Not a second later a certain person chimed in on their success.
"Three for Three!" Riddler dispatched. "In no way in my right state of mind would I have imagined all six of you would survive the opening act without casualty."
Batman spoke his name. "Riddler."
"Tell me, in what frame does the end begin before the beginning?"
"Enough riddles Nigama. Where is she?" Batman asked. "Where is Ran Mouri?"
"Tsk, tsk, tsk.. for is it my secret that you wish to learn? Let us be fair," Riddler said. "If I am to reveal my secret, you'll have to do the same."
"What are you talking about?"
"My, my." Riddler chuckled. "Have you told your partner? Does Detective Kudo know your secret?"
Hearing this Conan sat up in position. "What is he talking about?"
"What indeed," said Riddler. "Go on now. Why don't you tell him, I'm sure he'd love to know just who it is he has been collaborating with for the last handful of minutes."
"I know what you're trying to do, it won't-" Batman said only to get interrupted.
"I only wish to lay it all onto the table," Riddler responded. "All cards in the deck. So, what do you say Dark Knight?"
Where to begin? The Edo River is thirty seven miles in distance, something Damian was aware of. If she was truly traveling through the river somewhere, how long would it take before he would find her?
"Yo Robin, coming at you with an update," Nightwing happily radioed.
"This better be good," Damian responded.
"I looked into the situation regarding the helicopters that were dispatched to overlook Kaitou Kid's heist, the heist that obviously got interrupted."
"Here's the thing. Each helicopter is identified by code, represented in the form of a number," Nightwing explained. "I don't know if you noticed, but located on the left side of each helicopter is where a printed number can be found."
"And which helicopter do you believe is the one Nigma is currently piloting?"
"At first I was stumped," Nightwing admitted. "But then I came across something."
"Helicopter number six was supposed to be inactive tonight, due to repairs that were to be made on it," Nightwing informed.
"And let me guess, it just so happens to be flying the friendly skies tonight?"
"Right on," Nightwing confirmed.
"That means we know where Riddler is." Damian was absolutely pleased. "Next will be formulating a plan for apprehending Nigma without him realizing we're onto him."
"Got any catchy ideas?"
"We'll find a way," Damian put in short. "Unless you have something else to bring to my attention, I have an important matter that needs my full devoted focus."
It was only then that he heard the loud sound that could be heard in the background. "Hey, what's that noise?"
Damian was clueless as to what he was talking about. "You'll have to be more specific Grayson."
"That grumbling sound," Nightwing clarified. "Just where the heck are you?"
"Oh, that." Damian realized what he was referring to. "It's the speed boat."
"Speed boat..?" Nightwing paused. "Wait, what speed boat?"
"The one I'm riding now," Damian conveyed.
Suspicion arose. "And where did you get a speed boat from?"
"I borrowed it," Damian declared.
Nightwing chuckled. "Borrowed?"
"I'll return it in the shape I found it in," Damian assured.
"What are you doing with a speed boat for anyw-"
Damian interrupted. "Have you already forgot, the Mouri girl is traveling down the Edo River somewhere. That is where I am now," Damian informed. "If you weren't aware the Edo River is thirty seven miles wide. I don't think a canoe would be sufficed for the situation, thus why I've opted to a speed boat."
"How much ground have you covered?"
"A mile and a half, give or take," replied Damian. "I'm in current en route to Ichikawa. That is where the Edo River will empty into the Tokyo Bay. This entire river is flowing in that very direction."
"You're on your 'A' game today," Nightwing complemented. "If Ran Mouri is truly traveling along the Edo River somewhere there is no way you can miss her. Keep your eyes peeled. Good luck, Robin."
Now with all distractions aside Damian's full focus was on the river itself. He leveled up in speed, flowing in perfect tune with the waves beneath. "Where is she?" That very thought weighed heavily in mind. He kept himself centered as best as he could, looking from one side of the river to the other. There was nothing in sight. A minute passed, then two. "I wish I knew what it is I should be looking for."
Soon after posing that very question Damian caught eye of something in the distance afar, a large object floating along the river as he did. "What's that?" There was only one way to find out. Could it be that he had found the sought? His heart now raced with anticipation. Putting the speed boat into full throttle Damian charged forward. "Only one way to find out."
On the rooftop
Batman stood stone still, unsure of how to respond to the posed.
"So what's it going to be?" Riddler further pressed. "A trade off, bread in exchange for iron, your secret as well as mine. A conclusion can't be made without-"
"This is non-negotiable," Batman shot down. "I will find her and you as well. There's an empty cell waiting for you back at Arkham."
"You speak as if you're in control, as if you know what is to come," Riddler said. "Tell me, how does the blind man fail to find his way through the lost forest when the exit is right behind him?"
There was a long pause. "Perhaps it isn't the exit he seeks," Batman figured.
Riddler groaned. "No, no, no! You're looking at it all wrong."
"I'm done playing games Riddler," declared Batman.
"Question is.. whom is it that is choosing to play games?"
"Ohh, you didn't think I would realize that you're stalling?" Riddler stated.
Conan who had been listening in the entire time finally chimed in. "Stalling? Stalling for what?"
"What indeed," Riddler said. "If I had to take an educated guess, I'd say it has something to do with one of his freelance sidekicks."
"Sidekicks?" Conan did not know what to make of these comments.
The next second someone else joined in on the conversation. "It's over Riddler, I've found her," Damian dispatched. "You've lost."
"Her?" Conan thought to himself. "Is he referring to Ran? Furthermore, who is this guy?"
The sound of clapping could be heard coming from the Riddler's line. "Excellent work, though I must note that you're roughly a minute late from the time I predicted you would reach this point," Riddler stated.
"I know where you are, you've been keeping tabs on everyone from the sky," Damian revealed. "You're in helicopter number-"
"Six, yes," Riddler confirmed.
Upon learning this Batman immediately looked to the sky to find several helicopters were now heading in the direction of the rooftop he, Kogoro, and Kaitou Kid stood upon, none of which were helicopter number six. "They're coming."
"I'm sure you've noticed by now that you've got incoming company Dark Knight. As much as I'd like to see how it all plays out, I must put in my timely leave," Riddler said. "Until next time, yes?"
And with that Riddler's communication line cut off. Batman looked over his shoulder to find Kaitou Kid was now gone. He wasn't surprised in the least.
"Is it over?" Conan radioed.
Batman responded. "Yes."
The helicopters overlooking the city continued to close in on their location. It didn't take long for Kogoro to notice as well. "What the hell is going on?"
Batman took a step forward, placing a foot onto the edge of the building. "It's over," Batman relayed.
Hearing this Kogoro made a move toward him. "My daughter? What about Ran?"
Batman looked to him for a final time. "She's fine detective, an ally of mine has assured her safety." Batman conveyed. Kogoro sighed in relief. "There is one thing I'd like to ask of you."
Kogoro looked him in the eyes. "What is it?"
"Everything that happened on this roof tonight involving Kaitou Kid and myself, it never happened," Batman stated.
"What do you mean it never happened?"
"Goodbye detective." Batman looked to the distance afar.
Kogoro raced over, witnessing as Batman glided off into the night. He was at a loss for words. Not a moment later a bright light shined down upon him. Kogoro looked up to find the several helicopters hovering above. There was now a sense of relief. Question was.. was it truly over?
Eleven Hours Later
The room was silent. Only the subtle sound of the steam rising from the cup of hot tea sitting atop the desk was heard. What exactly had happened the night before? The details of it all were still that of a blur. The sound of a knock at the door came a moment later. Leaning back in the chair Kiyonaga invited the visitor in. "You may enter." A familiar face stepped in past the door. "Sato, you're here."
"And with an update," Miwako reported.
Kiyonaga was pleased to learn this. "What were you able to uncover?"
"How do I put this?" Miwako stopped after reaching the desk.
Kiyonaga waved a hand. "Why don't you have a seat?" the Superintendent offered.
Miwako nodded. "Thank you." Now seated, she proceeded. "As you know I have been investigating all parties that were on the list I formulated in regards to the drug that hit the streets."
"And what has your investigation amounted to?"
"A prime suspect," Miwako replied. "If you can even call it that."
Kiyonaga didn't know what to make of her words. "What are you trying to say?"
"Sunshine Aldor," Miwako said. "That was one of the names on the list of suspects that I gathered. I went in search of Sunshine-san last night."
Kiyonaga leaned forward, placing his hands to the top of the desk. "And?"
"Aldor Sunshine doesn't exist," Miwako finally revealed. "At least, that's what appears to be the case. According to the online file I found on him it was said he worked at a Fun Entertainment Inc. building located here in Tokyo. Last night I went to visit his office."
"He wasn't there," Kiyonaga guessed.
"That's right. Not only that, the office room he was supposedly occupying didn't exist either," Miwako continued. "I spoke with the clerk who was working at the front desk last night, according to her there isn't an Aldor Sunshine employed there, nor has there been in the past."
"Could it be that Aldor Sunshine simply works at another one of the FEI buildings?" Kiyonaga questioned.
"I looked into that very possibility before I came in. There is no Aldor Sunshine working for Fun Entertainment Inc. Not here, nor at any of the other facilities located throughout Japan."
"I see." Kiyonaga rested his chin atop his hands. "What a dilemma this is."
"There was also a small house registered to Aldor Sunshine located here in Tokyo."
"Have you visited it?"
Miwako nodded in confirmation. "No one answered when I visited last night, nor when I returned there early this morning."
"I take it you would like to get a search warrant?" Kiyonaga assumed.
"One of many reasons I'm here," Miwako confirmed.
"I will see to that," Kiyonaga assured.
"I couldn't ask for anything more."
"Unless you have more for me; you're dismissed."
Miwako nodded before standing back to her feet.
About halfway across the room Kiyonaga called to her. "Sato, one last thing." She faced her superior once more. "Good work."
"Thank you sir." And with that she advanced onward, closing the door on her way out.
Kiyonaga turned in his chair to where he was now looking out the window. "First that drug, then that Riddler character last night. Just what the hell is going on in this city?"
Friday! The end of the school week had finally arrived. It was just the two of them, walking side by side.
"You have barely spoken since you came over this morning," Haibara said. She could see the look on his face, the deep intent in his eyes even. He was in the process of trying to solve something. But what? "Shinichi?"
Hearing his name Conan finally responded. "Sorry," he replied. "I have a lot on my mind."
"The Riddler.. the identity of the man I was paired with, the game itself," replied Conan. "I have so many questions."
"The good news is it's over," Haibara said. "And above all, no one got hurt."
"Is it really?"
"Is it truly over? The Riddler was not apprehended. Who's to say he won't strike again at some point?"
"Do you believe he will?"
"I do. Last night was just the beginning."
Several silent filled moments passed. "How long will Ran remain at the hospital?" Haibara asked.
"I don't know," Conan admitted. "She has yet to awake, not since she was found on the side of the river last night."
"Who was the one to find her?" Haibara was curious.
"It was a call in," Conan informed. "From an anonymous caller. When the police arrived on the scene there was no one there but Ran."
"Hmmm. That's rather suspicious," Haibara noted.
"I take it detective Mouri is currently at Ran's side?"
"He is," confirmed Conan. "It's strange though."
Haibara looked over, now with an enquiring look on her face. "By what do you mean?"
"What was the point of it all? What was the Riddler hoping to accomplish with that game of his?" Conan still didn't know what to make of it all. "All that set up.. for what? Everything ended so abruptly."
"It's like you said, last night was only the beginning."
"The question is, how and when," Conan said. "There is something else. Oji-san's statement that he gave to the police last night while we were at the station, it was strange."
"Starnge?" Haibara questioned. "How do you mean?"
Before he had the chance to respond the two would be interrupted.
"Hey guys, over here!"
Looking across the way the two spotted their friends who were clearly waiting for them.
"Looks like we'll have to put this discussion on hold," Conan said.
They found themselves in the company of the others soon after. "It's about time you guys showed up," said Genta.
"Have you guys been waiting long?" Conan asked.
"Almost six minutes," replied Mitsuhiko who checked his watch. "We still have over fifteen minutes before class starts, so we'll be ok."
"Let's go!" Ayumi said cheerfully.
"You seem pretty happy," Conan noticed. "Do you have something special planned for the day Ayumi-chan?"
"We all do!" to which Ayumi replied.
"What? We do?" Conan was uncertain for what it was she was referring to.
"Today is Friday," Ayumi reminded. "And also show and tell day."
"I completely forgot about that," murmured Conan.
"You forgot, didn't you?" asked Haibara who came to Conan's side.
"Of course not," Conan lied. "How could I?"
"Come on guys," Mitsuhiko directed with the wave of his hand. "Let's get going."
"Right behind you," said Genta who was the first to follow.
And with that their day was now underway. As they pressed on there was another matter that came front and center to Conan's mind. "There's still the fact that Kaitou Kid decided to hand over the Elephant Revenant to me. But why? What could be the reason?"
It started with a right turn, followed by a left. Soon the combination was realized in full. With the lock now disabled he stood to his feet. "Opening this door will send out a signal to the GCPD, we'll have anywhere from three to six minutes before they arrive. So we'll need to move swiftly. Everyone got it?"
"Just open the damn safe," another said in response. "Let's get the money and hightail outta here, the longer we mess around the higher the chance we'll encounter you know who. Besides, we still haffta make plans for the next bank we bout to hit up."
"Yah, yea, I hear ya." He turned back in the direction of the door only to hear something drop down to the ground from behind. "Now what?"
Turning around he along with everyone who stood in rank with him came to lock eyes on a dark figure hiding among the shadows across the room. There was no doubt in their minds who it was. "Batman!"
"We can do this the easy way, or the painful one," the voice of a woman conveyed.
"The hell? That aint the bat. Who are you? Show yourself!"
"You're in no position to give orders," she replied.
"It's eight against one, I like our odds."
"But I am not of one," the woman declared. Following this more figures appeared within the darkness of the room. "We are many, ghosts of this world."
"I don't care who you people are. Alright boys, light em up!"
Several miles away
The hand on the clock turned, signaling the passing of another hour. It was now eight o'clock. Soon it would be time to venture out into the night. He now sat at the chair in front of the large super computer, all collected information had been gathered into one file. The only thing that remained to do was to piece it all together.
"What was Nigma doing down in Japan? Was his entire purpose for being their completely tied to his game? Or could it be more.. could it be that the spread of Crane's toxin was also part of his doing? And then there's the Royal Flash Gang, what did they want with Kaitou Kid?"
Those very questions carried on through his mind. The sound of someone approaching from behind came in those following seconds. Turning in his seat he came to find who it was. "Nightwing, Flash, thank you for coming."
"It's been a steady in Central City all evening," Flash noted. "Taking a short leave shouldn't cause for too much concern."
"Batman, what is it?" asked Nightwing who advanced forward. "Have you figured something out?"
"Work in progress," Batman replied. "The details involving yesterday's case isn't entirely why I have summoned you both."
"Ok, consider me surprised," Flash admitted. "If you didn't call us here to discuss the Riddler, then why are we here?"
Batman turned in the chair to where he now faced the two entirely. "Because this matter might concern you both just as much as myself."
Both Nightwing and Flash looked to one another before looking back down at him.
"Excuse me?" Nightwing questioned.
Batman would now elaborate. "Barry, do you recall when this all started?"
"Well, of course," Flash replied. "The moment the Riddler showed up at detective Mouri's agenc-"
Batman interrupted. "No, it began before that."
"What, before? Are you sure?"
"Central City," Batman said. "That is where Scarecrow's toxin was being produced, the batch that was ultimately shipped to several parts of Japan."
"You're right," Flash said. "I almost forgot about that."
"Could it be that Riddler's appearance in Japan is tied to Crane's toxin?" Nightwing questioned. "Is it possible?"
"It can't be coincidence," Flash said. "The Riddler, Scarecrow.. there has to be a connection to make."
"Any guess to what that could be?"
"If there is a connection to make, we will find it." Batman was certain of this. "I said you both are involved in this just as much as myself, and not just the two, but the other three as well."
"Other three?" Nightwing questioned. "As in the guys we were paired with electronically during Riddler's fun game?"
"Yes. Detective Mouri, Kaitou Kid, and myself were all targets from the beginning," Batman pointed out. "The moment the both of you and detective Kudo picked up those communicator devices was the moment you became just as intertwined in all of this as the rest of us. We can't shy away from the possibility that you two might specifically be a part of the Riddler's ultimate plan going forward."
"You know the Riddler better than anyone," Flash said. "What do you believe he is planning?"
Batman gave the only answer he could. "I don't know, at least not yet." Pivoting in the chair all focus fell on the computer. "Before I called the two of you here I put together a timeline for every action the Riddler made within the last three days."
"And let me guess, you think you might have an idea for what Riddler's next move will be?"
Batman replied. ".. Maybe." He proceeded from there, opening a file on the screen for all to see. "Prepare yourselves gentlemen and ladies alike; the end of this will bring about the closing to a prologue. That was the closing line of Riddler's last announcement to the public."
"What of it?" Flash questioned. "Do you think there is some relevance to that line?"
".. Prologue," Nightwing said. "That is the key word. If yesterday was a prologue then there is certainly more to come."
"Ok, but what?" Flash wondered.
"The pieces are all here, we just need to put them together," Batman said in response. "There is one thing in particular Nigma asked of me that seems to be the most telling."
"Let's hear it."
"Morning, day, and night. Can you name three consecutive days without using the words; Sunday, Saturday, Friday, Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday, or Monday?"
"What was your response?" Flash asked.
"Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow."
"And what did he say in response?"
"He claimed the answer I gave was incorrect," replied Batman. "Figuring out the true answer could be key to determining what the Riddler plan's to do next."
"Something we can all agree on," Flash said. "Another thing we should take into account is the theme of these proceedings, a mirrored misdirection. For all we know something like that could still be in play for whatever he is planning next."
"Something I am accounting for," acknowledged Batman. "There was something else Nigma said that has been on my mind."
"And what's that?" Nightwing asked.
"In what frame does the end begin before the beginning?" Batman ran down. "There is no doubt in my mind he was hinting at something."
"Question is, what?"
"I do have something else I do wish to ask, since we're semi on the subject," Flash said.
Batman took a moment to look away from the computer. "What is it?"
"Ran Mouri, the daughter of the detective," Flash said. "Where was she anyway?"
"Floating along the Edo River inside of a coffin," Nightwing revealed.
Flash was surprised to learn this. "A coffin? Now that's unexpected. Where is it now, in the hands of Tokyo's authorities?"
"They are unaware of the coffin," Batman said.
"You don't mean.."
"Yes, when I returned from Japan I brought the coffin back with me," Batman confirmed. "It is currently in my evidence lab." Batman then turned focus back on the computer.
Flash crossed his arms over his chest. "Why am I not surprised? So, did the coffin hint at anything? Did you discover something that might tell us where the Riddler is or when he might strike next?"
Batman responded. "Nothing that could be made out from the naked eye. I'll have to run some further tests to be sure. On the subject of the coffin, Riddler knew Ran had been found before Robin even reported it over the communicator," Batman said. "My guess is that Nigma installed something inside of the coffin which allowed him to know when someone opened or came near it."
"Which gave him the opportunity to hightail out of there before anyone could get the chance to get the drop on him," Nightwing said. There remained only one thing to enquire. "So.. what happens from here?"
Batman stood up from the chair with only one thing to say. "We prepare."
The sound of a step echoed through the room, then another. "Someone's coming," Flash noted. "You expecting more company?"
"No, I'm not."
The three of them looked into the direction of the stairway to find a dark figure approaching. "I hope I am not interrupting anything," someone spoke.
Batman recognized the voice immediately, watching as they stepped into the clear. "Batgirl."
"Batman, we have a problem."
To Be Continued