Hong Kong… fifteen hours later…
“Robin… Much as I love our private missions together, just the two of us, can you just clarify one itty bitty little thing for me?”
Stephanie Brown, the current Batgirl, eyed the two well known assassins on either side of them as they walked down a long hallway in the high rise building they’d landed on just a few minutes earlier. “What the hell are we doing here?”
“I told you in the jet,” Robin said crisply. “I need to speak to the leader of the Council of Spiders, and I need someone I trust to watch my back.”
“How do you even know who the leader of the Council of Spiders is?” Batgirl asked. “Ever since the Wanderer was found dead in Saudi Arabia several years back, no one’s been able to figure out who took her place. All anyone knows is that they go by the name Sicarius.”
“I know who it is.”
Batgirl looked at Robin with surprise. “And how do you know?”
“I make it my business to know.”
She glared up at him. “I hate it when you play cryptic with me. It wasn’t cute when you were ten, and it’s not cute now.”
Robin and Batgirl had arrived in Hong Kong a handful of hours earlier, the trip from New York significantly shortened by the super sonic jet Stephanie had borrowed from his father’s collection. Over the course of the entire trip, though, Damian said absolutely nothing about his reasons for going to Hong Kong on such short notice, despite Stephanie’s burning curiosity. He talked about New York, the gallery, and the pizza. He didn’t reveal anything about Tim Drake or Neal Caffrey.
He convinced himself, through logic of course, that if she knew the truth, she’d be compromised emotionally and wouldn’t work to the best of her ability. She and Drake were very close, once upon a time after all.
However, when logic was set aside, what was left was the fact that here he was, finally at a point where Stephanie didn’t look at him as just a kid or jail bait anymore, and a ghost from her past had just returned to life. All the training in the world couldn’t prepare him at all for the complexities of dealing with being in love in this kind of abnormal situation.
But then again… When has being in love with a costumed vigilante while being another costumed vigilante yourself ever not been an abnormal situation?
Batgirl looked to the front of them at the assassin named Wolf who was leading the way, then shifted her focus to the rear where the hulking form of the tarantula-like Goliath was following close behind. “Do you honestly trust these guys to take us straight to their leader, just like that, without trying to stab us in the backs beforehand?”
“Oh I know they have all sorts of death dealing devices aimed at our backs,” Robin said. “But I trust that fear of getting on their leader’s bad side far outstrips their desire to see either of us dead or maimed. If she didn’t want us here, they’d have already made the attempt.” He glanced back at Goliath, the mutated human who sported a spider like face and several extra sets of arms. “Am I right?”
All four of Goliath’s pupilless eyes narrowed dangerously. However, he didn’t make any other threatening moves towards them. The older assassin in front of them wouldn’t allow it.
“Calm yourself, Goliath,” Wolf ordered sternly, not even bothering to glance back at his companion.
When she felt the menacing aura behind them dissipate, Batgirl was both impressed and uneasy. “Your leader sounds scary,” she said conversationally.
Wolf of course, didn’t answer. He just kept on walking, but not for long. They’d finally reached their destination. The four of them stood before a set of closed double doors, like the entrance to a boardroom.
“Sicarius will see you now,” Wolf said. Robin moved forward, but when Batgirl tried to follow, two of Goliath’s massive harry arms blocked her path. “Not you,” Wolf insisted. “You will wait out here.”
Stephanie frowned behind her mask. “Excuse me?”
“Sicarius will see only him.”
“It’s alright, Batgirl,” Robin said as he grasped Stephanie’s hand, squeezing it reassuringly. “Just wait here for me, please.”
“Great,” she said with a roll of her eyes, snatching her hand away from his. “So while you get to talk to the mysterious queen of the spider people, I get to be baby-sat by the hired help?”
Goliath growled something barely intelligible, but Wolf shook his head. “We have other duties to attend to. You can entertain yourself just fine on your own.” And with that, the pair of them turned to head back to the elevators.
Batgirl glanced around herself, noting the hidden cameras around the hallways and entrance. “Are you sure you want to go in alone?” she whispered as she casually fiddled with her hair, using the movement to also put the listening device Robin had slipped her just then against her ear. It was a small black disk the same color as her cowl.
“No matter what you hear,” Robin whispered back just as softly, “Keep your composure and record everything that comes out of her mouth. This information is vitally important. We can’t leave without it.”
Batgirl frowned. “What did you and Nightwing find in New York that’s so important that it requires all this?”
Robin turned to face the door. Behind his mask, he closed his eyes. “I promise I’ll explain everything on the flight home. Just… please trust me?”
Stephanie blinked at him. It wasn’t often that Damian made a request like that so sincerely. “Alright. Just be careful, okay? If you need me to bust in there, fists a-blazing, just say the word.” She smiled at him. “I’ve got your back after all.”
He nodded, then opened the doors just enough to slip inside. What had once been an executive board room had been converted to an exotic throne room in an Arabian style. It was illuminated by multiple oil lanterns that gave off an all too familiar aroma to the teenage hooded vigilante. Standing at the far end of the room, he caught sight of a lone female figure who was gazing through the massive windows that overlooked the cityscape of Hong Kong below. Damian reached up to remove his mask, but kept his hood in place.
“It’s been a long time since you’ve darkened my doorway, Damian.”
“Not long enough, Mother.”
A relatively short chapter, compared to the others, but a major player in this tangled web has finally been revealed.
For those of you White Collar fans who aren’t too familiar with the Batman universe, Damian’s mother is a woman by the name of Talia Al Ghul. She is one of the daughters of Ra’s Al Ghul, was a former lover of Bruce Wayne, and has a complicated relationship with all the men in her life.
In this story, over the past seven years, Talia has been a busy woman. She broke ranks with her father some time ago and forcibly took leadership of a group of assassins named the Council of Spiders. This is a group that has been at odds with the League of Assassins for a number of years. Red Robin even fought against them before his disappearance.
Her alias within the group, “Sicarius,” is inspired the full scientific name of the six-eyed sand spider “sicarius hahni.” It’s a spider which lives in the deserts of Africa, is a relative of the recluses, and is said to be one of the deadliest spiders in the world, with a venom so potent that even today no anti-venom exists for it. The genus name “sicarius” also means “murderer” in Latin.