Author's Note: Gremalkyn is mine, all MINE! All other characters in this chapter belong to DC. No money made, just for fun, etc.
Barbara Gordon had bathed and dressed for the party. Her green evening gown sparked in the light of her apartment as she applied the last of her cosmetics. Slipping on her shoes, she awaited her escort.
True to form, her date was right on time.
"Excellent timing, Short Pants."
Richard Grayson looked magnificent in his tuxedo and cummerbund. His cologne was slightly musky and Barbara could tell that he had gotten his hair trimmed since last they met. They rode the elevator to the ground floor, and Richard helped her get her wheelchair stowed in the back seat of his car. They chatted and teased each other as they made their way to the home of their friend and mentor, Bruce Wayne.
He had to wait behind two other cars before he could get close enough to the front door. Wayne's gentleman came out from the house to assist them in getting Barbara into her chair and up to the house. While Barbara did not really need the help, she was in the mood for a bit of pampering.
"Good evening, Miss Gordon, Master Grayson. Master Bruce will be pleased to see that you could attend, after all."
"Good evening, Alfred. Dinah and I decided to quit while we were ahead."
"Quite a lot of cars, Alfred. Heavy turn-out?" Grayson surveyed the driveway, lined on both sides with an assortment of vehicles. He noticed one more arrival: a sleek, black sports car, probably Italian.
"Indeed, sir. In addition, several guests had the foresight to be 'dropped off,' as it were."
"Probably a good idea." They entered the dwelling.
The party was in honor of Wayne Industries' new members of the Board of Directors and the new Vice President for Corporate Security. Most were Gothamites, but a couple were new to the city, including the security fellow. Countless guests mingled in the foyer and wandered the vast mansion unattended. Barbara and Richard greeted those nearest the door, and thus missed the entrance of the gentleman who drove the Italian sports car.
"May I please see your invitation, sir?"
"Of course." Gremalkyn produced the document.
"Very good, sir," responded Alfred once the new arrival had been checked against the guest list. "And, if I may be so bold, sir, welcome to Gotham." They shook hands, much to the surprise and delight of Alfred.
"Such a proper fellow," Alfred said to himself as the guest headed off.
Sighting his host, Gremalkyn strode into the foyer. Barbara gasped as he passed; he ignored the sound. The gentleman in question reached their host, Bruce Wayne. He made his introduction, and Wayne seemed genuinely pleased that Gremalkyn was in attendance. Bruce made to show Gremalkyn around.
Barbara tugged on Richard's sleeve like an excited child.
"What?" inquired Richard.
"That's the man who got off the plane with the Joker this afternoon."
"'Missile Man?' That's just great."
She stared at him. When he happened to glance down at her, he noticed.
"How did you know about that? About the missile?"
"Bruce told me. I just assumed..."
"Ooh," Barbara uttered in a most displeased tone. Bruce and Joker's buddy headed for the punch bowl. She was about to roll after them when she heard Alfred's startled remark.
Alfred backpedalled from the entryway as the hulking figure approached.
The guests nearest the door turned to see what had so unhinged the butler. Their momentary annoyance and embarrassment on behalf of their host gave way to panic as...
"Solomon Grundy here!" bellowed the giant. He looked around and smiled. Then he reached for Barbara.
Gremalkyn's countenance changed utterly. That the creature existed at all would have been sufficient cause for his displeasure, but it was now attempting to spread its malevolence towards a woman in a wheelchair. How dare it! HOW DARE IT! Such an abomination should not be suffered. WOULD not be! A small voice in the back of his mind spoke; the voice he always heard when THEY wanted him.
"Hades Protocol in effect," it said.
"I obey the directive," he whispered.
Among other things, those assembled would later speak of the moment when the curious guest appeared to be in two places at once. Gremalkyn stood ready, then simply was no longer where he had been.
Grundy -- and the witnesses -- were taken completely by surprise. Gremalkyn's flurry of punches, kicks, and tosses had nearly removed Grundy from the building. Only the act of Grundy catching the door jamb kept him from being ejected altogether.
Furious, he unleashed his own assault; Gremalkyn ducked, weaved, and countered his way clear. Until Grundy got lucky.
Ribs shattered as Gremalkyn's chest collapsed from Grundy's powerful blow. Hurled through the air, across the foyer and past several on-lookers, Gremalkyn struck the wall with sufficient force to do it, and himself, considerable damage. He lay motionless in a silent heap upon the floor.
Since the tragedy that had placed her in the chair, she had studied the Escrima fighting style. She habitually mounted two steel fighting sticks as part of her wheelchair. She now thrust both sticks into Grundy's knees. The giant staggered.
Their conflict took on the appearance of a well-choreographed dance; Barbara with flashing steel, Grundy capering about, each trying to get the advantage. Richard, for his part, dodged around the pair, seeking an opening. He could not risk Barbara by pulling her out, and she was doing well enough that he could not get in close enough to strike.
Not until Grundy took hold of the back of Barbara's wheelchair and flung it -- and her -- away. She landed hard and skipped along the floor, coming to rest near the wall. Richard, momentarily distracted b his concern for his friend, was easy prey.
Grundy threw Richard as a weapon at Barbara's prostrate form. Years of training and experience allowed Richard to put his feet under him, but he was unable to counter the momentum of the throw and, though he managed to avoid causing additional harm to his date, he still slammed his back against the wall.
Since he was looking down at Barbara to see if she was injured, her look of surprise and her attempt to pull his feet back out from under him were completely foreign. What was she doing? She twisted the one Escrima stick she had retained and Richard fell to the floor. She flung herself onto him, her back against his chest, her arms at full length skyward.
The portrait was large, heavy and, typically, falling corner first. Barbara caught it before the corner could break her ribs. It was too awkward for her to push up and squirm out from under it, so she held it in place for a few moments.
"You wanna help a lady here?"
Richard, startled back into action, tried to help her lift the portrait.
"I can't get out from under it," she said. "Just push it over."
He did as he was instructed; the portrait clattered to the floor. He held her for a moment, then helped her to sit against the wall.
"Why didn't you just yell or something?"
"I couldn't take the chance you wouldn't just look up as a reflex."
"Thanks," he whispered, then kissed her lightly.
"Wish we could," she began.
"Grundy," cursed Richard in a low tone.
"See to the crowd, Boy Wonder. Batman..."
Bruce Wayne reached the two. They both looked at him with incredulity.
"I couldn't get through the crowd, so I..." He was distracted by a movement to his right.
Gremalkyn's form had twitched. An arm was slowly raised. A rude gesture was made in the direction of Solomon Grundy. It did not go unnoticed.
"Grundy finish pretty man!"
Gremalkyn chuckled and wheezed an obscenity.
"Be silent, abomination!" he hacked. "We shall not suffer your continued existence." Gremalkyn then focused his thoughts on his desire to rid the world of the monstrosity that was Solomon Grundy. As he was presently under commission, he knew his request would be granted. He intoned his plea in the language of the ancient Greeks.
"Hades! Hear me and know my cause to be just!"
There came from within Gremalkyn a pulsating blackness. His bones knit, his organs healed, his lacerations sealed. As he rose, his form altered.
"Dispel Illusion," he intoned in a deep voice. Where the appearance of a man had stood, there now was a figure on-lookers would later call a were-cat. Gremalkyn was covered in shimmering black fur. His roar was most remarkable; it sounded like that of a great cat, but filtered through a computer to produce something not quite like a natural sound. With long tail twitching, fangs and claws were evident as he pounced on Grundy.
The scene was hideous. Women fainted and men screamed. The reader is spared the details of the battle.
Gremalkyn performed a graceful back flip from Grundy's mangled and staggering form. Landing silently in an upright stance, his right forepaw was encompassed by the same blackness that had healed him. The Panther of Hades grasped the face of Solomon Grundy; Grundy, unable to respond, was bathed in the blackness and disappeared into a darkness so intense it temporarily stole the sight from those who bore witness. Gremalkyn also had departed; the sound of a vehicle speeding down the drive could be heard.
"I don't get it." Barbara was wholly confused. "He's best friends with a monster like the Joker, but he'll rescue a woman in a wheelchair from another kind of monster?"
Richard tested Barbara's wheelchair and found it sufficiently sturdy. Both gentlemen helped her to sit, then Bruce left them and returned to his other guests.
"What do you mean, 'he told you'?"
"Excuse me?" Richard was obviously confused.
"About the missile. You said that Bruce had told you about it."
"Well, yeah. I mentioned to him that you had asked me to give your partner a ride home, and he told me about it. When I spoke with him over the comlink, he said that he was aware of your situation and that he would give Dinah a ride home. What I assumed was that she told you about it when he picked her up."
"The other guests are leaving."
"Who was that guy? You seemed to know him." Richard had started his investigation.
"Gremalkyn Lionmane. One of the new Board members. New money, from what I can tell."
"He got off the plane with the Joker," informed Barbara. "He... he's..."
"'Missile Man,'" offered Richard. Barbara just nodded.
"I know. I was there when they got into the limo. I was going to stay closer than I did, until I saw Canary. I let her take the lead and then I tailed her."
"Bruce, did you give Dinah a ride home?" Barbara was growing concerned for the welfare of her friend and partner. So much about this case just did not make any sense.
He immediately understood the importance of the question.
"No. I was still testing Artemis' perimeter. When I saw her get into another car, I assumed you had made alternate arrangements."
"What kind of a car was it?" She was slowly building to a panic. Only her years of professionalism allowed her to retain her calm. For now.
"Italian. A black De Tomaso Pan--"
"...Tera," finished Richard, rolling his eyes. "I saw one pull in as we arrived."
"And 'Pantera' is Italian for 'Panther.'"
Barbara shook. The look of dread that corrupted her otherwise beautiful face wholly unnerved Richard.
"Oh, my God," she whispered. "He has her. Joker has Black Canary."