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The Spoiler's Diary:
Nightmare World
Chapter One

by Sean Taylor

Gotham City didn't have many slow nights. But this was definitely one of them.

I'd followed the Boy Wonderful from rooftop to rooftop for the past hour, and hadn't seen the first sign of any action. Usually, the streets and alleys were full of the legally challenged, ready to rape or murder at the drop of a hat. But not tonight. Nada. Zilch.

At least I had the satisfaction of spending some quality time with the only guy I knew who could look good in green and red super jammies. Well, as much quality as I could get from hiding in the shadows, tailing him. I'd been out to clear my head -- not even to patrol, really. It just seemed so much easier to think with the blue and purple tights on. Not that I was looking for any action. Or at least I tried to convince myself that was the case. Regardless, when I saw the familiar colors swoop through a double somersault onto the roof of the library, I couldn't resist the urge to tag along.

Just in case he needed me, of course.

Something was bothering him tonight. Something in his motions gave it away. Sure, all the style and grace was there, as always, but even without seeing his face, I could tell his heart wasn't in it. Maybe it was the way he lingered on the heads of the gargoyles that overlooked the city, more like his buddy, the king of the prune juice scowl. A few times I almost decided to catch up to him. Maybe one of his come-on-Steph-this-is-too-dangerous-for-you lectures would help take his mind off his worries. But in the end, I opted to play it cool and be content to follow from a distance.

He stopped on the far corner of the City Hall building, then dove Olympic style straight down toward the waiting streets. I ran as fast as I could, knowing that all he needed was a few seconds out of my sight, and I could lose him for good. And then what would I do for entertainment?

I peered cautiously over the edge, expecting to see him perched on the tip of the flag pole or something, but he was nowhere to be found. A few cars sped by down below, and some of Gotham's nightcrowd kept themselves busy trying not to look like they were operating the world's oldest profession. But no sign of Robin.

A hand on my shoulder nearly scared me over the edge.

"Hi, Steph. I thought you'd packed up the spandex."

I responded without turning around. "And miss our wonderful dates?"

"Dates?"

"Okay, evenings together. You know, you and me, keeping Gotham crime-free under the light of the moon." I paused. "How long did you know I was, you know, following you?"

"Since the beginning."

"And you let me play tag-along all this time."

"Play? This isn't a game, Steph."

I turned around and poked him playfully in the chest. "You're not going to lecture me again, are you?" How could he resist bait like that? I poked again. "And while I'm in costume, it's the Spoiler, remember?"

"Look, Steph. You can't just run around at night getting your jollies by following me around. One day, you might get seriously hurt." His face gave away his concern, but that wasn't all it showed me. Something was really bothering him. Something more than my joining the spandex club.

"And one day, you might learn to relax." I let him pull me away from the edge, and I gave him a quick peck on his cheek. Anything to get him to smile, at least a little one.

"Steph!" he said as his cheeks brightened to match his outfit. It was moments like these that made me appreciate the fact he didn't wear a full mask.

"Still having girl troubles, I see." He tried to make some comment, but I interrupted. "So, what's on the agenda for tonight? It seems kind of slow so far. Even the Dragons are laying low."

"And what's wrong with a slow night every now and then?"

I sat on the edge of the roof. "You know what I mean." I crossed my legs, still feeling the burn from the afternoon's workout. "Where are you heading? Hopefully not to meet up with Bat Brooder."

"Not tonight," he said, glancing away, back to the burbs side of town. No defensive comment about how I'd misjudged his mentor. Whatever was bugging him must have been a doozy.

"No, really, " I pressed the point, "You've been talking to that phone person again, haven't you? Keeping all the good stuff to yourself?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" he asked without facing me.

I was over at his side in an instant. "Oh, come on, Robin. I really need something tonight. I'm so desperate for something to do, I might just bust dad out of jail anonymously and then recapture him."

Finally, he softened, and turned again to face me. "Okay, but only if you promise to play by my rules. Understand?"

"Sure."

"And you'll do exactly as I say?"

"Don't I always?"

He didn't answer. Instead he asked again. "Exactly as I say? Or no deal."

"Yes, sir, Mr. Robin, sir. I'll be a good girl." He almost smiled. It always amazed me how he could resist the old Spoiler charm for so long without cracking.

"I know I'm going to regret this, but okay. Here's the deal. I got word that Damage was going to be passing through Gotham sometime tonight."

"He's the guy who got kicked out of Georgia, isn't he?" What a break, I thought. A real heavyweight. And if I recalled correctly from the pictures on the news, he wasn't bad on the eyes either.

"Trouble does seem to follow him around. Anyway, he's just supposed to be passing through while he changes buses, but even an unlikely possibility of trouble is a good reason to be concerned when he's around."

"Then maybe I ought to follow him around at night. It would be more exciting than this."

He glanced back over his shoulder at me, sending me one of his patented I'm-not-even-going-to-try-to-respond looks.

I grinned as demurely as I could. "Unless you'd get jealous, of course."

He stepped onto the edge again and cast his rope to the ledge of the next building. "Come on, Steph -- Spoiler -- the bus station is only a few blocks away."

Without another word, he swung silently through the stark Gotham night. He even made it look easy.

* * * * *

The bus station was mostly empty, as usual. Not too many people consider Gotham the vacation spot of choice. The few that do visit usually come on business, and stay only as long as they have to. Anyway, there were only a few people hanging out either in or around the station. A woman with two boys. Some guy asleep on a bench. Two guys arguing at the payphone. Some lady ranting about how the end of the world had passed us by and we were doomed worse than before.

"That's him," Robin said, pointing to some scrawny guy getting a snack from a vending machine.

I squinted to make out the figure a little better. "How can you tell?"

He looked at me with a cute -- cocky, but cute -- smirk, and didn't answer.

"Okay," I said, "What do we do now?"

"'We' don't do anything. Just watch him, that's all." He turned again to keep his eyes on Damage. "And as soon as he's on the bus and out of here, then I'm going to escort you home."

"Such a gentleman. Always concerned about my curfew."

For a long while, neither of us said anything, just crouched on the rooftop across from the bus station, watching Damage devour a bag of chips. I watched, trying to get a better look at his face, but it was too dark where he was sitting, and the streetlights cast a wicked glare on the station's window. As far as I could tell, Damage was just any other kid in jeans and t-shirt trying to skip out of Gotham and maybe head to the brighter skies of Metropolis.

I caved first, unable to take the long silence.

"What's bugging you, boy wonder? You've been nursing a brood-on all night. What gives?"

He didn't turn his gaze. "Nothing."

"Right . . ."

"Look. It's not important," he said, finally turning to face me, "Just stay focused, okay."

"Yes, sir." It was obviously worse than I thought.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped like that. But it's my problem, okay. I'll be fine."

A few more moments of uneasy silence, then a loud boom brought us both back to reality.

"Robin, look!"

A giant hole opened up in the sky above the bus station, and at least twenty flying things in green armor filed out of it into the night. Almost in unison, they blasted through the large window, zooming directly toward Damage.

"What are they?"

"Trust me, Steph. If I'm right, you don't want to know." He stood up, preparing to jump from the ledge into the middle of what was turning out to be quite a rumble. "Oracle," he said to nobody in particular, "We've got a squadron of parademons at the bus station." He paused. "Yes, in Gotham, and I know how crazy this sounds. Fine, just get me some backup. I think they're after Damage." Then back to me. "Stay here, Steph. I mean it."

"But --"

"STAY HERE!"

Then he executed a graceful triple flip, landing a solid kick on one of the armored guys before twisting back into a perfect landing. In a flash, he had his stick out and was swatting green guys left and right, trying to cut a path to where Damage was holding his own against ten or so of the green guys.

The bus station was another matter entirely. Damage's first few punches had sent green guys through the walls and windows that had still been standing after the initial attack. What structure was left barely stood erect. No wonder this kid's name was Damage. If Batman left this much mess every time he fought, Gotham would probably run him out too.

Then I saw it. The wall the woman was using to hide herself and her two boys from the battle shook. I screamed into the roar of the fight for them to move, but I'm sure they couldn't hear me above the noise. Well, I tried to be good, I told myself, then threw my line to the closest standing building and swung down to lend a hand.

I had to duck a few times as green guys and concrete went flying over my head, but I made it just in time to push the lady and her kids out of the way as the wall collapsed behind me. When I looked up again, she and her kids were setting new sprint records out of the alley I'd pushed them into. At least they'd be safe, anyway.

I tried to stand, but couldn't. Part of the wall had pinned my cape. Just my luck. And as usual, it got worse. One of the green guys noticed my predicament (and my costume, no doubt), and ran toward me with his fists clenched in pounding mode. I closed my eyes and ripped at the neck of my cape, hoping desperately to rip it free before I was flattened.

But no blow came. No fists pounding me into a back alley pancake. Nothing.

Well, nothing, that is, except a pleasant voice asking, "Are you okay?"

When I opened my eyes, I saw Damage offering me his hand to help me up. He looked much larger and built than before. And he sort of radiated. No actually glowed, but sort of crackled with energy that I couldn't really see, but somehow knew it was there. I reached for his hand, only to see him blindsided by one of the flying demon things.

The force of the impact sent them both tumbling through the wall of the next building. After a moment of loud crashing sounds, the demon thing came flying back past me and smashed into a group of three others. Damage emerged from the hole in the wall looking even bigger than just a few seconds before. His physique was definitely jazzed beyond belief by this point.

He smiled, and threw himself whole-heartedly back into the fight. I turned my attention back to my occasional -- though not always cooperative -- partner. I was kind of surprised to see him still standing, not without his share of strain, but still standing. I mean, guys like Two-Face and the Shadow Dragons were one thing, but green gargoyles from wherever was way out of even his league. I could tell he wouldn't be standing much longer unless help arrived. Really powerful help, like Superman and the Justice League.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the fighting stopped. Another boom, another hole in the sky, and all the green guys all got sucked up into the air through the hole and started disappearing. But not only them. Damage and Robin were being sucked up with them. I tossed my line to try to latch onto one of the flying green guys. Wherever Robin and Damage were disappearing to, they weren't going without me.

My second throw succeeded in snagging one of the gargoyles, and with a sharp jerk, I was pulled into the air, dangling like bait on a hook. I almost let go, assuring myself that Robin and Damage could handle whatever they were being sucked into, but a quick look at Robin's limp form convinced me to hold on. Then came another loud boom, followed by an ungraceful, and painful, landing on the hardest, blackest pavement I'd ever seen.

I didn't know it then, but I'd entered the mouth of Hell.

Read Chapter Two