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The Spoiler's Diary:
Nightmare World
Chapter Two

by Sean Taylor

The only sky I could see was dark and almost solid. Wherever we were, all the color had been sucked out of the place with a giant upright Hoover. "Well, Toto," I said to nobody in particular, "We're not in Kansas, anymore, are we?".

"Steph! Get down!" I ducked, recognizing Robin's voice even though I couldn't see him anywhere. The darkness hadn't yet allowed my eyes to adjust, and everything was shadows and noise. One of those noises swooshed where my head had just been, and a loud crackle sounded a few feet ahead of me.

"Robin! Damage!" I felt my way over the bodies of what I guessed were the gargoyle things, determined to let my eyes adjust before jumping into the battle. Besides, my butt was killing me from the unexpected landing on the hard pavement. I'd definitely carry a few bruises home with me when this was over, but only if I could find my way back home from wherever it was that giant straw had sucked us to.

I'd only made it a few yards when someone grabbed my arm and pulled me down. I swung quickly, but missed, and a second hand pushed me to the ground and covered my mouth.

"I told you to stay put." Robin's voice came out in a gruff whisper, in between a series of deep breaths. He moved his gloved hand from over my lips. The fight must have pretty much drained him.

"Well, you know me. All work and no play." I tried to rise, but he pushed me back down, falling across my chest as another crackle split the air above us.

"Do you have any idea where we are?" He spit the words into my ear and rolled off me. "Any idea at all?"

"Well, I don't see any smiling, happy people around, so it can't be Gotham, right?"

"This is no time for your sarcasm, Steph. This is serious." He rose to a squat. "Unless I'm mistaken, we're on Apokolips."

I raised up myself -- thrilled to find that my eyes were beginning to adjust -- and followed as he moved among the unconcious demon-things toward a barely standing, wreck of a wall a few yards away. "A-pock-a-what?"

"Ssshh," he whispered, grabbing my hand and pulling me forward. We crouched behind the unconscious figure of a particularly large gargoyle soldier. A new battalion of twenty or so others ran by, not noticing us. "I bet they're heading to where Damage is."

With my vision working again, I studied the wrinkled, lizard-like face of the soldier beside us. "Ugh. What did you say these things were?"

Robin leaned forward, and said in a hushed tone, "Parademons."

"Ask a stupid question . . ."

"Parademons are Darkseid's soldiers," he said, ignoring my remark. "Specially raised to serve Darkseid's wishes, and that usually includes death."

"I take it that this Darkseid guy is the bad guy, then."

"Sure, and Hitler was just a common thug." He checked to see if any other soldiers were coming, then led me to the broken wall. "This will give us a few seconds to get our bearings."

"So, tell me about this Darkseid guy. Is he as bad as the Joker?"

"I'd rather face an army of Jokers than see Darkseid's shadow. Apparently, he's some kind of evil god who thrives on the destruction and misery he can cause."

"Even worse than the Baffler?"

He didn't answer.

"I was just trying to lighten the mood a little."

He grabbed my shoulders and leaned in with a glare. "Look around you, Steph. Do you see any light?"

I shook my head.

"And don't wait for daylight either. This is it. All there is. Dark and misery and death. You should have listened to me and stayed in Gotham." He was quiet for a long while, and simply peered around the wall. "I wish I could see what Damage was up to," he said finally, "and I'd give anything to know what Darkseid wants with him."

In a moment, the sounds of fighting stopped. We waited for a eerily long time as some guy who looked like a fairy tale prince walked slowly into the middle of the battlezone. Behind him were a scrawny guy in a monk's robe and two of the parademons dragging the limp form of Damage.

"We have your friend, and I can assure you that you'll fare no better than he." The prince guy laughed loudly, then continued. "Come, boy. Surely you're no better warrior than the one called Damage. And you see how quickly he has fallen before the skill of Kanto, Lord Darkseid's master assassin."

"Not exactly the latest in assassin-wear, huh?" I whispered.

Robin ignored me, and continued staring at Damage. "He's still alive," he said. "At least barely. His breathing is slight, but regular."

"You can see that from here?"

Still no answer other than a reminder to shut up before I got us both killed.

Kanto continued. "I know you're here, boy. I saw you arrive in the boom tube with the others."

"Stop gloating, fool, and find them." The other guy, the one in the monk suit, stepped forward and lowered his hood. His scrawny build didn't scare me, but his face was another matter entirely. It was the kind of face that made nightmares have nightmares, wicked and wrinkled, with a permanent sadistic grin. "I want them to learn how our Lord Darkseid deals with those who would obstruct his will."

"Boy," Kanto yelled, "If you wish to remain in hiding, I will personally see that you are delivered back to your instructor one piece at a time. You and your masked friend."

How did they know about Batman? Or even that he and Robin partners? What else did they know? Stephanie Brown, I said to myself, what have you gotten yourself into this time?

"Troop leader?" Kanto called out.

One of the taller parademons stepped forward. "Sir?"

"Tell me," said Kanto, pulling a short blade from his belt, "What was your mission?"

"To capture the one called Damage, and to bring him back to Apokolips."

"And did it include bringing two stray dogs as well?"

"No, sir."

"So you failed, then." Not a question, I noticed, but a statement. "And what does our Lord Darkseid demand of failure?" Kanto tossed the blade to the parademon. I could swear he was grinning from ear to ear as he did.

The soldier stood tall and straight. "For the glory of Darkseid," he said and plunged the blade deep into his chest. He stood still for a moment, then rocked slightly, then fell onto his back with a dull thud.

Kanto walked forward, rested his foot on the soldier's chest, and pulled the blade out. "You still think you can escape, whelp? Against even the mindless loyalty of Apokolips' elite? Come out, and I promise to make your death quick and honorable. That is my fairest offer." He wiped the blood from the blade off on his coat.

Robin popped a small earplug out of his belt and shoved it into my hand. "Take this. If you get back to Earth, use it to contact Oracle. Tell her to get the Justice League or some of the major leaguers."

"Robin . . . What about you? I'm not -- "

"Yes you are." He motioned for me to keep quiet, then turned away, and squatted as if he were preparing to jump. "When I say run, you run. Okay?. As fast and as far as you can."

"But . . ."

"Promise me, Steph."

"It's Stephanie. Steph sounds like a six-year-old."

"Okay, Stephanie."

I promised without having to say a word. One look was enough. His scowl softened, and he mouthed the word, "Thanks."

But our moment ended when Kanto's yelling continued. "Very well, whelp. We'll play the game your way. But, I want you to know that when I find you, your death will not be quick or honorable. And you'll watch as I kill your friend first."

"Now!" Robin leaped into a flip, landing about twenty feet or so in front of Kanto and the monk. I ran as fast as I could down the dingy, black street. Behind me I heard the sharp crackle of a laser blast, followed by two more just like it, then the loud laughing and cheering of the crowd of parademons. For a moment, I contemplated turning around, trying to rush in and save the day. But who was I kidding? With Damage and Robin out, what chance did I have? I'd have gone down faster than the ratings of an all-male Baywatch episode.

Read Chapter One

Read Chapter Three