King takes King

April 03, 2017:

In the salt and sea-soaked underworld of the Dominican Republic's capital, a titan finds himself being stalked by a panther.

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

A seedy bar and grill, deep in the heart of Santo Domingo's underworld and slums.

Characters

NPCs: Esteban, guards, beggars and a rousing patronage.

Mentions: Batman

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

The Dominican Republic was a major transhipment point between the United States and South America for various commerce of finance, information, and illicit commodities, where foreign spies brushed shoulders with corporate accountants. Located on the east side of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles, this Spanish speaking culture, bound together by the Catholic Church's Spaniard Orders suffered from an overtaxed police force and an overbundance of smugglers, but the mutual traditions of charitable piety and mutual assistance kept this nation together while its neighbor to the west, Haiti, often saw grimmer fates of its governance. Today, a high profile member of a cartel from South America specializing in the production of a particular high test narcotic steroid, Venom, had come to meet with an important client.

Venom, a potent and unusual addictive steroid originally concocted by Gotham University's DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) facility for psychology, was typically traded in by third world dictators, unethical scientific sophisticates, and occasional so-called 'supervillains'. This client, Bane, was the most legendary customer, as the first successful test subject, the prison of his mind allowing him to completely adapt to Venom and allow safer, more flexible versions to be made later. But it came at the cost of his link to other human beings, the most famous, among pharmacologists, drawback to this particular narco-enhancement agent.

Along the night time coast of the capital city, Santo Domingo, there sat a restaurant that sold fresh fish, caught off the boats and cooked fresh for the various Dominicans that occupied the harbor hub of the island. An old Spaniard tended bar for a few sailors sitting there, while a pair of long suffering waitresses in their forties moved drinks and food from the bar and the lively kitchen, to an assortment of Dominicans sitting at tables around the dining area near the bar. And adjacent the kitchen was a door to the parlor, used by many sorts. There, sat a man with a Panama hat and a white suit, a cartel man, and two gringo mercenaries that had served in African wars over diamonds. They waited, quietly, for Bane, the man that broke the Bat.

*

Birnin Zana has historically had very little to do with Santo Domingo. It is to be expected, for Wakanda's isolationist policies, even neighboring countries in Africa knew very little about the mist-wrapped jungles that lay just beyond their borders. However, politics being what they are, it was not overlong before T'Challa became king that he had had occasion to receive a phone call from President Medina concerning the transition and, as always, the potentiality of more unified partnership.

Having to politely decline, it would seem a trouble for Wakanda to request certain informations of the country's law enforcement now. Which is, of course, why the panthers never bothered.

The trail had to do with sampling the aftermath of the attack in Gotham. The ground and sky provided, as it always has, and after certain liberated samples had been analyzed by technology that Danilo could only dream of, Wakanda's intelligence services had produced substantial information concerning the composition of the chemical known as VENOM. From there, there was only a certain number of pharmaceutical compounders in the world even capable of producing a viable and pure form of the enhancement, and even fewer who would be willing to do so discreetly. From there, it was only a few visits before the Panther found one with the scent of his target on him.

That's what brings the Panther, a man all swathed in black, to the capital. T'Challa had been brought here by philanthropic concerns, obviously-nothing too involved, as he had an appointment with a group of corporate concerns on the Terrigen Mists dilemma, a meeting which proved to be expectedly fruitless. The task set for another day. Instead, the Panther is brought here, to a place thick with the scent of the ocean and fresh fish. There is no entry that would not cause undue alarm immediately. The face of an African king, though hardly well recognized in distant countries, is still cause for concern, to say nothing of the night black weave he wears now. But he is a patient thing, sitting atop the building in a low prowl.

The man in the hat, the mercenaries who had entered earlier with the scent of old blood on their hands, they are not his immediate concern. Besides, there is little need for an immediate war with the locals. Building materials most favor even on the seaside are not an adequate baffle for his sharp hearing. Of course, in a world of gods, some tend more to paranoia than others. Of course, there are Wakandan means for that as well. Information, regardless. Lowering his body to the utmost so he can turn senses downward, the panther settles and waits, working to count the number of footfalls and the number of heartbeats in case and before entry becomes necessary.

*

The world of international narcotics production, particularly in a potent, highly dangerous, and risky to traffick commodity, such as Venom, is a tightly constricted labrinth of contacts and laboratories and corruption. Venom was no street high like one might find produced by a hustler with a chemistry degree from a state university and some street muscle posing as organized crime. Venom was a dangerous experimental steroid that produced a super soldier out of a super soldier, taking a literal overman or overwoman from a human peak of mental, physical, and emotional control, and turning them into a machine beyond anything the regular man could dream of. There were heroes such as Superman born with such gifts, or ones such as Batman that earned them, or ones such as Green Arrow that had a touch of Puck to grant the soul of such a being, but Venom created the more savage of these brothers and sisters of the sword.

And when a network that valuable was disturbed, it didn't take long for the cockroaches to scatter towards the darkness. Bane had heard that someone was after Venom, and had brought a special precaution to this rendez-vous. He brought his anticipation, a deadly weapon in the hands of a man such as he, a soldier produced in an steel forge, deep beneath the world of free men. For a prisoner, expecting a trap, could just as easily turn it about on the man that set it.

The easy way to approach the restaurant was from the front door, and the clever way was through the back. Both ways would be monitored, and if he chose the back, he would be trapped in tight confines. So it was the easy way, but ready to see the dagger poised over him in his sleep. Instead of his taxi taking him directly to the restaurant, he had been dropped off several blocks down. He walks down the street, in a thick brown trenchcoat with his Venom tubes tucked inside it, but still feeding into his head from his brace. He had only doffed his luchadore mask, the hulk of a man slowly moving through the road traffic of Santo Domingo, taking a direct linear route down the road towards the fisher's dive. The heat makes him stand out like a sore thumb, even more so than with his muscles and lion-ape gait. His Latin features are clear on his face, with broad facial features of Mestizo decent and black hair in an English widow's peak, swept back over his head and terminating at his upper neck. His chin is the one weakness on his face, soft and thoughtful instead of a lantern jaw. He keeps his head squared forward, letting his instinct guide him to any threat, as he approaches the bar from the opposite side of the street.

*

It doesn't take long for a man who can catch a scent from miles to ascertain the caution of the man who approaches the bar. Though the mercenary Bane has an extensive dossier from Wakandan intelligence, there is a difference between knowing the dossier and knowing the man. It begins there, in that moment, from just a scent he recognizes when the wind turns just right. T'Challa had heard that the man who had broken the bat was as intelligent as he was strong, and an abundance of caution would not have gone remiss even in a normal occasion. It is difficult to tell if it is a stripe merely painted on the boar.

Good.

There would be no point in engaging a man so easily read. The men inside present a potential concern, but the panther moves as if a man without fear. He was willing to wait for the opportunity to engage from the inside, but as the mercenary approaches the front, it presents a number of potential casualties the Panther is unwilling to entertain. Like a liquid shadow, he slips off of the building's edge, landing on the left-hand side, at the furthest corner to the mercenary's approach. He could have landed on top of a person's shoulders and they wouldn't have heard.

He moves slowly, tracking Bane across the road, slipping amongst parked cars and beneath the notice of street vendors, leaving no trace. He may not be able to be heard or seen, but there is a difference in the air, a sort of hyperreality that only a seasoned fighter could feel. The moment before the lion pounces. It will only take a moment, a moment out of sight, a moment between eyes. If one presents itself, the Panther will make his move, right there. If Bane realizes this, it may be easy to elude him for now. The traffic, the eyes… staying in the light is the way.

*

Bane knows little of the jungles of his home country, having been raised in prison. To be in prison is to always be in the lion's maw, and once one becomes a convict for long enough, one becomes immune to the feeling of being prey. One is always prey in prison. It is one of humanity's intentional systems, making a prisoner blind to being tracked by a hunter. However, Bane has a natural advantage most inmates do not, that some convicts manage to hone into an edge. And Bane was born and raised in prison. He is an apex predator in convict culture.

It is not the air that alerts Bane, but people. The subtle shift in words spoken in his native Spanish, the scraping of feet near someone that has noticed something unusual, and the most telling of all, the sudden silence of a child at home in the streets late at night. Osito was his guardian for a reason, his little teddy bear, his special imaginary best friend somewhere else in the world. It was this thinking that led Bane to hide a shank in Osito, this rare pleasure he was given as a child by a kindly old revolutionary that had lost his bitterness for a moment before he died, stitching together a comfort for such a tragic one. And when he stabbed the warden's informant to death, instead of turning his informant himself, he earned the name the prison's hoped for him, their rallying cry.

Bane.

Bane continues moving forward, unshaken to such a point that it is impossible to read that he is aware of the Black Panther. For that would require Bane acknowledging T'Challa as something other than an inanimate object, which he regards this entire world as, besides his own tortured thoughts. And in this blindness, he cannot be seen to eyes that read another man. This way, he is like Batman, a cowl that is also a prison. But Bane can never remove his, and that is why he does not show weakness, by resting. And it is why he cannot resist the Venom.

Bane pauses before the entrance to the restaurant, at an old beggar. He reaches into his coat with his right hand, pulling out a money clip in local currency. Perhaps Black Panther may notice the lack of synchronicity of offering this man money, while simultaneously not engaging him empathically, or on any level. He passes bills to his left hand, from the clip, pulling them out, one by one, before extending the money downwards, to the beggar sitting on the sidewalk. As the beggar thanks him quietly for his generosity, the victim of capitalism afraid but undaunted by this show of humility, Bane looks to his right, as if refusing to shame the man. Bane mutters something in Spanish, and the beggar looks to Bane's left, down the street, at a vendor serving hot dogs. This is Bane's spotter, with his face looking away.

Bane's arm remains outstretched, his fingers curling inward.

*

T'Challa has never known the inside of a prison, this is not a thing he knows. Wakanda had precious few prisons, with criminals and treasoners more often being killed or exiled outright than consigned to a penal system designed to coddle and strengthen the inequitable and immoral. Even so, who would jail a King? The oppressive feeling of being the rabbit for years and decades.. it is not a thing that T'Challa can ever know. Since he was born, he was raised to be the Panther. The force and authority of god-predators fill the sky with their hunger, and T'Challa does not fear.

He gives his consent.

It is difficult to determine whether or not Bane can determine his trail, a juggernaut of intent. A soul can be sensed by the panther, and even a heartbeat heard. But there is nothing there for him to read, no opening for a predator to determine a weakness in the apex killer. The effect would be chilling for anyone else. But the Black Panther is a creature of immeasurable focus, and his only response is to trail ever closer to the man made beast, to watch him ever closer.

Trailing along the street until Bane passes him on the roadside, the Panther slinks among the cars, across the vendors and beneath their notice. The exchange between Bane an the beggar reveals to Panther the vendor serving hot dogs. He is not far from the angle of the Panther's approach. And though he can hardly know that the vendor is working with Bane, only a fool would suppose a creature so reeking of singleminded necessity such as Bane would spare even the slightest moment for generosity without need. A message, perhaps… the Panther stays low, this time opting to slink between the ramshackle cars along the sandy road to stay out of the sightline of both beggar and vendor. No opportunity presents itself. T'Challa could not determine what actually was said, even with his hearing and command of the local languages… but with so few opportunities to engage Bane cleanly, he would have to make sure to take the beggar out of the equation, before he ended up dead.

T'Challa is not overly concerned with Bane noticing him, but more their meeting causing undue carnage. Bane was… some said, a demon. Unstable. It would be unfortunate to inadvertantly put innocents, such as they are in this underworld, in his path. He moves closer, closing distance to the front.

*

The beggar silently slips the bills away, giving Bane a blessing, Bane returning a grim nod as he lets his arm fall and the beggar looks away from the vendor. The vendor continues about his day, unknowing that he just came close to being used as a lure for the King of Wakanda's potential harm. The beggar has sensed it, however, from the way Bane does not acknowledge the traditional blessing to indicate benevolence, merely indicating he had ulterior motives. This, Bane is rigid on, his Jesuit upbringing in the prison. One does not lie to God, be he a Bat or a Devil or a King. Bane now knows he's not being tracked by a typical spy or intelligence agent or even a skilled hero. They would have pounced at the opportunity. This was a gamesman, one who had hunted creatures for sport, not utility. The Black Panther did not react with need, he merely waited. A hunter that is hungry strikes at the perfect appearance of an opportunity. A hunter that has hunted for the mystical relationship between himself and his ancestors? He knows that it is better to waste an opportunity, than return a wounded animal to the wilderness for a painful death.

Bane steps into the restaurant, a dead silence coming from the bar, the chatter and general backnoise of those eating there cutting off as they turn to look at the beastly man. He moves to the bar, moneyclip still in hand, and places down bill after bill after bill, before his moneyclip is returned to his pocket. "A round on me," he says in Spanish, his accent with the rolling languid monotony of a continental, as opposed to the quick hop of the island Spanish. There's a hoot and cheer from the bar, as Bane offers the dignity of a false grin, as he walks towards the back. One of the waitresses makes the sign of the cross after he passes through into the parlor, having noticed how rictus false the facial expression was, as if Bane was a vaudeville dummy inside a man, grinning at her. He drops the expression as he enters the backroom, producing a huff in greeting to indicate a difficult trip.

He does not inform his associates of the tail. He wants them concerned and alert, not cowardly. They are merely obstacles for this poacher, along with the merrymakers in the bar behind him, receiving their beers.

*

T'Challa doesn't entirely know the extent to which he is being surveilled. He also doesn't care, except for the ease with which he can approach his target. A creature accustomed to the hunt, but one with principle. He will not do a thing that brings him to light, not in this game of eyes, claws and feathers. It is the only thing keeping the vendor on his feet today. But the fact that Bane enters the bar makes things more difficult. There were more than a score inside, during his last count, all presenting problematic obstacles and potential collateral.

Not to mention that there will now be witnesses.

It would be a thought to find another time to engage, to withdraw and trail him back to harbor. But the man moves in ways that obfuscate and damn his surveillance. No better opportunity presents itself. And if this goes as planned, he will not need to engage him again. The panther returns back to his spot at the left hand side of the building, kneeling in the dark. A blade crackles and hisses, briefly flaring a pale violet as he draws it from his back, the handspan-length dagger linking briefly to his control systems. This, he plunges into the wall, at right about where he determines the spacing of the interior studs might be in the kitchen, to hold it fast.

Inside, he hears cheering and gratitude. It is no great feat of logic to determine what has been done. The mercenary has removed the possibility of intimidation from them. It would take a great feat of personality to remove the people from the room bloodlessly. This leaves only one real option for the panther.

He moves in front of the building, slipping out of the dark. The panther moves quickly, in the time it takes for the man at the wall to fill his blood with breath. Whether or not he is aligned directly with Bane, he has played some unwitting part in the man's machinations. This will not do. In the end, the Panther moves to take him with only one blow-an elbow underneath and driving up the jawline, for a bloodless, soundless knockout. If it lands, in one seamless move the Panther will continue, rolling with the unconscious body of the man to put him over the railing, behind the building to the concealing dark.

As he does so, he will take the ratty, moth-eaten blanket with him mid-roll, wrapping it around his suit to conceal both his identity and his scent. If all goes well, if one wasn't looking directly at him at the time, it may be easy to imagine the ex-militant simply succumbed to some chill generated by the mercenary, and drew his blanket around him to ward it off. Peculiar, considering the time and temperature, but nothing out of the ordinary.

*

"Trouble, Bane?"

"It is nothing."

The man in the Panama hat and Bane exchange these words quietly in Spanish, as Bane takes a slow seat on a chair across a long table from the cartel runner. The cartel agent raises his left hand, two fingers outstretched, and one of the European-African mercenaries sets down a thick briefcase before Bane, pushing it across the table.

"The payment is electronic now?"

Bane grunts as he reaches out to open the briefcase, quietly tilting it open to see the canisters of Venom. "I have fallen from our ways, Esteban," he says simply, closing the case.

"The dogs?" the man in the hat asks quietly, his voice soft and understanding, but the quietness indicating the deadly potential of the man.

"Yes." Bane opens his trenchcoat, withdrawing a custom-built Smartphone and tapping several buttons on it, slowly but surely. "They are wolves, you know. A dog does not approach so easily for what it wants."

The beggar emits a pained grunt as he's knocked out easily and bundled about behind the building, his already unfortunate life becoming suddenly senseless for a time. The urchin that had spotted T'Challa and accidentally alerted Bane with his admiration goes running down the street without another word, off into the night.

*

The beggar sits by the door for a moment, resting his weight against the wall as if he had been there the whole time. The blanket is draped across him, slipping over his head like a hood and limning it in the dark. Slow, steady breaths, and a moment to survey the area in front of him, keeping an eye out for anyone who may have seen. The child that goes running is noted, but T'Challa is nowhere of the mind to pursue. Let him run. Let him tell them of what he saw.

He waits just long enough for the drinks to arrive. The beggar takes quick stock of his surroundings, checking the pillow. The blanket he wears is dingy now, but was once a brightly colored, labyrinthine pattern. The quality was high, obviously produced back when the textiles industry was better in the republic, before the MFA expired, making it at least 15 years old. Now, seeing its last legs, it lifts off of the ground as the so-called beggar slowly rises. Underneath the pillow is left more than enough of the local currency to compensate the beggar for his suffering. He didn't go down as if he were a trained fighter. At least, not one who hasn't been dulled by ages of misfortune. I am sorry, friend, but your assistance is needed today..

The beggar then strides into the bar in the front door, a slight-but not overacted-stagger to his movement. Without preamble, he moves to the bar, to the waitress' station. He takes a brief headcount and location to those around him, though those whose primary interest is in their drinks or cohorts are tellingly disregarded. He places more bills on the counter, in just about the same way they were placed prior.

"Lo siento, senora. Por mi intrusiones." Forgive me my trespasses. I'm sorry, madam, for my intrusions. He continues, in Spanish, his accent unmistakably foreign, but not unintelligible. Please, more music, he asks. Turn it up loudly. Mas fuerte. Please, I like it loud. Another round for all, when this is done. I have had a good day, and wish to speak with the men. This should be a good day for all…

The money placed on the bar is placed there with hands that terminate in inch-long claws for each finger. THey are not the sort of hands that are easily denied. He is not a beggar. And it is not hard for anyone who looks at him for more than a moment to notice it.

He requests music. Loud, bass music that will mingle with the alcohol and drown out what must happen next. Because there is no other option for the panther turned beggar. It is less a request for an intelligent woman than a quiet warning. Do not interfere. Do not get in my way. Stay low.

If a hand is raised to him, the young king will address it.
If none find it fit to deal with him, he will move towards the back door.

*

"We are serpents, you and I, Bane," the man in the Panama hat murmurs, casting his eyes across his fingernails as the bass begins in the next room, the bar proper, the booming music ignored by Esteban and his hired help. "We do not choose our lot, but we are survivors, and we are excellent predators. And we, too, have our orders of esteem amidst the forest's servants."

Bane slides his Smartphone away. "You have never guessed my proper animal, Esteban." The statement is given quietly, with introversion now showing on Bane's face, as he reaches up for the Venom briefcase. "I am not a serpent."

The cartel man looks up at Bane, as Bane stares at the object of his fealty, the Venom. "Then what are you, friend?"

"You will never know."

Bane slowly rises, his hands curled into fists as he carries the briefcase in his left arm, the heavy case of precious liquid power shifting as if it was a box of gel.

"Is there something wrong?" the cartel man asks, looking at Bane's fists, as his mercenary friends get stiff and slowly put their hands on the submachine guns they allow to rest hanging from their shoulders before them, standing on either side of Esteban, behind him.

"I do not like this song." Bane turns towards the dining area, walking towards the door with smooth intent, staring at the crease of the frame and the corner of the door to watch for the slightest movement.

*

The blaring music was objectionable to someone with senses like the Panther, but luckily conditioning has done more than its fair share in inuring him to the sound of the street. It was necessary, for the panther fathomed that the only people who would hear what happens next, the only people who would pay attention are the men paid to remain sober. These are not the men that concern him. These are the men that lay on the other side of the door.

There were two, then, based on his counts earlier. Two armed, and a boss. Now three. The beggar approaches the door, all of his focus on what lay on the other side. The music drowns out much of the sound, but even now, the panther can follow that scent. The conversation has dimmed. Do they know he comes for them? Are they even now preparing an ambush? These are questions that any sane man would ask himself, as the so-called beggar stalks in that asymmetric gait down the corridors, towards the back rooms. Questions any sane man would ask.

But they are not things a panther concerns itself with.

Bane will see the darkest shadow fall across the door's frame, the light from the halls outside cut off. He will see it fall. It is the only warning he gets before the beggar sheds his cloak, and the black thing moves to cut through the doorknob. In the next instant, almost mercifully, the hunt concludes. The panther moves to break through the door and attack the guards within his sight first, the black pouring into the room, more shadow than man, leaping not onto, but almost through anyone less than such.

It may be a ruefully familiar sensation.

*

Bane's eyes narrow as his teeth clench at the sight of the shadow on the door, not alerting his compatriots. They are ultimately expendable to him, in a way they do not understand. As the shadow disappears, Bane stands there, rigid as he relaxes his muscles and posture, getting ready to see just what sort of threat has been following him with such predatory intent. And then, as the door breaks apart, Bane instinctively steps back with his right arm, letting the Black Panther burst past as shadow, as the man in the Panama hat shouts in surprise and leaps backwards out of his chair behind the table, falling backwards and onto his side. The gringo mercenaries shout as they attempt to respond, but are brought low, a brief stacatto of submachine gun fire blasting about the back room as they fall to the ground shooting.

Bane, up until now, has been sedate at demonstrating himself as a luggard, a slow, tenuous beast that prefers to move carefully and with much forethought. Those things are there always, the careful movements and the forethought, but the sloth is not. Bane turns about as Black Panther deals with the two African mercenaries and the cartel man crawling away screaming and cursing in Spanish, and spots his foe. The Black Panther. Very well. Without another word, Bane swings his right arm backwards, looking upwards, and he swings his steel-conditioned knuckles into primary beam above the parlor, smashing it in two.

There's a thundering crash, as the roof of the parlor collapses on everyone in the room. Bane lowers his head as this happens, hulking his shoulders up and curling forward, so the wood and beams and tile of the roof batter him but do not force him off his feet. Within a few seconds, it is over, the roof of the cantina's backroom in shambles, covering the insides of the conspiratorial chamber, Bane forcing himself upwards as the dust settles and the moonlight falls over the radically different battlefield.

*

The air is peppered with the staccato pop of low calibre, high frequency rounds, only briefly peaking above the deep bass hammer peal of Latin beats. Against the blanket-wrapped shadow, a man may do better to try and yell insults at the thunderstorm.

Bane will notice that the Panther moves in reason, not rhyme-he strikes according to targets, and the guards with machine guns are put down first. Strange, concerning the weapons seem to barely concern him. The details, however, are less distinct-the panther moves like a whirling splash of color on black, the blanket whirling atop him as he moves. It obfuscates his exact forms of attack, the exact direciton of his attention, so that his target is really only clear once they hit the ground. Two guards, then possibly the table. The whole means might be flipped over, possibly to pin the druglord underneath. The whole thing passes quickly. The only detail visible is that he's not drawing blood. The moment passes, leaving the panther to turn, facing-

Suddenly, the buckle of the beams overhead resound with the rich snap of four by four douglas fir breaking across the load balance, fiber splitting and snapping, followed by the catastrophic failure of drywall, roofing felt and shingles, crumbling and falling underneath the weight of itself as it dumps into the tight room. The only thing seen of the panther is a quick look up, right before his frame sinks down, the blanket whirling overhead as the roof falls on it and him, disappearing beneath it.

The air tastes like gypsum. Moonlight filters through from overhead, illuminating the particulates in the air. All is quieter in the backroom for a moment, the muffled beat, sound of cursing, groan of bodies and shift of rubble the only sounds creeping through. The blanket that was once slung over the panther's back is still barely visible, buckled over the rubble, and still. It is only a momentary distraction. So it remains, right up until the panther worms his way free of the wreckage in an entirely different location, a black thing sublimating from the wreckage bonelessly. Claws snap into place on the panther's once-human hands. The pressurized sound is near silent.

But only near.

If Bane doesn't heed the warning, then Panther will leap atop him bodily in the next second, feet to shoulders as he tries to latch onto his skull with claws long enough to take out eyes.

*

Bane lifts his left arm up, then places the thick briefcase full of Venom on a stack of rubble to the side, against a wall. As fireflies dance above them in the sky, beneath the stars, he lifts his arm up and slides his sleeve back, revealing a metal bracer with tubes sliding up the sleeve on his stocky forearm. He adjusts a dial careful, and flips a switch. He turns to watch Black Panther as he hears the subtle sound of the building's previous components shift, and watches him quietly, staring at him, as red activator fluid can be seen flowing up into the wider of two tubes. Behind him, green Venom then flows into the surgical input with his tube attached on his back, as his brown eyes stare at Black Panther, the whites visible as they bulge and the veins turn dark red.

Bane's back arches and his shoulders surge backwards as he produces an inhuman roar, muscles flexing and straining the trenchcoat he wears over his black tanktop and double weave denim jeans, his finely cared for heart hammering in his chest as his lungs suck in more oxygen than is typical for a human. Adrenaline gives him a superhuman focus and threshold of physical stamina, while his glands are stimulated by pituatary fluids, giving him the aggression of a varsity athlete at the peak of his game. Veins stick out on his neck and face, looking like the literal reincarnation of Satan.

As Black Panther leaps forward, Bane's arms swing up to catch him with inhuman speed and precision, staring directly at T'Challa's mask where his eyes should be, unafraid of the claws. Black Panther has offered Bane a meal, and instead of dodging such live game, the British lion has caught it. For he is no serpent that fears the danger of a jungle cat. He is the king of British legend. Gripping T'Challa by his sides and holding him just out of range of his eyes, letting the claws rake across his forehead and draw deep cuts, he pushes out of the wreckage and barrels forward. And beyond the wall, should Black Panther be driven through it, a narrow back alley.

*

His claws stop inches from Bane's face.

Laying hands on the panther is like laying hands on liquid night. Even when managed, it doesn't feel like any creature a man has ever before handled. Bane moves quickly for his size, a creature of muscle and visceral nerve smashing into the hunter mid-pounce like a snap of lightning in a cloudless sky. And, if only for those few moments, the panther is caught by the true form of the man whose soul could not be guessed by his lessers. King crushes cat with both hands, and then puts him through a wall.

But there is no struggle.

Even as the black body belonging to soulless eyes smashes through into the alley used as little more than a wrecking ball, it feels different from the way a - human, really - should feel. There is no feeling of bone breaking. There is no wet sound of body crumpling beneath impact, or the gentle give of the flesh you can almost certainly feel beneath. It contrast, despite the vague hiss of pain and exertion from under the mask of the panther, the impact is felt through to Bane. Though it cannot at all bother such a man cut from Latin steel, he can feel the impact in his bones almost as if he'd hit the wall himself. And then they are in open air again.

As said before, there is no struggle, nor any weak-willed fighting for dominance. For the panther is not just the cat. The panther sets claws into the extended trenchcoat of the man, two hands to each side of one wrist, and those impossibly sharp blades begin to sink in. Then, with a stretch that seems just a few inches beyond real, the panther flexes his core, lifting his suspended body until he can get a heel wrapped around Bane's arm. The single point of contact is all he needs. Then, he twists in Bane's iron grip.

It is one singular movement, the whirling break of the grip. Well, the break is not itself assured. A man as strong as Bane could keep it. However, if Bane doesn't release him, the panther intends to take his hand off at the right. The singular motion is 'authority,' just as calm and censuring as Bane's own martial command. For this battle cannot be just a predator engaging a predator.

It is a king engaging a king.

*

Bane feels the oddness of his grip on his foe, judging him to be an entire length of sinew and brawn and intellect cut from a bending tree, as if he was battling a reed given shape and form and life. It will not do to break this one with mere hands alone. Bane care not for the moment, as he is merely judging his foe, after having manuevered him into the proper environment for him to use his skills that more resemble a gladiator than a brawler or martial artist. The arena was important, perhaps more important than Bane's own personal resources. He was forged in the crucible of prison since childhood, and he knows the power of a provocatively placed piece of cement or a well timed use of metal bars, or even involvement of moving components to induce a riot to win a fight. A man alone can be defeated. But not a man working inside his surroundings as a piece of them.

And Black Panther was just another piece of that environment, one that must be mitigated. He could have fled while Black Panther was fighting the cronies, with his precious Venom, but the lust to know his father drives him forward, in that empty part of his heart taken by the Venom, the father he could never know, even casting his gaze across him.

Bane pins Black Panther against the thick brick wall on the other side of the alley, staring at him as the Panther's claws wrap around his wrists. He stares, knowing there is some trick coming, but allowing it to be tried, merely to observe, gritting his teeth. He may be able to hide his intents extraordinarily well as a man, but when he is this beast, his mind is easy to know. The heel slides under his arm, Bane feeling his whole body contort around the hard edge amidst the cat, and then, the whirling break of the grip, which Bane snaps open with his fingers suddenly snapping open like steel traps releasing an caught bird to fall to the jungle floor. Bane turns to stare at Black Panther balefully, all the hate on his normally hidden face apparent, his black hair already slick with sweat, perspiring in heat of Santo Domingo. He takes two steps backwards in the narrow alley, the broken cantina wall on one side, the brick wall of an autoshop on the other side. And directly beneath his left arm, a row of trashcans stacked to the brim with garbage, taken from the kitchen of the cantina, the door behind T'Challa.

"You, I like."

The statement is a mere hiss of over-exhalation.

*

The humidity of the city at this time of year was stifling, owing to its coastal disposition. The picturesque waters of the Carribean in some areas carry with it the cost of a man's sweat being enough to drown him, were he not conditioned. The heat haze coming off of the dominating gladiator's little exposed skin was almost visible, and instead of shaking free, the gypsum dust sticks to the panther's suit in great white streaks where he was used as a battering ram. Despite this, men such as they were used to this, having breathed that heavy air for the stacked years of their lives.

Conditioning to any environment is ingrained in any true warrior's spirit.

The panther, once free, drops bonelessly to the ground in a low crouch, bending at the knees and spreading claws dangerously. Even despite the fine-tuned body mechanics which to a trained eye would reveal no wasted motion, as the panther lowers himself to the ground the form of Bane seems to climb ever higher with the motion, making the difference in their sizes all the more apparent. The soulless mask inclines slightly, taking in the form and the means of the man he faces as he buts a few steps between them. There is nothing to read in his face, nothing there. But he does not shy away. His body language speaks for him. The panther is sizing up the goliath. Men such as this were as weeds, fed with ill care all of the gardener's life, grown wild and out of control, until there is no other recourse but one.

Slowly, Bane is moving him. The panther is aware of it, as he is aware of the kitchen door behind him. Slowly, the black panther moves, one leg crossing in front of the other to put the door not at his back, but at his side, placing himself further to the back of the building. He is reading the measure of the battle, aware he is being put in a certain circumstance to maximize options for Bane while eliminating his own. The man, previously unreadable but now much more earnest the moment that scent filled the air, speaks.

And when T'Challa responds, it is in the carefully clipped, raw accent of an educated man, each syllable pronounced as if it were written on his soul, but worn to jagged rocks over years. Bane says he likes him. The response to it is a low, ragged growl.
"Do not waste my time with meaningless words…"

They are the only words that cross his lips.

The panther barrels forward into Bane, his body going low, one leg blurring in front of the other. In the haze of strength flowing into Bane, it is hard to tell if he will read this much or not. But the panther does not seek to hit him once alone, a fool's endeavor. The impossibly long creature snaps out a heel, to slam into Bane's instep. For something without bones, the panther hits as a cannon might, the narrow strike the same as a pike wielded by the knight atop a horse. But even this alone is not enough against someone like Bane. This alone, even this force perfectly placed, may only be enough to move the man's leg back an inch or two. This is all he can do with this kind of precision. But as the panther whirls, he continues, his entire body snapping free of the ground, all sinew leaping off of the ground from that low crouching kick, whirling forward with his other leg.

Being kicked by the panther in the chest is less like being kicked by a man and more like being shot with a cannon. The panther rolls neatly into his front strike, pivoting already in the air in anticipation of a defense. His form and style is direct enough to hurt immeasurably. But even against Bane, it would not be enough. Were it not for smaller things.

If an earlier blow landed-the one that would only move his leg back a centimeter or so, Bane would realize in that instant that the panther does so only to force his stance. To adjust him by just so much.

So that when that man-borne cannon fires full on into his chest, the earth cannot help Bane absorb it.
That is how the panther means to knock a titan to the ground.

*

Bane watches the panther's prowl, his labored, angry breathes causing his body to rise and fall, his veins bulging and constricting beneath the flesh of his surging neck. Bane hears the accent, judging the man he's facing in his head to be a student of fighting rather than practically trained. He has a great number of options from a basic style of moves, but Bane ponders as he stares T'Challa down, can this one adapt to a situation with a new move? Perhaps this is the method he must take. He knows, from the feel of his enemy, and the manuevers, that he must wait until a single blow can bring the fight into his advantage. It is as simple as a boxing match, and he knows T'Challa is protecting it; the Black Panther's skull is the soft point, but it will take force to bring the comparatively weak point to bear, since even this spot is well protected by his foe's strategy, and naturally by the human body.

"A word can be a key to a lock," Bane shares, the growl giving him a signal of intent as he senses that he has drawn ire from his foe.

As the Black Panther charges forward, Bane lowers his shoulders and opens his hands at his sides, as if ready to catch a barrel thrown at him. He stares forward, above Black Panther, even as the king of the veldt goes low, not falling for the wrestler's folly of attempting to follow a low foe. That is merely for his body to sense, when the time comes. And as the foot goes into the steel-toed boot, shoving into the thick footing, Bane's body strains as he growls with suppressed pain, his adrenaline snapping him into a push forward with his body on the foot struck, to challenge T'Challa before he can jump into the perfect attack advantage.

T'Challa appears again in Bane's vision as he leaps upwards, the kick to his chest responded by a swing with his right arm, exchanging the blow with a combination of fatalism towards being struck by such a blow, and the calculation in his gut that he only has one chance to keep the fight equalized until T'Challa makes the proper error. His arm swings from the side as his body churns and torques at his torso, the thick meat combining with the push forward to swing a construction crane-like blow into the kick. The foot slams into Bane's chest nearly simultaneously, lagging behind by a hair of intent, and Bane lets out a savage howl of fury as he's knocked backwards, backpedaling with his previously swung arm swinging back and his left arm coming forward to grasp his chest. He feels his lungs push air outwards as his heart thumps, dizzy for a moment as he drops to a knee. His right hand outstretches across the ground, right knee down and left hand on his leg, head down. His eyes move down from himself, up to T'Challa, showing his teeth in a display of raw avarice.

*

Hitting Bane is like drumming on steel plate. The press of the panther's blows must be as encompassing as the morning sun fills the skies-lest the tree of the battle bear no fruit at all. Truthfully, though the poison-blooded titan forces his mind through the haze to mull at the panther's schooling and strategems, the young king senses the effort it must take for him to do so. It is something in his scent, in his heart, in every muscle fiber and he suspects it to be in every thought. It is different from the man's standing tense. Air is brought in like bellows from the forge, and the man's heart hammers at the steel he has become from the inside. Even so, he spares words for the liquid dark. Effort beyond efforts..

A creature who can read the soul, the panther is aware of this with painful clarity.

His blows gaining ground against the monstrous thing, the young king pays only the barest of attentions to the blow that could have very easily shattered a man's spine, so intense is he in his exertion. The blows are traded in a kind of deadly attrition, and though Bane labors to remain standing, the panther himself is knocked bodily aside like a toy when the titan king's fist plows into his outstretched side, mid-kick.

While it may not be truly difficult for a genius of battle to hit the panther, the difficulties are in getting such a blow to stick. Conditioning does not seem to have escaped him, as the black thing rolls in the air, head going beneath him for a moment as he twists. He does not land against the wall, at least not where all of that sledgehammer force would dissipate, potentially into his body. Instead, as the emissary rolls in the air, he somewhat helplessly lands against the door to the kitchen, his boots slamming into the broad surface, and transmitting all of his body weight and momentum to the hinges of the door. They do not hold.

Almost crashing into the kitchen itself, when the door smashes inwards, the young man flexes his body, his claws carving long furrows into the floored door, arresting his momentum. Power shudders through his body, the aftereffects of that venom enhanced strength. A low growl rakes from the panther, and though it is a very human noise, the facade of the one who brings it to air is one so impermeable so as to make it completely alien.

Slowly, cautiously, painfully, the panther rises, and steps forward.
"Then," he responds, "I hope your key opens more than one door."

*

Bane watches the Black Panther with a serious look on his face, studying every aspect of the Wakandan's tactical prowess. He is not always aware of his environment, but responds to it instinctively. The ability the Black Panther has is not preternatural, it is something that Bane can study. This is good. The head. He must hit the head. And now, Black Panther is talking. This is also good. Bane makes a quiet calculation in the deepness of his melancholy mind, T'Challa a barred door in a prison with a complex but ultimately somehow fallible lock he must destroy, to escape this quarantine and make it deeper into a quest, a maze into the darkest parts of his stripped, barren soul, to find the image that haunts him. The Bat, like those he imagines now, watching over this battle somewhere in this urban landscape, his father. The Devil that bore him, to meet upon angel's wings. For a man such as Bane, so outwardly evil in every sense, to still feel himself righteous, without delusion, is a true power from within.

Bane, still kneeling, rumbles, "You are the lock, Black Panther. And I could have left this door closed, if I had chosen." Keep Panther talking. Bane's weapon is the other man's humanity. He understands humanity from memory and study, but not empathy. It is a mechanical relation he makes, ultimately.

Bane slowly rises from his knee, palms back for a moment as he takes a step forward and slaps his left hand onto the brim of one of the trashcans beside him. He hefts it up in his arms as his palms turn inward again, the stink of garbage beneath the humid tropic heat and the insects that come out at night, quite evident. There's a lift, above his head, before he hurls the can forward, the inertia of the can only limited by its weight, maximum force applied otherwise. The can is aimed directly at Black Panther's legs, instead of his upper body, and falls short by half a foot before it hits the ground to bounce into the Wakandan king. It is a deliberate easy dodge, to lure T'Challa into an attack over it. This time, he has gauged his opponent.

*

Bane heads out to The Sound Stages.

*

"An empty boast," the panther observes, recovering smoothly from being thrown about. The sound of the kitchen is loud around him, the cooks at his sides shouting things in their native tongues, scrambling away from him as if he were one of the great cats loosed in their midst. The scent of burning plantains slips past his open filters, left for a moment too long in the skillet. As a king may, he seems to rile at the titan lord's assertion, however mild his imposition. "You assume much…"

"On the open plain, there are no doors to hide behind."

But righteousness and ignobility are not the stripes which the panther concerns himself with now. This thing he faces of Bane, it is not, and could never be, the perception of morality. All men believe they are moral until the very end, when their sin is drawn out in threads by the panther god. Then and only then do they find out if the string is a longer part of the great tapestry, or is tied around their own entrails. No. The panther will always be a proud warrior, as this is the heritage of his bloodline.

"Can you run fast enough?"

A man who wishes to crush him would not engage his instinct so readily. Understanding that the same thing twice would be invariably lethal, the black panther does not actually leap over the thrown can. He remains low to the ground. As the heavy, carcass-laden thing slams into him with force, there is the sound of crumpling metal. The contact with the ground steals much of its momentum. In a quick movement, it hefts off of the ground, the sinew of the panther standing out through the dark weave of his habit. It spins one hundred and eighty degrees, before it rips in twain. Metal, bone, rind, carton and the rotting flesh of discarded meat and vegetable alike are reduced to shreds, the putrid scent of the dead dominating the air as the panther blocks line of sight between he and Bane for a single moment, tearing the trash can and all of its contents in half far too easily for a dignified man.

He has no trouble in doing what must be done.

His bracers, gold on black, fire through the foul haze, near-silent behind the cover but for the moments where paper and chicken are shredded midair by his attack. Munitions fired in short bursts, small-caliber bullets made of something less than lethal fill the interstital space between them. They hit like fists, but would not kill normal men. They would leave wounds in normal men, but they are not made of steel, merely a hardened kind of gel.

Impregnated with a powerful sedative.
If Bane's body is cut into with these, he will understand immediately.
The panther is trying to counteract his serums.

*

Bane listens patiently to Black Panther's repartee, not particularly caring for the exchange of pleasantries during the battle, merely doing so to judge his foe's state of mind, as best he can with the chemical monomania that is his permanent condition after his first exposure to Venom. As the trash can is ripped asunder, he frowns, realizing that the Black Panther continues to hide his hand before laying cards on the table, and that he is at a disadvantage throughout this battle. He should have fled, but his thirst for a challenge to discover his limits, impossible to satiate without any such paternal guide as a child and impossible to quench in his condition, has placed him here. And now, Bane, a male incarnation of the goddess Nemesis, finds himself tested strongly. Little does Bane suspect, that the way to truly defeat him is to embrace one's own Achilles' heel, something he can never see since he cannot sense through the eyes of another.

"I do not assume." Bane grunts, as he watches the gel-needles arch out towards him. They peg into his chest, and he senses his mind slowing. Drugs. He seethes, baring his teeth, as a sore spot is touched. He reaches up to his bracer, on his left arm, and adjusts the knob, more Venom flowing into his system in a surge into the green tube feeding into the back of his neck.

"You are a guard that can not see the prisoner for his cell!" he snarls, before he charges forward at Black Panther, the Venom pumping him into a frenzy, as he smashes his right arm forward, then the left, then the right, his flexing muscles and snapping tendons smashing through any mere brick and mortar that challenge him, although he is no juggernaut, being pushed in turn by the physics of the incidence.

*

Wind and skies.

In that moment of chemical monomania, it can be hard to overlook the imperiousness of the panther's tone only a moment prior. That is exactly as intended. The panther is very careful, having determined that Bane wished to keep him talking, carefully boasting to goad egos. In turn, the panther rose to the occasion, carefully picking and choosing his words to put him over the titan. He had suspected that the final fig leaf, attempting to take away that which gave him strength would be responded to decisively, as addicts come to in this way.

However, he did not suspect it would be quite so quick or so violent.

The black panther's sedatives are counteracted with a dominating surge of the Venom. Even without hearing the telltale wind of a dial the panther could scent the huge push in the sweat coming from the titan king's pores. He has only a breath's time to respond before the gladiator pounds through timber, wire and garbage to surge into the kitchen after him. Any one of those blows could have gone through normal men, and the panther is no different, resorting to smoothly rolling backwards over ovens and slipping to one side then the next, the hiss of cooking oil on his back burning as entire appliances are reduced to crushed foil.

There is another factor as well. Even while trying to evade immediate death, the panther fires off rounds into the air at his side. People are running in every direction, but the panther is forcing them out of the way of his intended escape routes, clearing people and slowly rolling to Bane's right. However, this creates seconds of weakness. Once Bane gets wind of what he is doing, even the panther is not invincible against the dominating surge. He has no choice-he cannot allow innocent men to be torn in twain by this man.

He blacks out for a second.

The last thing the Black Panther remembers is being forced to bend away from a blow that is one inch too long, and in the next moment, he is pressed against the wall, his claws splayed out and forced into it to keep himself upright. Though he recovers quickly, as his helmet does not dent in even the faintest against Bane's fist, the panther himself bends beneath the onslaught, and his head swims with stars.

Despite all of this, the panther breathes slowly, evenly.
Even in the instant between heartbeats, he is gathering himself.

*

Bane rampages through the kitchen, destroying the entire carefully arrayed set of kitchen logic placed in such efficient little order to allow food to be prepared in the tight confines of the narrow space. And then, victory, as his fist finally feels Black Panther's head. T'Challa avoids the worst of it, certainly, since he is raging and not calculating, but it is enough to stutter his foe into temporary submission. As Black Panther is taken off his defensive and pinned up against the wall, Bane does not give Black Panther the good fortune of a theatrical pause. Despite what one may think of a prior foe of Batman's, Bane lacks the narcissism that would require him to dispense in typical Elizabethan dueling.

Bane immediately grabs Black Panther by the neck with his left hand, the huge manacle-like set of digits united by a palm and thick forearm locking down around the reed-like neck. He then lifts upwards, keeping the pin, as he stares at Black Panther.

"I think we have matched ourselves fairly in this confrontation, cabron," he hisses through his teeth, the sedative giving him a heady mixture of uncertainty when combined with the stimulant effect of Venom, narrowing his sight. "I do not seek your murder. The Americans I now work for would be most displeased."

His hand snaps open, and he releases T'Challa, before stepping back, and flicking a switch on his bracer, having reached the maximum deployment time for the amount of Venom he's on. A blue chemical can be seen flowing into the smaller of the tubes on his wrist, before a yellow chemical flows into the back of his skull through the primary tube and a foul odor can be sensed as he relaxes, his stature and bearing returning to normal.

*

One would imagine the situation getting away from T'Challa rapidly. Despite his boneless agility, all of the dodging in the world could not have made a difference when Bane landed a blow to rattle his mind inside of its helmet. The blow would have been incapacitating for any other man. Even so, it is tactically damning.

There is no warning between the time T'Challa gains his footing and Bane snatching him up off of his feet. The panther grunts-a soundless thing, when muffled by layers of black-with the sudden hoist, his body light in the burn of Venom. Soulless, featureless lenses hiding eyes look down at Bane as he is hoisted about by the neck. It would only take another moment of weakness to be decisive…

And then, Bane backs away.
Dropping the panther to the ground, the hunter lands nimbly.

The Black Panther straightens as Bane steps away, his words still the last things said in the quiet. His stance is low, wary for moments following. There is a space long enough to be painful, as the king waits, his mask featureless, expressionless. Bane disarms himself, the counteraction formula watched closely as it intermixes between two separate tubes. Only when he catches the scent of Bane's heady narcotic bleeding away into the open air does the Panther speak.

"A fair battle," he agrees mildly. "I did not expect your wisdom."

One hand turns upright, and the Panther touches an unseen catch on the back of his bracer, initiating a control program. Between the two, an energy surge cuts through the wall, a violet blade ripping through the stud it was embedded in on the other side of it. The blade extends roughly five feet into the room, translucent, crackling, unimaginably beautiful. Most importantly, it extends through the air where Bane's skull had occupied only moments prior, the violet light casting hauntingly off of the Panther.

Moving exactly as he had, responding exactly as he had, the Panther was testing Bane, the entire time, luring him to exactly this spot. He planted the knife in the outside wall of the kitchen before he even left to stalk the titan. Bane, now beyond the head of the wave, will know in an instant. The reason why the Panther was thrown through the kitchen door so specifically, and why he took such great pains to telegraph his movements and to lure Bane after him were multifold. The entire thing was a contrivance, a test. As strong as Bane is to get the advantage against the Black Panther in hand to hand combat, as close as he may have came to dying..

It was all a part of his plan.

A calculating man would wonder how much of that blade's reveal is part of the plan itself, a silent warning. The weapon chews through the structure of the building slowly, until enough of the hilt is exposed that T'Challa can remove it, and sheathe it back behind him at his hip. "I am told that you are the Man That Broke The Bat," the Panther explains, finally seeing fit to sheathe his claws.

"I needed to know whether it was you or the Batman that posed a greater threat to my interests," the Panther responds calmly, showing no signs of a bruised ego from being bandied about like a ragdoll from a moment prior. There is no reason for him to lie any further. At least, not about this much. "I have no further interest in pursuing you this night," he concludes, his arms folding behind his back, lit from behind by the hole his blade left.

"I find that wisdom is not unlike a great wind. Allow it to fill your sails further, and leave now, with your narcotic serums intact. The ability to continue standing earns a man that credit."

*

Bane inhales slowly after the fuel in his veins ebbs, before breathing normally, labored breathing indicating that he's allowing himself to switch to a fatigued breathing cycle, instead of the tight, controlled cycle of a fighter. And then, the wave of heat beside his head, as the knife passes. Bane tenses, his teeth baring and his eyes flicking upon Black Panther, immediately sensing death and wishing T'Challa to see his eyes as he dies. It is a trick Bane learned in prison, and it is not meant to break a man of his will to fight, merely to strengthen it for future battles, the last window of the dying between rivals. But it is also a way to steal another man's soul, forcing him to see his opponent as he dies. Once one sees it, one is addicted to the stare.

As the knife passes, Bane looks to the side, to see the knife, and chuckles, not with T'Challa, or anyone, merely shrugging off what he regards as a prank. T'Challa's strategy is beyond him.

"Regard all things in this world as a way to find the thing you cannot see past. Wisdom, intellect, cunning, these are all different ways to view this." He grunts and turns about, walking out of the kitchen. "Your father was a good man."

Stepping out of the ruined kitchen, one can hear him in the parlor, rummaging about, before he walks off into the night, the briefcase in tow.

A pale moon is overhead the waves of the Antilles, the harbor lights quiet after the violent battle, people staring out at Bane as he departs towards his motel.

*

And after it, T'Challa of T'Chaka finds himself nearly alone in the ruined kitchen. Throughout the small bar, a path of devastation has been carved-out one side, then the other. Drywall and all manner of detritus stripe the panther's suit, the air filled with the acrid musk of deeply exerted sweat and the stomach-churning poison of rotting garbage. The miasma clashes garishly against the wet smell of vacated plumbing and sausage frying in some unmolested corner or another.

He inclined his helmet only just so as Bane commented, the rictus image of the man's death glare imprinted on his memory, familiar to those in Wakanda who piked the heads of their enemies at their borders, but fearsome still to see in a man yet living. He is forced to wonder if such things were made of use against the Bat.

He had heard Bane's words, but had, at the time, elected not to respond. They were not of the sort that demanded response, and neither did T'Challa feel an urge to do so. He was patient, and he can wait a long time. As such, Bane is long, long gone before the panther lifted up his glove, thoughtfully staring at his hand.

When did his blood turn to ice?
A moment, a moment or two after Bane commented on his father.

"Get out of there," T'Challa commands of a civilian, a chef hiding in a cabinet nearby. The Black Panther doesn't need to see him to know he is there. "Go home, and make peace with your children," he continues, once obeyed. His words have an authoritative tilt to them, as always, even when rendered in a different language. Whether English, Spanish or Wakandan, the source is always the same. "Hold them close," Wakanda's faceless king continues, "and cherish your new days with them as opportunity."
In time, the panther king will turn too, and take his own leave.

"This world is seldom as kind to innocent men."

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