Breaking Down

by spitfirepanda

Chapter 5: Trials of Conquest

“I haven’t gotten anywhere,” Gilda grumbled as she paced before the doors of the makeshift holding cell of her hideout. She and her Litwick had taken over the basement of a large, abandoned warehouse. There were strange, dark stains in places. Upon their first inspection of the building, Ichabod and Ebeneezer had voiced a morbid fascination with the stains. They had spent hours guessing at what horrible things might have happened to cause them. Gilda had pretended to not be bothered by their conversation, and had even added her own thoughts when asked, to keep up the illusion. Now, whenever she looked at the stains on the concrete floors and walls, she couldn’t help but imagine who might have been killed there and how. They were terrible visions that came unbidden, but the more she saw of Gotham the less these stains shocked her. Instead, a deep sadness was beginning to take hold over her heart.
“No offense, but you’re just too kind,” Ichabod said. Gilda pulled her gaze away from a partial handprint on the floor and turned to glare at the Pokémon. Then she sighed.
“I guess trying to be cool and arguing against you here won’t do me any good, huh?”
“It’s just not who you are,” Ebeneezer said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s why we chose to go with you.”
“We wanted to follow someone strong and kind," Ichabod added. "That, and you beat both Rainbow Dash and Applejack!”
“It was a big upset!”
“But what about you two?” Gilda asked. “You seem a little… eager to interrogate these guys.”
“It’s not… eagerness,” Ebeneezer said slowly. “But we’re ghost-types. Being mean is kinda in our nature. I mean, we steal the life force of the living with our flames…”
“Not that we’d steal your life force!” Ichabod added, hastily. “And we’re not gonna steal theirs either, but…”
“But we just want to keep you from doing something that you’ll regret by doing it for you!”
“You’re going to torture these guys aren’t you?” Gilda said with a scowl. “I don’t like that.”
“No!” the Litwick said together.
“We promise not to hurt them at all,” Ichabod said with an unconvincing smile, as Gilda looked the Litwick over carefully. Ebeneezer was doing his best to avoid looking Gilda in the eye, and his gaze often strayed to the window in the door through which the struggling humans were visible.
“I’m not sure if I should believe you,” Gilda said. “But someone’s gotta get things prepared for the second wave. We’ve only got two days left. I’ll write the report and set up the sleeping quarters, and you two can interrogate these guys. But you can’t hurt them!”
“We won’t! Right brother?”
“What?” Ichabod said, pulling his eyes from the window. “No! We won’t kill them at all! We wouldn’t learn much if we did that. We have nothing to keep their souls in.”
“I want to know how to stop this gang war,” Gilda said. “I want to know what’s really going on in this place. At the very least get them to tell us where their boss is so we can watch him, and deal with him if necessary. Use your Confuse Rays. Convince them that you’re their friends, but don’t hurt them.”
“Understood!” the Litwick said together.
Gilda watched as they turned and floated through the door. They waved at her through the window, trying to reassure her of their intentions. She wasn’t sure if she should leave them like this, but she saw no other choice. She had to prepare for the ponies that would be arriving soon. She pulled herself away from the window and went upstairs.

Ebeneezer and Ichabod floated through the air toward their human captives. The men scowled at them defiantly. They were all tough, street hardened gangsters. Once they had realized that Gilda wasn’t going to truly hurt them, they had begun berating her and laughing in her face. On one occasion the Litwick had thought that their friend would snap and begin beating the criminals. Her wings had spread menacingly, her feathers and fur had ruffled, and a dangerous fire had lit in her eyes. But she never attacked. She never went beyond yelling, and the humans never respected her again.
“So, the little candle creeps are here ‘ta talk to us now,” the biggest thug said mockingly. He had a scar that ran from the top of his baldhead down past his left eye. The others seemed to respect him as a leader. “Your boss not gonna join us today?”
“These humans really are awful,” Ichabod said to his brother, ignoring the jeers and insults from the other thugs. “Poor Gilda. She can’t get too carried away if she’s going to set a good example for her people.”
“Then it’s a good thing we’re here,” Ebeneezer said with a big smile. Gilda had resigned the two Litwick to observing as she spoke to the prisoners, but now she had given them permission to interrogate them in her place. They relished the thought of making such terrible people suffer. “Ghost-types aren’t known for being kind, especially to humans. We have our reasons, though.”
“Good cop, bad cop, eh?” the leader said with a sneer. “The bird-thing is the good cop and you two are the bad ‘uns? Like I ain’t seen that game before.”
“We’re not cops though,” Ichabod said with a giggle.
“We’re angry spirits of fire,” Ebeneezer added. “And we’re not playing a game. We just want to hear you scream.”
Ebeneezer cast a Confuse Ray on the leader. The Litwick laughed as the human began screaming and beating his head against the wall. The other thugs watched in horror as their captors cheered the confused man on, releasing him from his restraints and giving him suggestions on how best to hurt himself. When his fit of paranoia ended with a sickening thud and the cracking of bones, the remaining men were eager to talk. The Litwick smiled happily as they confused their next victim. They hadn’t had their fill, yet.

Gilda sighed as she reached the top of the stairs. She tried not to hear the sounds of torment as she took stock of their food stores in the basement pantry, one level up from the room their captives were in. She had heard and seen so much suffering in the past few days, and it had all been caused by humans. She considered turning around to end the Litwick’s cruel game, but she stopped short. A part of her felt that the humans deserved it, that their suffering didn’t make a difference to her. It was the part of her that had grown up in Griffonstone, where apathy to the lives and wellbeing of others had been commonplace since the death of their last king.
She knew that Ebeneezer and Ichabod wouldn’t hurt the humans when asked not to. No, they were letting the humans hurt themselves. The cries of horror and confusion were evidence of that. These men were terrible people. They deserved this, but she couldn’t quite accept that. Nor could she adequately focus on her task.
What would my friends do? She asked herself as she began climbing the stairs that led to the ground level. The heavy door to the stairwell closed behind her, but she could still make out the human’s screams.
She sighed once more as her mind worked through her conflicting emotions. She knew what her friends would do. They would go back down those stairs and stop the Litwick. Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash wouldn’t allow themselves to be pulled down to the level of Gotham’s criminals, and neither would she. Gilda turned and began walking quickly back down the steps. A loud gunshot echoed behind her, accompanied by the sound of a bullet hitting the brick where her head had been a moment ago.
Her eyes widened as she immediately ran down the remaining steps. There was no ceiling to the stairwell she was in, leaving her open to attack from above. Remaining in the second level wouldn’t work either. There was nothing there that would block gunfire, and she had no means of attacking at range. She heard loud footfalls and cursing as the criminals surrounded her means of escape. She didn’t need to look up to know they were aiming their guns at her.
With quick, seamless movement Gilda spread her wings and launched herself upward in a spiral. A bullet grazed one of her wings as the others passed harmlessly through the edges of her feathers. The force of her ascension knocked several of the men from their feet, while the others were forced to brace themselves against her slipstream. They quickly regained their composure and scattered. Gilda paused in the air for a moment, surprised by their strange costumes. These men weren’t dressed like the thugs she had captive downstairs. They wore long trench coats with black armor underneath. On their helmets and chests was the symbol of a cobra. They were better organized as well, and fought in a coordinated method like soldiers.
Gilda swooped down on the first human, only to be forced to fall back by the gunfire from his companions just before her talons closed on his arms. She darted around, outpacing the bullets for several seconds before realizing that the humans were driving her into a corner. She watched as three of them disappeared down the stairwell. Gritting her teeth, she braved the hail of bullets to reach the basement entrance, but one of the bullets hit home in her left leg and she was forced to fall back yet again.
A moment later the three cultists emerged and shouted for their companions to retreat. Fully enraged, Gilda swooped down onto one of the humans and threw him to the ground. She grabbed hold of him and tossed him into the far wall of the warehouse as an explosion shook the building. The warehouse began to collapse as the other soldiers fled the scene.
Gilda let them go. The griffon turned to the man she had thrown. She wanted to take him prisoner, but the speed at which the building was now collapsing prevented that. Several large chunks of debris fell from the ceiling amid the sound of the metal walls of the warehouse tearing apart. They landed atop the semi-conscious man and he disappeared from sight. With a saddened, frustrated roar Gilda took to the sky and escaped the crumbling building.
“What just happened?” Ebeneezer asked as he and his brother floated up through the ground seconds later.
“Are you alright?” Ichabod asked, his face a mask of concern.
“I’m fine,” Gilda said as she continued to inspect her wounds. She felt no pain thanks to the adrenaline that was pumping through her veins. Her leg was bleeding freely, but the bullet had gone straight through. Her wing injury was minor. “What about the humans down below?”
“They… didn’t make it,” Ebeneezer said, carefully. “We learned a few things from them, though. Namely, there’s this group called Kobra. They’re a cult that’s busy trying to pit the criminals of Gotham against each other to keep the Bat Family busy. While the other heroes are out dealing with the alien threat, Batman’s crew has been trying to follow a lead on another case.”
“What do you mean?” Gilda asked.
“Well,” Ichabod said as he floated over to her bleeding leg. He paused, as he looked it over. Then he extended his flame to reach the wound. He carefully cauterized it as he continued speaking. “This happened before we came. It turns out they caught an informant for this Kobra Cult. He was a scout, I think. Batgirl had him, but he escaped. Point is, he’s not supposed to be here. The Gotham City underground isn’t real fond of Kobra. That’s why the group is working behind their backs.”
“Batgirl did overhear a conversation, though,” Ebeneezer said. “Just before she caught the guy, she heard him talking about a plan that had to do with a prison. That’s all we know.”
“How did you learn this,” Gilda asked incredulously.
“One of the guys we interrogated was informing Kobra on the workings of Black Mask’s group from the inside,” Ebeneezer said, simply. “He’d been on the phone with the other spy when Batgirl caught him. He told us everything after he saw what we did to the big guy.”
The Litwick looked to their leader and smiled proudly. Gilda sighed and looked down at the ground.
“So the Bat Family has been busy researching this Kobra lead?” she said as her Litwick’s smiles faded slightly. They had been expecting praise for their discovery, but Gilda wasn’t about to connect any praise to their methods.
“Is that what’s going on?” said Joan’s voice from within the griffon’s head.
“Have you been watching?” Gilda said in surprise. She had been so distracted by her thoughts and the battle, she hadn’t noticed Joan’s presence in her mind.
“No,” the Gardevoir said. “I connected to you just now. I’ve been busy trying to keep pace with the alien situation and prepare for the second wave. Power Girl left Earth this morning with a group of Justice League members to help direct space traffic through the solar system. Superman is sick, and direct exposure to the sun is the only thing keeping him alive.”
“At least we haven’t had to deal with this Justice League much,” Gilda said. “I’ve got my claws full trying to understand this awful city.”
“You could be doing better,” said a voice through the smoke. “No offense.”
For the second time that night, Gilda’s body tensed in anticipation of combat. She gave a short apology to Joan and forced the psychic link to the back of her mind. A very tall, blue and white figure walked through the flames. It was human shaped, but clearly not human. Each footfall sounded mechanical. The being held up a single arm, its fist closed around a smaller shape.
“Whatever you are, I doubt you’re from around here,” Gilda said, suspiciously. “So you’re telling me you’ve got this place all figured out?”
“No, but I’ve clearly been around this species more than you have, and I want to help. I watched as you chased down those thugs the other night. You took the heat off of the police for a while and allowed them to get to safety. Rather than finishing the cops off, the False Face Society sent all their men in search of you. These guys found you first through infiltration of the Society, though.”
“What’s your name?”
“Strongarm. I’m an officer in the Cybertronian Elite Guard. May I ask your name?”
The griffon looked up at the robot for a moment, her mind reeling as the adrenaline faded and the pain in her leg and wing began to take hold. Strongarm was strange, and completely unexpected, but she gave off a feeling of trustworthiness that put the smaller creatures at ease. The man in her hand twitched and grunted, but his breathing appeared to be regular. She would have her prisoner, and her answers. Even more than that, she would have a new friend.
“My name is Gilda,” she said with a tired smile. “I’m a griffon from Griffonstone, and I’d like to be friends if that’s alright with you?”
“I’d like that too,” Strongarm said, as she returned Gilda’s smile. “I’ll begin digging the other humans out immediately. If I hurry, they should survive.”
“What? But my Litwick said they didn’t make it!”
“My sensors read five stable life signs deep underground, in the place where the basement was. Apparently, they survived both the explosion and your Litwick.”
Gilda turned a disapproving eye to the Pokémon, who were looking at the ground sheepishly.
“We just meant… they didn’t make it aboveground,” Ebeneezer said. Gilda groaned as she put her face in her claws. Strongarm left the unconscious human next to her new friends and began digging away at the rubble as another night ended in Gotham City.