The Bowman and the Scarlet Hawk, their eyes glowing ultraviolet purple, howled destructive chants as they battled their teammates with murderous intent. The Knight glanced askew at the Shining Knight, "Ystina, go after Señorita Scorpion ... just watch for that whip and knife of hers, we don't need you drugged and killcrazed, too."
At least their eyes don't clash with their headgear, Squire thought crazily to herself, as she ducked out of range of the steel-tipped arrow which hurtled through the air towards her.
Vanguard whinnied as he picked up speed, tracking the other woman's own mount along the hills near the Wales border. Frankenstein, the Spider, the Knight and Squire faced off against the seemingly possessed Soldiers.
Fortunately, madness dulled the pair's battle-hardened reflexes. The Knight's squadron of miniaturized Spitfires besieged the Bowman, while Frankenstein brought down the Hoverer with his massive hands. The Spider leaped over to where the Scarlet Hawk struggled to free himself, and injected him with the greenish-yellow serum which they'd hoped would counteract the Scorpion's hypnotic drugs, then repeated the process with the Bowman. He watched as both collapsed in place. "I hope that did the trick."
"Count Zegelloff's plan to use the Scorpion's daughter against us worked about as well as it did with the original, and this time I think we have enough evidence to take him down," the Knight said, "but having Señorita Scorpion in our grasp will help secure the case." He and the Squire mounted their motorcycles, and took off following the direction of the Shining Knight's pursuit.
They arrived as they saw the Shining Knight and Vanguard, circling aimlessly overhead a clearing in the woods. "Ystina? What happened?" Squire said as the other woman descended to join them.
"I don't know," the Shining Knight confessed. "I saw her ride around the hill and then not reappear. Vanguard and I have been searching for clues, but all we saw was a shadow."
The Knight hissed. "A shadow? What did it look like?"
"It was invisible to my eye, but it cast a shadow on the ground as it flew over; just such a shadow as might be cast by a yawl-built boat lying on the body of a large wheelbarrow.”
"Just such a shadow ... I've seen that one before," he said as he meandered over to a gray cone set in the centre of the clearing.
The Squire looked at him, troubled by his expression. "Cyril? What's bothering you?"
"An unsolved case. Hrm. We need to gather the others, tend to our friends, and I will tell you all the story."
FDC presents "The Pain of the Goat: A Tale of Times Past" by Mikel Midnight
Cyril Sheldrake, the youth known as the Squire, had gathered together his closest allies in the headquarters which gave the team their name: the Eyrie, based in an abandoned observatory atop a high mountain midway between Metropolis and Gotham City.
"Thanks for coming when I needed you," he said. "The Knight's gone underground in his investigation of the Springheel'd Jack case, saying it's too dangerous, but I couldn't tackle this latest game on my own."
Dick Grayson's smile was partially obscured behind the mask he wore as Robin. "No thanks necessary, that's why we set this all up."
"I consider it fortunate I was visiting from India when the meeting was announced, so I was able to attend in a timely manner," agreed Rajah Rahbin.
Little Raven nodded, allowing the others to chitchat while he kept his own council up to now. "So what do you have for us?"
Bat-Girl peered at the Squire curiously. She knew she was just an amateur in this game compared to the boys, and while she had been frequently assertive to the point of brashness when she'd teamed up with Robin in the past, she was more cautious about appearing the fool in the midst of an international gathering.
"It all started off," the Squire said, "with an industrialist named Sir John Ryder. He's been the object of a series of thefts, which has been publically embarrassing in addition to the financial loss. The last piece was a small piece of curious gold-work ... a valuable gold coin on which is apparently engraved a yellow sign, that archeologists are calling the Pain of the Goat."
"The Pain of the Goat? That sounds cheery," Bat-Girl said.
"It's apparently just a squiggly three-armed symbol," the Squire continued, "it was later put up in an underworld auction by a crime lord named Travers, but then stolen again by a pair of his former agents. I don't exactly care about someone stealing from thieves, and Travers is on the sinister side, but his search for them is setting off a gang war, and lots of folks are getting hurt."
"That does sound serious," Robin agreed thoughtfully. "I'm glad you called us."
"Do you have profiles on the former agents?" Rajah Rahbin asked.
"Oh yes," Squire said. "One is Limehouse Larkin, a masked archer and explosives expert. The other is Doug Hutton, a thief who calls himself ... the British Bat."
Robin blinked, "The British Bat? That's a lot of nerve. We had enough trouble with bad guys stealing our names during the Bat-Hombre affair."
Bat-Girl grinned, "I think it's personal now."
Rajah Rahbin had a sudden mental image of Robin setting up a dart board with pictures of the British Bat and this Bat-Hombre, as well as who knows what other miscreants had chosen to pay tribute to the great crime-fighter in such a perverse manner. Maharaja Shundu had chosen his own name and identity modeled on the other boy's, though had always fought on the side of justice; he felt fortunate Robin had actually helped train him rather than responding with jealousy or protectiveness, and he always felt indebted to the lad because of that.
"So we have to track them down ourselves," Little Raven said. "Where do we start?"
"I was able to narrow the area down to some small villages set in the hills near the Wales border ... but I don't think I want to tackle them both on my own ... and if I could find them, there's a chance Travers may be able to as well, and ... "
Bat-Girl clapped her hands, "We get to go to Wales?"
"It won't be a holiday trip," Robin admonished her, "but yes, we get to go to Wales."
The next day, the law's teen legionnaires disembarked from one of Bruce Wayne's private jets, onto a hidden landing strip at the Sheldrake estate. As they gathered in the sitting room, the Squire passed out photographs of the two men, as well as folders containing their physical specifications and m.o.'s. "I special-ordered a fleet of scooters for us, so once we get to Dublin we ought to be able to fan out independently from there."
Bat-Girl grinned happily. She supposed the Squire would take offense if she told him how cute and rustic everything looked to her. And she couldn't wait to do a tour of Welsh villages even though it would mainly be on 'business' and not a pure pleasure trip.
Like a flock of birds of prey, the quintet etched an imaginary claw over the countryside, traveling from village to village. It was in Goatswood, an isolated town surrounded by woods to the east of the city of Brichester, that Little Raven located the pair. He considered that appropriate: descended as he was from the legendary Sioux warrior Xupakiglake Wicasa, who had often accompanied Saganowahna on their finest adventures, he sometimes resented the way his father and he invariably were treated as mere imitators of Batman and Robin, although when they had met the dynamic duo treated them with a notable lack of condescension. It was that attitude, along with the excitement crime-fighting brought to his life, which prevented his resentment from simmering over into constant anger. He radioed the others to tell them their tracker had done his work.
Doug Hutton would never have recognised Cyril Sheldrake on his own, much less Dick Grayson, but he had studied the careers and tactics of both of their mentors, and when he saw them in conjunction he realised the trap was about to be sprung. Not to be outdone by a group of children, he contacted his ally where they both roomed at the Central Hotel, and the two men clad themselves in blood-red uniforms, prepared to snare the hunters.
As the teens slowly gathered, it was only Grayson's sharp eye and their own lightning-swift reflexes which saved them from destruction, as Limehouse Larkin aimed an explosive arrow at them from a nearby rooftop. "Bogey incoming, eleven o'clock!" he shouted and the team scattered, leaving the fireburst to shatter the windows of the Station Cafe.
From above, Larkin spied on the narrow streets and close-set dull-red roofs of the town. He knew the children would be doing exactly what he would have done: donning their uniforms, preparing their weaponry. He cursed the boy who'd spied the glint of his arrow in the sunlight, and then again at himself for not taking surreptitious photographs of the gathering; he knew some of them must have wealthy adult mentors and there was a missed opportunity for blackmail ... or future revenge.
The British Bat drew his gun, firing a strong but near-invisible thread which he used to glide between buildings, and flew to the top of the 50' high metal pylon which rose from the center of the town square. The suction pads in his suit allowed him to comfortably scale the sheer walls of the pylon.
Larkin heard the sounds of a trio of grapplehooks landing on the rooftop behind him, and turned to see Robin, Bat-Girl, and Squire climbing up behind him; the last of them quickly donned his shield and mace while Bat-Girl seemed to take a moment to pull out a compact and check her makeup, though her eyes glittered at Larkin with mischevious calculation. For his part the British Bat peered down balefully on Rajah Rahbin and Little Raven, the former bearing his sling, the latter his own bow & arrow.
"Damn, I wish I'd been there," Beryl Hutchinson interrupted with a grin.
Cyril chuckled, "I'm sure you'd have fit right in ... though you were a little young at the time, if I recall."
"Children during playtime is all very amusing," Frankenstein scowled, "though I have yet to see the relevance to Señorita Scorpion."
"Any warrior has earned the right to sing the song of his victories," Ystina said. "I am sure the tale will come around in the end."
Alfred Chinard, fascinated as ever by comparisons between one of this world's population and a criminal of his own world named The Bat, kept his own silent council, but listened attentively.
"You're exactly right," Cyril continued. "We can skip over the fight between us ... needless to say we soon had them on the run in Larkin's landspeed, with us in pursuit on our 'cycles."
The quiet of the encircling forests was disrupted by the sound of motor vehicles as the membership of the Eyrie set off in pursuit of the fleeing criminal comrades. "Are you all right, Rajah?" Dick Grayson asked.
Rajah Rahbin nodded, though his driving was more erratic than the others. His left arm was clearly still causing him pain from the near miss by one of Limehouse Larkin's explosive arrows. "Just worry about our prey, don't worry about me. I'll be fine."
The British Bat leaned over, grabbing the steering wheel from Larkin who stood up suddenly, and let fly a quick series of arrows at their pursuers. The teenagers responded quickly, with batarangs and a matching arrow rising to block the onslaught, but not all of them were successful. They veered in a wide circumference, the resulting concussive force churning up turf in its wake and knocking some of them off-balance.
Robin grumbled to himself. "Everyone still with us?"
Little Raven scanned the others as Rajah Rahbin and Bat-Girl remounted their vehicles. "We're still with you, chief, lead on." They looked up suddenly, to see the shadow of an invisible ship moving across the ground.
They glanced at each other uneasily, and then sped along the hills near the Wales border, following the shadow into a clearing, only to find Larkin's vehicle parked and empty, motor still running. They circled around it and the mysterious gray cone at its center. "This doesn't make any sense," Squire said as he leaned over to remove the keys from the ignition. "They're not out of gas; did they try to escape the rest of the way on foot?"
Robin and Little Raven sped off, circling wider around the surrounding territory, before returning from their futile search. "What was that shadow? Squire, would they have a secret hq hidden in these hills? What's this cone?"
"It's the remains of a meteorite which fell in the 17th century, according to the local records. I've not read anything which would suggest they'd have any kind of secret underground hideaway all the way out here ... " Squire replied.
Bat-Girl dismounted her scooter. "Your records could be wrong ... let's look around."
Several minutes later, Little Raven's piercing whistle summons the others. He crouched along the side of a very old walkway. "What do these mean?" he said. As they assembled near the remains of an ancient, crumbled wall, in the grass alongside it were a series of old flint arrow-heads arranged in a series of mysterious symbols, ranging from ordered lines to a bowl to a half moon to a pyramid to a device of spokes.
"I ... I don't know ... " the Squire said. "They do seem to be pointing back to the cone, don't they? Getting more and more complex as they do so?"
Robin nodded, "Let's follow their line and see if we observe anything else."
Rajah Rahbin was the one who first saw the glint of gold in the grass. He leaned down to retrieve the object. "Squire is this it? That's what you described, the Pain of the Goat?"
As they clustered around his hand, the colors of the symbol seemed to deepen, and its features changed, flowing like molten lava, until they saw clearly the hidden meaning the yellow sign contained. Bat-Girl cried out in horror at the revolting obscenity of the thing.
"You do not wonder that we did not stay long in that place," Cyril Sheldrake concluded.
"So what happened to the coin?" Beryl asked.
"We returned it to Travers," Cyril replied. "We never had any proof that he'd purchased it any way other than legitimately, and after that horrible image revealed itself, we decided he deserved it."
"So is there any connection between Larkin/Hutton and Señorita Scorpion?" Frankenstein asked. "So far as I'm concerned if there's some invisible force out there which is eating supervillains, more power to it."
"Unfortunately, it's not that simple," Squire replied. "Cyril had me do some research after we returned to base; there have been numerous other disappearances from the woods near that area of Goatswood, and just local folks, not all supervillains."
"And there's more," Cyril said. He rose to his feet and walked over to the study's bookshelf, pulling out a volume by Malcolm Quarrie entitled British Gods. "There appears to be connections between the yellow sign and that area of England." He opened the book to a marked page, displaying the symbol he'd spoken of earlier. "It was the symbol of an ancient fertility goddess called Shub-Niggurath, also known as The Goat With a Thousand Young, who was worshipped in the area surrounding Brichester, among other places near the Welsh border. Although there have been some examples of it appearing as far as Northumberland, where it seemed to be associated with someone or something called The King In Yellow."
"These ancient gods fill me with dread," Ystina said. "I do not look forward to this battle you seem to be leading us towards, sir Knight."
"I've killed gods before," Frankenstein said. "I have no fear of doing so again."
"It's decided then," the Knight said. "As soon as Bowman and Scarlet Hawk are back on their feet, we're going back to Brichester. It's time to end this story."
The supernatural aspects of this story (and the occasional small bit of prose) have been borrowed from a variety of secondary sources, notably detailing Ramsey Campbell, H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen's "Little People" stories and Robert Potter's The Germ Growers.
The Eyrie was the headquarters of the 'Robin/Olsen Team,' and my original conception for this youthful contingent of the Club of Heroes would have been a Silver Age Elseworlds one-shot which would have included Jimmy Olsen (and left out Bat-Girl). But I never developed a proper plot, and chose this incarnation instead. I think it's a real shame Rajah Rahbin was left out of Grant Morrison's "Black Glove" storyline.