Bruce Wayne finished his orange juice. Done! Breakfast -- or, rather, brunch -- was over, except for his tea. He felt much better now.
"What did you and Dr. Villanova discuss at dinner last night?" Alfred asked, sipping his tea, looking at the riddles from the cat-woman.
Wayne looked up from the tray with the now-empty glasses, plates and bowls, and looked at Alfred.
"It was an interesting conversation. She seems to think this War on Crime will last a long time," Wayne answered.
"Any reason why she would say that?" prompted Alfred.
Wayne studied Alfred carefully. Wayne had the distinct feeling that Alfred already knew the answer, and was leading him to something.
"She told me a story about how corrupt elements in Gotham's law enforcement took advantage of the situation some years back when they were waging a similar 'War on Crime' in the southern regions of the greater Gotham Metropolitan Area."
He paused, looking around. "They weren't calling it a 'War on Crime' back then, but Gotham's law enforcement agencies got involved with the local police departments, battling street crime in the other departments' jurisdictions. Some dirty cops saw that as an opportunity to traffic drugs from those suburbs directly into the heart of Gotham City and beyond, into the northern, eastern and western suburbs."
Wayne's eyes stopped on his empty orange juice glass. "Realizing they needed an ongoing problem with crime in the southern suburbs, one that would require ongoing involvement of GPD and GBI in those areas, they began smuggling arms south. Weapons and equipment went south to all sides, fueling the fray, and drugs came back north. Money was moved around, too, all in official vehicles, and no one suspected a thing."
That orange juice had been so refreshing! Wayne wondered if there was more in the kitchen....
"This temple was established by those whom the sun sent out, centuries ago."
Bruce Wayne was dressed in dark robes provided to him by a monk from the temple; he was listening to the words of the priest.
Wayne looked around. Inside, it was dark, and the interior was lit by yellowish-looking candles. The air was smoky, with the scent of incense hanging everywhere.
"The emperor of the steppe came and tried to destroy it, once, but he repented of that desire, and departed with his men," the priest continued. "Centuries later, the descendents of his men returned, and they now dwell in a monastary about a day's journey from here. They stop in and visit, from time to time, and we have occasionally gone and visited them."
The priest was narrating this as if he had witnessed the centuries of history that he was now recounting to Wayne.
"At first, the emperor of the north sought to help us, but then a new emperor rose up in the north, and he, too, sent men to destroy the temple." The priest took out -- from where, Wayne could not see -- a candle, and lit it from another, then placed it in front of a statue. "His men never found the temple. That empire has since collapsed."
The priest slowly walked to another statue, and produced another candle, which he lit in the same manner and placed in front of this other statue. Wayne looked at the statues; they were statues of men.
"The emperor of the east also sent men to destroy the temple, more than once, but every time, his efforts failed. Once, his men were caught in a mountain storm, and killed in a mudslide."
The priest leaned over toward Wayne and smiled. "Once, they came in the winter time, and the men were caught in a snowstorm. While camping, and waiting out the snowstorm, a giant white creature, kind of like a man, came into the camp and attacked the men." The priest chuckled. "Terrified, the men abandoned their camp and ran back to the last village they had passed through. They were straggling in until early afternoon the next day, all telling the same story about an angry creature that lives in the mountains. Their boss was not amused with their story; he thought the men had been drinking, and they were punished, but he has not sent anyone since."
The priest continued walking, moving slowly toward the next statue.
"Now, the emperor of the west is in league with the emperor of the south, and they wish to destroy the temple, but their endeavors will come to naught, as well."
"Why do they want to destroy this place? What is here?"
"They seek to destroy it, because they do the bidding of the emperor of darkness."
They stopped in front of the next statue. It was of a woman.
The priest bowed low, and lit a candle, placing it before the statue.
Turning to Wayne, he continued. "The same emperor of darkness seeks to possess and destroy you, to drag you into the darkness and torment you..." he paused and turned to the statue, "but our most venerated mother has sent the sun of heaven to light your way, that you may be in the light, and not in the darkness."
Wayne glanced around. "It is dark in here, except for the candles. How can the sun of heaven light my way?"
"He is standing right beside you."
Thunderstruck, Wayne made the connection: it was not the sun of heaven, but the son of heaven. Wayne looked at the statue: was the son of heaven the son of the venerated mother? Is that why she is venerated?
Wayne quickly looked around, then looked around the room again, more slowly and very thoroughly. Aside from the priest, there was no one else there.
"I see no one else besides us."
The priest laughed. "Just because you do not see him, that does not mean he is not here."
Wayne looked around again.
"Venerable father, how is it that you can see him?"
The priest laughed again, a little harder. "Venerable son, how is it that you cannot?"
Wayne thought, as the priest seemed to pray before the statue of the venerated mother. When the priest had finished, Wayne began to speak.
"What will happen with me? And how has the temple survived these attacks, and how do you know it will survive still?" His questions came fast, in a quick burst.
"You have many questions, Bruce, but there is only one answer," the priest said, turning to Wayne. "You will prevail, so long as you walk in the light that is provided to you. You will prevail for the same reason that the temple has survived and will continue to survive."
"And that is...?"
"Because the Emperor of Heaven wishes it."