The princess of the night loomed above Bruce, compared to other ponies she was a giant. Using her dominion over the dream world she conjured up several objects, an armchair identical to the one in Rich manor, a recliner like you would see in a therapist's office and a box of tissues.
"Sit down please," Luna commanded, Bruce complied and lay down on the recliner. "First of all we need to know what it is you have done child."
"You're in my head, don't you already know?" asked Bruce.
"Our realm is that of dreams, we can only know what our subjects leave scattered about in their subconscious mind." Bruce squirmed in his seat, unwilling to share his activities that night. "We can always travel to Ponyville in person and find out that way. No matter what you say child, I will not judge you."
With some hesitation Bruce replied, "I killed a pony, I knocked him to the ground and beat him till his skull broke." the foal trembled as he spoke, his lip quivered as he recounted his crime. "Is that what you wanted to know?"
Luna couldn't believe it, "If only I had acted sooner. For a time it seemed you had overcome your inner demons on your own, but now they have driven you to this." The temptation was there to yell at him, to deride him for this cruelty. But Luna's own history reminded her that even good ponies are capable of atrocities. "Bruce I know how you must be feeling right now."
"How could you possibly know?"
"Because in a fit of rage I became Nightmare Moon, nearly murdered my sister and almost doomed everypony in Equestria." Bruce's jaw was on the floor, "Child where are you now? In the real world I mean."
"I'm in my bed at home." he replied with shame.
"Then when you wake, you must confess your actions. You can never hope to return to a happy life with such a heavy crime hanging over you." Luna got up from her chair and to the side of Bruce, "I will of course preside over your case myself."
Bruce was adamant, "No I can't, it wouldn't make any difference anyway."
"It will make all the difference child, you can start living with a clean conscience and open up the avenue for forgiveness with the family of the one you wronged." said Luna, her tone was firm but supportive.
"You don't understand, my father did this for me. He took my place and arranged it with the police. Even if I walked into the courthouse and confessed, it wouldn't make a difference." Bruce hung his head.
"Your father, Filthy Rich correct?" asked Luna, Bruce nodded yes. "I have seen his dreams many times, a Ponyville so unlike it is now. Both beautiful and frightening at the same time. Your father is a very idealistic stallion, I suppose he would fight tooth and nail to claim he was the one who did it."
"I think he would, dad cares too much about me." said Bruce.
Luna contemplated what to do, if he could not find redemption outwardly then Bruce would have to find it from within. "Take my hoof Bruce Wayne, together we are going to face your demons that brought you to this action." A hole opened up in the floor beneath them and the two descended farther into his mind.
Diamond awoke with a fright, looking around she saw she was in the public park. 'Did I fall asleep on a bench like a hobo?' She felt wet, dirty and alone. Memories of the night before flooded back, it had all started so nice. 'Daddy took us to the movies, I got my kitty toy I wanted. And then...' The mental picture formed, that awful stallion with his mangled face. The pony who she once was glad to call her brother, senselessly beating him. And her daddy being carted away like a common criminal.
"Daddy, why did you do that? Why did you stick up for him? Why did you choose him over me?" Diamond Tiara was wrought with grief. "I'm going to get my answers, you better be ready daddy." Still looking like Tartarus warmed over Diamond made her way to the police station, and without hesitation she entered the building. Nopony was behind the counter so she helped herself inside, looking for the constable.
When she found his door it was already open, a conversation could be heard leaving the room. "So I ran this guy Chill's cutie mark through our records, he's never been picked up here."
"That makes sense, from his clothes he looked like a drifter. He probably blew in from Manehatten or Fillydelphia."
"That's what I thought too, so I sent his info to them both and they came up with nothing. So I asked Canterlot, Trottingham, Baltimare, heck I even asked Cloudsdale! Every precinct I asked came back with the same answer, Nopony has ever heard of the stiff in our morgue."
A sound like a rotary telephone being dialed could be heard. "Right I'm calling Doctor Hayward, I want to know everything about this perp we can." There was silence for a few seconds, "Hello Doc? It's Oats ... It's about that stiff we dropped off last night. ... Doc calm down, we just need his autopsy report." There was silence for about a minute more, "*Phfow* Alright just give us a ring if anything happens." Oats hung up the receiver.
"Well what was up?"
"Doctor Hayward says he didn't do the autopsy last night, he was going to wait for the morning."
"When he unlocked the surgery this morning there was no body. No corpse, none of his effects and all of Doc's preliminary notes were gone."
"You don't think Mr. Rich did it?"
"I don't see how, He hasn't talked to anypony since we locked him up, not even his lawyers."
"I don't like this boss, this is rotten to high heaven!"
"Right, I want you to look everywhere, bodies don't just walk away. I'm going to investigate Filthy, maybe he did have something to do with all this."
Diamond had heard enough and made her presence known, "*Ahem* I'd like to see my father now."
"Oh, little Tiara, how long have you been there?" asked Oats.
"Long enough. He is able to receive visitors?" asked Diamond.
"Visitors... Oh yes! Yes you can go see him. I'll lead you to the holding cells," Oats gave Bulrush a nod and took the filly one room over into the Ponyville jailhouse. It consisted of one small cell with rod iron bars, the kind you'd expect to find in a western town like Appleloosa or Dodge Junction. Ponyville being a relatively crime free town had only one repeat customer, the town drunk Berry Punch. She had to give up her second home when Bulrush brought Filthy in the night before.
"Good morning princess." Filthy greeted her with his usual cheer, despite that he looked raged and sleep deprived.
"Morning daddy," Diamond turned to Oats and asked, "Can we have some privacy?"
"Of course, I'll be in my office if you need me." With that he bowed out.
Filthy got close to the bars and whispered, "Did I hear right? That mugger's body disappeared."
"That's what they said, but how did you know? You didn't have anything to do with it did you?" asked Diamond.
"Nothing of the sort, the police department just needs to invest in some soundproof walls that's all." Filthy said merrily, "So they lost the body eh. I might be getting out of here sooner than I thought. In fact, tell Randolph to prepare a welcome home party for tonight!"
"Sure daddy, but I have some questions that I want answers too." Diamond said sternly.
"Fire away princess I have all the time in the world."
"Why did you lie for him? Why did you put yourself in so much danger? Why do you love him more than me?" with her last question Diamond started giving way to tears.
"Oh Princess, come here," Filthy was holding his hooves through the bars, Diamond came near and sat on the stone floor. "You know there's nopony in this world I love more than my own daughter." Filthy was gently brushing a hoof through her mane, "I just have to show it more with your brother."
"Don't call him that, He's no brother of mine. All he is, is a monster!" Diamond was livid.
"Bruce isn't a monster, but he is troubled. For a youth to have gone through all the things he has and not be scarred, well that would be a miracle. Put yourself in his horseshoes for a moment, imagine that if last night me and your mother were walking down that alley and we were slaughtered right in front of your eyes. What would you do if you ever found the pony who did that?" Filthy asked.
Diamond could barely fathom what it would be like, "I ... I don't know. But I wouldn't beat him till he died!"
"And that's something I'm proud of you for. You think with your brain not your heart." He looked at her with such pride and fatherly love. "But your brother, right now he's nothing but heart. I can only imagine how his conscience must be tearing him apart. Princess can I trust you with something important?"
"Your brother is going to need somepony he can trust to talk to, to work through what he's feeling. Can you be that pony for him? At least until I get released." Filthy requested.
Diamond was hesitant but she still wanted to please her father, "Alright I'll go home and talk to him."
"There's my girl, but uh, you may want to take a shower first. You kind of smell like a homeless person, no offence."
She felt like a donkey, "None taken." Diamond replied in a drab monotone.
Further inside Bruce's mind, into the depths of his subconscious they went. They seemed to be in a hall of memories, everything in Bruce's life going in reverse order. Starting with the scarred image of Chill, his mangled face an eternal haunting reminder. Luna stopped there and stared at it for some time, out of respect Bruce stood still. "Do you know why you did this child?"
"I thought he was the man who killed my parents, but I was wrong." he hung his head in shame.
Still staring at the static memory Luna asked, "Was it your intention to kill? Did blood run hot through your veins as you snuffed out his life?"
"I ... No, I only wanted to know why he would take my family away from me... Then a rage like I've never felt before took over. I just started hitting him and hitting him! Until ... they pulled me off." Bruce felt an inward shame, like a thousand eyes were all looking at him, accusing him.
"Child take what I am about to say to heart. An equine life has been stolen, perhaps Chill would have wasted that life drinking or even committing more crimes. Yet perhaps he may have turned around and become a better pony, a boon to society. That chance was robbed from him like he tried to rob your sister's jewelry. All life is sacred, and all deserve the chance at life." Luna's voice was booming.
"I understand Princess, I'm nothing more than a monster for what I've done." said Bruce, his voice was choking up.
Placing a hoof on his shoulder she assured him, "You are no monster child, and there are memories here that can prove that." She guided him down the path to a scene playing out, only a few months ago at the carnival. "Once it became apparent to you that Dimple and his family meant no harm you selflessly offered to help and protect them from their harassers."
"Well yeah but-" A sickening thought entered his mind, "Wait you don't know about-!"
"That his father is a changeling? I watch over the dreams of all my subjects regardless of their race." Luna smiled, showing off her pearly teeth. "Do you know what Dimple dreams of Bruce?"
He shook his head, "I don't think he's ever told me."
"Some nights he's grown up and married to young Apple Bloom, other nights he's an adventurer. But most every night, Dimple dreams he's changing the world, removing ponies who hate and are intolerant from power. Taking down those who prey upon the weak and defenseless like his family. That is your friend's innermost wish, I wonder what yours is child." Luna was peering into his eyes, as if to see into his soul.
"Don't you already know?" asked Bruce.
"There is much of your mind I have never been able to see. Perhaps you can let me in and we'll find out together." Luna pointed down the corridor, at the far end was a door with an ornate red lock binding it shut with chains.
Down the hall they went, passing by more memories of life in Ponyville. Reflecting on them Bruce realized, most of them were undeniably happy. He focused in on one in particular, that blessed evening in the Cutie Mark Crusader's clubhouse. The day Bruce and Silver Spoon admitted their feelings for each other. "Oh Silver, I must have hurt you so much." Weakly Bruce continued on the trek, his mind occupied with thoughts of his love.
Silver Spoon was trying her darnedest to keep up appearances, she hadn't said anything about what really happened to her parents. Only repeating the lie Constable Oats spread, it was what was expected of her. 'If I just keep doing this then I can keep Bruce with me.' she thought, trying to convince herself.
But deep inside she knew it was wrong, Silver couldn't stop reliving that night in her mind. The horrific look in the eyes of the pony she loved, it was if another pony entirely had crawled inside his fur to do such awful things. It was in this time that she decided to examine if she truly still loved Bruce.
She took out a piece of paper and a pen and set them on the table, dividing the sheet in two pieces she wrote 'Things I love' and 'Things I loath.' Rolling over her thoughts Silver started out with the obvious one, 'Is violent.' With that out of the way now she had to actually think hard on what she disliked, 'He can get whiny sometimes.'
To balance that out she started working on the things that brought her to him, 'He can be so terribly shy.' Just remembering every time she would get close how he would clam up or freak out. 'He's practically a genius.' Since they all started working on their homework together Bruce had saved their hides more times than she could count.
She almost felt a bit shallow for putting this on the list, but decided it was a valid point and nopony was going to read it anyway. 'He's really handsome.' Bruce's good looks were what had attracted her to him in the first place, and even now she'd yet to find a colt who came close to rivaling him. 'At first he was stepping in to protect us.' Thinking back once more to last night, before things went south. He did act gallantly, singlehoofedly taking down an armed mugger and returning what was stolen.
Silver Spoon clutched at the string of pearls around her neck, a few were still missing and the strand was tied together in a crude knot where it had been sliced. Still Bruce had put his life at risk to bring it back. Probably the greatest of all the things she had come to love about him was this, 'He brings out the better side of ponies, myself included.'
She had been noticing it, slowly but surely, ever since Bruce had come into their lives. Day by day Diamond and Silver were becoming, less irritable, happier and more agreeable. Before then making peace with Apple Bloom and her friends seemed like an impossibility and something they would never pursue. Now the three of them were on decent terms with Silver, even if they didn't deserve to win that flag carrying competition.
So she reviewed the sheet, one huge thing that was utterly abhorrent and five things that she loved dearly. Silver flung herself onto her bed and burred her face in a pillow, she let out a long, "ARGHUGH!" Silver had come to the conclusion that she was still madly in love with Bruce.
Feeling overwhelmed by emotion Silver took off her glasses and stared at the faux finish on her ceiling. "Okay Silver, you still love him. But he's got some very undesirable tendencies. So what do I do?" she asked the ceiling. Being a ceiling it did not reply, "Well your no help. I suppose it's my responsibility as his fillyfriend to help him become a better pony. Just like what he did for me."
This brought conviction and renewed faith in their relationship, "Then that's what I'll do, I'm going to head over there right now and be as supportive as I can be." Silver Spoon grabbed her glasses and burst out the front door and onto the street. With determination she ran towards Rich manor. Along the way she bumped into the crusaders, out and about doing their usual out there shenanigans.
"Heya Silver Spoon, whatcha up to?" asked Scootaloo.
"Sorry I don't have time to talk, Bruce needs me." replied Silver.
"What's wrong, is he sick or something?" Dimple asked, he was garbed in his own little cape.
"You could say that," Silver said, careful not to say too much.
Apple Bloom quickly responded, "Well that's no way to be startin' his vacation. You give us a holler if he needs anything."
"Yeah, and let him know we're all thinking about him and wishing he gets better soon!" added Sweetie Belle
Silver Spoon smiled, friends like these were proof of what she felt. "Thank you everypony, I'll let him know what you said." She bowed out and continued on down the road. 'I'm coming my love.'
Luna and Bruce stood at the lock, it was as if it were begging to be opened. "I've never been able to see into this part of your mind. And I was unwilling to pry into your secrets without your consent."
"Do you know how to?" asked Bruce.
"With this yes, but I alone cannot. There is at least one thing from behind here that you are aware of that will unlock everything inside. Is there an object, a memory, a person that doesn't fit with your life here?" Luna asked.
"Well ... there's the man in the mask, I keep seeing him in real life but he's not real." said Bruce.
Luna thought on it, "Describe him."
"Well he's tall and wears a cape and mask." Luna motioned for him to go on. "He's got a really defined chin and is clean shaven." Bruce cringed, he'd momentarily forgotten ponies don't shave.
"So he's a human being then?" asked Luna.
"You know what humans are?" Bruce was shocked.
"I've never traversed through the mirror into the human realm, but our sister's student Twilight Sparkle has gone on in great detail about your kind." Luna stated flatly, "That and we have a niece who lives there as well. One of my sister's follies that occurred whilst I was imprisoned on the moon. But we shall not speak of it any more."
‘I'm not the one who brought it up.' Bruce thought.
"Now I want you to focus your mind on the man in the mask, make every facet of him a reality. Visualize him until you can describe his every detail to me." Bruce did as she asked, recalling everything he knew. "If there is anything, an image or iconography that is associated with him focus on that."
That was a problem, every time he'd seen the figure he had been vague and featureless. 'So what are you? Your mask has horns, or are they ears? Long and pointed ears like ... like a bat.' Just then an image sprung into his mind, a bright yellow silhouette of a bat. The red lock shattered and the chains withdrew, leaving the door free to open.
"Are you prepared to see what's on the other side?" asked Luna.
"I want to know as well." said Bruce, he opened the door and out from it flooded thousands upon thousands of memories. An entire lifetime worth of memories, spanning the decades and the era's. Most interesting of all they all had to do with the man in the mask. As Bruce took it all in the man's name dawned on him and one other revelation. "I'm this ... Batman?"
"It would seem you once were him." said Luna.
It was strange, the memories were his own yet they felt like they belonged to another person entirely. The whole ordeal was giving Bruce a splitting headache, he could feel something warm dripping down his muzzle and when he checked he discovered a nosebleed was in progress.
"It must have been powerful magic indeed to have both torn you from your realm and reduce you to the state you are now in. Although, looking at this memory it seems returning to childhood has happened to you before." The memory in question was somewhat disturbing if not goofy, a toddler dressed in overalls and a cape.
"Pa-prin-Princess Luna, I don't feel too good." Bruce was hardly able to stand steady.
"Child?" Luna looked at him and was shocked at what she saw, in a few relatively short minutes Bruce had deteriorated greatly. "Hold steady, we have you."
"What's going on?" Bruce asked from within her magical grasp.
"These bodies we walk in are mere representations of our psyches, your mind is unable to justify them both." Luna hypothesized.
An exasperated Bruce asked, "What the hay does that mean?"
"To put it bluntly, your brain cannot handle two different personalities. One or the other has to go, I fear what would happen otherwise." said Luna.
A sense of dread overcame Bruce, "What could happen?"
"You would become a fractured soul, like the poor ponies who live in the asylum. Trapped forever between these two lives." Luna shuddered at the thought. "I suggest you learn as much as you can before making your decision."
The thought was frightening to Bruce, the brief visit to the asylum was unpleasant to say the least. Would he end up at the mercy of Dr. Crane and his treatments? Inwardly he vowed that he would not let that happen to himself, no matter the cost.
It was already past visiting hours at the hospital and most of the doctors and nurses had left for home. All except one, far up on the top floor of the mental ward at the very end of the hall. A solitary unicorn doctor was practicing his trade, a vial in one hoof and a syringe in the other he stood before his patient. Although the term 'victim' would be more apt.
Screwball was tightly restrained with a straitjacket and her jaw bound shut with a dog muzzle. This is how it went every night, it wasn't always Screwball, sometimes Crane would do his experimentation on the other residents. But whoever it was he chose everypony knew they didn't want to be on the receiving end of that foul needle.
As he readied the injection Screwball tried squirming away unsuccessfully, "Please cooperate, this is to make you feel better after all." As the glowing needle pierced her pelt she was trying to say something but it was muffled. "I'm afraid I can't hear you dear, you'll have to speak up a bit!" Crane said as he tore the muzzle off her face.
"I said don't lie to me scary crow." she was staring at him with those unnatural eyes of hers.
Crane paid it no mind, but one thing was bugging him. "I'd say you have about a minute before the serum takes effect. Would you mind explaining why you call me that?"
Screwball let out a sickening cackle, "The scary crow wants to know why he's a scary crow! Then the scary crow should go, ask another scary crow what makes a scary crow a scary crow!"
Crane pushed his glasses back up, he hadn't been expecting any profound answer. Besides it was what was coming up that he really wanted to see. He leaned in close to her ear and whispered, "You know, you are right. I don't give a rat's ass if you get better or stay mad as a hatter. I just want to see you scared." A perverse smile was on the doctor's mouth and when Screwball started writhing and screaming it only grew wider.
Using his magic he brought over a clipboard and pen, "Tell me, what do you see?"
Screwball broke down into laughter once more, this time it was pained and weak. "Hehehehahahooho! Scary crow!"
"Yes?" Crane asked impatiently.
"ScarycrowScarycrowScarycrowScarycrowScarycrow. Crane!" Doctor Crane jolted back, hearing Screwball use his real name was shocking beyond compare. "You want to know what I see Crane?"
Hesitantly he nodded yes, "I see so many things Crane, you have such a bright future ahead of you Crane. But it will be such a shame, all the little mares will weep for you Crane. All the other doctors and scientists will mourn the loss of poor Doctor Paper Crane. Everypony will be shocked and appalled, they will say 'Dear Celestia what is that thing?' When they see what I do to your face!" she went back to laughing madly, at this point Crane had enough and prepared the sedative.
"Scary crow, how do you feel about body piercings?" Screwball asked innocently.
Crane just wanted it to be over and done with, "It's a disgusting defilement of the equine body."
"Ohh, that's a shame scary crow. I think you would look great with a piercing. In fact I can do it myself, that needle right in your eye!" Crane jabbed the sedative and soon enough it was taking effect. As she drifted into her drug induced slumber Screwball kept on laughing. On his clipboard Crane wrote out, 'Experiment #219 ... abject failure.'
As he replaced the heavy steel bar on the outside of her door he stopped and added to his notes, 'Try doubling the dose tomorrow.'
"What do you mean you're leaving?" Bruce asked in disbelief.
Luna was preparing to exit Bruce's dream, "I mean just that child. Normally I would stay with a ponies dream until they wake, but it has been nearly twenty four hours since I made contact with you. No doubt my sister needs rest from her royal duties."
"It's been a whole day?" Bruce asked.
"Time is an illusion, dream time doubly so." Luna replied. "Besides there is nothing more we could do for you child, we can neither make the choice for you nor tell you which is the correct one. Only you are in that position."
"But how will I know what to-" Luna placed a hoof to his lips and wrapped him in a motherly embrace.
"Do not fear change child, trust in your own decision and act upon it." on that note Luna exited the dream, leaving Bruce alone with his thoughts and the thoughts of another.
The decades old clock ticked on and on, Filthy had been watching it for hours on end. It had been twenty four hours since he had been locked up in this cell, and twenty four hours without being charged. He supposed he had his long standing friendship with Oats to thank for that. Well that and the body disappearing, even still that puzzled him but he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
What was important was Filthy was only a few minutes away from being released. It was a centuries old policy that Princess Celestia created, to protect the rights of lawful citizens nopony can be held for more than one full day without charges placed against them that they can dispute in a court of law. And Filthy seriously doubted that Oats would risk charging him with murder when they no longer had a body or any evidence that one ever existed.
Really the only thing they could use would be his own false confession, 'I suppose if he really wanted to press it I could claim a brief lapse in sanity.' Just as he had been waiting for, Bulrush walked into the jailhouse with keys in hoof. "Deputy Bulrush, how goes the search for the missing body?"
The overweight police pony grumbled, "No such luck, not a single hoof print that didn't belong there and nothing showed up on any of the security cameras. I guess you must be celebrating pretty hard right now."
"Oh Bulrush, of course I am, and you should be as well. After all what's that oath you police ponies swear? 'To protect and serve.' Think of it as the law working in the favor of an innocent stallion." said Filthy.
"Yeah well what if we just held onto you until our body shows up?" Bulrush asked in a somewhat threatening hypothetical manner.
"Deputy even I don't need my team of lawyers to tell me that you cannot do that. You can either produce our deceased friend Mr. Chill and I will happily uphold my end of the bargain. Anything short of that I'm afraid you don't have a leg to stand on." Filthy said smugly.
Bulrush knew he was right, even still he felt like he was letting a slimy worm wriggle out from his grasp. Reluctantly he opened the cell door and let Filthy Rich out. "I'll take you to the locker and you can collect your belongings." said Bulrush, gritting his teeth the whole time.
"Are you afraid you won’t get to see me again deputy?" Filthy asked jokingly. "You know I'll be at the next ball."
Just then the door swung open, behind it was Oats wearing a stern look on his face. "Bulrush, what are you doing?"
"Letin' Mr. Rich out, his twenty four hours are up." said Bulrush.
He didn't blink, "Good, It's about time."
Filthy was relived, he had his doubts at first but he knew they would prove to be unfounded, Oats was a pony of reason. "Say Oats, my family has a bit of a celebration waiting for me back home. How would you like to come along?"
Oats didn't blink, "I'm afraid that would be in poor taste."
"Ah, perhaps you're right. Still mustn't keep the children waiting." Filthy said, Oats didn't blink.
"Your children will be waiting for some time I think Filthy. It is my great displeasure to place you under arrest for obstruction of justice, falsifying legal documents and bribery of city officials. Deputy Bulrush please read him his rights." Oats said flatly.
Bulrush complied and started reciting the rights by rote, Filthy pushed him aside and ran up to the police constable. "What the hay is your game Oats? You're just as guilty as me, is our little midnight deal really worth bringing down your own career?"
Oats let out a hearty snort, "It's not our deal that's in question Filthy, I did some digging when Chill's body disappeared. I didn't find anything that could link you to that, but do you know what I did find?"
Filthy started sweating, "N-no."
"An adoption form, missing the required signatures, approved without any of the city council members ever having laid eyes on it. Do I need to tell you whose it was?" Oats asked, Filthy shook his head. "I didn't think so. After questioning the clerk in charge she confessed to accepting a hefty bribe from you."
"But it was just so we could skip all the pointless red tape, you of all ponies should understand!" said Filthy, desperation filled his voice.
Oats ignored his plea and continued, "I spent the rest of today pouring through any forms that had to do with you or your projects. It turns out there's quite allot you evaded the red tape on." Oats turned his back to Filthy, "Out of respect for the friendship we once shared I will not tell your children what kind of pony you are."
Sadness struck at Filthy's heart, deep down he knew it had been risky, but he'd never hurt anypony with his actions. Mournfully he replied, "No they already know, my son he- He hated it."
"As I stated before, what kind of sentence will be pursued is up to the district attorney." said Oats.
Bulrush placed him back inside the cell, he had been only minutes away from freedom. 'I'm sorry princess, daddy's made a huge mistake. I hope you can forgive him, but you’re going to have to help your brother out a bit longer than I was expecting.'
"It's going to be a long night again, do you need anything until tomorrow?" asked Oats.
Filthy looked around his dismal surroundings that were going to be a second home. "Get me my lawyers."
As he wandered the halls of his memories Bruce couldn't help but marvel at its contents. It seemed each experience was worse than the last, a lifetime surrounded by madmen. But memories alone couldn't tell him what he needed to know, nothing about what kind of man he was.
There were daring feats and takedowns of thugs and psychopaths alike. He had gadgets and gizmos that made Bruce's mind spin and quite possibly the most amazing automobile he could ever imagine. Yet with every memory came a twinge of sadness, as if they carried with them the sense that he never was truly happy.
What Bruce truly needed was a way to talk with the Batman himself, "If only..." Then it struck him like lightning, the man who was always in his dreams he is him. "Great now I have to walk all the way back." Bruce grumbled, only to discover that right behind him was the set he had left so long ago. Now illuminated in a spotlight casting a shadow the same as his insignia was the bat.
This time he was anything but vague, Bruce could tell every last detail of this figure. He could also tell he was just as worse for wear as he was. "You've made quite the mess for us." said the Batman, his voice like liquid gravel.
"I was fine until you started peeking through, why did I have to know who killed mom and dad? Why did you make my do that to that mugger?" asked Bruce.
"I didn't make you do anything, it's just what we are, seekers of vengeance. As for me breaking free, I swore an oath, you swore an oath to fight crime, but you forgot. You were too busy frolicking with a bunch of rainbow horses to remember." said Batman.
"You mean I was too busy having a family that loved and cared for me, too busy spending time with my fillyfriend who made the pain seem bearable." said Bruce.
Batman grunted, "You think I never wanted to those things? I almost gave it all up to be with Andrea, I almost gave up the plan. But they wouldn't let me," he hung his head.
"Who wouldn't let you?" Bruce asked.
"Mother and father, no matter how hard I tried I just kept on getting pulled back, until I gave up on being happy. So let me be the one to continue on, I'll bring justice to this world and fulfill our oath." Batman said as he stood at his full height.
Now came the choice, Bruce could take the easy way out, fade away into nothing and let him take over. But that didn't sit right with him, Bruce had too many ponies who's lives he had touched and been touched by. A father who despite his faults loved and cared for his children immensely. A big sister who had overcome so much of her bad disposition and become Bruce's closest companion.
A fillyfriend who Bruce couldn't help but miss, even in this dream world. A best friend that was just as clever as Bruce and more than willing to stick up for him. And a butler who though mild mannered, always knew just what to say to make things better. All of them meant so much to Bruce, he couldn't place a value on it.
So it was decided, "What if ... What if I fulfilled our oath, what if I became the Batman?"
He didn't act surprised or reel back in shock, Batman just stood there. "I know you can do it, I did it myself. But it wasn't easy, you would be training your body, mind and spirit for years. Training in every form of martial arts you can, learning so many different fields of science and criminology. In a sense being Batman will become your life."
"I will do it, for the ponies I love and for the life I extinguished. I have lived the majority of the life I can remember in Ponyville, I wish to protect it, like you protected Gotham." Bruce said in all earnest.
Batman gave a long exhale from his nostrils, it seems he too had decided. "Alright, I'll leave it all to you, or me to be precise." In a gesture akin to passing the torch, Batman removed his mask and handed it to Bruce. Beneath it was the face of Bruce Wayne, billionaire, playboy philanthropist. To Bruce the younger it was like a glimpse of what he might have grown up to become, and what he never will be.
He started to fade away and as he did normalcy seemed to return to the abstract plane of Bruce's dream world. Before he was completely gone Batman had one last thing to ask, "When you wake up, make your oath. You will won't you?"
"I swear." The word of his younger self was enough and Batman let himself go. With him went the hallway of his own memories, one by one fading away until once again Bruce had solitude in his own mind.
It was a familiar group gathered around Bruce's oversized bed, Randolph was using all his knowledge of home medicine to try and rouse the young master from his day long slumber. To his left was Silver Spoon, she hadn't been expecting to find her coltfriend near comatose upon arrival and thus was quite distraught. Near the back of the room, just about as far away from the bead as possible was Diamond Tiara. She didn't want to admit it, even to herself, but she did have a twinge of worry for him as he lay there unmoving.
"Come on Randolph just poke him with a stick or something, he doesn’t deserve to be in that bed." said Diamond, forcing bile into her voice.
Silver Spoon glared at her, "How can you say that? He's your brother for ponies sake!" Diamond refused to answer, instead crossing her forelegs grumpily.
"Young mistresses, as much as I am sure Master Wayne would love to see you upon his waking, I doubt waking to see you two arguing would be pleasing in the slightest." Randolph said tactfully.
"Sorry Randolph," said Silver, Diamond still refused to talk.
"There is no need for apologies. Now I'm going to try using some smelling salts, they always brought your grandmother round during her fainting spells Mistress Tiara." Randolph procured an ornate glass bottle, opened it and wafted it around underneath Bruce's nose. Almost immediately he sprung upright.
"I'm ... still me. Thank you." Bruce said.
"You are welcome Master Wayne, and I must say it is good to see you awake once more." said Randolph.
Silver hopped on the bed and pounced him, "Bruce you're awake!"
From within her sweet embrace Bruce said, "Sweetie I'm so sorry for hurting you like I did. I missed you allot."
"I know, I missed you too, and I want you to know that I'm not going to give up on you Bruce. We're going to get over your problems together." Silver tightly held onto his hoof with hers.
Bruce let out a smile, Silver Spoon truly was a special pony. "You're here too sis, er, I mean Diamond. How is dad doing?" he asked trying to be diplomatic.
"He's his usual cheery self, no thanks to you." Diamond snidely replied.
"You know I never meant for any of that to happen, you know that right?" asked Bruce.
"Well it doesn't matter if you meant it or not, you can accidentally knock over a vase without meaning to but you still broke it. You killed a pony and daddy's still in prison for what you did." There wasn't hate in her voice, only disappointment.
Bruce knew it to be true, but he knew that wasn't all. "Diamond, Silver and Randolph can you come with me? I need you all to witness something important." All three in attendance were puzzled, what could he have to show them when he just woke up? He hopped out of bed and out of his room, with some effort he grabbed the dangling chord that was bound to the attic ladder.
"I wouldn't go up there Master Wayne, there's a bit of a pest problem. Somepony left the window open and the bats have taken to roosting in there." said Randolph.
'Is this providence or what?' Bruce thought. "Actually that's even better, come on."
Every pony followed him, albeit reluctantly into the attic space. It was very dimly let by the moon, after rummaging around Bruce found what he was looking for, the box he had been found with. Sitting neatly at the top of the pile, right where he had left it was the mask. "Do you know what this is?" Bruce asked.
"It looks like some cheap Nightmare Nights costume you'd find in daddy's store." Diamond commented.
Bruce ignored her remark, "It's a symbol, an image designed to strike fear into the superstitious and cowardly criminal lot. It belonged to a dark knight who fought those who preyed upon the weak and spread crime to his city. One day I wish to be counted worthy of this mask."
"What the hay are you even talking about?" asked Diamond.
Silver had to agree, "I'm confused Bruce, what's going on?"
"In front of you all I'm going to swear an oath, one that I shall never break. I've done a terrible thing last night, maybe it's something I can never fully be forgiven for. But I promise that I'll spend the rest of my days trying." Bruce took a deep breath and turned to face the moon above, he got down on his knees and placed his hooves together as if in prayer.
He wondered if Princess Luna was watching, he wondered if his parents were watching. In a calm steady voice he spoke the solemn words. "I, Bruce Wayne, child of Thomas and Martha Wayne and son of Filthy Rich do swear, to dedicate my life to fighting crime in all its forms. Yet I vow never to become blinded to the possibility of somepony turning around from a wrong course, just as I have."
He paused momentarily to steady his resolve, "I will be vengeance, I will be justice and I will be forgiveness."
"Bruce that's, that's beautiful." Silver said, wiping a tear from her eye.
"Master Wayne if you are to undertake such an operation you will no doubt need assistance. May I be so bold as to offer my own?" inquired Randolph.
"Thank you, I would greatly appreciate it." Bruce replied, even in his old age Randolph was always eager to assist.
Diamond Tiara was still silent on the matter, even still she doubted him. Just then there was a strange glow filling the room, a sensation a pony only experiences once in their lives. A cutie mark had formed on Bruce's flank, and what a mark it was. Perhaps to a pony who hadn't been in Rich manor's attic during his speech it may not have stood out. But to those in attendance it held great significance.
On either side, resting just above his rear legs was a pair of scales not unlike those held by the statue of blind justice in Gotham City. Everypony marveled at it, a mark of one’s destiny realized. "You really are serious about this brother?" Diamond asked, dropping the hostility.
"I am sister," said Bruce. She didn't have anything to say, Diamond just ran up and hugged him. Not a congratulatory hug or a hug you give a friend you haven't seen in forever. This was a hug filled with relief that she could once again call him 'brother' without reservation.
When Diamond released him from her deathgrip Silver Spoon was up next on the hug list, but hers came with smooches as well. "I can't wait to see what everypony thinks of your cutie mark Bruce." She could just picture it now, all the crusaders staring at it with furious jealously it made her laugh on the inside. "So when are you going to start this crime fighting thing?"
"Whenever I'm ready, I'll have to start training my mind and body immediately if I'm going to be at my peak. That's what he told me anyway." said Bruce.
"Who told you?" asked Silver.
"Er, well, I did. It's a weird story, I'll tell you later."
And so it came about that on that night those four lives were changed forever. All of them moving down a different course than they once were. It would be fifteen long years before Bruce Wayne would don the mask and become the Batman, in that time much of Ponyville changed greatly.
This story shall also be told.