Cruising along the wooded lanes of what once was the Everfree forest it should have been a relaxing experience. Of course nothing about what Bruce was in the middle of could be called relaxing. The little radar monitor consistently blipping, signaling how far he was form his target, his father's wife and by proxy his adoptive mother.
Nothing about the situation was gelling. He'd expected her to go for the nearest populated area or some abandoned factory or the like to hide out in. But every map of the area he had in the Batmobile's computer said the direction she was headed was uninhabited and undeveloped. A sickening churn was forming in his stomach.
A few more minuets of driving along and he was right on top of the signal with no insane mare in sight. Only a bloodied ankle bracelet laying in the center of the road, it's plastic housing cracked slightly. Bruce sat in his idling car, looking at the object in despair, his day had just became far more difficult.
After retrieving it he placed the tracking device in an evidence bag for further study. On initial inspection the housing looked like it had been run over, but there were no tire marks. The little metal barbs that were supposed to keep the bracelet in place were covered in blood and clumps of fur, the whole device seemed barbaric. Other than that the device yielded no other clues, with an absence of other leads he began tuning the radio to police frequencies in hopes of finding some indicator of Screwball's whereabouts.
The only thing left was deduction, seeing as he was alone on the stretch of road Bruce allowed himself to reason aloud. "There were no hoofprints and walking on hot pavement would be very uncomfortable. Maybe she got a ride on a passing truck? No that doesn't make sense, why would she be driving out this way? The only town for hundreds of miles is Dodge Junction."
He mulled the thought over and over again in his head, just when he was coming to some kind of clarity a voice announced itself. "Excuse me, but I may be of assistance." When he spun round Bruce was greeted by a devious looking unicorn, a coat of dull grey and eyes of piercing yellow. "You are looking for the mare who escaped are you not?"
"I, yes I am. Where did you come from? I didn't hear you approach."
The stranger ignored the question, "I just so happened to be passing by when I saw her. If you act fast you could stop her!"
Before Bruce could ask any other questions a second voice joined, "Don't listen to that fool, he doesn't know what he's saying!" It was a pegasus with the same coloration as the unicorn. "If you listen to him then I won't help you cure her."
"I say the same! Listen to that feather head and I'll never tell where I saw her go." The unicorn crossed his two front hooves but remained uprite, breaking all the laws of physics.
Already Bruce was loosing his patience, whoever these were, they were trying to pull something over on him. "I see, well gentlecolts it seems you two have some issues to workout and I'm still busy. Good day." As he began walking back to his car it had the desired effect. The two ponies rushed to block his way.
"Wait! Do not be so hasty. Are you not interested in what we have to offer?"
"Yes, we have much, very tangible rewards for you."
"And what assurance do I have you could even help me? For all I know you're just patients that escaped along side Screwball." Now was the time to see them back up their claims.
"Ah, he want's a demonstration!" The unicorn took his hooves and puled at the corner of the universe, ripping a hole in it's fabric. "I can show you anything and anywhere. I can even send you anywhere or anywhen you want." The scenes flashing by in the window were all important moments from Bruce's life in Equestria.
His first day, the day Diamond first called him her brother, the day he figured out what Dimple was, his first kiss. All happy memories, ones he wouldn't mind revisiting, then came the back alley and Chill. "Stop it. Stop this now!" The unicorn obeyed, pulling the tear closed.
Next the pugasus spoke up, "He may be able to take you places, but he knows nothing. If you trust in me I can teach you everything you would ever want to know. Even how to cure the poor mare." The two took their place side by side, "So what will it be Batman? Will you choose me and cure her?"
"Or me and I will bring you right to her? You can stop Screwball from harming anypony right now, all you have to do is choose."
Bruce felt like he was swimming inside his own head, something about the way they spoke was blurring his mind. In the foggy haze it was almost as if he could see little strings attached to the ponies limbs reaching far into the cloudless sky. Using every ounce of focus he had he could sus out the shape of the puppeteer, tall and misshaped, with two horns unlike each other.
'Horns? Why did that stick out to Bruce? It was something from before but in this current state of mind his memory was a jumble, whatever the cause it left a feeling of unease and distrust. "So then, you want me to choose. The quick option that will spare lives in the short term or the option that will distract me from my search but promises a permanent cure." Both ponies nodded in unison.
Bruce knew what option he had to take, he was a hero or at the very least aspiring to be one. His self imposed duty was toward Equestria, to Ponyville, to it's citizens. He had to choose the option that would save lives.
But he was more than just Batman, he was Bruce Wayne, son of Filthy Rich and Brother of Diamond Tiara. They were his only family and he owed the world to them both. And if there was even a ghost of a chance that what this manipulator was saying was true, then he had to try and find the cure that was being offered.
"I'll chose you," he said pointing to the pegasus. "Tell me how to cure her."
The winged pony smiled, revealing a long singular tooth more belonging on a manticore than a pegasus. "The way to cure Screwball is simple. In the Predawn Museum is a modest, unassuming little amulet. Nopony pays it any attention since it's just a piece of patina bronze. But it carries the power to return her to 'normal.'" The unicorn beside him took a step back and faded from view, next the pegasus did so as well. "My end of the bargain is paid, so I bid you a good rescue and nightmares of the ponies you've doomed for the rest of your life."
Before he was gone completely Bruce grabbed hold of the mirage by the wings, and pulled it's face next to his. "IF anypony dies, then it will not be on my head alone. IF anypony dies then I'll be coming for whatever is pulling your strings." The wings came off in his hooves as if they were held on with nothing more than craft glue, finaly the wingless pegasus faded away.
'IF anypony dies, that's the big IF. I must hurry. As fast as his hooves could carry him he ran to the Batmobile and pulled a U-turn, back to Ponyville. The whole way praying that this was the right decision.
The plan was simple, go into the museum in disguise, talk with the proprietor and purchase the artifact. Bruce would be going in as Spruce Wane, lumber tycoon and aspiring art collector. To add to the look he was wearing a burly false mustache, a toque to cover his very recognizable mane as well as a fake cutie mark of a tree over his own. On his way inside Bruce was practicing the voice, a Vanhoofer accent would do nicely.
The Predawn Museum, so named for collecting artifacts from before Celestia and Luna became Equestria's rulers, raising the sun and moon over everypony. For noon it was pretty empty, a few elderly mares and their grandchildren wandering through the halls of Starswirl the Bearded, one solitary stallion enjoying the pre classical era artworks. What piece Bruce wanted was sitting in a neglected corner of the least viewed section.
It was just as the pony had described, a bronze amulet coated in a film of greenish patina. It didn't have any special name attached to it like, 'Starswirl the Bearded's lucky talisman.' It just had a yellowed paper tag stating the year it was unearthed and the supposed purpose of the object. The placard described it as a prototype 'magic null' and that it was defective.
The doctor's had tried using such enchantments in Screwball's treatment in the past, but they'd had no effect. "What makes you so special then?"
Unexpectedly somepony answered him, "Nothing much I'm afraid." It belonged to a fopish unicorn with stubby little legs.
Quickly Bruce assumed the Vanhoofer ascent he'd been practicing, "Soory, didn't hear ya comin' or I woulda intraduced myself. Names Spruce Wane doncha know." He held out his hoof for a friendly shake, but the unicorn declined.
"Terribly sorry, I've been sick with the pony pox, wouldn't want to spread it around."
"Oh ya, ya. My little niece just came down with that last week. I tell ya, my sister Pine Bark. She used to be Pine Wane but that was before she married my buddy from the mill, anywho, she's been running round like a dog chasing it's own tail trying to care for the poor filly." It may have been stereotyping but it was working, the poor underplayed museum worker looked like he was ready to crawl out of his fur if it meant getting away from this gibbering lunatic.
"I ... see."
"Anywho, I was just admiring this pretty little necklace thingamagig you got here. Do ya think you could tell me more about it?"
Relief was on his face, "Ah yes I can. In actuality we don't know much about this particular null, from the radio carbon dating we can estimate it originates during the period in between Equestria's founding and the end of Discord's reign as king." That peaked Bruce's attention, the same name Fluttershy had mentioned. "As the tag says as a magic null it's defective, or perhaps it was a prototype. The amulet does emit a anti field of magic but it's on no wavelengths that anypony is capable of using."
"What if it's ah, for the what's it called? Chaos magic?"
"You mean to say it was meant to defend against Discord's magic? Yes there is a theory floating about that, unfortunately we have no way of testing that theory. And at any rate it would be pointless if it was, the last I heard of Discord he'd been reformed or something to that effect." It was amazing to Bruce how dismissive this stallion was.
"So then if it's as useless as you're sayin' it is, do you think I could take it off your hooves? I recently came into some money and I'm wanting to invest in some art, this here trinket's caught my fancy."
"I'm sorry Mr. Wane, any sale of museum property must be approved first by the board of trustees." His tone was less apologetic and more condescending. If Bruce were a mind reader he would heave heard, 'As if I'd ever sell an artifact to a backwoods pig b*&%er like you.
This wasn't going good, he was sure this is what he needed but negotiating would take time, time he didn't have. He could always try his father's method, what was it that Filthy had said, "I implore you to reconsider." A request backed up with a hefty bribe of gems, no Bruce wouldn't do that, he may have odored his father at one point but he'd never stoop down to his dirty practices.
Instead Bruce would do something morally questionable, he was going to steal it. "Sweet Celestia! Is that a foal climbing onto the Pliohippus exhibit?"
"Oh no, not again! Can't you little brats read?! It says do not touch the exhibits!" Angrily the stubby unicorn stormed off to rain fury upon disrespectful children, leaving Bruce alone to accomplish his goal.
Underneath the tuque he was wearing he'd hidden some of the tools from his utility belt, the one he wanted in particular was a little plasma torch no larger than a lipstick tube. With a click the blue flame lit up, it cut through the glass like butter. There was no security protecting this particular artifact, as the stallion had explained in the eyes of the archaeological community it was practically worthless. He took the amulet and placed it under his hat, but before leaving he felt guilty.
He also had a few thousand paper bits on him so he dropped those off in the donation box on his way out along with a note apologizing in a very Vanhoover way. 'Soory for taking your necklace thingy, I'm afraid I just couldn't help myself.' He was out the door before anypony noticed, but by the time he reached the Batmobile several blocks down the road alarm bells and police sirens were blaring through the air.
"Well, I have it. Assuming it even is the genuine article how am I going to get it to her if I don't know where she is?" As if the universe itself was answering him a little fluffy pink cloud floated above Bruce and began dumping it's contents on his head. "Is this- chocolate rain?" As the cartoonish meteorological phenomenon continued to drench Batman in delicious diary products his eyes turned skyward to it's source.
Coming out of the smoke stack of Equestria's only mobile city was a steady stream of unnatural clouds. Already unaware pegasi were getting caught in their sticky trap, if Bruce were a betting stallion he'd wager Screwball was inside that weather factory. Now came the tricky part, how to get there.
Quickly he hoped inside the Batmobile and dialed the dedicated line to home, after a few rings his butler picked up. "Rich manor, may I ask who is calling?"
"It's me Randolph, tell me have you seen the sky lately?"
"You are referring to the cotton candy clouds? Yes I've seen them, though at first I attributed them to me going senile."
"You're not going senile old colt." Bruce warmly assured his friend, "You've got plenty more years left in you."
"While I appreciate the sentiment master Wayne, was there something you required of me? I was in the process of hammering out the bullet impacts from your body armor."
"Randolph you may have to put that on hold for the moment, is my jet fueled and ready?"
"Your concord jet is always ready to fly at a moments notice sir, all you have to do is call the airport and-"
"Not that jet."
"Master Wayne I'd highly advise against using that craft, it's never been test flown." the Butler's voice raised ever so slightly.
"No choice Randolph, I don't know what I'll be flying into and I may need an edge. Fuel it up, I need to be ready to take off in ten minuets." Bruce hung up the receiver before the inevitable objections came through, at top speed the Batmobile pushed through the city streets racing against a clock with no hands.
Things were looking up for Screwball, she was setting hoof in a place few earth ponies ever had, the Cloudsdale weather factory. Well maybe not setting hoof herself, instead she was riding on the back of a pegasus with a gun pointed at his head. The deal was he gave her a piggyback ride anywhere she wanted and in return she wouldn't decorate the walls with his grey matter. He wasn't the only hostage, she had a whole gaggle of pegasi gagged and their wings bound.
An elaborate trap was holding them suspended above what in lay terms was the cloud making machine. If anypony so much as budged any of the doors a trip wire would send them falling into the access port to be ripped apart molecule by molecule. Instead of raining chocolate milk Ponyville would be receiving heavy showers of blood with a slight chance of gore.
She was doing everything her daddy had asked of her, Screwball was being a good girl the only way she knew how. Now she had only to wait, the big hairy bat would come, she would beat the snot out of him but not kill him, just as daddy had made her promise.
'Still he'd better hurry' Screwball thought to herself, 'There sure are allot of police outside.'
With every minute one more airborne lawpony took position outside the building. At least a dozen snipers dotted the roof tops, waiting for the split second when their target would be in view. To anypony watching the scene one thing was clear, the day wouldn't end peacefully.