by Dan Swanson
Unlike many people, the Wizard had no superstitions about bats. He knew that not all bats were other-form vampires, and that most natural bats didn’t drink blood. On the other hand, he had actually met live vampires, and seen them change shape from human to bat and back again. He didn’t think he had any enemies of the vampire persuasion, but in his line of business, who knew if he might have offended one? They were all very touchy, after all. Suddenly, being stuck in an escape-proof room didn’t seem quite so appealing.
The bat had not reacted to the Wizard’s magical light. It stood there, almost motionless, staring at him. He made some plans. He had to hope that this was a real bat. Without a magic wand to enhance and supplement his magic, he was no match for a vampire.
The cantrip he’d used to amplify his voice could be very useful against a bat. If he could confuse this beast long enough to throw his cape over it, he might be able to trap it and stomp it to death. He was using the cape in place of a blanket, so he didn’t even have to move to grasp it. It was a feeble plan, but all he had.
“I am the great and powerful Wizard!” He grabbed the cape in both hands, rolled to his feet, and flung his cape over the giant bat, then dived after it, ready to wrap it up tightly. The cape flew truly, and settled down over the beast. At least, he thought it did — he thought he saw it start to wrap around the animal — but then it simply collapsed as if nothing had ever been there. And the Wizard bashed himself pretty hard on the stainless steel column on which the bat had perched.
After he got over the worst of the pain, he carefully probed the entire room for any traces of magic. He found nothing. His visitor had not been a vampire or a magical illusion. So what was it, and how had it vanished?
Later that morning, the prison psychiatrist spoke to him via the intercom. “Do you need a doctor, Mr. Zard? Tackling a fire hydrant can be pretty hard on your shoulder.”
The Wizard had not slept the rest of the night, and he wasn’t in the mood for jokes at his expense. “I thought this cell was supposed to be secure! I demand to be moved to someplace safe. That beast probably had rabies — or worse!” The mage had determined that the giant bat must have climbed into his cell through the toilet, and left the same way. The thought of a giant rabid bat, lurking somewhere below, able to climb into his room at will, was giving him the willies. He had stuffed his cape into the opening.
“What beast, Mr. Zard? I’ve reviewed the surveillance tapes from last night, and there was never anyone, or anything, in your room but you.”
“The giant bat, you moron!”
“Mr. Zard, we watch this cell in visible light and infrared. We record every noise, with the amplification high enough to hear your breathing. The floor is a sensitive scale. Air pressure, temperature, and humidity are constantly monitored. Everything was normal last night until you awakened, yelled, and started practicing for the Baltimore Colts. In total darkness, yet! I assure you, there was nothing in that cell but you.”
He argued with the shrink, but they wouldn’t move him to another cell, wouldn’t let him out, not even to use a toilet in another cell, wouldn’t let him see last night’s records, wouldn’t let him talk to the warden or even to Captain Strickland. The shrink was convinced he’d had a nightmare, caused by all the prison food he’d eaten the day before. But the Wizard knew his food transmutation spell protected him from bad food. Finally, the shrink cut him off.
“You’re into day two of sixty, Mr. Zard. Please try to rein in your imagination!” He shut down the intercom.
It was a very long day for the Wizard, as you might imagine. He couldn’t get that bat out of his mind. The psychiatrist must have lied to him — he knew the bat had been in the room with him, and he knew it hadn’t been any manifestation of magic. If the security on this cell was so darn good, they must have recorded it. But they continued to claim he had been alone in the cell all night, even though they wouldn’t show him any of the recordings.
They must be playing mind games, trying to destroy his self-confidence again. Well, he wouldn’t fall for it. He was the Wizard, and he had vanquished Superman. But somewhere in the back of his mind, there were still whispers of doubt. Doubt had recently laid him low, stripped away his magical powers, and left him a homeless vagabond. He couldn’t give into doubt again. But he hadn’t had the mental resources to fight it before, and now, as his thoughts chased each other endlessly around and around, he could feel his remaining power slipping away again, and he was helpless to stop it.
And then, almost like a bolt of magical lightning, he realized that there was another possibility. His former partner-in-crime, the Brain Wave, could create illusions with the power of his mind. No magic was involved, and the illusions only existed in the mind of his victims, so they wouldn’t show up on cameras or any of the other sensor devices. Surely the Brain Wave was not the only being in the world capable of creating such illusions. Just as surely, another being with such power must be working for the prison.
Certain that he knew the cause, the solution was simple. He had still magic enough to shield his mind from the telepathic illusions of others. It was a simple skill, learned in his early apprenticeship. He quickly spoke the simple cantrip, and felt a magical shield surround his mind. He had tested this shield against the Brain Wave himself. It was a sign of his reduced condition that he had not more quickly diagnosed the cowardly attacks to which he had been subjected.
His confidence restored, he slept easily and deeply.
At least he did until midnight. Once again, he awakened abruptly, with the sure knowledge that he wasn’t alone in the cell. This time he heard rustling near the ceiling. He called together the remaining shreds of his magic, and created a light — and screamed. There were hundreds of bats, hanging from the ceiling, all of them staring at him. His scream startled them, and they dropped and took flight, until the room was filled with swarming bats. Everywhere he looked, bats. Incredibly, none of them touched each other or him. It was an astounding display of echolocation, but the Wizard wasn’t able to appreciate it.
There was nowhere in the cell to hide. He pulled himself into a corner and wrapped into the smallest ball possible, shivering and crying. And then the lights came on, and the bats vanished.
The voice that came through the intercom was Captain Strickland. “Mr. Zard, what’s the matter? Should I call a doctor?” The genuine concern in his voice reached the Wizard. He slowly unwound himself. When he didn’t say anything for several minutes, Strickland did call for the prison doctor. When the doctor finally arrived, he looked at the recent instrument readings that showed the Wizard’s heart rate, and hurried into the cell to give the terrified mage a sedative. He was too weak to fight the effects of the drug, and as he slipped into unconsciousness, a small part of his mind gibbered in terror, helpless. He knew he would never awaken again.
He was wrong. But when he did awaken, he quickly realized that death wasn’t half as terrifying as what he was now facing.
Once again, the Wizard regained consciousness with the unpleasant knowledge that he wasn’t alone. No bats this time, and the aura he perceived was one he knew. Although he had never before sensed such anger in that aura.
“You messed with my mind. I don’t like that!” The voice was low and rumbling, like an active volcano about to explode. The voice of the Batman.
The Wizard panicked momentarily when he realized that he was lying on a stretcher, with straps fastened about his arms, legs, and chest.
“Sorry, just a precaution to keep you from hurting yourself until you regained consciousness,” said the Batman as he unfastened the restraints. His tone was cordial, almost collegial, in fact, but the Wizard wasn’t fooled.
The Batman positioned a chair where the Wizard could see him and sat down. The Wizard thought briefly about making an escape attempt, but quickly decided against it.
“There are lots of super-heroes who are very angry with you right now, Zard — heroes who spend their lives helping people in trouble. But your spell stopped them from helping the greatest hero of all, in the greatest trouble of his career. Those heroes bear grudges, Zard, and are looking for you.” He paused, as if contemplating all those heroes, then continued, even more quietly, “Some of them respond violently to things that make them angry. Luckily for you, I got here before them.”
I don’t feel very lucky! the Wizard thought, but didn’t say aloud. He wondered if the Batman appreciated the irony in his last statement.
Instead he said, “That was not at all my intent, I assure you. That spell was supposed to ensure my place as the most powerful mage in history. I wanted every hero to try to find Superman — and fail. My fame would grow with each failure, my stature with each retelling. With the world’s heroes powerless against me, the criminal element would elevate me–”
“Enough!” It was spoken in a whisper. And yet that whisper roared in his ears, and the Wizard immediately shut up. He had sometimes wondered how the Batman consistently prevailed over super-powered foes; now he understood. The Batman’s success stemmed from the intensity of his passion, and that passion was a super-power in itself, as powerful in its own way as Superman or Doctor Fate.
“It didn’t work out quite the way you expected?” There wasn’t a trace of sarcasm in the Batman’s voice. He wanted the Wizard to keep talking.
“Perversity personified!” It was a rather clumsy curse, but it carried as much anger and frustration as any other curse the Batman had ever heard. “Very powerful, complex spells often take on a kind of mysterious ‘pseudo-life’ of their own, with unintended consequences. This one apparently decided to protect its own existence by magically enforced secrecy.” He stopped, and appeared to be brooding. The Dark Knight decided to prod him.
“So, it forced anyone with a chance to find Superman, to not even consider looking for him. And your own downfall — no doubt this living spell forced everyone to disbelieve your story.” He could sense the Wizard’s anger growing, and gave him a relief valve. “So, how did Lois Lane overcome the spell’s side effects?”
“I guess that damned Wand of Glastonbury wasn’t as powerful as legend had it! Once again, the glorious Wizard is betrayed by misplaced trust!” His voice ran down, and he continued muttering. The Batman couldn’t make out anything of sense, and he’d had enough.
“I want to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. I assume that since your latest spell was widely publicized, any two-bit magician will be able to figure out the original?”
Disgust played across the Wizard’s face. “Once a master has parted the sea, the lesser crowd after, seeking stranded fish. Yes, of course, now that I have ingeniously created such a work of art, even an amateur could craft a mediocre, yet passable copy.”
A work of art that has left you powerless and imprisoned — hardly an accomplishment to boast about, the Caped Crusader thought silently. It wasn’t his purpose to strip the Wizard of the remaining shreds of his pride. He actually wanted the master criminal’s help.
“I assume that a spell of protection is easily within your majestic abilities?” He thought he might have overdone it; the Wizard looked up sharply, as if he thought he was being mocked. And quickly remembered who he was dealing with.
“In my current state, I don’t have the power. If the Wand of Glastonbury had lived up to its legend, were I to have it in my possession, perhaps.”
“I have a magical artifact of legendary power.” And the Batman pulled a leather pouch, much like a very plain sheath for a short sword, or long dagger, from where it had been concealed under his belt, behind his back. The Wizard’s magical senses detected nothing unusual — until the Batman pulled back a flap.
To his mage-sight, it was as if a sun had taken shape in the Batman’s hand. The Batman’s own aura was like a an out-of-control forest fire, yet next to the magnificence of this small item’s magical corona, it was less than a candle. The Wand of Glastonbury was the bursting of a soap bubble compared to an atomic bomb. He lusted for this artifact.
The Batman was holding a narrow wand, perhaps a foot long, topped by a golden device much like a miniature lantern. Even to his unaided eyes, it was surrounded by a golden glow. He quickly turned his remaining abilities to a thorough magical examination.
The Wizard was so fascinated by the mysterious artifact that he completely forgot he was trapped in a small room with one of his most dangerous enemies. He exclaimed excitedly as he divined the wand’s secrets.
“It can’t be — it was only a legend! But, it seems, the legend is fact.” He could see that the Batman was growing impatient, so he explained. “This is the Scepter of Thoth! Thoth is one of the gods of ancient Egypt, a moon god, mighty in knowledge and power. You have probably seen his representation — the body of a man with the head of an ibis. Where did you get this?”
“You have your secrets, while I keep my own,” the Batman responded coldly. “The question I need answered is, can you use this ‘Scepter of Thoth’ as I’ve asked?”
“According to legend, the Scepter was forged by Thoth for use by his chosen mortal champion. It confers great power, activated by vocal command and guided by intent, when wielded by one whom Thoth finds worthy.” He reached to touch the wand — and screamed, drawing his hand back as if he had stuck it into an open fire. “Sadly, I don’t seem to be on his short list. So, no, Batman. I can’t help you.”
“I suspected as much.” If he was disappointed, there was no trace of it in the Batman’s voice. The Dark Knight returned the wand to its sheath, and the magic power was again hidden. He turned to leave, but the Wizard stopped him with a question.
“The bats! Were they real?” he asked, desperately wanting to know how the trick was accomplished. “How did you get them into my cell without magic?”
The Dark Knight considered. The Wizard had been honest with him. “Yes, they were real. I used a science-based teleportation device borrowed from a Martian comrade-in-arms.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Manhunter from Mars,” Batman #78 (August-September, 1953).]
“If you don’t wish to tell me, please don’t treat me like a fool!” the Wizard responded indignantly. “If they were real, why weren’t they detected by the monitoring equipment?”
The Batman thought it was ironic that a powerful practitioner of magic, who had recently tangled with a super-powerful alien from Krypton, might doubt the existence of a detective from Mars. Oh, well. He gave his enemy with one more thing to ponder. “Who designed the monitoring equipment?”
Unexpectedly, there was a noise. Someone was trying to open the locked infirmary door. Startled, the Wizard turned his head in the direction of the door, and when he turned it back again, the Batman was gone. A quick check with his magical senses confirmed what he had always believed: there was no magic involved in the Batman’s mysterious disappearances.
“I hate it when he does that!” He decided not to mention this incident to anyone.