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False Realm
By Cere

              Batman glanced out the window of the Batmobile at the buildings rushing by. "You actually know Superman's identity?" he asked in disbelief. "That's one of the most guarded secrets in the world!"
              "I know," Wayne said. "It wasn't too hard to find out, either."
              "Can you tell me?" Batman asked. Wayne just glared at him. Even from a small computer screen, that look is still fierce.
              Wayne's reply was interrupted by a beeping noise. "What's that?" Batman asked.
              "Something at the Gotham National Bank," Wayne responded.
              "I'll be right on it," Batman said. The engine screamed as he sped towards the bank. Once there, he pulled the drop levers and fell out of the bottom. Batman landed on a roof nearby and looked down at the bank across the street.
              People were madly running out and screaming loudly. "Now there's something you don't see everyday," Batman said to himself, and swooped down to check out the situation.
              At ground level, it was pure chaos. Batman tried not to get run over by the stampede of people coming out of the bank. He grabbed a man by the shoulders and stared into his face. "What's going on?" Batman asked.
              "It's a monster," the man yelled. He broke out of Batman's grip and continued running.
              A monster? Batman walked inside the doors and saw a large green creature standing in front of the safe. When it saw Batman, it roared and charged at him. Batman threw a batarang at it, but it passed right through the monster.
              "Spellbinder," Batman said.
              The monster faded away and left Spellbinder standing there. "Ah, Batman," he said. "I was hoping you would come.
             "Using your illusions to scare people away from your targets?" Batman asked. "I thought you were smarter than that."
              "We'll soon see who is smarter," Spellbinder said. He suddenly took off running and left out a back door. Batman quickly followed him into the back alleys. A long chase ensued, with Spellbinder always keeping a step ahead of Batman. Finally, he pushed open a door and entered an abandoned building. Batman didn't think twice and followed him inside. He had entered just in time to see a door close opposite him. Batman quickly walked up to the door, kicked it open, and entered.
              He was immediately blinded by a flash of green light. "What did you do to me, Spellbinder?" he asked while he rubbed his eyes.
              "Oh, nothing," Spellbinder replied.
              Batman opened his eyes to find himself in a jungle. Sounds of animals echoed all around him from the deep jungle foliage. "You can't fool me," Batman shouted. "I know that this is only an illusion."
              "You have no idea how deep the illusion goes," Spellbinder said as he stepped out from behind a large tree.
              Batman started to attack, but a large jaguar jumped down in front of him. The beast snarled and showed its bright fangs. "I know that isn't real," Batman said. "It's only one of your tricks."
              "True," said Spellbinder, "but it feels real."
              The jaguar took a swipe at Batman, tearing a piece of his costume off his arm. Batman rolled across the ground away from it, only to look up and see the great cat staring him in the face. Batman could feel its warm breath brushing against his face. The jaguar swung a paw with claws extended, but Batman launched up and landed on a tree branch above. The jaguar paced below him, looking up at its prey.
              "It's no use, Batman," said Spellbinder. "In the end you will admit that I am the better man."
              "I doubt it," said Batman. He leapt down in front of the jaguar with a batarang in his hand. The cat pounced at him, but Batman sidestepped it. He started to throw the batarang at the jaguar, but abruptly changed and tossed it at Spellbinder's head. It hit its mark, and Spellbinder collapsed unconscious to the floor.
              The jungle disappeared and a plain white room took its place. Spellbinder lay on the floor across from Batman. After he put handcuffs on the villain, Batman left to report to the police.
              As soon as he stepped out of the building, he heard sirens. They seemed to be getting closer. Batman walked out of the alley and saw several police vehicles stop right in front of the building.
              Commissioner Gordon stepped out of one of the cars. "Commissioner," Batman said, "he's insi-"
              "That's him," Gordon said. "Get him!"
              "What?!" Batman asked in disbelief. Several police started shooting at him, forcing him to retreat into the safety of the alley. "What are you doing?" he shouted from the darkness.
              "They're doing their job, of course," a voice said behind him. Batman turned to see Spellbinder looking smug. Batman brought out a batarang and prepared to throw it. "Oh, puh-lease," Spellbinder said, and waved his hand. The batarang turned to dust.
              Batman looked in astonishment at where his batarang had previously been. While he was distracted, police came up behind him and grabbed his arms. They twisted them behind his back, put handcuffs on his wrists, and pulled him away. Batman struggled, but he was powerless against them. He was thrown in the back of an armored car, landing painfully on his back. He rose to his legs as the car drove away. What was going on? This wasn't making any sense!
              The car stopped suddenly, throwing Batman to the floor. The doors opened and two guards roughly took him out. They poked their guns into his back as he was led into a strange building.
              Inside, he saw that it was a courtroom. All the people turned to look at him as he entered. Batman gasped as he saw that they had no faces! Where there should have been one, it was completely blank.
              "All rise for the honorable Judge!" a man announced.
              Everyone stood up as Spellbinder entered, wearing his costume of twisted red and black. He sat down, and everybody else also sat down. Only Batman was left standing.
              "What are you doing to me, Spellbinder?" Batman asked.
              "Silence!" Spellbinder shouted. He studied at the papers in front of him for a couple minutes. "Well, I think everyone here knows you're guilty," he finally said. "I therefore sentence you to exile!" Batman's shouts of protests were smothered by the supporting roar of the crowd. "You are banished from reality and forced to live forever in the virtual world!" Spellbinder pronounced.
              The guards grabbed Batman and threw him outside. He dodged several cars as he made his way across the street and fell down into an alley. He strained at the handcuffs that still bound his wrists. One final pull with all his strength was able to break them off.
              He rubbed his wrists and tried to figure out what was happening. This whole thing had to be Spellbinder's doing. He just wasn't sure how.
              "Out of breath?" a voice taunted him. Batman again turned to see Spellbinder standing behind him. Batman quickly reacted and grabbed Spellbinder's neck, lifting him several feet off the ground.
              "I want some answers and I want them now," Batman said menacingly.
              But Spellbinder disappeared. "I'm sorry," said Spellbinder behind him, "but you'll just have to wait."
              "You're playing some trick on me," Batman said. "I'm sure of it."
              "In all reality," Spellbinder said, "this isn't reality."
              Batman nodded. "One of your VR machines."
              "That's right," Spellbinder said. "Right now, you are in a world that performs to my every whim. Whatever I want to happen happens."
              "So why don't you just kill me right now and get it over with?"
              "Now, now," Spellbinder said, circling around Batman, "it's just more fun this way."
              The image of Spellbinder disappeared, and Batman was left alone in the dark. After thinking for a moment, he spread his wings and flew up to the top of a building. He had to think of a way to escape from Spellbinder's world, and he had to think of it fast.
              He had to push the limits of the VR world somehow, make the computer crash. Maybe he could try flying beyond the world's limits. He pushed a button on his belt and the Batmobile came rushing up to him. He quickly hopped in and prepared to fly outside the city.
              As soon as he touched the controls, straps came down over his hands and chest, trapping him. Batman banged his head against the back of the seat, scolding himself for being so stupid. "Welcome to Spellbinder Airlines!" Spellbinder's voice came over the speakers. "We hope you have a splendid flight!"
              The Batmobile burst forward suddenly, pushing Batman's head back against the seat. He had to figure out how to get out of this! The Batmobile raced carelessly around the city, narrowly avoiding buildings. Several sudden turns pushed Batman against his restraints.
              "If you look to your left," Spellbinder's voice said, "you'll see nothing especially interesting. If you look to your right, you will see the same thing. But if you look straight ahead…"
              Batman saw a skyscraper growing rapidly closer to them. He struggle frantically against his restraints, but to no avail. Spellbinder laughed as the Batmobile plunged into the building, shattering glass and everything in its path. It burst out the other side leaving a path of wreckage through the building.
              "We seem to be experiencing slight mechanical difficulties," Spellbinder said. Batman looked outside to see that part of the front had been ripped away. The Batmobile was rapidly losing altitude and heading towards the warehouse district. Batman closed his eyes and braced for the crash.
              The Batmobile smashed through the warehouse roof and rammed into the floor. The top of the cockpit was torn off and Batman's restraints were broken, sending him flying from the craft. The Batmobile continued sliding, until it suddenly disappeared, leaving Batman lying alone in the warehouse.
              Groaning, Batman sat up and assessed his injuries. His left shoulder was in deep pain, and much of his costume was torn, revealing the red circuitry underneath. He also had a big headache. But this isn't really happening to me, he thought. It's only what the VR program is telling my brain.
              Batman's thoughts were interrupted by a scuttling noise. He turned around to see several small shapes coming towards him. Tiny shrieks filled the air as the small creatures came towards him. Looking all around, he could see that he was being surrounded.
              Spellbinder entered the room through a door. "Like my pets?" he asked.
              "What are these things?" Batman asked.
              "They seem to like you a lot," Spellbinder said, ignoring the question. "But you should be careful. They do bite."
              The spider-like creatures came closer to Batman, their fangs glinting in the moonlight. He didn't take long to come to a conclusion. He activated his boot-thrusters and shot upwards, at the same time throwing a bomb batarang down at the creatures. The batarang sunk into the ground with no effect. "Spellbinder!" Batman shouted loudly.
              In response, a bolt of lightning sped from Spellbinder's hand to Batman's body. Batman grunted in pain as the electricity ran through him and caused his boot-thrusters to shut off, making him plummet to the ground. Spiders instantly started swarming around him. Batman quickly activated the electroshock lining in his suit, electrocuting all spiders that jumped on him.
              "Impressive," Spellbinder said. "But you know you cannot win."
              "I'm not done yet," Batman proclaimed, and started running away from Spellbinder. All spiders in his way were either trampled underfoot or shocked by the electroshock lining. He burst out the door and looked out into the street. Before he could make his move, Spellbinder appeared in front of him.
              "You're awfully persistent," Spellbinder said. "But it will never do you any good."
              "Why don't you stop hiding behind your illusions?" Batman asked, turning off his electroshock lining. "What have they achieved? All you've done to me so far is a few scratches."
              "Fool," Spellbinder replied, "I am the master of this reality!" After he said those words, he started changing. He grew bigger, and claws came out of his hands. Wings sprouted from his back and a tail snaked behind him. When the transformation was complete, a dragon stood before Batman.
              Batman dodged quickly as the dragon lunged at him, but he wasn't quick enough. The tail grazed Batman's face, making a line of blood appear on his cheek. The dragon used this distraction to his advantage and struck swiftly. Batman yelled in pain as one of the dragon's claws sliced off his left hand.
              The dragon stepped back and laughed as Batman examined the bloody stump where his hand used to be. He stared at the wound as if he couldn't believe it was really happening to him. Then his face hardened as he turned to face the dragon. They stood there, each gauging his opponent, before reentering the fight.
              It was fast and furious, with both sides turning and wheeling, trying to hit the other person. No one did much damage, until Batman made a wrong move and stepped right in front of the dragon's hand. It acted quickly on the opportunity and ran its claws through Batman's heart.
              Batman collapsed as waves of pain ran through his body. A smile crossed his face as he lay in agony. Finally, everything went dark.

              Batman opened his eyes to find himself floating in a green VR bubble. He could see Spellbinder banging on the computer control interface. "Come on, you stupid thing, work!" he shouted at it.
              Batman drew a batarang and threw it into the bubble machine, making it shut off. Spellbinder looked up briefly to see Batman's fist speeding towards his face. He fell to the ground unconscious.

              Batman was telling the whole story to Wayne as he flew the Batmobile around the city. "So, what did you do next?" Wayne asked.
              "Well," said Batman, "I knew that all the pain was just messages sent to my brain. None of the injuries were really happening to me and my body was fine. I also knew that those messages could only go so far."
              "So you killed yourself," Wayne said.
              Batman shrugged. "In most video games, the program stops when you 'die.' In this program, the computer had no idea what to do, so it froze."
              "Good thinking," Wayne said, "but tell me this. What if you had been wrong?" Batman said nothing. A smile crossed Wayne's face. "Remember that next time," he said, and closed the connection.
              Batman pushed the thrusters and continued his patrol of the city, grateful to be back in the real world.


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