PALADIN OF GOTHAM (Excerpt)
Between fierce day and ferocious night, a visitor came to call.
"Who are you?" growled the Batman.
"I … am Merlin." The youthful intruder was dressed in dim purple robes and had hair down to his neck.
"Is it, my friend?"
"How'd you get into the Bat Cave?"
"Well, that will be my secret for now," said Merlin. "I like secrets, as do you."
"I'm losing my patience with you," said Batman.
"I promise I offer you no ill will," said Merlin. "Honestly, I've come because I need your help."
"Help with what?"
"Help with saving the day."
Batman sighed. "Aren't you supposed to be old and bearded? A great wizard?"
"I AM a great wizard," said Merlin. "Or at least, I will be."
"You're not human," said Batman. "The Bat Cave's defenses would have detected the frequencies of your heartbeat if you were."
"That is true," said Merlin, "I am not human. But if I was, there would be no way I could come to you tonight."
"What are you then?"
"I, sir Dark Knight, am a creature beyond your imagination."
"Fine. Imagine, if you will, a race of beings that guard time. A race that is born at the end of the ages and lives backwards through the eons until the beginning of all things."
"Are you saying you live backwards through time?"
"Yes. As most living things grow old through the years, I grow young. What is past to you is future to me, and what will happen in the future I have already experienced."
"I have dealt with wizards before," said Batman.
"You have dealt with phonies and amateurs. I assure you, I am quite different. And quite more powerful."
"Then what do you want from me?"
"I want your help of course."
"Is this your time machine?" the Batman asked Merlin. The strange trapezoidal wooden box was the size of a medium-sized pet carrier.
"Sort of. Have you ever studied music?"
"No. I think bigger than music."
"Bigger than music? That's impossible, my friend. Because music is a language. The first language. The language of the universe." The young wizard held back a scowl. "Yes, this machine is operated and powered by music."
The Batman had his doubts, both about the machine and the youth before him. He had witnessed strange things before, but a new, eerie quiet found its way into his blood. The wizard had led him out of the Bat Cave and into the forest behind the manor, where they now stood amongst the dark trees and a hateful moonlight.
The wizard pressed a latch on the time machine and a small musical keyboard unfolded out of it, not unlike a piano keyboard, but with a different layout of black and white keys that Batman had never seen before. Merlin tested the keys, issuing a strange, foreboding note that hung in the air momentarily before silencing out.
"Music?" asked the Batman. "Really?"
"Yes," said Merlin, smiling. "Now, step back."
With one delicate white hand, Merlin pressed down a full chord on the time machine's keyboard, and a powerful sound emerged, almost knocking the Batman back a step. "You might see peculiar colors now," said Merlin.
And indeed, the Batman did, spying a ghostly vapor of light emanating from the top of the time machine.
"Are you ready?" Merlin asked.
"Good. See you later."
Using both hands this time, Merlin played another more complex chord on the time machine, and this time—
The world fell away.
The molecules and energy making up reality peeled back, and a half-delicious vertigo swallowed the Batman.
He had been pulled from time like a leaf from a tree, and now he spun inexorably through an impossible nothingness. The only thing sustaining him was the continuing sound of the time machine, now playing a melody he could barely contemplate, with spiraling fifths and declivities of minor sevenths—music that was both glorious and painful to hear.
Suddenly, a new, booming noise joined the cacophony, like a terrible drum. And the Batman realized that while the time machine's melody signified his entry into his madness, the sound of the drum was his destination. It continued to sound, drowning out all else, until he could feel a new gravity grasp him. If he truly was falling before, now he slowed his descent and soon stopped. He found himself on his knees as the winds of time died down, but vertigo still shook him, and he fell to his hands, which were swallowed in an invisible goo.
Finally, reality reappeared, like the flapping of a wing that had hitherto just glided, and the Batman found himself on his hands and knees in mud, the hills around him green and barren, the sky above gray and forsaken.
He had made it. He had traveled into the past....