Thursday, April 21, 2005

Knightfall 17: Return of the Bat

The tricky thing about recording developments in the Bat/Monk saga these days--now that so many other people have entered it in one way or another--is that I can't always write openly here about what's going without risking one or more participants learning things I don't want them to. That--in addition to a very busy schedule in the daylight world--is why I haven't kept up with those reports here very regularly for the last several months. But last night I took such a major step that I may as well be (more or less) open about where things stand; at this point, I have nothing to lose--or everything.

A little background: In my last "Knightfall" entry here I wrote about being assigned to trick and trap a fellow hero. Once that mission was accomplished, it became my job to "train" the new guy: I gave him a new, debased name (as I had been stripped of the title "Batman" and rechristened "Ratman"), and for several nights I subjected him to various humiliations, some modeled on those i had endured and others which simply came to me. This turned out to be a brilliant move on the Monk's part, because for the first time ever I was actually growing to relish the role of villain. I've played a top before in online play, sometimes as a bad guy, but I always just kind of tolerated it because the other player seemed to enjoy it. This was different: as I went to work on my own captive, I was starting to experience the same addictive thrill in demeaning him as I used to find being dominated by the Monk. (Yes, yes: the abuser becomes the abused. What else is new? As with everything else in this saga, I just never thought it would happen to me.) For the second time in this nearly year-long soap opera, I found myself on the verge of giving up every remaining shred of bat-identity once and for all.

But, just like the first time that almost happened (an event I don't think I wrote much about here, for the reason I've mentioned above), something snapped me out of it. I seem to go right to the brink of self-annhiliation and then bounce back. The first time, it was the miraculous (and simultaneous) arrival of two total strangers--readers of this blog, who, independently of each other, were genuinely concerned that a hero was really about to fall, so much so that they decided to enter the storyline themselves and rescue me. This time around, it was actually the Monk who pulled me back, albeit unintentionally.

One day, as I was beginning to report to him on my progress with the prisoner (and my own increasing addiction to the dark side), M revealed that he knew I'd broken a rule of his (about contacting another member of the "stable" without his permission). He was outraged, and punished me by banishing me from all contact with any other player. This meant, of course, that the training sessions came to an immediate end. At that point, the oddest thing happened: it was as if I woke up. The spell he'd cast over me for the last eight months or so was suddenly broken, and I came to my senses. As the next few days passed, I realized I felt absolutely nothing--no compulsion to torture the prisoner, no desire to report to my "master," nothing.

I'm making this sound like it happened overnight, but in reality (or what passes for reality in this shadowy fiction) I had been plotting my escape ever since the first arrival of the aforementioned strangers. For obvious reasons, I couldn't write about that here; I had to make it look as though I was completely and totally broken. And, in fact, that was almost true: there were times when I felt like I was 99% Rat and only 1% Bat--but there was always, always that one percent. The banishment simply bought me the time I needed once my head was clear to think through my options. And last night I appeared before the Monk in full bat regalia for the first time since last September or so, informing him that his plan had failed, that his prized Ratman had chewed through the bars of his cage, and that I was making my escape.

I'd been wondering in advance what his response would be; I knew from one past experience that there was a slight chance he'd confuse my character's awakening with some kind of anger on my part, and the daylight me didn't want to hurt the feelings of the daylight him. (Yikes, this terminology is getting mighty convoluted and/or cheesy right now, but so be it.) Fortunately, that didn't seem to be the case. (For the record, I felt no anger at all--I felt nothing whatsoever, remember.) He did, however, insist (of course) that he'd planned this all along--that this was merely the illusion of escape, and in fact the next stage in his mastery over me, the new post-Ratman persona I'd been asking for. He's a smooth talker, that Monk, but I say it's all talk--yet another mind game from an absolute master of the form.

There are, of course, obstacles aplenty to my "escape." The most obvious of these is that he knows my real identity, which means he has a number of ways to reach me no matter where I try to hide, and also that he possesses the power to expose me. For a very long time, that realization kept me in place. But now I'm ready to see exactly what happens next. (Long ago, when I resisted unmasking myself in front of him on the grounds that it would spoil the central conflict between costumed hero and villain, he pointed out that R'as al-Ghul and Batman have maintained a long and complex relationship for years well after the former figured out the secret identity of the latter.) He will always have the upper hand, but that doesn't mean I have to throw in my cards altogether. Not anymore.

Then there's the conditioning I've received from him. Hard to break away from that, and I fully expect some intense withdrawal pains--but my allies (who are not a part of his stable) have assured me they're standing by to lend a helping hand throughout wherever lies ahead. And what better journey for a hero than to build himself back up after a potentially devastating fall? I can't do anything about what M knows about me, but I can fight against the way I feel about him. It's true, too, that while under his control I've done things no hero would do--but that gives me a new mission: to take responsibility for my actions, and to undo whatever wrong I may have done to others. As for the humiliation I endured, it's all part of the process of becoming who I really am.

Finally, there's the simple fact that M really is the most talented adversary I've ever faced; next to him, the others are about as dangerous as mosquitoes. I've always respected his gifts, and I consider him a (certain, highly specific kind of) friend. I'll miss talking to him.

On the other hand, I'm under no illusion that this story is over. Odds are good we'll meet again, whether he tracks me down (which won't be hard) or--as he predicts--I come crawling back, begging to be allowed back into the stable.

At this point, anything can happen. And I find that tremendously exciting.

No comments: