He stares up into the man's emotionless eyes. He sees nothing in them. There is little hope in persuading the man, but he stalls for time anyway.

"I don't know how you," he flinches for a second as the knife cuts into him, "got away from the police, but they will find you eventually."

The knife glides along his leg, makes a tiny incision by the knee.

"I do not fear punishment. Freedom or not, I will accept my fate."

He cuts along the bicep, tearing through the suit's fabric.

"Do you enjoy the fame? Hearing the news reports about the man that no-one could stop, the man who was too smart for the police? I guess you've made your mark on history, no matter how tiny."

"Names mean nothing. We are all nothing but drops in the sea. We're simple. Bags of flesh, blood, bone. We follow our desires, nothing more, nothing less. We have no souls. There is no difference between us and the other animals. We mean nothing. Do you see?"

He cuts into the shoulder.

"Then what are you after? Why did you write on the walls in the victim's houses? Who is free?"

"They are. I ended their empty existence."

The knife slides along his body without cutting, goes down his leg, finally stops by the ankle, makes another little cut.

"Why did you put the bodies into poses?"

He cuts.

"I left them in death like they were in life. I watched them for weeks and believe me, it is hard to see the difference, before and after. Only now they don't have to suffer any more. They can rest forever. Do you see?"

He cuts. The Batman can feel the blood pouring out from his many small wounds.

"So why am I still alive?"

"You are something I've never seen before. I wanted to do this properly. I even had to give up on the other two just to get you here. The police no doubt managed to keep the old man imprisoned."

The Batman feels relief flow through him, even as the knife nicks him again.

"But it was worth it. You are something else entirely. It's almost as if you're not a zombie. You suffer, no doubt, but you have purpose. You've found your true calling. Much like me."

"You need help. You're completely removed from reality."

He cuts. The Batman can feel his heartbeat thudding louder and louder in his ears.

"Why do you want to defend them? It's pointless."

He cuts.

"Spend these last moments wisely. Look back on your life and see if any of it had a point, if any of the lives you refused to let go have served any purpose. If they have done anything but continue to go through the motions."

He cuts. Blood has started to flow toward Batman's bare hands and the ties that bind them.

"If you truly wanted to save them, you would be like me. You've seen how they suffer. Why not relieve them? The pain is yours for the taking! Stretch out and take it away! Save them, once and for all!"

"You're not saving anyone. You take away people's choice, to save them from a suffering that exists only in your head. What you do is pure evil."

The murderer immediately calms down as he cuts once more into the Batman's flesh.

"It doesn't matter. Good or evil, whatever you think you are, it doesn't matter. It is all nothing but empty illusion. They believe they are evolving, their morality and society growing greater and greater. They want to leave behind a legacy when they go, children to carry on their torch. But they are wrong. They do not know what they are: Empty shells that act on nothing but their desires. Nobody will be remembered. None of their dreams mean anything. Do you see?"

He cuts.

"Then why not let them live out their pointless lives? What does it matter to you?"

"Because they harm themselves without realizing. But I see it, the truth behind their little lives. "

He cuts.

"A long time ago, I was just like everyone else. Wandering aimlessly, trying to fulfill my desires, not realizing they never can be."

He cuts. The Batman is starting to feel dizzy, concentration is becoming harder and harder. His whole body aches from the tiny cuts.

"Then I lost everything. I had gambled all of my fortune away. I staggered along in the night drunk, shocked, reeling. And an angel came to me."

He cuts.

"He was a bum. With a knife in his hand and nothing in his eyes. He was going to kill me, for the pretty clothes I wore or for whatever cash he thought I carried, just to prolong his miserable existence."

He cuts. The soft, barely audible sound of blood-drops hitting the floor reach the Batman's ears.

"The suffering in his face, the hate in his snarling mouth, the stench of his breath. It was beautiful. He was like me. Exactly like me. I knew then that I had truly lost everything. And for the first time in my miserable existence, I could see. And ever since I have been delaying my own release just to bring it to others."

He cuts. The blood on the table is making the bonds slick, but the Batman's slowly moving hands are having trouble using it. Both mind and body feel sluggish.

"It's too bad this is your end. I can respect you, misguided as you are. But you need to die."

He cuts, slowly.

"I have trained for four years but still you are stronger than me, faster than me. If I met you again, under other circumstances, you would stop me. And that cannot happen."

The knife hovers above him, waiting for the final plunge. Its gleam is gone, dulled by the slick, red covering. It's been a long time since he was last hypnotized this way by one, tiny thing. Almost twenty years. But this time, it's not the end.

The knife moves.

"I see," he croaks.

The madman freezes. Stares down with dull, cold eyes.

"What do you see?"

The Batman breathes slowly, the rising and falling of his chest causing more blood to seep out.

"I see my life and everything I have worked for. Every life I've saved. Every criminal I've put behind bars. Every injury I've suffered, every injury I've inflicted. Every friend, every enemy. And I feel nothing. None of it matters. This is a world where the strong survive, only because they are too simple to think. Trying to protect the weak and the innocent is foolish. This world is empty. And I want to be free."

He thinks he catches a peculiar gleam in the man's eyes, for only a second.

"But I want to do it myself. It would mean more that way."

For what feels like an eternity, the knife hovers above him as the madman's eyes stare unblinking. Then slowly it comes down. The tight ropes around his right arm are slowly cut away, one by one. The knife is put in his hand, the madman's own tense hands closing around it, raising it and guiding it towards his neck. The Batman takes one last breath, puts his shivering, pained body out of his mind. He looks calmly into the man's eyes as the blade inches closer.

In a blindingly fast motion he jerks his arm toward his body, drawing the stunned madman closer. He manages one slice at the rope around his neck, but drops it as the man tries fumblingly to thrust it into his throat. It falls to the floor with a clank. He quickly grabs hold of the killer's retreating hand and slams it down into the steel table. With a heave the rope around his neck breaks completely and he raises himself as high as he can, tightening his hold as his surprised victim struggles feebly to break free of the steel grip.

He stares into the eyes of his reeling prey as they both tremble with the exertion of this bizarre arm wrestling. He pays the bleeding along his arm no heed, tries instead to come up with a plan to bring the man down before he can realize that he has his whole body to fight against one arm. The killer's head is too far away for him to reach it quick enough, letting go of the arm to attempt an attack will let him run for a weapon. He must draw the man in closer. Losing his hold means death.

The madman seems to gain his bearing. He stops trying to pull away and starts using his free hand to attack the fingers pressing into his skin. He tears at them madly to no avail. He soon abandons this plan and starts pummeling the exposed ribs, but his position is awkward and there is little force behind the blows. The Batman offers nothing but a grunt in reply. He does not stop increasing the pressure on the man's wrist. The killer moves on to hitting him in the face, but he can evade well enough for the blows to lose power. The two combatants are, for now, at a painful standstill. But time is not on the Batman's side. The exertion is causing his wounds to renew their bleeding, his dizziness quickly reminding him of its presence.

They carry on relentlessly, the Batman trying to draw his prey closer, the killer trying to pummel whatever soft spot he can reach without opening himself to attack. The sweat pours off him as he tries to free his numb, entrapped right hand. Apart from a clenched jaw he shows no sign of the pain he currently endures. Neither does the Batman. The painful stalemate continues.

Then suddenly there is a change in the madman's appearance. For a split second he loses his concentration. That is all it takes for the Batman to violently pull him closer. He meets the falling madman with a cracking headbutt. Before his opponent can recover, he lets go of the arm and goes for the head, bringing it down on the steel table with a loud slam. He feels rather than hears the nose break. He raises his victim up, sees the renewing struggles, and slams the head down again. And again. And again. And finally his foe is beaten, slumping over, bloodied and battered.

Then he hears what distracted the madman. The wailing of sirens in the distance, growing louder by the second. He quickly moves to work at his remaining bonds, ignores the violent spinning of the room and his hammering heart. By the time both hands are free the sirens have come to a definite stop just outside. By the time he starts working on the last restraint, he can hear a door in the next room being battered down.

He runs off the other way as the first officers pour in. He kicks through the backdoor and races through just as they catch sight of him. He runs into a nearby alleyway, starts clambering up a fire escape, his speed in this battered state surprising even himself. From the mouth of the alley he can hear a woman shouting.

"Commissioner! You're blocking my shot! The Batman's right there!"

A bewildered voice barks back.

"What? Where?"

He glances back to see the commissioner standing in front of an officer with her gun drawn, the latter looking frantically between the escaping vigilante and the man blocking her. Gordon aims his own gun this way and that, gawking at the darkness. Something in his stance and countenance remind the Batman of an owl. He can't help but chuckle, renewing the aching pain in his ribs.

He bites down and puts the pain and dizziness out of his mind. He clambers shakily to the rooftop and sets off running as a helicopter tries to point its searchlight at him. He increases his speed and jumps over the gap between this rooftop and the next. As he flies through the air his blood drips down to the streets below. A tribute of sorts, he thinks, his blood in stead of the people's. He lands with a thud and races along into the darkness. A smile forces its way to his lips. For now, his city is safe.