And now, in the words of a certain British comic, for something completely different.
I was never the strongest. Nor the fastest. Nor the smartest.
I lagged behind in the races, my weak constitution keeping me ever a step behind the competition. Only those children kind enough to wait could I ever best.
But with him, it was never about besting him. It was never about pity with him. It was trust, compassion, empathy…
It was just one facet of our promise. To always be together, and think of each other. We were destined to be together, weren't we? From the very beginning, we were fated to become one in Toudai.
That's what I told myself, anyway… Before I forgot. And before another promise took over.
It was Otomo No Yakamochi who said, "Better never to have met you in my dream than to wake and reach for hands that are not there." I found myself reading that quote, over and over, in a house that felt overwhelmingly cold and empty. I was five years old. My parents had been in their mid-twenties, when we went to the train station, to leave for Okinawa, for home. From the sandbox where I had made my promise.
It was here that my parents were shot to death, in broad daylight, by a mugger. It was here my parents were taken from me, for their money. It was here, I feel to my knees, clutching their dead bodies and screaming in grief.
Grandma Hina had come. She held me in her arms, as I sobbed and cried. She tried to comfort me. The priest tried to tell me that they were God, and that forgiveness was something I should focus on.
But nothing comforted me.
And I would not forgive the man who had taken my parents from me.
I stood, one night, praying to God, asking what I should do. I was only a child. I was supposed to grow up and become a rich doctor, or college professor. Those were the hopes my mother held for me. Those were the hopes my father also had hoped for me.
But my parents were now dead.
I knew what I wanted. I wanted revenge. I wanted to find the filth who had murdered my parents and avenge both them and myself upon that wretched excuse for a man. I wanted to become vengeance itself, to strike down the wicked and send them scurrying out of the shadows and into the light.
I wanted them dead.
And I asked God, if He could give me what I wanted. If he could grant me His blessing to become a weapon of vengeance.
I think I prayed all night, there at the foot of my futon, my eyes firmly on the cross, my lips moving. It was when the sun began to rise, and I felt like I couldn't keep my eyes open another moment when I begged my God for an answer, a crash came. I jumped and looked up, eyes suddenly wide in fear, at the creature flapping it's wings and screeching above me. The bat flew around the room, before exiting the way it came, still screeching.
I watched it go, then turned back to the bed. My cross had fallen in the bat's passing, now lying on my pillow, the right-side facing up. My fists clenched.
"I will take that as a yes," I whispered, before finally slipping into a deep sleep on the edge of my futon.
Years passed. Grandma Hina came often to my family home in Okinawa, to check up on me. My mother and she had been good friends. And she came to think of me as another grand daughter.
She watched me as I ran through a gymnastics routine. She watched me faint mid-flip, as I fell on the mat. I came to, her wrinkled face smiling down at me.
"I hear you've been studying kung fu. And karate. And western boxing." Grandma Hina smirked. "What are you up to, Mutsumi-chan?"
"… I have to learn how to fight," I said finally. "I have to learn… So I can win in the next tournament."
"You little liar… What tournament? What tournament requires you to learn acrobatics, Western and Eastern fighting arts, and wall climbing, hm?"
I stayed silent. Hina shook her head.
"Tell me the truth, little one. Why are you putting yourself through this torture? You're anemic… You could kill yourself if you keep this up."
"… I am going to avenge my parents, Granny Hina," I confessed. "And no anemia is going to stop me from doing that." Hina looked at me intensely.
"… You intend to murder the man who murdered your parents?"
"No. At least… Not until I meet him." Hina shook her head.
"You'll die doing it."
"That's my business," I said stubbornly. Hina sighed.
"You're really convinced you want to do this? Really? I mean… I do believe you made a promise… Before this." I fell silent.
"… I'll keep both promises. I swear it." I shook my head. "Why do you care anyway?"
"Because I care about you, Mutsumi-chan," Hina said emphatically. "And if you're about to embark on some foolhardy crusade… I might as well make sure you don't die doing it." I blinked at her.
"You… Won't try to stop me?" Hina smirked.
"I'll wait for you to come to your senses… But until then, I will give you what you'll need…"
The training began after that, in the Hinata Sou itself. I was twelve. Grandma Hina began to teach me the Urashima family style of jujitsu, among the myriad of other martial arts she had learned from her travels. Kanako, her adopted grand daughter, taught me the art of disguise, stealth, and subterfuge. Haruka, Kanako's aunt, instructed me in other subjects-Foreign languages, the ways of the street, and how to be a detective.
When I was fifteen, I went out one night, using some of the chi manipulation and martial arts techniques I had been taught by Granny Hina to keep myself from fainting. I came across a group of thugs attempting to rape a school teacher. I dropped down on them. They saw me and ran for me, eager for a second victim. I fought them and beat them all… But, when I crawled back to the Hinata later that night, I was badly beaten and injured. I sat on the porch, Granny Hina binding my wounds. She had refrained from saying, "I told you so," so far…
"Now, can we give up this foolishness and focus on your schoolwork?" Asked Hina, shaking her head once again. "You nearly got killed."
"Because… They weren't afraid of me," I concluded quietly. Hina blinked at me.
"Making them underestimate me is a mistake. Because when they see what I can do…" I let her look over my bruises and bandages. She nodded.
"So… I need to make them afraid of me." Hina sighed.
"What you need to do is stop, Mutsumi-chan. You're just going to get yourself killed!"
"That's my choice," I barked back at her. "It's my choice! I'm not letting my parents have died in vain, got it!"
"Then become a cop! It's less dangerous than this!" Hina argued.
"I have to do this myself, Grandma," I said firmly. "I need to."
"It wasn't your fault!"
"I don't care!" I yelled. "I'm NOT letting anyone else suffer like I did, just because some bastard wants drug money! I AM VENGEANCE! I AM THE NIGHT! And I will make those scum realize it!" I roared, standing up in fury. Hina just looked at me, fear in her eyes. I wondered why-Until I felt the passing of hundreds of bats by me. I looked up, as the small, winged creatures flew above me, screeching and calling as they ascended into the night. I felt afraid…
I froze, and stayed that way, even after the bats had all departed. Hina looked at me curiously.
"Mutsumi-chan? Are you all right? You look…" I nodded.
"I'm fine, Hina-chan. Just fine…"
I couldn't use the Hinata Sou as a base of operations. I had told Granny Hina what I was going to do, and she said that she could no longer be part of this madness, and if I wanted to ruin my life I should do it on my own time.
Haruka respected my decision, and still occassionally offers aid. Kanako sided with her grandmother.
I rented an apartment building, that I owned through a dummy company thanks to my parent's money. And it was in this apartment that my crusade really began.
The first night, I donned my new costume. I had stitched it together myself, out of Nomex materials to protect against fire and toxins, and Kevlar panels to protect my chest, groin, stomach, and face from bullets and blows.
It was midnight black, to give me stealth. The boots were based on climbing shoes so that I could ascend up the sides of buildings. The gloves had special ascender rails so that I could climb with the high-tensile ropes I carried with ease.
A dart gun loaded with tranquilizer syringes, bat-shaped shuriken, flash bang grenades, smoke bombs, a gas mask, a rebreather, and a CO2-cell powered grapnel gun were my weapons. A full first-aid kit and forensics pack completed my arsenal.
My car was based on a next-generation American combat vehicle design. It was fast, well protected, and had run-flat tires. It's excellent terrain-adaptation technology would let me get anywhere in Japan within a matter of hours.
Because my quest was not just limited to Hinata Springs.
It would take me anywhere in Japan, in Okinawa-Hell, even the world-if there was a need for me. And I would go wherever I had to, to keep my second promise.
Like now. After failing the Toudai entrance exams (again-I was trying to keep my first promise, I really was-But the second promise still took precedence), I decided to mix business with pleasure-A group of hijackers were intending to take over an ocean liner bound for Okinawa. I followed them… And my new friends Naru and Keitaro helped me along.
I get this strange feeling whenever I look at Keitaro. As though there's something there I'm missing… Something important about him. But what is it? Why do I feel myself getting… Warm, around him? In my heart?
"Mutsumi? Mutsumi? Are you all right?" I turned my head to look at Keitaro, across the table on the cruise liner's deck. I smiled my ditz's smile-If he really knew what I was like…
"Oh, nothing, just thinking you remind me of someone I once knew."
"Really? Me too…"
Naru seems jealous. And abusive of Keitaro. Maybe I should keep an eye on the two of them. Keitaro seems like he can take almost anything, but I don't want to take any chances…
Wait-He's an Urashima? Oh my God… I wonder… Could it be?
My first promise?
… Meh. The hijackers are now tied up in the ship's galley. They'll be found in the morning. Right now, I have to get back home, if only to keep Keitaro and Naru unsuspicious. Time to push out a life raft and get going…
Oh lovely, a storm. And now, we've been thrown overboard. I sigh mentally as I swim as hard as I can for the shore, dragging both of them with me.
This is why I need to be alone - Danger has a bad habit of following me. I can't tarry too long with Naru and Keitaro-They're going to get killed if they stay with me much longer.
But… I think I'll stay with them just a little longer. There's something familiar about them…
And Batwoman can wait a while longer. The Mission is still important. The Bat is still unyielding.
But the Woman needs a little companionship now.
To Be Continued...