The night has awoken.

Something is in the air tonight. The underbelly of the city below begins to ooze blood as the muggings and the rapes and the murders slowly build up their nightly momentum. The police cars are drawn to the crime scenes like a swarm of starved sewer rats looking for a corpse to devour. Overhead, the police blimps hover and circle - vultures, perpetually dwelling within the lid of smog that has long since replaced the cloudbank. The warbling sirens are screams every bit as much as those that echo from the dark alleyways before being silenced forever by the shout of a pistol or the whisper of a switchblade, for the police are every bit as helpless against the chaos that returns every sundown as those they are assigned to protect from it. Some creature has adopted this hellhole as its home.

The night is diseased.

It is fear that makes the air harder to breathe than the pollution does, fear that feeds the power of the city's extortionists and crime lords and worse, fear that is so omnipresent that most of Gotham's citizens have almost gotten used to waking up with a gasp or even a scream night after night. It is a creeping fungus, a spreading infection that rots the metropolis from the inside out a little bit more each night. Soon the strength will not remain in the city's bones to hold itself up, and it will collapse into a fatal bloodbath that will leave naught behind but the stench of death and the bitter memories of how those who tried to save Gotham from itself failed. The fear makes every happy occurrence a temporary escape and every uneventful moment a bowstring drawn taut.

The night has borne its fruit.

The string snaps as the front of the Old Gotham Bank is suddenly consumed in a roaring ball of fire. Shards of glass are flung from the force of the explosion like throwing knives as the foundations of the building groan from the sudden stress. Anyone within hearing range of the blast foolish enough to be walking along the sidewalks at this hour run in the opposite direction as fast as they can with all the raw instinct of wild animals fleeing from an oncoming hurricane. In the midst of the panicked screams and the blinding cloud of smoke, no one notices the two figures darting into the nearest alley.

The night calls to me.

Miles to the north of the robbery site, a low growl echoes through the lightless tunnels of an abyssal cave. The sound would have turned the thoughts of anyone standing at the cave's entrance to an angry dragon even before they caught sight of the firelight rushing towards them. Within seconds of the snarl that announces its existence, it shoots from the cave entrance like a missile fired from its pod - within minutes it clears the border of its prey's territory. And though the metallic sheen and spinning tires, revealed in brief flashes as the streetlights briefly part the darkness before it, might seem to classify the Batmobile as a mere vehicle, more than anything it looks like a ravenous shark on the hunt as it winds through Gotham's streets.

The night prepares its offering.

The two men continue their dash down the alleyway, the flashing strobe lights and high-pitched whine of a police car following closely behind. Yet something is awry in the movements of both, as though this chase is merely a scene being poorly enacted: It is the two men whose movements are quick, nimble, and self-assured, while the jerky handling of the police car gives it the feel of a wounded animal trying desperately to find some way to corner its escaping meal. The pair of robbers would have little to fear from the police car even if they hadn't planned their course after the bank's destruction, a fact both they and their pursuers are perfectly aware of. Such is their certainty that they grin to themselves as they scale the ladder on the side of the building they had chosen as their escape point. The police car, helpless to follow them further, does not earn the effort it takes either of them to spare it a backward glance. But even as they experience their moment of triumph, some unknown phantom passes over them, chilling them to their bones and halting them in their tracks even before they see the dark shape, diving from some unknown height, land on the ground before them. For one fleeting, interminable moment, all is still but for the pitiless glint of narrowing eyes from this new apparition as the two men are paralyzed by the same sense of dread they have helped endow upon the city.

I am vengeance.

The robbers hurriedly snatch their pistols from their belts, but the shadow has already made its first move. Two dull thumps of metal striking flesh. Two grunts of pain from behind clenched teeth. Two metallic clatters as the guns hit the ground. The men can only stare, pinned to the spot by terror, as the shadow leaps at one of them, furling the criminal in its impenetrable dark folds as they both crash to the ground; by the time the shadow withdraws, the criminal is already unconscious, whether knocked out by the extent of his unseen injuries or fainted from sheer horror. The other panickingly aims a punch at his attacker, but the shadow melts away from the blow like fog whisked out of the way by the wind of a fan. With visibly increasing hysteria, the man tries to land a hit on his assailant twice more before the shadow sees its opening. Inhumanly fast, it executes a surgically placed uppercut. Something cracks in the criminal's jaw as he is sent hurtling backward.

I am the night.

It is several minutes later when the police arrive on the building-top, the blimp looking more like a scavenging bird of prey than ever as it hovers directly over the roof, its roving searchlights probing the dark corners for sustenance. Underneath its gaze, two officers, guns in hand, sprint toward the entrance to the building's interior. Abruptly, their steps slow as the blimp unveils an unexpected sight: The two criminals, unconscious and tied back-to-back, their faces decorated with ugly blotches that will rapidly develop into bruises. They take pause and scratch their heads in confusion, for like so many others they do not, cannot understand what has taken place. Yet perhaps an inkling of comprehension might have blossomed within one of them had they taken the time to turn their gaze upwards, for in the one small moment in which the bolt of lightning tears through the blackened sky, silhouetted by its flash, stands Gotham's guardian, its protector, its heart.

I am Batman.