Mikhail hated jokes. He hated pranks. It was foolish behaviour when there were more important things to be doing. And most of all he hated being on the receiving end of jokes, pranks or simple stupidity.
It had been three days since he had received that card, and he hadn't moved it from where it lay in his computer desk drawer, still in its envelope. The article lay untouched along with it.
And yet the more Mikhail thought about it, the less certain he was that it was a joke.
He knew of Bane, of course. He'd have to be an idiot not to, the events of last year still fresh on people's minds, unable to heal, unwilling to be forgotten. Mikhail had to admire the people of Gotham, USA. Their spirit remained undefeated, even in the face of a terrorist such as Bane.
Mikhail scoffed. A terrorist taking over a whole city. What on earth did Bane possibly hope to achieve? And then to be killed by some sort of gun shot in the torso, Mikhail wondered how it was that Bane managed to hold control over Gotham for so long.
And for him, a regular, sensible teenage boy in central Russia to be the supposed son of a man . . . it was ludicrous.
There were still doubts. No matter how hard it was for Mikhail to ignore them, they still chipped away at the back of his mind.
He didn't know anyone in America, nor, to the best of his knowledge, did any of his friends. And there was little chance of this being a case of mistaken identity, as his name and address was clearly written on the envelope, addressed to him, Mikhail Kuznetsov, and it was a sixteenth birthday card that arrived on his sixteenth birthday. Mikhail was sure that someone must have planned this, for it to arrive on the exact day from the US with such a message inside was very suspicious.
He wanted to stop thinking about it. He wanted to forget the whole thing. He couldn't. He just couldn't make sense of the whole situation.
At school, Mikhail kept a constant eye on those around him, especially his classmates, looking for any odd behaviour, the slightest sign that they were the mastermind behind those six little words.
There was nothing. Everyone went about their business as usual, and as Mikhail sat through his classes, his mind racing, that stupid card going over and over in his head – and who knew it would have such an effect on him – he would look around and see all the smiling faces, hear all the laughter and think to himself how was it that life could go on when he was feeling more cornered by the minute.
Almost as if he was being watched.
Mikhail never knew his father, that much was true. He could have passed him in the street and never even known. And he didn't know much about his birth mother, either. What little he could remember of her were hazy childhood memories of visiting an unhappy woman in a prison, bloated from the diet she was fed and swamped by the hideous regulatory inmate uniform she wore.
She was never his true mother. Ira was his mother.
Mikhail could remember kicking up a fuss every birthday and mother's day when Ira took him to visit her, the woman who gave birth to him and nothing more, and he would scream and cry for the whole of the five hour train journey and she would never look too pleased to see him either. A small smile that didn't reach her eyes followed by an hour of formal small talk and awkward silences.
Mikhail hadn't seen her for ten years. It had simply been too troublesome for him, despite the rarity of the visits, so Ira had made the smart decision to cease the visits and it wasn't like she put up much of a fight.
But his father. Now that was different.
There was a time when Mikhail was obsessed with finding his father. As an unspoken rule, parentage was never spoken of in the household, but that didn't stop Mikhail from scanning every man's face for even the slightest resemblance to his own, reasoning that he would look more like his father as he definitely held none of his birth mother's features. The slightest hint of brown hair, a strong jaw or even above average height would give him butterflies and he spent many nights wondering what his father did look like.
He wondered what the man was like, and how it was he became involved with his birth mother. He couldn't imagine her ever loving someone or being loved, holding hands or smiling with genuine emotion etched into her face. Maybe they didn't know each other very well, or maybe it was a one or two night sort of thing. He just didn't know.
He needed to know. Now more than ever.
But in a world of six billion people, the chances of a thirteen year old boy stumbling upon his father in the streets or on the tram were very rare, if not nonexistent. So, his father became one of the great mysteries in his life and he tried not to think of it again.
And he hadn't thought of it again until that card arrived. Now he had questions and longed for answers, to put this whole mess straight.
He might, just might, have to visit his birth mother in prison. If she was still alive, that is. Truth was, Mikhail didn't even know. He had never cared before.
The post was lying on the mat again as he returned home. He picked it up and looked through it all. His heartbeat picked up slightly as he found himself wanting another message from his unknown tormentor, but at the same time dreading another attempt of contact.
He was just about to take the post through to the kitchen table and leave it there when he noticed it.
A white envelope.
Mikhail felt as though a sledge hammer had hit him through the chest. He felt his stomach lurch, his hands go sweaty and a pale flush spread across his face and neck.
The writing on the envelope was exactly the same as the writing on the birthday card.
This time, the envelope came from Egypt. Whoever was behind the first message had moved closer to him by the time they had sent this one. Mikhail was right. He was being cornered.
And they were going to find him and watch him.
He ripped open the envelope, not caring about tearing through the address and postage stamps. This was no longer a school prank. This was bigger.
Mikhail pulled out a small piece of paper, folded in two. He opened it up and felt himself go breathless.
Rise, son of Bane, Rise.
Only, this time, there was not just a scribbled message. There was a phone number, too.