When I said “I do,” the first time it was already apparent that my marriage would not last. There was a look of sad uncertainty in her eyes as I told my new wife another lie, which was neither the first or last I would tell to protect her. Jenny wanted to know about my bruises, why I was late. She could never know. She always seemed to know I was lying, and a few years later the divorce, though painful, was not unexpected. I thought I had found love later with Dahlia. Our love seemed resolute- until she was murdered a week after our wedding. As hard as it was, I tried to move on, and with my next wife, Renee, I tried to be a better husband. But all my hopes were dashed when she ran away with my butler. Tentatively, I allowed myself to love once more, even sharing my identity with Yuna- but she also left me, as soon as she learned my secret.
That was when I decided I was done fighting crime. When I had first apprenticed myself to DarkFist as Kombat Kid, I was a young, impressionable kid who had no idea what was in store for me or what I was giving up. When my mentor, Quincy, retired I jumped at the chance to go solo. Moving to Boston and shortening my name to Kombat. That was when I met Jenny. I thought I could juggle it all, but after losing her, Dahlia, Renee, and Yuna I realized it was time to move on. The only thing unclear was how- every time I resolved to hang up my cape, there was another crisis that neither the Superior-Man nor Cosmicette could handle. But my chance finally came, one night in December.
I was chasing Irrelevancy, also known as Kylla Richards, across the Boston skyline. A major mercenary, Irrelevancy specialized in “obtainment”, which is to say, robbery. I had caught her attempting to loot the nearby headquarters of an electronics firm. However, upon sighting me, she immediately fled to the rooftops, laughing in an insane fashion that made me want to slap her in the face. Luckily, in my profession, that was definitely an option. As I bounded under billboards and over skylights, I tried to incapacitate my nemesis with several thrown gadgets but none proved able to subdue the agile mercenary. Her laughing grew more intense, as did my irritation. I racked my brain for a plan, and noticed the police helicopters observing our chase. As a strategy formulated inside my head, I shot a grappling hook into the air, leaping into the air as it wrapped around the desired helicopter. A grin on my face, I swung directly above my opponent, and let go of the rope connecting me to the helicopter. I dove towards Irrelevancy, who, anticipating my move, threw a blow at me with her sword as I landed. One step ahead of her, I ducked under the blade, grabbing it and taking advantage of her surprise, knocked her feet out from under her. She retaliated swiftly with a crude blow to my head. Dizzied, I blindly threw a tiny grenade in her direction, but misjudged and the blast instead shattered a skylight I had not noticed. Unfortunately it was located right beside us, and we tumbled into the building.
As my head cleared, I took in my surroundings and cursed. We had fallen into the local museum. Irrelevancy, evidently pleased that I had inadvertently broken her into a museum, had already slid a few valuables into her pocket. I rushed at her, and she cried out in alarm. What happened next was a blur. Before I even connected with her, a strange look of terror filled her face and she tackled me, as explosions rang out around us. The next thing I knew, she was lying limp on top of me as the inferno around us grew. I tried not to inhale the smoke, but it was too late- I blacked out.
When I awoke in the Protectors HQ, Cosmicette was there to explain what had happened- Irrelevancy’s foiled heist had been part of a far larger scheme to take over the world instigated by the Malevolex, which had been foiled, during my coma, by the Protectors. Until now, they hadn’t been sure of my survival, so as far as the public knew, Kombat was dead. Though Cosmicette tried in vain to convince me to remain in the business, I was positive this was the perfect chance to escape this life.
And so I left my mask behind forever.
Now I sat alone in my bedroom, looking out the window into the small town of Faraway’s central plaza. Fingering my flannel pajamas, I sighed as I waited dully for morning to come. After all those years, I still found myself unable to sleep at night. My body still labored under the unfortunate pretense that I was to attend a nighttime patrol. Worse still, my day job as a Shakespearean scholar was at an all-time low- I had several old manuscripts to flip through and discuss with my admittedly mundane colleagues. When I had first given up life as Kombat, I had attempted to join the local police force. However, a year of wading through red tape was too much for me, and I retreated to this quiet Maine town and tried to distract myself from crime-fighting. It certainly had not worked out quite to my taste, but when I reminded myself of the loneliness I had suffered as a hero, it didn’t seem that awful. Yet why did I feel so empty inside?
My iPhone rang, and I dismissed thoughts of the past as I answered it. A girl, likely about my age, spoke over the line. “Uhm, hi, my name is Belle. I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“I don’t believe we have either,” I responded. “You are?”
“I’m a reporter for a small-time history magazine. I’m supposed to interview a scholar for the next issue, and I’m a big fan, so….”
I sighed inwardly. My boss is very strict about his employees accepting interviews whenever possible; he thinks it’s excellent publicity and brings in donations. I had no choice but to reply “Where would you like to meet?”
“Uhm, your place would be great, if that’s okay- the traffic is awful and my story is due very soon. It’d be best to get it done ASAP.”
“If that works best. How far away are you?”
Belle’s response was sheepish. “Um, i’m right here.”
Great, I thought. She’s a stalker too. I reluctantly headed to the door of my one-room apartment. I opened the door and was relieved to find that Belle was far younger and more attractive than your average stalker. She smiled at me, and I was hit by deja-vu. Why did this girl look so familiar?
“Sit,” I said, and we took opposite seats on my kitchen table.
Belle’s blue eyes sparkled with an emotion I could not discern. “Thank you for accommodating me on such short notice.”
“Think nothing of it,” I said absentmindedly. I raised my eyebrows as I placed her. “Hey…I’ve met you before.” On several occasions, I had seen her around town typically remaining in my peripheral vision. She had never approached me before, and until now it had never occurred to me that I was being stalked.
A slight frown graced her face. “Maybe. I occasionally visit here, for the fresh produce.”
“I’m sure,” I replied, my detective instincts kicking in.
Belle cleared her throat. “Well, firstly, a few background questions…how long have you been employed by the Historical Society?”
“About a year now,” I said, watching her facial expressions closely.
“Hm,” My interviewer jotted this down “What are your thoughts on the current allegations that Shakespeare stole his manuscripts?”
“I think it’s irrelevant to the beauty and creativity of the manuscripts themselves. Besides, I doubt they had copyrights back then, right?”
She pursed her lips and set down her notebook. “And you would know a lot about laws, right Kombat?”
Instantaneously, I leapt at her but she rolled out of the way.”Who are you?” I growled. “You’re the detective. I dropped you plenty of clues.”
“I don’t have time for games.” I rush her once again, but this time she does not resist as I pin her to the wall. “Talk.”
“What are you going to do, drop me through another skylight?” ‘Belle’ laughed and it all clicked.
“Irrelevancy.” I gasped, and her smile grew wider. “What do you want? Who’s paying you?”
Quicker than I could’ve reacted, she kicks out, knocking me to the ground. “That’s heroes for you,” she sighs, a genuine look of disappointment in her eyes. “Maybe I just came to say thank you.”
“I doubt that.” I get to my feet, glaring. “I have done you no favors.”
“Hrm,” She leaned in closer to me. “I think you did. A year ago, I was all ready to retire the Irrelevancy jig. Finally grabbed enough cash to retire well. Stop all the violence. Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy being a wanted fugitive.”
“Right.” I roll my eyes. ‘So what stopped you?”
“Malevolex.” Belle growled. “They threatened to gut my family if I didn’t do a job for them. Wanted me to lead you into a trap. Neglected to mention I would also be endangered by the exploding museum.”
“So, that’s it? You want to thank me for helping you realize your masters planned to betray you?”
“Not really, believe it or not. You see, betrayal is the norm in the villain biz. You gave me a far greater gift- a way out. The government found me. They kept everyone thinking I was dead. They let me serve my sentence, and when I was released I was given a new identity, a chance to start over.” Her smirk shifted to a genuine smile. “This ninja is straight as an arrow now.”
I frowned, unsure whether or not to believe her. “And you came here?”
Belle sat back down. “I missed the life. Wanted some reminders of how it used to be. Plus…I had to write an article on Shakespeare.”
I stared at her. “Seriously?”
Belle smiled. “Seriously.”
I looked away from those eyes uncomfortably, still very perplexed about this drastic change in mood. As if she sensed my thoughts, Irrelevancy said mischievously. ‘C’mon, at least try this great thing called trusting. Besides, if I lead you into a trap, you can always dropkick me through the window.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “Maybe.”
Belle laughed yet again. “How about we finish our interview somewhere more romantic? Like, maybe the roof of town hall?”
“You want to interview me in costume?”
“Well, you’d look kind of silly on the roof in a tuxedo.”
“As opposed to looking positively ordinary in spandex.” This time, I grinned with her. ‘I guess I’ll see you there.”
“I guess I will.” And with that, my nemesis leaped out my window. And for the first time, I wondered if she could be something more.