Month: May 2015

Chapter 54: Hunter Hunted

Stalker ducked into an alley.

This wasn’t right. There were too many of them; even Plask never had this many men to spare on one target. And he hadn’t been hitting anything big tonight; it was a liquor shipment, a milk run. Nobody in this town would put thirty men on a shipment of tax free booze. It would draw more attention than they could afford, even with most of the cops in their pocket.

Stalker discarded that train of thought. Daniel could think about that, Stalker just cut things up. Stalker would have time to think about it when he reached the base. Daniel might think of something sooner. Even with all the screaming, Daniel’s mind had a lot more free time than his.

Daniel whispered directions in his ear and Stalker took a hard right.

Stalker followed the directions to the letter. It happened automatically, almost like Daniel was the one controlling the legs. But it worked better that way, it let Stalker keep his eyes open.

There were three of them on the street at the exit. They knew he was coming but they hadn’t seen him yet. Daniel wrapped him deeper in the shadows, and their eyes passed over him again. Stalker darted forward, drawing his short swords from their sheaths.

The first two had their throats slit before they knew what happened. Stalker saw the third’s eyes start to widen before he dragged the blade through his neck.

He felt Daniel’s disapproval, even as he felt his understanding. Stalker could have left them alive, but there was no way he could have gotten past them. There were some that could have; one or two even lived in this city. But none of them would have cared to go after the shipment. To them it was just a few trucks of liquor; they couldn’t see the patterns. They didn’t understand that even that one shipment represented hundreds of thousands of dollars of profit for Plask.

Not directly, of course. That shipment would have driven down the alcohol prices in half the city. Over a few weeks those lower prices would lead to an increase in theft, vandalism, even murder. Some of those crime would make it to court, some of them might even take the right people with them, but there was nothing Plask liked more than collecting debt, and the cost for staying out of jail in this town was high.

Of course the others would disagree. They’d claim the two weren’t connected, or that higher prices would just make people more likely to steal. But none of them paid attention like he did. Only he bothered to look for the patterns.

His base was closer now but there were even more of Plask’s men on the loose.

Daniel’s voice filtered through again. This wasn’t right; Plask hated him, sure, but he never bothered to hunt for him, not like this anyway. Plask didn’t think one man in a mask was worth the resources it would take to find him. Especially when he came to them so regularly.

Four more men.

They were close to his base, too close. They must have clustered near places he disappeared before. Plask didn’t have a data cruncher like that. Plask was a money man. He never worried about tactics. He didn’t think about the war.

The four weren’t an issue. His swords darted in and out of Daniel’s shadows too quickly for them to realize what was really happening. The first one didn’t have time to scream before his heart stopped. The second one did. His blade was a fraction too far to the right. The man’s mouth grew redder with every cough, and his eyes grew wider as his lungs filled with blood.

The next two tried to put up a fight. If they’d had their guns ready to fire when he’d appeared they may have managed to get a shot off. But they wasted their time trying to aim at him through Daniel’s shadows. Stalker slid his blade into the first one’s eye. He felt the hard thwack course through his arm when he reached the other side of the man’s skull.

The last pulled the trigger on his gun. It clicked on a dead round. The man’s lips were still forming the curse when his head hit the ground.

The door to his base was close. But with this many around he couldn’t afford to go in.

Daniel gave him a map of the alleys. He didn’t need it, but he hid that from Daniel.

He turned to check that his base was hidden.

Pain ripped through his knee and he hit the ground hard.

There was no gunshot. He would have heard it. Daniel would have heard it. But the hole where his kneecap had been insisted otherwise.

In another second, his other knee was shattered. This time he couldn’t help the rush of air that escaped him, the pitiful cry this attacker was looking for.

A dark chuckle escaped into the alleyway.

“You certainly are a slippery one. Plask insisted that you weren’t worth the effort. Honestly, I agree. But you’re insistence on interfering with his business has started to effect mine. Frankly, I would have liked to avoid this altogether. It’s been over half a year since I had to get my own hands dirty. But bullets don’t mean much to you do they? And anyone who can match you with a sword is not worth the effort. Nonetheless, I am a fair man. I will offer you one chance to swear allegiance to me. I’ll even let you kill Plask in a couple of months, when I’m through with him.”

Stalker forced his legs to charge at the figure. Lighting shot from his shattered knees through his entire body, but he still forced them to give as much speed as they could have ten years ago. He saw the man’s smile as he twisted his body and swung the sword at his neck.

The blade never reached him.

The moment it got within inches of the man, it shattered like glass.

“Now that is a shame. I thought you weren’t a stupid man. But here you are, challenging a trump card with an empty hand.”

The man lifted his hand up to the level of Stalker’s head.

“Do you have any last words before I send you to Hell.”

Stalker’s smile filtered through the shadows of his hood.

Daniel said something, but Stalker couldn’t hear it. He felt the shadows leaving him, leaving only the small piece of darkness projected by his hood.

“It’ll be a long wait. I’ll save your place in line.”

Something flew from the man’s hand and into Stalker’s hood.

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Memoirs of the Second Age 1: Allspades

What does it mean to do the right thing?

How do you know what that is?

When I was 12 years old, those answers were given to me.

“Doing the right thing means protecting the greater good. It means that sometimes people have to die, because letting them live would be so much worse.”

“You don’t get to decide what’s right. You just do what we tell you, and then you’ll know you’re doing the right thing.”

Two rules. Two rules that saved us from guilt, from pain, from understanding. We weren’t there to make decisions, we weren’t playing god, or judge, or jury. We were the executioners. We never pulled the trigger, we were just the bullets.

We weren’t that naïve for long.

We were 14 or 15 when we went on our first real mission. We weren’t going after anybody particularly big, just some mid-level drug dealer who managed to get a few goons under his belt. It was an easy job, a test for us, an advertisement for our commanders.

We were told where he was and how many men he had. Then we were ordered to kill.

Technically, we were never told to kill his men. They were as addicted to his drugs as any of their clients; they probably wouldn’t have even remembered we were there. But then again, there were the guys with the guns, and we were trained to take guns out.

I think King got the first kill. He was pulling sniper duty from across the street, and he had to take out all the guards on our way in. He kept it together pretty well during the mission. I think the distance helped. But he killed more than the rest of us, and his nightmares lasted the longest. I learned a few months later that he stopped going to the shooting range for weeks after that.

Page killed her first when we were working our way through the building. I hadn’t been paying enough attention and one of the guards shot me in the head. Fun fact, that’s also the day I learned I could survive a gunshot to the head. Anyway, she cast some quick wind sword thing and took the guy’s head off. When I managed to get back on my feet, I found her puking in the corner. I helped her up and told her to leave, but she said she wasn’t going to let me finish the mission alone. She recovered faster than any of us, I think. She spent the next day cheering the rest of us up. I honestly don’t know how she did it.

My first kill was the boss man himself. He’d heard me get shot and called most of his guys into his room. I wasn’t actually trying to hit him, but he was standing about five feet back from the door when I kicked it off the wall. He’d had the thing reinforced so many times that it weighed more than he did. I didn’t see his body until after the rest were taken care of, but…I’d really rather not describe it.

Queen had it the worst of all of us. She didn’t kill anyone herself, but she was linked to each of us that whole night. I never kept track of how many people’s blood I had on my hands; I rarely had the frame of mind to know which of the mooks on the floor was my handiwork. But Queen kept track of everyone any of us killed, because she felt herself dealing the blow that killed each and every one of them. She didn’t speak for days after that first mission, not even with her power for practice. Whenever she didn’t have to be somewhere else, she was locked in her room and none of us could talk our way in. It took us days to get her to eat again.

By the time she actually had to kill someone herself, she felt like she’d killed hundreds. She didn’t even blink when she pulled the trigger. I think I was more worried about her then than after that first mission.

After they had all died, after I became Allspades, I thought I had the chance to avoid killing. I told myself that I was done with it, that I could decided on my own that I didn’t need to kill any of these people. If it were that easy, nobody would ever be killed.

Every fight I was in, it grew harder and harder to hold myself back. I was so used to being able to kill the people in the way of my mission, that I never realized how hard it would be to let that go.

I should have killed again last night. Even now, I can’t regret that I was going to kill Plask. Even now that I know Craig was using me to complete a mission that never existed. Even after they managed to drag me back to Macropolis, a big part of me still wanted to go back, to finish the job, to be Knight again.

They weren’t the ones who changed my mind. That crazy son of a bitch Stalker, he claimed that Page’s soul was somehow connected to mine. I didn’t know if he was right, or if that thing he had shown me was just some illusion to get me to come back.

But it was nice to think I wasn’t insane.

So I decided to become Allspades again, at least for a little while. Will claimed he knew someone who could get the black suits to ease off of me, and Phil even let me back into the gym once I apologized enough.

I don’t think Hawthorne ever really forgave me for disappearing like that. The others were a bit more forgiving, but I think Mach was a bit more pissed than the rest. It was hard to tell with her mask down.

It probably would have turned out worse. I don’t think the others had a chance to let it sink in before what happened next.

-Allspades
Memoirs of the Second Age

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Chapter 53: Ghosts

Knight stared her down from across the empty club. Will he almost expected, but he never thought she’d be dragged along.

A voice spoke in his ear, but he wasn’t listening. If they were here, then whatever plan Craig had was already too far off track to be of use.

But Plask wasn’t here yet. If he hurried, he might convince them to leave. Maybe he could finish the mission, maybe…maybe she would finally be able to leave him alone.

Hawthorne’s eyes never wavered. She was wearing a different mask, but it was definitely her. He hoped he could make her see reason. If he convinced her to leave, he was sure the others would go with her.

“You shouldn’t be here. None of you should be here.”

Will stepped forward, but Hawthorne stopped him. “I think he knows what you’re going to say.”

Will nodded and returned to stand by the cloaked figure.

Hawthorne walked towards Knight. The two of them met in the middle of the dance floor. Neither of them talked, but the argument had already started.

She wanted to take him back to Macropolis.

He knew he could never return.

Neither of them were really interested in any argument the other would make.

Both of them knew that didn’t change anything.

“Why did you leave?” Hawthorne asked. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“It’s personal. None of you needed to know about this.” He gestured around the empty club. “Allspades tried to leave this life. He thought he could be a hero. I know better. I’m not Allspades, and I’m not a hero. I’m just a bullet.”

Hawthorne looked back towards Will, but he didn’t do anything. She took a deep breath and looked back at Knight.

“Do you remember, the first thing you said to me?”

“What?”

“You complained about the food. You said that you couldn’t eat a hamburger for four years. Is that the life you want to go back to?”

“I can live without hamburgers.”

Knight, what’s going on?”  Craig asked. “Who are you talking to?

Knight pulled the receiver from his ear.

“All that matters to me now, the only thing I care about tonight, is that Plask pays for what he did. If you think there’s anything you can say that will change that, then get it over with. I don’t have the time to argue.”

Hawthorne reached into her pocket and pulled out an apple. She stared at it for a moment.

“Catch.”

Knight reached out without thinking and plucked the apple from midair. He held it up with a raised eyebrow.

Hawthorne smiled.

Vines sprouted from the apple and immediately shot towards his other arm. Knight tried to get away, but the vines just grew with him, never giving him enough space to pull them apart. The vines encased his arms and reached for his waist, slowly forcing his arms to his side.

“I…thought…you had to be…touching them.”

“I’ve adapted.”

Allspades chuckled.

“Not bad at all, but do you really think this will stop me? You’ve saved him for a night. No more,” Knight said.

“If you really think he’s the one I’m saving, you’re a bigger idiot than I thought.”

The vines slowly grew over Knight’s head.

Hawthorne let out a sigh.

Will walked up next to her and lightly tapped the vines. He turned to her with a raised eyebrow.

“We can argue when there isn’t a crime lord waiting to walk in on us.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

“Fuck!” Craig’s fist slammed into the dashboard. “It took me half a year to track that kid down!”

“Calm down boss man,” the driver had reclined his seat back and happily popped another chip into his mouth. “Plask isn’t exactly unpredictable. Once your kid gets free we’ll just track him down again.”

Craig gritted his teeth. “We won’t get another chance you moron! If they managed to track down the kid then someone knows I pulled him back in. I only had one fucking shot at this, and that bitch screwed it up!”

“Don’t worry so much,” the driver said. “There’s no way they’ll find us for a few more days at least. It’ll take at least that long to tell anyone local to watch out for us.”

Craig just laughed. “You really are a moron. Do you have any idea who we work for?”

“I know that I get paid for driving people where they need to go. Nothing else really matters to me.”

There was a knock on the window, and they both turned to see a man in a plain black suit staring at them.

“You might want to reconsider that policy.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

A single bare light bulb illuminated the empty warehouse. He had been secured to a chair in the center of the vast room. Hawthorne slowly extended her hand and willed the vines away from his face.

Knight flinched back when the vines were removed from his eyes.

“Goddammit! Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

“Unless I’m mistaken,” Will said. “She just saved a man’s life.”

“And if you’re plan was to stand in the center of his club until he showed up, it wasn’t Plask she saved,” Stalker chimed in.

“Who the hell are you anyway?”

Hawthorne looked at Will. “Did he used to curse this much?”

Will shrugged.

“Why did you stop me?” Knight growled. “That bastard would be dead if it wasn’t for you!”

“Maybe he would be,” Will said. “But probably not. Either way, you would definitely have not survived the night.”

“I’d risk it.”

Hawthorne slapped him.

“Is you’re life really that worthless to you? Are you really that big of an idiot?”

“What fucking life‽ Pretending to be a hero? Toiling away at a fucking library? Praying the next guy I punch won’t be the one I punch just a little too hard? I’m not trained to be a hero! The only thing I can do, the only thing I’m good at, is making sure the other guy doesn’t get up again.”

“Then why is Burnout still alive?”

Allspades shut up.

“If you hadn’t been there, then he would have been stuck in that cave for who knows how much longer. If you hadn’t been with us when those bombs went off, then we never would have found Mason. If all you’re good at is hitting things, then explain that.”

Knight gritted his teeth. “None of that matters now. All that matters is making Plask pay for what he did to Page, and Helen and Thomas. All I want, is for them to rest in peace.”

“By going back to the life that killed them? By going back to a life you hated? If they cared half as much about you as you think you do about them, they would kick your ass for this stunt. You would have died!”

“Then maybe I would get some quiet!” The venom in Allspades’ voice flooded the room.

Hawhtorne took a step back.

“Stop pretending you know what it’s like. Stop pretending you understand how they felt, how I felt. You don’t have to live with it every. Fucking. Day. You want me to go back? Back to wondering if I was still sane? Back to hearing her drone on and on in my head about what I’m doing right, or what I’m doing wrong, or why I shouldn’t be sad anymore. Because I can’t do that! Tonight was the last chance I had to help them rest in peace, and you fucker ruined it! I don’t care if I was going to die! I don’t care how many times I would have been shot or beaten or stabbed. It would have been worth it.”

A white light burst from Allspades, shredding the vines with it. It clung to him, hugging him like a second skin.

Stalker laughed. It wasn’t the laugh that Hawthorne was used to, this one was deeper, more normal. And for some reason that scared her all the more.

Allspades whirled towards him. “What are you laughing at?”

Stalker walked towards him, laughing all the while. “Look at yourself, boy. You really think an agent can get away with being a lighthouse? Do you even know what that is?”

“What are you talking about Stalker?”

“You’ve never seen it before either, have you Will? Magical transference. I saw it in the camera, yes I did. But I couldn’t say, no, I couldn’t be sure.” He turned, his smile shining brightly thorough his shadowed face. “Your boy’s got another soul hitching a ride on his crazy train.”

He turned back towards Allspades. “You want closure boy? Then listen carefully. Somebody’s soul latched onto yours when they died, someone close to you. Normally, it’s because they blame you for their death, but not with that glow, no not at all. Somebody thinks you can’t take care of yourself. You wanna get rid of the voices? Then you need to prove you can.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It means, that killing Plask ain’t gonna help your problem, boy. It would only make it so much worse.”

“And why should I believe you?”

The shadows around stalker began to seep out of his hood, but his smile glowed as brightly as ever. He gripped Allspades head and forced him to stare straight at him. “You’ve been given a quest boy, Let me show you what happens to those who fail!”

Allspades tried to look away from the mass of shadows before him, tried to not look at the rotten figure floating behind Stalker, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t look away from its face, twisted almost beyond recognition.

“If you think it’s bad when they talk, wait until they start to scream!”

And then he could hear it. He could hear the pain radiating from Stalker’s ghost, and from Stalker.

“What…happened…to…you?” he managed to choke out.

“I’m in hell, boy, and I dragged someone else there with me. Be careful with that glow, or I’ll be seeing you there real soon.”

He let go of Allspades’ head and turned away. He walked to the door. “We got company, boy. If you can’t fight you better start running.”

A loud bang echoed from the front door.

“Mason White! You are ordered to report for debriefing immediately! Your superior has already been brought in for questioning. Come out now and no excessive force will be used.”

“Shit,” Will said. He looked at Allspades, panting on the floor. “Sounds like your boss went AWOL. Congratulations, you’re officially on their bad side.”

He looked at Hawthorne. “How quickly can you get him to the BIT?”

She stared at him, still in shock from Stalker’s performance. “What? What are you going to do?”

Will shrugged. “I’ll try to have a reasonable conversation with them. And when that fails, I’ll try really hard to make sure none of them get hurt too badly.”

Hawthorne looked down at Allspades, and back to Will. “I can-”

“You really can’t. You agreed to do what I say while we’re in this city. And right now, you need to get him on that train. The black suits won’t come after you if you’re on it. If I’m not there in 10, hit the big red button. It’ll get you home.”

Hawthorne straightened up to argue.

“NOW!” Will’s voice boomed around the empty warehouse. Hawthorne helped Allspades to his feet and rushed towards the back entrance.

Will looked at Stalker. “Please don’t kill anyone. I really don’t want to have that conversation.”

Stalker grunted. “I’ll try.”

The door opened and three men walked in. They all wore identical black suits and matching sunglasses.

“We are here seeking the agent known as Mason White, aka The Knight of Swords. If you tell us where he is, then we will let you go unhindered.”

Stalker’s smile reappeared beneath his hood. “Awww. They think they can hinder us. Please tell me I can prove them wrong.”

Will cleared his throat. “As far as I know, the agent you’re referring to died half a year ago. If you insist on attempting to interrogate us, then understand that we will defend ourselves.”

The agent reached into his jacket and flicked out a long baton. The others followed suit. “Very well.”

“I’ll handle the one on the right,” Stalker said. He charged forward without waiting for an answer.

Will muttered under his breath but slowly approached the others.

“We will give you one more chance to comply.”

Will sighed. Let’s just get this over with.

The two ran nearly silently towards him. Will counted their steps carefully. The one on the left was slightly taller, he had the longer reach, and would probably attack first. But the other one wasn’t slowing down to take advantage.

“Amateurs.”

Will ran towards the taller one. He swung the baton down from his shoulder, but halfway through his swing, it felt like his arm was passing through water. Will quickly struck at the agent’s wrist, hitting a nerve and forcing his hand open. Will grabbed his extended arm.

The other agent had reached them, but it was too late. Will used the taller one’s arm to force him between the two and take the blow for him.

Will let go just before the baton released its electric charge and sent the taller one into oblivion. The second agent barely had time to look surprised before will open palm slammed into his head. He felt his skull shake and he was unconscious before he hit the ground.

Will checked his watch. It had been less than two minutes since Hawthorne left. He looked over at Stalker. He was tapping his foot impatiently.

“You’re slow, Rumor. You could’ve taken those guys out from across the room.”

“And let their boss know exactly who I am. Of course.”

Stalker shrugged. “Think there’s more.”

“As long as those two made it to the BIT, I really don’t care.”

“Then you better make sure they did.”

Outside the warehouse a car screeched by and they heard gunfire.

“Duty calls.” Stalker leapt out the door and disappeared into the shadows.

Will snorted and went out the other way.

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Chapter 52

The two figures stood silently on a roof two block south of Club Midnight. Clouds had rolled in with the sunset; they glowed with the lights from the city below. Neon shadows danced across the figures; one was as still as a gargoyle, his hooded face calling upon the image of the reaper, only breaking form its solitary target to watch the other. The other’s face floated around, like a leaf caught in the wind, looking everywhere, but not at her companion.

This time Will had gone on ahead. Hawthorne shifted uncomfortably under the sporadic gaze of Stalker. She tried to avoid looking at him. She examined the street below and the people walking by. She looked at the clouded sky and tried to find the moon behind the mass of gray. She even tried to count the number of red cars driving by. But she couldn’t avoid his eyes forever.

Finally, she looked into the shadow that hid his eyes.

“You don’t like me,” Stalker stated.

“I don’t know you, and I don’t trust you,” Hawthorne responded. “I honestly can’t say if I like you. You didn’t exactly give a great first impression.”

“That is fair. But you should be careful. In this business, not trusting you’re partner leads to very bad things. It’s why I work alone.”

Hawthorne looked back towards the street. “You work with Will.”

“I do.”

“Why? Because you know his name?”

Stalker shook his head. “The first time I met Will, before he took off his mask, I nearly killed him.”

Hawthorne’s gaze snapped back to the vigilante.

He snickered. “Now you’re curious. You should check your reactions girl. Worse men than me could read you at a glance. But go ahead, ask the question.” His smile grew out of the shadows of his hood. “You know you want to.”

“That’s enough.” Will walked onto the rooftop behind them. He glared at Stalker. “Stop antagonizing her. You know you can’t answer.”

Stalker’s smile grew larger. “So she really doesn’t know. Years of hiding your skin, and now you’re hiding your face.”

Will grunted and turned away from the vigilante. “The club’s empty for now, but the line’s already three building’s down. If something happens here, a lot of people will die.”

“Did you see Allspades?” Hawthorne asked.

Will shook his head. “He’s either not here, or he already snuck inside. Plask is almost definitely going to be the first one inside. The safe move would be to attack him before the crowd gets in.”

“But the smart move would be to wait until he’s too distracted by the crowd and kill him then,” Stalker jumped in. “If I had guvvy backing, that’s what I’d do.”

Hawthorne glared at him.

“Anyway to find out what’s inside?” she asked.

“Not without mecher tech,” Stalker answered.

“I wish we had Mach or Red Racer. Either of them could get us an idea of what’s going on before we went in.”

“It’s better that they aren’t here,” Will said. “The kid’s too young for this. And for as useful as he is, Mach’s not exactly good for subtlety.”

Stalker glanced between the two. “You guys got a regular team going on don’t you? You got a fire guy right? Every team’s gotta have a fire guy. It’s tradition.”

“Yes, Virginia, there is a fire guy,” Hawthorne said. “But he’s not going to bring us any presents tonight.”

Stalker’s smile reappeared so quickly it seemed instant. “Ooh, banter. Keep that up, it’s really useful in a fight.”

Hawthorne looked at Will. “I think he’s actually crazier with you around.”

Will shrugged.

He looked to Stalker. “Do you know a way in?”

Stalker nodded. “The roof entrance seals up tighter than any prison from the outside. But-” he looked at Hawthorne “-if we could find a way to open it from the inside, it’ll pop right open.”

Hawthorne shrugged. “I should be able to sneak a vine underneath it. Won’t be a problem.”

Stalker’s smile vanished. “Right. That works too.”

Hawthorne’s eyes tightened and Will sighed into his palm.

“Ignore him. Stalker, go ahead and make sure there’s no one on the roof.”

Stalker managed to look disappointed despite his hood, but he leaped from the rooftop towards the Meridian.

Will turned towards Hawthorne. “So?”

She glared at him. “Did he really try to kill you?”

“Yes. He wasn’t the first, and he probably won’t be the last. At the time, he thought he had a good reason. I managed to earn his trust, and he hasn’t tried since.”

“Why?”

Will sighed. “The first time I was in town, I managed to learn his real name. He thought I was spying on him for one of the locals, and he decided I was corrupt. Truth is, I found out his name on accident, and I slipped up when I saw him.”

Hawthorne stared blankly at him. “How do you learn somebody’s name on accident?”

Will shrugged. “Part of my power. We met at the wrong place and the wrong time and I managed to figure it out. It’s not exactly something you can forget.”

He looked at her. “Anything else, or should we get going?”

“How did he try to kill you?”

“That was the first time he tried to sneak up on me.”

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