I approached the Gallows with caution, unsure as to whether or not the Hangman would receive me as well as he did last time. By the time I’d reached the development, the Gallows’ gate loomed ever closer, now enveloping an area beyond the entire street block. The Hangman’s followers had pushed the barrier into the middle of the block, using buildings surrounding the square as extensions of the citadel walls, the doors and windows sealed, rooftops lined with short walls adorned in barbed wire and spikes. It was early evening, yet the Hangman’s guard stood dutifully in their places at the gate, men with rifles atop the walls and trained casually on the streets. As they saw me coming up the street, they all stood at immediate attention, prepared to take me on at a moment’s notice.
“I need to see the Hangman.” I insisted.
“Hangman don’t have time to deal with just any old poser who walks in, even one dressed like you.” One of them replied. “Now leave a message and beat it before we see what Goliath can do to you.” He said, gesturing toward the largest of them.
“Did I ask you a question?” I threatened. “I said I need to see him.”
“And I said screw off, mask.” He spat. “Goliath, show him what we mean.”
Goliath stepped forward, taunting me with his burly weight and stature, about six inches taller than me and big as the sky. He smiled as he cracked his knuckles, and I raised my fists to face him.
Before his punch caused his arm to straighten to full length, he was on the ground with a dislocated shoulder, unconscious against the cold pavement. His friends looked on in amazement.
I fronted on the one who’d rejected my entrance and gripped him by the throat. “Hangman. Now.” I grunted, throwing him to one side. “And if that’s your Goliath, the Philistines shouldn’t like their odds.”
It was only a few moments later that the executioner himself stepped through the opened gate. He smiled as he threw out his arms. “Well hello! I wasn’t expecting a visit. I might’ve cleaned the place up.” He said. “Come in, come in!”
I followed him through the twisted maw of the fortress, the eyes of the watchmen atop the walls or the residents in tents inside never leaving me. The Hangman tied a rope around his left arm as he approached the square, his busy hands never stopping. “So what brings you to my gallows today, my friend?” He said.
“I’d like to make you an offer.” I answered.
“Really?” He smiled, his face curling into a maniacal grin beneath his hood. “Very well then. Let’s have a chat in my office.” He said.
Walking through the grim square, I couldn’t help but take notice of the new bodies, now even greater in number than before, dangling in the thick haze from the sagging tree and the scaffolding surrounding the square. The square stank of the putrid flesh, mingling in the air with the smoke and the rancid water and forming a stench more powerful than almost anything I’d ever smelled before. We stepped up the courthouse steps, the gallows platform larger than before and now adorned with three nooses.
“I see production’s been up.” I joked grimly as he held open the courthouse door.
“Indeed it has.” He smiled. We stepped into the bleak courthouse, which had taken on a new appearance. The separation wall had been removed, along with the jury box and each of the stands, leaving only judge’s chair, the dimly burning barrel fires sitting beneath each of the windows, and the multitude of nooses hung from the ceiling. “It won’t be too much longer before the last man has faced my justice.” He said as he sauntered toward the judge’s chair, plopping into it and placing his feet up the desk, hands behind his head.
“And the hundred people you’ve promised to kill if anyone interferes? What happens to them?”
He laughed. “Oh, they’ll all make it out okay, I assure you.” He said, lowering his feet to the floor and leaning over the desk, fingertips pressed against one another.
“And once all your victims are dead, I’m supposed to trust that you’ll just leave?”
“Oh yes. My purpose includes only them.” He said.
“And how many are they?” I said.
“Well, I suppose -”
“By my count it’s forty-six at the very least.” I cut him off.
“What?” He said in confusion.
“Twelve jurors, a judge, the defense and her two assistants, although I’m pretty sure I saw her outside.” I taunted. “- and six more testimonies. Naturally, those don’t include the arresting officers, nine witnesses a bailiff or two, some other paper-pushers, probably some detectives and such. I’m not sure how far you intend to go, really”
“What are you talking about?” He exclaimed, standing up from the judge’s seat.
“I’m talking about Dexter, Harvey.”
He was visibly shocked.
“I’m sorry, should I call you Prosecutor Adams instead?”
He started to laugh. “I wondered if you could figure it out. You’re smarter than I took you for.”
“I’m full of surprises.” I said.
“Very well, Azrael. What was that offer?”
“Let me help you, Harvey. Let me help you do this the right way.” I said. “We can work through it together, reopen the case, arrest the people who need to be jailed and keep the Glass from rigging the trial. Call out the corrupt detectives, all the cops and jurors who were extorted or paid off. We can get real, lawful justice for Dexter. Your best friend deserves a better legacy than this.” I offered.
He sighed. “I wish you were right. He deserved the best.” He began to step down from stand. “But you didn’t see it. You weren’t there, pleading with everyone for justice, only to be deprived. The way people lied, their apathy. They deserve to die for what they did.” He said, his voice almost breaking beneath the weight of his words. “The list is all that matters.”
“Harvey, please. We can get justice. We can get you the help you need. We can do this right. But I can’t let you kill any more people.”
He stood stock still, staring to one side. “Then we go to war.”
I turned to leave. “I’m sorry it had to turn out like this.” I said, stopping at the door. “The Gallows will fall.”
I sat on the rightmost staircase that circled the foyer, gazing up at the chandelier in preparation for my plan, when Iris approached the steps. She took my hand.
“Any plans yet, Master of Shadows?”
“Not quite, but we have to make our move.” I sighed. “I can’t let any more people die.”
“Well then let’s get to it.” She said, pulling me up from the stairs with my hands. “What did you learn when you talked to him this morning?”
“What I needed. I have a theory.”
She grinned. “Tell me what you’ve got, Sherlock.”
I began to pace the room. “Well, we know that the Hangman is Prosecutor Harvey Adams, who lost his best friend Dexter in a trial about eighteen months ago. Blades was very clearly Dexter’s killer, as the Hangman knows very well, which is why he was the first victim. From that point, Hangman worked down the list of related people involved in the trial, from members of the Glass who testified inaccurately, to jurors who were bought out or extorted into changing their vote for conviction. You’ve already seen the list I compiled.”
“Of course.” She agreed.
“Fact is, Harvey values that list more than anything else. He’ll stop at absolutely nothing to make sure that everyone on that list is dead, hence his assassins.”
“Hold on a sec.” She interjected.
“Holding.” I paused.
“The biggest problem with leading an attack on the gallows is the fact that Hangman supposedly has a hundred victims prepared to be slaughtered the minute anyone tries something funny.”
“And?” I asked.
She paused before she looked up at me and smiled. “It’s a ruse.” She said.
“It all makes so much sense now.” She conjectured, pushing her hands through her hair. “Come look at this!” She said, turning and running into the kitchen. I smiled and followed her into the room to see her typing fervently at the laptop on the counter.
“The Hangman told you that the list is his highest priority, and we already have a good idea of most of the people on it. Adding that to the people who’ve been killed, all the people involved in the trial, and all the officers on the case…” She typed with a furious enthusiasm, compiling the list. She struck a final key. “Voila.” I gazed at the monitor, which projected the names of everyone she’d mentioned. “How many are there?” She asked.
I perused the list for just a moment before everything became transparent. “… There’s one hundred.”
“Exactly!” She celebrated.
“He’s bluffing.” I smiled.
“It all makes sense. He’d never have the followers he’d need to kill so many right off the bat, plus given his court background, a strategy like this is just the tool he’d use. The hundred people are the people on his list. It’s his contingency plan. In the event that he gets caught, he wants to make sure that everyone on that list is dead, even if he can’t kill them himself.” She explained. “Using the list as a threat against potential resistance would allow him not only to make sure they all die, but keep people from trying to stop him.”
“Two birds – ”
“One stone.” She finished.
I shot back up from the computer and threw my arms around her. “Iris, you’re a genius.”
“I do my best.” She smiled before I pressed my lips against hers.
“Alright.” I began. “First we need a way to make sure all those people stay protected, then a way to bring down the Gallows.”
“I think I know someone who could give us a hand with both of those things, and just so happens to have some pull with the police.” She said.
I smiled. “Do you never stop having great ideas?” I said.
She giggled. “Just call him.”
I pulled the cell phone from my pocket and dialed it in.
“Captain Ford.” He answered.
“It’s Az. You up to anything tonight?” I said.
“Depends. Does it involve a fight?”
I smiled. “Doesn’t it usually, Michael?”
The Gallows stood stark against the night sky, the fires within casting a dim orange glow on the smog in the midnight air. The walls now stood almost three stories tall, and were lined with eight men, all armed with assault rifles. I pulled the cell phone from my pocket.
Iris pushed aside her shimmering onyx hair and put on her mask. “Any word from the Captain?”
I glanced at my cell phone before slipping it back into my pocket and tightening the strap on my backpack. “All clear.” I said. “We’re ready to move.”
“Gunners first?” She said.
I nodded. “Let’s move.”
She threw me a wink as her armor turned a deep blue and she set off around the corner of the abandoned building. We skirted the outside edge of the Gallows, moving through the shadows in silence.
The six gunmen paced lazily about their positions, stumbling back and forth between a few fixed points at the walls’ intersections. The two at the gate leaned against the gate posts leisurely, the one to the right of the gate lighting a cigarette and breathing the cloud into the putrid haze that hung above him, thick and stagnant in the midnight air. In a fluid moment just a second after, he’d been silenced and had disappeared from the wall before the cigarette hit the ground. As I maneuvered around the side of the wall toward the next one, I began to hear sheets of corrugated metal being stricken inside the Gallows. I contacted Iris using my earpiece.
“Iris. Mask up.”
I heard her response as I was choking the second gunner beneath my arm. “Oh god.”
“We have to stop him, now.” I demanded.
“We –“ The Hangman raised his fist, and with only his gesture, every sound stopped as what looked like eighty followers stood silent. I ran as quickly as I could up behind the third gunman, choking him into unconsciousness as the Hangman began to speak.
“Good evening, my friends.” He began, holding his hands up to the crowd. “This is a momentous occasion.” he gestured indignantly toward a woman in a purple hoodie with a black sack over her face, being secured by her arms by two of his followers and kneeling behind him.
“We move on my mark.” I signaled Iris. “I’ll throw the backpack your way, you provide cover while I get her to safety.”
“Acknowledged.” She said.
“This woman stands accused of a crime most horrible.” He spat. “For her lies and cowardice have caused murderous men to roam free, in reckless disregard for justice. For this, my brothers,” He raised his arm to the crowd. “she shall face justice.” The crowd roared, and yet again they began to strike against the sheets of metal, slowly and in deliberate unison as the master of the Gallows twisted the rope in his busy hands.
“Hold.” I said.
The banging grew louder with increasing frequency as the Hangman threw the rope over the beam and tied it to the anchor at the back of the platform.
He pushed the woman across the platform to the trapdoor, prepared to spring it at a moment’s notice after placing it over her head. I equipped the smooth black mask and lenses over the lower part of my face and pulled the backpack from my back in preparation to pass it to Iris, the rhythmic metal banging reaching a fever pitch and speed. I stepped to the ledge to make the jump as the Hangman approached the lever.
In a singular motion I swung down into the square, slashing the noose and grabbing the woman while dropping the backpack on the platform. Within an instant Iris was at it, pulling a grenade launcher from it and firing several gas grenades into the crowd. I opened the courthouse door and rushed her inside, removing the black hood from over her head. She stared up at me, brushing the black hair from her face and gazing through fearful, silvery eyes. I placed a hand on her shoulder and spoke softly. “Stay here and find somewhere to hide. I’ll come back and make sure you get out of here safely.”
I grappled back to the top of the wall, met with the sight of the Hangman running towards the courthouse through the green haze. A black militaristic sword shot from the top of my vambrace and launched toward the fleeing executioner, a concussion explosive mounted at the hilt exploding as the sword pierced the square. The Hangman fell to the ground in the blast’s wake, scrambling to stand as I thrust my foot into his chest. “It’s over, Harvey. No one else dies.”
“You can’t stop me.”
I picked him up by his collar and threw him against the wall at the bottom of the platform, pulling a sword and pinning him against the wall. “Your hundred are under protection, your gallows has been breached. It’s over.” I said.
“IT IS NEVER OVER!” He screamed as one of his followers grabbed me by the shoulders. I ducked and kicked the Hangman in the chest with both legs, propelling my shoulder into the gut of the follower behind me before rolling over and choking him out with my legs.
The scythes ejected from the undersides of my vambraces and into my hands as I stood, four hooded men before me prepared to fight.
The one on the far right pulled a pistol from his belt and prepared to fire. His yelped as I bent his elbow around my knee, forcing him to the ground as I redirected his gunfire toward the legs of two of the men in front of me. I wrenched the gun from his hand and struck the last one standing with it, then collapsing onto the one behind and driving an elbow into the back of his head.
I looked out across the square to see Iris fighting a group of followers on the other side. I fired my grapnel cables to my front and back, zipping toward her on the cable and kicking down anyone who stood in the way. I hit the wall with both feet, propelling off of it to strike one of the men in front of her. I caught a follower’s foot as he attempted to kick me, flipping him backwards toward Iris. She drove her knee into the back of his head, forcing him my direction, where I hit him in the jaw for the knockout.
Iris kicked off of the chest of another follower, recoiling back toward me. I caught her and used the momentum to spin her around, her legs striking anyone within range before I threw her toward the wall. She bounded off of it and into the next group.
After a few more such groups had been taken care of, I made my move for the Hangman, rushing to the courthouse door. I pulled on the door handle, to no avail. The Hangman had locked it from inside. “I can’t let him find her.” I whispered to myself, slamming my fist hard against the door thrice before drawing a sword from my vambrace. I stuck it into the door and moved back, and with only a thought, the charge on the hilt blew the door open. I entered the room, scythes in hand.
The Hangman stood on an attendant’s ledge above the courtroom on the back wall, the barrels burning dimly beneath the windows and casting an orange light onto the nooses hanging from the ceiling. In front of him stood the black-haired woman, rope around her neck.
I removed my gas mask, collapsing it and returning it to its place on my belt.
“It’s over, Harvey.” I said.
“Almost.” He smiled, gripping her arms and leading her to the ledge.
“Don’t do it, Harvey.”
“She deserves to die!” He yelled. “Her and everyone else!”
“Killing her won’t bring Dexter back.” I said. I had to find a way to save her. If he dropped her from that height, she would undoubtedly have broken her neck.
“She did nothing. She let him die.”
“She was extorted. The glass would’ve killed her if she crossed them, just like the rest of the jury.” I said.
“And what makes them more valuable than justice?” He scowled.
“I gave you your chance to send them to justice. All of this is only revenge.” I said.
“She had her chance to send them to justice. Now it’s her turn to face it.”
I hurled a sword toward the rope and swooped in to catch her.
The Hangman stared into the courtroom, momentarily unsure of what had happened.
Then I rose.
I stood before him, levitating in the air with motionless black wings stretched to the walls of the courtroom. Beneath my left arm I held a frightened, silvery-eyed woman, clutching my shoulder in terror.
I fired a grappling cable at his collar, pulling him off the ledge and dropping him into the judge’s podium, who collapsed beneath his fall. He shrank back toward the wall as I set the woman on the floor, fronting on him and stretching my wings all the way to the ceiling. I gripped his throat with my left hand and pinned him against the wall, drawing a scythe from my right hand, sparking to life with electricity.
“The Gallows has fallen.” I snarled, jabbing the weapon into his chest and rendering him unconscious.
I folded up my wings, who promptly disappeared as I turned to the woman lying on the floor. I extended my hand to her. “Let’s get you to safety.”
She stood up and collapsed into me.
I threw back the last of the scotch in the glass and set it down on the bar. The Bastion Royal Oceanside Dance Club shown dim beneath the crystal chandelier, the champagne tile glowing softly in the face of the starry sky visible through the domed skylight and ceiling-high windows. The string section of the swing band at the front of the club began to play as a woman with golden blonde hair stepped up to the microphone, dress shimmering in the soft light. Iris grabbed my shoulder and pulled me toward the floor, her brilliant red full-length dress and onyx hair shimmering beneath the gentle light. She smiled up at me as she placed her hands on my shoulders and began to sway.
“So this has been an interesting week.” She said.
“That it has.”
“You know,” she began, “where on earth did you get a grenade launcher?”
I paused. “I don’t know what surprises me more, the fact that you didn’t already know I had one, or the fact that it surprises you I do.”
She smiled. “I guess you’re right.”
There was a brief pause. “It’s fun, isn’t it?” I said.
“Too much fun.” She admitted as though it were a guilty pleasure before we both joined in laughter. “Think we can finally close this one up?” She asked.
“I think so. I’ve put everything I needed in my notes back at home.” I said. “I visited Harvey and did some more investigating after his arrest, and everyone on the list is safe. I think we can finally put this one to bed.”
“As long as we’re done. At this point if I never heard the name ‘Hangman’ again, it’d be too soon.” She sighed, leaning her head against my shoulder.
“Well, we did it.” I smiled, lifting her chin. “Even if the police swept it under the rug, we did it together.”
“I had a feeling they’d do that.” She sighed. “How much longer do you think it’ll take for the world to be ready for us?”
“I don’t know if they’ll ever be ready.” I said. “But even if they’re never ready, they have to find out eventually.” I wrapped my arms around her waist. “But for now, all we can do is what we’ve been doing.”
“Works for me.” She smiled, pressing her lips gently to mine before leaning against my shoulder. “So what happens next, Angel of Death?”
I sighed and wrapped my arms around her. “For now?” I squeezed her tight, swaying to the music.
“I think I’m fine with just doing this for a while.”