The wind blew past my ears, thundering over me as I tore through the sky. We had to save the plane.
Iris cut into my comms headset. “What’s our plan?”
“We have to land it somewhere it won’t do damage to the city.” I said. “Planes are made to glide without engines, so we can fly it somewhere if we keep it from shifting too much.”
“Where do we set it down?” She asked.
“That’s the hard part.” I said, surveying the city below. We’d never be able to turn it around with enough altitude left to make the runway at the airport, we had to find something else. I considered landing it on the river, but there wasn’t enough space, and we’d have to immediately get everyone off the plane. My eyes shot furiously over the city. There had to be something.
I looked to the right side of the plane, my eyes meeting the place where Interstate Fifty-Two left the city.
“Iris.” I said. “We’re going to land it on the Interstate.”
“Can we even make a turn like that?” She said.
“I have just the idea.”
I landed on the right wing, gazing through the windows at the near one hundred people inside. God, give me the strength to do this. I thought. I gripped the flap with both hands, pulling up with both hands with all my might. The plane shuddered as the airfoil turned, driving the side of the aircraft down. I flew to the opposite wing, adjusting the left flap to drive the plane into a right turn with the help of Iris adjusting the rudder. We had to sharpen the turn. I flew beneath the wing and pushed up, forcing it upward with all I could. I pulled the scales from the large pocket on my right leg, throwing them up into the wing and driving it higher.
I flipped to the top of it, leveling the angle of the aircraft with the highway, adjusting the flap to slow the turn and level out the plane.
Now came the hard part.
I slammed into the underside right wing as the left began to come down, pushing the scepter upward and forcing the wing up.
I called Iris to support, and she began pushing up on it as I made my way to the front end of the plane. I drove the scales into its underbelly with a punch, driving the nose upward. The plane jerked as it caught the draft, lifting itself from my hands and gaining a nominal amount of altitude. This was what we needed to reach the interstate.
I pushed the front end of the plane down as it approached the interstate, Iris using the rudder to line it up with the road. The plane dragged through the air, rapidly running out of altitude as the highway grew ever closer. The landing gear fell, and I made my way toward the nose to begin the landing.
The plane struck the ground and bounced as I leapt from the nose, landing on the pavement and turning my scepter towards the speeding aircraft. I threw the scales forward, and the force they produced met the force of the aircraft, pushing me backwards down the street. I held them forward with all my might, pushing hard against the forward force that slid me down the road. A semi-truck coasted around a curve in the highway, slamming on the brakes as the approaching aircraft came into view through the darkness. The truck slid across the road to a screeching halt, trailer falling onto its side across the highway lanes. Iris’s crimson banners wrapped around the wings of the aircraft, her flaming wings burning ever higher as she pulled back with all her might. I continued to slide down the road, bracing my feet against the concrete and struggling against the force the plane pushed against the scales. Before I knew it, my back had come up against the front of the abandoned semi. I fought hard to keep my arms straight as the plane pushed the scepter back, forcing it closer to my chest. Sweat poured from my forehead as my shoulders pushed against the truck, its tires screaming and burning as they were forced against the concrete. The aircraft forced itself ever forward, the nose crashing through the roof of the truck as the front wheels rolled mere inches in front of me, grinding to a strained stop mere moments away from crushing me.
I returned the scales to my pocket as I crawled from the gap between the wheels and the truck, falling to my knees on the street and gasping for breath. I wiped the sweat from my face as Iris rushed over, asking if I was okay.
I turned my head up to the sky, breathing deeply as the cool night air rushed across my face. I breathed for a few moments before I laughed. “Just wait.” I panted. “Wait ‘til Michael hears about this one.”
Iris laughed. “I’m sure he’ll be very impressed.” She sighed.
I tried to catch my breath between statements. “We have to stop Droigheann.” I said. “Before she does any more damage.”
“Can we stop her?” Iris asked.
“Jackson’s not as young as he’s ever been. His body is weakened, and it isn’t going to support her much longer. Besides, we have the Heart of Darkness.”
Iris shrugged. “I guess the night’s still young.”
I flipped through the datebook Iris had found in Jackson’s apartment, every page riddled with a black ink fury of mania. The lines were sharp, forceful, and violent, scattered across each page in a slew of arbitrary names and intensely written words like “terror”, “rage”, or “darkness”. There were sketches of things that resembled humans, dark shadows with sneering, minimalist features not unlike Droigheann’s. The book fell open to one of the later pages, revealing a predominately blank page, save an address in the center, circled many times. It was surrounded by a series of arrows, coming downward from a large, underlined series of letters reading “I am the fury”.
I gave the book to Iris. “Droigheann can do a lot of things” I said, “but subtlety isn’t something she does well. The book points to an address in Imperial. Droigheann had to know we would’ve found the book. She’s looking for a fight, and we’re going to give her one.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Said Iris.
We stood on a building outside the address, a construction site in a more upscale part of the city.
“Droigheann chose this place for a reason.” I said. “Anagram is going to be more powerful than ever before here, so we’ll have to be careful. Remember, Jackson’s body is weak, so we can’t do much damage to him. If you get a chance to go for him, perform a minimally damaging knockout. That’ll force Droigheann out, where we can hit her hard and fast with the Heart. You can do as much structural damage to Jackson’s machines as we should need.”
“Will do.” She agreed.
“Then let’s go.”
The construction site was brightly lit by the work lights hung on the steel skeletons of future structures, a white light shining against the night over the dirt ground and the various heavy machinery littering the area. In the center stood a shadow, a flat black humanoid fury in a dress spreading across the soil. I came to a landing in front of her, rising up in step for the fight.
Droigheann lifted her featureless head, crimson eyes opening to view as her twisted red smile did the same. “Hello, Azrael.”
“This has gone on long enough, Droigheann.” I said. “This ends now.”
She smiled. “It’s interesting you think so.” She laughed. “You’ve run headlong into more wars than you can count on your fingers over the past two or three centuries, now men like your Hangman are bringing the front to your own front yard. Come on, Azrael, even you have made a march on your own people. You think the fight has an end?” She smiled almost literally ear-to-ear, stifling a laugh. “This war has just begun. People like me will wage war against your city, your world, until we see every building crumble into dust.”
“I have a scythe and a few choice words to say otherwise.” I said.
“Words.” She replied. “Words indeed. You fancy yourself a writer these days, don’t you? And you, Iris, you’re something of an artist, correct? Then there’s Iris’s marriage counselling, Azrael’s attempts at philanthropy…” She paced around the scene, revealing Jackson’s hollow vessel standing behind her. “You spend your day jobs struggling to make your city a better place, trying desperately to build a better tomorrow for the children you supposedly care for, you use your spare time for hobbies in the arts, pretending like you capture some sort of beauty in your pursuits… You have your words.” She paused before looking back up at me. “And you have your scythe. The instrument you use to attack the people of the city you claim to love. You pretend to be a hero beneath your mask and your shiny armor, but behind that two-faced fake heroism of yours, we’re the same, Azrael. I’m just bringing the city to its downfall more quickly.”
“You’re murdering innocent people, corrupting good men like Jackson.” I objected.
“And what is it you’ve done for Jackson, exactly?” She asked. “If you win he’ll be jailed, provided he survives the lasting injuries you’ve inflicted on him tonight.” She touched his shoulder, gazing at the empty man before turning back to me in taunt. “I’ve enabled him seek out his vengeance on everyone who wronged him. Doesn’t seem like you’ve done him any favors.”
“Like you give a damn about him.” Iris growled. “You were only made to do damage.”
Droigheann snarled. “I suppose you’re right.” She stepped in front of him. “But at least I can give him a decent burial, beneath the city I destroy with his hands.” She smiled. “And the heroes who failed him should be a good place to start.”
She stepped backwards into her victim, and with a red-eyed flash Anagram was whole again. He twirled his hands above his hand, and with a metallic flourish of sound, the machines surrounding him ripped themselves asunder. The swirled through the air as he ascended into the operation control box of a crane, the excavator panels being riveted into place with a cacophonous fury of steel clanks. I stepped into attack position as the metal beast unfurled into the fullness of its form, motionless in the momentary calm before the fury.
I stood before a one-hundred-foot steel monstrosity like a yellow and black scorpion, claws of massive excavator buckets slamming together, a twisted, furious maw of crushing pistons and metal shards. The glass operation box sat half-embedded in the center of the creature’s back, surrounded by a series of steel panels like snapping jaws, clutching at the air surrounding the box. The creature’s tail curled up from behind, a series of black tires turned together and rigged to industrial engines. With the sound and fury of a legion of machines, the twisted metal amalgam of heavy machinery roared to life, the fire of engines and roar of pistons splitting the air with their cry.
A scythe in my hand elicited a similar metallic sound as its blade curled into form, ready for action. The scales reached balance in my other hand as Iris’s sword drew white-hot, a silver shield with a design like a heart appearing on her opposite arm.
I grit my teeth. “Blood is thicker.”
The steel amalgam struck, chain tracks firing forward as the excavator bucket claws struck hard against the ground. Iris somersaulted to the right side as I shot low to the left, rolling in front of the creature’s fearsome maw. It chomped forward in racing repetition, the twisted steel of its furious jaw glinting beneath the harsh light. I slid to one side, dodging the second claw as it struck hard against the dirt before leaping to its top, fighting against the protesting motion attempting to shake me off. It jerked with a furious motion as Iris flipped effortlessly through the air, her white-hot broadsword cleaving through the support beams stabilizing the front of the industrial beast. I fell to the ground, rolling back and forth to dodge the claws repeatedly crashing down around me. I shot my arm straight up above my head against the ground, launching a steel cable from my vambrace at anything. The ending struck the border of the site with a clang, pulling me from beneath the claws just as they struck above me. Iris jumped above the rightmost claw, cleaving a sizeable piece of the excavator bucket from it as she returned to my side.
We needed a plan to get to the operation box.
The tail rose up from the rear, tires spinning up to speed with the rapid-fire cry of the attached engines. A steel girder moved up the length of the tail, passing between the series of wheels and tearing through the air. It pierced the ground to my right as the machine loaded yet another beam into the firing mechanism, hurling the two hundred pounds of steel toward the ground.
Iris swung her sword low as the I-beam approached, slashing high in front of her as the beam passed, cleaved in two straight down the center by the glowing sword.
It saw my opportunity.
I signaled Iris as the third steel girder passed through the firing mechanism, piercing the ground with a loud thud between us. I took the scales in my right hand and began to run the length of the beam toward the upward end. Iris jumped onto the end of scepter, placing her feet on either of the scales’ arms as I reached the end of the steel beam. I threw the scepter forward as
Iris held her hands to her chest, the force of the scales sending her spinning into the air above the creature’s grasp. I flipped off the front of the beam, grabbing a length of dark red fabric that followed in her wake in attempts to follow her up to the box. The industrial composite machine struck at the air with its broken right claw, knocking me back to the ground. I rolled to my feet, searching for a new way up to the box.
I had an idea.
I drove my scepter into the ground, launching myself into the air above the machine. I held the scepter high above my head as I flew toward the box, shattering through the protective glass on the outside and crashing into the chamber. I grabbed Jackson from behind and threw my legs around his neck, choking him as I constricted the lock. Droigheann stepped out as Jackson choked beneath her, slashing at me with her claws. I held back the attacks with my scepter, furiously struggling to keep my hold around Jackson’s neck. Droigheann roared, fighting back with everything she had, when a red banner flew around her neck, pulling her forcefully back.
Jackson’s body struggled against me in vain as Droigheann fought furiously to regain her grasp of the battle. His clawing at my legs grew weaker as he faded into unconsciousness, causing the monstrous steel machine to crumble beneath him as Droigheann faded into a cloud of smoke, phasing away from his unconscious body. Iris and flew from the collapsing machine, pulling Jackson’s body from the wreckage as we landed before a furious Droigheann.
“Since when can you jump with the scales?” Iris asked, stricken with awe by my motion.
“Since now.” I said.
Droigheann snarled. “Imbeciles!” She roared. “You think you can stop me? You think you can prevent from bringing the destruction that is my purpose?” Her crimson snarl curled down in rage. “I am fury! I was made to bring death!”
“And I was made to stop you.” I said. “Guess I’m better at my job than you are at yours.”
“Enough!” She growled. “You two think you’re something special with your – your blood is thicker and how ‘the Valentines can do anything if they stick together… Do you think your father thought that when he left you, Iris? When Raziel’s parents left her on the street to die? Blood is thicker.” She scoffed. “And you, Azrael, do you think your father believed that?”
“My father was not a Valentine!” I growled.
“No… I don’t suppose he was.” She taunted.
“It’s over, Droigheann.” Iris said. “I suggest you leave.”
“And I demand it. Unless…” I said, flipping a scythe over my hand. “You’d like me to send you back to Hell the good old fashioned way.”
“To think you could beat me…” Droigheann said.
“You know I have the ability.”
She forced a laugh. “What do you know of darkness? You merely control it, I am darkness. You can’t generate it.” She scoffed.
“You are a warrior with all the training of a proper swordsman, yet you stand on a battlefield with no blade. You are a fool.”
I smiled. “I’m sure you remember the days when I was heralded as the master of all weapons.”
“What of it?”
“You should know what it means, Droigheann.” I said, pulling a black, heart-shaped stone from my pocket and unwrapping it from the red cloth. “It means I always have a weapon.”
She hid her uneasiness behind a mask of mockery. “A shard? That’s your secret weapon?”
“The Heart of Darkness. You forget, Droigheann. You may be able to sense fury, but I can sense fear.” I said. “Now leave, demon, before I show you what your worst nightmare looks like.”
“Do your worst.”
Droigheann began to mutate, the red eye just beneath her collarbones opening. A series of black ribbons extended from the central part of her chest, arching around her sides as if to emulate ribs. Her skirt came to a series of points, extending fluidly across the ground as it stretched into a set of spider-like legs. Her fingers extended into long, sickening claws, sharp like blades. Her stitched mouth and minimal eyes curled into a crimson scowl, and she elicited a guttural roar as she swung her arm upwards towards me.
I gripped the Heart tight in my hand as I threw it toward hers, an inky black shadow curling through the air and forming a solid shield in front of my hand. Her claws glanced off of it with a spark as I threw the scepter toward her chest with my opposite hand, driving her backwards. She shot both of her hands forward, her arms stretching across the space between us as they drove her claws forward like a spear. I dodged to the lower left, spinning and driving the scales into the ground to launch myself legs-first toward the chaos demon. The heart created a shadowy scythe in my hand as I flew forward, slashing past the tentacles on the ground and cutting deep into the side of her leg. She let out a cry of fury and pain as I rolled backwards and shot up, driving my feet into her lower back. Iris met Droigheann as she fell forward, slamming her defenses open with her shield and slashing Droigheann’s arm. I spun around and kicked Droigheann’s left side with the back of my heel, Iris complementing the move with a strike to the right. Droigheann fell, rolling across the dirt as Iris reset her stance. Droigheann’s legs stretched out and stood her up as I stepped closer, the Heart forming the head of a mace around my hand.
“Give it up, Droigheann.” I said. “It’s over.”
“Never!” She shouted, unleashing all her might in a forward slash. I placed the mace in front of me, blocking the strike as I pulled my hand from it, driving the head of the scepter into it. The black fury of blades flew forward, striking her chest and driving her back. I drove the heart forward and channeled all the strength I could muster into the shard. Before me formed an enormous beam like a battering ram, surrounded by a fury of arbitrary blades in complex shapes. The jet-black arsenal shot forward with the force of a freight train, driving Droigheann into a wall at the edge of the construction site.
The weapons hung in the air, dissipating into a fading black ink in the breeze as I walked forward. Droigheann sat slumped at the bottom of the wall. I returned my weapons to my pockets and gripped her throat, pulling her up to look me in the eye. A scythe shot into my right hand, blade ready to finish the job.
“—you’ll never win—” she choked. “The fury inside will overtake you. It will destroy you.”
“I am the fury!” I spat, touching the tip blade to her left collarbone and dragging it diagonally down, cutting across the eye on her chest. She screamed in agony, a disregarded plea for me to stop. I threw her aside, where she clutched at the closed eye, holding in the crimson red liquid that had begun to seep from the wound. She looked up at me, wondering if I’d go for the kill.
I can’t say the thought didn’t cross my mind as I stood over her. I paused for a moment, letting her wallow in her terror. I retracted the scythe. “Leave.” I demanded.
She began to fade into a cloud at the edges, vengeful scowl plastered across her face. “This isn’t over.”
“If I see you in Bastion again, the mercy I’ve shown you today will be worlds away from the things I’ll do to you.” I said. “Now get the hell out of my city.”
Iris and I stared through our bedroom window, admiring the hue of the early twilight.
“Man, what a night.” I said, stuffing my armor haphazardly into the case at the back of the closet.
“Understatement of the year.” Iris said.
“Well, here’s to knowing the two parts of Anagram will stay apart for good.” I said. “And hoping that I won’t have to see Droigheann again.” I sat down on the edge of the bed.
“I may have something you’ll be interested in.” Iris said, opening up the datebook we found in Jackson’s apartment and sitting next to me on the mattress. “I found this.” She said, handing me the book. I looked at the page she opened it to, expecting the ceaseless illegible scribbles that had been written throughout the rest of it. I was instead met with two pages adorned with clean lines, a large circular emblem covering both pages. It was intricate, a series of perfect circles lined with symbols I’d never seen before. There must have been hundreds of them, neatly outlining the interwoven shapes within the boundary of the circle. The only mark I recognized was in the upper right of the drawing, two lines in from the outermost layer. A stylized eye like the one on Droigheann’s chest.
“What the hell?” I said, looking carefully over the symbol. “What is this?”
“I don’t know,” Iris said “but some of the symbols are written at other points in the book.”
“I’ve never seen this before.” I said. “I wonder what it’s supposed to mean.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” Iris said, stepping into the closet and closing the door behind her. “You know,” She said through the door, “The Heart of Darkness isn’t actually that special, is it?”
“No.” I answered. “It’s just the biggest shard I have. I have a whole box of smaller ones somewhere in there. Plus I like the shape.”
I heard her giggle through the door. “I feel bad about Jackson.”
“We did everything we could. As much as I hate that he’ll wind up having to go to jail over this, he seemed okay with it.” I said.
“Yeah. Said it’s better than being homeless and unemployed.” I said. “For a guy who’s had a demon screwing around inside his head for the past two days, he’s taking the whole situation pretty well.”
“He’s a good guy.” She said.
“He is.” I agreed. “I also feel bad for the poor foreman who’s going to find the parts to seven different construction machines completely disassembled in his lot.” Iris laughed. There was a pause as I reflected upon everything she and I had done that night, turning away from the closet and pouring myself a drink from the set on the dresser. “You did well tonight.” I said. “I’m glad I had you by my side.”
“I was glad to be there.” She said. “You might want to be careful, you’re almost starting to look like some kind of superhero.”
“You don’t look so different yourself.” I said. “Just prettier.” I leaned against the wall next to the closet door. “I’m sorry I never told you how I felt.”
“And I’m sorry that I wasn’t being as supportive as you needed me to be.” She said. “The world needs you this way, Azrael, and honestly, I like the work you do. I’m proud of it. And I know I tend to worry a lot about what’s going to happen to you, but it’s not because I don’t believe in the mission.” She sighed. “It’s because I love you.”
I smiled. “I love you too, sweetheart. You’re every bit the warrior you’ve always been. Hell, that nurse from World War II doesn’t have a thing on you.” I said.
“And I still rock the suit just as well as I did then.” She said, opening the closet door. She stepped through in a grey outfit, calf-high boots with red trim adorned with the red cross, grey pants with a weapons belt slung across her hip. She wore a double-breasted top with a low collar and a short grey jacket that vaguely resembled a lab coat, the back bearing a red cross embellished in the same style of the heart-shaped seal on the front of the jacket. “Now about that promise you made me…”
She smiled, playfully biting her cherry red lower lip with all of the bombshell beauty I hadn’t seen since she last wore the suit in the nineteen forties.
“I think I can make good on it, doctor.” I smiled.
She kissed me before pushing me onto the bed and stood above me, opening up my black plate armored shirt. She ran her hands up my sides, carefully examining each of the new injuries I’d garnered that night.
“Well then,” She said, a flirtatious tone in her voice. “Tell me where it hurts.”
Officer Andrews paced down the row of containment cells. It had been a few days since Jackson Garmana had been checked into the prison, and no one had been able to piece together exactly what had happened, yet even with the odd stories surrounding him, Jackson was one of the most well-tempered prisoners at the facility. The guards there liked him, and he liked them. He wasn’t like any of the others. The Officer pondered the oddity of the situation as he made his way to Jackson’s cell to bid his new friend good night.
He was stricken with a terror unlike any he’d felt before when he beheld the sight of Jackson, tied by the neck to the ceiling with a knotted blanket, lifeless.