I stood atop the roof at the corner of the intersection, waiting for the signal.
“You and your brooding.” Said the woman behind me. “You’re waiting for a security van, not your next victim.”
“We’ll see about that.” I said.
“Geez, look at you, Black Knight Returns” She said. “Something on your mind?”
“Something like that.” I said.
“Do I get let in on your secret?”
I sighed. “…Raziel and I had an interesting conversation yesterday.”
Iris sat down on the corner of the roof. “I had that impression.” She said. “You talk about anything particularly interesting?”
“You could say that.” I replied. I sat down next to her on the edge of the roof, pulling off my mask and letting my hood fall to my shoulders. “I’m not even sure where to start.”
“Wherever you want.” She said. “You know I’m here for you.”
“I…” I began, stumbling into it. “Well, when I was a teenager, I left Bastion for New Avalon, as you know, and over the years, I haven’t exactly been forthcoming about what happened.” I said. “A lot happened in the months I was gone, and Raziel thinks it’s about time I let some people in on what happened, especially since everything Droigheann said.”
“Okay.” She said. “Does Raziel know?”
“Not much, but she knows about the dream.”
I sighed. “I have this dream about my father, where I drag him into an alley and start beating him with a baseball bat. I just start swinging, and I don’t stop. He just keeps screaming, begging me to stop, and I just keep swinging until I pound his skull into a paste, and even after that, I don’t stop. I keep beating the asphalt with the bat, flinging what’s left of his head everywhere. I scream curses at myself until my voice gives out, swing until I don’t have the energy to fight anymore.” I said. “And that’s not even the worst part. I don’t do it for any reason. There’s no justice. No purpose. I just do it because I’m angry. Because I hate him. I stand there at the end of the dream, drenched in sweat, my voice hoarse from swearing at him, his blood dripping from my face, and my rage is still unsatisfied. I’m glad I killed him, but he’s not dead enough.”
Iris sat in silence, a hand contemplatively hung on her chin as she gazed emptily over the intersection.
“It frightens me because it’s just so needlessly cruel. I did it because I hate him, and that’s it.” I said. “I look at that, and that’s what I’m really like. That’s me.
I looked inside that thief’s head and I saw him shoot a woman in the face, and I realized he and I weren’t too different, because he did it like it was nothing. It was easy for him.
Then I hated him. I hated everything he stood for. I hated that he would dare to even consider hurting an innocent woman. I see people like Marsha, and I want to find the people who hurt her. I want to beat them until my body gives out, and never stop.
Raziel told me that when you two grew up together, she learned how cruel the world can be. I learned the same lesson all those years ago, but I watched the cruelty become a part of who I am.
I am the fury.”
“I’ll be honest, Azrael, I don’t claim to understand what you feel.” Iris said. “But I understand what it’s like to look at yourself and not like what you see. What it’s like when you’re different from everyone else. I look at myself every day and I’m reminded of the thing I’m missing. When the fire shoots from my back, I remember what I am. I wish I was what I used to be, before the world taught me to be broken.
But I look at you and I see someone who was there for me. Who suffered with me when I was broken, and regardless of how I feel, calls me beautiful every single day.
That person isn’t cruel. That person’s incredible. He recognizes what the world needs, and he’s willing to make the sacrifices so other people don’t have to. And yeah, maybe his powers or the things he’s called to do don’t make him look like the nicest guy in the world, but I’ve seen his intentions, and I know they’re good.
We’re fighting a war, Azrael, and sometimes wars need somebody to carry the sword.To do the things that others can’t.
You are the fury, but fury is a powerful weapon, and you know how to use it for good.
Greatness is a choice, Azrael, and I’ve watched you make the right choice at every opportunity for as long as we’ve been together. Which, in case you’ve forgotten, is a pretty long time.”
She leaned her head onto my shoulder. “You may not believe you’re anyone’s hero, but you’re mine.” She said. “And I know I’m not the only one.”
I put my arm around. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
The midnight air blew over the quiet square.
“You know,” I said “Raziel asked me if there was anything that made me feel differently. Something that made me feel like I was actually good.”
“Is there?” She asked.
“There is.” I smiled.
“…I wonder how Marsha’s doing.” She said.
“Az?” The earpiece chirped.
“I got eyes on one of the vans.” Gabriel said. “Get ready for action.”
“No problem.” I replied, pulling the hood over my head. “Let’s get to work.”
“Let’s teach them what fear is.” Iris said.
“Let’s.” I agreed.
I looked down the street, and as if on cue, a black car shot down the roadway.
“You first, pretty lady.” I said, drawing the scales from my pocket. Iris jumped onto the end of the scepter, and I hurled her forward over the street as the car flew through the intersection. She landed atop a traffic light, wrapping a red canvas fabric around the top of the pole as she spun down through the curtain to the street. Her shield stood strong before her as she slammed it into the front of the car, the car tipping up against the impact before crashing back down into the street. The men in the car shook off the crash, firing assault rifles through the windshield and producing bright sparks against her shield as the bullets grazed off the silver plate. The two men in the car stepped out, when the roof buckled beneath the weight of my impact as I landed on it. I fired a cable onto the driver, pulling him toward me and causing him to slam his head into the side of the car. The flashes of the other’s assault rifle lit up the dark street over the top of the vehicle as I rolled over the side, catching the top of the assault rifle and leveraging my force against him, slamming him into the pavement. I slid across the hood of the car, striking the driver in the stomach before going for the knockout with a knee to his face.
“Patch them up and let’s head for the next one.” I said, pushing the car into the parking lane with my scepter as Iris pulled the bodies to the side of the road. “Gabriel, come in.”
“Go.” The voice on the comms headset responded.
“Any word on the next position?”
“I’ve got visual on an armored car headed down 44th, as of yet uncompromised, but I’m expecting resistance any minute.”
“On it.” I said. I looked to Iris. “Meet us at the Pharaoh Security Logistics building. Gabriel’s got an armored car headed their way, and we’re expecting some pushback.”
“Gotcha.” She said.
“See you in a few, beautiful.” I said, grappling over the top of a neighboring building and launching myself into the sky.
I flew above the armored car, watching carefully, when I noticed a man standing in the center of the street just a few hundred yards ahead. I called Gabriel with the mark, and a blue streak of light tore through the street and zipped around the corner, the man in the street nowhere to be seen in his wake. I curved down the street to follow him into an alley, where I witnessed as he slammed the would-be carjacker into a pile of garbage bags. Maybe I’ll just let him have this one. I thought to myself.
“Easy now.” I said to him. The man in the trash brushed himself off, shaken by the high-speed impact. “We don’t want any trouble.” I warned him.
Gabriel looked at me incredulously, my responsive nod changing his expression into one of ecstatic disbelief. He grabbed the criminal by the collar, pushing him into the brick wall of the alley. He spoke forcibly in a voice like the sound of a super-duty engine peeling through gravel. “But if you’re looking for trouble, I’d be glad to give you some.” He threatened. “Tell us about who hired you!”
“I don’t know, man!”
“Tell us about Armor!”
“I seriously don’t know, man! Jay was the guy who handled the stuff with her!”
“Wait.” I interrupted. “What do you mean by her?”
“Some lady.” He said. “The guys who hired us for the CloudTech job sent her to help us finish this job!”
Gabriel picked up the slack. “Where is she?!”
“With the other group!” He said. “Headed toward the security building!”
I gave Gabriel the all-clear signal, and he grit his teeth. “Remember how much this hurts.” He said before slamming the thief’s head into the wall with his elbow.
We turned around to leave the alley. “Not so bad.” I said.
“Learned from the best.” He smiled.
“Was bad cop everything you dreamed it would be?”
Gabriel beamed. “So much more.”
“We gotta make for the PSL building. Sounds like we need to be ready to welcome some guests.” I said. “And work on the voice, you sound like a garbage disposal full of batteries.”
“Noted.” Gabriel said, zipping down the street.
I stood at the edge of the sidewalk, watching as the streak rushed blocks at a time into the distance. “I will always be better at bad cop.”
Gabriel, Iris and I stood at the front of the Pharaoh Security Logistics building, awaiting our targets.
“Raziel?” I asked, touching at the comms headset.
“Copy.” She responded.
“What’s the status on the prototype recovery?”
“The prototype’s secured, and I’m checking out the computer here for anything on Armor.”
“Anything we can use yet?”
“Nope.” She replied. “They’ve done a pretty good job of covering their tracks.”
“Keep at it.” I responded.
We all turned as the security gate opened, three armored cars rolling through it.
“Shit.” I said to myself. “Of course Blake lied to us.”
“Maybe they just changed their plans after we took him in.” Iris said.
“Doesn’t matter, we have to stop them.” I said, watching as they all signaled to turn different directions. “Gabriel, get the left, Iris, take the right, I’ll get the center. Give them the option to surrender, and if they don’t, make them wish they had.” I said.
With a blue flash and a tongue of flame, Gabriel and Iris went into pursuit. I took to the air, giving chase to the armored truck speeding away from the facility.
I flew toward the car, coming down on top of the speeding vehicle. I swung down to the passenger’s side, plunging a sword into the crack at the edge of the door. With a blast, the door flew off the car and I swung through the opening, both feet into the face of the man in the passenger seat. I drove my weapon into his neck, shocking him into unconsciousness as I threw my legs around the driver’s neck. A sword launched from my vambrace, forcing down the brake pedal and locking it in place by bracing against the seat. I choked him in a triangle lock between my legs as the rapidly decelerating vehicle squealed against the pavement. As his consciousness faded, a black steel blade shot through the security door between the two seats, narrowly missing my head.
The security van tilted, falling onto the driver’s side of the car with a metallic thud like a thunderclap, steel walls scraping against the pavement as the vehicle slowed to a halt.
I heard the rear doors kicked open. They were waiting for a fight.
I made sure the driver and passenger were unscathed by the crash before lifting myself through the passenger side doorway. I stood on the side of the truck, towering above the assailant in the dark street.
A female figure stood in the center of the road, clad head-to-toe in black. Calf-length black boots stood apart, prepared for my assault, fitted pants with cargo pockets decorated with a weapons belt and a holstered pistol. She wore a black leather jacket, zipped about halfway up over a black tank top. Her leather-gloved hand held a black steel straight sword with a single edge, a ninjato. She brandished it before her with a hand behind her back, the sword parallel to her center line, dividing the cold gaze of her frosted glass full-face motorcycle helmet.
My scythes slid from my vambraces, the blades signaling their preparedness for action with a cold steel snikt.
“You’re the woman they sent to finish the job.” I said. “Didn’t exactly work out in your favor, did it?”
She remained steeled, unresponsive.
“Silent type? How long will that last?” I said. “Maybe you’d be willing to talk to me about the people you work for.”
She remained motionless, waiting for the action.
“Then I guess maybe I should change the question.” I said.
A black, serrated blade shot from my wrist, foaming into a large, solid bubble as the woman rolled out of its reach. I jumped down from the truck as I lunged at her, both blades forward. She deflected both of them, swinging for my ribs to be answered by a low block. The scythe circumvented her wrist, twisting her sword in an attempt to wrench it from her hand. She rolled with its motion, flipping into the air and landing flawlessly on her feet at the other side, striking at my back with her elbow. I lunged forward, curving around her blade as I dragged my scythe down its back. The steel hit her wrist, cutting the top of her forearm as it drove her hand down. Using the momentum of the maneuver, I drove my knee into her forward shoulder before kicking her in the ribs, driving her backwards as the sword left her hand. She regained her footing a moment later, steeling herself before me.
“Who is armor?” I demanded. “Why did you steal the Fibre prototype?”
She ran forward as I retracted the scythe blades, leading with a fake kick maneuver before blocking my forward thrust with her forearms. She kicked the side of my hip, twisting her arm behind the scythe as she drove her elbow into my jaw. I countered as I grabbed the back of her collar, pulling her down and slamming my knee into the small of her back. She rolled backwards across the pavement, kicking my leg and bringing me to the ground beside her. She struck straight-armed at my torso on the pavement, striking my stomach and my nose before I grabbed her arm and threw my legs over her chest, arching my back and stressing the joint of her elbow between my legs. A small knife like a thrower slid into her right hand from beneath her jacket sleeve, and she drove the blade into my thigh, pinching the joint as if she knew exactly where to strike. She arched her back in a fluid motion to bring my leg behind her head as she shot up to my chest, aiming for my jaw. I pushed my knee into her back, flipping her onto her front and turning to drive my elbow between her shoulders. She rolled over without missing a beat, throwing me off to one side before she lunged away from me.
We stood opposite one another, the weight on my injured leg shooting fire up my nerves. The woman made a flourishing gesture with her hands, prepared for the next round. She had given me a weakness she could exploit.
Until she saw it happen.
The hooded figure before her morphed into something sinister, leathery black wings folding out from his back, perforated membrane stretching between long, thin bones.
Pointed teeth stretched from his expanding jaw, not unlike the sinister bladed claws extending from his fingers. His armor broke down into an ashen, blackened form, horrible bladed weapons extending into a variable arsenal in each hand. His eyes held hell behind them, fury uncontained waiting hidden just behind his face. His skin tore and burned, causing no harm to his fury as the light of raging fire spilled through every opening.
A voice that chilled even the dead echoed through the street.
“I AM THE FURY.”
I lunged forward on the attack, striking repeated, hard hits at her torso and arms. She could only stare at the storm before her, devouring the world, breaking down reality as it shook the very essence of her soul. I struck continuously, pushing her toward the wall as she felt the storm’s fury pushing her back, forcing her against the brick behind her as she felt her skin begin to tear open, a legion of maggots, flies, spiders, and scorpions pushing their way through the cuts and crawling over every inch. The storm turned toward her, eyes like fire, a jaw full of spears wrenched open to devour. The attempted to call out, her voice failing her as she stood even too terrified to scream. The storm lurched forward, relentless as its gaping maw lunged to destroy her. She closed her eyes as it flew forward, when she felt my fist shatter the glass of her helmet.
Four swords pinned her clothing to the wall as I stared into the visor, one silver eye staring through the hole in the tinted glass.
“Who. Is. Armor.” I demanded.
In an instant, I felt her terror leave, as if every horror she’d just been subjected to meant nothing.
“It’s pronounced Amour, sweetheart.”
Smoke obscured her entire form in an instant, and just as quickly, she was gone.
My communications headset chirped. “Az.” Iris said. “Gabriel and I are clear, what’s your status?”
I stood for a moment, catching my breath. “Clear.” I sighed.
I looked out over the street.
The four of us stood in the foyer, the morning light shining through the windows.
“You sure you can’t stick around?” Iris asked.
“Unfortunately, no.” Raziel said. “Much I love the whole kicking butt and taking names kind of thing, I’m not quite as fast-paced as you guys.”
“Does that mean mama’s boy goes with you?” I asked, punching Gabriel mischievously on the arm.
“Unless you have more you need from him.” She said.
“Carolynn was looking forward to doing some sparring with him.” Iris added.
“Yeah,” I said “it’s been awhile since she’s kicked your butt.”
“Thanks for breakfast, Iris.” Raziel said, embracing her sister before turning to me. “I’m glad we did this.” She said, throwing her arms around me.
Iris hugged Gabriel, tousling his hair before she turned toward the kitchen. Raziel stepped through the front door, Gabriel picking up a navy blue three-quarter sleeve jacket from the window alcove.
“All these years, and you still got that jacket.” I said.
“Yeah.” He said, zipping it up before he looked me intently in the eye. “There are some things you just can’t let go.”
He stepped through the front door, leaving me alone in the empty white room in the shadow of what he said.
He knew that I lied.
I flipped over the whiteboard in the office, the light of lamp illuminating the green carpet as the moon spilled through the picture window at the back wall. My head had buzzed with questions all day. Gabriel’s question. What the Fibre project was meant for. What Amour was supposed to mean.
I opened up my laptop to a live news feed, and wrote on the whiteboard everything that had happened since the Hangman came. He had triggered something, and I had to know what. The hangings, the stolen museum truck, Jackson Garmana’s murder, the death of the CEO of Kingston Steel, the CloudTech heist, Amour. There had to be a reason.
Iris stepped into the room behind me in black sweatpants and a V-neck. “You coming to bed, or trying to uncover the illuminati there, handsome?”
I turned around. “Something’s going on, I just know it.” I said. “I have to find out what.”
“I believe you, but-”
“Hold on.” I demanded, all my focus directed to the screen of the laptop. My eyes shot wide open as I read, Iris looking at me as she awaited my reaction.
I turned to run through the office door. “Suit up, now.”
Iris looked at the story.
“New Kingston CEO Lazarus Wolfe announces support for Mayoral Candidate David Fadi.”
“Shit.” She said.
Marsha hummed quietly to herself as she pushed the cart through the empty store, collecting the cash boxes in the final stages of closing. She poked at the wound at the side of her right eye, now a fading scar, a memory, and thought for a moment about how everything was normal again, just the way she preferred it.
And she thought of something she hadn’t before.
Nothing was like it was a week ago. A week ago she hadn’t been hospitalized after almost being killed in an attack. A week ago, there wasn’t some hooded guy saving people’s lives.
A week ago, she’d never seen an angel.
No, nothing was like it used to be. All of a sudden the world had taken so many new, different shapes, morphing between forms in rapid succession as she stood at the center, a witness unable to hold on to anything. In a moment of terror, it had become little bigger than a room, filled only with her and her enemies. In a moment of vulnerability, it was an enormity of fury and hatred, violence lurking behind every corner as she stood defenseless.
In a moment of clarity, there was someone who could protect her from the cruelty, who’d been there when she needed a friend.
In this moment everything was right, even if it wasn’t normal.
This moment had Azrael, and that was enough.
Marsha smiled to herself. Maybe things were different now, but at least she could count on that. Azrael would be enough.