The young man plodded tiredly into the apartment, leaning over as his backpack slid off his shoulder onto the floor by the door. He threw one leg up and collapsed into the couch, sighing his stress into the air as he closed his eyes and folded his arms behind his head. He talked to himself for a moment about what he did, how he’d spend late nights working for Lazarus, how he missed the few days he’d spent with the Hangman. The Hangman had been an inspiration, a man who took what he wanted and forged his own destiny. He was the leader Ian needed.
Lazarus’s operation didn’t have the passion, the fire that Hangman’s did.
He thought back on the day the Hangman fell. The day that destiny slipped through his fingertips.
He thought about the man in the hood. Az-ra-el. He rolled the name slowly around the inside of his skull. That man was incredible. The way he took down all those people at once, the way he met the fight without fear and left it without a scratch. That man was incredible.
He remembered when he threw open the courthouse door, he saw the Hangman on the upper level. He saw wings spread from the vigilante’s back, as if he were some kind of divine power.
Azrael couldn’t have been a man. He was more.
Azrael was powerful.
Azrael was nothing short of a god.
Azrael was standing right above him.
Ian practically leapt out of his skin as I grabbed the front of his coat, throwing him off the couch.
He rolled over and crawled backwards, placing his hand in front of him, pleading me to stop. I stood still.
He sat there, eyes wide, his speech struggling to escape his stutter.
“Tell me about Lazarus Wolfe.”
“You… You’re him. Az-ra-el.” He said, stressing every syllable.
“You don’t know me.”
“I saw you when you stopped Hangman!” He said. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”
“Then maybe you’d be willing to answer some questions.” I said.
“I need to know what Lazarus Wolfe is capable of. They tell me you know how his operation works. I need the information you have.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have the information you’re looking for, I just know some people in weapons dealing with Wolfe.”
“You may know more than you think, with some persuasion.”
I pulled him up and threw him on the couch, circling behind him as my hands exploded with a negative black glow. I pressed them against the sides of his head, and the world began to collapse, walls cracking and collapsing into the floor. Black bricks fell through the air, breaking every surface they crashed to the ground. I stood in the center of a swirling wind, blowing away the glass shards and broken furniture as the bricks piled onto the floor. A sheet of corrugated metal flew past my head, followed by a tarp and a group of sticks. The various pieces of metal flew in slowly, swirling into position. The final wall of the apartment stood in front of me, smashed into rubble as a totaled car flew through the air to find its place in the changing scenery.
The bricks clacked together as they tessellated into the street, fitting themselves together. I released Ian’s body and paced slowly forward, the couch disappearing as Ian’s body stood up on its own. It faded and became transparent, floating in the center of the square. A tree twisted up through the center of the street, curling against the direction of the catastrophic wind. A series of white ribbons and ropes swirled through the air, tying themselves around the tree as they flew, forming nooses, shapes like bodies hung from the tree. The wind died slowly as I turned around.
My hood fluttered through the wind as I stared up at the courthouse steps, proudly boasting the gallows.
“Welcome back, Azrael.” I said to myself, turning down one of the side streets of the shantytown. I pushed my head into one on the tents. Anywhere would’ve been a good place to start.
As I stepped into the tent, I found myself in the back seat of a car, Ian in the driver’s seat before me. He spoke quickly to a man outside the window, talking about gun deals for Lazarus. This wasn’t what I needed. I opened the car door and stepped out of the tent, looking for yet another opening. I walked up the stairs of the gallows, opening up the chute beneath the gallows beam and peering down inside. I saw Ian speaking to Lazarus in his office, Lazarus simply a voice out of view. Two other men stood in the room with him, standing behind a bald man in the center of the room, the subject of Lazarus’s focus. I recognized him as the one who’d poisoned himself in the prison cell the night before. A powerful voice out of view explained to him what needed to be done, and the man protested. Lazarus responded with a thinly veiled threat to his family, and he scowled before quietly agreeing and turning to leave.
Ian and his associate stepped forward.
Lazarus spoke first to the man Ian had come in with, telling him about the importance of the next few days. “We have a rare opportunity on the way, and I will not lose it.” He said. “Ross.”
Ian’s eyes rose. “Yes sir?”
“Are my men sufficiently armed?”
“Yes sir.” He replied. “I got just the rifles you asked, at the price we negotiated.”
“Good.” He said. “Azrael will not escape me this time.”
I closed the hatch. Lazarus was planning something. Ian had to have one more memory that could help me.
I looked up towards the courthouse. If there was anything of significance, it would’ve found its way there.
I threw open the courthouse doors and stepped out onto a rooftop. Lazarus stepped through the back door of a building below, leading a woman by the arm to a motorcycle parked on the street.
The leather-clad woman spoke to him in hushed tones, a hood pulled over her face. “We’ve wired the funds you need, gotten you the job, the men… Is everything in order?”
“Yes.” Lazarus replied. “In a few weeks’ time, David Fadi will no longer be a concern.”
So he is after David Fadi. I thought.
“And the primary objective?” She asked.
“Of course.” Lazarus smiled.
“Good.” The woman said, taking a seat on the motorcycle. “Our organization will be very displeased, should you…” She grit her teeth. “Fail us.”
“Understood.” Lazarus replied nervously. “Consider Azrael a thing of the past.”
The woman pulled back her hood, pushing on a familiar motorcycle helmet with a newly replaced face shield. “Do not disappoint me.”
With a roar of the engine, she sped into the night.
I closed the courthouse doors behind me, moving back down the steps towards Ian’s spectral form. The black glow shined from my hands as I placed them on the sides of his head, and as I pushed him into a sitting position, reality began to reform, the apartment walls shifting back into place.
I pulled my hands off, and he drew in a sharp gasp. “What the hell did you do?”
“What did you see?”
“…Hangman’s hideout.” He said. “And you, but not you.” He leaned forward, wide-eyed on the tails of his fear as he put his head in his hands. “You were a monster. Like a cloud. You destroyed everything.”
“I went inside your head.” I said. “I found the memories I needed.”
“It’s like you destroyed the entire world.”
I turned toward the window. “Pray I don’t show you what I’m really capable of.”
“What did you really do?”
“I controlled your fear. I organized your memories into a physical space, and saw the ones I needed.” I explained. “I could break your mind from the inside if I wanted to.”
He looked up at me in terror. “…Wh-what are you?”
“Me?” I asked, opening the window. “You know what I am.”
Ian stared at the window as I disappeared through it, reveling in the experience he’d just been through.
He thought back on what he’d seen, a black terror destroying an armored citadel as though it were nothing. A shadow, breaking down a world. Fury unbound.
Ian began to laugh.
I sat on the edge of the building, gazing over the city and toward the nearby prison. A mighty phoenix flew to my side with wings of fire, straightening her hair as she landed. “How’d it go?” Iris asked. “We’ve gotta meet Lazarus soon.”
“Not as well as I’d hoped.” I said. “Ian knew more than he should, and it doesn’t bode well for any of us.”
“How do you mean?” She asked.
“Lazarus isn’t working alone.” I said. “The woman from the Pharaoh heist gave him the money, the men, the power… She hired him to kill me.”
“That’s not all.” I said. “She’s using him to stop David Fadi.”
Iris thought about it for a moment. “…Of course.” She said. “It makes perfect sense.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s only a few ways this ends.” She said. “Option one, Lazarus kills you, then it’s revealed to the public that he’s a criminal and he ruins David Fadi’s campaign. Option two, you kill Lazarus, and Fadi’s campaign is still ruined because of you.”
“Damn.” I said.
“Whoever’s behind this, they don’t want Fadi to win the election, and they want you out of the picture.” She said.
“I’m beginning to think they may be connected to the deaths of Jackson Garmana and the robbers.” I said. “I’m the lowest common denominator.”
“What about Hangman?” She asked. “He’s still alive.”
“That’s a fair point.” I conceded. “Just to be safe, I’ve had some eyes on him.” I stretched out my senses into the prison, detecting the spirits of the people there.
Iris watched as my expression twisted into one of concern. “Something’s wrong.”
“Lazarus.” She said.
We took to the air.
I shattered through the window at the roof of the prison, crashing down amidst shards of glass in front of cell two-thirty-nine. The cell door was open, four men standing inside around a prisoner on the floor, a sheet around his neck. They all turned toward the sound of the impact.
“Visiting hours are over, boys.”
I fired a steel cable between the bars and grabbed one of them with the claw on the end, pulling him off Harvey and slamming his head into the bars. Two ran out of the cell as one of them pulled the sheet around Harvey’s neck, the Hangman continuing to gasp fervently for air. One of them hit the floor as Iris’s heel connected with his jaw. She pushed her hand down against the floored opponent, a bolt of electricity shooting from her fingers and rendering her opponent unconscious. The man who’d hit the bars stood up, swinging for me as I dodged, striking him in the stomach before flipping him aside again. I watched as Iris broke the elbow of the third over her leg, bearing her weight down on him and pushing him my direction. I spun him around, transferring the downward power into forward motion as I slammed his head into a fuse box, shocking him out.
A straight, black steel sword shot into my hand, and I pointed it at the man in the cell.
“Let him go.”
The sword flew from my hand, slicing the sheet as Harvey pulled air into his lungs and piercing through the shoulder of the man in the cell. I stepped into the cell over Harvey’s body, gripping the sword backhanded as I used it to pull the man out of the cell and force him to the floor. I pulled the blade from him, blood dripping down the edge as he collapsed to the floor, grasping at his wound. I turned toward the one I’d left conscious, picking him up by the collar and forcing him against the wall. He gazed in horror at the man bleeding on the floor and the one who hit the electrical box.
“There’s a reason I didn’t break your legs.” I said. “Tell Lazarus that he hasn’t beaten me yet, and as long as I’m alive and he wants to wage a war against my city, he will do it on my terms.”
I threw him down the hall, and he subsequently stood up and ran.
I turned to the man on the floor, clutching at his stab wound. I struck his head with the end of my scythe, shocking him into unconsciousness.
Her hand glowed white as she pressed it to the wound, working to close it and prevent him from bleeding out. She looked toward their bodies, making sure they were okay, when her eyes met the body of the one who’d hit the fuse box. She spread her fingers and placed them on his chest, closing her eyes for a moment and looking for a pulse.
“His heart stopped.”
She rubbed her hands together, electricity charging between them. I placed the metal sigils at the end of my scythes on his chest, as Iris grabbed the handles. He tensed against the floor as the first pulse blew through him, still unresponsive. Iris shocked him again, searching desperately for a sign. Nothing.
She shocked him once more and his unconscious body drew in breath, his pulse roaring back to life.
“Is he going to be okay?” I asked.
“He should be. Just make sure we get some paramedics here soon.”
“You can’t cling to life forever…” The Hangman choked, pushing himself up from the floor with his hands. “You know that better than anyone else.”
“I don’t just kill people like this, Harvey.”
“What about Lazarus?” He wheezed, sitting down on the edge of his cot. “What’s the difference?”
“I’m not like you.” I said. “The people don’t need a butcher, they need a hero.”
He cleared his throat, whispering. “Do you truly believe you can give them one?”
I thought for a moment. “…I can try.”
“Then do what you must to Lazarus Wolfe…” He wheezed. “Do the impossible… Or else.”
The night hung thick over the warehouse dock as we awaited Lazarus’s arrival, a steady silence in the air.
“Is everything set?” Iris asked.
“I think so.” I said. “He should be here any minute.”
“Are you ready?”
I sighed. I wasn’t sure. This plan didn’t have the best chance of working perfectly, but it was about the only opportunity. If it didn’t work the first time, Lazarus would have us beaten.
I couldn’t let that happen.
“I don’t have the choice.” I said. “We have to do this.”
She placed her hand on mine. “Then we will. I’m on your side.”
“A bold choice.” Called the voice from outside the door, silhouetted in the moonlight as he stepped through the door of the warehouse. “The cities being invaded typically don’t claim they control the war.”
I stood silent, open, empty hands. “It’s been a while.”
“I suppose it has.” He said. He stepped into the light, the fullness of his form revealing itself, followed by six men with automatic rifles and shotguns. Lazarus appeared in the image of a reasonably large man in a black suit, almost six and half feet of sizeable brawn. His skin was an uncanny shade, greyed as though he were a man twice his age, yet taught over his wide face. His sharp grey hair was smoothed back against his skull, piercing grey eyes squared forward. “I’ve been waiting for my chance to kill you.”
“I guess there’s a first time for everything.” I sneered.
“Typical.” Lazarus scowled. “No reverence for anyone, even when you’re beaten.”
“Am I dead yet?” I said. “You get the reverence you’re owed from me, and respect for the dead doesn’t really count in your case.”
“You don’t think you’ve lost? I have the upper hand in every aspect of this situation.” He smiled. “There are no endings in this where you get what you want.”
“You say that.” I said “But there’s one thing you forgot to plan for.”
“And what’s that?”
I smiled. “You assumed it would be me that kills you.”
A quizzical expression crossed Lazarus’s face in the moment before a shotgun slug shredded through the front of his neck, blasting his trachea across the cold concrete. His shooter and his underlings backed away.
He elicited a series of noises like fruitless gasps as he clutched at the heavily bleeding space where his throat had been. He stared at me, wide-eyed as he struggled to hold to life.
“I extorted your men to kill you. I infiltrated your syndicate to sow dissent among your men. I told David Fadi the truth and he rejected your campaign assistance. He’s washed his hands of you entirely.” I said. “When the world finds out that the criminals you hired murdered you out of resentment, no one will miss Lazarus Wolfe.”
I gestured for my disguised informants to leave, and Lazarus watched as they walked slowly through the warehouse door, searching desperately for breath as his blood spread across the floor. He writhed for a moment or two longer, spreading out as the energy left his body.
“Time for the action.” I said, turning and opening the rear door of the warehouse and stepping far away from Lazarus’s body. We couldn’t let him destroy the crime scene surrounding the corpse when he returned.
We watched from a distance as it began, a grey energy exiting through the open hole in his neck, twisting through the air. Iris and I spread our wings as it curled into form, slowly becoming less opaque and solidifying as it took place. The new body began to form, bone and flesh forming before the corpse into a brand new being. He was massive, twelve feet tall with furious, twisted muscles.
Moments later, the new Lazarus opened his eyes, drawing in the first breath of his new body.
He sprinted towards us as we took off, speeding down the dock and leading him away from the scene. We drew him toward a different loading bay further down the docks, baiting him toward the battleground. We arrived at the door of the location with moments to spare as the mountain of a creature barreled past us into the large, empty room.
Scythes and sword drew ready as the monster panted, ready to slaughter.
“Bring it on, you big ugly bastard.”
He lumbered first toward me, throwing hundreds of pounds of force at me. I slid beneath him, cutting at his ankles as I passed. Iris flew upward, cutting across his back as she passed.
We rotated around the beast, slashing and hacking above and below.
He shifted himself, swinging his foot to one side, where it promptly struck me in the chest. He took his opening to strike with his hand, throwing me to the other side of the warehouse into a corner.
I rolled across the floor and hit the wall, pausing for a moment before pushing myself up with my hands. I stood as quickly as I could, turning to face him.
He’d pulled Iris from the air and grounded her, pounding her into the floor with his enormous fists before throwing her aside the same way he did to me.
I stared into the corner, waiting for her to stand up.
I roared, my teeth shifting angrily inside my mouth as they twisted into something sinister. My vision blurred into a haze as I lost control of myself, dissolving into a whirlwind of fury and death. Blades flew as Lazarus’s flesh ripped, driving him backwards out the door. I shot a grappling cable that pierced through his arm, grounding myself to him as I tore through his chest with a scythe. Only blood could satisfy my fury.
I drove him backwards, launching him off the dock with a two-footed kick like a rocket.
He sank into the blackness.
I ran into the warehouse and lifted Iris’s body. Her breath was ragged, every feeble gasp a monumental feat as it tore her apart from the inside.
Her eyes closed.
Two young girls huddled against their older sister as she stared at their mother from the end of a hospital bed, each noise from the EKG a solemn reminder of tragedy as their little purple eyes fought a losing battle to hold back their tears. Carolynn brushed Roxanna’s long, wavy brown hair as she kissed Gloria’s precious little forehead. She whispered to them, promising that it would be okay, before turning around and walking to the seating alcove in the hallway facing the door.
I lifted my head, and she beheld the grey eyes of a man betrayed by himself. She was broken.
She took a moment to process her feelings, transforming her sadness into a vengeance. “Lazarus did this, didn’t he?” She asked, a familiar undertone of rage in her words. I nodded. “What happens now?”
“… I’m going to cut Lazarus’s throat. I will slaughter him, I will peel every muscle from his bones before I let him die, and then I will kill him again. I will butcher him ten thousand times for what he did. I will shatter his bones, I will break his mind. I will turn his life into nothing more than suffering and terror for as many eons as I have breath in my body.
“He will pay for what he did to us.
“I will become his worst nightmare.
“He will learn to fear me.”
Copyright © Josiah Delnay 2016.