The punching bag swung back hard as her heel drove into its side, Carolynn recoiling into her upward stance before throwing forward hard with a round of hard straights. She scowled as she continued, driving forward hard hooks and elbow jabs into the bag as the sweat began to drip from her short, brown hair.
She was unphased as I opened the door, continuing to strike in sequence as I stepped into the room.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Not like that.” I said. “Come on, show me what you’ve got.” I lifted my hands forward, centering my stance as Carolynn turned toward me.
She brushed her hair from her face, taking a breath before she unfurled her force into me.
She struck fast and hard as I synchronized with her rhythm, blocking and redirecting each strike as she hit. She threw over the shoulder, and I pushed her around my lower right side, forcing her around me as we switched positions. “Focus.” I said. “Plant your weight and be confident in your motions.”
She threw back again the same way, leading with a roundhouse before running in a series of strikes around my chest, and an elbow jab I deflected off my shoulder, throwing her out of the position again. “Focus.” I repeated. “Anticipate your opponent’s motions, use your windows.”
She growled as she came back again, sacrificing her accuracy for speed and intensity. I could feel the heat coming off of her, fury in every motion. She felt powerful, more than so many of the ancient evils I’d encountered. Dangerous.
She felt like me.
I redirected her power once more, throwing her off again. “Focus!”
She roared on the approach, all form lost as she drove forward like a steam engine, head down and eyes closed tight.
Her power dissipated as her rage turned to tears and I caught her hands in mine before she collapsed into me.
I wrapped my arms around her and placed a hand on the back of her head as she burrowed into my shoulder.
“She didn’t deserve this.”
“No.” I said. “But Lazarus does, and I’m going to make sure that he never hurts any of us, or anyone else ever again.”
“With everything I have.” I said. “Lazarus will pay for what he did to us.
“…I’m proud of you.” I smiled.
“Of course I am.” I said. “You’re strong, Carolynn. Powerful. The way you’ve held your head high and been there when your sisters needed someone is a leadership so strong, I’ve met kings who couldn’t do the same. Emperors who lack the strength you have.”
“Really.” I said. “You’re a strong woman, Carolynn. All I need from you is for you to keep being that way. Gloria’s only fourteen, she can’t do this by herself, and I’m sure Roxie’s not doing much better.” I looked her in the face, brushing a tear from her cheek.
“I can take care of Lazarus, but they need you.” I smiled. “You think you can handle that?”
The fraction of a smile fought hard to find its way to the edge of her lip. “I think I can.”
“Then that’s all you need.”
She smiled. “Thanks, dad.”
“You’re welcome, sweetheart.”
A man in a suit stepped through his front door, hanging his jacket over the edge of a chair as he flipped on the lights. He gazed at himself in the mirror, his olive skin and brown eyes darkened by the weight of the work he did. He adjusted his black hair, rubbing his eyes and turning into the well-furnished living room.
He stared at the man in the chair and the other side of the room.
“We’ve gotta stop meeting like this.” He laughed.
I cracked a smile beneath my hood. “Maybe a coffee shop meetup next time?”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.” He said. “But it really doesn’t feel like the image you’re trying to cultivate.”
“I wouldn’t say so.”
“Thought not.” He said. “So what brings you to breaking into my house again? Can I at least get you a drink this time?”
“I wanted to thank you, David.” I said.
“Now that’s definitely not the image you’re working to cultivate.” He laughed. “For what?”
“For taking my advice.” I answered. “Your rejection of Lazarus’s campaign donation was a bold move that you made even though you had no reason to trust me.” I said. “Because of that, we stopped Lazarus together.”
”I presume our work was achieved primarily through that thing hanging on your hip.” He said, indicating my scepter.
“Something like that.”
“Then it was you who did the heavy lifting, my friend.” He said. “You stopped Lazarus, you saved my mayoral campaign…”
“But you had the courage to trust me, even when this city doesn’t yet.”
“Of course I trust you, Azrael.” He said. “You put everything on the line trying to stop Lazarus, because you love this city. I may not have your bravado or the boldness to put on a mask every night, but you and me? We’re the same. We love this city, and you proved you’re willing to do anything for it. I admire that.” He paused. “He’s still alive, right?”
“Yes. Like I said, he came back, and he’ll continue to do so until I find a place to keep him.”
He paced around the room. “Where’s that woman you were with last time?”
I paused. “…Lazarus hurt her.”
“Oh.” David said. “I’m sorry, I had no idea.”
“I’ll make him pay for what he did.”
David sat down across from me. “…She means a lot to you, doesn’t she?”
“More than you could know.” I said.
“Then make him suffer.”
I stood up. “Thank you, David.” I said. “You’ll make a great mayor.”
“You do good work for this city.” He said. “I look forward to working better together in the future.”
I shook his hand.
The gentle glow of the light brown walls and furnishings was soothing in a silent place, uniform rooms darkened in the placid fog of the night. The only light in the room was a dim shaft spilling in through the crack in the doorway. The white blankets were pulled up high on the bed, around the chest of the patient peacefully lying there. I watched her in silence from the corner of the room, looking on as she lulled into restlessness, stretching out as her dark purple eyes peeled open.
She stared for a moment at the masked man in the corner of the room.
“Hey there, pretty lady.”
“Hey there, hero.” She said through a tired voice, struggling to raise her arms above her head as she yawned before she struck an impediment from the cut on her elbow, wincing and lowering her arm back to position as she placed a hand over the bruise on her ribs. “Damn, it’s pretty bad isn’t it?”
“Nothing you can’t shake, gorgeous.” I smiled, walking over to the bed and lowering my hood and mask before brushing her hair from her face. “We’ve been through worse.”
“And we’ve always gotten through it.” She smiled.
Our lips met, and even in the little time that had passed, I remembered how much I had already missed kissing her.
“Where’s Lazarus?” She asked.
“Not sure.” I said. “Probably under the pier.”
“What makes you say that?”
“The bigger Lazarus may not be as bright, but even he would know that his plan won’t work if anybody saw him.” I said. “After I knocked him into the water last night, he’d try to find somewhere to hide without risk of being seen.”
“Makes sense.” She said. “How are the kids doing?”
“…They’re holding up.” I said. “Carolynn is strong. You’d be proud of her.”
“I already am.” She smiled.
I paused. “…I’m going to hurt him for what he did to us.” I said. “He’s going to pay for this.”
“Be careful, sweetheart.”
“I will.” I said. “Lazarus won’t stop me.”
“Do you think you can handle him?” She asked.
I paused as I took her hand. “…I love you, sweetheart.”
She smiled. “I love you too.”
“Then that’s all I need.”
I took a step onto the docks, the chilling nighttime wind stretching out over the water and cresting into the city over the narrow roadways of the shipping junction where Lazarus had met his death. The gust occupied the air, uninterrupted by the sounds of footsteps or voices as the silence of abandonment rang. A peel of thunder echoed in the distance.
I vaulted a railing, swinging down over the side of a concrete staircase leading to the lower level of the pier. The dark night cast a blackness through the area, cold concrete pillars standing between boxes and moving equipment, stark monoliths in the shadow of mystery.
He had to be here somewhere. I had to make him pay.
I followed the dark pathways through the matrix of concrete, eyes peeled and ears open as I searched for the undead nightmare.
Where are you, you big ugly bastard?
I began to shift crates around with my scepter, searching desperately for any sign of the creature.
That was when I found it.
I stood at the mouth of an enormous corrugated metal pipe, the grate visibly forced open by something of unbelievable power.
I roared into the pipe. “Come out and fight me!”
“Where are you?” I yelled.
A groaning noise echoed through the pipe, loud and deep beneath the concrete ceiling.
There you are.
“Face me like a man, you coward.” I said.
He grunted from within the chamber.
It was time.
I stepped through the pipe, stretching a few yards into the wall before opening up into a large concrete room. A series of steel grates adorned the ceiling, dull shafts of light from the night dripping through with water from the arriving thunderstorm. Lazarus sat huddled in the corner, heavy shoulders lifting with enraged breath.
“You’ve been waiting for me, haven’t you?” I asked. He said nothing. “Your skull too thick to understand me?” I demanded.
“Then you understand why I’m here.”
He looked up at me.
“Iris, you bastard.” I spat. “It’s time you paid for what you did to her.”
His brow furrowed into a scowl and he smiled as he got to his feet.
“I’m going to hurt you.” I said, a scythe ejecting into one hand as I drew my scepter with the other. “And I want you to know why.”
He fronted forward, muscles rippling and towering over me as he curled his hands into fists.
“So be it.”
He crashed forward like a freight train, an enormous scarred, grey arm flying through the air before him. I leaned inward, dragging the scythe’s blade deep around his ribs as I moved to his back. I jerked the scepter toward the ground, pushing myself up onto his back and grabbing him around the neck. I dug my legs into his sides, holding on as tight as I could as he fought.
I buried the scythe in the top of his arm, pulling a pair of black swords from my belt and pushing them into his back, just on the inside of his shoulder blades so as not to damage any vital organs. I needed him alive. I withdrew the scythe into my vambrace, firing a pair of steel cables up through the grates to anchor.
Lazarus rolled forward as I pushed off his back, swinging from the cables as he barreled to the corner. He turned around and scowled, gritting his teeth as he struggled to move his shoulders around the black steel ninjatos.
He growled and charged forward.
I jumped over his head, cables in hand as I twisted them under his arms, pinning my end to the floor. They retracted slowly, struggling beneath his weight as I slid beneath him and shot him upward with the scepter, sending him hurling into the grated ceiling.
The steel cables snapped as they tightened against his shoulders, hanging him from the ceiling, feet just off the floor.
A series of swords slid from my vambraces, floating into the air before me before piercing into the ground at increasingly shallow lengths. I stepped on the rearcaps of the swords, climbing the makeshift staircase of weapons as I ascended to Lazarus’s chest. Two black ninjatos fell into my hands.
“This is for her.” I growled, pushing the blades into Lazarus’s lower abdomen. He howled, kicking his legs around as they desperately searched for the floor. I drew my scythes, blades retracted, and drove the blunt electrical heads into his chest, his muscles recoiling against the charges.
He writhed, beginning to shake the cables loose as I stepped back. He pushed his arm up and drove it back down, breaking the anchor from the cable before pulling his other arm free. He pulled at the swords in his abdomen as I ran forward, kicking his fists with both feet and pushing the swords further in. His pain fueled his rage, his powerful form shooting forward into the chamber.
I slid under him again, using the scales to blast him against the ceiling and aggravate the swords in his back as I made for the metal pipe I entered through. I couldn’t dodge Lazarus forever in a space this small.
I shot through the pipe as Lazarus followed closely behind. He tore through the opening, rage uncontained as he flew forward. I flew through the air to trip him, when he stepped to the side and grabbed my leg.
He pulled me back and spun to the side, curling me around his chest as he threw me as far as he could. I crashed into a concrete pillar, stunned for a moment as he charged toward it. I dodged at the last moment, his enormous fist crashing into the pillar. I swept his leg with the scales, laying him flat on the ground as I swung around to his back. I pulled a sword from it, slashing backhanded across the top of his back. He jerked back his shoulder to throw me off, but not before I drove the blade back into his shoulder.
He threw toward me again as I shot under him, driving the scepter into his armpit and throwing him to the side into the pillar. I grappled up the stairs to the upper level before he recovered, moving the fight to an open space.
Lazarus rose up the stairs slowly into the rain, the thunder shredding through the air as he planted his feet on the upper level. The torrential water spilled over his bare, grey torso, washing the sickeningly dark blood from the swords protruding from his body.
The lightning cracked the sky behind him, highlighting his grey, injured form. He was weak.
“This is it.” I said. “This is the end, right now. This is where I stop you, so you don’t hurt anyone else.”
Two straight black ninjatos extended into my hands. “It’s over.”
We ran at each other full force. I jumped over his head, slashing at his shoulders as I sailed through the air. I landed on his back, driving him to the ground.
I grabbed the blades sticking out from his lower back, pushing them together and causing the hilts to angle apart in his abdomen. His fists laid flat against the ground as I triggered the swords, the hilts spraying his hands with an adhesive foam, freezing him to the ground. He struggled to stand before I stuck the blades in my hands through the back of his legs, severing his kneecaps straight through the middle and pinning him in a kneeling position on the ground. He roared, unable to move as I pulled the remaining swords from his back. I walked slowly around to the front, his enraged eyes never leaving me as I stuck the bloody swords into the ground. He panted, whatever feeble amount of energy he had left clinging determinedly.
I looked him in the face.
“I didn’t do this for the city.” I said, panting with every word. “I didn’t do this to save anybody.”
I drew my scepter, folding the scales into the sides and gripping it against the inside of my forearm by its head. “I’m doing this because I hate you.” I stepped forward.
“Because I hate the thing you did.”
I punched him with my empty hand. “I’m doing this because you hurt her.” I said.
I struck him with hand that held the scales, and I felt his jaw shatter over my knuckles.
“I want you to know.” I said.
I struck him again with the back of my hand, cracking his skull. “I want you to remember.”
I punched him in the stomach, the scales driving my fist with force that could kill a regular man. “I want to make sure that you never forget.” I swore. “Do you hear me?!?”
I yelled, plunging the heads of my retracted scythes into his ribcage and shocking him.
He hung his head.
I stopped for a moment, breath heaving.
His heart stopped.
“No.” I said, stepping toward him and throwing one arm around his neck before plunging the scythe into his chest. “You don’t get to die yet.”
I shocked him again. “I’m not done with you.”
I struck him with the weapon again, raising the voltage. “You don’t get to die yet, do you hear me?” I continued to strike. “You don’t die until I say you do.”
I raised the voltage again. “I’M NOT DONE YET. YOU DON’T GET TO DIE.” I yelled, raising the scythe into the air.
A bolt of electricity jumped between the two weapons, a surge of purpose.
I drove it into his chest and listened for a moment.
Lazarus was alive.
I panted, my shoulders heaving breath in and out of my lungs as the rain poured off my jaw.
“Not… until… I say so.”
I woke up in my living room, lifting my head from the red sofa with a start. I gazed around the room, struggling to figure out what happened like I was just waking up from a coma.
The television bathed the room in a low light, illuminating the figures in the area. Iris sat between my legs on the couch with her back to my chest, sleeping softly. Carolynn followed suit on the floor in the center of the room.
Iris turned her head. “Something wrong?”
I thought about it for a moment. “No.” I smiled, wrapping my arms around her. “It couldn’t be more right.”
We sat there for a moment before I stood up, shaking Carolynn’s shoulder gently. She looked up at me, her deep purple eyes darkened from her tiredness.
“Bedtime, champ.” I smiled.
I helped her up from the floor, leading her around the corner through the archway to the stairs. She stopped in the foyer for a moment, throwing her arms around me.
“I love you, dad.”
“I love you too, baby.” I said. “I’m proud of you. You’ve been incredible for the past few days.”
“Thanks dad.” She said.
“Good night sweetheart.” I said. “Get some sleep.”
She walked up the stairs as I turned the corner into the living room, gazing at the blanket-laden woman on the couch in her pajamas. “Your turn now, pretty lady.”
I picked her up, sliding my arms behind her back and her knees to lift her off the couch and begin to bring her up the stairs.
She smiled. “You’ve done well, hero. Where’s Lazarus?”
“Somewhere nobody will find him.” I said.
“Good.” She smiled. “Man, I missed this.”
“It’s been a lonely few days.” I said.
“Well, hospital beds aren’t any better.” She said. “But at least I have you now.”
I turned into the master bedroom. “I’ve been thinking about that since what happened.”
“Have you?” She asked.
“…Living without you is hard.” I said. “I can’t tell you the fury I felt.” I turned the lights off as I pulled off my shirt and laid down, pulling the blankets up. “Now Lazarus has shown us the people he works for, the fact that there’s a bigger threat out there. Bastion stands at the edge of something terrible, and it’s going to take everything we have to stop it.
“But while you were gone, I realized something. I don’t know a lot about the future, but I know that it’s frightening.” I said. “But it’s worse without you.
“Fact is, I don’t know what the future has to show us, but that’s not what matters.”
“And what does matter?” She asked, knowing the answer full well.
“What matters is that I love you, right here, right in this moment.” I said. “And I’ll love you tomorrow, and the day after that, and every day, regardless of what the future brings. But no matter what happens…
“I want you to know.” I said, struggling to hold back a joyful tear. “I want you to remember, I want to make sure you never forget…
“That I love you right this minute.” I said.
She smiled, her welling eyes sparkling as she threw her arms around me. “I love you, Azrael.” She said.
I felt the warmth of her skin, the smell of her hair. Everything I’d missed so much since she left.
This was everything I wanted.
This was perfect.
I gently kissed the side of her head, smiling and closing my eyes as a single drop fell down my cheek.
“Then that’s all I need.”
Copyright © Josiah Delnay 2016.