“My friends. My family. My fellow citizens.
My brothers and sisters.
Over the past few months, we’ve worked together in attempt to make this city a better place. We’ve stood. We’ve fought. Side by side, each of us standing in unity.
We’ve been through tough times. We’ve stared into the face of terror.
But we’ve always stood.
Four days ago, we looked to the skies from the trenches, watching as the cloud of salvation saved us all from the brink of destruction.
But we were not all so blessed.
Last weekend, twelve lives were lost to the work of a terrorist known as the Rat King. These were people just like you and I. Friends, family members, co-workers. People. Innocent human lives that were stripped away. Men and women who didn’t deserve to die.
We now stand here in the face of tragedy, mourning the deaths of those twelve people.
But even in mourning, we still stand.
We stand here together, strong, even in our weakness.
We stand unscathed. Unflinching in the face of terror.
And in a city ravaged by the scourge of evil men like Lazarus Wolfe or the Rat King, we stand together. Side by side.
Bastion is a great city. Not because of the buildings that form it. Not because of the Kingston Steel company, or the Centennial Avenue Theaters, or Imperial Tower, or the Bastion Mall.
Because of the people who form it.
People who, even in the wake of tragedy, can stand together at once.
Who can brace themselves against the tidal wave of terror and tyranny, and cry unrelenting that we will not be moved. That we will not fall.
That we will always stay strong.
That is the city I committed myself to.
That is the city I believe in.
That is the city that I will always stand up for.
And even when men like Lazarus Wolfe or the Rat King fight with everything they have to lay waste to the good in this city, I will still stand.”
Weeks since David Fadi had stood at the podium in front of city hall and almost shouted those words, crying out for the city he loved, and even then as I stood in front of the plaque to commemorate the Rat King’s victims, they hadn’t lost their power.
I stared up at the steel grey, oddly futuristic building, pillars lining the arched square before it. A waist-high, black granite border curved around the entrance, embellished with delicate silver plaques commemorating many of Bastion’s fallen citizens. A fire crew from twenty years ago, a SWAT division massacred in a case I worked five years ago.
Twelve dead victims with dissolved respiratory systems from just a few short weeks ago.
A black-haired woman in a knit hat and a leather jacket stepped toward me from across the square, gazing at the stacks of assorted roses, candles, and stuffed animals gathered around the monument.
“Amazing how fast this place can forget.” I said.
“They should thank you that they’re even here to remember.” She replied.
I smiled. “We did well, pretty lady.”
“You did well.” She said. “And well is an understatement.”
“Stop it, you.”
“Nope.” She smiled.
“Well okay then.” I conceded, sarcastically.
“Any luck today?” She asked.
“About as much as I’ve had already.” I said. “I’ve been trying to find Amour for weeks, and it’s still like she doesn’t even exist. I’ve never met anyone this invisible. And I know a few guys who are actually invisible.”
She laughed. “I know one too.” She said. “We’ll find her.”
“I’ve been chasing her ever since the Pharaoh heist. She’s a ghost.”
“Eh.” She shrugged. “Ghosts aren’t so bad.”
“Have you found any new leads?”
“No.” She said. “I’ll be honest, it’s not encouraging.”
“Amour is the key to everything that’s been happening lately.” I said. “She was behind the Pharaoh heist, she hired Lazarus Wolfe to ruin Fadi’s campaign and kill me, and she convinced Arthur to poison the entire city. There’s more going on in Bastion than what it seems, and Amour is the key to finding out what.”
I turned away from the building, looking out over the concrete stairs and up at the city. “We can’t let her destroy this city.”
“And we won’t.” Iris promised. “Do you have any more leads we can follow?”
“Not exactly. I’ve been hunting down everyone I can from Lazarus’s organization, but no one seemed to know anything about her.” I said. “But there was one.”
“Distant involvement in Ian Ross’s arms deals with Lazarus brokered under Amour.” I said. “Not gonna lie, it isn’t promising.”
“Something tells me we’ll be seeing her soon whether we’re looking for her or not. She said. “It’s just a matter of getting some answers when we do.”
I threw open the apartment door, storming into the silence in search of my target. I was met with an empty room, a well-organized living room with assorted personal effects scattered around it. I paced the room slowly, examining the items around it. A cell phone left on the kitchen counter, shoe and a coat on a hook by the front door, dishes left to dry next to the sink. The apartment was lived in, and whoever occupied it had done so recently. There were no visible signs of forced entry.
“No one’s here.” I said. “Great.”
“Doesn’t look like he’s gone.”
“Which doesn’t inspire confidence.” I replied.
“Let’s not assume the worst.” She said. “He could’ve at least left us some info.”
“I’m more concerned with where he is.” I said. “If he’s disappeared, the odds stand that the people he works for were still ahead of us on this lead. They shouldn’t have been.” I picked up the cellphone. “If they’re moving forward this quickly to quiet their leads, we’re getting closer, and we need to move fast to get to our leads before they do.”
“Then I guess we’d better get to work.”
Iris and I worked through the apartment. Extracting contacts from cell phones, looking for paper trails, anything that could lead us where we needed to go.
I threw open a drawer, exposing a notepad with a handwritten seven-digit number, adorned with the word Aperture.
“Iris.” I said.
She stepped back into the room, gazing at the notepad. “Aperture?”
“Wasn’t in any of the contacts.”
“Interesting.” She said. “We could backtrack the number to see who it belongs to.”
“Exactly what I was thinking.” I said. “Get on it and I’ll see what else I can find.”
I looked at the next page, listing another phone number and a note reading “Jack – about the woman.”
“Just what I needed.”
Jack opened the door to the office building, stepping out onto the sidewalk and gazing into the street. He whistled to himself beneath the streetlights, waiting patiently for a cab to pass his workplace as it typically did around this time every night.
Sure enough, the checkered car pulled around the corner of the building, swinging into the street and stopping by the car as he raised his arm.
He opened the door and stepped inside. “Oak Village, please.” He requested.
The cab pulled away into the night.
Jack sat silently in the back seat, thinking to himself as the taxi sped through the dark streets.
The next turn was on the right.
This aroused his curiosity when the cab went straight through the intersection.
He thought little of it as the cab continued making its way down the street, assuming it would turn at the next light.
He gazed out the window nonplussed as the cab turned left.
“Excuse me.” He said. “Shouldn’t we be taking Thirtieth? It goes straight to that side.”
The cab turned into a dark alley on the left side, coming to a stop as the driver turned to the backseat.
He smiled beneath a black hood and mask. “We’ll have to make a detour.”
Jack threw the door open and ran for the mouth of the alley. I stepped out of the car, leaving it in drive as I tripped him up with a steel cable and dragged him back into the alley.
I pulled him up and threw him against the wall, gripping his lapels. “Where’s Mark Zayne?”
“I don’t know!” He squirmed.
“Why did he disappear?”
“I don’t know!”
“Who was he working for?”
“I don’t know!” He yelled.
“Wrong answer.” I said. I pulled him by the collar across the pavement, dragging him in front of the taxi. The headlights illuminated the dark alley as the car idled forward.
I stood in the shadows, pressing my right foot into his chest. “Mark. Zayne. Where is he.”
“I swear I don’t know where he is.” He pleaded.
“You have to believe me!” He yelled. “I don’t know where he is!”
I turned my head to denote the car, the tire rolling slowly toward his knees.
He flailed in terror.
“Why did he disappear?” I demanded.
“I don’t know!” He said. “He knew too much!”
“I don’t know!” He said. “Mark was involved in an operation with some woman! For all I know he’ll wash up on a beach down the coast in three more days!”
“What was the operation?”
I looked toward the car again.
“It was a heist operation with some woman!” He yelled. “She wanted a connection of his from Albright!”
“She wanted a prototype they’re working on, but I swear that’s all I know about it!”
“What’s Aperture?” I demanded, pressing my sole into his sternum.
“I don’t know!” He squirmed.
“Try again.” I said, pushing further in as his lower right ribs began to strain against the weight, the engine echoing in the darkness as the tires rolled up next to his knee.
“Alright, alright! Aperture is –”
Jack’s brain stem splattered against the pavement as the round tore through his neck.
I looked up toward the building across the street, beholding a woman in white escaping over the neighboring rooftop.
I couldn’t let her get away.
I shot a hook to the top of the building, zipping to the roof to give chase. I vaulted over the edge of the building, shooting up into the air over the rooftop and turning to chase the woman in white. She ran down the block, vaulting over the edge of one rooftop and rolling her landing onto the next. She was good.
I flew straight down the block toward her, tackling her on top of a shop at the end of the street. We rolled across the roof, stumbling to a stop. She rotated around her arm, spinning back up to her feet as I stood, raising my fists.
She was of an average height, about a head shorter than me, built small and slender.
Her armor was high-tech, full-motion rubberized and plexi-plastic plating covering every inch of her form. The plating had a largely organic structure, following the shape and flexibility of her physical shape in motion-oriented design, yet sharply angular as though it betrayed her sleeker aesthetic. Her helmet was like a rounded cube, a red square symbol over the space between where her eyes would have been.
She readied herself for combat, lining her hands up in a perfect division of the square visor as she held them in a fighting position before her. She squared her body in an angular way, even alignment of her arms, shoulders, and legs.
She sprung forward first, driving a straight hand forward over her shoulder, rolling forward over one foot in a sharp, fluid motion. I dodged to one side as she drove upward from beneath with the other hand, following it with her left leg as she spun through the air and striking with her left hand again. She continued to spiral through the air, pushing me forward as I dodged side to side.
I moved in on the offense, pushing in low at her abdomen. She threw her legs back, pushing her hands down onto my shoulders and forcing me downward into the roof. I shot back up between her hands, launching my torso up into hers as I pulled at her thighs to knock her over. I pushed her backward, cracking an elbow into the center of her chest as her back hit the roof.
She spun a leg up and struck my jaw, continuing to work in a circular pattern as she spun over her back, flipping up to her feet after the expedient flurry of strikes. I shot a cable at her foot, pulling her down back onto the ground and punching the underside of her jaw as I dragged her across the roof. I stood and pulled her up by her leg, slamming the back of her skull against the edge of the concrete lip lining the edge of the roof. I kicked her torso with both legs, flipping her over the edge of the roof and pulling the cable taught as she fell. I heard the sound of the helmet shattering through the window of the storefront below as the taught steel cable swung her through it, and fastened the end to the lip of the roof before descending to the street below to confront her.
I’d expected to see a woman hanging in the window frame, dazed from the damage I’d just done to her.
I couldn’t help surprise to see a severed cable in an empty window.
My eyes shot down the street to witness her sprinting full force into the night, unhindered by my attacks.
I shot down the road, zipping through the air to catch up to her.
She turned into an alley, clamoring up a fire escape between two brick walls. I watched as she threw her shoulder through one of the windows, diving into the apartment within.
You won’t hide from me.
I grappled up through the window.
Before me stood an empty room, drab grey walls and wood floors. The woman I’d pursued stood next to the doorway, her arms squared at ninety-degree angles before and behind her, held close across her stomach and back. She stood stock still, perfectly squared next to a woman with flowing black hair over a leather jacket.
“Azrael.” She said. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
“What about that lapdog of yours?” I gestured indignantly toward the woman in white. “She killed an innocent man in cold blood, then returns to your side with no remorse. How high can you make her jump?” I asked facetiously.
“Cute.” She laughed. “I see you’ve already become acquainted with her then.”
“That’s some kind of handshake she’s got.”
“You’re not much on introductions yourself.”
My scythes fell into my hands. “Then maybe we’ve had enough small talk.”
“I suppose so.” She said, raising an arm. “Jewel.” She snapped her fingers. “Be a dear and see our guest out.”
The woman in white lunged forward with two steps, sinking deep to the floor with the first and shooting up toward me with the second. She struck with her elbows, arms locked above her head as she drove them into my torso. I gripped her elbows in my hands as she unfolded her arms, wrapping them around my shoulders and swinging her body around my right side, attempting to force me down. I leaned to swing her around my side, and she rolled backwards after landing on her elbow, driving her fist into the floor as she stood on her knees. She turned back to me, diving forward as I dodged low, throwing her through the window into the alley.
I moved instantly toward the woman in black, throwing a series of hard blows as she countered each strike. Her flowing black hair hung in her face, displaying only an aggressive scowl beneath a fury of hard strikes. I straightened her arm around mine, placing my hand on her shoulder and bending her toward the floor. She stared up at me over her shoulder for a moment, darkness in her steely blue eyes.
Wait a minute.
Jewel grabbed beneath my arms, twisting them behind my back and pushing in the center of my back in an attempt to break my shoulders. The woman in black stepped to the side as I threw my legs backward, flipping Jewel over my back as I rolled her away from me.
She shot forward again as I dodged under her side, pushing into her ribs to shove her to the side and driving my foot backward toward the woman in the black coat. I launched forward into Jewel’s abdomen, slamming her into the floor. I turned over and barred her arm, hyperextending her elbow as I spun her over the windowsill once more, throwing her over the fire escape.
I kicked again at the woman in the black coat, exchanging strikes on the floor. I pulled the scales from my pocket, slamming her side hard into the wall before flipping over onto my knees. I turned and scrambled toward her, pinning her arms down with my knees as she shook off the hard impact.
I stared into her blue eyes.
“You’re not Amour.” I scowled.
“No.” She snarled. “But you should fear me all the same.”
I turned the scepter behind me, blowing Jewel across the room as she dove at me.
“Enough.” I growled. “Call her off.”
She raised a hand as the woman in white stepped back into the room. “Jewel.” She said, closing her hand. “That will be all.”
Jewel stood up straight in the corner, folding an arm in front of her abdomen and behind her back.
I stood up, drawing a sword from my vambrace and holding it to her neck as I led her up. “Who are you?”
“I’m the cloak.” She said, raising her hands before her. “She’s the dagger.”
“Isn’t that cute.” I said. “Tell me what Aperture is.”
“Why don’t you find out for yourself?” She asked.
A series of blue points lit up on her gloves as my ears split with an ultrasonic shriek.
Her hands exploded blinding white as the signal’s frequency and pitch increased, driving me to the floor as the piercing noise split my skull.
The noise stopped before Jewel threw forward again, forcing me to shake off the flashbang and counter her strikes. Through blurred vision I rotated around her arm, hyperextending it around my chest and snapping her elbow.
She pushed off me, putting space between us as she stood in front of the rear doorway, legs spread wide with one hand on the floor as she straightened her broken arm out to the side. Her arm clicked as the armor moved, straightening it back into place as though the injury meant nothing.
“What the hell?”
She somersaulted backwards through the doorway as I looked down at the charge the woman had left on the floor.
I jumped through the window as the apartment exploded in flame.
Copyright ©Josiah Delnay 2016.