The letter Z.
I dialed Carolynn’s number on my phone, my eyes never leaving the deep slashes in my living room drywall.
“Where are your sisters?”
“We’re all still down at state. What’s going on?”
“Go to Ava’s. Now. Don’t come back to the house until I say so.”
“What’s happening? Is everything okay?”
“Just stay with Ava. I’ll call you back soon.”
I hung up the phone, squeezing it for a moment as I growled before throwing it across the room.
I stepped over the broken coffee table and headed for the door. She didn’t need to tell me where to go. I already knew where she was.
The sky was black, laden with thick clouds hanging heavy over the electric Bastion air. The bay was in chaos, arms reaching out and clutching at the edges of the twin cities on either side as the air cracked above them.
The rain started as I made my way to the pier, cold sheets of drops falling to the corrugated walls of the shipping containers, increasing in number as I made my way onto the docks.
The metal containers were stacked up to five high at certain points on the pier, harsh white work lights shining high over the concrete being overtaken by the increasing rainfall. The thunder echoed between the metal towers, flashes of white bouncing from the dripping corners and over the wet concrete.
I stepped into an open area between the containers, looking up at a nearby crane. The thunder flashed to reveal a black form, dark fabric flying in the harsh wind.
She landed two crates above the ground, standing at the edge and looking down at me, her appearance revealed from the darkness.
A round black mask covered the top half of her head, tassels tied together in the back behind a featureless mask that stretched over her eyes. She was covered head-to-toe in black leather, lapelled jacket with a high collar beneath a long black overcoat, tail floating in the wind above her flared heeled boots.
Her black glove clutched a hilt of bright silver steel, the long, thin blade of the swift rapier extending over an ornate basket guard with a calligraphic “Z” printed over it, the lightning’s flash glancing effortlessly off of the magnificent blade.
Her ruby lips curled into a smile.
“I’m glad you found the place, Az.”
“Subtlety isn’t your strong suit.”
“Aww, I get the bad guy voice?” She asked, noticing the grit in my tone.
“Damn right you do.” I said. “Or did you forget what you did?”
“Right to business, same as always.” She smiled. “Don’t you –”
“Shut up.” I interrupted.
She looked down in a surprised disdain.
“I don’t want the theatrics, or the reminiscing, or the long-time-no-see bullshit.”
“And here I thought you’d be able to make time for-”
“I’m not done yet.” I said.
She fell silent.
“You’re going to tell me where my wife is, then I’m going to hurt you.” I said. “Or I am going to hurt you until you tell me where my wife is.”
“Doesn’t sound like much of a choice.” She said.
“Well…For old times’ sake.” She said.
She spun down through the air, cold steel slicing the wind as the rain swung off the sides of her airborne jacket tails.
I ducked beneath her blade, gripping her leg and throwing her hard to the concrete. Her rapier was quick to double back as she turned over for a broad slash, cutting across my shoulder line as I dodged back.
She stood as we leveled to fight, countering my initial strikes by spinning the blade around my forearms. She stepped inward to cut a scratch across my shoulder, moving in for my throat as I bent around the blade. She kicked forward hard, knocking me to one knee as I bent the blade’s follow-through back.
I circled in at her feet, knocking her off balance to bring her to the floor with me. I worked in a few strikes with my legs before she rolled to the side, firing her blade into the concrete as she spun back into the air.
She pulled a silver device from the inside of her coat, firing a hook up into the crane above the lot and zipping up into the air, black cloak and silver blade flying through the air behind her.
A steel cable peeled through the air following her, pulling me up to the top of the shipping crate hanging from the end of the crane.
She smiled from the other side, speaking over the rain that pounded over the crate.
“Kept yourself sharp, huh old man?” She asked. “I’m glad. I don’t like it when they don’t put up a fight.”
“I can give you worse.”
We charged from either side of the shipping container as she drew a black revolver with her opposite hand, shined barrel with shimmering silver detailing flowing elegantly across it and forming a Z shape just behind the chamber. I pulled back as she peeled off two rounds past my chest, the flash of the weapon louder than the thunder that filled the skies. I shot one knee under her arm as I slid across the dripping container, landing hard on the side of her ribcage before extending my leg to kick her to the side.
Her boots were slick against the blue steel, kicking up the water as she slid to the edge before rallying her balance and firing back forward, blade forward.
The rapier twisted through the air as it pushed me back while I struggled to keep my footing.
I had to get that sword out of her hand however I could. Her speed and range with it kept me from getting in close enough to get any hits in.
Two feet of black serrated steel shot into my hand from the underside of my vambrace as I leveled the sword before her, hands curled tightly around the grip.
We traded broad slashes over the harsh wind, swords colliding with echoes of clanging steel over the pounding rain. Two more blades shot from my wrist, piercing the container’s roof as I pushed her back.
Three grey components fit into the lower part of the blades lit up in succession, causing the blades to erupt in an orange cloud of fury. The container lurched beneath the force, the back end tilting far upward as it shook from the explosion, the arm of the crane turning out toward the bay with a groan.
The woman in the black coat held fast to one end as I jumped up to the steel tie in the center that connected the crate to the crane’s arm.
She looked up at me from below. “That’s no new trick.”
“No.” I said. “But how about this?”
A black cloud exploded from the steel cable lock at the base of the crane’s arm, sending the weight of the shipping container crashing down to the concrete below as the heavy hook plummeted through the air.
She leapt across the container, gripping one side of the steel cable running through the lifting hook’s pulley and firing skyward with the force of the crane’s collapsing counterweight. She shot upward to meet me at the end of the arm, swinging up to the top with two rounds from her revolver. The latter of the two bounced off my shoulder, forcing me back as she climbed over the edge.
Our blades collided again as I struggled to box her hits out in the small steel service area at the top of the crane.
There was no way I could disarm her in that proximity.
I took a step back, sliding down the rain-drenched steel rails to the operation compartment of the crane. She followed, tails slicing through the air behind her as her sword pointed straight forward, gliding full-tilt down the slope of the arm. I redirected her around one side as she came down, forcing the blade into the exterior wall of the operations booth. She fired two more shots from her pistol as I dodged, throwing her hand to the side as I threw a punch inward across her jaw.
She pulled her blade from the wall and the two of us rallied, the leverage of the twisting rapier pushing back with every nimble curve of her hand. She cut deep into my right side and the top of my arm, slashes interrupted as they glanced off my plate armor and tore into other parts of the suit.
Our swords clashed and she smiled over the deadlock. “We’ve always been meant to do this, Azrael.”
I smiled back. “And I was always meant to win.”
Three blue lights came up from the blade of the sword in my hand as she looked down, too late to realize her mistake.
The blade erupted in a plume of fire, throwing her backwards off the crane and sending the silver blade flipping through the air behind her.
She spun in the air as she dropped, pulling the grapnel gun from her twisting black coat and catching herself with it to swing safely to the ground from the fall.
Not going to happen.
I gripped a steel beam on the bottom of the crane’s arm, swinging down to cut the cable.
She swung above the concrete as the line snapped, falling hard onto the pavement and rolling across it as she tumbled to the ground.
I jumped down to meet her, coming down hard beside her to kick her hard in the ribcage on my landing, throwing her across the rain-drenched concrete.
“Did Vivian Malveaux make you do this?” I shouted over the storm. “How high does she make you jump?”
She laughed as she struggled to get back up. “Vivian believed I could stop you.” She said. “How I did it was up to me.”
“If you think taking her from me was a good idea, you clearly don’t know me as well as you think.”
“Got you here, didn’t it?” She asked. “Upper hand.”
“You’re not great at reading this situation, are you?”
“You’d know.” She said.
I considered it for a moment.
“Vivian’s one of the only people I’ve met with more tricks up her sleeve than you.” She said. “She’s gonna own this city. And she wants you dead.”
“That’ll take a whole lot more than you, Zoe.”
She pulled a second revolver from her coat, the polished black and silver barrel glistening in the pale light.
“We’ll see, Az.”
Gunshots peeled off as I moved in closer, sweeping under the first two blasts before she zeroed in on me, a magnum round tearing through the side of my leg before the second hit my side.
I turned the pain into fury as I moved in fists first, firing up under her shoulder and pushing her back with the intensity of my strikes. She spun to block and strike back, soaked coattails throwing splashes of water across the lot with every intense motion.
I caught her arm and twisted it back, turning her around and throwing her through the air toward the end of the dock.
The black waves crashed against the front end of the pier, pushing back against the shoreline as the reservoirs held the bay back.
I pulled more swords from my vambraces, throwing dodged hard slashes around her as I forced her back toward the end. The hilts of the blades exploded out of my hands as I drew more, flashes of light with every broad stroke of the blade pushing her back with unstoppable force.
The dark waves splashed the mist of the bay over the concrete retention walls around the edges of the docks, soaking the two black-clad warriors to the bone in the chaotic storm. I discharged one final blade to stun my opponent before diving forward and pushing her into the bay.
We were pulled beneath the crashing waves, slammed against a steel grate at the sloped end of the port as the agitated, dark water rushed past us.
I wrenched the revolver from her hand, pointing it away from me as she pulled the trigger, bubbles of black smoke exploding through the chaotic waves.
I pulled a sword from my vambrace, stabbing over her shoulder in between the doors of the steel grate and blowing it open.
We tumbled through the doors with the rushing black water, pouring into the concrete reserve beneath the pier.
We landed on a concrete ledge just beneath the sloped entrance to the tunnel, Zoe coughing back the water as she got to her feet.
The ledge stood tall on the side of a deep concrete trench, curving off into the distance as it followed the coastline in either direction. The pale light from above dimly lit the area through the slats of the steel grating high above in the ceiling, making a near pitch-black room with small shafts of square, grated light, brightened only by the cracking thunder over the sound of the roaring water pouring in through the steel grates from the bay.
We traded blows on the black ledge, the impact of each strike drowned out by the thundering fury of the raging ocean.
She fired the grapnel gun into a grate on the wall at the top of the chamber, ascending into a concrete chamber beneath the docks. She knew she couldn’t beat me in the dark.
I followed her up into the chamber, a large concrete room with a grated ceiling, water pouring in from the holes in the corners of the room and filling the room half a foot up from the floor, the water flowing slowly outward through the grate and into the reservoir.
She put up her fists as I did the same.
“You know what I did last time I was here?”
She said nothing.
“An old acquaintance of mine put my wife in the hospital.” I said. “I stabbed him six times. Broke his jaw… maybe six of his ribs… Put a blade straight through each of his kneecaps.” I panted, wiping the blood from my chin as I circled the room, trudging through the deep water on the floor. “I beat him to death… Then I restarted his heart. Because I wasn’t done hurting him yet.”
“I’m not Lazarus Wolfe.” She said.
“Maybe not.” I replied. “But you’ll be even easier to break.”
“You wouldn’t do that to me, Az.” She said. “I know you better than that.”
“If you think I won’t do everything in my power to get her back…” I snarled. “You don’t know the first thing about me.”
“I know everything I need to get the job done.”
We swung back at each other again, waves tearing through the chamber with our every motion as the water flew from our suits. I dove over her, slamming her hard into the concrete beneath her and forcing her beneath the water.
I rallied my fist behind my shoulder, tearing into her jaw with every strike as I pounded her into the water.
“Tell me where she is!” I demanded, holding her up by her soaked leather lapels.
A smiled curled up beneath her eyeless black mask as she stifled a laugh, blood between the teeth behind her crimson lips. “You’re not going to beat us, Azrael.” She said. “Not Vivian… Not me… You aren’t winning this one.”
“I tend to surprise people with that idea.”
“Not me.” She said.
“You think you’ll win because you’ve seen what I can do?”
“No.” She smiled.
A hammer clicked back.
“I’ll win because I know what blinds you.”
A .357 slug tore through my abdomen just above my hip, forcing me off her as she stood.
She smiled above me as she pulled back the hammer once more, the blood from my stomach filling the black water in clouds.
She lowered the gun to my head.
“I still have more to take from you.” She said, pausing as she tensed around the trigger before turning the gun back inside her long black coat. “But this one’s just for me.”
She turned around and pulled the grapnel gun from her belt.
“You know where you’ll find me next.” She said. “Try not to bleed to death before you get there.”
In a zip of the steel line and a black wave shooting up from the floor, she disappeared into the storm.
Carolynn stood on the step as the smooth black door opened, revealing a stylish navy blue and grey apartment and a beautiful brunette woman in a white jacket.
Raziel looked surprised to see my three daughters on her doorstep this late. She mustered a confused “Hi.”
“Hi.” Carolynn replied.
Raziel quickly caught her manners. “Come in.” She said, opening the door to her nieces and welcoming them inside. “What are you girls doing here?”
“Dad told us to come.” Carolynn said. “He has something going on at the house.”
Ava knew me well enough to know that such a statement only meant the worst. She disguised her concern in the presence of Roxy and Gloria, who she knew hadn’t been made privy to my lifestyle yet.
“Well you girls can stay as long as you need to.” She said. “Make yourselves at home.”
“Thanks, Ava.” Carolynn said, stepping further into the room as her sisters followed their aunt into the kitchen, leaving Carolynn in the hall.
Gabriel stood up from the living room couch, approaching Carolynn with a measured concern. “Is Az okay?” He asked.
“He’s doing this one by himself.” She replied, knowing her cousin’s inevitable nature in this situation.
They stood in silence for a moment as Gabriel paced back into the room.
“Carolynn, do you –” Ava began, leaning back into the hallway to view an empty front doorway hanging open into the hall. She stepped out and peered down the hall, no one in sight.
Only a few moments later the rain began to fall from a leather jacket around Carolynn’s shoulders, shielding herself with a sleek black helmet and kicking up the water in the street as a motorcycle engine roared to life.
I sat in the kitchen, wet jacket hung over the banister in the foyer as it dripped onto the marble floor.
The short-sleeved base armor I wore beneath the coat hung open as I pulled a pair of pliers from the hole in my stomach, tossing a bloodied metal shard haphazardly across the island table.
I released the tightness of my jaw before I took a long pull of a handle of bourbon on the counter, picking up a thread and a curved needle to close the bullet hole.
I slapped a bandage over the stitched wound as a single yellow light passed over the lawn, a motorcycle engine dying as the bike fell to its side just in front of my porch.
The red door flew open to reveal a woman in a black leather jacket, a sleek black motorcycle helmet covering her face.
I clenched my fist before she pulled it off to reveal the face of my eldest daughter.
“What the hell is going on?”
“You need to get out of here.” I said. “Now.”
“Carolynn, go.” I said. “You cannot be here right now.”
“Tell me what’s going on right now.” She demanded.
“Carolynn, please, just get out of here. It is not safe to be here right now.”
“Dad, you need to –” Her gaze caught the wreckage of the coffee table in the next room.
She ran in. “What the hell happened –?”
Her question was interrupted by the sight of a Z carved deep into the wall with three sharp slashes.
“What in the hell is this?”
I limped into the room, heaving a sigh.
“The mark of Zarra.”
“Zarra?” She asked.
“The woman who kidnapped your mother.” I said.
Carolynn went fully automatic through a complex set of microexpressions as she contemplated the gravity of the situation before locking onto determination as her gaze returned to mine. “Who is she?”
I looked up at the mark. “Zoe Clarke. One of Vivian Malveaux’s. Met her when you were a little girl.” I said. “Zarra is one of the most talented and dangerous assassins I’ve ever known. She’s more than a master in fencing and marksmanship, and is one of the more skilled martial artists I’ve taken on in Bastion. She’s been working here for years and has brought down some of the most powerful criminal elements in this city.”
“How do you know so much about her?” She asked.
I closed my eyes and sighed.
“Because I taught her everything she knows.”
Character Art for this chapter: Zarra
©Josiah Delnay 2016.