The rain started coming down slowly, falling in sheets over the silent steel and silver glass of the Imperial building, just a few blocks down from the observation tower at the city’s center.
A long concrete path led up to the building, silver bollards casting pale light onto the wet sidewalk through the grey air.
The black water slipped through the gutters, cold rivers cascading down the edges of the concrete road into the steel grates over the black tunnels beneath the street.
The water spilled down in front of me through a shaft of moonlight, falling to the floor as I curved around it.
A voice came in through my headset.
“Azrael? Where are you?”
“Somewhere between wondering why I’m always the one who has to this and preparing some very negative things to say to my strategist.” I said.
“Your candid sincerity is appreciated as always.” Michael said, returning my sarcasm.
“About fifty feet out, Captain.” I said. “I’ve got my sights on the door.”
“Good.” Michael said. “Wait until my count.”
I slid a hooked plastic device over a horizontal support in the center of the barred door, locking it in place behind the steel panel on the side of the door.
I pulled the tablet from my jacket’s inside pocket, opening up a blue building schematic Michael dug up for me.
“Ready.” I said.
The device lit up, sparking to life as a series of small clicks came from the inside of the lock, cracking the door open.
I shot down the tunnel to a black secure door at the end of the hall. I held my scepter in my hand, folding in the sides and punching the door, cracking it down the center and sending it flying from its hinges.
“Sixty.” Michael said.
Inside was a broad concrete room, poorly maintained and dusty amid the emergency generators and the arbitrary service materials strewn over the rusted shelving. I ran to a door on the opposite end of the room, using the back end of the scepter to split the hinges from the frame before pulling it off.
A pale rose-eyed woman in a white dress stood on the other side, smooth brunette hair falling over her shoulders.
“It’s a proper gentleman who gets the door for a lady.”
“What about wading through a sewer?” I asked.
“A more proper one still.” She said. “And believe me, you don’t want to try that in a white dress.”
“Anything for you, Raziel.”
We approached a third door, double reinforced, specifically to prevent what I was about to do.
“Much as I can appreciate seeing in the dark, it doesn’t always lead to the most glamorous parts of the job.” I said.
“Well, seeing may be a generous term.” Raziel said, waving her fingers as the air produced a silver plate covering her eyes. “But I can find my way around.”
“Well?” I said, readying the scepter in my hand. “Ladies first.”
She raised her hands, crossing her forearms and sticking her first two fingers straight up, her flowing sleeves falling down to her elbows over the tight white fabric that covered her forearms.
I steadied a hand on the door, pulling the scepter back and winding up for the hit.
The door flew off the frame, falling into the room with a heavy clang as Raziel’s feet left the ground. A set of blades flew through the opening, shattering all the overhead lights and plunging the room into blackness as Raziel drifted in like a white ghost. She twisted her hands through the air, flipping one of the armed guards and casting him across the room. A gold flourish shot across the room from her opposite hand, incapacitating another as the third ran toward her. She drew her hands to a sharp stop only an inch in front of his torso, striking thrice at different angles as pink circles emanated around the points where she stopped. He collapsed.
I attached a power cable to one of the security terminals, opening a matrix on my tablet to disarm the alarm in the darkness.
“Fifteen.” Michael said.
The screen lit up in confirmation.
“Clear.” I said. “Moving in for power.”
I pulled a small board from my jacket, stripping off the face of the electrical box and reattaching a series of connections.
A radio chirp echoed over the floor behind me.
“Basement team, you there?”
Raziel looked up at me for a second before I picked up the radio. “This is…” I looked at the name badge on the uniform of one of the unconscious men. “Ross.”
“I got a ping up here from one of the basement entrances, is everything alright down there?”
“Yeah, everything’s under control. Situation normal.”
“We had a slight weapons malfunction, but everything’s perfectly alright now, we’re fine here. How are you?”
“I don’t know, man. Main hall’s clear, so mission’s all good, but I’m kinda getting tired of all these French chicks.”
“I hear you, man. At least the money’s good.”
“Isn’t that right.” He said. “You up for a drink at the end of this thing?”
“Maybe.” I replied. “I hear they might be keeping us busy for the night.” I threw Raziel a wink.
“Yeah… Let’s hope not.”
“Copy that.” I said.
I tossed the radio aside, returning to my work at the switchboard.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Raziel said.
“Come on.” I shrugged. “They’re not mercenaries because they’re smart.”
“I guess.” She said. “What’s this thing?”
“From here I can manually control this board from anywhere in the building.”
I attached a device to the sides of each of the elevator control units before coming around to board one of the cars.
“Going up.” I said. “Michael, electrics are all set.”
“Good work.” He said. “Moving in on mark.”
The doors slid shut as it began to move up from the basement, a soft smooth jazz playing in the back.
We stood in silence for a few moments.
“…You know, that’s actually kind of nice.” Raziel said.
“Yeah.” I said. “Reminds me of the old stuff at the Royal. Nice ambience.”
The floor counter chimed.
The entrance hall faded into darkness, the only light a soft grey spilling in through the rain soaked windows around the room and the white cast from the inside of the elevator over the room.
The guards turned toward the elevator, raising their weapons as Raziel held her hands forward, a transparent pink field blocking the door as an intricate pink eye insignia burned over the smooth silver mask on her face.
A blue streak shredded through the room, guards immediately disarmed before they fired a shot.
A young man in a sleeveless blue outfit with silver plated boots stood in front of the elevator door, dumping an armful of assault weapons all over the floor in front of him.
“Looks like… Damn, I swear I had something for this.”
“We’ll wait.” I said.
He disappeared as the blue light flew across the room once more, knocking guards from their feet in mere seconds.
Gabriel’s image rematerialized further back in the room, his arm twisted around the head of a guard sitting on his knees beside him.
“Something about these guys being mostly armless.”
“Not worth it.” I said.
“Maybe that I’d –”
“Just stop while you’re ahead, speedy.”
One of the guards who remained standing rushed toward the elevator, stopped in his tracks by a blue flash.
“You’re no fun.” Gabriel said, stepping into the elevator.
“First floor’s clear, Michael.” I said. “Heading up.
“And I am every kind of fun.”
The elevator stopped a few floors below the top, doors opening to a matrix of short office cubicles.
Gabriel sped through the walkways, wind-swept papers falling in his wake as he drug two mercenaries to the elevator door.
I walked to the end of the open floor space, standing before one of the floor-to-ceiling window units as I pulled a knife from beneath the plate on my vambrace. It was similar to the swords I typically used, a sharp curve at the end leading to a frightening point, attached at the other end to a cord-wrapped handle. I attached one of the grapnel hooks on the underside of my arm to it, pulling a second knife with the opposite hand.
With a flick of my wrist the bladed curve shot out from the hilt, the two parts bridged together by a length of deadly black serrated steel as it extended into a full-length sword, piercing the center of the window with a clean stab.
I attached the opposite end of the steel cable to the sword’s hilt, forming a makeshift compass with which drug the knife across the glass, carving a perfect circle out of the window.
Gabriel leaned up against one of the cubicles, jokingly mumbling an action movie theme to himself.
The sword held the circular glass plate as I pulled it out, breaking it over a nearby cubicle wall and sheathing the blades.
A man in a white coat with pale tattoos swung in through the hole in the window, wringing out his smooth blonde hair with his wrapped hands as he pushed it back out of his crystal blue eyes.
“You know the last time I had to sneak in through a window was… You know what, you don’t want to hear that story.”
“I don’t think anyone wants to hear that story, Uriel.” Raziel said.
“I know I sure didn’t.” Said a smooth voice from beyond the window.
A black combat boot swung through the window and came down on the floor, revealing a man with a stone-cut face, rain dripping from his slick black hair over the black leather on his shoulders.
He shook the water off his head, opening his orange-brown eyes.
“Let’s get to work.”
The headset chirped as I touched my first two fingers to it. “Michael, we’ve got them both in.”
“Well done.” He said. “Raphael, Uriel, and Gabriel. You all have assignments on the upper floors, Azrael can reactivate the elevators for you.”
“Works for me.” Uriel said, moving over to the elevator doors. “Let’s go.”
The three of them lined up in different elevators.
“Alright.” I said. “Wrights have eighteen and nineteen, Gabriel’s got fifteen through seventeen.”
“Why do I get three stories?” He asked.
“Think fast.” I said, throwing my tablet across the room, Gabriel stretching into a blur to catch it.
I walked up and grabbed the tablet from his hand. “That’s why.
“Have fun, Speedy.”
Gabriel sighed. “I’m taking the stairs.”
“Better for you anyway.”
“God, why are you all so old?”
He disappeared in a flash.
“Six minutes.” I said. “Meet me on twenty-one.”
I opened the elevator door, wishing Raziel luck as she left in the opposite direction as the two steel doors slid back together.
The next floor was mine.
The doors slid open to the twentieth floor, the shaft of light from the elevator sliding over the floor between the gap in the doors.
They slid apart to reveal a white floor covered in stainless steel equipment, lab tables amid enormous and mysterious machines.
Two flashlights flew around the room, rounding the corner and pointing into the open elevator.
The guards holding them beheld an empty steel box, quiet smooth jazz falling softly out from within.
“Now it’s starting to get a little old.”
The lead split the air as they opened fire, the first losing control almost immediately as he was flipped over a lab table.
The second emptied his magazine into the top of the overturned table as I knelt behind it, his associate unconscious next to me on the floor.
I waited for a pause in the fire to jump back up, interrupted by the sound of several successive hits from the other side.
I looked up over the table to see a woman in red with a security pressed to the floor beneath her knee.
I smiled. “About time you showed up.”
“Saved your ass.” Iris said. “As usual.”
I laughed it off, taking another few glances around the room.
“Something’s not right here.” I said. “This whole floor’s empty.”
“Whatever they were working on here, it’s gone now.” I said. “There aren’t even any computer terminals left to pull any information from.”
“So?” She asked.
“There’s nothing we can do here.” I said. “Best to move on.”
She walked to the side of the room, lifting a latch to open one of the windows and sitting down on the ledge.
“Good enough.” She said. “I think you’re almost late for your appointment upstairs.”
I checked the clock. “I’ve got an extra second.” I smiled, pushing her hair to one side as I pulled her in to kiss her.
She kissed me back and leaned away. “Good luck.” She said.
“You too.” I replied, pushing her back to make her fall from the window.
A crimson bolt of aerial fabric shot up in spirals from her, spinning her gracefully up past the window over the side of the building.
I stepped into the elevator, closing the doors in front of me and pressing the twenty-first call button.
The six-minute alarm beeped as it reached zero.
Twelve heavily armored security guards stared down the elevator door over the sights of automatic weapons.
A bell rung and the two stainless steel doors parted, a harsh white light splashing over the black hood within.
In a single, thunderous moment of fury the windows split open, broken glass flying into the room as it erupted.
A blue streak tore across the floor, destabilizing every soldier in the room and it ripped their weapons away from them.
Bright blue lightning curled through the air, the soldiers convulsing beneath it as it arched from one to the next.
Even the floor tiles defied them, flying loose and tripping them up as they shook themselves loose of the concrete.
A bolt of fire like a bird tore through the room, tearing them off their feet as a pink wave passed through the air, throwing all who remained hard into the rear wall.
It was over the moment it began, a pile of twisted, incapacitated bodies lining the back wall as I took my first step into the room.
“Thanks, guys.” I said. “Next position.”
I threw open the doors at the other end of the room to reveal a long conference room, a smooth oak table stretching toward a large window at the other end.
A high-backed chair stood at the end of the table, the purple-trimmed lapels of a long white coat hanging off around the sides and leading up to a pair of gently folded hands in tight leather gloves.
A pearl-white smile flashed behind them, curtained by two shiny black bangs.
Vivian looked up over her hands, pressing the ends of her fingers together and looking at the gun on the table before her before raising her head to meet my gaze.
“I’d be honored if you’d join me.” She said, gesturing to a silver tray with a crystal glass and bottle at the opposite end of the table.
“You’ll excuse my skepticism.” I said. “But I’m sure you’d understand.”
“You think I’d poison you, Azrael?” She asked. “I have to admit, I’m a little insulted, but I suppose that’s fair.
“I’ve been expecting you.”
“Seems like a peculiar place to wait.”
“You’re here, aren’t you?” She asked. “See, I chose this place for a reason.
She waved her hand out low to gesture toward the window.
“You see this?” She asked. “This is the Bastion Diamond District. Every one of those buildings, those giant grey monoliths, those are this city’s pinnacles of industry. The lifeblood of the entire city.
“This is Bastion’s heart.
“This city is alive. It lives, and it moves, and it breathes, like a creature.”
She pointed toward one particular building on the skyline.
“Do you know what this is?”
She smiled. “Of course.” She said. “It was my dad’s company once. When I was born, he was using it to cultivate this city. To enrich the world, as it had always done. If Bastion’s industry was its heart, then every Kingston beam that came together to assemble it was a bone. My father built the skeleton.
“He had dreams for Bastion. Couture had the power to make them come true.
“But my mother was too afraid to change this organization. Thought she had too much to lose, or just plain didn’t have the stones to make it happen. She didn’t share his vision.
“I guess it’s not enough to manipulate people anymore?”
“A long time ago I said you and I were the same. You and I both looked up at the city and saw his dream. A Bastion who lived up to its name. A Bastion that wasn’t slick with crime, run from above by the profiteering selfish and corrupt.
“You and I both looked up and saw that this city, that this world, needed something new.
“I didn’t fear change like my mother did. I welcomed it, as did you.
“The ultimate and unfortunate fact, Azrael, is that you are a necessity.
“I admire your willingness to rise up and fill the position as such, and it certainly isn’t the source of the…unpleasantries between us. Your services have been important to his city for a number of years.
“But we still need something bigger. And under my leadership, Couture…
“Well. Here we are.”
“I can’t let you hurt anyone else.” I said. “That’s not how you build a better world.”
“Neither is a shadow and a couple odd gang fights.”
“Then it’s time to see which is better.” I said. “Once and for all.”
“Bring it on.”
Vivian pushed the chair aside, a sword telescoping out from her hand as she gripped the pistol with the other, jumping to the top of the table.
I threw a hand forward, three black blades flying over the smooth oak as Vivian unloaded three perfectly-aimed bullets to knock them from the air.
She swung her sword up from below as we collided in the center of the table, stricken with shock as the blade came to a perfect stop.
I twisted it up to the side, Vivian’s gaze turning slightly to behold five black steel blades, razor-sharp as they curved over the back of my fingers, her black ninjato trapped between the menacing dark claws.
“I made some upgrades.” I smiled.
The five claws shot out over my opposite hand as I curved inward, slashing the surface of Vivian’s cheekbone before doubling up around the outside to push her back.
She wiped the blood from her face, peering at the red stain on the end of her glove for a moment before firing her eyes back up to me.
“Nice.” She said. “But I’ve been doing some upgrading as well.”
She snapped her bloodied finger and two pale grey figures folded up from the floor, making themselves visible above the table.
They were fairly short, thin bodies leading up to rounded rectangular heads. The outer plating was a hard grey material like a reinforced plastic over an elaborate set of harder steel pillars and telescoping hydraulic rods forming the core of their motion capabilities.
Their cores were exposed rods attaching from their chests to their hips, not dissimilar to the exposed areas around their necks and their upper arms.
Above the two grey shoulder plates stood their rounded heads, two black plates on either side of a grey face. As opposed to physical features, their likenesses bore merely a diamond-shaped black plate housing a glowing red circular lens in the center, beset on either side by a smaller red light beneath it.
“I’m sure you remember Jewel.” She said. “Although my engineers have been doing some impressive new work with her, isn’t that right ladies?”
The two robots flew up on to the table, their motions uninhibited by heavy materials, enabling them to fly across the table and into the fight in a mere moment.
I pushed back their advances as Vivian rallied, driving her blade forward.
One of the android’s eyes erupted in light, charging up momentarily before a solid red beam exploded from its face, splitting the table in half and collapsing it into the floor.
I fell onto my shoulder, slashing back to fight off the drones as they slid down the incline of the severed table.
A blue disk flew through a nearby window, knocking one of them off the conference table before bouncing back to push away Vivian and the second drone.
A tall, blonde figure in a blue coat crashed into the room, landing on one fist and catching the airborne shield with his opposite arm.
Two crystal blue eyes shot open past a scarred eyelid as Michael looked up.
“You’re late.” I said.
“Fashionably.” He added, flicking his wrist to fire a steel bolt into a robot’s chest.
He kicked the second robot as it approached, throwing it back across the conference room.
Vivian recognized the threat immediately, sliding down the table as she unloaded her magazine in Michael’s direction.
He crouched behind his shield as they glanced off of it, Vivian landing one foot on the other half of the collapsed table and vaulting into the air.
She landed on the top of Michael’s shield, pushing him back as she cut hard above it with her blade.
Michael pushed her from it as she gracefully landed back on her feet on the floor, peeling off another two shots before the gun was empty. Michael threw his shield forward as Vivian sidestepped, the giant blue disk embedding itself in the wall behind her.
The two exchanged blows as Michael recalled the shield. It folded itself radially to dislodge itself from the wall, immediately revolving back into place and barreling toward Vivian.
She caught it with her sword, driving apart the opening where it revolved closed and peeling it back open. She held the inside edges to keep it from closing as she swung it to throw off Michael’s hits, spinning it back around where it snapped closed on his neck before she kicked the edge as hard as she could, throwing Michael backwards and taking him out of the fight.
She turned back around and pulled her pistol, the spent magazine sliding out of the well as she promptly replaced it.
She ran for the rear window, firing three shots through it before the glass shattered and she threw herself into the night.
My steel claws blasted through the final robot’s shoulder, wrenching it apart between my forearms as the claws tore the machine to pieces, throwing it to the side where the small explosion blew out the window.
I glanced at the window where Vivian had jumped for a moment before turning my gaze to Michael, who stood hesitantly and gestured back toward the ledge.
I ran to the edge of the floor, staring into the open air as the wind howled through the sky.
I looked up to behold Vivian holding a ladder on the side of a helicopter, angling away into the city.
She pointed with her pistol toward the south end.
“This is it, Azrael!” She yelled. “This is where the world changes!”
The chopper leaned away from the building and rotated toward the south end as it faded into the night.
I moved to the window on the side of the room, standing next to Michael as I stared through the massive pane of floor-to-ceiling glass.
A series of apartment complexes and simple buildings stood over the south end, none taller than the old Gothic Federated building above the Trinity Bell Tower.
Michael and I watched as a red light came on at the top, followed by a second, a third, stretching out over the entire top of the building in a slow build before they began to fall to the streets.
“Get everyone.” I said. “Now.”
© Josiah Delnay 2016.