The List Ep 11: Chivalry is Dead

Lightning streaked across the sky, illuminating the dark stone castle that stood apart from the steel and glass buildings right in the heart of New City.  Storm clouds rolled in, announced by claps of thunder, and cast a cold darkness over the fortress before me.  I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect setting.  I was the black knight, here to make the kingdom crumble.  The wind blew my jacket back, revealing row after row of nades.  It was an exhilarating feeling to have strapped on my torso enough explosives to level a city block.  The nades, along with a couple other tricks I had planned, would hopefully make the night interesting.

I strolled though the massive iron gates that encompassed the castle and entered the atrium that stretched out for at least a half mile.  Trees lined either side of the path leading up to the inner gate, stifling the wind to a cool breeze that swept across my face.  I readied the release on my gun.  Something didn’t feel right.

I wasn’t worried about security – there was virtually none at Valor Castle.  After all, what sane person would break into a castle?  Which meant that it was somebody watching me – somebody who shouldn’t be.  The presence was like stomach acid sloshing around in my mouth, both familiar and wrong at the same time.  I whipped my gun out as the outline of a man emerged from the bushes.  Before I could fire a shot, he was behind me.  His warm breath on the back of my neck made me want to recoil, or at most swing around and deck him in the face.  But I held my ground.  By now he should have noticed the second gun, the one that I had twisted back and planted firmly in his gut.

“A little jumpy tonight, Cole?”

“Rune.  I should have known it was you by the smell.  What type of cologne is that?  Bilge water?”  My finger slowly put more pressure on the trigger.  A millimeter more, and Rune would be feeling quite the draft.

“That’s no way to talk to someone who has your best interests in mind.”

“Sure, you’re my friggin’ guardian angel.  Making all my dreams come true.  Why are you here?”

“I’m simply here to give you a word of warning.  If you go through with this, I can’t guarantee that I can keep Shell from coming after you.”

“You can tell Shell that I’ll be waiting.”  I scanned my surroundings as I talked, looking for cover for when I launched my attack.  “But that’s not what I meant when I asked why you were here.  Why don’t you kill me yourself?”

“I still have…let’s say I have a need for you to live a bit longer.”

“A need for me? Could you get any more cryptic than that?”  I spotted a nice big oak tree that would provide for maybe one second of protection from Rune.  It was the best choice I had.  With the fingers on my right hand I started to gesture a sequence into my palm, which once completed would drop a nade from my belt.

“When you figure out what it is,” he said, smiling by the tone of his voice, “I won’t have to tell you.”

“By the time I figure it out, you’ll be dead!”  I finished the sequence and I fired the gun directly into his stomach.  I rolled forward and skirted behind the tree as the heat from the explosion sizzled the sweat off of my face and rocked the ground beneath my feat.  I leaned back out, both guns at the ready and searching the perimeter for Rune.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he said, and both guns found him standing among the tops of the trees.  He dropped backwards and disappeared into the shadows.  My heart hammered against my rib cage as I reholstered both of the guns.  He’ll get his time, just be patient.

I stomped my way through the rest of the atrium and towards the large stone wall that guarded the main tower.  The wall itself, adorned by unmanned battlements, loomed as tall as any skyscraper in New City.  The tower behind it rose even higher into the sky, a testament to the robots that built it.

I neared the draw bridge, and as if in response the cast-iron gate at the end of the bridge started to lift.  Hidden chains rattled and groaned until the gate was fully recessed into the wall.  Looks like he knows I’m here.  Good.  The wooden bridge creaked under my boots, and as I walked I peeked down into the moat.  Fins of genetically modified beasts broke the water every few seconds, eager for me to slip off of the mossy bridge and join them.  Already I was impressed with how much effort Valor put towards keeping character, and it made me want to kill him that much more.

I approached the tower entrance.  A low droning sound leaked through the solid crimson mahogany doors, which opened to an ominous bellow of an organ hanging in the air.  Empty suits of armor stood at attention against the tapestry lined walls to my right and left.  Pillars pushed the ceiling high enough to fit a three story building into the room.  I smeared the mud off my boots and onto the red carpet that went from the entrance to the far side of the hall.  At the end of it sat a man bent over the pipe organ.  He slammed his fingers down onto the keys and a final chord rang out, reverberating off the hundreds of ornate glass chandeliers that hung above.

The man stood up from the organ, and a robot pedestal rose from the floor, delivering a chalice that I assumed was full of brandy.  He sipped out of it as he turned to face me.  He was dressed ordinarily enough, wearing black slacks and a no frills crimson dress shirt, but he was the man I was looking for.

Charles Valor. Vice President of Valor Technologies.  Younger brother to Roy Valor, aka Shell, who happened to be the CEO of Valor Tech.  Together they ran the most successful military defense contractor in history and created some of the most devastating weaponry known to man.  Although the bulk of their product became the property of the military, their surplus always seemed to find its way to the hands of unstable second and third world countries.  The body count and their bank accounts sky rocketed in a similar pattern.  Coincidence?  I didn’t think so.

And to top it all off, I was pretty convinced that he was involved in human trafficking.

“Took you long enough,” Valor said.  “I was starting to think you were ignoring me.”

“Weren’t very high on my list.  Had a hot date.  The stars weren’t aligned just right.  I’ll let you pick the reason.”

“Right.  I’m not taking it personally, it just wasn’t very considerate of you.  What if somebody else had killed you before I got the chance?”

I let out a laugh.  “That’s the way it is with you types.  Arrogant, egocentric, and selfish.”

Valor shrugged and showed me the prerequisite smirk of a man used to getting what he wanted. “You’ve pretty much got me pegged.  The actual list is much longer, though.”

This guy wasn’t going to be shaken by words like some of the lesser superheroes.  Talking to a person like him was pointless.  “You plan on fighting me like that?” I asked.

“Actually – ” he started, but I cut him off with a stream of bullets.  They bounced all around him, tearing into the organ pipes and carpet and notching little nicks into the stone.  Not a single bullet hit its target.

“I didn’t say we could start yet.”  Now I could see the little metal hummingbird like devices that floated just above his shoulders.  What I couldn’t see, but knew was there, were the force fields generated by the little birds.

“Those were my highest caliber rounds.  Just testing out that defense of yours that I’ve heard so much about.”

Valor finished off his drink and as he went to set it down, the pedestal rose back out of the ground to meet the chalice.  “Since you’re not capable of holding an intelligent conversation, we might as well get started.  You go on ahead, and I’ll get ready.”

The floor shifted beneath me, and a circular platform grew out from the stone and lifted me upwards.  The ceiling came fast, and I had to resist the urge to jump off as a hole opened up above me.  Floors flew by at blinding speed, the ceilings opening up and letting me pass each time it looked like I would become freshly squeezed human juice.

When the platform finally stopped, I was in a hall not much different from the one I had just been in, except the wall had large stained glass windows instead of tapestries.  I hadn’t noticed the windows from outside, and guessed that they were actually just screens projecting light from the outside world.  There were two entrances on either side of the far end of the hall, where I could see stone stairs spiraling up and down.  At least I knew I wouldn’t be stuck up here if I couldn’t activate the elevator again.

The far wall rumbled, and white light leaked out as the stones parted.  My enemy levitated into view.  The red decorative plumage on top of the silver and gold helmet fluttered gently.  Then the eyes appeared, two small slits that glowed a deep red.  A cape rippled off of the decorative shoulder plates, and danced along with the displaced air which allowed him to hover.

He landed softly in front of me, a mechanical knight twice the size of a normal man.  In his right hand he gripped a lance-like sword, and attached to his left arm was a kite shield, emblazoned with the head of a lion to complete the effect.

He blasted forward, and I let my beam blade drop into my hand.  I swung the incandescent blade as it extended out, planning on slicing him in half.  As the beam reached him, he struck out with his lance, deflecting the beam and tagging me in the chest in one swift motion.  The tip of the sword lifted me up and sent me spinning.  I flew twenty yards, smacked into the ground, used the bounce to get back to my feet, and skidded another few yards before coming to a stop.

So he can stop beam technology, too.  I rubbed the spot on my chest where the sword had caught me.  There was a nice crack in the body armor I wore under my clothes.  His sword must have been using the same technology as the hummingbirds, and not a beam field – otherwise I’d have a crack in my sternum that extended out my back, and not just my armor.

Valor rushed again.  I withdrew my beam blade, knowing it wouldn’t do me much good yet.  This time I chose both of my guns, and I set them to use explosive rounds.  I dropped a nade behind me as I lunged towards Valor’s piercing lance.  I jumped, caught a foothold on top of the lance, and continued to run up the length of the sword.  Valor jerked it up, catapulting me almost to the high ceiling of the room.  I opened fire as I tumbled through the air.  Bullets exploded in little white flashes as the hummingbirds fluttered around Valor.  I kept the steady stream of fire going, and keyed the nade to go off, which was now positioned to Valor’s back.  The blast caused him to lurch forward, if just barely, before the hummingbirds swarmed to protect him from the heat and shrapnel.

I was still in freefall when the air around Valor surged with displacement, and he shot up off the ground, lance pointing straight at my stomach.  I dropped both guns and triggered my beam blade at the last second.  The lance struck, stopping just short of piercing my gut. My arms shook as Valor overpowered me, and I felt the cool burn of the beam etch into my shoulder as he pushed it into me.  I flipped the beam back off and glided under the lance as it continued on its devastating path.

I hit the ground hard, faltering for a moment as a jolt ran up my heels and took residence in my knees.  Not waiting for the pain to subside, I sprinted head first in the opposite direction of Valor.  The distance would give me maybe a split second more reaction time against Valor’s next attack.  At this rate, I would need it.

The vents on his armor hissed as he slowly descended to a soft landing.  I took the time he gave me to slow my heart and breathing back down, and now I could see, just barely, the singes on the corner of his left shoulder guard.  He must have thought he was drawing this battle out for his own amusement, simply toying with me until he got bored.  Soon he would figure out how wrong that assumption was.

The plate over his face slid back, revealing a pompous smirk.

“This is fun.  But there’s something missing,” he said.  His eyebrows shot up like he had just thought up a brilliant idea.  “Oh, I know.  The stakes aren’t high enough.”

“What are you babbling about?”

Valor executed a series of gestures as he spoke.  “This is the real reason you came here, afterall.”

A hole opened up in the floor behind me.  Out from the floor rose a granite column that grew until its decorative capital locked into place in the ceiling.  The midsection of the column slid back to reveal a hollow space occupied by a trembling girl dressed in a black leotard.  She dangled there, her weight held up by shackles attached to her arms and legs that ran to the top and bottom of the column.  After a few seconds, her eyes fluttered open.  It took her a bit longer to realize her predicament, and she struggled against the chains, only to quit a few seconds later after only making a lot of noise and no progress.

A timer appeared above her head, displaying a three followed by two zeros.

“Here’s how we play this game.  For the next three minutes, this girl will be afflicted with an increasingly strong electrical supply.”

“What happens once the time is up?”

“At or around that point, she will die.  The supply will continue until either the time runs out or until the event in which I defeat you.  And the three minute countdown starts…now.”

A quiet hum rose from the pillar, followed by the shrieks of a girl only moments from death.

I nodded to the screaming girl while keeping my eyes on Valor.  “So it won’t stop until she’s dead, or I’m dead?”

“That is correct,” Valor said.  There was just a hint of glee in his eyes.

I released my third gun from the holster on my back.  I had specifically purchased it for situations such as this.  It was small, sleek, and knew nothing other than how to get its job done.  And it did its job exceptionally well.

I popped a shot off into the girl’s abdomen, and the screaming immediately ceased.  The humming decreased in volume until it was gone.  The timer froze at 2:46.  For a brief moment, a look other than smug pretension flashed on Valor’s face.

“That wasn’t expected,” he said, raising a curious eyebrow.

“I’m not a savior.  I’m an avenger.  Her life was in your hands, and you let her die.”

“No worries.”  He shrugged and gestured again.  The stained glass imagery faded out, and each of the screens filled with the terrified eyes of dozens of young girls.  “There are plenty more damsels in need of being saved.  I’ve made sure to keep this batch in the dungeon – I don’t want you to ruin the game again.”

The timers projected above each of their heads started to count backwards, and my ears felt like they were bleeding as the room filled with layer upon layer of agony.

I estimated my distance from the exits, knowing there was only one way out – and that was through Valor and to the spiral staircase that lay beyond him.  The face guard on his suit slid back into place and his eyes glowed a ferocious red.

“Well, come on then.”  I reached into my jacket for another nade.  “If you’re just standing there like that you’ll never beat me in time.”  I depressed the detonator on it and held it out to my side.

Jet streams spilled out from all the vents on Valor’s suit and he shot towards me like a train.  I barreled forward to meet Valor and pitched the nade right at his face.  The hummingbirds intercepted the nade, as I had expected, and it froze just inches from his visor.  Now I had to hope that his suit enhanced his visuals, and didn’t have automatic darkening.  I aimed a dive through Valor’s legs and covered my eyes.  The nade exploded in a bright white flash that assaulted my senses despite the fact that I had shielded myself from the worst of it.

Whether the flash had affected Valor or not, he lurched forward, hesitating long enough for me to escape from under him.  I bolted for the stairs, and I could hear the whine of his suit displacing the air as it spun and thrust to catch up.  I could feel the tip of the lance catch the back of my jacket as my foot hit the stairs.  I lunged upwards, skipping sets of steps with each push.  I glanced back, and Valor’s immense presence filled the entire stairwell, his shoulder guards scrapping into the stone as he closed in. I decided it was a good idea to push myself just a little harder.  I let two nades drop, and they clattered down the stone stairs.  Valor’s hummingbirds would protect him from the blast, but not the stone walls that surrounded us.

The heat pushed on my back, launching me up a flight of stairs as the walls crumbled behind me.  I slammed into the steps and tumbled up a few more.  I scrambled to my feet and ignored the fact that I could hear nothing other than a constant piercing tone.  The walls shook, surely from Valor breaking his way free of the rubble, but I could now see the wooden door in front of me.  I sliced it off its hinges with a quick snap of my beam blade and skidded out onto the roof.

A figure, silhouetted by a barrage of lightning bursts that lit up the sky, lay prostrate on the ledge that overlooked the city.

“I was starting to think you weren’t going to show,” I said, but my voice sounded muffled.  My hearing sure was taking its sweet time returning.

The figure – that of a young girl in a too frilly procession dress – spun to face me and flipped off the ledge.  She stuck a solid ten landing.  I held my applause.

“You kidding?” I read off of Cortege’s lips.  “And miss you getting crushed by the Valor brothers? Not a chance.”

“The girls I told you about are in the dungeon.  You’ll have to go fast, they’ve got maybe a minute left.  Oh, and there’s a girl a few flights down that I shot with a sedation round, but she should wake back up in a day or two.”

She raised her hand in a mock salute.  “Aye aye, sir,” Cortege said.  A hatch door appeared at her feet.  The door groaned as she opened it, and then she was gone, as well as her exit.

I let my beam blade drop into my hand.  I had maybe a few seconds before Valor unburied himself from the tomb I had created for him.  The door frame that I had come through exploded outward, but the sound of it mingled with the thunder and was lost in the night.  Valor emerged from the dust, which along with his cape coalesced with the air from the suit jets.

“Where do you plan on going from here?” I strained my ears to decipher Valor’s question.

“Me?  I’m not going anywhere until my job is complete.  And when that’s done, which I would guess will be in the next minute or two, I’ll find that brother of yours.  And I’ll kill him, too.”

A low growling noise boomed from the speakers on Valor’s suit, which I took to be some sort of laughter.  I extended my blade and hunched over my knees.  Time would present me with an opening.  The cape and dust blew out behind Valor as he blasted forward.  I jabbed with my blade and the beam forked into several smaller beams that cut through the darkness like bolts of lightning.  The hummingbirds worked overtime to intercept each unpredictable zig and zag of the beams.  Valor pushed forward, inch by inch, falling further into my trap as he went.

I attacked with another onslaught of beams, and this time sent a suspension nade scuttling along the path to Valor.  The nade stopped just at Valor’s feet, positioned right under the hummingbirds that were fully focused on the multitude of beams.  The nade exploded vertically into a wall of foam that caught the hummingbirds and froze them in time.

At that same moment, Valor’s right arm separated from his body in a mass of shrapnel composed of bone and metal.  He staggered in what seemed like a delayed reaction to the gaping hole on the right side of his chest, and then he toppled over.  I couldn’t see his face from behind his helmet, but I bet that it was composed of one part surprise and one part terror.

While he had been distracted by Levi Cole’s patented Blade and Nade combo, I had been preparing for my real attack.  An almost undetectable sensor had been placed on his back when I had used the flash grenade earlier.  That sensor transmitted its exact location to a computer chip almost two miles away.  The chip was connected to a high caliber rifle – one meant to put tanks to shame – which I had planted on the top of a building before arriving at the castle.  Also linked to the gun was my palm input, which would tell the gun to fire when a certain sequence was entered.  And I had entered that sequence in perfect unison with the suspension nade.

Valor would never know this information, for he would be going into shock very soon and possibly die not very long after that.  Well, that is, if I hadn’t planned on finishing the job before that point.  Blood poured in gushes out of the canyon where his right arm and shoulder were supposed to be.

A light drizzle of rain dotted the roof, pitter pattering against the stone and steaming off.  I enjoyed the cool drops as they splashed on my face.  I took in a deep breath and reveled in the thought of scratching another name off of my list.

My hearing still hadn’t had time to restore itself completely, but I could feel the presence of another being on the roof with us.  My eyes caught on the figure standing next to Valor’s prone body.  I shuddered at the blacker than night, permanent silhouette of a man that embodied darkness itself.

Valor’s mask slid back, revealing a face twisted in horror and stained with snot, blood, and tears.  “Brother…Help me!” he gasped out.

The dark figure turned his entire body to face Valor and took a step closer.  He lifted his right foot, then brought it down through metal and skull and planted it deep into the stone of the roof.

A slit appeared across the void face where a mouth should be, and the edges curled up like a painted on smile that stretched from ear to ear.

You’re next.”