Light poured through the doorway into the darkness as Jacques entered the room. A week ago, it had been the office of the visitor’s center of Mount Rushmore. Now, however, it was Jacques’ office. The chair was raised, the desk up with it so that he could use it. There were two chairs on the longer walls, and the carpet was now covered by a round rug with the skull-flame that was his preferred symbol.
He snapped his fingers, and the candles on the desk flickered to life. It was dark outside, the lights from the law enforcement outside of the monument’s plaza shining on the faces of Mount Rushmore. “They still haven’t given up,” he muttered as he sat down in the chair. “No that I’m surprised that the fuckin’ feds and pigs aren’t giving this real estate up, though.”
He shook his head and sighed. “If that little bitch hadn’t got away... and if that punk-ass bastard hadn’t taken my hand off, things would be different.” He turned around, to look at the lights that moved across the night’s landscape, illuminating everything it touched with a brilliance that was almost blindingly bright. The moon was barely visible from all the light pollution, and he paused for a few moments.
“I should pull out my last card,” he said with a smile. He pushed himself up from the chair and walked towards the doors he had just entered from moments ago. As if on cue, immediately the doors swung open to reveal a panic-stricken man in the uniform of the King’s Foot.
“Jacques...” he panted heavily, his face a deep red. “Jacques, the fuckin’ feds... they’re comin’, boss! Those fuckers are fuckin’ up shit, already got through Jessie and his boys!” He hadn’t fully caught his breath yet, and was still breathing heavily with his hand on the door handle to hold himself upright.
“They got through Jessie’s boys? Shit, shit, shit! ... they pick now to grow a pair, fucking feds...” His demeanor changed immediately as he walked past the gang member and out the door. “Where were they the last you saw ’em?”
“They were makin’ their way to the fuckin’ hostages, shit man, they might even fuckin’ be there already,” the gang member said, looking out of the office and towards Jacques. The candles in it flickered out, and now only the hallway’s temporary lighting – put in by the King’s Foot after the power to the center got cut – was there to illuminate the man’s sight. “Jacques, boss man, where the hell you goin’?”
“I’m showing the feds who the fuck they’re messing with,” Jacques said sharply. “Get the boys that are out in the plaza, get everyone to the hostages.”
“Y-yes, right away, boss!” the man stammered out, before he ran off. Jacques walked through the hallway of the visitor center’s upper floor, and heard the sound of men moving downstairs.
“Alright, the hostages have been located – move into position!” The shout came from downstairs, not far from where Jacques was standing. The stairwell in front of him had been left unguarded by the feds, who apparently had no idea just how many people were in the King’s Foot.
Not that he blamed them. For the past three years he had built the gang from the ground up, gathering individuals by hand and only allowing the best. And while they were practically a private army, he had forbidden tags or references to the gangs – anyone who was caught by the police had a lie to an organization that, as it turned out, only existed on the Internet.
He smirked as he started down the stairs. Flames danced around his remaining left hand, the stump at the end of his right arm began to form fingers made of orange and red flames. His eyes seemed to burn with anticipation as he approached the federal agents that were inside the center.
“Stop where you are!” one of the feds shouted, the dark blue and black of their uniforms making them partially blend into the darkness of the lower floor. In a flash, guns were aimed at Jacques.
He froze and put his still-burning hands up above his head. There was a brief ten seconds of silence, the federal agents hadn’t been expecting to run into someone that was on fire and so nonchalant about it. “The subject is on fire, what are we supposed to do?” one asked. There was no response to the question from the man in charge.
“Ready yourselves to fire, men,” the man in charge ordered. Their guns didn’t move, and they put their fingers on the triggers. “You are Jacques Bryant III, aren’t you?” the older gentleman asked. While not truly old, he had graying hair and wrinkles on his face.
“So you’re the punk that’s in charge of this whole operation, huh? All alone now, must be pretty scary. How about you surrender yourself.”
“Sir, the man’s on fire – we should do something about that, shouldn’t we?”
“Shut up, Jackson. He’s one of those freaks with powers that you were briefed on.”
“I don’t appreciate being called a freak, fed.”
The fed in charge chuckled. “Look, kid, just give it up. You don’t want to die here, do you?”
Jacques laughed, and shook his head. “I’m not the one who should be afraid.” He flung his arms down, and in the split second before anyone could fire their guns his flames shot forward. He hit the ground as the flames roared ahead, the edges burning blue as they approached the feds. Gunshots echoed throughout the hallway, and the fed in charge barked orders at his men to regroup and fire to kill on sight.
As if on cue, the windows on the walls shattered apart. Gunfire filled the air in an eruption of fire and gunpowder, and Jacques’ flames grew as he walked into them.
His entire body was engulfed in the fire now, his clothes starting to ignite. But it didn’t bother him any, he lived for the flames. Smoke filled the room’s ceiling, and he laughed at the sound of screams.
“Holy shit, man, what the fuck happened in there?” one of the members of the King’s Foot asked as they looked into the flames of the building. “Wasn’t the boss man in there?”
“Yeah, man, he’s gotta be fuckin’ dead after this. No way he survived.”
Jacques smirked. Of course his own gang doubted his ability to survive this – few of them knew about his power. He like to keep it on the down low, it kept the feds from getting interested. But tonight... tonight was the start of a new part of his life.
The flames suddenly started to die down, as if they had burned away all the oxygen in the room. With a sudden whoosh the flames were gone, federal agents laying on the ground – dead, dying, or wishing they were already dead. The leader of the small group of federal agents was still alive, badly burnt all the same though. The skin on his hand had melted to the gun handle, his finger still on the trigger. His eyes were clouded from the flames, blinded to the point that all he could make out were shadows – and the rest of his face was no exception.
“I would have you run back to your superiors,” Jacques said as he walked across the dead and the dying, “And tell them that I will do this to anyone who tries to stop me.”
He paused, and made a gun shape with his left hand. The federal agent began to lift up his gun hand, weakly trying to get it raised high enough to fire. “But they might sympathize with your suffering and send in more people. So I won’t.”
A small flame came to life at the end of his pointer finger. “I will instead send them these bodies and an ultimatum. That this will be the fate of all who follow your footsteps.”
“You... you won’t... get away with... this,” the federal agent said weakly. His body shook as he tried to speak, and he fell into a coughing fit. The gun fell to the ground, and Jacques just laughed.
“We’ll see, old timer. Send my regards to the man downstairs.” The flame on his finger shot forward in a single, concentrated column. The column turned blue by the time it hit the man’s chest, and in a second the concentrated fire left a smoldering hole to his heart. The man died without a word, collapsing onto the ground.
Jacques’ flames fell around him and he walked away with a slight limp, towards the windows from which his followers had shot through. There were hushed murmurs about what had just happened – for the vast majority of them, this was the first time they had seen the gang leader do anything like that.
“King’s Foot, I am Jacques Bryant the Third, and I am the King. Tonight, we have been attacked by agents from the United States of America – tonight, we fight back. We shall carve our own kingdom, a land where there are no laws, into the Badlands and Black Hills that border the Ogallala Sea!”
He threw the door to the plaza open. The group of gang members were watching in stunned silence as their now one-handed leader walked into their midst. His clothes had burned away, revealing the muscular physique of a man who worshiped only himself.
“Tonight, we are no longer a gang, no longer a criminal organization – tonight, we have become a nation. Three years of work, and we finally stand at the brink of our nation’s birth, my loyal Foot. We shall attack the authorities down below the plaza at dawn, using the help of a man who made all of this possible.”
There was a crack of thunder and the ground beneath him rumbled. In a flash of heat, Abaddon was at his side. The gang members took a step back at the sight of the immense humanoid, the black, shadowy figure hulking over even the tallest of them.
“This is Abaddon, and he is the Harbinger of the Fire. The same Fire that will cleanse the world of our enemies!”
Abaddon looked out into the speechless crowd of gangbangers and trouble makers, the majority of which were unaware of what exactly they had gotten into over the last three years. He smiled. “That is correct.”
The building that the taxi stopped at was at least fifteen floors high. Emmett Kingston, the true identity of the man who played Emerald Knight on the television as well as the real Emerald Knight, paid the cab driver and sent him off with a wave. Kyosu and Bellona stood on the warm sidewalk, the sun beating down on them as they looked about the area – it was a part of town neither of them were familiar with, but clearly was mainly business-oriented. The hotel was next to what appeared to be a breakfast-focused restaurant – no, it was connected to the restaurant, wasn’t it?
Emmett had led them through the lobby and the elevator without saying too terribly much – formalities, for the most part. While he had been rather talkative in the taxi, where only the two Angel hosts could hear him, now that he was in a public spot again...
The door to the hotel room shut, and he told them to stay put by the door with a sharp, single word: “Stay.” Silently he walked through the brightly lit room, past the large, flat screen TV on the far wall on top of a dresser, and lifted the mattress of his bed. He dropped the mattress and patted down the sheets, before checking underneath the bed itself.
Kyosu and Bellona looked at each other skeptically for a short moment. Was his paranoia of the room being bugged really that founded? Then again, it was true that he couldn’t talk about this in public – if it was that confidential, it’d be better to be safe than sorry, the two figured. Bellona shrugged towards Kyosu, who said nothing.
After about two minutes, the man smiled and waved for them to come into the main bedroom of the hotel room. “We’re not being observed. I don’t think it’s likely I would be,” Emmett said with a gentle handwave towards two chairs, “But given the nature of what I’m asking...”
“Can you cut to the thick of it? No offense, but we don’t need to have everything explained,” Bellona said as she sat down on the chair. Kyosu sat down at the same time, the two looking at the old man. “I mean, we trust your judgment on how paranoid you have to be about this stuff.”
Emmett smiled and gave the two a nod. “Yes, well, I suppose I am used to explaining myself – being both the fake and real Emerald Knight makes it... very interesting to explain your choices for acting direction.” The man laughed, before he shook his head slightly, and pulled a fake leather, full-backed office chair from under a desk. He smiled as he sat down. “Are you familiar at all with something called Avalon Bay?”
“No,” Kyosu said with a shake of his head. Bellona shook hers as well, and there was a short pause. “Is it a supervillain organization?”
“What kind of question is that?” Bellona snapped, a halfway laugh on her face. “This isn’t a comic.”
“Yeah, but a superhero from TV is real – for all I know, there are supervillains too,” Kyosu responded with a short shrug. Bellona just rolled her eyes and smirked.
Emmett chuckled slightly before he answered, “Well, somewhat. It’s a military base located in the northwest of the Ogallala Sea.” He paused, and then reached across his desk to grab a folder. He opened it and pulled out a small newspaper clipping – one from three years ago.
“Three years ago, as you know, the Ogallala Aquifer collapsed. The actual cause was from seven Archangels landing in the location. My own Angel, Ambriel, has told me that the seven who fell to Earth were the only Archangels he knew of, and their fall means that something drastic must have happened to the Celestial Kingdom.” There was a short pause, and he pulled out a photograph – one of a young girl, probably only ten or eleven – and handed it to the two.
“This is the girl who, using the power of an Angel known as Harut, sealed the seven Archangels away. While I don’t know where the Archangels are being held at, or how for that matter – nor do I particularly want to let them free, for fear of what they will do if free to roam – I do know where she is.”
“She’s so young,” Bellona said quietly, “How on Earth did she manage to have the power to seal away seven Archangels?”
“Can someone back up and explain to me what Archangels are? Are they supposed to be bigger or badder than normal Angels?” Kyosu asked suddenly. He put the picture back down onto the desk, and waited a few moments.
“Archangels,” Emmett responded, “Are the highest ranking Angels. There are only seven of them, and the idea is that they are a permanent group – that they are all on Earth now means that the Celestial Kingdom has no leaders.”
“It also would mean that there are now seven human beings with powers beyond our wildest imaginations,” Bellona added. Emmett nodded once, and Kyosu blinked in stunned silence. The complexity of what was going on was way over his head, especially the sheer power that was being discussed so casually.
Emmett pulled out a small emerald from the folder and set it down on the table, and then pulled out a series of photographs of an island. He closed his eyes, and slowly the emerald began to grow – the gemstone morphed into a small model of what seemed to be a coastline, including a large island to the far right of the model. “This is an approximation of area near Avalon Bay. As I have said, it is in the northeastern Ogallala Sea. Whoever has had Harut’s host for the past three years... well, they have decided to give her to the military. Why, I do not know. However, Ambriel has found that she is currently being transported along the northern coast of the Ogallala Sea – and will be going through the Black Hills to be boarded onto the USS Eldritch at Port Oakland.”
“Wait, that’s where Jacques’ gang is, the ones that took Celestia,” Kyosu said after a short moment of pause. “Not Oakland, but the Black Hills. I barely got out of there.”
“Oakland – where they’ll be boarding her onto the Eldritch – is still a two hour drive from where Jacques’ gang has holed themselves up,” Emmett said. He paused for a moment, and then rose an eyebrow at Kyosu. “You were there, at Mount Rushmore, then?”
“Yes, my power was to open portals,” Kyosu said with a short nod. “I managed to get away, thanks to Celestia, but...”
“But Jacques got her, then?” Emmett asked. Kyosu nodded slowly, and the real life superhero shook his head with a soft sigh. “That’s not good. The man’s far more powerful than someone who’s just appeared in the spotlight should be.”
“Are we going to do something about him too, then?” Bellona asked, leaning forward and into the group. “I mean, if we are there anyways, I don’t see why not. But that’s a lot of things to do.”
“I want to at least try to save Celestia,” Kyosu said after a short few moments. “And without her, well... I’m useless to the group anyways.”
“Useless?” Emmett asked. He stood up from the chair, kicking it back and into the wall behind him. From the emerald in the ring he wore, a baton suddenly emerged – he took a hold of it, and swung down hard – Kyosu flinched, but no blow came. The world seemed to freeze in place, but it wasn’t that Bellona had used her powers – it was that no one was reacting at all.
“You think you’re useless without a power? Have some faith in humanity, boy!” Emmett shouted as he flung the baton away from Kyosu’s face, and pointed at the newspaper clipping about the collapse of the Ogallala Aquifer. “While it’s true that a host was the one that contained the Archangels, who was it that led the effort to rebuild around the disaster, who was it that put thousands of man hours into saving the lives that would have otherwise been lost or destroyed? Not angels, not their hosts – but honest, hardworking humans! The human spirit is indomitable when it puts its mind to something, never forget that!”
“But we’re going up against the military, against other Angel hosts, I’m-”
“If you want to give up, you can. But if you want to be anyone’s hero, you won’t.”
Kyosu paused, and blinked as he stammered around words that didn’t seem to come out right. Bellona watched the two in silence, a silent smirk across her face as she let the two of them sort this out. She agreed that without a power, Kyosu was useless, yes,.. But if Emerald Knight had some motivational pep talk to get the boy going, well, who was she to stop him?
“But I’m just a normal person, I’m not a hero!”
“Was Wally Wallace a normal person?”
“Yeah, but -”
“And he saved the Emerald Knight in season eight episode twelve, didn’t he?”
“But that’s a TV show!”
“Wally Wallace was based on a normal person who saved my life when I was your age, Kyosu. Every human being has the fundamental superpower inside of them – heart.”
Bellona snorted slightly, before immediately covering her mouth. Emmett shot her a quick glance, but said nothing. If she wanted to laugh at his speech, she could – it wouldn’t help anyone to fight over something that trivial.
“You want to save Celestia, don’t you?”
“Well, yes, of course!”
“Then you should only have one real choice of action.”
Kyosu paused, and nodded. “You’re right.”
“Of course I’m right!” Emmett said as the emerald baton returned to being the gemstone in his ring, and laughed. “I’m Emerald Knight, after all – I’ve been in the superhero business since before you were born!”
“So what’s the plan?” Bellona asked, interrupting for a moment. “Are we getting Celestia on the way, or-”
“There’s unfortunately not enough time,” Emmett said, “Unless we split up. Harut’s host will be boarding the ship at exactly five o’clock tomorrow morning.”
“If we get Celestia first, we can use her powers to get to where we need to be, though, can’t we?” Kyosu asked.
“And if we take more time than we have to do that?” Bellona asked, looking at Kyosu. “Sure, I can pause time, but not forever – we have, oh, one and a half hours I can buy us as it is? Assuming you don’t get me pumped full of caffeine and adrenaline. And even then, maybe two hours. Probably less, since I’ve never held it that long for multiple people.”
Kyosu paused, before he nodded. He hated making Celestia wait, but... he couldn’t put her before the rest of the world. And it wasn’t as if Jacques would kill her, the man needed her alive for what he wanted.
“Right, then. So, we have just under twelve hours to get there, so we’ll leave once you two are ready. I’ll cover any problems that happen with work or living conditions, so don’t worry about that – there are perks to the fame of being a TV star.” Emmett flashed a smile, before his face turned back into the serious frown that Kyosu was familiar with. “Ideally you’d be able to have an alter-identity for this, but I don’t suppose the two of you do?”
“No,” Bellona said with a shake of her head.
“Then we’ll have to just use my back-up costumes. They’re one-size-fits-all, so it should work out,” Emmett said as he touched the model of the island he had made of emeralds earlier. “So, then, here’s the plan...”
Grandark leaned against the wall of the small shop, an empty bowl of frozen yoghurt sitting on the counter. Racks with glass panels over them held various metal weaponry, mainly swords, knives, and various kinds in between. He smirked slightly as he set his spoon down, and picked up the empty bowl. “This deal I made with that Ami person was the best decision I ever made,” he said as he threw the bowl across the room and into the open trash bin by the front door.
He celebrated with a silent nod. Moments later the door opened with a chime. A strange-seeming... man? Grandark never had fully grasped the idea of gender dimorphism, although something about the man (if it was a man) that came through the door made it even harder to identify the gender of the one in question. The stranger’s stance was strangely inhuman, and their pupils were stretched out vertically. “Hello, sir,” the stranger hissed out with a smile.
“Hello yourself,” Grandark said, and ventured out with a guess when he added “Sir.” The stranger didn’t tell him he was wrong, and he smiled. “Looking for anything in particular today?”
“Are you by any chance Sieg Grandark?” The two paused for a moment, and Grandark nodded once. He said nothing else, and the stranger smiled slowly. “So the man who killed the Rissoni sells weapons to an irrelevant species on a backwater planet in the most undeveloped region of the galaxy?”
“The Rissoni?” Grandark asked, and then the stranger flicked out a serpentine tongue. He smirked, and put a hand on the counter in front of him. “So the Seraphs sent men after me for disobeying their orders? What, exiling me to this planet didn’t satisfy them?” he laughed. “What do you want the money for, then? Cheap kicks in the Aequarie Nebula?”
“You think the Seraphs would really send a bounty hunter to kill a man who finished their war, and then conveniently was announced dead?” the stranger asked, and shook his head. Grandark paused for a moment, before he rose an eyebrow.
“Or that a bounty hunter would come to this speck of a planet just for some cash?” The stranger shook his head and chuckled. “No, no, no. I’m not working for the Seraphs. I’ve been looking for you in particular because of what you did at Risson.”
Grandark’s hand on his blade tightened. “Who are you? I thought everyone there died.”
“Everyone but me,” the man said as his brows furrowed into a sharp glare.
“So the last child of Risson has come for his family’s butcher?” Grandark didn’t move his body, but he met the glare with a look of nonchalance.
“Do not tempt me to strike now, fravashi – I have come for something other than your blood.”
“You don’t want to avenge the death of your brothers and sisters, slay me where I stand?” Grandark asked, and shrugged. “Very kind of-”
In a flash of an eye the Rissoni was lunging across the room, his arms transforming into metal blades. There was a clap of thunder and the glass panels shattered, but in the short moment that it took the stranger to cross the room Grandark had already moved.
He pulled the blades from his mouth practically instantly, and as he held the attacker back he finished: “- you.”
They held each other in stalemate for a few moments. The Rissoni’s blade arms slid across the simple swords in Grandark’s hands. Sparks burst out from the friction of steel on steel, and Grandark pushed the stranger off of him – hard. With a crash the Rissoni crashed into the racks of swords and knives – not that the weapons hurt him much.
“What happened to not wanting my blood, Rissoni?”
“Shut up!” The Rissoni lunged as it screamed, the blade arms glistening as they sharpened themselves. The being’s legs seemed to grow to give it more power behind its lunge, and then it swung its blades horizontally from each side.
Grandark simply jumped out of the way of the attack, landing on the Rissoni’s blades and shoving them down into the counter top. He let out a laugh as two blades formed beneath his feet, and the Rissoni screamed again – this time in pain, as his mouth opened wider than a human’s possibly could. One of the blades in Grandark’s hands retracted into his arm again, and he bent over to grab a hold of the attacker’s face. “You should have known better to try this.”
Grandark squeezed the Rissoni’s lips together, forcing his screams to stay inside and only come out in a muffle. His other sword was aimed at the untrained warrior’s head, and he laughed. “Any last words?”
Only muffled cries came out of the Rissoni’s mouth, and Grandark rolled his eyes. “Of course not. You’re too busy screaming about something or – oh, I see, it’s because I’ve stabbed through your precious blade-arms, isn’t it? How rude of me.”
The Rissoni closed his eyes, and Grandark watched for a few moments before letting go of his face. Standing upright, Grandark swung his sword in a slow circle as he watched the Rissoni grit his teeth, anticipating the feel of cold steel.
Grandark never swung down, though. He jumped backwards and landed behind the counter, his sword still firmly in the grasp of his right hand. The Rissoni’s blade arms slowly shifted back to normal, to the nearly-human form with the slightly-too-long fingers. The hole from the blades that pierced into them was clearly in the middle of the palm of his hand, but the skin around it was already glowing as it began to heal.
“You... you didn’t kill me?”
“You said you came for something that wasn’t my blood. What was it?”
The Rissoni watched for a few moments, waiting for Grandark to move – surely, the Rissoni figured, this had to be a trap. There was no way that the man who had ruthlessly butchered his entire race would simply let him go.
But when it became clear that Grandark was going to wait for his answer, the Rissoni answered. “As much as I lust to spray your blood across the fields of Risson... there is something far worse than the death of my people coming.” The Rissoni paused, his eyes locked onto Grandark. “Fire is coming.”
Grandark flinched and stepped back, almost dropping his sword. “No, that can’t be. That’s only a fairy tale.”
“Fire is coming, Grandark,” The Rissoni repeated in a cruel echo. “Already its deliverer is on this world. I have tried to warn the other fravashi, but they would not listen to me. They gave me pity when I needed their belief in my words.”
Grandark shook his head, the Rissoni stepping away from the counter. The wounds on the Rissoni’s hands were almost fully healed. He blinked once – his eyelids went sideways – and looked back at Grandark. “The one named Harut, is he here?”
“Harut? I don’t know, has he fallen?”
“Yes, he did shortly after your arrival to this planet,” the Rissoni said with a nod. “Grandark, as much as I’d rather splay you open and choke you with your entrails than work with you, I need your help.”
Grandark tilted his head back and opened his mouth – only to push the sword into it. In a few short seconds it was gone, and he licked his lips and fingers when he finished. “Delicious.” He walked around the counter and stood in front of it, leaning back into it. “So you come in here, wreck my shop, tell me that the Fire is coming... and then you want me to take your word on it and help you?”
“I need your help, Grandark. I need to find Harut so that I can find the Archangels, and show them undeniable proof that the Fire is, in fact, real – and approaching.”
“Where is this proof?”
“Mazarath, display the footage to Grandark.”
The holographic screen flickered to life, showing a display of the blackness of space. Grandark watched it for some time, before his eyes widened. The screen switched over to a audio wavelength, and the AI began to speak: “This has been spotted across various outposts in frontier space.”
Grandark looked at the Rissoni. “What is your name, Rissoni?”
“You may call me Malachi.”
“Malachi and Mazarath... I see. And you need to find Harut?”
“Clean up the mess you made,” Grandark said as he turned away and began to walk towards a door near the back, “And I’ll help.”
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“To get the broom and the dustpan.”