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Raven

By juggernaught All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Scifi

Blurb

“My name is not insufferable brat, although that is my nickname,” he said, smirking—that is, until he wiped a streak of crimson blood from his forehead. “You little—you actually cut me!” He bared his teeth as he replaced the broken plasma vial with a new one from his utility belt. “That brings you down to one last try!” He punctuated his sentence with another shot in Markys’ left eye. He roared angrily, clenching his eye shut as the holes sealed themselves slower than before. Maybe it was their location, or maybe he was just running low on blood. “Think you want to use it, or do you want to just go to Prize B?” “You… You…” Words were starting to fail him as he dropped to one knee, blood forming a wide puddle around him. He glanced up, a curse on his lips, but his eyes finally met Augustine’s and his jaw went slack. “Those eyes… You can’t be…” “Yes, yes?” Augustine said, excited. The Arrow spoke, pupils shrinking to pinpricks in terror, “The Keeper wouldn’t… He wouldn’t send you after me… You can’t possibly be…” “That was your last try.” He grinned as he held the gun to Markys’ face and slowly put pressure on the trigger. “And let me help you on that… It starts with the letter ‘R’.” Markys let his head fall. “The Raven.”

Prologue Denouement


THERE WAS A SAYING THAT WENT along with their arrogance: “Casting a shadow far greater than one’s self”—humanity believed themselves to be the only sentient beings in the universe, as their (at the time) paltry rovers and probes could not find a single semblance of intelligence in the vast universe, but then again they tried too hard, and for what? They would only have taken the intelligence and reduced it to semi-intelligent bits and pieces within test tubes and beakers. That was mankind in all of its glory: taking apart beauty and wonder for what they understood as “complex” to make it less-plex, even when there were greater simple-ities in the world to enjoy.

Raven was pulled from his thoughts by a surge of pain in his abdomen. He clenched his stomach as a bit of blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth and made his way from the glare of the streetlamps to an alley. There, he laid against the wall to catch his breath as his heart, previously racing from his latest life-or-death battle, was losing pace awfully fast. The little trickle of blood increased and he braced himself against the grimy wall of the building as he felt his legs buckle beneath him. He shifted a little before sliding down the wall to the gravel, and he sighed tiredly as his rested his head against the wall.

“Well damn, Keeper,” he grinned to himself, turning his head towards the street. “You really took it outta me this time.” He looked up to one of the few lit windows on the block, which belonged to one of the big huge tech moguls of the time—if memory served, the name was Astral. The man inside the window, however, was not Astral.

“Hell’s Hotline. Name your price and the head, and if I like what I hear, count on it.”

In his father’s stories, death was always preceded by one’s life. It would “flash” before their eyes, the good and the bad and everything in-between just so they could see how much they’d really messed up while lamenting over which direction they were going to end up in next. The Raven knew exactly what he had done in his long life, and contrary to what most would expect, he was all too eager to atone for it all.

“Yes, Hell’s Hotline? Name your price and the head, and if it beats what they’re paying, sure.”

There was darkness in him, the darkness that affected humanity like a poison and even spread onto a foreign entity like him. In a world where human weakness was overshadowed by outlandish strength, where just being able to add one to one meant nothing when others had attained the intelligence surpassing physical existence (“And yes, I mean you, Jxah.”), where up was down and down was who-the-hell-even-knew and just being human was a disability, the underprivileged did what they had to do to survive.

“Hell’s Hotline, the Raven speaking. Aliens, humans, whichever—if I like the price, I’ll do it for you, but if not, you’ll get the short end of the stick. You better hope your best is good enough.”

He did what he did: abandoned his name, his identity—his whole person, really, everything that he was long ago, and boy, was it long ago. He did keep some things as mementoes, and thank goodness that he did; if not for them, he couldn’t remember his father’s face, his first name, what he once looked like. He covered his mouth futilely as more blood spurted between his fingers and splattered on his boots, on the beer-stained cement. He fell back against the wall with a sigh, throwing his arm over his face. If he had pictured his death though, it sure as hell wasn’t in a grimy alleyway that smelled like vomit and piss.

“Hell’s Hotline is now disconnected. Sorry, but not sorry. The Keeper’s offered me a price I can’t refuse.”

That money, too, the money he prided himself on, because he needed at least one advantage in the world—yeah, all of that was gone. His guns, his money, his name… Gone, gone, and gone. He had no value, no purpose, no reason to even still be on the living plane. He never wanted to be in that kind of place anyway, and now he had his way out.

It was too good to be true.

“I like you, Keeper. You called me with the guise of trust, then you have me standing here with your royal buttheads all pointing their guns at my heart.”

“The trust I claimed was simply a friendly gesture.”

“I’m not bellyaching—I wouldn’t trust you with my fingernails. Then again, the price is right and I’m ready to fight. I’ve only got three rules about my services.”

But dreams were always bitter once accomplished. The wonder of reaching for the stars no longer remained, and the appeal of chasing after something implausible was just taking hold of the mundane.

“First of all, I use my weapons and my methods. You don’t question anything I do as long as I get the job done correctly.”

“Sustained.”

He felt his head get too heavy to hold up, but he didn’t want to lie down on the dirty ground. Instead, he stripped away his trench coat and laid it under him, softening the impact somewhat as his head collided with the concrete. On top of that, a light rain began, smearing his blood across the ground and on his face. The combined scent of it all made him physically sick, and whatever he managed to eat earlier came back up.

“Secondly, when you don’t need me, I get free reign. Oh, I’ll follow your laws, but as long as I’m doing just that, you don’t interfere with my personal matters.”

“Sustained.”

The rain was cool against his heated skin, giving him a slightly pleasurable feeling as he turned his head into it. The night sky was tinted graphite by the clouds, reminding him of a time long ago…

Footsteps broke him from his reverie, harried steps followed by the distinctly angry shouts of royal guards. The Raven sat up hurriedly, his overgrown hair putting a golden veil over his eyes as he watched the escaping figure duck into the alley. He appeared to be about the same age with thick, dark hair flattened by the rain and a smoking plasma pistol dangling from his fingers. Stubborn bloodstains clung to his cheek and shirt, better illuminated by the flashlight attachments on the two guards’ gun as they rounded the corner after him. The Raven looked on, feeling excitement build in his chest and mentally berating himself for it.

I promised myself that I would die, he thought. For the good of humankind and alienkind. But even as he thought it, he knew he was a selfish, conceited bastard, that he couldn’t lie down knowing of the Keeper’s betrayal. He would right his wrongs, he decided, and then he would let himself die. Right his wrongs and nothing else, because someone like him didn’t deserve redemption.

He grabbed hold of the man’s shirt, stopping him in his tracks, and pulled him until he collapsed onto his knees. His eyes, dull blue, were wide with alarm as the guards drew near. The Raven fisted his other hand in the man’s hair and brought their mouths together none-too-gently. The man gasped, stunned, allowing the Raven the opportunity he was looking for. He blinked once, twice, then he was staring back at himself, his body slumped over with blood dribbling from the corner of his mouth.

“Stay still!” one of the guards growled in a low voice. The Raven ignored them, examining his new hands, his new arms, new chest… His eyes shifted to the gun in his hand, heavier than what he was used to, but a gun was a gun.

“Lastly, no matter what happens, I never, ever have to bow my head to you or any other part of your crappy government, royal guard included.”

“…Hmm. Sustained, as well.”

“Well then, I guess we’re good here.”

“…M’kay,” he said, surprised at the sound of his voice. He raised the gun and fired twice, one bullet for each of them. They didn’t even have the chance to react, dropping like flies. The Raven stood, feeling stronger than he had in a long while, and gave one last glance at his old body before walking away, blending into the darkness.

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