5th Column Comics: Joe part 3

Continued from here part 2

Roxie woke up from the bed in the cheap hotel room Joe had rented for the night and saw Joe staring out the window, "What's going on?"

Joe looked over, "Someone started a brawl or something. The streets crawling with CBTF. Some goon in spandex showed up a minute ago, been entertaining so far."

She gave a yawn, "Wake me up if it looks like they're gonna blow us up."

Joe chuckled as she rolled back over and fell back to sleep.

***

The next day Joe woke Roxie up around noon, "We need to be on our way."

She grunted as she woke with bright sun in her eyes, "Sorry, been a month or so since I slept in a bed."

Joe shrugged, "We need to be away from here asap."

***

They dodged the increased CBTF patrol by entering a tiny bar called the Pigeon Hole. Joe looked around the room finding a few people who were exactly the type he'd expect to be hanging around a dive bar at 12:30 in the afternoon and a terrible folk singer abusing the bar's open mic feature.

The bar tender noticed the kid, "She can't be in here."

Joe sighed, "Some creepy guy's been following her around."

He looked toward the folk singer, "Let her sit for a bit and I promise I'll come back tomorrow and drink till that sounds like music."

The bartender looked to the small stage, "Serving that much liquor to a guy might count as manslaughter."

As he turned back he had a realization, "Holy s**t, Joe?"

Joe looked at him for a second before recognizing him, "Jack? I didn't recognize you with the beard."

Jack waved them over, "Hell, come on in. Have a seat kid."

Joe and Roxie sat at the bar and Joe looked up, "You serve food?"

Jack shrugged, "We do burgers, wings or pretzels."

"Give her a burger and a root beer."

Jack started to nod but he and Joe noticed the hard stare Roxie was giving the bar code tattoo on Jack's forearm. Joe looked down, "What's the problem?"

She pointed at the tattoo, "The Butcher had a tattoo just like that, same place and everything."

Joe sighed as he pulled up his sleeve to show his own bar code, "You sure it looked just like this?"

She nodded as Joe turned to her, "Okay, what'd he look like?"

She looked nervous, "He was a little shorter than Jack here, had short dirty blond hair, blue eyes and this little scar under his right eye that looked like a crooked check mark."

Joe turned back to Jack with a concerned look, "What the hell's going on?"

Joe sat up, "I lied a minute ago. This girl here, her family was killed by the Indigo Butcher. She's the only one who's seen his face and lived."

Jack popped his knuckles, "And from that description, I'm guessing we both have a pretty good idea who he is."

Jack then slid a plate to her with a burger on it, "Eat up kid."

He then waved Joe toward the office, "Me and you need to talk."

***

Det. Lewis and Agent Kane are looking over an Indigo Butcher crime scene in Devil's Den. Lewis was curious, "I don't see what we're gonna find that forensics missed."

Kane leaned down and rolled up his sleeve. Lewis noticed a bar code tattoo on his forearm and thought he saw something glinting in the sun light under his glove before Kane adjusted it. Kane moved something aside revealing a foot print, "I assume, like most people your forensics team was in a hurry to get away from here."

Lewis looked down, "Looks like a size 13."

Kane nodded, "Looks like it, tho I'm betting the man who made it was size 11."

He pointed to a dip in the foot print, "I'd guess he was wearing shoes two sizes too big with weighted filler. It's a red herring. He wanted us to find this and start looking for a guy with bigger feet who out weighs him by around 60 lbs."

Lewis crouched down beside him, "And how'd you get to that?"

Kane shrugged, "Its something he was trained to do. That probably explains why your forensics found 14 different DNA types that they were sure led back to him but ended up matching a victim."

Lewis rose, "So basically we got nothing?"

Kane looked up, "Not exactly."

He pointed at several other partially covered tracks, "We know he spent quite a bit of time standing right out here in the open and not one person saw him but there is a traffic cam pointed right where you're standing."

Lewis grinned a bit, "Well, lets go have a look."

***

An hour later Lewis and Kane are looking at the video with a lab tech. They don't see anything but Kane tells the tech to pause, "Can you enhance that?"

The tech gave a wary look, "This ain't CSI buddy. Street cams have limits."

He noticed the stern glares from the men, "Fine I'll see what I can do."

He tinkered a bit managing to enlarge the image a bit but not clearing it up much, "That's weird."

Lewis looked over his shoulder, "What?"

The tech pointed at the screen, "Its kind of what it looks like when you shine a flash light through a clear glass of water."

Kane leaned over and pointed out the vaguely man formed out line around the odd light pattern, "Our killer is bending light."

The tech looked up, "What, like the Predator?!"

Kane gave a blank stare as Lewis spoke, "Its a movie where this alien...never mind. Our perp can make himself invisible, that's a problem."

Kane turned to him, "So he's a carrier."

Lewis dropped in his chair, "Invisible, super assassin, serial killer, wonderful."

He then shouted out to the building, "Anyone else miss regular psychos?"

***

Victor sits at a table in the kitchen of his run down apartment. He has several photos of his next victim on a bulletin board behind him and the news playing on the television as he sharpens and cleans a set of blades. He looks over as he hears mention of the Indigo Butcher and raises the remote changing it to Demon Dog, "Bah, Indigo Butcher makes me sound like a deli ran by hippies."

***

Devil's Den, Pigeon Hole Bar.

A man staggered up to the bar, "Hey Jack, looks like a couple task force goons are heading this way. Damned jackboots always getting up in yer business, as if we ain't got enough crap to deal with down here."

Jack looked to Joe and Roxie and directed them to the back room. The man at the bar noticed them heading back so Jack put a bottle of his preferred whisky on the bar, "On the house, Ed."

Ed shrugged, "Sweet."

Joe found a sliding door along the back wall hidden by an over sized painting of dogs playing pool. Roxie noticed a small metal box on the wall that Joe pushed a button on before closing them in the small room. He saw her curious look, "Blocks the scanners."

A few minutes later a few men in task force uniforms walked in. He looked to Jack, "Scanner indicates a carrier may be in here."

Jack gives a wary look, "Unless alcoholism or depression are super powers I'm doubting you'd find any carriers here."

One of the agents puffed up his chest as he looked up at Jack, "I don't like your tone boy."

Jack feigned anger, "Boy? Who you calling boy?"

The agent's eyes went a little wide as he looked up at the large black bar tender, "Now, sir, I didn't mean it like..."

Jack went with it, "Oh, you didn't mean it like what, cracker?"

The other agent put a hand on his partner's shoulder, "Time to go Bill, if there was a carrier here we'd know it."

Bill nodded, "But I'm not racist, some of my..."

His partner hushed him, "Don't finish that sentence."

Joe chuckled in the hidden room as he watched the scene on a monitor, " Jack's still got it."

(To be continued)

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5th Column Comics: Joe part 2

Continued from here part 1

Devil's Den.

Joe and Roxie are sitting on a roof over looking Alegheri park eating chili dogs. Roxie had a worried look. Joe looked over to her as he swallowed a bite, "Something wrong with the dog?"

"How am I supposed to eat when an invisible man is hunting me?"

Joe shrugged, "Not eating means you have less energy, less energy means you won't focus as well and that'll get you killed."

She sighed and took a bite. As she chewed she looked up and spoke with a half full mouth, "How did shpot the guy?"

Joe looked down at her, "Swallow before you speak kid."

He quickly finished her bite and asked again, "How did you spot the guy?"

"Wasn't hard, just payed attention."

She gave a blank stare. He sighed and pointed toward the street, "What do you see down there?"

She looked down, "Some people and cars and stuff."

He nodded and knelt down beside her as he pointed toward a man eating a cheeseburger, "That man down there most likely didn't have breakfast considering how focused he is on that burger. His girl friend there started aggressively pawing at his shoulders a second ago because she probably thought that attractive blonde ten feet to the left was checking out her man.

She was actually looking at the burger but the disgusted look she had indicates she's either a vegan or a health nut."

He then pointed to a pigeon sitting on a lamp post, "That bird is getting antsy and nervous because he just noticed the falcon on the flag pole about half a block away on the right."

She looked at him mildly impressed, "Is that like a power?"

He shook his head, "No, I was trained for that. Observational skills are one of the most important attributes for evasion and survival. This Butcher guy who's following you can make himself invisible but he's still solid. I spotted him because he brushed past a flag and made it move opposed to the wind. Him stepping in a puddle confirmed it."

She gave a nod as he pointed down again, "Now look again, pay attention and tell me what you see."

***

Golden Roads

A man from the CBTF had just finished his shift and arrived home. As he opened the door he noticed the phrase 'Mihi Vindictam' written in blood on the wall. He felt a bit of panic as he remembered the reports about the Indigo Butcher. He ran into the house, "Laura! Baby!?"

He felt relief for a second as he saw her seated as if looking out the window before realizing she didn't respond. He walked over and put a hand on her shoulder causing her body to slump. He then felt a grip on his own shoulder and felt a cold steel blade across his throat. He didn't have time to react before the unseen blade sliced through his skin.

Victor looked down on the man's body with a nod.

Griffith, The office of the Indigo City Police Commissioner.

A man in his late 30s with black but graying hair and a five o'clock shadow named Det. Craig Lewis sits waiting for the Commissioner. He'd been on the force for over a decade but had never been in this office before but he didn't think this meeting meant anything good.

After a moment the Commissioner walked in followed by a well groomed man in his late 20s who wore a dark blue business suit and black gloves. The Commissioner introduced them, "This is Detective Craig Lewis, he's been working the Butcher case from the beginning. Detective, this is Agent Tom Kane from..."

He looked to Kane, "I'm not sure what agency he's with but the Mayor has ordered me to assign you to aide him in capturing the Indigo Butcher."

Lewis turned back, "And why are the Feds suddenly interested?"

Kane looked down, "There has been a development. It is currently known that your killer is targeting soldiers and their families. In every instance the families of these soldiers were all posed and accounted for while the soldiers were left where they died. In all cases but one."

Lewis nodded, "The Collins girl?"

Kane nodded, "If she is in fact alive we may have an actual witness."

Lewis nodded, "That's not your only reason."

Kane shrugged, "We've been following this case for quite some time. The M.O. has us concerned. We've noticed that with the family members, he kills with surgical precision and wounds indicate quick almost painless deaths, while the soldiers get their throats slit and are allowed to bleed out. In nearly every case their eyes were open and facing their families. This says that the soldiers are the actual target."

He then tosses a photo on the desk, "Then there's this."

Lewis picks it up and looks at the words 'Mihi Vindictam' as Kane continues, "Its Latin and translates too..."

Lewis cut him off, "Vengeance is mine. So what you're saying is you believe we have a well trained assassin who's gone off the reservation with a vendetta?"

Kane nodded again, "Basically, and I can give you 10 suspects."

He then opened a brief case with several files in them, "You won't find any records, on paper none of these people exist but they are the only people that we know of with the kind of training necessary to get away this clean considering the targets. Even if he's a carrier he'd leave some form of evidence otherwise. We aren't sure what was different but if and when we find out we may have your killer."

The two men made there way out of the building. Lewis noticed Kane took out a pen and began clicking it as they passed the scanners that all government buildings have to detect carriers. After they exited the building Kane slid the pen back in his pocket. He did it in a nonchalant manner as if it was a nervous habit. To the untrained eye it wouldn't matter but Lewis is a very good detective and knows practiced behavior when he sees it.

***

Devil's Den

As the sun set Joe and Roxie walked down an alley. They stopped as they heard the beeping of a scanner. Joe looked ahead to see a task force agent who happened to be taking a leak in the alley, "F**k."

The agent quickly zipped up and yelled,"Freeze."

Roxie looked nervous as Joe's arm stretched out and coiled up like a spring. When the agent got within an arm's length Joe punched him in the chest launching him across the street where he slammed into a wall. His armor took the brunt of the impact but the man was winded as he stood. His partner gave a surprised look before turning down the alley.

Joe and Roxie were no where to be seen.

( To be continued)

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5th Column Comics: Joe part 1

Continued from here prologue

The Facility: Ten years ago.

Joe Milton and Victor Cole stand with blood dripping from their mouths and noses as their instructor orders them to halt. Their combat training stops as the boys are mid swing. They stop and turn at attention in an almost mechanical fashion.

The subjects of project Sparta are filed into a large room where they take note of armed soldiers all around them. After a quick head count the head of the project stands before them, "You have all been doing very well. We've gathered you all here for a sort of graduation ceremony."

The soldiers were unnerved by the cold expressions of the teens, not one made a sound as they listened. Joe and Victor looked around noticing the safeties were off on the loaded weapons being held. In near unison the subjects nodded as Victor turned to the nearest soldier and smashed his jaw while disarming him. He then shot the soldier next to him before he had time to react.

The soldiers began to fire but the kids had already mixed into their ranks disarming many and using them as human shields before turning the weapons on their attackers.

After a few minutes the firing stopped as the last soldier died. Joe turned to see Victor standing over his twin brother. Of all the subjects only Victor and his brother knew they had family, they were identical aside from a scar under Victor's eye that Joe had given him in a training session.

While the rest kept their cold stares Joe noticed a single tear on Victor's face before shouting, "We should go, more will be here shortly."

As a group they made their way out of the Facility easily evading the security measures.

***

Hours later a government agent was giving a report to his superior, "We only managed to eliminate ten of them. They wiped out the soldiers."

He then nodded as he listened to his ear piece, "Understood sir."

He then turned to his partners, "Bring in the cleaners, we need to get a story together for this. I want every agent in the company keeping an eye out for them. Kill on site orders have been issued."

***

Indigo City: Present, Denton area better known to locals as Devil's Den.

A soldier returns home from duty after quite a while away from home. He'd been a bit disappointed that none of his family had met him at the airport but he was still glad to be back. He was shocked to see his wife and teen sons dead but posed on the couch, blood still dripping from their wounds as Demon Dog played on the television.

On the wall above the couch he noticed a Latin phrase written in their blood, 'Mihi Vindictam' <Vengeance is mine.>

As he stares in shock he notices a bag filled sitting near the door. He moves to check it but is caught by the hand of an invisible attacker. Suddenly his throat erupts with blood from a wound caused by an unseen blade. His last sight before dying is the bag by the door seemingly disappear as the door seems to open by itself.

Victor Cole silently walks away from the house. He has the ability to bend light around himself rendering him and anything he touches invisible leaving him safe from detection by the soldiers neighbors as he casually walks away from the house, not that anyone would care much in this neighborhood.

Victor had seen four muggings and an attempted rape between his current home and this house and this was a calm day. He kept himself fed by robbing his victims but that was hardly his motive. He blamed soldiers for taking the only family he'd ever had so he dedicated himself to taking their families away as well.

The papers call him the Indigo Butcher. For the last few months he's been stalking the city due to the recent uptake in soldiers turned task force agents living in the city.

***

Joe entered the area known as Devil's Den where three men immediately attempted to mug him. He quickly dispatched them without even needing his power. One began to rise from where Joe had thrown him but Joe turned, "If you get up, I'll put you down permanently."

The man dropped back down as Joe walked away. As he walked he noticed someone sliding a hand into his pocket. They let him walk away a bit then turned before noticing Joe's hand still holding the his shirt sleeve. The pick pocket looked shocked as Joe began to reel him back. He then lifted the young girl into the air while holding a hand out in front of her, "Wallet?"

She put it in his hand as he dropped her and turned, "What's with the rubber freak powers?"

Joe didn't turn but replied, "My last visit to this city was eventful."

As he walked the girl followed, "My name's Roxi, I got powers from the impact too."

Joe gave a nod, "Obviously not one that made you a good pick pocket. You following me for a reason?"

She became annoyed, "Seriously, I can prove it. Try to do your stretchy thing."

Joe shrugged and humored her tugging on his thumb. He stopped walking as he noticed it stayed in place. He then turned seeing a smug grin on her face, "Told you?"

He was now genuinely curious, "With an ability like that, why aren't you in a lab?"

"My dad was a soldier assigned to the task force, he thought they'd dissect me if they found out so he didn't register me."

Joe gave a nod, "Sounds smart, does he know you're a pick pocket?"

She got a sad look, "The Butcher killed him, almost got me too but he was surprised when I turned his power off and I got away. He was invisible so I think I'm the only person who has actually seen his face. I knew I couldn't go to the police cause those scanner things they have would let them know I was a carrier and they wouldn't care what I had to say, so I ran. Been on the streets ever since."

Joe sighed, "I'd suggest you find a better way to earn a living, or at least get better at what you're doing."

He began to walk away but Roxie followed, "I ain't looking for a side kick."

"You don't seem too worried about getting spotted, maybe you can teach me how to avoid it."

He gave a wary look, "I have neither the time nor the patients for teaching."

She dropped her head, "Well maybe you...."

She looked up with a pitiful stare but he was gone. She sighed as the phony puppy dog eyes went away, "Damn it."

Joe chuckled from a roof top and began to walk away but noticed a flag hanging from a shop moving. He knew it wasn't the wind because it was blowing in the opposite direction and it moved as if someone had brushed against it. Anyone else wouldn't have noticed but Joe was trained to observe every detail. He followed the path from the flag with his eyes and saw a small splash as an invisible form stepped into a puddle of spilled soda, "Ahh, goddamn it."

Roxie was walking as Joe's hand wrapped around her and yanked her to the roof. She heard an angry grunt as she was yanked up. Joe hushed her as he looked down. Unknown to him, Victor was staring back up at him. He recognized his old sparing partner and decided to wait to get the girl.

(To be continued.)

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5th Column Comics: Joe prologue

My name is Joseph Milton, most just call me Joe. Don't know if that's my real name, not even sure I have one. Until I was 15 I lived in the Facility, that's what we called it. I was one of a hundred kids chosen for something called project Sparta. It was a simple idea, take infants and raise them from birth to be soldiers.

We weren't super human or anything just well trained. As soon as I learned to walk the training began, combat training, espionage, wet work and whatever other bit of dirty work that might be useful. None of us ever actually saw the field. The powers that be got nervous about the potential public relations nightmare if the project was discovered.

They ordered a clean sweep but they trained us too well. I couldn't say what happened to the others but I managed to escape and I've been on my own since then. I drift from place to place, trying to keep my head down. All that changed about a year ago.

I had wandered into Indigo City and tried to catch a nap on a park bench when all hell broke loose. I didn't see what crashed but I heard the explosion. I turned to get a look just in time to get a lung full of blue gas. I'm not sure exactly what happened. I passed out and woke up the next day to the sounds of screams and confusion. I couldn't stand up, my legs were like loose rubber bands.

I had no idea what was going on but I knew it wouldn't be long before soldiers showed up. I crawled into a storm drain and tried to collect myself. I can't remember how long I was down there, I could hear the panic in the city for sometime. Once I managed to get walking I followed the drain out of the city.

Over the next few months I discover I now had the ability to stretch like rubber. I hid out in a forest while I mastered my new abilities. The place became infested for a while with what they call Blights. They left me alone but they drew soldiers and I had to move on.

Since then I've found that my abilities have advantages. The strength and durability that came with the power combined with my training made me great in a fight. The task force set up to hunt down people like me are persistent but they're amateurs.

I hear stories all the time about people like me getting taken away, even had a few close calls. Its easy enough to slip through the cracks when you can make yourself two dimensional. I never intended to come back to Indigo but as it turns out about a dozen other members of project Sparta happened to be around during the Great Impact and since they're the closest thing I have to family I decided to track them down. Indigo seems like the best place to start looking.

(To be continued)

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Cutlery Book 2: The Pirate Hunters part 3

Continued from here part 2

An ancient oil rig sits in the sea, it has long since been claimed by sea life. People have come to call this artificial island the Coral tower. It is mostly home to nesting gulls. On one side Kearn had ordered the supply ships and few escort ships he'd assigned to anchor themselves in a straight line making it impossible for on coming ships to see behind the island.

On the other side four pirate ships approach. Between the pirates and the island stands Castor, the Man-At-Arms for the Barracuda on a long boat. He stands with a hand rolled cigarette hanging from his lip as he checks his weapon, three black sickle blades attached to a long chain. Its called the Raven's claw.

A sailor named Curry sits with a pair of oars at his side and a poleaxe called the Naga strapped to his back. As they sit a pirate ship comes close to the longboat. A man looks over, "What are you doing out here?"

Castor begins to swing the Raven's Claw, as it picks up speed he looks up to the ship, "I'm plannin' on sinkin' yer boat."

The pirate grins as he turns back to the crew, "You hear that, boys? He's gonna sink our boat."

As they begin to laugh Castor threw out the claw. It connected and sunk into the side of the hull. He then yanked back and the pirate crew was silenced by the sound of wood being torn. The ship then dipped sharply to the side as water rushed into the massive hole. Castor then looked to Curry who had nodded off and began to snore. He kicked his leg, "You're on."

Curry stood with a yawn, "Alright, alright."

He then put the base of the poleaxe down and used it to pole vault to the large hunk of hull Castor had ripped off and then spun the Naga around. The pole extended then he caught the side of the ship pulling it down a bit as he allowed the Naga to drag him up as it returned to normal size.

The angry pirates charged but he swatted several into the water with the Naga. The blade at the top of the poleaxe extended and he sliced through the mast before kicking it over. It crashed down, slamming into the bow of a ship coming up to help.

As this was going on, Bartley, Vargas and several others swam up beside one of the other two boats. Bartley tossed up a grappling hook and they climbed aboard. The pirates turned to attack but Vargas stabbed the Coyote into the deck sending out a shock wave that split the ship. Bartley led the rest of the crew to attack the panicked pirates.

The final ship turned to flee but was ripped apart by large spikes. Angus stood on a longboat with Olaf holding the hilt of the changeling as the rest of the blade laid just under the water's surface. Olaf patted him on the back, "I need me, one of those."

The Navy forces then got back to their longboats as Akida raised Triton's Claw. Light flickered around it for a moment. The pirates in the water began to scream as hundreds of shark fins began heading toward them. Bartley snatched one pirate from the water.

***

Kearn stood on the Coral Tower as Bartley brought the lone survivor of the pirates and tossed him down at the Admiral's feet. His eye's went wide in terror as Kearn spoke, "I am Admiral Kearn from the Navy of the Western Empire. I assume you've heard of me."

The pirate nodded as he shook. Kearn swatted him in the face, "Man up, boy. I ain't gonna kill you."

The pirate spat out a tooth as Kearn glared down, "You tell Barrick and that hag that if they want I fight, I'll bring one to them. They can run if they want but this sea lane is mine now."

Bartley then tossed the man into the water by a longboat and threw a pair of oars down after, "I'd get goin' quick if I were you."

He then looked to Kearn, "You know Barrick ain't gonna run."

Kearn nodded then looked back to Dory, "Tell everyone to get ready to fight, we're heading into rough waters."

.***

The God's Head

Casandra gives Rikke a report, "He took six empty cargo ships and eight battle ships. He said he was going to break up the pirate fleet and be back with a resupply in a week or so."

Rikke nodded, "Did he know Barrick and Selena have sixty ships between them?"

"He said they could have a thousand, for all he cared."

Rikke burst into laughter, "That's why I love that man."

***

The pirate Kearn had spared was rowing along but wearing out when he came across a ship from his fleet. A young man with long black hair and a tattooed face named Argyle looked down to him, "Where the hell are the rest of you?"

The pirate looked up, "The Navy sank us. Sent me back with a message."

Argyle sighed, "Who was it?"

"Kearn and his crew."

Argyle took on a serious look as he yelled back to the crew, "Get him up here."

He then walked back to the cabin door and swung it open, "Captain, we got problems."

***

Barrick sat on the dock at his island sipping rum as Selena's crew loaded up their ship. He noticed a messenger bird flying in but continued to sit and drink.

A few minutes later Amos came up running. Barrick turned as he noticed the panting man, "I take it, the bird was for me."

Amos nodded, "Kearn's coming this way with Black Heart."

Barrick shrugged, "It's about damn time. He must be loosing a step from age."

As he took another drink Amos finished, "He's got Vargas with him as well."

Barrick crushed the bottle with his hand at the mention of Vargas. He tossed the shattered glass and rose, "Get my ship ready."

He stomped past as Selena made her way to her ship. She looked to Amos, "What's his problem?"

"Vargas is coming."

She sighed, "Get the fleet ready. All hell's gonna break loose the second they spot each other."

Amos nodded, "Black Heart Bartley is coming to."

She nodded, "Tell the men I'll give the man who brings me his head a ship-full of gold. Two if they can get rid of Kearn and Vargas before Barrick gets there."

Amos looked concerned, "Ma'am...."

She grabbed him by the shirt collar and glared, "I've worked to damned hard building this fleet to let it fall apart over some petty grudge. If Barrick ruins this, I'll kill him myself."

(To be continued)

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Cutlery Book 2: The Pirate Hunters part 2

Continued from here part 1

The Baracuda

Hana stood across from Bartley with a crudely carved wooden blade, "Why do I need to learn this."

Bartley put a hand on his hip, "You're throwin' star ain't like normal blades. Its a livin' thing that has to rest from time to time and it ain't a whole lot of use in a close up fight without power."

He then swatted her blade aside and stopped his a mere inch from her neck, "You want to live this life, you're gonna need to get better."

Angus leaned against the mast as he looked to Bartley, "I know I heard of you, somewhere."

Bartley shrugged, "That so?"

Angus searched his memory, "I heard tale of a pirate named Black Heart Bartley."

Bartley chuckled as he knocked Hana's blade away again, "Haven't been called that in years."

Angus grinned, "They say you killed a thousand men."

Bartley shrugged, "Bah, it was barely a hundred. Folks love to exaggerate."

Hana sighed as she dropped her blade, "If you're a pirate, what are you doing on a Navy ship."

"Well, see quite a while ago I ran into this young Navy Lieutenant in the middle of a raid. Big son of a b*tch who fought like a monster. In the middle of everything he'd got his sword knocked out of his hand and I thought he'd be easy pickings. He swatted my blades from my hands and beat me half to death with his bare hands.

A bit after that I was waiting for a judge to tell me I was being executed when that big man said I'd be more use on a Navy ship than at the end of a noose. Told'em if I made trouble he'd kill me himself. Been workin' for him ever since."

He then side stepped and tripped Hana as she tried to charge. He caught her just before her face hit the deck and yanked her back to her feet, "Don't be thinking I can't talk and fight at once."

***

Across the deck Vargas working out a kink in the anchor line when Akida stepped up behind him, "You think you're funny, sell sword?"

Vargas looked back, "I've been known to crack a joke or two."

Akida gritted his teeth and shoved Vargas who rolled his eyes, "You're just intent on being a cliche' ain't you?"

He then took a swing that Vargas easily dodged and followed it up with an attempted strike with his hook blade. Vargas caught his wrist and looked at it, "Triton's Claw? Guess you do have to give up a hand to use it."

Vargas then put a foot to his gut and kicked him away. He noticed the blade beginning to glow, "Controlling fish ain't gonna do you much good here."

Akida looked surprised at the blades activation but they were distracted by the ship suddenly dipping on the port side. Abasi and Kearn were sitting inside the cabin playing cards when they were both suddenly slung to the floor. Kearn sat up angrily, "What the hell is going on?"

On the Deck Vargas and Akida's eyes went wide as massive tentacles began wrapping around the ship. Vargas turned, "You called a damned Kraken?"

Akida looked just as shocked as Vargas as he began to stammer, "I didn't mean to."

"Do you even know how that hook works?"

Menace and Bedlam burst from the cabin to attack the beast followed by Kearn and the rest of the crew. The Admoral roared, "Get that thing the hell off my ship."

Angus was the first to hear the mast crack. He and Bartley grabbed it to keep it from coming down as the Changeling took the form of a support beam. Bedlam tore into one of the creature's tentacles as Menace leapt for its face. The creature fell back into the water taking the dogs with it.

As it moved to grab them Kearn stepped up on the bow and sent Leviathan to capture the Kraken and move it away as he ordered , "Drop a longboat and get my dogs."

As some of the crew got the dogs Kearn noticed a guilty look on Akida's face as Vargas stepped away from him. He marched over and stared down at the frightened sailor, "Did you call that thing?"

Akida looked as if his life flashed before his eyes as Vargas tried to slip away. Kearn caught him by the back of his shirt and dragged him back, "Two days in the brig, both of you."

Vargas seemed stunned, "He started it."

"And I'm ending it."

***

After seeing Vargas and Akida to the brig he came back up to see his shipwright, a middle aged man named Olaf. Olaf had an annoyed look as he stood by the mast of the mainsail, "I can patch it but if we get much more than a stiff breeze, I'd be shocked if it doesn't give."

Kearn sighed, "If we head north east we ought to meet up up with the God's Head in a day or so. We can do a proper repair there. In the meantime, do what you gotta do."

***

Down in the brig Vargas looked over to Akida's cell, "You haven't figured out how to talk to that hook, have you."

Akida turned away in a huff as Vargas chuckled, "First time I accidentally let the Wolf howl, I blew a wall out of an inn. Couldn't hear crap for near a day after. The inn keeper was mad as hell. My father laughed his ass off."

Akida turned, "I only got the thing a month ago."

Vargas gave a nod.

***

Captain Barrick sat on a barrel on a pier sipping rum from a bottle as a massive ship pulled into the harbor. He tossed the bottle to Amos as it docked and walked over. As the gangplank hit the dock a woman stepped down. Her name was called Selena and at her side was a claymore broadsword called the Midgard Serpent.

Barrick gave a bow and spoke in a mocking tone, "What brings the pirate queen to my humble island?"

She gave an annoyed look, "Stow it. Its been a long sail and I need some rum. We'll attend to business after."

He chuckled, "You're in luck. The Navy was generous enough to part with a few dozen barrels."

She got a slight grin, "That was awful nice of them."

***

Two days later.

The Barracuda pulled up to the God's Head. Angus and Hana looked in awe at the ship the size of a city. Bartley chuckled, "Nice boat, huh?"

Down in the brig The Master-At-Arms, named Castor unlocked the cell doors, "Olaf said to tell you, if you try to break his ship again he'll have you keelhauled across the God's Head."

Vargas got up from his cot with a stretch, "Been a while since he threatened that, the kid must have broke something big."

Castor nodded, "The kraken broke the mast for the mainsail. Bartley had to talk the old man out of coming down here and burring his ax in your heads."

As Kearn stepped off the ship a petty officer shouted, "Admiral On deck!"

The men around him gave a salute which Kearn returned. He then looked to the chief petty officer of the God's Head, Argus, "We got a mast that needs replacing."

Argus gave a sigh, "We should be able to handle it."

Kearn gave a curious look, "There a problem sailor?"

Argus looked over to Bartley as he stepped off the ship, "Barrick and that damned sister of yours have amassed a fleet of pirates and they claimed an island sitting in the middle of the biggest trade route between the Western Empire, Europa and the African Empire. They've been raiding any ship that comes through for weeks."

Bartley chuckled, "Selena loves stirring crap up, don't she."

Argus shrugged as he looked back to Kearn, "Supplies are getting a bit tight."

Kearn nodded, "You planing on sending someone after them?"

"We have, last try they sent back one sailor in a dinghy and killed the rest for show."

The Admiral sighed, "Well get my ship fixed up and I'll go take care of that for you."

They began to walk off when Lieutenant Casandra cleared her throat behind them. Kearn turned, "You're supposed to salute."

She gave a slight grin, "Who says you deserve it old man?"

He laughed, "That's my girl. Where's that grand daughter of mine? Got her a present from the Capitol."

Vargas stepped off the ship and Kearn pointed, "By the way, brought your cousin with me."

She gave Vargas a wave as she answered, "Kali is in school, it can wait."

She got a bit of a serious look, " I heard about Marcus and Victor."

Kearn shrugged, "Bah, they went out in a fight, they'd have had it no other way."

"I also heard about Vargas killing Harris."

"He's fine, and if he weren't he ain't the sort who talking it through would help."

Angus and Hana met Vargas by ship. Angus looked him over, "All rested up?"

Vargas stretched his back, "I've slept on stone softer than a Navy brig cot."

Hana gave a wary look, "Perhaps it will teach you manners."

"Doubt it."

(To be continued)

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Cutlery Book 2: The Pirate Hunters part 1

See this first Book 1: part 12

Hana sat on the deck of the ship called The Barracuda trying to meditate. Bartley dropped down across from her with a half empty bottle of rum in hand, "What you doing, girl?"

She opened one eye with a sigh, "I'm trying to hear my blade's voice."

He took a swig from the bottle, "How's that going?"

Her eye narrowed into a glare. A booming voice came from behind, "You're trying to hard, kid."

She turned to see Kearn standing above her, "What do you mean?"

He stepped in front of her as he snatched the bottle from Bartley, "You still got work to do."

He then sat down wiping the top of the bottle before finishing it off, "Hearing the voice, doesn't have to be a chore. You just need to figure out what about you made it choose you."

She looked confused so he continued, "Look at Vargas, see the Wolf and Coyote want to fight and love a good challenge. Vargas is natural born fighter, who's always getting in over his head."

He then mentioned Angus, "That fella is a strange man, who seems up for anything. Because of that he has a strange weapon that can adapt to a variety of situations."

She then looked down to the Starburst, "So why did it choose me?"

He shrugged, "Hell if I know, we all have to learn to talk to them in our own way."

***

Angus stood in the Galley of the ship helping the cook, Luca, wash pots. He noticed a meat cleaver bigger than most battle axes, "What do you cut with that?"

Luca lifted it, "Mostly pirates. This is the Bone Chopper."

"What's it do?"

Luca grinned, "I'm sure you'll see."

***

Vargas was helping Dory swab the deck. He looked over to Hana talking to Kearn, "He letting her off easy, cause she's a girl?"

Bartley walked past, "Nope, she finished up her chores an hour ago. Maybe life on land has just made you lazy."

An old man with one eye named Abasi stood at the helm as a younger man named Akida, with a hook like blade where his left hand should be, spoke to him, "I don't like this."

Abasi turned, "What's that?"

"Hauling a couple sell swords and that girl. We ain't a cruise ship."

Abasi shrugged, "One of those sell swords is the Admiral's nephew on a mission from the High General of the Marshals and the former cabin boy of the ship you're standing on. The other two are earning their keep which is more than I can say for you at the moment."

He glared at Abasi who gave a bored look as he ordered, "Why don't you go find something to do. I have no ear for nagging today."

***

Hana looked to Kearn, "Why did your sword choose you?"

He chuckled, "Its complicated."

She gave him a blank stare. He sighed as he pulled out his blade, "This is the Leviathan, one of the seven great Serpents. She's a stubborn old hag who can hold a grudge forever. Maybe she just picked me because I was mad as hell when I found her."

"What do you mean, seven great Serpents?"

His eyes narrowed, "Don't they teach you kids anything? There are orders of blades, the great serpents are blades said to wield the power of the seas. The Leviathan has the crushing power of a Tsunami."

As he waved it the water around the ship rose. Hana's eyes went wide at this.

***

Many miles away a pirate captain named Barrick stands on the deck of a burning Navy ship. A sailor is brought before him. He smiles a bit as he pulls a cutlass. He aims it toward the man as the blade sprouts eight more, "Do you know what this is?"

The sailor gives a hateful look, "Its the Hydra."

Barrick nodded, "Very good, boy. I want you to watch this and then go tell your comrades what happens when the Navy comes to my island."

He hopped up on the edge of the ship and looked out on several other Navy ships as his crew retreated from them. He raised the hydra and with it nine massive waves rose in the form of knife blades. He then swung down causing the waves to obliterate the other ships.

He then tossed the young sailor in a dinghy with and oar, "I'd hurry along boy, my men aren't as kind as me."

Barrick then jumped over toward his ship as a large man covered in tattoos reached out to catch his hand. He heaved him up and as the captain arrived on the deck he looked to the man who caught him, "Thank you, Amos. Was there any loot to be had?"

Amos nodded, "Aye, sir. One was a supply ship. Had about ten gallons of rum."

Barrick smiled, "As good a reason as any to celebrate."

***

Navy flagship God's Head.

A small old man sat at a desk as an aide delivered a stack of papers. His name was Fleet Admiral Rikke. He glanced at the reports before tossing them in a basket, "Any word on when the rum's coming in. We're running a bit low."

The aide, a tall blonde woman named Lieutenant Casandra sighed, "I'll check on it, sir."

Before she left he asked, "Any word on how Kearn did at the Capitol?"

"The report is on your desk, sir."

He gave the stack of papers a hateful look, "I'm sure he did fine."

Casandra rolled her eyes as she walked away.

***

The Barracuda.

The men all sat down for dinner but before Vargas could start eating Akida sat across from him and dragged his plate away with his hook, "I don't think the sell swords should be eating with men. They can go eat with the dogs."

Vargas grinned a bit, "I'm sure the dogs would make for better conversation, but I'm comfortable right where I am."

He then yanked the plate back. Akida started to stand but Vargas glared up, "If you'd like to keep the hand you have, I suggest you stay down."

Akida continued but Abasi pushed him back down, "He'd kill you before you crossed the table. Now shut up and eat."

Akida grabbed a fork and took some food off his own plate as he stared hatefully at Vargas. Bartley looked to Kearn, "I got three days."

Kearn gave a wary look, "I got tomorrow."

The ships doctor Oliver looked over, "For what?"

Bartley sipped his rum before replying, "Until one of them starts a fight."

Luca sat down, "I'd have won the pool already if Abasi had stayed back."

***

Hana sat on the deck with a half eaten plate of food as she stared at the Starburst laying on the palm of of her hand, "Okay, why did you choose me?"

She paused as if waiting for an answer before sighing, "Oh, come on."

She then took it up in her fingers, "You're going to talk, because I will not be hidden away like a child while others defend me. I will be strong."

She then slumped her shoulders as she tossed it in front of her. It stopped mid air and floated as a smile came across Hana's face, "About damn time."

(To be continued)

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Cutlery Book 1: The Sword collector part 12, Epilogue.

Continued from here part 11

The Capitol.

2 days after the battle people stood as priests finished up a prayer for the dead at a mass funeral service. A member of the royal guard walked down a line of men lighting torches. Kearn took one of the torches to light Marcus' funeral pyre as Gunnar did the same for Ian.

***

After the service Gunnar found Uri as he helped with the reconstruction, "You're weapons helped quite a bit."

Uri shrugged, "While they lasted."

Gunnar nodded, "How would you feel about staying on here?"

He looked curious, "Why?"

"I'm now in charge of the defense of this city, that means the walls are my responsibility."

Uri sat, "So you want me to fix the walls?"

Gunnar shook his head, "I want you to turn the walls into weapons. This is the capitol city of the Western half of the world and we cannot allow this to happen again. I know you have other interests and the Marshal's service can fund that research if you like. All I ask in return is that you help me defend this city."

***

Kearn stood in front of the statue of Magnus with Vargas, "Yea, he would of hated this."

Vargas nodded, "Victor found it pretty funny."

Kearn sighed a bit, "When I was about seven my father was killed by a pirate named Cykes. Magnus was just finishing up at the academy and Marcus was still a boy himself. The red plague had taken our mother about a year before that so Magnus was left to take care of us. We hated Cykes, I spent my whole life training to join the Navy to find the bastard. Magnus watched that hate make me strong, maybe that was a bad thing but one thing you should know. All that hell he put you through, all that anger he gave you was to make you strong. You need to hate him that's fine, but just know he had his reasons."

As Kearn walked away Vargas asked, "What happened to the pirate?"

Kearn didn't look back as he answered, "Menace ate him."

Vargus gave a nod and a chuckle.

***

A day later Kearn's crew was loading their ship with supplies. Vargas, Hana and Angus were packed up and ready to be on their way but came to see them off. Kearn stood next to Vargas, "You got a plan?"

"Gunnar is gonna keep paying me to collect blades. I suppose I'll keep collecting bounties and selling scrap weapons on the side."

Kearn nodded, "You know there are quite a few powered blades in the hands of pirates. And damn near all of them have a bounty of some kind. A man in your profession could do well on the sea."

He looked to Angus who shrugged, "A pirate ain't nothing but a bandit with a boat."

He then turned to Hana, "You still intent on tagging along?"

She nodded, "A debt is still owed."

"Alright then."

He turned back to Sarah who leaned on a nearby crate, "Tell Alana, if she wants I'll marry her when I get back."

Sarah chuckled a bit and gave a nod, "Will do."

Kearn gave a nod, "On the boat, boy. We're wasting daylight."

End.

(Book 2 coming soon.)

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Cutlery Book 1: The Sword collector part 11

Continued from here part 10

The Capitol, near the Coast Wall.

Bartley along with the royal guard and several member's of Kearn's crew were engaged in a rather vicious battle. Bartley had found himself surrounded. He fought with all his might but was nearly overwhelmed when he saw several of his attackers fall before him. He let out a hardy laugh when he saw Vargas, "Look, boys it's the runt."

Vargas smashed the jaw of a bandit beside him before kicking him away as Bartley continued, "You've grown what an inch, two? Still a runt though."

Vargas chuckled, "Not too short to save your flabby ass."

As the two were forced back to back Bartley nudged him, "Dogs too tired to bark?"

Vargas gave a nod, "Give me a bit, I'll get a second wind."

***

The West Wall.

Alana was being treated by a field medic as Oleg and several other soldiers fought to keep the location secure. Sarah noticed her laying on the ground and knelt down, "How you feeling?"

Alana gave a hateful look, "Like some bitch tried to gut me. You?"

Sarah patted her on the head, "You'll be fine."

Oleg then yelled over, "We got more bugs, Chain girl might be coming to finish the job."

Sarah raised her blade releasing an electrical charge that took the swarm of metallic insects down as she stepped past the soldiers. Sarah then looked to Zhin who glared, "I will avenge Paimon."

Sarah shrugged, "You aren't capable."

Zhin gritted her teeth and moved to call another swarm. Sarah quickly appeared before her and knocked her blade to the ground, "A true warrior conserves her energy."

Sarah then backhanded her to the ground. Zhin then yanked her blade to her and launched it at Sarah. It was easily deflected. Zhin was enraged as she began flinging her chain. Sarah stood calmly as she deflected every strike until finally slamming the hilt of her sword into Zhin's forehead knocking her unconscious.

Sarah turned to Oleg, "Bind her."

He scratched his head, "You leaving her alive?"

"She's not worth killing."

***

A top the North Wall.

Dmitry stood amid several dead soldiers as he held a spyglass. He looked and noted Paimon, laying dead on the field. He then turned to see the shattered South wall and finally into the city where he saw Belial facing off with Kearn.

He then patted the Wind Slitter, "It seems we won't be getting paid."

Several soldiers then arrived. He turned, "Seems I no longer have a reason to kill you."

He then jumped from the top of the wall and seemed to disappear.

***

Near the center of the city.

Belial raised his blade to strike at Kearn but the admiral struck his blade. He fell back a step as Kearn struck his blade again nearly knocking it out of his hand, "You think you're a master, boy?"

Belial tried to answer but Kearn punched him in the face sending several teeth flying from his mouth, "A real master of the blade would have killed me already."

Belial fell to a knee as as Kearn stepped back. He pulled himself up and charged with the Reaper's Arm but Kearn side stepped. He then turned the Leviathan and it wrapped around Belial's body with crushing force, breaking several ribs and an arm before Kearn tossed him away.

He tried to pull himself up with the scythe as a crutch but Kearn kicked him in the chest, breaking another rib. Kearn then swatted the Reaper's Arm away as he spoke, "People like you disgust me. You think just being able to pick up a blade makes you strong. You ain't strong, you ain't nothing but one more would be conqueror that doesn't understand the power he tries to wield."

Belial sat struggling to breath as blood filled his lungs. He then tried to crawl toward the Reaper's Arm. Kearn shook his head, "Pathetic."

He then stabbed his sword through Belial's heart, nailing him to the ground. He then turned to Gunnar, "What the hell you still standing here for, we still got an infestation to deal with."

***

Near the Coastal wall, Vargus, Angus and Bartley were fighting all comers. Bartley looked over as the royal guard began pushing the attackers back, "Hey look, the royals aren't all worthless."

Angus was using whatever weapon he could pick up due to the Changeling being spent after overwhelming Bao. He fought until his weapon broke and then found another. At this point he was swatting attackers down with a large stick.

Some made their way near the civilian shelter but quickly turned and ran as Kearn's massive dogs fought back. Vargas was shocked to see dozens of men running away before seeing Menace charging after them.

***

As the sun set the few attackers who weren't dead or captured, fled. Paimon's men and the mercenaries had taken off as soon as it became clear they wouldn't be paid, leaving the bandits to fend for themselves. Soldiers began the task of clearing the dead from the streets as a crew of marshals searched the dropped weapons for powered blades.

Sarah ordered her men to aid the medics in getting the injured to the city's hospital. Kearn met with Vargas by the shelter as the people were being let out. Angus looked over the large man as he spoke to Vargas, "Why is everyone in your family two feet taller than you?"

Kearn chuckled, "His mother was a small woman, he takes after her."

He turned as a soldier approached, "I sent for my brother, where is Marcus?"

The soldier was nervous as he spoke, "His body was found just outside the North Wall, one of the prisoners indicated that he was killed by a mercenary called Dmitry."

Vargas sighed, "The Wind Slitter?"

The soldier nodded. Kearn's jaw tightened a bit, "Did he at least go down fighting?"

"He crushed several men with the Lion's Paws."

As he sat a soldier raised a hand, "What is it?"

He gulped before speaking, "We found the Blade Vault open at the armory, it wasn't broken into so whoever did it had a key."

The Admiral nodded, "So this , Dmitry is the prime suspect? How many did he take?"

"Half, sir, 37 in total."

Vargas shrugged, "Mercenaries always find a way to get paid."

Kearn took a deep breath before ordering his men, "On your feet, boys. We got a mess to clean up."

He looked to a young man, "Oliver go help with the injured, the healers will need all the help they can get. Bartley take the guards and check for stragglers and looters. The rest of you go help with the clean up and get these people home."

He then turned to Vargas and Angus, "What, you deaf? Move your asses."

***

As Vargas walked along he noticed Alana being carried to the hospital. He started walking toward her but Sarah stopped him, "She'll be okay, we need some help out here."

He sighed, "We got about 2 dozen powered blades, the rest is mostly scrap."

She looked over at the cart he'd been filling, "You sure that's all of them?"

"Trust me, I'd know if there were."

She gave a nod, "That's a useful thing to know."

"The Coyote senses their presence. That's why Marcus hired me to collect them for him."

***

Gunnar was called to meet with the council who informed him of Marcus' death. After they were done he nodded, "So why am I here?"

A council member stood, "He named you his second, that mean's you're High General now."

He had a grim look, "Fine, but no damned ceremonies. We got a city to rebuild and we ain't got time for it."

A priest on the council looked ready to say something but Gunnar caught him with a glare, "If the gods have an issue with it, they can take it up with me themselves. Other wise, I don't want to hear it."

(Book 1 to be concluded)

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Cutlery Book 1: The Sword collector part 10

Continued from here part 9

The Capitol, West Wall

Zhin managed to cut herself free of the vines and wiped the spores from her face. She noticed Alana fighting and launched her blade to eliminate her. Alana knocked it away the the Rose and slung a vine whip with the Thorn. She caught Zhin's leg and yanked her toward her. Zhin quickly pulled back her blade and cut the vine.

She began to get to her feet but Alana made it to her first. She kicked her in the gut. Zhin rolled away allowing for only a glancing. Alana was too close to use the chain as a whip so Zhin attempted to slash her with the blade. Alana blocked with one blade and moved to attack with the other.

Zhin wrapped her chain around her hand and punched Alana in the jaw. As she staggered back Zhin unfurled her chain again and called forth a new swarm. Alana saw this and surrounded them in a cage made of thorny rose bub covered vines. The rose buds opened and shot out tendril-like spores that snatched the insects from the air.

Zhin gritted her teeth as she charged at Alana.

While this was going on, a few yards away Paimon faced off with Sarah. He looked her over, "You really think your little flower can defeat a tiger?"

He then shot out a beam of red energy which she dodged. She then ran forward and swung her sword. Paimon moved but his cheek was slashed open. She pulled back, "A slow tiger is worthless against lightning."

The grin he'd held throughout the fight disappeared. He gritted his teeth and punched her in the face. He then delivered a savage kick to her gut causing her to spit blood. As he lifted his sword to finish her she stood up and smashed the hilt of her blade into his jaw. There was a horrible crack as it shattered. She then shoved him back.

As he stood with his mouth hanging open and now unable to speak she took a fighting stance. One hand behind her back with her sword aimed at Paimon, "I haven't got all day."

All he could muster was a hateful glare as he charged. She side stepped as he was about to connect. As he turned to fight she drove her sword into his heart. She then ripped off a piece of his shirt as he fell and used it to wipe her blade as she walked away.

***

North Gate

Belial moved to enter the city but Marcus attempted to punch him. There was a loud clang as Dmitry's blade blocked the Lion's Paw. He attempted to shove the High General back but he couldn't move him. Belial slipped in with the distraction but Marcus knocked Dmitry away.

Dmitry picked himself up and began to dust himself off as Marcus turned to stop Belial. Before he moved Dmitry called to him, "You killed my father, you know."

Marcus turned, "You'll have to be more specific, I've killed many."

Dmitry chuckled, "About the response I expected."

Marcus sighed, "You after vengeance?"

"Nah, he was a jackass who got what was coming to him. But being a sell sword like I am, killing the High General of the Marshals would look fantastic for the resume."

Marcus chuckled, "That your way of saying you'll kill me when my back is turned?"

Dmitry nodded, "Without hesitation."

***

Coast Wall

Kearn and his men marched in with the royal guard following. He halted them as he noticed a few frightened guards standing in front of a large sturdy looking building. He turned to one of the guards with him and pointed, "That the civilian shelter?"

The guard nodded. Kearn gave a loud whistle and two dogs the size of rhinos jumped off his ship frightening the guards who stood by it. They charged into the city and stopped right before Kearn who patted them on the head. He ushered them toward the shelter. He looked to the men on guard, "These are Menace and Bedlam, they're gonna stand watch with you."

He looked to the dogs, "Anyone who ain't a friend tries to get in, you eat'em."

He then looked to the cabin boy, "Dory, stay here and make sure they can tell the difference."

They marched a few streets in before running into a few dozen attackers. A man aimed a sword with a golden snake head hilt toward Kearn. A chubby man in short pants and an ill fitting sleeveless shirt stepped in front. He held two scimitars resting on his shoulders with the blades crossed behind his head as if to form a head rest. He looked to the man, "Hey lads, that's a fancy looking pig sticker."

The man yelled, "Its the Golden Viper, even a scratch from it is deadly."

The man called Bartley grinned, "My blades ain't got no nifty name or fancy powers, guessing I'd have to be a fool to fight ya."

The man with the Golden Viper moved to attack but Bartley split open his chest before anyone had seen him move.

Bartley turned to Kearn, "I can handle this lot boss, go on and find your brother and that runt nephew of yours."

As he still rested one sword on a shoulder he raised his other and lifted two fingers off the hilt of his blade to beckon his enemies forward, "On with it boys, we're wasting daylight."

***

Toward the center of the city Gunnar and Ian stood breathing heavily along with many other soldiers amid a pile of dead bandits, some laying with half melted ice spears run through them. Gunnar looked to Ian, "You got any fight left, Old Man?"

Ian nodded, "You kidding, Boy? I can do this all day."

Gunnar then chuckled as he looked back to his men, "This area's clear, let's move."

***

North Wall

Angus stood with the Changeling in the form of armor with long claws. Bao looked him over, "There are a few minor flaws in that form."

Angus chuckled, "Is that so?"

Bao moved with blinding speed as he began slashing away with his blade. Angus was deflecting him as best he could but had trouble keeping up. Suddenly Bao changed position and aimed for a knee joint where the armor had to be weaker to allow movement. Angus realized this just in time to dodge.

He leapt back a bit realizing the armor was making him too slow for this fight. As Bao moved in for another attack the Changeling became a staff with a long blade at each end. Angus turned to hit him. Bao backed off but not in time to avoid being slashed across the chest.

Bao noticed a flaw in Angus' defense and charged again, slashing his hip. Angus gritted his teeth at the pain and jumped back. He then noticed Bao's eyes had a yellow glow. He figured out that his blade was showing him weak points.

Angus looked down to the Changeling, "All right buddy, we need to keep this fella's attention scattered."

As this was going on Harris and Vargas charged each other. Harris blasted a flame as Vargas' blade howled. The two attacks canceled each other out as the Wolf clashed with the Dragon's Tail. Vargas attempted to gut Harris with the Coyote but he caught his hand. Harris then headbutted Vargas sending him back. He then raised his leg kicking him in the chest.

Vargas hit the ground and rolled away as Harris swung his blade down. As he rose Vargas slammed the hilt of the Wolf into Harris' gut and then swung the Coyote around aiming for his throat. Harris dodged the blade and rammed a shoulder into Vargas' midsection lifting him off the ground and knocking the wind out of him.

Vargas pushed off and landed on his feet but Harris charged again. Vargas side stepped and grabbed his arm. He turned and flung Harris away. Harris noticed he was now past the gate but had little time to examine the situation. Vargas stabbed the Coyote into the ground ripping a crack that Harris barely avoided falling into.

He turned and spun the Dragon's Tail creating a flame in the form of a full dragon that flew toward Vargas. He swung the Wolf causing what sounded like a thunder clap that dissipated the dragon but covered the area in flame.

Harris pulled himself up on a staircase that lead up the wall. Vargas came at him coming a mere inch from slashing his throat as Harris rolled onto the stairs. Vargas then jumped up next to him and slashed. Harris blocked his blade, sending it into the wall. When the Coyote hit the wall it sent a shock wave through it causing it to crack. Vargas kicked Harris driving him further up the stairs as the wall began to tremble.

After a few minutes of swinging and dodging the two found themselves on top of the wall as it began to crumble. The two men were no longer paying attention to what was happening around them. Harris raised his blade covered in black flame and slammed it down to shoot a pillar of fire at Vargas. He dodged but the flame had destroyed a large chunk of the already fragile wall.

As Vargas released a Howl large portions of the wall collapsed leaving them standing on the bare wooden support beams that held together what was left. It reminded Harris of Victor's lessons with the poles. He looked to Vargas, "Looks like only one of us is getting cake."

Vargas gave a nod as they both squared off for an attack. Again the Wolf clashed with the Dragon's Tail but Harris had a pained expression as he looked down on the Coyote in his chest. He then looked up to Vargas with a grin, "You always were a sneaky bastard."

Vargas then pulled the Coyote from his chest and pushed him off the remains of the wall.

***

North Wall

A frustrated Marcus slammed a fist into the ground as Dmitry dodged with ease, "Stand and fight you damned jumpy bastard. Dmitry sighed, "As you wish."

He then took a fighting stance as Marcus charged. The High General winced as he saw one of the Lion's Paws hit the ground along with the hand that held it. Dmitry then turned and sliced his head off with a single stroke. He then gave a slight bow, "Rest easy old man, your fight is done."

***

West Wall

Alana stood across from Zhin in her cage of vines. She moved to strike but Zhin dodged. Smashed a chain wrapped fist into the side of Alana's head and slashed open her side. Alana fell to a knee as she held her side and Zhin was about to deliver the killing blow. The last of the spores was clearing up and out of the corner of her eye she saw Paimon fall as Sarah casually walked away. Her eyes went wide as she slashed open the cage and ran to him.

Alana tried to follow but dropped down. Oleg came up behind her and lifted her onto his shoulder. She looked down, "Don't be getting any ideas, fella."

He chuckled, "The Captain would make a woman of me if I tried."

He then carried her toward a few soldiers, "Get her to a healer."

Zhin stood over Paimon looking at his smashed face and chest wound, "That woman will pay for this."

***

Near the center of the city, Gunnar and Ian along with their men had strewn several streets with the bodies of their enemies and were feeling confident. As Ian turned a corner a blade came from the shadows and went through his back. Belial stepped out kicking the man off his blade. He then turned to Gunnar and his men as he swung the Reaper's Arm. Black energy swept over them but Gunnar was enveloped in white light that protected him as his men turned to dust before him.

He pulled the Angel's Wrath as Belial charged. Before the blades clashed a blade stopped the Reaper's Arm as a large hand caught Gunnar's wrist. Gunnar looked to see Kearn holding him. The Admiral roared, "What the hell do you morons think you're doing?"

He threw Gunnar to the side as he shoved Belial back sending him to the ground. He then stepped on Belial's hand as he reached to retrieve his blade, "You trying to kill us all? Every idiot knows those two blades can't touch."

Belial kicked his foot off him and grabbed the Arm, "They belong to me."

Kearn gave a wary look as he lifted his broad sword called the Leviathan, "Is that so?"

Belial gave a hateful grin, "You think you can beat my blade with that?"

Kearn shrugged, "Ain't about beating the blade, just the one who holds it."

***

The North Wall had just begun to crumble as Angus tried to figure out a way to defeat Bao who seemed to see through everything he did. An idea occurred to him. He then had the Changeling take the form of a ridiculous looking weapon covered in spikes and blades. Bao smirked, "You can't be serious."

As Bao looked on the strange mass of metal Angus held he didn't notice the thread like bit leading to the ground. Angus took a fighting stance as his enemy charged. As Bao came in striking distance hundreds of blades shot out of the ground. The shredded him before he'd had a chance to react.

Angus then dropped to the ground sweating as he talked to the Changeling, "You took a bit more out of me than you thought for that one."

He then sat up, "Yes, I know it worked."

As he pulled himself up Harris hit the ground. He looked up to see Vargas hopping down the broken chunks of wall. As he landed Angus shouted, "We ain't quite done here yet."

Vargas looked on the body of his former friend and sighed, "True, hurry up. If the Marshals are gone there'll be now one to pay the bounties."

(To be continued)

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