The young man sat in the little wooden chair he had picked out at the store. She had bought it for him; a housewarming gift, to celebrate his moving to Halo City, where she lived. She had a great job that paid for lots of stuff. They were going to dinner with some of her new friends from work tonight.
He didn’t have any nice clothes to wear. He hoped they weren’t going to a fancy restaurant – he would hate to embarrass her in front of her work friends. His thoughts were interrupted by some heavy footsteps outside his door. He wasn’t expecting any visitors.
The door splintered under the weight of a sleek black foot. There was a bang, and his world went white. He instinctively drew back, tipping the chair over. He fell on the chair’s arm, which splintered under his weight. A hundred tiny daggers pierced his side at once. He screamed. His vision returned in a blur – he couldn’t tell whether the effects of the flashbang were still upon him or if it was the tears of pain that obscured his sight now. Three men, dressed all in black, filed into the apartment.
It was all he could do the choke out his protest. “W-why are you doing this? It was supposed to be safe here!” the young man screamed as he dragged himself along the floor away from his assailants, leaving a thin trail of blood.
The three men dressed in black made no response as they advanced toward their prey. “You signed a contract, meat,” the figure in the middle said, emotionless. “We own you.”
The young man’s eyes grew wide. He must have known then what this was about, and why he was never going to see the young girl he cared for so much ever again.
Book grinned as he watched the scene play out on a vidscreen in front of him. Of course they would try to rebuild in Halo City: there were so many raw materials for them to choose from. The young man let out a hideous scream as the center assailant’s psychowhip wrapped around his throat. The invader tugged slightly on his end, and the young man went limp. Book closed the video feed.
“They are quite efficient,” the rocky figure mused as he opened his mail client, hitting the “compose message” button.
“The Red Market will indeed make a magnificent ally.”
“Bloodhawk? What are you doing here?” a confused Xi’an Chi Xan asked, holding open the door of the church he called home. A scaly, red figure stared back at him, growling slightly.
“I need your help.”
“Is that so? Come in, and let us talk.”
Xi’an ushered the winged mutant into the church, closing the door softly behind him. Leading his guest through the pews, Xi’an made for the door behind the altar leading to the stairs. Once the duo was safely on the second floor, in Xi’an’s rather bare room, the host took a seat, and motioned for Bloodhawk to do the same.
“I prefer to stand,” Bloodhawk replied flatly.
“Of course. Now, what can I help you with?”
“I … thought all of the X-Men would be here.”
“I am no longer affiliated with the X-Men, I’m afraid.”
“I hate cities,” Bloodhawk snarled, “Don’t tell me I came here for nothing.”
“Don’t worry, the X-Men are in Halo City. If you would like to give them a message, tell me. I will see that they get it, and have them meet you out in the desert, if you wish.”
“That will be fine. Tell them that I … require aid,” Bloodhawk explained, hesitantly. “Yesterday I found a caravan of slaughtered Thorites in the desert. Their trucks were destroyed, and leaking smoke and filth into my home. I need the X-Men’s help in finding the man responsible for desecrating my home. I would have my vengeance.”
“Is there anything else they should know?”
“Yes. There was something… odd. Each victim had the word ‘Fool’ cut into their head.”
“It said ‘fool’? Are you sure?” Xi’an asked, eyes narrowing.
“Of course. Why?”
“It’s … nothing. But I would be more than glad to help you with this myself. Just let me call a friend, Victor Ten Eagles. There’s no reason for the X-Men to get involved.”
“That’s it! We’re getting you out of this office!” Henri Huang shouted as he kicked open Shakti’s office door. Shakti drew back in surprise, knocking over an empty mug sitting on the large desk in front of her. Henri was behind the desk in a second, grabbing Shakti’s arm.
“Wait a second!" she protested. "I still have to-–”
“Have to nothing!” Henri interrupted. “I’ll do it. You need to relax; you’ve hardly left the office since we started this whole Protectorate gig.”
“But you don’t know how to –”
“I’ll figure it out. It’s what I do -– and I do it fast.”
“I can’t just leave at the drop of a-–”
“Yeah, you can leave even faster.”
“Come on. We’re meeting some of the others for dinner.”
“Eddie, Rosa, and Sham. Sham’s friend – Quiver, I think – he’ll be there too. He just moved here. Tim and Luna wanted to come, but they’re on duty right now.”
“What about Krys?”
A decidedly somber look spread across Henri’s face for just a second. He let go of Shakti’s arm and crossed his own. Looking at his feet, he responded quietly. “Her comm’s off.”
“Can I at least finish this one thing?”
“Nope. You need to shower first. Trust me.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t worry about it. Come on, I’ll run you up to your apartment.”
Shakti threw her hands into the air and shook her head.
“I just can’t win with you, can I?”
“A lot of women have that problem.”
“Let’s go then, speedy,” Shakti said, pushing against her desk and sliding her chair backwards. She stood up and stretched.
When Henri saw she was done, he grabbed her by the shoulder with one hand and swept her legs out from under her with the other. Two seconds later, they arrived outside her apartment two floors above the office. Henri put her down, and they went in. Taking a seat on a cushy sofa, he turned on the TV as Shakti made her way to her bedroom.
“I’ll only be a few minutes.”
“Take your time. 'Twencen Tombraiding' is on.”
“You watch that trash?”
Shakti shook her head and walked into the bedroom, closing the door behind her. Henri smiled to no one in particular and turned his attention to the glowing screen in front of him.
“Who’s your friend?” Victor Ten Eagles asked his fellow Lawless alumni. Xi’an Chi Xan smiled at the entry of his tall, Native American friend.
“Victor, meet Bloodhawk. I’m sure I’ve mentioned him at some point.”
“Ah, yes. He was the rather … ardent environmentalist?”
“Watch your tone, cyborg,” Bloodhawk growled.
“Ahem. Yes, that would be him,” Xi’an interjected, “and Bloodhawk has just brought us an interesting piece of information.”
“And what might that be?” said Victor as he walked around the intimidating red figure to seat himself in the other chair in the room.
“Bloodhawk happened across a slaughtered caravan in the desert.”
“That’s not interesting, that’s horrible!” Victor cried out.
“Just wait. All of the victims had the word ‘fool’ carved into their foreheads.”
“You don’t mean…?”
“I do. Bloodhawk has agreed to help us with our problem. I have already informed him as to the Foolkiller’s intentions, and--”
“And I am not impressed. While I have no love for the civilized world, I still find the massacre of an entire town to be an appalling display,” Bloodhawk sneered.
“We had no choice!” Victor screamed, starting towards the winged man in the center of the room. Xi’an reached out and grabbed the tall Native American’s arm.
“Calm yourself, Victor. Bloodhawk will be an immense asset for when the Foolkiller arrives. We only need-”
“What’s a ‘Foolkiller’?” a familiar female voice rang out from the doorframe. The occupants of the room turned in surprise to find a lean, muscular figure clad in an all-black bodysuit standing just outside the door. Krystalin Ogada strode into the room silently, a puzzled expression on her face.
“Krys … what are you doing here?” Victor stammered.
“I just came to say hi. Am I … interrupting something?” she asked, casting a leery eye towards the man with the scaly hide at the center of the room.
“Kind of,” Victor responded. He wanted to go on, but another unexpected visitor stopped by.
“Mister Xi’an?” the nun asked quietly.
“Yes, Sister Nancy?” Xi’an responded politely, smiling slightly at the woman in black robes.
“You have a visitor – another one – downstairs. He said to tell you that it was foolish to think that your residence here was cause for new hope.”
Xi’an’s polite expression dissolved, giving way to a worried glance at Victor. He turned his gaze back to the nun standing in his doorway.
“’Foolish?’ ‘New hope?’ Those were his exact words?
“Y-yes, sir,” the nun responded nervously, “Shall I tell him to leave?”
“No, Sister Nancy. I will be down shortly. Krystalin, it was good to see you, but I’m afraid I have to ask you to leave.”
“I don’t think so,” Krystalin shot back, hands on her hips. “I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I know I can’t leave you three alone to do it.”
“Jeezus, this is boring. When are we off-duty?” Timothy Fitzgerald asked, wiping his hand down his face. He reclined in a large leather office chair, feet on the large oak desk in front of him. Luna sat on the other side of Tim’s desk, in a slightly smaller chair, reflecting Tim’s mood.
“I don’t know… an hour or so, I think.”
Tim sighed heavily, rubbing his temples. He leaned back further, placing his hands behind his head, and looked at Luna.
“Where you wanna eat when we get off? I wanted to go with Henri and everyone else, but, you know. We had to stay at the office. Being on duty sucks.”
“There’s this bar downtown I’ve been hearing about. Marko’s, I think. Sounded pretty wild.”
“Oh yeah? We’ll take a look then.”
Tim relaxed his muscles and looked at the ceiling. Being an X-Man was easier when they didn’t have the Council’s rules and regulations to follow. He was close to dozing off when he heard a buzzing noise. He took his feet off the desk and pulled his chair up close. Tapping a key to his left, his vidscreen blinked to life, and a middle-aged man appeared. “Protectorate Emergency Response Line,” Tim greeted. “How can I help you, sir?”
“There’s a fight breaking out in front of the Sisters of the Howling Commandments' Church! There are like five people going at it, and one of them has a gun! And there’s that terrorist I saw on TV … the red one with wings. He has grenades or something! It’s chaos!”
“Get to cover, sir. We’ll be there right away,” Tim said, springing to his feet as he severed the connection. “Come on, Luna. We gotta get to work.”
“About time,” the albino Amazon said, rising out of her chair. “My leg was cramping up.”
“Resistance is foolish, blasphemers.”
The Foolkiller stood tall, black overcoat flowing around him. In his left hand he held a silver six-shooter, a golden cross embossed on the black handle. His right was clasped across his heart, the silver cross on the back of his glove shining in the sunlight. “I had not expected to find you at a church, Xi’an. However, I am glad to see that you have found the light since New Hope. You understand that it still won’t save you, don’t you?”
“Why have you come here?” Xi’an commanded weakly, balling his fists.
“Why? What a foolish question. You murdered the Chosen, blasphemer. All but one. Now the wrath of God has come for you.”
“But … how are you still alive?”
“The elders selected me when I was still in the embryonic stage: I was to be the first of a new order of Foolkillers. To that end, I was sequestered in a secret chamber, where I was made to be faster, stronger. The computer mentor program taught me the Word, and ingrained in me my place in His plan. I was to usher in the new era of light to the world when I was ready, but then you came along. The elders were slaughtered, as were all of my brothers. There was rain that night; God wept at our loss.”
“Or pissed on your pathetic corpses,” Bloowhawk sneered. The Foolkiller’s face betrayed no emotion. He did not even look in the mutant’s direction. His eyes were trained on the two former members of the Lawless, who buckled visibly under the weight of his gaze.
“I remained hidden all these years in my growth chamber. Upon my release, I discovered that no one was there to greet me. A review of the town datalogs, also hidden in my chamber, uncovered the role of the Lawless in the destruction of New Hope. Even a fool like you can figure out the rest.”
“I suppose so. What now, then?”
“What else?” the man in black responded, bringing his right hand down to his side and raising the magnum in the left. Xi’an tensed his muscles and slid his left foot back, ready to run. He had turned his back on violence, hadn’t he? After the near-disaster with the Theatre of Pain, did he dare raise a fist in anger? Xi’an could find no easy answer, but his opponent could. The Foolkiller smiled, leveling his weapon at the already-retreating mutant. He tightened his grip and began to squeeze his finger, but was interrupted by a roar to his left.
Bloodhawk was bearing down on the fanatic, claws at the ready. Before the Foolkiller had a chance to react, the scaly mutant’s claws had slashed downward.
The man in black dodged, but his firearm was knocked away in the savage attack. Grunting in surprise, the Foolkiller opened his coat, revealing a dozen or more guns gleaming in the sun.
Bloodhawk continued his onslaught, bounding after his prey. The mutant was forced to abort, however, when the Foolkiller drew two nasty-looking weapons from his coat and opened fire. Bloodhawk had only seconds to observe the shotgun and small pistol his opponent produced before each weapon discharged in his direction. Bloodhawk quickly ducked, but his wings were caught in the shotgun blast. He howled in pain.
“It was foolish to get involved, demon. You might have been spared had you fled,” the black-clad fanatic announced, slowly stepping towards his prey, “Now, you must be cleansed-–”
His announcement was interrupted by a shiny metal fist connecting with his face. Victor Ten Eagles followed up his haymaker with a high roundhouse kick.
The Foolkiller was faster than Victor thought; the fanatic ducked under the kick and planted his pistol in Victor’s gut. He pulled the trigger.
Victor cried out in pain and clutched his stomach, staggering backwards before falling down. He stared up the barrel of the Foolkiller’s shotgun. If he was going to go, he wanted to see it coming.
“With the shedding of your blood, you are cleansed in the eyes of God.”
“Hmph. Blood usually stains everything…”
The Foolkiller didn’t get a chance to fire. A crystal dagger sailed into his left forearm. He made no noise as he turned towards his newest foe.
“Get away from Victor,” Krystalin said, eyes colder than her crystal staff.
“Foolish little girl,” the fanatic muttered, aiming the shotgun at her instead. He fired, but only caught the crystal shield she left in her place as she rolled to the side. She darted towards Victor, staying low to the ground. She generated a crystal wall in front of the Foolkiller, and wrapped Victor’s arm around her neck. Lifting him off the ground, she began the retreat towards a nearby alley to await Xi’an’s healing touch.
One mighty kick was all it took to shatter the girl’s shield. Glass walls were no match for the might of the Lord. The Foolkiller was impressed at how quickly she was closing the distance to the alley, but not impressed enough to let her get the rest of the way there.
Before he could even aim, the ground in front of the Foolkiller exploded. Bloodhawk smiled to himself and pulled the pin on another concussion grenade before tossing it. He was delighted to see the black-clad man flying backwards through the air. His ears rewarded him with the sound of the fanatic’s grunt of pain as he hit the ground.
Xi’an watched in horror at the events unfolding around him. He was frozen in place, unable to act. A friendly hand on his shoulder shocked him out of his stupor.
“We’re ready to help, Xi’an,” Sister Nicholas, Sister Superior of the Sisters of the Howling Commandments offered. Dozens of nuns behind her produced their rather ample armament. Xi’an shook his head.
“Get back in the church, sisters. This is something we need to do ourselves.”
“Are you sure?”
The sister narrowed her eyes at the healer before turning around and motioning for the rest of the nuns to re-enter the church. She shot a warning glance at the silent mutant. “The Lord teaches us not to judge others, Xi’an, but I have a feeling that whatever this fight is about, he would not approve.”
Xi’an did not respond as he watched the nun re-enter the gothic-style church towering above him. He returned his attention to the battle waging in front of him. His feet would not let him move.
Bloodhawk darted across the street, talons ready. When he reached his temporarily grounded foe, he raised his hands and prepared to thrust them into the fleshy target laid out before him.
The Foolkiller stuck out with his left fist, punching the scaly mutant’s foot. Bloodhawk faltered, and in those few seconds the Foolkiller managed to roll out of the way. He bolted to his knees, and brought his pistol to bear. Four shots found their mark on Bloodhawk’s shoulders and torso. The winged mutant dropped to the ground.
“A pity you fight for the wrong side, mutant. The Lord could have used a soldier as tenacious as you. Worry not, though. Though I do not, the Lord has mercy on the foolish.”
A bright green beam fired at his feet interrupted the fanatic’s concentration. The Foolkiller turned to see a glowing green skeleton and an albino woman standing tall outside of a decrepit hovertruck.
“What fool dares?” the fanatic screamed at the newcomers.
“Officer Timothy Fitzgerald of the Halo City Protectorate. By the authority of the Halo City Council, I am placing you under arrest. Consider this your only warning.”
“I recognize you. One of Xi’an’s X-Men. Leave now, boy, if you wish to escape the reaper.”
“I take it that means you’ll be resisting arrest?”
The Foolkiller made no response. Instead, he darted for a nearby alley, popping shots off his pistol at the duo.
Tim sighed, releasing a pulse of energy in an arc in front of himself; the bullets melted on contact and the slag fell to the ground.
The Foolkiller ducked behind the corner of the church and replaced the shotgun in his coat. He selected a small automatic machinepistol from his arsenal and kissed the cross on the hilt. He kept the pistol in his other hand. Steeling himself, he dove from his cover and fired a volley at the recently-arrived duo of Luna and Tim.
Luna rolled to the side, while Tim fired a second wave of energy, destroying the bullets in the same way as before.
The Foolkiller frowned: these fools would put up more of a fight than he had expected. He turned around with the intention of fleeing, only to find a set of long red talons obstructing him.
Bloodhawk tore through the Foolkiller’s jacket, sending over half of his guns to the ground.
The deadly fanatic responded in kind, jumping a few feet back and tagging his opponent in the shoulder with a pistol round. The creature roared out in pain, staggering backwards. The Foolkiller pointed both weapons at his adversary, but was surprised when a solid kick from La Lunatica knocked his feet out from under him. He grunted as he hit the ground.
“Stubborn bunch of fools,” he growled, rolling to his left. He pulled an automatic rifle out of his trench coat as he rose up on one knee. He squeezed two rounds off, striking Luna in each shoulder. She yelped a little in surprise, but was otherwise fine. The Foolkiller raised an eyebrow in consternation. Switching targets, he stared down the sights at the injured Bloodhawk.
Again, his attack was pre-empted by a hail of crystal shards from the alley to his left. Shielding his eyes with his hat, the Foolkiller spotted his new assailant, and fired off seven rounds in her direction. A stifled scream let him know he had hit his target. He turned his attention back to the duo from the Protectorate just in time to see a white fist speeding at his face. He ducked, and kicked one foot out, catching hers and sending her to the ground. He switched to secondary fire on the rifle, and blasted the woman at his feet with a plasma grenade as he jumped backwards. It would be a while before that one woke up.
“You’ll pay for that one!” the green skeleton yelled, directing a glowing beam of energy in the Foolkiller’s direction.
The stoic man in black rolled towards the line of buildings to his left. He bounced to his feet and made for the alley where he saw the black woman and the Indian bleeding together on the ground. A green burst at his feet forced him to dive behind a cargo truck in the middle of the street.
“This is Tim,” Skullfire yelled into his comm unit as he powered down so he didn’t disrupt the electrical systems in the gauntlet, “I need backup at my position. Fast.”
“We’ll be there in ten seconds,” came the welcome reply. Tim smiled and powered up in time to hear another volley of fire in his direction. He dispelled the bullets in the same way he had previously, and returned fire at the Foolkiller’s position behind the cargo van. He managed to scorch the hood, but nothing else. Relief washed over him as a rush of air and loud skidding noise beside him signaled the arrival of his backup.
“I’ll take Gothcakes,” Henri said as he stopped at Tim’s side, placing a somewhat rattled Shakti on the ground, “You two get Xi’an to the wounded.”
“But you’re the fast one!” Shakti yelled after the red and blue blur, but Meanstreak didn’t notice.
“You just can’t talk to some people when they’re moving faster than sound,” Tim smiled, “I’ll grab Xi’an. Victor and Krys are over in that alley, Bloodhawk just crawled into the one across the street. Can you tell which one is in the worst shape from here?”
“Give me a sec to detect and scan their nervous systems,” Shakti said, closing her eyes placing her hands on either side of her forehead, “We’re losing Victor fast, Krys isn’t far behind. They’re in a lot of pain, too. Bloodhawk is pissed off, but he’ll be fine. His scales took the brunt of the bullets. I’ll go to Krys and Victor, try to turn off a few nerves until you get here.”
“OK. Where are Sham and Eddie?”
“On their way. They had to wait for a cab big enough for Eddie. But we need to get going, we’re wasting time.”
“Olè!” Henri yelled as he ran past the Foolkiller’s hiding spot, grabbing the tail of his coat.
The grim zealot grunted as his jacket was ripped from his torso, scattering his guns and ammunition all over the ground. He tried to wheel around and face his new opponent, but Meanstreak had already run around the truck and cocked his right arm. A quick jab to the kidneys, followed by another, and ten or eleven more in the span of a second, elicited a cry of pain from the Foolkiller.
Henri followed up with a short kick to the back of his foe’s calves, sending him to his back. “Tim was having trouble with you?” Henri quipped, smirking at the figure on the ground.
The Foolkiller grimaced in response, and reached for his belt buckle. “You’ve signed your own death warrant, fool.”
“Now where have I heard that bef--” Henri was cut off by a blinding flash. He shielded his eyes and stumbled backwards.
The Foolkiller removed his thumb from the trigger of the flashbang in his belt and pushed himself back to his feet. A solid right hook to the stunned speedster’s jaw sent Henri reeling. A follow-up roundhouse kick to the same spot put the mutant on the ground.
“I don’t have time for you,” the Foolkiller muttered as he knelt down to pick up his shotgun. The Lord had blessed him when He saw fit to cause the mutant to drop this weapon near him, despite depriving the fanatic of the others. He returned to his feet in time to see Skullfire leading Xi’an across the street.
“This way, Xi’an. Krys and Victor are in the all-”
Tim whipped his head around to see the Foolkiller emerge from his hiding spot behind the truck, shotgun pointed at the sky. Henri was nowhere to be seen. The fanatic lowered his weapon, leveling it at Tim’s head.
“Xi’an, get to the wounded. Leave this guy to me.”
“Tim, this is my –”
“Just go! They need you more than I do.”
Xi’an grunted and turned to the alley ahead of him, listening to the sound of gunshots and bioelectric energy behind him. Krystalin was in bad shape; one bullet in the shoulder, one in the leg. They were in deep. Shakti was cradling her head on her lap, and her eyes lit up when she saw Xi’an enter the alley. “Xi’an, I’m so glad you’re here! Krys is-–”
“I can see,” Xi’an said, kneeling next to the injured mutant, “Is she awake?”
“No, but I can wake her up.”
“No,” Xi’an responded, picking a small shard of crystal off the ground.
“What are you going to do with that?” Shakti asked in a concerned tone.
“I need to take the bullets out first. It’s no use to just heal the wound while it’s still inside.”
Xi’an drove the shard into Krys’s arm: she stirred in her sleep, but Shakti kept her under. It took him seconds to dig the bullet out, making the wound much worse in the process. Blood poured from the gash in her shoulder as Xi’an lifted his right hand in front of him and removed the wrappings from it. A golden glow fell over the alley. Touching it to Krystalin’s arm, he felt a slight warmth as his powers went to work. Flesh knit itself back together, muscle tissue regrew within seconds. There wasn’t even a scar left.
He felt slightly tired; healing took so much more energy than destruction. He didn’t stop for long, though. He still had to finish Krystalin’s leg and then take care of Victor.
“You’re a resilient fool, Fitzgerald. I’ll give you that,” the Foolkiller called out from across the street.
Tim sneered back at him and stole a look at the melted bullets surrounding his feet, not noticing as his foe flipped a small switch on the side of his shotgun. “Do you ever run out of ammo?”
The black-clad fanatic responded by leveling his shotgun at the glowing skeleton again.
“Yeah, that’s been working out real well for you, big guy. Why don’t you just give up, huh?”
The Foolkiller squeezed the trigger. Tim countered with an arc of bioelectric energy, expecting the bullet to melt before him like all the others. He couldn’t have been more wrong. The shell exploded on contact with the energy, not three feet away from Skullfire’s body. The force of the explosion knocked him off his feet and into the car behind him. He hit his head and slumped to the ground.
“Why give up when you’ve obviously never heard of concussive shells, fool?”
The fanatic shook his head and scanned the area for his real prey; he needed to take care of business and leave quickly. Too much attention had been drawn to him already. A noise to his right caused him to turn in that direction, just in time to see the one called Krystalin hurling a crystalline javelin in his direction. The Foolkiller dove to the ground and rolled away, ending back on his feet. He pulled the trigger and… nothing. Grimacing, he threw his gun to the ground and looked for his coat. “You missed, girl,” the fanatic said, trying to buy himself a few short seconds to search for his holy arsenal.
“That’s a matter of opinion, murderer,” Victor said, back on his feet and feeling fine.
“Interesting choice of words, fool,” the fanatic replied, turning around to see the two former Lawless standing together. The Indian stood ready with the crystalline staff, the mutant with fists ready.
“Enough talk,” Xi’an said, “There’s only one way this can end, Foolkiller. We might as well do it without the dramatics.”
The Foolkiller smiled for the first time and raised his own fists. He charged his foes, fists blazing. He aimed for the mutant first; jab with the left, jab with the right, roundhouse kick to the head.
Xi’an blocked the jabs and ducked under the kick. He shot one foot out, kicking the fanatic’s knee. It snapped loudly and the man in black reeled around.
Victor thrust the javelin forward, hitting the fanatic’s stomach with the blunt end. He drew it back, and swung it in a wide arc, catching the Foolkiller’s jaw.
The Foolkiller rolled with the hit, and stepped up on his knee. Launching himself off his good foot, he lunged at the Indian.
Victor stepped to the side, dropping the javelin and grabbing the fanatic’s left wrist with his cybernetic left hand. He thrust down with his right elbow, hearing the snap in his opponent’s forearm. Victor let go, and wrapped his arms around the Foolkiller’s shoulders, catching him in a steely neck lock.
Xi’an unraveled the coverings over his left hand – the destroyer. He reached out and clutched the neck of the last witness to the New Hope massacre.
The Foolkiller gurgled out his last words as his neck dissolved in the mutant’s grip. “hhggggKill me if you hgkwill, fooghhhkool, but the ghhkLord will never forghhhettt…”
Xi’an clutched the Foolkiller’s throat tighter and tighter, until the entire neck had turned to dust in his grip. The mutant caught the fanatic’s head as it rolled off his fist, and lifted it in his palm as skin and bone and brain broke down and sifted through his fingers. When the last of it had melted away, Xi’an lowered his hand. He closed his eyes to stop the tears. “Neither will I.”
Victor let go of the broken and headless corpse. It slumped to the ground between the two former Lawless.
“Oooh… where…?” Henri Huang asked no one in particular. He lay on his back right where the Foolkiller left him. He stared through blurry eyes at what should have been the sun, though a pair of brighter orbs obscured his view. “Krys?”
“Thank Thor! You’re awake!” Krys screamed, throwing her arms around Henri’s neck. Henri sat up and rubbed the back of his head. He was going to feel that one in the morning.
“Well,” Krystalin responded, breaking her embrace, “We won… I guess.”
“That inspires confidence.”
“Sorry … I mean, we did win, but we all got our butts kicked, and then…”
“Then what? Spit it out already!”
“Just… take a look for yourself,” she finished, pointing to the middle of the street. Henri slowly climbed to his feet and stared at the figures assembled a few yards away. Xi’an and Victor were staring coolly into each other’s eyes, the Foolkiller separating them. Something seemed off, though. The body – it had no head. Scattered around them was some strange - but sadly familiar - dust.
“Xi’an… killed him?”
“Jammit … I thought he was past this…”
“Sorry we never showed up last night,” Eddie said sincerely as he reclined in his specially made reinforced couch. Rosa sat next to him, cradling Joaquim and cooing gently. Sham was sitting in the armchair adjacent to the couch, looking just as apologetic, but a trifle worried.
“No harm done,” Tim said.
“Speak for yourself,” Luna growled, nursing her midsection. “I’m tough, but a grenade exploding in my ribs is cutting it a little too close for me.”
“You’re the one that wouldn’t let Xi’an heal that up,” Tim snapped back.
“I’m not letting that psycho anywhere near me,” she responded.
“Lay off him. He’s been through a lot.”
“He atomized a man’s head!”
“Enough!” a voice from the doorway screamed. The occupants of the room turned to see Shakti standing in the doorway of Eddie’s apartment. Her arms were folded in front of her, and her solemn features caused an eerie silence to permeate the atmosphere.
“What’s the word, Shakti?” Eddie asked. Even the room seemed to hold its breath waiting for her reply.
“Bloodhawk left right after Xi’an healed him following the fight. I haven’t heard from Xi’an since he returned to the church after giving us his statement, so I sent Henri and Krys down to talk to him. No word so far-–”
Shakti was interrupted by a faint beeping from the comm unit in her left gauntlet. “Speak of the devil,” she said, raising the gauntlet near her mouth, “What did he say, Henri.”
“Nothing,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “He’s not here.”
“Yeah. The Sisters say he left last night. Victor too. They didn’t know where he went.”
“Damn,” Shakti said, shaking her head. “All right. Good job, you two. Return to headquarters.”
“You got it.”
Shakti switched her comm off and looked at the other occupants of the room. An awkward silence filled the empty space of the apartment.
“So what now?” Tim asked.
“I’ll have to think about it.”
Greetings, Book. You have (1) New Message(s). Would you like to read?...Y/N
Subject: Re: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours
On behalf of our organization, I am pleased to accept your generous offer. Attached are instructions for your first job for us. Once we have received what we have asked of you, we will begin filling your order, though it will take some time. We look forward to a long and prosperous relationship.
Book touched his fingers together and grinned. First, Xi’an had fled the city after his altercation with the Foolkiller (which Book had, of course, predicted). The odds of his return, Book calculated, were rather low.
Now, the second stage of the plan was underway; his partnership with the Red Market was set. Elation was not a familiar emotion to the stony genius, but he felt sure he would quickly become accustomed to it.