“Come on, don’t be such a pussy—just jump!” shouted the young, lean boy across the moonlit rooftops to his slightly pudgier friend.
The gap wasn’t very big, only a few feet at most, easily crossed by anyone. Pudgy paced back and forth, taking shallow breaths, contemplating his potential suicide. He shook his head, laughing at his own idiocy; he was really going to do this. Stepping backwards, he edged himself to the opposite end of the roof. And then took off.
Racing towards his almost definite demise, he took increasingly large bounds. Right foot. Left foot. His pace quickened, and he experienced a rush of adrenaline unlike any other as his ‘fight or flight’ instincts kicked in. The fear set in, and the heart palpations became almost unbearable.
Eight feet from death.
A million things ran through his mind at once. His mother. His father. All the things he was going to miss out on. I’m going to die a virgin.
The pudgy boy couldn’t bring himself to do it. If only he could have made it another three feet, maybe he would’ve survived. In a desperate attempt to stop his momentum, he stomped his foot down in front of himself, but the damp, gravel covered roof made it impossible. He slid right to the lip of rooftop until the tip of his toes made contact with it, sending him flying over the edge.
“Oh, shit!” screamed the pudgy boy as he dove through the night sky, above the empty streets below. He grasped the air, trying to reach his hands across the gap and grip the opposite ledge. However, even well doing so, he knew that it was a fruitless endeavor—he was going to die. The cool breeze brushed against his cheeks, and he decided to look his death in the eyes.
What a final sight; a beat up, muddy, dark, box filled alley. A solitary homeless man slept under a pile of broken down cardboard. Maybe he would be the one to report the giant puddle of blood and bones the morning after. But then again, even if he did, who would give a shit?
The bald bartender placed the bottle of wine down on the table of the booth. Sweat gleamed on his forehead, beading like the condensation on the outside of the bottle—the fear visible in his visage. “Here, Officer Hal. For the enjoyment of you and your men; a bottle of the finest Pinot Noir, circa 1821.”
The man, known as Officer Hal, reached over a white gloved hand. There was a strangled grinding noise as he did; the same sound metal made against metal. He hefted the bottle, popping open the cork with just his fingers—while it may not have been very impressive, it was a feat of incredible strength.
“1821, what a year that was,” commented Hal. “My firstborn son’s fifth birthday. The year I joined the force,” this was met by the cheers of his fellow officers.
“The year that a legend was born!” said the man on his right, patting Hal on the back.
A man, sitting at the bar with his friends scoffed at the remark. Several dirty looks were thrown his way, but he brushed them all off, ignoring the silent threats of the Imperial Officers. Hal waved off his men, not wanting to start a fight when he was being shown such kindness.
“What a gift, I must thank you for this.” Hal poured himself a glass, swirling it, and sniffing its fruity aroma before taking a quick swig. Swish, swish, swish. He savored the taste then finally swallowed the liquid, warming his throat the whole way down. He let out a sigh of utter satisfaction as he topped off his glass and passed the bottle around the table to his subordinates. “This is delicious. You always give us the greatest drinks, my friend.”
“Only the best for the commander and chief,” said the bartender, taking the towel from his back pocket and wiping the perspiration from his damp head.
The men were now downing glass after glass of the Pinot Noir, drinking themselves silly. They all sang their praise to the bartender; “Amazing!”, “Bring another bottle—four more glasses and my vision will be blurry enough to make my wife bearable!”, “This man is a god!”
“Thank you,” whispered the bartender, now awkwardly trying to avoid the glazed eyes of the men as they became further inebriated.
“Truly, you are a god,” praised Officer Hal. “A god of pleasure, pleasure and wine—Dionysus shall be your name!”
Dionysus! Dionysus! Chanted the officers.
“Drunken bastards, they spend more time in here than on the streets protecting the people who pay their bills.” The man at the bar turned away from them, talking shit about the authority figures with his friends.
“What was that? Want to say that again?” One of the officers now had him by the shoulder, forcing him back around to look him in the eye. The eye—an ironic statement considering that the man at the bar had only one. Where his left eye should have been, was what looked like a miniature telescope grafted to his face; nothing uncommon about that in their city, though. Almost everyone had their own enhancements.
“I was just saying that you fellas aren’t deserving of a drink that fine.” He approached their table where he picked up the Pinot Noir and chugged it straight from the bottle. Slamming it back down
on the table, he licked his lips clean and shook his head in disbelief.
The man to the right of Officer Hal began to raise up out of his seat, but Hal put his arm across to stop him. “What makes you think that you can come over here and drink my alcohol?”
The now aggressive bar patron slammed down on the table with his left arm. But his arm wasn’t a normal one; rolling up his sleeve revealed an arm made of rusty metal and worn down gears that ended in a foot long blade that was now dug into the table. He tilted his head inquisitively at the commanding officer and asked, “What makes you think that you can come into our homes and take our hard earned money with your so called ‘taxes’?”
“Now, now,” said Hal, running a gloved hand through his greying hair. “That sounded a lot like you questioning the word of our king . . .”
“Our king, is a piece of shit.”
“Please men, let’s keep it civil—there’s no need for a fight,” begged the bartender, now sweating more than ever.
“Its fine, Dionysus,” Hal referenced the nickname that they had bestowed upon him. “I’ll make it quick, and try not to damage your bar.” He began pulling the white gloves off, finger by finger, from his cold metallic hands. Unlike his counterpart’s metal enhancement, his were clean with few visible gears, but the grinding noise was nearly unbearable. He reached for the now nearly empty bottle of wine and ran his fingertips around the circumference. Hal pulled his hand away and watched as the severed bottled slid into two parts, the bottom one still filled with wine.
All members of both parties, the officers and the bar patrons, gathered around the table as the tension between them built to an almost tangible level.
The pudgy boy was still alive, and he could hardly believe it. He was sure that he was going to be just another statistic, but somehow he managed to survive. Dangling from the ledge of the rooftop, he locked eyes with his best friend struggling to hold him up.
“I know I told you to jump, but I didn’t mean off the roof,” he let out a strained laugh. “Now are you going to help me get you up here or do you plan on taking me down with you?”
Pudgy apologized, and gripped his friend’s arm to pull himself over the ledge to safety. The two collapsed and heaved tired breaths, reveling in what had just happened. After their moment of rest passed, they climbed to their feet and dusted themselves off. Pudgy had on a pair of nice, tailored pants and a fine silk shirt, both of which did not fit him at all, hugging his curves in all the wrong places. The lean one on the other hand had the opposite problem; he was wearing little more than rags, torn and grimy, that hung off of him like a large burlap sack. Quite the odd pair the two of them made.
“Have you thought about working out? I feel like the extra weight is holding you back,” said the lean one as he stretched out his legs, warming his body up for some more death-defying stunts.
Pudgy gave his friend a hurt look, “I’m not fat—I’m fluffy.”
“And it’s not the weight that’s stopping me, it’s the fear. I’m not like you, I can’t just do it; I don’t want to die.”
The lean one stopped to look at his friend. Sensing the real terror, he walked over to comfort him. With his hand on his shoulder, he said “You’re not going to die. I’m not going to let you; I’ve always been there to save you, haven’t I?”
“Every time . . .” said the pudgy boy, now slightly more cheerful.
“Like clockwork,” he suddenly slapped his friend across the face. “Now grow some balls and let’s get going. We’ve still got a lot of ground to cover before I have to be home, I’d like to have some fun.” While pudgy was still rubbing his now tender red cheek, the lean one grinned wildly and took off running across the rooftops. He leapt over chimneys, and slid under piping—the city was his playground and he was going to enjoy every inch of it.
“I hate you so much!” Pudgy’s scream echoed through the night as he stumbled less than gracefully after his friend.
Officer Hal took the bottom half of the wine bottle and poured the remainder of it into a clean glass, offering it to the telescope man. “Here, take it; one last drink before I put you away.”
“No, thank you,” said the man with mock manners.
Hal put down the glass and looked the man deep in his eye. He always liked looking a criminal in the eyes before he arrested them, only then could you tell if they were a lost cause – if they truly felt regret. A man could tell a lie and no one would be the wiser. But the eyes, they never lied. “Don’t you want to savor a sip? They don’t serve alcohol in jail, son.”
“Then I guess it’s a good thing that I’m not going anywhere,” replied the man, his voice filled with confidence.
Officer Hal watched his eyes the entire time, and saw nothing. Absolutely nothing—they were completely void of emotion, no answers could be found. “You just openly mocked the king in front of a member of the imperial guard. What makes you think that we’d let you get away with that?”
“It’s not that you’ll let me, there’s just nothing you can do to stop me, officer.” The man turned away from Hal and motioned for his men to move away from the table as he dragged his blade across the top of it. A loud screech broke the silence as his arm cut deep into the finished wood. “Would you care to prove me wrong?”
Fed up with his antics, Officer Hal gripped his cold metal limb, not even fazed by the sharp edge due to his own prosthetic hand. “I wouldn’t want to embarrass you in front of your friends. Please, for your sake, take the wine and come quietly.”
The ceiling of the bar shook hard enough to make a few bits of rubble fall from above and into the offered glass of wine. Laughing, the man took the glass with his human hand and examined it, bits of fragile rock floating in it like lonely islands. “Oh, such a shame. I can’t drink this now, can I?”
“Then I guess we’ll have to skip the drinks and go right back to my place.” Hal reached to his belt where he kept his handcuffs. Unclipping them from their home, he put them down on the table so they could all see.
“Ah, ah, ah,” said the man wiggling his long, twig like index finger. “Not so fast.”
“And why’s that?” asked Hal, playing along with his adversary.
“I’m not your mother—I need to be wined and dined before you can chain me up and have your way.”
Furious, Hal jumped out of his seat and swung across the table, desperately trying to rip the man’s face clean off—but before he could make a scratch, a second bang was followed by a landslide of rock and wood. The roof of the bar came crashing down on top of them.
The lean boy laughed uncontrollably as he slid down the clothesline connecting the two low rise apartment buildings. When he was safely over solid ground, he let go of the shirt that he used as part of a make shift zip line, and landed firmly on his feet. “That was awesome! Come on!”
Across the rooftops, Pudgy saw his friend waving him on, telling him that it was safe to try. Having already faced death once tonight, he figured that this would be no worse. Grabbing the first garment he could get his hands on—a pair of incredibly oversized granny-panties—he slung it over the rope and took a running start.
The rush of flying filled his head and flushed out all sense of fear. At least until he got stuck when the rope drooped from the extra weight; he didn’t have enough momentum to go back up instead of down. Embarrassingly, Pudgy pulled himself the rest of the way, dripping with sweat when he finally reached the other side.
“Still think you’re fluffy?” chided the lean friend.
“Shut up, it’s just baby fat.”
“Bullshit. That isn’t baby fat, that’s fat-fat.” He walked over to the opposite ledge of the roof that they had landed on, and looked down over it. Below them, only about a story lower, was another roof, a giant white sign raised above it on metal brackets. Reading it backwards, he made out ‘Sal’s Dive’.
“Now what do we do?” asked the pudgy friend, still wiping the sweat off with his silk sleeves.
The other one stepped up onto the ledge and spread his arms wide, the rags blowing in the wind. Taking a deep breath in and closing his eyes to concentrate, he said “Take a leap of faith.” He fell forwards, falling faster and faster, until he hit the roof and rolled out of it. Something was odd about the landing though, he felt something crack under his feet and give way. The rooftop wasn’t stable, it wouldn’t be able to handle another impact like that. He looked back up at his friend, about to warn him not to jump, but it was too late—he had already made the dive. “Oh, shit.”
Pudgy plummeted in a downwards spiral, headfirst into the roof, smashing through it like a fragile pane of glass.
The telescope man’s eye’s fluttered open as one of his friends pulled a wooden girder off of him. Aside from a numbness he felt in his human arm, he was relatively unharmed, but he couldn’t say the same for the officers or the boys in front of him. Officer Hal was out cold, his head slammed down on the table, a deep cut on his lower lip while his mean were buried under the wreckage.
The one boy had it the worst though. Obviously an aristocrat, dressed in expensive duds and well fed, he would not being getting up anytime soon or rather, at all. Having fallen head first from above, he was now laying on the floor with his neck bent at an unnatural angle, the bone jutting out of it.
“Are you okay, Cain?” asked the friend who had helped him out.
Cain, the telescope man, let out an irritated sigh. “I’m alive, but now that the shock is wearing off, it feels like I may have fractured something in my arm.” He tried moving it, but a sharp pain struck and he left it limp instead. “Definitely,” he winced.
With help, he pulled himself from the debris and steadied his wavering body against a wall. There was another boy, quite fit for such a young age, with short blonde hair and ratty clothes that might have looked just as bad before his fall. Cain staggered over to him and painfully used his injured arm to check his pulse.
He was still alive.
“Why do the poor ones always survive?” questioned Cain to no one in particular. “If it had been your friend, we could’ve at least held him for ransom. You though,” he poked the boy gently in his rib with the tip of his bladed arm, “you’re worth nothing. Chances are you don’t even have any family . . .” He looked around him and saw that no one was watching, all too busy with gathering themselves back together. “Lucky you; you get to be subject zero, and if all goes according to plan—well let’s just say it’s a good thing that you won’t be missed.”
Cain pressed a button on his mechanical arm and it released a latch, dripping a bright green liquid down the blade that caught in nearly invisible grooves along the sharp edge. The boy’s right arm was outstretched and a prime target to administer the poison. Cain slowly pierced it and sliced down it, letting the liquid mix with the boy’s blood.
Right then, the door to the bar swung open and in walked a monster of a man.
Towering over all the other patrons at the bar, the large, ripped man sauntered to the counter where the bartender was hiding. His dark clothes and hair contrasted his pale white skin, and his bare arms revealed countless scars that covered them all the way down to his wrists. Beyond that, were a pair of enormous metal hands, thick and heavy, that matched the pair of goggles that adorned his head. The bar had fallen silent as the man pulled out a stool and took a seat; with the bartender still hidden, the man knocked on the wooden countertop to call for service.
“Yes, sir?” mumbled the bartender, still trembling.
The man yanked off one of his hands, showing that he had a real one underneath. He placed the gauntlet down and used that free hand to reach into a pocket to pull out some copper coins. “Water,” he said, slapping the money down to pay. His voice was as gravely as his personality.
The bartender, pulled a cup off the shelf and filled it with water, exchanging it with the man for his coins. Before he could bring the cup to his mouth, a hand gripped the man’s bare wrist.
“Excuse me, but we’re in the middle of something here,” growled Cain.
“So am I,” the man brushed off Cain’s hand with his gauntlet just a little too hard.
The blow stung, injuring his already fractured arm further. Angry, Cain used his good arm, the bladed one to smash the glass, spilling the man’s drink all over the floor. The man stared at his empty hand for a moment, then proceeded to pull out more copper coins and order another glass.
Conflicted and torn between the two, very imposing and intimidating men, the bartender looked back and forth, from each of them trying to decide what to do. When the large man tossed even more money on the counter, he quickly gave him a new drink. The hostility was obvious as the man took a short gulp, then proceeded to—oddly enough—pour the rest into a latch on the gauntlet that he was still wearing.
“You need to leave now,” growled Cain.
The man looked at the fuming Cain, then laughed at his anger. His eyes then drifted over to the pile of debris where Officer Hal and his men laid groaning. He perked up when he was that each of their navy blue uniforms still had their shining badges on them. No, the man did not have a magpie complex, but he did want those badges.
He needed them.
“Sorry, I need to do something first,” said the man, getting up out of his seat.
“No you don’t,” replied Cain flatly, him and his men gathering around the patron.
The man turned around in a circle, watching as each of them readied themselves for a fight. “Are we really doing this?”
“You tell me.”
He sighed and shook his head in disbelief—such a waste of time. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit up a smoke with a match provided at the bar. Placing the bud in his mouth, he pulled on his second metal gauntlet and one last look at the badges that he so desperately desired. It’s not that he hated fighting, in fact he loved it; but he had only intended to get in and get out quickly. There was a reason why he tended not to stay above ground long.
A victim of his own greed, the man attacked first. With all of his opponents in close proximity, he clasped his metal hands together and swung them around three hundred and sixty degrees, knocking back every single one of them.
The first two up pulled out weapons and charged at him, daggers in hand. One went for a quick thrust towards his jugular—a smart move—but the man grabbed the blade in hand, shattering it into shards, one of which cut his enemies face, just below the eye. While his enemy still had his hands over his face, protecting it from further harm, the man yanked him downwards by the collar. Slam. His face cracked one of the floor boards.
The second man was still running full force at him, so he simply ducked. Lowering his shoulder to gain leverage, he launched him over top and onto his back. He let out a wheeze, winded from the impact, before the man kicked him off to the side.
His fighting style was brutal and savage; there was no beauty in it, just utter destruction. There were still three more men to take care of, and he wanted to finish it as fast as possible. He was marching towards another man still staggering to his feet when he felt a sharp stinging sensation in his right shoulder. Reaching back, he yanked out a knife that had been buried in his back.
He turned to find the man who had thrown the blade, leaping at him with another. Raising his arm above his head, he blocked the attack and struck back with his other fist, steam streaming out of valves in the sides of the gauntlet. The victim flew backwards, and his rear-end smashed through a wall, creating a crater that he stuck in.
“Go get him!” screamed Cain to his last lackey. The last man standing was a scrawny young boy, shaking with fear. He held a small butter knife in his hand, looking about as intimidating as a new born giraffe. He gave his attempt at a savage war cry right as the big, bruiting man slapped him aside like a ragdoll. “God, damn it. Useless, all of you,” complained Cain.
In a flash, he struck downwards towards the man who had nearly killed all of his friends. The man raised both hands to shield himself but faltered under the force, dropping to his knees. Too much for him to bare on his own, the man pressed his thumb into the palm of his hand and steam spewed out of the valves once again. He gained an enormous amount of strength and threw Cain off of him. He jumped to his feet and pinned Cain’s bladed arm to the wall, the fingers of his metal gauntlet digging into the wall and holding it there.
The man pulled his hand out of the glove and grabbed Cain’s neck while he struggled to free himself. Cain punched and kicked the beast, trying to break free, but to no avail. “You son of a bitch. You have no idea who you’re dealing with.”
The man laughed again, a genuine smile touching is lips. “And neither do you. I seem to have forgotten my manners though, I’m Arthur—Arthur Drake.”
“Arthur without Excalibur is just a sad little boy without a friend in the world—” began Cain before Arthur struck out with his still gloved fist at his face. But he stopped an inch away from his nose. Cain, who had squeezed his eyes shut to brace for the hit, opened them again and gave a satisfied sigh. “Can’t even finish me off—” The high pitched whistle of the steam from the gauntlet cut him off. The metal closed the last inch and more and it blew Cain through the wall and into the streets where he slumped against another building.
“You talk too much.”
Arthur pulled on his other gauntlet again, and walked over to the pile of officers to reap his rewards. He plucked the shining silver badges off their uniforms and prepared to take his leave when he saw the boy in pain laying there. Arthur crouched to look at the boy’s arm, now turning a sickly green. “Shit,” said Arthur, now torn between leaving without a trace and saving the boy. He grabbed him and threw him over his shoulder fireman style, carrying him off into the night. “I wish I wasn’t such a softy.”
“That’s Cain Abel—leader of the Peoples Liberation Coalition,” said one officer to another. “We’ve been trying to catch him for quite some time.”
“What the hell happened to him?” the other asked back. Cain laid broken and unconscious in the dark alleyway next to the local bar ‘Sal’s Dive’. “Is he even alive?”
“Yeah, and we’re taking him into custody.”
“And the officers?”
“What about them?”
“They’re all missing their badges,” he tipped his head towards Officer Hal who was giving a full report to another of the imperial guard.
The other officer shrugged and both left to go collect bits of rubble for evidence.
“He came in for some water, and then just attacked everyone! I’m surprised I managed to survive,” said the bartender. He continued, begging for compensation to cover the damages to his business, but the officers were only half listening to him.
“Can you give us a detailed description of the culprit?” asked the officer.
“Of course . . .”
“So what happens now, sir?” asked one of Officer Hal’s subordinates.
“Well, Cain is going away, so there’s nothing left to do,” answered another.
“True,” said Hal, still dabbing his swollen lip with a cold pack of ice. “But Sal reported that there were two boys . . .”
“You mean the ones that came crashing through the ceiling?”
“Yeah. It turns out that another party showed up after we were knocked out and took care of Cain and his men. The problem here is that now one of the boys is missing, and so are our saviors. Makes me think that we might have a kidnapping on our hands.”
“Think they’re the ones who took our badges too?”
“Could be,” answered Hal.
“I guess we have more work to do huh,” laughed one of the men.
“One case closes, another one opens,” said another.
“Always a job to do,” agreed Hal. “Like clockwork.”
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