Prelude Part 1

It’s almost frightening how little we know about what’s around us. Most people think life contains pushing pencils, mowing lawns, fixing cars, and everything else mundane. And speaking from personal experience, they’re better off not knowing because beyond society’s cracks lies a realm of shadows, an entire underworld of dark dealings.

A place that will look back if you stare too long. Unfortunately, my current target is to learn that all too soon. The cityscape danced with piercing lights across a blackened sky, making me tenser as I prepped my gear amongst the stories’ tall rooftops. So tight that the turbulent early winter air weighed on my equipment. Still, I pressed on while waiting for my “partner” to do his part.

“Security’s light. I’m counting only twenty guards in total but two near his office. Viable entry and exit points are also nearby as well. This should be like taking candy from a gun-smuggling baby. Heck, I bet even I could come along,” he said casually.

For a second, I almost considered it. But, looking at my partner’s tall heavyweight physique, steady gray eyes, and light brown crew cut, he looked built for battle even through binoculars.

“Thanks, James, but I need to sneak in, not break in,” I said while shifting to commlink, “Wiz, what’s the Gearhead’s status on surveillance and communications?”

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“All communications and cameras are one hundred percent hacked. So they won’t see you coming. So go knock some heads, Paladin. We’re all rooting for you!” she said excitedly amidst her half-hearted subordinates.

Alien feelings washed over me immediately. For several months, support and camaraderie were still new to me. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it, and maybe that’s for the better.

“Will do. Thank you, Wiz,” I said as I put on my mask.

I pulled a small grapple gun from my belt, firing it toward the office building until the line went taut. From there, I defied gravity, sailing across the night sky with expert grace until I landed safely on the rooftop. Even without James’ info and Wiz’interference, I would still be fine as I sprinted out of sight of several bodyguards.

The two guards at my door were easy pickings as I knocked them out faster than they could react. They left me alone with my target as I painted the perfect picture. I entered your typical CEO’s office. It was a medium-sized room with closed blinds and two large shelves with numerous trophies and thick books.

And at the center of this quaint room was a large wooden desk decorated with paperweights and a picture of the target’s son—a caucasian preteen with black hair and a lanky frame. I frankly couldn’t see a resemblance as next to the picture was a short middle-aged caucasian man with a potbelly and subtle gray cowlick. His navy blue business suit matched his focused eyes while he tapped at his computer feverishly. From there, I made an intentional door creek.

“I swear if you guys disturbed me over another pointless argument, I will flay your hide! I don’t have time for your b******* tonight,” he said impatiently.

“Oh, I’m sure you can make it,” I replied, appearing to him like a vengeful wraith.

Before he turned around, I grabbed the little businessman by the collar and throttled him toward the bookshelf. Various novels half a century old dropped to the floor as I covered his mouth. A flash of fear and surprise overcame his face. When I unmuzzled him, he desperately tried to regain composure through faux flexing.

“I don’t know who you are, but you have plenty of nerve. Do you have any idea who the f*** I am?”

“Course I do. Ben Stan, founder of Stan Arms. But what I’m more concerned about is what you’re doing,” I said in creeping aggression.

“All I’ve done is provide people a service bitch,” he said with even more aggression.

From there, I matched his bravado with bloodlust, pushing him harder and putting a sai millimeters away from his eye.

“Yeah, like giving mercenaries the “service” of illegal arms around the world for a year. Which is why you’re going to give me the locations of both one by one and turn yourself in. Before this “bitch” takes away body parts, one by one.”

His mask of pride vanished instantly, leaving only legitimate fear so powerful it left him stammering. Which probably saved my life. When you do this, as long as I have, you notice how fear affects people. Little unseen expressions, eye flickers, and subtle sounds were enough to tell a story. But, unfortunately, Ben and I weren’t alone in this room.

Instinctively I leaped away from Ben, which may have saved our lives as a slimy gold liquid splashed where we once stood. A substance that soon started to boil like lava as it melted through part of the bookshelves, turning paper into smoking ash. I looked toward my next opponent, not daring to let shock affect me.

It was foolish of me to see a year’s worth of smuggling wouldn’t leave Ben as a person of interest to more than just “us.” And one look was all I needed to know that this man came from “our” world. He was in a full white bodysuit that looked like silk. Breaking up the uniformity, he was decorated in gold cleats, mask, and eye lenses.

The real eyecatcher was his decorated golden gauntlets with that same golden liquid flowing like veins across his costume. Take in the symbol of a jurogumo (spider woman) on his chest; he looked fearsome. Luckily for me, Ben broke the tension.

“You reckless blockhead! I thought you were supposed to be protecting me?! How’d she get in?!”

With a cold expression, he stated.

“You’re skating on very thin ice as it is, Stan, so I suggest you hold your tongue before I burn it off. Besides haven’t you heard of a dramatic entra-,” he said eccentrically.

Before he could finish, I seized the moment, switching my sai for a pistol. I fired from my left hand in less than a second, dropping the strange man instantly. The sheer shock of the event was enough to ultimately send Ben’s body quivering in a paralyzed fetal position.

“Crap and a half,” I regretfully scoff under my breath.

With that, I just shortened my window even further. I wanted Ben shaken, not terrified. Nevertheless, I tried to spin things my way, aiming the smoking pistol toward Ben. However, I couldn’t even get the words of my next threat out. A white, globby adhesive launched itself to what used to be my left hand.

Only allowed on

Momentary confusion surprised me as several thick strands of the same adhesive attached themselves to my legs before tripping me up completely. Instantly the battle’s tide changed as, in a shocking twist, the same man I had just shot rose from the floor like a walking corpse. He was none the worse for wear, the only stark difference from earlier being a small meshy gel spilling out where I shot him. Still, he carried on as if nothing had happened.

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you it was rude to interrupt people? But, then again, cruel tactics make you worthy of your infamy, Paladin. It will be so much sweeter when I kill you,” he said in fanciful bloodlust.

For a brief second, I tried finding even an ounce of fear from such a threat. However, all I could see was surging rage. One that heated old scars from opponents that would’ve eaten this man alive. But since they can’t be here, I guess that leaves me to teach this poor fool a lesson. So with my memories urging me forward, I summoned creeping savagery for my following proclamation.

“You’re not the first person to say that,” I said gravely.

“No, but I, Arachne, hope to be the last!” he said excitedly as he raised his gauntlets.

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