The man screamed. This masked madman had pulled him into an alley and asked him about his gang, when he refused to talk the man bound him in a rope made of something that looked like fire, and pulled him into a nearby house. At first there were beatings, spattered with questions asking him what he knew, where the base was, what he knew about the leader of the gang. That was bearable. Even when they broke his rib with a punch, it was still bearable.
Then the masked demon began on his hands. He was a thief, and his hands were his life, they were what put bread on the table, paid for his home, and supported his family. The demon took his left hand, stretching it out, and used that strange fire rope to lock his fingers in place. The man went wild. He did not know what this short, masked monster intended to do, but it scared him. He swore, begged, cursed and cried, but it was to no avail.
“Tell me what I need to know then,” the demon had said. “Tell me how to get into the headquarters of the Arrows and you keep your fingers”.
Tears fell down the face of the man. Why me? He thought. His captor was incredibly brutal, not once during his time imprisoned had the pain let up. Even if it was just a little, there was pain. The ropes were too tight, the chair he was tied to was jagged and full of splinters, even the air he was breathing was full of smog and made his throat sore. The place was hell.
“I’ll tell you,” he said. “Please, just let me go afterwards. I have a family”.
The masked man tilted his head to the side and said, “Do you now?” There was something profoundly unsettling about the way he said the words that made the captured man want to swallow his words. “Alright. If you tell me where the entrance is, I will end this. If you lie, however, I will cut off the fingers of your left hand up to the first knuckle. Then you will answer me again. If you lie to me a second time, I will cut off up to the second knuckle. We will keep going until you are out of fingers on your left hand, and then move on to your right one. If you haven’t died after that, then we can just start on your arms”.
The man shrank back in fright, as much as the rope would let him. He was in a real bind. If he told his torturer and something bad happened to the Arrows, then he was a dead man walking, but if he did not tell, then he had no doubt in his mind that the demon would do as he said. He wondered if, by sending the demon to a trapped entrance, he would be able to warn the members of the gang that someone was coming. In that case, even if he lost the tips of his fingers, he would be safe.
“I bet you are weighing up the choice of losing your fingers to get me into a trap aren’t you?” The masked man said, interrupting his train of thought. “That would work, if it was anyone but me. Look, there’s no point in being brave. We both know that you’re going to break when I get all the way through your left hand, one way or the other. Just tell me, and I’ll end this”.
“You’ll let me go if I tell you?” He replied.
“I’ll end this, yes”.
He broke. In tears, he blurted out every entrance to the Arrow’s nest that he knew. It was terrifying, but he knew that once he was free, he could run and hide. He had two bolt-holes that no one knew about, so he was confident in the fact that he could go so deep underground that no one would find him for months.
The demon nodded and then said “I’m glad you didn’t lie to me. I’ll end this now”. There was a tightening sensation around his neck and then a hot, sharp pain as he fell over. He saw a headless body tied to a chair and wondered Who is that? as his sight and mind faded into darkness.
Laurence made quick work of the body, setting fire to it with his inner flame and letting it burn until all that was left was ash. “Stupid man,” he said to no one in particular, “you were dead the moment you joined the Arrows”. He cleared away what was left, and moved out of the building. He had ten possible entry points that he knew would get him inside, and five that he could use purely for exit purposes.
The torture scenario would have been a lot harder for Laurence, had he not modified the mask Orwell had given him. Before it was the identifier of the most notorious and dangerous member of Spring Street, but now it had become a Saint tier artefact. Laurence had given it two special abilities, as well as a very simple defensive array. The first power was the reason why the captive man never wondered about the age of his captor, because it was a complete voice modulator, to the point where Laurence could even sound like a woman if he wished. The second ability was a lie detector, it would allow you to simply know if the person actually believed what they were saying. Simply knowing if something was the absolute truth was an impossibility for a Saint tier artefact, but knowing if someone believed something was a lot simpler.
The last part of the mask, the defensive array, was a very simple one. It used sound waves to destabilise the inner ears of everyone in its vicinity, rendering them helpless through complete lack of balance. Laurence had found that transforming the mask into a Saint tier tool was far easier than he was expecting. The mask seemed to both be a lot older than he had originally realised and made of an incredibly solid polymer, one that Laurence had never seen before, but he assumed it was a material called Archaic Ice Plastic. Made from refining Archaic Ice Oil, the plastic was an incredibly malleable tool for containing materials. It had an inbuilt resistance to corrosion and was a relatively valuable substance in Earth tier, so Laurence could not help but wonder why it was turned into a mask.
He walked down to the southern park in Rodah Vale, where his victim had informed him about an entrance into the Arrow’s base. There was a lot of foot traffic in the area, so Laurence had to be careful, even as late in the night as it was. Laurence was arrogant, to the point of naivety sometimes, but his loss against Alistair had made him realise something. He could be beaten, he could die. He looked back on the mass of now faceless people in his memory, all the lives he had taken on his journey so far. He needed to never be in the same situation as them. He needed to kill, but he also needed to be cautious.
He stood around five hundred metres away from the entrance and waited. With his hood up and mask off, he looked like any other young thief on the street; a common sight in the strip. He was looking for a group going the same direction as him, one that was big enough for him to seamlessly slip in and out of. It was surprisingly hard. Some groups were too small, some were full of girls, some were of much older people. He just needed a group of around five people who were of similar height to him to walk past.
Finally he got his chance, a team of seven boys from a gang he failed to recognise were walking in the same direction as him. He smirked and walked behind, quickly blending in and looking like one of their gang who was just lagging a little behind. He was ever so slightly tense the entire time. The only way this attack would work was if he caught the gang by surprise. He needed to be inside, because if the Arrow’s base was like that of Spring Street, they would have the ability to shut any single part of the base down from a central hub, through traps and cave-ins. Every gang used them in the case of invasion by the Bobbies. It was not something that happened often, but it did mean the gang had managed to steal from someone they should not have.
As they approached the door, Laurence put on the mask and moved over to the entrance. His victim had told him of ten entrances and four exits to the base, so Laurence had picked the last exit that he had been informed about. He chose an exit over an endeavour because exits in a gang base were rarely manned. Most often they relied on a trick or an oddity in building design that meant it was impressive for a normal person to get in through that point, however one could still leave through it. This kind was a four metre drop.
In an overhanging section of a building with no entrance there was a hole through the floor that one could drop down through to leave. It was relatively near the wall, but far enough away that bar some feat of extreme acrobatics, only someone with a ladder could get in. Laurence smiled behind his mask and leapt up into the air, easily catching the ledge and pulling himself up. Looking around, Laurence saw no one. As he had hoped, the exit was not guarded and instead he was standing alone in an empty house. The building had been gutted and turned into a pathway. With no furniture or any kind of furnishing at all, Laurence could not help but think the place looked rather lonely. There were thousands of houses like the one he was in, devoid of life and care, all over the desolate strip and executioners pen, and none of the inhabitants knew why. At one point this place had been more than a busy slum, it had been a thriving set of districts in one of the greatest cities in the universe. He used the melancholy brought on by the thought of the house to suppress his urge, but he could tell, he was about to explode again. He felt thoroughly vesuvian, and any moment he knew that if he let go of his control he would become the pyroclasm of his urge, killing everyone and everything in sight.
He moved out of the house and into the sewers. In most houses in the desolate strip there were manholes that lead to the sewer level of the city. It was the place that the gangs had first fought over, because it gave them unrestricted access to massive swathes of land, as long as they avoided the active tunnels. The sewer itself could become rather maze-like, but once a gang took control of a sewer region they would make sure that all paths eventually led towards their central sanctum regions, containing their mess hall and claimant hall.
Once Laurence got around twenty metres away from his entrance, he was plunged into a cloying darkness. He expected that he was supposed to have some sort of lantern, but he never carried one. Instead he drew inklight and wrapped the strip of rope around his fist. It looked like a florescent snake, binding his arm, but it gave off a comfortable glow that let Laurence see far beyond what he could beforehand. He moved off and followed the dust covered path, keeping his senses as active as possible to make sure he did not miss anything.
He walked and walked, listening to the sound of his heart, the trapping of his feet, and the echoing of the voice in his head. The closer he got to his target, the stronger the sound of the voice got. It wanted him to kill. It told him to kill. He had to kill. He knew that the moment he ended his first target, he would begin a murder spree the likes he had never gone on before. He wanted to keep control, but it was harder than anything he had ever done before.
After a five minute walk, he saw a young man, maybe sixteen years old, standing in the pathway. He seemed to be coming in Laurence’s direction to leave the area, but the moment he saw the young boy walk towards him, he could not help but put up his guard.
“Who are you?” He said. His eyes darted from the mask covering Laurence’s face to the hammer in his hand. He knew that the person in front of him was not a member of the Arrows, and if they took the symbol on their mask into account, they were not here for good reasons.
“I’m here to repay the damage you caused to my gang,” Laurence replied, mimicking Orwell’s voice. “It’s time for you all to die”.
The pressure and killing intent Laurence was exuding made the man fall backwards. He wanted to kill. He needed to. “No!” He shouted in his own voice. He wanted control back. He could not let himself get consumed. Not yet. He hit himself in the side of the head, trying to force the voice out of his brain, but it would not work. It did not stop. He screamed out in his own voice, before the swinging his hammer and crushing the skull of the enemy in front of him.
His scream echoed through the halls, warping and twisting to the point where it was unrecognisably monstrous. Blood and brain matter splattered the halls, spraying Laurence with no small amount. It was time. It was time to kill them all. They would all die by his hand. They had to. They hurt him in a way he did not understand. He did not want it. He refused to allow the pain to exist anymore. All that was left was rage, and the inexhaustible desire to kill everything.
The screams spilled through the halls as Laurence ran through the more populated areas of the base. Every person he came past, whether they were young or old, was cleft in two. Some into less, some into more, but no one got away. Originally, a lot of them fought with the masked beast that Laurence had become, but when it became clear that they would just die they began running.
No one was faster than the boy. No one could escape. It was like they were trying to run from the grim reaper himself, one with a form. The only thing that would slow Laurence down was when a large group of people bundled together in an intersection. Often they would mix together and some would be escaping, while others would be hunting down what was causing such a big reaction. When that happened the people still died in droves, but some could get away. The mass of bodies and pulped flesh would block him and he would have to swing, and swing, and swing to clear his way through the pile-up.
By the time Laurence got to the mess hall of the base, he was covered from head to toe in blood, chunks of flesh, cartilage and bone. He was a sight to behold. A red demon, closer in height to a meter than a meter and a half, with a great blue hammer and a pristine masked face. The people who saw Laurence could not help but feel their skin crawl; it was unsettling to say the least.
The mess hall of the Arrow’s base was a completely different beast in comparison to the one in Spring Street. Set on four floors of a cleaned out building, it was the nexus of everything the Arrows did. The floor was split, and wound up the building like a thick staircase littered with tables, chairs and pillows. The place was a zone of carousing and comfort rather than sustenance and planning, to the point that even through the fog of slaughter, Laurence could not help but think that the Spring Street mess hall was rather spartan.
Sitting in a mass of pillows on the floor above Laurence, there was a man who exuded an aura of opulence and power. Thin chains of gold and steel covered his bronze, muscular, hairless body. He smiled at the boy-come-demon as he entered the room, revealing a set of pearlescent platinum teeth, and picked up a goblet filled with wine from the table by his side. Taking a sip, his eyes closed slightly in reverie over the flavour before he placed the goblet back down and stood up.
“So you’re the one who’s broken into my halls and caused a ruckus. Have you come to die Masked Man?” His rough lilt echoed through the room. The man had a commanding air about him that made even his most fervent of enemies want to capitulate. Orwell could dominate a room with wise words, clever rhetoric, and a certain flair with his speeches, but this man could dominate a room by existing. He was someone who was simply born to rule.
“Kill,” Laurence replied.
“You’re not going to kill anyone. Your spree ends here”. The man walked to the edge of the floor he was on and jumped off, landing in front of Laurence. “From close up, you really are quite small. Are you a dwarf or a boy?” The man sneered. He assumed that he would be able to bait Laurence into attacking in anger. “Is this all Spring Street can send at me? Do they have so few men left?”
“Kill,” Laurence said again. He raised his hammer and swing it towards his combatant. The man moved back and the hammer ever-so-slightly grazed his chest, spitting the skin wide open. The man’s eyes went wide and he moved back, out of Laurence’s immediate reach.
“Dwarf, you have some skill. I guess I will reward you with dying a noble death at the hands of Roy the Blade, or rather at the point of his sword”. The man, Roy, took off a pendant of his and held it in his hands. It twisted and writhed before transforming into a two finger wide blade. “This sword is one of the rare Saint weapons left in the city. I found it when I was younger, but I never found someone who was worthy of dying on it. Today that changes”.
Laurence swung his hammer once more. The air tore, and made a cracking sound as the weapon began picking up speed. With each swing, Laurence would move the hammer into the next attack. Left, right, up, down he swung, each time the head would be dodged by Roy, but the air pressure would leave a lasting mark. The berserk child would not stop, but as he kept swinging Roy began his counter attack. There was as much form in Roy’s combat as Laurence’s, but his weapon was just as special. Each strike would lead to a near miss, either clipping Laurence’s clothes or missing his bare skin by millimetres, but as Laurence kept going wounds began to spring up all over his body.
Roy thrust his sword at Laurence’s right, and the berserk child moved in response to that. The moment the blade was clear, Laurence once more felt a cut on his left side. This one had managed to puncture his Orik-leather armour, leaving a bloody gash that wept from his side. Laurence snarled at the pain but leapt forwards without dropping his pace at all. In response, Roy waved his blade in front of himself and pulled back quickly. There was a sick grin on his face as he watched Laurence slam into what was effectively a wall of invisible knives. The blades bit into his flesh and he could not help but scream out, more in rage than pain.
In his killing frenzy Laurence could feel very little pain, but could immediately tell when his battle prowess dipped. He was getting weaker with each strike, even if he could not see them.
That said, Roy was not holding out well either. Each swing of Laurence’s hammer was closer to hitting than the last, and Roy could tell that Laurence only needed to hit once to end his life. He had begun by mocking the dwarven warrior in front of him, but as the battle went on, he had less and less space to breathe, let alone talk. The masked character in front of him was highly powerful, albeit not skilled enough to make a difference, so each swing was full of holes yet contained a terrifying power. He had never thought that such great power could come from a body so small.
Laurence swung the hammer into the ground, spitting up a cloud of dust and a rain of stone shards. They spread towards Roy before he cut them down with his bizarre sword maneuvers. Unfortunately Laurence used this break in line of sight, and in Roy’s momentum, to appear beside him and hammer home an attack. Roy swung his blade, deflecting the hammer from a straight blow, but was still sent flying away from Laurence. The bones in his arms jarred against each other and he nearly dropped his sword, however he kept hold.
Finally, Roy had had enough of walking the fine line of avoiding the hammer. He could tell that this masked warrior was going to win if they dragged this out much longer. He was simply taking more damage. He began pumping all the mana from his reservoir into the blade, letting it overflow and form a massive ethereal edge around the blade. Each strike that Roy had made contained a small amount of his mana, which allowed the sharpness of the weapon to persist in the air until Laurence collided with it. He would guide his adversary into each of his strikes, slowly constricting a net and then end them when they had no room to move. This new strike was that effect, but hundredfold stronger. The aura invisibly extended the length and width of the blade, making it far more deadly.
Laurence was frenzied, but he could still feel when a strike would be lethal to him. The baleful aura that the blade in Roy’s hand exuded was simply overwhelming. In the primal state Laurence was in he could clearly tell that this next strike was kill or be killed. He had no real way of avoiding it, he simply was not quick enough. He had to face it head on, but in doing so he could lose his life. His back was against the wall, and for the first time since he had begun to hear the voices there was silence in his mind. He could control himself again.
Swinging the lightning hammer round, he began building up momentum. With each rotation that he made, he forced mana into the hammer, allowing it to release snake after snake of lightning that quickly wrapped around the hammerhead. The blue light exuded from the hammer began changing as the hammer itself could not keep up with the power of the next strike. Laurence gritted his teeth, then as Roy began moving towards him, let the hammer fly out. What had looked like a sparking whirlwind quickly became a bolt of lightning over two metres in thickness. It crackled through Roy’s blade, Roy, and then the path behind him, before making the entire far wall of the mess hall collapse.
Laurence sank to his knees. It was over, one way or the other. He had thrown everything into that last strike, and hoped it was enough to put Roy the Blade down for good. If he had succeeded, then the Arrows were dead. He just needed to sleep, and to find Damien.
On the far side of the room, there was a charred corpse of a man, with a warped and oversized slab of metal attached to his hand. Where the tip of the blade ended there was a tear in the rock that punctured around fifty metres into the ground. The sides of the tear were completely smooth, to the point where it was like the missing rock had been removed from the very fundamentals of reality.