As soon as I walked into the main hangar, I sent Raven a quick message as promised and my team and I went in search of Tragedy. As it turns out, we didn’t have to look far, since once she heard we had arrived, she came looking for us as well. She saw us from down the hall and called out to us.
“Team 1! Get yourselves settled in and meet me back at my office in twenty minutes. Team 2 got in an hour ago and we have a briefing in twenty; I’ll roll both teams into one briefing so everyone can get all the information at once.”
We rapidly made our way to our apartments and unloaded all our gear, making it back to Tragedy’s office just behind Wade and his team. They looked rather ragged; it looked like they hadn’t slept since we were all last here. The six of us filed inside, and Wade’s team collapsed into the three chairs in front of the desk.
Tragedy was her typical self; she tied her hair up tight, folded her hands in front of her, and promptly began the meeting.
“Alright, we’ll start with Team 2. To catch Team 1 up to speed, Team 2 has been following the hit squad you ran into. Wade got a tip from an informant of his that they had been seen in Madrid. I sent them there first, and gave them the authority to follow these mysterious ‘ninjas,’ as you call them, wherever the leads took them. Wade?”
Wade sat up straight in his chair and cleared his throat. “Yeah, we got a lead that they had been seen getting off a plane in Madrid at a private airstrip. My contact said it was kind of a fluke that she saw them at all, but had heard we were looking for them. She didn’t say how she knew we were looking, she just gave us the information and pointed us in the right direction. We wound up spending a day in Madrid just waiting for them to turn up. We caught wind of them over the police band radio (thankfully Jackie knows Spanish; it all seemed like gibberish to me.)
“Anyway, we tracked them down, running across the rooftops away from the crime scene. Apparently, they paid a visit to someone working late in the capitol building, leaving a trail of bodies along the way. They left the official alive, for some reason, though. We caught up to them and fought them a while, but they were able to give us the slip. We were, however, able to get Sydney’s blades back.”
Wade pulled Sydney’s swords, swaddled in black cloth, from a baseball gear bag at his feet. He gently placed the cloth on the desk and unwrapped them, handing one of them to Tragedy for her to inspect. She looked at it for a minute, examining it from hilt to tip.
“Hmmm…it doesn’t appear to have been tampered with, but we should probably get them back to Trodaire just to be sure.” Returning her gaze to Wade, she continued, “It concerns me that these men are being so bold all of the sudden. Before, they were nothing more than a myth, on par with a campfire tale. Now, it seems they are unafraid of being noticed, and almost welcome the attention. If the Twelve know we are hunting them, we may have lost the element of surprise.
“Now, it could be that they feel unstoppable at this point, or they are about to make a big move and secrecy is no longer necessary for them. Either way, we should proceed as if they are watching for us everywhere they go; take even more care when you are out in the field. Blaise, fill us in on how things went on your end.”
“We got to the meeting place, and we were almost ambushed. Raven sprung us from the trap and took us to Trodaire’s cottage. She said that the men she fought off knew why we were there. I’m assuming they knew what we were after, and either were trying to keep us from reaching Trodaire, or they were hoping we would lead them to him. Regardless, we escaped.
“When we arrived, Trodaire told us that he knew what was going on with the Order and this whole Twelve business, and he wanted you to know he would be in touch; he wants to help out in any way he can. Also, Raven said you need to call her; she needs to have a chat with you.”
Tragedy nodded. “Well, as seemingly uneventful as that sounds, it is actually very good news. When Trodaire was with the Order, he could hunt anyone down, no matter how cold the trail might be. His input and assistance in this matter will be a great asset to us going forward. As for Raven, I knew she wouldn’t be able to keep her nose out of this one. She may be a pain in the neck at times, but she is just as valuable as any of you when it comes to field work. This puts my mind at ease, somewhat.
“I have already mapped out your next steps. Both teams will be heading to Paris. We have it on good authority that the team Wade has been tracking are stationed there for some reason. I want you to draw them out; disrupt them somehow, if you can. Try to capture them. All six of you together should stand a better chance against them than just three at a time. Until we can come up with more information, we are stuck trying to grab one of them and make them squeal. The plane is being prepped; wheels up in twenty.”
Wade looked incredulous. “We don’t get to take a nap or anything?”
“I’m sorry, there’s no time. It’s a long plane ride; you can try to catch a few hours then. That’s the best I can do for you right now. When all this settles down, I’ll give you a week’s undisturbed vacation.”
Twenty minutes later, we were tearing down the runway and hopping into the sky. The last thing anyone heard before we all passed out from pure exhaustion was Ricky muttering, “France or bust, bro; France or bust.”
Long story short, we wound up spending a week in Paris. It would have been beautiful and relaxing if we hadn’t been on the lookout for a murderous group of highly trained soldiers. We posted night watches in the sketchy parts of town, we tracked down Order contacts to try and get a lead, and we stopped the occasional street crime in progress. In a week’s time, we got nowhere; Tragedy finally called us and told us to pack up and ship off to Moscow. There had been a report of several murders there recently, with the victims bearing deep cuts all over their bodies, as if they had been tortured with a blade before being killed.
On the plane to Moscow, I found myself lost in thought. The soft “whoosh” of the air outside had lulled most of the others to sleep, so the flight was very quiet. I was turning the entire situation over in my mind. It wasn’t that long ago that the world was a fairly safe place. We knew who the bad guys were, and we knew how to handle them. Now, it felt as if we were on the brink of war. Tragedy was stressed to the max, pushing us to find the Twelve and crush them. I had my suspicions that she knew more about them than she was telling, but we had to trust her. She had never withheld any information from us before (as far as I knew, at least,) and if she felt she needed to do so now, there was probably a damn good reason.
I wasn’t sure if it was the mystery of not really knowing what we were up against, or the fact that one of our own had already been killed, but everything felt so dangerous. Every new city, every new lead, they all brought on a new feeling of morbidity and anxiousness. I kept coming back to something the General used to say to us during our training sessions; “You can’t fight what you can’t see.” We couldn’t see what we were up against; how on earth were we supposed to come out on top if we didn’t know where the punches were coming from?
What started in Moscow definitely didn’t stay there. By the time we arrived, there was an identical report in Istanbul. We got right back on the plane and resumed the chase. We spent nine days following a trail of bodies across Europe; Berlin, Rome, Kiev, and Milan. There was no way to keep up. We would never catch them if we simply followed the wreckage; we had to get out in front of them somehow.
When the wheels hit the ground in Milan, I called Tragedy. “We’re getting nowhere, boss. We’re going on a tour of mutilated bodies. Tell me you have some sort of plan to cut these maniacs off…”
“Well, there is a connection between the victims, as loose as it may be. The victims have all been connected to either the local government or big business in some way. If we are right in assuming the killings are the work of the Twelve, then we can safely say they are targeting the sources of power in Europe’s central cities. Of the largest cities in the continent, there are only a few they haven’t reached yet. London MUST be on their list, and they just haven’t gotten around to it. Go straight there and wait for them to arrive.”
“That’s great, I just have two questions: first, who or what are we looking for in London, exactly? And second, they have been really bold about their actions recently; they obviously know we are watching them. Are they setting up a trap, or are they simply being arrogant?”
“As far as London goes, start with the government. Big business there can survive a ‘thinning of the herd;’ the government would have a harder time recovering from the loss of their leadership. Where your second question is concerned, the answer is ‘yes.’ They are undoubtedly growing quite pompous, given their recent ventures. I would suspect that they have a reason for being so public and open with their violence, but if there is a trap being laid, it is not likely that it is in London. They are playing a longer game than that; they are most likely preparing for some move down the line. This is where our jobs differ, Blaise: it is your job to put out the current fire, and it’s my job to prevent any further conflagrations. When I have any information for you, you can be sure that I won’t hesitate to contact you. Until then, I need you to hunt these bastards down and cut them down like the animals they are.”
As with most of our conversations, she hung up abruptly. I had my marching orders: on to London to lay a trap for our elusive hit squad.
Travelling the world non-stop for a week and a half can be rather exhausting, so the flight to London was filled with sleep and unremembered dreams, rather than the pensive, anxious thoughts that had dogged me through the rest of the trip. Even though we were trained to go without sleep and food, and to withstand the harshest of circumstances, the jet-lag was getting to me. I welcomed the rest.
Upon our arrival, we set up shop across from the Parliament building. If our opponents were going to stick to their pattern, they would strike late in the day, just as everyone was preparing to leave. Wade and I set up three of our team members on scopes to watch the street, the near-by buildings, and Parliament itself, while the rest of us simply waited. Those of us not on watch passed the time by playing cards, sleeping, and reading. When you spend as much time on stake-outs as we do, you learn to be entertained by the most mundane things. It only gets boring if you let it; even the simplest of activities can burn hours of empty time.
For a day and a half, we sat on the rooftop, with everyone taking their shifts watching for our elusive enemies. On the second day, we finally saw something. Ricky was laying on his back staring at the sky, when suddenly he exclaimed, “You’ve got to be kidding me…Blaise, incoming.”
We all looked up, and what we saw was almost unbelievable. Six figures, all dressed in black wing suits, were soaring in towards the top of the Parliament building at screaming speeds. We all sat perfectly still for a moment, wondering if they had seen us yet. As if to answer our unuttered question, bullets began to strike the rooftop around us.
Ricky and Dianna fired zip lines across to the building, and we sprang into action. As we zipped across the street, the winged assassins dropped their guns and fell into a collective dive in an attempt to land before we arrived. We climbed up to a flat space where we assumed they would be landing, and they cut their wings loose just as they hit the rooftop, each of them rolling into a fighting stance and unsheathing their weapons. All six were wielding short swords like ours.
The ensuing fight was one of the most intense altercations I had ever been in. Metal rang as twelve swordsmen fought with fury; lightning sprang from blade tips and fireballs raged all around. Wade and I wound up back to back at one point, and it seemed like we had been out-matched. Our opponents were faster and less conventional, putting us on a perpetual defense. Wade was fighting the leader of the group, the same man I had dueled before. I felt him leap forward as he attempted to push the man back on his heels. I followed suit, taking the offensive with a flurry of strikes and bursts of flame.
The fighters all wheeled and spun around the rooftop, and my fellow Valkyries and I slowly gained the upper hand. I kicked the man I was fighting in the chest, knocking him to the ground. As he attempted to get up, I fired off a burst of flame that burned his face right off his head. I spun around to assist my team, when things took a nasty turn.
Wade parried a strike from his opponent, and the force of the blow threw him off balance. As he regained his footing, the man slashed Wade across the chest from hip to shoulder. Wade crumpled, and the man dove backwards off the rooftop. Our remaining opponents attempted to do the same, except for the one on the other side of the roof, who was caught in a furiously close battle with Dianna.
Their swords were nothing but a blur as they fought, matching blow for blow. Her opponent noticed that his allies had abandoned him, he paused for a second, and Dianna flew into even more of a frenzy. With a scream, she swung one of her blades, a blow he barely blocked. She struck again, and cut his blade in two, and then proceeded to impale the man.
All of this happened in just a few fleeting seconds, with Dianna finishing him off as the rest of us rushed to help Wade. The four remaining assassins had launched themselves from the roof and caught hook lines from a helicopter that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. We did not have time to pursue them, and we turned all our attention to Wade. He was bleeding profusely, and he had passed out from blood loss by the time he hit the ground.
One of Wade’s teammates tore off his shirt and stuffed it into the wound. Ricky ripped open the med pack he carried in his belt and tossed Wade’s man the hemo-static salts to stop the bleeding. Pulling the shirt from the wound, he ripped the package open with his teeth. “Hang on, chief; this is gonna sting like a mother.” He poured the salts into the wound, and the bleeding stopped almost immediately. As an added side effect, Wade sat bolt-upright howling from the pain, awake and alert. As the initial pain stopped, Wade fell back, and barely conscious, he mumbled, “W-w-what the hell was that?”
Ricky leaned over him and replied, “He told you it was gonna hurt; it’s not our fault you weren’t alert when you were informed.”
With that, Wade slipped back into unconsciousness. Dianna reacted immediately.
“We have to get him to a hospital right away. Who knows what kind of internal injuries he suffered; not to mention he lost so much blood he should probably be dead already.”
Ricky repacked Wade’s injury and picked him up over his shoulder. “Thanks for that, Ms. Positivity. We could have done without someone nailing the mortality of the situation in a single sentence.” We quickly fashioned a sling to lower him to the street level. We didn’t have time to scour the rooftop and gather everything that had been dropped by our enemies before they fled, so Dianna picked up the broken pieces of the sword she had cut in half and packed them away quickly as the rest of us went over the side of the building. Once we had gotten everyone down, we made our way to the home of a near-by doctor who was a friend of the Order. He had patched most of us up at one time or another, and when we arrived, he ushered us inside without asking any questions. That was one of the reasons I trusted him (aside from the fact that Tragedy had recommended him when Ricky got banged up a few years back.) He never asked us what happened or what we were doing, aside from what he needed to know in order to treat us.
We carried Wade into the dining room, where the good doctor was clearing the table.
“We stopped the bleeding with some hemo-salts, but other than that, we haven’t touched him.”
The doctor nodded quickly. “Are there any other injuries?”
“No, he’s the only one who got majorly hurt, and that’s the only wound that we know of.”
“Good, good; I’m assuming he passed out soon after the laceration?”
“Alright. Dianna, I have blood in the cooler in the basement, along with a chart detailing the blood type of every agent in the Order. Bring me three liters of Wade’s blood type. Blaise, go to the living room closet and bring me my I.V. supplies. Ricky, go into the kitchen and get me a scotch on the rocks. This is going to be an interesting night.”
Over the next couple of hours, the doctor cleaned the wound, patching up the organs that were damaged in the fight, and gave Wade a blood transfusion. The doctor’s wife came down from the bedroom and cooked everyone dinner. The doctor and I ate in the dining room while we monitored Wade, as the others ate on the kitchen floor.
“You know, Doc, in all the years you’ve been putting us back together, I’ve never gotten your name. We’ve always just called you ‘The Doctor.’ What should we call you?”
The doctor smiled and wiped his mouth. “’The Doctor’ would be sufficient for me; however, if you feel the need to call me by a proper name, you can call me Doctor Livingstone.”
“Yes; he was another unconventional doctor, many, many years ago. Long before any of us were even born.”
“So you won’t tell me your name, then?”
He sighed and looked over to Wade’s vitals monitor. “Blaise, men are remembered by what they do, not what they call themselves. You remember me as the doctor because that is what I do; that is more than enough for me.”
“That’s an interesting thought…what do you remember me for?”
“I remember you all the same: as Valkyries. Warrior angels who dive headlong into battle in order for people like me to live our ordinary lives in peace.”
He polished off his scotch and stood. “Wade seems to be doing well after the surgery; I believe I have earned myself another drink.”
He walked into the kitchen, leaving me to ponder his words.