Ah, the Dublin house; over the last two years, it had become almost a vacation spot for us. Once we had too many members to house there, it reverted back to being a safehouse. We would hole up there whenever we had assignments anywhere in Western Europe. Being back there after training the new batch of recruits made it an extra sentimental experience, as it showed just how much had changed in a few short years. It astounded me; I don’t think it will ever cease to amaze me that the world was such a completely different place in such a short amount of time.
Anyway, when we arrived and settled in, our teammates were quite pleased to tell us that everything was ready for “the plan” to unfold. “The plan” went like this: while Wade and I were off training the recruits, our teammates had confirmed the locations of all of the remaining Tri-Council members. The Councilmen and women were being held by the Horsemen as a dummy government in an effort to keep the people from revolting. Where threat of violence did not deter the people, the Horsemen hoped that having their formerly-elected officials dish out the new rules and tell the people that things would be okay would keep the masses at least somewhat contained.
With their locations confirmed, our mission was to break them out and get them safely away from the grasp of the Horsemen. This was beneficial to the cause in a couple of ways. First, this took away the “hostage advantage” that the Horsemen had, and allowed the Valkyries to strike with a heavy hand without worrying about killing the political prisoners. Second, it kept the Tri-Council government alive and intact. The goal was not to uproot the Horsemen and become the new tyrant, but to reinstate the government of the people after the Horsemen were destroyed.
The Council members were being held in their respective areas of control, with the American councilmen being held in New York, the Austro-Asians in Beijing, and the Afro-Europeans in London. We would split our three main groups between the three targets, with the new teams backing us up as soon as Tragedy gave us the go-ahead. Wade would take his team to New York, Raven to Beijing, and my team would storm the gates in London.
Several days went by as we waited on Tragedy to give us the green light; Ricky, Dianna, and Jackie all maintained up-to-date surveillance from Dublin, ensuring that nothing changed before we went in for the grab. By the numbers, it was a simple asset recovery mission, but considering who we were recovering (and not to mention from whom), it was imperative that every detail be carefully considered; we needed to know exactly what we were walking into long before we made our first move.
The go-ahead came with a little surprise. One day, while we were waiting for a phone call, Tragedy walked through the front door of the safehouse and dropped a gear-bag at her feet.
“I’m going with you; we need all hands on deck. There will be no discussion about this. Yes, I am prepared for this; yes, I have absolutely thought this through. Questions?”
Ricky raised his hand slowly. “Uh…did you bring tactical clothes with you?”
“Yeah, like pants and stuff. It’s gonna be really hard to move around if all you brought was those skirts you wear around your office.”
Ricky’s query was answered by a shoe whizzing over his head (it would have nailed him right between the eyes, but he managed to duck right as it sailed his direction.)
Dianna laughed dryly. “I would say she’s ready, McMannis. Stay sharp, or the next one might just hit ’cha.”
He scowled at the two women briefly. Then we all remembered just how serious things were and got down to business. We all knew it would be pointless to try and dissuade Tragedy from joining us, so we simply modified the plan as necessary. We didn’t really have to change much; we simply had to account for an extra person on my team. All things considered, not a big deal; given the situation, having all hands on deck would be quite helpful.
The next day we all split off, going to our respective locations, contacting the teams that would be backing us up, and staging before the big event. We had planned on doing all the extractions at the same time; if we hit all three targets simultaneously, we would eliminate the possibility that the Horsemen would catch wind of one hit and move the remaining council members. Timing is a bitch, especially when trying to sync up three operations on three different continents, but we figured it out.
Tragedy went with my team to London, and we staged up outside the house where the Council members we being held. House may be a bit of an understatement; it was the home of a family that had been in politics for centuries. This place was bordering on being a mansion. Given the size of the place, we had to sweep through quickly and efficiently. Dianna, being the tech whiz that she was, was able to obtain blueprints for the building.
“Di, you’re a freaking godsend,” Ricky told her.
“You better believe it; I had to do some serious digging to get ahold of these damn things. They were expunged from the public records; somebody really doesn’t want them out there. It makes me wonder what else is hidden inside.”
As she looked over the prints, Tragedy remarked, “If this was two years ago, I’d have you tear this place apart until you found whatever they were covering up. As it stands, we need to get in, grab the council members, and get the hell out. Speed is key.”
I nodded, and after taking a quick look over the blueprints myself, I proposed a plan.
“Alright, it looks like we can circle our way through the house without necessarily splitting up until we get through the kitchen. Then, Ricky, you take Tragedy and one of the backup teams upstairs. We’ll post the other team at the base of the stairs, making sure we don’t get snuck up on, and Dianna and I will finish clearing this floor. It doesn’t look like there’s a basement, so if we don’t find them, we’re gonna have to check the wine cellar and breaking down walls. They’re here somewhere, and we’re not leaving until we find them.”
Ricky saluted me. “10-4, boss man. Let’s roll!”
And roll we did; we filed out and made our way down the lane like so many silent shadows. We busted down the front door and waited…no one came running and no shots were fired, so we made our way through the hallways, checking rooms as we went. We got through the kitchen, and to the stairwell. Dianna and I barely made it a few steps away when we heard Ricky whistle, signaling that they had found the hostages. They brought them downstairs, where Tragedy asked them a few questions to ensure that they were not shifters in disguise, and then we unbound them. We rushed back towards the front door, and as soon as we swung it back open, we were met with a barrage of bullets.
Instinctively, we all dove back into the hallway and took defensive positions.
“Is everybody alright? Anybody hit?” I called out.
“No, we’re good; the door took them all, I think,” Ricky responded.
“Di, how many exterior doors are there to this place?”
“Four; the closest, other than the one right in front of us, is just past the stairway where we split off before.”
“That’s a bit of a hike. Hey team, guess what we forgot to do?”
Ricky and Dianna both swore. “Guess we should watch our backs while we’re here. How the hell did we forget to finish clearing the building?” Ricky bellowed.
“No time to worry about that now; how are we getting out of here, Blazer?” Dianna asked.
“Let me think for a second; I’ll come up with something.”
“As long as it doesn’t involve us running out the front door like in those old cowboy stories, I’m all for it,” Ricky quipped.
“Unless we can find some tunnels out of here, it might come to that.”
We made our way around to the door by the stairwell, and I quietly called the soldier we had waiting in the truck down the lane. I told him to stomp on the gas and pick us up behind the estate, S.T.A.T. We waited by the back door until we heard the roar of the engine coming our way. As we started out the back door, a dozen or so soldiers bearing swords came rushing down the hall at us. I kicked the others out the door as fast as I could, all the while fending off the attackers. Once we were outside, they attempted to surround us. We kept running further away from the house as we fought, just hoping the soldier driving would have the sense of mind to put the truck between us and our attackers (running over a few in the process wouldn’t hurt either.)
When he finally came tearing into sight, we were able to separate ourselves from the onslaught; everyone except Tragedy made it to the other side of the truck. The enemy soldiers dragged her back inside the house as we jumped into the truck. We would have gone after her, but we had to get the Council members out of there, and from all around, more soldiers than I thought was possible came rushing at us. The driver, seeing this as the only opportunity he would have to get us out alive, stomped on the gas pedal and raced us away from the estate.
Ricky punched the ceiling of the truck. “Dammit! Why do we keep losing that woman?! Why did we even let her come along?!”
Dianna tried to calm him down, saying, “You know she would have done whatever she wanted to do, regardless of what we had to say. Hell, I don’t even think Blaise could have talked her out of coming with us, and she actually listens to him most of the time. There was no way of knowing it would go down like this.”
Ricky swore repeatedly, still punching the ceiling. When he had finished, we all sat in silence until we got to the plane. It was a very long, very somber flight back to Seattle. Upon arrival, we found the other two teams had returned already, and we placed all of the Tri-Council members under constant watch, with two people watching them 24/7. Once the Council members had been taken care of, my team and I met with Wade’s team and Raven in our new conference room. We told them everything that had happened during our portion of the operation.
“That’s pretty bad, Blazer…this ain’t good at all,” Wade said after I had finished explaining the situation.
“Well, no kidding, dickweed. This is freaking serious,” I shot back.
“I do have some good news that might help balance things out a bit.”
“Oh yeah? And what would that be?”
“We nabbed a hostage while we were in New York. Says he’s an assistant to the Horsemen; considers himself to be rather important. I have a nagging suspicion that he might have some helpful information.”
I squinted at Wade. “Do you think he might be…persuaded to give us this information?”
“I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt. Well, it wouldn’t hurt ME. It will probably hurt him; getting him to talk might not just be ‘like’ pulling teeth. It might ACTUALLY require pulling teeth.”
“Just be careful…we’re in a bit of a gray area. Let’s not mirror the monsters we’re trying to eliminate.”
Wade cracked his knuckles. “Sometimes we have to do monstrous things in order to accomplish a higher goal, Blaise. That doesn’t make us monsters ourselves.”
“Still, don’t be unreasonable. We’re bound by a code, Wade. Don’t forget that.”
“I never do. Now, if our little moral dilemma is done and over with, I have some one-on-one time scheduled with our guest.”
Wade went into the adjacent room for about an hour. When he reemerged, he was wiping blood from his hands. “He’s not really saying much, but he did tell me that he expects that the Horsemen will be getting in touch with us soon. I don’t know how he expects them to do that, but my guess is if they realize who their hostage is, we might be able to arrange a trade. I think turning this dirt bag back over to the Horsemen is worth getting Tragedy back home.”
We all nodded in agreement. He tapped my elbow as I turned to leave.
“Don’t worry about our little friend in there; I never crossed the line with him. You had a good point; we do have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. I just hope you realize I had a valid point, too. Sometimes what we have to do won’t be pretty, but it might be necessary to do something that makes us a little sick. We do kill people for a living.”
“No it’s not. Maybe when we kill people we make sure they don’t suffer, but violence is violence. We have to be willing to do whatever is necessary to reestablish order; our standard simply holds us to find a peaceful option whenever possible.”
I nodded; I knew he was right. The lines seemed to blur for me when it came to certain aspects of what we were doing; I wished I could keep things as clear and focused as Wade did.
A couple of days went by after Wade interrogated the hostage. It was a surprisingly stressful period of time. Between what we knew the Horsemen were capable of, and what our hostage had said, we were expecting their army to come bursting through the door at any moment. This feeling of being on edge went on until one day, Wade received a phone call.
He answered his phone, and almost immediately he went as white as a ghost. “Turn on the TV. Now.”
“It doesn’t matter; it’s on all of them.”
As the t.v. flickered to life, an image of four masked, hooded figures was seen standing behind someone who had been beaten to a pulp. Upon closer inspection, the entire room gasped. This poor creature was barely recognizable, but it was her; it was Tragedy. She appeared to have been tortured extensively for some time. Her face was puffy and bruised, there were cuts and scabs on her face and neck, and there was an angry red burn mark from her left temple to her chin, as if someone had taken a fireplace poker straight from the flames and placed it upon her face. One of the hooded figures stepped forward and violently grabbed Tragedy by the chin, showing the extent of her wounds to the camera before speaking.
“Valkyries, you have committed crimes against the Horsemen that are punishable only by death. We have neither time nor patience for your childish games. You know that we are capable of crushing you if the current situation were to escalate to an all-out war. We do not wish for this to happen. We have one of yours, and you have one of ours. Here are our demands.
“The members of the Council, along with our trusted assistant, are to be brought to the Parliament building in London. If you surrender them to us as we have asked, we will allow them to live. If you surrender yourselves to us as well, without a fight, you, too, shall live. If you do these things quickly, we will consider allowing your friend to live. If no surrender is made, you all shall die, starting with this one. You have forty-eight hours. Make the wise choice; no more blood needs to be shed.”
The screen went black for a moment, and then the message started over. It went on to repeat for half a dozen or more cycles as we all stood there in dead silence, too shocked to do anything but stare at the screen. As before, after some time, Trodaire walked over to the screen and shut it off.
“We should just kill that damn assistant and strike again immediately. If we attack soon enough, we may be able to save Tragedy,” he said.
I shook my head sadly. “You know as well as I do that they will have cut her to ribbons before we could even figure out where they were keeping her.”
“So they’re going to kill her anyway, then. Let us strike the iron again while it is still hot!”
“No, Trodaire, we can’t. They have us trapped. We can’t leave Tragedy in their hands. We only have one option: we must surrender ourselves.”
“But they will surely kill us all! Those lying bastards will never keep their word; as soon as we surrender, they will have us executed!”
An argument broke out between Trodaire and I, with neither listening to what the other had to say, screaming in each other’s faces.
“WOULD EVERYBODY JUST SHUT THE HELL UP?!” Ricky shouted. We all blinked and stared at him. “I have a plan…”
Ricky laid out our options to us, and we spent the next few hours refining Ricky’s idea, and when we were satisfied with it, we contacted all the team leaders and filled them in on what was going on and what we needed from them. Then, the next morning, we made the flight to London.
Later that evening, Wade, Trodaire, and I walked up to the Parliament building with the Council members and the Horsemen’s assistant. We stood outside for several minutes until finally, the front door creaked open. Thirty or more guards came rushing out, and some of them escorted the assistant and the Council members inside, while the rest threw us to the ground and handcuffed us. We didn’t fight back; we were there to surrender.
After we had been shackled, we were led inside to a makeshift holding cell where Tragedy was being kept. By now her wounds were beginning to heal, but she still looked pretty banged up.
“Blaise…you should never have come…they’re going to kill all of you.”
“What choice did we have? We couldn’t just feed you to them like that.”
“But now they have all four of us; who will lead the resistance now?”
“The fight will continue; there’s no doubt about that. It will simply look a little different after all this is over.”
Tragedy sighed and touched my face. “I hope you’re right, Blaise.”
I smiled and winked at her. “Just trust me; some sacrifices had to be made, but in the end, the good guys always win out. That’s just how history works.”
Two of the Horsemen approached our holding cell.
“So you have surrendered? Where is the rest of your Order?”
Trodaire stood and walked over to them. “What you have in this room is all that is left of the Valkyrie Order. They have been disbanded, and we, the leadership, are all that is left.”
“Then you have violated the terms of your own surrender. Therefore we are not obligated to uphold our end of the bargain. You are all sentenced to death.”
Wade laughed. “So what, you’re just gonna hang us in the town square? No explanation to the masses as to why you went back on the deal?”
One of the men tilted his head. “We will inform the public as to why you are being executed; a public hanging may actually be the best way to convey our message. The people will know that it does not pay to cross the Horsemen.”
I crossed my arms. “Seriously? You’re going to hang us? What, are you big fans of the theatrical?”
The Horseman spread his arms out wide. “In London, right out front in the street, with the whole world watching…I can think of no better end to your insignificant little rebellion. You should feel honored that we are sending you off with such a spectacle. When we find the others, they will not be so honored.”
The Horsemen walked away from our cell, and the four of us slid to the ground. There was nothing left to do but wait and sleep.
The next day, the Horsemen put out a broadcast, telling the world that what was left of the Valkyrie Order was to be publicly hanged at noon in two days. The execution would be broadcast on every channel worldwide, as a reminder to the citizens of the world what happens to those who step out of line. We saw the whole little advertisement on the t.v. down the hall from us. The Horsemen’s taste for big, public displays of power was starting to get kind of old; the news of our own executions was so over the top that it was actually somewhat boring.
And so our execution day was upon us soon enough. We were marched out in front of the Parliament building, and the sight that met our eyes was astounding. A wooden gallows had been erected right at the base of the stairs; the platform stood nearly fifteen feet in the air. The rest of the street had been decorated to look as if it were set in the late Renaissance, with banners hanging from street poles and straw scattered all around. Hay bales were arranged in the street, presumably for seating, and across the lane stood a press box, where the Council members sat facing the gallows.
After being given the opportunity to see the stage for the grand production, black hoods were placed over our heads, and we were led up the stairs and the nooses were placed around our necks. Once mine was set, a familiar voice that I couldn’t quite place began to speak. They obviously decided to suspend the Renaissance theme when it came to amplification, because as soon as the man began to speak, there was a loud squeal of feedback. Once it died down, he began again.
“Ladies and gentlemen, proud citizens of the globe, what you see before you is the fulfillment of justice. These criminals we have here are the cause of all the unrest and violence that has disturbed you for the last two and a half years. Had they complied with our demands, even as of three days ago, their deaths would not have been necessary. However, they have decided that they would rather die in discord than live in harmony; and so, the Horsemen and the Tri-Council have found them guilty of the highest of treasons.
“Here before you is Erica Thompson, long-time leader of the warrior-cult the Valkyrie Order. She has been found guilty of treason against the human race; she is to be hanged by the neck ‘til dead. Next, we have the man who helped form that same cult so many years ago. He has also been found guilty of treason, as well as causing public discord. He is to be hanged by the neck ‘til dead. Finally, we have the two strongest warriors of the Valkyrie Order. They have been found guilty of treason, conspiracy, and over fifty counts of murder each. They are to be hanged by the neck ‘til dead. People of the world, look upon their faces now; look into their eyes, and see the high price of rebelling against the new world order.”
At this point, our hoods were dramatically ripped off our heads. As our eyes adjusted to the sudden noon-time sun, the crowd in front of us came into focus. They seemed afraid; they heard the words of the Horsemen, and they saw right through the theatrics to the main point: step out of line, and they will not hesitate to kill you. This was a scare tactic, and it was working.
The Horseman on stage walked over to me, removed his mask, and spit in my face. “Nothing your precious Order has ever done has even slightly upended any of my plans. You were always ten steps behind; you should have taken my offer two years ago when you had the chance. You could have been a general; now you’ll die like a common killer.”
In that moment, I realized who he was. This man was the assistant from the meeting with the mafia. He was the man we had taken as a hostage a week ago. This man was no assistant, however; he was one hundred percent in charge. Seeing the realization come across my face, he grinned.
“Good, now we’re finally on the same page. It’s been quite difficult to keep this little secret in the bag for so long. I’ve been pulling the strings quietly for years; it’s quite nice to be recognized for all my hard work.”
I grinned right back at him. “Why do villains feel the need to monologue so much? That’s honestly the oldest cliché in the bad guy handbook. You could have killed us by now; better luck next time, I suppose.”
During my conversation with the Horseman, the Council members in the press box shifted their appearance, revealing themselves to be Valkyries. Suddenly, Raven and Dianna, who had been disguised in the crowd, faded from where they stood and teleported to the platform, cutting the four of us loose. During the flurry of activity, the Horseman disappeared, so we all began to push our way through the crowd before the army arrived. We had surprised our enemies, but there was no doubt that they had the cavalry on standby in case things got out of hand.
We finally broke free of the majority of the crowd and began racing down the streets. We had almost gotten out of sight of the gallows when a shot rang out over the clamor. Tragedy grunted, stumbled, and fell. I stopped running, picked her up, threw her over my shoulder, and took off again. There was nothing I could do for her now. Her best chance of survival was to get away from the Horsemen and dig the bullet out when we were in a safe place. After a minute or two I started to worry that she might not have the chance to dig the bullet out later; I glanced down as I ran, and what I thought was sweat soaking my shirt was actually an ungodly amount of blood. I ran as hard as I could, finally getting to where the trucks were waiting. I tossed Tragedy inside onto her stomach to examine the wound.
The shot had gone clean through her; I rolled her over to take a look at the exit wound. It wasn’t bleeding anymore, her face had gone white, and I could tell just by looking at her that she had stopped breathing.
“Dammit! We almost did it…we were almost free…I’m so sorry, Tragedy…I’m so sorry…”
As I apologized, I closed her lifeless eyes. No matter what I did, it seemed I couldn’t keep those I cared about safe. I was one of the most highly skilled human beings to ever walk the face of the earth. It was my job to protect people and to fight off the deadliest of dangers, and yet…and yet for all that skill, all the years of training, I couldn’t keep my closest friend alive. Useless…I was absolutely useless…I’m so sorry, Tragedy…I’m so sorry…