Over the next two weeks, we slowly and quietly moved all of our forces to various places in and around New York City. We didn’t want to tip our hand, so we focused heavily on secrecy and stealth. We moved teams by night, or we sent them one by one to wherever we were housing them, never staging more than three or four people together in one place. It was a truly nerve-wracking process; everything hung on the element of surprise. We needed to have the battle on our terms, in the location that we had decided on. We couldn’t afford to have the Horsemen catch wind of our movements and attack before we were ready.
In time, however, we were ready. When everyone was in place, the dons called us. We had one last meeting, confirming that everything was going according to plan thus far, and setting a day and time for everyone to converge upon the battleground. We decided we should move as quickly as possible, so we set the attack for the next morning. We finished the meeting, wished everyone good luck, and went back to where we were staying and got as much rest as we could with our nerves on edge.
When morning came, we gathered every Valkyrie in a field outside the city. Once everyone was accounted for, I climbed on top of one of the trucks and addressed them all.
“Valkyries, we stand here today, ready for battle. This is what we train for, and this is what we dream of. We have an opportunity to wipe the evil stain of the Horsemen’s reign from the face of the earth for good. Now, I can’t guarantee that all of us will live through to see the next sunrise, but this is our place in the world; we place our lives on the line in defense of the masses. Fighters, your world needs you today! They have been crying out for help for quite a long time now, and today is the day we answer the call! Today, we fight for liberty, justice, and the satisfaction of laying our enemies to waste! Tell me, are you with me?!”
The Valkyries roared as one, and with that, we jumped into the trucks and tore off down the road towards the old United Nations headquarters. We had to park several blocks away, as by the time we arrived, the mafia had organized a giant riot leading all the way up to the front door of the building. Surrounding the place was a thin line of soldiers in full riot gear. The Valkyries all made our way to the front of the crowd, staring down the men who stood between us and our goal. Far to my left, I could hear bottles breaking and men shouting, indicating the army had shown up right on time. We stood there, waiting…the army drew nearer, and the rioting crowd became more and more agitated. In the distance, a clock rang out the top of the hour, and all at once, every single member of the resistance launched themselves into action.
Shots rang out, and the mafia’s rioters, instead of breaking the line and scattering, grew angry and pressed forward, bringing the fight to a hand-to-hand distance almost immediately. The Valkyries rushed up the steps and ripped through the guards encircling the U.N. building, and charged our way inside. Anticipating more resistance just inside the doors, we kicked the doors in, tossed in a few flash-bang grenades we had gotten from the dons, and pushed onward through the entryway.
As we expected, things got really ugly inside right away, but we were still riding the first wave of fury and frenzy, so the numbers we encountered did little to slow us down. Men broke left and right, cutting through any that stood in their way, and within a few minutes, the first floor had been cleared. Pausing to take a breath, I looked towards the stairwell, and my heart sank a little bit. Slowly descending the stairs was a group of masked, sword-wielding fighters; there were at least fifty of them, coming straight for us. We took a collective deep breath, and rushed our opponents, throwing everything we had at them.
As I ran, I drew a flame all the way up my blades, and I could hear electric bolts being fired over my head. It was almost peaceful for a moment; in the seconds between rushing at the enemy and the moment that the first sound of crossed steel hit my ears, I had a very transcendental experience. Watching it all happen from above, two groups of highly trained killers rushing at each other with hate and anger in their eyes…call it the calm before the storm, I suppose.
I leapt up the first few stairs to the landing where the stairs turned before rising again, I dropped to my knees and slid under the first row of attackers, cutting the four of them clean in half. Finishing my slide, I used my momentum to stand again, and then the fight really began.
I found myself in a bit of tight situation, as my fellow Valkyries had been several steps behind me when I began my assault, so I was alone on the stairs for a second, trying to hold off the entire wave of masked soldiers by myself. I flipped backwards back to the base of the stairs, crouched, and timed my next attack to coincide with the rest of my men reaching the stairwell.
As they did, I jumped towards the attacking forces, knocking away the sword of the man in front of me with one blade, and impaling him with the other. Using him as a human shield, I bowled over three or four men behind him before the force of the attacking soldiers pushed back. I again found myself at the base of the stairs, spinning, slicing, and parrying in a flurry of motion. I slipped into battle-mode, and everything slowed down. I kicked, cut, and burned my way through every man who stepped within reach of my blades.
After what felt like ages, I saw him descending the staircase and coming my direction: the captain who had nearly killed Wade. I don’t know how I knew it was him; there was something about the way he carried himself that simply set him apart from all the others. Seeing him, I ducked under a swing and ripped a man’s ribcage open, and began stepping towards my new target.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs, we rushed each other all at once. The combined force of our first strikes clanging against each other sent a vibration through my entire body, and nearly knocked me off my feet. Recovering quickly, I swung again, and was again matched by my opponent. This went on for several minutes; one would attack, and the other would flawlessly parry the attack, with the battle speeding up exponentially from blow to blow.
At one point, there was almost no time to parry a blow before the next one landed, and the man managed to land a slight blow, catching me with the very tip of his blade. He barely nicked me, cutting me from my right eyebrow to the right cheek, missing my eye by mere millimeters. I blinked reflexively, and the man took advantage of the brief break in my concentration. Spinning and landing a roundhouse kick to my chest, he knocked me back about eight feet and throwing me off balance.
He raced at me again, and I regained my balance enough to start stepping backwards as I warded off his attacks. He walked me all the way to the wall, with the intensity of his attacks never slowing down for a second…until my back bounced off the wall. When he saw he had me pinned, he geared up for a haymaker blow, one he fully intended to use to break my block entirely (and possibly breaking my arm in the process.)
In the half-second where he reared back before the blow, I dropped straight down and swept his legs out from under him. As he fell, he kicked out, causing him to slide several feet away, and as he regained his footing, I ran at him, bringing my blades down on him with all the force I could muster.
He blocked all my attacks, but I was able to continue to beat him back several more feet before changing my style suddenly. Remembering Trodaire’s swift changes in fighting style, I tossed one of my blades straight up in the air, then knelt down and drove the other through the man’s foot, pinning him to where he stood. I spun around him, stood up, caught my flying sword, and in one motion, ignited the blade with the angriest, hottest flame I had ever conjured, and slammed it into his back and out through his chest.
There was a moment of shock, as he reached up and removed his mask, sweat pouring off his face. I renewed the force of the flame, roasting him entirely from the inside out. After a few seconds, I felt him begin to fall forward, so I ripped my blade from his body and pulled the other out of the floor. He fell, and I noticed that he had a black burn mark that stretched out six inches in each direction from the hole in his back. Good freaking riddance.
I looked around and saw that several of the Valkyries had fallen, but most were still alive, and they were finishing off what was left of the force that had attacked us. I made eye contact with Wade and pointed to the stairs with my chin. He nodded and waved everyone on. I raced up the stairs beside Dianna and Ricky.
“How are you guys holding up?”
“Oh…we’re fine…just another day at the office…” Ricky quipped, out of breath.
“Yeah, we’re fine. We’re not really used to you going all ‘army-of-one’ like that, but you know, we adapted just fine,” Dianna piped in.
I would have laughed, but I was just as out of breath as they were. We would have continued our banter, but at the top of the stairs, we ran into a small group of soldiers. They were instantly dispatched, but it reminded us that this wasn’t exactly the time for lighthearted joking. So floor by floor, we made our way to the top. Finally we reached the top floor, we saw the Horsemen stood swords in hand, behind a large group of guards.
Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem for twenty Valkyries, but we had just run of more than a few flights of stairs, all the while fighting off various groups of soldiers. We were a bit tired; I’m sure you understand.
Anyway, the battle was hard fought. We were matched blow for blow by our enemies. Outside, we could hear the cheers of the mafia’s rioters, indicating they had been victorious. The cacophony distracted the guards enough for us to make our move. Several of us broke past the line of guards, and one by one, the Horsemen fell. The final Horseman, the one from the hanging, took off down a hallway, and I gave chase. After a moment, he turned around and attacked.
He was quite skilled, I’ll give him that. With as tired as I was after all of this, it was all I could do to fend him off. We went blow for blow for a couple of minutes before he slipped past my guard and ran me through with his blade. He hissed at me as he pulled me further onto the sword before letting me drop to the ground with the sword still in my gut.
I slumped to my knees, dropping my own blades. The world around me seemed to go silent. All I could hear was my own heartbeat and a faint ringing in my ears. Suddenly, I was furious. With the last of my strength, I stood, pulled the sword from my stomach, and used it to chop the Horseman’s head clean off his body. “Cut the head off the snake…” I said. His face was frozen in shock; in all honesty, mine probably would be too.
His head hit the ground and tumbled away, and I slumped back to the ground. The others must have finished off the rest of the guards on that floor, because Wade came sliding in behind me, catching me just before I hit the ground. Raven knelt down and cradled my head as Ricky and Dianna attempted to stop the bleeding from the fist-sized hole in my torso.
“Hang in there, buddy; you’re going to be okay,” Ricky yelled.
It was no use, though. Between the internal damage and the massive amount of blood I had already lost, I was already beginning to fade. My eyes fluttered open one last time, and it took me a second to focus my vision. I looked at them all, and I realized something.
“I…I always thought I did all this for the world. I thought that I did my duty to protect all the ones who couldn’t protect themselves…but…but that’s not true at all. All of you. All of you are the reason I fought so hard for so long. You are the part of the world I most desperately wanted to keep safe…”
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Thomas Jefferson