Shh. Don’t make too much noise. You aren’t supposed to be here.
But… since you somehow made it through my elaborate, high-tech, multi-million dollar security system, I suppose I should reward you.
Below you will find a classified document, so secretive that only a handful of eyes have ever laid their gaze upon it.
Enjoy, and tell no one what you have found here.
You can also read from this link if you prefer the format.
“I see the begotten of dragons,
Abandoned and torn and burned slow to ashes.
I see the truth of dreams,
In visions inhuman, that erupt from the seams.”
Book of Given Prophecies, First Volume
“You attach the red wire to this piece right here. Do you even have a brain? Asa told us a thousand times ‘The red wire! The red wire!’”
“No, Kiara, you sack of stupidity, it’s the blue wire. Are you trying to get us all killed?”
“Are you people actually telling me you don’t know how to properly set the explosives?”
“Shut up, Ja! This is a Black Fang Special Ops only conversation. We don’t need the opinion of unnecessary hindrances such as yourself.”
“Your money is the only necessity in my book,” Ja muttered, resigning himself to the background.
“Ain’t no chance in hell that that’s our name. But Kiara is right. It’s the red wire.”
“It’s a good name, Barr!” Gellos shouted back, indignant, fumbling with the exposed wires and fuses. “Anyone else with me? I could’ve sworn… ‘Blue is true, red you’re dead.’ …Right?”
“No, it’s ‘Red they’re dead, blue ka-pew’. As in, we all blow up. Sets the bomb off immediately.”
“Well, ship it all to Thanatos, Takeshi! I was supposed to have at least one person on my side!”
“Not when you’re wrong,” Barr proclaimed, even his whispers sending his low voice ricocheting off the walls. “Now attach the red wire to that fuse. Leave the blue one be. We ain’t trying to stay any longer than we need to.”
His voice was deep and fiery like an erupting volcano. Gellos mumbled some curses under his breath.
“…If we all die and there does happen to be another life after this one and I can find all you unsuitable heathens, you will never hear the end of this!”
“Just get it done,” Ja commanded, voice cold; detached.
Ja stood off to the side with his arms crossed, focused on scanning the brightly lit hallway they had entered from, its gray walls and repeating pattern reaching off into the distance. The plan was sound enough, but even the most firm of plans were in jeopardy when you were dealing with the type of wealth and power harbored by the Enupnion corporation. Not that this was their biggest facility — far from it. But they had not encountered a single guard on their trip to the main reactor. Of course, that had been the plan. But they should never have been so lucky to see it all the way through.
Ja’s nerves were on edge. If life had taught him anything, it was that luck doesn’t last long.
“Alright, red wire connecting in three… two… are you sure we’re not all gonna’ die… okay, fine, one…” Gellos snapped the wire into place and ducked his head down to the floor. The device began ticking, slowly. “Okay guys, we’re good! Just like I told you all. No need to thank me or shower me with gifts, we can get to that once we’ve made it back home.”
“Ten minutes on the clock people, let’s move,” Barr called out, already heading toward the exit.
The others shot into action.
They all ran down the narrow corridor that had brought them to the main reactor chamber. Their footsteps echoed loudly off the metal walls, but speed was more important than stealth at the moment. They raced along, turning to the right at the split.
Suddenly, the speakers snapped on, flooding the compound with sound. “Code Z-37-005. Code Z-37-005. Unpermitted tampering with the main reactor detected. Emergency security reserve, please identify the issue. Please identify the issue. Repeat, Code Z-37-005.”
They ran harder, footsteps pounding against the floor like a rapid drum beat. Barr led them at the front and Takeshi held down the rear.
“Into this vent!” Barr ordered, snapping the covering off of the wall, the screws still missing from their first trip through the vent.
“Nine minutes,” Takeshi proclaimed.
As quickly as they could, they all crawled into the passage, moving as fast as a crawl could take them. The words of the speaker still echoed in the background, though somewhat muffled because of their position in the vent.
“Code Z-37-005. Code Z-37-005. Unpermitted tampering…”
Ja moved through the vent along with the others. Absolute calm occupied his heart. He had been trained well. He killed his first enemy at 14. If things went bad he could handle himself quite easily. The only thing that concerned him was keeping the others alive so that he got paid. The frustration of another client dead before the paycheck cleared might actually have him considering other work.
Yet, there was nothing else he knew so well as this.
The message over the speaker cut out, the static of a microphone coming into place.
“Emergency security team, be advised. We have a breach in security, unidentified trespassers. Location, unknown. Last known location, the main reactor chamber. Units Alpha through Delta, implement lockdown procedures. Unit Echo, call upon all reserves. Any available technician, report to the main reactor immediately. I repeat, any available technician, report to the main reactor immediately.”
Barr laughed hard in his stomach. By the time the sound reached Ja’s ears, it was metallic-sounding and distorted, like a robot’s cackle.
“There ain’t gonna’ be no technicians! They all thought someone else worked tonight, huh Kiara? Ha, ha! Asa don’t fight, but I’d buy myself a one-way ticket to Thanatos if she wasn’t the best there is at her job. Asa, my girl! Beautiful!”
Barr kept laughing to himself as they approached the exit they were looking for. In this small space Ja couldn’t help but notice just how much of a massive human being Barr was; a hulking figure with arms and legs bigger than most people’s heads. He barely fit within the tight confines of the vent.
Soon enough they reached the end, and, after peering through the openings in the covering, Barr pushed it out and pounced downward, helping everyone else down. As he did so, Kiara took the lead and the party continued moving forward with Barr preparing to take the rear. It was such a flawless transition Ja thought for a moment that these people might actually be competent.
When Gellos fell from the vent opening and hit his head directly on the floor, reality settled back into place.
Gellos annoyed him more than the rest of the group put together — he was just so utterly incompetent. Ja could not understand how someone like, say, Takeshi, could possibly align himself with this bumbling fool. Ja watched him as he sprung back to his feet, assuring everyone that he was okay and that they had no need to worry. He wore a simple t-shirt over slim-fitting jeans, with traditional ninja sandals. His dirty blonde hair hung in a mess across his head, and he was constantly brushing it out of his face. His watery-blue eyes were the smiling eyes of a jokester, not a ninja.
Gellos was simply a lost cause in this line of work, Ja concluded. If they kept him around, they probably wouldn’t live another week— especially after this sort of damage done to the Enupnion corporation.
But he’d get paid before their week was up.
“Seven minutes!” Takeshi called out.
They were on the outskirts of the facility now, the routes that mailmen, office-workers, and the like took. The main floors and hallways would be checked first, as they would be the most likely place to escape from. The most direct path at least. There was the roof as well. Surely a dozen guards would be swarming the roof by now. Also the East exit in the back of the facility, where the shipments were brought in. This is where all the resources and items arrived. Ja and company were exiting through the mail services corridor, however, a sometimes forgotten and hardly used section of the building. The Enupnion corporation did not get much mail, at least not to one of their Harvesting Facilities. And so, it made the best exit.
Yet, as Ja had predicted, their luck would not last forever. Around a corner, Ja heard movement. With a hand signal he stopped the group and motioned to Kiara to check the corner. She knelt by the corner and began brushing her hand back and forth along the wall. Ja looked at her like she was a lunatic. They all waited expectantly, gazing down at her caressing the wall. They must be more out of their mind than she was, he thought, rolling his eyes.
“A guard. 15 meters ahead,” Kiara said suddenly, pulling Gellos forward.
“Wait, wait!” Ja whispered urgently. “How can you —”
“Alright brother, you’re the bait,” She interrupted.
“Sis, I hate when you do this. At least explai—”
She seized Gellos by the shirt and launched him headfirst around the corner, air funneling through the corridor as his body slammed into the wall.
“Halt! Name and access identification!” The guard called out.
Before Gellos had even collided with the wall, Kiara was pulling a kunai knife from her belt. She rolled and flicked it in the guard’s direction. A burst of water erupted from the guard’s fingertips, intended on knocking the knife off course. Instead, Kiara countered by altering the wind that had filled the space. The knife flew off to the left, missing the spray of water, then corrected itself back to the right, plunging into the guard’s throat.
He made a gurgling-coughing sound before he slumped to the ground, dead.
“SIS, I said I HATE when you DO THAT!” Gellos shouted from the floor, rubbing his head.
“The guard is dead, what more do you want?” Kiara responded moving toward the locked door.
“Finally, one of you with some sense,” Ja said, the corners of his mouth turning up in the slightest of smiles.
“Six minutes,” Takeshi rang.
Gellos sprang to his feet, following them as well. “What more could I possibly want? ‘The guard is dead Gellos!’ ‘Just be thankful your stupid sister saved you again Gellos!’ Hmm… How about, not hitting my head on the hard metal twice in one minute?! Would that be too much to ask for?!”
“You sound like a baby,” Takeshi said absently, looking around to make sure there were no incoming threats.
“Black Fang Special Ops is off the table. You guys were never cool enough to pull it off anyway. How about, Stupid McFart Sandwich Ponies? That sounds more like you guys. I’m going solo, just like my pal Ja.”
Gellos threw an arm around Ja. He pushed it off, fixing Gellos with a hard glare.
“Without the rest of them, you’d die in a day,” Ja said, cold eyes staring at the boy. “And that’s saying something, because you all may be the most incompetent people I’ve ever worked with.”
“We didn’t pay you to mouth off, stupid boy. Just swing your sword when you need to and shut up when you don’t,” Barr ordered, spitting to the side.
Ja stayed quiet. He didn’t appreciate the tone Barr had taken with him, but money came before pride in the life of an assassin.
“Five minutes,” Takeshi called out.
Kiara was steadily clicking away on the terminal. She shared the same hair as her brother, a dirty blonde color, though it was much more orderly, tied in a neat ponytail. Her outfit was similar to Gellos’s as well, a plain t-shirt with jeans underneath, and ninja sandals. Both of them had straps tied around their body at various angles, a dozen kunai knives hanging from each.
“Got it!” Kiara finally exclaimed, looking up from the terminal she had been tinkering with.
The door in front of them slid open, the harsh grating sound of metal on metal filling the room. When the door was fully opened, the sound was replaced by the blaring of an alarm.
“Code X-1. Code X-1. Protocol breach in sector 12. I repeat. Code X-1. Protocol breach in sector 12.”
“‘Got it!’” Gellos mimicked in a little girl’s voice.
“Move!” Barr bellowed.
The crew flooded through into the next room. It was a spacious area, filled to the brim with desks, computers, and cabinets. This was the paperwork room, where all the required forms and documents were dealt with. That meant the exit they were looking for was simply down the hallway on the opposite side of the room. The alarm continued to blare, searing its message into their eardrums.
Just when Ja thought they may have caught the last lucky break needed to get out alive, three dozen guards poured into the room, with more incoming behind them.
Ja’s sword slid from its sheath tied to his back. Electricity crackled where the edges met the sheath as it moved out from its chambers. He pulled the sword low into a fighting stance. As the pulsing electricity that emanated from the katana began to match the smooth, slow rhythm of his own heartbeat, he whispered the sword’s name, his mouth twisting into a devilish smile.
The sword didn’t quite have its own consciousness, but the ki that flowed through the metal of the blade was more than most human beings.
Two guards rushed Ja’s right side. Raijin snapped in that direction, sending a guard’s reinforced bo-staff crashing into a computer. Ja slid to the right again under an incoming blow from the other guard, then swung the katana upward in an arc, curving it back around to the left. The blade sliced open the first man’s chest before lodging itself three inches deep into the next man’s side. Ja pulled it free then stabbed the man in the heart.
All this happened before the guards could even realize he moved.
A sound like rolling thunder rang out whenever Ja’s blade made contact. The areas where it touched or cut were seared black.
Ja held the closest thing to a lightning bolt that mortal beings could carry.
“Four minutes!” Takeshi yelled over the melodious song of conflict.
It was Ja’s favorite song.
He leapt into action, kicking off a nearby desk. He could feel the ki flowing through his veins; sparking, crackling, begging to be used. He flipped over top of a nearby guard, severing his head from his body. As Ja landed to the floor he thrust his hand down, slamming it against the floor. Tendrils of lightning erupted from the spot, spiking into and electrocuting all of the nearby guards. The gray metal floor now featured an ash black handprint where Ja had unleashed his technique.
The surrounding guards who were bonded to water were killed immediately. Lightning was far too deadly to them, even in small doses. And what Ja unleashed could not be considered “a small dose.” Most of the others lay moaning, incapacitated.
Five must have been bonded with earth. They stood, enraged at seeing the devastation Ja had brought upon their peers. They all charged him at once.
To the tune of his favorite song, Ja performed his favorite dance.
He ducked beneath a blow from a scythe, then flipped backward over a guard’s head. In mid-air he sent a blast of lightning into the man’s ear, killing him instantly. Even as he landed two guards were on him, fighting only with their fists. Ja knew the kind. Even the slightest touch would end with any nearby bones shattered and ligaments torn. Ja flipped backward again, feet catching the edge of a desk. He launched off it, springing forward. He soared over the two guards, sword trailing blue electric sparks behind him, before hitting the ground on one knee, bringing the katana with all his momentum down upon another one of the guards.
He sliced the man cleanly in half.
Ja threw himself into a roll, avoiding the strike he knew was coming. He tucked the katana as he rolled, just as he was taught to. He never worried about stabbing himself, flipping and rolling as he was with the sword. He had spent more time with his katana than any human being on the planet. If there was one thing he could trust not to kill him in this world, it would be his own sword. Ja came out of the roll spinning back toward where he had come from. He swung the katana in a horizontal arc in front of him. None of the guards could keep up with his movement fast enough to be there for the strike, yet a razor-thin blast of electricity flew from the sword outward, striking each of the three guards.
One screamed in agony as the blast tore into their flesh. All three were laying on the ground a moment later, either unconscious or dead.
Ja took this quick respite to take stock of the situation.
There was Barr, slamming two guards to the ground, one with each hand. Good. If Barr died it could make receiving the rest of the payment far more difficult. He seemed to be handling himself well though.
Takeshi, bonded to fire as he was, was making quick work of these poor guards. He was too fast, too powerful, too unpredictable — the best of this lot by far, Ja discerned. Takeshi gave the appearance of a seasoned warrior. He had a hard face, his dark blue eyes always holding a menacing look. He wore traditional combat garments, loose-fitting articles of clothing that made movement free and easy. Across his torso was stitched a simple script, one word: fire. Vague thoughts of trying to recruit him again flashed across his mind as Ja turned an incoming blow and stabbed the guard who had thrown it.
Gellos and Kiara fought back to back. Ja was actually fairly impressed with their technique. Both brother and sister were bonded with air and their fighting style was something to be seen. They floated in mid-air, carried by the current with seamless mastery. They drifted left to avoid an incoming strike, rushed upward to miss a swinging axe, then dropped down low to stab the woman with a kunai. Ja was always somewhat jealous of what those bonded with air could do.
Until he remembered that he was bonded with the power that splits seams in the atmosphere itself. Lightning coursed through his veins. Electricity sparked on his fingertips.
“Three minutes!” Takeshi roared.
Even more guards were pouring into the room.
Ja went to work slicing this way and that, killing any guard who stumbled within a few feet of him. He made his way over to Gellos and Kiara through the chaotic choreography of battle.
“What’s our exit strategy?” Ja asked, blasting lightning directly into a guard’s face. His voice was calm and level, only loud enough to be heard over the fighting.
“Strategy?” Gellos asked, slicing a guard’s throat with a kunai before flipping backward to create more space for himself. “My strategy is to… how do you say… NOT DIE!”
Ja spun right, slicing into another guard, leaving her bloody and crippled on the floor. “Kiara?”
“I have to—” She ducked low under a guard’s sword, kicking his feet from under him. She slammed his head against the ground with a gust of wind, knocking him unconscious. “I have to get to that terminal that leads to the exit hallway and get it open. I’m going to need some cover while I work. It’s not a— It’s not a quick process.”
Ja moved on without another word, dancing his way toward Barr. A guard leapt at Ja. He carried an ono, a reinforced hatchet, usually bonded with earth or fire. Flames licked the edge of the ono as the man swung it down at Ja’s head. Ja rolled to the right, slicing out with his katana. Ja cut the man’s legs completely off at the knees, blasting him immediately with a bolt of electricity to end his life.
Barr’s head snapped toward him for a moment.
“Kiara needs to get to the terminal to open that door for us. Now are you going to lead your team or should I?”
Barr grunted, grabbing a guard, punching his face in, then hurling him at Ja. He easily sidestepped the projectile.
“Takeshi! Assassin! Gellos! Clear a path to the terminal for Kiara! We need that door open!” Barr yelled over the cacophony, his voice like a resounding drum.
The intensity of Barr’s roar alone sent cracks spiraling across the room. All the guards stopped for a moment, taken aback at the power he contained in only his voice. Even as they hesitated, Barr’s crew began maneuvering themselves to get Kiara to the terminal.
“Two minutes!” Takeshi called out.
Ja sliced through three guards as easily as training dummies. Sometimes the jobs bored him these days. They were all the same. There was never any challenge anymore. Ja let out a sigh as he cut down another woman and moved onto the man charging behind her. Sure there were more bodies today than what he had been encountering recently. But it was only more of the same.
Suddenly, a massive wall of fire erupted from Takeshi’s sword. Takeshi flew forward, slicing down two guards with each strike. The sword Takeshi swung was called a Nagamaki. It features a blade of about two and a half feet, with a handle roughly the same size. The name of Takeshi’s particular sword was Karyu, a superior tool to most weapons. Yet, it was certainly not of the caliber of Raijin. Ja smiled as he cut down another guard, his mind turning.
Takeshi would make a good sparring partner.
Ja blasted three guards away with a surge of electricity, then motioned for Kiara to move. Kiara finished off the guard she was engaged with then backflipped into a cartwheel, rolling through the path they had carved out for her.
Guards began to realize their intentions and they adjusted accordingly. A small semicircle of guards began to form around the terminal. Barr approached them as the others continued fighting. He focused himself for a moment, eyes closed as he stood in front of the men and women. They yelled at him, pushing their weapons toward him threateningly. Ki seemed to radiate from his body and the whole room began to smell like rock and wilderness.
One of the guards charged him, slamming a fire-infused bo staff down on his head. The bo-staff, as strong as any sword would be, snapped in half. The guard watched in horror as the broken piece tumbled across the ground, clanking harmlessly against the floor.
With a speed far faster than his big build would suggest, Barr began to attack. He smashed his left fist into the chest of the poor soul who had decided to attack him alone, sending the guard hurtling back into the wall. He dashed forward, smacking away an incoming spear before leaping toward the guard like a wild beast pouncing on its prey. The guard had only half a moment to look shocked before they smashed into the floor and Barr’s fist pounded into his face. Two swords swung at Barr from either side. They smashed into his body and shattered as if they were glass. Barr grabbed one by the shoulder and flung him into the other, the two tumbling several yards across the ground before coming to a stop.
Then he charged the last one like a mad bull. His opponent was bonded with earth ki as well and was even able to stop Barr in his tracks for a moment, the two of them grappling, trying to gain the advantage over the other. Then, without any indication, Barr dropped to the ground and swept the man’s legs out from under him. He fell backward and crashed hard against the ground, his head bouncing off the floor. Barr swung his body around, his fist and the arm just beyond the wrist quickly growing bigger and turning a gray color — his fist was becoming stone.
Then, in a flash, his stone fist slammed into the man’s face.
Barr, unlike Takeshi, would not be a good sparring partner. A man like him was best killed in his sleep. His strength, which comes from his mastery over his earth ki, could easily become overwhelming, even to someone as skilled and trained as Ja. Even so, the man didn’t intimidate Ja. He was too headstrong. The stubborn were easily manipulated. And if you can control someone, you can kill them.
Just as all the guards were finished, Barr snarled an order. “Kiara!”
Kiara rushed in and began pressing buttons furiously. The rest of the group formed a defensive circle of their own to protect her against the guards.
Ja killed any guard who approached his area absently. This had been going on for far too long for his liking. And none of them were even worth fighting — if it wasn’t for the money, of course. Security guards are not the gold-standard fighters they should be. Shinobi, mercenaries, and the like are the true killers. There is just too much to secure in this world, too many places they need people to be at once. Quantity is better than quality for such jobs.
But quantity would not help them here. Ja could kill guards like this for the next two days straight if he needed to. And if that’s what it would take for him to get paid, so be it.
“One minute!” Takeshi yelled, stabbing a guard with Karyu.
The man instantly lit ablaze, catching the two people next to him on fire as well. A sword nearly sliced into Takeshi’s face, until fire began to lick the edge of the sword. After a moment, with the guard staring in disbelief, his blade burst into flame and disintegrated. Water fell from the place where the sword had been. His fire defensive techniques had stopped even a water-infused blade? Ja was genuinely impressed.
Now he really wanted to have a sparring session with Takeshi.
As the seconds ticked down, Ja began to worry for the first time this mission. What if Kiara couldn’t get the door open in time? Ja absolutely despised not being able to control his own fate. The anxiety that it caused was far worse than anything battle could throw his way. If he died in battle he owed it only to himself. A misstep here, a sloppy technique there. If he died now, he owed it only to the incompetence of those he chose to associate himself with. Which, he supposed, was still a mistake on his end. But one must take risks in this life. An orphan doesn’t survive through childhood in a city like Upnos without learning to take risks.
But he couldn’t die now. Not while Karissa still needed him.
Ja lunged forward with the tenacity of a wild animal. He sliced a gash through the first man’s chest, spun and stabbed another, took the right arm off a woman, parried two blows before he brought a lightning bolt crashing down onto the man’s head.
“Forty-five seconds!” Takeshi called out.
Ja looked to the others after killing another guard. They were beginning to break. Gellos was cut all over and limping heavily on his left leg. Barr had one eye swollen shut. Takeshi panted heavily and his uniform had bloodstains all over it. Most were from the blood of his enemies, but some were from his own wounds. At least once that Ja noticed Kiara had to stop working in order to defend herself and help the others.
If they all died today, Ja would be sure he did everything he could to give Kiara the time to do what she needed to do.
Ja’s ki flowed into his sword, the swirling chaos of lightning ki. First, it began to emanate a blue light. Then, the sword began to glow bright blue, nearly white, crackling sounds coming from the swirling energy. This process continued for a few moments until the entire sword resembled a bright blue lightning bolt that Ja held in his hand.
A half dozen guards bonded to water ran at the sight of it. Such a blade would be deadly with the slightest touch to a water-bonded individual. Everyone else at least flinched when they noticed it, even those Ja was fighting alongside. He swung the katana on a downward arc, slamming it into the ground. Lightning shot forward along the line he drew, absolutely decimating anyone in its way.
Ja took stock. A lot of them were taken down by the previous attack, but more remained and continued to come, pouring in from adjoining hallways like ants.
It would take more then.
The same chaotic ki that encased Raijin began to pulse throughout Ja’s own body. He could feel the thunderous lightning spreading through his veins, absorbing itself through his bones and tissues and up to his skin. He held up his left hand, gazing at it. Blue sparks began to erupt from his fingertips, then his palm, more and more violently until his entire body had been consumed by electricity.
Ja couldn’t strictly see when he performed this technique, but he could certainly sense where the enemy was. Where all the enemies were, at once. Then he attacked, his cells now totally consumed by the raw energy of lightning. He could feel himself moving, one to one to one — time seeming to stand still. He struck each of the guards in turn, his cells merging into their own, electricity surging in and through them, searing muscle tissue and causing organs to shut down. An instant later, seemingly instantaneously, he was standing in the same spot he left, sweat dripping from his head, his body exhausted.
The guards hung for a moment, their eyes wide and their bodies static.
Then they all dropped at once.
Ja turned to face the others.
“Thirty seconds,” Takeshi announced, eyeing Ja as if he were a coiled snake, fangs bared.
Thirty more seconds until the explosive went off and the entire building erupted, destroying everything — and everyone — inside of it.
And the door was still sealed shut.
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