The Hero's Shadow
Somewhere in the western United States, a rural community under the black blanket of a moonless night…
The attack was executed with practiced precision and brutal swiftness. Most of the brothers staying at the temple of Mithras were killed before they even realized that their killers were among them. None lived long enough to raise an alarm in the outside world.
Their bodies lay crumpled amidst the ruin of their home and offices. Every piece of furniture, each statue, all of the walls and the entirety of the flooring, whether it be wood, tile, or stone, were smashed apart in the search for hidden documents.
In the depths of the Mithreum beneath, the sole remaining survivor coughed up blood with an exhausted groan. The old Mithrarch was suspended from a bronze statue of his master, man and deity both pierced through by a dozen slim swords. Through the pain and terror, he had resisted all interrogations.
Before the icon and its worshiper stood a strange priest of an altogether different sort. He was draped in vestments made from the pelts of an unknown animal, perhaps jackals or else something stranger. Streamers of water flowed through the space around him, a river running around his body in ever-shifting loops and coils.
Every now and again, droplets shot forth at the old man, fired from the priest’s aquatic scarves at such high pressure that they became tiny bullets boring holes in the Mithrarch’s flesh. Though he cried out, he did not speak except to report to his god that there were evil individuals in need of punishment.
“This is a waste of time. They don’t have anything of what we’re looking for and this geezer isn’t going to sing.”
The voice belonged to a rough looking man who sauntered up to the platform where the priest was at work. He wore simple, dusty clothes that made it look as though he had just walked in from a ranch on the wide plains. It would have been easy enough to mistake the man for an ordinary cowboy, except that his presence had the same intensity of malice as the priest’s.
A woman’s voice, sharp and beautiful. She lounged languidly on a pile of rubble near the statue. Her body was clothed in the elegant garb of an orchestra conductor, but any sense of refinement she might have cultivated was ruined by the cruelty and arrogance etched in her face by years of murdering and pillaging.
With a musical hum like the plucking of harp strings, the swords pinning the Mithrarch to the bronze god twirled and spun in place as though directed by an unseen puppeteer. Man and deity were both cut to pieces, flesh and metal body parts mixing together as they fell to the floor. The blades swam through the air to return to the side of their mistress.
The priest was unmoved by the abrupt end to his interrogation. His patience was as deep as the ocean. It was true, anyway, that they were unlikely to learn anything of value at that particular shrine. The wicked priest turned to address the gunslinger.
“I want you to go and tie up some loose ends in the east. Then, that man must be surveilled. Oversee the operation personally.”
The gunslinger nodded lazily and the conductor rose from her seat. The trio, along with the others still rummaging through the offices above, departed as swiftly as they had arrived, disappearing like an eerie fog. After a decade spent lurking in the shadows, the Irregulars were on the move once more.
Somewhere in one of the boroughs of New York City, in the upstairs room of a brownstone apartment with all of the lights extinguished…
The partisan leaders no longer dared to meet during the daylight hours. The mayor’s task force was closing in on them, aided by turncoats acting as informants. The Families were so annoyed with their interference in the labor union racket that they were now being hunted in the streets.
To make matters worse, the lord governor was breathing down their necks, demanding ever more radical results. Though they preached about a coming uprising to the poor and disaffected, it was another matter entirely to be forced to plan it themselves. They were now crossing over into the territory of something that could end with their necks under the headsman’s glare.
The men and women at the meeting sat in paranoid silence, no one willing to be the first to speak and shoulder the responsibility of leadership. But their reluctance had already become irrelevant, the path they were on inescapable, and the turning of the gears of revolution unstoppable.
Somewhere in Italy, a busy harbor through which commercial ships steamed…
The dock workers loaded the last crate onto the freighter and wiped the sweat from their faces. It was a large, rectangular box reinforced by iron plates. As they had moved it, whatever was inside rattled like a hundred metal serpents caged together.
They dismissed the crate as just one more heavy thing to move before their shift ended. Besides, the side was stamped “Military Surplus - Scrap.” That was enough for them, although a more curious individual might wonder why such scrap, common enough after the Great War, was being shipped to the New World instead of a local forge.
A truly industrious detective might be able to unravel the paper trail following the crate and leading toward its destination. If he managed to uncover the name of the intended recipient, he would pause and ask, “Who is Camilla di Verona?”
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