8 YEARS AGO
The boy twirled through the air, the staff in his hand landing solidly on the head of the dummy, causing it to fold inward. If it had been a real head, the skull would be cracked open. Without even pausing for a second to admire this move, the boy spun around and jabbed the staff outwards at another dummy. This time the staff went so deep into the dummy’s stomach that straw stuffing poured out of it.
A woman sat on a bench staring at the boy. He was better trained than most karate instructors and yet only eight years old. Performing moves that any normal person would take years to master. But this child was not normal, which was why he was being trained by one of the best in the world.
“Three backflips!” the woman ordered.
The young boy instantly stopped what he was doing and performed three perfect backflips in a row, not a single fault or hesitation in his pose. He was even breathing lightly by the time he had finished the third one despite the fact that they had been training for more than an hour. But that was how he had been trained, to push the body past its limit and set a new record at such a young age. That way, the boy could perform these skills non-stop without his body lagging for years to come. It was an art that very few people knew, maybe only six in the whole world, and could only be mastered at a very young age when the body was still developing.
“Continue with your exercises,” the woman told the boy.
He quickly picked up a bow from the floor of the dojo and a quiver of arrows. The first arrow was nocked, drawn back, and released without any time for second thoughts about where it would hit. It didn’t matter. It was a bullseye, straight into the red circle on the dummy.
Before she could even comprehend the perfect hit the boy had made, he fired two more arrows, each one being a perfect mark. And then the next two and the next two. He hadn’t missed a single shot.
The boy came to a halt, lowering his bow. There was only one arrow left in the quiver, his hand in the process of grabbing and nocking it while the previous arrow had been in flight. By now it had already reached its bullseye.
“Yes, Sensei?” the boy asked after a minute of silence, waiting to hear what his next orders were. The woman sighed deeply at this. She hated to do it, turn her students into mindless robots but she had no choice. They had to become completely obedient so her orders could be carried out instantly without hesitation. Something the boy had just shown a few minutes ago. It was this way that he could master all these techniques so quickly.
He had come far and the woman was proud of him. But her face revealed nothing. She could not let any emotion show or else this moment would be harder than it had to be. The boy had mastered every lesson she had taught him and in only one year. He was her seventh student and just as good as the others if not better in certain areas. But now was the time for her to leave. There were others to train as well and he had no more need of her. The rest of his journey was his alone.
“Please sit, Connor.”
The boy sat down next to the woman, posture straight and perfectly aligned. The woman had no doubt that by the time another year had passed, the boy’s posture would have started to fade away. But not her teachings. No, those would endure in his mind forever.
“Did I do something wrong, Sensei?” Connor asked, his voice betraying a small quiver.
“No, my boy no. You have done very well in your training so far.”
“Thank you, Sensei,” Connor tilted his head down slightly. Compliments were very rarely given out so he treasured one whenever it came.
“Now it is time to begin the second phase of your training.”
If it was even possible, the boy sat up straighter. For the last year he had been training as hard as he could, trying to progress past the first phase. Now finally he was ready to move on to the second phase.
“Thank you, Sensei. I know I’m ready.”
The woman smiled softly, letting a little emotion escape. “Of course you are. Here,” she handed him a small and thick red notebook. Connor’s hands could barely fit around it as he took it. “This has every single training exercise for your second phase as well as the more advanced techniques. When I get back I expect to see that you have mastered them all.”
Connor was so absorbed in looking through the book and scanning all the different fighting stances and gymnastic exercises that it took him a minute to register what the woman had said. “Wait, you’re leaving?”
The woman sighed. This was always the hardest part, leaving her students. But if she didn’t do it they would never be able to learn and grow on their own. And that was essential for what was to come.
“I am sorry, but the second phase is your path alone. From here on out, I cannot help you.”
Connor’s eyes filled with tears. He was too young to fully understand what was happening. All he knew was that his greatest friend was leaving him. The one who had not only told him he could be somebody great (like his parents) but actually shown him how he could be great (not like his parents). And now she was going away.
“So, because I passed the first phase, you have to leave?” Connor asked, thinking hard.
The woman could see where this was going and quickly put a stop to it. “Connor, don’t feel bad about passing the first phase just because I am leaving. It was necessary. One day I will return and I expect to see you helping all those in trouble with every technique in that book.”
“So I will see you again?” Connor asked hopefully.
The woman nodded. “Yes, but not for a while. This is your time. One day you will understand.” She packed up all her things in the duffel bag next to her and slung it over her shoulder, ready to leave. Only there was one last thing she had to do.
She kneeled down and brought Connor in close, giving him a hug. He had to be one of the sweetest children she had ever trained and the most innocent. It broke her heart to have to direct him onto this path, one of violence and death. But he was the one. And there was no choice.
“Good-bye Connor,” she whispered in his ear, standing up to go. She turned around and headed for the door.
“Good-bye Mrs. Dragonfly,” Connor said.
The woman smiled at the name, the one he had given her. It was her favorite by far and she had had a lot of names over the years. Then, leaving behind all sentiment, she walked out the door leaving the eight-year-old boy alone in the dojo.
Water softly lapped against the sides of the pier in small waves. Several ships in the area were rocking back and forth on the waves, either the property of some local resident of Moon Grove or a cargo ship delivering crates of goods from other cities. All except for one.
The Midnight Run was not a large ship, but still much bigger than any of the sailing boats or yachts lining the pier. And it was large enough to deliver trade goods under the nose of the local authorities. Many smugglers and black-market dealers made business in the city off the goods delivered by this ship. Which was why there were several guards roaming the area, making sure there was no one watching the crates being brought off the ship and unloaded in a warehouse.
Two of these guards were stationed at the back of the warehouse, pistols in hand to take care of any problems. The only sounds they could hear was the water washing against the concrete walls of the pier and wooden jetties. It was a quiet night, but the guards remained on alert. These past few weeks had seen a significant drop in smuggling activity due to a mysterious figure swooping in and destroying all the goods. And no matter how many guards were stationed, he remained active.
“What was that?” one of the guards said suddenly, lifting his head.
“What was what?” the other one asked irritably.
“I heard something.”
“You said that 15 minutes ago. Nothing happened. You said it half-an-hour ago. Still nothing happened.”
“Trust me, this time I heard something.”
A soft tap echoed above them, as if someone had just jumped on the roof. Both guards looked at each other warily before glancing up. There was nothing there.
“See, I told you,” the second guard said. “There’s nothing th-”
The kick hit him square in the chest, knocking him to the street. As he was getting up, a fist landed in his nose with the entire force of a person’s upper body strength, whipping the guard’s head back with a crunching sound.
The first guard stared in terror as his companion was taken out with ease. He aimed his gun at the intruder, his hand shaking so badly that it was getting harder to aim. The man in front of him wore black clothing, almost indiscernible in the night. But the guard could clearly see that the man held two long swords, curved slightly but extremely sharp.
“Hold it right there,” the guard managed.
With a flick of the wrist, the sword came up and slashed the gun straight through the middle, cutting in half. The guard stared in shock at his now useless gun, unaware of the second sword coming up and the hilt hitting him in the temple that sent him into the same deep sleep as his companion.
Sixteen-year-old Connor Ford stared down at the two guards for a second. Like many of the other criminals he had dealt with in the past five months, they were completely incompetent and unprepared. It made his job that much easier.
His heart pounded from the sudden adrenaline but with a few deep breaths in, it started to calm down again. Experience had taught him that an accelerated heart rate affected his mind to the point where he couldn’t focus. And in this line of work, focus was key to survival. It was a cold night but some sweat dribbled down his forehead and neck, reacting with the fabric of his suit and creating an itchy and uncomfortable atmosphere.
“Marco, you are incapable of making a comfortable suit,” Connor muttered, trying and failing to scratch an itch on his cheek, the ski mask and gloves he wore blocking him. Leaving it for the time, he assessed the warehouse facing him. Based on what he was hearing there were around twenty guards on the inside, all armed. And if they were smart, not that any of these buffoons had much brain cells to use, there would be several guards stationed directly inside the doors. While Connor loved a good fight now and then, he needed to do a little reconnaissance first and see where all the guards were located. It was the dead ones who rushed in blind. So the door was out. What would be his way in? Connor looked the warehouse top to bottom. It was falling apart with plenty of cracks crisscrossing the shabby paintwork, some broken windows, and faded out graffiti. It said something about the architecture if even the graffiti was looking worn out. Connor was always confused with why falling apart warehouses and factories attracted smugglers and drug dealers. Sure, there were plenty in the city so it was technically the perfect place to hide from the police. But every now and then Connor would prefer to break into a penthouse instead of a drafty, rat-infested warehouse.
The windows. Connor had been so lost in thought that he hadn’t realized that that was his way in. One broken window several feet above the door. Perfect. Getting up there could be tricky, but Connor was used to these sorts of challenges.
He started to run towards the warehouse door, his feet barely making a sound as they slapped against the concrete ground. Using his forward momentum, he ran up the wall of the warehouse for three steps before gravity started to take control. Just as he was about to fall back to the ground, Connor placed his foot on the doorframe and pushed down on it, effectively launching himself upwards a few extra feet so that his fingertips caught a windowsill. In a matter of seconds, he had pulled himself up and carefully maneuvered his way through the broken window.
Careful not to alert anyone nearby to his presence, Connor stepped lightly onto a catwalk that circulated above the warehouse. He might be fast and skilled but he wasn’t bulletproof despite all the pleading to Marco, the creator of all his equipment. That guy had to be the most stubborn person he had ever met, which was unfortunate considering Connor relied on him for almost everything.
Focusing on what was happening below him, Connor looked down at the bustling activity surrounding the warehouse and was shocked by what he saw. There were about twenty crates littering the floor and more still coming in. And every single one of those crates was packed to the brim with guns. There were the usual pistols and rifles, but other guns were there as well that really worried him as they were military grade weapons that were meant more for open warfare rather than street violence. There was something serious going on here.
“What are you planning?” Connor muttered, dropping his guard for a second.
“Hey, who are you?”
Connor leapt upwards, his fist flying directly into the unseen guard’s chin. The guard’s eyes glazed over as he slipped into unconsciousness. Before he could hit the metal catwalk, Connor grabbed him by the shoulders and gently lowered him as not to make a sound. Then he began to walk along the catwalk in order to find a quick way down to the ground, his fist barely throbbing from its impact with the man’s chin. After beating up criminals and punching bags, his fists could almost withstand anything. Plus, it was a little satisfying to see their eyes widen in pain and surprise before closing.
It had been several months since he had started this little crusade of his and he had definitely gotten better at taking out criminals. It helped that most of them were overconfident bullies that had never gone up against any true threat. Still, these people were doing a lot of harm in this city and Connor was aiming to put a stop to it.
It had really all started a few weeks ago when he had begun to notice a dramatic increase in the amount of crime lately, more gangs roaming around causing trouble, more bank robberies, more police and ambulance sirens. The problem seemed to be that there was a mysterious new crime lord around organizing all the different gangs and operations. And that was never a good sign. Whenever someone managed to organize all the different criminals, it was usually for a purpose. Sometimes it was just for one major bank heist, but other times it meant planning terrorist attacks that killed a whole lot of people. So Connor had to wander around the city looking for trouble to get a sense of what was going to happen in order to stop it. He had fortunately gotten a tip that there would be a delivery here tonight and it had paid off. He just hadn’t expected so many guns.
“Whatever they’re up to, it is definitely not going to be pretty,” Connor muttered to himself. “And I’m talking to myself again. Great.” He really needed to break that habit.
Seeing that the catwalk ahead of him had reached a dead end, Connor looked down again to see if there were any guards in that vicinity. They were all too busy focusing on the next crate being unloaded from the ship. Now was his chance. Flipping himself over the railing, Connor dropped several meters to the ground below, bending his knees at the end to absorb the impact. For most people, they probably would have hurt themselves badly if they had attempted that but Connor had been specially trained. That was a cakewalk for him. At least the suit was made for hard exercise like this. He had gone through twelve homemade sewing disasters before he found Marco.
He had landed directly behind one of the weapon’s crates. Knowing that his time was short, Connor pulled out a small device and dropped it into the crate. A small grenade of Marco’s design that emitted a large explosion of force. No fire or fatalities. Perhaps a few guns would survive in the crate but at least the majority wouldn’t be used ever again.
Moving along, Connor dropped grenade after grenade into each crate, positioning it in the middle so it would have maximum range to all the weapons. His heart was acting up again from the suspense. He could get caught at any moment and the more he thought about it, the more likely it seemed it would happen. There was some truth to that as if he thought about getting caught, his body would act faster and more reckless to avoid getting caught and the get caught as a result. He needed to calm down and relax as he finished these last few crates. But just as he was about to drop his last grenade, someone yelled “hey, you!”
Like an idiot, Connor looked up.
It was a good thing that he did as he managed to duck his head before the bullet could shatter his skull, something that would be a little hard to explain to his family. He leapt upwards onto the crate and drew his swords from their scabbards. It was a fluid move, one he had done a hundred times to the point where his fingers no longer cramped. That was a relief seeing how he needed his hands to write out his math homework. As the guard aimed at him, Connor slid aside from the gun’s line of sight and kicked the man in the kneecap right at the nerve point. The man fell to the ground and lay groaning in pain while clutching his injured knee. Before he could look up, Connor used the hilt of his blade to put the man out of action as well.
Knowing that the man’s shout had undoubtedly been heard, Connor turned around ready to fight. Which was a good thing considering the two dozen guns aimed directly at him.
Connor jumped behind one of the crates as the gunmen opened fire. It was at this point that Connor really missed his bow. He could just snipe at these guys from the safety of these crates. The top of the crates splintered from another burst of bullets. Relative safety anyway. But the bow had been damaged a few days back when a bullet had snapped the cord and broken through the wood. So while it was being fixed, Connor had to stay alive so that he could use it again.
It didn’t really matter though. None of them were able to hit him.
“You all shoot like four-year-old girls!” he yelled at them.
One gunman leaned behind the crate in an effort to get at Connor which was a mistake as Connor then grabbed the man’s head and slammed into the crate. He felt sorry for the crate.
“All right, one down and no idea how many more to go,” Connor muttered. “And I’m talking to myself again.”
Ducking some gunfire that tore open several crates behind him, Connor ran out for a second and brought the hilt of his sword into the back of one gunman’s head while sweeping the legs out from another gunman. Then he was ducking another round of bullets. These actions had been drilled into him for several years now and he had practiced them to the point where he could literally do it in his sleep, which was actually a pretty funny story.
“Wow, I could be nice and say that you almost hit me. But it would be even more mean to get your hopes up.”
Taking a small risk, Connor lifted his head up and saw that there were six gunmen converging on him directly in front of the crate. He ducked down before they could shoot while smiling. They were exactly where he wanted them to be. Grabbing hold of the bottom of the crate, he lifted it slightly trying to get leverage. Straining from the weight, Connor paused for a second to build up his energy. He had only one shot at pulling this off and if he failed it…well it wouldn’t be fatal but it would be embarrassing. As his fingers started to go numb, Connor put all of his strength into his arms and hurled the crate upwards. Guns flew everywhere, most of them hitting the gunmen in the face or arms as they tried to protect themselves. Crying out in alarm, they all ran out of the way or tried to find cover.
In the chaos, Connor knocked out five more gunmen, running between them and slamming his sword hilts on the back of their skulls. Seriously, who hired these guys? It was like fighting a flock of penguins if penguins were lame.
As the gunmen started getting to their feet, Connor yanked out the trigger for all the grenades and placed his thumb over the button. He didn’t push it though. Something was holding him back. An opportunity like this didn’t come very often.
Waiting right until most of the gunmen had gotten to their feet, Connor grinned under his mask. These goons wouldn’t know what hit them. “Look up if you’re stupid.”
They all looked up.
“Boom.” Connor pressed the button, grabbing a gunman’s unconscious body as cover. All of the gunmen were still recovering from the rainstorm of guns and looked at him with a mixture of fear and confusion, as if knowing they should be scared but not fully understanding why yet. The explosions told them why.
Every single crate exploded from the grenades’ force. They might have been non-lethal but they did unleash a quite powerful detonation. Almost all the guns were obliterated instantly, the others sent soaring through the air. Several gunmen standing to close to the crates were also given these brief flight lessons. None of them had seen it coming.
By the time everything had calmed down again, there were only five gunmen left standing with all of the others scattered around on the floor or dangling from the catwalk in the case of two unfortunate goons, either moaning in pain or knocked out. Connor decided to finish this once and for all.
Pushing the unconscious man off of him, he moved aside from one pistol before it could shoot, slicing it in half with his sword. He then kicked another man in the ribs, throwing him back, and ran his blade up a third man’s arm. The two remaining gunmen opened fire at the mysterious figure in black but he was too quick, managing to follow the gun’s directions and stay away from the bullets. He then grabbed their heads and hit them together hard, letting both men collapse to the ground. He thought about saying ‘that should knock some sense into them’ but he wasn’t that corny.
Connor then heard something, a soft click coming from behind him. Without thinking, he threw himself to the ground, the bullet slightly grazing his suit around his shoulder. Great, another scolding from Marco was bound to come. The gunman he had kicked was back up and leveling his gun at Connor. With a yell, the man squeezed the trigger rapidly, causing bullet after bullet to fly out of the barrel straight at Connor’s head. But Connor had a few tricks up his sleeves. As soon as a bullet emerged from the gun, Connor followed the gun’s direction and kept one of his swords on the path in front of it, never letting it reach his suit. To have to explain two holes in his suit to Marco would be too much for the guy to handle. Every single bullet bounced off the sword’s metal skin, flying in multiple directions. When the gun’s clip was empty, Connor spun around in the air and brought his leg into a high kick that landed into the gunman’s face at full force, dropping him heavily to the ground. Making sure there were no more threats, Connor did a quick sweep of the area. Nope, just a large score of moaning and unconscious men. Several crates damaged, criminals knocked out, and only one bullet scrape on his suit. Not bad.
There was one other thing that he had to do before he left. Checking the pocket of one of the men lying unconscious, Connor found an I-phone. Dialing 9-1-1, he held it up to his face. Before anyone could even speak, he said in a high-pitched voice, “come quick! I heard some gunshots over at Pier 42.” He hung up and tossed the phone aside, heading for the exit. He was weary after all the spikes of adrenaline of the night. It was funny how having a gun pointed at you increased your heart rate.
Connor paused at the entrance to the warehouse. Taking a small turn, he saw it was one of the injured gunmen who had spoken, the one with the long cut on his arm. “Who are you?” the man asked.
Connor stared at him for a moment, struggling to find something to say. “I’m the guy who’s going to stop you,” he finally said and then disappeared into the shadows.