Enter the Knights
AWD: Knights - Episode 2

by Kermit O

WARNING: The following contains language and subject matter that may not be suitable for all audiences.

A perfect calm settled over Justice Ancel as she entered the ORCHA stronghold, matched only by the eerie silence dominating the building. The lack of patrols and surveillance equipment meant the rebels were either very careless or very clever. The place looked like a warehouse under construction. For a moment she was skeptical, thinking the lead had gone sour. But as a fourth year knight, her instincts were strong enough to tell her otherwise. Although she hadn't seen or heard any signs of the paramilitaries, she knew they were here. What was far more important, though, was whether or not they knew she was here.

The Knights were here on a lead obtained from hacking into the ORCHA's communications servers. They had discovered a detailed timeline for a coordinated series of attacks, and the sites where they'd take place. According to the mission briefing, the group's elusive leader — who had never even been caught on camera — would be personally participating. This was a rare chance to deal a critical blow to their operations. The Laconian Federation, suspecting that ORCHA had collaborators in the military and government, knew that they could not mobilize a counter-effort without alerting the terrorists, and losing their opportunity. They decided instead to contact the Knights Foundation, and within the hour a squad was deployed from the Academy.

The Knights' primary objective was to discover the identity of the ORCHA leader, confirm his location, then signal the infiltration team stationed around the perimeter. It would be their job to capture him — alive for the full commission, fifty percent for anything less. This made the advance mission that much more important.

Justice reached the end of the corridor and put her back to the wall, feeling the cool dampness of the sweat collecting inside her gear. Peering around the corner, she found one man clad in black from head to toe and heavily armed. He patrolled the intersecting corridor on the other side of the passageway, and wasn't an immediate threat. The freight elevator in that same hall presented an ongoing risk, but soon Justice had a bigger problem. Another soldier appeared, carrying a heavy assault rifle, and his patrol route was bringing him right towards her.

To complicate matters further, there was movement in the hallway to her right, back from where she came. She was trapped. Drawing one of her revolvers, she made sure she had a full cylinder before planning her next move. Still pressed against the wall, she pointed the gun down the hall, but kept her attention on the progress of the patroller. She had only a few seconds to make a decision. If she rushed the soldier, she might be fast enough to disarm him, but as former military, he was likely to be just as dangerous hand to hand. Worse still, she would draw the attention of the other one, who wouldn't hesitate to turn his machine gun on her. Her other option was to take a shot in the dark at whatever was approaching from the opposite end of the hall, but without knowing who it was, and what they were carrying, that could be disastrous.

Although Swift was still somewhere in the building, and there were enough Knights outside to qualify as a small army, neither were close enough to help her out of this predicament. If she used her communicator now, she risked jeopardizing the entire mission. The patrolling guard was right on top of her. She was out of time, so she made her choice.

Just as he came to the end of the corridor, she pivoted in front of him, her elbow sweeping up to smash against his chin. The attack would've dropped a normal man, but this fellow seemed to be more of a walking tank. His head snapped back, but a second later he countered by smacking her across the face with the butt of his gun. The blow surprised as much as hurt her, and then she was on the ground. The soldier lined his rifle up with her head, but in one fluid motion she snatched it from his hand and turned it back on him. Not much for shooting people at point blank range, however, she hesitated, allowing him to kick the weapon away. Red with anger, the soldier reached down to grab at her. Quite the opposite of what he intended, though Justice thrust her legs upward to clench his neck between her thighs.

Instinctively he returned to his feet, pulling her up with him, and she grabbed two handfuls of his hair to fortify her grip. He struggled to break free, but she grabbed two handfuls of his hair to fortify her grip. Putting his weight into it, he slammed her back down against the ground, sending a blade of pain slicing up and down her spine and causing stars to burst behind her eyes. The force of the impact almost made her lose consciousness. Curling her body tightly to shield her throat from his desperate grasp, Justice began a silent count, and stared the soldier dead in the face. At 15, his eyes began to water. At 20, they rolled back into his head. And at 30, finally, he fell limp, all that muscle and tension reduced to dead weight. Justice wriggled free from beneath the man's armored girth.

She barely had time to catch her breath as the other soldier's route brought him back into the passageway. Needing only a few seconds to realize what happened, he lifted his gun to fire. But Justice was faster. Her first shot knocked the gun askew, and the second struck the arm that held it. The soldier clutched the wound momentarily, then reached for the pistol on his hip with his good hand. An instant later, a boot slammed into his chest, and threw him to his back. That same foot was pressed to his neck the instant he hit the ground, and he found himself staring up into the barrel of an oversized revolver.

The sudden blare of an alarm distracted Justice momentarily, and the ORCHA soldier pushed up against her foot, causing her to stumble. He rolled over to reach for his gun, but the metal of a revolver barrel digging into his cheek stopped him cold. He turned his head in time to see a fist flying towards him before everything went black. Justice shook off her hand and frowned.

"What the hell are you doing?", came a familiar voice from behind her.

Swift. On the soapbox. Again.

"Do you realize..."

What Justice realized, was that direct combat was inevitable now, so she started making the necessary mental preparations. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Swift's voice was chastising her about following protocol, but she was making a conscious effort to ignore him. It was only half working. Whatever pretentiousness he was babbling was wasted, anyway. He may have been a Savant, but he was still only one year ahead of her. Besides, she always did things her own way.

"Are you listening to a word I'm saying?" he asked in exasperation.

Justice flashed him a patronizing smile. "No."

Swift shook his head. "So what do you intend to do now? Run through the compound, guns blazing?"

"I could do that..." said Justice, "But I had a more...diplomatic solution in mind..." She cracked her knuckles.

"I don't know who's crazier." he said, "You, in all your recklessness, or me for agreeing to work this assignment with you."

"You can wait here if you want." said Justice, putting a hand on his shoulder, "I'll go on ahead."

Swift pushed her hand away and shrugged. "Have a little faith. I would've preferred to do things more quietly, but I'm not about to back out now."

"Good to know." said Justice as she adjusted her equipment.

Swift's eyes followed her hands to her hips where her custom revolvers, Thunder and Lightning, rested in their holsters. Expertly crafted with ornate designs, their artistry betrayed their raw firepower. In this instance, however, they were barely a consideration. He was too busy taking in the rest of her. Justice had a runner's body, natural beauty, and a smile that could stop a riot. As her eyes pierced him with blue-gray intensity, he realized he had been caught staring. A second too late, he shifted his attention to the power gauge on his energy whip.

Justice brushed aside a stray lock of her close-cropped black hair, and raised her eyebrows. "You good?"

Swift closed his long white Savants' coat with a practiced flourish, zipping it up to the collar, and then standing with a ceremoniously rigid posture.

"Of course." he said, and slid the whip handle back into his belt.

Just then, the double doors of the freight elevator opened, admitting four more ORCHA soldiers. Two immediately fell to their stomachs, lowering their eyes to the sights of high-powered rifles. The other two rushed forward several paces before releasing sporadic fire from sub-machine guns. Swift hooked Justice's arm with his own and literally flung her in the opposite direction. He pulled a small gray sphere from his coat and slammed it on the ground, issuing a large cloud of gray smoke into the hall. Bullets tore through the fog as the Knights ran for cover, whizzing by their ears or ricocheting dangerously close. Justice could sense Swift on her heels, but then for a moment the distance between them was greater than it should've been. She turned with her gun drawn, but might as well have tried to aim with her eyes closed. The smoke was too thick.

"Keep going!" Swift hissed, a mixture of tension and fear in his voice. Justice almost lost her footing as she tried to commit her body to a new direction for the second time without breaking stride. She heard a series of clanks, followed by a subtle grinding sound. Something hollow — perhaps glass — had just hit the floor and rolled into the distance. Then Swift was right behind her again, an urgent hand on her elbow.

An instant later, their surroundings erupted into chaos as a tremendous explosion rocked the facility. There was a deafening BANG, followed by a pervasive silence, and then the roar and crackle of roiling fires swelled in crescendo. They barely made it around the corner before the flames flooded the hall behind them.

"Was that...yours or theirs?" panted Justice between urgent breaths.

Swift smiled uncomfortably. "Mine.", he said, gasping for air. "Experimental model."

"Uh huh. And know I'm gonna hurt you when we get outta here, right?"

Swift's response was unintelligible, a cross between uneasy laughter and incoherent mumbling. Meanwhile, things had gone from bad to worse. Overhead, the sprinkler system had just activated. Far from being sufficient in extinguishing the flames, it did succeed in making the halls slick with water, which was particularly treacherous for two Knights trying to navigate an enemy stronghold. After speeding around a corner, they came to an abrupt stop. Ahead of them, a small group of fully armed ORCHA soldiers blocked their path. Swift quickly stepped backwards, pulling Justice with him behind the cover of the adjacent corridor.

"If we get out of here.", he said.


Unfazed, Justice removed her guns from the holsters, and quickly filled the empty chambers. Swift smiled in spite of himself. He threw a smoke bomb to provide some cover, and to make sure he still had the soldiers' attention. The hum of six pulse rifles charging to full power one after another provided an ominous confirmation.

"Put down your weapons and get on your knees!", ordered one of the soldiers.

"All or nothing?", asked Swift, glancing sideways at Justice.

"You know how we do it." She smiled and finished loading. And with a snap of her wrists, the cylinders clicked back into their firing positions.

"Did you hear me!?", barked the soldier, "I said..."

With a nod from Swift, Justice swung herself around the corner, with Thunder and Lightning sweeping up to issue an explosion of gunfire. Then with Swift at her heels, she sprinted full speed towards the ORCHA soldiers.

True to their names, her revolvers roared like a coming storm and struck with electric precision. Within seconds, three soldiers were disabled. One fell to the ground screaming and holding the side of his face, with a good portion of his ear missing. Another nearly shot himself in the foot as he reacted to the bullet in his shin. The last was thrown backwards ten feet as — incredibly — a round flew into the barrel of his rifle and struck the inducer, causing it to explode in his hands.

Justice felt an intense heat along the side of her face as an energy pulse buzzed past her ear.

"Hell no.", she said.

Startled, angry, and out of ammo, she threw one of her revolvers at the shooter and hit him square between the eyes. It distracted him long enough for her to get close, and before he knew what was happening, he was winded by two punches to the abdomen. A third punch struck his chin and snapped his head back. Then Justice brought her elbow crashing down on the bridge of his nose and he crumpled like a rag doll.

Nearby, Swift leaped in to sever the front half of another soldier's pulse rifle with his laser whip. The metal hot to the touch, the soldier dropped the ruined weapon to the floor. Frowning, he raised hands in submission.

Swift lined up the still-conscious soldiers facing the wall, including the fellow with half an ear, who looked a lot worse off than he actually was. At the same time, Justice bound the hands and feet of the incapacitated. Very calmly, she walked over to the remaining soldier, and shoved a foot into his back, dropping him to his stomach. Smart enough not to try anything, he simply laid flat with his feet apart, and put his hands behind his head.

"Where's your commander?", she shouted, over the continuing wail of the alarm. The soldier said nothing.

Justice moved to stand over him, placing one foot strategically between his legs.

"You have any kids?", she asked.

"Look.", said the soldier, visibly tense. "You don't get it. This shit is bigger than me. Bigger than you. Bigger than the boss. Hell, if he were here in my place, he'd tell you the same thing. So the two of you can go screw yourselves."

"You couldn't pay me enough.", said Swift.

"Pay?", scoffed the soldier, "This is for love of country, for the ideals of liberty and —"

The sentence was cut short by a blue-white beam of energy penetrating the ground from below, and burning a grapefruit-sized hole through the ORCHA soldier's chest. Leaping backwards, Justice lifted her gun and fired three shots into the floor. At the sound of the gunshots, the perpetrator fled, the splashing of water-soaked floors betraying his footsteps.

"Holy shit...", said Swift.

Justice shook her head. "There was nothing holy...", she said, "About that shit."

"Screw this!", cried half-ear, "You'll just have to shoot me!"

With that, the soldier bolted down the corridor towards the door at the opposite end. The other two conscious soldiers looked at each other, then at Swift and Justice, and ran down the hall after their comrade. The Knights, too concerned with what was beneath them, didn't bother to give chase.

"We have to move.", said Justice, "Otherwise..."

She glanced at the body of the dead soldier, then started rubbing between her eyes to keep herself calm.

"Move where? And do what?", exclaimed Swift, "This is over. I'm calling in the infiltration team."

"Don't be hasty. If ORCHA has that kind of firepower, we could be calling them into a deathtrap."

"What do you propose?"

Justice shrugged. "I guess we go after the guy with the god-cannon."

"Are you crazy?"

She gave a tired smile. "A little. But we know what direction he went in. And we still have the advantage of stealth. In fact, that's our only option, because obviously we wouldn't last long in a direct encounter with a weapon like that."

"You're right.", said Swift, shaking his head, "Sorry, I guess lost my head there for a second."

He looked around briefly, put a hand on his chin as he considered something, then nodded.

"All of the floors in this place seem to be laid out pretty much the same.", he said, "If we split up, go down from opposite sides, and both start moving towards the middle, we'll find him."

"I'll contact the others and let them know the situation."

"Good idea. Just make sure they don't come in."

With a nod of reassurance, Swift took off down the corridor and disappeared around the corner, heading for the other side of the building. Justice stared after him for a moment, then muttered a delayed "be careful" under her breath. She started off in the opposite direction, stopping long enough to slice the leg bonds on the unconscious soldiers with her combat knife. Whoever this new enemy was, he didn't appear to be a friend to ORCHA, and it just wouldn't be right to leave them helpless. For her own sake, however, she relieved them of any additional weapons and ammo, and removed the inducers from the remaining pulse rifles. At least, she thought, they'd have the chance to escape.


Bravo Team, this is Alpha. Bravo Team, this is Alpha. Will, do you read?

"We're still here, Justice.", he said, "What's going on in there? Three ORCHA agents came rushing out a few minutes ago, and threw themselves at our feet. What's your status?"

"My status? Mm...knee-deep in shit?

"Alright, we're coming in."

"No, Will, you can't..."

"What? Why not?"

"Because some guy — maybe more than one guy — is carrying a gun that must be the size of you or me. It blasted a hole through this ORCHA that was bigger than my fist. And if they're watching the entrances now, you'll be walking into a bad situation.

"Was it some kind of shotgun?"

"Nope, couldn't have been. I should probably mention that it burned a hole clean through the floor below us before it killed the guy."

"Yeah that's... It must've been a high powered laser."

"I don't know. But Swift and I are making our move."

"What're you going to do?"

"We're closing in from opposite sides of the warehouse, putting the squeeze on him. As long as we have the element of surprise, we have the advantage."

"I see. Then we'll keep all the exits covered just in case this guy somehow slips past you."

"Will, I'm...going com-silent after this, so..."

"I'll give you ten minutes."


The channel went dead. Will scanned the building with his eyes for a minute, then repositioned himself behind the telescopic sight. He suppressed the sense of dread that had started to rise in his stomach like acid. Justice had been in positions like this many times, and had come out no worse for the wear. There was no reason for him to think this time would be any different. Yet, somehow, inexplicably, he knew for sure that it would be. Clearing his head, he fingered the trigger, preparing himself to deliver death in an instant.


This is all wrong, Swift thought as he reached the third floor of the warehouse. More than half of the lights were either out or flickering, and it was so quiet that he could hear them buzz and crackle. Corridors stretched forward and to his right, further than he could see. Neither more inviting than the other, and both eventually leading towards the center of the compound, Swift chose the straight path. He wouldn't have to go far. As he neared the end, a silhouetted figure dashed down the adjacent hall, a determined sloshing fading into the distance.


Swift ran in pursuit, realizing all the while that he was giving up the one edge he might've had. For all he knew, this fellow could be leading him into an ambush. Yet for some reason urgency presided over reason, and he charged ahead with his energy whip at the ready. As he turned the corner, he stopped short. The lighting in this corridor ended abruptly after several yards, and there was nothing but darkness ahead. Quickly he leapt back and spun himself around the corner, pressing his back to the wall.

"Hey.", he shouted, figuring his quarry to be somewhere nearby. "This is as far as I go. So you have two options. You can surrender peacefully, or I'm going to start lobbing grenades down the hall."

"If you do that...", said a deep voice, "You'll bring the whole place down. On top of you and your friend."

Justice? Had he gotten to her already?

"Where is she!?", Swift demanded.

"Haven't seen her. Yet."

The voice was familiar. Where had he heard it before?

"Are you the ORCHA commander?", asked Swift, taking a stab in the dark.

"No. Are you?"

"What? Why would I..."

And that's when Swift realized what was happening. The voice was getting closer. In fact, even if he had really intended to use explosives, he no longer had the room. He had done it himself enough times to know that he was being stalked. He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. With his whip in one hand and a flash grenade in another, he swung himself back into the adjacent corridor. As he expected, the man was standing within fifteen yards of him, at the border between light and darkness. However scared he had been, seeing the face of his enemy made it ten times worse.

"You... Why are you here?"

"Same reason as you." said the man, "To wipe out a few...terrorists."

The man had emphasized his last word on purpose, and Swift knew exactly why. He understood better than most that in political conflicts, how one side labeled the other was often propaganda. But while he was not completely unsympathetic to ORCHA's ambitions, his personal feelings didn't matter. He had been hired by the other side. Still, it was ironic that such sentiments would come from this man, because no matter whose side you were on, terrorist was a word that truly described him.

"That's funny, coming from you.", said Swift.

Yeah. Funny. In an "oh god I'm about to die" kind of way.

"Why would you want to destroy ORCHA?"

Swift was trying to buy time. The other man must've known, but he seemed to be playing along for the time being.

He shrugged. "You know. For love of country...and all that."

"So that was you."

Swift looked the man up and down, but saw no sign of the weapon that had obliterated the ORCHA soldier. Then he remembered just who he was dealing with, and the uncanny power often credited to him. He hadn't used a weapon.

"Are you going to kill me?" asked Swift plainly. There was no point in trying to hide that he was terrified.

"No. A dead hostage is of no use to me. I am, however, going to..."

And in the next instant, a second faster than Swift could even think to react, the man was right in his face. Something crashed into the side of his head and the whole world began to spin. He faded for a moment, then came back long enough to realize that he was being dragged across the wet floor. His last thoughts were of Justice before the darkness took him completely.


Everything was red as Justice came out of the stairway shaft onto the third floor. The lighting in the facility had failed, causing the emergency system to activate. Flashing red beacons ran the length of the hallway in front of her, throbbing in sync with the howl of the alarm. She just couldn't wait to be finished with this mission, if only to get away from that awful sound. A moment later, she remembered why the alarm was the least of her troubles. At stationary posts, weapons in hand, were four ORCHA soldiers.

But they weren't the threat. They were dead.

One sat on the ground, bent over awkwardly, with a radial splash of blood on the wall behind him. Another was stretched out on his side, with no obvious wounds. A closer look, however, revealed that his head was turned in an impossible direction. The other two, Justice realized with absolute horror, were actually one man, ripped in half at the waist.

The wall above where his body fell was marked with huge gashes, each several feet long and several inches deep. They looked like they could've been carved with some kind of steel-cutting laser, except the edges were jagged, and they looked to have been made recklessly. Whatever had made the marks had also clearly been responsible for tearing the ORCHA soldier apart, as indicated by the blood on the wall.

What could've done this?

Justice tasted something warm and sour at the back of her throat, and quickly averted her gaze. She drew her revolvers and dashed down the corridor, wanting nothing more than to get clear of the massacre.

As she came around the corner, she was overtaken by a sudden fear. A towering shape stood against the wall to her left, and as she turned to face it, a massive hand shot forward and squeezed her neck. Unwittingly she dropped both of her guns, her hands frantically clawing at her attacker's arm. A fist smashed into her abdomen with such force that her feet left the ground. Perhaps the blow would've knocked the wind out of her, but her air passage was obstructed, and the result was the feeling of something exploding in her chest. Her vision blurred and her head was pounding.

"If you try any of your fancy acrobatics", said a deep and disturbingly familiar voice, "The next one will go right through you. Do you understand?"

Justice nodded into his hand as best she could. It was about the only movement she could make. Even if she wanted to, she couldn't have tried anything. Knowing her assailant, it would've been futile.

But now things made sense. The ORCHA soldier with the hole through his chest. The other three in the hallway. The strange gashes on the wall. They had all been his doing. What didn't make sense, was that he was here at all. It definitely wasn't a coincidence.

Holding her at arm's length, her feet barely scraping the floor, the man walked down the corridor. She caught sight of Swift slumped against the wall. His head was bowed and she couldn't see his face as they walked past, but the slight rise and fall of his shoulders indicated that he was still alive. How long that would be true, however, was another matter. His hands had been tightly curled around two incendiary grenades. The steadily blinking red lights indicated that both had been activated. Any change in pressure on their surfaces and they'd detonate. When he woke would be for the last time.


When the emergency lights activated on the third floor of the warehouse, Will knew the time of reckoning was approaching. He didn't know what form the threat would take, or what kind of situation it would present, but he knew it was going to be big. Ten Knights were on the ground below, surrounding the building, waiting for his signal. The rifle at his cheek was powerful enough to pass through the wall and still hit a target with lethal force. He felt like he had every advantage, and yet the sense of foreboding remained.

And when the moment came, his intuition, his heightened alertness, and even years of training for crisis situations — nothing prepared him for this. A wall exploded on the third floor, at the northeast corner of the building. But it wasn't the kind of explosion one would associate with a grenade or plastique; it was much more tame, much more localized. As the mortar crumbled, two figures came into the light. One was Justice, unconscious or close to it. Her limp body dangled from the clenched fist of a man whose size made her look like a child by comparison. The man was someone all of the Knights recognized, but someone with whom Will shared a particular history.


When the name was whispered in his mind, he felt a burning sensation course through his entire body, like fire in his veins. He felt the metal edge of the rifle sight cutting into the flesh beneath his eye as he unconsciously tightened his grip. He grinded his teeth, feeling paralyzed somewhere between hatred and self-doubt. He could almost imagine himself as the bullet from the sniper rifle, racing towards his enemy with nothing but murderous intent. Yet, in reality, he was unable to move.

After smashing his way through the wall, Nazarus stood out in the open and looked down at the squad of Knights staring at him. There was fear in all of their eyes, he could see it even from there. It didn't please him. In fact he felt nothing at all. He was looking for one face in particular, but at a glance he was nowhere to be found. Then he remembered. He lifted his gaze, scanning the empty windows of the abandoned building across the street. When he found what he was looking for, the corners of his mouth curled in a smile that would've unraveled any man.

Will was no exception. When Nazarus looked right at him, he froze. At first he didn't think it was possible that he could be seen from that distance, but there was no mistaking the change in Nazarus's expression. His eyes lit up with satisfaction, and the smile was calculating.

Then suddenly Will had his chance. Still looking up, Nazarus shifted his position slightly, in a way that completely removed Justice from the line of fire. The smile faded, replaced with a look of grave determination. He tilted his head forward, keeping his eyes on Will as he did it, daring him to take the shot.

What kind of game was he playing?

"Ramses, do you copy?", asked a voice through the communicator, "If you have the shot, take it."

The crosshairs of the rifle sight were aligned with Nazarus's eyebrows and the bridge of his nose. Will had the fatal shot.

"What the hell are you doing, Ramses?! Take the shot!"

Then just like that, the opportunity was gone. Nazarus stood up straight, shrugged his shoulders with apparent disappointment, then released his grip on Justice. With a stifled cry, she dropped two stories and disappeared into the hedges below.

"Shit!", said the gruff voice, "Forget it! Everyone move in now!"

The closest Knight ran to Justice's aid while the others attempted to converge on Nazarus. He pulled his trademark sword from his back, and leapt down from the hole in the wall, landing in a crouch. The earth seemed to tremble.

The first man to engage him was undone in seconds, the segmented blade tearing through his chest and out of his back. Nazarus yanked the dying man close, tore the weapon free from his side, then snatched the communicator from his belt. He shouted into it with indignation.

"You should've taken the shot!"

Although Will heard him, he couldn't respond. He hadn't moved at all since he saw Justice fall. He was frozen in place, the sight still pressed against his face, the crosshairs hovering over the hole in the warehouse wall. Below he could hear the screams of his comrades as Nazarus decimated them single-handedly. And then everything went quiet.

But for Will, those screams would never be silenced completely. That day, both the events themselves, and what they had told him about himself, would be forever burned in his memory...

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