As Chloe Warren watched the guards lead her father away to be executed, she felt only pity.
Her father was an Insurgent; a traitor who sought to bring chaos to the Holy Ark Empire. Insurgency was a crime punishable by capital execution, and there were no exceptions. Those disloyal to the Holy Emperors were deemed enemies of the state, and the Empire had spent centuries perfecting the art of destroying their enemies.
Though Chloe was only eight years old, she knew the importance of staying loyal to the Empire. Every month, her teachers would make her recite the three sacred laws; the creeds that held the Ark Empire together. Only through obeying the laws could one hope to live a peaceful life, and be blessed by the Holy Emperors.
Main Street was crowded by citizens eager to see the executions. They stood along the sidewalks, filling the morning air with their angered chants. Police cruisers blocked off the streets at both ends, and officers patrolled the area routinely.
In the center of the main road was a massive steel platform, surrounded by armed guards and officers. A single microphone was placed in the center. The flag of the Empire, a black banner with a burning red asteroid in the center, flapped rapidly in the wind behind the platform.
Large TV monitors were set up along the streets and mounted on nearby buildings, each linked to the cameras placed around the platform. As was customary, the executions would be broadcast live, so all in Colossus City could bear witness to the consequences of Insurgency.
The guards who patrolled the street, called Hoplites, fascinated Chloe. She had seen them countless times before. They were the ones tasked with safeguarding the city, and they were widely respected by the citizens.
Each Hoplite wore a crimson bulletproof vest over black combat gear, and was equipped with a semi-automatic assault rifle. Their red and black helmets concealed their faces.
Chloe held her mother’s hand anxiously, her heart pounding in her chest. They were both standing at the edge of the street, the bitter wind chilling their breaths. Her blue coat and red mittens did little to combat the cold.
The Hoplites strode through the crowd, twenty in all. They were positioned in a diamond formation, protecting the nearby citizens from the ten prisoners they were escorting to the platform.
Chloe’s father, Roy Warren, stumbled as the Hoplites pushed him forward. He was dauntingly skinny and badly bruised. Patches of his long, blonde hair had been ripped out of his head some time ago, leaving behind bloodied scabs. His clothes were in tatters, and grime covered his feet.
In Chloe’s opinion, he was a shadow of the man he once was. Since she could first walk, Chloe had always admired her father. He had once been a well respected scientist who created weapons and technology for the Empire’s most elite soldiers. Back then he seemed so full of life, with a wide smile on his face and a gleam in his eyes.
But now, years later, Chloe knew it had all been a façade. During the day he would pretend to be a servant loyal to the Empire, but during the night he’d conspire with their enemies in the hopes of sparking a revolution.
Her anger started to rise again. When she had discovered his illegal dealings, it had broken her heart. In a fit of rage she had reported him to the authorities, earning the praise of her mother when the depths of his deceit came to light.
Several feet away, the Hoplites drew near the platform, their prisoners shackled behind them. There were nine prisoners in all; men and women who had been found guilty of conspiring to overthrow the Holy Ark Empire.
“Traitors!” the citizens shouted as the prisoners trudged along. They threw an assortment of objects at the prisoners; crumbled up newspapers, rocks, food, and trash. Their hatred seemed to boil the air itself.
“Deceiver!” Chloe’s mother said in disgust as Roy passed by. Her words were as cold as the morning breeze. She removed her wedding ring and threw it at his feet. “I am no wife of yours!”
The look of terror in her father’s eyes caused Chloe to shudder. He bent down to pick up the ring, tears racing down his cheeks. A Hoplite swiftly kicked him in his gut, causing him cry out and double over in pain.
“Traitorous filth!” the citizens bellowed as they stomped and spit on his frail body. Chloe turned away from the sickening sight.
The amused Hoplites watched the crowd beat Roy for several minutes, unwilling to intervene. When his face was drenched in blood they finally stepped in, grabbing him by the neck and lifting him to his feet.
“Move along, bastard,” a Hoplite said as he shoved Roy forward. The battered man was forced to oblige, blood and saliva dangling from his cut lips.
Chloe gasped in pain as her mother grabbed her by the neck. “Don’t you dare look away again,” she whispered in Chloe’s ear. Never before had there been so much hatred in her voice. “I want you to see what happens to those who betray us.”
Chloe nodded fearfully. She did her best to avoid her mother’s intense gaze.
The Hoplites led the prisoners onto the steel platform one by one. Their chains rattled as they climbed the stairs. Chloe stared at them as they went, her heart racing. She knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that this day would change her life forever.
The Captain of the Hoplites, a tall man whose helmet was painted red and black, stood proudly before the microphone. The monitors around Main Street were flashed on, allowing those watching from their homes all across the city to witness the proceedings. He raised his hands, and the crowd fell deathly silent.
“My fellow citizens,” he said, his voice echoing through the loudspeakers. “Today, you will bear witness to the consequences of insurgency! Today, we will show you the fate that awaits all who defy the Holy Empire!”
He turned to his men and nodded. They brought the first prisoner forward; an old, Spanish woman with silver hair and leathery skin. They threw her down before the captain’s feet, ignoring her agonized groans.
“Please!” the woman said hoarsely. “Stop! I am no traitor! I was only trying to feed my –”
The captain drew his pistol and fired. The sound of the gunshot resounded through the air like thunder. The woman’s right eye exploded outward in a torrent of brain matter and flesh. A wave of crimson filled the air and covered the front of the platform. The woman’s lifeless body lurched forward and fell onto the steel, blood falling from her head and forming small puddles on the street below.
Chloe felt as though she had been stabbed in the heart. She held her breath as the Hoplites dragged the woman’s corpse away. Watching them move the dead body away so nonchalantly made her stomach twist.
“Say the words,” Chloe’s mother whispered in her ear. Her breathing was growing quicker, as if she was excited. “Speak the Sacred Laws, Chloe. Recite those words right now, and as you do, keep them close to your heart. Because if you don’t, your blood will cover the street, just as your father’s will.”
There was another gunshot, and a man’s body fell off the platform. The Hoplites quickly cleaned up the mess and whisked the corpse away while the captain looked on absentmindedly.
“Honor the . . . the Immortals . . .” Chloe said, her voice shaky. “Serve the Empire . . .”
“And?” her mother asked. “Say the third law. Say it! Say it quickly!”
“Report all Insurgency.” It took all her strength to speak the words. She looked up, and saw a wide smile on her mother’s face.
“Look, my child,” her mother said. She pointed toward the platform, where the Hoplites were forcing her father to kneel before the captain. “You reported your father, and now you’ll watch him be brought to justice for his crimes.”
Chloe believed she had done the right thing by reporting her father, but still she felt ashamed. She glanced down at her shoes, noticing that one of them was untied. Every morning before she went off to school her father would tie her shoes, smiling as she playfully flailed around and giggled. But those days were long gone, and Chloe knew they would never return.
As she prepared to see the man who raised her be executed, she wondered if she could truly live with the choice she had made.
The crowd, enticed by the first two executions and starving for more, fell silent once more. The Hoplite captain lifted his pistol and put the barrel against Roy’s head. Time seemed to slow, and the air became as cold as ice.
Suddenly, in a flash of blinding light, the captain was impaled through the chest by a spear of crackling electricity. For a brief moment he was frozen in place, his arms twitching as the energy coursed through him. Shrill screams erupted from the crowd as his knees buckled and he fell to the street, unconscious.
Main Street was thrown into chaos. Shouting citizens ran in every direction like ants fleeing a spider. Several Hoplites raised their rifles and frantically searched the street, trying to locate their captain’s assailant. Others quickly led the remaining prisoners off the platform and back toward armored vehicles that were parked at the far end of the street.
Chloe found herself unable to move. She was too frightened to run for safety. Her mother had not moved either, and there were tears welling in her eyes.
Twin spears shot forth from the disarray, each formed of searing electricity. They struck the two Hoplites who were trying to assist the captain. Both men cried out in agony as the energy shocked them to the bone. They too fell unconscious, and the electricity dispersed into the frigid air.
“Come on!” Chloe’s mother said as pulled her away from the discord. They found refuge within the patio area of a local diner. The metal tables had been overturned, allowing cover from stray bullets.
Chloe was beyond astonished. Someone with a supernatural ability was attacking the Hoplites. She searched the crowd frantically, wondering who would be foolish enough to defy the authorities so brazenly.
“Regroup!” several Hoplites shouted as they took cover. The attack had left them leaderless and disorganized; a situation which could easily bring about their undoing.
“There he is!” exclaimed a Hoplite who was crouched behind a parked news van. He was pointing toward the south end of the street, which led to the highway.
Chloe surveyed the southern street, hoping to catch a glimpse of the attacker. Citizens continued to run for cover as bullets cracked the asphalt. Electric energy, this time shaped like slender arrows, pierced through the breeze and knocked out Hoplites unfortunately enough to be in their paths.
Chloe looked on as a police officer was knocked unconscious a few yards away from the far intersection. An ominous man could be seen standing above his twitching body, and the sight of him caused Chloe’s heart to skip a beat.
The man was garbed in a white shōzoku, the outfit ancient ninjas wore in combat. His face was concealed by both a hood and a balaclava. He wore white gloves and boots, and a black utility belt was wrapped around his waist.
Bolts of electricity coursed through the ninja’s body like an aura, surrounding him with burning energy. His eyes glowed with ethereal power.
Chloe was certain her eyes were playing tricks on her. Clearly the ninja was a masked vigilante; an Insurgent fighter who used a supernatural ability to wreak havoc upon the Empire.
But Chloe had been told countless times, by her mother and by her school teachers, that all masked vigilantes had been executed long ago. After World War Two, when the Covenant of Champions was defeated by the Empire, the Holy Emperors had declared vigilantism to be a crime far worse than both treason and murder. Ever since, masked vigilantes had been hunted down, captured, and thrown before a firing squad. When the smoke settled, no masked vigilantes were left alive, and the world was made a safer place.
Or so Chloe had thought. Now, a vigilante stood proud and defiant amidst the chaos, his power growing with every passing second. He was a legend given life, and his presence boded ill.
“Enemy sighted!” a Hoplite shouted as he spotted the ninja. Without hesitation he lifted his pump-action shotgun and fired.
With astounding speed the ninja dove to the side, avoiding the blast. As he moved the electricity began to concentrate around his right hand, forming six shurikens of bright, blue energy.
An instant later the Hoplite was knocked off his feet as all six shurikens struck him in the chest. He dropped his shotgun and quickly lost consciousness.
More guards converged on the scene, firing their rifles with reckless abandon. The ninja deftly rolled behind a police cruiser for cover, and was lost from sight.
Chloe ran back to the street, desperately hoping to locate the ninja again. To her, he was an anomaly; a spectacle unlike any other. How could one man defeat so many of the Empire’s honored warriors?
“Chloe!” Her mother shouted at the top of her lungs. Chloe ignored her.
She hid behind a mail drop box that had been placed in front of a post office. From there she could see the ninja as he crouched behind the vehicle.
“He’s behind the cruiser!” a police officer said through his radio. “Hoplites, light him up!”
Within seconds the cruiser was torn apart by heavy gunfire. Hoplites and officers slowly advanced, their weapons roaring like feral beasts.
When several of them stopped to reload, the ninja sprung into action. He rose out of cover, with a bow formed from white electricity held tightly in his right hand. His left pointer finger touched the bowstring and pulled if back. Twin arrows of energy appeared upon the string as the electricity morphed in his hands.
There was another flash of light as he fired. A police officer and a Hoplite were sent careening backward as the arrows struck them. They hit the ground, and did not get up.
The ninja returned to cover as his adversaries continued their advance.
Chloe slowly crawled toward the street, her eyes locked on the ninja. She was so close. She could hear the bullets hiss as they passed by her. She could feel the heat of the electricity as it shot forth from the ninja’s body like striking snakes.
As the officers and Hoplites came within a few feet of the cruiser, the ninja bowed his head and placed his hands on the asphalt. He began drawing in energy from nearby electronics, forming a wild vortex around his hands. The TV monitors and cameras were quickly drained of power, as were the cars parked along the street.
The ninja leapt over the hood of the cruiser and charged his attackers, a circular shield of superheated electricity held in his hands. Bright sparks filled the air as bullets deflected off of the shield.
As he reached the Hoplites his shield shattered in a burst of searing energy. His attackers were knocked into the air, some falling onto the hoods of nearby cars while others slammed onto the cold ground.
Chloe was awestruck by the ninja’s immense power. She was filled with exhilaration as she watched him fight.
The ninja strode toward the armored vehicle at the end of the street, where the Hoplite’s had taken the prisoners at the start of the attack.
The vehicle hadn’t moved an inch, and it didn’t take long for Chloe to realize why. Sometime before the attack began the ninja must’ve drained the vehicle’s battery, leaving it cold and dead.
A police officer, armed with a Taser gun, emerged from his cruiser and confronted the ninja as he passed by the platform in the center of the street.
“Freeze!” the officer said. He raised his Taser, hands shaking. “Don’t move, you bastard!”
The ninja paid the officer no mind and walked on. With a growl the officer fired his weapon. Twin prongs attached to colored wires were launched into the ninja’s right shoulder.
The ninja, unfazed by the Taser, turned back to glare at the officer. Bolts of electricity rushed to his hand and fused together, taking the shape of a katana.
With lightning speed he swung the katana upward, slashing the officer from his waist to his shoulder. Gray smoke rose from his uniform as the energy burned through. The officer collapsed onto the street.
With swift precision the ninja whirled about and stabbed a charging Hoplite in the arm. The Hoplite thrashed about as the blade shocked him into unconsciousness.
Three more guards were felled by the white warrior within the span of seven seconds. His movements were swift and elegant, no doubt the result of years of training.
Suddenly she was being lifted off of her feet, her mother’s nails digging into her waist.
“No!” she screamed as her mother dragged her away from the street. “Stop!”
Sirens wailed in the distance. Police cruisers and SWAT vehicles were barreling down the central highway, and would reach Main Street within minutes.
Chloe struggled to break free of her mother’s grip. She needed to see the outcome of the ninja’s daring attack. She needed to know if he would fail.
The ninja quickly spotted the coming danger. He sprinted toward the armored vehicle at the end of the street, where the prisoners had been taken at the start of the attack.
A single Hoplite confronted the ninja, a police baton in hand. In one swift motion the ninja jabbed him in the chest with an open palm. There was a sound like striking thunder as bolts of energy surged through the Hoplite. He was thrown off his feet and into the windshield of a car, the glass shattering around him.
The ninja dashed on. He reached the armored vehicle and swiftly dispatched of the three guards surrounding it; slashing through their armor using a trident of blue electricity.
With the opposition defeated, he swung open the back door. He spoke briefly with the prisoners huddled inside. Chloe could see her father seated near the edge, a soft smile on his face.
The sound of screeching tires engulfed Main Street as the cruisers and SWAT vehicles turned onto the street. Their lights flashed like burning torches.
Citizens and guards alike scrambled to get out of the way as the vehicles shot down the street at alarming speeds. Chloe’s mother held her even tighter as the convoy passed by.
The ninja turned toward the advancing vehicles. With a shout he slammed his fist on the ground, releasing a massive blast of electricity into the air.
The energy moved like a fierce tsunami, crashing into several of the vehicles and draining them of power. The drivers lost control and crashed into one another, glass and metal launching into the air like shrapnel. The crash prevented the other vehicles from passing, buying the ninja a few precious seconds. He started the armored vehicle, and it roared to life.
In a burst of speed the vehicle drove off, its tires burning against the asphalt. It hooked right and raced down a side street, and Chloe lost sight of it.
Chloe’s mother finally released her grip as the convoy sped off to pursue the masked vigilante. Dazed and horrified, Chloe stepped into the street, taking in the destruction around her.
Men and women stumbled through the street, eyes wide with fear. Injured officers and Hoplites lay scattered about. Bullet casings and shattered glass filled the street.
To Chloe, it looked as though an army had pillaged Main Street, not a single man.
“Immortals help us . . .” her mother gasped. She fell to her knees and wept.
It wasn’t long before several ambulances and police cruisers arrived. Officers and medical personnel rushed to help the injured, while police officers secured the area.
“Get these people out of here,” a gruff police sergeant said to his men, “and get our men on their feet, dammit! Psybolt is still on the loose, and we’ll need every officer on the force if we ever hope to take him down.”