The Jade Spear

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Eviscerator came to a sudden stop.

“Ow!” Lady Shadow hissed. She had run into Eviscerator, and had a dozen small cuts to show for it. “Warn me the next time you do that, cretin.”

Eviscerator made an ambiguous grunt in reply. He had learned not to worry too much about the individual opinions of his leaders. As long as he did his job well, they’d forgive him for little slights. Between Lord and Lady Shadow’s games and the Skull King’s insanity, trying to sooth all of their egos at once was likely to interfere with your work, and if you screwed up, it didn’t matter how much they liked you.

He ran a finger along the patterns of the temple’s wall. The temple was hidden, deep in the wilds of China. The jungle was slowly reclaiming the temple. Vines crawled over most of the walls, and a tree had split the stone floor in the middle. The temple resisted grudgingly, but time was not on its side, and Mother Nature was patient.

No man had set foot here in centuries, but…

“This place seems familiar,” he said finally.

“It’s all familiar, man,” Firebug said. “Circles. Always in circles. Only way to leave them is to burn a new path!”

“I’m sure that make perfect sense in that rotting melon of yours,” Lady Shadow said, before turning to Eviscerator. “We’ve looked at a dozen of these temples already. It’s only natural that they start to look alike.” She paused. “Or is this one of your ‘spiritual’ things?”

“I’ll let you know when I know.”

“Maybe this means we’re on the right track. If my husband finds the Jade Spear before I do, I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Probability is on our side,” Eviscerator assured her. “Firebug’s the only one who can translate that map. We can check half a dozen temples in the time it takes him to find a single one.”

“Six to one odds are not good enough. My husband can always find a way to cheat at games of chance. Plus he’s got Mystara working for him.”

“Can we go?” Firebug said, a child-like whine in his voice. “I hate the jungle. It’s hot, and there are bugs, and nothing burns well.”

“Back!” Eviscerator said in a hushed tone. He grabbed Lady Shadow and and Firebug, pulling them into the shadows behind one of the pillars.

Two men walked into the temple. The first was an old man, dressed in simple robes that were dyed a bright green. The other had black armor, decorated with bits of jade. A jade monk and a temple guardsman? But the order had died out hundreds of years ago.

They walked slowly, discussing something in Chinese. As they started up the stairs, the guardsman turned to face the hidden S.K.U.L.L. agents. Eviscerator didn’t move. There was no way the guardsman could see into the shadows. Movement would only make it easier for him to see them.

The guard winked at Eviscerator and followed the monk to the second floor.

Eviscerator turned to look at Lady Shadow, who had an impatient look on her face.

“Do you mind telling me what we’re doing?” she asked in a harsh whisper.

“I assume you didn’t want to be spotted.”

“Spotted by who? Nobody’s been here in centuries.”

He turned back to stare at where the two men had disappeared. There had been something familiar about the guardsman.

“You… you didn’t see anyone?” he asked.

Lady Shadow let out an exasperated sigh. “I brought you along because I needed somebody sane. I can’t put up with Firebug on my own, so please tell me there’s some logical thoughts running through your head.”

“Dying memories of a dead building,” Firebug said with a manic grin. He wasn’t looking at either of them, but was watching a moth float by. “Failed and betrayed, until its entire purpose…” A burst of flame shot out of one of his arm-mounted flamethrowers, and the moth was vaporized. “Gone up in smoke.”

“Did you see someone?” Lady Shadow asked.

Firebug looked at her with a blank expression. “Who would I see in an abandoned temple?”

“Ugh. I don’t know if you actually have twisted moments of insight, or if you just babble nonsense until some of it seems to make sense by sheer chance.” She shook her head. “Let’s just search the temple and be done with it.”

That familiarity surged with every step. When he arrived on the second floor, his instincts whispered to him – slit the left guard’s throat with a quick slash, then slip the knife between the second guard’s shoulder plates before he could respond. Follow with a quick kick to the back of his knee to bring him down, then stomp on his arm to break it. Both guards would be incapacitated in less than a second. The monk would flee, but he could only go farther up the temple.

His knife was already out of his sheath before he realized there was no one here to kill. Two moss-covered skeletons lay on the floor. The one on the right had a broken arm.

Eviscerator began to laugh.

“What is wrong with you today?” Lady Shadow said. “I swear, if you join Firebug in cuckoo-land, I’ll kill you both and leave you here to rot.”

“Don’t worry, my lady,” the assassin said. “It’s just one of those ‘spiritual things’, as you put it. I just need to confirm one last thing, on the next floor.” He climbed the stairs to the third and final floor of the temple, a rush of adrenaline filling his veins as he did. It was as if he was hunting down a target, but the target had died three hundred years ago.

The third floor was empty, save for an altar clearly designed to hold a staff or spear of some kind. A skeleton was pinned to the wall nearby, still held up by the Japanese knife sticking through its ribs.

“Right temple,” he told Lady Shadow, as she caught up with him. “Wrong time.”

“So you know where the Jade Spear is?”

He pulled the knife from the monk’s remains. He wiped the dust and grime from the blade. It was coated in rust, but a symbol etched into the metal just above the hilt, could still be distinguished. Thirteen swords, hilts touching in the center, formed a star.

“It appears it is now the property of the Bladed Suns. I’m sure my grandfather will let you borrow it for a price. I’ll even put a good word in for you.”

Lady Shadow smiled. “I shouldn’t have doubted you, Eviscerator. You always come through in the end.”

DEADlines

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Eviscerator moved quietly down the halls. He was proud of that. A lot of people claimed to be masters of stealth, but how many could do it covered in armor that bristled with blades?

As he crossed the hallway, his team members fell into step beside him. On his right was Firebug. While Eviscerator felt the man was… unstable, to put it mildly, the man had an impressive track record. Despite charging into heated battles with two giant propane tanks on his back for five years now, he’d never been blown up, and had only killed three S.K.U.L.L. agents.

On his right was Vector. Eviscerator was the first to admit that his moral compass had a tendency to point south, but Vector was a pyschopath. He carried twelve guns of varying sizes openly, and Eviscerator knew he had at least four more hidden on him.

They were almost to the elevator when someone called out.

“Excuse me.” Her voice quavered, and when the three killers turned to face her, she visibly shrank away.

She was a small woman, and the women’s office uniform looked ridiculous on her. Eviscerator was never sure who was responsible for the ridiculously short skirts, the blouse that only buttoned halfway up, or the requirement that all women in the office have there hair artfully cascading over their left shoulder. Lady Shadow might have ordered all the women to imitate her to stoke her ego. Or the Skull King could have decided that since Lady Shadow was so efficient, having them dress like her might make them more efficient. He wasn’t completely together. Or it might have been one of Lord Shadow’s jokes, part of some odd game he and his wife played that seemed beyond comprehension.

Regardless, Eviscerator thought he might have found the least suited woman for the look. She was too short, too flat, too nervous. Making her dress like that seemed cruel, even to a trained assassin.

“We are in a hurry,” he said, trying to sound as gentle as he could. Between the polished facemask, and the forest of blades, he wasn’t sure it helped much.

“It’s… um… I just…” she said, glancing nervously at each of them.

“Spit it out,” Vector said, pointing at her. She shrieked, falling to the ground and flinging the papers she was carrying everywhere. Given that Vector had a pistol in his hand, it was not an unreasonable response.

“Put that away before I cut your hand off,” Eviscerator told him.

“So pretty,” Firebug said, staring at the paper that fluttered around them.

“Just don’t set them on fire.” He turned back to the office girl. He peeled off one of his gloves and offered her a hand up.

The act seemed to comfort her, if only a little. She took his hand and he pulled her to her feet.

“Now, what did you need?” he asked.

“It’s… it’s about the Devastation Project.”

He nodded. “We were just on our way to Tibet to obtain the gem of thunder.”

“We don’t have time,” she said.

Firebug let out a deranged laugh. “The stars will be in position for another two weeks. Lord Shadow made me write it on my calender in big red letters. That’s plenty of time. Too much time, even!”

The woman muttered something inaudible.

“Could you repeat that?” Eviscerator asked.

“The… the Unnamed One, L-lord of Emptiness, and Bringer of Terror said he wants the offering before the Comet of Xeranthia leaves the system on Monday.”

“What? We haven’t even started the rituals. I was going to spend most of next week working on the casket.”

“L-Lady Shadow told us that we’d all need to work over the weekend.”

“Aw, man!” Firebug said. “I had a date this weekend. A hot date!” He punctuated this with a burst of fire from each of his wrist-mounted flamethrowers. The cubicle walls glowed and smoldered in the sudden heat, but didn’t catch. Almost everything in S.K.U.L.L. headquarters had been fireproofed shortly after Firebug had joined.

“Did you finally ask that Emma, from the demolition squad?” Eviscerator asked. Firebug nodded excitedly. “Good for you. Mystara says she’s got a great sense of humor and is really good at treating chemical burns.”

The pyromaniac deflated a moment later. “Aw, but now I gotta spend the whole weekend translating stupid, dry, dusty papers. And they’ll make me turn in my tanks again, I just know it!”

“Wait,” the office worker said, her timidness temporarily outweighed by incredulity. “Firebug is the one translating the ancient Sumerian?”

“Akkadian!” he snapped, “Not Sumerian. Got the Sumerian translated weeks ago.”

Eviscerator chuckled. “Didn’t you know? He’s got a great mind for languages.”

“I’m with the broad,” Vector said. “I don’t think he’s got a mind at all in there.”

“No, still got it,” Firebug said. “They tried to take it from me, when I read what they had to say. But I showed them. I burned ’em all. Every page, every book. The whole library in beautiful fire.”

“Whatever. What about the gem of thunder? The Defense Force knows we’re after it, I can’t get it on my own.”

“We’re… we’re going on without it,” she said.

Vector laughed. “I guess I get a long weekend, then. Have fun, chumps.”

“A-actually,” she stammered, subconsciously stepping so that Eviscerator was partially between her and Vector. “L-lord Sh-shadow said he has a job for you.” She shrunk even farther behind Eviscerator, who suspected she’d probably be clinging to him, if she could have without impaling herself. “And th-that you’re not allowed to shoot me for it.”

“Oh?” Vector said, his jaw already tightening. “What is it?”

“You’re-in-charge-of-the-Starbucks-run!” she said as quickly as she could then ran down the hall away from him.