Letting go of some daydreams.

Followers of this blog may have noticed that I haven’t bothered publishing any more from the Stone Force novel. That’s because I largely lost interest. I don’t particularly care if anything I write on here gets comments or “likes” (although I appreciate them when I do get them) but I get the feeling that nobody has read them. If anybody had read what I put up so far then I take the silence as an indication that they were unimpressed. That wouldn’t surprise me, as I’m publishing selections from a first draft of a project that I abandoned years ago.

It finally dawned on me that I’ll probably never do much of anything with the Stone Force universe. I had whole worlds of it in my head for decades. I still amuse myself from time to time with daydreams of what’s happening with Irrono and his gang of crime-fighters. But the truth is that these stories would work best in comic books, which is one industry I have no connection to. I could potentially make a web comic, if I could somehow summon the patience to do so. I can draw to some degree but I never had a great passion to practice. Even if I don’t let the quality of the work get to me I still don’t think I would care enough to see the project through.

So, as far as getting this fantasy universe out into the public is concerned, Stone Force is dead. I doubt it would have become successful, anyway. It wasn’t exactly original other than the fact that I threw so many influences together. It’s weird to me to think that I only came up with all of this for my own benefit.

Which raises the larger question in my mind: how do I tell the difference between what I let out into the world and what I keep to myself? I feel like as a writer I should let everything out, at least as far as the drafting stage, and then decide if I’m going to do anything with it publicly. (Obviously this philosophy doesn’t apply so much to my regular blog posts.) But how far does that go before one can consider such a practice as a waste of time?

I think what it comes down to is that I never outgrew my sense of play in regards to my imagination. Instead of running around in the backyard of my childhood home pretending to be a new G.I. Joe character I’m pacing around my apartment pretending that an imaginary band that I’m in is playing a local bar. I like to have fun, entertaining fantasies. Sometimes they still include the Stone Force world that I created when I was a kid. It’s hard when I have so much of this world in my head that I have to accept that it isn’t going anywhere.

I’ll keep what I published on here for now. I’m sure that with this blog post I piqued somebody’s interest. But unless there’s a demand for it I won’t publish any more and eventually I’ll take down what’s there. As I’m trying to write something more “serious” I decided that it might not be in my best interest to showcase a first draft from something that’s far from my best work. It’s time to abandon it for real. Who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind in the future. But for now I need to focus my creative energies elsewhere.

Stone Force: Book One, Chapter Three.

Vandoscovian stone technology is both one of the greatest miracles of science in human history and a curse upon the islanders who use it. Near the center of the northern end of the island exists an inactive volcano aptly named Stone Mountain. Even from the outermost regions of this large island one could see at least the top of it. There have been manmade paths leading up and around it but the occasional traveler would still find the journey dangerous. The main geological features and biggest curiosities of the volcano are the stones scattered throughout.

Generally small and lightweight in nature, the stones possess properties that defied anything Vandoscovian scientists observed anywhere else. Centuries ago they began to experiment. They soon discovered that the stones could interact with biological beings. What happened next came completely unexpected. Through experimenting on themselves they found the stones gave them superhuman powers. They discovered that through precise yet easy surgery they could implant the stones into humans, giving them special powers for a lifetime.

At first, the scientists were content to use the powers as tools. A person implanted with a strength stone, for example, could use their powers for heavy lifting during construction work. A person with a fire stone could keep people warm and cook food. As long as a person had enough energy to maintain their powers, which were generally not very taxing, they could be of use to society.

However, the priests of the island who were in control of the government at the time, began to take notice. The Vandoscovian priests took the powers to be a gift from the gods. They soon made very strict sanctions on the use of the stones and reserved certain powers for themselves. The highest priest of the order kept the last remaining fire stone for himself. His second in command held an ice stone. The priests became scientist-priests. Unfortunately they soon became warrior-priests.

Nobody predicted how these powers would affect the psychology of some people. While they were already corrupt leaders, the stones made the priests even more dangerous. They began to view themselves as the gods themselves and started to quarrel with each other. The fire priest banished the ice priest and his followers to the largely uninhabited side of the island to the east, which became known as Scovia. His group of followers began to grow as people were fed up with the oppression of the fire priest. These events led to the first Vando-Scovian civil war.

The war ended in a draw, with both sides calling for a bitter truce. Having largely dropped the old religion the leaders set up new forms of government. The fire priest started a monarchy which had ever since stayed with his family name of Vence. The ice priest, however, set up a parliamentary style of government, appointing himself to what in later centuries became known as the office of prime minister. As he was the first, he held the position until his death, upon which the Scovian people elected a new leader with term limits.

Unlike the religion, the stones were not forgotten. During the truce the leaders divided regions of the mountain to be part of their own territories. Whatever stones they found on their side they got to keep. If the need ever arisen, they could trade stones with the other country.

They maintained the sanctions on the stones for private use. Although seemingly strict these laws kept people from abusing their power. Those that did found they destroyed themselves before the law could reach them. Under these conditions, the two countries existed in peace with relations between them easing as time went on. That is, of course, until the civil war in the twentieth century. During that time nearly every person on the island was implanted with stone powers during infancy. This led to a sadly higher mortality rate than before. Generals had no problem justifying this cost to advance the war.

When that war ended the Vando and Scovian governments decided to merge. Out of all of the restructuring, the opposing leaders signed the Stone Treaty, which heavily restricted the use of the stones. Practically nobody could ever use their powers again. Those without stones would remain so. Nobody protested. In the wake of the war it seemed everybody would rather forget having the powers instead of going through what they went through. Access to Mt. Stone became forbidden to the public.

That is not to say people didn’t use their powers in secret. For some people, like Telsa lighting her cigarettes, it was a secret thrill. Others used them illegally to enhance their performance at sports, school, or the workplace. Largely, however, stones were rarely ever used in public and haven’t been much of a problem.

The recent crime wave in and around Hill City sparked fears in the residents that stones were going to be coming back in use despite the fact that stone powers were not involved. Every robbery was accomplished largely with technology and skill. Nonetheless, the more sensationalist of the journalists spun the story to ask the question if the criminals were going to start using superhuman powers and if the police had to respond in kind. Yet the criminals showed no sign of even having stone powers. Most of them appeared to young to have been born before the Stone Treaty. For one man, this meant a skill in fighting was necessary.

In a dark abandoned tunnel under a village of Hill City, the masked man returned from the fight with Het and his men. Although he defeated most of them which led to their arrests, Het got away with the money. That and the death of all of those guards left a bitter taste in the masked man’s mouth. Whoever was behind these robberies was escalating his efforts. The man sat in front down on an old easy chair and removed his mask. Resting his head on the back of the chair, he turned it towards the mirror next to him.

Normally, he would be considered a rather handsome man. His strong, chin provided a frame for startling blue eyes, a rigid nose, and thin mouth. However, at least in his mind, all of his natural good-looks were overpowered by the discoloration of skin. His face was completely white due to a bout with Foljek’s disease when he was a small boy. Hiding from the Vando army which invaded his home and killed his mother, Foek Kotko got used to hiding. The events and his looks made him paranoid. He lived as an outsider.

Yet despite his exclusiveness he was driven by a desire to suppress the evils of the world. He swore upon the death of his mother he would rid his homeland of all of those would cause other people to suffer. The end of the war before he reached adulthood didn’t change his desires, just his methods. In these times of peace he decided he would simply help the police, even though he could never come face-to-face with them. He never had to kill anyone and tried not to. His vivid childhood memories of death and torture kept him from wanting to. To rid the streets of criminals would be to send them to jail. Hopefully they would reform. He dreaded the day he would have to put down somebody who came back to seek revenge.

Living by themselves, Foek and his brother Reff became street-smart. While Foek rarely ever left the tunnel Reff would often have to fend for himself in the outside world. He often teach Foek all that he learned, including fighting. Without a job, somehow Reff was able to bring food, clothes and other things into the tunnel for them to use. Foek became to suspect Reff was involved with some shady characters in the village but never questioned him… until one day Reff brought a television set home. Foek demanded to know how they were getting such things. Reff hit him. That was the first time outside of practice Reff ever hit Foek. He got things so they could live. How dare his younger brother question him? Foek said no more of the matter from then on.

Over time Reff became more and more gloomy and quiet. Even in that small tunnel a great distance was expanding between them. Then, one day, just before Foek turned 18, Reff was gone. He never said anything to Foek to indicate he was leaving. Foek woke up to find the mask with a note that simply said “To help you get out in the world.” Since then Foek left the tunnel, wearing the mask, to search for Reff. After dealing with the Vandoscovian underworld long enough he abandoned this task for his vigilante quest. He earned the street name Outsider. Some of the older crooks used the ancient language of the island, Pelfic, to call him “Irrono.” At first he tried to call himself that for the sake of heritage. After the older generation started dying out, his heritage died with them. After all, in his life what did he have to be proud of?

The fight with Het was his first major lost. He turned his head to the other side of the chair to an alarm clock. The opening ceremonies of the peace festival were about to begin. He turned on the television. He wasn’t going to miss the beautiful Vando Princess Elle. Although his exposure to her was on television he became infatuated. To see her looking her best and making a long speech would take his mind off the robbery. He was relieved not to turn the television to news of the robbery but the image of the festival grounds. Perhaps because of the failure of the government-designed helmets the robbery was kept quiet by the government or at least played down for the media. Either way, he was soon distracted by the sight of Elle talking to a reporter about the events to come.

As they went to commercial the phone next to the alarm clock rang. Foek picked it up immediately saying “Hello, Rash.”

The chief of the Hill City police force was known as Rash for a very good reason. His stone power gave him the ability to give somebody a horrible rash through skin contact. Although not very effective in battle it proved to be quite useful in interrogation, so the government granted him permission to use it when necessary for his police work. Some were worried at first that it would be considered torture. After a while it became apparent that he only needed to threaten somebody to gain information from them. The fears of the public were soon alleviated.

His voice came over the phone. “Outsider, how could you tell it was me?” Outsider could hear a jovial sarcasm in Rash’s voice. He chose not to encourage it.

“It’s always you. You’re the only one who knows the number.” In fact it was a direct line straight from the police station. Outsider set it up personally himself to keep his identity and whereabouts secret, at Rash’s request. The two have been in contact for years through notes delivered to a secret hiding place. Even if the police were to follow him, he was able to keep his face hidden and to lose them. Ultimately, they decided on the phone line to make communications easier.

“Quite right. Anyway, as you probably guessed I’m calling you about the attempted robbery today….”

“What do you mean, ‘attempted?’ It was a robbery, Rash. That crazed German got away with the money. Not to mention all of those guards are dead.”

“Yeah, well, the government is calling it ‘attempted’ for now. They don’t want anybody to know about the dead guards, or even the stolen money. The prisoners you helped us catch are getting special privileges, not to mention special threats, to keep their mouths shut on the matter.”

“Still, if only I had gotten there earlier. I might have saved those men….”

“How? You didn’t know what was going to happen. Besides, what would you do? Jump out of the shadows,and yell ‘Take off your helmets or you’re going to die?’ They probably would have shot you on the spot.”

This did comfort Outsider a bit. However, there was still one thing about the day’s events that plagued his mind. “One of your men chased me.”

“I know. And he’s being punished severely for that. I’m afraid he’s a rookie and got carried away. I have to apologize to you about that.”

“Are you saying if one of your more experienced officers was on the scene he wouldn’t pursue?”

“That, and if he did, he’d catch you.” The sense of humor in Rash’s voice suddenly became stern for that last statement. Although Outsider worked with him, and wanted to work with him for the sake of his cause, he didn’t quite trust him.

The gayety returned to Rash’s voice. “By the way, are you watching the TV?” he asked.

“Of course. I wouldn’t miss this celebration of peace.”

“You mean the sight of the pretty princess.” Somehow, Rash knew of Outsider’s crush on the young woman. Did he let it slip at some point?

“Whatever. Anyway, quiet down, the program’s back and they’re about to begin.”

“Fine, but keep the line open. During the next break I want to tell you about some info one of the crooks gave me that might be of some use to you.”

Stone Force: Book One, Chapter Two

Although Elle Vence was sympathetic to the victims of the crime wave in Hill City, as princess of the Vando Monarchy she had a whole country to consider. The upcoming festivities celebrating the anniversary of peace were taking up most of her time. Not only was she and her sister the last surviving members of the royal family but she was instrumental in bringing about peace in the first place. Her role in the current government was minimal with the royal family being more superficial than anything, but she had a major part to play with the opening ceremonies of the celebration.

Having reduced the status of the royal family mostly by herself, Elle chose to no longer use servants in preparing for special occasions. Although a plain girl by nature she could certainly become elegant when she had to. On this day she wore a royal blue silk dress with white accents around the trim. It fit respectably around her thin figure, befitting an attractive young woman without revealing too much. She wore her long brown hair down, resting on her bosom, hiding most of her simple necklace of pearls. The blue dress was chosen to match her eyes, the most startling features of her face. Her nose, lips, and everything else fit her face plainly but perfectly. The eyes, however, accentuated her beauty and could also display the intelligence of the shrewd young politician.

Some might say, though never to her face, she had one ugly feature in the form of the royal scars. In her upper left corner of her forehead were three diagonal, inch-long lines permanently scarred into her forehead. She looked at them as a reminder of a monarchy which ultimately became too violent. Looking into the mirror in her private quarters, the scars filled her with sorrow They were not aesthetically pleasing but more than that the upset her because of what they represented. She wore bangs to cover them up but only as a demonstration. Everybody knew she had them. She just wanted to make sure they knew where she stood on things.

She slipped on white gloves and sighed with boredom. Formal wear was just not her. She could often be found in simple attire; she favored plain tops and jeans, or if she had to attend some political meeting, a simple business suit. The truth was her life as a celebrity and part-time politician bored her. She would much rather have a simple job in the city. She often imagined herself working as a sales girl in a department store or even some sort of sanitation worker making an earnest living. She pictured working in the day, shopping at night, going to clubs and bars on the weekend. Sometimes in her daydreams she would make herself fat. She loved much food available on the island, but was unable to eat much. The demands of her appearing as an attractive young woman held a rigorous diet and exercise regimen.

A knock came at the door. “Who is it?” Elle asked.

“Telsa.”

Elle opened the door to find her sister, the other remainder of the royal family, standing with her arms folded. She was clearly agitated. Her eyes didn’t seem to focus on anything. She was in street clothes in the form of a sleeveless black top and tight-fitting jeans. She wasn’t as afraid to flaunt her looks as her younger sister.

“Aren’t you ready yet?” Elle said, hurrying back towards her dresser to apply make-up. She looked at the clock. “The ceremonies begin in half an hour.”

“I’m not going.”

Elle turned to her. “What do you mean? You and I are the last of the royal family. This is not just a celebration of peace, but of our heritage.”

“Yeah, yeah, so I’ve heard a hundred times already.” Telsa leaned on the door frame. “I just… I just don’t have a good feeling about this.”

Elle smiled sympathetically. She got up and put her hand on Telsa’s shoulder. “Dear sister,” she said, “There’s nothing to be nervous about. I’m the one who has to make the speeches. All you have to do is stand on the stage next to me.”

Telsa looked up. “And look pretty.”

“You do that anyway.”

Elle was right. Telsa was pretty. Where Elle was mostly rather plain-looking, Telsa was often considered the beauty of the family. Though older than Elle by ten years, she looked younger. Her blonde hair, cut around chin-length, reflected light as though she were a source of it herself. Her angular features made her face seem vibrant with life, even when she was half-asleep. She was very fit; not just thin but rather muscular. The scars were also present on her forehead but she rarely hid them.

What appealed about her most to people was her bad-girl image. The tabloids often ran pictures of her at parties with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in another. Aside from these she rarely ever made public appearances. Most of all, though, it was no secret that she fought in the civil war. The first ever warrior princess in Vando history, she proved to be quite a fighter, moving up the ranks very quickly. She made general at the young age of fifteen when the war ended. Her rank was maintained in the new united Vandoscovian army but due to her role as princess (and her history of viciousness in battle) the military deemed her “inactive during peacetime.”

At Elle’s compliment she smiled. “Thank you,” she said, “but it’s not a very flattering role, is it? Besides…,” her smile faded, “I don’t think you should go, either.”

Elle’s smile also faded. She cocked her head quizzically. “What do you mean? I more or less have to. I’m the star.” At “star” she rolled her eyes and sighed. She loved her people but this life was getting to be too much.

“Yeah, but don’ you think it’s… unsafe? I mean, with the recent crime wave in the area. It might just be better to send a letter to Kanat to read to the audience, or something.”

Elle laughed. “A few bank robberies aren’t going to scare me. I know, I heard that last one was really something. But I still don’t see a connection. Unless you’ve heard something?”

Telsa shook her head… rather vigorously, Elle thought. “No, I haven’t heard a thing. What I meant was, there’s all sorts of people out there… some people who want things to return to the way they were.”

“I know, but those people are wack-jobs. We’re working on it. Besides, there’ll be plenty of security. Spineripper will be with us personally.”

“Well… that’s something.” Telsa didn’t seem completely convinced but Elle didn’t have time to argue any further. She had to leave it at that.

“So you see,” she said, “things are taken care of.”

“Yeah, well, doesn’t mean I’m not still a little nervous.” Telsa reached into a jean pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She opened it and was about to put one in her mouth when Elle yanked her in the room and slammed the door.

“What in the world do you think you’re doing?” Elle said. “If a paparazzi came down the hallway he’d have a field day. A royal princess lighting up on government grounds during this festival. Of all places, of all times. Besides, I thought you were trying to quit.”

“I know, I know.” Telsa sat down on a chair, with the cigarettes still in her hands. “It conflicts with my lifestyle. It doesn’t make working out any easer. But I’m cutting down. I told you, I’m nervous today.” She put a cigarette in her mouth.

Elle sat down on the chair beside her. Her shoulders slumped. “I’m nervous, too. I hate speeches. Let me bum one off of you.” Telsa handed Elle a cigarette. She didn’t usually smoke but for this day she made an exception. She held the cigarette in her mouth, letting Telsa hold her index finger underneath the tip.

From Telsa’s naked finger came a small spark which lit the cigarette.

Stone Force, Book One, Chapter One.

Don’t worry, I won’t start every chapter with an introductory paragraph in italics. I just wanted to point out that this fantasy story that I’m putting out here is not drafted as much as any other work that I do. I’m certainly interested in comments, including those on grammar, style, etc. But I would only take that knowledge for future projects. I doubt that I’ll take this anywhere further than this blog. Unless, of course, there’s any producers out there that want to make this into a cartoon show, or publishers wanting to turn it into a comic book…. Action figures would be pretty cool, too….

Anyway, enjoy!

 

One could hardly tell Hill City was the setting for one of the bloodiest invasions in the island’s civil war twenty-five years later. In fact, it came to stand a symbol of peace with survivors from both sides enduring hardships and ultimately building it into the busiest metropolis of the unified island nation of Vandoscovia. Shortly after the invasion, the century-old war was brought to an end through extensive talks. The entire island was consumed by violence and death. The royal family of Vando and the parliament of Scovia were handing down a war through their generations, raising their children to hate. Very few even knew why the war was still being fought other than pride. Every member of each government saw no end to the war. Every member of each government had no desire to… everybody, that is, except for the child princess Elle of the Vando royal house, and Kanat, Scovian minister of defense.

Through secret communications that could have gotten them killed, the two managed to initiate the peace process. Negotiation started slowly but once the warring factions realized the island would be doomed if the war continued, peace was achieved in a matter of weeks.

However, while the country enjoyed its overall peace twenty-five years on, a crime wave spread across Hill City and neighboring communities. At first a robbery of a convenience store on the outskirts of the city was dismissed as small crime, with the perpetrators not initially discovered. A few similar robberies started occurring. The crimes then escalated to banks, armored vans, and muggings. Those with a substantial amount of property were afraid to walk without security. The local and national police worked on finding a solution day and night.

Then things started to change. The perpetrators attempted similar crimes but were halted by some vigilante. A few criminals were captured but could not provide an accurate description. What police did find out was that the robbers were hired hands from all sorts of walks of life from all over the island without knowledge of who their employer was. All they knew was their immediate supervisor was a German who went by the name of Het.

The German went by the full name of Het Nemmermind. He was mentally unstable, subject to unpredictable mood swings, mostly harmless, but would often render him incomprehensible to those around him. He displayed knowledge of science and technology, but because of his condition such knowledge was be useless. He was able to achieve short-term goals through a period of these mood swings, such as sometimes leading small gangs in the robberies himself. Although he often led hardened criminals, they were usually frightened into submission by his character. Physically, he was not quite as imposing. He was tall but thin and lanky with a slight slouch. His walk was quick but stunted. His arms would spasm occasionally. Always clad in black, with small black sunglasses, he may have looked stylish, but only by accident. His shaved head revealed a slight scar just above the right ear.

The stress of the vigilante that was constantly stopping his gangs’ robberies put great strain on him, making him scared of his powerful boss. He was becoming even more unstable. Nonetheless, he accompanied his group personally on their latest heist, to ensure things went smoothly. When encompassed with rage he actually could become quite a skilled, calculated fighter. If worse came to worse, he would deal with this mystery man himself.

Their latest robbery attempt was The First National Bank of Vandoscovia. The bank boasted that not only were they the most secure bank in the country, but quite possibly the whole world. At least two dozen armed guards patrolled inside and outside the bank with weapons that otherwise only the Vandoscovian military were allowed to carry. Seeing as the government’s money was invested there it was no surprise they would have access to such technology.

It was also no surprise to Het and his men, who have been watching the bank carefully for months, long before the crime spree began. Even before that, Het’s employer managed to plant a man inside the operation as one of the security guards. It was if all of the robberies were leading up to this climax. It was possible, before the unnamed vigilante interfered, this one bank heist was to be the last. Now Het’s future remained uncertain as he and his men slowly pulled up across the street from the bank’s main entrance in an old, rusty grey van. Although the people of this island nation often preferred public transportation within the city nobody seemed to notice the van or its six occupants leave it, carrying guitar cases. Hill City was known for miles for its popular culture and nightclubs, so few people noticed one more rock band walking down the street… even when all of the members were wearing odd-looking metallic glasses.

One person who did notice was Dorek Natado, the imposter amongst the security guards. Het scanned the few near the front, and made eye contact with them all. They all wore helmets, so he could not tell their distinguishing features but he knew once Dorek saw him he would receive the signal. This came as a rather conspicuous nod from the last guard on the right. As all of the front guards were watching him, this was a risky procedure. However, as they were all about to die quickly it was of no concern to him.

Of all of the military hardware the guards were equipped with, the VS-007 helmets were the most enthusiastically received. Although not very large around the head and lightweight, they offered much protection as a result of a very strong compounds. They were bullet proof at a range of ten yards, with the visors at twenty. In addition to protection the inside of each visor provided a heads-up display (HUD) with targeting and information regarding the weapons they were carrying which transmitted this information to antennae at the back of the helmet. The HUD also included information that could be transmitted to them up to 15 miles away. The wearer of the helmet also had small radio transmitters set to a frequency that out of all of the radio devices on the island, only they could be set to.

Yet these helmets could also be one’s downfall, as these guards learned. The night before the robbery, Dorek volunteered for guard duty of the equipment locker and installed a small cartridge behind the microphone in each helmet but his own as well as a chip into each helmet’s motherboard. Once activated by remote, the chips would lock the helmets, preventing the guards to remove them. Then the cartridge would emit highly concentrated deadly gas into the helmets killing the guards immediately.

As soon as Het got the nod from Dorek he removed the controller from his pocket and pressed a small trigger on the side, activating the deadly mechanisms in the helmets. To his delight, Het saw that they were all working, including the ones he planted in Dorek’s own helmet earlier that week. Dorek’s eyes widened with horror, and then rolled back as he dropped to the ground dead alongside the others.

As they walked up to the main entrance, opening their guitar cases, the man on the left of Het asked if killing Dorek was necessary.

“Of course it is,” Het said. He had a nasal voice and spoke with a strong German accent. “We had to remove suspicion from all of them. It makes it harder to trace him back to us.”

Once they were inside the bank they had removed the masks from their guitar cases. The masks quickly locked onto the metallic glasses they were wearing, hiding their faces. The main lobby was already full of activity with people crowding near the dead guards. Het and his men then pulled their submachine guns out of the guitar cases, dropping the cases to the floor.

“No one move!” Het shouted, his accent becoming thicker. Unlike the other robbers who were calmly steadying their guns at the crowd Het started shaking his uncontrollably. “This is a robbery, plain and simple! Anybody who tries anything stupid dies! All we want is all of the money in the safe!” Those who knew him would have been surprised to hear how smoothly he let out that entire speech… unless they knew about the medication his employer started providing him with.

The robbery went smoothly. Het knew ahead of time, from Dorek, that there were carts throughout the bank which could be used to take the money out to the van. By this time the driver would have backed the van up to the entrance of the bank. Stuffing the last bit of Vandoscovian dollars into their guitar cases, the men ran out of the bank. Once outside they were planning to throw everything into the van and speed away.

The van was parked right where they expected it. They opened the back door, to find the driver bound and gagged and barely conscious.

“That was rather nasty what you did to those guards,” a man’s voice said to the left. They all turned to face him. “You owe their families quite a lot.”

The man who spoke stood before them with his arms at his side and legs apart, suggesting a fighting stance. He was tall, just over six feet, and muscular. He was simply dressed, in a black tank-top, blue jeans, and black boots. His long, black hair framed a simple white mask, with the eye holes covered in dark lenses. Although Het had never seen this man’s face, he knew it to be the vigilante that previously thwarted far to many robberies.

Het, who was on the left side of the cart and closest to the man, started shaking more. “Who are you?” he said. His speech started to incorporate a slight stammer which would only get worse.

“Someone who could very much send you all to the hospital if need be. So just put down your guns and surrender. The police should be here any second.”

“Never!” Het shouted. “You three load the money into the van!” He was yelling at the men behind him, on the other side of the cart. Het motioned towards the men on his side. “You two, open fire!”

As the three behind quickly started shoving the money into the van, the rest of them, including Het, raised their guns at the vigilante. He proved to be too quick for them, and by the time Het had finished giving orders, the masked man had moved in. With one swift roundhouse kick, he knocked the guns out of their hands. As he was spinning back, one Het’s men grabbed his shoulders from behind. The masked man reach behind, grabbing his opponent’s wrists, and flung him forward. His shrieked with pain as his back hit the pavement.

The other of Het’s men in the front drew out a large serrated knife. The vigilante backed up a couple of feet, keeping light on his toes. Het laughed.

“You’re facing a man known simply as Blade,” he said. “He’s the best knife-fighter on the whole island. You don’t stand a chance!”

Blade thrust the knife towards the vigilante, who sidestepped, allowing Blade to miss. To capture his balance, Blade threw his right leg in front of him, which proved to be a mistake. With a quick sweep, the vigilante knocked Blade’s leg from under him, causing him to fall. The vigilante kicked the knife out of Blade’s hand, sending into the left thigh of the other crook, who by this point had gotten up and was rushing forward. Again he shrieked, dropping to the ground.

The vigilante picked up Blade, and punched him hard, knocking him into the now-nearly empty bin of money. The crooks on the other side looked up in surprise. It was as if they were totally engrossed with the money, ignoring the fight altogether. The vigilante ran around the cart towards them. They raised their guns, but in an astonishing display of agility, strength, and skill, he rushed right through them, knocking their guns out of their hands and senses out of their heads.

He turned towards Het, who just finished slamming the back doors shut on the van, and was now running to the driver’s seat. The vigilante ran towards the passenger side, but as he opened the door he was just too late. Despite the run-down appearance of the van Het was able to start it up quickly and speed off. The vigilante was left with a group of moaning bank robbers.

By this point the police were turning onto the block. The vigilante turned and ran down the alley on the other side of the bank. Out of the two cars came four officers; three stayed with the criminals, while one ran off for the vigilante. As soon as he turned the corner, however, the man was gone. The alley was not very long, leading to the next block. The officer ran to the other side in desperation, but saw nothing but one of the unfortunate security guards who had been watching the back of the back up to his untimely death.