The Amazing Spider-Man #502
Grown Up Fears
|—||The Front Bottoms|
I am become Death, The Destroyer of Worlds
“That day she was amazed to discover that when he was saying ‘As you wish’, what he meant was ‘I love you’.”
Hunter knew he was in hell. He was just surprised at how quickly hell came, and how quiet it was.
The streets were absolutely silent, even though he knew there were two others about-probably both hiding, as he was. A wry smile passed over his face. Assassins do that sort of thing: mentally prepare themselves before a battle for survival.
Hunter’s hands passed over his body as he thought, subconsciously checking his arsenal. Twin Berettas tucked into his pants, by his back; a knife sheathed in his boot; and, of course, the Desert Eagle in his hand. He passed the handgun to his right hand, checking the weight, the balance. It was perfect, a well-crafted piece of weaponry. Hunter had worked hard for his weapons, the better to stay alive. Assassins need weapons for survival.
Those efforts would save his life now, or be for naught.
The wind howled, whipping his trenchcoat about his body as he crouched. A silent curse echoed in Hunter’s head that would make things difficult. The wind only made it harder to hear the others. There definitely were others.
He sat there, in hell, waiting for someone to be foolish enough to make the first move, when he saw something land softly on the pavement before him. Hunter narrowed his eyes, the thing almost blended into the pavement before he realized what it was.
A black rose.
Instantly, two things popped into his mindsomeone knew where he was, and, more importantly, someone was taunting him instead of firing. Of course, assassins do that sort of thing, too, but only among assassins, a twisted sort of professional courtesy.
Hunter didn’t have long to think, though bullets started to cascade around him, shrapnel flying up from the pavement. He dove underneath the car, crushing the rose with his body as he slid to safety. The bullets smashed the windshields, the glass falling inside the car and out, peppering the road with sharp points.
He cursed. Hunter was effectively blind, and pinned, underneath the car. He turned his head, in enough time to see his second adversary standing in an alleyway, smoking. The cloaked man tossed the butt away, crushing the glowing stick under his boot, before drawing his Uzi. A small fragment of asphalt stung Hunter’s cheek, prompting action.
Hunter rolled, kicking to a standing position, and dashed with all the speed he could muster as the bullets from above followed him in a line. He dove again, coming up behind a corner, and squeezed a few shots at the smoker (the only gunman in sight). He retaliated, spraying a few rounds in Hunter’s direction for his trouble. The firing from above continued, taking chunks away from the wall behind which Hunter was standing.
Hell was rapidly becoming a very loud, very dangerous place.
The Uzi-toting smoker started to back up, to look to the sky… he was trying to find the rooftop gunman. Catching a glimpse of the man, he fired another spray, the distinct chatter of an Uzi’s automatic firing filling the night.
Taking advantage of the turned back, Hunter raised his Eagle and fired. As if guided by a guardian angel, the smoking man turned slightly, only catching the round in the right shoulder, a move that saved his life. No sound escaped his lips but for a slight grunt; Assassins don’t scream in pain. The smoker whirled and took aim at Hunter, but with his arm wounded, the Uzi’s rounds initially went high… and just as they lowered, the click of an empty magazine sounded. The smoker muttered a low curse.
The roof gunman returned to his vantage point, sensing an advantage… but the Uzi swung back up. Hunter blinked: the smoker could reload faster than he had ever seen before, even for an assassin. The smoker squeezed thetrigger gently.
Hunter watched as a brilliant flash burst from the Uzi’s muzzle, almost straight up into the sky. The weapons discharged its entire clip, advancing a wall of lead towards the roof of the building. Concrete fell to the ground, shattering as they it his the sidewalk. One bullet pierced the hunched-over figure on the rooftop in the chest. A misguided spray of bullets rained from the roof, but moments later, the figure pitched over a railing and landed onthe shot-out car under which Hunter had first sought refuge. The metal complained in a loud crash, and Hunter could see that the man was dead.
Taking the offensive, Hunter threw his Eagle aside, not bothering to reload, and reached behind him, to draw out his Berettas. Both leveled, taking aim at the smoking man and Hunter dove forward, firing.
The smoker grunted again as one bullet found its mark, and fired his Uzi again, not remembering that the clip was empty. Hunter twisted his body nonetheless, dodging bullets that never came, and rolled to a standing position.
The smoker’s arms shot forward in an instant, akimbo Beretta Tomcats sprung out into his hands. Hunter didn’t even have time to blink as his opponent grinned, an assassin’s razor-edge smirk, and fired.
Pain seared across his legs, and Hunter sucked in a shuddering breath. He hadn’t felt the kiss of bullets in a long while. He tried to step back, but every motion filled him with agony before a sudden calm came over him. Hunter realized that the dance wasn’t over, and his thoughts focused, the pain’s spike becoming a dull throbbing. He stepped forward, and started to run, the howling wind only pushing him forward at a breakneck pace. The smoker blanched, and fired again, but the bullets never seemed to find their mark.
Silently, one Beretta came up, and at point blank range, Hunter squeezed the trigger. He looked away, not wanting to see the smoker’s head disappear in a pink cloud.
Hunter dropped to his knees, panting slowly setting the Berettas on the pavement. Hell was quiet once more, the wind becoming the prevalent sound, instead of gunfire. It was never easy to escape from such a life-threatening situation, and Hunter had succeeded
For an assassin, be it deathly quiet or a roaring crescendo, Hell happens all the time and eventually, the assassin will succumb. For Hunter, like the others, is merely a player on a stage. However, in this performance, actors are meant to die
Welcome to The Opera.
His name was Paladin.
The name became a joke, in some circles something akin to a story designed to scare children into being good. “Careful. Paladin’ll get ya.”
There is a code of ethics, among assassins, strangely enough. There are rules of engagement; those who violate them don’t get reprimanded. They get to deal with Paladin.
Hunter didn’t believe that Paladin actually existed; the stories were simply too fantastic. He would have been surprised to learn, then, that Paladin was watching him from a second-floor window, and it was Paladin who had thrown the black rose that prompted the duel.
Paladin frowned, looking at the wreckage left behind from the firefight. The rooftop gunman still lay on the car, the smoking assassin beside it. It was disgusting, really. No honor They were more concerned with their impressive firepower. They weren’t in it for the rush, the slight bitter taste of adrenaline in the throat they were in it for the guns. For the money.
He popped a pill into his mouth and swallowed it-diazepam. It was an assassin’s secret; adrenaline kept you alive, but it also played hell with your aim.
The threaded cylinders were lying on the desk beside him; Paladin picked them up and slowly screwed them into his Walther PPK pistols. He watched the Hunter’s crouched figure suck in breaths for a short time, and then readied himself. It was time for Hunter to dance again.
A second black rose fell to the pavement at Hunter’s feet; he glanced about, instantly on his guard again. The fatigue that seemed all-consuming only moments ago fell away from him as he picked up his Berettas once more. Hunter knew that there was something different happening now; this would be a true duel, one worthy of repeating.
One worthy to join the other stories that circulated about Paladin.
When Paladin was sure that his opponent was prepared, he dove out of the window, his suppressed pistols letting out muted yelps as he shot thrice. Hunter heard one bullet sizzle close, almost too close, to his right ear; the other two made a dull clanging noise as they hit the Berettas in his hands, denting their barrels.
Hunter was too surprised to even move as he watched Paladin hit the pavement with his shoulder, rolling with absolute silence. The moment of hesitation cost him, as he found his legs kicked out from under him. Hunter did have the presence of mind to toss his useless pistols away, however. He rolled, until he hit the corpse of the smoking man; he pushed up with his hands into a cartwheel, grabbing the fallen man’s Uzi in the process.
Paladin got up from the kick, his back to Hunter, and walked slowly away, his trenchcoat flaring in the wind.
Hunter remembered that the Uzi had no ammunition left, and so stooped, reaching out blindly for a spare magazine; he found one, amazingly, and slammed it into the gun.
Hearing Hunter reload the Uzi prompted Paladin to spin, his coat swirling about him and that’s when Hunter looked his attacker in the face for the first time. They both stood there a moment, looking at each other a fury rising between them, but at the same time the strange mutual respect and admiration among assassins.
The moment was short-lived.
Paladin started to walk back, slowly, his guns held low. The Uzi flared in the night once more as Hunter spewed bullets in Paladin’s general direction; as if he intimidated the bullets themselves, none found their mark.
Hunter panicked, ran forwards, and emptied the remaining bullets in the magazine, but to no avail. Paladin simply stood there, watching the younger man.
He knew it was over; Hunter dropped the Uzi and ran.
Paladin shook his head, raised one PPK, and fired it twice. Hunter stumbled, both of his legs crippled, and fell beside the car.
The other PPK came up, another two shots fired, directly into the smashed car’s gas tank. Hunter and the two corpses were consumed by the ensuing explosion. The walls of the surrounding buildings became scorched by thefire, and the asphalt grew soft.
Paladin always tried to clean up all the loose ends in his battles; the explosion, while a little too loud for his tastes, did quite nicely. He kicked the dropped Uzi towards the fire, finishing the job.
Except for the second black rose, of course.
Legends have to leave their calling card, after all.