In my new life as the Paladin, not a day goes by when I don't think of this. And I think the most prevalent one is how it's all going to bed for someone like me. Will it come from some poor soul who lost family to me? Will it be someone I taught to feel the same rage as I? Will it come when my body is so utterly broken and guilt-driven I slip up and die? Or will I finally break so completely that in a moment of weakness, I forever silence the voices? I think about it a lot. It only fits I ponder about my end when I've caused the end to so many others.
After all, who are we to decide who is more worthy of living than us?
A year had passed since I declared war on Reyna and the Neo-Eclipse with my infamous alias raging across Asia. And through the connections that I have made, I knew that Neo-Eclipse was already on its last half-formed legs. With the protection agency known as Titan hitting it hard from all I was doing was help find more to burn to the ground as I take its Chinese faction. But even still in the chaos like a snake Reyna slithered the undisputed ruler of Beijing's underworld and some of the surrounding towns, which brings us to now where I had sought after the man that would finally bring Reyna to her knees as her empire crumbled before her very eyes.
But to tell of this man you must know of his history. Legend doesn't say particularly of how they came to be only how they became known. Across the many factions of triad's, this clan instantly dominated the competition creating a secret underground empire that rules over to this very day. Across the ages, each head of this fabled clan of dragons brought order and stability to China's underworld. These harbingers are known as the Zamaki Clan, and I've come on this stormy Beijing night to seek its current head that will put Reyna to justice once and for all. Despite the waning power of the clan in the wake of Neo-Eclipse's hostile takeover, I was still able to sneak into the base and even grab a helpful hostage. And sooner or later I had the man opened the door and say.
"Mr.Zamaki, there is a visitor here to see you."
I then pistol-whipped him until he fell to the ground.
"So your "the" Genjo Zamaki, nice to make your acquaintance."
He was a large, muscular Chinese man with a buzzcut dressed in a standard suit with a dragon tattoo on his right hand and a ring. However, despite the surprise, he remained completely calm as his instincts kicked in.
"And you seem to be the infamous Paladin that has been ripping Eclipse a new one. Tell me, what brings you here," he said while pouring a drink.
His calm expression threw me for a loop but then again this was an offer, not an interrogation.
"For the past year, I've been liberating all of your old allies and associates from Neo-Eclipse and recruiting them to orchestrate a grand strike that will turn it to ashes in the wind. But I can't even attempt to get so many large ego's to work together. And even they did they would go back to fighting in a vacuum that would consume China and harm innocents. The only way this bloodbath stops before it starts is to bring things back to where it was meant to be. And that means bringing the Zamaki clan back to their rightful place."
Without a second thought, he answered.
It was at that point I had to drop the stoic act.
"I expected at least some resistance."
"The fact that you've come here without anyone noticing your presence prove in it of itself that you are worthy of your myth. Beijing has become a fortress in these past few years. And I need no convincing of wanting revenge against taking the birthright I had rightfully earned. I may live in the shadows, but I am a man of the family first and honor second. So what would you have me do when on a day like any other I found my warning from that demon in the form of my cousin's head on a pike in the middle of my living room? And there hasn't been a day where I didn't regret my surrender as they corrupted my triads into nothing more than brutish thugs. So no, Paladin I will not resist in your assistance, for I have already resisted the urge to avenge my family for far too long. But tell me Paladin what about you? What drives you to orchestrate all of this. A myth like yourself isn't born from nothing."
My body twitched in phantom pain as an all too familiar scene played back. And in fiery determination, I gave my answer.
"I made a promise to someone I loved, and I intend to keep it."
And in raging agreement, I knew that for sure that my sins could at least partially put to rest. It took a long two months to put everything together and amongst the planning and it was during that brief time so close to the revenge I longed for I birthed a depressing thought. Even at my worst while consumed with bloodlust and fear, I always wondered if this life was fated for me. I think back, and I wonder what would've happened if things would have played out a little bit differently. I remember a time where I wanted to be a nurse, a teacher, a professor, and in each fantasy, I would imagine what my life would be like. Could I have passed myself from this life ultimately? I knew that this world was never just black or white, but I guess I'll never know now.
Despite the short time, I had known him Genjo, and I had a natural chemistry. His stern nature and serious manner had a profound philosophical honor I can respect. It was a privilege to fight by his side as our plan soon became fully operational. And in a way to symbolize my future clashing with my past I wore my old Eclipse outfit over the symbol of the Paladin, wanting Reyna to know the thing she created. By night Genjo and I (at his insistence) rode in silence with a total of 36 heavily armed soldiers armed for war. But the war had already started within me. Because I knew that on some level even if I do kill Reyna, I know that unlike Aman I'd say that she was the one that won. Because she took my second chance, She made me give up any hope of happiness, and I knew that any future I had would be one would be dark as night until the day I die. Or that's what I thought of at the time at least, but you already know that tail.
"You didn't have to come," I said.
"If you're risking your life to make this happen, then why should I not risk my own as well," he said stoically.
I come back into focus as I could see Genjo receiving status updates. He finally wrapped them up and gave the signal. Time slows down to an almost agonizing crawl as one word held the fate of a city hanging in the balance.
And now our plan had finally commenced. A flurry of short-range of emp immediately went off simultaneously. And with it, the communications of every Neo-Eclipse's strongest bases were crippled in an instant. And like a pride of bloodlusted predators let loose from our chains we struck. The two confused guards in the entrance were ripped apart in a hail of bullets as quickly two of our men politely opened the unlocked door to us. And as our soldiers ventured on Genjo gestured.
"Such a gentleman."
We all made our way to the stairs and one at a time phase 2 of the plan for our unit was already in motion. One at a time we used our grapple guns to move up the building. While the others scoured the building Genjo and I was on our way to murder our way to the top towards Reyna. Unfortunately, we had left just enough time to let our opponents conjure an impressive offensive. In fact, by the time we were at the top 10 floors, a group of men was already making their way up. I almost feel sorry that Genjo and I intercepted them. We swung down from above and got to work on the six men. Genjo buried his signature axe in a person's chest and then threw two separate knives, one in someone's head and another to disarm a handgun. With the man, defenseless Genjo used his weaponized version of Baguazhang to stomp his foot and shoved him down a couple of stairs.
The others, unfortunately, had to deal with me. Throughout my grand odyssey, my transformations have been great and numerous. Sarah Walters was an untamed wildfire; preparation and determination were the only reason why I hadn't met an early grave. Saytan was a cold-blooded killer and in every sense a coward, combat, and life. But the town of Unity gave me strength and harmony unparalleled, and it was now fully unleashed. I rolled down fast and hard but instantly took control to trip up a woman right in front of me hard. At the same time, I had my gun cocked as quickly gunned down one of the soldiers only to then contend with another who got his bearings. This forced me to roll and twist in the ground to aim and empty the rest of my clip into the remaining person. With my clip empty, I grabbed my sai and quickly threw it down the neck of the girl I tripped and pressed down hard.
The rest of my allies soon came we made our way through the floor. Our path was marked blood as we made our way to the top, but like a goddamn video game, it gets so much harder. The was right in the middle of ending my next victim when I heard a terrifying presence amongst all the gunfire.
"Crap and a half."
I quickly told everyone to duck as I threw Genjo and myself into a nearby doorway clear from the gunfire as I storm of bullets hit flesh. Genjo takes back control and orders another ally from the back to explain who was firing at us.
"Um, it seems 3 of us were gunned down have a sumo wrestler with a minigun," the woman says way too calmly.
"Okay, as soon as he stops firing throw the flashbang to his direction as fast he can and wait."
In the next few seconds, Genjo unfurls his axe with both hands ready at the door. I hear the familiar sound of a flashbang in the sumo's direction as Genjo in a swift jolt twisted himself out the door and raised his axe to throw it into the sumo's shoulder! He yelps in pain but quickly recovered as I followed Genjo as I fired a couple of shots at his left leg. The shots didn't so much as he was only partially stunned. With rage, he pulled out a heavy sledgehammer and swung hard. I'm barely able to weave through the heavy blows, but unfortunately, Genjo gets a brutal blow to the side that he barely blocks. With Genjo thrown aside, he turns his attention to me. We caught each other in a brief stalemate with none of us doing any real damage. I was fast, but he was too bulky to get any real, lasting damage. Eventually, I got tired, and in a risky move, I managed to dodge a hard swing and in a fluid motion, pull out the axe and hack into his leg! He finally feels that and stumbles but still finds enough strength to slam me against the wall!
I tried everything in my power to push him off, but I felt like trying to push an elephant. But before the sheer weight of him started to suffocate me but before my asphyxiation ran its course Genjo stepped in and jammed a knife into the sumo's neck! Repeatedly he executed a series of quick jabs that rip into him! By the time of the 10th stab, he had finally started to fall. His eyes quickly grew blank and lifeless as followed by the vanishing of his strength. I eventually push him off of me as we both are breathing heavy. I then decided that I was getting nowhere with this assault, and I knew that it was only a matter of time before Reyna gets away. And with her, I know that she was always come back into my life eventually.
"Genjo, I'm going up to Reyna by myself."
"We're already making progress if we hurry we can."
"I'm not letting her get away Genjo I need to make my promise. That murderer ends tonight."
Genjo knew that I couldn't stop, so all he does is give his condolences.
"Good luck, Paladin."
I made my way up the rest of the floors while reviewing my chances of victory. I was done to one round left on each silenced pistol, and I wanted to save all my ammunition for Reyna. The good news was I, at the very least, unencumbered by my allies. I blitz past most of the guards as in minutes I gazed upon the final thing stopping me from Reyna's sanctum. Three swordsmen stopped the momentum of my pathway of carnage. We all started going at it on sight. The guy in front sped ahead of the others and tried to slash at me, but I use my sai and my momentum to divert the sword away, and headbutt him! I took a moment of clarity to stab him in the gut with one of my sai. The others were about to close in so in a split second I pushed my stabbed opponent and draw the sword that I was holding my sai and using my now free one to block both slashes. I pulled away from them so that I could at least finish one of them off with my sword, but he guarded against the slash barely. The other 2 gave me a hurricane of slashes that put me back on the defensive with a couple of light cuts across my body. At the pinnacle of their offensive, I was barely able to divert to 2 sword swings toward my neck. Through my struggle, I found the strength to weave through and unfurl two slashes with my weapon, one of which found it's mark in the form of a deep slash into one of their legs. However, before I could pierce his throat, the stabbed man from earlier used my sai to block mine!
In a quick motion, he flipped the sai out of my hand and punched me in the chest. It catches me off guard, but I decided to employ the strongest shattering palm from my left hand right in his jaw that knocks him down harm. I kicked the guy with the bad leg down and used my now hurting hand to cuts his throat. Adrenaline's still pulsed through my veins as I am barely able to dodge a massive slash that grazes my right leg but always gives me the opening needed to grab my sai and stab straight into his heart!
With all 3 of my assailants down, I took a minute to collect myself and leave no survivors. I inspect myself as a licensed medical practitioner and summarize that my left hand was bruised severely. Still, I kept going as I knew that my Odyssey might finally be at an end. I open the door, and even in the darkness, I could sense the presence of something sinister though that could have been the gun near my temple also giving me a bad vibe. By the luck of the gods, I'm able to dodge the silenced gunshot and quickly release elbow after elbow to get my unseen opponent in a submission hold. In response the shadow opponent I was about to get stabbed in the leg with a retractable blade, but I roll out of the way of the hold and blade to pull out my gun and shoot the blackness in the head three times. I then get my gun knocked away by a shuriken, and I finally can recognize my unseen opponents, for I was dealing with Neo-Eclipses most elite soldiers: The Blackout Brigade. Invisible assassins designed only for the speed and stealth of the kill. The only evidence of their existence is the equivalent of ghost stories. And I've dealt with them enough to know that what they excel in speed they lack severely in defense. All I need is a good shot, and I can win.
I dodge a hail of bullets before I could say crap and a half, I use the body that I dropped earlier and put in some earplugs as I unfurl a flashbang. Deafening silence and light bombarded the room as I closed in for the kill! Sadly she managed to hold her arms to stop the sai and turns around hitting me with elbows. When I let go, she aims for a broad slash, but I weave out of the way to trap her arm and deliver a swift elbow and knee to gain back control of the sai. I pulled out the other one and increased the tempo with a fierce onslaught, but a couple of tight maneuvers later and before I could and I take a shuriken to the face! My contact was pretty much cracked beyond belief as I'm kicked down while missing a sai and just before she could finally take my life I throw my mask aside and aim myself only in the right angle to have my sai penetrate her throat! I throw her dying body aside as I got the weapons I needed to end this finally.
I make my way towards the most dramatic place in the building: the roof. Torrential rain and howling wind whipped at the building from all sides creating a perilous rooftop in which I could barely see. That was until I saw Reyna in all of her putrid glory. All sense of surrounding and reason faded away left my body in a single jolt as my eyes turn the whole world red! I could feel Mei's sai hum and reverberate in hunger for blood! I pulled out my gun and started firing all the while screaming Reyna's name in a primal roar! However, the elements decided to play against my onslaught as I couldn't get a straight shot before Reyna enveloped herself in the aftermath of a smoke bomb. A few seconds later, I feel the clasping of a grapple gun on my body, and as I'm pulled down the distance between us closes even further. However, using my sai in a moment of ingenuity I rip off a piece of my jacket that was latched on and throw the sai towards Reyna to interrupt her aim and close in to finally face her head off. Steel meets steel in a titanic clash, and even in the downpour, my hatred burned even hotter. Reyna, however, quipped back.
"You really must be a glutton for punishment if you came here after escaping my grasp once again, Sarah. Then again as they say third time's the charm!"
She kicked me off of her, but I was lucky enough to gain back my sai as she charged after me.
"You may have taken everything I command, but I swear to you I'll take your life, Sarah!"
Using her twin knives, she engaged in a series of wild slashes, but I was capable of seeing through the slashes and unleashed a palm strike that leaves her reeling.
"You took everything from me, Reyna, I feel it's only fair I return in kind!"
Reyna then grew even colder as she argued back.
"And did you think for even a second that you deserved such happiness after the bodies you've dropped over the years!? Give me some credit Sarah at least I admit who I am. At least I see how this world is run," she said.
Self-loathing cast itself over me as in an instant I put back on the defense from an attempted stab to the heart! I throw the knife away, but my thrust was in vain as Reyna sidestepped it, trapped my arm, and pierced into my left arm with her blade! Crippling pain erupted from my left arm, but in my burning resolve, I cut into her with my sai finding blood. We both back away but even with blood steaming the air Reyna's voice still echoed through the storm.
"Do you think this is going to change anything? That friend of yours is still dead, that village of yours is still burned to the ground. So, please elaborate Sarah what is your goal when this is all said and done I would love it to hear it," she said ravingly.
"Shut the hell up!"
I moved forward in a mad dash completely consumed in wrathful fury! But in my haste, I played right into her hands slammed against my temple and shoved me closer to the edge of the building in an all too familiar case of deja vu.
Reyna in satisfaction realized her victory and said.
"Enjoy yourself on the way down."
However, before she rammed me off the roof, I had already latched onto her onto my grapple gun as we both fell to the earth, but Reyna in desperation used her grapple to send us crashing through the window!
My head turns into a blurry mess of impulses as my body grew heavier by the second. Still, I couldn't help but curse at myself for falling to my rage. The same anger that put me right in Reyna's treacherous hands all those years ago. The same wrath that forced me into my odyssey of pain in the first place. And I realized that now with my end in sight, I needed to do what Master Lee had always managed to achieve: A constant peace of mind. I pool all of my attention, and into the singular goal of completing my mission and in a few minutes, I recollect myself. I stand back up, with only my will keeping from falling as the only thing I saw was Reyna amongst my surroundings. Reyna as well stood up to face the impending challenge. No more words were spoken between us; we just let our actions speak for us. For we know that the only way this ends is with our death.
Reyna moved towards me and used her knife in a series of jousts that I either block or avoid. I finally can disarm her and quickly try to take her head but using her hand Reyna bought her a couple of seconds as I tried to push the tip of the blade to her head. However, in a push to gain an advantage, she headbutted me, pulled out the sai, and tried ramming me to the opposite side of the wall. However, I diverted our path to the stairway as I managed to execute a perfect judo throw that brings her tumbling down a staircase. Reyna falls hard and finally landed in a defeated heap. And with my stamina on its last legs, I approached her from down the stairs. And with each meticulous step, I did something that always entered my mind when I took a life.
Instead of looking towards her as a monster or a vessel, I looked at Reyna as a living breathing person, I thought about what brought her to this point. I thought about what I am about to do and braced for the echoes this would have on my soul. I gazed upon Reyna's still steely eyes, and in one final blow I did it, I took her life with the blade that birthed me. There was no mercy for her, no satisfaction for me. And from their the rest, as they say, is history. After my recovery, Genjo and I left on excellent terms with him even stating that he owed me a favor at any time. I took note of that as I decided to carry on with the next step. Over the past few months, I gained notoriety in the underworld using an enthusiastic Misty to help me. I carried on with this cycle until finally, I was able to track Titan's movements and greet them in the form of my surrender(and a flash drive info of a couple of arms deals, but that's beside the point).
Titan brought me in, and for the first time, I was able to see the leader of Titan himself. Morgan Daniels, the regal Dragoon showed himself to me as his sheer aura of dominance clashed with mine.
"Let me cut through all the theatrics and get straight to the point. You've recently been popping out all across the underworld as almost an untrue ghost story. But suddenly out of the blue you give us info that we've been tracking for over a month. And you've truthfully answered every question that we've asked, but I want to hear it from you. Tell me, Sarah, why do you want to join Titan?"
I answer his question instantly.
"Because sir, for once, I want to wake up from my bed without dealing with another nightmare. And I learned across this journey of one that the world needs someone like me. Something that Tian lacks."
"And what do you think it needs?"
"Someone who isn't afraid to do what needs to be done. A legend capable of putting the fear of God in the monsters this world creates, so that some good may prevail. And I believe I can be that symbol you need."
Morgan looked over and thought over my statement and stated.
"And what makes you think that I would allow you to become a member of Titan? Would you be capable of even joining our ranks?"
"I don't know. All I know is that I've got nothing to lose and nowhere to go. So I guess the only question you need to ask yourself is, what do we have to gain?'
Morgan again ponders over it until finally he silently made his decision in the form of an outstretched hand while saying.
"I guess we'll have to find out together."
I took his hand as well, and the next thing I knew a new chapter of my life unfolded. With the scars of my past still burning ever so bright but also the embers of a promising future starting to bloom with each new step I took towards it.
"Your past doesn't define but gives you the starting point for who you were going to be. But your future is what you aspire to be, and no amount of time will ever change that. And at the end of the day, it's you who decides that. Only you."