The white figure crashing through the ceiling was quite a surprise. There was no warning of rockets or other loud flying devices, no alarms from the pressure sensors on the roof. Though the intruder fell swiftly the fifty feet to the imitation marble floor, he landed lightly on heavy white boots. The Prince did not falter in his shock. His mothers surged toward the intruder before the dust had settled on his narrow shoulders. From his white belt, the man drew a short white rod, like a police baton, which extended out to a four-foot long staff with a flick of his wrist. The staff spun in his hands in a round blur, making a slight whistling from its speed. The mothers fell like sacks of garbage as the staff struck deftly. The Prince did not even see the strikes, only heard the soft thwacks of impact on flesh and bone. He was not alarmed. They were only meant to distract this usurper so other defenses could be prepared. As the last mother fell, his children gathered around him, shielding him out of their unconditional love and devotion. That is how children should feel toward their parents. They should not be afraid or filled with bottomless loathing. No. This is how it should always be.
The trespasser stepped over the fallen mothers with no hesitation. His face was completely hidden by a white helmet, the face mask reflecting the room perfectly. He must be an assassin, sent by contenders to his throne. A noble knight would not come before him so disguised. In vain, the Prince’s eyes scoured the uniform in search of some sort of identifying insignia. There must be a badge, a letter, a symbol, something to indicate his identity. But the uniform is unadorned. White body armor over his chest, hips and thighs. White kevlar-thread leggings and sleeves. White knee-high boots with thick soles. White padded gloves. Even the cape, hanging limply halfway down his back, was unrelieved white. He strode down the long hall toward the throne, not over-confident or swaggering. Just moving purposefully toward something without hesitation or fear. The Prince felt a fluttering of…not fear, but perhaps nerves in the face of this adversary.
He leans down to whisper in the ear of the eldest child, a pale-haired girl with large, liquid brown eyes. “This ghost means to kill your liege-lord.” Her blank eyes are filled suddenly with hatred and fury. The feeling spreads to the others in an instant. They tremble around him, but wait for the command. Some growl like feral cats. When he is twenty feet away, the Prince gives his command. Dozens of children rush toward the assassin with shrieks and screams to frighten the dead, possessed of such rage that nothing short of death would stop their assault. A man who would strike down unarmed women was, to the Prince, just a normal man, no different from his father or the scores of other “fathers” he had been assigned since childhood. But even his father wavered before striking his children, though he rarely thought twice about performing other abuses.
The staff was a white blur again. None of his children came close enough to touch the brute. They barely made a noise when hit, just fell like toy robots being switched off.
“What kind of monster strikes innocent children?” The accusation comes from his sister, who stands before the dais now. She had been lounging before, unconcerned with the intruder because she was, after all, the Panhandle Alpha, as well as the Princess of their kingdom. Her yellow boots are firmly planted in a wide fighting stance, her blue-gloved hands clenched in fists. A wave of gratitude overwhelms the Prince for a moment. He had been so worried that the world had turned her against him, but it had only taken a little compulsion to get her on his side. It felt right, having her defend him now, as he had defended her so many times. “Answer me!” she screeches. “You have no right to come in here and assault our subjects. I am the Panhandle Alpha and I have everything under control.” Interesting statement. Now he wonders if perhaps she might have needed more compulsion. Could she have been pretending all this time? He knew women were liars, but his sister was different. They were twins. There’s no such thing as lying between twins.
The assassin does not respond to her except to retract his staff and return it to his belt. Liar or not, the Princess was giving him more time to break through his natural defenses, much easier to do when the subject is distracted. What could be more distracting than hand-to-hand combat? Princess may have used her abilities to convince the Council to choose her, but she was still a trained hero with half a decade of crime-fighting experience. The two square off like old-time gun slingers, Princess shifting right to left to try to draw her opponent off-balance. For his part, the ghost seems to settle into an unnatural stillness. His helmet does not even twitch to keep her in full view, not even when she slips into his periphery on his right. He just stands there, that reflective blankness focused on the bottom step of the dais. The Prince can sense the interloper’s barriers, but they feel strange to him. They aren’t…shaped right. No, that’s not it. It’s almost as though they’re the wrong color or they just taste wrong. He had never been able to translate what he felt of other people’s minds into words properly. His sister was the only one who ever understood, who could ever understand.
Princess struck at the intruder from the side, rushing in fast and low to catch him by surprise. He evaded her easily, though he could not have seen her with that ridiculous helmet blocking his vision. She managed to avoid the boot aimed at her head, but only barely. She had always scorned helmets. They were worn by fools, mostly men afraid to damage their pretty faces. Armor was well and good, but it should never restrict movement or vision. And if you can’t protect your head, you deserve to be hit. She had learned that before she’d left elementary school. She had learned many things in school besides letters and sums. She’d learned to be fast, to never be where they expect you to be, and to strike at weakness first. With that thought she aimed a heavy boot at her opponent’s groin, her first target for most opponents, male or female. Again, he dodged her and struck back with speed that took her breath away, almost literally. The blow that might have broken her wind pipe glanced off her shoulder with bruising force. She dropped suddenly into a roll to give her time and distance from him, but he anticipated the move and managed to catch her by the collar of her golden cape. Then she was flying through the air and crashing into a false pillar, which collapsed on impact. She felt heavy pieces of concrete land on her ribs and legs, screamed in agony when she felt bones snap like twigs. Still, she struggled, against the weight of the broken pillar and the blinding pain, to reach her brother. She had to defend him. She had to!
Dust from the shattered masonry filled the air. Through it, she could just make out the Prince sitting regally on his throne. He was smiling. He must have broken through the barriers. Her brother was so strong, so brave. He would protect her. He would always protect her. She watched expectantly for the white-clad monster to kneel and become their loyal knight. He did kneel and he pulled from his back, beneath his unusually short cape, a white panel of metal about as wide as his forearm and three feet long. It came to a point at one end. Placing the point on the ground before him, he slid his right forearm through two vertical straps on the back. With a loud series of clicks, the panel extended out into a curved shield, shaped almost like a police badge. Princess stopped breathing. She knew who he was. Or rather, who she was. The cry of alarm was still trapped in her throat when the white-clad hero regained his feet and sprang up the dais steps.
The Shield, wielding her namesake weapon, separated the Dragon’s head from his body with one wide sweep of the shield’s sharp edge. The force was such that his vertebrae offered no resistance. The surprise was frozen on his face. From behind the hero, agonized shrieks were heard, from suddenly conscious children and women as well as the broken Alpha. Shield retrieved the head, carefully stowing it in a pouch attached to her belt, and then the Alpha, who was too distraught to offer any resistance. All the disgraced hero did was cry. A sedative shot into her thin, pale neck put her down rather effectively. After assuring that she was properly trussed so as not to cause anymore damage to herself, Shield silently flew through the hole she had made in the roof on entry with the girl strapped to her back.
“London, this is St. George, Over,” she said calmly into the receiver in her helmet.
“St. George, this is London, Over.”
“London, Dragon slain, Princess retrieved. Peasants ready for revolt, Over.” It was a silly code, but the Council had insisted. Too many local heroes and vigilantes listened in to open frequencies.
“Roger that, St. George. London Out.”
She still couldn’t fathom how the Panhandle Council had bungled this situation so badly. Needing to call in heroes from other territories was unheard of, but when their Alpha had gone rogue, she supposed their options become severely limited. Flying above the city, the air still muggy at this height, she vaguely wondered what it might be like to have a twin, so be that closely tied to someone. No. If normal relationships were confusing to her, then twins were well beyond her ken. Considering how this relationship had ended, she reflected that she might not want to understand it further.