In the basement of St. Pancras parish, Sebastian placed the skull mask upon his head, taking a moment to gather himself. It made him feel strangely alive, gave him confidence and reminded him of the purpose of the brotherhood that gathered before him. Cyrus Gold and Clinton Hogue sat before him, as did Brother Michael Daily, who wore the uniform of the city police department. They had answered his call, as had so many others.
“My brothers,” he began, “we have not met since the passing of our leader, mentor, and dear friend, Father Trigon. As we all know, Father Trigon believed in the good of the people who live here in the Glades, and because of him the halls of St. Walker’s are filled with the guilty.” Murmurs of agreement filled the hall. “But I am here to tell you, my brothers, that our work is not done.
“Despite his efforts, the city is falling apart. Just last night, good people were maliciously attacked, their home invaded a short distance from here. Yet the officials of Starling City turn their backs, and call the Glades a hopeless hellhole.”
At that, a deep scowl appeared on Brother Michael Daily’s face, and angry muttering filled the room. Sebastian held up his hand for silence.
“The residents of the Glades should not be living in fear. They should not be reduced to political silence. My brothers, we need to unite and speak up, or nothing will change. Our brotherhood must give them their voice back, and prove to them that they are not abandoned. The time is now, brothers.”
He lifted his hands, and the brotherhood rose from their chairs. They began to clap, and Sebastian felt the thrill of empowerment. Yet there was no time to waste. They had to act. Their mission needed to begin as soon as possible.
* * *
A few nights later, the brotherhood gathered again, and the sense of anticipation was electric. They waited largely in silence, the occasional murmur breaking the quiet, only to die down again.
The door opened and Brother Daily entered. He and two other brothers dragged a pair of thugs down the hard wooden stairs to the basement of the church. Brother Cyrus Gold stood at the front of the room, wearing his mask and patiently waiting as they were pushed to the concrete floor and surrounded.
“What the hell is this?” one of the thugs demanded. “What’re you gonna do to us, priest? Preach to us? Make us see the light?” The other thug snickered at that.
“No,” Brother Cyrus said as the lights in the basement went out. “The dark.”
The thugs began to panic and cried out, looking around frantically in the gloom. Then a single bright light snapped back on, and they came face to face with Brother Blood.
“I am here to show you what fear really looks like,” Brother Blood said as the thugs found themselves gripped by many hands, hauled to their feet, and bound to chairs. The prisoners struggled to escape, cursing and rocking the chairs from side to side. Their efforts became panicky as the gleam of several knives appeared in the darkness.
“Cease your struggling, and shut up,” Brother Blood said. “It won’t do you any good.” Then he looked around. “Begin, brothers,” he instructed, as the brothers pressed their blades into use. They sliced their prisoners, just enough to cause pain and make them bleed. They dragged the knives across arms, stomachs, and legs as the thugs screamed in pain.
When they were done, the brothers used the knives to cut the prisoners loose.
“Spread the word,” Brother Blood said as the hands gripped them again. “Let it be known that the Glades are off limits to criminals. This is no longer a playground for scum like you. Tell your friends that they can join their neighbors to make the Glades stronger, or they will face the devil.”
Then he drew his own knife and ran it over the thugs’ palms, slicing them open and watching the red blood drip onto the basement floor.
* * *
Weeks later, Sebastian sat in his office, his frustrated anger a thing of the past. He was pleased at the progress that had been made. Civic groups had begun to clean up the Glades, and new businesses had begun to open. As they showed signs of prosperity, others began to invest, and a sense of community pride had begun to flourish. They still had a long way to go, but it was a beginning.
There was a knock on his office door.
“Sebastian, are you ready for lunch?” Cyrus Gold asked as he entered.
Sebastian looked up from his desk.
“Yes, in just a moment, Cyrus.” He motioned for his friend to enter. “Come sit down, I have wonderful news.” Cyrus took a seat on the couch, and Sebastian swiveled in his desk chair to face him. Excitement was clear in his expression.
“Good news, you say?” Cyrus replied. “Even after all we’ve done, the strides we’ve made, City Hall continues to act as if we don’t exist. What more can we expect of them?”
“It’s what we’ve been waiting for,” Sebastian said. “They’ve finally begun to see the light. Expansion plans have been approved for the clinic.”
“That’s amazing,” Cyrus said. He stood and hugged his longtime friend. “Congratulations, brother.”
“I couldn’t have done it without your support—and the support of everyone in the brotherhood. The last couple of months have been a whirlwind. The night watch program is thriving, crime is down by thirty-five percent, and it finally feels as if we’re starting to make a difference.”
“Father Trigon would be proud,” Cyrus told him.
“I hope so.” Sebastian bowed his head, remembering the man who started it all. “I hope he knows how grateful I am, for all that he did for me.”
“I’m sure he knows.” Cyrus placed a hand on Sebastian’s shoulder. “It’s wonderful what you are doing—thanks to you, the sky’s the limit, Sebastian.”
“Indeed it is,” Sebastian agreed.
In the common room of the Zandia Orphanage, a small group of people attended a fundraiser for the Rebecca Merlyn Clinic. Spirits were high—Dr. Vaca beamed as he discussed the plans, while Richard and Amelia Gomez introduced their son Bobby to the donors. Though exhausted by the rigors of his treatment, he grinned broadly at the attention he received. Sebastian played his part, and socialized with his supporters.
When he finally left the festivities, Sebastian was on a high. The Glades finally were beginning to thrive, and as discouraged as he had been a few months earlier, Sebastian knew he had put into motion what was needed to fulfill his plans and dreams, regardless of any opposition from the city political machine.
Arriving at his modest apartment, he flipped a light switch and glanced ruefully at the bare white walls and sparse furniture. A small worn loveseat sat in his living room next to a side table. The sole occupant of the table was a houseplant that had long ago given up the ghost. The television stood near a fireplace that Sebastian had never used.
His bed, unmade, was in the center of the second-floor bedroom. A dresser was pushed off to the side near the closet, where an open door revealed a row of suits, pristine and crisp in a wide variety of colors. The suits weren’t his concern, however, as he approached the room—there was a figure sitting on his bed in the gloom, the only light coming from the street. Whoever it was, he didn’t move a muscle as Sebastian crept slowly forward, reaching for a knife he kept in a pocket.
“I’m not here to hurt you, Mr. Blood,” the intruder said as he rose calmly, straightening his suit jacket. Even in the semi-darkness Sebastian could see that the man was dressed impeccably, his body language confident and his limbs muscular.
He wore an eye patch, a black smudge in the semidarkness.
“My name is Slade Wilson,” the man said, extending his hand.
Sebastian didn’t reach for it.
“What do you want?”
“I… we… have a business proposition for you,” the man said as a woman stepped into the room behind Sebastian. “Mr. Blood, please meet Miss Isabel Rochev,” Slade added as the newcomer made her way to stand next to him.
“I ask you again,” Sebastian growled, “what do you want? One more time and I call the police.”
“Oh, I don’t think you want to do that,” Wilson said, holding up Sebastian’s skull mask. Sebastian’s eyes widened, and his hand shot out to grab it, but he found his wrist held in an iron grip far more powerful than the intruder’s size would have suggested. When the grip relaxed, Sebastian stepped back.
“You’ve been working hard, Mr. Blood, trying to turn this city around,” Wilson said, “and while they might appreciate the results you’ve achieved, not everyone would be thrilled with your approach to the problems.’ He held up the mask again.
“But I know a little something about wearing a mask, and while it can be a valuable tool when used right, it will only get you so far. I—” He gestured toward the woman. “—we would like you offer you our assistance in what you are doing for your city. In fact, we would like to offer you the city itself.”
What the hell is he talking about? Sebastian wondered. He frowned, but kept quiet.
“We’ve been doing our homework,” Wilson continued, “and it’s clear you’ll do anything you can to save Starling City, or you wouldn’t go running around late at night with your… brothers. We can offer you something more powerful—an army with which to take control, make the city yours, and position you as mayor.”
“Mayor?” Sebastian responded with skepticism clear in his voice, and the woman—Rochev—scoffed.
“I told you, he isn’t ready,” she said.
“Now, Miss Rochev, Mr. Blood’s actions speak for him, and his love for his city runs deep within him. Deeper than most, in fact…” He turned to face Sebastian again. “…which is why you will accept my offer.”
“I don’t know who you think you are, Mr. Wilson, stalking me, breaking into my apartment, but I’ve already begun to turn this city around without your help, and I will continue to do so.” He pointed to the mask. “That proves nothing, and I will not be threatened in my own home, nor swayed by some bogus proposition.”
Wilson smirked, and despite himself Sebastian found it disconcerting.
“I assure you my offer is valid,” Wilson said. “And we have no intention of threatening you. I believe you will see the value of having a different set of allies, and change your mind. For the time when you do…” Slade handed Sebastian his card. “Let’s go, Miss Rochev.” He stepped past Sebastian and out of the room, followed closely by his companion, and they were gone.
* * *
Sebastian rounded the corner at a brisk pace, approaching the clinic for an afternoon meeting with Dr. Vaca, when he came to an abrupt halt. The entrance was boarded up. Long two-by-fours were nailed to the doors, and no one was around to be seen. Shaking off his initial confusion, he reached for his phone.
Vaca picked up on the first ring.
“Doctor, I’m down at the clinic,” Sebastian said. “What’s going on?”
“It all happened so quickly, I haven’t had the time to call you,” the doctor said, his voice panicky. “Malcolm Merlyn shut down the clinic this morning, before we could open. His support has been pulled.”
Sebastian felt his face grow warm.
“I’ll call you back.” He cut the connection and stood there, staring. In one quick moment so much of his work—the clinic that represented the progress he had been making—had been snatched away. Anger turned to steely resolve. He turned on his heel, walking even more briskly than before.
* * *
“I don’t care if he is in the middle of something,” Sebastian said, the volume of his voice rising in Malcolm Merlyn’s office. As the assistant disappeared into the room behind him, Sebastian paced the outer office.
She returned, and moments later Sebastian stood before Merlyn himself, sweating and seething with anger. Despite that fact, Merlyn casually leaned back in his desk chair, and his expression revealed that he was unimpressed with Sebastian’s entrance.
“That was quite a racket you made coming to see me, Mr. Blood,” he said, gesturing to a guest chair. “Please take a seat—you must need to recover after such a performance.”
“Thank you, but I would rather stand,” Sebastian said firmly. “We don’t need to bother with the niceties, Mr. Merlyn. Why did you close the clinic?”
“Ah, that.” Merlyn rose to his feet. “Mr. Blood, I should have closed that clinic down years ago,” he continued. “It was my wife’s project, and it should have been shuttered when the people of the Glades murdered her.”
“Do you have any idea how many people rely on that clinic?” Sebastian said. “You can’t just—”
“Save your energy,” Malcolm said, raising his hand to halt the conversation. “I’ve heard about your crusade—everyone has. ‘Alderman Blood is here to save the Glades,’” he said with a condescending sneer. “But you won’t, Mr. Blood. The Glades are already dead, and the people who live there will get what’s coming to them. So I strongly urge you to do yourself a favor, and find a new cause to support—something that people will actually care about. Because despite your juvenile delusions, no one will ever care about the Glades.
“The clinic is shut down for good,” Malcolm concluded. “Now if you would be so kind as to leave my office a little more quietly than you entered, I too have more important matters to address.” With that he reached for the phone.
* * *
A short time later Sebastian arrived at City Hall and saw light coming from under the door of Mayor Altman’s office. Taking a deep breath and squaring his shoulders, he knocked lightly.
“Come in,” Mayor Altman called.
Sebastian entered to find him filing paperwork and watching the local news, with anchor Bethany Snow on the screen. The sound was low. Sebastian caught a glimpse of himself in the window, and realized how disheveled he was. His hair was unkempt and messy, his dress shirt half tucked in and his tie hanging loosely around his neck.
Not a good look, he mused.
“Sebastian, what happened?” Mayor Altman asked with concern.
“I’ve come for some advice, Mr. Mayor. I realize that the last time I did this, I let my emotions get the best of me, and ask that you forgive me,” Sebastian said.
“I appreciate that, thank you,” the mayor said. “So what has happened that has left you looking like… this?” he added.
“Malcolm Merlyn closed the Glades clinic today,” Sebastian replied.
“I know,” Altman said. “I heard.” Sebastian thought he sounded disheartened, as well.
“Mr. Mayor, the community depends on the clinic—for so many people it’s their only alternative. They wouldn’t know what else to do, where else to go.” He paused, then continued. “Perhaps if we work together, show a united front, we can come up with an alternative. It might even be to our advantage,” he offered tentatively. “Provide us with some political capital.”
The mayor sat back for a second, rubbing his forehead with his fingertips, when suddenly a banner headline on the television announced breaking news. Both men turned their heads, and Mayor Altman reached for the remote, turning up the volume.
“We now go live to the Queen Mansion,” Snow said in a voice-over, “where we’ve been told Moira Queen has called a press conference.” The image on the screen was of an empty podium, and while they watched Moira Queen stepped into view, wearing a red dress suit. The look on her face was startling—a combination of fear and anguish—as she took a deep breath and began to speak.
“God forgive me,” she said, her voice breaking. “I have failed this city. I have been complicit with an undertaking for one horrible purpose… to destroy the Glades and everyone in it.” As a startled murmur broke out in the pressroom, Queen continued, struggling for control, revealing that she feared for her own life and the lives of her family. Yet she couldn’t stand by and remain silent. The conspiracy, she said, had been the brainchild of one man.
As she spoke, Sebastian felt a strange vibration, and his eyes went wide. Bethany Snow reappeared on the screen and announced that they were cutting to a live feed from the streets of the Glades. When the image changed to show a street view, however, it was as if the camera operator couldn’t control his device. The picture rocked violently, making it difficult to focus on what was occurring.
It looks like an earthquake, he thought. But that’s impossible… unless…
Crowds flooded the streets, which were cracking and shifting as the vibrations appeared to increase. Pieces fell from the buildings, striking people down at random, leaving bodies crushed and bleeding. Here and there fires could be seen, sending angry flames and clouds of smoke into the night air. The current of bodies grew as chaos reigned, and people trampled one another to escape.
Sebastian glanced at the mayor, whose face had gone white. Without a word, the young alderman bolted from the room.
* * *
Out in the street traffic was at a standstill, so Sebastian ran, determined to reach the Glades. The closer he got, the stronger the vibrations became, threatening to throw him to the ground. When he reached the perimeter of his neighborhood, all he found was chaos as far as the eye could see.
What has Merlyn done? he wondered incredulously. How could he accomplish so much destruction?
Another quake, and he was thrown to the ground, landing hard on his palms. He looked up and saw the building above him start to crumble to the ground. Scrambling to his feet, ignoring the stinging pain in his hands, he spotted a teenage boy about to be buried by the falling rubble. Moving as fast as he could, he grabbed the kid around the waist and dragged him to one side just as the bricks and mortar struck the ground and scattered in all directions.
Making sure the teen wasn’t hurt, Sebastian started running again. He passed the clinic and was horrified to see gaping holes in the walls. All of the windows were shattered. A portion of the fire escape had broken loose and was lying in a twisted tangle of metal on the ground. Pausing only for a moment, he started toward Zandia Orphanage. As he did, fear gripped his heart, telling him what he was going to find.
Finally he turned the corner…
It was still standing.
“Sebastian! Brother!” Cyrus called out, waving his arms above his head.
“Cyrus,” Sebastian yelled, running over. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Cyrus replied, and he pointed. “The children are in the basement of the church, and we’re watching over them. The walls are solid—they should be safe from this insanity.”
“Have you heard from Dr. Vaca?” Sebastian asked. “I went to the clinic, and it’s all but leveled.”
“I don’t know, I can’t reach anyone,” Cyrus said. Then his voice turned angry. “The Queen family is behind this madness, they admitted it on the news.”
“I know, I saw Mrs. Queen’s confession,” Sebastian said. “It’s Merlyn—somehow he’s responsible for this. I don’t know how, but he’s engineered an earthquake, and it’s confined to the Glades. The wealthy have been playing us all along, and we’re nothing but fodder for their ambitions. Our lives mean nothing to them, and it’s time for us to do something about it.” As if to punctuate his point, the ground shook again.
“Brother, it is time for retribution,” Cyrus replied.
It’s past time, and I finally know what to do, Sebastian mused with a cold fury. “It’s time for the one percent to feel as we have, Cyrus,” he agreed. “It’s time for a war to come, and for a new leader to guide us into safety.” He peered into the distance. The place he had worked so hard to save, to pull from the ashes, was being destroyed, brick by brick. Innocents were dying, and Sebastian knew now that what he had been doing could never have been enough.
“This ends now.”
He pulled out his cell phone and Slade Wilson’s business card. Then he punched in Slade’s number.
“I’m in,” he said. “Give me my city—give me my army.”
Night fell over the Glades, the moon full in a cloudless sky. Moonlight cascaded upon the neighborhood in ghost-like fingers, the eerie bands of luminescence threading themselves between the broken buildings, reflecting off glass and metal, then dissolving in alleys dark and menacing.
The area had been decimated by the earthquake. They called it the Undertaking—the unnatural event engineered by Merlyn and his confederates—and it had left an abyss of hopelessness and despair in its wake. Shortly after this devastation, Merlyn disappeared from Starling City. So did Oliver Queen, taking with him the vigilante who was his alter ego.
Now Slade drove through the neighborhood, the headlights from his Aventador cutting a swath through the darkness. He had been driving most of the day, digging deep, visiting locations personal to Oliver—his family’s mansion and sprawling estate, Queen Consolidated, even the graves of Sara Lance and Tommy Merlyn.
Finding nothing of value, he next targeted Queen’s closest allies, locating the apartments of John Diggle, Felicity Smoak, and Laurel Lance. Each was a dead end, yet he continued to explore, experiencing every inch he could of Starling City. This was the home Oliver loved, to which he had returned, and which he desperately sought to save. Slade was determined to know it intimately—so that when he crushed it to dust, he would know and revel in the depths of Oliver’s despair.
As Slade drove through the Glades, it made all the sense in the world that this forsaken place had been the domain of the vigilante. He had seen the killer Oliver had become, and knew the blackness at his core. That was the true Oliver Queen. It was natural that he would gravitate toward the area most overcome by the dark. Yet after Tommy Merlyn’s funeral, he had vanished without a trace.
Retreating like a coward, Slade thought. Abandoning his city.
He took a turn, his headlights illuminating graffiti on walls still standing among the destruction. He smirked as he read what it said. BLOOD FOR MAYOR. In the vacuum created by the vigilante’s departure, his new acquaintance, Mr. Blood, had stepped in, anointing himself as Starling City’s would-be savior.
Slade slowed as he neared the nightclub Verdant, the last stop on his tour through the city. To the unobservant eye, Oliver’s decision to convert his family’s old steel factory had seemed to make perfect sense. A rich playboy became an entrepreneur, catering to other rich ne’er-do-wells. The club was the plaything of a dilettante with nothing better to do.
Slade knew better.
The building was centrally located, tactically ideal for a certain hooded vigilante and his exploits. Blueprints of the property confirmed Slade’s suspicions, revealing an unaccounted sublevel beneath the club, easily missed below the dancing feet of Starling’s youthful elite. Oliver had hidden his operation in plain sight, using his reputation as an all-night party boy to cover his other nocturnal excursions.
Clever… thought Slade, a malicious smirk crossing his face. But not clever enough. Revving his engine, he peeled out and headed back toward downtown.
* * *
He stepped off the elevator, his dark suit gleaming under the warm lights of the hallway. A swath of dark red carpeting led him past thick octagonal columns on either side, and toward a lacquered oak desk at the suite’s center. Heavy and substantial, the piece was the focal point of the overtly masculine space, its dark cedar echoed in the surrounding décor. The windows behind it were obscured by floor-to-ceiling curtains, and there was a small bar off to the side. The overall effect was one of power and intimidation.
Slade smoothed the lapel on his tailored suit.
He found Isabel waiting for him, seated at one of two leather chairs opposite the desk. She had found the suite in an office building on the edge of downtown Starling City, easily secured in the post-Undertaking recession. Like Slade, she was dressed sharply and ready to get to work.
“As you requested,” she said. “Paid for with an account at Starling National, established under your name. It was an odd request, though, considering your desire for stealth.”
“Crumbs meant to draw out the rats,” Slade said, settling in behind the large desk.
“In that case, why not open the curtains and enjoy the very expensive view?”
“Because, Ms. Rochev,” he said, with matter-of-fact confidence, “when next I gaze upon the skyline, it will be from the penthouse of your Queen Consolidated, while the city burns.”
A rare smile crossed Isabel’s face. She had worked with many a successful CEO, but none had Slade’s level of foresight and cunning. She relished the thought of dismantling the company Robert Queen had spent his life building.
“What of Mr. Blood?” Slade asked. “Have you found anything else?”
Isabel shook her head. “If he has secrets beyond the brotherhood, they’re well hidden.” She handed him a dossier.
“For his sake,” Slade said, “let’s hope they stay buried.”
“He’ll have questions,” she said. “What do you plan on telling him?”
Slade opened the folder, staring at Blood’s life, laid out in text.
“I will tell him exactly what he wants to hear.”
* * *
Sebastian strode in and was immediately taken aback by the suite’s opulence. Seeing the expensive clothes worn by Wilson and Rochev, he was reminded of the Starling City elite—the ones who had destroyed the Glades and left its residents to suffer. Reminding himself that he needed these people, he tried to shake off the thought.
For the most part, he succeeded.
“Welcome, Mr. Blood,” Wilson said, standing to extend his hand. “You remember Ms. Rochev?”
“Of course.” Blood nodded to Isabel, standing at the small bar.
“Can I interest you in a drink?” she asked.
“I’m okay, thank you,” Blood said.
“We insist,” Wilson said. “To mark the occasion.” He nodded, Isabel poured two fingers of Scotch, and handed Blood the glass. He took it reluctantly.
“A toast,” Wilson said, raising his own glass. “To changing Starling City for the better.”
Blood took a sip of the golden liquor, recognizing it as the same eighteen-year-old Macallan he kept under his desk for special occasions. He didn’t think this was a coincidence. Slade noticed his reticence.
“You seem on edge,” he said. “Is something the matter?”
Blood took a moment, debating internally what to say. Resolved, he went on the offensive.
“That is a very nice suit you’re wearing… and all this?” Blood said, gesturing to the surrounding suite. “Impressive. But if I’m being honest, it all reeks of the very wealth I’m trying to expel from this city.”
Wilson nodded. “I assure you, our intentions are aligned.”
Blood set his glass of Scotch on the massive desk, where it landed with a thud.
“You know the Scotch I drink, the brotherhood I lead, the mask I wear,” he said pointedly. “Yet I know nothing about either of you. So excuse me for being a little wary of our arrangement.”
“Then allow us to put your mind at ease,” Wilson said. “What would you like to know?”
“What’s in it for you?” Blood asked. “What do you gain by making me mayor?”
“Revenge.” Wilson smiled, and his voice was tinged with malice. The answer caught Blood by surprise. “The people who betrayed your city wronged me… wronged us, as well. Together, we will make them pay for those transgressions.”
Wilson nodded to Rochev, who pulled a briefcase out from beside her chair. She opened it, revealing five vials of incandescent green liquid.
“That is mirakuru,” Wilson explained. “This serum grants power beyond measure. With it, you can build an army of the worthy, strong enough to bring Starling City to its knees. Then the fat cats won’t be able to hide from reality—they will finally know the plight of the Glades.”
The screams from the Undertaking were still fresh in Blood’s mind. As he thought about the lives lost in the earthquake, and people left behind to suffer, his reservations began to recede. Wilson was right. Blood did want revenge.
“And when the city cries out for its savior,” Wilson continued, “you will answer, reshaping the city as you see fit.”
“What about the vigilante?” Blood asked, taking the case from Rochev. “I doubt he’ll stand idly by as an army overtakes his city.”
“That supposes that he’s not too preoccupied,” Wilson said, lacing his fingers together and placing them on the desk, “being hunted as Starling City’s public enemy number one.”
“Have you heard of the Copycat Hoods, Mr. Blood?” Rochev asked. She handed him a copy of Starling City’s newspaper, The Star. On the front page was a headline. “THE VIGILANTE GANG STRIKES AGAIN.” The article detailed the murder of a local businessman with ties to the Merlyn Global Group, the sixth such death since the Undertaking. The group of men responsible were masked, dressed like the vigilante, and assumed to be acting on his behalf.
“Of course,” Blood said, glancing at the paper. “I know of them through the brotherhood.” He put the paper down on his lap. “But you already know this, don’t you?”
“We would like you to make contact with these men,” Rochev said, pushing ahead. “Point them toward a new target.”
Sebastian couldn’t conceal his shock.
“You want me to orchestrate an assassination?”
“No,” Wilson said. “A cleansing.”
“Our hope,” Rochev added, “is that the mayor’s death will be blamed on the vigilante himself, making his capture a priority for the Starling City Police Department and district attorney’s office. Their preoccupation with each other should give you ample space to test the serum, and build your army.”
“While also creating a vacancy at City Hall.” Blood marveled at their ruthless cunning. “And given the circumstances, everyone will be too afraid to fill it.”
“Except for you, Mr. Blood,” Wilson said, his hand stroking his beard.
“Promises like these don’t come without a price,” Sebastian said. “What’s yours? What will I owe you?”
“Your loyalty and discretion,” Wilson said, his voice like gravel, “and an expectation of excellence. I do not tolerate mistakes.”
“Then we’re good partners,” Sebastian replied, deciding to meet the challenge head on. “Because I don’t make them.” He stood and shook hands with both Wilson and Rochev.
“One final word, Mr. Blood.” Wilson stared at him. “Should your activities put you in the path of the vigilante, do not engage him. Do you understand?”
Sebastian nodded, then turned and walked the long hallway toward the elevator doors—noting as he did the carpet underfoot, the color reminiscent of of blood.
* * *
“Robert gave me my first taste of Scotch. ‘A man’s drink,’ he said. I thought it meant he viewed me as an equal.” Isabel took a long sip, feeling the alcohol’s pleasurable warmth travel from her mouth down through her throat to her chest.
“All just part of the seduction,” Slade said, eying Blood’s glass on his desk.
She nodded, then asked something that had been on her mind since their meeting with Blood.
“Our mayor-to-be hates everything the Queens represent,” she observed. “Why not tell him that Oliver is the vigilante?”
“We need his ambition and unwitting servitude,” Slade said. “Not his questions. The less he knows, the better.”
“Yet you trusted me with that knowledge.”
“Of course,” he said. “Mr. Blood is merely a puppet. Your role is far more important.”
“I didn’t realize you valued corporate takeovers so highly.”
“I do when they strike at the very heart of my enemy.”
The two shared a smile. They both understood the importance of Queen Consolidated. Isabel, however, had known this long before Slade Wilson had entered her life. Revenge would only be hers when she had dismantled their precious company, piece by piece.
“When do you want me to start?” she asked.
Isabel let slip the briefest hint of surprise.
“You doubt yourself?” he said.
“Never,” she said. “But it is soon. The company is weak, but it’s not yet fully vulnerable. There are still variables I can’t control.”
“There’s only one thing I care about,” Slade said, “and that is drawing Oliver Queen back to Starling City.”
“How can you be sure it’ll work?”
“The company is his family’s legacy,” he responded. “It’s as important to him as his city. He will not allow either to be taken from him without a fight.”
“Well, that legacy is about to end,” Isabel said.
“I have no doubt,” he replied, then he rose up from the desk, preparing to leave.
“Where will you be in the meantime?”
He paused, smoothing out his jacket lapel once more. Then he met her eye, his face without expression.
Hidden behind dense foliage, Slade crouched in silent wait, beads of sweat dripping from his forehead to his neck, then to his chest. His black shirt and tactical pants were soaked. Though it was fall, the heat of summer still had yet to relinquish its hold on Lian Yu. He had almost forgotten about the island’s unrelenting heat. He had hated it for the entirety of his stay but now, so many years removed, he found the oppressive humidity oddly comforting.
Perhaps that was the reason, out of all the places in the world he could have chosen, Oliver had taken refuge here. Lian Yu may have been hell, but it was a hell they both understood. That he and Oliver had willingly returned to the prison they had so desperately tried to escape was irony not lost on Slade.
Suddenly, Stockholm syndrome made a hell of a lot of sense.
He rose up from his crouch, slowly moving forward, straining to distinguish signs of movement among the sounds of the forest. Oliver would take shelter in the place he knew best. Slade had started his hunt at the burnt-out fuselage, had been tracking Oliver for nearly an hour, following his trail through the dense foliage, a predator stalking his prey.
Nature and time had covered the structure in dense green vines, all but obscuring it from view, but the camouflage had done nothing to obscure Slade’s memory. This was where he and Oliver had first met. Slade had easily gotten the drop on the inexperienced rich kid, holding a blade to his throat, ready to slit it.
If only I had, he thought.
Slade stopped suddenly, hearing movement on the ridge below him. He took cover behind a tree, looking down through the foliage. Then he spotted him, about sixty yards away. Oliver Queen. Slade gasped at the sight of him. He was shirtless, glistening with perspiration, his chest and back riddled with tattoos and scars, memories of pain expressed in flesh. He held his bow out in front, arrow nocked and at the ready, eyes trained on the brush ahead of him.
This was the first time Slade had laid eyes on Oliver in the flesh since their confrontation on the freighter, when Oliver had plunged the arrow through his eye, leaving him for dead. Reacting viscerally, Slade grasped the hilt of his tactical knife, thoughts of ambush and murder passing through his mind. It would only take a few seconds, the edge of the blade ripping through Oliver’s neck, laying it open, remedying Slade’s hesitation from their first encounter.
Then he shook off his bloodlust, relaxing his grip.
Too easy, he thought. He has to suffer.
Hearing a noise above the island’s wild din, Slade retreated a few steps back from the ridge. Cutting through the chorus of bird chirps and rustling leaves was the sound of an aircraft. Small, with twin propeller engines, the plane was making an approach, flickering in and out of view behind cloud cover. Oliver spotted it, as well, looking up in time to see a dark speck drop from the plane’s body. As it hurtled toward the island, growing in size, it was clear that the mass was in fact two people, one tethered in front of the other.
Seconds later, an olive-green parachute opened, slowing the couple’s descent, course set for the Lian Yu shore. Oliver immediately abandoned his hunt for game and took off, feet pounding dirt in pursuit of the approaching visitors.
Slade, however, stayed put.
They had arrived, right on schedule.
* * *
He took cover in the brush just beyond the fuselage, and watched as Oliver led John Diggle and Felicity Smoak—his two trusted allies—inside the hull. As expected, the two had made their trek from Starling City to deliver the news that Isabel Rochev’s company, Stellmoor International, was attempting a hostile takeover of Queen Consolidated.
It had taken them weeks to track down Oliver, during which time Slade had followed their every move. Using his mirakuru-enhanced senses, he eavesdropped as the two attempted to persuade Oliver to return from his self-imposed exile.
Yet despite their pleading, Oliver said no. He told them he had failed his city. He had been unable to prevent Malcolm Merlyn’s Undertaking from devastating the Glades. More than that, he believed he was responsible for Tommy Merlyn’s death, and was further racked with guilt. He had arrived at the conclusion that the city—the people in his life—were worse off now than before he had donned the hood.
He refused to put it back on again.
He wouldn’t come back.
However, Diggle and Smoak knew what Slade also knew—that to convince Oliver to return to Starling City, they would have to appeal to him not as the vigilante, but as head of the Queen family. They told him about Queen Consolidated, that it had become vulnerable after the earthquake and his mother’s incarceration. It was in danger of being acquired by Stellmoor International. If Oliver did not intercede, thirty thousand employees would be out on the street.
Hearing this, Oliver finally relented, and agreed to return home. Everything continued to unfold just as Slade had anticipated. Oliver’s weakness would always be his family.
* * *
A short time later Slade watched from the trees as Oliver, Diggle, and Smoak boarded the plane and took off, disappearing through the clouds, headed back toward Starling City. He pulled out a satellite phone from his munitions pouch and keyed in the number for Isabel, who answered immediately.
“Is it time?” she said.
“He’ll be there by morning,” he said. “Are you prepared?”
“I’m insulted you have to ask.”
“Are you headed back now?”
“After some unfinished business,” he said. “I’ll be in touch.”
Slade hung up then ventured deeper into the Lian Yu forest, course set on a familiar path.
* * *
It had been nearly four years since Slade had visited Shado’s grave. Time, however, had done nothing to buffer him from the pain its sight evoked. If anything, it made it worse, reminding him of how long his promise of revenge had remained unfulfilled. He felt the familiar rage boil inside of him, his hand beginning to tremble.
“Be still, my love.”
He turned to see Shado by his side. She caressed his face, calming him.
“Don’t lose sight of your plan,” she said.
Slade flexed his hand, regaining control. He looked deep into her eyes.
“Years ago, I made you a promise,” he said. “I will not fail you.”
“Will Oliver Queen suffer?” she asked.
Slade nodded. “Soon, suffering will be all he knows.”
Before leaving the gravesite, Slade noticed that the makeshift cemetery had a new inhabitant. A burial plot marked with the name Taiana, fashioned in the same primitive style as those for Robert Queen, Yao Fei, and his beloved. Though new in comparison to the others, the displaced dirt around it had long since settled, indicating that the grave was not fresh.
Slade gazed upon the mound of rocks, thinking the woman lying beneath fortunate. As someone Oliver truly cared for, Taiana was better off dead and buried than suffer the reckoning that was to come.
* * *
Slade emerged from the trees and stepped onto the rocky beach. He watched the waves crashing on the shore, remembering his leap into the sea. How shortsighted he had been, thinking he could best Mother Nature. It wasn’t a mistake he planned on repeating.
He spotted the mask, still staked where he had left it, about twenty-five yards from the cresting waves. His orange and black balaclava, arrow through the eye, the reminder he had left for Oliver. He yanked the arrow out and pulled the mask free, holding it out in front of him, taking in its terrifying visage. Though the years of exposure to the elements had battered it, and left its bottom half tattered like flayed flesh, Slade felt the mask still had one last purpose. When he next left the balaclava for Oliver to find, it wouldn’t just be as a reminder of his betrayal. This time, the mask would be a harbinger, foreshadowing the death of Oliver Queen and everyone for whom he cared.
He pocketed the mask and stalked across the rocky shore, back to the boat he had hidden off the coast. Once on board, he set course for Starling City.
A group of staffers passed out pamphlets in front of what remained of Cyrus Gold’s badly damaged church, while Sebastian Blood, trying his best to draw attention to the neighborhood’s plight, was interviewed by the local news. He was promoting a blood drive in support of the local hospital, Glades Memorial. Their blood banks had been in low supply ever since the earthquake. A throng of the neighborhood’s downtrodden began to gather, drawn to the activity.
Officer Daily kept an eye on the crowd.
“The message from City Hall is clear,” Sebastian said to the reporter. “No one cares about the Glades. We’re on our own. Only by banding together as a community, by helping our brothers and sisters, can we hope to rebuild this neighborhood. This blood drive is the start.”
“Restoring the hospital’s blood bank is a noble cause, but what good is it if it’s leaking through a sieve?” the reporter asked. “Crime in the Glades is up over seventy-five percent, murder up twenty. Can a blood drive really hope to counteract that sort of demand?”
“Like I said, Inez, this is only the first step. A reminder that we possess the strength to find our own salvation.”
“What about the vigilante? There are many in this community who still remain optimistic that he’ll return.”
That struck a nerve within Sebastian, yet he did his best to stifle his reaction.
“The criminal element fled to the Glades to escape that murderer,” he asserted. “Rest assured, the vigilante is no savior.”
“But you might be, Alderman Blood?” The reporter gave him a wry smile. “Is that your claim?”
“My aim is only to give a voice to the voiceless,” he said, refusing to rise to the challenge. “The Glades will rise again, and with it, this city.”
With that, the interview ended. As the news crew packed up their equipment and the throng dispersed, Sebastian saw a man linger. He was in his twenties, an artist type with close-cropped hair. He had the look of a loner. Sebastian walked over to investigate.
“You really think you can make a difference?” the man said.
“These streets are my home,” Sebastian answered. “I won’t rest until they’re safe. What’s your name, son?”
“Max,” he said. “Max Stanton.”
“Well, Max,” said Sebastian, handing him a pamphlet, “whenever you’re ready to help make this neighborhood a better place, please join us. We’ll be conducting these every three weeks. Come on by.”
Stanton took the leaflet without a word, and disappeared down the street. Sebastian watched him, then he glanced over to Officer Daily, who nodded, indicating it was time. Sebastian shook hands with the few stragglers, said goodbye to his staffers, and then drove off, headed toward another church. This one was still intact, positioned underground, in the darkness beneath the city.
* * *
The man’s scream reverberated throughout the chamber and out into the forgotten sewers beyond, the piercing sound of agony sending rats scurrying for cover. Then his struggle gave way to a quiet death, his body’s contortions ceasing, the echoes of his wail fading off into silence.
Deep underneath the Glades, the members of the Church of Blood—Officer Daily, Cyrus Gold, Dr. Langford, Clinton Hogue, and Dr. Vasak, also known as “the Technician”—looked on as Brother Blood, his skull mask terrifying in the shadows, removed the syringe of mirakuru from the man’s arm. Blood nodded to Dr. Langford, who moved to check the victim’s pulse. The doctor hesitated momentarily, the sight of the blood flowing from the man’s eyes giving him pause, before he continued, feeling for the pulse at his neck.
Langford shook his head.
Blood removed his skull mask and regarded the body. Then he turned to his brotherhood and saw various levels of shock reflected on each face. He wasn’t surprised. When Wilson tasked him with testing the mirakuru, he had mentioned only that many of the test subjects would die. In no way were they prepared to witness the torture it inflicted.
He looked to Cyrus Gold, his trusted ally and confidant, and knew at a glance that the man had something on his mind. He was too respectful, however, to speak out of turn.
“You said this ‘miracle’ would save our city,” Cyrus said, “but do these men deserve to endure such agony? Is this truly necessary?”
Blood looked to the rest of the men, inviting them to voice any misgivings. Dr. Langford met his gaze.
“We’ve killed before in the name of the brotherhood,” the doctor said, “but the guilt of those men was clear. Here, I’m not so sure.”
“I apprehended this man after an attempted smash and grab at Pearl Liquor,” Officer Daily offered. “He’s definitely no innocent—but did he deserve to go out like that? I don’t know.”
The rest of the men nodded and muttered, indicating that they agreed. Blood nodded in return.
“Does your belief in our purpose waiver?” he asked. There was no sense of challenge in his voice. The men shook their heads no. “And in me, as your leader?” Again, there was no dissension. “I agree that what we’ve witnessed is horrific. Inhuman, even—and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t shaken—but there’s one thought that keeps me certain that what we’re doing, however gruesome, is necessary.” He walked over to a bulletin board. Dozens of photos were tacked there—the faces of all the men and women lost during the Undertaking. Five hundred and three victims in total.
“The memory of the five-oh-three,” he continued. “To avenge their loss. To take this city back and fix it in their honor.” He approached each man, looking them in the eye, seeking to communicate the confidence that was building within him. “These men are being sacrificed for the greater good, to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”
The echo of Father Trigon’s purpose further emboldened the men.
“Together,” he said, “we will save this city.”
Blood went on to explain his plan. While the aim of the blood drive was indeed to help restore the hospital’s supply, there was an ulterior motive behind the altruism. By offering incentives to draw a larger pool of donors, he could also use the program to select his test subjects for the mirakuru. Under the guise of offering free mental health exams, Dr. Langford would catalogue each prospective sacrifice, while Officer Daily, through his resources at SCPD, would perform background checks.
They would isolate the scum of the Glades, ensuring that the men sacrificed for the greater good wouldn’t be missed.
* * *
“Turn on the television, Brother Blood.” Sebastian was sitting alone in his office when Officer Daily entered.
Blood did so, and was greeted by the grave face of Channel 52 News anchor Bethany Snow. She brushed her blonde hair out of the way.
“Breaking news out of City Hall,” she said. “Mayor Altman is dead, shot and killed tonight at the hands of four hooded men with suspected ties to the vigilante…”
Blood took a sip of his Scotch.
“Thank you, Brother Daily.”
“I’m afraid I have bad news, as well.” Daily handed him a report. “The medical supplies from FEMA—the ones headed for Glades Memorial? They’ve been hijacked en route. We don’t know by whom.”
Sitting bolt upright, Blood flipped open his laptop and began scanning the key news sites, but there was nothing. As he watched, however, news about Altman’s assassination began to share space with news of Oliver Queen. He had re-entered the public eye for the first time since the earthquake, and the sight of the playboy sickened Blood. There were people dying in his city—people who needed medical supplies—yet the “journalists” saw fit to cover the exploits of a spoiled rich kid.
Like Slade, Blood viewed Queen as a coward. He had fled the city, instead of accepting responsibility for the horror his mother’s involvement had wrought upon the Glades. Not that Blood was surprised. All of the Starling City elite were cowards in his book. Heartless. Turning a blind eye to the plight of those they deemed beneath them.
Soon, the rich would no longer be able to ignore them.
* * *
Outside of Starling City, in an abandoned industrial complex shrouded in shadow, the hijacked FEMA medical supply truck pulled to an abrupt stop, a black SUV following close behind. There were two holes in the truck’s windshield, the marks of kill shots aligned to the heads of passenger and driver. Whoever the hijackers were, they were ruthless.
Slade Wilson stepped out from the shadows. He was dressed in his A.S.I.S. prototype armor, his face obscured by the metal helmet, colored orange and black. He held a briefcase by his side, and his weapons were holstered.
The truck’s new driver, a severe-looking Chinese man with ornate tattoos down his arms, climbed down from the cabin and retreated to the SUV behind him. Slade recognized the tattoos as Triad, the same criminal element he had tracked in Hong Kong.
A woman exited the SUV. Dressed in form-fitting black, she was beautiful. Her namesake white hair fell in long, soft curls down her back, vibrant in the moonlight. She approached Slade.
“Did you have any trouble?” he asked.
“None,” China White replied. “Disappointingly uneventful.”
Slade handed her the briefcase. “Payment for future deliveries, with enough extra to hire added protection. I’ve included a dossier on a man codenamed Bronze Tiger. I believe you know his work.”
“A job like this is hardly worthy of a man of his skill. He thrives on prey not easy to kill.”
“With every shipment you hijack, Glades Memorial edges closer to being shut down. I expect this to draw out the vigilante, putting you in direct conflict.”
“Good.” An intensity filled China White’s eyes, one born of hate. “I owe him pain.”
“That’s my hope.”
She climbed into her SUV and drove away into the night. Once they were gone, Slade removed a pack of explosives from his bandolier. He affixed them to the cargo of the truck, set the timer and walked away.
The explosion was bright against his silhouette.