They picked an abandoned warehouse near Collins and Main. A cavernous industrial space. Slade and Isabel surveyed their newly acquired bio-transfuser—a collection of canisters, gauges, and cables, fastened to a large open metal rig with a digital display. Above it, bolted to a platform, was a medical-grade chair built in the shape of a cross. It was encircled by a halo of metal scaffolding from which plastic tubing hung, draping down toward the floor like tentacles. The tubing led to a series of IVs attached to gurneys, fifteen of them, arranged in a semi-circle.
Slade turned to the assembled prisoners from Iron Heights—more than thirty in all. Some were strapped to the gurneys while others hung back, waiting for their chance to become reborn.
“Now is your moment,” he said. “The people of Starling City have turned their backs on you, and this is your chance to show them you are not forgotten. That you will not go easily—that this is your city.” He paused for dramatic effect, then continued. “I am here to make you invincible—this is the moment where you all go from good to great.” Slade approached Roy at the center of the platform, fastened, shirtless, to the chair—still sedated, his arms held in place by four metal rings.
“Together we rise.”
At the end of each tube was one of the fifteen men. All were sedated, lying on metal gurneys, the IVs connected to their arms. The machine fired up with a loud hum. Blood—a dark, vivid red—flowed from Roy’s body into the transfuser, where the mirakuru was extracted. Then it was pumped via the plastic tubing toward the sedated prisoners, the liquid flowing green and incandescent into their bodies.
Great care had to be taken not to remove too much, too fast, thus killing Roy prematurely and ending his effectiveness as a source for the drug. Their calibrations had to be precise.
As quickly as it began, the operation was complete.
“What next?” Isabel asked.
“Now we wait,” Slade said.
* * *
When the Arrow arrived, nearly all of the inmates had been transformed. Thanks to the sedative, they were still unconscious. Slade, dressed in his suit and holding his sword, and Isabel, in her business attire, watched from the shadows. Slade was impressed by the vigilante’s resourcefulness in finding the location.
Too bad it’s too late.
When he discovered it was Roy hooked up to the machine, his body being sucked dry of blood, a look of horror swept across the Arrow’s face. He began checking the connections, and was about to pull a wire when Slade decided to reveal himself.
“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you.”
The Arrow turned with a shaft nocked.
“Removing him in the middle of the cycle will surely end his life,” Slade continued.
“If I don’t stop it, he’ll die anyhow,” the Arrow said. “Slade, he’s just a kid!”
“A kid who’s here only because you pushed him away.” Slade’s voice rose. “You were the one person he looked up to, and for that, you crushed his soul.”
“We found him in a shelter in Blüdhaven,” Isabel said. “Pathetic. He didn’t even put up a fight.”
“Well, I will,” the Arrow said. “Tell me how to shut it down.”
“If you could feel the power that is surging through me,” Slade said, his fury building, “you would know that I do not fear an arrow. I am stronger than you can even imagine, and soon, I won’t be alone.” He used his sword to indicate the many prisoners who were receiving the mirakuru.
The Arrow responded by firing his arrow, not at Slade, but at a warehouse fuse box, temporarily cutting power to the machine. It whirred down with a dying hum. Then he fired a volley of arrows at Slade, which he easily deflected with his sword. Isabel crouched to one side and returned fire with her pistol, causing Arrow to dive for cover—away from Roy.
Murder in her eyes, Isabel stormed after him, still firing. The Arrow disarmed her with a flechette, knocking the gun from her hand. Without hesitation she charged him, using a gurney to launch herself into a wheel kick, driving him back. She let loose all the frustration she had bottled up, cathartic payback for Robert’s betrayal. She would kill what Robert held precious. The Arrow deflected her flurry of roundhouse kicks, and then delivered a punch to her face, knocking her to the ground.
Slade charged, knocking the Arrow violently backward into a pillar, breaking old concrete. Before the Arrow could recover, Slade grabbed him by an arm and a leg, then tossed him so that he landed with a sickening thud on the floor.
The arrow recovered quickly, rolling to his feet and nocking two arrows, pointing them at Slade, who just grinned.
“You can’t hurt me, kid.”
Ignoring him, the Arrow fired—but the two arrowheads were adhesive, rather than sharp. They stuck to Slade’s chest, and he looked down at the glowing heads, confused, hearing them beep. A countdown… Before he could react, the arrows exploded in a blinding flash, sending him flying backward.
Instantly the Arrow turned his attention to Roy and the vials of mirakuru, not noticing Isabel stirring on the ground. She struggled up to her feet as he unshackled the young man from the machine. Then she found her gun, picking it up and leveling it at Oliver.
The motion drew his attention, but it was too late to react.
She started to squeeze the trigger.
Two shots rang out, the bullets hitting her square in the chest. Stunned, she looked up to the rafters, seeing Diggle standing there, gun pointed and smoking.
Isabel fell in a heap.
Slade struggled to his feet, still staggered by the explosions, unable to prevent the Arrow from firing a grappling arrow into the ceiling, steadying his grip on Roy, and escaping into the night. He saw Isabel on the ground, lying in a pool of blood. Slade picked her up and carried her to an empty gurney, hooking her up to the IV. He restored power to the machine, bypassing the destroyed breaker box. It whirred up again.
Then he took Roy Harper’s place in the chair, hooking himself up to the bio-transfuser, resuming the procedure, his blood now fueling his process. The unconscious Iron Heights convicts began to ooze blood from their eyes, looking like tears.
Then they began to wake.
It was the birth of his army.
But was there still enough time for Isabel? Had he started her on the procedure in time? Slade kept himself hooked to the machine, hoping to save her with his blood. Finally her eyes began to bleed—and then, she woke up.
Freeing himself, Slade stood over her, his fist trembling, the inmates surrounding him in various stages of wakefulness. Soon they would be his army.
He would be ready for war.
Sebastian Blood was on the phone at his campaign headquarters when Clinton Hogue, his old friend and bodyguard, opened the door. Moira Queen marched into his office.
“I’ll have to call you right back.” He hung up and stood from his desk, surprised to see her.
“Do you want me to stay, Mr. Blood?” Clinton asked.
“Uh, no, no thank you. I’ll be fine.” Hogue exited, leaving the two in privacy. Blood apologized. “My new bodyguard. He’s a little over-protective.” He pointed to his guest chair, offering it to Moira. “Please.”
“No, thank you.”
“I’d say this visit is unexpected, but I despise understatement.”
Moira cut straight to the point. “I’m dropping out of the race,” she said flatly. “I’m making a concession speech at my rally tonight.” His eyes went wide.
“But you’re ahead in the latest polls,” he said. “Even the most skeptical of pundits are saying you could actually pull this off.”
Moira waved the idea away. “I felt I owed you the courtesy of informing you in person,” she said. “I don’t, however, owe you an explanation as well.”
“No you don’t,” Blood said as Moira turned to leave. “But I’d appreciate one.” She paused, and he pressed. “What you’re doing, Moira, as much as it benefits me, doesn’t really make much sense.”
She paused, then spoke over her shoulder.
“It’s my daughter. At the moment she needs me more than Starling City does.”
“Well, you’re doing the right thing,” he replied. “I’m going to change this city, Moira. A new day is coming. A better day—for all of us.”
Moira nodded. “You really believe that, don’t you?” she said. “We may not see eye to eye on all things, but I appreciate your sincerity, Mr. Blood. I know you care about this city.” She began to walk again. “Good luck.”
With that she exited the room, leaving behind a dumbfounded Sebastian Blood to bask in his sudden, unexpected victory. He had come so far, from the orphanage to the streets of the Glades, to the precipice of his ultimate destination—the office of the mayor.
Could he really be this close to victory?
It didn’t seem real. Suddenly he was wary.
Moira seemed sincere, but she had made promises before, only to break them. Could a leopard like her—a predator by nature—really change her spots? He wanted so badly to believe her this time.
Did he dare?
* * *
His entire staff was there in the campaign office, watching the telecast of Moira Queen’s rally at Verdant. Sebastian Blood gripped his pen, counting the seconds until he could finally declare himself mayor of Starling City, and begin to affect true change.
“As the weeks progressed, good people such as you raised your voices in support,” Moira said from the podium, “and I began to think that I could make a difference. I could help save this city.” Then she paused, and there was a haggard look to her. Sebastian could sense that this was the moment. The hairs on his arms stood up, and his heart began to race.
“But recent events have changed things, and…”
Why are you pausing again? he thought anxiously. Just say it. He saw something change in her eyes. Confidence blooming. A renewed sense of purpose.
His heart sank.
“…and now I know I can make a difference.” The audience erupted in cheers.
It took all his discipline not to scream in that moment. He gripped the pen tighter, fighting the urge to crush it, staring daggers at the screen.
“Starling City is my home,” she continued, “you are my family, and there is nothing more important to me than family. Thank you!”
The staff left, confused and disheartened, and Sebastian shut his door, still fighting off his anger. She had done it again. Changed her mind. Always changing her mind, typical of the one percent, doing whatever she pleased, whatever stood to benefit her most. Regardless of the cost to anyone else.
He sat behind his desk and placed a call.
Slade picked up.
“Mr. Blood, I presume.”
“You said this was a done deal,” Sebastian growled. “That Thea would be enough. Why did Moira change her mind?”
“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
“Faith isn’t what brought me to the doorstep of City Hall!”
“No,” Slade agreed. “I am.” Something in his tone stopped Sebastian cold.
“Look, I appreciate what you’ve done,” he said, changing his approach. “But she’s more popular than ever. She’s going to win.”
“Dead women don’t win elections.”
“What are you going to do?” Sebastian asked, feeling the blood drain from his face.
“What’s necessary,” Slade replied. “Start writing your acceptance speech.”
There was a click and the line went dead.
* * *
Slade pocketed his phone and kept watch from the shadows outside of Verdant, Moira’s campaign headquarters. He saw the Queens exit the venue and enter a limousine. Moira, Thea, and Oliver had their defenses down.
“Are you ready, my love?”
Slade nodded, turning to see Shado. She stroked his face.
“Give him just a taste of the revenge to come,” she said.
As the limo pulled away, Slade climbed into his SUV, following and waiting until they were passing through the desolate area of the Glades, untouched since the Undertaking. Isolated from any intervention. Then he revved his engine and blindsided them, crunching the side of their car.
Making certain they were unconscious, he pulled each Queen from the wreckage, driving them to a field he had scouted ahead of time. He chose it for its uncanny resemblance to the Lian Yu forest where he had found Shado’s body. Where Oliver had made his fateful choice.
Slade would make him choose again.
He bound their hands behind their backs, arranging them as he imagined Ivo had done to Shado and Sara, when he forced Oliver to choose which life he held more dear.
“Is this like it was?”
“Perfect,” Shado said.
* * *
Oliver was the last to wake, and Slade reveled in the look of horror that appeared on his face when he recognized the scenario. Moira and Thea whimpered nearby, nearly hysterical from the trauma, having no idea what was about to transpire.
“I was dead the last time you were offered this choice,” Slade said.
“What’s happening?” Thea cried as Oliver struggled to sit up, testing the rope. It held fast, as Slade knew it would.
“I often wondered how you looked when he pointed the gun at Shado,” he said, kneeling down to Oliver’s eye level, “and took her from me.”
“You psychopath,” Oliver gritted. “Shado wasn’t yours.”
“No, she was yours,” Slade rasped. “Until you chose another woman over her.”
“That’s not what happened!”
“It is what happened. It is! She told me.” He pointed to Shado.
“What do you mean, ‘she’?” Oliver demanded. “There’s nobody there!”
“Slade,” Moira said. “You were on the island, with Oliver?”
“I thought I had known true despair, until I met your son,” he responded, staring down to where she slumped at his feet. “I trusted him to make the right choice.”
“Let me make the right choice now,” Oliver said, his voice pleading. “Kill me. Choose me… please!”
“I am killing you, Oliver.” Slade pulled a gun from beneath his black overcoat. “Only more slowly than you would like.” He pointed the gun at Moira.
Then at Thea.
The women gasped in fear.
Oliver strained at his bonds.
“I swear to God, I am going to kill you!”
“No,” Moira said. Twisting her body, she stood to face Slade.
“Mom, what are you doing?” Oliver cried.
“There’s only one way this night can end,” she continued, facing her captor. “We both know that, don’t we, Mr. Wilson?”
Oliver and Thea both pleaded with their mother, their words tumbling out, but she ignored their pleas, and stood firm. Slade met her gaze, then raised his gun.
“Thea, I love you,” Moira said. “Close your eyes, baby.”
“NO!” Oliver shouted, still struggling in vain.
“You posses true courage,” Slade said, pocketing his gun. “I am truly sorry…”
“What?” Moira said.
“…you did not pass that on to your son.”
Then he unsheathed his sword and drove the steel straight through her heart. Her body fell to the ground, lifeless eyes staring at Oliver. Thea cried inconsolably.
“There is still one person who has to die,” Slade said, stalking toward Thea, “before this can end.” Instead of killing her, he sliced the ropes that bound her hands. Then he walked away into the night.
One more life, then his revenge would be complete.
Slade returned to the abandoned warehouse near Collins and Main, just as the sun was getting ready to rise. He walked in to find Isabel sparring with one of the mirakuru soldiers. She was stronger than ever. She looked up and hesitated as he entered, dragging his sword behind him.
It still glistened with Moira Queen’s blood.
“Don’t let me interrupt,” Slade instructed.
She nodded and continued, using a bō staff to land a solid blow against the side of the soldier’s head. Astonishingly, she felt her power grow with each hit.
“This serum… it really is miraculous,” she said between breaths. She landed another strike, harder than the last, and sent him to the ground. “Although the army… may need a little work.”
“They are strong and ready,” Slade said.
Isabel cocked her head to the side, noticing Slade’s sword.
“You want to tell me something?” she asked with curiosity. “Did you decide to kill Oliver earlier than expected?” She suppressed a giggle at the thought.
“Moira, actually,” Slade said coldly, turning his back to her and walking away.
“What?” she yelped. “That’s it?! That’s all I get?” She followed him. “I’ve been visualizing her death for years, and now you claim it’s a done deal.”
In the next room Slade stopped to view the video feed from the Queen Mansion. Everything was still. It reminded him of his surveillance of the Queen family from A.S.I.S. Yet soon everyone would arrive and he would have a front row seat. Diggle, Felicity, Laurel, Quentin, and Walter Steele—they would all be under the same roof—
—and suddenly an idea sprang into Slade’s mind.
“You have to go attend the service, Miss Rochev,” Slade said, staring at empty rooms.
“Over my dead body,” Isabel said, then she cocked her head as she heard her own words. “I hated that woman—I’m not going to mourn her.”
“You must make an appearance,” he insisted. “Show them you are alive and well—intimidate them. I want them to be frozen in fear when they see you at the house.”
She started to answer, then stopped, letting the concept settle in.
“I understand,” she said at last.
“Have you heard from the next mayor of Starling City?” Slade asked. With Moira out of the way, Blood would take office immediately.
“No, he hasn’t called to check in,” she responded. “Now that he has what he wants, how are you going to make sure he stays in line?”
“I have my ways of keeping our mayor… motivated,” Slade said.
* * *
The mood was palpable when Sebastian entered Queen Mansion. This soon after his induction, he had to hide the elation he was feeling. He had done it—after months of endurance and struggle—but for now, he had to play the concerned leader of a city that had suffered a tragic loss.
The first person he encountered was Thea, her face white and emotionless.
“Ms. Queen,” he said, “I wanted to offer my sincere condolences on your loss. Your mother was a good woman. She would have made a wonderful mayor.”
“Thank you,” Thea responded.
“I’d like to speak with Oliver,” Sebastian said, “if I may.”
“Well, if you see him, tell him he missed his own mother’s funeral.”
“No one’s seen Oliver for days,” Laurel said over Sebastian’s shoulder. He turned and stared at her, burying his disdain, bordering on hatred. Felicity Smoak and John Diggle entered the room, as well.
“We all deal with grief in different ways,” he said, “and the loss of a parent is…” His words trailed off as he remembered his mother. “Well, it changes you. When you realize that your ancestors now look to you—that your family’s legacy, their continuing works, rest solely in your hands. If you see Oliver, please tell him I came by.”
He turned away from Laurel, headed for the door.
* * *
Laurel stared at his back, smelling something wrong. She looked over to Felicity and Diggle, who stood across the room. Felicity was weeping, and Laurel thought it was as much for Oliver as it was for Moira. Diggle handed her a tissue.
“Where is he, Dig?” she asked, her eyes red behind her glasses. “How could he not be here?”
“I don’t know…” Diggle said.
“If Oliver’s smart,” Isabel Rochev said, entering the room, “he ran back to his island to hide.” They stared at her, shock preventing them from responding. “But maybe he’ll attend your funerals,” she said, turning and walking off.
* * *
Mayor Blood sat his desk, signing documents, surrounded by reporters. Reveling in the moment.
“This legislation is the first step toward making Starling City the jewel that it once was,” he pronounced. “The jewel that it can be again.”
His assistant approached through the throng of reporters.
“Phone call for you, Mayor Blood.”
“I’m still getting used to people calling me that, Alyssa,” he said cheerfully. “Please take a message.”
“The caller insisted,” she replied. “He said he’s your father.”
“That’s impossible…” he said, but he stopped himself before he could say any more. “Never mind. I’ll take it.” He picked up the receiver.
“Hello, Sebastian,” Slade said, his tone threatening. “Sorry to bother you. I just wanted to check in and see how your first day is going.”
“Very well, thank you,” Blood replied, wary of the fact that there were still reporters gathered round. “But I’m a little busy right now, so if you’ll allow me to call you back, I’ll do that as soon as I can.”
“No need,” Slade said. “I’m sure you have quite a lot of business to attend to. You are the mayor now, after all.
“So get to work.” The line went dead, and he hung up, his mind racing. He finally was mayor, but he owed a debt to Slade that was yet unpaid.
What would be the cost?
He knew what the man was capable of doing.
* * *
Isabel burst into Verdant and found Thea Queen working at the bar, wiping it down.
Excellent work ethic, she mused, especially for a Queen. She extended her hand to shake. “Isabel Rochev.”
“I know who you are,” Thea replied brusquely, continuing her work. “What can I do for you, Ms. Rochev?”
“I’m sorry for your loss, Thea,” Isabel said.
“Is that why you came here? To offer me your condolences?”
“My condolences… and to give you this.” She set her briefcase on a barstool, opened it, pulled out some paperwork, and handed it to Thea. “It’s a notice to vacate the premises. This club and the steel factory in which it’s located are all assets of Queen Consolidated.”
“No, you can’t do this!” Thea said, instantly deflated.
“It’s already done.”
“How long do I have?”
“A couple days.” Isabel turned to go, but paused. “Thea, I know I’m probably the last person in the world you want to hear this from, but I’ve stood where you’re standing right now.”
“You don’t know anything about me,” Thea replied with a sneer.
“Maybe. But I know what it feels like to be alone—to have everyone in your life, everyone you loved, betray you.” Isabel could tell that her words struck a chord. “I thought my life was over, too. Until someone helped me see that I’d actually been given a gift—the chance to start over, to build a new life.” She continued toward the door. “Think about it.”
As she closed the door behind her, she remembered how young she had been when she had met Robert. Thea had been dealt a bad hand in a life she couldn’t control. She looked somewhat like him, and for a second Isabel felt regret, knowing that she had just stripped away everything the girl had.
* * *
When she returned to her office at Queen Consolidated, Slade was waiting. He had used her computer to tune into his hidden camera feed from the Queen mansion.
“You shouldn’t do that,” she said. “It can be traced.”
“You’re just in time to watch some heartbreak, Ms. Rochev,” he replied, ignoring her comment.
She sidled up to him, viewing the screen over his shoulder. Oliver and Thea were standing together in the empty sitting room, the furniture covered with tarps. Slade brought her up to speed. After Isabel had taken Verdant from her, Thea had decided to leave Starling City. Oliver supported her decision, and implored her to get as far from Starling City as possible.
“You have the purest heart,” Oliver told Thea, “and I can’t ever have you lose that. Okay? You promise me?”
“Okay,” she said, and then Oliver hugged her. It was a desperate embrace, of the sort given by someone who was about to set forth on a journey from which they didn’t expect to return.
“I know that I haven’t always been the best brother,” he said. Even on the grainy security cam footage, it was easy to see the tears pooling in his eyes. “Or friend, or whatever you’ve needed me to be—but there hasn’t been a day since you were born where I didn’t cherish having you as a sister.”
“So touching, isn’t it?” Slade said, as the screen showed Thea leaving the room. He switched to a different camera, and they watched her exit the mansion.
“I’m surprised you even let him say goodbye,” Isabel commented. Secretly, there was a part of her that hoped Thea would make it out of the city before it was brought to rubble.
Switching back to the sitting room, they watched as Oliver pulled out his phone and tapped in a number. Then Isabel’s phone began to ring. Glancing at it, she turned to Slade. “It’s him.”
“Then let us see what the rat has to say.”
Isabel switched to speaker and answered.
“It’s Oliver,” he said.
“I was just thinking about you,” she replied. “Your sister was very sad when I took her club away.”
“This ends now,” he said, getting straight to the point. His voice sounded hollow, as if all the fight was gone.
“The mighty Oliver Queen is surrendering?” she responded. “I find that hard to believe.”
“I’ll be at the pier. I’ll be alone.” Then he ended the call.
On screen, Oliver wandered over to the mantle over the fireplace, touching it as if to say goodbye. Then he exited the mansion, just as Thea had.
Isabel turned to Slade. “He’s given up. Like a coward.”
“No,” Slade said. “Surrendering is too easy. He must suffer. If he’s truly broken, then now is the perfect time to begin our siege.
“Get ready. We attack tonight.”
In Starling City, the place to see and be seen was Rokkaku, a high-end restaurant located a few blocks from City Hall. Located on the top floor of the tallest skyscraper in downtown, it was both the literal and figurative mountaintop of the city’s social scene—and Sebastian Blood was its newly crowned king. It was customary for every new mayor to dine there on his first day in office to meet and greet the social elite.
Blood had always hated this ritual. It was symbolic of the very evils he hoped to expunge from his city, yet as he stepped off the elevator, the fact that he found himself welcomed by these people was oddly validating. He also pitied them, for they had no inkling of the destruction that was about to commence.
For this evening, however, he would enjoy a meal on their dime. It was a moment he wanted to enjoy by himself. He turned to Clinton Hogue, still acting as his bodyguard.
“Clinton, you can wait in the car,” he said.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Hogue said.
“Nothing’s going to happen to me here.”
Hogue nodded, and headed back toward the elevators. Sebastian entered the restaurant, glad-handing his way through the dining area, making the rounds. It was a strange feeling, being the center of attention after he had struggled his entire career just to get people to listen. It was a feeling he could get used to. But that reverie was shattered when he found Oliver Queen, seated at his table, staring at him with an intensity that was unnerving.
“Sebastian, may I join you for dinner?”
Blood tried to mask his surprise. He nodded as he slowly took his seat.
“I missed you at your mother’s memorial service,” Blood said. “I wanted to offer my condolences.”
“You’re the mayor,” Oliver replied. “Congratulations. You’ve always wanted that.”
“Believe me, Oliver, I wish it had happened a different way. Your mother and I, we didn’t agree on much, but we both wanted what was best for Starling City. I will help this city find its heart again, I promise you that.”
Oliver leaned across the table, dropping his voice low under the din.
“Do you really think that he will let that happen?”
Blood felt his defenses rise. He tried to play it off, tilting his head slightly in question, and feigning nonchalance.
“Do I think who will let it happen?” he responded.
Blood swallowed. “How do you…” The words caught in his throat. “How do you know I’ve been working with Wilson?”
“Because I’m the Arrow.”
Blood sat back, his mouth open but saying nothing. Then he scoffed at his own ineptitude, shaking his head.
How could I have been so dense? he wondered. “Of course,” he said, lowering his voice to match Oliver’s. “It all makes sense now. It was right in front of me.” He leaned forward, hoping to convince his friend that they were still allies. “You came to my office and you shook my hand. You said that together we can save this city.”
Oliver was incredulous. “You think there will be a city to be saved, after you unleash Slade’s mirakuru army?”
“It’s under control,” Blood replied. “They’ll only cause enough damage to make the city ready.”
“Ready for your leadership?”
“For my vision of what this city can be. A better place to live—and after the storm they’re about to suffer, the people will support me, and follow me to that city.”
“Whatever Slade promised you, he won’t deliver,” Oliver said. “He wants to hurt me. You’re just a pawn in a much larger game.”
Blood felt his anger rise, and with it came conviction.
“Slade promised me City Hall, and he delivered. He makes good on his promises.” Then he brought his cup of tea slowly to his mouth, his eyes gleaming. “I understand he made you a promise, too.”
Anger took hold of Oliver. On instinct, he reached for a dinner knife. Blood noticed, and leaned back.
“What are you going to do?” he asked grimly. “Are you going to stab the mayor in a restaurant full of people?” Knowing he had the upper hand, he relaxed with a smirk. Oliver couldn’t touch him—nor could the Arrow. Then he rose from the table, buttoning his coat. “It’s a new day in Starling City, Oliver, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”
Blood exited the restaurant, feeling Oliver’s eyes burning a hole through his back. Yet once out of sight, his confidence began to falter.
Was Oliver right about Slade Wilson?
Why had he withheld Oliver’s secret identity?
* * *
He arrived back at the car to find it empty. It was unlike Hogue to just up and disappear without giving word. There had to be a reason, and that worried Blood. He tried to call the man, but his attempts went unanswered, and he began to suspect the worst.
Hogue knew the details of the plan. If the Arrow had allies, they might extracting that info from him.
Blood quickly stepped into the car and peeled out, headed toward Queen Consolidated.
* * *
Sitting in Oliver Queen’s office, Slade and Isabel looked out over the city, preparing for the destruction to come. They relished the prospect of sweet revenge.
Dressed in his sharp suit, Slade walked out the office and entered the conference room. There, he found a group of twenty men waiting—the convicts he had freed and given the mirakuru. Isabel wore her Ravager armor, and handed each of them a mask designed to echo hers and Slade’s. Split into orange and black halves and made of fiberglass, each one sported deep recessed eyeholes and breathing slits that lent them a demonic appearance, intended to intimidate.
Slade marched up and down the line of men, his movements slow and sure, giving them their marching orders.
“The people of this city viewed you as nothing more than rabid animals, in need of a cage,” he said. “Tonight, I want you to show them, they were right.”
The men grinned, filled with spite. He instructed them to meet Blood beneath the sewers.
“Spread yourself among the masses,” he continued. “Infiltrate the places they feel most safe—shopping malls, train stations, police precincts. Then, when the clock strikes nine, put on your masks and bring this city to its knees.” He stopped and looked down the line.
As the faction of men exited the conference room and headed down the hall toward the elevators, they passed Sebastian Blood. He stared, frowning, and made a beeline for Slade and Isabel.
“We may have been compromised,” Blood said breathlessly. “Brother Hogue has disappeared, and the Arrow may be responsible.” He peered directly at Slade. “Or should I say, Oliver Queen?”
Slade and Isabel gave each other a look. He could imagine what they were thinking. The idiot finally put two and two together.
“You didn’t feel that information was important enough to share with me?”
“What difference would it have made?” Slade answered. “Are you not mayor?”
“Well, for one thing, I wouldn’t have left my men so exposed,” Blood said. “Hogue wouldn’t be missing.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Slade countered. “The Arrow can’t stop what’s coming. Now, calm down and continue as planned. Go lead your army out onto this night, and take back your city.”
Blood just stood there.
“Is there a problem, Mr. Blood?”
Without another word, Blood turned his back on them. He would meet the fifteen soldiers in the sewers beneath downtown, commencing their assault at 9 p.m.
As he left, Slade turned toward Isabel.
“I want you to patrol the streets above our launch point. Also, assign some of our men to keep watch in the surrounding tunnels. If any of them find Oliver, they are not to kill him. Not yet.”
“What about his companions? Mr. Diggle and Felicity Smoak.”
“They’re yours to do as you wish.”
* * *
Down in the sewers, Blood arrived to find his mirakuru soldiers ready and waiting. Taking his mask from its case, he held it in his hands, staring deep into the skull’s sightless eyes. He paused before putting it on, reflecting on the cusp before waging war on the city. He would do so to honor the brothers he had lost. He would do so to fulfill his promise to Father Trigon.
He would save this city.
His resolve fortified, his strength summoned, he fastened the mask for what he hoped would be the last time. After tonight, after the siege, he would be able to affect change in broad daylight as mayor, not from the shadows as Brother Blood.
He turned to address his soldiers.
“Tonight we forge history,” he said. “Tonight we rise up as one, and take back this city. Because Starling doesn’t belong to the rich, the powerful, the corrupt. Not anymore. Starting tonight, it belongs to us.”
The group of men all roared in approval, their orange and black masks menacing in the low light of the sewer. Blood visualized the terror they were about to inflict on the controlling elite. Finally, they would feel what he had felt on the day the Glades shook.
“We will lead this city out of the darkness, and each one of you will help me. Because you are not just men. You are the most powerful weapons this world has ever seen, and when you fight together, brother to brother, nothing will stop us.”
The men roared again, their sheer physicality making their numbers seem twice as many. Then, with a wave of his arm, Blood unleashed them upon the city.
* * *
As Blood rallied the troops below, Isabel patrolled the streets above. Per Slade’s instruction, she focused her search on the areas of greatest vulnerability—structural points where careful, targeted detonations would drop the streets to the sewers below, pancaking their army.
Sure enough, she found Diggle attaching explosives to one of the support pillars. He was so intently focused on the task, he didn’t realize she was there. The din of traffic blocked out any sound she might make.
Launching herself silently, she kicked him to the ground. He grunted loudly and landed on his back, which pleased her. She wanted him to see her face, and know who it was that sliced his throat.
“You killed me,” she said, unsheathing her dual swords. “Let me return the favor.”
As she charged, Diggle scrambled to his feet, backpedaling and narrowly avoiding the arc of her blade. But she was relentless, charging him with swipe after swipe of her blades. Diggle reacted purely on instinct, narrowly evading her swords’ edges—until he ducked under her assault, and delivered an overhand haymaker to her face.
Infuriated, Isabel countered with a vicious kick to his abdomen, sending him sprawling backward.
“You can’t kill me,” she said.
“You’re not invincible,” Diggle said. Then, in one quick, continuous motion, he pulled a fighting baton from his jacket, flicked his wrist to telescope it outward, and swung for her head. But Isabel was far too fast, too strong. She parried, then countered with a sharp elbow to his ribs, hearing them crack. Another kick sent him spinning to the gravel.
“Do you want to save me some time and energy?” Isabel asked, stalking forward. “Then tell me where I can find Felicity Smoak. I’ve been aching to put a bullet in her smug little face ever since the day—”
Unheard over the din of traffic, Diggle’s van slammed into her, Felicity sitting behind the wheel. Smacked by the fender, Isabel was sent sprawling, her body rolling some twenty yards over the ground until it came to a sickening stop. It was a blow that would have killed a mortal woman five times over.
Yet Isabel wasn’t mortal—not any longer. With the serum in her blood and the armor protecting her body, the impact had merely stunned her. Shaking off the impact, she rose to her feet and began stalking forward, a thin trickle of blood flowing from the side of her head. Seeing her, Diggle jumped into the passenger side of the van, and Felicity peeled out.
Running. Like cowards.
Blood arrived at City Hall just as the first wave of chaos descended upon the city. Already his office was a beehive of activity. Panicked staffers worked phone lines and laptops, trying to follow the unfolding crisis. Emergency lines were jammed and live footage of the assault played on televisions throughout the office suite. The destruction emerged in real time, growing in scale by the second.
“Terrorists” in masks had appeared at multiple locations around the urban center—train stations, the theater district, the midtown power plant—even the sports arena. In each instance they exhibited superhuman abilities, and when they lashed out, it seemed to be with the goal of causing as much damage as possible, regardless of the cost in human lives.
“Starling General Hospital is preparing for possible casualties,” an aide called out.
“Power is out south of Harbor Boulevard,” another said.
The sheer ferocity with which the inmates were attacking shocked even Blood. Each mirakuru-powered individual was an army unto himself, and their savagery was all part of the plan. He would be the calm eye of this storm, and the citizenry would look to him. Not a millionaire or a corporation, or even a rich brat with a bow. Him.
“What do we do?” another staffer asked frantically.
“We stay calm,” Blood said, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Emergency personnel have been dispatched, and we’re in contact with the police department. We’ll have this under control… soon.”
His secretary rushed over, holding up the phone.
“Mayor Blood, the Governor is on the line.”
Blood strode through the bullpen into his office to take the call, giving his staffers reassuring looks on the way, trying to instill them with confidence. As soon as he answered, the Governor offered to send in the military—the last thing he and Slade wanted. His job was to keep reinforcements at bay.
But he was prepared for this.
“Governor… Governor,” Blood said. “Sending in the National Guard will only cause mass hysteria. At the sight of armed soldiers, people will panic all the more. We need to keep this local—trust our own police force. The incidents seem to be relatively isolated, and we’ll keep them that way. We have this situation under control.”
No sooner had he hung up than the district attorney stepped into his office.
“What is going on?” Spencer demanded. “There are men in masks, tearing through the city.”
“Yes, I know,” Blood said with measured calm, “and we’re doing everything we can. The SCPD special units have already mobilized.”
Spencer looked shocked. “You can’t do that. These guys are targeting high-density locations, where the most civilians could be caught in a crossfire,” she said. “Worse, these men in masks, they’re enhanced—strong, fast, and ruthless. It’s like they’re not even human.”
“Not human?” Blood shot her a look designed to make her feel like a child, afraid of the boogieman. “Kate, can you even hear yourself? Look, I know you’re scared, but you need to pull yourself together. Starling City needs both of us to be thinking clearly.”
“What are you talking about? Have you seen what’s happening out there?” She stared at the live footage. “How are you so calm?”
Blood followed her gaze, doing his best to dispel his own creeping misgivings at the sight of the rising destruction. He turned back to her, stepping closer, trying to reassure her.
“Because I know we’re going to get through this—and when we do, Starling City will be stronger and better for it. Can I count on you? I need you with me on this.”
She stared at him for a moment, as if trying to find the words. Her brow wrinkled in a frown, but finally she nodded.
“Good,” Blood said. “Then let’s save the city together.” He then turned his attention to Channel 52, where the information was going from bad to worse. The newscaster, Bethany Snow, looked ashen as she read her report.
“We’ve lost contact with our reporter on the streets, but we’ve had more than two dozen confirmed sightings of masked men attacking numerous municipal locations.”
Blood could feel D.A. Spencer’s eyes on him. He focused tightly on the television screen, but his thoughts were a whirlwind. If the havoc continued to escalate at its current rate, he would be hard pressed to keep reinforcements at bay.
“Officials are asking that citizens stay indoors while they try to get—”
The television went to black as the power cut out, the lights overhead flickering out, plunging the office into darkness.
What the hell is this? Blood thought.
Outside his office door, he could hear screams from the bullpen.
No, he wouldn’t—
Suddenly the body of one of his aides crashed through the double doors leading into his office. Spencer gasped as the body came to a rolling stop at her feet. One of the costumed soldiers followed the body through the doorway, lifted his gun, and targeted the district attorney.
“Wait!” Blood bellowed. “Stop!”
“No no no!” Spencer yelled, backpedaling, but the soldier snatched her up, putting her in a chokehold, increasing the pressure on her neck.
“Enough!” Blood shouted. “This isn’t part of the plan!”
“Sebastian?” Spencer gritted, struggling to breathe. Blood ignored her, stepping closer to the soldier, commanding him as he had the others like him in the underground tunnels.
“I am mayor of Starling City,” he said, “and I order you to let her go.”
The soldier paused, as if considering the request. Then, with effortless brutality, he broke Spencer’s neck.
Blood watched her body hit the floor.
“No.” He stared down at her body in shock, horrified. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
“I don’t take orders from you,” the soldier said. He stared down Blood, as if daring him to object. Blood cowered, knowing he lacked the sheer power to combat the man. The soldier then turned heel and exited the office. As Blood watched him go, one thought raced through his mind.
Oliver Queen was right about Slade Wilson.
From high above the city, in the penthouse office of Queen Consolidated, Slade watched Starling City burn. Multiple fires could be seen, scattered across the landscape, each representing a soldier with mirakuru flowing through his veins. He reveled in the chaos and destruction—at long last, his plan was nearing completion.
Isabel joined him for the view.
“You look like you’ve been run over,” he said, half-joking.
Slade raised an eyebrow. He was met with a look meant to cut him off. Then an electronic bleep from his computer drew his attention back toward his desk. Like the SIIRA program back in Australia, Slade had enacted a search for the voices of Oliver, Felicity, and Diggle, hoping to eavesdrop on their telecommunications.
His search had turned up gold.
Isabel stood at his shoulder as the call sparked to life on his speakers. It had been initiated from Felicity’s phone, made to an unknown number—though the area code placed it in Central City, home to S.T.A.R. Labs. If Oliver had successfully fashioned a cure from the sample of mirakuru he stole from the centrifuge, it had to have been with their expertise.
“Hello?” an unidentified man said, picking up the call.
“Hey, it’s Felicity Smoak. Where are you?” It sounded as if she was using a speaker phone.
“Fourth Street, I think,” the man said. “I don’t know what happened. A guy in a hockey mask came out of nowhere and attacked my car. Please help me.”
The next voice was Oliver’s.
“Stay where you are,” Oliver said.
Bingo! Slade thought. Judging from the urgency in their voices, the unknown man had to be a courier—they had synthesized a cure! And the courier had become caught up in the chaos on the streets. He told them he was pinned under an overturned car, his leg broken, unable to move.
Slade pinged the call, pinpointing his location on a bridge in the middle of the city. Under normal circumstances, it would be a race to reach his location. But Slade had men powered by the mirakuru.
He called through the door, summoning one of his soldiers.
“Find him,” he said, and he gave the location. The man took off at a sprint, the serum giving him the speed he would need to reach the cure before Oliver and his team.
Slade smiled, feeling victory close at hand. Then he stood and walked over to the window again, gazing out over the fire and ash.
“They say Nero sang as he watched Rome burn,” Slade said to Isabel. “Now I understand why.” Then his voice became tinged with an unexpected melancholy. “If only Shado were here to witness this.”
“Who’s Shado?” she asked, and she looked confused.
Before Slade could answer, Blood tore into the office.
“What the hell is going on?” he said, his voice hot with anger. “One of your juiced-up jackboots just killed my entire office staff, and snapped the district attorney’s neck!”
Slade barely turned his head to respond.
“And,” Blood gritted. “And I never agreed to this! You were supposed to call off your dogs.”
“That was your plan, Mr. Blood, not mine.”
“We had a deal.”
Fed up with the man’s insolence, Slade finally turned away from the window to face him. He stalked forward, closing the space between them until they were standing face to face.
“And do you feel that I’ve not lived up to my end of it?” he demanded. His proximity intimidated Blood, and he became desperate.
“Those are innocent people dying out there,” he said pleadingly. “You don’t need to kill them.”
“Yes, I do,” Slade replied, the rage within him finally erupting. “I made a promise to someone once, and I will uphold it.”
“So this really is all about you just trying to hurt Oliver Queen,” Blood said, as if trying to convince himself.
“I vowed to him that I would take away everything and everyone he loves,” Slade said. “And he loves this city.”
“But this city…” Blood argued. “It’s mine, too.”
“Not anymore.” Slade stepped even closer, and Blood retreated backward. “As of tomorrow night, it’ll be nothing but rubble, ash and death. A land only good for one thing…” He turned away and moved back to the window, taking in the view of the destruction.
* * *
Sebastian paced behind Slade as news about the siege continued to pour in.
“The situation has intensified, as law enforcement officials struggle to contain this historic assault gripping our city,” Bethany Snow reported over images of masked soldiers overwhelming badly outgunned cops. Sebastian swallowed, tasting bile.
He was directly responsible for the destruction of the city he had fought so hard to save. In a few short hours, he would be the mayor of a ruin. A failure to the Glades, to his brotherhood, and to Father Trigon. He wasn’t a man given to prayer, but in that moment, he found himself remembering the cross his mother wore. In order to save the city, he would need the type of miracle she believed in.
Then he scoffed at the thought—that in his darkest hour, he would try to find salvation in a memory. His city was truly doomed.
Abruptly the soldier Slade had dispatched to receive the mirakuru cure returned. He held a metal briefcase, the logo for S.T.A.R. Labs embossed on its side. He placed it on Slade’s desk.
“Mr. Wilson, is this what you’re looking for?” he asked.
Slade opened the case, revealing vials filled with an incandescent blue liquid. The cure.
“Yes it is,” he said.
Sebastian peered over his shoulder.
A miracle to combat a miracle.
He looked out upon the city he loved, fires still burning, and knew he would need what was in that case. Behind him Slade dismissed the soldier, then closed the briefcase, putting it on the credenza behind him. He noticed Sebastian staring out at the night.
“You’ve been very quiet, Mr. Blood,” he said. “Something on your mind?”
Sebastian thought quickly.
“Regret,” he said. “That I ever trusted Oliver Queen.”
Slade nodded. “So you finally see.”
“I acted rashly before,” Sebastian agreed. “But watching the city burn, I understand this is all his fault—and he has to pay.”
“Soon,” Slade murmured. “The last phase of my plan is in place.”
“When does this end?”
“When I’ve taken the person Oliver Queen holds most dear.”
* * *
Sebastian waited until Slade headed off to prepare himself for the final battle. Then, left to his own devices, he removed the S.T.A.R. Labs briefcase and headed down the hall toward the elevator. He pulled out his cell phone, dialing as he walked. It rang once, twice.
“Pick up, dammit, come on.” Then, finally, Oliver Queen answered.
“What do you want?”
“Same thing you do, Oliver. To save this city before it’s too late.”
“It’s already too late.”
“You were right about Slade Wilson. I should have listened to you.” Sebastian waited for the elevator. “But I’m here now and I can help you.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“Because, Oliver,” Sebastian replied, “I have the mirakuru cure.” He entered the elevator. “Meet me at City Hall.”
* * *
Entering City Hall, he had to step past the corpses of his office staff—all people who had trusted him. Reaching his office, he found Spencer’s body, her neck at an impossible angle, her eyes staring. Gently he picked her up, took her through the door, and placed her on a desk.
Back in the office he paced, holding his skull mask, studying it. Then he stared through the slatted blinds of his window, gazing out on his broken city. Fires still burned, casting flickering light on columns of billowing smoke. Behind him Oliver and Diggle entered, and in the reflection he could see their weapons at the ready.
Expecting a double-cross, no doubt, he mused. Then he spoke. “As a young boy, I was plagued by nightmares. Every night, I would wake up in a cold sweat, frightened and alone. It was my father’s face that haunted me, and this is how I saw him.” He showed them the mask, holding it in the air. “The embodiment of desperation and despair. I made this mask to conquer my fears, and remind myself why I fight—every day—to give this city’s most desperate a chance. All I ever wanted to do was help people, Oliver.”
“Then help me believe,” Oliver responded. “Where’s the cure?”
“Slade Wilson will not rest until he honors the promise that he made you.”
“I won’t be so easy to kill, once we level the playing field.”
“He’s not interested in killing you,” Sebastian said. “Not until he’s taken away everything and everyone you love.”
“After he murdered my mother, he said one more person had to die.”
“Whoever you love the most.”
Sebastian headed over to his desk, bending and reaching behind it, into the space underneath. He pulled out the briefcase, and when he straightened up, he wasn’t surprised to see Diggle’s gun trained on him.
“I hope you can beat him with this,” he said, handing the case to Oliver. “For all our sakes. And when this is over, I promise you, I will do everything in my power to rebuild Starling City. I won’t just make it what it was. I will make it better. Like I always planned.”
Oliver looked at him as if he was insane. “You really think after everything that’s happened, after what you’ve done, that they’ll still let you be mayor?”
“Why not?” he said. “No one knows that I’ve done anything except try to save this city. And if you tell anyone about my mask, I will tell them about yours.”
Oliver just stared, and set his jaw.
“Do what you have to, Sebastian.”
He turned and they left, Diggle leading the way. Sebastian watched them go, the city’s last hope held in a gray metal briefcase.
* * *
Later, he poured himself two-fingers’ worth of thirty-year-old Scotch, retrieved from the decanter at his bar. A gift from his support staff—the ones whose bodies lay up and down the hall. Self-deception aside, he knew that his time as mayor was over. Not because of Oliver, but because of Slade. Sebastian wasn’t an idiot. There was no way he’d be allowed to live.
As he took a sip of Scotch, Isabel arrived, sword drawn.
“You gave it to him, didn’t you?”
“I did what I thought was necessary.” He took another sip.
Isabel moved to his desk phone.
“Don’t worry,” Sebastian said. “I’ll tell Slade.”
She ignored him and hit speed dial. Slade picked up on the first ring, his voice coming over the speaker.
“Does he still have the cure?”
“No,” Isabel said.
“Slade,” Blood said, loudly enough to be heard. “You betrayed—”
“Goodbye, Mr. Blood.”
The line went dead. Sebastian turned to face Isabel and was met with her two swords, driven through his chest. He stared her down, the blades buried up to the hilt.
“I loved this city.”
Isabel ripped her blades free from his chest. He stood wobbling in place, looking down in shock at the rapidly spreading blood, almost black in the gloom. Then she pushed him, sending him toppling to the desk, splayed out on his back, the last bit of life within him leaving.
The last thing he heard was his skull mask dropping to the floor with a thud.
Slade turned his attention back to the television. Aircraft were approaching the city, and the news reporter identified them as incoming military support—but Slade knew there was no military base close enough for that to be the case. Judging from their flanking formation, those troops hadn’t arrived to save Starling City from his army. They were there to corral his men.
Keeping them within the city’s borders.
His telecommunications tracker buzzed again, notifying him of another outgoing call. This time, it was Oliver on the line, calling a restricted number Slade could not trace. The woman’s voice on the other end was harsh and abrasive, the telltale indicators of a commander. It reminded him of Wade DeForge.
“How did you get this number?” the voice demanded.
“Amanda, what are you doing?”
“Not sure what you mean, Oliver.”
“The troops taking up position at the city’s exits, they’re not Army. They’re A.R.G.U.S. Those are your men. So you tell me what you’re up to.”
So they are A.R.G.U.S., thought Slade. Still the woman didn’t answer the question.
“Amanda!” Oliver shouted.
“Slade’s followers are a clear and present danger,” the woman, Amanda, replied hesitantly. “I cannot allow them to escape the city. They need to be contained—by any means necessary.”
Slade knew exactly what that implied.
“You can’t,” Oliver said.
“There’s a drone en route carrying six GBU-43/B bombs. Enough firepower to level the city.”
Despite his protestations, the woman told Oliver that he had until dawn. If he couldn’t neutralize Slade’s soldiers by then, she would turn Starling City into a crater.
Perfect, thought Slade. Even if the cure proved successful, there was no way Oliver could neutralize his entire army by dawn. He simply lacked the numbers. Whether he stopped Slade or not, Oliver’s precious city would still become a hole in the ground—rendered that way by the very same organization Slade had helped A.S.I.S. track.
Funny how the world works sometimes.
Slade used the computer to identify Oliver’s location, tracing the call back to a clock tower in the Glades. He radioed his men, instructing them to raid both that location and the sublevel lair at Verdant, just in case. They were to destroy everything in their path, except for two people. The Arrow and the A.D.A. Laurel Lance.
Those two lives were Slade’s to take.
He retreated to the inner anteroom to change out of his suit and into his Deathstroke armor. The final battle was rapidly approaching.
* * *
Isabel arrived to find Slade in his armor, helmet at his side. Fifteen soldiers—freshly returned from laying waste to the Arrow’s lair—milled about, awaiting their next task. She walked past them to talk with Slade.
“Blood has been dispatched, as asked,” she said, “but his is not the body I want at the end of my sword.”
“Then you’re in luck,” Slade replied. “Because it’s time we took the fight to the Arrow.”
She smiled. Finally, she could issue payback to Felicity Smoak. She would kill her slowly, relishing every second of her pain.
They heard a commotion out in the hall, at the elevator banks. They both turned to watch the Arrow enter, followed by Sara Lance in the uniform of the Canary. Isabel was shocked that Oliver would make such a brazen offensive move, when he lacked the numbers to support it.
Slade was of the same mind.
“You must have quite a bit of faith in this cure, if you’ve come alone,” he said.
“We didn’t come alone,” Oliver responded. As if on cue, the office windows shattered inward as members of the League of Assassins—led by Nyssa al Ghul—swung their way in. They landed, firing arrows into the nearest mirakuru soldiers, dropping them instantly. They shook on the ground, their bodies wracked with spasms as the cure took effect.
Oliver took aim, firing cure arrows at each of Slade’s shoulders. With simple shifting in his torso, Slade allowed his armor to deflect them. Then when Oliver squared his aim and fired at his eyehole, Slade cut the arrow off mid-flight.
On the other side of the room, Isabel rushed Sara, her swords matched against Sara’s bō staff. She swung her blades in an arc, a hurricane of deadly movement, the sharp edges of her blades bearing down. Sara spun away, her staff twirling in the air, deflecting those deadly swipes.
As they fought, the League of Assassins continued to dispatch Slade’s men. Seeing their numbers dwindle, Slade knew they were quickly being overmatched. Giving no mind to Isabel, he dashed toward an open window and leapt out, grasping an outside cable and zip lining to safety on the building below, too fast for Oliver to follow.
Though she fought ferociously, Isabel’s mirakuru-enhanced skill was no match for Sara plus the League of Assassins. Nyssa launched an attack from behind, plunging a cure arrow into her bicep. Instantly her strength sapped, and Sara and Nyssa easily subdued her, the assassin kicking out Isabel’s leg, dropping her to her knees, and ripping off her helmet in quick succession.
On instinct, Sara raised her bō staff, ready to deliver a killing blow.
“Sara, don’t!” Oliver shouted. Sara lowered her weapon.
Isabel just shot them a dirty look.
“Kill me, don’t kill me,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. I beat you. I took away the one—”
Nyssa grabbed Isabel’s head and bent it backward, using her knee as leverage. With a sickening snap, Isabel was dead. Her life ended in Robert Queen’s old office.
Slade’s escape took him to an abandoned industrial space located just outside of downtown, in the city’s factory district. Formerly a steel mill, the hallways were a labyrinth of concrete and copper piping, valves and gauges. It was where he intended to accomplish the end of his plan.
He found one of his soldiers waiting there with Laurel Lance, having taken her from the police precinct. Though she tried to hide it, he could see the fear in her eyes—recognized it from their encounter in her apartment, when he told her Oliver was the Arrow.
“Hello, Laurel,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind me dispensing with formalities, but we’ve known each other far too long now not to call each other by our first names.”
“You don’t know me, Mr. Wilson,” she said. “If you did, you’d know I’m poor bait.”
“You are anything but,” he said. “Did you know I was with Oliver on that godforsaken island? I saw him look at your picture every day for a year. I know he loves you.”
She looked startled at that revelation.
“Oh, yes, Laurel—deep in Oliver’s heart, there is a very special place reserved just for you.” He got close to her, smiling with menace. “Your death will bring him unimaginable pain.”
Laurel looked him in the eye, defiant. “He’ll stop you.”
“But he’s already failed.”
There was a buzz from a tablet, lying on a concrete platform—he had prepared the location, should he need it. The security cameras he had hidden throughout Queen Mansion were reporting new movement. Stepping over and lifting the tablet, he saw two figures enter the foyer—Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak. He listened in on their conversation.
“Oliver,” she said. “What are we doing here? The whole city’s falling apart.”
“I know,” he replied, and he led Felicity to the center of the room. “You need to stay here.”
“What? Why? You can’t just ask me to—”
“I’m not asking,” he said. “I’ll come and get you when this is all over.”
Such loyalty, thought Slade. A pity its beneficiary is such a coward.
“Felicity…” Oliver said, the utterance meant to silence her. Then he started to exit.
“No,” she said again, following him. “Not unless you tell me why.”
He turned back to face her. “Because I need you to be safe.”
“Well, I don’t want to be safe. I want to be with you, and the others… unsafe.”
“I can’t let that happen.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
Oliver pulled Felicity close. Slade recognized the look in his eyes, because it was the same way he had looked upon Shado.
“Slade took Laurel because he wants to kill the woman I love.”
“I know, so?”
“So he took the wrong woman.”
“I love you,” he said. “Do you understand?” He reached out and touched her arm, holding her hand. It was tender and sweet…
…and it marked her for death.
Slade watched as Oliver exited. He nodded to his soldier.
“Go to Queen Mansion, and bring me Felicity Smoak.”
* * *
Less than an hour later, the soldier returned, dragging Felicity along. Her hair was disheveled from a night spent on the run, and she had a gash on her forehead, the blood long having clotted. Still, he could see her unassuming beauty. Of all the women in Oliver’s life, she was the most diminutive physically. Slade imagined that she could scarcely harm a fly, let alone wield a weapon.
He studied her, and took a Bluetooth headset she wore. It was incredibly disappointing, he mused, that this scared, frail twig was the love of Oliver’s life. Killing her would almost be a waste of his blade.
“I must say, I’m surprised that a sniveling mess like you would win Oliver’s heart.”
The insult seemed to snap her out of her fear.
“One, it’s dusty in here,” she replied angrily. “And two, Oliver is not in love with me—”
“Liar.” He jerked in her direction, and yelled not from anger, but to provoke a reaction. As expected, she jumped and let out an involuntary yelp.
“And you’re just about the level of scary crazy person I was expecting,” she said, her words coming out rapid fire.
“And you certainly talk a lot for being terrified,” Slade responded.
“What do you want with me?”
“Like I told Oliver, this cannot end until I take the one person he loves most in this world.”
“Okay, fine, it’s me,” she said. “Little ol’ snivelly me has Oliver’s heart. So why not let Laurel go? She’s worth nothing to you.”
So this woman possesses strength after all.
“Perhaps,” Slade said, “but maybe I just want to see him suffer twice.”
He walked off a few yards away and keyed the Bluetooth headset. Oliver answered on the other end.
“You’ve been busy, kid,” Slade said.
“It’s over, Slade!” Oliver cried. “Your army is broken.”
“And I pity them, but once again, you miss the point.” Slade flexed his hand, feeling the familiar tremor. He would relish this moment, one he had spent five years engineering. “I have the one you love. You’re going to meet me where I say. Otherwise, I’m going to kill her.”
“You do what you have to. I’m done playing your games.”
“You’re done when I say you’re done!” The rage boiled again in Slade. “I was surprised. I thought you had a thing for stronger women. But now that I’ve met her, I can see the appeal. She is quite lovely, your Felicity.”
“What do you want, Slade?”
“To see your face when I open her neck and stain her lovely skin with blood.”
“Don’t you touch her.”
“Not until you get here. I promise.”
Slade hung up and sent Oliver his coordinates. Then he prepared for his final confrontation with the spoiled rich kid from Starling City. After five long years, Slade would finally avenge his beloved.
Slade held Felicity firmly with one arm, while holding his blade against her neck with the other. He could hear Oliver’s footsteps, and spoke to him through the din of the industrial plant.
“Twitch and I will open her throat,” he said loudly, the sound echoing. “My first words to you. Do you remember? I do,” he continued. “I remember the exact moment. My blade against your neck—just like my blade is against the neck of your beloved. If only I’d killed you then, everything would be different.” Slade wasn’t wearing his helmet, exposing his face. He wanted Oliver to see him clearly, in the moment he took her life.
Oliver emerged from behind a cluster of pipes that stretched from ceiling to floor.
“Drop the bow, kid.” Oliver continued to advance with arrow nocked. Slade responded by pressing the blade against Felicity’s neck. “Do it.”
Oliver finally lowered his bow, placing it on the ground. From behind Slade, one of his soldiers brought out Laurel, clutching her with an arm around her throat.
“Yes,” Slade said. “Countless nights dreaming of taking from you all that you took from me.”
“By killing the woman I love?”
“Like you love Shado.”
“Yes,” Slade admitted with uncharacteristic vulnerability. Hearing her name, he stared off into the darkness, seeing her shape just a few yards away, looking on over the scene. Her face was beautiful and without expression.
“You see her, don’t you?” Oliver suggested. His question sent Slade deep into his memory, causing him to release his grip on Felicity, dropping her to her knees in front of him. He kept his blade trained on her neck while he paced in tight, close steps, and Oliver continued.
“Well, what does she look like in your madness, Slade? What does she say to you? I remember her being beautiful. Young. Kind.” He peered intently at his opponent. “She would be horrified by what you’ve done in her name.”
“What I have done?” Slade responded, his intensity growing. “What I have done… is what you lacked the courage to do. To fight for her!” He brought his blade closer to Felicity before him. “So when her body lies at your feet, her blood wet against your skin, then you will know how I feel!”
“I already know how you feel,” Oliver said. “I know what it’s like to hate—to want revenge—and now I know how it feels to see my enemy so distracted he doesn’t see the real danger is right in front of him.”
As Slade paced, thinking the danger was Oliver, he didn’t register Felicity slowly rising to her feet, withdrawing a syringe from her coat pocket. She gripped it in her hand, gathered herself, and plunged it deep into Slade’s neck.
Then she ran.
Slade dropped to his knees, instantly feeling the cure work its way through his body, sapping his strength. As it began to neutralize the serum’s power, Slade watched Shado begin to fade into the darkness. Then she was gone.
Furious, struggling against the cure’s effects, he yelled to the soldier holding Laurel.
“Kill her!” he bellowed.
Before the solider could do anything, however, Sara emerged from the rear of the building, and hit the soldier with a cure dart. Then Laurel turned and punched him, first with a right, then a left. He dropped to the concrete floor with a crack.
“Get them out of here!” Oliver shouted. Sara gathered Laurel and Felicity and led them to safety, leaving him alone with Slade.
Oliver picked up his bow.
Mustering what was left of his strength, Slade charged him, bringing his sword down with an overhead chop that Oliver deflected with his bow. They danced back and forth, delivering strikes. Though weakened, Slade was enraged. Nevertheless, they were on even ground now, and as Slade lashed out, Oliver countered with a kick to the chest, sending his opponent backward through a glass door, shattering it.
Landing on the building’s rooftop, still gripping his sword, Slade quickly recovered and sent Oliver down with a kick. He then raised the blade over his head, smashing it downward. Again Oliver blocked the strike with his bow, then he sprung up into the blow to deliver a kick to the mid-section.
They continued to fight across the rooftop, the Starling City skyline behind them on the horizon, pockets of flame still visible in the streets below.
“The mirakuru isn’t what made me hate you.” Slade swung his blade, forcing his enemy to duck, leaving him vulnerable for a strike. He took advantage, grabbing Oliver by the throat. As he squeezed tighter, choking him, the roar of a jet engine overhead drew his attention skyward. A drone sent by A.R.G.U.S. cut through the night, its course set for downtown.
“The end is near,” Slade said, “but maybe I’ll be merciful enough to let you live and see your city burn!”
Suddenly Oliver mustered enough energy to kick himself free. The two backed away, circling each other, trading kicks and blows, Oliver using his bow as a makeshift sword against Slade’s blade, their weapons arcing around them. Oliver landed yet another kick to Slade’s mid-section, and while the armor protected him, it sent him flying backward.
Shaking his head to clear it, Slade launched himself into another attack, hitting Oliver squarely in the face with a punch. They grappled, then threw each other backward, both spent and falling to the floor.
“We both know there’s only one way that this can end,” Slade said, struggling to rise. “To beat me, kid, you’re going to have to kill me.” He pushed himself to his feet through sheer force of will, as did Oliver. “But in the moment of my death, you’ll prove one thing—that you are a murderer.” Strength gathered, they rushed each other again, clashing at the roof’s center, the impact carrying them over the edge and dropping them to a lower level.
Their fighting had become crude, fatigue transforming skill into primal desperation. Each reared back, throwing his full weight behind any attack, their blows slow and telegraphed. Oliver tried launching a haymaker against him, but he ducked the blow, allowing Oliver’s momentum to take him toward a pillar. Pivoting, he landed a left hook to Oliver’s face, followed slowly by another, each landing with a sickening thud. At this point, Slade’s entire goal was to cause as much damage as possible.
Momentum on his side, he rushed forward, thrusting his blade toward Oliver’s chest, intending to deliver a final death stroke. When it was inches from contact, Oliver summoned a last burst of energy, deflecting the blow with his bow, spinning away. He cracked Slade over the back with his bow, stunning him, then quickly nocked and fired two lasso arrows.
Slade was cinched tight to the column, bringing an abrupt end to the conflict.
All his energy spent, he slumped into the restraints, allowing them to take his weight.
“You can kill me or not,” he said. “Either way, I win.” Then he turned his attention toward the horizon, waiting for the drone to drop its payload, vaporizing him, Oliver, and the entire city. But Oliver ignored him. With barely enough strength left to stand, he tapped his communications earpiece, dialing into A.R.G.U.S.
“Amanda, it’s over,” he said. “Slade’s down, his army’s been taken out. Call back the drone.” There was a heavy silence as he awaited her reply. Slade felt the seconds tick, counting them with his heartbeat, wondering if the kid’s luck would save him again.
“Amanda, it’s over!” he yelled again.
After a few more tense seconds, the roar of a jet engine cut through the silence. They looked overhead as the drone returned, retracing its path back to A.R.G.U.S.
The two enemies regarded each other for a long moment, their breathing heavy and visible in the cold. Five years had led to this moment. Their long battle had finally been brought to an end. Oliver, however, looked anything but victorious.
“So what now, kid?”
Slade watched as Oliver pulled an arrow from his quiver, nocked it, and fired.
Then, like many years ago, the world went black again.
Slade awoke with a gasp. “Where am I?”
His mouth was dry and his throat hoarse as he sat up. His body responded with a sluggishness that suggested he had been unconscious for a while. Disoriented, he found himself on a cot in the middle of what appeared to be a prison cell. Bars enclosed the area on three sides. However, the back wall was made of rock and the ceiling was low, like the inside of a cave. There were no windows, the only light emanating from harsh halogen lamps above.
Turning, Slade found Oliver Queen staring at him through the bars. He sat on a stool facing the cell, his face still showing signs from their battle.
“As far away from the world as I could get you,” Oliver replied. “Where you can’t hurt anyone ever again.”
“That’s your weakness, kid.” Slade finally found his footing and rose to standing, staggering closer, leaning on the cell bars. “You don’t have the guts to kill me.”
“No, I have the strength to let you live.”
“Oh, you’re a killer,” Slade said, pacing his cell, keeping his eye trained on Oliver. “I know. I created you. You’ve killed plenty.”
“Yes, I have,” Oliver said. There was an odd calm to his voice. “You helped turn me into a killer when I needed to be one, and I’m alive today because of you. I made it home because of you, and I got to see my family again. But over the past year, I’ve needed to be more. And I faltered.
“But then I stopped you. Without killing.”
Oliver stood up and stepped closer to Slade’s cell.
“You helped me become a hero, Slade.” He regarded his prisoner, meeting his gaze with sincerity. “Thank you.”
Slade came to a stop, taking him in. Feeling his rage burn bright again. Not from the mirakuru, but from the depths of his soul.
“You think I won’t get out of here?” Slade said. “You think I won’t kill those you care for?”
Oliver opened the door to exit, revealing the insignia of A.R.G.U.S. This was its supermax prison. Inescapable. Impenetrable. Classified. He turned to face Slade.
“No, I don’t,” he said. “Because you’re in purgatory.”
Slade watched as he pulled the door shut behind him, the sound reverberating throughout the spartan cell. As silence fell, he realized he knew exactly where Oliver had doomed him to exile. He was back where his journey began. Stranded on Lian Yu. A prisoner of the island once again. It was a sentence far crueler than death.
Anger boiling over, Slade shook the bars of his cell…
“I keep my promises, kid.”
His voice growing louder…
“I keep my promises.”
Reminding Oliver of his vow…
“I KEEP MY PROMISES!”