martes, 24 de julio de 2018

SLADE 9

10

Isabel met Slade in a rundown abandoned warehouse in Central City. It was constructed entirely out of cement; the walls, the floor—all were solid and soundproof, despite the decay. Dressed for business in her favorite gray pantsuit, she entered the building not knowing what to expect, knowing full well that if she screamed there wasn’t anyone who would hear her.
Suddenly she began to sweat, panic rising at the fact that she had trusted a complete stranger.
“Welcome to day one, Miss Rochev,” Slade said, appearing from a side door. He had ditched his business suit in favor of combat attire. His black leather boots squeaked against the concrete, his muscles bulged out of his black tank top. “I’m eager to start the training,” he added. “You, however, aren’t properly dressed for this.”
“Excuse me?” Isabel said. “I was under the assumption that we were going to discuss the way in which we would destroy the Queen family. You said nothing about any ‘training.’”
“The plan for their destruction has already been set in motion, and is not up for discussion,” he growled. “Right now, you need to change into these.” He handed Isabel a set of workout clothes.
Thrown off guard by the tone with which Slade addressed her, she nevertheless took the bundle. Ducking behind a concrete retaining wall, she slipped out of her suit. Moments later she appeared wearing a black spandex outfit with an orange tank top.
“Now what?” Isabel asked irritably.
“Now we fight,” Slade said, handing Isabel a bamboo stick with which to spar. She furrowed her brow.
“Mr. Wilson, I’m a businesswoman—not a ninja,” she said evenly, looking at the stick as if it might bite her. “All I want is what was once promised to me, and to see the look on Moira Queen’s face when I get it. So, if you expect me to hit you with a bamboo stick, you need to tell me how it will enable me to take control of Queen Consolidated.”
Without answering Slade grabbed another bamboo stick, staring at it. The look on his face went grim, and spoke of an anger that threatened to burst forth.
“Oliver Queen has returned to his beloved Starling City a changed man,” he said, his voice low but clear. “Long ago, I made a promise to him that I would take everything and everyone away from him. In order for the plan to work, I need to be able to inflict physical pain on him, as well—and you need to be able to do the same.” He struck a defensive pose, and waited.
Isabel took a deep breath, taking in what Slade had just told her. She glanced down at her stick, raised it suddenly, and charged Slade. He blocked her assault with his stick, and she swung again, this time finding only empty air. Again and again she swung, and each time he countered her until a rage began to grow in her, as well. With each frustrated assault, it flared stronger and stronger.
“Anger is good,” he said. “Now let’s really begin.”
* * *
Alone in the warehouse, Isabel grabbed one of two long swords that lay nearby. The blade glistened in the harsh strip lighting of the warehouse. She touched the tip, pricking her finger just hard enough for it to break the skin, and watched a tiny bead of blood trickle down her finger. She wiped it away, numb to any pain, then scooped up the second sword. Her hands trembled ever so slightly as she thrust them outward.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Slade barked, appearing without warning, making her jump and drop one of the swords to the ground. “You’re not ready—you’ll lose a finger, or worse.”
Furious with herself, she snatched it up again.
“It’s been three months,” she protested, “and I’m done fighting with sticks. If you don’t think I’m ready, then prove it!”
Slade eyed her for a moment, then removed his suit jacket and slowly undid his tie. He went to a long case and unlocked it. Inside were his own swords.
“Very well, then,” he said, taking out the swords and showing them off, the blades flashing. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Isabel dropped into a fighting stance, her muscles taut. She stood strong and straight, and weeks of training had resulted in perfect muscle definition. She was filled with hate and rage, which she embraced enthusiastically. Her life was focused on one thing, and one thing alone.
Revenge on the Queen family.
Pushing the air out of her lungs, she lunged forward and swung her sword. Slade deflected it, but she could tell from his expression that she had surprised him. He lashed out in return, and she danced aside, pressing her own attack. With each swing she focused on his lessons, applying every trick he had taught her. Her confidence mounted, even as she was covered in a sheen of sweat.
She moved close and swung the blade in her left hand. Slade dodged and used his right-hand sword to nick her arm. With a cry she pulled back and glanced down at the gash. Though it was superficial, there was blood flowing down her bicep.
Slade ignored Isabel’s cry and raised his sword again, bringing it into play. Isabel quickly parried it, wielding her sword hard against his. Suddenly he spun around and kneed Isabel in the stomach, sending her tumbling to the ground. He paused as she gathered herself and stood, dropping again into a defensive stance.
Trying to ignore the pain, she launched a flurry of strikes she hoped would overwhelm him, but the wound was too distracting, and he easily maintained the upper hand. Fatigue left her arms feeling heavier by the minute, slowing her down until Slade found an opening. He knocked one of the swords out of her hand, and as she glanced in the direction of its flight, he kicked his leg out, dropping her to the floor.
She landed face first on the concrete with a loud crack. She lay there lifelessly for a moment while Slade hovered over her. Finally she moved her hands under her body and lifted herself up, blood trickling from her lip and nose. Isabel staggered to her feet and raised her hands up to surrender.
“Please, don’t,” she grunted. “I can’t… I’m sorry.”
“Let this be a lesson,” he said disdainfully. “I’ll be the one to say when you’re ready.” With that he moved to the case and placed his swords inside. Then he walked silently to the door, leaving her standing there in a pool of her own blood.
* * *
Isabel drove her Mercedes down a long, never-ending road. The windows of the car were down, and her long brown hair blew in the wind, whipping around her head. Spotting the warehouse in the distance, she let out a deep breath as she pressed her foot harder onto the gas.
Entering the dimly lit building, she pulled off her sunglasses. Isabel wore a black patent leather flat on her left foot and a medical boot on the other. She limped across the cement floor, looking around, but Slade was nowhere to be found. Moving to a side door, she opened it and peeked down a long corridor. She heard talking and headed in that direction.
The fluorescent lighting was harsh, so she replaced the glasses and started down the hallway. The sound grew closer until it became apparent where it was coming from, and Isabel put her ear to a door. Twisting the doorknob, she pushed in to find Slade sitting behind a dilapidated desk, wearing a stylish three-piece suit. He didn’t move, and his eyes were fixed on the television in front of him.
“The Starling City vigilante was at it again last night, taking down Martin Somers,” a news anchor announced. “The commissioner of police continues to ask all citizens to come forward with any information about the vigilante, and strongly recommends that if you encounter him in person, do not engage.”
“Do not engage, indeed,” Slade said, turning his chair around. “To what do I owe the pleasure, Miss Rochev?”
“I’ll keep this short, Mr. Wilson,” Isabel said, removing her sunglasses to reveal two black eyes. “I’m out.”
“What do you mean, out?” he asked calmly.
“You almost killed me!” she snapped. “I fractured two ribs and my left foot. I’m lucky that I still have all my teeth. I may hate the Queens just as much as you, but I cannot do this. We can’t do this.”
“Is that so?”
“Your plan needs more people,” she asserted. “I’m only one person and yes, I firmly believe I can take Queen Consolidated on the business side, but you need someone else—someone who can back you up on the street. Someone like the vigilante.”
Slade smirked at her.
“The vigilante is Oliver Queen.”
Isabel’s eyes widened as the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together. All the things Slade had told her suddenly started falling into place.
“You said Oliver had a new journey…”
“And indeed he does,” Slade continued. “His crusade is to right the wrongs of his father, and clean up the city—one millionaire at a time.”
Isabel scoffed at the mention of Oliver’s father.
“Regardless of whether Oliver wants to spend his nights in green tights, I need help. We need help. Even more so if he is this vigilante. We need to take the city from him by force.”
“You make a valid point,” Slade said, much to her surprise, “but you’re wrong about the nature of the help we need. I can handle the streets, and the vigilante—of that I’m certain. No, the city needs to turn on the Queens, to reject all they represent—and to make that happen, we need someone on the inside.”
He smiled—something he didn’t often do.
Isabel shuddered in spite of herself.



1

The streets of the Glades were run-down and filled with trash and dirt. Graffiti was scrawled along every bridge and billboard. A crowd of homeless people huddled around a trashcan fire to keep warm, for the night was bitterly cold. Police sirens sounded in the distance—most likely racing to a crime scene of the sort that made the Glades infamous. Such was the neighborhood’s legacy.
Crime and filth.
Nestled on Stark Road between two abandoned businesses sat Zandia Orphanage. An unusual commotion could be heard from the streets. Cheering and laughter grew louder by the moment, in stark contrast to the building’s surroundings. Inside, a group of neighborhood residents sipped on cheap champagne and munched on crudités.
Sebastian Blood loosened his tie before he reached for two plastic cups.
“Thank you for coming, Dr. Vaca,” he said, handing the doctor his drink. Sebastian’s chocolate-brown hair was slicked back as he showed off his smile.
“Of course, Sebastian,” Vaca said. “Becoming the new Alderman for the Glades certainly warrants a celebration.”
“Well, I couldn’t have done it without tireless support—it’s meant a great deal to me,” Blood said, clinking his glass with the doctor’s. He took a sip of his drink, letting the bubbles tickle his throat.
“It’s the least I can do, Sebastian. After all, you’ve been in my corner many times, a genuine friend to the Rebecca Merlyn Clinic. I look forward to your work as alderman, and have high hopes that you’ll bring new awareness to the clinic… and more importantly, to the Glades.” Dr. Vaca peered over Sebastian’s shoulder, and waved his arm to indicate a pair of newcomers. “You remember the Gomez family, don’t you? They were at your rally three weeks ago.”
Sebastian extended his hand. “Hello again, Mr. and Mrs. Gomez, thank you so much for coming to our little soirée.”
Although cheerful, Richard and Amelia Gomez looked tired, as well. Amelia’s makeup was thick under her eyes to hide the dark circles that lurked there.
“We just both wanted to personally thank you for all the attention you’ve brought to the clinic during your campaign, Mr. Blood,” she said. “When our son Bobby was diagnosed with cancer, we didn’t know what to do. There was no way our insurance company would help us, yet the thought of our boy not getting treatment because we couldn’t afford it, well, it was… heartbreaking.”
“And how is he doing?” Blood asked.
“He’s in remission,” Richard Gomez replied, and he beamed. “That wouldn’t be the case if it wasn’t for the clinic and Dr. Vaca.”
“I’m so glad to hear it,” Sebastian said sincerely. “I hope now as Alderman of the Glades I can continue to help families just like yours. If I have my way, the Merlyn Clinic will thrive for years to come.”
Suddenly he jumped a bit as he felt a strong hand gripping his shoulder from behind. Sebastian turned to see his longtime friend, Cyrus Gold, standing there.
“Congratulations, old friend,” Cyrus said, throwing his arms around Sebastian. “I couldn’t be more proud of you.”
“Thank you, Cyrus,” Blood said, embracing his friend tightly. To the others he said, “Please allow me to introduce one of my dearest friends, pastor Cyrus Gold of the orphanage’s sister church.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you all,” Cyrus said, “and what a joyous occasion, celebrating our new leader, Alderman Blood.” He vigorously shook hands with each person in the group.
“What parish do you belong to?” Mrs. Gomez inquired.
“I am with St. Pancras parish,” Cyrus said. “St. Pancras is the patron saint of children, martyred as a teenager because he refused to sacrifice his faith. A true conviction for what he believed in—it only seemed fitting to name our parish after him. My mentor, Father Trigon, sadly passed away a few months ago. He believed that no child should suffer or be forgotten, and that’s what led us to partner with Zandia Orphanage.”
“It must be so rewarding for you to see all the children of the Glades find a place to call home,” Mr. Gomez said, but it was Sebastian who replied.
“It’s a beautiful thing that Cyrus and Father Trigon have done for these young men and women,” he said. “Without them, they would have been lost, roaming the streets, getting into who knows what sorts of trouble—but here, they have someone to care for them, and make sure they are safe. I have to say that I’m in awe of what Zandia has done for the children of the Glades.”
He raised his cup to Cyrus and, smiling, toasted his longtime friend.

2

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO
Father Trigon sat in his office in Zandia Orphanage, his glasses perched on the edge of his nose while he pored over paperwork. His hair was black with a few white ones starting to sprout around his ears, and his eyes were tired from too many hours spent with exhausting children. He rubbed his forehead, and looked up when there was a knock at the door.
Cyrus Gold entered his office.
“Sorry to disturb you, Father,” the gangly teenager said meekly.
“Not at all, my child, please come in,” Father Trigon said as Cyrus skittishly took a seat across from him. “What can I do for you?”
Cyrus paused for a second, and avoided making eye contact. Father Trigon saw the struggle on the young man’s face, and reached his hand across the table, grasping him reassuringly.
“You can tell me anything, my boy,” he said. “You are in a safe place.”
“I found a boy last night,” Cyrus blurted out. “He was out wandering the streets alone. He looked lost so I asked him where his home was, but he didn’t answer me. I could tell he’d been crying, and his face was bleeding as if he had been in a fight, but still he wouldn’t speak. I couldn’t leave him alone there—who knows what could have happened to him if he was left in the Glades.
“So… I snuck him in last night,” Cyrus confessed.
Father Trigon removed his glasses. “I see. Where is the boy now?”
“He’s sitting outside your office,” Cyrus said.
“And have you been able to get the boy’s name?”
“No,” Cyrus admitted. “I don’t know what his name is, or where he came from, or if he has a home. He still hasn’t spoken.” Cyrus choked back tears.
“My son, you did a good deed, even though rules were broken,” Father Trigon said. “Your intentions and your heart remain in the right place. Why don’t you bring in your new friend, and we can all have a chat.”
Cyrus rose from his chair and slipped out through the door. The priest could hear him speaking, and finally he entered with a very scared, frail little boy. He was very small, and skinny—looked as if he hadn’t eaten a hearty meal in weeks. He had a few bloody scratches on his right cheek and a bump on his forehead. His clothes were worn and too small. Cyrus guided him into a chair, and sat next to him.
Father Trigon smiled at the boy.
“Hello, my name is Roger Trigon—what’s yours?”
The boy did not answer.
“You don’t have to be afraid, my child. Here at Zandia you are free from danger, and in a place of love and worship. No one is here to hurt you.” The boy remained silent. Father looked to Cyrus for a moment, and then tried again.
“Do you know where your mom and dad are? They must be worried about you.” The boy furrowed his eyebrows at the mention of his parents. Father Trigon realized he might be getting somewhere and continued, “Did you run away from your parents? Parents may not always be easy to get along with, but parents are God’s teachers to show their children the righteous way.”
“Not my parents,” the boy croaked out.
“What do you mean, my son?” Father Trigon leaned closer. “Tell me what happened.”
“No one is around, ever,” the child said, and he began to cry. “There is always darkness wherever I go. I’m always so afraid. I lie awake listening to the footsteps getting closer to my bedroom door—afraid of what my father may do to me when he comes home drunk and upset. Even when I do sleep I hear the footsteps still… getting closer to me.
“But they aren’t my father’s,” he continued. “It’s the man in black—the one with a skull for a face. His teeth are jagged and sharp and just when he gets close enough I always wake up. I cry out, but my mother doesn’t come to comfort me. I’m alone.”
Cyrus and Father Trigon listened intently.
“How did you end up on the streets?” the priest asked.
“I woke up to tell my parents again about the man in black, but my father beat me, saying I shouldn’t make up stories. My mother was too busy to care about anything, especially me.” The boy cried, wiping his snot and tears on his sleeve. “Please, don’t make me go back! I can’t go back there!” he shouted as he started to cry harder.
Father Trigon rose from his seat as his heart broke for the pain this child had endured. He wrapped his arms around the boy, holding the back of his head tightly to his chest. The frail body shook as he wept, the sobs going deeper and deeper.
“You are safe here, my son,” the priest said, “and I will never make you leave, I promise. Soon, you’ll stop being afraid, or haunted by your dreams. I will see to that.” He released his grasp on the boy and bent down to face him, wiping the tears away from his puffy red eyes, still wide with fear.
“What is your name, my boy?” Father Trigon asked.
“Sebastian,” the boy said. “Sebastian Blood.”
* * *
The outside of the house was worn, the paneling covered with gray chipped paint. Trees and bushes had become overgrown in the yard, while mildew and moss covered the foundation. Young Sebastian Blood walked slowly up his gravel driveway, returning home late at night after a week away. He arrived at his front door, frozen in fear, not knowing what beating lay ahead of him.
He entered to find his mother passed out cold on the couch with the television still on, blaring an infomercial. There were old takeout containers scattered on the coffee table next to a stash of pills and empty beer bottles.
Sebastian continued down the hall to find his father bending over in the door to the fridge. His gun sat on the kitchen table next to an empty beer bottle. Sebastian kept his eye on it, knowing that his father was probably wasted, and afraid of what he might do.
Suddenly, his father noticed him.
“Where have you been, you little punk?”
Sebastian remained silent.
“I asked you a question, you little shit,” his father said, his voice getting louder. “Where have you been?” When Sebastian turned to walk away, the man reached for his gun with a speed belying his condition, and pressed it to Sebastian’s head.
Sebastian closed his eyes tightly, feeling the cold metal on the back of his skull. Still he remained silent, sweating in anticipation, waiting for the bullet to pierce his brain.
WHAM!
The back door swung open as two dark figures kicked through it and entered the house. The newcomers were both dressed in black, head to toe. One of them wore a mask of the devil. It looked like bone, obscuring the face so only the eyes could be seen, and the horns that crowned it were long and twisted.
The other figure had the face of an acolyte—all white, but with black, dead eyes. The devil and the acolyte pulled Sebastian’s father away, hitting him behind his knees and sending him to the ground. They grabbed his head and banged it repeatedly against the kitchen table until blood started to pour from his mouth and nose. With each impact Sebastian cringed.
Sebastian’s mother, Maya, ran into the room and screamed at the sight of the violence. Her eyes sat deep in the sockets of her gaunt face, while her black shoulder-length hair was in disarray. She begged for the devil and the acolyte to stop, and they let Sebastian’s father go. The pudgy form crumpled to the floor, barely conscious, blood mixing with sweat and other stains on his dirty white T-shirt.
“Sebastian, call the police,” he mumbled, spitting out blood, but Sebastian stood frozen, unable to move. He found himself almost glad to see his father in such pain—the very pain he handed out to his son, all too often—and the thought made him ashamed.
The devil and acolyte turned their attention to Maya, and Sebastian’s emotions shifted to fear. The acolyte twisted her arm behind her back.
“Let go of me!” she screamed. “Sebastian, help me!”
The devil began to cackle. The mask muffled his voice.
“What irony! You beg for help from a son who has received no help from his parents. God himself said there is nothing like the love of a mother and father, yet here you are, having shown this boy neither love nor compassion.”
The acolyte went over to Sebastian’s father and picked him up off the floor. His face was swollen and already bruising. He tried to fight off his attacker, but he was too weak to put up a struggle, and quickly fell back onto the tiles. The devil picked up the pistol, opened it, and saw the bullets loaded inside.
“Please! Don’t kill us!” Maya screamed. “Don’t kill my son! He’s just a boy!”
The devil moved to Sebastian and knelt down before him. He offered him the gun.
“Are you worthy of delivering retribution?” he said. “Thou shall not let one deceive them with empty words, for the wrath of God comes upon the sinners of disobedience and negligence.” He raised the weapon to Sebastian, whose eyes widened. He looked at the man dressed as the devil, and wondered whether he should listen to him.
This was his opportunity to get revenge—revenge for the times that his father had ignored him and pushed him aside like a dirty old shoe. For the beatings he had endured, and those given to his mother, as well. He reached his hand out, his fingertips touching the barrel of the gun, then he grasped it with purpose.
“Sebastian, don’t listen to them!” Maya screamed. “We love you! We’ve always loved you. Your father and I will be better. We will get better, I promise.”
Sebastian turned to his father, expecting… wanting him to beg for his life, as well.
“You don’t have it in you to kill anyone, you little bastard,” he sneered through ruined teeth. “You’re not strong enough—you’re a weak little boy.”
Sebastian lifted the pistol, shut his eyes, and pulled the trigger, shooting his father in his abdomen twice. He was knocked back, and when he looked a sea of red blood flowed out of the gunshot wounds, quickly soaking through his father’s shirt as his eyes rolled back in his head.
His mother was shrieking incoherently, and when Sebastian turned the gun toward her, she begged him to spare her, the words tumbling out between gasping sobs.
“Please, Sebastian, I love you!”
Sebastian’s fury burned deep into his soul, and he felt more alive than he ever had before. He steadied himself to pull the trigger, when without warning the devil stepped in front of the pistol. He slowly placed his hands on the weapon, guiding it to the table and removing Sebastian’s hands from it.
“Spare her, boy,” he said. “As a mother, the giver of life, the greatest torture is hers to bear—knowing that death is too easy an option for her to escape what she has done, and how she has treated a gift from God.”
Sebastian stared at her with nothing but true hatred. The devil put his arm around the boy and led him out the door into the black night.
* * *
The devil and the acolyte took Sebastian to an abandoned factory in the Glades. He felt the fire running through his veins, still on a high from the feeling of revenge. There was no sense of remorse or regret for what he had done; in fact, he felt at peace with his choice.
They led him down into the basement of the decrepit building. It was cold and wet and smelled like mothballs, and he was taken aback when he saw a group of boys and men sitting in makeshift pews. The devil offered Sebastian a seat in one of the pews. Confused, unsure of what was happening, Sebastian sat down as the devil stepped to the front of the congregation.
“Tonight is a joyous night,” he announced. “Tonight is the night that we celebrate maintaining a strong, protected united front.” The group clapped and cheered in their seats. Sebastian slowly put his hands together, wondering if he had made a mistake.
“We have a guest of honor tonight,” the acolyte announced. “My friends, please meet Sebastian Blood.”
Sebastian felt every set of eyes turn to him as he sank a little lower in his pew. His adrenaline rush now diminished, he began to grow frightened at the situation he’d got himself into, and he felt himself start to sweat.
“Sebastian, meet Brother Langford,” the devil said, and a man rose and went to the front of the room to join him. The devil placed his hands on Brother Langford’s shoulders. “Brother Langford is here to help guide you on this new journey. And meet Brother Daily,” he said as a teenager rose from his seat, and moved to the front of the room. He linked arms with Brother Langford, and next, the devil introduced Brother Clinton Hogue, another young teenager. Brother Hogue linked arms with Brother Daily.
“Brother Daily and Brother Hogue were much like you, Sebastian. They were young boys, underappreciated and forgotten by the world… until they found us. Together we join forces. Together no one will ever be forgotten.” As he spoke the devil and the acolyte linked arms with the rest of the group, then they finally removed their masks.
It was Father Trigon and Cyrus Gold.
He had suspected as much, but it still shocked him.
“Sebastian, you are part of the brotherhood now. We live to protect our brothers of the city. We started this group to protect the young and the orphans of Zandia.” He waved his hand around to indicate everyone in the room. “You will no longer be alone. Each life that has and will be taken for this cause is a sacrifice for the greater good.” Father Trigon reached for a bag and pulled something out as he motioned for Sebastian to come join them at the front.
The boy stood and approached the rest of the group. Father Trigon presented Sebastian with a skull mask, the one from his dream—the teeth long and jagged, just as Sebastian had described. Horns ran down the jaw line and curled upward like tusks.
“From here on out, Brother Blood, the terror you once felt will no longer haunt your dreams. Here on out—you shall not live in fear, but live in the power that your mask possesses, and strive to keep the brotherhood alive, helping those who need it most.”
Sebastian looked down at the mask, no longer doubting, and no longer feeling the fear he once did. He knew that Father Trigon was right. He knew that his parents deserved what they got, and that this brotherhood was where he belonged. This was his new family, the only family he would need. Sebastian reached out, taking the mask. He took a deep breath and placed it over his face.
Father Trigon beamed with pride.
“Welcome home, Brother Blood.”

3

A few weeks later Father Trigon and Sebastian walked the streets of the Glades together. Father Trigon’s clerical collar was snug around his neck. He buttoned up his jacket and put a winter hat on Sebastian as they continued on their way. The two arrived at Saint Walker’s mental institution. Father Trigon opened the door to the hospital and was greeted by one of the nurses.
“Hello, Father Trigon!”
“Good afternoon, Wendy, how are you doing?” Father Trigon asked. “How’s your family?”
“Everyone is doing very well, and thank you for asking,” Nurse Wendy replied warmly. “Who did you bring with you today?” she asked, peering over the counter.
Sebastian snuck out from behind the priest, smiling innocently to the woman.
“Wendy, this is Sebastian Blood,” Father Trigon said.
“Sebastian, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” Wendy said with a kind smile. Then she set a clipboard on the counter. “If you both don’t mind signing in for your visit…”
“Of course not,” Father Trigon said, scribbling his John Hancock on the notepad.
“Are you here to see anyone in particular today?” she asked.
“A new patient, Sebastian’s aunt, Maya Resik,” the priest said with a devilish smile.
* * *
Maya sat wearing a white hospital gown, looking out her barred window. Her eyes were red and swollen, her hands cuffed together and resting in her lap. She heard the clicking of the door and turned her head in fear of who it might be. Relief rushed over her as she saw her son enter.
Sebastian!” she exclaimed with joy, but the boy did not go to her. The priest stood next to him, gripping his arm tightly. “Sebastian, mi amour! Come to your mother!” she begged, but the boy didn’t budge.
“You are not his mother, Maya,” the priest said with a firm voice.
“Yes I am, Father,” she protested. “Sebastian, come to me!”
The father gripped Sebastian’s arm tighter, his skin turning white from the grasp.
“A mother protects her child and keeps him from harm,” he said, a hint of anger in his voice. “A mother teaches her son to live in the Lord’s ways. You have done none of this. You have failed this child. You are no mother, Maya, especially not to this boy.”
She let out a cry, tears streaming down her face. “I am so sorry, my son. I am so sorry. I have been a terrible mother—but I’ve changed. I want to be better for you.”
* * *
Sebastian looked up to the priest, and then to his mother. He was numb to his mother’s words—they no longer had any real effect on him. He felt that he was now part of a real family. One that showed him love, and what it meant to be passionate about something. It was an unbreakable bond.
“Thou shall not let one deceive them with empty words,” Sebastian said.
“For the wrath of God comes upon the sinners of disobedience and negligence,” Father Trigon said.
Maya’s eyes grew wide, putting two and two together. “You are the devil! It was you that night! You are the reason my husband is dead. You did this to my son!” she shouted, and she lashed out, becoming increasingly hysterical. She accused Father Trigon of stealing her son, making him believe his lies, and abducting her poor Sebastian. Then she screamed at the top of her lungs for help, until an orderly—a young woman—finally entered.
“Maya, calm down!” the orderly said gently.
“He is the devil, he is the devil! HE’S TAKING MY SON!” she shouted, and she strained against the cuffs that held her hands. Finally the orderly reached into her pocket for a syringe. She grabbed Maya’s arm, holding it as steady as she could, then jabbed the needle into it, sedating her. The shock caused Maya to stop shouting, and as the sedative took effect, the orderly stroked her hair.
“The father is not the devil,” she said soothingly. “He is a man of God, and that boy over there is your nephew, not your son. You’re confused, Maya.” When Maya was completely calm, the orderly helped her to stand and guided her to the bed. She tucked her in.
“My son…” Maya said weakly. “He is with the devil.”
Father Trigon went to the bed and hovered over her. Maya’s eyes were glassy and bloodshot, and he placed his hand on Maya’s forehead. Maya stiffened in fear, knowing what Father Trigon was capable of doing.
“Peace be with you,” he said, then he turned and guided Sebastian out of the room, leaving Maya to cry for her son.
“Sebastian, I told you I would protect you,” he said as they walked toward the exit. “Brother Langford and I—as well as all the other brothers—work as a team. The halls of Saint Walker are filled with men and women who have failed their city first by failing their own flesh and blood. Many of them, like you, have been given the chance to make life better for others, so that some day—after I am gone—you will continue to protect the vulnerable people who abuse and disgrace their home.”
Sebastian looked up to the father, a feeling of awe shuddering through him at the new journey that had been set forth for him. One which would last for the rest of his life.

4

THE PRESENT
In stark contrast to the celebration held at Zandia Orphanage, a fete was held at the Queen Mansion to welcome all of those who had been elected to the office of alderman. Many of the city’s elite were in attendance, including Mayor Altman and the event’s hosts, Walter Steele and Moira Queen.
Must be nice to be rich, Sebastian thought to himself as he grabbed a glass of champagne off a passing tray. He admired the elegant crystal that contained a very expensive Dom Pérignon. Overall, however, he was unimpressed by all the glitz and glamour—the forced laughter, the hobnobbing, the cronyism. Yet he knew that, as the alderman of the Glades, he would be expected to participate, knew that if he wanted to save his city he needed to play the game.
Sebastian saw Moira and Walter in the distance, elegantly dressed and brilliantly poised, smiling while they talked to their guests. He took a sip of his champagne, placed his glass down, and approached the pair as they finished their conversation. Walter walked away, but Moira remained.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Queen,” he said, tapping her shoulder. She turned and gave him a warm smile as he extended his hand to her. “Sebastian Blood, Alderman for the Glades.”
“Mr. Blood, what a pleasure to meet you,” she said, shaking his hand. “Congratulations on your win—you must be very excited.”
“I am excited, and very eager to get to work,” he replied.
Walter returned with a glass of champagne for his wife, and placed it in her hand.
“Walter, I’d like you to meet Mr. Sebastian Blood,” she said. “He is the alderman for the Glades,” she added as the two men shook hands.
“A pleasure, Mr. Blood,” Walter said.
“Thank you so much for having me in your home—it is quite exquisite,” Sebastian said, glancing at the art on the walls.
“Thank you,” Moira said, following his gaze. Then she turned back to him. “Where are you from originally, Mr. Blood?”
“The Glades, actually, born and raised,” he said, and was amused to see their curious expressions. “It’s true that most of the people who come from the Glades end up on the streets. I guess I’m just one of the lucky ones that had a great upbringing.”
“Well, you have your work cut out for you, Mr. Blood,” Walter observed. “What are your plans to help the district, since it holds such a close place in your heart?”
“I have a five-year plan which I really think will breathe new life into the city,” Sebastian replied.
“Many men have come here before you, Mr. Blood, and have said the same thing. Unfortunately, the Glades remain what they are—a wasted part of the city,” Moira said. Sebastian stiffened at her words, but he knew the power the Queens wielded, and getting them on board would be essential if he was to succeed.
“You couldn’t be more right, Mrs. Queen,” he said smoothly. “However, my successors do not know the Glades like I do. I plan to begin by arranging funding for the Zandia Orphanage, as well as expanding the Merlyn Clinic. With those as success stories, we’ll be off to a good start.”
“Zandia does great work with the children there,” Moira agreed.
“I know that from personal experience, as my parents died when I was a young boy and I spent most of my time at Zandia. As far as the Merlyn Clinic goes, I think it’s important for the people of the Glades to receive excellent healthcare, so they can get themselves cleaned up and off the street.” He paused, then added, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you close with Mr. Merlyn and his son?”
A strange expression flitted across Moira Queen’s face, but it was rapidly replaced by a warm smile.
“Oh, yes, our sons were very good friends,” she said, “much like Malcolm was with my late husband and me.”
“I’m glad to hear it, and I appreciate you taking the time to let me prattle on about my plan,” Sebastian said, giving his best charm. “I hope that perhaps the three of us will be able to sit down and discuss it in greater depth.”
Moira was about to reply when a young man stepped up and touched her on the shoulder. She leaned away and the fellow whispered something to her in a low voice. She went stiff, then turned back to Walter, her face drained of color.
“Moira, everything alright?” he asked.
“It’s Oliver… he’s… he’s alive.” She quickly placed her drink down and moved toward the door, with Walter following quickly behind her.
Sebastian remained, forgotten entirely.

5

A ripple of excitement shuddered through Sebastian as he arrived at Starling City Hall for his first day on the job. As he and his fellow politicos made their way to the conference chamber and exchanged courteous pleasantries, it seemed to him as if the air crackled with possibilities.
Each made his or her way to a pre-assigned seat, and Councilman Charles Hirsh took his position at the head of the table.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” Hirsh said loudly enough to be heard over the din, which quieted. “Thank you for coming today.” He placed his briefcase in front of him and opened it. He pulled out the morning newspaper. Even at a distance, the headline could be read.
“I’M ALIVE!” It accompanied a photo of an outdated photo of Oliver Queen, standing next to his father, Robert.
“Nothing like a little excitement to start out the day, eh?” Hirsh commented. “Leave it to the Queen family to keep the city on its toes.” A slight ripple of laughter ran through the chamber.
“The question remains, however,” Councilman Steve Petros noted, “is Robert Queen still out there?”
“I hope not,” another member added, though Sebastian couldn’t see who it was.
“I disagree,” another said. “His foresight and influence led to a great many positive things for Starling City.” This led to a number of individual discussions throughout the chamber, and the murmured din returned. Eager to begin, Sebastian found himself impatient with his fellow aldermen.
“Councilman Hirsh,” he said sharply. “Might we get started with the day’s proceedings? I have a proposal for the Glades which I would like to present to the group.” His words caused a momentary lull, and Hirsh shot him a look.
“We’ll begin shortly, Mr. Blood,” the councilman said. “Just hold tight.” He turned his head to take in the entire group, and asked, “Where do we think Oliver Queen has been all this time, and what was he doing?”
“Well, it doesn’t sound as if he was on Gilligan’s Island,” a voice said. Petros again.
“Judging from the reports, he doesn’t seem to be very forthcoming with details,” another observed—a woman.
“I was with the Queens when they received the news,” Sebastian interjected. All attention turned in his direction, and he felt his face grow warm. “We were discussing the plans for the city, and for the Glades,” he added.
“Please elaborate, Mr. Blood,” Hirsh said, a touch of condescension in his voice. “What was it the Queens said to you at that moment?”
“I had told them about my five-year plan for the Glades,” Sebastian said, yielding a few snickers. He suppressed a frown. “We agreed that our goal was to get the people of this great city off the streets, and into good homes and jobs.” Picking up steam, he spoke clearly. “Walter and Moira seemed very interested in restoring the city, and helping to fund the efforts that would be needed.”
He stopped, and for a long moment no one spoke.
“Mr. Blood,” Charles Hirsh said, “if you are going to survive here as an alderman, it will be in your best interest to understand that rich people make a lot of promises. However, I wish you the best of luck pinning them down on anything tangible.” With that he pulled out his agenda, motioned for the council to do the same, and began the meeting. Mortified, Sebastian sat back in his chair. Deep down, he knew Hirsh was right. The rich weren’t the answer to the city’s ills.
They were the problem.
* * *
The day was warm and bright, but Sebastian’s mood wasn’t as he walked briskly to the Merlyn Clinic in the Glades. It was his lunch break. His thoughts were bleak as he mulled over how little he had accomplished in the first month as an alderman. Try as he might, he remained marginalized and unheard.
The brisk walk helped to clear the cobwebs, however, and he reminded himself of why he had chosen this path. He told himself there were bound to be bumps in the road—that these things took time. By the time he arrived at the clinic, he’d decided that he wouldn’t let himself be pushed aside.
Approaching Dr. Vaca’s office, he found the door ajar. Peering inside, he found the doctor surrounded by a mountain of paperwork. He knocked quietly.
“Hi there, Dr. Vaca,” he said as cheerfully as he could manage. “Just checking in to see how things are going.”
Dr. Vaca removed his glasses and wiped his tired eyes. “Sebastian, hello, my friend! Please come in.” He rose from his chair and held out his hand. “How are things going for you as our new alderman?”
“Life is quite… satisfactory,” Sebastian replied. “I can’t complain.” He glanced around at the cluttered surroundings. “What about you? How are things going here at the clinic?” The doctor didn’t answer at first, and his brow furrowed slightly.
“I will be honest with you, Sebastian, not good. Not good at all. I struggle every day to keep this clinic above water, and every day becomes a bigger challenge.” The doctor lowered his voice. “There are times when I despair.” He paused for a second, leaning back in his chair. His eyes were red, and his complexion was pale. “You remember the Gomez family from your celebration party? Well, their son just experienced a relapse.”
“That’s terrible,” Sebastian said, a hollowness appearing in the pit of his stomach.
“The clinic is suffering, and I don’t think we have enough resources to care for him. I feel terrible, but I just don’t have the means.” He stared at the forms on his desk. “We need to expand the clinic, add new features, and we need the funding to do so. I’m trying everything I can think of.” He looked up, and a flicker of hope appeared on his face. “What about you? Have you made any progress in your plans?”
Sebastian felt as if his heart was breaking.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Vaca, but no. I haven’t made much progress this last month.” He tried to put on his most optimistic face. “Still, I have high hopes that things will turn around, and soon.”
“I wish I could say I believe you, Sebastian,” the doctor said, the flicker gone, “but I know how these things run. We are mired in the legal red tape of the city. The truth is, they just don’t care about us anymore, and it’s getting harder to care myself, being here days on end, seeing how we continue to suffer.
“People just don’t believe in the Glades.”
“I’m sorry, doctor, but I don’t know what to say.” Sebastian rose, shook the doctor’s hand, and left.
There has to be a way, he thought bleakly as he began the trek back to his office. Suddenly a scruffy young man stepped in front of him, forcing him to stop, and shoved a flyer in his face.
“Hey, man—check it out.”
Sebastian jumped as the kid startled him from his trance. He took the flyer and looked at it.
OPENING SOON
VERDANT
Drinks and Dancing
No Cover
Another new club was opening there in the Glades—owned and operated by none other than Oliver Queen. There was a photo—of Queen, of beautiful people, rich people, laughing and partying.
Laughing and partying, while Bobby Gomez is dying.
Sebastian stared down at the flyer in disgust, crumpling it in his hand and pitching it into a trashcan before continuing on his way.
* * *
Sebastian paced back and forth at the security booth, wiping his sweaty palms on the sides of his pants, trying to stay focused as Bobby, the security guard, waited for the signal to let him into Queen Consolidated.
“I have an appointment with Mrs. Queen and Mr. Steele—they should be expecting me,” he said again, and Bobby just nodded with a smile. Sebastian checked his watch. I’m here on time, he fumed. They run the largest corporation in the city—why can’t they keep a simple appointment?
He jumped as the phone rang. Bobby picked it up, put it down without a word, and motioned him forward.
“You’re good to go, young fella,” he said, and he escorted Sebastian to the elevator.
On the ride up to Walter’s office, Sebastian took a few deep breaths to gather himself for his meeting. The others on the council saw his as a lost cause, but he had to try. The elevator dinged as Sebastian arrived at the top floor and Walter Steele’s office. The elevator open, Sebastian straightened his tie, and walked through the glass doors.
Steele’s assistant introduced herself as Anna, and offered Sebastian a seat. He sat only for a moment, however, as Moira appeared.
“Hello, Mr. Blood,” she said with a smile. “Thank you for waiting.”
“Mrs. Queen, thank you for taking the time to meet with me,” Sebastian said, shaking her hand.
“Yes, well, unfortunately, Walter and I will need to reschedule. Something has come up,” she said apologetically. “I don’t know if you heard, but my son recently has returned…”
“Yes, I may have heard something about it,” Sebastian replied. I was there, you know—not that you would remember. “My congratulations.”
“Well, then, you can understand how much my family has going on right now,” Moira said, swinging a handbag over her shoulder. “Please give Anna a call, perhaps next week or the week after. She’ll try to find an opening in the next month or so.” She turned away from him, indicating that the conversation had ended, and made her way toward the elevator.
Something in Sebastian snapped.
His body stiffened as he felt every muscle tighten up. He clenched his fists tightly, nails digging into his palms, and the pain centered him. He reached his breaking point.
“Of course I understand,” he said sharply. “It must be exhausting, going to all of the fancy events and club openings, especially where your son is involved.”
Moira turned on her heels.
“Excuse me, Mr. Blood?”
“I’m just saying, why waste time on the bigger problems in the city when your son is opening a club in the Glades. Other problems such as the Merlyn Clinic turning away sick patients, dying patients, due to the lack of funding.”
Moira Queen looked as if she was ready to squash Sebastian like a bug.
“If you’re so worried about the clinic, Mr. Blood,” she said flatly, “perhaps you should speak with the person whose family started it. I’m sure Malcolm Merlyn would be eager to hear of your concerns.” At that moment the elevator doors opened, and Moira stepped inside.
“Have a good day, Mr. Blood,” she said as the doors closed on Sebastian, yet again.
* * *
His face hot with anger, Sebastian stormed into the mayor’s office. Mayor Altman sat behind his desk, signing papers and using his shoulder to hold a phone to his ear. At the sight of his visitor, he made a quick excuse and hung up the phone.
“Alderman Blood,” the mayor said, rising from his chair. “You seem agitated.”
Sebastian started to speak, then stopped himself and ran his fingers through his hair, his frustration boiling over. He stood at Altman’s desk, breathing heavily, then sat down on the chair, putting his head between his legs.
“Alderman Blood?” Mayor Altman repeated.
Looking up, Sebastian hoped the despair didn’t show on his face.
“Mayor Altman, I need your help.” He took a deep breath. “People are homeless, starving, dying—people I serve, who look to me to help—and no one cares.” He told the mayor of his visit to the clinic, of his meeting with Moira Queen. When he was done, Altman frowned.
“Alderman Blood, as much as I sympathize, there are other issues you should be focusing your time on—issues that are more important to the city as a whole. I know your heart rests with the Glades, but you need to face reality—the Glades are a lost cause. They were before you arrived, and they will be after you’re gone. There are other parts of the city that are struggling, as well, sections we have a better chance of saving. We can’t go tilting at windmills, just because one boy is dying.”
Sebastian felt as if he’d been punched in the gut.
Anger and despair rendered him speechless, yet he clung to a single, basic truth. He knew that if he had given up hope as a child, he wouldn’t have been here today. If Father Trigon had given up on the timid little boy in his office, he wouldn’t have survived to fight for his city, his district. He remembered going to see his mother, how dead inside he’d felt when he looked at her. Sebastian looked at Mayor Altman now, and felt just as empty.
Then the emptiness filled with rage.
“Mayor Altman, if the Glades are such a lost cause, then tell me how Oliver Queen got the permits, the tax credits, needed to open a new club.” He paused and stared. “How is it a nightclub is a priority, while a medical clinic is allowed to crumble? Where are our priorities when a wealthy brat is given a free ride, just because of his name?”
Mayor Altman sat stiffly and adjusted his tie.
“Alderman Blood, what are you saying?”
“I’m just wondering, what could cause you, cause the council, to support a major new startup in a dying neighborhood? And what would cause Queen to take such a risk? Will he pay taxes? Will the Glades benefit in any way?” Leaning closer, he asked, “Or will that money go elsewhere? Will it line the pockets of other people—people who don’t need it just to survive?”
The mayor rose slowly, and Sebastian did the same.
“I’m… not certain what you’re saying, Alderman Blood, but I don’t like the sound of it,” Mayor Altman said, his voice growing louder. “Perhaps I haven’t made myself clear. The Glades are a hellhole. The district has the lowest voter turnout in the city. The votes that got you elected, Mr. Blood, wouldn’t have even landed you on the ballot anywhere else in the city. No one cares about that place—not even the people who live in it.
“So I suggest you get out of my office, and find something productive to occupy your time.”
* * *
As he stalked out of City Hall, Sebastian’s cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his jacket pocket and found an incoming call from Dr. Vaca. His stomach sank to his feet, and he braced himself.
“Hello, Dr. Vaca,” he said. “How are you doing?”
“Hello, Sebastian,” the older man said. “I am sorry to bother you—I know you are a busy man—but I just admitted Mr. and Mrs. Gomez into the clinic, and I thought you should be aware.”
“What happened?” Sebastian said. “Are they okay?”
“They are okay, yes, but their home was broken into last night, while they were sleeping. The intruders didn’t inflict too much damage, so they only suffered minor scrapes and bruises. However, they lost many belongings, and are quite shaken up. I was hoping maybe you could stop by the clinic to say hello, try to lift their spirits.”
He stopped in the street, allowing the news to sink in.
“Of course I will, doctor,” he said, keeping his voice even. “I’ll stop in as soon as I can.” But inside, he was anything but calm. What is happening to my city? he thought, his mind in chaos.
The Glades were indeed a hellhole, but innocent people lived there. The mayor was wrong—people did care. He cared, and it was time to do something about it. If the system wouldn’t help, then he would need to act outside of the system.

Anger turned to resolve, and Sebastian continued down the street, heading for the clinic.

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