Chapter 020: Conquer

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Atlas had noticed it.
 
The arrow came flying towards him, and he raised his right hand. James, still getting his leg crushed under Atlas's foot, was relieved that Muse was apparently fine... and terrified that Atlas knew she was still alive. He'd stop this arrow, quickly kill James - a fast and painless demise was probably the best he could hope for at this point, he figured - and then go berserk on Muse. He'd go after Mirise next, rally the town guard, and they'd all die here. Even if Markus and Rink had succeeded, if Atlas was left alive he'd probably take over the island, and Kurita would be even worse off than before. Some heroes they turned out to be.
 
"Seems like I wasn't thorough enough," Atlas growled, and caught the arrow in his right hand with a swift motion... and dropped it with an exclamation of discomfort as the arrow caught fire the instant he closed his fist around it. James felt the weight on his leg lessen, but not enough to free himself, as another arrow showed up. This time, Atlas used his anchor to block it... and as he struck it in flight, it gave off a small bolt of electricity, striking Atlas's left hand. He winced, but held on to his anchor, as two more arrows came for him. This time, he decided to not take any chances, and dodged them by leaning backwards instead of blocking.
 
This gave James the room he needed, as Atlas was so preoccupied with avoiding the arrows that he did not spend any additional effort on making sure James was still trapped. He withdrew his leg from under Atlas, and as he started sweeping with his anchor to strike arrows out of the sky - some more catching fire, some more giving off bolts, some doing nothing - James managed to wiggle free, and this was probably the best chance he was ever going to get as it looked like Atlas prepared to advance towards Muse.
 
He quickly reached behind his back, pulled out the pistol Markus had given him, took aim, and fired.
 
The bullet hit Atlas's right kneecap. He screamed out in pain as he fell down into a crouching position - right knee and left foot on the ground - and instinctively looked down at James, still holding the smoking gun and not being in much of a position to move.
 
But Muse had, of course, not let up her attack. With Atlas unable to either catch, block, or dodge the next arrow, it found its target.
 
James didn't spot it until it had stopped, half of it now embedded in the right side of Atlas's skull. Atlas started gurgling, made a few erratic motions with his right hand, but somehow still held on to his anchor. He wasn't looking at either of them right now, just stared into the space in front of him.
 
Then another arrow came, this time piercing Atlas's neck.
 
He started coughing up spurts of blood as he lurched forwards, planting his left knee on the ground as well before his entire body tipped over. He was still holding his anchor tightly as he fell forwards, James only narrowly avoiding getting crushed. With his right leg still severely damaged, he was in no position to move, but Atlas lay even more still. No movement at all, not even a single breath. Even though this had been their goal, it took a few moments for James to take in the situation as he heard Muse descend to the ground and start walking towards him.
 
Atlas was dead.
 
~~~~
 
Markus looked at the bullet hole in the door next to him. Galt had - surprisingly quickly and silently - pulled out a gun from his desk and fired at Markus. He had noticed it in time to dodge and instinctively drawn his swords.
 
"You believe you can take me that easily?" Galt said. "I may be old, but I can still deal with the likes of you!"
"You're not getting out of this room alive," Markus said and pointed one of his blades towards Galt.
"You forget who I am," Galt stated as he started reloading his gun. Markus made an assault towards him, but he crouched under his desk and fired again as he reemerged moments later. Markus just managed to block it with one of his blades, and it ricocheted away from both of them.
"I know too well," Markus said and did a leap and a slash towards Galt before he had the time to reload again. Galt used the gun to block the strike and deflected it away from him with a push, letting go of the pistol. He started backing away as Markus climbed over the desk to attack again, seeing Galt grab his cane. Markus drew his other sword and swung both of them vertically towards Galt, who held up the cane towards them. Markus figured it would last to block a strike or two, and then he'd have him.
 
But rather than the sound of metal striking wood, there was a clang. Markus had to reel black as his swords shuddered.
"How long have you planned this, doctor Flint?" Galt asked with a sinister smirk.
"I have... ever since you killed my father!" Markus replied.
"That's, what, ten years?" Galt said.
"Eleven," Markus stated.
"Eleven years... for eleven years you've underestimated me," Galt said. "Ragnar... the rest of the town guards... the guard dogs, the bodyguards... they're good barriers and extra hands, but let me make one thing very clear."
"What's that?" Markus asked through gritted teeth.
"The one who controls this island is me!" he exclaimed and swung his cane towards Markus, who jumped backwards. "How long can you keep that up? You knew I was a Marine Commodore, but did you ever bother finding out how I was fighting? Or did you assume I was too old for that now, and that I didn't even have any weapons?"
"A short iron staff..." Markus replied.
"There are so many ways you can conceal a weapon," Galt said. "Like a thin layer of wood around an iron core."
"Shut up!" Markus said and started slashing wildly in Galt's direction, but he managed to avoid or block all of the attacks. Markus's body was shaking from striking the iron pole, and Galt made a stabbing motion towards him with the cane. Markus managed to dodge it by leaning backwards, almost dropping to the floor, and then really did have to drop and roll away as Galt brought the cane downwards towards him.
"Remember that I'm the one who subdued the Shield Pirates!" Galt said with a laugh as he watched Markus get to his feet. "What did you think I controlled Ragnar with?"
"I don't care," Markus said and clenched his fists tighter around his swords. This had been quite a miscalculation, but Galt was still an old man... he'd run out before Markus did. He had to. But he'd have to get him to that point, or get an opening... that cane was the entire problem, if only he could get Galt away from that...
 
Markus realized, for the first time since he had encountered those three, that he didn't have a plan at the moment. Everything else had been carefully considered, everyone else had been given the tasks they were suited for, but he... he had insisted on taking out Galt himself, for a personal vendetta... Rink was busy with the bodyguards, and the others were far away, so he couldn't count on any assistance. Plan or no plan, he had to end this. He looked around the room. Nothing he could use. All he had was his two blades, and his own pistol. He wouldn't get the time to reload, so he had to make that one shot count. But he couldn't let Galt see him draw the gun... he would need one hand free for that, and Galt would know he was up to something if he dropped or sheathed one of his swords. So the only option was... that.
 
"You're not getting out of this room alive!" Markus repeated, this time yelling it, and threw the sword he had been holding in his right hand with a vertical spin towards Galt.
"Throwing away your weapons?" Galt asked as he effortlessly struck it with his cane, making it fly off to the side.
"Yaaah!" Markus shouted as he rushed towards Galt, holding his remaining sword in both hands, pointing downwards, preparing for an upwards swing. Galt held his cane out as Markus brought the blade upwards, striking the cane and holding onto the sword tightly, pushing as hard as he could. Galt grabbed onto his cane with his other hand and pushed downwards, causing the blade to move back down. Suddenly, Markus let go of the blade and took a quick step backwards. As Galt was pushing downwards with all the force he could muster, he briefly lost his balance and planted the cane into the ground to catch himself before moving his head to look at Markus.
"How are you going to fight with no-" he started saying.
 
Bang.
 
The very instant he could see Markus, a gunshot interrupted his words. A red stain started growing on his shirt, right over his heart. He stared at Markus as he started shaking, and slowly sunk towards the ground with his cane still in hand. He hit the floor without as much as a cough as blood started slowly trickling out from under him. Markus looked at Galt's body, the smoking gun still in his hand and breathing heavily.
"Age gets to us all, Commodore Galt," he whispered. He had done it... he had won. He had avenged his father, and as long as the others had succeeded in their tasks, saved Kurita... hopefully. He recollected his swords, and while he was at it, picked up Galt's cane as well. Partly as a trophy, proof of what he'd done... but maybe it could become useful, too.
 
~~~~
 
Muse looked at Atlas's body as she approached James, who had managed to sit up.
"Is he really..." she started asking.
"Dead as a doornail," James replied. "Nice shot. And..."
"What?" Muse asked.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm glad you're alive," James said.
"Same to you," Muse replied without looking at him.
"More to the point..."
"Yes?
"Why didn't you tell us he used that chain too?" James asked in an annoyed tone. "Did you actually want me dead?"
"We didn't know," Muse replied. "We've never seen him do that before. We've... never actually seen Atlas fight before, so..."
"And why didn't you use those... whatever the hell those arrows were earlier?"
"I didn't want him to know I had them... since he kept catching them when I fired single arrows, I wanted him to think he could always do that..."
"And why didn't you tell me about them?"
"Then you would have expected me to use them more."
"Damn right I would!"
"You had your job... and you did it well," Muse said.
"Being told I'm good bait doesn't really seem like a compliment," James replied.
"It wasn't," Muse stated. "It was a statement of fact."
"You still have no intention to be a bit cheerful? We did win, after all."
"I did what I had to," Muse said as she started walking away. "Let's leave..."
"Right, James replied as he started standing up, but the moment he put any weight at all on his left leg, he felt an intense pain and fell to the ground again. "Oh ow, oh god, that stings..."
"What?"
"I think he broke my leg... I'm gonna need some help here," James said and raised his left arm towards Muse.
"Ugh... fine," she replied as she walked over and crouched next to him. "Just until we get to your ship."
"That's all I need," James said as he laid his arm around Muse's shoulders and with her help managed to get up, standing only on his other leg. With Muse as support for James, the two of them begun their unsteady walk towards the entrance back into the city where they had left Mirise. Since no other town guards had come to interfere, Mirise had either already won or was still fighting, but as they heard no sounds of battle at all and saw two people just sitting on the ground in front of them as they entered, it was pretty clear it was the former. One of them was obviously the disguised Mirise, the other... well, he was wearing a town guard uniform, so it wasn't hard to guess.
 
Mirise stood up and faced the two of them as she saw them slowly approach her. She smiled underneath her mask.
"All done?" she asked as they closed in.
"Somehow," James said with a minor grunt. "Who's your friend?"
"The name's Taggart," he said without moving from his spot.
"Vice-captain of the town guard," Mirise replied.
"Well, congratulations on your promotion," James said.
"So Atlas is..." Taggart said.
"Atlas is dead," Muse stated quite matter-of-factly. "If you have something to say about that, we're ready to continue."
"What are you-" James started saying, but was interrupted by Taggart.
"Guard chief Atlas was attacked by an unknown assailant..." he said, still not making any moves. "I was in pursuit, but was unable to provide help in time, as the one chasing Atlas was not alone. Sadly, I was unable to identify any of the attackers."
"So... you're just letting us go?" Mirise asked.
"If I couldn't even defeat you, how would I be able to defeat those that felled Atlas?" Taggart asked with a smile, not expecting a reply. "I will take upon myself the duty of telling the citizens exactly what occurred here tonight. But I don't know what became of you or your companions... miss Plague."
"...Plague?" James turned to Mirise and asked with a raised eyebrow as they continued towards the docks.
"Don't ask," Mirise replied. "So how'd you do?"
"Leg hurts like the dickens, but otherwise decent," James replied.
"Markus can look at that," Muse said.
"If he and Rink were successful," James said.
"Now who's being the encouraging one?" Muse asked.
"Just saying," James replied. "We probably had the most problems anyway..."
 
~~~~
 
Markus stepped out of Galt's office, his swords back in their sheaths and Galt's cane in his left hand. As he walked towards the stairs, he saw Rink peering down the corridor, half of her body down the stairs. She nodded towards him and looked back down again, to make sure none of her victims were about to wake up. Markus joined her in walking down, spotting the two bodies on the floor.
"Any problems?" he asked her.
"None," she replied and lifted her mask up. "They never knew what hit them. Literally."
"So are they..."
"Just out cold. Didn't seem to be any point in doing more."
"I agree," Markus replied. "The less loss of life, the better... but..."
" 'But Galt had to die', right?" Rink asked.
"That would be the gist of it," Markus answered.
"I was slightly worried when I heard that gunshot and a body hit the floor," Rink said. "Looks like there was no need for that, though..."
"Actually, it wasn't as easy as I had thought it would be... the old guy still had a lot of fight in him," Markus said and looked down at the cane in his hand. "But... in the end..."
"Either way, we should probably split," Rink said and lowered her mask again. "And hope the others are done."
"Agreed," Markus replied with a nod before they left the manor. Inside, Andres and Francis would still be unconscious for the majority of the following hour (and tied up with their own wire), and Taggart directed the town guard to dealing with what happened to Atlas before anything else, so it would be a little while before what occurred inside Galt's residence was discovered. But when it was, they would find that in Galt's office, next to the dead body of Kurita's mayor, there was a paper on the floor. A paper weighed down by Galt's right hand.
 
A paper on which two words had been written in blood.
 
A paper with the words 'MARKUS FLINT'.
 

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