The light of the setting sun shone through the skyscrapers of Cunoze City. Despite the city's 100,000-strong population, the streets were completely silent- as if the citizens were afraid to go about their daily business. The silence was broken on an unlabeled street in the west side of town by a loud clink. This clink repeated at irregular intervals, slowly moving down the street each time. This street was also being polluted by a trail of blood coming in from around the corner. The blood droplets led down the street, the space between them waxing and waning, and they ended at their origin- a woman of medium build.
The woman was in her mid-twenties, and had light skin with a green bob cut. She wore a black t-shirt with a unzipped long-sleeve forest green jacket over it. The jacket had two pockets, both empty. The pocket on the left had a zipped zipper, while the pocket on the right had a clasp on the inside, which was currently unlatched. The woman was also sporting a lime green skirt, under which she wore white stockings. The stockings had a hole in the right leg, in both the front and back of the knee area. She had black leather shoes, and bright green lipstick. She carried a large grey bag over her shoulder with her left hand, and a small map with her right. The bag made a clinking noise every time the woman took a step. The woman was limping as she slowly walked, mainly due to the hole going through her right kneecap- which is where the blood was coming from.
The woman walked down an narrow alleyway as she looked up from her map. There was a steel door with a speakeasy grill on top, built into the building to the left a few feet in front of her. Carved into the door was the shape of a box, painted a subtle green. The woman limped her way to the door, and knocked three times in quick succession. The grill opened, and what looked to be a metal pigeon looked out at her. An aperture formed over the bird's red eyes, and it zoomed in and out on the woman's pained and confused face. The robot bird turned away from the opened grill.
"Wait!" shouted the woman, as she reached into the bag. She pulled out a wad of 100-Dojiti bills. "I need to speak with the boss!"
The bird turned back towards the woman. Its head rotated with a whirr, as its eyes zoomed in on the orange & purple bills. The bird broke its gaze, then flew away from the grill. The door opened inward into a well-furnished waiting room. The woman put the money in her right jacket pocket, and she limped inside. As she entered the building, she looked to her left, and saw a robot dog staring at her while holding the door open. The woman walked into the lobby and painfully took a seat in the nearest chair, placing the bag down next to her and the map in her left pocket. The dog pushed the door closed, then ran into the lobby, with the bird following. The woman looked around and saw a door at the end of the waiting room, which seemed as if it led further into the building. The robot dog ran through a flap built into the bottom of this door, and held the flap open for the pigeon to fly through after. The woman looked at the small table in the middle of the lobby. She was considering reading one of the old magazines to distract from her pain when the inner door opened.
A woman walked into the waiting room. She was light-skinned, in her early thirties, and of above average height, most of which was taken up by her legs. Her left arm seemed to be cybernetic in nature, and had black duct tape around the elbow. A red glow emanated from underneath the duct tape. The woman was wearing a bright pink tank top, high heels with short socks, leg warmers around her arms, and denim shorts so short they almost qualified as a thong. She had wavy brown hair, and no lipstick. Her arms were wiry, and her legs were as massive as tree trunks. Lining her giant legs were a series of outlines that seemed to be carved into her body. The outlines were of various geometric shapes- mainly squares, circles, and triangles. Three of the shapes, two squares and one triangle, were glowing with a pulsating blue. On her left hand, the steel fingernails were all long and perfectly formed. On her right hand, her nails were just as long, except her index finger, which was cut short. The box symbol on the door was stitched into the back of her tank top in neon green thread, and she carried a box of latex gloves with her right hand.
"Good evening!" said the flashy woman cheerfully. "My name is Retrograde. Welcome to the Packers' headquarters. How are you today?"
"I've had better," said the green woman. "Are you the boss?"
"Oh, goodness me no! No, I'm head of security for this place. Don't worry, he's going to see you soon- I'm just here to make sure you don't try anything you'd regret, if you catch my drift."
"Yeah, that's fair."
"So, do you have a name yet?" asked Retrograde.
"Uhh...yeah? Everyone does? My name is Di-"
"Oh, excuse me! Perhaps I misspoke. I was asking if you had decided on a codename for yourself yet."
"Oh! Well... back home they used to call me the Green Archer."
"That'll do nicely! For future reference, remember to never tell anyone your real name- not even the boss. Even for the lowest rungs of the gangster ladder, that information is worth its weight in gold. So, why did you need to see the boss so badly?"
"I... I want to apply for your gang! I want to be in the Packers!"
"Ahh, I see. That does explain a lot," said Retrograde as Green Archer stared at her with a confused look. "We assumed you had already been spoken for. Usually people choose a gang in their teens around here..."
"Oh, I'm new in town," said Green Archer. "So, uh, that's why."
"No problem, no problem! We're always looking for new talent!" said Retrograde, as she pulled a latex glove out of the box she brought. She slid the glove over her right hand. "Now, I just need to take a bit of collateral off of you before I can let you see the boss."
"Uhh, I have a bunch of money in this bag."
Retrograde chuckled. "Not that kind of collateral, I'm afraid," she said as she placed the box of gloves on the table. She stepped towards Green Archer. "Now, don't move... this won't hurt a bit."
Retrograde leaned in close to Green Archer, and stuck her right index finger into the Archer's left ear. Green Archer's felt her ear go numb, and it felt like there was cotton stuffed inside. Retrograde pulled her finger out, and she had a glowing blue orb stuck to the end. Green Archer felt her ear start to return to normal as the blue orb faded away. Retrograde walked over to the empty chair next to her. She put her left leg up on the chair, and touched a circle shape on her inner thigh, which was now glowing blue. The circular skin and flesh peeled away, revealing a plastic recreation of a cafe inside. In front of the plastic cafe inside Retrograde's leg stood a plastic recreation of a tall table. Sitting on a plastic recreation of a stool in front of that table was a plastic recreation of Green Archer, who was putting a plastic recreation of a half-eaten hamburger towards and away from her plastic lips in a loop. Soft bells played a light waltz out of the hole.
"Hmm... eating. That'll do nicely," said Retrograde.
"Who?" asked Green Archer, whose ear was now back to normal.
"Don't worry about it."
"Hang on- what's a mini version of me doing inside a music box inside your leg?! And why am I making out with that... thing?"
Retrograde chuckled. "Well, as for the former, that's a representation of the memory I took from you with my magic ability. As for the kissing part... I can't explain it to you. Well, I could, but you'd forget immediately. But let's just say that if I don't give you this particular memory back, you will die a slow and painful death. So you'd better not try anything against the boss- got it?"
"Uhh... got it. I think. So, do I get to see the boss now?"
"Of course!" said Retrograde. She touched the flesh hanging from her leg. It closed up, and the circle continued to glow blue. She walked over to the door and held it open. Green Archer slowly and painfully got up out of her chair, picked up the bag she brought with her, and limped through the door. Retrograde followed Green Archer through the door, letting it close behind them.
They were now in a hallway, with two doors on each side, and a pair of sliding doors at the end. Retrograde led Green Archer through the sliding doors, which opened automatically once they stepped in front of them, and closed automatically once they were inside. Green Archer stared in shock at a massive room that seemed completely out of place compared to the rest of the city. The walls and floor looked like they were made of mahogany wood, and there were pillars of brick adjacent to the left and right walls stretching from the floor to the ceiling. A beautifully patterned carpet stretched across the room. There was a large impressionist painting hung nearly every five feet on those walls, although some of the spots where paintings looked like they should be were noticeably empty. Green Archer looked next to the door she entered through to the left, and noticed a small stack of empty frames, looking like they were waiting for more additions to the collection. To the right of the room stood a marble statue of what looked to be an ancient goddess- however, a large chunk of the statue's chest was missing, as if it had been smashed off with a sledgehammer. In the back left corner of the room sat seemingly the only remnant of modern society- a plastic desk with a computer monitor on it.
Sitting behind the desk in a wheelchair was a slightly chubby man in his early twenties. He had dark skin, with a clean-shaven face and head. He was wearing round, thick-rimmed glasses that reflected the light off his screen, making it impossible to see his eyes. His green wool sweater had the Packers' logo stitched into the front. He also wore blue jeans, which were tied off at the knees, where his legs also ended. The robot pigeon from earlier was sitting atop the man's monitor, and the dog was sleeping in the corner. The man typed on his computer furiously, and four robotic rats scurried out from underneath his desk. The rats ran over to a pile of logs, pulled one off of the top, carried it on their backs, and threw it into the fireplace at the back of the room.
In front of the fireplace in an expensive leather armchair sat an incredibly pale man. He looked to be in his early 40's, and was around five feet tall. He was extremely wiry, as if a strong breeze would tear him to shreds. He wore a black flat-top hairstyle, a green necktie, elastic grey shorts, and nothing else. The tie had the Packers' logo sewn in, but there were dozens of small holes surrounding the logo, implying that the insignia had been unstitched and restitched many times. A large portion of the man's face was made of metal, making him look as though he was taking part in a sci-fi adaptation of the Phantom of the Opera. Next to the armchair stood a small side table, with an elaborate bottle of caramel brown liquid and an empty glass on top of it. There were two other leather armchairs across from the man. The wiry man smiled, with teeth made of pure diamond, and motioned to one of the seats across from him.
"Please, take a seat," said the man with diamond teeth.
Green Archer limped over to the armchair as quickly as she could. She sat down with a sigh of relief, and hoisted the bag of valuables into the seat next to her.
"H...hi," said Green Archer through gritted teeth. "My name is Green Archer, and I would like a job in your gang."
"Well, you've certainly made a good case for yourself so far. You can call me Vaulter. I'm the boss of these little Packers. Oh, Retrograde, you can head back to your post now."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Vaulter sir!" said Green Archer as Retrograde left the room.
"Mr. Vaulter, she says! And a sir at the end too! This is definitely a woman after my own heart!" said the boss. He poured a bit of his drink into his glass, and took a sip. Vaulter shuddered, and his body looked slightly invigorated.
"This brandy was imported all the way from Krones," said Vaulter. "Took a pretty penny to get my hands on it. Would you like a drink? Assuming you still know what that is, of course."
"Uhh, I know what drinking is," replied Green Archer. "But no thank you, sir."
"No worries, no worries", said Vaulter, snapping his fingers. The fireplace and some of the attached wall moved to the side, revealing a large warehouse filled with boxes of various sizes. Inside the warehouse were a man and a woman, wearing masks, box-shaped hats, and green jumpsuits with the Packers' box logo stitched in. They ran out and picked the bag up off of the chair next to Green Archer. They ran back into the warehouse, and the door closed behind them.
"Oh, needless to say, you got the job. Anyone who can steal that much money in one go is worth keeping on hand. How did you manage that, by the way?"
"It was the ferry that sails into here, sir," said Green Archer, her eyes tearing up. "I knew Port Bostocisco was one of the most expensive cities on the planet, so a good number of people on that ferry would be wealthy. I also knew that credit cards don't work here, so anyone coming for a visit would need to bring cash or goods to barter."
"Interesting strategy. We'll have to try that ourselves some time. One question. Why aren't you happy about this?"
"You got the job you worked so hard for. I figured you'd have cheered up a bit..."
"Well, I'm in a lot of pain right now, sir."
Vaulter looked down and saw the hole through Green Archer's knee for the first time.
"Oh, I see! Gosh, I don't know how I didn't notice that before," said Vaulter. He turned and looked at the man in the back. "Cyberstruction? Will you fix this nice lady's leg for her?"
The man whose name was apparently Cyberstruction started wheeling over to Green Archer as Vaulter turned back to her.
"Cyberstruction does work in the security and espionage departments, and is responsible for any surgery we need done. I'm sure you saw some of his pets earlier."
Cyberstruction parked in front of Green Archer, and placed his hands on her left leg. Sparks arced around Cyberstruction's arms, and the Archer's stocking seemed to turn to steel. She felt poking throughout the inside of her left leg, as if wires were searching for the right place to plug in.
"The leg will feel exactly as it normally does," said Cyberstruction. "No extra weight or additional power, but the titanium alloy I create makes all of my robot constructs incredibly durable. The metal also has some magic imbued inside- if something does manage to damage this leg, it will repair itself, even if it's completely shattered. This process will use up your own magic energy, however, with the energy usage increasing the further the parts are away from you. The upside of using your energy is that the leg will continue to function perfectly even if I'm unconscious or, Chewie forbid, dead. If the leg is cut off, just press it against the injury and it'll re-attach. I'd also advise against getting the leg wet- taking a shower with it is fine, but don't submerge the leg in water if you plan on using it in the next two hours."
Cyberstruction took his hands off of Green Archer's left leg just as a metal cylinder with a glass-like glowing red circle on the end popped out of her knee.
"There. How does that feel?"
"Good, good. But uhh... that was the wrong leg."
Cyberstruction looked over at Green Archer's still bleeding right leg.
"Ah. So it was. Still, it's best to have them matching!"
Cyberstruction wheeled over to Green Archer's other side and put his hands on her right leg. The process was slightly longer, but was just as painless as before. Now, not only did her leg turn to steel, but the wound healed in the process. At the end, just as before, a cylinder with a glowing red circle on the end popped out of her knee. Satisfied with a job well done, Cyberstruction wheeled back to his desk. Green Archer swung her new feet around, and wiggled her bare toes. She rubbed her feet against the rug. She could definitely feel everything, but it was as if there was a layer of tissue paper between her nonexistent skin and the ground.
"So, what's the deal with these? Do I have complete control over these legs? Or can you make me walk places and kick people if you want me to?"
Cyberstruction laughed. "I have no control over any of my creations, unless I also transform the creature's brain. I can, however, see out of those cameras you have on your knees. But as long as you don't strip in front of any full length mirrors, there's nothing weird about it."
"Kidding! Those aren't cameras!" said Cyberstruction, as he nervously typed away on his computer.
"So changing the creature's brain lets you control them... and that's what you did to those animals?"
"Yup. Whenever I find an animal in need, I make sure to help it out. I found this guy-" said Cyberstruction, scratching behind the robot dog's ear, "-lying in the gutter a few years back. People should know by now not to keep pets in this city..."
"Well, now that we've solved that problem," said Vaulter, "We need to discuss the subject of what role you should fill in this organization. Unfortunately, all our thief positions are filled up at this moment, but we have some roles open in the real estate, command strategy, and assassin departments. Are you interested in any of those?"
"Assassin sounds cool, I guess."
"Splendid!" said Vaulter as he snapped his fingers again. The door behind him opened once more. The two henchmen ran up to it, pushing a cart with a box the size of a small car on top of it. They wheeled the cart into the room some ways, then opened the front-facing side of the box, revealing a 2x2x2 collection of smaller boxes. They took the box from the top left, and placed it down on the ground in front of Green Archer. They opened the box from the top, revealing an organized pile of black bows wrapped in bubble wrap.
"I assume, given the name you've been using, that you prefer to fight with archery equipment? We can paint whichever one you pick green, of course. Or would you rather use traditional bows over modern ones?"
"Oh, I don't need those," chuckled Green Archer. She held out her right arm in front of her, and a glowing green bow materialized in it. "Sorry for not mentioning it earlier, sir."
"Oh, no problem, no problem at all." said Vaulter, as the henchmen packed up the boxes and left. "If you don't mind me saying- you didn't seem all that interested in packing things just then. Why did you choose the Packers?"
"Well... truth be told, you were the first gang I saw in the city brochure with a green logo," said Green Archer, dematerializing her bow. "I like green things, y'know? So... what happens now? Do I get a tattoo or something?"
"A tattoo?" Vaulter laughed. "Nah, we don't do that sort of thing. You'll get a stitching of the logo like the rest of us." Vaulter motioned to the Packers logo on his tie, as Cyberstruction pointed at the one on his sweater. "On that note- what kind of shirt are you wearing? Short sleeve, long sleeve, material?"
"Uh... t-shirt, cotton,"
"Perfect. Our tailor will be able to get your measurements from the security footage, so you don't need to tell us any of that. What's your favorite temperature?"
"Uh... excuse me, temperature?"
"Yes, favorite temperature. Like, if you were strolling in the park one day, what would be the perfect temperature?"
"Like... 75, maybe 80 degrees Fahrenheit?"
"Ok, let's go with 77. We'll put in an order with Edwardia right away. Now, some gifts. Retrograde?"
The entrance door opened, and Retrograde walked in. There was already a glowing blue orb on her fingertips, and the circle on her leg that contained Green Archer's memory was no longer glowing. She walked in front of Green Archer and pressed the orb up against her forehead. The orb dissolved into Green Archer's head- and with a jolt, she remembered what eating was. Retrograde handed over a key that she was carrying in her left hand. The key was labeled "251".
"Your bedroom," said Retrograde with a beaming grin. "Head into the first door on your right coming out of this room. Go up the stairs once you get inside- you can't miss it! Meals are served in the middle... you'll see what I mean. But for now, just wait in your room until our tailor's done!"
Green Archer took the key.
"Now, don't take this the wrong way," said Vaulter, "but we're going to give you something pretty emotionally taxing for your first assignment. It's not personal, but we need to make sure you'll be loyal to us, no matter what."
Green Archer let out a laugh. "What are you going to ask me to do, kill someone? Because I've already done that. Not permanently, mind you, but it's the thought that counts..."
She walked out of the boss's chambers. Once in the hallway, she entered the first door on the left as instructed. The room she entered into seemed like the interior of a modern hotel- rings of rooms stacked up eight floors high. In the middle was a cluster of small tables, separated by empty buffet stations, and in the middle of that was a tiny building which seemed to be the kitchen. There was a clock above this building, marked 9 pm. Green Archer sighed. Too late for dinner. Disappointedly, she walked up the nearby stairs, then followed the signs to her room.
She unlocked the door, switched on the lights, and walked into a surprisingly large bedroom. There was a well-made bed against the back wall, right below a window which looked out at the surrounding buildings. Surrounding the room were five large electric fans, aiming in various directions, wired into a single power strip, which was in the off position. On the bed was a small stopwatch next to a bag of green balloons, with a sticky note stuck to them. In pristine cursive handwriting on the sticky note was written the words "For practice :)". Green Archer opened the bag of balloons, inflated three of them, and left them on the bed. She walked over to the power strip and flipped it on. Immediately, all five fans sprung to life, and started turning side to side as they blew with varying strength. The inflated balloons were picked up by the winds, and started moving around quickly and erratically. Green Archer walked back to the bed, avoiding the balloons, and picked up the stopwatch. She started the timer before dropping it on the bed. The bow appeared in Green Archer's left hand as she jumped onto the bed. She turned towards the center of the room, a silver-tipped arrow appearing in her right hand. She drew the bow and fired, the arrow popping all three balloons at once before sticking in the wall of the room. Green Archer promptly landed on her back, and the bow & arrow disappeared. She was giggling to herself when there was a knock at the door.
Green Archer got up, turned off the fans, and opened the door. A woman who looked like she had just stepped out of an antique style magazine was standing there, with her dress meticulously styled and hair in a bun. The Packers logo was stitched into the left sleeve of the dress. She was holding out a black shirt.
"Here's the shirt the boss requested," said Edwardia. "I hope everything is to your liking."
Green Archer took the shirt with a look of glee on her face. She unfolded the shirt and held it in front of her, noticing that a bra was attached inside.
"That shirt," said Edwardia. "Is the latest in my fabric innovations. The material is made of microfibers that filter through air, giving you a perfect 77°F breeze, just like you requested. That garment also repels dirt, but lets water through, meaning you could bathe while wearing it. It's a shirt you'll never need to or want to take off!"
"Impressive!" said Green Archer. "But... there's no logo on it."
"Oh, my dear archer!" chided Edwardia. "The logo stitching is an important rite of passage for new recruits. There's no way I would do it without you there! Now, change into that shirt, make sure it's comfortable, and we'll head downstairs to my office. Ok?"
Green Archer closed the door to her room, and changed into the shirt Edwardia gave her. True to word, the shirt was more comfortable than could ever be imagined. She put her jacket on over the shirt, and walked back outside.
"How is it?" asked Edwardia.
"Perfect!" said Green Archer.
"Great! Follow me."
The two walked back down the stairs, and across the hallway into the door to the right of the boss's. Inside was a room that definitely qualified as a tailor's workshop. Clothes of various colors and shapes hung around the room. There were tables of sewing machines, with fabrics and threads strewn every which way. One table was mostly empty, except for spools of yarn in various colors (mainly green), a pile of large, metal needles for the yarn, and a pair of leather gloves. Only two things seemed out of place- a massage table in the middle of the room, and a blowtorch towards the entrance.
"I'll take your jacket. Just lie face-down on that table and relax."
Green Archer handed Edwardia her jacket as she lay down on the massage table. Edwardia through the jacket down next to the yarn, put on the leather gloves, and started sorting through the yarn.
"Let's see... I think a bright green would go well with that shirt..."
"Ok, I have a question," said Green Archer, attempting to look to the side. "I didn't give this much thought before, but now I'm getting kind of worried. Why are you sewing the logo in while I'm wearing the shirt?"
Edwardia, who was now holding one of the large needles under the blowtorch's open flame, turned to Green Archer and smiled. "Well, it wouldn't be much of a stitching if you weren't wearing the shirt, now would it?"
Hot needles dug through Green Archer's flesh, and she began to scream. Every time Edwardia pulled her thread out of Green Archer's back, there was a small respite before the next burning stab. When Green Archer accidentally shot her arrow through her own leg earlier that day, the pain was over in an instant. The magical arrow had completely vaporized most of her nerve endings, almost creating a numbing sensation. This repetitive combination of burning, tugging, and slicing was a completely new and horrifying experience for Green Archer.
"And... finished!" said Edwardia as she tied off the end of the yarn. "How does it all feel?"
Green Archer was crying at this point, and couldn't even get a single syllable out of her mouth.
"Well, don't worry," said Edwardia. "You'll get used to it. Now, head to your room. It's after 10, and I imagine you'll be getting your first assignment tomorrow morning. Oh, and don't forget your jacket!"
The next morning, light poured through Green Archer's window as she opened her eyes. Lying down hurt too much, so she sat on her bed through the night. It took a few hours, but eventually the pain had dulled to the point where she could fall asleep. She got out of bed, and into her bathroom. She removed as many of her clothes as she could, and took a shower. Her dried up blood and tears washed away. She dried herself, and put the rest of her clothes back on. Green Archer shambled out of her room and walked downstairs, to the dining area where a crowd of henchmen and colorfully dressed gangsters were already seated. She poured herself a cup of coffee and grabbed a banana nut muffin from the buffet station, then sat at an empty table. She was almost finished with both items when the voice of Cyberstruction emanated from an intercom.
"Will Green Archer please report to the boss's office immediately?"
Green Archer got up, cleared her place, and walked out of the residential area. She turned left in the hallway and through the double doors into Vaulter's office. The office looked just as she had left it- except for that Vaulter was wearing a pearl necklace from the bag she brought in over his tie.
"You should be smiling!" said Vaulter "It's time for your first mission as an assassin!"
"Oh, yeah," said Green Archer. "Sorry, I... I visited Edwardia last night, as you know, and..."
"Ah, I see," said Vaulter. "Didn't get the color thread you wanted? Don't worry, you can go back to Edwardia any time and get it changed out. But there's no time for that. Right now, you need to be briefed on your mission. Cyberstruction?"
Cyberstruction wheeled over, and handed Green Archer a rolled up computer printout. Vaulter began to speak.
"Yesterday, a few hours before you arrived, one of our jewelry stores was hit by two people from rival gangs. A member of the Dolphins and a member of the Steelers worked together to pull off the heist. The Dolphins' thief was killed by... well, let's call her the city's "wild card". The Steelers' thief, however, managed to get away with her prize. We need you to bring her head back to us. Or a corpse filled with arrow-holes, whichever works best for you."
"Wait, why do you even have a jewelry store? Who can afford jewelry in this city, except rival gangs who wouldn't buy anything from you?"
"Who said we were selling?" said Vaulter with a wink. "Now, the Steelers' member in question has a black dress, olive skin, and steel hair, with red, yellow, and blue ponytails. She'll stick out like a sore thumb, don't worry."
"Why can't you just... give me a picture of her?"
"Well, there have to be some surprises, right? That printout Cyberstruction gave you should lead you to a warehouse where she likes to hang out on her days out. We've received good intel saying she's there now. She probably doesn't have the jewels on her, but don't worry about them- we can send in a recon team after you're done."
Green Archer marched out the door, a new sense of determination filling her heart. She steeped out into the back alley she entered from, looked down at the printout, and took out her map.
"Let's see..." thought Green Archer. "Third unnamed street from the west. That's only a few blocks away from here."
Green Archer pointed her left arm up at a building across the street out of the alleyway. The energy bow appeared in her hand. Green Archer drew back the bow with her right hand as a green-tipped arrow appeared.
"CHAIN ARROW!" shouted Green Archer as she fired her arrow off. The arrow flew swiftly, with the end attached to Green Archer's wrist through a glowing green chain. The arrow stuck itself in the building, and the chain pulled itself taught. Green Archer flicked her right wrist, and the chain retracted, pulling her towards the arrow. She then hopped from windowsill to windowsill down the streets.
Soon, Green Archer had arrived in front of a metal-walled warehouse, with a tri-color hammer spray-painted into the wall. She rapped on the door and confirmed that yes, the warehouse was made of solid steel. Green Archer slowly walked away from the warehouse. Once she was across the street, she turned back towards the door, drew her bow, and shot out a red-tipped arrow.
"EXPLOSIVE ARROW!" shouted Green Archer, as the arrow stuck itself inside the door. A beeping came from the arrow, which sped up for one second before the detonation. All at once, the arrow disappeared, and a red shockwave emanated from where the tip had landed. The shockwave tore a hole in the door, just large enough for Green Archer to climb through. She did so.
Green Archer looked around at the Steelers warehouse. There were steel girders and anvils laying around the room in organized aisles. There was a clinking sound down one of the aisles. Green Archer followed it, and heard a high-pitched voice coming from a clearing in the steel forest.
"Don't worry Mr. Blocky. I'm sure if you say you're really sorry, Mrs. Blocky will let you back into the house."
Green Archer stopped and stared. The person she was looking at certainly matched the description she was given, but the target was significantly... smaller than she anticipated. As in, child-sized. Green Archer's bow disappeared as she stared at the little girl, who was playing with a steel block that had a large hole in the middle.
"H... hello?" asked Green Archer.
The girl jumped up, slipped the steel block back over her right arm, picked up a small brown bag from in front of her, and hid behind a pile of girders.
"Don't be afraid! I don't want to hurt you!"
The girl peeked out from behind the corner.
"Are you the one who stole the jewels yesterday?"
The girl nodded as she walked out to where Green Archer could see her.
"Yeah, I... I stole the jewels. Why, did I do something wrong?"
"No, you... you didn't do anything wrong. What's your name? How old are you?"
"They call me Kindergartener. I turn 7 on May 24. Is there something you want to say about that?"
"Uh... happy early birthday! What are you doing here? Are you really in a gang?"
"Yeah. What's so bad about that? Am I too small? Too much of a scaredy cat?"
"No, you're very brave! I'm just concerned... why did the boss send me to kill a child? Did... did he not know?"
"What's wrong with killing someone like me? Am I too weak for you?"
"You're very strong, Kindergartener! You're doing a great job carrying... wait, are those solid steel blocks? Who's making you carry steel blocks around?!"
"It's a rule in the Steelers. Everyone has to carry around steel blocks, all the time. Is there a reason I shouldn't carry these?"
"I'm just not sure that's very healthy for a growing body. Who even gave you that tattoo? Or... are those KNIVES attached to your dress?!"
"Yes, they're blades! What's wrong with carrying a bunch of knives around? Am I reckless? Too immature?"
"I think your superiors certainly are. You say you're called Kindergartener- but do you even get to go to school?"
"No, but my boss teaches me some things. What makes you think that? Am I some sort of stupid, dumb, idiot or something?"
"What does your boss teach you? How to be negative all the time? Because don't think I haven't noticed that, Kindergartener."
"Please!" shouted Kindergartener. "Call me small, or overactive, or ugly, or something! Just insult me! I don't care how!"
"I refuse," said Green Archer, now kneeling down. "And if you're this accustomed to people insulting you, I think you need to be taken somewhere far away from this place."
Green Archer extended her arms, now tearing up.
"Kindergartener. How would you like to come with me and start a new life?"
"I... I'm not allowed to..."
Green Archer took a deep breath. "I'm not trying to trick you or trap you, or anything like that. Listen to me. My name is Diamis Artene. You know we're not supposed to say our real names, right? Well, now you know I'm serious about this. Come with me. We can leave this city. What is your real name, Kindergartener? Did you even have one?"
Kindergartener shook her head, eyes welling up. "I never got one. But... I came up with one that I sometimes like to call myself. If I had a real name, I thought it could be 'Mato', but I... never came up with a last name."
"That's a great name! Mato... Mato, you can share my last name if you want. Do you want that? Would you like to have a family?"
Mato shook her head, tears now streaming down her face.
"No?!" said Diamis in surprise.
"That's the part I don't get about this," said Mato, wiping away her tears. "You say we can be a family- but what do you get out of this? The boss always tells me how much it costs to take care of me. If I'm not profitable, why do you want me?"
Diamis stared in shock. "She doesn't even understand the concept of unconditional love. How could anyone ever live in this city?"
Diamis wiped away her tears and stood up. "How about a business deal, then? I'll take care of you, and keep you safe, and in return you... have to do all the plumbing... in all the small spaces I can't reach. How does that sound?"
Mato wiped away her own tears and held out her hand. Nervously, Diamis shook it.
"It's a deal. I'll go with you wherever you go!"
"Perfect. Now, let's get out of here. The ferry only runs once every four hours."
Mato nodded, and the two ran out of the warehouse, hand-in-hand. They turned a few street corners, and were only a block away from the docks when six figures took shape in front of them. To the left stood the imposing figure of Retrograde, to the right sat the wheelchair-bound Cyberstruction, laptop on his lap, and in the middle stood the strikingly minuscule Vaulter. Edwardia stood behind them, and behind her stood the two henchmen, wheeling around a crate on a luggage cart.
"Hello, Ms. Archer. Leaving us so soon?"
"How did you know?"
"That you were running off on us? Cyberstruction saw the whole thing in the cameras on your knees."
Diamis looked angrily at Cyberstruction. "I thought you said they weren't cameras!"
"It was a joke."
"And anyway, I had to do it!" said Diamis, looking back at Vaulter. "You ordered me to kill a defenseless child!"
"Industry standard. In a city where everyone is already murdering everyone else, how else would a gang test the loyalty of their new assassins? Besides, I'd hardly call that particular child 'defenseless'. Oh, and I'm sure it goes without saying," said Vaulter, taking off the pearl necklace, as the female henchman handed him a pile of bills. "But we will have to kill you, Ms. Artene. Just remember... when you're lying down bloodied and beaten, this is all your fault."
Vaulter shoved the necklace and wad of bills in his mouth, and they were ground up by his diamond teeth. He closed his mouth and swallowed. Immediately, Vaulter grew into a 7-foot-tall behemoth of a man. The stitching on his tie was torn apart by his bulging pectorals. His head was unaffected.
"500 Dojiti and a necklace should get me fifteen minutes in this form. But that's all I need to kill you."
Vaulter rushed towards Mato and grabbed her by the arm. He yanked her forward, flinging her behind him. Retrograde leaned to the side and caught Mato, before placing her down gently. Vaulter threw a right hook at Diamis. She put up a block, but there wasn't much of a point, as the punch was enough to send her 20 feet across the street and into a building, cracking the wall slightly. Diamis pulled out her bow, drew a silver-tipped arrow, and fired. The arrow hit its mark- the middle of Vaulter's forehead. However, it bounced off without so much as a scratch. The arrow landed on the ground and faded away. Diamis aimed her bow at Vaulter once more while sliding from the wall to the ground.
"HOMING ARROW!" she shouted, a gold-tipped arrow appearing in her bow. The arrow shot towards Vaulter again, this time sticking in his eye.
"AARGH!" screamed Vaulter, pulling the arrow out of his eye. The eye regenerated as he threw the homing arrow away from him. The arrow didn't reach the ground, however. Instead, its descent slowed, before flying back up and hitting Vaulter in his other eye. Vaulter angrily pulled the arrow out of his eye, threw it behind him, and ran down the street at a blinding speed. The homing arrow followed as quickly as it could, going around corners to find the most efficient path towards Vaulter.
Diamis stood up to catch her breath. She felt a bug crawling on the back of her neck. Diamis slapped the bug. There was a sharp pain, feeling as though she had just slammed down on a bolt. She pulled her hand in front of her, and looked inside. There sat a fly, completely unharmed, with glowing red eyes, and a body made entirely of metal. Diamus turned around. Behind her flew a swarm of cybernetic bugs- dragonflies, fruit flies, butterflies, bees, and beetles. Diamis ran backward towards the Packers as quickly as she could. She drew her bow, which had three cyan-tipped arrows inside.
"RAPID-FIRE SHOT!" shouted Diamis, as she let off a trio of arrows. The arrows bounced off the robo-bugs, only knocking them back slightly. "Not again..." thought Diamis as she continued to rapid-fire with seemingly superhuman speed.
"Aieee!" shouted Edwardia, running at Diamis. Her knitting needles were tied together with yarn, and she was spinning them around as if she was using nunchucks. Diamis turned towards Edwardia while continuing to fire off the cyan arrows. Six arrows hit Edwardia, three in each arm. She was flung backward, then pinned to a wall. Diamis's eyes lit up. She pulled on her outfit, tearing the threads of the gang life away from her body. She took the shirt off, quickly zipping up her jacket so to avoid controversy. Diamis tied off the head and arm holes of the shirt into a loop, then turned as the swarm of bugs flew towards her. She pulled the shirt over the robots, and tied off the hole where her torso would normally stick out. A silver-tipped arrow materialized in one of the knotted loops. Diamis drew her bow and fired, sending the arrow, shirt, and swarm off into the distance.
"Uhh, did you forget about me?" said Mato with indignation. "Some job you're doing of protecting me. Is it even worth it to go with you?"
"Quiet, you," said Retrograde, holding her only flesh-based index finger to Mato's lips. Mato opened her mouth, lunged forward, and bit down. Retrograde winced in pain. Suddenly, Mato's eyes opened in shock. She released her jaw. Retrograde pulled her finger out, which now had a glowing blue triangular pyramid floating on the tip.
Retrograde held the pyramid to a triangle shape just below her right knee. The triangle opened up, revealing a music box recreation of Mato purchasing a toy from a shop. Real-life Mato pulled two of the steel blades off of the front of her dress, and walked slowly towards Green Archer.
"Mato..." said Diamis. "Be reasonable. We had a deal, remember?"
"We had a what?"
"In exchange for your cooperation and helping me with odd jobs, I would feed you and protect you. That was the bargain we made!"
"Yeah, I don't know what, like, half of those words mean. But feel free to keep talking. It'll make it easier to find your throat."
Mato lunged at Diamis. She dodged, but Mato was still able to cut her arm. Diamis did a low swipe with her bow, and knocked the blades out of Mato's hands. Mato reached down to get more, but Diamis grabbed her arms before she could, kneeling down in front of her. Mato struggled to break free as Diamis looked into her eyes.
"Listen to me, Mato! You don't remember what trading is, or whatever. Fine. But you don't need to give anything in exchange for love! I want to keep you safe and cherish you, Mato. And I'd want that even if I got nothing in return! Surely you understand that! Somewhere, deep down, you know what love is!"
Mato's struggles lessened as she looked back at Diamis.
Tears began flowing down Mato's face as she embraced Diamis. Diamis hugged her back, and through her own tears she saw Retrograde and Cyberstruction begin to cry as well. Diamis got up as Vaulter re-appeared beside her.
"Well now," said Vaulter. "What a happy ending. Shame it won't be forever after."
Diamis turned to Vaulter as Mato ran to hide behind Retrograde. "Vaulter," said the Archer. "How did you get rid of my homing arrow?"
"Well, to put it bluntly- not well," said Vaulter with a grimace as a gold tip burrowed its way out of his stomach. He forced it back in with his finger, and the wound slowly closed back up. "True, once this form wears off, I'll be dead meat. But I'm guessing this is the type of ability that stops working once you die anyway. I can eat anything, Diamis. Underestimating that ability was the biggest mistake of your life."
Vaulter slammed his meaty fists on the ground. A shockwave traveled through the ground, launching everyone else into the air. Vaulter put his hands on the ground, and leaped towards Diamis.
"Now, Green Archer!" shouted Vaulter as he pulled his right hand into a fist. "Time to die!"
Diamis drew her bow, and aimed it at Vaulter's gaping maw. "You say you can eat anything? Well, eat this! EXPLOSIVE ARROW!"
A red-tipped arrow appeared in Diamis's bow, and she shot it down Vaulter's throat. He instinctively closed his mouth and two landed on the ground facing each other. Vaulter looked down as a beeping sound sped up from inside his esophagus. He looked back at Diamis in fear, just before a large hole was blown in the middle of his chest. Vaulter began to regenerate slowly, before falling to Diamis's feet, bleeding profusely. The muscular form wore off, and the homing arrow flew through Vaulter's head before disappearing. He was dead.
The remaining Packers looked around awkwardly. With a reluctant expression, Retrograde made the blue pyramid appear on her fingers, and she pushed it into Mato's forehead. Mato ran over to Diamis, who had stepped away from Vaulter's body, and hugged her. Diamis grabbed Mato's hand, and walked in front of the Packers.
"Well... I'm guessing you all don't care enough to fight me anymore," said Diamis. "So I suppose we'll be leaving now."
"Wait, hang on!" said Cyberstruction. "You killed the boss. That means you get to become the boss now!"
"Thing is, I don't actually WANT to lead you guys," said Diamis. "But Retrograde will be a great leader!"
"Me?!" said Retrograde. "Most of the gang hates me because of all the security protocols I make them follow. I'd be killed within a couple days."
"Oh. Well, what about you, Cyberstruction?"
"I already have, like, three jobs, most of which only I can do. I'm not about to take on a fourth, even larger one!"
"I'm afraid of responsibility."
"There has to be someone qualified to lead you!" shouted Diamis.
Suddenly, the henchwoman tore off her jumpsuit, revealing a bikini underneath.
"Finally! It's Swimmer Girl's time to shine! New underlings, follow me!"
The former henchwoman dove into the road, and swam back towards the base as if she was swimming in a pool. The rest of the Packers shrugged and followed her. Diamis turned to Mato.
"How are you holding up? Ready to get going?"
Mato nodded. "I'm ready... mom."
Diamis smiled. Hand-in-hand, the two walked to the docks. On the other side of the sea was a brand new life, waiting to be claimed by this new family.