Paul's top ten books:
Stephen King: THE DARK TOWER
Stephen King: IT
Stephen King: THE STAND
Edgar Rice Burroughs: TARZAN OF THE APES
Mazo de la Roche: YOUNG RENNY
Dennis Wheatley: THE DEVIL RIDES OUT
Enid Blyton: THE ROCKINGDOWN MYSTERY
Rosalind Erskine: THE PASSION FLOWER HOTEL
Stephen Lawhead: ARTHUR
J R R Tolkien: THE LORD OF THE RINGS
What's your top ten?
Paul's Top Ten Authors:
Edgar Rice Burroughs
J R R Tolkien
Mazo de la Roche
Paul's Top Ten Films:
Lord of the Rings
The Green Mile
The Shawshank Redemption
Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
2001: A Space Odyssey
Paul's top ten TV Programmes
Life on Mars
The Inspector Lynley Mysteries
Dalziell and Pascoe
I Didn't Know You Cared
Born and Bred
Paul's Top Ten Operas:
Hansel and Gretel
Tristan und Isolde
He stood outside. It was tall, he’d never seen such a towering structure, but then he couldn’t remember the last time he had actually looked at one. He had seen buildings all his life, of course he had, but he hadn’t stopped to study one like this since he was little. Why would he? Even now he didn’t care about the tower itself, just stone and glass and metal, it meant nothing to him. However, what was inside, what was there for him, that meant everything, his life, his soul, his blood.
He drew his sword. This he knew well, better than his own body, and that he was the master of due to the years of training. But his sword, his weapon of choice that he had practised with and wielded so much it felt a part of him, the smooth round hilt fitting perfectly in his hand, almost as if a groove had been carved into his palm. The knuckle-bow that protected his fingers bore several scars yet looked ready to play its part once more, the hilt-guard the same. As for the blade, any damage it had taken had been removed by the constant sharpening; it was a length of razor metal extending from his arm. It wasn’t double-edged, only one side was the danger, sliding straight until curving slightly, jagged, to the lethal point; he preferred it this way, he knew where to put it to get the right results, he could control it better. To be truthful, he controlled it perfectly, it was only on reaching this level that he had come here, but now wasn’t the time for pride.
It was the time for carnage.
He ran at the tower, slaughtered the guards and smashed through the entrance.
The pencil moved slowly and smoothly over the paper. The hand that held it was thick and powerful yet used only the gentlest pressure. The eyes that watched over it, guiding its path, were keen, glinting, the eyes of a predator even when relaxing, doing nothing more than a hobby. The pencil continued to skim across the paper, it moved in arcs, lines, swirls, ranging from narrow to wide. The paper itself was large and broad, spread fully over the desk, and the pencil acted in various areas, it was as if several drawings were being created, only a line from one continued on into another, and little by little the overall image was being born.
The concentration in the eyes never faltered, even when the phone rang. His assistant was quick to answer though.
“Yes? Very well.” She put the phone down. “A young man has penetrated the building. The guards have tried to repel him but he possesses incredible skill. He is advancing upward.” The intent eyes didn’t look to her, the pencil still moving, then it halted, and the eyes rose.
“You go,” the deep voice ordered.
From the small group sat around the table, a tall, lean man stood.
He ducked and slashed a guard open, blood sweeping across the tiled floor, stepped to one side and swept his sword back, twisting, to open up a throat, then moved forward, rammed his sword in, then ripped it out. The guard fell onto his own blood and guts, several lay on the floor, dead or virtually there; no more came.
He went unmarked, these were no match for him, nor should they be, mere paid enforcers. Perhaps they had been drilled and trained for years, just as he had, except it would have been the same lessons, again and again, to keep such average individuals prepared. He had continually pushed himself, never settling, with every skill attained he had sought the next. He had a will to achieve they would never understand.
There were no more guards, he proceeded up the tower, bloody footprints following him, a thin trail as well as he held his sword out and down. He looked out for trouble but listened intensely as well, just as Angel Gonzalez had taught him. In the three years he had been at the assassin’s side a day never seemed to pass without her insisting that the ears saw more than the eyes, often without the brain knowing it. So much of the sounds around people were suppressed, background noise no one took in, apart from the truly alert, those who could stalk death itself. Angel Gonzalez had had a dramatic way of describing her skills.
He heard the steps, soft, quick, then leapt away, avoiding the spiked ball that smashed onto tiles. He span on a foot, now facing the tall, lean man, long hands about a metal pole with a wicked-looking sphere at each end. The man gave a lopsided grin, then twirled the pole and lashed out, again barely missing. Still, a miss was a miss, that was something else Angel Gonzalez had taught him, nothing mattered but the killing stroke. He ducked and twisted and jumped back, and again and again a spiked ball tore through the air before pounding anything it met, fortunately never him.
He rolled under an attack and struck at the legs but the tall man hopped nimbly, dancing on tiptoes to avoid the repeated swipes, before whipping out with a foot. He blocked it, sprang up and kicked out in return, landing his hit full in the lean man’s chest, who flew back, tumbling, when a spiked ball shot out, chain rattling as it extended.
He dove aside; whatever was behind him exploded in shards. He landed in a crouch, poised, but waiting, this new development urged him not to rush into a sudden move. The tall man swung the ball on the chain, only to aim and let fly with the other. This time he had a plan and deflected it aside with his sword as he ran in, a jarring hit but his weapon held firm as he knew it would and he dismissed the pain. It mattered so little now. Instead he aimed his sword for the heart, yet knew that the spiked ball he had just directed had been pulled back and was speeding to him. That was the true trick to victory, to know your opponent’s moves as well as your own, if you knew the best choice for your rival you could not only defeat it but use it. Ota Shinobi had taught him that.
He dropped to the floor, the spiked ball flew over him, and the pole separated at the middle as the lean man reacted. With better control, the tall man flicked the ball away, if one spike tore flesh, then slammed down with the other. Once more he rolled aside to avoid death and swung at legs, then pressed the fight on his wounded foe. When you had someone, you finished them; Ota Shinobi demanded nothing less. He might have been a hothead and a drunk, but it was doubtful if there was a better wrestler in the world, a scrapper, true, yet a tactician and ruthless with it. He would have been proud of the way the tall, lean man was forced back, one sword versus two twirling weapons.
However there was no way through. They paused; the tall, lean man gave another lopsided grin, blood flow less, seemingly unbothered. He held his sword out, ready to attack or defend, considering the next move, spiked balls spinning round and round before him. Ota Shinobi loved nothing more than a good fight, and the reason, he had once drunkenly revealed, was because he never lost. He saw the way to win and took it.
The sword came up and hit a spinning sphere, which hit the other, and the way was clear. The sword sliced through the thin neck and the lopsided grin remained in place as the head tumbled.
The phone rang again and yet the pencil went on with its sure strokes. The assistant listened briefly before speaking calmly.
“Whip failed,” she announced. “The intruder proceeds.”
The eyes left their study for another brief moment to fasten on another at the table.
“You go.” Now a beautiful woman swept from the room.
He halted, and even in his amazement he stood ready to act, on the balls of his feet, arms spread, weight balanced for ease of movement. Still, he was amazed, she was beautiful, approaching casually, silk robe barely rustling with each step. She was a threat though, the short swords at her hips proved that, so he steeled himself for the fight, even this wonder of a female would not stop him. No one would.
The beauty drew her swords and the sash around her middle came away, as then did the robe. He barely reacted in time, blocking one sword, then the other, then both, and still she attacked, unperturbed by her nudity, intent only on his death. He tried to focus but this was a battle he had never dreamt of taking on, to duel with such a delight to the eyes, and in all her splendour. If he had dreamt of this he would never have slept. It wasn’t simply her look that was so sublime, it was everything about her, her grace of movement, her smooth strokes of attack, her placid demeanour. For all his will power, and that was tremendous, he was still forced back by the swift and bright blades.
It was fortunate he was such a skilled swordsman or he would be dead already, and for that he owed everything to Henri Robespierre. There was a duellist who had a mind to match his blade, a poet and painter in life, in the contest for death and honour he had a clinical, almost cold nature. It had taken nine years to learn everything he could teach, the longest of all the lessons, yet every deft adjustment had been worth it. To master the sword, to command the blade and make it your all, not something at the end of your arm but your centre, the core of your being. To be the sword and make your sword you, that had been the climax of Henri Robespierre’s tuition.
He took in the naked beauty with cold intent and saw the gap in the defence as she attacked. With one stroke he tore through it and her, before stepping over the convulsing body and moving on to his goal.
Once more the phone went and once more the assistant answered it before reporting.
“Treasure is dead.” This time there was a tremor in her voice. “He continues.”
The eyes remained intent as they rose, perhaps with the merest flicker of annoyance, nothing more though, and they fastened on another at the table.
“You go.” At the command, a broad beast of a man heaved himself to his feet, then lumbered away.
He could hear the pounding, no, he felt it, the tower trembled. His own heart pounded as well, what terror came at him now? But he held his sword out before him, two-handed, gleaming, and he calmed. For years this weapon had been his only constant companion, his chosen aid to his need, and he knew, without the tiniest doubt, that it wouldn’t fail him, especially not now. He almost believed it yearned for his desire as well, that his long and fanatical hope had seeped into the forged metal. No, he did believe it, they were together in this. Others had entered his life and left it, taught him, improved him, helped him change from distraught, outraged child to devoted, masterful, unstoppable warrior, but this sword had never left his side. It would see him through.
The door ahead shattered as the massive man powered through, thick legs pumping beneath the immense torso, huge arms stretching out to claim his life. He sprang away, then about the wide room they were in, only to see every piece of furniture that he put between himself and his foe crushed or burst asunder. Nothing even slowed the beast of a man, nor did the rampaging charge look like faltering, for all his evasive moves his pursuer remained close to him. The hands that sought him were large, even for the size of their owner, and he knew if just one seized him not only couldn’t he escape, but he would be swiftly mangled beyond recognition. This was no opponent for him to confront, it was a force, a horrendous power that nothing could put an end to.
However he was not here to fear and die. He sprang against a wall, leapt away from it, twirled between the rising arms to escape them, then aimed his sword for the broad neck. It hit true, except it bit only lightly, and when he landed and hacked at the expansive back twice he felt the solid frame resist his blade, the jarring reaction flowing all the way up to his shoulder. He shed blood with each strike, but they were mere trickles, the massive man seemed more bone and muscle than flesh and blood.
A solid arm came round and he flipped over it, and continued his acrobatics as the beast of a man charged at him once more. The training under Rebecca Romanov had been severe, she ruled every part of her body and taught him the same, at times he had wanted to quit. Yet his hunger refused to surrender, when he ached all over he still rose to practice when called, if mere training could defeat him how could he ever succeed, and what then was the point to his life? Sometimes he had even hated his own relentless desire, he was supposed to be the master and instead he felt like its slave, but because of it he had become commander of his self, body, also mind and will. The humongous man couldn’t touch him.
Although that mattered little, one touch was all it took, while his sword cut and slit and, well, tickled. The big man had to have weaknesses, everyone did, but the rampaging assailant gave no respite for an analysis or the chance to regroup. Debris flew, huge hands rushed forward, powerful form careered after it, threatening to flatten anything that couldn’t avoid it. He could, and yet that meant he couldn’t go for a serious strike, and to try one could mean a shattering death.
It was the incredible defence of this brutal man that enabled the constant onslaught; he knew Achbar the Mamluk would be sure of that. Perhaps Achbar wasn’t as big as this one and had relied on his pikestaff as much as his own solid strength, yet the defensive expert would never let a chance go by to proclaim the greatness of invulnerability. True, no one was actually invulnerable, however a perfect defence was the closest thing; to be without weakness or flaw was as much a guarantee of victory as superior strength or speed. Of course, what meant Achbar the Mamluk was such a great warrior wasn’t merely his defence, but his understanding of it, and so of others. To comprehend your own weakness eliminated the danger should it be discovered, and enabled you to see where others hid theirs.
He leapt into the charge and swung his sword for the glaring eyes, only to see round teeth clamp onto the blade. He somersaulted away to avoid the crushing embrace, and landed safely, to look on his sword in his enemy’s mouth. Now he was unarmed, and against this monster that was the worst way to be.
The bulldozer of a human being spat his sword aside before charging at him. Yet he leapt into the daunting reach once more and flipped up, swinging himself onto the broad shoulders, to the surprise of his opponent. Rebecca Romanov had always respected his bond with his sword, and yet she had reminded him constantly that without him his weapon was useless, while he without it could be a weapon. He locked his legs around the massive man’s neck and arched back as hands rose to seize him. He reached under his opponent’s trunk-like limbs and took hold, then strained with his entire body, even as he felt tremendous pressure on his sides. He knew he had mere seconds before he was pulverised, and the effort and pain he was exerting on himself was bad enough. Fortunately he was as tough as they came and pain was only an irritant to him; Achbar the Mamluk had conditioned him there, often with his pikestaff. Ribs cracked, his back nearly snapped, but with all his strength and endurance he wrenched the beast of a man’s head back.
They both collapsed yet he was the one who stood, sore yet resolute, damaged yet far from dead. He picked up his sword, cleaned it, another’s blood befitted the blade but not spittle, then walked onward.
The phone went yet again and the assistant was quick to answer.
“Brute has fallen and the intruder approaches still,” she reported nervously.
The pencil halted. The eyes fixed on the only two sat at the table, hand in hand, awaiting the words. Now the eyes glowered.
“Finish this,” the deep voice demanded. They rose as one, nodded simultaneously too, and set out.
They had to be twins, nearly mirror images of each other, perhaps they would be if they weren’t boy and girl. They held hands as they ran, then one jumped, only for the other to haul back, the first landing short, and so swing the second. The flying kick hit him hard and he reeled, and again at the follow-up kick, and still from the punches. He retaliated, a sword swipe at the girl’s throat, but she avoided it, and then a stab at the boy’s heart, except the free hands of each twin came together to halt his attack, and kicks bowled him backward.
The fight went on, it would take more than a few hits to stop him, and he was the one armed, he could end them at a stroke. It was a reversal from before, and as such he was now the combatant who couldn’t claim his foes, they evaded or they deflected or they stopped, and they then retaliated. He also avoided some attacks, they were nimble and swift but so was he, however they were the quicker, and there were two of them. Either one would have been a formidable foe, together they outmatched him, especially as they acted together. Usually he would be quick to divide and then defeat, or see the weaker in the partnership and press for the win, but they were equals, and united in every way; each move they made either enhanced the other or created the balance necessary from which they could defend or attack. They didn’t just know each other’s moves, they knew every thought and so every decision that would come in this fight; they were a superb fighting duo.
He could picture Niccolo Moriarty licking his thin lips at the prospect of challenging this pair. Not that he would have fought them, he never contested in a physical sense, the conflict of thought was the only battle that interested him. He was known as a schemer, a planner of crimes, a plotter of adventures, a man of such ingenuity that whatever he intended was successful even before those he instructed set out. It had been a difficult choice to go to such an individual, but with body and blade so well trained and spirit so driven, the mind needed to match them. Niccolo Moriarty had accepted that task, had excelled at the teaching, another specialty of his was the smug smile, none could match it, and he had borne one when teacher and student parted ways.
The twins diverted his attack and struck him twice to the body. He kicked out and tripped one, only for the other to counteract and the faller became the spearhead in another assault. The synchronisation of their minds was immaculate, it was the essence of their partnership, while they constantly held hands any bodily connection was pointless without the unity of thought. Together they could deflect his sword thrust, kick at his legs and face, and slam their clasped hands into his midst. He staggered; even his resilient form and fierce will would soon break.
That was when it all became clear to him. Their moves, their attacks, their defensive and counteracting manoeuvres, he saw and so understood their way of battle. It was just as Niccolo Moriarty explained as they played chess. Learn from your opponent, understand his strategy, understand him, and never be the one following, instead lead the way. Niccolo Moriarty had also taught him how to read moves and see what lay ahead for the rest of the conflict, even to its conclusion; the astute warrior always beat the stronger fighter in his mind. Chess was no hobby for him either, Niccolo Moriarty had an open challenge to worldwide players, and the loser had to concede life as well as the match. He had yet to lose, such stakes resulted in a keen mind, and his education paved the way to victory now.
He saw the attack, saw the next few moves as surely as if occurring before his eyes, he joined the rhythm, he set the pace, and then he cut. The twins separated, the girl screamed, the boy cried out, still clasping her severed hand. They were shocked, he now stood between them, no one ever did, and their surprise swiftly turned to rage. They attacked, the girl with arm bleeding freely, the boy with hand in his own, yet apart they were not only disadvantaged but, as he had surmised, they were weak. They were the source of each other’s strength, confidence and ability, and now they each lacked both.
He cut the boy open as he passed him and span as one twin fell into the other, before driving sword through them both. They gripped each other, blood merging, light fading from eyes, and then the blade was removed and they fell together.
He stood over them. He ought to feel pity but that had long ago left him. He ought to feel tired but his will urged him on. He ought to feel anxious, nervous, fearful, and yet his mind stamped such hindrances out. All he knew was that Niccolo Moriarty would have smiled smugly at such astute action. Achbar the Mamluk would have praised his tenacity. Rebecca Romanov would have commended the speed of execution of his plan. Henri Robespierre would have applauded his smooth swordplay. Ota Shinobi would have laughed and toasted his ruthless win. Angel Gonzalez would have approved of the final thrust, to both hearts. He had prevailed once more and their teachings had enabled that, with his will the power behind it all.
Now the top floor alone remained. His revenge beckoned.
The assistant answered the phone instantly, waiting beside it, and swiftly put it down.
“Sing and Song have been killed,” she whispered in awe. She looked round. “He will be here any moment.”
The pencil did not falter, the thick hand did not tense, the focused eyes remained just so. The drawing went on.
He entered the room. There was a table, chairs around it, food and drink upon it, but those who had sat there were gone. There was a woman by the phone. There was a desk, and his goal was behind it.
The assistant shrieked as she charged, a lethal whip lashing out, but he twisted and turned and slashed her open, and she crashed into a wall before slumping.
“No more obstacles,” he declared, holding up his sword. “You belong to this blade, I chose it for you long ago. You caused me agony and despair then, and now I will take my pain and etch it into your soul. I have spent three quarters of my life in preparation for this moment, success meant so much to me I refused to risk failure and instead suppressed my rage until I was ready, yet that only made it greater. Now I am ready, I and my sword have come for you, and even if we end here with you, I crave your life too much to care.”
The eyes didn’t regard the intruder, they remained on the drawing, or at least one part of it. At the gesture made with the first words, blood had flown from the sword and splashed across the paper.
The pencil snapped. The deep voice growled. The eyes fastened on the sword, and then its wielder, who grinned.
“Yes, I am here, and my sword wants to meet you,” he jeered.
“Very well.” The tall, well built man stood behind the desk, then came around it, chiselled features set, dark eyes fixed on the vengeful ones.
He snarled, no hesitation, he could hear his teachers urge him forward, direct his intent, guide his sword as he struck out with all his being.
The palm of a thick hand halted the sword, the other hand came round and shattered it.
He reeled, his blade, his trusted weapon, his chosen aide…
The hands slammed into his chest, blood burst from his mouth, then chops to the neck smashed every bone within. His head hung limp, red coloured his vision, his ruined sword clattered to the floor, and then he did.
Iron-Hands Mackay surveyed the mess in his office, then went to his phone and spoke briefly, before returning to his desk and sitting, calm, waiting. Guards came and removed the bodies, they also cleaned the floor, and a new assistant disposed of the marred drawing and the broken pencil. A clean, crisp sheet of paper was spread out, and a new pencil taken up.
“No more distractions,” declared Iron-Hands Mackay, to many nods, not that he noticed them, intent returned to his work. The pencil hovered over the paper as he took his usual time and care, the reason he had succeeded in every endeavour he had taken on, leading to his position on the top floor of this superb structure. He looked at the pile of paper to one side, a stack of imperfect drawings, then began. “I have to get this right.”