Disclaimer: I don't own Street Fighter in any way, shape or form. It and all associated characters, trademarks, etc. are owned by Capcom. I'm just telling some stories about them.
Stain of Darkness
Chapter One: The Deal
Great Britain, March 12
The old wooden structure loomed high in the darkness, the decrepit ruin of what had once been a hotel. No glass remained in the windows; it had all been either removed by thieves or smashed by vandals. Sections of the wall had begun to fall outward, leaving gaping holes in the framework. Its rotten timbers groaned in the cold night breeze, and Antonio speculated that the next time a good stiff wind blew through this part of London it would level the place in seconds.
The short, slightly overweight American checked his watch nervously. 1:22 AM. Still eight minutes until the meeting. He slowly made his way across the street, all the while checking for anyone who might be watching him. The darkness seemed to mock his efforts, making him wish that the street had more lighting than the single, feeble streetlamp that flickered on the corner. He could see no one. Still, that wasn't too surprising considering just how far on the outskirts of the city he was.
Antonio slipped into the narrow alleyway that separated the hotel from the building next to it. He tried to hide himself in the shadows, while at the same time keeping an eye out for any sign of movement. He waited for a few more minutes, but the street remained as still and as silent as the proverbial tomb. No sign of a tail, and no sign of the representative he was supposed to meet. Probably they were already inside, waiting for him.
The man checked his watch again. 1:25. Almost time. Taking a deep breath, he turned and walked further back into the darkness of the alley. His hands groped along the wall until he found the side door his instructions had mentioned. Fumbling for the knob, he swung it open. The rusty hinges didn't screech quite as loudly as he had been afraid they would.
And with that he was in the building. The streetlamp was still his only illumination, sending its faint, bluish-white rays peeking through whatever openings it could find in the wall. Antonio made his way across the lobby, his movements disturbing the large quantities of dust that had accumulated over the years. It coated everything; the floor, the walls, the ceiling. Even the air itself was thick with it.
Pulling up the front of his shirt to cover his mouth and nose, he continued to walk until he reached the small staircase tucked into the room's far corner. When he tried to ascend it, the first step he took elicited a dreadful creaking sound from the stair. Antonio grimaced in apprehension, wishing for once that he had listened to his wife's constant harping on him to lose weight. But there was nothing for it; he continued to walk upward, hoping that the building's various parts would hold together long enough for him to make it out of this place in one piece.
Second floor, first room to the left. Those had been his instructions, and after stepping clear of the stairway he found himself looking at the dim outline of the door he had been told about. Not wasting any time, he swung it open and ducked inside.
The room, like everything else in the building, was in shambles. There were a few isolated patches of wallpaper left, pitiful scraps still clinging hopelessly to the walls. There was no furniture to be seen, or at least none that was intact, but the floor was littered with all manner of unrecognizable debris. The lighting was slightly better there, due to a large empty window that overlooked the street.
All this, however, barely registered with Antonio. His attention was locked on the figure that was standing at the window, gazing out into the night. The man had his back toward the newcomer, giving Antonio a good view of the long, thick braid of blond hair that ran down the man's muscular torso. No clothes covered the man's upper half, only winding, coiling snake tattoos.
Antonio licked his suddenly dry lips, cowed by the aura of menace that the figure emanated. Still, he was determined to hide it as best he could. "I'm here," he said shakily. "Are we going to make the deal?"
Slowly, the man turned away from the window and toward the speaker. As he did so, Antonio abandoned every intention he might have had about hiding his intimidation. The man was something out of a nightmare, his entire face obscured by a smooth white mask, one that made him look less like a man and more like some ghastly Death spirit. The only parts of his visage not so covered were the man's eyes, and one look into them made Antonio wish that they had been. They were the eyes of a killer—ruthless, intense, and completely pitiless. Those eyes bored into Antonio. Two tiny orbs of motion and life, they seemed horribly out of place in the midst of the lifeless mask.
"Give the recognition code," said the man, his voice soft and silky. As he spoke he raised his right arm, and Antonio noticed for the first time the wicked looking metal claw that was affixed there. The man held his weapon up and began to play with it slowly, letting the light from the streetlamp glitter along the blades from different angles.
"Um, ah, yeah," Antonio said, swallowing heavily, trying to make sure he got the words exactly right. "The recognition code is: Agamemnon. Equinox. Diablo." This was shaping up to be the most terrifying delivery he had ever made in his long and not-so-distinguished career. He promised himself that if they let him out of this alive, he'd never take another job for Shadowlaw again as long as he lived. No money was worth this, not even the exorbitant compensation that he had been promised for this relatively simple assignment.
"Very well," came the reply, apparently satisfied with Antonio's recitation. "I assume you have it?"
"Yeah..." answered Antonio. "Do you, uh... have my fee?"
By way of answer, the man reached back with his left hand into the shadows under the window, and drew out a briefcase. With a quick flick of the wrist he opened it, displaying its contents. "Five hundred thousand American dollars, as agreed upon."
Antonio nodded. Seeing that, the man closed the briefcase and tossed it leisurely through the air toward its intended recipient. Antonio fumbled as he caught it, but managed to get a firm grasp without letting it hit the ground. He gave the briefcase a quick pat; it was the third biggest payoff of his life, and it had taken him a mere six days to accomplish.
"Now your turn," said the Shadowlaw agent in that almost-whisper of his.
Obediently, Antonio reached into his jacket and pulled out a small black video tape. It had no labels or markings on it, nothing to indicate what its contents were or why it was worth such a sum to its buyers. "This is it," he said, offering it to the other man. "The only copy, so far as I know."
The agent said nothing, only took the tape from Antonio's hands. "Just remember," he said. "If you speak of this assignment to anyone, or relay any information you gained while performing it..."
"It won't happen," Antonio assured him vigorously.
"See that it doesn't," said the masked man. Then he raised his claw so that he was gazing at Antonio through its blades. "If you were a female, or even a male who was something approaching beautiful... I might harbor hope that you would be so foolish. But I find the killing of old, overweight men to be uninspiring. Please don't be offended."
Antonio swallowed again, his knees beginning to shake a little. Just let me get out of here alive, he thought. I don't even care about the money, just let me get out of here alive and I'll never take another Shadowlaw job again.
Abruptly, the masked man turned away from Antonio, resuming his vigil at the window. "You have your payment," he said. "Leave now."
That was one order that Antonio knew he would have no objection to obeying. Giving his briefcase one more pat, he turned and scampered out of the room.
The Shadowlaw agent waited patiently as the other man's footsteps creaked their way down the stairs, across the lower floor, out the side door and into the night. He then watched as Antonio crossed the street, smiling beneath his mask at how frantically the pudgy man ran. The reminder that he could inspire such fear was delightful. He kept watching, until finally the man passed out of sight behind another building.
Only then did he reach down into a pocket of his colorful silken pants and pull out a small phone-like device. Opening it, he pressed a button and raised it to his ear. There was a pause, then a voice came over the connection. "Do you have it?"
"Yes," the masked man replied. "The information broker has taken his payment and left. I'm ready for pickup."
"The helicopter is already en route," replied the voice. "Get to the rooftop and meet it."
"Yes, my master," said the masked man. "I understand. I will be... there... in..." his voice trailed off into silence as he felt something tugging at the edges of his mind.
"What is it?" snapped the voice. A silence. Then, "Vega, what is it? Answer me!"
But Vega's attention was elsewhere, concentrating furiously on the faint impression that he had just noticed. His eyes scoured the surrounding buildings, his every instinct keen and alert, searching for the source of his mysterious unease...
"Vega!" thundered the voice on the other end of the comm. "What is happening?"
And then in a flash, the masked man understood. "Master, it's a trap!"
At these words, all chaos promptly broke loose.
Figures dressed in bulky black combat gear began to pour out of the building across the street, converging with astonishing speed on the building he was in. It was, Vega thought, like watching insects swarming out from under a rock. "A small army of Interpol officers has just appeared at my doorstep, master," he said into the comm. "I believe they're onto me."
The voice on the other end of the connection uttered a vicious curse. "Vega, listen carefully," it snarled. "At all costs, you must prevent Interpol from obtaining that tape. Do you understand me, Vega? Hold them off until the helicopter arrives, kill as many as you can in the process, but above all I want the tape out of their hands, and into my own!"
Vega reply was a soft, dangerous laugh. "That, master, will not be a problem." With that, he terminated the connection, slid the comm back into his pocket, and prepared himself for battle.
He could hear the vermin as they came crashing in through both the side door and the main entrance. Obviously, they had abandoned all attempts at subtlety. He wondered just how Interpol had known that he had discovered their presence. Most likely they had been monitoring him with long-distance microphones, or perhaps they had simply bugged the room itself.
But that was a question for another day. Now it was time for blood.
Vega listened attentively as the the enemy made their way throughout the lower level, obviously intent on securing it. So far they were doing everything according to procedure, following their precious little regulation books with the utmost reverence. Perfect. In a matter of seconds they would make their way up the stairs and attempt to do the same on his floor. He, of course, would be waiting for them.
The masked man began to move, gliding slowly toward the stairway. In a place as old as this one it was well nigh impossible to walk without the floor creaking, even for him. So he did the next best thing. He simply timed his steps to match those of one of the loudest walkers beneath him. To the undiscerning ear, the two noises—one loud, the other as soft as humanly possible—became one, the former swallowing up the latter. Seconds later, Vega had reached the entrance to the stairway, undetected.
He crouched down, keeping well to the left of the doorway. Sure enough, within moments he could hear booted feet making their way up the rickety stairs behind the wall. In his mind's eye he could see the vermin, carefully taking step after step, their machine guns all trained on the open door that led out onto the building's second floor. They would be focused, watching for any threat to come through that door, ready to shoot it dead if it did.
Vega placed his ear against the wall, the better to hear what was going on on the other side of it. The officers seemed to have halted in their ascent, and were speaking with someone on a radio. "We've taken the stairs," one of them was saying. "No sign of any hostiles yet. We await your orders."
The reply was less distinct, but Vega was able to make it out nonetheless. A man's voice, commanding and decisive. "Proceed with the assault, Lieutenant. Take the Shadowlaw representative alive if you can, but make sure he doesn't escape."
"And... try to wrap this up quickly, if at all possible."
"Our 'uninvited guest' left for your location as soon as she heard the description of the Shadowlaw representative. She'll be there soon, and I'd prefer that the situation be resolved before she arrives. Maybe that will show the Chinese branch of the service that English Interpol can handle things on our own."
A chuckle. "Yes sir. I understand sir."
Vega smiled too, licking his lips. Well, well, well. A female Interpol officer from China, come to assist in hunting him. The possibilities that suggested were... delicious. But for the moment, his first duty was to escape back to his master. And surrounded as he was by so many ugly men wielding their ugly guns, that would require strategy.
The Interpol agents resumed their advance now, creaking their way up the stairs. Vega waited with a hunter's patience as their muffled noises passed by him, until the foremost among them had reached the door to Vega's right. The assassin's muscles tensed. They would make their play any second now... Wait for it, wait for it...
The sound of movement! A shadow shifting!
The masked assassin slammed his shoulder with all his strength into the old, decaying wall that separated the hallway from the staircase. At the same time, the lead Interpol officer lunged through the doorway out into the hall, weapon at the ready for whatever he found there. What he did not find was Vega. The Shadowlaw agent had exploded through the wall to the other side, falling on the unprepared officers in a massive shower of splintered wood and plaster.
Even before he landed, Vega was already on the attack. He buried his claw in the opposite wall of the stairway to brace himself, pushing off it to launch a double-legged kick that caught a nearby officer dead in the torso. The impact sent the man flying through the air with incredible force, flying down the stairs until he hit the next officer in line. That man was bowled over as well, starting a chain reaction that took down every officer on the stairs below Vega. The impact of their combined weight shattered any stairs they hit, sending them falling further and further down until they hit the wooden floor below. They crashed through that too, their fall only stopping when they struck the stone floor of the building's basement.
That still left three Interpol agents above him. There were two of them higher up on the stairs, as well as the one that had entered the hallway mere instants ago.
As soon as Vega's feet touched the stair his left hand shot out behind him, grabbing the gun that the nearest officer was trying to bring to bear on him. Then, whirling fast as thought, he tore his claw free of the wall and whipped it around in a vicious slash. His intention was to slice the man's head open, but the faceguard on the man's helmet saved his life. The massive blow spun the man around several times, but though the clear plastic visor cracked everywhere it did not shatter. Vega cursed to himself. This blasted armor was ruining all his fun!
Even as the man was still spinning, the agent in the hallway reached the hole that Vega had made in the wall. The assassin was impressed with the man's speed; he had been counting on having another whole second more before needing to deal with him. Now he was in a dangerous position, with one enemy further up the stairs in front of him, and another to his left.
Fortunately there was a shield conveniently in arms reach, unconscious and in the process of falling. Grabbing up the spinning man before he could hit the stairs, he pressed as close to the far wall of the stairway as he could. He then charged up the stairs, crouching and angling the man's body so that he was protected from both gunmen. Neither of them dared opened fire on their ally, and even if they had they would not have been able to penetrate the armor.
In an eyeblink he reached the last remaining agent in the stairs, colliding with the man and knocking him over. Then with a vicious stomp Vega drove him through the stairs, sending him falling the two stories to the basement below.
Vega hurried up the last couple steps to the top, still carrying the limp officer. There was no time to waste; sounds from behind him warned that more Interpol officers had entered what little remained of the stairway. They opened fire with their machine guns, the bullets chewing up the stairs and surrounding walls. But Vega was gone, vanishing through the doorway back onto the second floor, out of their sight.
The officer on the second floor, however, was not idle. As soon he saw the assassin come through the doorway the man sprang into motion. He whirled and began strafing sideways in an attempt to get around Vega's human shield and land a shot in his unprotected flank.
But the masked killer was too fast. He kicked the unconscious man away from him, sending him sailing toward the other officer. Instinctively the man shoved the oncoming body out of his way, but for that one moment his gun was not pointed at Vega. It was far more than the assassin needed.
Vega lunged, grabbing the man's gun with one hand to keep it out of play, then following through with a kick that sent then man flying half the length of the hallway. The man groaned and tried to stand up, but Vega had other plans for him. The assassin walked over, grabbed the man and lifted him up off his feet. Then he glanced back at the door he had just entered from. The timing would have have to be perfect.
Summoning all his strength, Vega swung the man up over his head like a rag doll, then with a roar flung him down as hard as he could at the floor a few feet down the hallway. The instant the man left his hands, Vega spun and leapt for the door that led to the ruined stairway. He would need every ounce of his unbelievable speed if he was to pull this off...
The Interpol officer exploded down through the ceiling into the lobby where the remainder of his team was, falling in a massive shower of broken wood and debris. As one, all the Interpol officers whirled around, their weapons tracking the falling form.
The second he heard the crash Vega was in the stairway. The stairs themselves were gone, and they would have been to slow anyway. But the railing was still there.
Vega launched himself down through space with breathtaking velocity. His feet shot out, latching onto the railing. He slid down it, his speed mounting, until an instant later he reached the bottom.
He exploded off the railing in a flying lunge, claw extended. The nearest Interpol agent never saw what hit him. The claw impacted against the side of the man's helmet, knocking him out cold and sending him flying headlong into his neighbor.
That officer whirled around, only to see the bottom of Vega's shoe slam hard into his faceplate, which in turn slammed his faceplate hard into his face. At the noise a trio of other officers next to the stairwell began to turn, but Vega caught them with a single massive slash that knocked all three to the floor, unconscious.
That left only five of them. They were spread out across the lobby, all of them now turning to aim at Vega. Laughing, the masked assassin did a quick backflip, soaring backward through the air and disappearing into the hole at the base of the stairs. The officers charged toward the hole after him, guns at the ready.
They never got there. Halfway to their target a clawed hand exploded up through the floor, fastening around the ankle of one of the officers and dragging him back down with it. For any normal human the seven foot vertical leap to the basement's ceiling would have been amazing, but for Vega it was nothing.
The officer's body smashed down through the rotten wooden floorboards to the basement, where Vega promptly flung him into the nearest wall. Then, calling on his ki, he launched himself upward in a jump that put his previous one to shame. As the four remaining officers converged on his new hole he shot up through it, a flesh-colored blur, impossible to follow. He twisted into a vicious split kick that blasted two officers in opposite directions, then slammed his elbow around into the face plate of another as he landed.
The final officer almost managed to get a bead on Vega, but the assassin rolled in under the man's aim and hit him with a flying tackle. It drove the man crashing through the ancient lobby wall and out into the alley beyond.
The man groaned as he hit the hard alley floor. He weakly tried to raise his hands, tried to fend off the masked killer kneeling over him, but it was ineffectual. Vega tore off the man's helmet, and savored the fear he saw in the eyes of his victim. Grinning, he raised his claw, ready to plunge it deep into the now-unprotected face of the officer.
But then, something extraordinary happened. Something that made the assassin forget all about the man cowering beneath him.
Vega sensed a presence. A ki aura, one so astonishingly strong that he caught his breath in shock. The impression was something like the flame of a blowtorch. Fierce. Concentrated. Focused. Almost blinding in its intensity. And it was approaching very, very fast.
Before the assassin had time to give any more consideration to what this might mean or what to do about it, his sharp hearing detected the sound of someone running toward him. Soft, rapid footfalls, reverberating strangely in the narrow alleyway. Then a figure appeared at the alley mouth, stopping as she saw Vega with his claw poised over the officer's face.
Vega's pulse began to beat faster at the sight of the newcomer. Of course... This had to be the Chinese girl he had heard the officers talking about over the radio. At the time, he hadn't thought she would be much more adept than the usual Interpol clowns. He certainly hadn't imagined that she would be anywhere near this powerful. Or this lovely.
She was slender yet muscular, her stunning figure clad in a flowing blue uniform decorated with ornate golden designs. Her brown hair was done up into two tight buns, highlighting her achingly beautiful face. But perhaps most striking was the iron determination that burned in her eyes. I will enjoy changing that determination to fear and agony, Vega thought. I will savor her death more than I have savored any death in a long time.
"Well, my little flower..." he said softly, moving his claw to point at her heart. "Shall we dance?"
The Chinese woman only smiled. It was not, Vega realized, a very nice smile.