The Crusader isn’t a lot like I thought he’d be.
A balding, skinny Black man with a mustache and glasses. Without the armor, he looks absolutely nothing like the part of a vigilante warrior who patrols the streets at night.
He does, however, look like a lonely old man who pretends to be a hero out of boredom.
“Welcome to my humble abode,” he says, beckoning me into his domain. R8PR’s robot messenger, on the other hand, turns tail and scurries off into the cloud-covered cityscape before I can even thank it.
Reluctantly, I enter and come face-to-face with, right at the entrance, a mannequin all dressed up in the Crusader’s famous Magitek suit of armor.
There’s also some family photos hanging on the wall, or at least I assume that’s what they are, except they’re all turned around backwards.
When the Crusader sees me looking at them, he remarks with a shake of the head. “It’s for privacy, my young ally,” he says. “I will reveal my face, but not the others of my household.”
“Fair enough,” I say. “So… Who are you, again? I mean, who are you really?”
The Crusader chuckles at this. “I’m just a simple man making my way through the galaxy.”
“Uh-huh. And you’re a vigilante who dresses up in Magitek armor for, um, reasons?”
“Indeed. It seems absurd, frankly, and I suspect you believe me to be a fool-hardy dunderhead, don’t you?”
This old man looks so nice and calm and he’s invited me into his house and everything. But with that kind of question, lying is sort of rude. “Yeah,” I say. “It’s sort of stupid, to be completely honest, and I’m not sure why you’re even doing it. I mean, I have superpowers, so it kind of makes sense for me in that Peter Parker Uncle Ben speech kind of way. But you don’t have any powers, do you?”
He shakes his head. “My Magitek equipment is all I possess,” he says. “I admit I am hurt by your statement that my pursuit is ‘stupid.’ But I will afford you the grace that you do not know why I fight so very hard.”
“What do you… mean?”
We enter the living room, with an old sofa and some mismatched pillows in front of a CRT playing a robot sitcom. The photos on the wall are turned around here too, and an old 1980 National Championship plaque congratulation the Georgia Bulldogs on their victory. Wait, this isn’t, like, Herschel Walker here beside me, is it?
Wait, no, it’s not. But does that mean he was on the team?
I almost want to ask except that I don’t want to pry any further. But then he sees me looking at the plaque and gives me a look.
“Yeah, I used to be something,” he says in a voice that has the wistfulness of the last chapter in an autobiography. “I was real damn good, and then I guess nothing came of it. I was on the NFL for a couple seasons, did alright. Then I went into insurance and had a family. Now I’m just an old skinny man who’s lost it all.”
He’s slipped out of his faux-medieval voice, and I don’t think he’s even noticed. I say nothing.
He continues. “My kids moved out a while back, got themselves jobs at Magitek making good money. After my wife passed away, I just got real bored. I decided, if I’m going to live out the rest of my days like this, I might as well make the world a better place. You hear?”
“Yes sir,” I say reflexively.
The Crusader is a lot more noble than I realized. The way he looks off to the side, as if contemplating the nature of heroism, very nearly convinces me of his whole situation.
Can one guy really make an impact with sheer force of will, and expensive technology, alone?
Then I remember how the Crusader has been mostly unhelpful for the brief times I have met him this past month, and that shining luster fades away instantly.
Why am I here, again?
Oh yeah, because of this “new ally” of mine.
“I was surprised to receive your letter requesting my assistance,” the Crusader says, shifting back into his normal register. “But I am glad to help. The danger may be high, but my determination is even higher.”
The letter… Oh, R8PR, you card. “You understand what’s happening here, right?” Not having seen said letter, I don’t even know how much this guy knows about what we’re about to face.
“Ah yes, the Japanese mafia. They think themselves so strong that they can prey on the innocent. Well, their reign of terror ends today.”
“That’s the spirit,” I say. He’s certainly more confident than me. “Let’s suit up and get over to J-District, then, because it’s going to be a long day.”
“Ah, yes. You seem quite in need of a better outfit,” he says, pointing to my tanktop and gym shorts, AKA the clothes I slept in. I sort of forgot to change when the robot courier got me.
“Uh, I probably do.”
“Luckily, my son and daughter are about your size. I’m sure they’ve left something in their rooms that looks more professional. Let’s go rummaging.”
We spend about twenty minutes rummaging through two separate closets before I’m given clothes that are apparently suitable enough for the occasion—khaki pants and a golf shirt.
Great. Definitely combat wear.
The Crusader puts on his Magitek gear in an ungodly fifteen seconds. He moves so fast he makes me look pathetic, because sometimes it takes me more than that just to put on my underwear. He salutes me, then covers his face in his helmet.
If this man is my only ally, and I really hope he isn’t, then it’s not all bad. It might even be pretty badass. Two of the strongest vigilante heroes in all of Atlanta teaming up to take on the forces of evil!
…It’s just too bad that we vigilante heroes have to take the bus to get to J-District.
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