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BLINKEREDDISCOCOVER

TBABonkeredThisChord
The Silent Comedy - Bartholomew03:07

The Silent Comedy - Bartholomew

Theme for K21 - Blinkered Discord

A direct follow up from Bleached Delusions, Blinkered Discord details Andrew Sol's actions as he loses his already shaky grip on morality following his failure to catch Li-Pau.

Cast (In Order of Appearance)
K21LOGOV2.2

Prologue:

I wiped my hands on the bloody cloth as I had done for the seventeenth time today, the fabric already becoming a dark brown as the fluid began to congeal.

My prisoner, a man that I might have been able to find inspiring, had the reality of my capture not been completely disillusioning, was bleeding profusely from his wounds, despite my best efforts to stem the bleeding with agonizing cauterisations. His hair, along with the trinkets that hung through it, was gone, his scalp removed to expose his pallid skull to the air of the chamber, while on the left side of his face he dripped onto his lap through the bloody tear I opened with a combination of delicate knife strokes and the brutality of my bare hands.

I had administered drugs to him to keep him conscious through the ordeal, and while his body was positively swimming with endorphins to dull some of the pain, his physical torture was affecting him greatly. He fell into unconsciousness for large periods of time, annoyingly halting my effective progress. Regardless my actions were having the desired effect on him, and my most recent destruction against him; puncturing his eyeball through with a heated needle, produced a hoarse cry of pain from his throat.

Currently he looked as close to broken as I could possibly have hoped. However it still wasn't quite done, I threw away the useless cleaning implement and moved to my prisoner, who was by now leaking tears from the remaining eye, while his punctured eyeball leaked a healthy torrent of blood from in between his lids.

Disgusted with his helplessness, I clamped my hand upon his chin, and worked my uncut, dirty nails work into the – admittedly crudely – flayed facial muscles, and slowly raised his head, putting our faces centimeters from each other.

“Now…” I spat. “I. Have a question for you.”

His voice, sore from agonized shrieks he had projected over several hours, was a parched whisper, like a desert wind rustling over dried leaves. “Why are you doing this?”

My face split into a sadistic smile and I answered him with relish.

"Why?" I inquired into his weeping face. "Well, quite simply put, it's because it's fun."

Chapter 1:

I opened my eyes, and as my senses returned to the physical world. I spent a few minutes simply observing my surroundings and noticed as I took a deep lungful of the cold, antiseptic air, betraying the faint chemical scent. I was garbed in simple robes of cyan.

The same kind of robes my most prized quarry was garbed in before I let him go through stupidity. I thought bitterly.

All the signs pointed to a hospital. I laughed, though I felt nothing like laughing as memory returned in rapid succession. I had survived, however all things considered, that was all I had to be thankful of, and even then, it may be cold comfort when faced with my failings.

I lifted myself slightly from the thin mattress, and with it, the pain began.

It hurt to move and it hurt to lie still. My limbs felt weak and I placed my hand on my stomach, lifting my hospital gown to expose the origin of my agony, and I sucked air through my teeth as I poked the scar tissue bisecting my flesh.

I vaguely remembered the disjointed, confused mess of a fight that led me to my current whereabouts. After failing in my final chance to end the criminal vigilante Li-Pau Nao, I was stabbed by my ally, who furiously proclaimed that I had ruined everything. The sickening snap of her knife as she broke the blade from the handle, splintering the ceramic weapon into hundreds of individual pieces to disperse and tear me apart internally, was still a moment of clarity that sat with me in cold fear.

Looking down now, it was completely aware to me that the cut on my abdomen was far too large and clean to simply be the dagger; clearly surgeons had performed surgery to remove the ceramic from my body.

I sighed, reclining back down upon the hospital bed. This was undoubtedly expensive. As I did so a simple nurse, a woman in no later than her mid twenties, dressed in the simple blue scrubs as befitting her occupation, her hair tied into an organized bun for hygiene's sake and a dataslate and pen clutched in her right hand, pulled aside the aqua tinted, but still rather transparent, curtain and approached my bed.

"You're awake." She smiled, though I could see it was through politeness rather than any sort of friendship. I pulled the gown over my stomach to cover myself better and began the task of sitting up from my prone position, working against the pain of my injury before she stopped me.

"Don't sit up yet. Your muscles in your abdomen were badly damaged." She was scribbling down notes onto a small data slate she clutched onto.

"How...Ugh...How long have I been here for?" I asked.

For several moments she simply stared at me, as if not comprehending my words, before it dawned on me I had accidentally spoke in Japanese, my mother tongue, and not French. Clearly the drugs in my systems were having an adverse effect on my concentration. I repeated the question in French, and I saw her tap several times on the screen in her hands.

"According to this, you entered the hospital just under 121 hours ago. You were sedated while the necessary surgeries took place." She impassively read from the front of her slate.

I was out cold for just over five days while they performed their delicate work to save my life, though I also saw that my burns had been treated, as well as the damage done to my wrist properly bandaged. Despite knowing the unlikeliness of it, I still sagged. I had hoped without hope that there might be a chance to capture the Chinese bastard and make him pay for the trouble he caused, with in 24 hours, there might still be a chance he resided in sector IV, with the best part of a week to run, the odds he would stay seemed less hopeful.

"Wait. Why was I out for nearly a week? Surely the procedure didn't take that long."

She seemed to shift on the spot for a second, before manipulating the equipment to show the relevant information.

"According to this." She began. "There was a lot more that needed to be done than simply removing the knife shards."

I hesitated. "Can I see the report, please?"

She handed me the dataslate and I scanned it until it got to my primary concern in the excessively large INFORMATION: column, and began reading.

"Patient appeared to have large stab wound in chest area, apparently made by a ceramic blade, which then became destroyed while still piercing the patient, shattering it inside his body. Damage to abdominal muscles, stomach, liver and spleen were substantial, resulting in several hours of surgery to remove the foreign objects and repair damaged tissue.

"In addition patient was also suffering from several symptoms of elemental oversync including: extreme dehydration, fever and brain patterns typical of minor hallucinations. There were also several instances of second degree burns across the patients body..."

It contained more meaningless information on recommended action and information on sedatives, but my interest began to waver as it became apparent I had ingested all the useful information from the slate.

Seeing what was written seemed to make some of my anger ebb away. In all honesty, the level of damage my body had taken that night seemed pretty bad in hindsight; the Christelle bitch knifing me out of spite wasn't my only concern. Nodding, I handed back the slate, rubbing my face to dispel the drowsiness that still held sway over my mind.

"Thank you." I told her.

She hesitated again, and I began to suspect that more bad news was forthcoming.

"There were also several messages sent to you." She said at last, returning to her computerized screen again. "They're on your phone. In addition, a folder was left for you on the bedside table." She lifted her hand, pointing to my right before parting the curtains and leaving for the rest of her duties. I glanced at the direction she indicated and saw the small table placed next to my bed, containing my smartphone and a plain, manila envelope with my real birth name handwritten in an almost effeminate manner on its blank surface.

For several long seconds I just looked over at my belongings, both likely to containing something or several things I didn't want or need in my current state. With a sigh born from defeat, I slid the envelope from underneath my phone and tore off the top edge, tipping it upside down and letting a stack of thick, glossy photograph paper fall into my lap with soft thud.

I sighed. Really René? Not even out the hospital and you're doing this?

My curiosity outweighing my fatigue, I flipped through the pages, my dull eyes idly moving over pictures without really seeing them properly. A few looked familiar: a rough looking thirty something with dirty blonde hair and heavy stubble; a tight lipped, blue haired man shaven in an almost punk-esque fashion with scars decorating his face like tally marks; a girl barely out her teens but with the hardened eyes of a killer, her bright, almost phosphorescent, pink hair in pigtails that only added to the youthfulness of her face and so the haunted look of her hooded eyes. There were many others that I had probably seen around at some time or another, but I had no real interest, and put the pictures back inside the envelope within minutes.

It can wait. I thought, placing it on my lap.

With one weary, weak limbed movement, I picked up the advanced smartphone and began cycling through the recent in-log of activity over the past week.

Twenty one missed calls. Six voicemail messages. Nine new texts.

I groaned. Without even beginning to read them, I could foresee they wouldn't be willing me to "Get well soon" and would probably involve more heartfelt messages to "not survive the surgery" and "lay down and die", among other things.

"May as well see all the love my friends have for me." I jokingly declared, pressing the screen to see the missed calls.

Five of the missed calls were from the editor's office at the Vallarian Post, spaced over the course of four of the five days I was out of action for. I could guess that my complete disappearance and lack of communication had led to me being sacked, but I made a mental note to check the voicemails anyway.

Each of the other gang members had attempted to phone several times, for what purpose could be guessed at, they had awoken to find me gone, and thoughts of abandonment probably flashed like sirens in their heads.

All except Jack. Jack (both his phone number and what I presumed to be his attempts at ringing with payphones to get me to pick up) had tried phoning a great deal more times and made up a third of all traffic to my phone. Without looking at abusive texts or hearing his enraged rantings, I could already feel the levels of anger in his urgent attempts to contact me.

I sighed as I returned to the main menu for my mobile, flicking open my inbox to view the eight poorly articulated strings of abuse my "friends" had hurled into the communications network.

where r u u fukin prick?!

The level of simple vitriol in the later texts from him text was shocking, but hardly surprising coming from someone who had so blatantly hated me. The others sent from his mobile had been no better, ranging from a blind torrent of swear words to whispered threats to questions on my mother's sexual decency.

They were amazingly petty, even by Jack's standards.

As I looked through the other texts, my estimations on their actions were confirmed, Amy's text had been venomous, to say the least, and made several poorly veiled accusations of rape against me, while Matt had sent no message at all; clearly his pacifist ideals had stilled his tongue from screaming profanities over digital communication.

Flow's text, in direct contrast to everyone else, was actually close to sympathetic, even if the urgent tone was probably a result of confused irritation.

The fuck are you, man? Stop ignoring us, what happened?

I felt a pang of guilt at his message. Flow was always the closest thing I had to a friend while stalking sector IV as a vigilante, and the only guy he really liked in their poorly named gang of "the hunt". The fact that anybody's message to me could be seen as worrying, even if it was misguided, was something I didn't expect.

The last couple of PM's were emails from the editor, the first one, was an automated broadcast that contact had not been made in several days, while the next one, personally written by my boss, had been more urgent, and somewhat more angry, demanding I report in at once if I still value my job and visa.

Until I read that line I forgot about my visa entirely. Losing my job was not the only problem I faced, but there was a very large fact that I would be deported back to the anarchy that reigned over Japan. I really didn't want to return to Koga, all in all there were too many memories I would rather forget and leave buried in my old homeland.

With my mood slipping into melancholy, I made another mental note to contact my boss and try to explain my absence, before the nurse that had greeted me previously returned, a kind smile on her face, preventing me from reviewing the voicemails my phone had picked up.

"You've got a visitor." She told me. "Shall I bring him up?"

"Sure." I nervously started. "But..."

She turned away to speak to someone concealed behind the curtain cordoning off my bed as soon as she got my answer.

"He's all yours." She politely proclaimed to my unknown visitor, before turning back to me with a genuine smile. "I'll leave you alone to talk with your brother."

My brother is dead, who the hell...

A large hand, muscular and showing the tiny imperfections of bones that were broken and healed slightly crooked several times over, shot out through the parting in the curtain, throwing aside the cyan fabric to reveal a man I had no desire to see in my current form.

With the exception of a black raincoat still slowly dripping with water from the poor weather outside, his chest was a bare network of scar tissue covered by a tattered white shirt. A singular, knife-edge thin scar ran down from the edge of his chin, terminating at the raised detail of his Adam's apple and his face, hard and uncaring, was distorted in look of righteous fury, his dark brown eyes burning with hate as they stared into me.

"Jack?" Was the only thing I could say before his fist slammed my head aside.

Chapter 2:

"You stupid, unbelievable bastard!" He cursed, bringing his hand around to slam his knuckles into my chest, knocking the wind out of my body and leaving my eyes stinging with tears and my body wheezing for breath that I couldn't take in.

"I'm...I... Sor..." I gasped.

"SORRY?!" He practically screamed. "As sorry as you were about Henri's death?"

"Please...Listen..."

"NO! You listen you stupid bastard! You rounded us up like fucking cattle! William is dead because of your stupid obsession with catching this guy!"

My breathing began to return to normal, and the tears lessened as the effects of being winded began to subside, I could see his rage and hatred was causing a vein on his temple began to throb in time with his heartbeat.

"And then, just to make things worse, you decide that, once we were all unconscious thanks to that Chinese bastard, you'd go and leave us there while you chased this kid alone in Paris."

He took a deep breath before continuing, and the lapse of verbal abuse made me conscious of the blood from my nose, tricking over my lips and forming droplets at my chin, slowly dripping onto my neck and bedding.

"But thats not even getting close to the worst part, oh no." He told me with a mocking grin. "Because Paris is only a thriving place for vigilantes' because there's a lot of sick and twisted scum that walk the place."

"So." He laughed. "Get your head around this; when we wake up, not only is our wallets missing, most of our weapons taken, but Amy, curiously enough, wakes up with her knickers on backwards. You do the math there Andrew, please tell me what you think transpired."

My eyes widened in shock. "I didn't..."

My apology was cut short by as the back of his hand collided with my already sore cheekbone. I sputtered, coughing into my hands.

"I don't want an apology from you!" He snapped bitterly. "You're a useless, worthless, whiney piece of shit!"

"What you had done, and the actions that transpired because of your stupidity, they might of all been forgivable, or at least ignorable. However, this is only if YOU WERE HALFWAY CAPABLE AT DOING ANYTHING RIGHT AT ALL! After leaving us for dead in that fucking marketplace, but you then proceed to fuck up every chance to catch him you get thrown your way?"

"I'm sorry!" I screamed through swollen lips, my words distorted by the extent of the damage done to my face by Jack's emotionally charged attack. "Is that okay? I am fucking sorry for all the bad shit that happened, is that better?"

Jack rounded on my again, but instead of delivering another punch or backhand to me, he reached inside the blue jacket he wore, producing his treasured Bowie knife that I had seen him use since the very first hunt I had tagged along with. He rested the very tip on my neck, just above my collarbones but below my Adam's apple, applying just enough pressure to cause me discomfort at the sharp metal pressing into the soft flesh.

"I. Don't. Want. Your. Apology." He spat the words into my face. "None of us do. I personally want your head." He increased the pressure slightly, causing any attempt to snap back to die in my throat.

"Now, read my lips." He stared into my eyes. "If you go near any of us again, if you talk to any of us again, if you come to the hangout in Rue Lamartine again, I will slit your weasely little throat. Are we clear?"

To accentuate his point, he pushed the blade further into my neck, and its serrated edge bit into my pallid throat, before withdrawing as Jack brought it closer to my face. A singular crimson pearl of ruby red blood rested on it's flat edge.

Unnerved and wishing desperatly for him to leave, I nodded quickly, tears beginning to build in my eyes at the sheer terror the man exuded like an aura.

Satisfied with my answer, he turned away from me and began to leave. For a moment several doctors rushed towards him, as if trying to bar his escape or enquire why he had beaten up a patient, before he bellowed at them all to move out his way. Terrified of sharing a similar experience, they immediately backed off and opened the door to exit the patients ward.

It was only when I saw and heard him slam it shut did I finally collapse, breathing more heavily than I first realized at the sheer panic of what had transpired. The tears welled up again, spilling over my cheeks and mixing and diluting my nosebleed.

As all this happened, I was barely conscious of another figure in a doctor's coat walking towards me, before kneeling down and examining the amount of damage Jack had caused.

"While we can't be certain at the moment, it appears he's broken your nose, and the small cut in your throat he opened up will need sealing with synthetic flesh compound or it's going to scar." He stated to me, before sighing. "However, none of it is truly detrimental to you."

He eyed my suspiciously before asking his question. "What the hell was that all about anyway?"

With little energy left in me and no desire to regurgitate my life story to my doctor, I flatly responded: "I think I'd like to be alone for a few minutes."

Nodding in understanding, he simply left, closing the curtain and thus cordoning me off in my own personal world to contemplate my troubles. As he did so, I decided it was prudent to do two things. Firstly, I wiped the watery blood from my face on my hospital gown, getting rid of the irritating sensation. The next thing I did was bury my head in my hands.

I had let everybody down.

Chapter 3:

After several hours, I was discharged and free to leave the hospital, taking my belongings, which consisted of my still bloodstained jeans and my trenchcoat, which I had buttoned up in absence of a shirt; which was a ripped and burned piece of red soaked fabric after the events of last week, the combat blade I had used consistently and my smartphone.

The wound was still painful and had been bandaged as a safety precaution, but it made walking a nightmare as I stumbled on weak legs out of the hospital and into the pouring rain of Paris.

As the pain began to flare to unbearable levels, I grabbed a railing to steady myself and let the agony fade down, until walking was tolerable for a little while longer, before slipping into a clothes shop to get rid of the bloody trousers and find a shirt, eventually settling on a black and grey striped t-shirt and a pair of simple, black drainpipe jeans. Putting them on in the changing rooms and replacing my trenchcoat, I tore off the tags and scanned them, paying at the check outs and grabbing a bag to place by ragged trousers in. Finally, as I left, I pushed the ruined clothes into a bin, and continued into the grey rain slick streets.

Determined to walk back to my apartment, I finally came to rest on a park bench to let the strain from my injury flare down for a bit and collect my thoughts.

I was definitely fired, the Vallarian Post had made that clear on several occasions that due to my absences and lack of communication, they no longer wanted me. This left me with two problems. Firstly, I now had to find a way of paying the bills, which meant finding a new avenue of income. Vigilante work was now completely out the question with Jack bluntly threatening to kill me painfully if I so much as went near the hunt.

However that was minor a small worry when compared to my second problem. I was on a work visa, and without my job, I was certain to be deported in a matter of weeks.

I didn't want to return to Japan. Not only were the RWA going ballistic across most of it, but it was full of the painful memories of those I loved and lost; my parents, Kenji, Melissa. I knew I had to figure out a way of extending my visa, find another job. However even as the idea came about, it dispersed. No matter how much I wanted to try, Jack's words were true, I couldn't do anything right.

Hopeless, I placed my head in my hands while the rain continued to bucket down, forming small streams of water to travel through my hair and onto my coat and shirt. Light, like the flash on a colossal camera, illuminated the area, followed by the rumbling boom of a thunderclap.

Still despondent, I rose from my seat, soaked and cold to the bone, and began to limp away down the street, still favoring my right leg and gritting my teeth every time I was forced to place weight on my damaged muscles.

After four streets I had to practically haul myself against a wall to take a break, and allow the agony to disperse. I was about to walk away when I heard a scuffle in the alleyway nearby and dragged my exhausted body towards the sound, and peered in the dark gloomy alley.

A man, hunched and panting on the ground in a rubber anorak, was being mugged by a stocky teenager, probably no older than twenty. It was eerily parallel to the scene where I took my first life in cold blood. One thought in particular presented itself to me; that I could easily kill them both. Even as the though occurred to me, the hateful voice of Jack White reverberated in my head.

"You're a useless, worthless, whiny piece of shit!"

"Only if YOU WERE HALFWAY CAPABLE AT DOING ANYTHING RIGHT AT ALL!"

"...You then proceed to fuck up every chance..."

"You wanna try it kid?"

The mugger's threat snapped me from my borderline comatose state of thought and I saw he was brandishing a knife while his face was obscured by a thick black scarf. The man on the floor, who until previously I had thought to be early beaten and winded was actually bleeding from a stab wound in his chest, the fluid diluting in the large puddles upon the ground.

This man was a criminal, he had harmed an innocent almost certainly to rob him. He was criminal in the eyes of Sector IV.

"I saw nothing." I grumbled.

But I didn't care anymore.

Let some other deluded kid believe he could be a hero and make a difference. I thought as I limped down the street towards my flat.

Chapter 4:

I opened the door to my flat with a heavy heart, my feet dragging across the carpet as I made my way towards my bed, intending fully on sleeping for a few hours to clear my thoughts. as I made my way into the flat, I was reminded just how much I needed to clean the place; two-thirds of all eating and drinking implements were in the sink; unwashed and desperately needing attendance, there were piles of clothes dumped in random patterns, all intended to see a launderette at some point and the luxury carpet was tracked in with mud and other anonymous grime.

Dismissing any and all ideas to take care of it immediately, I ambled into my room. The walls were as stylishly bland as the rest of my flat's and as I looked at the cluttered bedside table, coated in glasses from late night drinks and capsule trays, both containing pills and not, and sighed.

As I sat heavily on my unmade bed with a loud sigh, I dropped the bag of items I received from the hospital, the report of the bag hitting the floor was far louder and heavier than it should have been and I startled as my attention was drawn to it's contents.

Picking up the bag, I began to upturn it onto the bed, sifting through a plethora of recommendation papers and instructions for proper post surgery care. I was about to discard it to the floor and sleep for a few hours, intent on recovering some strength, when I found the plain, unadorned manila envelope I had received at the hospital.

Upturning it to allow the contents to fall into my lap, I was surprised to be confronted with such a varied plethora of items, including several syringes, a silver box containing a selection of needles and many miscellaneous sharp objects and a stack of around a dozen papers.

Setting the items aside for a moment, I turned my attention to the papers. The first one I picked up was a glossy photograph of a woman with high, aristocratic cheekbones, squinting eyes and long hair the purest shade of blood red. It took me a few seconds of simply staring to make the connection, at which point I dropped the picture as if it were burning.

The picture was of Danielle, a wheelchair bound member of the hunt with which I had spent many years pursuing criminals with. and as I looked over the other four photographs included, I noticed the pattern.

They were all members of the hunt, and as realization dawned, it confused me as to what they had done to have me ordered to take them out. Throwing the glossy photos aside for a moment, I focused on the other papers that had been taken from the envelope.

The first one I picked up looked just like one of the reports I was used to receiving on high priority targets in the past, and pertained to the lightning elemental Amy Young. As I read through the paper, two columns were left completely void of information: Reward for Termination and Offenses. And as I checked each paper to find the same information absent I suddenly understood why.

It was a termination notice, pure and simple. My colleagues (if they could be called as such) and I had failed to apprehend the target. An eventuality that was extremely shameful and thus potentially harmful to René Martain if his involvement in the affair was ever to become public knowledge. All of us had followed tip offs ascribed to his name in the past. We were all potential information leaks. And now, as the middleman between my generous benefactor and his unwilling enforcers, I was the one to be tasked with liquidating those involved.

The thought horrified me as I understood finally that not only was I being punished for my own inadequacies, but I had selfishly dragged my only friends into this situation and brought their death sentence with my many screw ups.

They didn't deserve this. Deep down, they were good people. Despite the things they may have said or the way they treated me. Deep down, they were good people. They fought to end the lives of the scum that prowled the streets of Paris.

"No." I breathed. "I refuse."

But even as my defiance grew, it fell to pieces as I remembered one fundamental sentence that René had said to me many years ago.

"I would like you to kill them for me. For that simple act alone, I would provide with you a means to remain within your new found home, free of the threat of extradition."

While unsaid, the implication was that, should I refuse to carry out any hit he ordered, I would be declared an immigrant and either be captured and returned to Japan, or killed by other prospective bounty hunters wanting to cash in on my status as an illegal immigrant.

Suddenly a net I had never known existed became visible and I understood just how trapped I was.

Close to breaking, and adamant to myself I would sooner die than betray my only friends, I realized there was only one option.

I began the long walk to a place I intended to die.

Chapter 5:

What would she say if she could see me now? I wondered.

Would she pity me and try to tell me I wasn't a failure? Would she hate me for my actions? Would she even care what I did?

"Who knows, who cares?" I asked myself.

The bitter chill of the wind whipped my trench coat to my right and whistled over my knuckles gripping the railing behind me, their shaky grip the only thing keeping me from falling slowly but surely towards the concrete below me.

Oblivion, peace from all of this, if I only release my grip.

It would be better this way, I wasn't going back to die. I had failed at everything I had tried to do in the name of right and wrong, and I had failed everyone who meant something to me.

I took a deep breath, and closed my eyes, on the edge of my hearing I could make out the low rumble of cars on the motorway. I slowly released my grip, my heart pounding in my chest at the prospect of my next - and potentially final - action.

"Sol?" A familiar voice shouted from behind.

I turned towards the sound, acknowledging the arrival, His unkempt blonde hair was plastered to his forehead and his coat ran with rivers of water. His trainers were darkened from the liquid they soaked up. His white, almost dead eyes stared at me with concern.

"Oh. It's you." I replied blankly before returning to stare at the motorway below me. "Hows things?"

"What the hell are you doing, man?" He asked with worry.

I laughed mirthlessly. "Oh, you know, simply enjoying the view."

He hesitated. "Come off the ledge dude. This isn't worth killing yourself over."

"ISNT IT!?" I screamed at him, lifting myself over the railing and setting my feet firmly on the bridge's footpath. "My entire life has been wasted on an unattainable goal. I'll never rid the world of scum, people are rotten. It's not even possible if your good at what you do, and I can do fuck all."

"Even the simple stuff; catching Li-Pau, helping Renè. ALL OF IT! I'm given chances and I fuck them up like its my destiny to fail."

I sighed sadly and averted my gaze, looking at my shoes as my despair began to overwhelm me.

"Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe none of it really matters, and I'm just a delusional idealist, a kid who wants to be a hero."

I heard Flow's footsteps coming towards me, before he slapped me on the shoulder and began dragging me with him as he walked, I eventually rose my head when I stopped moping and continued alongside him, before we both sat on a water sodden bench.

"Andrew." He began, the ghost of a smile in his voice. "I've always seen you as a friend. You remind me of my younger brother. Would you count me as your friend?"

I hesitated. "You've never beaten me up for my failings, you haven't broken my nose after I left you in the marketplace and you always supported me in front of the others. I think I can class you as the only friend I have in Paris."

I chuckled. "Good enough." He declared, before reverting back to his uncharacteristically serious demeanor. "Then surely you can tell your friend why he would be so unfortunate as to find you here?"

"You wouldn't understand," I stung back.

"Try me," he bluntly challenged my conviction.

"I think if I told you... " I paused, before regaining my composure slightly, "In fact, I am certain, you would wish to see me dead upon the ground as much as Jack does."

"Look," he stumbled slightly before changing tracts, "No matter how bad things get. You shouldn't beat yourself up about it. I know. At least, I think... "

"I am a monster!" I bellowed at him, "A duplicitous liar and a cheat! I am exactly what I swore to oppose! I am no better than the scum I hunt for that deluded ideal of justice! I deserved everything I got today! I am a monster!"

At that Flow did something rather unexpected. He started to laugh, "I think you'll find that's what it means to be human!"

"You have never sunk to the same depths I have today!" I roared with humiliated fury, "I truly doubt you would see me as your brother for much longer if you knew why I was doing this!"

He chuckled again before bringing his head to his stomach as if he was in a tremendous amount of pain as he struggled for breath, "I am now absolutely certain that you have a pretty naive idea of what we are like, Andrew."

He continued to laugh as my frustration grew. If only he wasn't still holding on to me. I didn't want to harm him, but I was so close to my goal. I spat back, "You have no idea what you are talking about!"

"Look, I can understand why you'd be upset about missing our mark. Believe me, I've been in your shoes before. When life just didn't seem like living. Hell, that Chinese bastard sure had a really sweet price on his head. Enough to retire on. But you know what, we miss out on big fish like him all the time! It doesn't really make a difference, Andrew. We'll always have more small fry to round up," he swaddled on in abject ignorance.

"I didn't give a damn about the price upon his head! I wanted to see it on a plate! My fucking life depended on it!"

"I know you've always stood by that belief in justice, Sol. That's what I've always liked about you, but you need to understand that not everyone is like you. Here, I want to tell you a little about the others. A bit of the stuff you maybe didn't pick up on."

"Go ahead."

"Lets start with the obvious example. William. You can guess from his accent that he wasn't not from around these parts, can't you?"

I nodded.

"England was it? It doesn't really matter. He was a wanted man before the VA took charge, that's all I really know. Something about a botched robbery or a drugs deal gone wrong. Perhaps you could go so far to say in his later life he was poacher turned gamekeeper..."

He stopped as he realized he was going on a tangent before clearing his throat. "But I digress, apparently he lived a sheltered life before he spent it on the lamb. What do you think living life on the run does to a man? It makes him hard. It makes him resilient. It makes him ruthless."

"Why are you telling me this?" I enquired, confused.

"One of the only times we ever spoke, he told me that before he joined the hunt he had murdered more people than he could count. That the authorities had had every right to want him dead and that the greatest gift he had ever received was the regime change that cleared his name. I remember asking him if he had been repentant for the crimes he had committed and he just laughed. He told me that killing people was the thing he enjoyed most in life. That, of all the pleasures and sensations he had experienced, it had always been the biggest thrill. And he spent the rest of his pitiful existence seeking to indulge that twisted addiction."

It dawned on me. "And that's why he joined the hunt?"

"That, and money, Sol. We all need to eat, and ending criminals mixed killing people and a way to fill his belly."

"Surely William is an exception?"

He sighed, as if I wasn't getting the meaning of his lesson. "As much I'm willing to admit that I'm glad the bastard is dead, the man was not an exception. Merely an extreme. Matt's reasoning is closer to a way to escape his past. His friends and family abandoned him when they found out he was gay. Beforehand, I never could tell if he became a vigilante through altruism, redemption or vengeance. It was simply to escape his old life."

I began to be possessed of anger at his revelations, surely the hunt wasn't as morally bankrupt as I thought? Then again, at the heart of the gang stood Jack, and if the rot at the core was any more obvious, the VA would've been long past the point of burying him to keep the streets clean.

"No. I refuse to believe that every member had no motivations to hunt the guilty other than vengeance, enjoyment or escapism."

Flow shook his head sadly, like a condescending teacher. "I'm sorry, reality is disillusioning like that. Did you know I used to be a chef?"

"What?" I exclaimed, confused by his revelation.

"You seem surprised. Emphasis of was, though." He smiled sadly. "I enjoyed my job, I really did, best years of my life. I lost it after someone got food poisoning at the restaurant. Lost my home, my belongings, my pride. All I had was the clothes on my back and a guitar, I spent my time street busking, getting the money for a small amount of fast food, just to keep me going until the next day."

"I would of faded into anonymity and died during the winter if it wasn't for the drunken yobs that prowl this place at night time." He tapped his finger on the slightly indented curvature of his skull around the left of his head. "They kicked the living shit out of me, but the attack allowed for my elemental talents to surface."

He reached into his pocket and produced a small silver flask, unscrewing the top and taking a swig of the contents. "I drowned them." He said coldly. "They died trying to beg for mercy while their lungs filled with water. I joined the hunt shortly after because I was sick if being the victim of the yobs' attention. On top of the fact that I could finally get an apartment, and leave the park benches behind."

He offered me the flask for a second, and I declined before he placed it back in his jacket. "I joined for cash and protection, kid. Not some altruistic goal, not some grand scheme and certainly not some notion of justice, simply because it benefited me."

I sunk, as if my entire view of the people I knew had been completely punctured, which wasn't far from the truth anyway.

"We're all criminals. We're all monsters. Every last one of us on that godforsaken hunt. Tortured souls given a second chance. I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you, but its the truth kid."

But, maybe I could do this, just one goal and prove that my ideals and my actions weren't a complete waste, I may have lived life contradicting my own beliefs, assisted by men and women no better than those I hunted, but I could still do some right, I could still change the world.

To hell with Jack. To hell with Flow, To hell with the hunt as a whole. They could all burn. They would all burn. I would see to that. If fate had dealt their tarot to be that of death, then it would be rude for me not to oblige.

"You're right, Flow." I said, trying to keep the emotion blank from my voice as I subtly reached inside my own jacket. "You're absolutely right. You. Me. Jack. Matt. Amy. Danielle. William. Pietre. Michelle. Henri. We are all damned, nothing we could do or could have done would change that."

He gave a slight relaxed smile and half laughed. "It's good you understand, I'm just sorry I had to...."

"I'm glad you stopped me from killing myself back there." I continued as if he had said nothing. "I'm seeing everything completely clear now. Now I can finally perform some good in the world before I die."

My questing fingers found the worn leather strapping that made up the hilt of my combat knife. I flipped it around to reverse the grip and my fingers wrapped around, locking tight in an anticipation to my next move.

In one sweep I swept my arm around in a wide arc, not halting or giving my once friend any change to react until the carbon fibre blade slashed across the soft meat of his windpipe. Florentine gargled for several seconds, his lungs filling with his own blood, gushing from the blade wound, now opening and closing like a grotesque, smiling mouth.

He began coughing and spluttering, holding his hands to his throat in a weak attempt to stem the blood flow, turning towards me to stare with terrified, betrayed eyes. He began to panic, clawing ineffectively as his fingers struggled for purchase on my trenchcoat, coating me in crimson.

As life fled his body and spasms began to fade, I felt the weak vibration of my smartphone in my pocket. I removed it, but not before watching Flow's final moments. What I saw on my screen made my eyes widen with delight as I realized what was required of me.

I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and laughed.

Chapter 6:

"Just follow my lead kid." Flow instructed as he pushed open the battered front door.

The building seemed to be an old bar that they used as a hangout; the light fixtures threw out oppressive white light across the main area. On one wall stood a small stand of weapons, from small daggers and pistols to a Katana and several assault rifles and the neglected surface of the bar was littered with bottles in different stages of becoming empty.

Like the bar I previously entered, the air stunk of cigarette smoke and someone had put quiet music on, though thankfully whoever had decided on the track had better taste than the exploitative manager I had the misfortune of buying from previously and had decided on an old EDM track.

I noticed the people present, who seemed almost out of place with the old, primarily brown surroundings. Sat at the disheveled bar, a man with almost icy blue hair and bandages across his chest stopped nursing a bottle of whiskey he was in the middle of draining and turned towards us both, his manner subconsciously menacing.

Another man, dressed in a motorcycle jacket and a black beanie pulled over his messy ivory coloured hair, snapped around to see us from his position next to the blue haired man, and I could see his disturbing, soulless black orbs of eyes.

Opposite, a woman in revealing clothes with a neon pink ponytail abruptly stopped her discussion with a heavily built black man in a hoodie and jeans and a refined, wheelchair-bound redhead.

The attention our entrance had brought on made me feel uneasy as I stepped over the threshold into the hangout.

"Hey guys!"

For several seconds they stared, the only thing making any sound being the speakers.

"A pair of muggers. Don't ask." Flow told them, missing the point of their surprise.

"Who the fuck is this?" The redhead said at last, pointing to my direction.

"Uhh...hi. I'm Andrew." I said nervously. "Is this...the hunt?"

"Who wants to know?" The white haired man asked threateningly, rising from his seat to stride over to me.

"I wanted to join you." I quickly blurted out.

He continued for several steps before the blue haired man intervened.

"Come over here kid." He simply said.

I immediately ran over to him. Getting closer, I could see he appeared to be older than the other members and had several scars on his face, he seemed to be trying to judge me, seeing if Id be useful at all.

"Really? You really want to join and kill criminals?"

"Uh, yes." I swallowed.

"You're about 15, weak as shit and you seem nervous as hell. Why should we let you tag along?"

I took a deep breath to keep my nerves under control. "I've killed before, many times actually, in Japan. I can fight."

"You an elemental?"

"Hey," a feminine voice shouted who I could only presume was the pink haired woman. "That's hardly a fair rule when we have people like Henri involved."

"Plasma. Zeta by Gamma." I told him.

He narrowed his eyes. "Show me."

"Fine." I sighed, focusing for a moment and bathing my hand in the sapphire flames of my element, before extinguishing them.

"Okay." He seemed to smile momentarily. "Why should we trust you? Cause you look sketchy as hell."

I had to grit my teeth, I could tell he was coming up with reasons why he didn't have to allow me to join them. "Well, I saved Florentine from having seven shades of shit kicked out of him. I guess that's a reason."

He laughed heartily, sounding genuinely amused. "Most here would argue otherwise."

"Well fuck you too Jack." Flow glibly retorted.

"Nobody cares!" He shouted back, before turning back to me, sighing heavily. "I guess you can come with us."

"Hehehe. See, what'd I tell you?" Flow said from behind me, slapping me on the back. "Come on, let me introduce you to the gang."

Chapter 7:

I stalked through the streets at midnight, moving with all the grace of a hunting cat. I knew what must be done. They must die. I turned the corner and went right, walking along the pavement and doing my level best to avoid the streetlamps, I briefly considered destroying the bulbs with a concentrated burst of plasma, but decided against it; damaging government property was a serious offense and I could ill afford placing a bounty on my own head with reckless, impulsive behavior.

I crouched low and kept my footfalls light as I ran down the alley, the piercing agony of my chest wound reduced to a dull ache through a mix of painkillers and treatments, towards the high concrete steps that lead up to a whitewashed wooden door. I observed before going in, making sure there were no lights on in the place. Though at midnight, it was doubtful anyone would be awake.

I vaulted up the stairs, crossing two with every step, making sure I made no sound, and waited for a second to get my breathing under control while looking as inconspicuous as I could. Once I was calm and focused I placed my index finger on the keyhole and focused, sending a short burst of plasma energy through the lock and turning the pins into molten metal, allowing me to swing the door open with a long creek that made me almost grit my teeth with its volume.

I pushed it a little at a time, trying to make sure it didn't wake Matt up, before sneaking through the gap, nearly walking into the BMX against the wall and causing more alarm. Going through the flat got more tricky as it went, many of the floorboards creaking alarmingly and almost certainly giving away my presence.

Might as well wear a bell around my neck at this rate. I thought.

As I passed the living room I had conversed with the gang in over a week ago, I heard an ear splitting boom reminiscent of a jet reaching supersonic speeds and was flung into the whitewashed wall opposite with a sharp crack. I swore with pain as my head hit the wall behind me, sending my vision spinning while the tinnitus whine of Matt's attack rendered me functionally deaf.

I turned my aching head enough to see what I presumed was Matt as my vision reasserted itself. At first he was holding his gun steady, pointed at my chest, before he saw my face, his surprise making him lower the gun for a crucial moment, his eyes wide in shock and confusion.

"Sol?" He mouthed, dumbstruck.

Knowing I had only one chance to do this and avoid both the police and/or certain death, I lashed out as quickly as I could, sending a large concentrated pulse of blue plasma energy into his hand, vaporizing it at the wrist and causing his gun to fall to the floor. He screamed in agony, making me wince as I gathered it would attract more unwanted attention. Another bolt through his chest stopped his screams as he fall to the ground. I was unable to tell if his moving lips were capable of talking or not, he ringing in my ears stopping me from hearing any last words Matt would ever make.

"If you can speak Matt, then know I cannot hear you." I whispered apologetically.

He continued to try and speak to me for several seconds before blood began pouring from his mouth and he fell still, unmoving and silent. I lifted myself up slowly, the blood rushing to my head and giving me waves of nausea. I was about to exit through the same way I entered before I heard the sound of tires screeching to a halt on the road outside.

SHIT! I thought, turning to find another avenue of escape before remembering the window to the garden in the living room and sprinting to leave that way.

I tried to burn through it with a bolt of plasma with little success as I sprinted, before using my shoulder as a battering ram through the glass as I jumped, cutting my arms and allowing me to bleed through several wounds. I had opted to refrain from the trenchcoat to help conceal my identity, however now I knew that they would take my DNA from the blood on the glass and any hope of secrecy would be redundant.

After picking myself off the ground I send several streams of plasma into the sofa, the carpet, the curtains and everywhere else that would burn to hopefully destroy any evidence of my passing, before continuing as fast as I could towards the gate leading out of the garden, flipping open the latch and dashing through the streets as fast as I could, eventually hiding in an alleyway to keep myself unseen by the authorities.

Watching my blood slide off my skin and onto the ground, I took off my shirt and began to wipe it away, hissing through clenched teeth as the rough fabric ghosted over my cuts, before setting it on fire, disposing of it and reclining down the wall until I was sitting flush against the cold concrete on my back.

Chapter 8:

My blood sang with joy as I thought of my previous actions, finally cutting loose of the confines of corrupt laws and embracing the joys of a murderer. Terror, desperation and agony became fine wines as I savored their hopelessness.

This is why they broke the law. I thought. Its exhilarating!

I laughed at the thought as it leapt into my mind. What I was doing was in the right, it was justified and, most of all, it was making the world a better place.

I ran through the streets of Paris, my side in pain thanks to a stitch that labored my breathing but still too giddy to pay it much mind after the assassination of my previous target. I shirked through alleys and streets as I made my way towards my final destination, and the final phase of my plan to remove the final three members of the hunt, and timing was everything at this primary point.

As I continued to sprint I passed an alleyway between two apartment blocks, the almost painfully bright streetlights dispelling the darkness that the buildings shrouded it in and I stopped, seeing a familiar sight.

Across from the entrance I could see it was almost defiantly the same alley I had fought the terrorist bastard Li-Pau Nao over a week before, though the soot I had created had been scraped off and swept away, a large patch of brilliant white on the building seeming less weathered than the rest of its coat where repair work had taken place and two compact but nonetheless boxy video cameras were bolted in place, though there was little chance of any of them picking up my image, as they were trained on a disgusting sight located almost at the very end.

A man dressed in ripped jeans and a coat with a hood deep enough to obscure the majority of his face held a woman in his arms in a horrific parody of a loving embrace, his fingers curled into her bright blonde hair to hold her still while his opposite hand held a knife firmly against her throat, trapping her.

I began to edge closer and I could hear the man mumbled several slurred words into his captive's ear while she nodded in response. The closer I got to her the easier it was to see her distress, tear streaming down her eyes and sending two black sludge trails like the makeup of a jester, making me feel sick to my stomach as she was pushed forwards into the wall, placing her palms against the wall to brace herself while she sobbed uncontrollably.

I clenched my fists hard enough to make my knuckles crack. I slowly reached inside my coat, feeling ribbed plastic between the gaps of my fingers as I wrung this weapon of choice free, immediately sprinting down the dark alley towards the two individuals, armament in hand.

The man turned towards me as I darted towards him, and even in the lightless gloom I could see terror flash in his grey eyes just for a second before the sharpened tip of my carbon fibre knife slid into his skin, parting flesh and windpipe as he fell to the floor, gurgling his own blood in an attempt to force air into his lungs.

Laughing under my breath at his sheer hopelessness, I leant towards him, bringing my face within centimeters of his own as he tried to form words, his mouth opening and closing like a fish dragged from the water.

"Yes? You wish to speak?" I mockingly asked, before he spat frothy, spittle-mixed blood into my face, wiping away my good mood.

"Now you're just being rude!" I roared, gripping the handle jutting rudely from his throat and giving is a yank. I swung it in a wide arc as it slid free in a theatrical gesture, opening the wound more and causing a spray of blood to paint my face and coat.

Satisfied with my work, I rose to my feet and lifted my head to the sky, only now realizing it had stared to rain, a light, almost non existent drizzle of water falling from the clouds above, mixing and diluting the sticky red ichor of the dead rapist in front of me.

A rustling of bin bags made me remember the woman and I turned towards her, no doubt appearing ghoulish coated in her would-be-assailant's blood. She was pushing herself away from me and cowering with her arms held up to defend herself as she realized she had backed up into a corner, with no viable way out.

"Please!" She cried, the abject terror almost emitting in waves from her. "Please god no! I don't want to die!"

"Shh. It's okay. He's gone." I tried to comfort her, kneeling down to her level and bringing my face close to by blood streaked face close to her tear streamed own as her face raised from her knees. Her blonde hair was tangled and her black mascara lining her grey eyes and darkening around the natural curve of her cheeks. Her blue blouse was ripped and soaked with mud and rain, and I realized to my sickened disgust that if she was dressed in the typical military uniform of sector IV, she'd the the exact clone of Christelle.

No. I thought.. What if you are Christelle? What if the princess of the Euro Zone was in Paris, on another secret mission, and I found her.

I began to laugh, a low chuckle for a few moments, before becoming a full throated cackle to the sky and devolving back into a sadist's whispery giggle under my breath, before I lowered my head to look at the girl.

"Do you remember me? I wonder..." I trailed off, staring into her face as horrified terror paralyzed her in my arms while my grip tightened like a snake constricting around its prey.

"Last time we met, you broke a ceramic knife in my abdomen. Do you remember?" I asked, the grin of a psychopath on my lips.

"W...Wha..." She mouthed.

"You bled me of more than just my blood. But you gave me something precious from that act of spite. Do you know what it is?"

The tears running down her eyes were the only answer she gave me in the silence.

"No cleaver answer?" I teased, enjoying her terror. "Well, maybe I should tell you."

My palms still resting on her back, I closed my eyes, focusing my natural talents and sending a pulse of sapphire coloured flame through my hands and into her soft skin. It burned through her flesh to the internal organs beneath, roasting and obliterating her heart and lungs in an instant.

Her eyes widened and she let out a chocked cry, unable to create proper sound without lungs. Blood began to pour from her mouth in a crimson stream, running in rivers from her mouth and mixing with the salty translucent tears, stained grey with eyeliner, to fall upon the ground.

"You gave me the truth." I told her as the last of her life fled from her ruined body, releasing my grip and letting her fall to the ground without ceramony as I continued into the darkness of Paris.

Chapter 9:

I poured myself a vodka and coke in the darkened twilight off my flat. Still restless after the nights activities and rubbing my eyes to remove fatigue.

Several hours previous I had ended the life of a criminal. A violent rapist praying on the intoxicated and the weak. He had a reasonably decent bounty, as far as bounties went, and the ending of the man's life had been almost refreshing, allowing me to keep a clear drip on my thoughts.

His victim, a young blonde woman trying to take a shortcut through the alleyways after a night of drinking, had also died in what the official report stated was "collateral damage" and an "unfortunate accident".

In any case, once I had ended both of their pathetic lives, I continued into Paris until I was in the police station and had claimed the then thousand euro's offered for his capture, dead. The local station had commented with some distaste on my string of murdered targets of late, stressing that I was burning money by burning them.

"I didn't care. Killing scum was never about money, only the joy of another pest excised." I told them.

I took a swig of my drink and dismissed the thought. I heard the light, feminine footsteps of my visitor that had arrived no more than an hour previous and turned towards her, noticing she had applied new makeup around her watery crimson eyes and brushed her glossy white hair smooth again, its spider-web sheen like a waterfall of milk against the sheer, almost figure-hugging black dress she wore. Curiously enough, she was avoiding all eye contact at any cost, and I grinned at her shame.

In deference of my old lifestyle of strict honour and near celibate behaviour, I had called a local escort agency in celebration of my new-found motivation. Having since become possessed of fresh vigour when eliminating my targets. Feeling in an upbeat mood, I had requested something exotic.

They did not disappoint, and who they sent over was a pleasant surprise for many reasons.

A reunion of sorts.

"Would you like a drink, my dear?" I asked her, making a forced attempt to sound grandiose.

She looked up into my eyes, hate fuelled tears dancing on the edge of spilling over her cheeks to smudge her newest layer of make up.

"Fair point," I laughed, "it was worth a try, how much do I owe you?"

"350 euros." She spat.

I turned back to the side and picked up my wallet and counted out four gold edged pieces of paper, "Keep the change."

She snatched up the glinting one hundred euro notes without even looking at me. I grasped her wrist and drew her in so that I could whisper into her ear.

"I hope you haven't lost your elemental conductor," I crowed, "Daddy would be awfully disappointed if you have."

She forced herself free and stormed off towards the door. I smiled slightly as I heard it slam behind her.

It had been an exceptional night and I sank into my chair, satisfied in almost every way. I had almost drifted off completely before my house phone rang starkly in the silence of my darkened apartment and I shot out of my chair, still feeling slightly groggy from a mix of alcohol and intense physical activity, and applied it to my ear.

"The park. One hour." Said a hard edged voice, slightly slurring and the phone went dead.

I sighed loudly in the pregnant silence of my flat, turning to flick the living room light on.

The place was the same disorderly mess that had claimed my apartment for months, with clothes bundled in the corner, sticky patches on the floor where I had carelessly split drinks and several of the cushions on the sofa torn where I threw my knife at it, overcome with fatigue, excitement and alcohol.

I walked several steps and picked up my clothing, carelessly thrown on my seat an hour ago, and began to get dressed, slipping my jeans back on, pulling yet another monochrome shirt on over my bare chest and tying my boots before pushing my arms into my trenchcoat, the smell of newly cleaned, well worn leather bringing a smile to my face as I wondered absently just how many people I had killed wearing this.

Shaking my head as if to throw off the spell of nostalgia seeping into my thoughts, I grabbed my combat knife, its silver edge, or what was visible jutting out the cushion I threw it into earlier, reflected the light, sliding it in the sheath inside my coat.

Once satisfied I was ready to go, I went to my kitchen. Like the living room area, the kitchen was a tip. Washing up piling in an ever increasing mound in the sink, many of the plates and cups sporting green and white spots of furry mould where bacteria had spawned and flourished and the bin had overflowed where I had neglected to change the bag and take it out. I made a mental note to either sort it out myself or hire a cleaner when I had finished the business I needed to attend to.

Moving past the mess, I went into one of my cupboards and removed a small cardboard box containing a sheet of pills. Three of the small sections were empty where I had taken them on previous nights. Digging my fingers into the thin layer of foil, I tore the cover off one of the capsule sections and placing it on the side, before picking up one of the only clean glasses I had left and filled it with water, angling it to get it underneath the tap.

Satisfied, I grabbed the capsule from the side and threw it into the back of my mouth, before downing half a pint of refreshing water and pouring the rest away. Within minutes I was beginning to feel more aware, the pill combating the vodka and cancelling out the effects. I wanted to be fully sober for what I was going to face.

Ten minutes later I strode from my flat with purpose, wide awake and ready.

Chapter 10:

I checked my watch for the third time in ten minutes as I paced the empty park, the streetlamps nearby casting shadows over the place with the trees. This was going to be very difficult for me, I was certain he wouldn't come alone. It wasn't fear, or nervousness, that set me on edge, rather it was excitement at the events about to transpire that set me buzzing from the adrenaline.

Eager to calm my rapidly beating heart and steady my nerves, I reached into my pocket, removing a pack of marijuana, some tobacco papers and a lighter that I brought off a street vendor a few hours before and set about making up a cigarette with meticulous care, before lighting it and taking a large inhale. Immediately I felt my muscles loosen up and my heartbeat slow.

The rustling of leaves brought my focus back to the park and as I saw the three figures walking towards me, I knew I was right.

"By the prickling of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes." I laughed, drawing another cloud of smoke from the cigarette.

I watched their faces with mild interest as they strode purposefully towards me. Each was etched with the same expression of stoic fury, though strangely they shouted no abuse or curses at me as I regarded each of them.

Bored, I walked towards them, throwing the spliff onto the floor and stamping it into the still damp path.

"We can talk li..." I began.

The sudden assault by Jack stunned me for a moment with its sheer ferocity, putting me on the floor and breathing heavily from the attack.

"What. Did. I. Tell. You!?" Jack asked rhetorically as I stumbled, coughing. "I was generous at the hospital. Extremely generous. I could have carved you apart to satisfy my own rage. I could of demanded you pay for the trouble you caused."

Looking over the ranting gang leader I could see Amy and Danielle hanging back, watching as I was beaten by Jack. Their faces plastered with a smug, self satisfied grin as they acted as voyeurs to the one sided battle.

"But I didn't." He exclaimed, slamming a booted foot into my ribs, rolling me onto my side. "I let you go about living your pathetic existence as a waste of skin not even worthy of being called human. I LET YOU WALK AWAY!"

I turned my head towards my would be murderer as he jerked his arms, allowing two bowie knives to fall from his sleeves, falling into his palms and allowing his fingers to curl around the handles.

"I told you to stay out of my territory kid." He reversed his grip on the one in his right hand, raising it over my head and aiming for the crown of my skull, no doubt hoping to crack the bone and sent it into the soft tissue of my brain.

I focused, and smiled.

"And this, Andrew, is the thanks I get!" He screamed, bringing the knife plummeting towards my head.

As the serrated and sharpened tip stabbed towards me, I performed a trick I had done multiple times in fights with the morally bankrupt of Paris, a useful skill I learned to perform while at a party.

While simply humorous and somewhat of an intimidation tactic, I had learned that, by coating one of my forearms in the blue flamed plasma of my element, I could replicate the effects of a plasma window, the force of the super heated gas creating a miniaturized force field.

This had, several times, helped in blade to blade combat, allowing me to parry blows (not to mention blunt and warp the blades used against me) designed to disarm me or sever my hands. One of the only disadvantages is that I had to concentrate on keeping the super heated gas flowing over my arm rapidly to keep it strong.

Only once had this been a problem, against the criminal Li-pau, as he sent hundreds of volts through William's katana and into my body, jarring my focus, nearly completely eroding the force field and almost costing me my hand. My wrist still sported a scar from the confrontation, a bitter reminder not to underestimate anyone.

As my arm and fist rippled with ethereal sapphire flames borne from super heated gas, I swiped my arm around, slamming into the flat of the knife and knocking it out of Jack's hand, and I could see it's silver length was red hot and bent at an awkward, almost right angle from the intense, steel-warping heat as it clattered on the stone footpath.

Looking up at his dumbfounded face, every muscle locked in surprise at a retaliation he wasn't expecting, I laughed.

"You honestly think..." I wheezed through short breaths, reaching inside my coat and grabbing the hilt of my knife.

"...I'm just gonna lay here and let you kill me." I finished, empathizing with delighted venom.

Overcoming his surprise quickly, he lunged for my throat, forcing me to strain my muscles to bring my own blade up quick enough to block his remaining knife. The laughter came again, stronger this time, as he activated his own element, narrowly avoiding burning me as he sent a pillar of flame from his open palm towards me.

"I'm gonna fucking enjoy this, you little shit." He declared, the fires of hatred dancing in his eyes matching the fires of his element dancing from his fingertips.

"Your aim's off, Jack." I smirked, before bathing my blade in a field of hot gas and lunging forward.

Predictably enough, he raised his own blade to parry me, and I started to increase the amount of gas being burned until his knife started to smoke, the ozone scent assaulting my nostrils.

Noticing what was happening, he punched me with his burning hand, throwing me back several stumbling steps in searing pain, causing me to hiss through clenched teeth. But I had achieved what I needed to. In the disengage, I had twisted my weapon, already over halfway through his own blade, and snapped it at the hilt.

"You should of trained your element more, Jack." I told him with relish, pointing the tip of my knife at the terminated shard jutting from his hilt. "Cause right now, I'm in mine."

Enraged, he cast the now useless weapon aside, launching unfocused tongues of fire from his arms in my direction, most of which I blocked with precise pulses of plasma or dodged, often hitting nearby trees and setting them alight like miniature beacons.

"Just. Die." He said through clenched teeth, before a large, roiling ball of flame began speeding towards me from his arms. Surprised, I struggled to block it completely with my own element, and the heat rush from his barrage searing the flesh of my hand raw, causing me shout in agony.

As the almost supernova heat his attack faded and my vision cleared of the rippling heat waves, I could see Jack had collapsed to the floor, wheezing on his hands and knees in almost eerie replication to myself moments before. No doubt that either the either the use of his element had drained him severely or he was oversyncing. Grinning, I used my chance, delivering a sharp kick to his head and rolling over onto his back, struggling to rise.

"Gotcha." I smirked, sheathing my blade and curling my fingers around his throat. I was determined to enjoy this moment as he choked, screeching in desperation and clawing at me with ever weakening attempts to push me off. I smiled with extreme satisfaction as his eyes began to lose focus, his eye lids becoming slowly heavier.

The force of the blow was so sudden I barely registered it until my back slammed into the iron railings, with a sharp thud that forced the air out of my own lungs. I felt the sickening crack of ribs breaking from the impact before tumbling to the ground, panting for breath.

As my vision began to fade, I was aware of three things. The first being that our fight had torched the entire park, turning bushes and areas of grass into little more than blackened stains on the ground and several of the trees still burning bright while others had become charcoal husks.

The second thing I noticed was the two women helping to pick Jack off the floor, carrying his unconscious body away from the inferno this place had become.

The third thing I had noticed, which brought me the most surprise, was who one of the women carrying Jack was. Bright, vermilion hair bound into a simple ponytail stark against a black dress. Her eyes, narrowed in exertion were a unique shade of yellowed, almost golden brown.

She was a member of the hunt before I ever was. And though she hadn't been to a large amount of targets, indeed, she had been away for at least a week in Toulouse, there was one thing that made her unique and memorable.

She had lost the use of her lower body several years before in a car accident that severed her spine.

And she was walking.

Bewildered, I slid into unconsciousness.

Chapter 11:

Before my eyes opened, the thing that woke me up was the flaring pain on the back of my head where it had impacted with the iron fence and cobblestone path and the searing agony in my ribs where one of them had broken in the fight before.

When I had finally opened my eyes I noticed it was barely dawn, and was comparatively glad I hadn't been unconscious for too long. For several seconds I lay down, trying to gather the energy to bother riding from where I lay while musing silently how similar this situation was to my fight with Li-Pau: waking up outside with a raging headache in the ashen result of an elemental oversyncing.

"History seems to be repeating itself." I said to myself, laughing and then devolving into coughing as the ash in my lungs started to make me chest hurt more.

Mustering my energy, I pushed myself off the ground with a grunt as I saw men with flashlights stalking through the blackened ruin of the park in heavy yellow jackets. No doubt somebody had called the fire department after my fight with Jack. One of them shined a torch in my eyes and indicated to his colleges to follow him as he strode towards me through the crumbling park.

"Are you okay?" The fire man asked.

"I'm...I'm fine." I told him, clearing my throat.

"Okay, we need to get you out of here. We feel you may have suffered some injuries. Can you walk?"

"I'm fine, I don't need medical attention." I told him, hauling myself up onto my feet using the railings behind me while grunting as my actions pulled at the skin around my broken ribs.

"Sir, I feel we need to at least get you to a hospital to..." He began.

"I said I'm fine!" I abruptly cut him off, limping past him and paying very little heed of his expression.

I placed my hand on my ribs, gripping the flesh there to alleviate some of the liquid agony burning through my chest like hot tar as I stumbled towards the city, the golden rays of sunrise bouncing off the white and silver walls and glass windows polished to a mirror sheen and creating the scene of a beautiful utopia.

How very fitting. I mused to myself, shielding my eyes from the glare with my right hand.

A rotten hole of monstrous debauchery polished and gleaming in the rays of the rising sun.

I shook away my melancholy and hobbled faster, eager to get to the pharmacy and purchase some strong painkillers for a wound I was certain would be extremely detrimental to my next task.

Chapter 12:

I checked my smartphone for the time.

01:20.

It wouldn't matter, in all the years I went to the place that greasy scumbag never seemed to sleep. Why was beyond me, and was really irrelevant anyway.

As I turned and power walked down the street towards my destination, I could see the lights, the dim, glaring yellow lights shining through the bar's window.

Gotcha.

I steadied myself as I got to the door, allowing myself to breathe for a few seconds and let me recover from the injury at the park, before bursting through the door with a murderous, bloodthirsty grin plastered on my face. I had recently sharpened my trusty combat knife before polishing the blade to an almost mirror sheen, and removed it from my coat now, seeing the bar's lights reflect heavily from its surface. Between my manic expression and the brandished combat blade, I could see expressions of confused panic on the faces of every single regular that wasted time drinking away the tedium of their day to day lives.

Continuing towards the greasy, bulbous barman, I jammed the knife into the wood of a pillar and sat down.

"You're all free to leave." I told the punters.

Many immediately bolted, some were even ridiculous enough to take their drinks with them. To the ones with some obvious drive to remove what was perceived to be a threat to a man they counted as a friend, I focused for a second, bathing my hand in the blue flames of my element. They lost all will to fight me and subsequently left.

I turned back to the barman, his glasses steamed up and his hands fumbling for a weapon nearby, eventually settling on a half full vodka bottle.

"Yes." I said, pointing to the bottle clutched in his ham like fist. "One shot of that, with coke please."

"What the fuck is this?" He shouted, even through the anger of his question I could hear him slurring ever so slightly. I resisted the urge to sigh at his drunken state and continued baiting him heavily.

"What do you mean?" I asked him innocently, removing the dagger from the pillar and holding it blade up. "I'm merely ordering a drink, I trust you'll want ID to prove I'm over 18, yes?" I smugly asked, reaching into my pocket to place my EI card on the counter. "Can I start paying the fair prices or are you still gonna insist on charging me above the odds?"

He simply stared at me for several long seconds, before placing the bottle on the counter, still reluctant to relinquish his grip on the improvised weapon. I snatched the alcohol away, his hand limply hitting the bar and I placed a ten euro note on the counter, taking a swig and slamming it down with excessive force.

"And there was one other thing..." I trailed off. "When was Jack last here?"

He squinted, obviously not scared enough to forget his policy. "It's gonna cost ya..."

I didn't let him name his price as I reversed my grip on the combat dagger and brought it down firmly on his liver spotted hand, removing his ring and pinky fingers and causing him to howl in agony.

"And not telling me what I want to know is 'gonna cost ya'" I angrily mocked. "Now, I am gonna ask you again. WHEN. DID. JACK. LAST. COME. HERE!?"

"I DON'T FUCKING KNOW! A few hours or something!" he retorted as he cradled his ruined hand, blood leaking from the severed digits. "He came here and drank with the crippled girl and some pink haired woman before heading off to another 'assignment'."

I exhaled, knowing his information was outdated and probably useless but knowing it was all I was going to get out of him. "Thank you." I said, grabbing the bottle by the neck and placing my blade back in its sheath inside my trenchcoat.

I opened the door and made to leave before I span on my heel and faced him again. "One last thing, Alexander, my good friend."

"What?" He spat with hate filled eyes.

His anger amused me with its impotence and powerlessness and I grinned, purposefully making myself look as terrifyingly ghoulish as I could, uncaring of how artificial it might seem as I took genuine enjoyment at the pantomime I was enacting. I lifted my right arm, splaying my fingers in bombastic, theatrical movements with my other hand still clutching the bottle, my arm poised to throw.

"Run." I told him before launching the glass container of vodka and projecting an oppressively bright, sapphire blue ball of roiling plasma from my hand at it as it sailed through the air, causing it to explode in a bright fireball and immediately catch several pieces of of the pub's furniture alight.

I turned away and shut the door quietly behind me, uncaring if he managed to escape the rising inferno the place was fast becoming consumed by.

Chapter 13:

I prowled the streets of Paris with a limping jog utterly devoid of grace, my hand resting on the wound in my chest to stymie the tearing pain; a pain the strong painkillers had done little to alleviate.

It didn't matter, if all went to plan, and there was no reason it wouldn't this time, I wouldn't need to do a lot of moving.

Haven't heard that one before. I mused.

I stopped against a wall for a few seconds, trying to catch my breath and let the growing agony fade down, downing another painkiller and pocketing the rest. I had stopped caring about recommended roses and had already taken three pills an hour before, the risk of a heart attack totally disregarded in my current state.

I fiddled with the object under my coat absent-mindedly; its small, almost L-shaped body extended by a cylindrical silencer screwed to the end to reduce the noise it made. It was a jarring difference to my favored combat blade, which I sheathed next to it and I abhorred the use of a firearm, but I had to admit it would be useful in my current mission.

As would the other items on my person.

Alone of all my current assignments, I was determined to extract as much enjoyment from this as I could.

As the pain faded to nothingness, I continued my journey with a more relaxed gait, before arriving at the off white apartment block, each living space as undoubtedly cramped as each other. As I approached the door and noticed the electronic lock, undoubtedly impossible to get through without publicly destroying the door with my elemntal powers and drawing a large amount of attention to myself, a scruffy young woman wearing a hoodie walked through the door, blonde hair tied back and emitting the light grey wisps of cigarette smoke lazily floating from her hood as she eyed me cautiously. She didn't bother to shut the door herself and instead left it to close naturally, luckily leaving me a way to get into flat.

Thinking fast, I sprinted for the door, straining my damaged muscles and causing me to bite my lower lip hard enough to taste the coppery tang of my own blood. I caught it just in time, gripping the door handle, opening it slowly slipping quietly inside, gingerly pulling it shut again.

The hall was as stripped back as the one I remembered in Japan, with grey walls and dozens upon dozens of numbered doors. Graffiti featured sporadically, though whether they were from thoughtless vandals or bored residents, I didn't care enough to wonder.

I know which flat belonged to my quarry and started walking with a light footing to try to reach it with minimum warning to my prey. I turned towards the stairs after inspecting all the room numbers on the floor in my attempt to find the flat with the number twelve stenciled roughly onto it's door.

"Who are you?"

I turned around to see an overweight man in his early thirties standing in an open doorway. His head was shaven and he dressed in a baggy tracksuit, clutching a baseball bat in his pudgy fingers that I severely doubted he actually used to play.

I gave him a viscous, shark-like grin. "I'm nobody, go back inside your flat." I told him.

He gritted his teeth and became flustered at my passive threat and started to saunter closer to me, intent on intimidating me. He was obviously a man with ideas to keep the residents safe, though why he did so eluded me.

"Trying to be cocky are ya?" He bellowed, and I couldn't help but laugh at his blunt threats.

"I'm not being cocky by saying I could burn you to cinders in less than a second." I told him bluntly, taking relish as I raised my left hand to recreate my favorite scare tactic on arrogant scum. He noticeably blanched as my hand flickered with ethereal blue flame.

"Now, go back indoors, this doesn't concern you." He immediately slipped into his flat, and I heard the trademark thunk of a deadbolt being slid through.

Shaking my head at the momentary distraction, I continued upstairs towards flat number twelve.

The stairs, like the hallway, was a cold display of bare concrete crudely decorated by graffiti artists of questionable skill and vision. Rubbish was sporadically littered around the place and the only window allowing light to come into the stairwell was marred by a large crack running across the glass. I shook my head and continued to another hall, its features almost identical to the one below it.

I quickly found the flat I was looking for, its number almost completely obliterated from the floor except for a few telling marks of white paint and its placement between apartments eleven and thirteen.

For several seconds I did nothing, leaning against the wall opposite to both let the flaring, stretched pain of my wounds go down and recite the plan in my head, grinning and giggling under my breath like a madman at its simple ingenuity. Sobering myself to the enormity of my action, I pushed myself off the wall and hobbled towards Jack's door, my knuckles mere centimeters from the cheap wooden surface.

This is gonna be fun.

I knocked my knuckles against the paint flaked, oak surface, tapping rapidly three times before sliding to the right and placing myself flush against the wall, my hand reaching towards one of the objects strapped to the inside of my coat, my gnarled, alabaster hand wrapping around its grip and locking fast in anticipation.

I heard the shambling form of my quarry grunting and muttering as he pushed himself towards his visitor, and the blunt thrick of a deadbolt sliding across, before the door had opened and Jack's brutish form had emerged from his room, his craggy, scarred, granite carved features softened by his own exertion as he looked around for whoever had knocked.

Shouting in frustrated anger, he turned away and made to walk back in to his flat. That was when I sprung my trap, springing from my hiding place in three long strides and removing the safety device on the side, before placing the barrel flush to his head.

"Don't move a muscle." I told him. "Or I will put a bullet in your skull."

"Sol?" He asked surprised, his voice sounding dry and exhausted from our fight only a day before.

"The very same." I grinned with relish. "Oh, and don't even think of using your elemental talents to heat the gun, or I will end you."

He grunted once and I switched the pistol into a one handed grip, before commanding him to walk into his flat with his hands behind his head. My heart was pounding and my head ached from the amount of adrenaline in my system. I began to rummage in my pockets before producing a slender hypodermic syringe filled with a sedative that, I had been told, was powerful enough to knock out a small horse.

Out of curiosity, I observed his flat; piles of unwashed clothing littered the place, and a large stack of dirty plates stacked in the room. One wall was dominated with a large, cracked mirror.

Maybe we do have some similarities. I wondered mirthlessly.

I shook away the melancholic thought. This man was a disgusting monster that René had ordered I put down like a stray dog, nothing like myself. There was no honour in him, no trust or faith in another, and soon, there would be naught but ash, but that wouldn't be for a while yet.

Focus dammit! I internally snapped.

Eager to get this delicate state over with, I ripped the protective sheath off with my teeth, before preparing it in my hand, fumbling to get my fingers in the right position to hold it securely. I would have to administer it to the vein in his neck, his jugular pushing against the taut skin there.

As if sensing my concentration waning, Jack spun round to attack. His fist cannoning into my face, snapping me to the side. I landed awkwardly, the needle in my left hand spinning away into darkness under a cheap plywood dresser.

I looked up to his half broken features, anger fighting for place on a face already saturated in exertion, gradually turning his face a belligerent red with rage.

"Now you're in fucking trouble." He exclaimed, pulling a knife from atop the same plywood drawers my sedative had fallen beneath.

I barely managed to avoid his first blow, an arcing motion that would scythe my throat wide open just grazed my neck, nicking the same lump of healing tissue he had opened during the confrontation at the hospital and producing a gasp of surprise from my lips.

His next attack was less successful, and I slid aside as a lumbering jab was aimed at my stomach with all the skill of a desperate crack addict in the throws of withdrawal. Clearly his strength hadn't returned sufficiently from our past encounter.

Thinking fast, I pushed myself backwards from Jack and aimed my gun, still firmly gripped in my fist, at his head.

"Very clever." I congratulated him sarcastically. "But take another step, and I will put a hollow point through your diseased brain."

"You wouldn't dare!" Jack snapped back acidly. "You haven't got it in you, to kill one of your own."

I burst into a paroxysm of laughter at his smug conviction. How little he knew.

"Jack, I've already killed several of my own! you forgetting what I did to dear old Henri? And for that matter, haven't you wondered what happened to Flow? Or Matt? I killed them. They were enemies of the commonwealth, and I killed them. But you know what the best part was, I enjoyed their deaths. William, Henri, Flow, Matt, Amy, Danielle, You! There is not even a shred of decency between you. You are truly rotten, each and every one of you! All of you corrupt bastards can burn in hell, and I'm only happy to oblige."

Seeing his fury and contempt, I gave him a sharkish grin and stared him straight in the eyes.

"But yes, I wouldn't dare kill you with a bullet to the head. That would be such a wasted opportunity."

I lowered my gun slightly and fired. A millisecond later, his knee and shin exploded outwards in an explosion of gore and noise. Jack screamed, dropping the knife to the floor and clutching the bloody entry wound..

For several seconds I simply stared at this man, a ruined hulk of muscle and aggression, broken in the pull of a trigger. Amidst his shrieking, I smiled, turning away from the pathetic display and, reaching over onto my haunches and forcing my thin, almost skeletal arm, under the dressing table. After a couple seconds of frustrated fumbling, while the backing vocals produced by Jack's agonized form became slightly more pained and breathless as shock began to set in.

I found the needle, pricking my fingertip on it's sharpened tip before sliding it out with my wrist and priming it in my hands. Depressing the plunger every so slightly to remove any air captured in the injection, I walked over to his weeping form. His eyes widened more than I have ever seen then opened, and he shook his head iolently, as if in horror.

I leaned over and whispered in to his ear innocently, my tone mocking with its false assurance.

"It's okay, this'll just make you sleep, is all."

In one smooth motion, I pushed the needle into his neck, aiming for the artery pushing sharply against the surface of his skin, and delivered the entire needle's contents into his bloodstream. The effect was almost immediate, and, in no time at all, Jack's eyelids hooded his panicked stare and he tumbled to the ground, completely unconscious.

"Enjoy this small rest, it's the last one I'm going to let you take."

Chapter 14:

I stared at my captive, bound to his own chair by the screws slicing crimson furrows into his wrists. His craggy face was stooped forward, facing into his own lap and drooling spittle in a large quantity.

Turning away in absolute disgust, I brought my attention to a nearby table, piled high with random detritus. It took only a few seconds to upturn it, sliding countless plates, takeaway boxes and newspaper pages onto the floor in a shower of ceramic and paper. The shattering delivered a snort from his throat and I turned to see him stir, before sinking forwards again.

Lifting the table back on its legs, I begun work on setting out my tools. My own specialized items were limited, and I gently placed my spread of sharpened needles in the centre. I begun to place my other tools down one by one: A pair of pliers, a drill with attachments of various thickness and gouger ends, a belt sander and a dozen other tools, mostly mundane, re-purposed for means far beyond what they were intended.

It looks a bit barren. I thought, but even as I began to despair, I had an idea, and made my way to Jack's kitchen. It didn't take long to furnish myself with a plethora of items, and I set down the cooking knives, lemon zester, tenderiser hammer and a variable smorgasbord of cooking and food preparation appliances I had settled on next to my own selection of items.

Perfect.

I returned my full attention to Jack, and begun the long, arduous process of waking him up. Picking up the rolling pin from the table, I shunted the end of the rolling pin into his crotch, his entire body jolted and he awoke, screaming at least two octaves higher than believed he was capable of.

"Oh good, you're awake!" I exclaimed with mock cheerfulness.

"Wha-what are you..." He squeaked between deep breaths.

"You should hear your voice right now." I said, before turning away to pick my knife up from the table next to me, pressing the tip just barely against my thumb and drawing a single ruby drop from my skin. I made sure to show him in full view, before putting the blade down with almost reverent care and turning back to him.

"I feel like you and I are long overdue a proper heart-to-heart," I pulled a chair up from the table, twisting it round so the back was facing him, before sitting down, my arms resting on the top of the backrest and resting my chin on my palms.

He tried to struggle for a few minutes, which dragged another curse from him, somewhere between a shout and a hiss.

"Trapped. It's not happening. Here's what's going to happen..."

I removed one of the item's from the table, a simple leather hoop with metal clasps on the outside and sharpened spikes on the inside, and began to strap it to his wrist. On top of the belt there was a smaller loop of leather, no more than five centimetres in diameter, and I slid the small steel pipe I had found in the apartment through it. Smiling in his face, I turned the pipe, using it as a handle and tightening the device.

I began to work the leather belt tighter around his wrist as his sense flared with renewed vigour, he began to shake and shout, trying to muffle his own screaming as the spikes pierced his skin and began grinding further and further into his muscle, veins and bone.

"I'm gonna ask some questions, and you're gonna play ball. Because if you don't, well", I laughed, "just look at what I brought with me."

He again tried to work against his restraints, which were by now slick with his own blood. There was still some fight left in the old boy yet. To accentuate my point, I gave the bar one final twist. His hand, already bright red from the pressure of the blood in it, went a shade brighter and the bones in his arm broke with a gunshot crack. He bellowed in pain, his mangled wrist leaking blood with a jet wash's force from where fragments of bone pierced it like a pin cushion.

"Now, what will it be?"

Chapter 15:

He had chosen poorly indeed. That was just one of the things I found out over the few hours it took for me to draw the information I needed.

That, and begrudging admiration. His pain tolerance both mystified and infuriated me.

"Why do you care!?" He spat at me with tears running down his face. I had just administered another dose of drugs to keep him completely powerless and heighten his sense of touch, before his pectoral muscles were threaded through with a selection of steel needles and heated using my own reasonable elemental talents until they liquefied in his chest.

"Why are you afraid to tell me!?" I retorted. "Regardless of what happens, they will die anyway. All you're doing is prolonging...this!"

I was losing my temper with him, and the urge to simply melt his face and be done with it was extremely inviting. But I was determined to make him suffer.

"What possible reason do you have to keep up with this bullshit!? What is she, your daughter!?"

I saw his eyes flicker briefly before he stared into space, desperately trying to prevent me from seeing his reaction. But it was too late, and I smiled. And then I laughed.

"Well fuck me... I was not expecting that!". I breathed heavily, trying to contain my excitement. "But she isn't your actual daughter, is she?"

"What makes you say that?" He asked.

"No self respecting father would let his little princess whore herself out like she does." I smirked, watching his strain against his bonds to try and throttle me.

"And," I continued, ignoring his enraged thrashing. "while you're not a self respecting person, you are dementedly protective over Amy. All except where it comes to business. You seem to respect her decision to make her own living."

"You know nothing!" He snapped, and I lost my cool.

I slammed my fist into his face, snapping his head back but causing little damage beyond a small nosebleed. I didn't stop, and begun to punch him in the face again and again. After around the seventh I begun to calm down, my knuckles aching and split from an assault that did nothing but rebreak his nose and knock a tooth out of his gums.

"You never were strong outside of elements were you?" Jack smugly asked after spitting out a mouthful of blood.

Undaunted, I picked up a flat grater, and began to work it against the flesh of his legs, shaving skin away with workmanlike zeal. The screaming began again and I smiled as I looked into his eyes.

"You're right, it's foolish of me to stray outside of area of expertise."

His screams continued on for several minutes, and by the end his leg was a stripped meat ruin of bones held together by the tattered remains of musclestructure. With my other hand, I began the work of painstakingly cauterizing the flesh, one fingerbreadth at a time.

By the end his head was lolling to the side, his mouth trailing a stream of frothy, pink saliva.

"Jack!" I shouted at him, dragging his face up by a fistful of his blue hair. "Jack, look at me!" But it was no use, and I sat down as I waited for my patient to wake up.

I can wait, I have all the time in the world.

So I waited, and waited, and waited, my frustration growing all the while. Nothing I could do would rouse him to wakefulness and I only had four more syringes worth of the drugs I had been provided to use on him. While they were potent, they didn't last more than an an hour or so.

I began to kill the time by coming up with ever more imaginative ideas to wreak on my captive, who I couldn't help but reflect back to, his belligerent nature and violent charisma seemingly stripped out of him like so much of his body. It was hard to picture this man being the same one who broke my nose in the hospital, or tried to execute me in the park.

How the mighty have fallen.

Then again, I wasn't exactly guiltless either, but my sins were mostly rooted in circumstance and misplaced idealism. Not like Jack. Not like Captain-fucking-Jack White and his little gang of carrion feeders. His sins, I inagined, were his own. He hadn't grown up in an oppressive hellhole, being lectured at by dissenting parents.

He hadn't been forced to watch as scum murder his brother. He hadn't been forced and held there as violent monsters raped and murdered the only person he ever loved. He didn't have to flee his homeland to avoid being shot at by entitled assholes and screamed at by some four star general.

He had grown up in the pretty little utopia that was Paris. he had been fed, clothed and left free to explore his own options. Separate from war, separate from the necessity of going against the rules just to survive another day, separate from heartbreak.

I wondered, for a second, what Jack's excuses would be, when the time finally came for his execution. The thought of it made me almost want to just forget about my other two targets burn him slowly until he told me everything.

After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I wanted to see his.

When he finally awoke, I sprung to action, and what I learned made the entire wait worthwhile.

Chapter 16:

"Jack!? JACK! Open the fucking door!"

She was obviously straining to get in, and I could hear her trying to use momentum to break the flat's main door down. Alas, due to her modest weight and slow speed, she didn't do much but punctuate a fact we all knew too well; Amy had no feasible way to break down the door.

As the irritated grunts gave way to frustrated screams, I began to grin, before composing myself. I ran to the door and unlocked it, opening to find exactly who I expected to.

Amy was leaning against the doorframe with both hands, looking at me with a hybrid expression of confusion, anger and exasperation. Her neon bright hair, usually uniformly scraped into a ponytail, was left loose, and it's long length spread down to the small of her back like a cascade of pink emulsion. One thing I found particularly surprising was her attire.

In lieu of her usual, more revealing outfits, Amy had opted for a pair of bootcut jeans, blue trainers and a white nylon coat. It was a mystery that intrigued me for a second, before being lost and forgotten in the whirlwind of what followed.

I've gotta do this right, I only have one shot.

"AMY!" I exclaimed, doing my best to sound upset and thankful. "Thank god you're here. I got a call... I-it's Jack, he-he's in a pretty bad shape."

All scepticism and distrust seemed to melt away from her expression and the look of disdain ran and curdled into concern and fear. Immediately she barrelled into me, shoving me out of the way and throwing me to the floor.

Fuck. I thought. She's too on edge to tranquillize her. But as soon as the thought came to me, my eyes rested on a nearby rolling pin I had left on the kitchen counter.

Rolling onto my front, I pushed myself from the floor and ran after Amy, lifting the rolling pin from the counter and readying it in my fist just as she turned the corner into the living space, and I heard her gasp in horrified shock to see the man she loved so reduced.

"Gotcha" I whispered involuntarily under my breath.

She turned just in time for me to hit her in the head with the cooking implement, and struck her nose, breaking it and knocking her off balance. Her head hit the table on the way down with a sickening crack, and I could see a cut on her scalp leaking a healthy torrent of blood before she fell onto her back, knocking any wind out of her petite frame.

Her eyes staring blindly at the ceiling, unable to focus on anything due to the head trauma, Amy Young simply lay there, too disorientated and concussed to do much of anything. Thinking quickly I reached inside my coat and stabbed the long needle into her arm, allowing her rapid heartbeat to pump the concoction around her body. She tensed quickly from the needle's cold kiss but the effects of her assault still locked her fast in it's oily dark embrace. Her eyes slowly closed once, and her head lolled to the side, unconscious.

Seeing the mess of blood that my improvised assault has caused, I strode back to Jack's kitchen, casually throwing the rolling pin into the overfilled sink and grabbing a cloth after running it under a cold tap for a few seconds.

Walking over to her supine form, I began to clean her, gently wiping the blood from her face and hairline and removing the twin tear trails, ever so slightly tinted black, brought about from the pain of her assault.

Behind me, I heard jack stir, creaking against his chair as he came to and hiss air inwards as the pain of his wounds assailed him in full again. After several seconds of him breathing heavily from the trauma of his mutilations, I heard him gasp in shock and disbelief as he bore witness to me gently cleaning his "adopted daughter" of blood.

"What the fuck are you doing!?" He asked, more in rhetorical disbelief than anything else.

I casually ignored him and went back to washing Amy's face. It didn't take long before her disorientation disintegrated and her eyelids fluttered. She sleepily tried to slap my hand away and in response I grabbed hold of it gently and put it back down to her side.

It seemed to have gotten her attention, because she awoke with a scream of panic and me crouched over her, wiping her face with a damp cloth.

"Oh, fantastic, I was worried I had killed you with that." I politely told her.

Her mind was still too frantic, still lost to the surrealism of her current situation and the shock of such a sudden attack. I can almost see her piecing the last few facts together as the seconds pass and she turns to me; at last her attacker, a target to eliminate to ensure her own freedom. With a face red from exertion and eyes rendered watery from terror she stared at me, fully expecting me to convulse on the floor, at the mercy of her superior elemental powers.

Her face screwed up, grows redder and gives way to frustration and fear as nothing more than a tingle tickles my senses, somewhat between the sensation of a sleeping limb and licking a battery. I knew,from the look on her face and the vein pulled taught at her temple that she was using every ounce of effort to do even this, and I smiled.

"Save your energy, you're gonna need it."

Panicked, she began hitting me in the chest, desperately trying to push me off her. I battered her first few attacks from my forearms before I managed to grab her wrists, holding her in place.

"Shh," I mocked, "everything's going to be just fine."

Tears of pure frustrated rage and understood horror smudged her eyeliner, and I couldn't help but overlay the face of the woman that I had ended in the alley yesterday, the woman who resembled Princess Natalia.

This will be fun, this will be pleasurable indeed.

I dragged back my mind from euphoria and lifted myself off Amy's body, immediately she dragged herself backward at a surprisingly fast pace, most likely to be followed by trying to lift herself to her feet, and bolt for the nearby door.

She barely got halfway across the room before I removed my gun from my inner pocket and pointed it at her. The basic animal response took over and she froze, transfixed, like a rabbit about to be hit by a car, her limbs locking in place and her body trembling as her mind tried to process and decide what to do.

"Now now, stop being a silly girl." I kindly admonished.

"Wh...what is..." she stammered.

"Just business." I casually remarked, pointing to Jack's ruined frame, eyes burning into me with indisputable rage and horror.

I allowed myself a thin smile before continuing. "All right, I am taking a...certain liberty with my orders for the sake of pleasure. But nothing that will endanger the assignment."

"All of this," I said, spreading my arms wide, "will play out exactly the same way. For both of you. The only difference is the inconvenience of scraping your cancerous remains into a sufficient body bag."

"Now," I continued, "look to the man who you admire as a father, and know this: he made this all necessary."

She looked up to me with a mixture of terror and desperation. "N-no..."

The handgun barked once, twice, three times. and Amy fell back against the cupboards behind her, leaking a healthy torrent of blood from her chest where the three bullets had entered her.

I noticed her doll like eyes, staring into me with a denial she had sounded but would quickly proving false. Everything that she was, had seen and done in the name of amoral survival, was captured there, slowly becoming glassy orbs as life fled from her form.

Her chest heaving with exertion as she tried to cling to life, she made an attempt to rise, before collapsing entirely on her side. It took minutes, but eventually, she was no more.

I watched her final moments with a curious mix of dispassionate curiosity and content vindication. In death, she looked curiously peaceful, her corruption diminished. It was almost hard to see the hatred and bloodcurding depths of emotional damage that had infected her entire life in her broken form.

Would my final killer see my just actions in my body.

Maybe we're not so different, Amy Young.

With an uneasy mix of emotions and a rueful smile, I turned from Amy and looked to my captive.

"Enjoy the show?" I mocked, trying not to let my expression change.

He just stayed silent, openly weeping and avoiding eye contact with the body of a woman he had personally dragged from the lowest gutter of humanity and into a more stable life.

And I smiled, my doubts gone and my next course of action clear to me.

I was going to break him, and I knew how.

Chapter 17:

I wiped my hands on the bloody cloth as I had done for the seventeenth time today, the fabric already becoming a dark brown as the fluid began to congeal.

My prisoner, a man that I might have been able to find inspiring, had the reality of my capture not been completely disillusioning, was bleeding profusely from his wounds, despite my best efforts to stem the bleeding with agonizing cauterisations. His hair, along with the trinkets that hung through it, was gone, his scalp removed to expose his pallid skull to the air of the chamber, while on the left side of his face he dripped onto his lap through the bloody tear I opened with a combination of delicate knife strokes and the brutality of my bare hands.

I had administered drugs to him to keep him conscious through the ordeal, and while his body was positively swimming with endorphins to dull some of the pain, his physical torture was affecting him greatly. He fell into unconsciousness for large periods of time, annoyingly halting my effective progress. Regardless my actions were having the desired effect on him, and my most recent destruction against him; puncturing his eyeball through with a heated needle, produced a hoarse cry of pain from his throat.

Currently he looked as close to broken as I could possibly have hoped. However it still wasn't quite done, I threw away the useless cleaning implement and moved to my prisoner, who was by now leaking tears from the remaining eye, while his punctured eyeball leaked a healthy torrent of blood from in between his lids.

Disgusted with his helplessness, I clamped my hand upon his chin, and worked my uncut, dirty nails work into the – admittedly crudely – flayed facial muscles, and slowly raised his head, putting our faces centimeters from each other.

“Now…” I spat. “I. Have a question for you.”

His voice, sore from agonized shrieks he had projected over several hours, was a parched whisper, like a desert wind rustling over dried leaves. “Why are you doing this?”

My face split into a sadistic smile and I answered him with relish.

"Why?" I inquired into his weeping face. "Well, quite simply put, it's because it's fun."

Underneath the delirium brought on by unending agony, I could see the desperate, brutal hatred mingled with desperate, horrified terror. I could see it in the way he strained against the wrist screws binding his hands to his chair. The mere act of readying himself forcing his flesh more into the spikes, causing thin runnels of blood to drip from his wrist.

The way he kicked out with legs that were no longer attached to his body; one had become a shredded ruin of fleshy ribbons and jagged bone, while the other terminated halfway up the shin, having been slowly, and agonizingly, worn away with an industrial grade belt sander more used to sanding steel than a human leg, but which ate through flesh and bone with surprising abandon.

The way his left hand closed around the rest, even despite having each fingers bones hollowed and split to shards through its entirety with a power drill. It was surprising enough that it was medically possible, let alone that he maintained that same level of wrath despite the level of pain racking his body and, especially, his hand.

Every muscle, heedless of the torture inflicted, was tensed in fury and expectation, seeking an advantage to exploit. From chest muscles, visible where I removed a pectoral no less than half an hour ago, or the ruined nubs of legs, were muscle still existed, he was ready to try and exploit any advantage.

"Now, my question is this. Why do you tolerate Danielle's shit so readily?"

"Why do you care?" He hissed, his breathing laboured.

I broke into a warmer smile. "It's curious. I remember several other members came and went during my time here, the quiet ones leave with their cash, satisfied. Some of the more troublesome ones leave with broken limbs or missing fingers. Many of the cockier ones and those who dont play nice, on the other hand... disappear. I know what you do, and in a way, its fair enough; its like your own form of pest control."

"After all." I added, reaching for a bottle of water, accidentally made pink by contamination with Jack's blood. Uncaring, I took a healthy sip, before offering it to Jack in mockery. You don't want your bloodshed mixed with water from some egotistical, loud-mouth cunt."

"It's bizarre. I remember Pietre, he got into a fight with William during a raid, and you slit his throat on the spot. Then claimed a bounty on grounds he perverted the course of justice." I laughed ruefully. "You were blessed with a silver tongue, I'll give you that."

"I deal with this level of bullshittery from everyone. Especially you!" He snapped. "Off duty, hate and argue and fight all you like. But when we have a job to do, you work together, or you die. There's no room for hatred."

"Well, you have me there." I said, musing on his point. "Except...Danielle has pushed Flow over numerous times just for laughs, even during a stealth assignment. It cost us Michelle. A fucking reprehensible woman, I'll admit, but a death is still a death, and she caused it. And yet..."

For the countless time in the hours that the torture had taken, Jack spat in my face in defiance. It more or less hit me in the lip and nose area, and I could taste the coppery blood in it, most likely from the roughly torn cheek.

"Go to hell."

Amused by his bullshit defiance, I reached over to my tray of implements. Besides the wristscrews, very few of my tools were professional, most of them simply household utensils I had plundered from Jack's house and used creatively. I picked one such item up now, and saw him tense in true horror as I lifted a small, thin, boxy object with no bottom and a handle along it's top edge, it's slender sides were edged with sharpened blade ridges or small, jagged bumps. It was still stained with blood and...other detritus from an earlier session.

"I have the cheese grater. Do you remember what I did with the cheese grater?" I politely asked him, walking over to his sink to wash it clear of the solid matter still coating its ridged sides. Satisfied after a few seconds of washing, I stepped closer to him, leaning over into his tearful face.

"I will not hesitate to repeat that if you keep this shit up." I hissed. "Now, why do you tolerate Danielle?"

He stared at me, his tear blinded eyes drowning in terror, before his gaze fell, and he stared onto the hardwood floor, covered in congealed blood, scraps of flesh and bone chips like waste gravel.

"O-okay." He said. His voice choking. "I'll tell you..."

Chapter 18:

I poured myself another drink to still my nerves, using the rich, fine wine to still my excitement in preparation for my visitor.

No less than twenty minutes prior, I had wrestled the password to Jack's smartphone from his cracked, ruined lips. It had taken the careful application of heated needles to his still ruined eyeball and the delicate strokes of a blade parting long strips of flesh from his back in order to coax the information from him, and in the wake of this new bout of cooperation, I had allowed him some time to sleep and rest to give his mind a chance to recover from the unending torment.

All the better for him to understand what I was about to do.

He was still bound to his chair, his head falling forward as he drooled pinkish spittle into his lap. He was a mess of burn patches, congealed blood and straining muscle, even unconscious his arms pushed against his restraints, as if trying to force them loose or break them apart.

I afforded myself a quiet laugh. Even if he could break his bonds, he had neither the strength nor the biological hardware remaining to try and kill me. His legs were thoroughly destroyed and his hands were each racked with sublime mutilations. Even his admittedly decent talents with the fire element were currently obliterated, the injection I had been supplied with by my informant a combination of paralysis drug, nerve stimulant (to heighten nerve receptors to external stimuli) and elemental suppression agents, a restricted item usually afforded only to governmental officials for the purposes of interrogation.

How Rene had acquired the drug was a question for a later time.

As I reclined in my chosen chair, still coated in the blood of Jack White, I savoured the fact that, for the first time since that fateful day Melissa was ripped from me by the arms dealers I had trusted to help me escape my brothers fate, I was truly doing the right thing.

There was no doubt in my mind. Despite my ties with these people, despite how I had fought with them on dozens of hunts, despite how I would have died for them only weeks prior, I knew I was doing good work. I may have failed to tear that arrogant Ghost_K agent to pieces, but in doing so, I had the opportunity to rid the world of a morally bankrupt stain on the face of humanity.

Even if this was supposed to be my penance for my ultimate failure, I hoped this overwhelming success would allow me to take part in a more...monumental assignment, becoming one of the agents stationed around the world so spread strife and discord, joining the assault on another sector as an infiltrator.

Taking a part in the hinted assault on the Guardian Tower? I thought, before shaking my head with a rueful grin.

I doubted that if Ghost_K were really hiding out in the Guardian Tower, it would still be being hinted weeks prior to the assault. Most likely, a lightning strike would be conducted as soon as the information was made available, designed to murder any Guardians that couldn't be taken as hostages and executing the ones that could, only after months of painful interrogations, of course.

Perhaps there's a chance to get even with Nao? I smiled, and downed the rest of my drink, not realizing I had sipped some during my malevolent contemplation.

Three thuds from the other side of the door roused my from my blissful relaxation, and I saw Jack's snoring form twitch upwards as he snapped from uneasy slumber to complete wakefulness over the course of the bangs.

“Jack!?” I heard her grandiose, upper class accent spicing her words through the door. This was it. “Jack! It's me! Open up!”

Several more angry bangs followed, before she delivered an angry swear and began kicking at the door, with little success.

Gingerly, I tiptoed past my captive and slid behind the door, unlocking and unbolting it so that Danielle's would be capable of slamming it open should she apply enough force.

“Dan-yelle.” Jack croaked through a throat lined with his own blood and little else.

“Fuck!” She exclaimed, obviously hearing the weakness in his voice. “Get away from the door!”

I barely had enough room to slip into the kitchen unit and duck before the cheap wooden door exploded, its mass disintegrating in a tide of splinters. Danielle was usually an impatient creature, a trait I had pinned down to spending three years with restricted access due to her wheelchair. She was brash, loud and unfriendly, but to those she counted as a friend, and she could count those people on one hand, she was as loyal as anyone could ever wish for.

This made her impulsive.

It was about to cost her her life.

I heard her gasp in pure horror as she passed me and ran towards Jack's ruined form. I slowly rose from my hiding place, reaching around the back of my wasitline to remove the pistol I had kneecapped Jack with hours prior. I aimed for a single point three quarters of the way down the back, between her pelvis and her ribcage.

A perfect place.

“What the fuck happened!?” She screamed, and I was surprised to hear the hint of tears in her voice, clearly she cared for Jack deeply.

“RUN!” Jack commanded, using what must've been the last of his strength to warn her.

It wasn't enough. I fired, shattering thousands of Euros worth of medical treatment and mechanical bionic replacement surgery. Danielle cried out, falling to the ground on her chest as her legs stubbornly refused to answer her commands.

The impact point didn't penetrate so much into her flesh, having mostly buried itself in the delicate workings of her augmetic, but enough blood spilled into her black dress to create a small burgundy stain, one that gradually got bigger as she tried to squirm and push herself upright.

She writhed and twisted to face me, the weight of her agonized tears not quite masking her hateful grimace. I pulled the syringe I had secured in my coat and shot out to reach her, stabbing the needle into her throat and depressing the plunger. She screeched and slapped me away with not-dismissable force, but by then, the desired effect was had, and the slightest breeze emanating from Danielle, whipping my hair from my face, confirmed my suspicions, the suppressants' effect was almost instantaneous, and she was now no danger to me.

“You...” She began, but I cut her off.

“Save your energy, I have a story to tell you.”

My face split into a particularly malicious grin before I continued.

“I've been tasked with your "termination", each and every one of you. I'm sorry to tell you all you've been tried and convicted for treason.”

“Tre-treason!?” She stammered, her eyes widening in incomprehension.

“The failed capture of the Ghost_K informant; Li-Pau Nao. You," I gestured to her, "class as guilty by association.”

I feigned dismay at their expense, before bursting into laughter as their horror, pacing back and forth.

“The only real requirement for my orders is your deaths, however I've decided to right some wrongs and learn some truths that have always bugged me from the start.”

I turned to both of my captives, removing my blade from inside my coat. “And the first mystery to unravel was Jack's blatant favouritism of you.”

“You see, Jack hasn't been entirely honest with you,” I said, pointing the blade at him. “I have found some...disturbing truths behind his motivations as I dug further for information.”

“It must have been hard for you.” I lamented. “Being restricted like you were, being stuck in that chair. You must have been truly desperate to get your legs back.”

“You. Know. NOTHING!” Danielle hissed through teeth gritted in pain.

“Oh but I do...I know who was responsible for crippling you for. Three. Years.” I empathized the words for effect.

"Once, there was a particularly unwholesome individual by the name Jimmy Desheel." I laughed. "A ridiculous pseudonym, but I digress. Now, this guy was a dangerous psychopath and a human trafficker, he was wanted by at least three sect-."

"What is your point?" Danielle asked bluntly. I turned to Jack, his ruined face staring into his lap, the look of shame visible beneath the mutilations bedecking him.

"I'm getting to that." I snapped. "This is important to you, so shut up and listen!"

"As I was saying!" I said, indignant to her, before taking a deep breath and returning to my story. "As I was saying, this guy was a wanted criminal, with enough money for his bounty to keep a vigilante living on easy street for a very long time."

"Problem was," I sighed, "He was very good at what he did, and was very, very well protected. He was almost never seen in public. As you can imagine, Any time a vigilante got wind of him anywhere, every grubby little rat crawled out the woodwork for a chance to bury their blade in his neck."

"So, as you can imagine, with several hundred thousand euros on his head and a surprise sighting of him in a flat in Paris with a fuckton of hired muscle and enslaved men and women; a certain SOMEONE," I gestured to Jack, "got a little "overzealous" in his attempt to finally receive the honour of ending a high profile criminal. Shall I tell you how he did it?"

I stared into her shivering face, seeing the undisguised hatred in her shaking eyes. I grinned.

"You'll love this." I promised.

"Get on with it, you son of a bitch!" She hissed. I ignored her venom and continued.

"He orchestrated a 12-car pile up on the main Parisian way-line. William, Pietre and Amy were part of it too, as well as a few "disposables". They killed about six people, and severely injured nine, give or take."

I saw her eyes widen at the last fact, "This sound familiar to you?" I mocked, as her eyes watered and she looked up at Jack. I saw her say no more than three words to the man she had idolized for three years through tears that had nothing to do with the agony coursing through her lower body.

Danielle's head snapped to the side and Jack was showered in chunks of her skull, brain matter and a healthy amount of blood as the force of impact arced the jet spray across him. I saw him shake with barely contained remorse and despair.

I lowered my pistol, and, walking over to his snivelling form, I clutched his head, forcing my hand further into raw muscles as I forced our eyes to meet. My two staring into his ruined face, broken by knives and made uglier still by grief.

"How does it feel, Jack? To know that the amoral operation has been brought crashing down? To know that your second adopted family now lies dead at your feet, having been undone by your actions?"

"How does it feel for history to repeat itself?"

I saw something in his eyes, a change that was almost imperceptible unless one was really looking for it, or had seen it before. It was the death of hope, the strangulation of all desperate defiance, true moment that a sentient creature realized there was no way out and nothing that could be done to recover even a shred of what they had. The point where even delusion was flayed away and discarded as a pointless curiosity.

"Why?" His cycloptic visage became awash with tears. "S-she didn't-"

"BECAUSE SHE WAS CORRUPT!" I snapped, finally losing my temper at the same question and roughly slapping my hand across his flayed face. "ALL OF YOU, THERE WAS NOTHING RIGHTEOUS ABOUT YOU, ANY OF YOU! MURDER FOR MONEY, MURDER FOR FUN, MURDER FOR DISTRACTION, MURDER FOR REVENGE AND MURDER FOR EXPLOITATION!"

I took a deep breath, trying to calm down before I did something I'd regret.

"The hunt was a den of vipers, it's members' corrupt beyond recovery. They couldn't be rehabilitated, their core values were nothing more than to earn their rent, to outrun their past, to enjoy their life. No greater goal, no attempt to actively improve the world beyond improving their own world."

And for the first time in years, I heard a noise I had never expected to hear from the scar clad man in front of me. It was a combination of a whistled grunt and a gasping click, and he shook in time with the sound. It didn't last long before dissolved into whooping coughs, the sound of a man struggling to breathe with lungs full of liquid.

I began to approach him, trying to perform the necessary jury rigged procedures to keep him functionally alive. It was only when he raised his face to mine I realized he was laughing. It was a bitter, mirthless laugh, a laugh made from cruel irony and tormented madness.

"What's so funny?" I asked, slightly annoyed.

"You-" He began, trying to cough up enough fluid to fill his lungs with air and talk in anything but wheezing stops and starts. "You're j-just like me."

He stopped laughing, staring at me with a quivering lower lip and wide eyes. He tried to speak, but as soon as he opened his mouth, no breath came out, and a river of blood seeped from his throat. He tried to breathe, wheezing pathetically like a speared dog, before finally slumping forwards, his body giving up in the face of so much damage.

He stopped laughing, and he stopped wheezing, because it was hard to draw breath into your body when there was a charred hole where your lungs had been.

I lowered a hand I didn't realize I lifted, shaking off the pins and needle sensation I got from firing a pulse of superheated plasma I didn't remember creating.

And I turned away from a man who had gone from being strong-armed into serving known criminals to running a respected vigilante syndicate.

And I contemplated his last words, finding them worryingly accurate.

Epilogue:

Jack White.

The name looped in my head over and over, punctured with adjectives both apt and somehow ill-fitting.

Jack White. Pessimist. Killer. Broken.

A reflection.

And while this was going on, my brain looped over another series of information, one that was very familiar.

Akira Taiyō. Realist. Vigilante. The unfortunate result of a brutal environment.

A reflec-

I quashed the thought. I had to. The implications were too much. I'm not Jack, I couldn't be like him.

I was pushed into my situation, it was either work unscrupulously to escape a pointless death in the wasteland of Japan, or receive a bullet to the head from your comrades just to be sure you weren't a political rebel.

Jack, meanwhile, had gotten in too deep with the rough crowd, became addicted to drugs and had no choice but to follow them for his next fix. They even took his child hostage to ensure loyalty.

Where did he have a choice?

He may have been forced further down the rabbit hole, but the first step had been his.

You're sure about that?

The doubts I was beginning to have unnerved me to no end. Where had they come from? My goal was righteous, I sought to bring peace to Paris.

Unlike Jack's goal, who sought to redeem his own actions, make up for a past mistake and...and...

Why did you come to Japan?

To escape my current fate, and to do something good with my life...

Jack White.

A criminal turned vigilante, fighting to redeem his own actions.

Akira Taiyō.

A criminal turned vigilante, fighting to redeem his own actions.

As I sat against the wall of the complex's hallways, my breathing heavy as I tried to process everything that had happened at once, I realized that my life had no more purpose than that of Jack. Or Amy. Or Danielle or Matt or Florentine.

Not only were we all doing the right thing, but we were all ineffective because we pulled in opposing directions, we distrusted each other when we should have confided.

Memories played through my mind, reruns of conversations and interactions I had with the group. Confrontations that seemed needlessly antagonistic became simple chastisement for dangerous behaviour or friendly banterous behaviour designed to include everyone in the Hunt's own brand of brotherhood.

"No." I whispered, slamming the back of my head against the wall behind and sweating beading my forehead.

"It was me."

It was then I was snapped out of my reprieve. I needed to get out of there, I needed to leave, to think about my next move.

I needed to escape.

On unsteady legs and with trembling hands, I pulled myself from the concrete floor, slowly steadying myself back on my feet. I braced against the wall and let my mind stew for several seconds in my own revelations.

Later. I thought ruefully as I span from the wall to walk down the stairs.

I opened a heavy steel door on a squeaking hinge, and immediately came face to face with a heavyset Slavic man. He was garbed in a thick coat made from some form of fur, and while his features were mostly obscured by the shoddy light of the building's infrastructure, I could see that his tanned face was creased into a smug grin as he faced me, no more than a few centimetres away.

Move. I tried to demand, and immediately knew something was wrong. Instead of a harshly barked command, instead all that escaped was a sigh and the tangy flavour of copper.

Followed by a searing pain in my chest as the body finally processed the damage that had just been done to me.

I looked down, knowing, instinctually, what I would see before I even saw.

Between the third and second rib on the left hand side of my chest; a small black handle jutted rudely, sticking at an acute angle, still being held in scarred hands by the blade's very satisfied owner.

My limbs turned to lead, my body to jelly, unable to support its own structure and I collapsed on my back, feeling my own blood pumping enthusiastically from the now empty gap where once there had been a knife.

With the last of my energy, I saw and heard that he had come closer, like a hunter inspecting his' first kill. My vision was a blurred mess and everything sounded underwater. I knew I didn't have long.

"W-who...are..." I tried to ask, not even hearing my own voice, much less the response he may have given.

AntecedenceLogo
Chronology
K21 - Twisted Deliverance · K21 - Clouded Rectitude · K21 - Bitter Reality · K21 - Bleached Delusions · K21 - Blinkered Discord

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