Thankyou for your comments on the previous part.
[To recap; Some assassin is after Israel, he lost his whole left arm due to the human-things the assassin sent after him, the assassin ended up being John Smith, brother of Scarlett Hope, one of Skyril's characters.]
John Smith boarded the elevator a split second before the doors shut. He apologized profusely to the full elevator, squeezing his way to the array of buttons and overriding it with a couple of deft finger movements. Instead of making stops on the other floors it began to go straight to the roof.
John began whistling “I don’t want to set the world on fire” and paused to smile at the other occupants. There was, as usual, a smaller gentleman with a permanent frown staring at him from the opposite end. Between the man and John were three others, all important business executives, all either tapping their feet or checking their watches, or in the case of the man closest to John, humming in tune and smiling.
They were all dead men.
This was a complicated job but John was sure if he kept to schedule he could pull it off perfectly. The trick was to get them all within a few minutes of each other so that they no-one got tipped off and ran away.
The elevator approached the roof and John tensed, readying himself. He dropped the small canister in his hand and rolled it behind him with the toe of his boot. The elevator doors pinged open as the smoke grenade began billowing its contents outwards. John was the first out and strode fast while pulling his pistol from his holster and screwing on the silencer from his breast pocket. He turned and waited for the coughing forms to stumble out of the elevator with red-ringed eyes.
“Sorry, you’re fired,” he nodded to the first man to get clear of the smoke. He shot him between the eyes before he could even register what John had said. Slow down, he thought to himself. They won’t understand what you’re saying. His employer had left detailed instructions for John to follow; all of the targets must be told that they were being fired. It was pointless and there was no real way that the employer would know if John spoke the words or not, but he did it anyway.
“You’re fired,” he told the next man and waited a heartbeat for the recognition to show. Then down the man went as well. The man who had happily hummed a tune with John moments before was the next to be put down.
“You’re fired,” he told the next man and waited a heartbeat for the recognition to show. Then down the man went as well. The man who had happily hummed a tune with John moments before was the next to be put down.
He waited outside the elevator and frowned, wondering where the small man was. He sighed and strode inside the elevator again, kicking the smoke grenade away and hoisting the whimpering man up to his feet.
“Sorry, sir,” he told him as he walked out into the sunlight and dumped him on the ground. “You’re especially fired.”
John dealt with him the same way he had the others and sighed, unscrewing the silencer and holstering his gun.He checked his watch as he collected the four spent shells littering the skyscraper’s roof. He had at least another 40 seconds to get set up. So he left the four men where they lay and crossed to the other side of the roof to retrieve the suitcase hidden there. Once he had opened it and assembled the sniper rifle pieces inside he consulted his watch one more time before readying the rifle and peering through the scope at the building opposite his.
It took him no time to locate the target- the man with the expensive blue suit was hosting a meeting on the top floor and had his back facing the window. John’s finger caressed the trigger and he waited on edge for another ten seconds before anything happened. Through the scope he saw someone enter the meeting room sheepishly and hand the man a manila folder before leaving. The man with the suit glanced up at his co-workers and excused himself, standing closer to the floor-to-ceiling window and opening the folder.
John didn’t have to imagine the frown on the man’s face as he read the two words printed on the inside of the folder. You’re fired, he thought to himself and pulled the trigger.
After seeing the impact he instantly started dismantling the gun and storing it away into the suitcase. He carried the suitcase to the elevator andpocketed the empty smoke grenade as he pressed the ground floor button and let the elevator sink slowly downwards.
They were all, of course, bad men.
At least, that thought was what helped John sleep well that night. As with all his targets he had completed research and formed a substantial mental case against them. So as he lay in bed and pictured the fifth man’s blood splattering outwards on a loop he was able to reason with himself. Each and every man was worthy of much more than the death sentence, he knew. All in all, it wasn’t as bad as some of the hits he’d performed in the past. Sometimes he’d have to shoot innocent people just because of someone’s grudge. And sometimes he had to shoot bystanders because he hadn’t planned the job well enough and he’d been spotted. Those were the worst cases.
He had returned the suitcase earlier to his contact that had placed it on the roof two days earlier and paid him the standard fee plus the spent bullet.
He laid low in a cheap hotel, spending his time regaining lost sleep and channel surfing with no actual interest in any of the TV shows. No action movies, no interesting doco’s. The phone call came through early in the evening and he let it ring twice before lazily picking up. “Yeah?” he drawled.
“Do not make me wait, Mr Smith.”
“Sorry,” he chuckled, “I was in the other room.”
“Your punctuality is almost as bad as your ability to lie. You’ve just lost ten grand from your pay.”
John sat up straight. “What?!” He punched the wall nearest to him and he barely registered the cheap plaster crumbling under his fist. “Son of a bitch!”
“And another ten.Temper, Mr Smith.It doesn’t bode well to lose it.”
John sighed, closing his eyes and thinking it over. The man hiring him was a real stick-in-the-mud character and had been a pain from the start. That was twenty grand, gone in an instant. At least the payday would be worth it.
“Right. I’ve calmed down now,” John told his employer. “When do I get paid?”
“Have you completed the other assignment?” Ah, sod it. He was referring to the Elysium man. John chose his next words carefully.
“I’m trying my-”
“Five grand, gone.”
“-very best. I have decided to keep myself open to other work offers-”
“And another five grand.”
“Will you stop that?” John cursed silently the moment he had yelled. He could sense the smile in his employer’s voice when he next spoke.
“Tut-tut, Mr Smith.The way you’re going, you’ll be poor again by the end of this conversation. Just for that, I will be deducting a small fee for every hour you spend not completing the other assignment.”
“How much?” John asked wearily.
“The current rate is one thousand dollars for every hour, starting now. The rate may vary, depending on your attitude, productiveness, et cetera. If you dawdle unnecessarily, I will raise it until you begin to owe me. I want the job done, Mr Smith. Is that clear?”
John seethed in silence for a moment before answering. “Crystal.”
“Good. There is one final matter; your silence with this job. Normally the generous pay I offer would be enough to keep mouths sewn shut but somehow, I feel as if I have lost whatever leeway I had with the money.”
There were a few cold clicks on the other end of the line and John frowned.
“You know that sound, don’t you, Mr Smith?”
“Yeah,” John replied, sighing. “It sounds like a rifle being loaded. Are you planning to shoot me?”
“Perhaps. I simply wanted to remind you of what would happen if you ever revealed my identity or anything you know about me. I am not the best sniper, or else I would have completed the hits myself. But just remember, Mr Smith- I will be keeping tabs. Do not cross me.”
“Bullshit,” John laughed. “Bluffing doesn’t work on me-”
The hotel window shattered inwards and suddenly John was groaning on the ground with a hole carved in his arm.
“I am incapable of bluffing,” came the voice of his employer from the fallen phone. “And even if I am not a good shot I think that eventually I will hit something important. The clock is ticking, Mr Smith.”
The phone clicked and John scooped it up as he stumbled over to his bag to retrieve his bandages. He gritted his teeth as he wrapped it tight around his shoulder- thank God it was a clean hit. The bullet was probably buried somewhere in the hotel room and he’d have to dig it out- right after he fixed up his arm.
He was pulling the bandage tight with his teeth as he dialled a number into the phone and held it to his ear.“Scar, you there?”
“John? What’s wrong?”
John pulled on his jacket and collected his things, grunting in pain as he went. “Something’s come up. I won’t be home for a few days…”
The moonlight peeked playfully into the dim infirmary room and Israel turned away from it, telling the moon to go screw off. It was 11pm, no-one was around, and Israel needed to get out of this godforsaken room.
His friends had been very helpful with the treatment of his arm, sure, but it was time to get out of here. As far as he could tell, someone was still after him. No-one had attacked him all week but that was probably just because he was at his own mansion, his fortress. He couldn’t stay here any longer, however.
On the surface, he convinced himself that it was too dangerous for everyone in the manor. He should go out and confront his enemy before someone was killed. Deep down, though, Israel just couldn’t stand the little infirmary room anymore.
He wasn’t allowed to move. He wasn’t allowed to eat what he wanted. Books were read to him and he nodded and smiled and scanned the room for a noose. The first day he had been dragged in here, his hip flask had been confiscated. His entire left arm was gone and he wasn’t allowed alcohol? Yeah, that was absolutely it. He was getting out.
The worst thing was that not a single person had come forward and offered a robotic arm with the words “It’s OK. With the right technology, we can rebuild him…” Nope. The best they’d come up with was a prosthetic. Does it have a laser? No? Get that thing out of my sight.
Deeper in his mind than his hatred for the infirmary room, Israel was pinching himself and hoping to wake up from this nightmare. He had liked being able to hold an assault rifle correctly. He had liked having a gun in one hand and a beer in the other on most days. Above all of it, he had liked not being worried over.And now… Now he would never be allowed to leave the safety of his home. He’d been forced into retirement at the early age of 167. Tragic, really.
Footsteps on the floor above him.Some folks in the manor might still be awake- Israel had to move fast.
He sat up and began to get dressed. The lack of his arm was a hindrance but tended to freak him out a little too.
He sat up and began to get dressed. The lack of his arm was a hindrance but tended to freak him out a little too.
When he left the infirmary five minutes later, his trenchcoat was on and his collar was up. The left sleeve of the trenchcoat was pinned up where the shoulder began- he didn’t like the idea of the sleeve hanging empty by his side, mocking him.
There was the sound of thudding footsteps in the hallways as Israel climbed the stairs and made a beeline for his room. He gritted his teeth and managed not to call out No running, dammit!
Israel reached his door and opened it- surprisingly, it was unlocked. Even more of a surprise was the array of bodies strewn across his bedroom floor. Half-empty packets of chips crackled underneath his boots as he stumbled forwards through the mess. A large TV had been temporarily hooked up on a wall and was still playing the end credits for one of the Lord of the Rings films. Israel sighed and kicked the nearest body. It groaned.
“Why the hell,” he began, struggling to keep his voice level, “is there the remnants of a movie marathon in my room?”
The room at large failed to answer. The sleeping body on the ground groaned some more and burped something that smelt strangely like…
Wide-eyed, Israel ran for the stash under his bed. He retrieved a single bottle and drank deeply. I’ll go to those AA meetings tomorrow, Israel promised himself as he grabbed another two bottles and stored them in a satchel bag. He sidestepped more sleeping forms until he reached his desk- his shotgun sat snugly in its holster and he strapped the whole thing onto his leg. He rummaged through his desk drawers and pocketed his phone.
A few sleeping forms were just stirring when Israel left his room and hurried down the stairs. So far, so good. Not a single person had stopped him from leaving, in fact. He opened the front doors and mused aloud “It’s almost as if they want me to go.”
His van was three feet from the front steps. The lights were on, the engine was idling and the back doors were wide open.
“Hurry up, Izzy,” Skyril Oblivion called as she loaded bags of gear into the van. “Come on, we’ll be late for your date.”
Dammit. So that’s why he wasn’t stopped on his way out. “That’s not my name,” Israel grumbled. “And I have a date?”
“Sure you do,” Nights Raven called from the driver’s seat, tapping a rhythm into the steering wheel. “With death. And it doesn’t bode well to keep the Grim Reaper waiting.”
“Ha,” Israel replied. “Very funny. I guess there’s no way I can convince you to let me drive, is there? Or for you guys to let me deal with this assassin on my own?”
“Not a chance,” Raven grinned. Skyril hopped in with the last of the bags and Israel followed her, shutting the van’s double doors behind him. The van crunched along the gravel driveway until it was on the main road, and he allowed himself a little smile.
“Face it.” Skyril said as Raven drove along an empty road. “There’s no way you could have done this alone.”
“I could’ve tried,” he mumbled. “I probably could shoot him before he shoots me.”
“Says the guy with only one arm,” she chuckled, and quickly stopped. “Wait, is that okay for me to joke…?”
Israel shook his head and went for the first aid kit under his seat. “Say whatever you want. I only need one arm to shoot my gun.” He swallowed a couple of painkillers and washed it down with one of the beers he took earlier. “Reloading will be a pain though.”
The car jolted and screeched as Raven braked hard, swearing. “What the hell? Guys, come look at this!”
Skyril climbed into the passenger seat and Israel leaned into the cabin. All three peered through the windshield at the square of light forming in the middle of the road ahead.
“What do you think it is? Demons?” Raven asked, breaking the silence.
“Can’t be,” Israel said, shaking his head. “I made the Treaty of Chernobyl with them back in ’86.”
Skyril frowned. “Wasn’t that the same year as the Chernobyl nuclear accident?”
Israel kicked open the van’s back doors and stepped outside onto the road. “Accident? Are people still calling it that?”
Exchanging looks, Skyril and Raven followed him towards the light. It was roughly the size of a man and yet, rectangular. It grew stronger as they closed in. They were only a few feet away when the figure stepped through and the light rapidly faded.
“Hallo?” The figure said, squinting at the headlights behind them. “Bin ich in Deutschland?” It was a man, and he was getting more confused by the second. “…Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”
“Uh… Hallo?” Raven said.
Skyril nudged her. “You speak German?”
“God no.” She cleared her throat and spoke up to the man. “Sprechen sie, uh, English?”
“Englisch?” The man frowned and had a sudden coughing fit. He doubled over and Raven went forward to support him, but he waved her away.
“It’s alright, I’m perfectly fine,” the man said without a hint of his previous accent or language. “It just takes a moment for me to cough up the accent. I apologize if I scared you. Now, what are you three? I think I’ll stick with American for now, anyway.”
“I guess I should be used to random acts of magic, but…” Israel shook his head. “This is a first for me. You’re just able to appear wherever and change your language and accent to fit?”
“Not quite,” The stranger said, smiling. “I’m able to change my accent, yes, but I had to learn the languages the hard way. I was never that good at plain imitation. As for the magically appearing- Well, I’ll just start at the beginning. My name is Raphael, and I’m here to warn Israel Elysium that he is going to die.”
Israel scoffed. “Bit late, mate. And please; no prophecies or junk mail, thanks.”
Raphael’s brow creased again. “You already know Mr Smith is going to kill you?”
Israel froze on his way back to the van. “Mr Smith? That’s his actual name? I thought he just liked the Matrix…”
“He does, actually.” Raphael sat a trilby smartly upon his head and straightened his suit jacket. “I’d like to help you. He’s a dangerous hitman, Israel. I’d like to get closer to him if I can.”
“Do you know where he is?” Raven asked, getting into the van and starting it up.
“He’ll be on the move, so no,” Raphael replied and followed Skyril and Israel to the back of the van. “But I know someone who does. Start driving towards the city. I’ll tell you when we’re getting close.”
“Why should we trust you?” Israel said, putting an arm between Raphaeland the van. “I don’t want to tread on old clichés but you could be sent here to kill me.”
Raphael simply chuckled and ducked under Israel’s arm to get into the van. “You’re a funny one, Mr Elysium. Maybe you should make a phone call to your manor; I’m a Pendragon, you know.”
Israel tapped a rhythm out on his knee as the van trundled along towards the city. He was sitting on one side of the van glaring at Raphael who sat on the other. “Raff” as he liked to be called, was smiling a little smugly and flipping a playing card around his fingers, making it disappear and reappear from one hand to the other. Israel had just experienced a phonecall from a very worried Kallista. He’d reassured her he was fine and asked if she knew anyone called Raphael. Yes, of course, she had confirmed, but why does that matter?
And all the while, two feet away, Raff had smiled and flipped the stupid card- and thus, Israel’s glare was released.
Also in the back of the van, Skyril watched the two and withheld a giggle. This was going to be a fun ride.
“I don’t quite understand,” Raven asked from the driver’s seat. “How did you know we were going to be on the road?”
Raff flicked the playing card back into his breast pocket and instead retrieved something else- a photo. He passed the photo to Skyril first and she frowned at it, studying it closely. “It’s a road,” she murmured. “It’s just a road with a house on the hills behind it. Wait, is that...?”
“Elysium Asylum…” Israel looked with interest over her shoulder. “And- do you see that there? That’s a pair of headlights coming down the road.” He passed the photo to Raven and she glanced at it quickly while they sped on through the darkness.
“It’s the van,” she confirmed before passing it back to the cabin. “But that doesn’t make sense. You didn’t take that picture just now or something, did you?”
Raphael shook his head. “As far as I can tell, it was taken a few days ago; it’s a coincidence the van was driving then too.”
“Okay, but that still doesn’t explain how you did it, or where you got this photo.”
Raff pulled one more item from his jacket and showed it to them all. “It’s an art supply set. Only a few brushes and some colours for emergencies.” He pulled the playing card out of his pocket again and quickly began to paint it grey before sketching a face onto it. They peered over at his artwork and Raven craned her neck to look into the review mirror.
He finished a few minutes later and showed the card to the others in the cabin. Where once was the face side of a playing card was a new face- Israel’s. For such a brief and small painting it covered a range of facial features well. It was obvious that Raff was a skilled artist. The background was that of the van, much as it was currently.
“And now, ladies and gentleman,” he muttered, holding a paintbrush aloft, “for my final trick I will make this magic wand disappear…”
He tapped the card and it started to glow brightly, pushing long shadows back onto the van interior. And suddenly, there was a secondary light source- another square of light had appeared, the same size as the playing card, right in front of Israel’s face.
Skyril and Israel stared in wonder as the light hovered inches from his face. Raff smiled once more and threw his paintbrush like a dart into the mini-painting’s glowing surface.
The paintbrush shot out of the hovering light and bounced off of Israel’s nose. He swore and ducked to avoid any further projectiles. Raven joined Skyril in laughter while Raff retrieved his brush, grinning as well.
“I guess that explains how,” Israel said, rubbing his face. “You painted what was in the photo and stepped through, like some kind of slow teleportation device. But where’d you get the photo in the first place?”
Raff shook his head and adopted a more serious tone. “I’m afraid I don’t really know. I’ve been keeping an eye on Mr Smith for a long time and have been meaning to confront him. I was mailed the photo today with a time written on the back. I took a wild guess and decided to do the painting.”
“Well hang on- where the heck am I driving to, then?” Raven braked slowly for the red light and turned to Raff. “You’re not leading us into a trap, are you?”
He shook his head. “Hopefully not. I think I recognize the handwriting on the back of the photo, though, so we’re headed to the writer’s house.”
“Oh good,” Israel said, pausing from checking his nose in a handheld mirror to raise his hands in exasperation. “We’re trusting the guy in the suit who hit me through a miniature portal with a paintbrush.Ladies and gentlemen, for the record; this is a trap and I reserve the right to say ‘I told you so’. This is no better than what happened in Naples.”
Skyril frowned. “Wait, what happened in Naples?”
“A trap, that’s what!” Israel folded the pocket mirror away and pointed an accusatory finger at Raff. “And you, smart-and-suave-20’s-suit-guy,” he said with an accusing tone, “I’ve got my eye on you. No more mini-portals.”
Smiling once more, Raff turned and peered through the front windshield. “Just turn left, Miss Raven. We can approach on foot from here.”
She turned the engine off and looked over her shoulder. “Alright, what’s our plan here?”
Israel looked over at Raff for support and then stopped himself once he realized what he was doing. “Plan? Hah, we don’t need one.” He kicked open the back doors and found himself in a small suburban street. “Uh, which house, Raphael?”
Skyril dismounted next with Raff not far behind. “Guess. It’s the one that’s trying to look the most inconspicuous.”
“The one with the balloons outside?” Sky asked, peering down the dark road.
“Correct.” As they approached, Raff in the lead and Israel trying to appear in the lead, the door to the birthday-themed party opened and a shaft of light with a human shadow appeared on the sidewalk. The first shadow moved further into the darkness, waving at the house. It was a young teenager, the group realized, as he turned to face the direction he was walking and was confronted with the burly faces in front of him.
“Uh,” he said, adjusting his glasses and staring up at Israel, who had somehow managed to get in front of Raff. Maybe it was the gruff beard, the permanent frown, the heavy smell of alcohol from the leather trenchcoat he was wearing or possibly even the lack of a left arm that left the teenager feeling like he should probably head back inside the house.
Raff stepped forward to capture his attention and smiled that Cheshire grin of his. “Hello, young sir,” he said, leading the stunned boy a little ways away from the group.
“You scared him,” Sky said, punching Israel in his remaining arm.
“He scared me!” Israel shook his head. “I just locked up. Where did I go wrong?”
“Right about the time when you tried smiling at him,” Raven offered.
Raff returned with the teenager in tow. “Everyone, give a warm welcome to Isaac.Except you, Israel. Don’t try smiling again.”
Israel turned away with a pout. Raven and Skyril smiled and waved while the boy looked down at his feet. “Hiya,” he mumbled.
“Turns out,” Raff said, “he just left that party over there. Was it good, Isaac?”
“Yeah,” he replied, glancing up at Raff.
“C’mon, cheer up, son. We’re friends of her too.” The kid looked properly at the group now, studying them each.
“Are you… magicians?” He asked in sudden awe.
“Oh, yes,” Rae smiled, summoning a flame before him. “We were just about to head inside and wish her a happy birthday, actually. Do you know how many more guests are there?”
“None,” Isaac replied, transfixed by the flame. “I was the last guest to leave.”
“Perfect,” Israel said, clapping the teenager on the shoulder. “Thanks, kid!”
Isaac narrowed his eyes. “Go away. You look homeless. What happened to your arm, anyway?”
“Wow,” Israel sighed. “Well aren’t you just a little shi-”
The kid moved fast to Israel and swung a knobbly fist at the shoulder stump on his left side. Israel howled as the kid jumped backwards with a frown. “Huh,” he said. “So it’s recent, then. What happened?”
Sky and Rae couldn’t help but laugh as they helped Israel back to his feet. He shook them away and gingerly peered at his bandaged shoulder underneath his coat. “I lost it,” he grumbled, satisfied that it hadn’t started bleeding again.
“Well that was stupid!” Isaac said, and Israel lunged at him.
“Alrighty then!” Raphael spoke, wheeling the kid away while Raven and Skyril held Israel back. “Cya round, kid. Take care!”
The teenager retreated into the darkness and Skyril waved. “Well he was nice.”
Raven nodded and began walking again with the others not far behind. They reached the house and Raff took over, knocking on the door and then stepping back.
Seconds later, the door opened to reveal a girl almost twenty with a party hat sat atop her flaming red hair. She wore an indigo blouse over dark blue jeans, and her green eyes glinted in the porch-light. She was confused at first but grinned once she saw Raphael standing there.
“Raff!” she exclaimed, hugging him tightly. “How’ve you been? I didn’t know you were coming.”
“Well, I couldn’t resist wishing you a Happy Birthday. It’s nineteen, isn’t it?”
Her grin only grew bigger. “You remembered!”
“Of course.” He half turned behind him. “Oh, where are my manners? I’ve brought a few friends, if that’s alright. Everyone, meet Miss Scarlett Hope.”
He stepped aside to let them greet her. Skyril walked up first, sticking her hand out. “Heya, I’m Skyril Oblivion,” she said. “Love the blouse.”
“Love the hair!” Scar replied, pointing to Sky’s purple-streaked head.
“I’m Nights Raven, but you can call me Rae if you’d like.” The shook hands and Rae looked her over. She’s unnamed, she thought to herself, satisfied.
Finally, Israel stepped into the light. He held out his lone arm for Scarlett to shake.
She, however, frowned. “Do I know you?” she asked. “I swear I’ve seen your face before.”
Israel tilted his head. “Unlikely. I don’t get out much. Say, is that an Australian accent? Whereabouts are you from?”
Scarlett nodded. “I spent a long while in Sydney when I was younger with my aunt. What about you?”
“Lived there my whole life. I like Ireland better, though. My name’s Israel Elysium.”
She was looking uncomfortable now and scratched her arm as she felt them all staring at her. “You look really familiar…” She mumbled.
“May we come in, Miss Hope?” Raff asked, smiling that persuasive smile and stepping into the doorway.
“Yeah, I guess so-” Raff practically waltzed in, then, dragging Raven and Skyril along with him. Israel slowly crossed into the house and Scar looked around hopelessly. “-I’m just not really meant to let this many strangers in. John hasn’t been home in a while, so…”
“John Smith, your brother, is currently away? How strange.”
Scarlett narrowed her eyes a little. “Why did you say it like that?”
Behind her, Israel exchanged glances with Skyril and Raven. Raphael had said it that particular way for a reason. Mr Smith, Raff had said earlier. So that cleared things up a little, at least. The assassin’s name is John Smith, which is peculiar on its own, and he’s the brother of the girl with the flaming red hair. I wonder where he is, if not at home?
“Like what, my dear?” Raff sighed, his ever-present smile disappearing for a moment. “Perhaps, Miss Hope, you’d prefer if we discarded our weapons. Would that calm your nerves? I promise you; my friends are harmless.”
“Oh. You guys are armed?” She frowned. “I didn’t say you could bring weapons in here.”
“You didn’t say we couldn’t, either,” Israel retorted, frustrated. “Were teenagers always this annoying?”
“Give it a rest, Israel,” Raven said, pulling out her knife and placing it down on a small hallway table. Skyril was following suit and drawing each of her hidden throwing knives out and laying them in neat rows. Israel glared at Scarlett but drew his shotgun from his leg holster and laid it down on the table as well. Raff simply raised his hands in mock surrender. Even though he didn’t have any weapons, it was plain to see the muscles in his arms even through his suit jacket. He doesn’t need a weapon, Raven thought to herself as Scarlett led them to the kitchen, It looks like he is one.
Skyril scrutinized the rooms they passed, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious. The drapes were god awful but otherwise everything else was normal. As she was offered a drink by Scarlett, she couldn’t help noticing the quietness of the house. Whatever party music there had been was long gone.
“Alright,” Scar said finally, tapping a rhythm into the kitchen bench. “Why are you guys here?” She gestured towards the group at large.
Raff pulled out the photograph from his breast pocket and handed it over. Scar simply laughed and shook her head. “I knew you might get confused. I kept telling John that you’d prefer proper instructions or something.” She flipped the photo over and tapped the details on the back of it. “It’s an invite to my party! John was kinda being a doofus with the whole invite thing. He said the photo was a postcard, sort of.”
Raff sighed. “John made you do this? Why would a party invite not have any information except a time and date?”
Scar mumbled, “I don’t know. It made more sense when he explained it. He said it was ‘shiny’. ‘Quiet is the new loud’ or something.”
Israel gave Raff a look. Remember when I said this was a trap? Surely you remember me saying this was a trap.
Shut up, Israel, Raphael’s glare retorted.
“When was the last time you spoke to your brother?” Raven asked, directing Scarlett’s attention towards herself. While Scar’s back was turned, Skyril quietly swiped a kitchen knife and slid it up her sleeve.
“I told you, he’s been away for a few days. He organized the invitations over the phone yesterday, though.”
There was a pause and the group became aware that the longer they stayed and asked questions, the more suspicious Scar was going to become. But Raff didn’t want to leave so empty handed. He nodded to Skyril and she returned the nod, sidling up to Israel. Scarlett was just about to speak up and ask them to leave when Skyril nudged Israel’s shoulder, hard.
He grunted and gripped his stump, gritting his teeth. “Oh my God, Israel,” Skyril spoke, “are you okay? You don’t look so good. Maybe you should sit down somewhere.”
“Maybe you should…” Israel’s reply declined into a string of curses and nonsensical ramblings while Scarlett escorted the group towards a lounge room with a grimace on her face.
“Really, you guys should be going,” Scar said as they huddled into the room.
“Bit late for that,” said a voice as Scarlett turned the lounge room light on.
In the chair on the furthermost end of the room sat a man in his mid-twenties, a speckling of stubble upon his face. His hair was held together in the way that a man attempting to act immaculate would hold his hair; slightly tousled but with the remnants of gel and a sharp combing. His entire appearance seemed to match this, in fact; his black leather boots gave the impression of being regularly scuffed with a hopeful shining every once in a while, his black pants and suit jacket were of good quality but suffered from tiny nicks and stains (Please let that be tomato sauce, Skyril thought to herself) and his tie was long, thin, and looked like it was regularly removed.
All in all, the man’s most distinguishable features were his tight leather driving gloves and the silenced, semi-automatic pistol resting in his lap.
“Please; sit.” He spoke, sounding more tired than commanding.
“Told you so,” Israel whispered to Skyril. “Trap. Spotted it a mile off.”
“John!” Scarlett cried out, going forward with arms outstretched. She stopped, however, noticing the gun. “John? What’s with the pistol? And I thought you weren’t going to come back for ages…”
“Changed my mind,” he said distractedly, looking the group up and down while they stood there, tensing. “Where are their weapons?”
“John.” Scarlett was shaking her head. “What the hell is wrong with you? Put the gun away and tell me what’s happening!”
“You better tell her, Mr Smith,” Raphael said.
“Shut up,” John told him, picking up the gun and checking the safety was off. The faces around the room were grim as he pulled the slide back and aimed it in the general direction of Raff. “Not a word out of anyone. Do you remember, Scar, how each time you’ve tried to set up a meeting between me and this friend of yours, he never shows? He bails, or comes up with an excuse, or visits when I’m out and away. Almost as if he’s afraid of me.”
“There’s a lot to be afraid of.” Raff was sweating, clenching and unclenching his fists as he stared down the barrel.
“So what? You’re not exactly friendly, John. Case and point- you’re holding them up, for goodness sake.”
“What’s the rule we have, Scarlett?” John asked his sister, turning his head but keeping the gun steadily trained on Raff.
“I don’t interfere with your work.”
“Exactly. You can leave now. Come back down in five minutes.”
“That’s it? You’re just going to shoot them like dogs?”
“More or less, yes.”
“Like hell you are!” Raphael shouted, jumping forwards. He caught two bullets in his stomach before he crashed into John, knocking the gun away. Israel dived for it while Skyril took the kitchen knife from her sleeve and advanced towards the tumble of wrestling bodies. Scarlett ducked out of the room and Raven darted after her, chasing her into the kitchen.
Israel scooped up the gun and jammed the pistol towards John, firing. He got two shots in before he was too close, and John twisted the barrel over towards Raphael’s head. Israel’s finger was already pulling the trigger before he realized what was happening.
The gun fired and Raphael jerked backwards like a marionette with all its strings cut.
“No!” Skyril cried and leapt, burying the knife into John’s chest while Israel stood back, horrified. John kicked her backwards and pulled the knife out, ripping his shirt slightly to reveal black material underneath. A Kevlar vest, Skyril thought to herself as John raised the gun and shot her three times.
Raven followed Scarlett through to the kitchen. Remnants of the party were strewn all over the room- spilt drinks, discarded bags of chips and lost, floating strips of wrapping paper littered the kitchen as Raven nimbly avoided them. Scarlett was making a beeline for a printed bullseye target on one kitchen wall with arrows protruding from it. Raven stayed in the shadows of the room, watching as Scarlett began ripping the arrows from the target.
Where’s the bow? She asked herself as she scanned the area around her. Ahhh, of course. The bow sat nestled among a diminutive pile of wrapping paper across the room where it had most likely been unwrapped, used for the bullseye game, and then gingerly laid to rest for later use.
Raven picked it up and tested out the resistance on the string. It was similar to her own, in fact, and she allowed herself a small smile before turning right into the punch Scarlett had thrown her way.
She recoiled and landed amid the mess on the floor before flipping back to her feet and backing up. In the other room, she could hear her friends struggling and fighting. In front of her, Scarlett had a handful of arrows clenched in one fist, but she looked more afraid than ready to fight. Her other fist was bright red around the knuckles from the punch.
Raven, still holding the bow, darted forward and swung a leg low to trip Scar up. The girl with the flaming hair leapt over the swinging leg and clumsily landed, closer to the loungeroom door. But in her haste, she had lost her grip on one of the arrows.
Raven was quick to recover and snatched up the arrow while pursuing Scar. She notched the arrow and pulled the bowstring back with the bow held horizontally but it was too late; Scar had dived into the loungeroom.
So Raven took a breath, pulled the bowstring back past her nose, and followed her inside.
Scarlett was afraid. She hadn’t felt fear this real since she’d first discovered John’s real job- and even then, that wasn’t exactly fear for her life. It was fear for John’s.
But now John was holding up her friend Raff and all of his friends, too. This was not how she had planned to spend her birthday evening. Maybe she’d have laid back, watched an action flick on TV, and fallen asleep to it peacefully. She didn’t quite know what to feel now that she was in action.
She’d felt the tension rise as she’d argued with her brother. Even though they did have the rule that she stayed out of his work, she still didn’t like the idea of him shooting these people. They were scary, granted, but Raphael was alright. He didn’t deserve to die.
Then there was the guy without an arm. Thinking back, Scar could now remember how she saw his face in her brother’s secret room, pinned to the middle of the wall. He’d said his name was Israel.
And then, on top of all this, Raff decided he’d had enough. Scar had often regarded him as a pacifist but when he launched forwards with his fists raised it was obvious that he wasn’t afraid to fight if he needed to.
Scar saw the gun silently fire directly into Raff’s abdomen and couldn’t bear to be in the same room. She rushed out and headed for the only weapon she knew was close enough.
Earlier in the evening her friends had taken turns to fire at a bullseye target with her new bow for fun, most missing or unable to even pull the bowstring taught. Scar had then performed not unlike William Tell and shot multiple objects off the heads of her friends; apples, mostly.
She headed to the bullseye first and began pulling arrows out as fast as she could, fully aware of the commotion in the next room. Once she had pulled out a clump of arrows she turned around to look for her bow. It was across the room but there was a figure already there, picking up the bow. She couldn’t focus on the person; they seemed to shift and blend into the background through use of some kind of magic.
Somewhere in her head she thought Cool but mostly she thought Getchohandsoffmybow all in a rush as she stalked forwards and swung a punch. John did always tell her not to throw a punch with a closed fist- and for good reason too, she thought, wincing at the pain- but on occasion, it was hilarious.
The figure solidified in her focus for a moment and she recognized the girl that had named herself Raven. She was truly of the night, her namesake accurate to the highest degree. She darted forwards suddenly and swung a leg low, trying to sweep Scarlett’s legs from under her. She leapt high and just managed to get clear and was on her way by the time Raven recovered.
The commotion in the loungeroom had just ceased when Scarlett barged in, arrows still in hand.
Israel sat with a lost look on his face, weeping. Around him lay the twisted bodies of Skyril and Raphael, unmoving. John Smith was training his gun on Israel while he pulled out a phone and dialled. Scarlett looked in horror at the carnage of the room as her brother began talking.
“Yeah, he’s still alive. Just sitting here moping right now.” John glanced out the large window. “Can you see them? Anything you want me to pass on? Only that?Alright then.”
He snapped the phone shut and glanced up at his sister. “You might want to leave, Scar.”
She began to back up out of the room but standing in the doorway was Raven with the bow and an arrow notched. Scar ducked left, still in the loungeroom, but away from the girl shaking in rage and holding the bow dangerously.
“Get out,” Israel muttered to Raven. “Go now. Not worth it.”
“Ah, welcome back, Raven.” John raised his gun and pulled the trigger repeatedly until the gun clicked empty. The first shot to hit Raven made her cry out and she loosed the arrow, directly towards his heart. He stumbled backwards but not before he had shot her twice more and she swayed before dropping to the ground as well.
Israel had leapt to his feet and was charging John with what little strength he had left. John worked fast around the arrow protruding from his Kevlar vest to reload his pistol, snapping another clip into place.
“Shouldn’t have crossed the Cyprian,” John spoke in a rehearsed way, and shot Israel between his widening eyes.
Scar slid slowly down the wall and bowed her head as Israel fell at John’s feet. In the last ten minutes, four people had become corpses in her own home. Her brother was standing up and removing the Kevlar vest, arrow, knife and all. He unscrewed the silencer on his gun as he dialled the same number from earlier and held it to his ear.
“Satisfied?” He asked, ejecting the magazine from his gun and laying it on the couch. “He got the message before I shot him, too. Where do I pick up the money? Right, right. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some cleaning to attend to.”
He drew the curtains shut over the windows and sighed, looking towards his little sister. “Do you want something to do?” he asked. “Go grab some icepacks from the freezer. We’ll need a few.”
“Why?” she responded simply, trying to stop herself from shaking.
“John Smith… you clever sonovabitch,” Raphael chuckled suddenly, groaning and massaging his forehead. All around him, bodies stirred. “Next time, don’t aim for the face.”
“Shut up,” John shook his head. “Real or fake, you still brought armed men into my house. I’d stay down for now.”
“Raff?” Scarlett came to his side and helped him sit up. “What the hell’s going on?”
John lobbed the magazine over to Scar, who deftly caught it. Raff pointed at the bullet showing on top. “See this? What is that, plastic tipped?”
“Wax,” John smiled. “Good guess, though.”
Beside Raphael, Skyril sat up suddenly, eyes wide. Instantly after sitting up she cradled her arms around herself. “Urgh…aren’t I meant to be dead? Why does my chest ache?” She looked over and saw Israel on the ground. “If this is heaven, why’s he still here?”
“Please,” Scar pleaded her brother. “You shot them not ten minutes ago. Explain what happened right now.”
“Wax bullets,” he responded as Raff began flicking the small bullets from the magazine and onto the floor. He held one up to the light above him for Scar to see. The light shone right through the transparent wax.
“They used them in riots back in the eighties,” Raff told her. “Non-lethal. Unless you hit something important- mind you, it had to look convincing. Put it down to plain old magic that none of us are in a coma right now.”
“That’s it? Just magic?”
“Weeell…” Raphael knocked on his own cranium and then instantly regretted it. “I’m very strong. I used to be the Romanian heavyweight champion in my prime years. So many hits to the head have rendered me immune to skull-bashing, I think.”
Skyril frowned and accepted an icepack from John. “Now that you mention it…Israel did that thing back in the 90’s where he ate nothing but watermelon. Wouldn’t use a knife or anything; just kept headbutting‘till he was through. How’d you know to only shoot Raff and Israel in the head?”
John smiled and kicked Israel in an attempt to wake him up. “I didn’t. It would’ve only inconvenienced me slightly if someone had died.”
“Well you’re cheery,” Skyril muttered and helped Raven to sit up. “Not even a little morbid.”
Israel woke and sprung into a crouch. “What the hell? Am I dead?” He looked over at Skyril. “Oh no. She’s here. Tell me we didn’t wind up in heaven.”
“Don’t worry, you’re not dead.” Skyril chucked him an icepack.“And if you keep fighting the good fight, Valhalla still awaits.”
Israel closed his eyes for a moment. “Good. I wonder if I can visit the Elysian Fields too.”
“What’s wrong with heaven?” Raphael asked, standing to his feet and offering a hand to the groggy Raven.
“Long story.Ancient dispute with some angels. You guys’ll still come visit me, though?”
“Always,” Skyril grinned. Behind her, Raven was staring at John.
“So you didn’t kill us,” she stated, and he hesitated before nodding.
“Yes, and although it wouldn’t have mattered if someone died, I’d still like you to factor in my mercy when you decide to-”
The fist swung too fast for his eyes to follow but he knew it hit him because all of a sudden he was on the floor with a bloodied nose. “…punch me.”
Raven curtsied, gave him a quick middle-fingered-salute, and stepped over to where Scarlett was holding her head in her hands.
“I’m so confused,” Scarlett looked up and told Raven. “Can I go without the punch? I didn’t exactly know what was happening.”
Raven paused and offered her a hand instead. “I guess we won’t make this birthday all punches and tears, then.”
“Alright,” Skyril stood and faced John. “Explain to me why the hell you didn’t kill us, though. You mentioned the Cyprian before…?”
“My employer,” John confirmed. “He hired me two weeks ago to complete some odd jobs here and there, but after my first few attempts to kill you he grew frustrated and decided to cut some money from my overall pay. I didn’t like that.” He pulled out some large black bags from a cupboard as he spoke. “The Cyprian noticed and gave away a sort of hint that once my contract was completed, I was done for. Rooky mistake, telling an assassin you’re going to try and assassinate him.”
“So…what? Couldn’t you just try to lose him?”
“Easily.” John gestured for the group to follow him out of the loungeroom and into the front hallway. “But if I’d hidden, he’d know that I knew he wanted to kill me, and he’d just go right ahead and try to kill me. Understand?”
“Barely.” The table with their weapons sitting on it was before them and each of them began to load up with gear.
“Good enough. So instead, I staged your deaths, knowing that he’d be watching through the lounge-room window. He’s gotten his hands on a sniper rifle and seems happy to follow my every movement with it, so I guessed he’d be watching as I killed you lot. Now, all I have to do is pretend to dispose of you, survive however he plans to kill me, and use our newfound status of being dead to go pay the sonovabitch a visit.”
For a brief moment, there was silence. Then Israel raised a finger into the air. “Why should we tr-”
“I just saved your life, that’s why!” John rubbed his eyes stressfully. “This whole plan is very dangerous and if you don’t trust me we’ll all end up dead anyway. Can’t people just trust me for one second?”
Israel angled his finger accusingly.“Woah there, John. There’s not a chance I trust you. For all we know, you’re just going to kill us once we help you kill the Cyprian. You tried to kill me three, no, four times and because of you, I don’t even have a left arm. You know what I used that arm for? Reloading.Punching people.Opening beers. The list is endless! And unless you have a robot arm somewhere…”
“I’m pretty sure the Cyprian has one lying around his headquarters.”
“…then I’d advise you to go… Wait, what?”
John shrugged. “Plus, y’know, a boatload of money if you guys want it. It’s too much for me to take, anyway.”
Raphael shook his head. “Sorry, can I just consult my colleagues alone for a moment? Thanks.” He turned and pulled Skyril, Raven and Israel together a few metres down the hall. “What do you guys think?” He asked as they huddled closer.
“We’re your colleagues?” Skyril asked. “And do you really think this guy has a headquarters?”
“Yes and most likely yes.”
“Awesome…” She whispered, and Raven nudged her. “Oh, yeah. There’s no way we should trust this guy.”
Due to his lack of a left arm, Israel was only partly in the circle. “Feeling kinda left out here, guys. What’re you talking about?”
“John and Scarlett. Do you think we should trust them?”
“He tried to kill me four times, Raff.” Israel sighed. “Maybe we should kill the Cyprian and then kill them and take all the money for ourselves.”
Skyril kicked his shin and he gritted his teeth. “Fine! If they don’t try and kill us, we won’t try and kill them. But if you see that robot arm, you give it to me. Right?”
Raff broke the circle and returned to the front door. “Alright, you two. We’ll trust you as long as you don’t try to kill us again.”
“Understandable,” John nodded. “Now, Scarlett, can you do a little acting for me…?”
The Cyprian was old. He hated this fact more than he hated anything else, especially because he was lying in a foxhole, soaked to the bone from the rain. The rifle he held was old, too, and he regarded it with cold eyes as he passed the time.
The bolt was slid into the forward position, locking a bullet into the rifle’s chamber. He had the rifle pointed at a house two hundred metres away which he was regarding with general suspicion. The Cyprian was a terrible shot but he was convinced that his complicated methods would guarantee the perfect deaths. At heart he was a dramatist and loved to see his characters squirm. As a child he’d always loved to play the part of the antagonist in school plays and such. And now, with his rifle in grip, he had finally become the part.
Although, he hadn’t anticipated the rain.
Ahah, movement! Through the scope of his rifle he watched as the front door opened and John Smith, his employee and soon-to-be-dead assassin, peeked outside to see if the coast was clear. Ten minutes ago the Cyprian had watched as John had brutally murdered four people in his own living room, per the Cyprian’s instructions.
Now, John led the way in carrying a body bag out of the house with his younger sister carrying the other end. She was crying, the Cyprian could see, most likely due to the fact that her brother had just killed people in front of her. Hell, anyone in that situation who wasn’t a little teary would be suspicious. Even the Cyprian wiped away a single tear of happiness; they were almost all dead. He was so close.
He watched as they loaded three bodies into the van sitting outside, the one brought to the house by Israel Elysium. The Cyprian readied a detonator and grinned toothlessly.
“Keep crying,” John whispered to his sister as they ducked inside the house to retrieve the final body bag.
“Why do I need to cry? Seems a bit unnecessary,” Scarlett replied, pouring some water directly onto her face from a bottle and practising a crumpled face in the hallway mirror.
“Because,” John retorted, “Anyone in that situation who isn’t crying is suspicious. You’re crying, the Cyprian’s probably watching us and crying, and I’m just sitting here trying not to laugh.”
“Nothing.” John leant down to zip up the final body bag.
“Maybe this is a bad time to tell you that I have claustrophobia,” Israel spoke as the zip glided over his face, muffling his words. “Just leave it open a little so I can see, alright?”
John sighed, did as he asked, and grabbed the end, dragging him towards the front door. Scarlett came round to the front end and grunted as they both lifted him out the door.
“Jeez, how are you so heavy?” Scarlett murmured between fake sobs as they reached the van.
“Hey! I am big boned. My mother said so.”
“Did your mother ever tell you not to eat junk food?”
“She told me not to eat donuts, yeah. That doesn’t include croissants, apple-turnovers, jam donuts-”
“-that last one is still a donut-” John managed while struggling to lift his end. He lost his grip and Israel fell to the asphalt below.
“-Berliners technically aren’t donuts either ‘cos they’re German, you know? Ow, watch it!” Israel remained still within the body bag and waited for them to pick him up again. “Oh. Shit, hang on a second, don’t pick me up yet. Fake an argument or something, I gotta have a look under my van.”
“Seriously?” Scarlett asked and crouched down, covering her face in pantomimed distraught.
“Well at least we’re doing well so far,” John spoke while he waved his arms around and pretended to shout at his sister. “I wonder how he’s going to kill us, though.”
“Damn.” came Israel’s voice from beneath the van. “He’s wired a bomb to the van. Okay, you can lift me up now.”
“A bomb? How are we going to escape that?”
“I have an idea,” Scarlett whispered as they lifted Israel again. “Raff’s always telling me about his paintings and how he can use them to move around the place. What if he paints one to get us away from here?”
“Good idea,” John nodded, dragging Israel’s feet into the back of the van, amid the other three body bags. “Raff, did you hear that?”
“Some of it,” came the murmured response from the bag closest. “Where do you want to go and how long do I have to paint it?”
“Anywhere! Just get us to a safe place and we’ll work it out later.”
Raff unzipped his body bag and withdrew his paintbrushes. The inside of the van became his canvas as he sketched a rectangle wide enough for them all to fit while Israel was loaded into the van. Scarlett and John jumped in before shutting the back doors and immediately the bags were all unzipped and discarded.
The Cyprian’s view of the van’s loading doors was blocked by foliage, but he could easily guess that his assassin had loaded the final body aboard and was most likely securing them before he drove off. Although, he was taking a while.
Finally, the assassin walked around to the driver’s seat and started the engine. The van rumbled down the road a little ways and was almost around a bend when there was a flurry of movement in the front seat. The Cyprian sneered and flicked the safety off of the detonator. Even if John Smith knew something was up, there was no-where for him to run to. The radius of the bomb would be extraordinary.
“Go!” John shouted as he clambered from the front seat and into the van’s cabin while it trundled down the road. Israel was the last one left in the back of the van- any equipment had been loaded through the portal with the rest of the group a minute earlier. He sighed and patted the side of the van forlornly.
“This is my third van,” he muttered, shaking his head. “I gotta stop letting people use them against me. I guess I can’t help myself though. They’re just so damn shiny...”
John collided with him and pushed him through the portal. They landed at Raff’s feet and he closed the portal with a wave of his hand, sighing.
“Not the first time I’ve faked my death,” he remarked to the group at large. They stood on a beach that stretched far in both directions as the sun set beautifully for them to watch. “Hopefully, it’s the last.”
The fireball that shot into the air was magnificent. The Cyprian smiled giddily and slung his rifle over his shoulder before practically skipping down to his car. “All dead!” He sung to himself. “All dead! All dead, all dead, all dead!”
[Apologies for any words that are oddly joined together- my Microsoft Word is acting up.]