Sky Ghosts: The Night Before - A Sky Ghosts Short Story by Alexandra Engellmann - HTML preview

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by Alexandra Engellmann

Sky Ghosts: The Night Before

(Book 0.5 of the Sky Ghosts series)

Copyright © 2016 by Alexandra Engellmann

All rights reserved

This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and events are products of the author’s

imagination, or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or

events is entirely coincidental.

Thank you for downloading this free ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book

may be reproduced, copied, and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in

its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favorite ebook retailer to

discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

Published by Alexandra Engellmann

alex.engellmann@gmail.com

http://www.engellmann.com

Cover artwork by the author

Third Edition

Contents

Author’s note

Sky Ghosts: The Night Before

Acknowledgements

About the author

Author’s note

The short story that you’re about to read is only a glimpse of the Sky Ghosts’ world

and the characters’ lives before the events of Sky Ghosts: All for One. It’s the most violent

and dark-humored book in the series so far, and the reason is simple—when it comes to

Marco and Pain, there’s no such thing as too much bloodshed.

Aside from this short story, the series will include a trilogy and at least three side

stories. Each book of the trilogy will be followed by a side story about one of the

characters. While the side stories won’t be part of the main storyline, they will give the

reader more insight into the character development and plot. All Sky Ghosts books will be

available in ebook and paperback at Amazon.

Thank you for downloading Sky Ghosts: The Night Before, and happy reading!

Sky Ghosts: The Night Before

“Your brother was a fine swordsman, Benji.” Pain nodded her head, finishing up the

milkshake. “I mean, he wasn’t very bright, attacking me like that with Marco around and

everything. But the two minutes that we shared were epic, I’ll give him that.”

She sat down on the rooftop with a satisfied sigh, looking over the glowing Manhattan.

With its seventy-two floors, Trump World Tower provided the best view. She liked her

mealtime to have a view.

“I almost wish Marco didn’t kill him so fast. It could’ve been a fantastic battle.” She

rummaged in her Happy Meal for the fries, picking one and gesturing with it as she spoke.

“Unfortunately, Marco doesn’t like it when people have their sword at my neck. And I

don’t like it when you folk assault civilians right outside my doorstep. You two almost

killed an innocent woman. You didn’t really expect me to look the other way, did you?”

Dangling her feet off the ledge, she leaned back on her hands. Her back sheath pressed

into her shoulder blade, so she unbuckled it and laid the katana down behind her. The steel

gleamed in the moonlight, and she reached out to wipe a bloody smudge off the hilt with a

gentle touch.

“Now, if you just left after what happened, I probably would’ve let you go. But no,

you had to threaten my friend with the promise of vengeance and all that horseshit… Ain’t

nobody got time for that.” She stuffed the last of the fries into her mouth. “And Marco can

get really reckless sometimes. I can’t allow people like you around him.”

She looked at the bloodied head that sat in a duffel bag at her side.

“And this is why you had to die. I hope there’s no hard feelings, Benji.”

Benji didn’t reply, and she shrugged her shoulders, packing up the leftovers of her

meal. Her watch showed ten o’clock, and she was miles away from her destination.

Scratching random Beasts off her list was great, but the real work was waiting, something

she had been dying to do for months. Chuck and his squad were finally within her reach,

and that meant Eugene and his Beasts were about to lose significant support down on the

streets. The fact that raiding their hideouts wasn’t even her job never really bothered her.

She gathered her long black hair up into a ponytail, put the sword back on, zipped up

her gear jacket, and raised her mask, covering her face up to her eyes. Then she grabbed

the bag and stepped off the roof.

The gravity did its job, bringing her to the tenth floor level in a matter of seconds.

There, she stopped the fall and darted in Brooklyn’s direction, the wind howling around

her as she flew. It only took her a few minutes to reach Greenpoint Terminal Market, pass

its charred ruins, and spot the right building—a low, black warehouse that sprawled

among the smaller ones like a spider. She flew past it and landed in a dark corner, hiding

the bag under a dumpster to free her hands.

As she walked through the smelly gap between two low buildings, she heard muffled

voices and paused. Her senses were dulled by the flight, the noise of the wind still loud in

her head, and her eyes watery. So she stood there for a minute, motionless, getting used to

the dark and quiet surroundings. Some of the streetlight filtered down the narrow alley

before her, but not too much, so she could go and look around.

She stepped forward and felt her skin prickle—someone was behind her. Her katana

left its sheath just as her attacker slammed into her, knocking her to the ground. She rolled

over and jumped to her feet, parrying his blow and cringing at the clatter their swords

made. In a few seconds, all the Beasts in the area would be here.

“Sneaky,” she praised the man whose blade kept trying to reach her, only to fail again

and again.

To make it even more hopeless for him, she reached into the well of energy inside her

and let some of it spill out into a shield, allowing the shimmering cocoon to envelop her

whole body. Using it felt too much like cheating, with most Beasts not having developed

any abilities aside from flying, but there was no such thing as too much practice.

Her attacker panted, desperately trying to keep up with her moves. He wore a

nondescript set of black clothes, standing just a little taller than she.

“Too slow for your size,” she kept distracting him while driving him farther and

farther back into the darkness. Her sword was there to meet his before he even made a

move.

“And you’re too cocksure for yours,” he spat. “I know who you are.”

She found an opening and kicked him flat in the ribs, fueling the move with more

energy than she should have, so the Beast slammed into a wall a few yards away. By the

time she got to him, he was already on his feet.

“Then you should’ve stayed in your smelly corner,” she whispered with a grin and

swung her sword one more time just as he opened his mouth for a reply.

A thin red line crossed his neck, and his eyes fluttered wide open. A heartbeat later, his

body hit the ground.

She let out a relieved breath, standing at the edge of light, and wiped the blood off her

split eyebrow. Healing it was a matter of minutes: the sharp pain receded the moment she

focused on it, and she opened her eyes, letting it heal while she worked.

Behind her, someone cleared his throat.

“Oh, for crap’s sake…”

She turned around at the sound of four swords leaving their scabbards at once, while

the fifth man stepped forward with a growl.

“The girl is mine!” He drew his sword with a wild look in his eyes. “She’s the one

who killed Billy,” he said, and the others nodded.

“Aye, it’s her.”

She grimaced with feigned sympathy as they began to circle each other in the pool of

light. “Sorry if I don’t remember. Killed an awful lot of Billies lately.”

“You bitch!”

He lunged at her with a snarl, taking big, awkward swings. It only took her three

seconds to find an opening in his defense, and with the others waiting, she didn’t want to

waste any more energy.

Her elbow slammed into his jaw, and her katana buried itself deep between his ribs.

“I think this is how I killed Billy,” she stage-whispered, looking into the man’s

horrified eyes. “Or was it Bobby … no, wait. I don’t care.”

She freed her sword with a vicious shove, letting him fall. The others froze in place,

and she smiled, raising the big katana. “Oh, don’t be shy! There’s enough sword for all of

you!”

Three sets of wary eyes stared back at her, and when she realized something was amiss

it was already too late.

Someone moved behind her and grabbed her arms just as she darted upward, only to

land back on her feet. She stilled, but kept a firm grip on her sword and prepared to flare

the shield any second. Letting them think they were in control was the game she would

never grow tired of playing.

“Wait!” One of the others said when the big man behind her whipped out what had to

be a knife. “She’s worth more alive than dead. We could sell her to Eugene!”

“Yeah, right!” his friend supported him, coming closer.

“Yeah, right,” she scoffed, slewing around to look up at her captor just as another

black shadow moved at the edge of her sight. “Or better yet, let me go, and I won’t kill

you…”

He opened his mouth, but two brown hands grabbed his head from behind and snapped

his neck in one blurry motion.

“…but he will,” she said to the lifeless body as it toppled to the ground, and Marco

stood in its place with a devilish grin. “You’re late,” she greeted him, turning and taking a

wide swing that forced another body to hit the ground, this time, separated from the head.

“I got distracted.”

He flew across the street, disarmed one of the two Beasts, and smashed his head into

the wall with a bone-chilling crunch.

“Oh really? Did your distraction have a name?”

She saw the last thug back off into the shadows, probably hoping to bring

reinforcements, which would do him more good than running. Her eyes focused on his

every move while she drew a dagger from her belt.

“Two.” Marco grinned at her as the dagger hit the man in the back, making him

stumble and fall. “Naomi and Miranda.”

She snorted and sheathed her sword while Marco went to retrieve the wounded Beast.

“Five points for trying, but I know you never ask their names.”

“No, I don’t,” he said with another wicked grin, dragging the terrified thug back to her.

The man that had been so brave before just stared at them now, mouth open, probably

knowing there was no escape from the Gruesome Twosome.

“Are you from Chuck’s squad, or do you work directly for Eugene?” she asked,

squatting before him.

“Ch-chuck,” the Beast stammered.

“How many men does Chuck have?”

“I-I don’t know. Fifty, maybe sixty.”

“Whoa…” She looked up at Marco, ignoring the man’s pleading eyes, and nodded

slightly.

The Beast was dead before she got up to her feet.

“Fifty…” Marco ran a hand over his short Mohawk, whistling. “And how many are in

there?” He pointed his thumb at the warehouse at the end of the street. The bulk of it

loomed in the darkness like a grotesque monster, its shape broken like it was built by

someone with a mental disability.

“Half of them, but they’re supposed to be out tonight, remember?” She shrugged,

giving him a once over. He wasn’t even wearing his vest, just the gear pants and a black t-

shirt. “Where’s your sword? Did you leave it with Naomi?

His big hand closed on his weapons belt. “Crap! I knew I forgot something!”

And your jacket? And the vest?”

“I have my knife.” He drew a small black knife from his boot with a smile, making her

roll her eyes.

“Put that back.” She unbuckled the horizontal carry sheath off her weapons belt and

handed the big knife to him. “Here.”

“Thanks.” He fastened it to the belt on the small of his back, looking out over the

street. “We gotta get rid of these. The clean-up team is busy at Longwood.”

“Fine.” She picked up their last kill by the back of the jacket and dragged him down to

the smelly corner. “Oh, I almost forgot!” The sight of the dumpster made her drop the

body and grab the bloodied duffel bag.

Marco was carrying a headless body, a grimace on his face, when she ran back out into

the light.

“I wish you wouldn’t behead hairless people,” he complained. “Makes it really

uncomfortable— Ouch!” He dropped the body to catch the bag that she tossed to him.

“What’s this?”

“Another birthday present.” She wiggled her eyebrows.

Marco opened the bag. Looked inside. Made a face. “Jesus Christ, Pain. We talked

about this.” He gave her a disapproving look. “And my birthday was two days ago.”

She pursed her lips. “I’m aware of that. I threw you the damn party, and then you were

sick in my bathroom all night.”

He beamed down at her. “Yeah, I was.”

“It’s not something to be proud of, Marco,” she said, her face incredulous.

“Alright, alright… Who do we have here?” he wondered, peering at the head.

“It’s Benji!”

Marco’s face showed nothing but confusion. “I’m sorry, Benji who?”

She stared at him, not believing her ears. “Benji who swore to kill you! Tall Tommy’s

brother.”

Who? ” Marco squinted at her.

“Oh, come on! You hated Tall Tommy!”

“Sorry, babe. I hate a lot of people, and it’s hard to keep tabs when they keep losing

their heads.”

Her eyes rolled skyward. “Whatever. He’s not looking for you anymore.”

Marco chuckled. “Thanks.” His gaze switched back to the bag. “Okay, this is gross,

why am I still holding this…” He disappeared around the corner, taking the bag with him.

“Where did you find him, anyway?”

“I wasn’t looking, really. He was lurking around at Archie’s, probably hoping you’d

be getting drunk there.” She watched Marco carry the bodies away from the light, using

his distraction to avoid the dirty work.

“What were you doing at Archie’s? Ogling that hairy bouncer again, ain’t ya?”

Nooo…” She made a face, before giving up with a sigh. “Maybe. He’s got beautiful

eyes, admit it.”

Marco scoffed. “Sure, if his eyes are on his ass.”

“Oh, shut up.” She grabbed another Beast by the jacket and dragged him into the

darkness to speed up the process and get back to the interesting part.

“Okay,” Marco said, moving his massive shoulders as if to warm up. “What’s the story

again?” He dusted off his hands and stared at her with a quizzical look.

“From the beginning?” she asked, getting a quick nod from him. “Remember the two

fools that have been following me around? I ran across one of them yesterday and was

about to slit his throat when he said he had the info on Chuck that I’ve been looking for.

Said he overheard me asking about it somewhere. Normally, I wouldn’t listen, but you

know how we’ve been grasping at straws lately, with Chuck being smarter than most of

them.”

Marco nodded his agreement, stretching his tattooed arms over his head with a yawn.

“And this guy, he’s not one of Chuck’s?”

“He said not, but who knows. It doesn’t matter anyway. His name’s Fox, and he said

we haven’t been able to find Chuck because he’s got not one, but two bases, and he

changes them every week. They move their shit around in a truck, have guards posted

outside at night, and Eugene’s spies provide him with intel whenever our patrols come too

close to finding him. In other words, he knows what he’s doing.”

“Yeah, I can see why Eugene likes the guy. He’s not just some Mexican punk with

skills.”

“Exactly,” she continued. “Chuck’s squad is doing a security job for Eugene tonight,

some big shipment of whores or arms or innocent babies for evil sacrifice, whatever. But

the thing is, Chuck himself is going to stay at the base and coordinate everything from

there, with only half a dozen men with him.”

“At this base?” Marco pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the warehouse. “Are you

sure about it?”

“No. I got it from some skanky Beast who makes his money selling scraps of gossip.

How sure can I be? But I know the chance is too good to miss.”

“And it didn’t cross your mind that busting their shipment could be way more fun? I’m

not even talking about Eugene losing a client, plus whatever we would find there.”

She shook her head. “Getting rid of Chuck is more important right now. We take him

out, and his whole squad goes back to where they came from, and it’s half a hundred

trained thugs. Besides, there’s no way we’d be able to track down the shipment on such

short notice. Even if the whole of the Headquarters was on it, and you know Peter’s got his

hands full of crap now.”

“If they’re all in there, and Chuck makes it out alive, we’ll only make it worse. You do

realize that, right?”

“Well, yeah. He’ll lie low, and we won’t find him for another six months. But he’ll be

half a squad short,” she said with a smile.

Marco folded his arms on his chest, pointing a finger at her as he said, “You are

talking about killing two or three dozen people, am I right?”

She paused. “People? ” she said, incredulous. “They’re not people, Marco. They’re

animals. I’m talking about using the chance to take out a gang that’s been terrorizing the

city for months, instead of waiting for the perfect opportunity again. Do you know why the

clean-up’s at Longwood?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Skull and ten more guys have been there two nights in a row. They’re wiping out a

gang that’s been on our raiding list for a month, because we’re understaffed. You know

why tonight?”

“Do you have to ask me every time before you say something?”

She ignored his snide question. “Because two days ago, the sheriff called Peter about

the five dead teenagers they found there. They were just kids, Marco. Teenagers don’t

have money. And the Beasts killed them anyway, for sport. Because they trespassed into

their territory. They now have a territory in our city. All because we didn’t get there in

time.”

He gazed at her, as if lost in thought, and it didn’t seem like he had anything else to

say.

“So yeah, whoever is in there, I’m alright with taking them all out. I’ll make it as

messy as possible, and then I’ll make sure people find out about it, that the Headquarters

doesn’t need to send dozens of men to eliminate those bastards like the plague that they

are. So that next time some gang decides this city is the perfect place for them, they think

twice about it.”

“Alright. We’re wasting time.” Marco cracked his knuckles, looking back at the

warehouse. “When do they start?”

“At eleven, but I’m guessing Chuck is already there. We’ll have to take out both him

and his men. You told me yourself that he’s dangerous. Come on.”

They circled the big building, jumping soundlessly from roof to roof, peering into the

darkness for any sign of guards. It seemed, aside from the Beasts they took out earlier, the

whole area was deserted this time of night. All they heard were the distant city sounds, an

occasional stray dog barking, and their own measured breaths.

Pain crouched on a roof edge eventually, observing the black warehouse before them,

and felt Marco sit down close at her side. Her eyes slid over the black walls and boarded-

up windows; over the misshapen line of the rooftop and the wide, open space before the

front doors. It did look like a good place for a bunch of bad guys. It looked like an

impregnable castle.

“What do you see?” she whispered.

He grunted, the sound rumbling deep in his chest. “I see Fox’s inevitable death in the

near future, because he obviously lied to you about it all. I feel it in my guts—we’re the

only ones out here. There are no guards, which means he might as well have lied about the

rest.”

Silently, she contemplated his words as he continued, “They don’t even have any

lights around here. We could get a hundred men here through the air and storm them from

the roof. They would never see us coming.”

“Maybe they’ve pulled everyone out for that security job. Or maybe, they’re not as

good as Fox thinks.”

“Maybe they’re even better, and we’re walking right into a trap.”

She frowned, turning to look at him. “Like it’s the first time.” She pointed her thumb

at the building. “We went in on less and always walked back out. Don’t get all doom and

gloom on me now.”

I walked out,” Marco snapped, “and dragged your ass to the infirmary, with you

bleeding all over the city.”

“Oh, two times that happened, big deal!” she whispered with a grimace.

“Of course, it’s no big deal to you. You’re not the one Peter promised to kill if you

flatline on my watch again.”

Pain cringed at the thought, knowing how hard their boss could be on Marco

sometimes. She heard him sigh and turned to find him gazing at the warehouse, his arms

crossed on his chest.

“I just have a bad feeling about this. Look, one thing Fox told you is already wrong.

We’ll have a better shot if we watch the place for a while and come back later. Even if

they’re all here, it won’t be a problem with Ryan and a couple more guys.”

“We could at least take a proper look at it. Come on, let’s find a window.” She

motioned him to follow her, jumping off the rooftop and approaching the dark side of the

warehouse, where moonlight didn’t reach.

The tall windows had probably been boarded up for years, with the nails rusty and the

wood warped from heat and rain. It took them a few minutes to find a loose plank, which

came off without a sound under Marco’s fingers, revealing a dimly lit large room. A single

lightbulb shone on the opposite wall, above the exit doors, casting most of the space into

shadows. Still, she could see steel columns and a narrow mezzanine that left the center

open.

“Well, someone’s definitely here,” she said as her eyes adjusted, letting her see more

and more detail.

“I can’t see shit,” Marco complained at her side, too loud for her ears.

“Shh.” She elbowed him slightly, her eyes focused on the vague shapes inside.

“There’s a man in a chair. Does he look like Chuck?”

Marco looked where her finger pointed. “Oh yeah, totally,” he drawled after a

moment.

“Really?”

“No!” He stared at her. “It’s impossible to see anything. Next thing you’re gonna ask

me to do is match his dental records from up here.”

She turned back to the window with a weary sigh. “That’s not true. I can see two more

men there and there,” she pointed with her finger, “and there are bunks by the wall. It

really does seem empty, and there’s no glass, so we have a way in. Look, he’s moving.”

They watched the man as he left his chair and walked across the big room. Marco let

out a grunt. “He’s wearing a long coat like Chuck. And he does seem pretty short, too.

Man, my hands are itching.”

“Chuck’s mine! Please, keep that in mind when you get in there.”

“Like you did with the big twins two weeks ago?” he whispered, arching a brow.

“I told you how—”

“Tripping and accidentally beheading two people is not an explanation,” he said,

making her roll her eyes and move away from the window.

“Are we gonna do this or talk all night?”

“Fine. You cover,” he grumbled, making quick work of two more nails and one plank

of wood. “Take them to the far corner, and I’ll come at them from the back.”

She checked her gear, weapons, and mask. “I bet I’ll be done with them without your

help.” When he didn’t say anything, she turned to him and held out her hand. “Ten bucks

on me taking them all out in less than a minute.”

“Twenty.” He grabbed her hand and shook it, and she grinned before slipping nimbly

through the window.

Initially, she was supposed to take stock of the situation, then round up the hostiles and

distract them for Marco to get in unnoticed and eliminate half the threat before they knew

what hit them. But now, she wasn’t going to leave anyone alive in there. Ten seconds were

all she needed to assess the situation and pick the first two victims out of the six men she

had counted, including Chuck.

Quickly, she moved through the dark room, sliding between the thin columns to the far

left corner. She fueled her flight, gaining speed a moment before the impact, when she

rammed both feet into a Beast that stood there talking to another. They went over in a

tangle of limbs, snarling out of surprise. Before they managed to get back on their feet, she

slit their throats, silencing them.

Twenty seconds, she thought with a grin, darting across the room as the Beasts raised

their voices in confusion, drawing their weapons.

“Where is he?” one of them barked, turning to Chuck.

She saw Chuck back off into the shadows and marked his position in her head,

drawing the katana and beheading the speaker without touching the ground, before he

could say another word. His body toppled to the ground just as she moved back under the

cover of darkness and spotted Marco’s silhouette above her, hovering under the ceiling.

Thirty, she counted in her head and drew a dagger from her weapons belt, taking out

another startled thug, who stood stupidly in the light. Thirty-two. She noticed that the fifth

Beast had disappeared from his previous position, and at the same time, Marco darted to

the spot where she had last seen Chuck.

She cursed under her breath, rising to the ceiling so she could find the missing enemy.

Her heart pounded in her chest as she wondered why it was so quiet, with Marco and

Chuck down there in the dark. Hinges squeaked, echoing through the walls, and she saw

movement, someone hurrying toward the sound through the shadows. Forty, she thought

as her body lunged forward before she could give the command.

Halfway to the ground, someone slammed into her from the side, and she tumbled into

the light, breathless. The fifth Beast stood a few feet away, ready to fight, his face a

vicious scowl. An angry red scar was all that was left of his right eye. There goes my

twenty bucks, the thought flashed in her head as she took in his six-foot-three frame. Then,

she remembered that Marco and Chuck were still suspiciously quiet.

“Marco!” she bellowed, swinging the katana to parry her opponent’s blow. She gritted

her teeth under the powerful swing of his longsword, then aimed a savage kick at his

kneecap, making him cry out in anger and pain as he dropped on his good knee.

In a blur, she kicked the sword out of his hand and circled him, grabbing his jaw as her

blade flew up to his throat.

“Stop!” Marco’s sharp voice froze her in place just as thunderous footsteps echoed

through the room.

“Marco?” She saw his vague silhouette walking toward her, and tightened her grip on

the Beast, reminding him to stay still.

“Drop the sword!” someone said, and the room suddenly filled with light, revealing

dozens of Beasts all around her, more pouring out of a big trapdoor in the corner.

The corner where Chuck had disappeared a minute ago, if it was he and not one of his

sidekicks.

Her eyes locked with Marco’s as he stepped into the light, hands raised behind his

head and face annoyed. She let go of the Beast, stepping back.

“Easy…”

She scanned the room, already knowing there was no point in fighting. They had been

waiting for them, two dozen fighters or more, they were a show of force meant to make

them surrender. She could slip out in a heartbeat through the window, but Marco wasn’t as

fast, and they had a knife at his back.

“Sword on the ground!” someone ordered.

She obeyed only partially, putting the katana in her back sheath instead and holding

her left hand up so they would know she was surrendering. Later, when she had to find the

katana, at least both pieces would be in one place.

Her eyes darted to Marco as he opened his mouth.

“Don’t,” she cut in before he could say anything. “Don’t fucking say it.”

He grimaced as the big Beast she had been about to finish a minute ago stepped behind

her back.

“I told you so,” Marco said.

The world went black.

* * *

She gasped for air, coming back to consciousness, only to choke on the water that

flooded her lungs, her whole body jerking against the strong hand that kept her face down

in a bucket. Another lungful of searing, poisonous water, and they let her go.

She pulled herself upright and spat it all out, some of it falling on the man with the

bucket. As she drew a wheezing breath, flexing her wrists against the chains that held her

captive, the man cursed and bent down to shake the water off his pants.

Next second, she pushed off the ground and slammed her boot in his jaw, hearing his

neck break even as he flew across the room. The bucket tumbled next to his lifeless form,

and she bit her bottom lip, holding back a grin.

“Bravo!” Someone clapped his hands, stepping out of the shadows to her right as she

wrapped her manacled hands around the chains, water dripping off her face. “Bravo,

bravo! That was truly impressive.”

Her eyes narrowed at the short man in a long leather coat, his face ratlike. Under the

coat, he was wearing a black shirt and pants, and his voice sounded like sandpaper on

glass.

“Let me guess…” she rasped, restoring her breath. “Not Chuck.”

He bowed his head, feigning a modest smile. “No, of course not,” he spoke with a

slight accent. “Only his second-in-command. Chuck doesn’t have time for games. And I

… I happen to specialize in this.” He waved his hand, indicating a collection of knives and

torture instruments on a small table nearby. “You can call me Emilio.”

“Nice to meet you, Emilio,” she said, staring him down. “Although I should be the one

clapping—you sacrificed what, four men? Just to get me and him.” She pointed her chin at

Marco across from her, chained up to the low basement ceiling the same way she was,

arms wide over his head.

He was watching them, one eye swollen shut, blood dripping from his chin onto the

shredded t-shirt. The faint yellow light didn’t allow her to see if he had other injuries, but

she knew he was slowly working on them while she held Emilio’s attention. And what

Marco lacked in a skill as subtle as healing, he made up for in strength and size.

She turned back to her captor. “Did your men know about your plan when you used

them as bait?”

“I’m sure they wouldn’t mind, if they only knew the great cause that they’ve served,”

Emilio said with a dark glimmer in his eye, taking off his coat. The damp basement made

her forget it was summer.

“Yeah, ’cause that’s what you guys are all about,” she muttered. “Great cause. Kill all

men, take their money, rape their women. Real warriors, you are.”

“Oh, no…” Emilio said, coming up to her. “That’s not what tonight is about. We can

talk about this any other night.”

“You won’t live to see any other nights.”

He chuckled, showing his crooked teeth. “I’ve heard so much about you, and it’s all

true, it seems. Imagine my joy when Fox showed up at my door to tell me he had

information about you. Said you would come to me yourself, and so soon.”

“I’m gonna chop off his hand for lying, but I’ll give you a quick death if you let me go

now,” she said with a half-hearted smile, holding his stare.

“He didn’t lie. He just shared the details of your encounter with me later, the bright lad

that he is.”

“He said everyone would be out working at eleven.”

“He mixed up the time is all. The job’s at midnight, and when they’re done, Chuck is

getting a surprise present.” His voice lowered as his index finger hooked through a loop on

her belt. “You and I are gonna have so much fun together… Don’t think you’re going

anywhere, ’cause I know all about you and your little tricks.”

“Really?” she murmured, leaning forward, her eyes level with his as she stood on her

tiptoes. “Did you know I could do this?”

Her forehead smashed into Emilio’s nose, the crunch still echoing when she kneed him

in the crotch.

He jumped away from her, doubling up, the contents of his pockets jingling from the

sudden movement. Good reflexes, she thought. Will only have one shot at this now.

Marco laughed across the room while Emilio groaned, restoring his breath somewhere

in the shadows, and she chuckled in response.

“That’s okay,” she heard Emilio rasp. “That’s why we kept this one alive.” He pointed

at Marco, limping back into the dim light.

He snatched a small knife off the table as he walked across the room, wiping blood off

his face. His left hand closed on Marco’s t-shirt, while the right one sliced at it with the

blade, baring Marco’s bloodied chest.

Emilio turned to look at her, a savage grin plastered on his face. “You’re gonna tell me

everything about the Headquarters. Your perimeter layout, your clients’ names, your spies

at Eugene’s barracks. And every time you don’t answer my question, your friend here will

pay for it.”

He raised the knife to Marco’s chest and slowly dragged the tip across his skin, blood

welling in its trace until it spilled on the floor. Marco kept silent, his jaw tense, his eyes on

her, tired, annoyed, and somewhat bored at yet another psychopath who deemed himself a

supervillain cutting him up.

Emilio took a small step back, his manic gaze darting from Marco to Pain. “What’s the

outer perimeter layout? How far out does it go?” he asked, turning back to Marco when

Pain stayed silent.

Marco sighed. “Let’s see… It’s definitely somewhere between no idea and go fuck

yourself, but closer to the former.” He stared at the Beast with a humorless smile.

Pain saw Emilio’s hands ball into fists as Marco’s low voice rumbled on, “You’re not

very smart, are you?” The muscles in his arms flexed as he pulled at the chains, towering

over the ratlike Beast. “I’m an agent. She’s an agent. It’s been years since we worked the

perimeter. The Headquarters is our home. Why would we need to sneak in there?”

Emilio turned his head, shooting Pain a furious glare, and she smiled, liking the

change in him. His superior, calm demeanor didn’t last five minutes with the two of them.

The knife flew back up to Marco’s chest.

“Touch him again,” she raised her voice, stopping him mid-motion, “and I will kill

every single one of your men when I get out of here.”

“You don’t seem to understand the situation.” Emilio turned on her, crossing the room

in a few swift strides.

“I understand that Chuck has left you here in the stinky basement, while he’s out there,

working a serious job for Eugene himself. I understand that you’re trying too hard,

thinking you can prove yourself yet. I understand that if half his men don’t show up for the

job tonight, and no one lives to tell the story, Chuck will see you for the worthless piece of

shit that you are. And you’ll be too dead to change it.”

He stopped a few feet away, his features twisting in anger, but the sound of heavy

footsteps interrupted their exchange. “What?” he snapped, turning to the big Beast that

Pain hadn’t got to kill earlier that night.

He stepped into the light, cutting his one eye at her for a moment before replying to

Emilio, “Chuck called. We’re leaving in twenty minutes.”

“Fine.” Emilio dismissed the Beast with a flick of his wrist. “I’m busy, go!”

Pain smirked at the snort the big Beast gave as he turned around and headed back to

the trapdoor. “I bet I know who’s gonna be the real second-in-command soon,” she said.

In a blur, Emilio lunged at her, her head whipping to the side from the punch. She

tasted blood on her tongue as his fingers gripped her chin, forcing her head back up.

“You think you’re better than me because the blood on your hands is not the blood of

the innocent,” he hissed, mere inches from her face. “But what’s the difference, if we’re

both going to hell? You’re such a little hypocrite, pretending to care about protecting

civilians when all you really want is to kill and get paid for it. You’re just like me or any

other guy here.”

“I’m not,” she said with a wry smile.

He hit her again. She swayed in her chains, waiting for the world to stop spinning and

her head to stop pounding, while the blood from her split lip dripped on the floor. He

would have knocked a couple of teeth out if she hadn’t pulled back at the last moment.

“You will speak when I tell you to,” he said, but stepped back, probably remembering

the last time he got too close. “You and your Headquarters, you think yourselves saints,

sacrificing dozens to postpone the inevitable. Fight all you want, but deep inside, you

know that humans are weak. We are taking over the city, one way or another. You can die

tonight together with your friend here, or you can give me the information I need, and I

might just let you live.”

She chuckled at his tirade, making him step closer again in curiosity.

“No need to be a hero,” he continued when she kept her head down, silent. “No need

to die for your boss. It won’t prove anything, ’cause you’re no better than me. You, me,

him, we’re all the same.”

“I’m not…” she croaked, and cleared her throat, feeling him lean in to hear what she

was saying. “I’m not the same as you, you dumb shit.” She licked her bloodied, but

otherwise intact lips and raised her eyes at him with a dark smile. “I’m way worse.”

Like a snake, she struck, sinking her teeth into his neck as her legs locked around his

waist. Blood fountained from the ugly gash in his neck when she pulled back, letting it

spill on the floor while he gaped at her, amazement and horror mixed in his look. Like a

trapped animal, he thrashed in her grip, but she held on tight.

“No, no, you stay here. I’m not done with you yet.”

“You…” he rasped in shock, hand flying up to his neck, as if he could stop the

bleeding. “Bit me…”

“She does that,” Marco said from across the room, wringing an apologetic grimace and

a shrug from her.

“Yeah, I do that.”

Emilio’s big brown eyes stared at her, his attempts to escape weaker and weaker.

“Not a bad way to go, buddy!” Marco raised his voice again. “I wouldn’t mind dying

with her legs wrapped around me.”

“Not gonna happen,” she said with an icy glare at Marco.

Marco shrugged, rattling his chains as he waved one manacled hand. “Just saying … I

think he’s done.”

She turned her gaze back to Emilio’s limp form and let his body slip down to the floor

at her feet.

“You promised me you’d never do that again. Two years ago, remember?” Marco’s

disapproving voice made her look back up at him.

“It’s not like I had any choice. Twenty minutes, man. You heard the guy.”

“Yes, but this is unsanitary.”

Her lips pressed into a thin line. “Unsanitary? ” She looked down, rearranging Emilio’s

body on the floor the way she needed it. “Naomi and Miranda, that’s unsanitary. And

this…” She paused to blow out a weary breath. “This is our way out.”

“What, you have a key in your pocket?”

“No, but he does.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Anyone who’s got ears knows that.” She shot Marco an annoyed look, poking at

Emilio’s pants pocket with the tip of her boot. The keys jingled again. “Hear that? We’ll

be out of here in a minute.”

She let out a relieved sigh when a big key ring finally slipped out of the pocket, and

reached out with both feet to pick it up. The next part—bringing the keys up to her hand

and finding the right one without dropping them—was the trickiest, and the fact that

Marco was watching her every move wasn’t helping.

“Do you mind??” she growled, shooting him an irritated look from somewhere

between her knees, her abs burning from staying in the uncomfortable position for so long.

“No, I don’t.” He grinned, staring even harder, if that was possible. “You’re a sight to

behold, Patricia.”

She froze at the sound of her name as an awkward silence settled over the room and

Marco probably bit his tongue. Her thoughts quickly returned to the task at hand, and she

exhaled, focusing on it. A few seconds later, she was free of the manacles, flexing her

numb muscles and checking her pockets. Most of her weapons were gone, but not all of

them. The only one she cared about was her sword.

Marco cleared his throat as she checked every corner, not finding the katana.

“Some help here?” He rattled his chains, but she ignored him.

She had two or three dozen Beasts upstairs, fifteen minutes to get the party started, and

no sword. Freaking Emilio, she kicked his body before storming to Marco and his

annoying rattling.

“Finally!” he boomed, but she didn’t hurry to help him out of the manacles.

Instead, she grabbed his right forearm, tracing the long, ugly scar there with her

thumb. “Use that name again, and I’ll carve another reminder into your other arm.” She

dug her nails into his skin before letting go of him.

“You can try,” he growled, his temper taking over. “This time, I won’t be drunk.”

“And I won’t be seventeen,” she parried, getting lost in the memory of their quarrel

four years ago for a moment.

She shook her head, picking up a couple of knives from Emilio’s table and stuffing

them into her belt. “I wish I could stay for the show, but I gotta go find my sword.” She

dropped the keys on the floor at Marco’s feet as his eyebrows crawled up his forehead. “I

bet it’ll be a sight to behold, ” she whispered with a wicked grin, leaning in for a second,

only to jerk back when he lunged at her.

“Get back here, you little …!” He yanked at the chains, as if he could reach her as she

hurried to the exit, a big smile on her face. “You can’t do it alone!”

“So hurry up! I’ll stall.” She winked at him, pausing at the short flight of stairs that led

to the trapdoor.

“I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t mean to, it slipped out!”

She exited the basement, ending up in the corner that stayed dark even when all the

lights were blazing on the other side of the big room.

“Sure it did,” she muttered to herself, pausing to pick up a fire axe that someone had

left carelessly by the wall. “Well, this is just perfect.”

She weighed it in her palms and looked over the crowd of Beasts before her.

* * *

“Alright, everybody, listen up!” she raised her voice over the hubbub that was the

warehouse with thirty men inside.

Slowly, the conversations trailed off, and eyes turned to her. They frowned in

confusion, taking in her small, ragged form as she stepped out of the shadows and into the

light. All that separated them was a few feet of space—and an impenetrable shield that

shimmered ever so slightly around her. She fed it more energy, letting it envelop her like a

second skin before raising her voice again.

“Someone here knows where I can find my sword. I suggest they speak up, and in

return, my friend and I will leave without any trouble. You can go on that job of yours,

enjoy your life for a few more days or be good boys and leave town. Otherwise,” she

paused, squinting at the three big thugs that stood closest to her, and pointed the axe at

them one after another as she spoke, “I’m gonna chop off his arm, his head, and his balls.

Deal?”

She beamed at them to no effect as the dumbfounded crowd of Beasts advanced on

her, stopping only when the one-eyed thug raised his hand, stepping forward. As usual, no

one took her seriously, except the one who had nearly got killed by her in less than five

seconds.

“Where’s Martinez?” he asked in a gravelly voice. His eye rested on the axe she was

holding.

“Who?” She peered at him, confused. “Ah, the little squeaky fellow downstairs? Yeah,

he’s dead.”

“You lying bitch!” some Beast yelled, using his big gut to make his way through the

crowd. “Forgot to mention you killed our boss before you came here with your little

proposition!”

Her mouth opened and closed as she heard a distant clang coming from the basement,

but stopped her head from turning so she wouldn’t direct their attention to Marco. Since

they hadn’t attacked her yet, she wondered if her bluff would actually get her the sword.

With a sigh, she lifted the axe to point at the fat Beast. “You—I never said anything

about Emilio. I said I’d leave without any trouble.” The axe turned to the one-eyed man.

“You—do we have a deal or not? Bring me my sword, and no one else dies tonight. We

leave, and you can be on your merry way of killing and rape, unless I see your ugly mugs

in town again.”

“She’s not going anywhere!” the fat Beast yelled before the other one had the chance

to say anything. “Emilio was a friend of mine!”

“Then you have my condolences! You’re shit at choosing friends. Anyone else in our

little club want to make a statement?”

“I am not a rapist!” Another thug stepped out of the crowd. His bald head gleamed like

a polished apple, sticking out a good five inches above everyone else.

“Good for you, Baldylocks! I’d clap, but you know what they say about clapping.”

“What?” He blinked.

“You don’t clap with a big fucking axe in your hands!”

“Silence!” The one-eyed Beast lost his patience.

He turned to her just as another metallic clatter from the basement reached her ears,

making her grip on the axe tighten. His single eye narrowed, and everyone quieted, a

strained silence filling the room.

“Where’s your friend?” he growled, darting a glance at the trapdoor.

She cursed in her head as something moved at the edge of her sight. Someone had

made the mistake of sneaking down there. She could feel the situation swiftly slip out of

her control. The turbulence that she had planted in the heads of the men before her was

dissipating with every second, once their new leader brought up Marco.

Now, she just hoped they were too stupid to realize that her show of self-assurance

was nothing but a way to distract them. There was no reason to keep stalling, though. She

had seen all she needed to see—a disorganized bunch of thugs who weren’t that eager to

fight.

“Um, my friend?” She snapped back to the conversation, as if she had been lost in

thought and not counting the Beasts again, assessing their size, weapons, and posture. Her

thumb pointed at the corner. “He’s still chained up, passed out. You know Emilio.” She

gave a quick grimace, hiding the tension that was building up in her veins as the one-eyed

Beast fidgeted with his weapons belt, unconvinced.

His arms relaxed when he looked at her again, and she breathed out a sigh of relief.

“Go bring—”

The room shook with an earsplitting clang, followed by a scream and a loud grunt that

could only be Marco bashing someone’s head in.

She gulped as thirty wide eyes turned to her. “Negotiation over!”

Her axe swished through the air, cutting off the first enemy’s head. She used the

momentum, taking off another man’s arm, before burying the axe between the third one’s

legs.

“Gotta keep my promises.” She winked at the leader, ignoring the yelling that filled

the room while the others scattered in the shadows by the walls. “I want my sword back,

Blinky!”

He stared her in the eyes, standing in the center. “Kill the girl,” he commanded,

carelessly turning his back to her and walking away. From the way he strode to the far

wall, she could tell he had something else on his mind. Probably, calling his boss and

waiting it out so he could present her head to Chuck and get that promotion.

Her lips stretched in a savage grin as she raised the axe. “Come back and fight, you

coward!” she snarled, putting everything she had into the throw.

The weapon hurtled through the room, spinning, only to smash into the electric board

on the wall when the Beast dodged it without looking.

“Dammit, woman!” Marco’s annoyed voice sounded from behind her.

She cringed, blinded by the sudden darkness. Flashlights would turn them into walking

targets, and she preferred to leave that stupid option to the Beasts.

In a second, it proved true.

The sounds of struggle faded behind when she darted to the first flashlight-wielding

Beast by the far wall. Marco would be alright with his shield for a few minutes, and her

job now was to keep them covered. She slammed into the Beast from above, startling him

with a punch to the face, then slitting his throat with Emilio’s knife. His dropped flashlight

still exposed her, and she felt two hands lock on her ankles at once as she darted upward.

She swung around and bent double, plunging two knives into the two attackers’ eyes.

Their grasp on her ankles loosened as they screamed, backing off into the others, giving

her a chance to dive for the flashlight. With two more men cut down in the chaos that

followed, she broke free, the flashlight dimmed enough for her to safely reach the second

level and take stock of the situation.

“I’ve got eight!” she called out to Marco, waiting for his response before she let the

flashlight come to life for a second, illuminating him and a half-dozen Beasts.

“Thirteen!”

“What??” She dashed to another corner on the mezzanine as the remaining Beasts

caught up to her hiding spot. One of them whipped out a flashlight, and she threw a knife

in his direction, hearing a painful grunt. “Nine!”

“Fifteen!”

She heard chains rattling on stone and turned her flashlight back on again, eyes wide.

“Are you still wearing the chains?”

The Beasts followed her voice, while she darted back to the floor to scavenge some

weapons off the fallen enemies.

“Yes.”

“But I left you the keys!”

She found a lone Beast and slit his throat from behind, snatching a short sword from

his hand as he fell.

“I couldn’t find the right one!”

Back on the second level, she pointed the flashlight at Marco and the thinning crowd

of enemies. He swung the heavy chain like a lasso, making them back off before he

knocked one of them off his feet. One of her knives quickly found his sprawled form,

burying itself in his chest.

She scoffed, changing her position again. “You can find a secret terrorist facility in the

Middle East, but you can’t find the right key?”

“I didn’t … have the time,” he rasped, as if someone was strangling him.

She didn’t risk exposing herself again and simply dashed to where she had last seen

him. Her left arm wrapped around someone’s thick neck, his hair too long to be Marco’s,

and she drove the tip of the sword through his spine.

Marco recoiled from them, catching his breath. Her flashlight flared as she dropped it

on the floor for Marco.

“Jesus, woman, careful with that!” he yelled, seeing the size of the sword she had been

operating in the dark.

“I am. You win this one.” She was moving back-to-back with him, assessing the few

Beasts that had gathered around them. “I’m going after the leader.”

“Could use some help here,” Marco grumbled, taking the sword from her. “He’s

probably gone anyway.”

“Nah, you’re good. And he’s still here. But he’s about to take off if he’s watching.”

Like a bullet, she flew straight to the small door she had spotted earlier, not far from

the main entrance. It opened with a squeak, revealing a narrow shaft, with the moon

shining brightly on the other end. Now she knew why the Beasts didn’t care about an

attack from the air. With the only way in being so restricting, it would be suicide.

With a deep breath, she gathered the last of her energy, firing it up into a shield. The

darkness in the shaft was absolute, and she rose slowly, cautious of traps. When she

reached the top, she found the one-eyed Beast speaking on the phone. Idiot, she scoffed

inwardly, whipping out a knife.

Her smile turned into a horrified grimace as he shifted his posture, revealing what he

was holding in his right hand.

Without thinking, she threw the knife at him, pinning his hand to the phone. He

screamed, staring at it, and quickly pulled the knife out.

“Put the sword down, and I’ll give you a quick, nice death,” she said, casting a glance

at the katana. His big, fat hand gripped it in a way that made her nauseous, and the leather

straps brushed the ground as he moved.

He turned to her with a wild look, dropping the phone to the ground. “A nice death?

You need help, girl.”

“I mean it, Blinky. I’m the only one who touches that sword.” She circled him slowly,

taking a position away from the pipes and poles.

He gave a sudden smirk, which somehow made him even uglier. His right hand raised

the katana, while the left one hovered over the long hilt. The way he wasn’t afraid to use it

so soon suggested he was a good healer, something she didn’t see often in undisciplined

thugs like him.

“The whole city is scared of you and this blade,” he said. “How ironic would it be if I

killed you with your own sword?”

“Very ironic—and very impossible.”

He scoffed, holding her gaze as he grasped the sword’s hilt. A shadow of pain crossed

his face, but he held the katana tight, along with the heavy sheath. She grimaced at all the

blood he had smeared on the hilt.

“Oh, Jesus! What are you, five? Next, you’re gonna spit in my coffee?”

“Doesn’t matter. I think I’ll keep the sword.” He tried to pull it out of the sheath, but

the sword didn’t move. The Beast turned his confused look to her.

“How’s that working out for you so far?” She smirked. “Gotta love modern tech.”

He didn’t seem to appreciate the joke, scowling at her. His nostrils flared.

“Put the sword down, and let’s solve this like adults, hand-to-hand,” she suggested.

The man’s eye glittered when he heard her words, probably thinking she didn’t stand a

chance, with him being almost a foot taller and ten times as strong. Silently, he stepped to

a short, square construction on the roof to put down the sword.

“Not a scratch,” she muttered, watching him do it, then tossed the knife to the ground.

They began to circle each other, eyes on the opponent’s every move, trying to ready

themselves for what was coming. She took her time, warming up in the night breeze,

wearing out his patience.

“You gonna fight or dance around all night?” he snapped at her.

“I’m waiting,” she said with a smile.

“For what?”

“For you to lose focus.”

She lunged forward, kicking him in the head. He staggered a few steps back before

regaining his balance. She gave him time to shake his head and resume the circling,

knowing that one blow was not enough to take down someone like him. He stood an inch

or two taller than Marco, and even though he wasn’t as broad, going full contact would

mean death for her.

“You all think hand-to-hand with a girl is a joke,” she tried to distract him.

“It is a joke.”

She ducked away from his jab and parried his hook, angling her body so that his

forearm slid right off her. He wasn’t nearly as fast as Marco had become in the five years

of their training.

“You’ve seen my friend,” she said, jumping back when he caught her off-guard with a

tricky blow. “He’s down there butchering your men right now. Did he look like a joke to

you? Or do you think I train with midgets and fairies?”

“I think you talk too much to have time for training.” He lunged at her, grabbing her

jacket when she dropped her defense for a moment, only to get headbutted by her and back

off.

She laughed, ignoring the dull pain in her skull, knowing it would make him even

angrier. “One eye and a broken nose… Just let me kill you. It’ll be a mercy.”

As revolting as it was, her petty bullying worked. She knew she had struck a chord

when he growled and barreled at her, trying to knock her to the ground with sheer force.

She let him get as close as possible before dodging at the last moment and coming

behind his back to shove him forward, into the wall of a superstructure. His head smashed

into it, and she held him tight, not letting him get away as she hit him again and again. It

was a savage move, but he would do far worse to her if he ever had a chance to win this

fight.

His face a bloody mess, he slumped to the ground at her feet, taking short, wheezing

breaths. Her fingers wrapped around his neck as she crouched at his side, turning him face

up.

“Chuck will kill you for this,” he rasped, struggling to breathe through the blood in his

mouth. “You, your little sister, your friend, your boss… He’ll have you all slaughtered for

what you did here.”

“Good. Let him come. We’ve been waiting for a long time. Tell him, I know the truth

about his men now, and they’re just as pathetic as any other Beast in town. Tell him, I’ll

have his head before summer ends, and then I’ll cut his thugs to pieces. He will pay for

every one of our boys he killed, and he and Eugene will both be wiped off the face of the

planet as if they never existed. Tell him, that’s what we’ve been doing for decades before

he showed up, and will keep doing after he’s gone.” She slapped his cheek before getting

up to her feet, making him wince. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Marco a few feet

away, watching her.

The Beast stared up at her with one blackened eye, genuine surprise in his look. He

didn’t voice his concern, but she could see that until the last moment, he had been sure she

would kill him.

“Oh, right.” She got down on one knee, grabbing his right arm. “Almost forgot about

this,” she said with an apologetic smile.

Her left hand gripped his elbow, and she twisted his arm out of the socket with one

forceful motion. The Beast screamed, jerking away, but she grabbed his chin, making him

look at her.

“Your arm will never fully heal, and you will never kill again. Once you’ve delivered

my message to Chuck, leave town and find another job. You’re lucky to walk away from

this. Never forget that.”

He shook his head free, and she let him be, standing up to grab her katana and join

Marco by the edge. She peeked down the shaft as she stood at his side.

“I’m glad the lights are off. It’s nasty down there,” Marco said, gazing at the city

lights.

“Yeah, we need clean-up.”

“Peter will find out.”

She waved her hand before strapping the sheath back on. “He’ll know anyway.”

“I found these downstairs.” He handed her the big knife and her cell phone, but she

only took the phone.

“Keep it.”

Marco nodded without looking at her. She took in his beaten up, bloodied form and the

shredded t-shirt, thinking that she probably looked the same after all the fighting, biting,

and being drowned in a bucket.

Her index finger hooked through a big hole in his shirt. “Why are you even still

wearing this? You see why I keep bugging you about the jacket.”

“I’m not gonna walk around topless like some Magic Mike.”

“Oh, so running around the HQ naked is okay, but losing a t-shirt that’s more blood

than fabric—God forbid!”

“That’s different!”

“How?”

“The Headquarters is home.”

“A home with a hundred and fifty people in it.”

“So?” He turned to her, genuinely confused.

“Whatever,” she said. “You and your Bla—” she bit her tongue under his stare,

“…bloody arguing.”

He shrugged it off, but not before he gave her a long, knowing look. His past was the

only untouchable topic between them.

“So, where to next?” he quickly filled the awkward silence. “Fox really needs some

speaking to.”

“Speaking is not what I’m gonna do to him.”

She glanced over her shoulder, finding the Beast gone. Must be holing up somewhere

on the ground.

“In fact, I don’t even feel like explaining to him what he’s done. He’ll know when he

sees me. I’m just gonna find him and chop him into pieces, making sure he doesn’t pass

out too soon. Both him and his friend. He’s gonna pay for this, the treacherous bastard.

Wherever he goes—”

“That’s a really impressive speech and all, but can I just…?” Marco pointed his thumb

over his shoulder, stepping closer to the edge. “Gotta piss.”

Her puffed up figure deflated. “Oh, you’re pissing on my parade already! Just go!”

They got down to the ground together, and she watched him disappear around a

corner.

“I’ll just take his head off first chance I get. Fox isn’t worth my time,” she said.

“Maybe chase him for a bit…”

“I could really use a shower and a new t-shirt before we go anywhere else,” Marco

called from the shadows.

“And I don’t mind swinging by McD’s again,” she said. “Those fries are all I can think

about.”

“Why? It’s not like we can go in.”

“There are tables outside. I stole a Happy Meal before, I can do it again.”

“You stole from a child??” He appeared at the corner, fastening his belt.

“I left ’em money!” She shifted, uncomfortable under his stare. “I couldn’t go in all

Kill Bill and shit.”

“You’re a terrible, terrible person.” He started walking away from the warehouse,

shaking his head. “We’re not going to McD’s. Besides, I got this.” He fished in the back

pocket of his pants, producing a Snickers bar that looked like it had been through World

War II.

She watched him unwrap it and take a huge bite, then lick his chocolate-smeared

fingers. Her stomach turned. “Thanks. I don’t think I’m hungry anymore. Let’s just go

home.”

It took them less than fifteen minutes to reach the Headquarters and land on the roof

that slightly resembled a horseshoe. The guards ignored them, used to their nightly parties,

and they slipped through the attic door without any unwanted attention. Most fighters were

out on patrol, so nobody saw them walk through the hallways, until they reached the

familiar beige walls of the third floor.

Pain turned to Marco as they neared her room, its door gaping open. “Go change and

wait for my call. I’m gonna—” she broke off as her eyes fell on Peter, sitting casually in

her recliner. His tall, gear-clad figure made the room seem dwarfish.

“How was your night?” her boss asked, alarmingly nonchalant. His hazel eyes looked

her up and down, darkening, and switched to Marco’s trashed form behind her.

She glanced at her friend—and found him gone, the door of his room swinging closed.

With a sigh, she turned back to see Peter’s graying eyebrows arch as he waited for her

response. “It’s fine. How’s yours?”

Her eyes darted to her sister as she regained her composure and came in. Jane was

sitting on her bunk with a book, her laughing gaze on the two of them.

“Wonderful!” Peter beamed at Pain from across the room, although his eyes still held

the same dangerous gleam. “Finally found the time to rearrange the perimeter and

improved tomorrow’s mission. You do remember that you have a job tomorrow, right?”

Pain shrugged her shoulders, doing her best not to show her discomfort, and leaned up

against the wall by her bunk. Sitting down was not an option if she wanted to keep her

room blood-free.

“Sure, I’m ready.”

She blinked, and suddenly found Peter right in front of her. His big hand closed on her

jacket, pressing her into the wall. She swallowed hard as her feet lifted off the floor, but

decided to keep her mouth shut, seeing how he wasn’t in the mood for her excuses.

“Then what the hell are you doing chasing some random thugs out in the city?” he

ground out through his teeth. “I spend hours planning the operation, for you personally, to

make sure there’s minimum risk, and you run off and endanger it by putting yourself at

even more risk. For no goddamn reason at all.”

“H-had a reason,” she rasped, making him loosen the grip a little. The anger was still

there, as was the resolve to make her suffer. And she knew he was right, with her pushing

him so much in the past month.

He fell silent, giving her a chance to explain herself. Looking at this mountain of a

man, she couldn’t help but wonder why it was only once or twice a year that she made him

this angry.

She drew a thin breath and cut her eyes at the blurred silhouette of her sister. “Can we

talk alone?” she whispered, knowing it was pointless, with Jane’s ears probably taking up

the whole room by now.

Peter shook his head at something, his lips twisting into a grimace, and let her stand on

the ground. “You’re just like your father used to be,” he said. “Except with him, I couldn’t

do this.”

He yanked her arm down, and only when she heard the click of the handcuffs, did she

realize that one of them had been on her wrist all this time. She pulled at it, finding herself

cuffed to her bunk.

“Hey!”

“Quiet,” he ordered, pointing a finger at her. “You think you can be reckless because

you’re a good fighter, but your father invented reckless, and he was a big, scary f—”

“Peter!”

“Fighter,” he finished, unfazed, and she could see laughter in his eyes. “Bigger than

me. Scarier, too. And you’re just a foolish little girl who won’t live to her thirties, if you

keep doing what you’re doing. I can’t allow that. I made a promise to him, and I’m gonna

keep it even if I have to keep you chained up for the rest of your life.”

She shoved at his chest, unable to keep her annoyance at bay anymore. “So what, I’m

grounded? I’m twenty-one, for God’s sake!”

His hand closed on her other arm, holding her still. “So act like it. You wanted to be a

bodyguard, and I gave you that. Now, you want to be a butcher. Make up your mind and

be a grownup, because if you don’t want the job, there’s plenty of people I can give it to.

And you’ll be patrolling the streets. Got it?”

She glared at him as if she could set him on fire with her eyes, but Peter’s expression

didn’t waver. “Fine! I got it!” she snapped, pulling at the cuff. “Can I go shower now?”

“Oh, no.” He pointed at the handcuffs, stepping back. “These will give you time to

think. I’ll come back in the morning.”

“Are you kidding me??” She lunged at him, even knowing it was pointless. The

handcuffs bit into her skin, but she ignored the pain, continuing her thrashing. “I’m not

fourteen anymore!”

“Might as well be.”

He walked out and closed the door before she could say anything else.

She turned to stare at her sister, who sat smiling across the room. “What kind of a

scary-ass demon possessed him today?”

Jane shrugged. “Eugene. He attacked and threatened two of our loyal clients to make

them break their contracts with us. He’s trying to cut us off.”

Pain swore, leaning up against the wall. “Okay, give me the key,” she asked when Jane

didn’t move from her spot to help her out. Her sister only arched an eyebrow, staying

where she was. “Give me the key,” Pain repeated, louder this time.

“No can do. Boss’s orders, sorry.”

Pain gaped at her, which felt like looking at a cleaner, younger copy of herself. “Look

at me! I’m gonna get syphilis if I stay like this another hour!” She watched Jane for a few

seconds, until a realization hit her. “You want something…” she said, earning a sly look.

“So you are my sister, after all.”

Jane kept silent, pretending to read the book with a half-smile on her lips.

“I ain’t got all night. Just tell me what it is and be done with it.”

“I don’t know. What do you have?”

“Money.”

Jane made a face. “Boring.”

Pain speculated for a moment, thinking what else she could offer. “I can tell you where

to find a certain gang…”

“The Rebels?” Jane sat up straight.

“Yes,” Pain said with a smile. She knew Jane had been hoping to balance the scale

with them for a while.

“You’ll just give me the info? No strings attached?”

“No, I’ll take you there myself. We can take Marco and Ryan, too, and maybe Ty and

Patrick. Throw a big, bloody party.”

Jane’s face turned from excited to dubious. “So basically, a bunch of guys to look after

me while you’re having fun?”

“Um…” Pain stared at her, knowing that whatever she said now, her sister would see

right through it.

Jane nodded her head. “Enjoy your syphilis.”

“Oh, come on!” Pain said, seeing her turn back to the book again. “Like you never ask

anything of me!”

“Asking you to shut up doesn’t count,” Jane muttered without looking at her.

“Fine!” Pain yanked at the cuff, looking for a weak spot, while her other hand checked

her pockets for anything useful. “I’ll get rid of these myself!”

She remembered about the hairpins she kept on the vanity. Reaching out as far as

possible, she was still a couple of feet away.

“This is what I get for raising you,” she grumbled, examining the bolt that held the

bunk in place. If she tore it off the wall on one side, she would be able to reach the vanity

and get rid of the handcuffs. With the biggest knife she had on her, she began to scrape on

the concrete wall. “Kids these days have no respect for everything you do for them. Who

puts clothes on your back and food in your mouth?”

“The Headquarters,” Jane cut in.

“Who buys you all the best gadgets, you little geek? You give and you give and you

give, and this is how they repay you…” She grunted, trying to pry the stubborn piece of

metal off the wall, then let more concrete rain on the floor. “Next time you ask for

something…” she trailed off, pulling at the metal rail with her foot against the wall,

feeling the veins bulge in her neck.

“Nice!” Marco’s booming voice made her jump, and she turned to find him sticking

his head through the door.

“Thank God! Help me out here,” she pleaded as Marco’s gaze flicked to the handcuffs.

“Well, this is just priceless. I bet it’ll be a sight to behold…” he quoted her with a

wink before closing the door.

“Traitor!”

She jammed the blade into the wall one last time and pulled at the bunk with all her

might, until it crashed to the floor. Jane huffed at the clatter as Pain reached out to the

vanity, dragging the heavy bunk with her, as far as the other bolt would allow. With a box

of hair accessories in her hand, she turned to the bunk and crouched to unlock the

handcuffs.

“You’re like a rabid dog, you know that?” Jane said, watching her smear blood on her

wrist as she worked on the cuffs, mouth open in anticipation.

“Yeah, well… You always wanted a dog, didn’t you?” Pain said before straightening

up and tossing the handcuffs to her. “See you in the morning.” She looked over the mess

she’d made, walking to the window.

“Wait, what?” Jane asked while she stretched the cramps out of her arm, the shallow

wound healing before her eyes. “I thought you said something about a shower.”

“I had to say something.”

“Peter will stop by later, you know that!”

“Well…” Pain adjusted the sheath straps, swinging the window wide open. “Tell him

I’ve got two more people to kill.”

She winked at her sister—and darted into the darkness.

###

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About Sky Ghosts: All for One (Sky Ghosts #1)

For centuries, Sky Ghosts have been hiding their differences from humans, living

among them in secret. Their powers, skills, and the gift of flight made them the best

protectors the human elite could ever have. But for every one of them who believes in fair

work and duty, there are ten more who use their power to prey on the weak and avoid

justice. They’re called Sky Beasts, and the war between them and the New York Sky

Ghosts Headquarters has reached a fever pitch.

Patricia aka Pain is known as the “kill first, ask questions later” kind of girl. An urban

legend at twenty-one, she helps to secure the Headquarters’ future in her own way – by

slaughtering Beasts in between working bodyguard jobs.

Until they show up. The two human boys who turn the life at the Headquarters upside

down. Suddenly, they have a chance to destroy their oldest enemy, and the boys are the

key. Pain would’ve been fine with that, if it wasn’t her and her sister Jane who’ve been

assigned to protect the annoying humans.

If the Beasts don’t kill them, she might just do it herself.

Available in ebook at Amazon and in print at most online retailers.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to my patrons for their continuing support on Patreon, especially, Tom,

Lindsay, John, and Donte. You and a few others know all about my struggle on the path of

becoming a full-time writer, which is the only option when you’re writing in a second

language. Without you, I probably wouldn’t have had a chance in the fast-moving, ever-

changing world of self-publishing.

A huge thank you to my author friends Belart Wright and Joe Jackson, ever so patient

with me and my English grammar questions, editing, beta-reading, and never-ending

marketing discussions. This job can get lonely when you’re the only person in town doing

it, but with penpals like you, I have no reason to complain. You always seem to know

exactly what needs to be improved in my stories, and I can’t help but agree.

And finally, thanks to everyone for the fan mail and reviews. Even if it’s just a few

words, they’re very important and encouraging, so don’t stop sending them :)