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Sky Ghosts: The Night Before (Urban Fantasy series for adults)

Sky Ghosts: The Night Before

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

[email protected]

http://www.engellmann.com

 

Cover artwork by the author

 

Shakespir Edition

Contents

 

Sky Ghosts: The Night Before

by Alexandra Engellmann

Contents

Author’s note

Author’s note

Sky Ghosts: The Night Before

Sky Ghosts: The Night Before

Acknowledgements

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. But don’t be misled, action and comedy is not all there is to it. The series is a huge genre-crossover: Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller, Romance, and Adventure, you’ll find it all in Sky Ghosts.

Aside from the free preview, 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 a part of the main storyline, they will give the reader more insight into the character development and plot.

I’m not a fan of cliffhangers, neither do I enjoy series where the books are completely separated, save for the setting and characters. That’s why every book of the Sky Ghosts series will have its own, complete storyline, with new twists that continue into the next book.

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 contented 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 stabbed into her shoulder blade, so she unbuckled it and laid the katana down behind her. The steel gleamed softly 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, making her lose balance. 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 her 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 fuck’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 was how I killed Billy…” she stage-whispered, looking into the man’s terrified eyes. “Or was it Bobby… Oh, 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 pairs of frowning eyes stared back at her, and when she realized something was amiss it was already too late.

Someone moved behind her back and grabbed her arms just as she darted upward, only to land jerkily on her feet again. She froze obediently, 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 repeated derisively, 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…”

Before he could respond, two brown hands grabbed his head from behind and snapped his neck in one blurry motion.

“…but he will,” she said to his 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, disarming one of the two Beasts and smashing his head into the wall with a disgusting crunch.

“Yeah? 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 thoughtfully. “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 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 with a grimace. “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 a 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 chastised him with an incredulous grimace.

His face fell. “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 quickly 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. Apparently, he had 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 shook his head in 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 you know the shit they say with a blade at their throat. 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 by 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 at this point. 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 Chuck makes it out of here, 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 pointed a finger at her absently, thinking over her words. “You are talking about killing two or three dozen people, am I right?”

She paused. “People?” she repeated incredulously. “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,” he snapped, annoyed.

“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 comment. “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 secure 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 the 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 big 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 asked Marco quietly, the way she always did when they were out on a hunt together.

He gave a grunt, the sound of it 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 back, suddenly irritated, “and dragged your ass to the infirmary, with you bleeding all over the city.”

“Oh, two times that happened, big deal!” she whispered back 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 massive 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 wouldn’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 murmured 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?” She looked at him, excitement stirring in her veins.

“No!” He glared back 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 just at the sight of him.”

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

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

“I told you why I had to kill them!”

“Tripping and accidentally beheading two people is not a reason!” he hissed back, 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 with narrow eyes, 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 quietly to another. Both of them 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 devilish grin, darting across the room as the Beasts raised their voices in confusion, drawing their weapons.

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

She saw him back off into the shadows silently 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 swore, rising to the ceiling so she could focus and 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 a movement, someone hurrying toward the sound through the shadows. Forty, she thought distractedly 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. Here goes my twenty bucks, the thought flashed in her head as she took in his six-foot-three frame and broad shoulders. 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 kicked him mercilessly in the 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 called again, seeing his vague silhouette walking toward her, and tightened her grip on the Beast, reminding him to stay still.

“Drop the sword!” she heard someone say, and the room filled with light suddenly, revealing dozens of Beasts all around her, more pouring in from a big floor hatch in the corner.

The corner where Chuck had disappeared a minute ago, if it was him 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 barked again.

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 would have to find the katana, at least both pieces would be in one place.

Her gaze darted to Marco as he opened his mouth.

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

He grimaced as the big Beast she was about to finish a minute ago stepped behind her back.

“I told you so,” Marco said, and the world went black.

 

  • * *

 

She gasped for air, coming back to consciousness, only to choke on the water that flooded her lungs, her whole frame 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 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 a few yards away. The bucket tumbled next to his lifeless form, and she bit her bottom lip, holding back a satisfied 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 the long leather coat, his face rat-like. He wore black pants and a shirt, and his voice sounded like sandpaper on glass.

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

He bowed slightly, 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 purred with a murderous smile, 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 on 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 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 grim basement made her forget it was summer, with its chilly, damp air.

“Yeah, ’cause that’s what you guys are all about,” she muttered sarcastically. “Great cause. Kill all men, take their money, rape their women. Real warriors, you are.”

“Oh, no…” Emilio uttered lazily, 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,” she interrupted him, matter-of-factly.

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 glistening stare.

“Oh, but he didn’t lie to you. He just shared the details of your encounter with me later, the bright lad that he is.”

“He said everyone would be out on a security job at eleven.”

“He mixed up the time, that’s all. The job’s at midnight, and when they’re done, Chuck is getting a surprise present,” his voice lowered intimately as his index finger hooked through a loop on her gear pants. “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?”

With a sudden thrust, she smashed his nose with her forehead, before kneeing 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 sourly, will only have one shot at this now.

Marco laughed across the room while Emilio groaned painfully, restoring his breath somewhere in the shadows, and she chuckled, unable to keep it in.

“That’s okay…” she heard him rasp. “That’s why we kept this one alive.” He pointed at Marco, limping back into the dim light and wiping the blood off his face.

He moved jerkily, angrily, snatching a small knife off the table as he strode across the room. His left hand closed on Marco’s T-shirt, while the right one sliced at it with the blade, baring Marco’s bloodied chest.

With a savage grin, Emilio turned to look at her. “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 of it across his skin, blood welling in its trace until it spilled on the floor. Marco kept silent, his jawline 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 glared down 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 of his arms flexed as he pulled at the chains lazily, 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 slewed around, shooting Pain a furious glare, and she smiled to herself, 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 big 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 didn’t get to kill earlier that night.

He stepped into the light, cutting his one eye at her for a moment before replying to Emilio. “Chuck has 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 quiet snort the big Beast gave as he turned around and headed back to the hatch. “I bet I know who’s gonna be the real second-in-command soon,” she murmured, and in a blur, Emilio lunged at her, punching her in the face so that her head whipped to the side. 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 person here.”

“I’m not,” she muttered with a wry smile, and he hit her again. She hung limply from the 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 jerked back at the last moment.

“You will speak when I tell you to,” he spat out hatefully, but stepped back, probably remembering the last time he got too close. “You and your Headquarters, you think yourselves saints, sacrificing dozens upon dozens of Ghosts to postpone the inevitable. Fight all you want, but deep inside, you know that humans are weak. We are taking over the city, and the Headquarters is doomed. 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.”

Unable to help herself, 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 out 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 out, 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 him firmly in place.

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

“You…” he croaked incredulously, hand flying up to his neck, as if he could stop the bleeding, “…bit me…”

“She does that,” Marco put in 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. “Oh, the things I would give to die with her legs wrapped around me…”

She glared at him, eyes wide. “A, not gonna happen, and B, have some respect! A man’s dying here.”

Marco shrugged awkwardly, 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 metallic sound was clearly that of keys. “Hear that? We’ll be out of here in a minute.”

She let out a relieved sigh when the big bunch of keys 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 mocked her with a grin, staring even harder, if that was possible. “You’re a sight to behold, Patricia.”

She froze at the sound of her real 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 slowly, focusing on her work. 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 loudly as she checked every corner, not finding the katana.

“Some help here…?” He rattled his chains, impatient, 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 angrily 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 my old name again, and I’ll carve another reminder into your other arm,” she murmured, digging 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 conflicted memory of their quarrel four years ago for a moment.

She shook her head clear of it, 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 before backing away as he lurched forward.

“Get back here, you little…!” He yanked at the chains, as if he could reach her as she hurried to the exit, her smile impossibly big. “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 hatch.

“I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t mean to, it slipped out!” She heard his voice as 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 looks turned to her. They frowned in confusion, taking in her small, ragged form as she stepped away from 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.

“Somebody here knows where I can find my sword. I suggest he speaks up, and in return, me and my friend will leave without any trouble. You can go on that job of yours, make some money, enjoy your life for a few more days or be good boys and leave town. Otherwise,” she paused, giving a narrow look to 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. The sooner I get my katana back, the more of you will live to see the light of day. Deal?”

She beamed at them to no effect as the dumbfounded crowd of Beasts advanced on her, stopping only when the one-eyed fighter raised his hand, stepping forward. As usual, no one had taken her seriously, except the one who had nearly got killed by her in less than ten seconds.

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

“Who…?” She squinted at him, confused for a moment. “Ah, the little squeaky fellow downstairs?” she asked, remembering about Emilio. “Yeah, he’s dead.”

“You lying bitch!” another Beast exclaimed, using his big paunch 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 quiet 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 the city again.”

“She’s not going anywhere!” the fat Beast yelled before the other one had the chance to say anything, making her eyes roll skyward. “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 stupidly.

“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 one eye narrowed dangerously, and everyone quieted, letting a strained silence fill the room.

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

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, and that was 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 hatch behind her. “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 one-eyed thug, ignoring the cries that filled the room while the others scattered in the shadows by the walls. “I want my sword back, Blinky!”

He stared her flat 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.

“I’ve got 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!” Marco boomed in response.

She heard chains rattling on the 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 came to life as she dropped it on the floor for Marco.

“Jesus, woman, careful with that!” he exclaimed, 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 crowded nervously around them. “I’m going after the boss.”

“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 been 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 let out a startled scream, staring at his wounded hand, and quickly pulled the knife out.

“Put the sword down, and I’ll give you a nice quick 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 muttered thoughtfully. “How ironic would it be if I killed you with your own sword.”

“Almost as ironic as if you tried and failed.”

He scoffed, holding her gaze as he grasped the hilt of the sword. A shadow of pain crossed his face for a second, 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 with his nostrils flaring angrily.

“Put the sword down, and let’s solve this like adults, hand-to-hand,” she suggested, raising the knife she was holding in a gesture of peace.

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?”

“I’m waiting,” she said with a playful smile, not pausing her movement.

“For what?”

“For you to lose focus.”

She lunged forward, kicking him in the head so that he staggered a few steps back before regaining a straight posture. 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 just an inch 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 quick 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 people 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. It seemed like no man ever expected a girl to headbutt him in a fight, and she never failed to use it to her advantage. “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 the right 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 uttered hoarsely, 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 it will never change.” She slapped his cheek lightly before getting up to her feet, making him wince. With 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 was 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 grumbled, gazing at the city lights.

“Yeah, we need clean-up.”

“Peter will find out.”

“Eh,” she waved her hand before buckling the sheath back on. “He’ll know anyway. Rumor travels fast.”

“I found these downstairs.”

He handed her the big knife and her cell phone, but she only took the phone.

“Keep it.”

Marco just nodded, not looking at her. She took in his beaten up, bloodied form in 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 now why I keep bugging you about the jacket.”

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

“Oh, so running around 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 sharp stare and finished lamely, “bloody arguing.”

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

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

“Oh, 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, she thought.

“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. Him and his friend both. He’s gonna pay for this, that treacherous piece of shit. Wherever he goes, my wrath will follow him, and when- ”

“That’s a really impressive speech and all, but can I just…?” Marco pointed his thumb over his shoulder, stepping closer to the edge. “I really have to pee.”

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

They got down to the ground together, and she watched him disappear behind a corner.

“I’ll just take off his head first chance I get. Fox isn’t worth wasting time on,” she grumbled. “Maybe chase him for a bit…”

“I could really use a shower and a new T-shirt before we go anywhere else,” Marco called out from the shadows.

“And I don’t mind swinging by McD’s again,” she replied. “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.”

His response was an incredulous snort. “You stole from a child??” He appeared at the corner, fastening his belt.

“I left ‘em money!” She shifted uncomfortably under his judging 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’ve got this.” He rummaged in the back pocket of his pants, producing a Snickers bar that looked like it had been through World War Two.

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 of lazy soaring to reach the Headquarters. They passed the perimeter through the West corridor, landing 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 on patrols, so nobody saw them walk silently 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?” he 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, only to find 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 neck, not too tight, but uncomfortable enough to make the hair on her back rise. She swallowed hard as her feet left the ground, 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 clenched teeth. “I spend hours planning the operation the best possible way, 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 angry expression was still there though, 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 would never really hurt her, but he did master all possible and impossible ways to punish her in the past decade. If there was one person at the Headquarters who knew how to push buttons better than her, it was Peter. So in moments like this, she preferred to play nice, to lessen the chances of him going out of his way to remind her who the boss was.

He fell silent, giving her a chance to explain herself, his big chest rising and falling heavily as he breathed. 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 just how pointless it was, with Jane’s ears probably taking up the whole room by now.

Peter shook his head at something, his lips twisting in a half-grimace, and let her stand on the ground. “You’re just like your father used to be,” he said, pressing her into the wall so she wouldn’t dare to relax. “Except with your father, I couldn’t do this.”

He yanked her arm downward suddenly, and only when she heard the click of the handcuffs, she realized that one of them had been on her wrist all this time. She pulled at it, only to find herself cuffed to her bunk.

“Hey!”

“Quiet,” he ordered, pointing a finger at her face. “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!” She cut him off before he could say the word he never said around them.

“Fighter,” he finished, unfazed, and she could see it in his eyes, how he laughed at her reaction to him breaking his own rules. “Bigger than me. Scarier, too. They called him Big Bad for a reason. But you’re just a foolish little girl who won’t live to see her thirties, and 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 him in the 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 wanna 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 set expression didn’t waver. “Fine! I got it!” she snapped at last, pulling at the cuff. “Can I go shower now?”

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

“ I need a shower! I’m all covered in- ”

“Well, you enjoy it, don’t you?” Peter interrupted her. “Instead of spending your free time as a normal human being, you prefer to be covered in blood, guts, and tears. So enjoy it one last time to the fullest.”

She growled, watching him step through the door. “To spend my free time as a human being, first I gotta be one!” she yelled at his back, making him turn around, a finger pointed at her.

“That’s your problem, right there. You are human, even if technically, you’re not.”

And with that, he closed the door.

She instantly stared at her sister, who sat smiling across the room. “What kind of a scary-ass demon possessed him today?”

Jane shrugged one shoulder. “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 wearily. “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 in a hardened voice.

“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 moment, until a realization hit her. “You want something…” she accused her, earning a sly look. “So you are my sister, after all…”

Jane kept silent, pretending to read the book with a half-smile playing 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. I’ve got more than enough.”

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, confirming her thoughts. “Enjoy your syphilis.”

“Oh, come on!” Pain growled, 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 does,” Jane put 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 his head sticking inside.

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

“Oh, no… This is just priceless. I bet it’ll be a sight to behold…” he quoted her with a wink before closing himself out.

“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, making the room shudder. Jane huffed at the clatter as Pain reached out to the vanity, dragging the heavy construction with her, as far as the other bolt allowed. 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 grumbled, watching her smear the blood on her wrist as she worked on the cuffs, jaw hanging open.

“Yeah, well… You always wanted a dog, didn’t you?” Pain muttered back before straightening up and tossing the handcuffs to her. “See you in the morning.” She looked over the mess she had made, walking to the window.

“Wait, what?” Jane wondered behind her 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.”

And she darted into the darkness, not waiting for her sister’s reply.

 

###

If you enjoyed reading Sky Ghosts: The Night Before, please support the author by writing a review at your favorite retailer.

All reviewers are welcome to join the ARC team and read the series for free in exchange for reviews. To become an ARC reader, send an email to [email protected] with your preferred ebook format (mobi, epub, pdf), your username and the website where you’ve posted the review. In return, you will receive a free review copy of Sky Ghosts: All for One.

 

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

 

 

Pain’s life is everything she wanted it to be: elite bodyguard by day, assassin by night, she spends her free time annoying the hell out of her cutthroat friends.

Until they show up. The two human boys who turn the life of the New York Sky Ghosts 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 all that if it weren’t her and her sister Jane who’ve been assigned to protect the annoying humans.

If the enemy gang doesn’t kill them, she might just do that herself.

 

The Sky Ghosts series is available in ebook at Amazon and in print at most online retailers. If you would like to request a copy of Sky Ghosts: All for One in another ebook format, please contact the author via email [email protected]

 

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 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 :)

About the author

Alexandra Engellmann is a full-time Fantasy and Action writer. She spends her free time nerding out on movies, fangirling, tweeting way too much, and occasionally riding her mountain bike. Visit her website at http://www.engellmann.com

Read more about Alexandra on Patreon https://www.patreon.com/engellmann

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @engellmann


Sky Ghosts: The Night Before (Urban Fantasy series for adults)

For centuries, Sky Ghosts have been hiding their differences from humans, living among them in secret. Their powers, skills, and the gift of flight turned them into 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 fevered 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. When a certain gang leader resurfaces on the gloomy Brooklyn outskirts, she makes a plan, which includes her big sword, her best friend, and good old improvisation. There’s only one minor detail - it all sounds too good to not be a trap. What reviewers say Sky Ghosts is for those who enjoy - Fantasy novels not centered on romance - Secret organizations and assassin fantasy - Themes of brotherhood, duty, and honor You may like it if you're a fan of - Suicide Squad and Deadpool - The Avengers, Buffy, and all things Joss Whedon - The A-Team, X-Men, and Arrow Warning: the book contains strong language, graphic violence, and unhealthy doses of black humor

  • Author: Alexandra Engellmann
  • Published: 2016-08-02 14:05:08
  • Words: 13742
Sky Ghosts: The Night Before (Urban Fantasy series for adults) Sky Ghosts: The Night Before (Urban Fantasy series for adults)