(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you happen to spot them, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance!!)
Jack followed the white robot to the elevator, passing through the stone tablets on display as well as that dimly lit corridor. He had to do that cold air/hot air thing before stepping out, though, which kind of took time.
Inwardly, he was somewhat surprised to learn that the meeting place wasn’t in the “loft” as well.
Just what is Mylorne Akkad planning, I wonder?
Jack asked the robot where Akkad was, but it didn’t answer, and instead continued to lead him forward. Looked like he wouldn’t receive any satisfying reply from the white tin can, so Jack shrugged his shoulders and carried on.
The ride to the bottom of the tower took a bit longer than he remembered. Out of curiosity, Jack asked the robot why this was so, and surprisingly, got the answer that they were headed to a deep underground area. Again, he was reminded of the imagery of the Hell’s Gate, with malevolently smiling Mylorne Akkad, sprouting a pair of devilish horns, greeting him.
After a lengthy ride down, Jack was dismayed to find yet another ride waiting for him, this time not a vertical but horizontal in nature. A white multi-seat cart sitting on rails was the method of travel this time, evoking the atmosphere of a cheesy, badly built lair belonging to some forgettable James Bond villain.
The robot urged Jack to take a seat and albeit reluctantly, he did as told. The cart began sliding forward silently at a jogging pace down the craggy tunnel. He couldn’t see the end, making him wonder just how long he needed to take this ride for. This new method of travel didn’t last too long, maybe thirty seconds or so.
That thirty seconds, however, felt like a very long time for him, sitting all alone on the seat of the white cart, facing the cool breeze brushing by his skin. This whole place was way too much like the set depicting the headquarters of the aforementioned British spy’s opponents and Jack didn’t know what to feel at that moment, although he was definitely quite nervous of what’s to come.
His destination was not situated at the end of the railway, even. Jack could see that the cavern, or the tunnel, extended beyond to who knows where. But he didn’t feel like finding out just how far this tunnel went anytime soon. Not important towards achieving his goals, it was.
There was a new robot waiting here to guide Jack. It led him into the entrance of a large, white, open dome-like hall, lined with – gasp – darkish gray tiles on the floor. The tapered ceiling reached at least five meters up and the LED lighting coming from the numerous recesses on the white surface. Walls were covered in foam-like substance as well, most likely designed to absorb and disperse the harsh impact from…. something.
The entire hall’s overall dimension was as large as that of a Roman amphitheater.
Mylorne Akkad was here, standing in the middle of this hall, his hands behind his back. He sported a gentle smile, but his eyes were razor-sharp, like that of a predator. His attire had changed to a loose fitting set of gray shirt and pants that didn’t constrict any and all quick movements. And Jack couldn’t help but notice that Akkad was now barefoot as well, strapped tightly in black tapes.
Now, Jack was not an idiot. He could easily see that this meeting place was not quite inducive towards a deep, meaningful discussion involving sincere dialogue straight from their hearts. No way in hell.
This place was an arena, a battleground for warriors. The tiles on the floor attested to this notion as they were solid enough not to easily break, but at the same time pliable enough to absorb some of the impacts that no doubt would happen later on.
And then, there was the aura coming off of Mylorne Akkad to consider as well. Even though there was a gentle smile pasted on his lips, naked flames of excitement burned hot within his eyes. His well-horned frame exuded calmness like a still surface of a lake at an early dawn, unfathomably deep and mysteriously murky. The undercurrent of fighting spirit only recognizable to another warrior oozed out from every imagined pore, giving Jack the case of unrestrained goosebumps.
This was one hell of a tense atmosphere. Kinda like as if they were in the middle of a Mexican stand-off, except that there were only two participants.
Jack, through no choice of his own, had begun the process of possessing the quality of a warrior and so, naturally, he was picking up every little detail of this tense moment. A wry, helpless smile slowly formed on his lips.
“Welcome to the underground training area, Mister Mercer. I’ve been waiting for you, for this moment, for a very long time.”
“Well, yeah, sorry about the delay. The elevator ride was on the slower side. But uh, what’s this all about? Why are we here, Mister Akkad?”
“What else? To train, of course.” Chuckling, Mylorne threw a pair of red-and-black sparring gloves and flat heeled shoes at Jack. “Put those on. You don’t want to injure your hands and feet now, do you?”
“Uh, these are?” Jack fumbled with the gloves’ velcro, wondering what the hell was going on here. “I just came here to talk, Mister… Akkad. I don’t need to train or anything. Also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but I’m not 100%.”
“Oh, do not worry about your injuries. You must have felt the effects of my Healing Mist by now. I’ve spent a billion dollars to research and develop the system. More importantly, your ribs should be more or less okay by now, especially when paired with your inborn ability to heal yourself.”
Jack unconsciously rubbed his chest, thinking, Oh, so that’s why it doesn’t hurt anymore….
“Well then, are you ready?” Akkad asked with a soft smile and an expression that was nigh on impossible to read. Jack grimaced weakly as he finished putting on the gloves and shoes.
“Uhm… may I ask, what should I be ready for, exactly?”
“A sparring match. With me.”
Jack’s eyes opened up wide. “No, wait a sec here. I didn’t agree to spar with you. Hell, I just wanted some answers, not trade blows.”
“Well, no one said we can’t talk while we spar. Let’s go, Mister Mercer. Try to keep up.”
Jack tried to protest but by then, without warning Mylorne lightly dashed forward. And he was fast. Really, really fast. Jack was simply not ready to receive anything.
With a loud “bam!!” Jack was flung backward and landed on the tiles with a thud. Almost all the air was knocked out of his lungs from the impact.
Jack could only catch the tail-end of what Mylorne did; a shoulder tackle, perfectly aimed at the unprotected midriffs.
“Come on, get up, Mister Mercer. You can do better than this.”
Mylorne Akkad goaded Jack, gesturing with both his hands. Jack frowned and rubbed his belly again while sitting up. It didn’t hurt as much but the shock of getting pushed back stayed with him. The bandages strapped to his chest constricted his breathing somewhat.
Gritting his teeth, Jack forced his legs to move and slowly got up. Akkad nodded as if he approved of the action, before taking guard.
“For now, don’t try to rely too much on your senses only, Mister Mercer. Let your instincts take over. Trust it to make the correct decision.”
With that small advice, Akkad moved again. He was quick, but slightly slower than before, allowing Jack to see him coming.
Oh, sh*t!! I gotta block that!!
Jack raised his arms to shield his torso only to feel Akkad’s foot connecting with his lower hip. This time, the sharp pain was as real as it got and it hurt like hell.
Jack stumbled to his side off balance. Akkad gave him no room to recover and kept on attacking by going down low and sweeping Jack’s legs clean. The gravity did its thing after that and he fell on his butt hard.
Jack’s mind spun; his ass screamed in pain. His lower torso wasn’t responding to his commands at all, completely numb from the shock.
Akkad, on the other hand, was up on his feet already, waiting.
“Come on, Mister Mercer. This is getting way too one-sided. Where’s that skill which made Miss Cleo Costanza completely incapable of touching you? What happened to that grit and desire to emerge as a winner? Show it to me!!”
Jack shook his head. “Why should I? I just wanted to ask you some questions, find the answers and maybe figure out what’s going on with me!! I… I don’t need to fight you for that, do I?”
Mylorne Akkad took a step back as he relaxed his hands on the hips. He licked his upper lip before speaking his next words slowly. “Right, if it’s some ‘answers’ that you seek, then hit me. If you can land one hit, just one, then I shall answer one question. Land another one, then it’s another answer. How does that sound?”
Jack slowly got up and fiercely stared at Mylorne. “Fine.”
In truth, he was reluctant to do this, but since Mylorne was playing it the hard way….
Jack took a deep breath, trying to recall those moments when he could “see” what the opponents would do. Like back then, when he was fighting the coyote, or the armed robber or even Cleo. Those moments, when his life was threatened, when he just knew what he should do to survive.
Jack raised his dukes. He let the sensation of strength flow into him. Almost imperceptibly, his muscles trembled, bulging – as if gathering explosive power.
Akkad smiled softly once more. He seemed genuinely happy now.
Jack was weirded out from that enigmatic smile, but he decided to ignore that for now and concentrate on landing some hits on the billionaire, maybe put a dent in that confidence while he was at it.
For a few seconds, no one made a move, simply sizing each other up.
Normally, Jack might find such silence stifling, but not right now. He carefully studied the opponent before him, watching and reading. Before he had time to realize it, a simple action such as this gave him an untold amount of excitement. It was literally quite unlike any other. He was thrilled to his core, his entire being buzzing with anticipation.
And when Akkad finally moved, the anticipation shot through the roof. Jack countered instinctively, just like how he was told to do so.
Akkad’s frontal kick was swift and accurate but Jack read it well enough. The speed itself was only half of what Cleo was capable of and Jack could barely react in time, swaying out of the arc and slapping the foot away, upsetting the balance of Mylorne.
Jack retaliated by jabbing forward at the still-moving body of Akkad.
Akkad’s eyes glimmered in excitement as he miraculously twisted out of the way. Jack’s punch was a miss, but it was only the beginning.
The two of them exchanged several blows, the tempo gradually picking up until Jack could no longer keep up.
In this brief sparring, he understood that Akkad was purposefully holding back most of his strength and speed. He was going easy on Jack for obvious reasons.
And when it came to the proficiency at martial art techniques, it seemed like they were even, at least initially. Jack knew how to read and counter in time to almost every one of Akkad’s attacks. But as they continued, even here he found himself on the back foot.
Even then, Jack managed to block, dodge or counter accordingly like a master of combat with years of experience under his belt. Which was impossible, logically speaking. Any outside observer would say Jack looked so natural, as if he had trained all his life; as if he was a god of war.
The elated, primal smile on his face attested to this notion more clearly than anything else, although he was gradually being pushed back, the ferocious, almost feral, smile remained.
After a while, it became clear that, at this rate, Jack was not going to hit Mylorne Akkad. If anything, the gap between the two men widened continuously.
With a powerful shove, Jack stumbled back, losing his posture. Seizing upon this chance, Akkad came closing in for another well-placed shoulder tackle.
Right at that moment, Jack’s eyes snapped open. He was actually waiting for this, the previous stumble a feint to draw in his opponent.
Akkad noticed it too late and the end result was that Jack was able to grab onto his arms, locking on tightly. Akkad spun on his heels to free himself from the position, but Jack was ready for that too and instead utilized the momentum to throw Akkad to his side.
Although Mylorne Akkad recovered just before hitting the floor, the satisfaction Jack felt right there and then was incredibly wonderful.
“Well? That should count, right?”
Jack asked, out of breath.
On the other hand, Akkad was slightly sweating, not a hair out of place. But he nodded and agreed.
“Yes, you were successful in landing a blow. Well done, Mister Mercer.” Akkad then straightened his posture and turned his appreciative gaze towards Jack. “It’s only been just over a month since your awakening, yet you have recalled so much of your unarmed combat techniques. Well done, Mister Mercer. Well done, indeed.”
Jack wiped the pouring sweat off his forehead. “Recalled? What do you mean by that?”
“You must have seen them. Whether it was a dream creeping upon you in the middle of a night or a sudden nostalgic flashback to a time long past since, you must have encountered visions of the land and of events unexplainable – as if they are your living memories, as fresh as that drop of sweat on your skin.”
Jack became serious as Akkad began mentioning the visions. He told absolutely no one about them, so how could this guy know?
“Why do I have these…. dreams? Why can I fight like this? What am I? I feel like… I’m not just some augmented Super made by a government conspiracy. Am I wrong?”
“No, you are not. You are much, much more than an augmentation.” Akkad’s smile deepened. “Well, you’ve exhausted your first question. Now, are you ready for the second round?”
“No, wait a sec!! Hey man, that’s not fair!!”
Akkad ignored Jack and clapped his hands lightly. Then, a section of the floor rose up, and with it a cabinet full of weapons. Swords of various shapes and sizes, axes, varying polearms – all present and correct, except that they were made out of wood. Training weapons, in other words.
“If I remember correctly, the past you had an affinity in pretty much every known type of weapons. So, pick anyone you like. As for me…”
Akkad picked out a wooden katana, a bokuto, and swung it lightly then nodded.
As for Jack, he stood there speechless. Gritting his teeth in anger, he reached out and grabbed the very first thing his hand landed on, which happened to be a pair of nunchucks.
He felt like an idiot holding that unfamiliar thing, so he hastily put that down and took a serious look at what was available. He had no idea which weapon to use, but seeing that he needed to win, or at least score a hit, he decided to go with something that had either bulk or length. He chose the latter, in the form of a wooden spear.
Akkad chuckled lightly. “Oh, that. Not very surprising. You also favored polearms back in the day, although you never found one that suited your tastes.”
Jack swung the spear around, feeling its weight. For something made out of wood, it sure was heavy. He wasn’t sure why, but the balance of the weapon appealed to him. And he had no idea what that even meant. It was all just…. oddly familiar to him without knowing why. Since he was this far down the rabbit hole, he steeled his heart, deciding to see to the very end.
Jack took a sideways stance, keeping the front of the spear low but putting strength in his front leg, ready to explode forward at a moment’s notice.
Mylorne Akkad nodded, before gripping the bokuto in an orthodox, textbook Chudan stance used in Kendo. The weapon was held forward, its tip unswerving, steady.
With a short but loud yell, Akkad shot out like a bullet. In a flash, he was in front of Jack.
Jack released the accumulated strength on the leg, stepping to the side and swinging the spear in a rising arc. The two weapons collided with a whack, and Jack felt his palms go numb from the pain. He gritted his teeth and forcibly shoved forward, pushing Akkad off his feet.
Not stopping there, Jack launched a series of precisely controlled stabbing blows, aimed at Akkad’s torso. The spear moved in a blur, leaving behind afterimages.
Akkad loudly yelled again and his bokuto exploded into action, parrying the stabbing spear tip. His defenses were too solid and Jack couldn’t pry open a gap.
Jack believed that he had a superiority because of the advantage in length. Utilizing that, Jack lunged forward, trying to draw out Akkad and make him commit into a frontal counter. Indeed, Akkad came for that very attack.
Jack was ready to turn this moment for his own advantage, only to watch as the bokuto magically bend in an impossible way around his spear to strike his forearm. The stinging blow meant he inadvertently let go of his grip, allowing Akkad to sneak in yet another hit to his shoulder. With a shocked groan, Jack retreated while massaging his shoulders.
It was too fast to block. Not enough time to react at all.
Jack was dazed as he rubbed his aching limb, unable to understand how the hell Akkad did what he did with that wooden sword. He frowned, searching through the memories for an answer. None came.
“Wondering how I did that?” Akkad helpfully spoke as he took another stance, this time that of Jodan, his bokuto raised above his head.
“It’s simple – your eyes are fooled by my speed!!”
Akkad again exploded with that unparalleled speed. The wooden katana chopped down, hard. Once more, the blade seemed to bend in the air as if it was a mere illusion.
Jack hastily raised his spear in order to parry it but the blow he received was much heavier than he thought. Kneeling on one knee, Jack tried to offset the impact of the blow by tilting the spear to one side but Akkad didn’t give him time for that and instead sent him flying with a kick to his sternum.
All the air was knocked out his lungs. Jack tumbled backward rather ungracefully before slamming against the wall.
He breathed heavily, eyes briefly losing focus before snapping back thanks to his screaming chest, a painful reminder that he lost that exchange. There was some venom in that kick, but Jack could still tell that Akkad held back just enough so he would get injured. Not seriously, anyways.
A flash of embarrassment swept by Jack’s face. He felt ashamed at how weak he was currently, not even able to see the incoming attacks clearly. It was pathetic, really. His old self wouldn’t have allowed such weakness at all.
Wait, what? My old self? What… Why am I thinking like this?!
“You have begun to reacquire your old skills but your body is simply not strong enough to support them. This is a tragedy of the highest caliber. Only if I had access to you right after the incident, then you wouldn’t be like this….”
Akkad sounded genuinely upset as he spoke, at least to Jack’s point of view. But Jack was able to understand one thing from that.
“You… can make me stronger? How?”
Akkad’s face became somber.
“You have seen them, haven’t you? The Red Souls?”
The mere mentioning of those screaming souls made Jack sit up and pay attention. To his surprise, Mylorne Akkad knew. But how could he? The only other person who knew about them was Taylor, and there was no way she’d tell anyone, never mind to a tech billionaire.
He began panting heavily. “You… know about them?! The Red Souls, I mean. But how?”
Akkad sighed softly. With a soulful, longing look on his face, he murmured. “You know this already, don’t you? You know who I am. I can see in your eyes that you have recognized me earlier. My…. old friend. Remember me, my name. Our friendship….”
Like a thunderclap shattering the calm sky, Jack’s mind was powerfully shaken. He tottered as if he lost all strength in his legs, before stabilizing his stance.
“No, but…. That’s not possible, right? I mean, that…. If true, then you’d be at least five thousand years old!!”
Jack gripped the spear tight until the wood creaked under the immense pressure, almost breaking apart. But the truth in front of him didn’t change at all. The almost-pleading face of the man standing before him…. began to superimpose with the one from his visions, of the man in the past.
The man Jack has seen in his dreams, within the recalled memories of…. the God-King.
A man wearing a rough, simple garments, his face full of beard and a dignified aura oozing out; he was the man named Utnapishtim the Immortal, also known as The Preserver of Life.
Meanwhile, as the evening was descending in the city of New York….
In Times Square, one of the huge electronic billboards was showing a news broadcast. The contents spoken by the sexy blonde anchor couldn’t be heard as the sound was muted. The dynamic cacophony of the city’s noises meant that it didn’t matter anyways.
Nico Gavalas gazed at the billboard, slightly dazed. He could see the anchor’s lips move in a hypnotic fashion, somehow drawing him in, making sure he could not tear his eyes away. The only respite arriving as the scene changed to another, and the figure of the female anchor no longer on screen.
Yet, Gavalas stood there, not caring whether the crowd walking by ran into him or not. His eyes were now firmly affixed at the ticker tape at the bottom of the screen. The results of the day’s stock market flashed by, as well as snippets of the day’s headlines.
One of them caught his attention more than the others.
“The suspect of JFK massacre still at large: NYPD. If you have any leads, call….”
“They are still hung up over that?” Nico Gavalas chuckled to himself. “Oh well, not my problem anymore!!”
He hoisted the gym bag closer to his shoulder and let his eyes wander around, searching, taking in the sights and the smells of this amazing place. There sure was a lot of people here and if one didn’t have a decent sense of direction, then the poor sucker might get lost in the writhing maze of neon, flesh, concrete and metal.
He fished out a worn-out compass from his pocket and gazed into the cracked glass with intensity. The corners of his eyes became bloodshot as he stared deeper and deeper into it – until, the lone needle inside began to vibrate, slowly tilting to point in the Northerly direction.
Nico wiped the sweat off his forehead wearily and with a deep inhale, he set off towards the way pointed out by the seemingly broken compass.
Soon after, his feet led him far past the glitzy avenues and beyond, behind some forgotten alleyway filled with vomit stains and trash dancing in the sporadic eruption of winds from the passing underground subway trains, the air expelling through the grilles placed sporadically on the sidewalk.
Unfortunately for Nico, there was no Marilyn Monroe-like figure standing on top on one such grille. He maintained a wry chuckle as he thought about that little missed opportunity. Not that it qualified as one, anyways.
He continued to check the orientation of the needle every time he crossed a road, adjusting his heading cautiously as if he didn’t want to end up in a wrong place.
Eventually, he was standing in front of a run-down apartment block; noises of human occupation coming off of it in the form of garbled Hip Hop featuring headache-inducing bass notes, drunken shouts, and occasionally, even a distant gunshot or two accompanied by the equally distant wail of a police siren that seemed just as surreal as the calling of a real siren inside a drug-fuelled dream of a junkie.
It was a world far removed from the bright lights of Times Square without a doubt.
The needle pointed towards one of the apartments. Nico raised his head and scanned it briefly. The curtains were drawn over all of the windows and none of them were open. The lights were off in most of the apartments as well, with no signs of any human beings inside at all. It was the same with the particular apartment the compass’s needle pointed at.
In front, a small gathering of African American youths crowding over a seventies American muscle car, loud music reverberating from it. One of them noticed Nico staring at the building, and sauntered over after giving a sideways glance towards his buddies. He brought his large, muscled frame in front of Nico and blocked his view to the building, and with a menacing snarl, he threateningly spat out.
“Yo, homie, you lost?”
The words were delivered with power and disdain, and would’ve scared the lesser men quite easily, but not Nico.
All the threatening words achieved was breaking the studious gaze of Nico off the apartment’s windows. He turned his attention to the youth, his eyes showing confusion. After checking out the man, Nico smiled and shook his head.
“Oh, no. I’m not lost. Thank you for asking.”
The African youth was taken aback at such a nonchalant response, momentarily not sure of how to retort.
Ignoring the man, Nico stepped past him and approached the entrance in an unhurried, leisurely manner. The youth was startled but recovered quickly enough and he blocked Nico’s path again.
“Yo, you in the wrong neighborhood, you dig? Or you want something? You looking to score?”
Nico tilted his head, wondering what this guy was talking about.
“No, it’s alright. I’m not looking to score, as you say. But actually, I am searching for something.”
The youth grabbed Nico’s shoulder and glared aggressively. “Like what, white boy? You want dope? Or candy? Uncle Max’s got some, for the right price. You feel me?”
Nico was definitely not feeling this guy. Shaking his head, Nico frowned. “No, what I want is none of those. But it’s inside this building.”
Hearing this, the face of the African man fell slightly. The tone of his voice was lowered by a few octaves as he leaned in closer.
“You better not cause any trouble for Uncle Max, or there be consequences, feel me? This building is his territory, you dig? You make life difficult for Uncle Max, and he makes your life f**king hell, ain’t that right?”
He even flashed his hidden .45 Colt pistol, tucked under his black leather pants’ drooping waistline. His underpants were showing, too. Now normally, this would scare the bejesus out of regular folks, but not Nico Gavalas. Oh no.
Because he was the Chosen. The destiny had chosen him, and bestowed an incredible task upon his shoulders. A cute little display like this could not faze him in the slightest.
Chuckling, Nico patted the African man on his shoulder. “Sure thing. No trouble from me. I’ll be real quick, in and out. No trouble at all.”
Nico walked past the man and entered the front foyer of the building, the jeers coming from the gathering of youths behind him entering through one ear and leaving just as swiftly via the other one. Nico was oblivious to unimportant matters, after all. He instead pulled out the compass to confirm his heading and was happy to find it gently humming within his palm. This was the sign that his objective was nearby. Very close, in fact.
Nico quickly jogged up the stairs and arrived at the floor with the apartment in question. No one came out of their homes to check out the new arrival in the building. The hallway was eerily subdued, although the distorted bass and muffled voices could be heard through the walls. It was a weird combination to him but Nico didn’t really mind, just shrugging his shoulders and moving on.
He carefully put the gym bag down and opened it, revealing the golden skull. Almost immediately, the golden light inundated the hallway, bathing it with its strange, upsetting glow. Then, it converged on Nico, his body turning almost transparent.
When he moved again, picking up the bag and walking down the hallway, not a single sound from him could be heard; his footsteps, the rustle of fabric, the floorboards creaking – none of that made a sound, not even a hush. The strange light made him…. as silent as the approaching Grim Reaper.
He approached an apartment door and reached out for it, only to see that it was ever-so-slightly open. Immediately, he tensed. Nico carefully entered the apartment, not wanting to disrupt anything nor touch stuff and leave behind a trail.
As Nico figured, it was dark inside. No light was switched on. But there was enough illumination from the street, allowing him to see the layout of the living room. No one was here.
Carefully, he placed the bag down by the kitchen entrance where his object waited for him.
There were two men in the kitchen, one African American and large. As for the other guy….
The African man was bound to a chair, blood covering him. Some were new, some dried up. Cuts and bruises were evident, as well as makeshift restraints made up of belts and duck tapes.
The second man was clad in a cloak of darkness. He wore a hood, his face hidden behind a black mask, his wiry but strong frame under a dark overcoat that sucked in all the nearby light.
In his hand, a dagger with a red hilt and a blade inscribed in unknown symbols. The edges glistened with the blood of its victim.
The masked man was growling menacingly at the African American man tied to the chair.
“Where is the girl? Answer me!!”
The bleeding, bound man groaned. “F**k you, asshole. You think you’re a hot stuff? You f**king Super…. You ain’t nothing, asshole…. You will never find her…. And even if you do find her, she’ll be dead by then.”
The bound man cackled between the mouthful of blood and the pain wrecking him. Even someone like Nico could accurately tell this guy was absolutely nowhere near to confessing his crimes, whatever it happened to be. And he was only here for less than a minute.
Perhaps understanding this point too well, the masked man grimaced and began to cut the African man with the dagger while holding the victim’s mouth shut. The anger and desperation were palpable in the vigilante’s eyes. The muffled screams of pain and terror drowned out all the other noises, the low humming of the old freezer, the slow, rhythmical drip of water from a pipe, the neighbor’s loud TV.
“Where is she?!”
After several tens of seconds of continuous torture, the masked man asked again, his voice much more menacing than before.
The African man was about to give up and spill the beans when he had finally noticed Nico standing by the kitchen’s entrance, observing what was going on with an interested grin. Nico was focused on the masked man’s dagger, watching it move in the air with near religious fervor.
The vigilante also registered the new player on the scene, belatedly stepping back and brandishing the dagger.
“Who the hell are you?”
The vigilante became very vigilant, as his moniker might have suggested. The dagger reflected the street lights, the dazzling quality not diminished one bit with all that blood on the blade.
Nico Gavalas shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t mind me. Please, finish what you’re doing first, then we’ll talk afterwards.”
The vigilante narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “And if I’m not in the mood to talk?”
Nico pursed his lips and shook his head.
“Well, it doesn’t matter. I just want that dagger. That’s all.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, the vigilante pounced. The dagger made a straight beeline at Nico’s throat, the move brimming with the naked killing intent.
Nico’s face color changed; he quickly stepped back and tilted his body out of the cramped kitchen entrance. The dagger narrowly missed the flesh but the vigilante quickly withdrew and slashed out again, necessitating Nico to take more steps to dodge the incoming attacks.
“You should stop this, mister. You’re troubling Uncle Max,” quipped Nico as he expertly escaped the deadly slashes of the masked vigilante.
When the two arrived at the living room, Nico could open up a bit of distance between the two.
“Hey, no need for violence, mister. Just give me that dagger, and you go back to…. finding that girl. No trouble for both of us, right?”
The vigilante snorted coldly.
“You want this dagger? Not sure how you found out about its origins, but no way in hell you’re taking it from me!!”
Nico made a complicated face.
“Oh, come on, don’t be like that, now. We can negotiate. My liege will exchange with you something just as good. He can grant you enormous power so you can, I don’t know, rescue that girl. It’s a good deal, don’t you think?”
“Shut the hell up!!”
The vigilante athletically jumped over the coffee table getting in the way and performed an aerial kick. But it was all for nothing as Nico simply dodged to his side before landing a solid blow to the airborne vigilante’s abdomen with his palm.
The vigilante spat out a mouthful of blood as he crashed against the furniture, smashing them up. At the same time, he lost his grip on the dagger, dropping it on the floor.
“There you go, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Chuckling in a content manner, Nico glanced over at the coughing vigilante before bending down to pick up the dagger.
“Now, what should I do with you….”
Nico straightened his back and gazed at the vigilante, his fingers tightly coiling around the gleaming weapon. The mask was in the way, but Nico was pretty sure of the vigilante having a very ugly expression right now. Imagining that, he felt quite proud of his own achievements – it only had been less than a week but boy, his strength had grown in leaps and bounds, totally unexplainable by logic and science. He was even more powerful than a Super, for crying out loud!!
Because of his conceited state, he didn’t pick up on the cue; the vigilante suddenly moved. He deftly jumped out of the nearest window, smashing past the glass and the mosquito net.
Nico hurriedly went over and looked outside, only to witness the vigilante jumping across to the neighboring rooftop and dashing away.
“Oh. Just as well,” said Nico as he shrugged his shoulders. He wasn’t planning to give chase in the first place; after all, if everything went according to plan, then not much of this city would be left behind anyways.
Shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly, Nico went back to the kitchen entrance where he had lowered the gym bag. He glanced at the bound man before placing the dagger inside the bag.
“Well, sorry for disturbing you. And… oh!! Right, I’m also sorry for the furniture. I couldn’t help it. Now then, good evening.”
Smiling at the flabbergasted man, Nico left the apartment in a good mood. And why shouldn’t he be? He did get what he came here for, after all. Quite easily, too.
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Synopsis: The online game <