<Alex aka BlackStar>
Saturday. July 11, 2054. 1:00 am. (Before the raid.)
“BlackStar, or should I say, Alex?” a male voice called out to him in the shadows.
Alex whipped around with his hand to his side, ready to draw his gun that he had stashed away in his pants. He had been leaning against the pole waiting patiently till now. The night sky was dark, making everything around him difficult to see. The only source of light was the one broken streetlight that flickered on and off in odd intervals. It was a bit difficult to see when the sharp contrast between light and dark was so harsh. It made adjusting in the dark a lot more difficult. The buzzing sound of the broken street lamp hummed out softly like a bee.
The area where he stood was beside an abandoned and condemned apartment complex. The windows and doors were boarded up and the plants were overgrown. Some of the buildings were crumbling from the past fire and barely standing. A few of the apartments had light peeking out underneath the boarded up doors.
Checking his Alive gear, he automatically scanned the surrounding area, looking for any possible movement. A couple white squares appeared to be moving towards him, growing in size. This new feature was a special upgrade that he had coded himself. It was a simple design that let him detect movement in the surrounding areas up to ten feet away.
“Fallen Angel?” said Alex. He did not like how he had to be out in the open for everyone to see. He preferred the dark night covering his back, keeping him hidden from prying eyes.
Angel’s voice chuckled, his voice resounding in the darkness. “You’re as tense as ever.” Angel stepped out of the dark and into the light. He straightened his back and broadened his chest. His typical gentlemanly demeanor was shown.
“You’re late. I would appreciate it if you were on time,” Alex said. “What’s with your clothes? You look completely white, like a ghost.”
“What’s the hurry? There’s no rush.” Angel pulled his silver chain cross from his pocket. “This is fashion. I presume you haven’t seen the latest fashion trends, have you?” He rubbed it against his white gloves like a lucky charm.
“Actually, I do need to go hunt down—I mean, I need to go finish my mission. I’ve been falling behind. And I am up to date on fashion, but white is not my color.” Alex had almost said he needed to hunt down monsters. I can’t believe I almost said that. He’d been playing the game so much that the game slang terms were slipping into his vocabulary. If he was not careful enough, it might become a daily habit.
“Oh? You don’t like white you say, but it is considered purity in one country and death in another.” Angel brought his silver cross in front of him and twiddled it between his fingers. “I noticed you’ve been working hard lately. To see the studious BlackStar take an interest in a game… Here I thought you would continue in the medical field. Have you given up on it?”
“No. I don’t need to do it as often as you think. It’s just another persona that I wear.”
“Really now, and here I thought I could watch your beautiful knife handling again. When will you have another patient?” Angel frowned and tilted his head to the side.
“What does it matter to you?”
“Everything.” Angel pouted like a kid. “Your beautiful hand movements when you’re cutting up your patients are truly the best that I have ever seen. Even in combat, your knife leaves no stains behind. Such beauty from each stroke makes me shudder.” Angel shivered with glee, his white gloved hand stroking his throat.
“Enough. What do you need me for?” Alex stated with a disgruntled voice. He did not like staying near Angel for too long. He wondered how long he had to stay in his presence today.
“Need you?” Angel chuckled. “I think you got it wrong. It is you that needs me.”
“I don’t need you for anything.”
Angel clucked his tongue. “That is where you are gravely mistaken. I just received another mission. The higher-ups have told me that you are to assist me till it’s complete. You have the skill set that I need to get this done and over with.”
“Hold on a minute.” Alex raised his hands, stopping Angel from continuing. “Are you sure the higher-ups said I’m needed? It sounds like a complete fallacy to hear that from them. None of your missions ever include a teammate. Ever.” Alex stressed the words. Angel was the number one member of the society, so why would he want to work with Alex, or anyone at all? “It’s odd to hear such a thing.”
“Well, in truth, I don’t need you.” Angel waved his hands dismissively. “But the organization’s words are the law.”
“So what is the mission?” Alex carefully worded his questions. He was not sure what Angel was planning.
“It’s simple. Infiltration.”
“That’s a matter of opinion. Which group, and what’s my goal?”
“Oh ho? Now you’re interested?” Angel twirled his cross back and forth.
“No. Get on with it. I’m on a tight schedule.”
Angel clucked his tongue three times, disappointed, and let out a long sigh. “Just like your personality. You’re so serious. WhiteRose make things so much fun. You should lighten up like her.”
“No matter. We will be taking care of our two clients from the Kim Electrical corporation and Thompson Solar Power company. You get one and I get one, and both must be completed at the same time. Mr. Johnson is your target from Thompson Solar Power company and I will be taking care of Mrs. Kim. Their deaths must happen exactly at 3:33 am. Mr. Johnson will be in his study room on the sixth floor of his company today. You’ve got one chance. Don’t mess it up.”
“3:33 am? Why that specific time?”
“Apparently this was a request from the higher-ups, not the client. I have no other information pertaining to it, so I would not be able to tell you. Why are you curious? The motto has always been do your job and don’t ask any questions.”
“I see. Is that all you have for me?”
“Ah yes. The map will be sent to you through the usual application. Oh, and before I forget: don’t mess up. It would be detrimental to my perfect kill score.” Angel smirked and stashed his silver cross back in his pocket.
“I highly doubt it.” Alex snorted. Me mess up? Highly unlikely.
“I have high expectations for you. BlackStar.” Angel smiled lightly, and Alex felt a chill down his back. This sensation was not something he experienced too often.
“One more thing.” Angel raised his fingers to accentuate the importance of the last thing he was about to say. “Have you ever heard of a Devil’s quest before? I thought you would know since you play the game.”
“Devil’s quest? I have never heard of it before.”
Angel thought for a moment and replied, “I have one.”
“Is there any peculiar reason you’re bringing this up?” Alex was a bit confused at where this was going. He assumed it was like any other quest that a game would have, but for Angel to bring it up was a bit odd. It wasn’t like they were friends—Angel had never confided in him or asked his advice before, nor did Alex want him to.
“No. Not really. I didn’t know that Alive gear could produce such odd quest. Who would have thought that by assassinating people you would gain some kind of quest. It’s kind of funny how the world has made it into some kind of game. It’s truly fascinating. Don’t you think it’s wrong?”
“No,” Alex replied. “If you really think about it, it all depends on the person and the mentality. You can turn anything into a game—it does not stop with just a video game. How people perceive a game and deal with it is what matters. People have a choice, to take up the mantle and go through with it to the end or stop at the beginning and not play. The action one takes and what one thinks are two different things. Nobody is forced to play the game. When you see the label Rated M, you automatically know that it is not a game for a child. Even if one doesn’t know what the symbol stands for and plays the game, they have the choice to end it when they notice the violence created from it.”
“Hmm, you have an interesting point.” Angel thought it over.
“So do you even mind getting the quests at all?”
“I don’t particularly mind; it’s just that they aren’t essential. They’re just extra. But I do realize that the quest corresponds to what I do and want. It’s kind of interesting to see how things play out. Each has a different story and an end.”
“I see.” Alex thought for a moment about what he had learned. He didn’t expect to hear about a Devil’s quest in the real world. “I’m assuming this is one of the so-called ‘real-life quests’ that the company was talking about.”
“Yes, just like in the game, where you obtain quests by interacting with NPCs, the same concept applies in the real world. How this affects the world is still questionable, but it does have a very interesting concept to it. All we can do for now is watch and see.”
An odd smell crept over him: the smell of sulfur. It blew in with the wind, giving him a wave of nausea. Alex turned his head towards the direction of the smell. His eyes scanned around, trying to pick up what could possibly be making that horrifying stench. Eyes slightly watering, making him dizzy, he kept himself from raising his hands up to his nose and instead took small breaths. But then a sweet flowerlike smell cut through, making it a swirl of dizzying and powerful scents.
“What is that awful smell?” said Alex. He couldn’t help but to take short breaths.
“Excuse me?” Angel’s smile fell quickly into a frown. “What are you implying, BlackStar?” he said with his voice slightly raised.
“Don’t you smell that? It smells of sulfur and something else. Something sweet?” Alex squinted his eyes, trying to see through the darkness, but he failed. He couldn’t make out the other odd scent that clashed with the sulfur. One could say it was like a battle between two overpowering scents that tried to dominate his nose.
“I don’t smell anything. I hope this does not affect the mission.”
“I’m alright. There is nothing wrong.”
“Ah, before I forget: when you kill Mr. Johnson, I need you to pose him.”
“Excuse me, pose him?” he said with confusion.
“Yes. I need you to extend his right arm towards the glass windows and place his left hand on his heart. Keep him sitting at his desk, and when you are done take a snapshot for me.”
“You want me to do what?” Alex stood appalled at what he had heard. He was not too keen on moving a dead body like some display.
“Position Mr. Johnson’s body. It shouldn’t be hard for you to do. In return I’ll do you a favor.”
The thought of gaining a favor from Angel was tantalizing. The amount of help he could get from Angel was considered an enormous benefit in the dark society.
“What kind of favor?”
“I see you are interested. That’s good. It would be information, of course. The best of the best. So will you do what I have asked?”
“Fine,” said Alex reluctantly. He did not like Angel’s sick obsession with dead art, but information could be the key in pivotal moments.
“Now then, let us go.” Angel stepped backwards and merged into the darkness.
Alex took a couple steps forward, but the smell was overpowering almost to the point of knocking him backwards. He couldn’t help but raise his hand to cover his nose to try to stifle the smell. It was burning his lungs and making it difficult to breathe, but a second later the sweet smell of flowers cut through again, allowing him to take a breath. Where are these odd smells coming from? I suppose nature has its own scent in odd places.
A slight tinge of headache caught him off guard, making him raise his hand to his forehead. This headache still had not gone away. There were times it would turn into a migraine that he could not get rid, but lately it had simmered down to a couple of light throbs throughout the day.
“I’ll be right behind you,” Alex called out, pulling down his hand as he tried his best to hide his discomfort and following after.
“You have made the right decision.” Angel chuckled, and his voice sounded off into the distance.
The darkness folded its arms around Alex, and they both disappeared. This was going to be a long night.
Saturday. July 11, 2054. 3:15 am.
“Whing. Whing. Whing.” The loud, obnoxious alarm bells rang clearly through the dimly lit passageway at an annoying frequency. Alex ignored it and ducked behind stacks of crates that hid him from view. His katana in hand, he quietly waited. The dim lighting made everything a bit difficult to see, but luckily for him he had modified his Alive gear glass to thermal vision.
“Damn him,” Alex cursed under his breath. “What joke is this?”
The thundering sound of many boots hitting against the cold stone floor could be heard running in the hallway to his right. Groups of heavily armored men in body armor and guns ran past the glass door, their hushed voices following the yelling of their leader.
“Kim’s men are here! Damn scoundrels. They should’ve stayed in their rat-infested home. Everyone double up in pairs and get rid of these rats!” the leader of the group yelled out to his men.
“Yes sir!” Their voices trailed off into the distance, and their running footsteps faded.
Alex slowly slinked out to the side, checking his surroundings. The door slid open and he peered out. The coast was clear, and only the loud alarm sound could be heard.
“I can’t believe he sent them over.” Alex quietly walked out and sighed. It had been less than an hour since he got the message from Fallen Angel. The thought made him annoyed all over again.
“BlackStar.” Angel’s voice had cut clearly in his ear. His earpiece was nicely tucked in his ear, so the sound was neither too loud nor too soft. “I’m sending in the second wave of reinforcements; hold on tight and the cavalry will be there.” His voice chuckled with mischief.
“I was fine the first time. I did not need you to send either one of them at all,” Alex grumbled. He was not happy that his plan to infiltrate the building without detection was thrown out the window in matter of seconds. He thought this was going to be a quick in and out job, not a battlefield.
“Don’t worry, this is all within the plan. Just some extra spice here and there should make everything fun, don’t you think?”
“No,” Alex said bluntly. “This just made things a bit more annoying.” He clenched his katana tightly and pulled it out of its sheath. Angling it carefully, he could use it as a mirror to check for movement around the corner. In the blade’s reflection, three heavily armed guards stepped out of the double doors. They were fully armed with guns on their belts and each holding a rifle in hand.
“Bingo,” he mouthed. His destination was only a few feet away: behind the guarded door was Mr. Johnson’s office.
“I have arrived at the target,” Alex informed Angel softly so he wouldn’t be heard.
“About time. Don’t forget, the kill must be done exactly at 3:33 am,” said Angel. “I’ll be leaving the rest in your care. Don’t disappoint me, BlackStar.” Angel’s voice abruptly cut off, leaving Alex by himself again.
He tapped the end of his sword, and a couple of small black balls fell into his hand. Grasping them carefully, he lightly squeezed them together. A small chink-like sound could be heard from the pressure. With a quick throw to the side, the small black balls flew and rolled on the ground in front of the three guards.
There was a loud beeping sound, and then gray smoke hissed from the balls, blinding the guards. Seconds later, Alex rushed in at full speed with his sword drawn at his side.
With a slight motion of his wrist, his sword buzzed with some kind of white electricity running down the whole sword. This was one of his many favorite swords that he carried on missions, especially for this particular mission where the cause of death did not matter. Moving around with sword in hand felt more natural than using modern weapons.
The guards staggered around, trying to find their way out. Alex dived in quickly in the midst of the smoke. A flurry of three swift strikes perfectly landed on his opponent. With each strike the sound of hissing could be heard along with the smell of cooked flesh. His slashes did not leave a single spot of blood on the ground. The first guard fell instantly onto the ground with a thud. The second followed shortly after.
His aim was so precise and quick that it was difficult to follow with the naked eye. The smoke settled, and the final guard stepped forward. He raised his rifle and pointed it at Alex. Alex stepped in quickly, dodging under the raised rifle. With the butt end of his sword, he smashed it upwards against the rifle, making the guard lose his hold on it. The rifle clattered onto the ground.
In a couple of steps, Alex struck like a snake and slit his throat. With the last guard dead on the ground, he stashed his sword back into its sheath. Not a single stain of blood was left on the ground or his sword. His special-order customized sword used the latest technology to make this possible.
He stepped over the dead, keeping his hand on his katana’s grip. Entering through the door, he saw an old man sitting in his executive desk with his hands together, with his back turned from the door.
The room was filled with hero figurines and shelves of books. It reminded him of a boy’s room with the amount of comic book heroes displayed neatly in cases. Some of the boxes weren’t even open. There was everything from collectible antique superheroes to the newest popular hero figurines, all of them in mint condition. All the wall space not taken up by shelves was covered in superhero posters from blockbuster hits. He could not stop himself from looking around, here and there seeing his favorite villains and heroes.
But Alex would not let himself be distracted. He slinked forward with light steps, encroaching upon his prey.
“Welcome,” Mr. Johnson called out. He slowly turned his chair and faced Alex. Alex was upon him in seconds, his sword tip against Mr. Johnson’s heart.
“Please, put your sword down. I have been expecting you.”
Alex did not budge.
“Your client informed me that you would be arriving here shortly. I’m impressed that you bypassed the security without setting off a single alarm. Though having Mrs. Kim’s men create a distraction was not expected. Was that your plan?” Mr. Johnson asked far too calmly.
“No.” Alex could not deny that he too did not expect that to happen.
“Then how could this be? I did not expect them to come here tonight. For them to have arrived thirty minutes after I sent my men to kill Mrs. Kim…” Mr. Johnson tapped his finger on the edge of his chair. “Could it be that they have failed? But that’s not possible. They would have arrived twenty minutes ago. Just at the exact same time, her men arrived as well.”
Mr. Johnson, unfazed by the sword, was deep in thought.
“It doesn’t matter to me. What time is it?” Alex asked.
Alex let out a small grumble of annoyance. “Six minutes left. That’s way too much time.”
“I’m guessing that is my time of death.” Mr. Johnson didn’t seem upset by the thought. “I’m glad you have come to kill me tonight. This restless feud will finally be over.” Mr. Johnson sighed with relief, and a gloom settled over him.
“It seems you have accepted your death. Why?” Alex had found few people with such a mindset, and this was one of those rare cases. It fascinated him.
“I am tired of this long war between two families. This strife was never supposed to last. I can’t see the end anymore.” Mr. Johnson heaved a heavy sigh as if his life had left him. His eyes were full of sorrow and he slouched forward. The sword tip pierced the tip of his neck, drawing a drop of blood.
“Until I had heard about your group.” Mr. Johnson eyes brightened with life. “This reign will finally be over. I shall take everything back with me and end this wretched quarrel between our families. No more of my seed or hers will ever continue this legacy. It ends today.”
“So you mean you’ve hired us to slaughter both your entire families?” said Alex.
“Yes.” Mr. Johnson slightly nodded his head. “Mrs. Kim had agreed to follow through with this plan. We have stayed in this life following our family business, quarrels, and hatred. We were lovers once, but our lives were harshly pulled apart by our war-torn families. We tried to bring peace between two families for many years, but everything has failed. Even reaching to the top of our family business did not stop the hatred between the two, but instead it fueled it ten times more.” His voice wavered and he began to choke up. His tears fell like small diamonds.
“But this is a senseless slaughtering. What gives you the right to take this any further?”
“Because their anger has reached the tipping point, and my family is driven to the point of murder. I will take all my family’s sins with me to the grave so the cycle will be no more. This world does not need more people like us.”
“And you are not afraid of death?”
“No. I know what I have done. I have lived a full life. I had many children and grandchildren. My legacy will be no more, but that does not mean anything to me anymore. The cycle will never end if we do not take out every last drop of both our bloodlines. I am tired and weary of this life.”
“Your sins are not mine to bear, but I shall make it quick.”
“Thank you.” Mr. Johnson closed his eyes and rested comfortably on his back.
Alex was surprised this man had planned out this much with his ex-lover, but to commit a family slaughter to take out the root of hatred was on the extreme side. Such things did not happen often, especially for a man and women who had almost everything in the world but each other.
“May I know what your name is?” Mr. Johnson asked.
“BlackStar.” Mr. Johnson rolled Alex’s name with his tongue. “Why have you chosen such a name?”
“For a man who is supposed to die, you ask a lot of questions. Are you finally afraid?”
Mr. Johnson chuckled. His smile was full of sorrow. “I would be lying if I said no. In reality, I do not know what will happen next. Like all men, I wonder what would happen after death. Do I become nothing and become part of the universe, or does the spiritual self-transcend? If not, what will happen to myself? So many questions, so few answers. Each a fascinating dilemma.”
“Death is as it stands. An end of life. There is nothing more to hope for,” Alex stated with no remorse. “My name was given to me. I did not choose such a name, but if I were to give it a meaning it would be simple. My life is as black as night.”
“Why is that?”
“Because I fear nothing and love no one. I have no use for such emotions.”
Mr. Johnson’s eyes widened. “You say you do not fear nor love? All mankind experiences such emotions; how is it that you have not?”
“Your useless blabbering is going on for too long.” Alex clucked his tongue in annoyance and checked his Alive gear for the time. “Only a minute left.”
“Please do tell. For a man who is to die, this conversation will go nowhere else. I will take it to my grave, so do not worry.”
Alex thought for a moment and considered what the man had said. He was right. Mr. Johnson did not have any escape plan, or a reason to leave this place alive. His death was inevitable. And Alex had so few people to whom he could tell the truth.
“I have lived my whole life sheltered in the organization. Such emotions are considered a liability, not strength. When one has supposedly found a love of his life, it could be used against him. Love is a death sentence. There is no happiness afterwards when one is given such a burden, especially when one has many enemies. It is better to live a life with nothing tying one down and attend only to the most basic of physical needs. No ties, no connections. You become a ghost, the ultimate weapon.”
Mr. Johnson stared at Alex. Once again his demeanor changed: his eyes softened and his face relaxed. He gave a warm smile. “Mr. BlackStar.”
“BlackStar is fine.” Alex cut him short. He did not like the sound of Mr. in his codename. It had an odd ring to it that made him feel a bit funny in the stomach.
“I’m sorry. BlackStar, one day you will find the one place you will call home. When that time arrives, protect it more furiously than you have ever protected anything. If you do not, you will regret it at the end. I know this better than most people, but at the same time I am a very selfish man. I cannot help but to take back what was mine.”
“Time is up,” Alex said.
“Already? I was enjoying our talk. If there is more to death, then let us meet again. If there is not, may you have good fortune in this life.” Mr. Johnson nodded his head. The last words stuck to Alex like glue, and he couldn’t help but hesitate.
Good fortune in this life? What an odd thing to say to one’s killer. But then he erased all thoughts, and with two quick strikes he slashed Mr. Johnson through the neck and stabbed his heart. With a flick of his sword, he stashed it back into his sheath.
Mr. Johnson eyes widened in shock and stupor, but no blood spilled as he fell face first onto the desk.
Alex wasn’t too keen on what he was about to do next for Angel. “What sick pleasure does he take by doing something weird to the dead body?” Alex muttered to himself. He pushed Mr. Johnson upright in his chair and closed his eyes. As he was about to move Mr. Johnson, he stopped.
Mr. Johnson’s words sounded off in the back of his head, May you have good fortune in this life.
Why? he thought. Why does this annoying man get on my nerves? He did not understand why he could not move his hand any further. A job was a job. It needed to be completed, but he could not move forward. His mind and heart clashed, making it difficult to move.
“Fine.” He clasped his hand into a fist and drew it back. So much for his favor. He’d just have to deal with Fallen Angel later.
As he turned to leave, his chronic migraine sent a spike of pain through his head. His hands flew up to massage away the pain, but it didn’t help, and he grew angrier. What was with this wretched migraine that would not go away? No medicine quelled it nor made it disappear. It was a constant battle between himself and his migraine. Sometimes he would win, but the majority of the time it would overpower him.
He needed to leave. Staying any longer could make him vulnerable to an attack.
The same odd sulfuric smell from earlier cut through his senses, it was an overpowering his sense of smell and made him have an difficult time breathing. He froze.
He didn’t know why, but he did not want to move forward. He felt like he was being watched, but there was nothing around him. There were no cameras, no hidden places for people or animals to hide. For someone to get inside the room without him noticing was truly an accomplishment, but he had sensed whatever it was that was inside the room.
Something did not feel right, even though he could not explain what it was. It was like a curtain of cold shower was spilled on him at this moment. The overbearing smell was moving: it did not stay in one place but instead brushed past him.
His hair stood on end. His hand whipped to where his sheathe was near his jeans. He crouched forward, ready to draw in seconds. Eyes darting from left to right, he looked for the source. Nothing was present. The room was silent.
Once again, he felt something move past him. The same overpowering smell appeared and disappeared behind him, heading towards Mr. Johnson. He did not like where this was going. Turning slowly around, he once more faced Mr. Johnson’s body. There was nothing present.
A sharp pain shot through his head, and he reeled back trying to contain it. His eyes throbbed and his senses became disoriented. It took a couple of seconds for him to regain his bearings. Slowly opening his eyes, he saw a blur of three humanoid shadows behind the dead Mr. Johnson.
One shadow being was struggling against the others, trying to flee from the two. One of them grabbed the fleeing shadow from behind and the other one was committing a violent display of attacks upon the struggling silhouette. Each strike viciously found its mark without no remorse. Blow after blow, each attack made a hole in the shadow till the being looked like swiss cheese. He could almost hear the punches connecting.
Alex could not help but stare, wondering what he was seeing. Was the migraine strong enough to make him hallucinate? He’d been sleeping decently enough, so having delusions was unlikely. The more he scrambled for an answer, the more bizarre the situation became. He did not notice that his migraine had gone away.
As it drew back its fist, which seemed now to glow with a fiery flame, the violent shadow knocked into a pen on the desk. With a clatter, the pen rolled off the desk and onto the floor towards Alex, startling him out of his thoughts.
“What the—!” Alex took a quick step backwards, startled like a cat. Cautiously bending forward, he picked up the pen. He could feel the cold harsh metal in between his fingers. There was nothing wrong with the pen, except a couple of nicks here and there. Nothing was out of the ordinary; it was just a regular pen. So how had it been moved by a shadow, an illusion?
Or had it just been gravity? He thought, trying to come up with a solution.
The struggling shadow was almost entirely gone. Only pieces of its upper half remained, and it had ceased moving, looking lifeless, like a paper doll. He couldn’t help but stare and watch the whole thing to play out before him.
The shadow that was furiously pummeling the shredded shadow stopped and grabbed the face. An odd high-pitched sound rang in Alex’s ears, and they popped as if he’d gone into a high altitude. The shadow with its hand against the opponent’s face once again turned fiery black. Flames sprouted forth and burned the opponent to a crisp. The last traces of the suffering shadow disappeared in a wisp of a smoke.
Alex thought he heard a high pitched scream of a man’s voice, and the ringing in his ears intensified. His headache returned in full force, making him hunch forward. His sword clattered onto the ground, and he stumbled to the floor, catching himself in the process.
It felt like a woodpecker was drilling into his skull from the inside. His vision blurred and his eyes watered. He picked up the sulfur smell again, and when he looked up, the violent shadow had turned towards him.
Alex stared back from where he crouched on the floor. Though the shadow had no features, he could feel its intense gaze set on him. He knew the feeling of a stare, especially one with malevolent intent. This wasn’t right. He needed to leave.
He dragged himself to his feet. The room felt tense and heavy. An overwhelming oppression lay on him. Grabbing his sword off the ground, he left the room as quickly as his throbbing head would let him. This was not a fight he could take on, nor did he understand how to. This creature was out of his league.
His need to survive spiked adrenaline into his system, and his vision cleared. Strength returned. Running through the hallway at full speed, he bypassed the guards like the wind.
“Hey you! Stop!” one from the group of guards yelled out towards him. The guard raised his gun towards Alex, but everything Alex saw was in slow motion. Time to him seemed to slow down and then he felt like the world was working with him.
Dodging out of harm’s way from the pointed gun, he sprinted to the guard’s side. With lightning-fast reflexes, he sliced the guard’s hand clean off. In matter of seconds the sword was back in his sheath, ready to be pulled out again when needed. Both the gun and the hand fell onto the ground, and Alex rushed past him without a second glance. The guard screamed in pain, while the guard next to him began to fire off several rounds.
A couple of the bullets whizzed past him, tearing a small hole in his clothes, but only one slightly grazed him on his shoulder. He felt its sting, but seconds later the pain turned into a numbing sensation where he could not feel anymore.
Alex was not happy he had to run away to stay alive. Usually he would have gotten rid of any opponents that stood before him. But today was a special case and he did not want to take his chances.
Move! Alex cursed in his head. These people were making things a lot more difficult than he wanted. With inhuman speed and precision, he struck them down one by one.
He opened the door to the fire exit and ran down the stairs. Jumping over a couple of rails, he increased the speed of his descent. His steps were light, and he fluttered down the steps as if he weighed nothing. Upon reaching the final step, he bolted towards the door.
He emerged into a fire fight. It had to be the two families, defending their lives to the last. Bullets flew everywhere, and the main lobby was a complete war zone. His misstep almost cost him his life.
He rolled behind the nearest cover, an overturned marble-top table. There wasn’t much time. The longer he stayed there, the more difficult it would be to escape notice.
“BlackStar, are you there?” Angel’s voice roughly was broken up by static.
“What do you want now?” Alex slightly leaned over and checked for a possible escape route. So far from the heavy artillery, finding a way out was a lot more difficult than he wished. He mentally checked what he had on him: five small pepper grenades, three flash bombs, ten frag grenades, a specialized hornet-nest grenade, twenty throwing knives, two pocket-size hand knives, two damascus blades the size of his forearms, twelve magazines of bullets hidden carefully throughout his outfit, two guns on his waist, poison darts, a vial of deadly poison, and his katana.
“Kuhuhuhu, it seems you are having a blast over there. I wouldn’t mind joining.”
“That is a matter of opinion. Whatever you want, make it quick. I got things I need to do.”
“I can help you out on that.”
“Really now, you sure you’re not going to send in the dogs and mess up my chance like the last two times?”
“BlackStar. It was to your benefit.”
“I did not need it. I would have made it up to my target without the unnecessary attention.”
“No matter. Your final mission shall commence right now. Get rid of all the targets in the pictures that I send you through your Alive gear. Don’t worry, all of them are in the same gun fight you are in. I have already carried out my end of the plan. The rest, the organization had already dispatched and gotten rid of. It shouldn’t be a problem, right?”
Alex’s Alive gear screen updated, and six pictures of Mrs. Kim’s family were laid out before him. Four targets were males and two were females. Most of them were in their late thirties, while one of them looked to be in her teens.
“Don’t worry. The Alive gear will help you pinpoint your targets. The recent app that you have gotten from the organization will be able to handle this miniscule task. Now all I want to see is your fabulous sword play again.”
“Will this be all?” He didn’t have too much time to continue on with more tasks when he had things to do today. The Hidden Quest Alpha was in the process, and from his information the raid had begun. Depending on his information, he might have found a clue that led him to the elusive Seed that he was looking for. “I do not have time to continue on with assisting you on your mission.”
“BlackStar. This is the last thing I’ll be asking of you. And did you do what I asked with Mr. Johnson?”
“No.” A stray bullet whizzed past him. Leaving his sword next to him, he pulled out his gun from his jacket. He aimed over the table, honing in carefully to his targets. Taking a steady shot, he found his first target on the other side of the room, hidden between two columns. Four other people were heavily armed around him, shooting off bullets towards the enemies.
He fired five shots in quick succession, each hitting its mark perfectly. They fell backwards, dead on the ground.
“You serious? Romeo and Juliet won’t be complete without it.” Angel’s voice became cold. “Why? What changed your mind?”
“It is not in my mission to do extra things that the higher-ups have not given me.” He aimed and shot four more times. Four more targets fell in seconds, making the tide of war slowly shift in the favor of Mr. Johnson’s men. “I do not have time for this idle chat. When I’m done, don’t contact me.” Alex cut off the connection. When the bullets calmed stopped for a moment he dove toward the sofa that was broken in half.
With his back against the sofa, he pulled up a 3D virtual blueprint of the building. His escape route was limited, and his last target was across the room, out of range. He was not stupid enough to go out the front way, nor could he get out till he got the last target.
Heavy fire was concentrated towards him, making it difficult to fire back, but whenever he could fire, his shots hit their marks. Steadily the barrage of fire lessened.
He took out a small grenade the size of his fist. It was his specially modified hornet nest grenade. Pulling the pin, he threw it towards the middle of the room. Thousands of sharp glasslike shards and electrical pellet balls exploded out in every direction. A strong burst of white smoke erupted outwards, blinding and choking the people who were in the vicinity forcing them to take cover. Some reeled from being cut up into thousands of pieces, and others were blinded by the pepper spray.
It cut down the force by half, giving him a bit more room to run from cover to cover, shooting assailants and moving toward his final target. The man was taking cover behind the reception desk. He had a clear shot, so unloading his clip; he quickly took aim and fired.
Three simultaneous shots flew straight like a homing missile to the man’s chest. His last target was dead, and his mission was complete. With no time to waste, he fired a couple shots towards the window. Thousands of small pieces of the window glittered like jewels as they came crashing down.
Jumping out through the window, he pulled the pin from a flash bang and threw it behind him. He rolled out to cushion his fall. A bright flash erupted behind him, followed shortly by a loud bang.
His ears slightly ringing, he heard the sirens coming towards the building becoming louder and louder. In a matter of minutes the police would be upon them. He didn’t have the time to dally. Escape was priority.
Slipping through the cars and buildings, he darted towards the nearest place where he could change his clothes. It was near a small, secluded coffee bistro that he rarely went to. From the side of the building, he pried out a small loose brick. In it was a wrapped package of clothes. A pair of black jeans and a black t-shirt was neatly folded and compact.
He cast his eyes around for any possible witnesses, but there was no one to be seen. Hiding behind the dumpster, he changed out of his clothes as quickly as possible. He peeked around the bush to see if anyone was coming towards the area. If anyone did he was going to stay quiet and still till they left, but luckily no one was present.
Using his lighter, he set his old clothes ablaze and tossed them in the dumpster. The horrid smell of burning trash and plastic billowed out from the trash. The crackling flames licked and overcame the trash, becoming bigger and bigger.
Heading out towards the street, he blended into the darker areas where the streetlights cast shadows. His job done, he began making his way back to his home.
Who would have thought that hanging out underneath the castle in the city of Terra would be so boring? Zeraph munched on beef jerky that he had saved for a snack. He was not happy that he had to eat his emergency stash at this moment. He wasn’t sure how long he had been walking underneath the castle. The winding intricate passageways moved around like a tangled snake, and he had to keep track of them mentally lest he and Scion be lost.
The damp stagnant air made it difficult to breathe, and he hadn’t felt a single breeze since he entered. Only the soft dripping sound of water could be heard. The cold stone walls were slick and slimy, and heavy brown dead moss covered the walls and floor with different varieties of small mushrooms.
He reached down and plucked one of them with a glove. Carefully examining it, he remembered what it was. It was one of those deadly kinds that he used often.
“What is that, sir?” Scion asked, peering at it curiously.
“Amanita bisporigera, also called destroying angel. This mushroom was considered the fool’s mushroom because of how it look like the edible mushrooms that people are used to collecting. You can tell by the puffy white caps and slim stalk.” Oh how he enjoyed the fatal uses of its amatoxin. The symptoms would not appear until five to twenty-four hours after it was absorbed and the damage to the kidney and liver were irreversible. It usually resulted in vomiting, cramps, delirium, convulsions, diarrhea, and finally death. He’d stopped to collect many since he’d entered the dungeon.
“I suggest that you not eat these,” he continued.
“Why not, sir?”
Zeraph grinned. “You’d die in about twenty-four hours.”
Scion gulped. Zeraph got back up and continued forward.
Their lamps barely lit a small portion of their way. They ran into many small booby traps that he had to personally dismantle, and other times, there were small frog-type monsters that were easily dispatched.
“Are we there yet, sir?” Scion asked while hurriedly following behind him.
“No,” Zeraph replied again. This was the thirty times he’d had to answer this question.
“Then when are we going to be there?” Scion replied with concern. “I don’t like this dark place, sir. Something doesn’t feel right.” His feet shuffled behind Zeraph in a hurry.
“We’ll get there when we get there,” Zeraph sharply answered. This child was starting to get on his nerves.
“But sir, you said that a while ago,” Scion whined.
Zeraph sharply turned around and stared coldly down upon Scion. If words could describe it, his elegant nature was no more but instead was replaced with an ice-cold expression that could freeze over a continent.
Scion slinked back, hunched over in fright. “I’m sorry, sir. I won’t say it again,” he quickly replied.
Zeraph face softened and he continued walking through the deep labyrinth of tunnels. Almost every turn they made was a dead end, and the others were just roads that looped with one another. Only a few were correct choices. He had to diligently mark the pathway with a red paste-like marker to remember which way they had already traveled.
“Sir. I have a question,” Scion whispered.
“What is it?”
“When will I be able to go to school?”
Zeraph was taken aback. He did not expect to hear those words coming out of Scion’s mouth. During his days of going to public school he absolutely hated it. He always wondered when he would be let out early and skipped class as much as possible. The only thing that allowed him to pass was being number one in school. He always showed up for tests, and he skipped several grades and graduated at the age of sixteen.
Aside from school, his teenage years were filled with bloodshed: fighting with the local gangs, misusing his abilities that he learned from the group, and doing things that normal people would not dream of doing. Even in those times, he was sent to do missions that were dangerous, each one more thrilling than the next.
“Everyone else is going to school to learn something. When will I go as well?” Scion bravely asked.
“Why, do you have a specific subject in mind you wanted to learn?”
“Yes. I want to be a scholar, sir,” Scion replied with excitement.
“A scholar?” said Zeraph, a bit surprised. Lately he had been teaching Scion the ways of assassination, so for him to choose a more peaceful path was completely unexpected.
“Yes!” Scion stated excitedly, almost to the point of jumping up and down. “I want the amount of knowledge one could learn and use to help this world. To find the secrets of the world, study the nature of magic, and find places where hidden artifacts are hidden. Don’t you think that’s exciting?” Scion’s eyes sparkled at the adventure he would go through.
Zeraph couldn’t believe what this kid was so excited about it. Things came to Scion easily. Memorizing facts was simple, but to get excited over being a scholar was kind of surprising. The majority of his contracted kids were in specialized schools for being soldiers, healers, magicians, and other practical common jobs. Out of all the kids, Scion was slightly different.
In reality, he didn’t hate that about Scion. During the time he spent with him, it was surprising that he picked things up the quickest, but he was slow in physical activities. His use in battle was the worst out of all twelve of his slaves. The only reason he kept Scion near him was because of what he had inside of him: the fallen king.
Maybe sending him to a school wasn’t a bad idea. Improving his knowledge and skills would help Scion protect himself instead of constantly relying on Zeraph. He did not want another mess up like last time, where he had to save his sorry ass from a group thugs. It was a complete embarrassment, even though he had taught Scion how to defend himself.
Zeraph thought for a long time as they walked, debating on what he should do. The pros outweighed the cons on sending him to school to become a scholar, but where? He wasn’t sure. There was that kooky old rabbit that was some kind of scholar. What was it, a historian? Maybe taking him there would be a possible benefit in the long run.
“Sir?” Scion worriedly glanced up at him for the fear of saying the wrong thing.
“I’ll take you to someone I know. Don’t ask me anymore,” he sharply replied.
“Yes sir!” Scion excitedly whistled and skipped in happiness.
It truly was an odd thing to see a kid skipping in a dark maze dungeon, especially in the current location where it was mostly dark and dreary. Even Zeraph could not hold off a small smile that quickly disappeared when Scion turned towards him.
“So who is going to be?” Scion excitedly asked, completely forgetting about Zeraph’s warning. “Will my teacher is some great grandmaster or maybe the best known scholar in the world?” His voice was hyped with excitement.
“I told you, don’t ask.”
Scion’s face fell with sadness and he moped. “But sir…” His face looked like it was ready to cry. “How come you told everyone else who their teacher will be but not me? It’s not fair,” he whined. “Even Cyrus goes to the best fighting school. I want to go learn from the best.” Scion accentuated the word best to get across to Zeraph how important it was.
“Does it matter?” Zeraph asked.
“Yes it does, sir. If I want to be known as the greatest scholar in the world, I’ve got to go and learn from the best.”
Zeraph thought for a moment about what Scion said. He had a valuable point, but to see such dedication in someone young impressed him.
“You will learn from Garrett, then. When this is all over, we will go and see him.”
“Really!” Scion stood on his tiptoes. His bubbly excitement almost made him trip over a rock that he did not see. “Thank you!”
Zeraph snatched him backwards just in time before an arrow trap almost impaled him in the heart. “Watch where you’re going. Do you want to die?”
“I-I’m sorry.” Scion stumbled backwards onto the wall.
“What did I tell you? Pay attention.”
Scion fell silent. Zeraph continued on. Scion rushed forward next to Zeraph and absently hummed a tune.
For the next two hours Zeraph and Scion continued to walk through the dungeon maze. The longer they stayed underground, the more time felt like it had slowed down. Turning right at the next bend, Zeraph and Scion arrived in front of a long stone bridge. Both sides of the bridge were pitch black, and it spanned across a very deep pit.
“Sir.” Scion’s voice echoed. “I think we are almost to our destination. We have never crossed over this before.” Scion rushed to the edge of the bridge and looked over. “It’s a long way down. I wonder what’s at the bottom.”
Scion rummaged through his pockets and pulled out a copper coin. Leaning over, he let it go, and a small splash could be heard at the bottom. “Sir. There’s water.” He looked at Zeraph, shocked.
Zeraph came over and smacked him over his head. “What did I tell you? Stay close to my side and do not cause unnecessary problems. Have you ever thought that there might be something lurking down there? You set off a couple of traps and now you might have set off a monster trap. Think, boy. What is that brain for?” He poked Scion’s head a couple of times.
“I was just curious,” Scion mumbled.
“Curiosity can get you killed. Let’s go.” Zeraph walked ahead. He was getting tired of staying down in this dark and dreary place.
Small bugs like fireflies began to appear before them. Yellowish orange lights lit up the dark cavernous room. Carved into the walls of the cave were faces of the heroes that saved the Fire Continent. Each statue was roughly carved out, and it reminded him of the work of an amateur artist. There were many different types of cracks and crevices that seemed either manmade or from wear and tear. Even though there were thousands of small fireflies, it was still difficult to see what was real. A couple times he had to whack the bugs away from entering his nose or crawling on his face.
“They are so beautiful.” Scion reached up towards the fireflies. A couple landed on the tips of his fingers. “I wonder what they are all doing here.” He looked at Zeraph for answers.
Zeraph kept on walking past Scion. He had a quest to complete, and he was getting sick and tired of walking endlessly in the never-ending maze. If this was the end, he would be grateful to be out of here.
Scion let the fireflies go and ran after Zeraph. It wasn’t a horrible place to be. The fireflies created a very mysterious feel around the area. Even the large statues brought up questions that he normally didn’t think about having. The game had eaten up quite of bit of time.
Since entering this dungeon, he had felt like he was on a constant walk to nowhere. He wondered when it was going to all end, and now they were finally somewhere different. The fireflies parted ways to let them through, and many followed behind them. For some reason the fireflies swarmed together behind Zeraph’s back and stuck closely to him.
“Sir.” Scion gaped at Zeraph. “Sir.”
“You have a cape made of fireflies.”
“What?” Zeraph looked over his shoulder. He could just barely see the fireflies fluttering behind him like a cloak. “What the…?”
He reached over his back, trying to swat them away. They buzzed around out of harm’s way and came back into formation. Scion giggled as he watched Zeraph trying his best to get rid of them. Finally he gave up and left them alone.
“Tch. What’s with these pests.”
“I don’t know sir, but it seems like they are interested in you. Look, more are coming your way.” Scion giggled even louder as he watched Zeraph being overwhelmed by more fireflies. It looked like the shining sun was covering his whole body from head to toe. It was an armor made of glowing fireflies.
“These pests just won’t go away.” He swatted at them, but they came back into place. “I give up.”
Zeraph finally exited the bridge and started down a hallway. The fireflies brightly lit up the area, making it much easier to see. Upon reaching the end of the hallway, he arrived at an empty dark cave.
“You serious? Another dead end?”
The fireflies burst into flames and caught Zeraph on fire.
“Damn it, they were a trap!” Zeraph tried his best to quell the fire, but instead it blazed brighter and stronger. Nothing was stopping it from dying down.
“Sir!” Scion yelled with concern. He rushed over, trying to help Zeraph.
“Move back!” Zeraph commanded Scion. He did not want Scion to die in vain.
“I’m fine. It’s not harming me.”
“I said step back.” Zeraph held his hand out to stop Scion from moving too close.
The fire burst outward in six different directions from Zeraph and formed into a circle. A powerful burst of flames completely encompassed him in a dome. All Zeraph could do was stand still and let the fire run its course. If he wasn’t going to get harmed, he was okay for now.
“Sir!” Scion moved back, shielding himself from the massive fire. The hot flames licked against his skin.
Zeraph stood still, waiting for it to end. The fire swirled with a different variety of colors and twisted around him like a tornado. The fire brightened and burned down into a simmer as all the flames converged into one small firefly creature. It whizzed and flew like a bee as it swirled around him. It whisked up into the air and flew down onto the ground like a hawk swooping down onto its prey.
It burst into flames as it hit the ground and spread out, forming into words. Magic sigils spread around it like wildfire.
The King has fallen, fallen, fallen, no more will he reign.
People cried out rejoicing,
The maiden’s child has been brought back.
Let us rejoice…
The fiery words turned pitch black as they seemed to scream out in agony. They roared to life and disappeared into the ground. The ground cracked and rumbled. Zeraph faltered onto his knees.
This was not going well, and he was clueless on what to do next. The ground split open as if the world fell into pieces. Thin translucent sheets rose up and surrounded Zeraph like a flower sprouting from the ground opening up and encasing him in it.
Scion ran forward, banging onto the wall, which had the consistency of a stiff gel.
“Sir! Sir! Are you okay?”
“I told you I’m fine, Scion.”
“But sir.” Scion begin to tear up. “Please don’t die! Please don’t leave me!” he cried out with fear. The walls caved in slightly as he furiously slammed his fists into the lotus bud.
A powerful blast of energy threw Scion back onto the floor. “Sir…” He raised his hands up towards Zeraph but fell onto the ground unconscious.
The ground trembled as it split apart. The stone walls and ground moved like a giant mechanism. The platform raised and lowered around him, and he pulled out his sword to hack through his bindings. The gel-like lotus bud was cut through like water and resealed itself.
“What in the…?”
Confused, he slowly reached up towards the gel. His finger bypassed it without any problems at all. All it took was to simply walk through and he was able to leave without harm.
Hopping over from block to block, Zeraph moved over to Scion. Checking his pulse, he noticed that he was still okay.
“What the hell is going on?” Zeraph watched as the contraption moved in a specific pattern. The lotus flower grew larger and larger.
Small contraptions opened in the sides of the walls. Water gushed forward and streamed down heavily onto the ground. More and more filled the area as the sound of water spilled through the openings. With a rumbling of the gushing water, Zeraph could not stay in one place for too long.
“Damn kid. To be sleeping at this moment.” He grabbed Scion roughly by the back of his shirt and threw him over his shoulder like a sack. “Your lessons will double when we get out of here,” he mumbled. It was a pain to carry an extra body and jump around trying to avoid the water.
Jumping from one moving platform to another, he reached the top where the flower bulb resided. The water was rising fast, and the entrance was already blocked. There were no escape routes for him now.
“Curses. I should have left without him and it would’ve been fine. Kid, wake up.” He smacked him a couple of times in the head.
“Sir?” Scion groggily woke up. He was having a difficult time orienting himself. “Where are we?”
“Same place. In a trap. No time for you to sleep,” Zeraph scolded. He was not too keen on staying any longer, but he did not have a way out.
“Sir. What if we go back into the lotus? Would that protect us?” Scion gazed curiously up at Zeraph. The idea hit him like a brick wall.
“We don’t know until we try.” Walking over towards the flower bud, Zeraph wondered if they could enter back into the bud. Placing his hands onto the hard shell he waited. Nothing. Only the soft texture of the bud could be felt when he touched it with his skin.
“Sir, you should try harder. The water is rising too fast. In a couple of minutes, we will be submerged,” Scion whined with fear in his voice. The gushing water was already up to the edge of the platform where the flower bud was. Drawing his knife, Zeraph stabbed into the flower. A loud clink was heard and the knife broke perfectly in half.
“No way.” Zeraph was amazed. He could not believe that a flower had defeated his knife.
With a glowing bright light, the bud slowly unfurled into a transparent rose. Its clear crystal petals gleamed majestically. The bud reminded him of delicate glass.
“Sir. Sir. It’s opening.” Scion left Zeraph and ran over to the flower bud. He pushed himself up and climbed into it.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting into safety sir. I believe it will protect us, and the water is rising quickly.”
Scion got into the middle of the bud as if it was nothing. Zeraph also followed after. He did not know where this was going to lead, but it was a chance he was going to take. This flower was the only thing in the middle of the room. There was nothing else around him but the raised platforms that were now submerged in water. The only platform that wasn’t under water was the one they were on.
“Quickly sir. It’s already gotten to your knees.” Scion held out his hands for Zeraph to take. “Brat. Already thinking about saving me? You’ve got a long way to go.” Grabbing his hands, he hoisted himself up into the flower. The flower felt soft and warm. It did not feel anything like the cold hard glass that he thought it would resemble.
The flower hummed with life as golden pollen escaped from its core.
“What is this?” Scion nervously asked. His eyes drooped with sleepiness. “It’s seems like it’s some kind of sleeping sp-” He was knocked out in seconds.
Zeraph stumbled forward with his hands on his head.
“That damn kid. He fell aslee—” Zeraph collapsed onto the flower and went into a deep slumber.
The water rose and the flower encased them, protecting them from the splashing waves. It was submerged into the water and had begun to slowly descend. The world around him became dark and blurry. A message appeared before him.
|The preliminary stage of the Seed Shard Quest has been activated.|
All players throughout the world will be forced to logout of the server shortly. The final stage of the Special Hidden Quest: Alpha Division will begin in the real world. Please check the quest update on your Alive gear for more information. Thank you for playing Growth.
The world before him shifted and changed. It had become fuzzy like static electricity. An eerie sharp static like sound resounded around him echoing off into the distance. A phrase appeared on the static screen. “Are you ready?” and the world turns completely black. Zeraph was ejected of the world of Growth and was brought back to real world.
To be continued.