Chapter 1 - Alone and Lethal
The wind whistled through my hair, tussling it around while it whipped my face. Tears stung my eyes as the wind teased my corneas, sending more strands of hair flying into them. I could hear the whispers in the air, the pleading to not be killed. It’d happened to me before and I knew it was happening again.
Metal clashed into metal, drawing me deeper into the forest. I was alone and I was lethal. I’d been trained by the best and now I knew the best were training more. It was sickening.
The wind worked in my favor as my feet teased the forest floor, trying to dance around branches and avoid brush. If it would have been a quiet night my presence would have been noted and preparations against me taken. Fortunately I was able to sneak around with the weather as my cover.
Jumping over branches and twisting around large rocks, I found my way through the dark. I could see the deep orange flames trying to reach the heavens as I used the light to guide my path. I could feel the heat through the nippy air as I trudged closer as the yelling began to abate. It meant there was one victor and the others had been lined up for execution.
Pushing myself to be faster, I knew time was running out. Sensing how near they were, I slowed my pace, creeping up behind a large tree. Narrowing my eyes, I pushed my hair out of my face, focusing on the sight in front of me.
Three were on their knees, dark brown bags over their heads, facing the roaring fire in the center of the clearing. One stood tall, pacing with the tip of his sword screeching along the dirt and rocky ground. Sparks flew up every time the metal point nicked a rock. The eerie screeching sent a shiver up my spine, giving me yet another reason to be irritated with this scenario.
The victor chanted something, raising the sword up to end one life. We had been trained that taking the life would give us that warrior’s power, but I’d since then learned the truth of it. It was simply a way of weeding out the less than pristine. What the trainers never seemed to take into consideration was that although we were different than true mortals, there was always going to be a winner and a loser. Killing the loser only brought forth having fewer successful experiments and fewer warriors to battle the creatures most were blind to. It was an aggressive circle, one that left many dead and the survivors damaged killing machines.
I knew the trainer was nearby, but I wasn’t sure where and I didn’t have time to figure it out. Pulling my own training sword out, I stepping from the shadows. If they wanted to play this game, I was going to use their own weapons against them. Letting the blade tip hit the ground, I let it grate as I circled the scene. I was stronger, faster, smarter. I was an experiment that had gone perfectly, yet had blown up in their faces. I’d searched for the ones that had began this catastrophe, only finding links to my parents; wherever the hell they were.
The young man stopped his sword mid-air as he turned to face me. His sandy brown hair was tussled, damp where sweat had perspired around his features. His eyes although sky blue were dark and violent. A machine had been created out of a boy.
“The trainers always say to be aware of your surroundings.” I let my sword hit more rocks than dirt, knowing it gave me more of a psychological reason to be feared. Looks were everything in this game. We needed to be able to look beautiful no matter our gender, powerful, lethal, sleek, violent. Staring down his angry eyes, I kept my head lowered and eyes on him. My ears were working in overdrive, listening for the trainer that I knew was watching us. I wasn’t a fool; they had expected me to show even if their students hadn’t had a clue.
“They would have failed you for not knowing I was here.” I said slowly, watching his jaw twitch. “They would have had you lining up on your knees with those three.”
“I’m stronger than them. I’m more powerful. I would have you down on your knees just as quickly as I had them.” He growled at me.
“Do you know who I am?” I ignored his words, not bothering to take them into consideration. If he didn’t fear me yet, my name maybe would give him pause to re-consider his stance.
“Your name is of no consequence to me. You should know my name so you can beg for your life when I have you down on your back begging for mercy.” His shoulders were bunched, ready to fight. His brows were furrowed in anger, but the rest of his face was impassive.
“You say a lot of shit that has me thinking you want bang me.” Humor danced in my dark, narrowed eyes. “First you want me on my knees, now on my back. What’s it going to be next, boy?”
His nostril twitched, but he stood his ground.
“Don’t like being called a boy, do you?” I arched a brow, knowing I’d hit a sensitive spot. “It’s tough growing up. It takes a long time to get the respect you feel like you deserve. Was it your parents? Maybe your dad?” I watched for a reaction, not seeing anything passing through him. He was tuning me out, honing in on his strengths.
“Must have been hard if you won’t even attempt at remembering it.” I sighed, pausing behind the lined up trainees. The winds whipped through my hair as I watched him turn to follow where I was.
“You don’t know anything about me.” He kept his tone even, flat, but no matter how much he tried to hide his emotions I could still see the pain flickering through his eyes.
“And you don’t know anything about me.” I replied flatly. “The one thing that you should know is that the Compound doesn’t do anything for free. You ended up there to be used. Abused.”
“What the hell would you know?” He growled at me, heat flared up his eyes.
“I know that you want to know the truth or you wouldn’t be stalling to fight me.” I arched a brow, relaxing but not putting my guard down.
“Know your enemy.” He returned, gauging my response.
I hummed, remembering the rules. The rules that had been beaten into our brain. We’d been forced to remember them, needing them as much as we needed food to survive. “Rule number three.”
He cocked his head to the side, evaluating me deeper, intrigue lacing his eyes. “How do you know the rules?”
I gave him a sad smile, holding up my sword before letting it fall back down next to my side. “I had the same training.”
“And you graduated.” He confirmed.
“Unfortunately.” The sad smile turned into a frown. “I killed many before graduating. The truth had never been revealed to me; instead I had to find it. And I realized they were lying to me.”
“But that’s the world, isn’t it? We’re lied to daily. We’re fed lies, rumors, stories; but none of them are true.” He snapped, a different kind of anger radiating in his orbs. “From the day we’re born to the day we die. We live in a fantasy, void of the dangers that really are out there.”
Swallowing, I nodded. “We are.”
“And how do I know what breathes through your lips aren’t lies too? How do I know that you’re not as corrupt as they supposedly are?” His eyes narrowed, his voice crisp and pristine. He wanted the truth, but part of me felt like he was baiting me in, giving me hope that he could be changed.
Reaching down, I pulled the bags off of each failed trainee, noting how young they were. The young man’s gaze followed me, watching to see what I’d do. “I’m not an angel. Never claimed to be. I lie just like everyone else, but the difference is that I still have a heart and a conscious. These people don’t deserve to die. Neither do you.”
“Shakira Odelinda.” I heard the steps before I heard the voice. I knew the trainer was behind me. I knew he’d been creeping around the forest floor to get a better angle of me. He thought he was smarter than me.
A tease of a smile twisted at my lips as I tucked the emotion away again. I knew the voice and I knew the trainer. His name tasted like tar on my tongue, making it hard for me to breathe it out. “Brody. You know I don’t like to use my last name.”
“Doesn’t make it not yours.” He replied calmly. He smelled like the woods, trying to blend in with his surroundings like we were trained to do.
My blood boiled with the idea of a challenge in the air. I knew he wanted me dead. I’d gone rogue. That was a no-no in their world. I’d broken a code. I’d broken the rules. That was punishable by death.
“What’s your name, boy?” I looked up at the young man, all ready closing up to anything I had to say.
“Maxmilian Varesa.” He said proudly.
Well that made one of us.
“That’s a mouth full.” I commented, sliding my sword in and out of the trainee’s ropes that bound their wrists. “Well, Max, I’m Kira. I’m their project that became their greatest achievement and their darkest defeat. I’m the nightmare that will bring the Compound down.”
“Impossible.” He spoke confidently as if I had absolutely no idea what I was saying.
“Not impossible. Just time consuming.” I backed up, giving the trainees space to pull the gags from their mouths.
“Did you come alone, Brody?” I twisted around, taking in the darkness swirling in his violet orbs. He was a beautiful specimen of a man, all tight flesh and leather. His dark hair was thick, his jaw strong, and his shoulders broad. He looked to be in his late-thirties, but I knew he was much older than that. I ventured to guess he was at least a hundred and fifty, maybe older. The Compound made us retain the age we were when we’d undergone their process. The difference between the immortal, supernatural beings and us was that we were just evolved humans that never aged. We still had all the weaknesses and strengths of a human being, but we were stronger, faster, smarter. We were made to be better. Evolved to the beings that were sent out to kill the things that kids feared were in the closet or under the bed. We were perfect, but we were used and broken. Damaged goods that knew nothing more than to follow orders, maim, and kill. We were elite and lethal, but we were weapons that should never have been allowed to exist. Living and dying was normal, we weren’t normal. We didn’t die, but we could be killed. A soul snuffed from the earth.
“I think I have enough to take you.” His confidence drove an empty laugh bellowing from me. He arched a brow, his lips dancing in humor. “You find what I have to say funny?”
“Hilarious.” I nodded, knowing that his mock smile was out of irritation. He never liked me. He was always the hardest on me, reminding me that everything I did was wrong. “I find it entertaining that one of my own teachers thinks he can take me on without any more than a student for backup. You knew me. You knew what I was capable of. It’s been decades, Brody, I’ve only gotten better.”
My eyes danced with the reminder to him. I enjoyed jeering at him, watching his hackles rise as anger met the depths of his eyes. He was both loving and hating every moment of this.
“You’ve had decades to lose your focus and your discipline, Odelinda.” Hearing my last name made me gag, and he knew it. He’d made it a point in my training to do whatever he could to anger me. Using my last name was his last straw, his way of driving home that I wasn’t disciplined, simply easily angered.
“You still think you can use my last name to make me angry?” I arched a brow beginning to circle him, calculating his speed and what his actions would be. “You think you can mess with my head like you did before?”
“I count on it.” He followed my actions, looking for my weaknesses.
“You’re a fool, Brody.” I rolled my shoulders out as I circled him, loosening my muscles and preparing for the fight that I knew would commence. It was only a matter of time. They had instructions to kill me, that much I knew.
A cold, detached smile darkened his face. He pulled a gun out, aiming it at me. “Who’s the fool now, Odelinda?”
I narrowed my eyes. He was foolish to think I didn’t still have a way out of this. I never came in ill prepared. We’d been trained better than that. “Only someone weak brings a gun to a sword fight, Brody. I thought you weren’t a coward.”
“There’s a difference between being a coward, Odelinda, and knowing your enemy. I came prepared and I’m not taking any chances. We have orders.” He reminded me, clearly not interested in rushing through with the deed. “Have any questions before you die?”
I looked past him toward Max. He watched everything transpiring with curiosity. “When your time is up, Max, this is what will happen. Are you prepared for that?”
“No, Varesa, this is what happens when you turn your back on your family, killing ten instructors, damaging hundreds of thousands of dollars of building, and maiming hundreds of students. Death becomes the bounty on your head.” He growled out, quick to set the lies in place to keep his students in line.
“That’s what happens when a cover-up commences.” I spoke loud enough to be heard, remembering the causalities that had taken pieces of my heart with them. I had no need to explain the things that had happened that had added to my damaged being. “That day just about killed me.”
“It’s a pity it didn’t. Do remember Dena?” Brody leveled me with his heavy stare. The anger flared up in his orbs, dancing like flames in the fire. He was pushing my buttons, attempting to get me to act out.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Stay in control, Kira. Don’t react.
Matilda Dena. She was my best friend. Her death blamed on me, but the traps they laid down didn’t do her any favors. She’d followed me and I’d failed to keep her safe.
My heart pounded louder and faster than I cared for. I was losing stability; out of control memories did that to me. Brody knew it. What he didn’t know was that I’d spent a long time trying to change that, trying to appease it. I hadn’t forgotten the demons threatening me, but I’d learned to control them.
Inching closer to him, I fought to stay calm. “Did you tell, Max, over there what happened to her? Did you tell him and the rest of the class that she lost her life because of the traps your people set?”
“She died because of you, Odelinda. Her death is on you.” He replied harshly, monitoring my movements, as I closed in on him. I was tired of his endless banter and blame. It was time to hush him up. Permanently.