“Trace,” Shallomar cooed into his ear. “Trace, wake up!”
His body shot up ramrod-straight and his jaw set tightly. He didn’t respond to Shallomar. He remained deep in thought.
What had happened before he passed out? What had happened for the past few days? Everything was hazy.
“Oi!” Hailey planted her foot on Trace’s chest and shoved him back into his pillow. “Phantom headquarters wants you in bed for a while. Don’t take the IV out. Don’t mess with your head. Just stay here. We’ll be back in a bit.”
My... head? IV? What’s going on?
Trace looked all around him, confused. Shallomar leapt from his bed and in one fluid motion the entirety of WP7 left. He was all alone, with no explanation.
A sudden pang wafted through his veins. To his immediate right, an IV bag hung from the ceiling. A clear tube traveled from it to his wrist, which was wrapped with careful bandages.
The next area that thumped with pain was his forehead. His left hand went instinctively to it. A tightly-wrapped cloth circled it numerous times, clotting wet blood. Long, white hair draped all around him like a blanket. Was it his hair?
Forgetting to obey Hailey, Trace sat back up and pressed into different spots on his forehead. Some parts were soft and wet, while others were hard and dry. The soft parts hurt a lot to touch, and the hard parts were numb.
Where in the world was WP7 going? On a mission?
Trace leaned forward and winced. The worst pain shot from the back of his neck. It spread through the rest of him like a virus, and caused him to lay back down. It was the most terrifying feeling he had ever felt, as if he was slowly being filled with poison.
Left for dead.
A shudder wriggled down his spine and he cried out in pain.
What had happened to him?
He sat, stunned into silence at his pain. What did they do?
Slowly, he raised his hand - even the slightest muscle falter caused him discomfort - and reached the back of his neck.
When he brushed the center of the towel wrapped around, he gasped. There was a hole. A space where his Modifier should have been. It was gone. His Modifier had been stolen.
“Hailey!” He shouted hoarsely, but he knew she wouldn’t come back for a while. Everyone had left him.
Did they want him to suffer? Had he done something terrible these past days? He couldn’t remember.
No, they didn’t want him to suffer. If they did, wouldn’t they encourage his removal of the IV?
Nodding to his thoughts, Trace knew he was safe. He wouldn’t die here. Not before he got out of Phantom headquarters and regained his memories.
There must have been a reason for his injuries, right? Of course there was. WP7 would never hurt him on purpose…
“This is Maria.” Dylan shoved the girl at Hailey. She received the young assassin in an embrace. “She’ll be joining WP7 as the replacement of Trace.”
Shallomar opened her mouth to speak but thought better of it.
Instead, Hailey spoke. “We would love to receive such a promising young lady.” Maria looked up at Hailey hopefully. Hailey returned her enthusiasm with a wink.
Dylan nodded. “Good. I shall see to my group now. Have good luck!”
Once Dylan fizzled away, Maria shoved away from Hailey. “Am I going to be okay? What does he mean by replacement?"
When no one in the group answered, Isaak cleared his throat. “You’ll be fine. Phantom won’t hurt you unless you pose as a threat against them. So, channel your inner emotionless robot soldier and you should be fine.”
Maria laughed at this silly explanation and ran to hug him. Her head only reached his chest, and he was the shortest of WP7.
Isaak stroked her head and looked to Hailey, who nodded.
“Maria, will you tell us some things we would like to know?” Hailey sat down at the WP7 dining table. The room was vacant, so they were free to talk about their private business.
The little girl nodded, but stayed squished to Isaak. She seemed to find comfort in his warmth.
Hailey smiled sadly and cleared her throat. “Is your real name Maria, or were you someone else before coming here?”
The girl looked to the ground. “I’m Maria Vivelda. That’s who I’ve always been and who I’ll always be.”
“Do you know how old you are?”
“Do you remember your family?”
Maria’s eyes filled with hot tears and she quickly brushed them away. “Two brothers and my mom. They’re all dead, though.”
Hailey felt her own tears starting to spill out. She had never seen or heard of such an unfortunate assassin. Her memories weren’t taken from her, and she still knew who she was.
“Maria, we are going to relieve you of the pain you are feeling, like it has been done to us, alright?” Hailey’s voice was shaky, because she didn’t know exactly how she would help the poor girl.
“Did they implant you with a Modifier?” Shallomar questioned.
Maria nodded in her direction.
Hailey sighed in relief. If they hadn’t given her a Modifier, they’d be screwed.
“Okay, then hold perfectly still. Can you do that?” Hailey got up from her chair and knelt next to Maria.
She gulped her consent and turned around for Hailey to examine her neck.
“This may hurt a little. Please don’t scream or move.” Hailey proceeded. Pricking her finger with the corner of her old, yet-to-be-updated Modifier, she placed her finger over the girl’s neck. There was enough blood to cover a thin layer on the flat surface of her Modifier. Maria tensed, and then slowly started breathing.
Hailey pushed on Maria’s Modifier and the disc used for transformation conceded, going obediently into the girl’s flesh. She wouldn’t be able to teleport, but her memories would be inaccessible.
Then, Hailey retrieved her Tool from her pocket. It was a miniature version of her Scythe, but without the chains. The chains were a part of her past that weren’t needed unless she was in hand-to-hand combat.
With this, she allowed her Insignia to work. The small Scythe glowed red and her arm felt hot. She slid the sharp blade over Maria’s Modifier and the spot where the transportation device was supposed to be closed up. The metal bubbled and melted over, allowing for a more smooth surface.
“Finished,” Hailey whispered, sliding her Scythe back into her pocket. Her cloak concealed it protectively.
Maria turned around, and her eyes were emotionless. “Who are you?” Her voice was harsh and rumbly. A Phantom soldier.
“I’m Hailey, and these are Isaak, Peter, Dereck, and Shallomar.” In turn, she pointed to each of the members. “We are part of an assassin group called WP7. And now you’re a part of it, too.”
Hailey didn’t think she went through proper examination, but she wanted this newbie to feel welcome.
“What’s your name?” Shallomar smiled.
The girl blinked up at her. “Teresa.”
Isaak chimed in. “How old are you?”
Teresa’s face grimaced. She seemed to be battling in her mind. “Um, I don’t know...”
Hailey nodded. Her experiment had worked perfectly. Teresa wouldn’t remember herself. She wouldn’t be held back by her memories.
Shallomar shook her hand joyously and smiled. “I love that name! It’s great to meet you, and welcome to Phantom!”
Teresa smiled and nodded. “Thank-you, Shallomar.”
Dereck wrapped his arm around Hailey. “Remember, Teresa. You aren’t Phantom’s puppet. Whenever you’re feeling controlled, be sure to remember your purpose. All of our purposes. To escape Phantom.”
Teresa nodded. Her Modifier bickered with her thoughts, but she won it over easily. Maybe she was good with that before coming to Phantom.
“We’re glad you understand.” Peter chimed in with a smile.
Hailey smiled as well, but it was fake. “I can help you with your cloak. You’ll need it for missions.” Hailey found Teresa’s neck and pressed the surface on the edge lightly.
Teresa’s body fizzled in and out of the room rapidly. Her cloak appeared to be forming, but it was a glitch. Hailey had done something wrong. It was her responsibility, too.
She grabbed onto Teresa’s sleeve and that, thankfully, stopped her glitching. Her cloak was red, like the rest of the group’s. The only thing left to do was show her how to get her Tool.
A message interrupted Hailey’s thoughts.
EX 42 MTHIPD Mission Start
Hailey froze in place.
“What’s going on?” Teresa asked, tensing as well. The whole team resembled statues. “What is my Modifier saying?”
Hailey gulped down potential tears and turned to look at Teresa. “I’m so sorry, Teresa. Really, I am.”
“What the heck is going on?” Teresa’s voice raised as she demanded answers.
WP7 rose into the dark abyss. Hailey made sure to grab onto Teresa.
Hailey’s mouth formed a deep frown. “Teresa, welcome to your first mission.”