Nicolas’ head was splitting. A deep, blinding pain pounded behind his eyes, sending agony through his whole body. He groaned, a hand coming up to massage his head. His surroundings were a foggy blur, and everything hurt.
Nicolas rolled to his side, squinting through the black clouds marring his vision. The room was dim, lit only by a few hanging bulbs. Numerous crates were stacked next to the wall. He could only see one door, and it had been left ajar. A faint yellow light came through the crack. He lay on the wooden floor like a rag doll with a sheet of hefty black plastic under him. A frown squeezed his features as he rubbed his forehead. For a moment, he couldn’t remember how he’d gotten there. Then his memories drifted back to him, and he rubbed a hand against the taser mark on his rib-cage. As realization touched his numbed senses, he stiffened with panic. Where was everyone?
Where was Iziah?
Nicolas started to push himself upright, but a wave of pain and nausea washed through him. He turned his head and vomited. When he was finished, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, his throat stinging.
Questions raced through his mind. They’d likely taken them to the industrial end of the city, but he had no way of knowing what they’d done to Iziah. He could be dead by now. They might have dragged him to the other end of town, or maybe they were... Gawd. Nicolas was about to make a second attempt at pushing himself upright when he heard two pairs of footsteps approaching from outside the door. Nicolas quickly went limp and closed his eyes. It would be better if they didn’t know he was awake yet. His mind raced to form a plan.
“...damn Faceless better stop sticking their noses into things. I’m tired of hauling this stuff around. Maybe they should come get it themselves.”
Their footsteps rustled the plastic on the floor.
Something thumped down on the wooden table nearby, and Nicolas heard the all too familiar sound of a rifle being loaded. He cracked his eyes open just enough to see the forms of the men. One stood by a table, loading what looked like a semi-automatic. The other was picking up a crate.
“Wish we had a bathtub,” mumbled the man with the gun. “It would make stuff like this a lot easier to clean up.”
“Speaking of which, where in the hell are we gonna hide the body?”
“I know a place just outside town. The maggots are the only things that will find him there.”
“Good.” The thug let out a low chuckle, lugging the box out of the room. “I’ll be right back.”
Nicolas held still as the other man approached him. Shivers of anticipation ran down his spine. All he needed to know was where the man was holding the gun. It sounded like the other thug was out of the room now, straining with the heavy crate. After a moment, Nicolas felt the muzzle of the gun nudge his shoulder, as if the man was checking to see if he was awake.
Quick as lightning, Nicolas lashed out and grabbed the gun, yanking it to the side and pulling his would-be killer down with it. The thug to the side, letting out a surprised grunt, and the gun went off. The bullet tore through the tarp. Nicolas leaped on his assailant, wrenching the gun from his hands and pointing it at his head. The man’s eyes widened, and he opened his mouth. Nicolas pressed the muzzle of the gun to his forehead hard and hissed, “Don’t make a sound or I’ll splatter your brains all over the floor.”
“Everything okay in there?” said the other man, who Nicolas guessed had only gotten a few yards from the door.
“Tell him everything is fine,” Nicolas whispered, nudging the man with the gun.
The thug was pale, but a look of defiance lingered in his eyes. For a moment, Nicolas didn’t think he would speak. Then he replied, “Everything’s fine.”
“Tell him there’s a lot of blood.”
“There’s a lot of blood,” the thug repeated.
After a long, tense moment, the other man replied, “Okay. I’ll be right back.”
His footsteps trudged away. Nicolas didn’t move, keeping his gaze locked on the thug, ready to react at the slightest movement. He heard voices coming through the half-open door. This wasn’t going to be easy.
“What do you think you’re going to do?” the man hissed. “Take them all on? You’re going to die and so is that stupid little kid.”
Nicolas scowled. He thought about questioning the man as to Iziah’s whereabouts, but he didn’t have any time to waste. At any second, the man could get brave and shout for help. Nicolas lifted the gun and slammed the butt into the thug’s forehead with a sharp crack. The man went limp beneath him, his eyes rolling back in his head. Nicolas hurriedly stood, wrapping the tarp around the man and dragging him into the corner. Then he waited beside the door for the other man to return.
He wasn’t sure how he was going to find Iziah without being seen, but he wasn’t going to be taken down without a fight. If only he’d been better prepared when they showed up. Nicolas put the gun to the side and waited, his whole body tense.
After what seemed like an eternity, he heard footsteps approaching. The man was talking before he even entered the room. “You know, maybe sinking him in the lake would be a better shot. Kids wander outside the city all the time, and—”
The moment the thug entered the room, Nicolas lunged, clamping a hand over the man’s mouth and locking his arm around his throat.
He felt a sharp intake of air, and the man immediately tried to shout, but Nicolas snapped his neck to the side, dragging him away from the door and into the shadows. Then he let the slack form slide to the floor. Perhaps he should have felt guilt, but he didn’t think killing monsters would make him one. Nicolas exchanged his jacket with the corpse and wrapped a red scarf around his neck. It wasn’t much, but maybe it would help him blend in. He tried to rub the dried blood away from his face, grimacing as his head throbbed.
After a moment, he grabbed the gun and slunk to the door. There were voices nearby, so he couldn’t exit yet. It was open a crack, and he scanned the area. He saw a group of men talking in hushed tones and Gray talking to someone across the room. No sign of Iziah. Nicolas’ stomach twisted with fear. If Iziah wasn’t in the main room, they could be molesting him again. Could the boy handle another round of torment? His eyes searched the room frantically, and he let out his breath when he spotted the yellow-eyed man. That was a good sign.
Nicolas gripped the gun tight, waiting for his opportunity.