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Out of the Flames

By theamerican91

Thriller / Action

Happy New Year


Kasnia-2005

"I must warn you, your Majesty. It is ill advised to be alone with a prisoner," the guard objected.

"I will be fine," Audrey dismissed. "He can't harm me from his cell. I order you to not come inside or let anyone else in until I depart."

The guard bowed uneasily as he opened the door. Audrey stepped inside the damp dungeon and suppressed the urge to cough. The place reeked of decay and mold. However, she had more important issues to worry about and ignored her feelings of disgust as she walked further down. Most of the cells were empty but still indicated the past abuses of the many monarchs, sultans, dictators, governors, and tyrants who tried to assert their authority over the Kasnian lands. Audrey had decided to make good on her promise of a fresh start for her country and not resort to the previous inhumane methods that earlier rulers relied on. Yet that didn't stop her for allowing an exception for one particular prisoner. She had finally reached the last and only occupied cell in the old dungeon. Its one occupant was fast asleep or at least pretending to sleep on the cot.

"You better not be dead yet," Audrey mocked. "I don't want you to die before I prove you wrong."

"On the contrary, your Majesty," Vox croaked with his voice box which sounded weak and damaged. "I want to be around for this turning point in your reign."

The man rolled over and stumbled off the cot. His hair was even longer than the last time she saw him. His beard had almost reached his waist. Audrey thought she saw some bugs and lice infested in it as well. But the most striking feature of his appearance was still his haughty brown eyes that carried a look of composed pride. Despite his condition, Vox still carried himself in a dignified manner.

"Have you come to finally seek my counsel?" Vox asked as his raised eyebrows expressed his hope.

"If I had to choose between the devil and you for advice," Audrey whispered. "I would book a trip down to Hell immediately."

"Yet you're here," Vox noted sharply.

"Don't flatter yourself," Audrey warned. "I'm only here to tell you it's over."

"I beg your pardon your Majesty?"

"It's over," Audrey reiterated. "You were wrong. Kasnia will finally have peace without the barrel of a gun."

"There can be no peace unless you expel the filth from our lands and step into the blood that awaits," Vox retorted. "Your father pretended he didn't believe in that yet he had no problem turning a blind eye when men like me purged our-"

"Pfftt!"

Audrey in anger had spat in the prisoner's face. Vox didn't even flinched but showed slight amusement at her childlike outburst.

"You're wrong," Audrey disagreed. "And I'm about to prove it to you next week. The summit is happening despite your assertions. Nardoc's disciples, Northerners, Southerners, Serb-Kasnians, Muslims, Sacrians, and even Yugoslav nationalists are all sending their representatives to it. The people of my kingdom are tired of fighting and want to come together finally. I will unite these lands in peace once and for all."

"And you've selected the city of Napredak as the place to hold your summit," Vox noted. "A very unwise choice of venue your Majesty."

Audrey's face froze in surprise at her prisoner's knowledge. Vox chuckled at her reaction.

"You may be Queen of Kasnia, by I still have many loyal and sympathetic men in your government. You forget before my fall from grace this country considered me as a hero. Although I've been 'exiled' indefinitely, there are many loyal men who still make sure that I remain up to date on events happening outside my cell."

"Perhaps I should get the names of the men who have fed the information to you," Audrey threatened. "I wouldn't mind forcing those names out of you."

"You could try," Vox offered. "But I haven't cracked yet. I've been imprisoned and tortured before in service to my people and I never once talked before they took my voice away to punish me. You may not like me, your Majesty, but I've done more for this country than what your father ever did."

Audrey eyed Vox angrily before deciding to change the subject to gain the upper hand.

"Why do you think it would be unwise of me to hold the summit right in the heart of Kasnia? Napredak is the jewel of our nation. Every faction, tribe, and party may have its own agenda, but all respect that city more than anything else. It will be symbolically important to our unity."

"Unity?" Vox laughed. "There will be no unity in Kasnia while you still let scum walk freely in our lands."

Vox leaned in the bars as if to whisper to the young monarch, even though it was only the two of them in the dungeon still.

"Napredak has a large population of not just Kasnians but also Serbs, Muslims, and especially Sacrians. These ethnic impurities all hate you just like how they hate all Kasnians. The Serbs want us back under their control, the Muslims occupied our lands for centuries, and the Sacrians betrayed us to the Muslims. They all hate you and everything Kasnian. Do you think one olive branch will get them to stop hating you and our people? No, they will fight until all of us are dead. That is why you need men like me. This kingdom needs leaders who can seek out and destroy our enemies before they try to wipe us out."

Audrey silently stood there as the former colonel coldly warned her. She kept her emotions in check this time but her posture did give off her uncertainty and nervousness.

"Your Majesty, I beg of you," Vox pleaded as he now gave off a humble look. "Don't host the summit. You can't trust the non-Kasnians of Napredak."

"I've had enough with your fascism," Audrey dismissed. "You're nothing more than the remains of a diminishing era. I seek to propel Kasnia into the future and not let your hatred weaken it."

Audrey then courageously leaned into the bars so she was only millimeters from Vox's face.

"I and Kasnia will prove you wrong. We will become a free, progressive country while you rot here for the rest of your miserable life."

And with that, Audrey turned around and confidently walked out. Vox just stood in his cell and grasped the bars as the Queen of Kasnia exited out of the dungeon.

"Your Majesty, I'm a patient man. Sooner or later you will see things my way or suffer the consequences."


Metropolis-December 31, 2017

"Should all acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?" Erik sang as he strummed the guitar gently. The little girl smiled at him.

"See, I knew you could smile!" Erik teased and went down to pick up the little girl. Diana sat at her desk and watched as Erik played with the girl she had found on the streets a week ago.

"You're so cute," Erik cooed as he began to spin around with the girl who giggled at him.

"Sorry I'm late!" an exasperated voice called from the office entrance. Stumbling in and almost dropping the documents she carried clumsily, Etta managed to reach the desk and drop her purse.

"So sorry Mad-mad-madame Ambassador," Etta replied while taking deep breaths. "I missed the bus and had to run here."

"It's alright Etta," Diana assured. "How was your week off?"

"Oh it was great! Went to see my dad in the hospital. I think he could actually hear me this time," Etta trailed off before noticing Erik was in there holding a little girl.

"Oh my!" Etta squealed. "Who's this little cutie?"

Etta walked up to Erik and the little girl who on Etta's approach, immediately placed her face into Erik's shoulder as if to hide.

"Awwwww," Etta replied. "Don't be shy."

"It's okay," Erik assured the little girl. "Etta here is just a little-er friendly."

The little girl nervously looked over at Etta but didn't say anything.

"She's a little skittish," Diana explained. "She'll come around to you eventually."

"Who is she?" Etta asked her boss curiously.

"I found her on the streets on Christmas Day. I took her in and-"

"Oh you poor thing!" Etta cried, and turned back around to look at the girl who still regarded Etta with fear.

"Out on the streets by yourself," Etta moaned sympathetically and tried to get closer to the girl who once again buried her face into Erik's shoulder as if to hide herself.

"Etta I think you might be coming at her a little too strong," Erik whispered.

"Nonsense!" Etta said, ignoring Erik's advice. "She loves Aunt Etta! Give her to me!"

And before Erik could protest, Etta grabbed the half-terrified girl. The girl squirmed a little bit before Etta sat down with her on the couch.

"It's okay Sweetie," Etta assured although the girl didn't seem to believe her. Erik almost laughed but a warning glare from Diana stopped him in his tracks.

"It's alright," Etta whispered to the girl who still looked like she didn't want to be near Etta at all.

"Oh my God!" Etta screeched causing Erik to flinch a little. He always secretly hated her screechy voice whenever she got excited.

"What is it?" Diana asked.

"There are scars on her arms," Etta noted. "You poor baby."

"I know," Diana admitted. "I figured she must've been abused which is why I took her in. I talked to Police Chief Maggie Sawyer off the record and she said to wait until she could unearth something. I didn't want to have child services come take her and whoever has been hurting her tracks her down again."

"Well I can tell you right now if I find the creep that's been burning this poor angel, I'll make sure to give him a piece of my mind!" Etta promised.

"I'm sorry, did you say burn?" Erik pried

"You guys can't tell?" Etta asked as the still squirming girl tried to escape the oblivious Etta's arms. "These are burn scars!"

"Burn scars?" Diana repeated as her eyebrow cocked in interest.

"Yup!" Etta nodded.

"How do you know that?" Erik inquired, feeling skeptical that Etta possessed the observation skills to identify types of wounds.

"Because I'm a burn survivor myself," Etta said proudly. "Got burned by a bad man when I was young. Not to mention my house had been burnt down twice growing up as well."

"Probably because you forgot to turn off the gas stove," Erik muttered under his breath. Diana's superhearing had picked up the smart-ass remark and gave him the evil eye before standing up and walking over to Etta and the little girl.

"I didn't know you were a burn victim," Diana admitted sympathetically. Now she felt guilty for being put off by the heavy amount of makeup Etta always wore.

"You can't tell can you?" Etta said proudly. "It's great what plastic surgery and make up can do these days."

"Too bad they can't add more brain cells," Erik whispered under his breath again. Diana made sure to elbow him this time. Diana then bent down to grab the little girl again who seemed happy to be away from Etta's smothering arms. She carefully examined the little girl's scars. Someone had burned this cute, innocent girl? But why?

"Does she have a name?" Etta asked curiously.

"Anya," Erik said. "At least we think so. She hasn't said an entire word the whole week. It was etched on the necklace she wears."

Anya meanwhile seemed to have calmed down in Diana's arms. Unfortunately the child's moment of peace ended quickly as Etta once again shoved her face into the little girl.

"Well Anya, it's nice to meet yo-OH MY GOD!" Etta said in baby talk before suddenly squealing. Everyone flinched at the sudden uptake of Etta's pitch.

"You're engaged!" Etta shouted while pointing to the ring on Diana's hand she had just noticed.

"Yes we are," Diana said quickly, hoping it would mask the fact she still hadn't decided about her mother's offer.

"And we would appreciate it if you kept this quiet," Erik added on. "While I did propose to her last week, we wanted to announce it to the public tonight at the concert."

"Oh that is so romantic!" Etta cried while clutching her chest. "You'll announce your engagement at the New Year's Eve parade!"

"Yes and we'd appreciate no one finds out about this beforehand," Erik reiterated, hoping Etta would pick up on the warning tone in his voice this time.

"Oh you don't have to worry about me!" Etta promised. "I'll be quiet as a mouse!"

Etta then did a zipping motion along her lips as the phone blared.

"Oh I better get that!" Etta cried in sudden realization and scurried over to her desk to answer the phone. "Themysciran Embassy. No –er I mean yes she's here right now, who is this? Oh! Okay! We'll be there!"

Etta then hung up the phone and looked at Diana.

"We need to head to the UN in fifteen minutes," Etta explained.

"Etta I told you I'm working from the embassy today," Diana reminded. "I'm not going to the UN."

"But it was from Ambassador Vox's office-"

"Etta it's just another feeble attempt to ruin my holidays out of spite," Diana assured while handing Anya to Erik. "Whatever is pressing him can wait tomorrow."

"But-"

"Etta if he calls again tell him I'm at a Justice League emergency or something. I got a lot of other work to do and don't have time to play Vox's games."

"But he says he needs you for a teleconference call with the Kasnian President!" Etta blurted out before Diana could cut her off again. Diana paused and mulled over what Etta relayed to her. If this was just one of Vox's usual stunts, he wouldn't have gotten the Kasnian President involved. In fact for all Diana knew, it was the Kasnian President who ordered Vox to call her in. Still though, the Amazon had half her mind to blow it off but remembered Kasnian support was crucial for her environmental treaty. She could afford to take one hour to talk to the Kasnian President.

"Fine," Diana relented. "But I swear to Athena if this is another one of Vox's cry wolf tricks, I'm going to hang him upside down from the ball drop tonight."


Somewhere in Metropolis

"I'm beginning to think you're not up for the job," Zara snarled. Deathstroke didn't show any reaction to Zara's disappointment and continued to lazily toss a knife in his hand out of boredom.

"Oh really?" Deathstroke asked. "And why is that?"

"A week has passed and you still haven't found her," Zara reminded. "We hired you because our benefactor recommended you highly but you can't even seem to find a little girl. I think maybe your reputation was just lies. In fact I'm skeptical that you've even killed someone before."

Deathstroke suddenly paused. Although he had his mask on, his one visible eyed narrowed dangerously to indicate he didn't enjoy Zara's accusation. Zara's bodyguard flexed his muscles and cracked his knuckles threateningly behind his mistress to signal he was ready if the assassin decided to react violently.

"I suppose your right," Deathstroke whispered before jerking his wrist forward. The bodyguard cried in pain as the knife stuck out of his shoulder. Zara jumped up in shock. But before she could react or call the other guards for help, she found two guns pointed at her. Zara eyed the weapons but kept her composure and sat back down.

"Don't worry about him," Deathstroke assured. "It's only a flesh wound. But since I have your attention, let's clear the air."

Deathstroke sat back down but still kept one hand up to point his weapon at Zara.

"First off, you hired me for an assassination. I will find your missing girl eventually but carrying out the job you paid me for is my priority. Secondly it was your people, not me, who lost the girl so you can't blame me for the incompetence of your subordinates. Lastly, do you know how old I was when I first killed someone?"

Zara didn't say anything as her bodyguard in humiliation got to his feet behind her.

"I was still just a boy," Deathstroke commented. "I remember my hands shaking when I first killed someone and the terror and horror I felt as I saw the light leave their eyes while their blood spilled all over their chest. But buried deep beyond the feelings of fear and horror, I felt burning satisfaction and euphoria. At that moment I had discovered how therapeutic killing was for me."

Deathstroke had pride and nostalgia in his one eye.

"Ever since then, I've felt no remorse nor pause when I kill my targets. In fact I enjoy killing very much. Human life is irrelevant to me as long as I get paid. So I do think I'm the right man for your job. You'll find no one else that has a knack for murder as much as I do."

Deathstroke looked over Zara to eye her bodyguard who cowered behind her chair.

"I'm a man of many talents, but the one thing I take pride in the most is my ability to find my targets and kill them. If you still don't believe me I can give a demonstration right now."

Zara finally decided to speak.

"What good is the assassination if our first attack can't be carried out simultaneously with it?" Zara snapped. "We needed her found by today so we could coordinate our attack with the assassination tonight. How can we have our revenge against both your target and Wonder Woman if we can't carry out the attack?"

Deathstroke finally dropped his weapon and got to his feet.

"Call off the attack," Deathstroke offered nonchalantly.

"Excuse me?"

"Call off the attack," Deathstroke repeated. "Like you said, without the girl you can't do it."

"We've been planning this for years and you think you have the right to give us orders?"

"Not orders but free advice," Deathstroke countered. "And here's some more."

Deathstroke leaned over the desk so his masked face was inches from Zara's. Her bodyguard had quickly backed up against the wall.

"I would still carry out the assassination though. At least you'll get fifty percent of your revenge tonight. Tonight is the only time the target will be vulnerable for a long time. And plus I've worked hard planning on killing him the past month and would just hate to see my plan nixed. Regardless whether you decide to continue on with the assassination or not, I still expect to get paid for my time."

The assassin then got up and exited out of the room.

"And as for the girl, I will find her before your next scheduled attack. And don't worry about Wonder Woman. There are other ways you can get your revenge on her."


Metropolis-UN Headquarters

"Right this way Madame Ambassador," the guard instructed as he led Diana across the UN with Etta tagging along. The guard then opened the conference room and Diana stepped inside to find Vox already sitting there. Diana shot a quick glare in his direction to remind him she hadn't forgotten about his stunt on Christmas. Etta meanwhile, as if sensing the tension, avoided eye contact with anyone and looked at the ground nervously. Diana then turned her attention to the television in the room to find a small man with a curly moustache staring at her.

"President Dragovic," Diana greeted respectfully before bowing.

"Ambassador," the president nodded back. "It's a pleasure as always."

"This is my secretary, Ms. Candy," Diana explained and gestured at Etta who looked back up to wave her hand rapidly at the television like a child. Vox let out a smirk and Diana resisted the urge to give him another glare.

"I usually have her accompany me to meetings to record things. I'd like her to be here as well if you don't mind."

"No of course not," Dragovic assured as he gestured forward. "Please take a seat."

Diana took a seat at the table across from Vox but ignored his eyes. Etta meanwhile placed herself on the other end of the table and got out a pen and paper to indicate she would take notes. She seemed once again determined to not look up and make eye contact with anyone in the room, especially Vox.

"We've brought you here because some rather-uh, disturbing news has come up."

"For the record Madame Ambassador," Vox chimed in. "I didn't feel the need to call you in considering I see this as just strictly Kasnian business."

President Dragovic's face stiffened for a second. Diana figured after almost ten years Dragovic would have grown used to Vox's insubordination by now. But the president looked stunned that Vox would once again demonstrate his own rebelliousness to Dragovic's authority, especially in front of another ambassador. However, the president recovered and kept his face as a cool professional.

"The reason I felt the need to call the ambassador of Themyscira in today was the threat made a reference to her."

"A threat?" Diana asked in mild curiosity.

"Across many local Kasnian websites the other day," President Dragovic explained. "Some hackers have tried to post a strange video message that made some interesting threats. Our own cybersercuity force managed to take most of the videos down before they became viral. Most of the general Kasnian populace thankfully didn't see them. And we would prefer to keep it that way to avoid causing panic within our own population when our centennial celebration is around the corner. You understand of course?"

"I don't question your policies," Diana assured. "Although I'm curious as to why I'm still needed for an internet threat."

Dragovic shifted slightly in his seat.

"These videos aren't just typical protest viral videos. They advocated violence and threatened terrorism. Not to mention the makers of these videos appear to have a grudge against you along with Kasnia."

"Me?" Diana asked in surprise.

"I think it's better if you see the video itself," Dragovic explained. "Ambassador Vox, if you will."

Vox, who still looked half-bored pulled out a remote and pushed a button. The television changed into a different broadcast. Diana realized the video looked like someone recorded it with a home video camera. Standing in the video was a big man who wore a black mask that covered his face except for his piercing eyes. He stood in front of what looked like a white cloth etched with a strange symbol. But Diana's attention still focused on the man and his disturbing eyes.

"Hello Kasnians," the man began although his voice was distorted. "By the end of this week you will not only be celebrating the end of the year but the beginning of your deluge!"

Diana saw Etta looking at the video with interest while still writing notes at a rapid pace.

"For years you have persecuted our people, murdered our women and children, stole our lands, and attempted more than once to wipe out our culture. You've convinced the rest of the world your country is at peace, but it is built on lies. You hid the horrors and slaughter of thousands from the rest of the world. You've let murderers avoid justice for the crimes they committed against us."

Diana couldn't help but slightly turn her gaze on Vox at the last line. Vox's alleged involvement in the many war crimes during the last civil war was still a controversial issue to many individuals in the international circle.

"But worst of all, you let yourself become the puppets of Western decadent pigs like Wonder Woman."

Diana's face darted forward back at the screen. A western decadent pig? She may have had experienced being a pig once, but decadent?

"As the rest of the world chose to believe your lies and hide itself from the truth, we have patiently kept the fire burning. You've forgotten that we even existed and have let your guard down. But now the time has come. The Crimson Flame has returned to impart judgment on Kasnia and the world for its sins."

Etta had stopped taking notes at this point.

"Our leader Zara will guide us to victory! We will carry out Ahriman's work and purge the world of the wicked! All of you will face judgment for your crimes!"

Diana could see that Vox didn't seem to care for the video at all and looked at it with an apathetic frown.

"By the New Year, we will sentence two criminals to their fates. The first one will be the monster that butchered our people; the second criminal is the emblem of lies who helped cover it up. We are the Crimson Flame; and we have come for our revenge!"

The camera then zoomed into the fierce eyes.

"You will all burn!"

The feed went dead and Vox lazily hit another button, changing the screen back to President Dragovic. Diana made sure to keep her poise and not give any reaction to what she just saw. Sure the video did make threats to a lot of people and even made a jab at her, but she still didn't feel any cause to worry. Etta on the other hand seemed very nervous after watching the video.

"As you can, see Madame Ambassador, this video does make some very dangerous threats at our people and even mentions you. While it is possibly just a prank or the work of amateurs, we still have to take threats like this seriously."

"I understand," Diana agreed. "I just have a few questions to ask."

"Go ahead," the president prompted.

"What is the Crimson Flame?" Diana asked curiously.

"A fictional sports team," Vox interjected. "Sacrian traitors invoke it all the time as a rallying call against Kasnia."

"The Crimson Flame," Dragovic continued as if Vox didn't say anything. "Was allegedly an organization consisting of the Kasnian Zoroastrian populace known as the Sacrians. During the Turkish occupation of our lands, the Turks often employed Sacrians to help aid them assert Turkish dominion and the Crimson Flame was supposedly a secret Sacrian organization dedicated to quietly quelling any rebellions from the Kasnians. The Crimson Flame was often used as a symbol of fear against Kasnians to scare them away from revolting-"

"It's nothing but a glorified ghost story," Vox dismissed. "The Sacrians didn't need any espionage or secrets; they had no problem stabbing the Kasnians in the front when the Turks occupied them. The Crimson Flame is nothing but an old symbol of Sacrian treachery."

"Thank you for sharing your opinions ambassador," President Dragovic added in a flustered voice. "But you called this meeting because we have more important things to discuss with her and not your opinion on the validity of the Crimson Flame."

"You called this meeting?" Diana asked while looking at Vox.

"As I said previously," Vox reminded. "I believed this meeting didn't need your presence but because the president insisted, I invited you. I didn't want to waste your precious time if I felt like I didn't have to."

"Thank you for the consideration," Diana replied sarcastically.

"If everyone can please calm down," Dragovic begged. "We didn't just call the ambassador in to give her a history lesson of Kasnia. We came here because this video threat also concerns the environmental treaty."

"Really?" Diana asked in confusion. "How so?"

Vox stood up with a wicked smile on his face.

"While I do think these threats are nothing more than the work of some incompetent Sacrian agitators," Vox explained. "Because we still take threats like this seriously, we need to take proper precautions. Since the threats also mentioned you and foreign intervention, it is clear Kasnia's involvement in the environmental treaty has sparked this sentiment. It is understandable that some people in Kasnia would see this treaty as putting Kasnia at the mercy of other countries' rules and guidelines which is still a sore issue with our people after years of occupation by the Turks and Serbs. Thus I proposed to the president that Kasnia back out of the treaty at once."

"What?" Diana snapped in disbelief. "You can't be serious!"

"Like the president said earlier," Vox reminded with a satisfied grin. "We have to take all threats seriously."

"The treaty has nothing to do with that video!" Diana yelled back. She should've seen this coming. Vox had done his best the past few months to drag his feet and stall the proceedings of the treaty to spite her. Of course he would use something like a potential threat of terrorism as an excuse to derail it completely.

"Ambassador please," Dragovic interjected. "He does have a point."

"You don't actually agree with him do you?"

"While most of the threats the video made were vague," Dragovic admitted. "We can't ignore the fact that the treaty has sparked controversy within our borders. In fact the treaty may have inspired the video threat or similar sentiments."

"Which is why I demand we back out of the treaty at once," Vox reminded. "After all, we don't want another war do we?"

"Don't act like you're doing this in the name of peace!" Diana accused and shot Vox the deadliest glare she could muster.

"M-m-madame Am-ambassador…" Etta stuttered nervously.

"You've sabotaged this every time you could!" Diana continued. "You're just doing this to get back at me! Is that what you want?"

"I only serve the interests of Kasnia," Vox retorted with a smug grin on his face. "To accuse me of manipulating my country's foreign policy for childish notions of payback is insulting."

Diana felt her left hand twitch while Dragovic sat helplessly still in his seat. Etta meanwhile huddled in the corner. Only Vox showed no fear and glared back at Diana's challenging leer with his usual arrogant smile.

"I do feel there's no other reason for me to stay," Vox noted and looked at the television. "Happy New Year Mr. President. I'll be flying in tomorrow."

Vox then looked at the still glaring Diana before giving a patronizing bow.

"Have a good day, Madame Ambassador."

And with that Vox turned around and strutted out of the conference room. Diana wanted to throw something but barely managed to squash those violent urges and looked back at the television.

"You know you can't back out!" Diana pleaded. "Without Kasnia, we lose the Balkans and completely derail the process."

"I understand you've put a lot of effort in the treaty, Madame Ambassador," Dragovic assured. "And I promise you, Kasnia isn't backing out. We just temporarily suspended involvement until the controversy dies down."

"That's not good enough!" Diana pleaded. "Without the Balkans, Russia or China will use it as an excuse to back out as well. We need you Dragovic!"

"But my people need me as well," Dragovic retorted. "I have to do what's in the best interest of my nation. I can't provoke any of the factions to lash out violently at a time like this. Kasnia's centennial celebration is coming up soon and it can't be seen divided for symbolic reasons. Once the celebration is over I promise to restart talks again about the treaty. But until then, Kasnia will have no more involvement with it. Good day Madame Ambassador."

And before he could let Diana give a rebuttal, Dragovic quickly shut off the television screen. With an angry sigh, Diana placed both her hands on the conference table for support as she hunched over.

"Hera," Diana moaned to herself.

"I'm…I'm sorry Ma'am," Etta apologized nervously.

"It's not your fault," Diana assured.

"I know I'm just trying to make you feel better," Etta admitted.

"It's Vox's fault," Diana muttered. "He manipulated this whole thing for his benefit."

"Probably because no one has ever called him out," Etta suggested. "I mean he just walks over everybody because everyone felt they needed him to keep Kasnia peaceful. But I mean that was a decade ago right? Do we really need to appease him anymore?"

Diana paused to think of Etta's statement before getting her arms off the table.

"You're right Etta," Diana declared angrily.

"Huh? What are you doing?" Etta asked nervously. But Diana didn't respond and stormed out of the conference room with Etta helplessly following her.

"B-b-but Madame Ambassador…" Etta protested so softly that not even Diana's superhearing could hear it. Etta continued to follow her boss as she stormed around the UN until they reached the lobby. Vox was there, currently talking to what looked like the ambassador of Croatia.

"Vox!" Diana shouted angrily.

"Oh dear," Etta moaned. The Croatian ambassador and everyone in the lobby jumped at the sound of Diana's angry outburst. Vox however calmly turned around and looked back at Diana as if he expected this reaction.

"Yes?" Vox asked.

"Don't play that game with me anymore!" Diana warned and stomped towards him. "I swear to Hades I'm done with you!"

"Madame Ambassador!" an official cried as he ran up to the angry Amazon. "I insist you keep-"

"No more," Diana snapped and completely brushed off the official. To her, the only person in the room was Vox. He continued to stand calmly as Diana approached him. Even though he was taller than her, he knew she could easily hurt him. However he refused to let her intimidate him and focused on the satisfaction he got from finally getting the stuck-up Amazon to snap.

"I must say, Ambassador Diana, I'm a little shocked by your crude behavior."

"Hera, enough of this! You destroyed the treaty on purpose!"

"I'm sorry but I serve Kasnia first, not your vanity projects."

"You don't care about Kasnia, you never had! All of you cared about is yourself! You destroyed this treaty to spite me!"

Vox actually for once dropped the amused look on his face and looked at Diana with much venom.

"How dare you put my patriotism in question? I gave everything for my country, including my own voice!"

"You helped bring your country to the brink of self-destruction!" Diana snapped back. By now the fight had attracted a large crowd in the lobby. No one really knew what to do or whether someone should step in.

"Are you making accusations that I've been cleared of?" Vox demanded. "Last time I checked the UN declared me free from any wrong doing."

"You know I know the truth about you," Diana accused. "You just got lucky. You made the deal at the right time to save your skin. And that's all you've ever cared about. Everything you've done has been for yourself. And that's why you sabotaged my treaty so you could have your petty revenge against me. Well, I'm done with this. I'm not going to take this from you anymore!"

"Careful Ambassador, you sound like you're getting ready for war."

"I'm not," Diana promised. "I have no issue with your country, my issue is with you. Your president may roll over for you, but I'm an Amazon and I won't back down!"

"Then what are you going to do?" Vox challenged and leaned a little closer. "Strike me?"

Before Diana could answer, it appeared Etta had found her legs again and ran up to her boss.

"M-m-madame Ambassador!" Etta squeaked nervously as she put a hand on Diana's shoulder. "This isn't the time!"

Somehow Etta seemed to have dragged Diana back to reality. Diana blinked and realized that a large crowd had gathered in the lobby to watch her and Vox's argument. Immediately Diana felt embarrassed and felt her heart beat suddenly dropped. Etta was right; she shouldn't act like this in a public place.

"I'm sorry everyone," Diana quickly apologized in an attempt to save face. She then reluctantly turned to Vox.

"I apologize Ambassador Vox. It was very unprofessional of me to lose my temper like that. I didn't mean to threaten or harm you," she said quickly, hoping most people heard her. Although outbursts like this happened all the time between ambassadors in the UN, Diana knew she quickly had to mitigate the potential fallout from this. Thankfully no members of the press were around. She quickly turned around and walked away with Etta as fast as she could.

"Why didn't you stop me?" Diana whispered angrily.

"Well-er…I…er, tried…" Etta offered weakly as they exited the lobby. Vox however still stood in the same spot. He had a troubled look on his face. Something that the Amazon had said disturbed him deeply. However he found his wits again and looked around to find most of the people in the lobby still stared at him with interest.

"What are you all looking at?" Vox demanded angrily. "You heard the ambassador; she apologized. Mind your own business."


Metro-Training Room

"NNNGH!" Diana grunted as she felt the headbutt.

"Gotcha!" Shayera gloated.

However Diana's pride wouldn't allow her to be setback by the pain so she responded with a feint punch before aiming a well-placed kick at Shayera's bulging belly.

"Oooomph!" Shayera grunted as she went flying across the room and hit the wall.

""Looks like I won this round," Diana commented and helped her pregnant friend up. Luckily Shayera's alien biology allowed her to spar with Diana with no negative repercussions to the fetus growing inside of her.

"Best three out of five?" Shayera asked weakly. Diana chuckled. Shayera hated losing as much as she did.

"I'd love to, but I got to go home and shower. Erik's concert for the parade starts in a few hours. He's going to personally fly a helicopter into the concert and wants me to be there with him."

"Oh yes and of course you want to look your best on TV when he announces your engagement to the paparazzi," Shayera noted. "Just hope your mother hasn't discovered television yet."

Diana's face flushed at that.

"I'm kidding Di!" Shayera quickly responded. "But seriously, as your friend, you need to make a decision eventually. It does no good to keep stalling."

"I know, I know!" Diana snapped. "It's just I'm not in the mood right now to make a decision; especially after what Vox did today."

When Diana had left the UN, she felt angry and upset not only at Vox and the treaty, but at herself for losing her cool in public like that. She thought she had grown up and controlled her temper by now but apparently Vox found a new way to push her buttons. Thankfully Shayera suggested that she and Diana spar to help the Amazon let out a bunch of steam. The sparring had helped Diana a lot. However Shayera bringing up her personal predicament seemed to bring back all the stress.

"Sorry," Shayera apologized.

"No, you're right, as usual. I've just had a rough day and I really don't want to worry about anything for the moment."

"Understandable," Shayera agreed. "What are you going to do about Vox though?"

"The treaty's not dead yet," Diana revealed. "I still have a few cards to play. The silver lining is I really have no incentive to work with Vox anymore. I'm going to do what I can and work around him to reach Dragovic. If it's just the president and me, I can probably convince him to stay on board with the treaty."

"But aren't you worried that the press might catch wind of that little temper tantrum you had this morning? What if Vox tries to leak it to them himself?"

"He won't," Diana assured. "Any press would damage Vox more than me in the long term. He's worked hard to avoid any press coverage on himself in the last decade so that people would forget about the controversy of his pardon. In the meantime I've had Etta call around to make sure no one else has gone leaking to the press that I had a meltdown."

"Etta?" Shayera asked. "That mousy ditz you have as a secretary? You trust her to keep this contained?"

"She's not a ditz!" Diana defended. "She's a sweet girl. A little scatterbrained, but sweet. I mean she spent her vacation visiting her sick father. You don't find many people as loyal as her"

"Uh-huh," Shayera replied. "She may be sweet and loyal, but I'm telling you right now, I wouldn't trust her to change a light bulb. In fact I think the light bulb might outsmart her."

"Etta's been with me for nearly five years and she's the most loyal person I've ever known. In fact I consider her to be a very dear friend to me."

"I know, I know," Shayera quickly said and decided to change the subject. "Are you sure you don't want to do three out of five?"


Metropolis-Times Square

The crowds in the streets below had already reached max capacity and the sun hadn't even set yet. Allegedly there would be record attendance at the annual Metropolis New Year's Eve Ball Drop because of the popularity of the headliner, Erik Bronson. But parades and concerts meant nothing to the man who quietly stood in the shadows of an alley to watch the crowds of happy and intoxicated people get ready to celebrate the end of the year. Instead he watched the sight with bored curiosity before pulling out a phone. The phone called a secure number that only he knew.

"Yes?" a distorted robotic voice asked on the other end of the phone.

"It's me," Deathstroke assured. "The assassination is still happening tonight."

"Good, good," the mysterious person on the other end replied with satisfaction. "I was afraid Zara would back down from it when she realized she couldn't carry out her attack on the New Year's Eve concert."

"I can be very persuasive," Deathstroke boasted. "And she still has no clue that it was I who helped the girl escape."

"It is crucial she never finds out," the voice iterated. "We need Zara to trust you in order to keep you in the game."

"When do you want me to finally 'find' the girl?"

"Not for a while," the voice explained. "I want to make Zara sweat a little as the deadline of her next attack draws near so when you do finally hand over the girl, the relief Zara feels will get her to trust you completely."

"And what about our dear friend, Wonder Woman? Has she been set up for her destruction yet?"

"Yes. My sources indicate the little public outburst she had this morning confirmed what a lot of people secretly think about her. She has no idea how many people don't like or trust her in the foreign policy community. After tonight that distrust will only grow. Wonder Woman has no idea of her imminent ruin and the Crimson Flame has no idea that they are just pawns to our larger goals."

"And we should keep it that way," Deathstroke warned.

"I agree. Which is why I propose we go dark for a while. The next few weeks will be crucial and you need to get Zara to trust you. I will only make contact with you again when it's time to re-capture the girl for Zara. Destroy your phone and I'll find another way to contact you. In the meantime, you know what to do."

The line went dead and Deathstroke stared at his phone. Without a warning he then threw it on the ground. The phone broke into pieces. The mercenary then stomped on the card so it couldn't be reviewed. He then bent down and scooped up the pieces before throwing them into the dumpster. Tonight he would have blood on his sword again.


Gotham-Top Floor of Wayne Enterprises

"Five minutes until midnight!" a drunken board member yelled. Most of the party-goers at the top floor of Wayne Enterprises buzzed with excitement as they watched the ball drop concert in Metropolis on the big screen television. But one guest instead slouched in the shadows and did his best to avoid any social interaction. Bruce Wayne currently stood in the corner of the top floor and had on his face the angriest look he could muster. The less friendly he looked, the less likely anyone would bother to approach him at the party. Although he rarely made public appearances anymore, Bruce occasionally would attend a private party hosted by Wayne Enterprises when Lucius insisted it was a matter of importance. Normally at events like these Bruce made sure all the guests signed agreements that they wouldn't talk about Bruce Wayne to the media afterwards or take any photos of him because he had become something of a Howard Hughes to the gossip columns. A photo of Bruce Wayne now could set you up for life. Most of the public had no idea what he looked like anymore.

However, most guests never realized the angry man with the bushy beard and long hair always sulking in the corner at these parties was once the handsome Bruce Wayne anyways. And Bruce preferred it that way. His disheveled appearance seemed to cause everybody at the party to magically ignore him and pretend he didn't exist which allowed Bruce to be alone with his thoughts. Unfortunately despite the fact he had a glass in his hand filled with something that looked like alcohol, Bruce was completely sober. Although he had long ago stopped his taboo on drinking, he knew he couldn't afford to get drunk at a public place. One wrong slip of the tongue could destroy everything. Ironically though, attending this party and seeing a bunch of people he didn't like or really know make fools out of themselves made Bruce want to drink. Maybe later tonight he could open that expensive bottle of brandy he bought last weekend.

"How you doing old man?" a voice whispered via the commlink in his ear. Bruce frowned and turned around so no one could see him talking.

"Really close to killing myself," he responded sarcastically. "How's the stakeout coming along?"

"Oh it's great, but it gets a little old watching a bunch of fat Italians eat five helpings of spaghetti."

"Stay on alert," Bruce warned. "Maroni Jr.'s deal will go down tonight. We need to find out who his new supplier is."

"I know, I know. Are you going to join me later tonight?"

"Probably not," Bruce admitted. "By the time I get out of here I'll be too tired."

"Or too drunk," Batwoman muttered on the other end.

"What was that?"

"Nothing."

"Call me if something comes up," Bruce instructed.

"You got it. Happy New Year."

The buzzing went dead and Bruce turned back around to face the party. Batwoman's little snide remark was partially true. He probably would start drinking the moment he got home. He needed one badly because he couldn't stand one more minute enduring the insufferable company of the Wayne Enterprises Board. His hands twitched a little. Regretfully he had left his pain pills accidentally behind in the Batcave. If he didn't leave soon though, he knew his leg would start to flare up. Bruce couldn't wait until later that night when he could go home and feel numb again.

"Two minutes!"

"Mr. Wayne!" a sleek voice called out. Bruce closed his eyes. He should've seen this coming.

"I see you hiding in the corner! You can't avoid me forever!" the voice half-joked.

Bruce opened his eyes to see a grinning middle-aged man with dark and silver hair walking towards him. He had big and very shiny teeth that created a smile similar to that of a snake that had just ate a delicious meal. Draped on his arm was a girl who looked to be about a third of his age and probably already saw a plastic surgeon once or twice.

"Mr. Wayne!" the man greeted and offered his free hand to shake. "Happy New Year!"

"Thank you Mr. Lord," Bruce replied bitterly and stared at Maxwell Lord's outstretched hand. "I thought this party was for members of the board only."

"Forgive me," Lord replied as he smoothly put his unshaken hand down. "I just flew in from Metropolis tonight and heard you were having a party and I just couldn't resist crashing it. Don't worry, Jessica and I signed the nondisclosure agreements."

"You didn't say he was so hairy," Jessica whispered in a whiny voice.

"Honey why don't you go get another drink," Lord said without missing a beat. "I have some business to discuss with Mr. Wayne."

Jessica seemed eager for an excuse to be away from Bruce who had a look of murder on his face and she quickly disappeared into the crowd. Lord however wasn't discouraged the slightest.

"As you know Cyber Industries profits have skyrocketed in the last five years-"

"All due to your management I suppose?" Bruce asked rhetorically.

"Well I can't take all the credit but I do feel like I've helped in some way."

"I'm surprised Cyber Industries even let you be CEO in the first place, with that whole Ultimen scandal."

There was an awkward pause and Lord flinched a little but he still kept his smile.

"Well let's just say the board members of Cyber Industries decided to give me an opportunity to redeem my reputation about six years ago. I mean the company started in Kasnia for Christ's sake so they knew how profitable second chances could be. The success of Cyber serves as proof that I'm a very competent man in leading the development of new technologies for the world of tomorrow. I hope you keep that in mind when I make my pitch to you."

And they finally came to the real reason Lord cornered him. Bruce had already tried to tune Lord out. The man just couldn't take no for an answer.

"Less than a minute!"

"I have to confess Mr. Wayne, I didn't just crash your party for fun. I came here in hopes to speak to you in person since your office and Mr. Fox have gone out of their way to prevent me from getting a hold of you."

"And for good reason," Bruce muttered angrily. Lord let out a fake chuckle.

"Of course I understand you aren't interested Mr. Wayne and that's fair enough. But please let me have the opportunity to state my case in person."

"Go ahead," Bruce relented while giving a defeated sigh. He decided to watch the TV that showed the ball dropping in Metropolis. Hopefully watching it would help him ignore Lord.

"Great!" Lord replied with excitement, failing to notice Bruce's lack of enthusiasm. "As you can see, our profits have tripled in the last two years. But the problem with Cyber Industries is our company resources haven't been able to keep up with our demands."

"Thirty seconds!"

"And of course this is where you and Wayne Enterprises come in. I know your company is still profitable but the profit margins haven't been as great as they have been in the past. Not to mention Powers has just forced himself on your board so he can try to make your company focus on risky energy projects. But I think that's a mistake. Wayne Enterprises should go back to its technological roots for economic and security reasons. You understand what I'm getting at of course?"

"Please elaborate," Bruce said, not even paying attention anymore.

"Ten! Nine! Eight!"

"I propose a new deal between my company and yours. A joint venture could make us a powerhouse in the tech industry and defense contracting business. I can show you some of the plans I have to revolutionize both our company infrastructures…"

At that point Bruce had fully stopped paying attention. Luckily the countdown had helped Bruce drown the man out.

"Three! Two! One! Happy New Year!"

The euphoria exploded in the room as everyone cheered. Even Lord stopped for a minute to cheer as well. Only Bruce remained silent and frowned slightly. He looked at the TV that showed Metropolis erupting into chaos as they all happily celebrated the dawn of a new year. He was about to turn around and try to think of an excuse to escape Lord when something on the TV caught his eye.

"…and it looks like Erik Bronson's back on the stage!" one of the newscasters noted. "And he's bringing his long-time partner Diana of Themyscira, better known as Wonder Woman, with him!"

Bruce felt himself stiffened at that. But he wasn't the only one watching the TV carefully. A lot of the younger guests were buzzing with excitement as well. They were still into the gossip of celebrities and seeing one of the biggest celebrity power couples on TV was big news for them.

"Thank you, thank you all! Hopefully 2018 will be a great year like the last one!" Erik said on the stage. "I just want to take the time to first, thank my fans as always for their support and for giving me a New Year's Eve I'll never forget."

"If you look at the statistics, investors have been willing to give more money to projects like that…" Lord droned on, completely unaware Bruce wasn't listening.

"So I think it's only fitting that you all will hear my New Year's resolution personally; I resolve to love this incredible woman right next to me. I'm pleased to announce that by next New Year's Eve, she and I will be happily married!"

The crowd erupted as Erik led Diana forward who made sure her large engagement ring was visible. The people at the Wayne Enterprises party also gasped in excitement.

"Oh my God!" squealed a girl who looked to be barely eighteen at the party. "Their wedding is going to be so cool!"

"And I guess the question we've been asking for a long time has been answered," the newscaster's voice continued. "The famous power couple Erik Bronson and Princess Diana are finally tying the knot. It's also such a romantic way to announce their engagement-"

Erik at this point had pulled Diana into a passionate kiss.

"Oh it looks like they can't wait for the wedding," the newscaster chuckled.

CRASH!

"Whoa!" Lord yelped in shock as the remains of Bruce's drink and glass spilled near his feet. Bruce looked at his clenched shaking fist to find he had squeezed too hard and destroyed his glass.

"Can we get a waiter or something over here?" Lord began to call out. Bruce however didn't waste any time.

"Thank you for your proposal Mr. Lord. I'll think about it over the next few days."

"But wait, I'm not done-"

"I'm sorry but I need to go!" Bruce snapped and aggressively stomped away before Lord could stop him. He limped his way out of the room and headed to the elevator. His leg burned and protested at moving such a fast pace but he did his best to ignore it.

"Batwoman," he croaked as he turned on the commlink in his ear. "Has anything happened since you last checked in?"

"Well Donnie ordered two plates of cannoli," she replied sarcastically. "What's up with you?"

"Nothing," Bruce denied even though a part of him felt like he wanted to break something. "I changed my mind. I'm joining you on the stakeout tonight."


2009-Batcave

Bruce stared at the files before him. He had spent the last two weeks searching for what he could on Deathstroke. Other than records of a dozen assassinations over the previous year, nothing else seemed to come up besides a few references of possible involvement in a secret military experiment gone wrong and the name Slade Wilson. But as Deathstroke said in their last encounter, Bruce knew that name was likely just an alias. Unfortunately no references of Deathstroke could be found beyond 2008, making the man more of a ghost than an assassin for Bruce.

"Hey don't you ignore me!" Dick angrily yelled, reminding Bruce he was still there. "I'm still talking!"

"Dick calm down," Barbara pleaded.

"No!" Dick dismissed. "I'm done taking this crap from him! You can't do this without me Bruce!"

"I told you two to focus on Gotham while I focus on Ra's," Bruce muttered coldly. "Ra's and whatever he has planned is my fight alone."

"Bull! You need our help but you're just too stubborn to admit it!"

At that moment Alfred had approached the group.

"I take it you'll all have your dinner down here since no one seems to remember we have a dining room upstairs?"

"Yes Alfred, thank you," Barbara said quickly. Alfred turned around and slowly walked back up the Batcave stairs.

"We've helped you fight Ra's in the past," Dick pointed out. "We can help again."

"This time it's different," Bruce explained. "Ra's has pulled out all the stops for this one."

"You mean Deathstroke? The one assassin who got the drop on you?"

Bruce didn't say anything and re-read some files he had looked over fifty times already.

"That's the real reason why you want to do this alone isn't it?" Dick noted sharply. "You're sore over the fact Deathstroke actually managed to beat you. Babs told me you're obsessed with him because you want a rematch."

"Dick!" Barbara complained. "That's not what I said!"

"You don't understand," Bruce muttered. "You've never faced someone like him before."

"Well here's a news flash for you Bruce; you're not as young as you once were. You'll need all the help you can get to face him and Ra's. I know you got something to prove but this is ridiculous. You can't do this one solo."

Bruce looked Dick dead in the eyes with an icy stare.

"You're wrong," Bruce said calmly.

"Excuse me?" Dick asked.

"He didn't beat me because he was younger, faster, or stronger. He beat me because he knew me."

"Come again?"

"He knew exactly what I was doing when we fought. He anticipated almost every move as if we had fought before."

"Well, he works for Ra's now, and Ra's knows you damn well. Ra's probably trained Deathstroke to fight you specifically."

"No," Bruce dismissed. "There's a difference. Deathstroke somehow knows me way more than he should. He's too dangerous and that's why I won't have you and Barbara going up against him. This is my fight."

Bruce went back to the screen to continue his futile search in locating Deathstroke. So far the algorithm he had created to help find the assassin had proved useless.

"Where are you?" Bruce whispered to himself.

"I can't believe how selfish you are sometimes," Dick scoffed. "You'd put the whole world at risk because you have to control everything. You won't seek the aid of the Justice League because you don't like them, you won't tell the authorities because you don't trust them, and you won't even let us help because of your stubborn, wounded pride. It's irresponsible to leave the fate of the world hinging on the outcome of a personal fight-"

CRASH!

Everyone jumped to the sound of something falling down the stairs.

"Alfred!" Barbara gasped. Dick and Bruce looked over to find collapsed at the foot of the stairs was Alfred who twitched like a wounded animal. Around him were the trays and plates that held their now ruined dinner.

"Alfred!" Bruce yelled as he ran up to the old man.

"He's having a stroke!" Dick noted. "I'll call 911!"

"Alfred!" Bruce screamed as he grabbed onto the old man. "Alfred!"


UN Headquarters-January 1, 2018

Vox stared at the clock. It was just shy of three in the morning. That meant outside the streets of Metropolis were mostly empty by now. He would experience no traffic as he headed to his private plane to fly back to Kasnia. He quickly began to put his papers in his briefcase before pausing to think. Ever since the shouting match he had with Wonder Woman earlier that day, something had troubled his mind.

"You made the deal at the right time to save your skin. And that's all you've ever cared about. Everything you've done has been for yourself!"

Wonder Woman's accusation kept replaying in his head. She was ridiculous! What did she know about him? He spent a decade in captivity and lost his voice for supporting Kasnian autonomy during the Serbian hegemony. His ancestors were martyrs in the fight against the Turkish occupation! She had no right to accuse him of selfishness. Yet, what did he do in the last war? He jumped the ship and cut a deal to protect himself. No one would blame him though. He already did a lot for his country and the best way he could be of service was to pick the winning side. Sure Kasnia now had to conform to the delusional notions of interventionists like Wonder Woman, but the fact he still had a position of influence and power meant he could still help Kasnia not fully lose its true self to Western manipulation. That's what he told himself all those years. Instead of going down with the ship like the last two times, he realized he was more effective as part of the new government rather than serving time as a prisoner again. But then why did Wonder Woman's insult struck a chord with him?

BAM!

Vox jerked up from his reverie. He thought he heard a loud thud outside his office. As far as he was concerned, he was the only one other than the security guards and his own bodyguards still at the UN. He always liked to work late. Feeling nervous, Vox slowly got up and opened the door. All he saw was the darkness that became illuminated by the light pouring out of his office. It was then he realized something was odd. Shouldn't his bodyguard be outside the door?

"Roland?" Vox called out, hoping his bodyguard was just around the corner. No answer came from the ongoing darkness.

"Roland!" Vox ordered angrily. "Get back to your post!"

Still no answer from the darkness. Vox's heart began to pump faster. Something was wrong. Vox looked to the side. He thought he heard the faint sound of a water drop. Looking over he saw what looked like a puddle. Another drop had fallen on the puddle. It was at this time Vox realized the puddle and the drops were red. Slowly looking up, Vox saw a body hanging up above him.

"Ahhh!" Vox gasped in fear through his robotic voice. Strung above him was the carcass of Roland. His throat had been slit and was still spilling blood on the floor. Panicking, Vox sprinted back into his office. He knew this day would come! He had prepared himself for it! He had a gun secretly smuggled into his office and hidden in his desk years ago. Vox quickly stepped inside only to find someone else now sat in the chair.

"Looking for this?" the stranger asked as he twirled Vox's secret pistol in his hand. He wore orange and black armor with a strange mask. Only one eye slit was on the mask.

"Who are you?" Vox demanded as he began to think of an escape plan.

"Normally I would say Deathstroke but I think I prefer the man-who's-going-to-kill-you-tonight," the stranger said calmly. Vox for some reason found his boots stuck to the ground.

"Now some people paid me a lot of money to take you out. However the contract stipulated I make you suffer a little first," Deathstroke explained as he casually got to his feet. "So tell me; do you want me to cut off your fingers, or your tongue first? Better question, do even still have a tongue?"

At this point Vox's adrenaline kicked in and he turned and ran, not daring to look back.

"Why do they always run?" Deathstroke moaned and exited out of the office after his target. Vox kept sprinting through the empty hallways of the UN; along the way he found the dead bodies of night watchmen and security guards all over the place.

"Someone help!" Vox yelled. But he deep down knew it was no use. This Deathstroke had made sure everyone else inside was dead. There would be no witnesses to his murder. But Vox kept running. If he could make it to the streets maybe he could escape.

"ARRRRRGHHHHHH!" Vox screamed in pain as something cut across the area where his right ankle met his leg. His weight gave way and he collapsed on the floor.

"Yep that was the tendon," Deathstroke calmly noted as he stood behind Vox holding a large sword. Vox tried to get up but found he couldn't put any weight on his right leg. Nonetheless he managed to force himself back up and began limping along.

"Oh I wonder what I'm going to do now," Deathstroke replied calmly and took another swipe.

"ARRRRGHHH!" Vox yelled and collapsed on the ground again.

"There goes the other one," Deathstroke noted.

"YEEEEEIIIHHH!" Vox cried to himself. He was in tremendous pain. But his will to survive hadn't gone out yet. Using all his strength in his arms he tried to crawl forward.

"Oh you're actually serious!" Deathstroke noted with amusement. "You think you can escape me by crawling?"

Vox ignored the hopelessness of his situation and grunted as he tried to crawl towards the front doors. He was almost there but then stopped when he realized a pair of legs had blocked his way. Looking up he saw an angry, young woman wearing strange clothes with fierce eyes staring at him.

"Hello Colonel Vox," the woman greeted before kicking his face with a bare foot.

"ARRGHH!" Vox yelled and clutched his face in pain.

"Do you know who I am?" the woman asked.

At that moment despite the danger he was in, Vox found a second wind. His pride and smug defiance had taken over again.

"Of course I do," Vox mocked as he lied on the ground. "You're Sacrian scum."

The woman twitched at the insult.

"I am Zara, leader of the Crimson Flame. I'm here to sentence you for your crimes on behalf of Ahriman."

"Hahahahaha" Vox laughed.

"Stop laughing!" Zara yelled. "You have been judged for your sins! You will now suffer greatly for them! Do you have anything to say before you face your punishment? You might not suffer as much if you express any regrets for your crimes."

"My only regret is I failed to wipe all of you out in the last war!" Vox yelled proudly. "Yes I admit it! I tried to exterminate all your people from our rightful lands! You disgusting vermin had betrayed my people for centuries! You had to be removed from Kasnia! Kill me now, and you'll just confirm what I and my supporters have known all along! You're nothing more than our savage enemy with your witchcraft and fire worshiping!"

Zara's posture stiffened so much it looked like she might snap in two. The burning rage was visible in her eyes.

"You do remember me!" Zara accused. "You know who I am! I demand you to remember!"

"Vermin," Vox spat at her feet. "I don't waste my time bothering to know the Sacrians I failed to kill. You're nothing but stray dogs that need to be put down!"

A wicked smile formed on Zara's face but Vox stood his ground.

"Go ahead and kill me. I'm ready to die. I'll die as a patriot for the country I loved like my forefathers."

Zara got on a knee to look at Vox dead in the eyes.

"Oh but I know you do remember me, Colonel," Zara assured. "Don't you remember Ognjišće?"

Vox's eyes widened in surprise as his brain brought up an old memory.

The screams of the remaining survivors could still be heard as the fires burned all around them. Vox let out a satisfied smile. It had worked. The experiment was a success.

"Colonel!" a young soldier called out. "We have two escaping!"

Vox looked over and saw in the field outside the village were two people running towards the wood line, away from the fires. One was a young teenage boy who dragged along a little girl by the hand.

"So we failed to exterminate two rats," Vox noted with disappointment. "Shoot them! We can't have any witnesses left alive."

"Yes sir!"

Vox smiled as his men got ready to open fire on their fleeing targets.

Vox blinked and looked at Zara again.

"You?" he asked in fear. The confidence he had earlier was gone.

"You do remember me," Zara gloated. "I know about your secret experimental weapon that you had kept hidden from everyone else. I witnessed it firsthand that day. Thank you for the inspiration by the way. The Crimson Flame has perfected your weapon however and we will use it on Kasnia for revenge. How does it feel to know the very weapon that you helped make will reduce your country to ashes?"

"No!" Vox protested.

Zara got back up and looked at Deathstroke.

"Make him suffer," she ordered.

"ARRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!" Vox screamed in pain as Deathstroke went to work.

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