The Pinnacle of Power

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Earlyan opened his eyes and blinked slowly in an effort to recognize his surroundings. Where am I? Oh, yeah–How could I forget!

The smile that came to his lips was gone in a blink, as he realized that the wonderful girl named Vikiara wasn’t by his side anymore.

What in the blazes is going on here?

He focused hard, took a good look at his surroundings and quickly noticed that Vikiara’s absence was far from the only anomaly that surrounded him.

This place was quite different to the room where he fell asleep last night. Though stranger yet was that the bed where he lie and the furnishings rising all around him were very familiar.

The holographic posters hovering before the cream-colored wall across the room were those of his favorite musical acts, and the black polyplastic chest and the technovisor resting beneath the Desert Rox bands’ holoposters were also quite familiar—

This is my room! He gave a huge start. How the heck did I end up back in my own bedroom?

The last thing he remembered was being alone with Vicky in one of the bedrooms on a fancy penthouse belonging to one of her girlfriends. Since her parents were out of town, Vicky’s friend invited Earlyan and his friends for a nightcap at her place.

Earlyan and Vicky had shared a few drinks and laughs with the rest of their friends in the living room for a while, before locking themselves in that bedroom where he’d finally given his first kiss . . . and he caressed Vicky . . . and then he became a man in the arms of a beautiful young woman . . .

I wasn’t so drunk as to pass out, though. If I had so much to drink I think I’d remember it, right? He couldn’t understand a thing. Was I really so wasted that I can’t remember if one of my friends brought me back home and what time I got back here?

He had absolutely no idea.

After the wonderful moment of spontaneous passion shared with lovable Vicky, everything was a blank in his mind. All he knew for a fact was that he’d woken back in his own room, where the bright light coming through the shades suggested that it was close to noon already. His head was spinning, his mouth was dry as a bone and his stomach was churning, though it felt empty.

Maybe I did have one brew too many last night, after all.

Still unable to solve the riddle, he pulled himself up from bed, shook his head in an effort to contain the headache tormenting him and decided to take a good, long shower before joining the rest of the family for breakfast in the kitchen . . . If it wasn’t too late for that already.

He made it down to the kitchen in time to watch mom, dad and his sister finishing their meal.

“Well, hello there!” Fifteen-year old Tyrie gave a cynical, mocking smirk the moment her brother showed up in the kitchen. “Look who’s finally decided to get up! How’s that hangover, Early?”

“What, you jealous ‘cause you can’t drink yet . . . legally, I mean?” he shot back, whilst taking his seat at the table in front of her, to dad’s right.

Tyrie decided to overlook her brother’s quick, stinging comeback, focusing instead on finishing the contents of a dish that still had a good portion of fried turkhen eggs on it, accompanied by a couple of thick, greasy cowgoat sausages.

No wonder she’s so fat, Earlyan thought, dryly. That breakfast would be more than enough for dad or me!

The worst part was that unlike her brother, who’d always been taller than the average Lúnembrili boy, Tyrie was still his little sister literally, for she’d only stretched a few centimeters over the last five years.

“I didn’t hear it when you came back home last night,” said mom, her back to the table as she fixed her son’s breakfast on the stove. “So tell me, son, at what time did you come back home last night?”

Mom wasn’t speaking lightly and Earlyan knew it. She always worried about her children when they went out, especially now that Lúnembril had become one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Most of the trouble happened on the slums of Inner Lúnembril and not in Central Lúnembril where Technolectro the nightclub stood. But now that her children were in their teens, Britha Marnes refused to go to sleep till they were back from parties at their friends’ . . . or now that her son was of a legal age, from his visits to nightspots.

But taking into consideration the atmosphere in that slamming joint, I don’t think I’ll be visiting nightclubs all that often.

Judging by his words dad didn’t seem to be in agreement, however.

“It must have been a great Name Day party, son.”Eadavar Marnes took his gaze off the holojournal reader that he’d placed on the table to download the latest news, and fixed it on his boy instead. “I hope you still have enough energy left for tonight’s family dinner.”

“What?” Earlyan’s eyebrows arched for a nanosecond before he remembered the dinner party that his parents had put together to celebrate his Name Day with the relatives. Because it wasn’t every day that your firstborn turned eighteen, after all. “Oh yeah, sure . . . ”

If truth be told, the idea wasn’t exciting at all. Especially since everyone would keep on insisting that Earlyan changed his mind about the foolish decision he’d made for his future, regardless of the fact that he was old enough now to choose for himself or that he had his parents’ full support, for that matter.

Persuading them hadn’t been easy but in the end mom and dad had given in to their son’s wishes and allowed him to choose a future that he thought best for himself.

Even though that meant Earlyan would spend all of his life’s savings to move to the Desert Continent, where he would try his hand as an artist, and even when that meant their beloved son would be living half a world away, mom and dad had given him their full support indeed.

He still hadn’t decided whether to try his hand at music, writing or both, but there would be plenty of time to choose once he were in Ocrecia. For the time being, he still had to find a way to explain to his parents what had happened during his crazy night out with his friends, whether he remembered or no.

“You haven’t answered my question, sweetheart.” Mom turned around with that unmistakable look that seemed to say “Don’t lie to me, because I’ll know it, young man,” etched on her face as she placed Earlyan’s breakfast on the table.

He gave a slight shake to his head. “I don’t remember, mom. I really don’t know what time it was when my friends brought me back home.”

“Well, all I know is that it was too late,” mom pressed on, with that same serious look on her face. “You know how dangerous it is out on the streets these days, Early. Just because you’re eighteen now that doesn’t mean you can spend the whole night out with your friends without even bothering to call your mother to let me know where you’re at and what time you’ll be coming back home. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, is it?”

“Your mother’s right, son,” added dad, not even bothering to take his eyes off of his holojournal this time. “You have to become much more responsible if you really mean to move to . . . that place.”

Earlyan opened his mouth to protest when he realized how counterproductive that would be.

The last thing he needed now was for mom and dad to reconsider their decision, only because their son was still behaving like a whiny little boy as opposed to a full-grown man. Bad enough as it were that the journey to the exotic, mysterious Desert Continent wouldn’t come easy or cheap in the very least, as to complicate things further by putting mom and dad on the side of the rest of the relatives.

The only way to reach Ocrecia was via a long turboplane flight to the Continent of Asropia, followed by an even larger trip on an aquacoach from the Water Continent to its desert counterpart. That mattered little, however, for the whole journey would be the first exciting adventure in the life of Earlyan Marnes.

Whether he made it as an artist or not, the only thing that mattered was trying to fulfill his dreams, regardless of what others might have to say about it. And now that the chance had finally come the last thing he wanted was to see it gone in a blink.

“You’re right, dad,” he admitted at last, in a low, grudging voice. “I’ll try to keep this in mind the next time I go out with my friends before I leave.”

“Ocrecia!” Tyrie gave a loud sniff filled with contempt. “Like, who in their right minds would ever think of moving to such a dreadful place? You really are crazy, Earlyan, you know that? I mean, like they should’ve kept you in therapy a while longer or something—”

“Yeah, well,” he broke in, sharply, “at least in my case it’s easier to go around me than to jump over my head!”

“Don’t start now, children,” intervened mom, sending a fleeting glance at her husband to look for his support as she took her seat on the opposite header from him. “You know your father and I don’t like it when you fight anymore than you like it when we fight. Right, love?”

“Hmm?” This time dad did take his eyes off the holographic reader, though he had no idea of what was going on around him, it seemed. “Yes, yes, of course! Listen to your mother, children. You know she’s always right.”

Earlyan became the target of a killer scowl from Tyrie’s blue eyes, which he completely ignored, concentrating instead on wolfing down breakfast with gusto.

The headache was getting worse and he was already dreading what would surely be a terrible evening in the company of all those meddlesome relatives tonight. He was definitely not in the mood to put up with his sister’s shenanigans.

Little did he know how accurate his prediction about the family dinner would turn out to be.

Dinner itself wasn’t so bad, though Earlyan’s wish to move to the Demented Continent, as Ocrecia was known by most, did become a sort of open invitation for his whole kin to try to assume control of his life and choices.

It was funny, in a morbid sort of way, to see how people were always trying to control the lives of others when few folk had control on their own lives!

At least I have half that problem covered, Earlyan reflected, in a thought filled with sarcasm. I’ve never been interested in controlling anyone’s life but my own.

As usual, Uncle Jean was the last guest to leave . . . and the first to drain his nephew’s patience. Actually, mom’s younger brother was much more obnoxious than usual this evening, and the worst part was that he didn’t seem all that interested in leaving anytime soon.

Ever since his recent divorce, Uncle Jean was getting worse by the minute. Especially now that that he would have to sell his Technolectronic appliances store to cover for his divorce’s expenses. Uncle Jean just wouldn’t stop ripping apart everything and everyone all night long, his ex-wife most of all.

He always loved to take control of the conversation and if the subject escaped his interest, he’d raise his voice and wouldn’t let anyone talk about anything else. And the worst part was that he never went home early.

Moreover, Jeander Trerotte was a tall, burly man, his voice so thick and loud that he could never go unnoticed, even if he weren’t so in love with the sound of his own voice. And folk who loved the spotlight as much as Uncle Jean hated to spend their time alone. At least in Earlyan’s opinion.

“So they finally decided to relocate you,” Uncle Jean noted hoarsely, after dad told him that the financial institution for which he’d worked all of his life was moving from Inner Lúnembril to a fancy, brand-new, smart skyscraper standing in Central Lúnembril. “Well, it was past time if you ask me, Ed. Things are getting worse by the minute in the inner city.”

It was close to midnight already and all of the guests were gone but for Uncle Jean. They were all seated in the living room, enjoying a hot drink.

Mom and dad were seated very close together on the sofa, holding hands like a couple of teenage lovebirds. Tyrie shared the couch with Uncle Jean, and Earlyan lounged comfortably on a linen chair that had always been his favorite, lost in deep reflection stirred by his uncle’s words.

The Earth Continent’s capital city stood in the heart of a deep, green valley with the shape of a bowl. Alas time and the constant flow of immigrants, who left their lands to look for a better life in the big city, had forced Lúnembril to expand outwards rapidly.

In the present time the megalopolis spread over the woods, the hills and the mountains that used to be the Great Vale’s crown. In just a few decades, cemecrete, metal and spathaka had devoured most of the green lushness standing about the city in the beginning.

That was how modern Lúnembril was split into its three current districts, spreading out from the heart to the edges of the otherwise green, serene valley, like a web spun by some giant arachnid.

Outer Lúnembril, or the suburbs—where Earlyan had lived all his life—was the district housing most residential and commercial areas in town. Small, peaceful housing developments, short, stocky apartment buildings and commercial plazas and malls, all as functional as they were safe, covered the zone that was once the Great Vale’s outer rim.

Huge, sparkling metal and spathaka structures housing grand tourism hotels, corporate offices and fancy business and convention centers—all provided with the best equipment and facilities that modern Technolectronics had to offer—stood on rows on each side of long, wide streets and avenues in the megalopolis’ sophisticated and cosmopolitan business district, officially known as Central Lúnembril.

Next came Inner Lúnembril.

Originally the entire city before the inexorable passage of time and the constant flow of immigrants turned it into the urban monster that it was these days, Inner Lúnembril was known as “the historical center and proud heritage of all humanity in Akaladia.” For the inner city was home to some of the world’s greatest museums, concert halls and cultural centers.

Well, that’s what the slums are supposed to be on paper, at least.

Old, square buildings that were a mix of limestone, mortar and baked brick, finished with magnificent arches and semicircular pillars made of marble smooth as silk and sparkling spathaka, stood tall, proud and impervious in the heart of Lúnembril.

Some of the oldest edifices spanned for entire blocks whilst others stood between smaller, narrower buildings of limestone topped with flat, teal or cemecrete roofs. The crowded rows of old structures stood before narrow streets and alleys forever teeming with filth and the din of countless vessels and mobs of pedestrians of every imaginable kind: the slums of Inner Lúnembril.

The old splendor of downtown Lúnembril gave way to decadence gradually. And so in the present time crime was thriving in the slums of the inner city, oft times in broad daylight and in violent fashion, besides.

Worst of all was the corruption plaguing the halls of Lúnembril City Hall. For the local government was nothing other than a boiling pot of decadence and filth. Thus public safety was only noticeable for its absence in the slums.

Now that’s one true mob aright, all those public officials at City Hall, a disgusted Earlyan reflected. They’re all as rotten to the core as they’re power-starved.

Most politicians made promise after promise when in campaign, but as soon as elections were over all winners fell prey to a sort of collective amnesia. No sooner did they see themselves secure in their new positions than public officials were already forgetting all about the promises—or the lies, more like—made to voters whilst in campaign, as if by magic.

Oh, but one thing they never forgot was to make good on the promises made to the powerful and wealthy contributors who helped finance their campaigns, of course. So whilst most folk were making miserable wages—forced to put in extra hours or to seek a second job to make ends meet—corrupt politicians and their accomplices in the private sector were living it up thanks to the privileges that their twisted alliances provided for them, at the expense of the common people more often than not.

“ . . . Hope the UniCon does something about it,” dad was saying when Earlyan turned his attention back to the conversation. “And they’d better act soon too, because things are getting very dangerous in Inner Lúnembril. So you’re absolutely right, Jean, not having to go downtown every day anymore will be quite a relief.”

“I hear you, Ed.” Uncle Jean let out a resigned sigh. “Now that I’m finally rid of that witch, I’ve been thinking about moving out of Lúnembril for good. I bet you things couldn’t be worse anywhere else.”

Earlyan did not agree.

From his point of view the worst part was that Lúnembril was also host to the UniCon’s official representation for the entire Continent of Zevantika. That meant corruption had spread all the way up to the planet’s upper echelons of power.

Perhaps that was the secret behind the depression preying on the inner city in recent times. It was a sort of disease and if not contained soon that sickness threatened to spread not only towards Lúnembril’s other two districts, but also to other cities across the Earth Continent.

More disturbing still was the fact that Lúnembrili were quite aware of the situation and they all looked the other way. That was the way of Lúnembrili, if not Akaladians in general. Folk always preferred to turn their backs on serious issues, even when the stench of the problems was so intense that it stuck to their nostrils.

Everyone kept complaining but nobody did a thing to fix the alarming situation. Nobody was willing to demand results from their public servants or to assume their own responsibilities and do something about it, even when most folk were being pushed so unfairly.

The unluckiest folk were already feeling the effects of the dire situation in the shape of empty bellies and still, nobody was willing to do what was needed to bring the corrupt politicians and their twisted business associates down from their lofty perches; to make them answer for their ineptitude and their greed before things went completely out of control.

After all, wasn’t the performance of public officials supposed to be judged by public opinion?

In the private sector you get fired for not doing your job, Earlyan reasoned. So why do we allow all these incompetent politicians to keep their jobs?

Frustration prompted him to shake his head as he realized that he could find no suitable answer. Sometimes the mindlessness of the people was as astounding as it was troubling.

“I think the best thing would be to dissolve the UniCon,” he opined out of the blue. “We should go back to independent countries and nations like in the old days. That way, we might just have true democracies in place and people would finally learn how to demand results from their rulers.”

Uncle Jean gave a patronizing chortle. “And then what, Early? You’d like for the wars and the dissidence and the ignorance of the past to make a comeback too?”

“I don’t know, Uncle Jean.” Earlyan gave a shrug and tried to think of a good reply. “All I know is that things don’t seem to be working under one government for all. We might not be at war with an invading country, or something along those lines, but the stuff happening on the streets these days is like a sort of urban war, anyway.

“I mean when I was seven or eight I could go with my friends to the playground with no problems at all. These days, children can hardly look out their window without an adult’s supervision, let alone go play in the park!”

“That’s true,” lamented mom, with a reluctant shake of her head. “I also think that things are getting worse. And I just don’t see the UniCon urging City Hall to increase the number of policemen patrolling the streets or that harsher sanctions are put in place to discourage criminal behavior, for instance.

“With all of the Technolectronic wonders at its disposal the UniCon should have little difficulty finding solutions. Because Early’s right. Every day at work I hear of more and more children disappearing on the streets.”

“That’s not strange for a city as big as ours,” snickered Uncle Jean. “Plus that’s not the UniCon’s fault, Britha. Because as I was saying earlier, things are much better elsewhere. You should see how well people have it in a place like Aqualurbia, for example.

“Since entering or leaving the underwater city’s harder than anywhere else in the world, except for Palaxis perhaps, crime’s not as common in the Bubble City as it is here. So in my opinion the real culprit here is Lúnembril City Hall and no one else.”

“Isn’t City Hall supposed to answer to the UniCon directly?” Earlyan pressed on doggedly, a frozen chill running down his spine as he spoke . . . perhaps prompted by the thrill that defending his position with such resolve was producing in him.

Uncle Jeander gave another dry guffaw and shook his head. “Listen, nephew, no offense but you’re still a little too young to understand the way things work. Just because your folks have taken you on a holiday here or there, every now and then, that doesn’t mean you know the world!

“But if you really feel this strongly about things, then perhaps you should stay here and do something about it, instead of insisting on this folly of yours to move out to the desert. Not that you’ll make that much of a difference, mind you, even if you went into politics someday.”

Before Earlyan could reply, Uncle Jean turned to mom and dad. “Frankly, I don’t know how you can put up with the boy’s juvenile antics. I’d rather die than let my two boys get away with so much foolishness at eighteen!”

Yeah well, maybe you should focus on raising my cousins and stop butting your nose in your nephew’s affairs. Earlyan was hoping to hear something along those lines coming from his parents’ lips, but no such luck.

Mom and dad limited their reply to a brief exchange of awkward looks and discreet smirks. Why did they put up with that prying, imposing relative?

Earlyan would never know. But he was come of age now and moreover, he was sick and tired of putting up with so much abuse without ever fighting back.

“That’s right!” he snapped, defiantly. “If I were you, Uncle, I’d focus on raising my own children and rebuilding my own life, instead of going round telling people what they should do with their lives!”

“Earlyan!” mom wailed at once, as dad and Tyrie gawked at him with bulging eyes.

Uncle Jean was too big, too rugged and too stubborn to be that easy to impress, however. He reared his head back and let a loud cackle escape from his lips. “You think just because you’re eighteen now that makes you a man, my dear nephew? That you already know as much about life as me?

“Give me a break, boy! Why, you can’t even see past your own nose! You’ve never done a day’s work in your life and you’ve never left the Earth Continent–Oh, and you’re not nearly as good-looking as you’ve been led to believe, much less are you as smart as you’ve been told.

“You know nothing other than how to waste your time with those punk friends of yours. How long has it been since you dropped out of school . . . two, three years, now? But if you want to mess up your life and end up like one of those crazies in the slums of the inner city, then by all means, be my guest!

“Because there isn’t that much difference between that kind of folk and the bums dwelling in the Desert Continent, in case you didn’t know.”

That was more than anyone could take.

Uncle Jean may be tall and strong but Earlyan was a little boy no more, regardless of what one Jeander Trerotte might have to say about it. Never before had he wondered who might win if an argument came to blows with his meddlesome uncle and him. But at this precise moment, he was itching to know . . .

“And how would you know, huh?” he shot back at the top of his lungs, springing from his seat like a lightning bolt and taking a couple of menacing steps in the direction of mom’s insolent brother as he spoke. “Have you ever been to Ocrecia?

“No! Just because you’ve lived here or there every now and then that doesn’t make you a know-it-all, like you’d like to believe, Uncle. Besides, you don’t know me half as well as you’d like to believe! And even if you did, I—”

A loud scream coming from Tyrie’s lips interrupted him abruptly and the chill he’d been feeling for the last few seconds intensified . . .

Uncle Jeander rose from his seat as if shot by a turbocannon, though he didn’t throw himself at his nephew as Earlyan suspected. Mom gave a loud gasp and dad’s face went as white as the living room walls, as he worded something unintelligible.

His entire family’s odd behavior prompted Earlyan to turn around and look straight in the direction that had caught everyone’s attention so mightily.

He did it just in time to lay eyes on a couple of shady shapes; two slender, short figures covered from head to toes in sophisticated suits black as night, clinging tightly to their lithe frames. Their faces were concealed behind thick oxygen masks and goggles as black as the suits on their bodies.

Both shapes seemed come out of the pages of all the thrilling holonovels that he liked so much when he was younger. Most shocking of all, however, were the turbolvers with elongated silencers that the black-clad figures carried in their gloved hands.

In a blink, they both pulled the trigger with astounding precision before his unbelieving eyes . . .

Uncle Jeander was the first to fall, a smoking hole on his forehead spewing blood as his limp body collapsed on the rug like a ragdoll. Tyrie was letting out another terrified screech that drowned in her throat as a second shot, as silent and deadly as the first, tore her neck to pieces in a pinch.

Mom and dad were next. The slender, efficient assassins aimed firmly at them and opened fire without hesitation. Earlyan’s parents fell on the rug instantly, their chests ripped open and smoking; their wide eyes lost into nothingness.

“Don’t move,” commanded the mechanized voice of the assassin who was pointing her weapon straight at him.

As if Earlyan could move.

He was frozen, unable to think or to draw his gaze away from the lifeless shapes lying on the rug; the dead bodies of the folk that had once been his family, all four executed in a flash so blinding and heartrending that it was impossible to believe it.

He somehow forced himself to take a sideways glance at the second assassin, realizing as he did that her gloved hand had pressed on a switch protruding from her gun’s chamber.

A stun bolt? Wondered a small part of him that somehow managed to keep its sanity intact in the midst of the boisterous screams filled with terror rattling the rest of his brain.

Why would they try to knock him out, when he was already frozen and with no chance whatsoever to defend himself? Moreover, why hadn’t they shot him dead as they did with the rest of his kin?

The least of his concerns was to know if he’d be taken alive or if the assassins would see him reunited with his family in oblivion. This was like a blurry, terrible nightmare, but the images that he’d just seen would remain forever etched in his memory.

He closed his eyes and held his breath, readying himself to face the inevitable. Yet, expanbullet or stun bolt, the shot didn’t come . . .

“Do you feel it?” the first assassin in black asked her companion.

“The shiver?” was the second assailant’s reply. “Yes, I feel it—”

As if all that Earlyan had just witnessed wasn’t enough, his ears picked up a crunching sound, followed by a screech that forced him to open his eyes on instinct. Immediately his gaze fell on a huge shape clad in black that came from out of nowhere, like a ghost!

A sharp, silvery or pearly flash shone bright under the living room’s light, as it swooped down on a sharp arc to sever the right arm of one the assassins at the elbow in one swift, clean stroke.

The woman in black gave a bone-chilling wail, her left hand immediately searching for the stump that had been her right arm until a few milliseconds ago. The ruined limb lie on the rug now, the fingers of a gloved hand still wrapped tightly around the turbolver.

The second assassin spun around like a whirlwind, her gun pointed straight at the hulking ghost dressed in black camouflage armor identical to those on the assassins’ bodies. The woman took too long to pull the trigger and the ghost was on top of her in half a heartbeat, like a rabid dog pouncing on a juicy piece of meat.

The blade in the ghost’s hand became a blur in motion that seemed to stretch out, searching for the assassin’s chest whilst she loosed her shot. Earlyan still couldn’t believe what he was witnessing, though the assassin’s shot missed its mark, it would seem, for the ghost didn’t even flinch. Instead, he jumped at the woman in black, his blade thrusting itself deep in the assailant’s chest as he did.

Is it a dagger or a sword?

It was impossible to tell, especially since Earlyan was forced to turn his entire attention on the assassin who’d lost her right arm. Somehow the woman had been able to retrieve her weapon, and she wasted no time to place her stump under her left armpit. She held on firmly to her gun with her lone remaining hand and pointed it straight at the ghost.


It took Earlyan a second to realize that the word had come out of his own lips.

He never knew what got into him as he hurled himself at one of those assassins who’d just terminated the lives of his loved ones with amazing, cold precision, but a few seconds ago. He stretched out as far as he could go and pushed the woman in black down towards the rug.

Instantly he dropped the full weight of his body on top of her with a fierceness that he’d never even suspected that he possessed. The speaker on the maimed assassin’s face emitted a loud grunt as her back hit the rug with an equally loud thud.

Earlyan was still on top of her, thinking of what he should do next, when one of the assassin’s knees came up suddenly, searching for his ribs and finding its mark with extremely painful success, almost instantly.

A hot sting rattled his ribcage while the assassin in black twisted and tossed like a wounded snake under him, doing her best to shake off the tall, wiry body lying on top of her own lithe frame.

“Get out of the way!” barked a deep, male rasp behind Earlyan’s back, as amplified and mechanical as the assassins’ voices.

Ten fingers strong as metal pincers grabbed him brusquely by the neck of his shirt and tried to push him away from the woman in black. Something prompted him to follow the ghost’s command. He rolled on the rug, his body trembling uncontrollably as he kept spinning till his head hit the back wall of that living room filled with corpses, blood and terror.

The ghost leaned down over the surviving assassin’s body as she tried to lift her weapon in a desperate attempt to take aim at her attacker, Earlyan saw from the back of the room.

Before the assassin in black could open fire, the sharp blade on the ghost’s hands sunk deep into her belly and ripped it open as easy as a knife goes through molten cheese. A sharp moan escaped the woman’s mask, her belly spewing a scarlet puddle as her body convulsed violently for an instant before life escaped it completely.

In the midst of it all, Earlyan remained frozen on the rug, all but unable to understand, to think, to feel. He didn’t even realize that his life could very well end at the hands of the stout ghost at any given time now.

Though the hulking frame in the black suit didn’t seem interested in the devastated young man who kept still as a stone on the rug. The ghost lifted the second assassin’s body. He carried it and placed it next to the lifeless shape of the first assailant in black before grabbing both bodies firmly and—

He vanished into thin air with both corpses in tow!

Wet, hot tears came unimpeded and rolled down Earlyan’s cheeks, clouding his vision and preventing him from gazing anymore at the four lifeless bodies that remained lying on puddles of blood on the living room’s rug.

His mouth worked furiously but the words refused to come as his ears picked up the distant howls of sirens.

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