I arise from slumber refreshed and ready for my daily routine. I yawn, stretching my arms above my head, and immediately drop to the floor to do twenty push-ups. Further, I roll onto my back to do thirty bicycle crunches. To finish, I hold a sumo-squat for a minute. Rising from my deep crouch, I exhale and shake myself out. An assassin must always be alert and combat-ready, even moments after sleep.
I head over to my bathroom to brush my teeth. I casually gaze at myself through the mirror as I jam my toothbrush into my mouth. I see the same things I always do. I see messy brown curls framing a face of smooth, almond skin with a smattering of freckles on my cheeks. I see full lips, thin eyebrows, and a narrow nose. I see the focused, amber eyes of a hunter. I can identify the determination and will behind them, but there’s something else in them I can never put my finger on. Is it yet another whisper of a shadowed past?
I spit out the toothpaste and allow my thoughts to go down the drain with it. After a quick shower, I slip into my usual tactical suit and pull my curls into a ponytail resting on my neck. I emerge from my room and make my way to the mess hall.
_ _ _ _ _
Here in the Den’s mess hall, the space far from lives up to its name. We are assassins, but we are not savages. The ten spotless, long tables arranged in the center of the mess hall are a testament to that; however, that doesn’t prevent the seemingly infinite line for the buffet stretches to the entrance I struggle to walk into. I briefly considered waiting... but I would rather have my food within the next thirty minutes than after three hours. I resolve to grab one of the infamous premade breakfast bags, notorious for microwavable snacks and TV dinners at least six months past their expiration date.
As I walk to the back of the room where the refrigerators are, I catch several of the younger trainees stealing glances at me. My reputation is predominately based on rumors, but all the legends have the same message. I’m the youngest and the deadliest of the assassins. Only the newer trainees dare to make eye contact with me, but most learn pretty quickly not to. I’m used to the fear, even embrace it. To be feared as an assassin is the highest honor one could get, and respect is the second highest. Once I arrive at the refrigerator, one of the trainees blocks my way. Defiance fills his innocent face. Turning to my right, I notice three more trainees watching with suppressed giggles and interest. If only they had a striped bag of popcorn to complete the comical scene. The girls tense when they see I notice them. Evidently, the poor trainee blocking me had been dared by his friends to make good on his big talk regarding me.
“Hey!” he says as he taps my shoulder, trying to regain my attention.
I turn back to him and give him the full force of my glare. He touched me. Strike one.
He nearly melts under my scrutiny, but his fragile façade of defiance still manages to hold. Several eyes around the room drift toward the situation.
“Move,” I tell him. My voice is low with the undertone that this is one of his last chances to back off before he gets hurt.
He senses the warning, and it almost makes him tremble. But he still sticks to the dare. “No,” he replies.
That’s strike two. I stand my ground and furrow my brows into a scowl. Because I’m feeling generous, I allow him five seconds to reconsider his decision. He breaks into a sweat, yet he maintains his resolve.
Strike three. Time’s up. I release my scowl and take a step back. With a flush of relief, the trainee’s expression settles into smug satisfaction. He only got to have this satisfaction for a split second, however. His face twists into horror when he realizes I was only stepping back so I could have the room to give him a swift crescent kick to his face. He falls to the right and out of the way, the center of his face a purple welt. His friends rush to his aid while I casually open the door to the fridge. I turn and look down at him.
“A little advice,” I say dryly. “Don’t pick fights you can’t win.”
The trainee I kicked only moans in response while his friends offer trembling nods. Now they know what happens when someone challenges me. Redirecting my gaze back toward the refrigerator, I find a pack of Bagel Bites under a mountain of frost. I unearth its contents and passively step around the trainees to find a microwave. As I close the microwave to start heating up my food, I take the opportunity to look back. I notice people looking away from the scene, casually returning to their own business. Good, they know too. And they won’t dare to question it.
The microwave chimes to tell me the Bites are ready, and I promptly take them out and carry them to my usual table in the back.
I sit alone, of course. Being feared isn’t how one garners friends... Not that I need them. Friends are a sign of weakness. Sure, they’re meant to be people you trust, enjoy, and depend on. But assassins can’t trust or rely on anyone. I cannot expose my emotions to anyone. It’s best to assume that anyone trying to be a “friend” is only looking to betray you at the moment most beneficial for them. After all, they already know your weaknesses. Not to mention the word itself is one letter away from “fiend”. No thanks.
I finish my breakfast in silence. Careful to throw away the remains of my food and any crumbs left over, I make my way through the labyrinth of corridors to the advanced training area.