The second series of Chrysalis Experiment will premiere this fall on October 3rd. The second series, entitled Bête Noir, brings with it new characters, organisations, and powers. The Sixth Advent approaches. The Black Beast wails. Dreams twist for malicious designs as the secret lady touches what was best left forbidden.
Episode Fifty One:
Two Months Later
Golden rays of morning sun danced across the moors and vales of Aberdeenshire, spreading warmth over the green hills and the violet heather.
Mashka rose from her kneeling position before the window, brushing back her dyed-golden locks, which shimmered in the sunlight, repositioning her blue headscarf. For the past two months, she had been observing this ritual every morning and evening, and once again, she felt that God was listening to her prayers. Where there was once emptiness, there was now joy.
She looked in the mirror atop her dresser, looking closely at her eyes. The pupils were still slightly oval shaped, but no casual observer would notice anything odd. For a few weeks, her pupils had remained slits, but it seemed, bit by bit, any sign of abnormalities was disappearing, and along with it, that beast she had felt crawling under her skin. She was normal again. Chekhov had explained to her that the drug The Association had used to release her abilities may have only been a temporary fix, and without further exposure, she might never exhibit abilities again. She would not miss them.
Smiling, she walked out of her room and to the kitchen to fish breakfast out of the refrigerator for Aleksei and Chekhov, or Evan, as she now knew him. It still felt strange calling him ‘Evan.’ In some way, she still saw him as her new English professor, which was an odd way of thinking, considering she was now living with said person under the assumption that he was their 'third cousin by marriage' who sponsored their immigration.
So many changes.
She was about to walk into the bathroom since the door was open, but she stopped herself when she noticed Evan was in there putting on his T-shirt, his back facing her. She spun around, still not used to having someone else in the house, besides her brother. But she stopped. 'What was that on his back?' She looked behind her, just as his shirt covered up a large purple welt.
“Where did you get that?” she asked.
He glanced back at her, “Oh, well, I was young and it was a bet.” He winced when he felt her small hand press against the bruise, and then it dawned on him. “Oh, you mean that. I got injured at… work.”
“Work, huh?” Mashka’s eyebrow rose in doubt. “Aleksei hit you while sparring, didn’t he?”
“Well, --er,” he shrugged.
Mashka started to hunt down Aleksei when she stopped, seeming to notice something, and looked back at Evan. “What did you think I would be asking about, besides that giant welt?”
Evan’s eyes shifted, and he mustered an innocent I-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about smile.
“Uh huh,” she said suspiciously. However, she kept on track and charged down the hall, and to the front door.
Aleksei heard his name called over the rolling Scottish heath. He turned and saw Mashka standing in the doorway of the house, her hands on her hips.
“What did I do now?” he muttered, as he ran down the May blossomed hills.
Evan hurried behind Mashka, trying to explain and finish buttoning his shirt, “Listen, I was just teaching him some new moves. I did not react in time, that’s all!”
Aleksei arrived, wincing when he saw Mashka’s disapproving eye.
“Aleksei,” she reprimanded, “do be more careful! Evan is not a spring chicken and if you are not more careful you could harm him at his age.” she gestured towards Evan’s waist.
Evan bristled at her bringing up his age. “I’ll let you know I’m not that old! I have only just turned thirty-nine. Don’t place me in an early grave!”
“Yes Aleksei,” Mashka continued, “like Evan said, don’t put him into an early grave.”
Evan moaned. 'Quite selective hearing...'
“I was just practising a new technique,” Aleksei tentatively defended himself.
“Well it was a success, does that make your happy?” Mashka retorted. “Now, eat your breakfast and I have your lunches packed.”
Both of them had adorable guilty expressions. Mashka could not compose herself any longer, and she was overcome with laughter.
Aleksei look stunned. It was the first time he had heard her laugh in what seemed like an eternity. It was so beautiful, music to his ears. He knew she was happy.
Soon both of the men were out the door, riding in the car down the small highway. Aleksei and Evan both had jobs as boat repairmen on the Aberdeen docks while Mashka studied for her certificate in structural inspection. The pay was reasonable, and the job was low key. They avoided all unneeded attention.
Aleksei gazed in the passenger side mirror at his brown hair. He and his sister switched hair colours, as it would make them harder to identify. They had even dyed their eyebrows. He felt like he was looking at someone else's reflection.
“What are you thinking about Nikita?” Evan asked using Aleksei’s alias.
“Just how things have changed,” Aleksei began, “It’s almost like life has returned to normal. It’s routine now, just in Scotland. Work, sleep, church, maybe someday in the future I’ll marry some Scottish girl, have children, die, and it’ll all be as if nothing happened two months ago.”
“Is normal so bad? Or has the thrill of danger made you an addict?”
The young man sighed, “That’s not it. I just feel so restless, like it’s not over. But my body seems to be saying that it is. I can’t control my ability any more. I know how to move vapour but I can't, like my fuel line has been severed. I can feel the power there, but it keeps dancing just out of reach and it does not flow through me like it used to. I am glad Mashka is free of powers, since it puts her at peace, but I hoped my power had a purpose. I am not finished being a Jinn.”
“Well,” Evan began, “all of this did do something. I would have never met you. We’re happy, and your sister is happy. Your abilities all had something to do with that.”
“No, God had everything to do with that,” Aleksei corrected. He noticed Evan purse his lips. Faith was still an uncomfortable subject with him. “But I see what you’re saying. And you can call me Aleksei, we aren’t at work yet.”
Evan shook his head and explained, “We might as well practice before we get there. I don’t want to slip up and call you by the wrong name on our first day, post-probation.”
Aleksei nodded in surrender.
Evan continued. “You know, on missions I would not even use my old name in private. It’s rather lenient to have you two call each other by your old names at home. But then again, we are not on a mission. We’re hiding, and will be for a long time.”
For a while, the ride was quiet. Aleksei had found that Evan was the worst person at small talk. If it was not important, there was no point to bringing it up. It made Aleksei miss his chats with Yegor. He wondered what his friend was up to at that moment, which just succeeded in reminding him how far away he was.
“What do you suppose John Ingles is up to?”
“You know, there’s something you should realise about John. He’s a drifter. He will probably get into some sort of trouble while he’s at it, and then in a few weeks, months, or years, he will show up and collect on that debt we owe him. Then it’ll be our turn to do the rescuing.”
Aleksei chuckled, “Then I’ll be sure to pray that he finds a woman, she’ll keep him in line, because if he does get in a bind and call in a favour, I am going to be broke for life, trying to repay what he did for us.”
“I suppose so.” Evan agreed, “Every guy needs an anchor, otherwise he’s bound to get in trouble. At least I’m covered now. Between you and your sister, I’ll have my hands full for a while.”
Aleksei smiled at Evan. He remembered the days he was wary of him. Now, it was as if they were meant to be in each other’s lives. Every day when he looked at his sister’s smile, or at Evan’s thoughtful eyes, he felt at peace.
The young man looked out the window, as the port city of Aberdeen appeared around the bend. God had sent so many trials, and looking back, all of them brought something new to their lives. Evan had a sense of purpose and was happy, still a heathen, but happy. Mashka found her laughter, and he had noticed her whispering prayers continually, though he still wanted her to make some friends. Looking at himself, Aleksei realised he was looking forward to the future. He no longer dwelt on his mother. Instead he looked forward to a pleasant, if unremarkable, future. But deep in his heart burned a desire, the drive to discover more about what had happened two months ago. However, he had a whole life ahead of him to fulfil this desire. One day, he would be the hunter, and the Association would be the hunted. A glint of secret malice flashed in his eyes as silent voices echoed within his mind.
Back at the house, Mashka poured over her text books, preparing for the test later that month. Now that Aleksei and Evan had jobs, she spent the days alone, resuming her life ambition. However even though she stayed at home, she was not bored. She had a garden, and a cat that Evan had given her as a gift, who she named Viktor the Second, after a grizzled, but well loved, pet she had as a girl. Between the garden, the cat, school, and chores, as well as books from the library, she was content. Her brother and Evan had tried many times to get her out of the house more, but she never felt comfortable since they were in hiding. She preferred being reclusive, to giving herself away by mistake, and deep down she was still frightened of herself.
She heard a car drive up and park. “The boys must have forgotten something.” she said to herself as she walked to the door.
Much to her amazement, when she opened the door she was met by two women. The one standing closer to the door lowered her hand; she had been just about to knock. She was young and her shoulder length, brown hair bounced about like a child. “Oh, hello!” she greeted with a huge smile. “My mother and I heard we had neighbours, so we decided to drop by and give our greeting. I ken that it’s a little late for a house warming, but we only realised it now. Our house is over the hill, yonder.”
Mashka did not know what to say, as she strained to hear past the Scottish accent, and recovered from the surprise meeting. “Ah,” she said in acknowledgement.
The nervous young woman kept smiling at her. Realising she was not breaking any ice, she turned to make way for her mother, a grey haired woman with kind blue eyes.
“Good day, lass,” the mother said, “my name is Barrie, and this lass is my daughter Rebecca. We brought some vittles, if you are interested. Oatmeal raisin biscuits and some stew.”
The fragrant scents reached Mashka’s nostrils, reminding her of her manners. She gave a wide grin back, “Come in, Gaspazha, er, madam.” She stumbled over her words, trying to keep her Russian and English straight. After the women entered, she showed them to the couch in the living room. “I’m sorry for seeming cold; I just don’t talk to others much these days. I don’t know any people around here. Oh pardon me, my name is Tatiana.”
“Do you mind me asking where you are from?” Barrie asked, “You have a beautiful accent.”
Mashka smiled at the prying, but friendly compliment. “I’m from Archangelsk, Russia. I just recently immigrated with my brother.”
“Oh how exciting!” Rebecca exclaimed, “I have never met anyone from that far away.”
Much to Mashka’s surprise, the next few hours were spent chatting with the two women. In the end, they made plans to meet again, so they could show her around town.
Mashka hesitated a moment before she answered, “Da, I would like that.”
The Administrator sat at the head of a long table. He looked younger than he did two months ago, having trimmed his beard to give himself an even sharper appearance. He exuded confidence, smiling at the others sitting around the table. Anya Aho, who now had longer reddish brown hair, The Czech, and The Messenger sat on The Administrator’s right side.
On the left were two new faces. The first was a man with shoulder length, golden hair, delicate facial features, and oval, white-rimmed glasses. He was wearing a pale blue turtle-neck that clung to his narrow frame. He sat with perfect posture, his eyes almost closed, as if he was deep in thought. Next to him, was a far less delicate looking man with tanned skin, wearing a black T, showing many tattoos on muscular arms, from cheeks to Adam's apple he sported a short, but very thick, black beard. He leaned his chin on his fist and tapped out his impatience with his fingers on the table.
Everyone was silent as The Administrator drank from a glass of water. He wiped his face, and looked up. Each person at the table felt like he was making eye contact. “I have had some disturbing reports from our operatives in the west and the east. It seems that our enemies to the west have received news of the original Association’s collapse. Because of Hamid and his comrades, we have between seventy and ninety Jinn living their everyday lives, who at any moment could manifest. And none of them are protected.
“Now that the little spawn of NATO has raised its ugly face, we must change our agenda. From this point on, we need to find, examine, and if we must, capture any and all Jinn that we can hunt down. If we don’t there will soon be a bloodbath. Our last priority is using the Jinn. If the Jinn are eliminated, so is our power, and with it our chance to collapse the West.
“So, despite how distasteful this may be to some of you,” he glanced pointedly at Anya and the large man, “This is a mission of mercy. They are people who are, or soon will be in distress. The time for determining their value will be later.”
“So we’re going to act the guardian angels,” the large man sneered. If any of the others agreed with him, they knew not to show it.
“Now, Bruno, no need to sound so demeaning. That is only half of the plan. In our quest for the Jinn we will likely run into the SICA operatives. And we can trace them back up the chain, and destroy what remains. Then, once again, the Jinn will be our little secret, and the clock will tick to the foreseen day of reckoning.”
“Seems like a good enough plan,” The Czech replied, “I always did appreciate a good hunt.”
The Administrator smiled. “Just be certain to differentiate your prey between those we want dead, and those we want alive,” he warned.
“So is that all, sir?” Anya asked politely.
“For the most part,” The Administrator replied, looking closely at his much-subdued femme fatale, “The specifics of the plan will be ready tomorrow. But before everyone leaves, there is just one more thing. You five are going to add a new member to your group.”
The Messenger’s head turned underneath its hood, and though no one could see its expression, its distaste was more than evident. “Why? We have always been the five, why is another necessary?”
“I think the word “docks” might ring a bell.” the older man replied.
A low hiss emitted from the dark recesses of the hood.
“Now, the rest of you should save your judgement until you meet your new tovarisch.” He turned his attention towards the door at the opposite end of the room. “You may enter!”
The five waited tensely hearing a set of confident footsteps approach. Anya and the Messenger bristled in surprise. Before them, stood Aleksei Sharov.
“Subject two!?” Anya exclaimed as she gripped her chair.
The blond boy looked at her with piercing copper eyes. “You are mistaken Gzha. Aho. My name is Vladimir.” He turned his searing gaze to The Administrator. “Honoured to make your acquaintances.”
To be continued.
Reset, reset, reset, reset, reset, reset, reset…
How long shall we be trapped in this endless game?
Behold, the next advent appr…oach…es… reset…
Let us out!
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Thank you dear readers, this has been an exciting ride. Future stories are on their way, and I am thrilled to begin again.
A Dance with the Reaper: Part Three
Evan gingerly straightened his back as he climbed onto the dock. Being thrown by Mashka was a new experience, and not something he would want soon to repeat. Though, he was beginning to have doubts that it was the Mashka he knew who did it.
“Going somewhere?” A deep, heavily accented voice asked.
Evan felt a gun barrel tickling at the back of his neck. He rolled his eyes in exasperation, 'Again, really?'
The Czech gave a half grin, as Evan raised his hands in surrender.
Anya found herself trapped when Mashka brought her other hand to her collar bone, pinning her to the side of the yacht. The knife she had stabbed through her palm, nicked her skin, before falling out the back of Mashka’s hand. A clawed fist whistled towards her face. She tried to dodge, but it felt like she was moving in slow motion compared to her assailant. The fist grazed her cheek, taking off the top layer of skin. Then it slammed into the wood and fibreglass hull, splinters spraying, as cracks radiated outward, stem to stern. Had that fist made its target, Anya was well aware that her face would resemble a bowl.
However all the force put into that punch, gave her an opening. She drew a knife with her left hand and thrust it into Mashka’s gut.
Mashka dropped her right hand and grabbed hold of Anya’s left, keeping the knife anchored in place, then she reached across with her left, open-palmed hand and grabbed Anya’s face. Pushing them both down, Mashka slammed the back of Anya’s head into the dock.
Lights exploded in Anya’s vision and she felt dazed. She knew she could not stay down, if she wanted to live any longer. Almost as a reflex, she punched the woman above her in the gut, granting her enough space to bring her feet in, to kick out, throwing the vicious fighter back.
Mashka’s foot shot downwards to stop her fall, but the angle was wrong, so she fell back and rolled across the dock. She quickly pushed herself up, holding her bleeding side. Anya threw three kunai, Mashka leapt back into a flip. The knives stuck harmlessly in the dock. Then Mashka ran, crouched over, snatching up each of the three. Anya feinted to the left. Mashka threw the knives. Anya twisted and dodged to the right instead, in hopes of throwing off her aim. To her dismay one, two, three knives embedded themselves in a row up her right thigh, slicing her tendon.
'She predicted my movements!' she realised through her pain. Worse yet, her left foot landed awkwardly and she heard an unsettling ‘snap,’ as she fell to the dock.
She could feel Mashka approaching by the vibrations in the wood. She prepared to pull out one of the knives. A booted foot smashed her wrist into the dock. All feeling vanished from her hand. Harsh claws pulled back her head, exposing her neck.
Anya could only look into those two golden orbs, filled with killing intent, above sharp grinning teeth. Mashka’s other clawed hand, rose and slashed down towards her neck, to rip out her oesophagus. In her last moments, she could not draw breath or scream, as the claws drew closer.
To Anya’s surprise, she felt nothing. After a while, she realised there was no pain. She looked at Mashka’s face. She was grimacing as a growl uttered from her throat. The yellow eyes kept fading to blue, but shimmered back to yellow, the pupils elongating and shortening at random.
“Nyet!” Mashka screamed, “You relinquished this body, you gave up, you’re not worthy! It’s mine, it’s mine to keep!” Anya felt the claws start to break her skin.
Her eyes faded a little more to blue, and her tone changed, “You don’t control me…” The clawed hand began retreat.
Mashka’s eyes turned yellow again, she threw back her head and sent a roar to the heavens that seemed to shake the air. She blinked towards the sky, her eyes reflecting the moon, her pupils narrowing into slits against the light, however, the irises remained blue.
She smiled, and in barely audible whisper, “Spasibo… mother…” She fell backwards, her legs bending to the side, a peculiar sigh escaping her lips. The two women lay facing opposite directions as a gentle drizzle caressed their limp forms, slowly rinsing away the stench of brutality.
Aleksei limped across the dock towards the blue boathouse. He focused on expanding his field, once again lowering visibility, but increasing his own awareness. A strange shiver ran down his spine. He looked around, focusing his attention to the left.
“Mashka?” he whispered.
He quickened his pace, just as he was about to reach out to slide the door, it opened.
John stared at him, “You look like… well you don’t look good anyway.”
“Is the plane ready?” Aleksei asked.
“Yeah, but where’s Mashka and Evan? I was just about to go and look for them.”
“Then take me with you.” Aleksei requested, “I can make the search much easier.” As if to emphasise his point, the mist rolled over the docks like a carpet.
John nodded, put the boy’s arm over his shoulder and hurried down the dock.
The Czech paused and grabbed Evan to stop him.
“Something wrong?” Evan asked.
The Czech huffed, “This blasted fog. I’m trying to remember the way back.”
“I could blow it away for you?” Evan suggested innocently.
“I’ll pass on that offer.” the bald man replied. He grabbed his phone and dialled, “We need some lights, or perhaps some directions. The fog has gotten thicker. …nyet, I have Chekhov…You sure? …I figured that myself… Very well, I’ll go after him.”
He flipped his phone closed and returned it to his pocket. “Orders are to incapacitate you then capture the little humidifier. My team has found where your plane is stored. We also know both subjects are both in bad shape. So--,” The Czech pointed the gun to back of Evan’s knee, “Right, left, or both?”
“Stop,” Aleksei whispered.
John halted their hobbling sprint. “Found someone?”
“Da, Ios--, er Evan. But the bald man is with him, and he has a gun.” Aleksei kept his eyes closed, trying to catch every detail of the situation.
“Ok, so let’s hurry and take him down.” John said.
“No, he’s the one we told you about. He can pass through solid objects. We can’t let him know we’re coming, we should not get close.”
“I thought he was vulnerable to you?”
“He is, but I’ve never tried to compress fog at this distance.”
“Well, if you lowered the fog a little, I could get a shot at him,” John suggested.
“No that-,” Aleksei paused, thinking over what John had said. “On the other hand, your gun, aim it ahead of you.”
“Ok,” he raised his gun into the murk, “but I can’t see anything.”
“That’s what I’m for,” Aleksei said, removing his hand from John’s shoulder, and placing both of his hands on John’s outstretched arms. He turned them a few degrees, and raised then lowered them. His eyes remained shut. He could sense both of the men’s forms in the distance. From the test back in The Association’s garden, he knew there was a significant delay of when his fog touched something and he detected it. At this distance, there was about a two-second delay. To his relief, the two men stopped moving, giving him a perfect opportunity. He raised the gun slightly to fix the angle. Taking a deep breath, he ordered, “Fire!”
“So, where shall I start?”
The Czech’s eyes widened, as a small explosion erupted from his shoulder. A split second later, a ‘bang’ followed. He could feel the bones rattle and crack inside him, as he collapsed. His teeth clenched tight in pain as he fell, the shock making him unable to move.
Evan took the advantage, grabbed his gun, and pulled out his radio.
“You alright?” John asked, as he and Aleksei materialised from the fog in front of him.
“Where’s Mashka?” Aleksei asked, concerned.
“Somewhere that direction,” Evan pointed.
Aleksei nodded and knelt down, putting his hands on the dock. He knew he probably would only be able to use his power once more. For the first time, he was experiencing his limit. He closed his eyes as three wisps of vapour rose around him then they sped off, taking the three intersections and splitting further, as they encountered more docks.
He smiled a moment, but the brief glimmer faded to worry, “I found her.”
“That’s good,” Evan replied.
“She’s not moving,” Aleksei added, “Go to the first left, then turn right, and take the second right.” Aleksei started to lean over, “I, I can’t do this anymore.”
John caught him, “Evan, get the girl. I’ll help Aleksei back to the plane.”
Evan nodded and ran, his feet pounding loudly on the docks, as he took the first left. As her turned around the second corner, he pleaded, 'I may not have ever done anything for you before, but God, please listen to me. Let her live, for her sake. She doesn’t deserve any of this.'
He saw the two women. As he approached, he could see Anya breathing heavily, though she seemed unconscious. He knelt by Mashka. Her face was pale, with a sickly green tinge. He could not sense any movement. Bending down, he listened for breathing, but before her could go far, he saw her eyes twitch. His heart leapt in relief.
Her eyes fluttered then opened, the pupils greatly dilated. “Dad?”
Evan raised an eyebrow, and proceeded to pick her up.
“You heard me and came back,” she said, smiling, “I got a standing ovation you know.”
“That’s great.” Evan said, figuring he might as well play along. He lifted her up, raising himself to one knee, for the first time realising how small she was.
“Can we go home now?” she asked, in a weary, childish voice, “I’m tired from all the dancing.”
“Yeah,” Evan replied, standing up, “We’re going home.”
A soft murmuring sound banished the silent atmosphere. Fog swirled around them. It gradually became louder until it was roar, then Evan launched into the sky, leaving behind a whirlwind of water.
Mashka closed her eyes and her head nodded against Evan’s broad chest. She listened to the heart’s steady beating, assuring her that it was not her imagination. He had come back for her, and now she was going home. Then the world went black, as she fell into dreamless sleep.
Evan saw the plane waiting next to the dock. He descended, the force rocking the aircraft. He put the unconscious Mashka down in a seat, next to her sleeping brother. Then he turned to John. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Roger that!” John replied, as the propellers roared.
The administrator watched the glimmering lights of a small seaplane head off into the distant sky, then glanced at the new activity on the docks. The flashing lights atop the police vehicles bathed the lake-port in hues of red and blue, as torches exposed the aftermath of a small war to confused eyes. The local authorities had arrived, but all they found were smashed boats, a few bullet holes, and some strange blood splatter.
The Administrator heard heavy panting, as The Czech walked from the alley behind him, “Do we go after them sir?” he asked.
He shook his white head, “We can find them again another time, but we have more pressing issues at hand.” He looked gravely at his faithful companion, “They have returned.”
“SICA?” The Czech replied, his arm in a sling.
“You would be right,” The Administrator affirmed, “At the moment it fits with our plans that our targets disappear for a while. We won’t have to worry about them, while we deal with this our old rival.
The Czech gave a grim nod and said, “Our people will be overextended activating our assignments overseas. We could use some more assets.”
The Administrator shook his head, “We can track down Evan and his two charges any time. I have an idea where they are going. Once they cool off a little, I may yet be able to use them. But right now, they are safe. For how long? That's up to fate.”
The Czech smiled, “Do you think Evan will ever discover your real agenda?”
The Administrator raised his eyebrow, “Ha! You don’t know my agenda.”
“I’ve made a few educated guesses, but if I knew, it would take all the fun out of this job,” The Czech replied, still grinning.
“And that’s why I hired you,” The Administrator replied, “You’re going to have a lot more “silencing” jobs, because of those upstarts. But you enjoy that work, don’t you?”
“It will be my pleasure,” The Czech gave a slight bow, his eyes becoming dangerous.
As the moon rose higher into heaven, shining its pure, innocent light below, the two men walked deeper into the shadows, evading the exposing moonbeams.
Episode Forty Nine:
A Dance with the Reaper: Part Two
Aleksei had grown tired of walking down the middle of the hall, so he went on the other side of the right row of columns so he could look out the monolithic windows. They stretched from the floor and went up at least fifty metres, culminating in a gothic arch. Each window also had a balcony which extended in a half circle, four metres out. He had gone out on one, but all that could be seen was endless mist. So, he continued walking. It could have been hours, even days, he did not know. He never felt tired, hungry, or any other primal need.
Somewhere along his trek, he realised that the hall had been getting narrower. He assumed that meant it must come to an end. Then something broke the monotony. The walls curved outwards into a circle. The windows were now only split by thin columns, and in all directions, they looked out at the grey mist. But it was what lay in the centre of the area that captivated him. A pyramid of seven square slabs, and at the top were seven stone seats, all facing outwards.
He ventured up the first two steps, being wary of his surroundings, wondering whose chairs these were. He made it to the third step, when the light brightened. He looked out between the columns, to see the mist clearing. Poking out through the white masses was what looked to be the tops of thousands of winding, leafy trees.
“Whoa!” was the only sound he could utter.
The Messenger and Aleksei found themselves in a stand-off, each waiting for the other to make the first move. Aleksei’s mouth twitched into a slight grin. The water to his left swirled and hissed ominously, wisps of fog rising in a ring.
The Messenger inched its hand closer to its tranquiliser gun.
Aleksei threw his left hand out as a roaring sound filled the room. The mist on the lake spun furiously, becoming a massive, twisting column. It bent toward The Messenger, its end opening like the gaping mouth of a snake about to swallow a rat. The roar became a shriek, as the tempest charged forward.
The Messenger leapt back. The dock where it had just been standing erupted in a storm of splintering wood. The mist bounced off of the dock, changing its direction, and pursued it, like a hungry dragon.
The Messenger bent its knees, waiting for the last moment. Just as the speeding tempest was about to engulf it, it leapt high into the air, its head just missing the ceiling. It raised its gun and fired a dart at Aleksei’s unguarded body.
From the corner of its eye, it saw the stationary wing-shadow bend in on itself. The dart stopped mid-air, something invisible having blocked its course.
Falling towards Aleksei, The Messenger prepared to make an attack from above. But to its distress, the boy met it mid-air. With his leg extended, Aleksei struck The Messenger’s gut. Turning, Aleksei cast it diagonally with incredible force. The dark figure hit the water with a loud ‘smack!’ and skid across the surface until it hit the opposite dock. It clambered out of the frigid water, slightly relieved that the cold had numbed the pain of its battered ribs. It turned to see Aleksei staring at it haughtily from the opposite dock. The shadow of the wing again spread across the wall.
“Don’t think we are finished with you yet!” the voices warned.
Before The Messenger could react, the wing had bent in a flapping motion, and Aleksei skipped over the water, bridging the gap between them in a blink of an eye. The boy placed his hand on The Messenger’s chest, pushing it alongside him as he continued to speed forward. The Messenger felt its back smash into a pallet leaning against the wall, the wood snapping from the force.
The Messenger gasped in pain, turning its head to Aleksei’s face. It saw a cruel, maniacal grin staring back at it, and for the briefest moment it was not the face of the boy, but of a stunning woman, with eyes of blue lightning under raven eyebrows, and skin as pale as summer clouds. It coughed up blood, spraying scarlet specks onto the woman’s flawless skin. When it finished its spasms, the boy was normal again.
Aleksei stood up, turning his back on his wounded enemy and walked away. He had gone about seven metres when he stopped, and fell down. The room seemed to lighten, and the air lost the supernatural weight and foreboding. The boy seemed weary and tired as if gravity had increased, and was pressing him to the dock.
The messenger stood painfully, seeing that its prey had fallen. Despite its agony, it ran and leapt.
Crimson blood spattered and sprayed over Mashka’s face. Her hand was pierced through by the kunai, and the tip was just millimetres from her slit pupil.
Anya’s face was the picture of shock. Never before had she fought someone so willing to endure so much pain, to avoid death. Even more shocking was Mashka’s defiant grin, as blood continued to flow from the wound in her hand.
With a bestial shriek, she forced her stabbed hand further down the knife, to grab Anya’s and pulled her in. Then with a breathy hiss, she slammed their foreheads together.
Anya tumbled back, as stars and blotches filled her vision. Meanwhile Mashka, supporting herself by her hands, kicked out with both feet, sending Anya flying back, and smacking into the side of a yacht.
Once she got back on her feet, Anya looked up, her vision blurry, to see a bloody fist hurtling towards her face.
The young man touched the cold stone of the pearl white chair.
“That’s my seat.”
He whirled around to see a beautiful young woman, about his age, with waist-length, raven black hair, that seemed to wrap her in a satin mantel. She was clothed in a white, high-necked shirt, over which she wore an equally white, long-sleeved shrug, with electric blue hems and cuffs. Her skirt was heavily pleated and descended to her boot-clad ankles. Over its length, it started out white at the waist, and flowed into a rich, royal blue at the bottom.
“Who are you?” Aleksei asked, “And where is this?”
“It’s proper etiquette to introduce yourself first, upon intruding on another’s home.” She scolded him, raising her neon blue eyes to his muddy ones. She smiled and spoke kindly, “But I will let it slide, this time. I am Nida Ixela.”
“Aleksei Yakovich Sharov, pleased to meet you. But again I ask, where am I? Am I dead?” Aleksei tried hard to sound composed, and not reveal his nervousness.
“Does this empty place look like heaven to you?” she asked patronizingly.
“Well,” he replied, “no.”
A bubbly laugh escaped her, as she said, “Then you need not be concerned whether you live.”
“Very well, so where is this?” Aleksei was growing irritated at the girl’s indirectness.
“It is nowhere but somewhere, it exists and yet it does not, you can touch it yet it has no physical form. I could go on with the paradoxes, if you like.” she flashed a smug smile.
He sighed in exasperation, as he walked down the steps towards her. “I’m going to look for someone who’s less cryptic. There are seven seats, so there must be someone else here.” He began to walk back down the hall he had come from.
She rolled her eyes and called after him, “If you really must know, I am your repha. A few select Jinn are blessed with our presence. You happen to be one of them.”
Aleksei stopped and turned, an uneasy feeling sinking into his gut. “What do you mean by that? Are you like a guardian angel or something?”
“No, don’t be preposterous! I am you, well, another facet of you. I am the reason we have a connection to our power. I live within you. Together we make an ‘us.’”
“You called yourself a repha. Am I wrong to assume that is like the Hebrew word rapha?”
She smiled, causing Aleksei’s heart to sink. “How very perceptive.” she said.
“Rapha can be translated as ‘the dead’ but can also mean ‘shade’, ‘presence’ or poetically refer to the place of the dead, Sheol.”
“Correct, however I believe I fit best with your third definition, as I am neither dead, nor am I a separate being.”
“So you are me?”
She nodded, “We are us.”
“So is this my mind?” he asked.
She smiled, and replied, “Yes, and no.”
Aleksei sighed dejectedly, at her continued vagueness.
She came towards him, as she explained, “This place is called 'Inverse' however we are out of time. I will give you back our body, for now, but do not forget me.” She passed him, leaving a chill in his bones. “Because, if you forget me, our next meeting will not be so pleasant.”
Aleksei heard pounding feet, and rolled over to see The Messenger leap towards him. By reflex, he moved his arm forward to guard himself. What he did not notice, was the narrow stream of vapour he had caused to rise from the water. It moved into the small space between Aleksei and The Messenger, curving like The Reaper’s blade. Then it zipped upwards, making an intense shrieking sound, as it sliced into The Messenger’s abdomen. Blood sprayed back on Aleksei’s arm and face.
He screamed in unison with the falling figure, one in pain, the other in surprise and fear. The Messenger briefly landed on top of Aleksei but he shoved it off and scooted backwards against the wall.
“Ar-are you alright?” he stammered.
The Messenger’s eye turned towards him. “Do you think I am? And what isss with the ssshift in attitude?”
“I, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Last thing I remember was you were-, but I was… and then…” Aleksei shook his head, unsure about what had happened. “The next thing I know is you’re above me and blood started spraying!” Aleksei yelled, befuddled. He grimaced at the feeling of the warm droplets on his face and hurriedly tried to wipe them off.
The Messenger chuckled ruefully, “How odd, you were a ruthlesss fighter just momentsss ago. I don’t know what happened either, but just asss I was about to knock you out, something came over you. It was asss if...” The Messenger coughed.
“As if what?” Aleksei asked, wanting it to continue.
“Asss if sssomeone elssse took control, asss if we were not alone. And now here you are, looking on me with sssuch pathetic consssern in your eyesss.”
Aleksei rose, surprised at the immense weariness that shook his frame, “I need to be going. Are you sure that you are alright?” he asked.
Aleksei waited a moment for an answer, but none was forth coming. So he walked away, his arms shaking.
“You’re just going to go?” The Messenger calmly asked.
Aleksei stayed his stride and looked back in surprise and confusion.
“After all,” it continued, its raspy voice slithering from under its hood, which had stubbornly remained in place, “If you let me live, I’ll jussst come after you again, and all thisss will ssstart over. Would it not be easier for you to kill me?”
Aleksei did not answer for a moment. His face came from showing his horror at such a suggestion then turned thoughtful, as if considering his answer. At last he spoke, “I don’t see why I would kill you, you have not tried to kill me, or my sister. Killing you now, would be no less than murder for the sake of convenience.”
The Messenger surprised itself by finding strength to laugh, “Sssuch idealsss--” The Messenger snapped. “--are not practical for sssomeone who will forever live on the run, becaussse the fatesss gave you power. It’sss foolissshnessss.”
“What’s right is often foolish.” Aleksei replied. “But God made foolish the wisdom of the world, so the wise be fools and the fools be wise.”
“Ssso, not just naïve, you believe the imaginary.” The Messenger pushed itself up into a sitting position. "A word of advissse, cassst assside prinsssiples if you want to live.”
Aleksei shook his head, “Trying to avert the immediate danger by doing something wrong only succeeds in postponing trouble. Eternity is my judge; I fear God far more than I fear you or your decrepit master!"
Aleksei turned and walked away, manipulating the water in the air to become his sensory field, as he opened the door and left.
“Pure ssstupidity,” The Messenger hissed.
Episode Forty Eight:
A Dance with the Reaper: Part One
Aleksei turned his weary eyes at the approach of the hooded menace. He was unable to escape, bent over from the vicious kick. If there ever was a time to resign, it was now. There was nothing more that could be done.
Time seemed to slow, The Messenger’s next steps almost froze mid-stride and the ripples on the lake halted. To Aleksei’s mild bewilderment, a golden vapour rose from beneath the docks, silently swirling in a column behind the messenger.
'Odd,' he thought, 'I didn’t do that.'
The Messenger’s foot landed on the dock and moved to take another step forward, ignorant of how obscenely slow it was moving. The sparkling wisps ceased their dance and a figure emerged and passed through The Messenger, not affected by the slower time. She was the blond girl Aleksei had seen in the woods. A golden light surrounded her and reflected off of her white dress. She smiled sadly at him, leaning down and brushing his hair aside, as her own long curls tickled his face.
“Don’t let it end here,” she pleaded, “This is not how it’s meant to be. You need to make up for my assistance, pay your debt to me. Get up, you need to help your sister.”
She looked like she was about to continue, but something stopped her. She backed away from Aleksei, then threw her hands forward as if trying to hold back the wind, then some invisible force blew her away from him, her visage scattering and vanishing like desert sand in a gale. Duscha’s charm of Our Lady of Vladimir fell between the cracks and off the string, making a tiny “plop” into the lake.
The comforting light had gone, followed by an even greater darkness than before.
When Aleksei opened his eyes again, his gaze confronted a flat stone floor. He pushed himself up, surprised he did not feel any pain and had the sensation of being lighter.
He glanced around. He stood in a colossal hallway, lined with stone columns, whose colour like the floor, were a deep blue-green hue. Beyond the columns were tall arching windows that overlooked grey mists. He looked upwards but could not see the ceiling, just the two rows of columns, vanishing into the dark heights.
“Where am I?” he asked aloud, then continued with an afterthought “Most cliché question ever.”
He looked ahead and behind him. Both directions ran straight, and had windows with dim light shining in from on both sides. He decided to walk forward, for the simple reason that he did not know what else to do.
The Messenger stopped in front of the boy and leaned down, about to inject the sedative with a small syringe. Behind him, the icon of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, followed Our Lady into the lake, his pacifist gaze averted from what was to come.
Aleksei’s hand shot up and gripped The Messenger’s throat. In the next moment, it was standing on tiptoes struggling for air. Aleksei had risen to his feet, and with one hand, held the gagging Messenger.
All the creature could do was hiss and gasp for breath. It had dropped the sedative, which fell between the cracks into the water. The Messenger felt uneasy, like it had just come across a new opponent, one who it had reason to fear.
Aleksei spoke, “You have troubled us long enough!” his voice was harsh and joined by another voice an octave higher, mimicking his words a quarter-second slow. Aleksei pulled The Messenger closer, then flung it outwards, with previously unimagined strength.
The Messenger flew back and landed hard on its posterior, five metres away from where it had started. It leapt to its feet, but apprehension froze its insides.
The clouds parted, permitting the moon to grant her light which reflected off the lake and illuminated the boathouse, just enough to cast a shadow behind the boy, and the shadow that The Messenger saw, caused its blood to run cold. From Aleksei’s normal figure extended the shadow of an invisible wing, which spread ten metres across the entire back wall of the boathouse, as wisps of fog swirled around him like the stormy embrace of Neptune.
“Wh-wha-what are you?!” it wheezed through its sore throat.
Aleksei looked at it with an irate grin. “The ashes from the past, scourge of the present, and curse for the future, and we are Aleksei Sharov, what else could we be?” the two voices declared, echoing through the boat house.
The mist continued to clear, to be replaced by the darkness of a near starless night. Only on occasion would the moon break through, and shine its dim glow on the earth.
Evan ran through the silence. He was about to head back. 'Perhaps I missed her on the way out,' he thought, but he stayed his steps when he heard what he thought was sobbing.
He hurried down a dock to his left. As he approached the sound became less like sobbing, and more like laughter. He took cover and approached cautiously, seeing a figure sitting on the dock.
“Why didn’t you fight?” Anya cried between giggles. “What did you want to accomplish, huh?! You acted like you were protecting me. Even up ‘til your death, you acted like I was the one in danger!”
It took a moment to realise what the target of Anya’s mirth-filled words was. He stood up from his hiding place and sprinted forward. Anya stood and stared at him with a disinterested glare, as if he was interrupting something important.
Evan grabbed her jacket roughly and shook her. “What have you done?!” he growled. “She was just a girl. A scared, intelligent, beautiful girl, and you did this to her!” his body shook in rage. He looked at the bloody mass to his left, his stomach lurching at the sight. Her body bent unnaturally, as if still writhing in pain, and her open eyes staring forwards, with a sad smile frozen on her lips.
Evan released Anya and knelt down before Mashka’s bloody form. He reached out to pick her up, but froze. A cold, sharp object pricked at the back of his neck.
“We’re going.” Anya said, “She’ll be collected later during clean-up. You, on the other hand, are coming with me.”
Evan hesitated, he wanted so badly to gather up Mashka, hold her tight, clinging to the fanciful hope that she might come alive with the slightest warmth.
“Listen,” Anya added, “you’re the one person I have permission to kill, so get moving.”
Evan arose slowly, the knife tickling the back of his skull. He looked remorsefully at Mashka, as he turned away. Anya guided him from the macabre scene.
What they did not see was a single, blood-covered finger, twitch. Then two blue eyes blinked, turning towards the departing persons. A heavy, forbidding sigh escaped the woman’s throat, as she rose from the dock. Semi-dried blood cracked and dripped off of her torn clothes.
A shudder ran unbidden up Anya’s spine, as she chanced a looked back. There Mashka stood, head bent over, arms hanging limply forward, a few drops of blood falling off her fingers.
Evan knew something was strange when he no longer felt the cold metal on his skin. He hesitantly turned his head. There, standing stiff like some wraith from a nightmare, was Mashka. He almost felt relief, but something kept him from that emotion. Something was wrong, but he did not have time to contemplate this as Anya dashed forward, baring her knife.
“I’ll kill you!” she screamed, “For good this time!”
She made for the final thrust when a sickly pale hand grabbed her knife-wielding fist, the blade slipping harmlessly through the fingers.
Mashka spoke, with a dark vehemence Anya had never heard before, “I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Mashka is already dead, I have eaten her heart, but I’m the one you truly desired.” She turned her face up to Anya’s, her tangled mass of curls falling away from her golden cat-eyes. “And I have you to thank, for forcing her to release me.”
Immense pain stabbed Anya’s hand as claws extended from Mashka’s fingers, and forced themselves into the skin of her fist.
Anya released the knife and tore her hand away, leaving a trail of beaded blood in the air. She took a few hurried steps backward, holding her hand, wincing in pain. “So it really is true,” Anya stated, “you Jinn are monsters, hidden within human shells.”
‘Mashka’ turned her back to Anya, then glanced over her shoulder with a bored expression, “I don’t know what I am, nor do I care what you think I may be. All I am interested in is ridding myself of you…” she grinned wickedly, “and then I’ll consume your heart, too!”
Evan saw Anya draw a kunai and aim at Mashka’s turned back. He ran forward, ready to snatch it from her.
Mashka turned around and passed by Anya, stopping in front of Evan. She had moved so quickly, both he, and the assassin, were still comprehending her movement. Mashka grabbed Evan’s arm, flipped him over and cast him into a small fishing boat, as if he was a bag of feathers.
Evan landed in the wobbly deck with a crash. He was stunned, trying to figure out how he ended up in this position.
“Don’t interfere.” Mashka ordered him. Then she turned her attention to Anya, and her voice took on a sickly, seductive lilt, “This is only between us.”
Anya smiled, drawing a second of her stylized kunai. She charged and threw one of them.
Mashka dodged to the left, the knife tearing through her sleeve. She made a leaping back-flip, twisting around and landing on a fishing boat, hopping to another boat, then onto a dock. Anya pursued relentlessly. Despite her insane agility, Mashka had a slight limp, though it did not slow her down much, and it took all Anya’s might to keep up with her.
Mashka suddenly halted and lashed out with a kick. Anya did not have time to stop, so she bent backwards, nearly falling to the ground, Mashka’s leg passing a finger width above her face. Before the leg could pass over any further, Anya grabbed it and used it as a lever, throwing Mashka off balance making her fall forward, smashing her chest and face into the dock. Anya fell the remaining distance to the ground, threw her legs upward and leapt to her feet. She raised her knife to strike, but had to jump back, to avoid a clawed hand from slashing open her gut.
They stood facing each other, breathing heavily.
Anya took the opportunity to examine her enemy. Somehow Mashka had begun fighting like she had trained for years. She was not quite as good as Anya, but she was dangerous enough, having greater speed and strength. The assassin looked at her face to read her expression, but something distracted her. The gashes she had made on her face were only barely visible, mere hairline cracks in the skin.
'She’s healing!' Anya realised. 'Even her limp is gone now, and the cuts on her arms have disappeared!'
Seeing Anya’s face twitch, Mashka spoke mockingly, “Ah, so you’ve realised. You see, my body heals far faster than yours. Does that frighten you?” she gave Anya a toothy grin, making visible her long eye-teeth.
Anya quickly put on a foxy grin, and replied calmly, “Well, I’ll just have to test how well you heal, won’t I? Can you recreate a stomach? A throat? An eye? I’m dying with curiosity.”
Three knives flew towards Mashka. She sidestepped the first, smacked aside the second, and caught the third. “Ha-” she was about to throw a taunt, but was interrupted when Anya closed the space between, her drawn knife tearing towards Mashka. Fear shown in her beastly eyes, she could not dodge, she could not fight back. The knives had been a ploy to put her into an awkward angle. The blade drew closer to its target, a moment later, blood washed over it.
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Episode Forty Seven:
Mercy Lies Bleeding
John scanned the vicinity for Mashka. He was uncertain what to do. She had vanished into the now dissipating mist, leaving two sorely injured pursuers in her wake. He heard the now familiar roaring of Evan’s flight as the man dropped down beside him.
“I take it that the first wave is taken care of.” Evan said as he glanced around, “Where’s Maryja?”
John shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know. She ran out early on, and now I can’t find her. I can't see more than five metres in this soup."
Evan set his jaw nervously, “I will look for her, get to the plane and be ready to leave. The others could be here any moment.”
John nodded and returned to the gray boathouse.
Scanning the murk, Evan began a cautious sprint up the dock.
Pain pulsed through her body. Mashka’s mind became foggy, everything that had just happened seemed unreal and foreign. Sensations spun around in her head in no semblance of order; the sound of snapping bones, the feeling of her claws tearing through fabric, and sticky, wet warmth covering her hands. She looked down to her palms. In the dim light she saw a dark fluid covering them, and a single trickle of the substance ran down her wrist, soaking into her black jacket. A sick, metallic scent reached her nostrils, which made her stomach lurch, blood.
'What am I?' she asked, 'I did this!' Tears welled up in her eyes. She never wanted to hurt anyone, and her brutality terrified her.
“Now what do we have here?” a cold female voice cooed. “Our little runaway made a mess.”
Mashka looked up into Anya’s sable eyes and stood. “I- I- I didn’t mean to do this, I’m sorry! Please, help me!” she sobbed.
Anya examined Mashka’s face. The woman before her was now a mere frightened girl, who had just done something to hurt a friend. The expression on her face pleaded for comfort and safety. Anya had never seen this side of subject one, and for some reason deep inside her, she wanted to smile and reassure her.
She caught herself, as contempt filled her heart. This girl was weak. How could The Administrator possibly see any potential in her?
Seeing vile intent in the woman's eyes, Mashka turned to run, though she could not go anywhere but to the edge of one the branching docks. Anya blocked her from returning the way she came.
Anya hurried forward and grabbed Mashka viciously by her hair, then shoved her to the ground. “Get up!” she scream, anger rising within her, “You think you can take my position away, don’t you? Well, we will see what really matters!” Seeing that the woman made little attempt to move, Anya kicked her in the side, earning a short cry of pain. “Get up now!” she ordered again.
Mashka pushed herself up. Her muscles twitched from their previous rampage. It took all her strength to rise. She looked up to Anya, gritting her teeth, but unable to hide the terror in her eyes.
“Well,” Anya began, a haunting smile spreading across her face, “Aren’t you going to show me your power? It’s the only thing you have going for you.”
“Nyet,” Mashka replied weakly.
“Really? The mouse speaks?” Anya delivered a punch to Mashka’s gut, then she stopped her from bowing forward in pain by grabbing her dark locks, pulling her face up, to be smacked with the back of her hand. The force of the blow caused Mashka to loose balance, and fall to the damp wood of the dock. “I suggest you release the beast, otherwise I’m going to beat it out of you. I need to see for myself how superior I am to you.”
“Nyet!” Mashka responded with more force.
“Why not? You didn’t hesitate to destroy the arms, ribs, and jaws. Not to mention, the two others you threw into the lake. After you did all that, why hesitate now? I’m actually a threat to you. I know the orders are to bring you back alive, but I’m sure they will believe me if I had to kill you out of self-defence. You have nothing to lose but your life.”
“You have no idea what you’re asking,” Mashka pleaded. “It’s not me you would be fighting, but something inside me. It’s eating away at me and I can feel it, devouring my conscience and identity, every time it takes over. It wishes to kill,” as she spoke, tears rolled down her cheeks, “and it’s all I can do to stop it. I just want to live a normal life, away from those I might hurt. Please, let me go.”
“That’s just the thing,” Anya replied, “If I let you go, the Administrator will only hunt after you. He covets you, and no matter what you say, he will make you his new pet.” Anya sounded hurt, as she spoke, “I couldn’t live that way, being second place.” She looked up at Mashka, “That’s why I’m going to end this here!” A knife seemed to materialise in her hand as she stepped forward.
Mashka backed away, but could not dodge the knife completely; a cut appeared on her forearm, followed by another on her cheek. Her heart jumped when she missed a step and fell backward, hitting the side of a large boat. She found herself pinned. Anya began to furiously lash out, grunting in exertion with every strike. Cut after cut appeared on Mashka’s face and arms, until Anya began assaulting her abdomen and chest with the blade.
Mashka was wailing in pain, which gave way to heavy bawling, gasping for air as she fell to the ground, trying to protect her bleeding body, but each time she guarded a spot Anya attacked another one.
Slice after slice, beckoned her to oblivion.
“Dad!” the young girl squealed, as she dashed out of the school doors, twirling. “I got a main part in Swan Lake!”
The man turned to face his daughter. He smiled warmly and knelt down to meet her eye-to-eye. She leapt forward and embraced his neck.
He held his daughter tighter, “Mashka, that’s wonderful. When’s the performance.”
Mashka sighed and replied disappointedly, “It’s going to be two months from now.” She ran her hands through her dad’s dark, curly hair, just like hers.
“That’s not a bad thing, I’ll have enough time to set aside leave.” he replied, “It’s not something I would miss.”
Mashka pressed her face into his shoulder inhaling the scents of his workplace, “Ya tibya l’ublyu.” I love you, she muttered.
“Ya tibya l’ublyu Ma-”
Her father’s words were cut short, as a knife found its way between her ribs. A gurgle uttered from her throat, and the taste of blood filled her mouth, as her body went limp, and collapsed.
Mashka danced, her dress swirling, as she leapt and gracefully swooned, with a face blank as stone. Her mother was in the audience with her brother, but the seat next to her, was empty.
“That’s right,” Mashka remind herself, for the tenth time since the beginning of the performance. “Dad’s not here.”
She noticed Aleksei’s expression. A smile, but tainted with sad eyes. His twin, likewise, was missing from the seat beside him.
She twirled again, but something caught her eye. There at the back of the audience, stood a familiar figure. She stopped, staring at him, mouth open, ignoring the irritated glares of her fellow dancers.
He nodded to her, like he had fulfilled a contract then walked to the door.
“Ya tibya l’ub-” she began to say. She wanted to scream those words at him, but her voice failed her. Ya tibya l’ublyu, Ya tibya l’ublyu, Ya tibya l’ublyu. Her thoughts repeated the same phrase, as if hoping he would hear the whispers of her heart, if she said it enough times.
He vanished around the corner, his absence this time, she knew was permanent. He had kept his last promise. That was the last farewell, and this was her last dance. She caught up with the routine quickly, swearing she would never dance again, as she blinked back hot tears.
Her body made a stiff thumping sound on the dock.
Anya’s shaking hand pulled the knife out of Mashka’s chest, and stumbled back. She sat down hard on the other side of the dock. “It’s all your own fault,” she screamed half-heartedly, “refusing to fight me, treating me as inferior! You deserved your fate.”
The silence of no response did not seem to satisfy Anya, and when she saw Mashka’s frozen expression, she curled into a foetal position, shaking and sick at her stomach, not knowing why.
Mashka’s blank, unseeing stare was directly at Anya, no look of pain or fear was in them. Instead a look of pity for someone who had made a rash choice, and given up so much because of it.
Episode Forty Six:
Aleksei dove behind a boat, rolled, then ran down the dock. He raised one arm, then the other. A second later a dense cloud enshrouded the entire moorage area within forty metres of him.
Anya stopped herself just in time. Aleksei’s dive nearly ~made her shoot a bullet through his skull. “Idiot, you don’t dive when your enemy is aiming low!” she muttered in anger, realising that if her reflexes had been slower, she would be out of a job.
Mashka saw a cloud erupt from the lake to her right, the field of rising mist gobbling up the docks, expanding her direction. Soon a rush of damp air blew at her, covering her clothes in moisture.
'This isn’t part of the plan, Aleksei!' she thought, as she stared into the thick fog. 'Now my eyesight’s useless…' Before her train of thought could go further she realised something. 'If he needed to lower visibility, they must be shooting! I didn’t hear any projectiles. What’s going on?'
Mashka could only see about three metres into the mist. She now needed to rely on her remaining senses to detect anything. She sighed, lowering barriers and allowing her enhanced hearing and smell to manifest. Immediately she heard the quiet, but hasty steps of her brother, the only one who could be running in these conditions. His blurry visage appeared and, after glancing her direction, vanished back into the mists. She heard him open the door to the boathouse across from her. Now she just needed to wait for the Association agents who were bound to follow.
Anya bit her lip nervously as she climbed down from her perch atop one of the stores. The situation was too calculated, she felt as if everything was going according to someone else’s plans.
The Czech walked up behind her. “Aho, they have made themselves a fortress.”
“Da, I know,” she replied thoughtfully, pulling out a small device with a yellow dot blinking on its screen, “We know where Aleksei is, but we’re blind otherwise. Perfect for an ambush.”
“That is not the worst,” The Czech added, “We can’t sit around, it will only take a moment for them to start a motor and escape. The boy can ‘see’ anything within his fog.”
“So they’ve given us no choice but to play right into their hands.” Anya sighed. “We have to act according to their plan. I would give the credit of this situation to Chekhov, but this is not his style. The mastermind behind this is thinking simply, and is expecting to have less than capable partners.”
“Perhaps it’s the boy?” The Administrator said, walking up from behind.
Anya hopped up to her feet from her prone position. “Excuse me sir? The boy is behind all this?”
The Administrator grinned. “Well, at least part of it. Chekhov probably laid out the complex details, but Aleksei,” he chuckled, sounding almost amused, “His simple idea is what has put us in check, but not checkmate.” He put his hand to his earpiece. “Agents one through five, enter, look out for ambush.”
“They don’t have a chance.” Anya noted.
The Czech smiled, catching on to his boss’ way of reasoning. “No they don’t, but they would take up their time. We move in once the commotion starts.”
“You’re ruthless.” Anya said affectionately to The Administrator.
“I know, it’s half of my charm.”
Five ~pairs of feet thundered on the wooden docks; at least that is how loud they sounded to Mashka. She tried, and failed, to gauge their distance from her, too disconcerted by her overpowered hearing. With a gentle fist, she knocked on the metal wall of the boathouse.
Two knocks replied, John’s way of stating all was ready. He snuck out and found a hiding spot on the opposite side of the building from Mashka.
Her heart quickened, and the reality of the situation hit her. She was lying in wait to take down an enemy who outnumbered them, and could kill with the pull of a trigger. She felt scared.
With the sudden realisation of fear, pain coursed through her. Her perspective changed, she felt pushed out of her own body, like she was watching from a distance, and yet trapped within herself. Her chest rumbled with an eerie hiss and she bared her now sharp teeth. She felt her back bend into an unnatural rise. As the figures finally approached, a voice spoke within her mind, it sounded foreign. It was just one word, “Kill”.
Her heart jumped, 'No, stop!' She could have sworn she had cried out, but her mouth was clamped shut, only opening slightly for her tongue to lick her lips, like a slug crawling across her mouth.
The next thing she knew, she was being dragged forward, by her own body, and running to a tall brunette agent. The woman raised her gun and Mashka found herself looking down a barrel.
She screamed at herself to dodge, but her body seemed to have other ideas. She dove forward, reaching her arm up, to snatch the woman’s wrist. Mashka had moved so quickly, the woman was still trying to process what had happened when she found herself lying on the dock, her wrist bent at a strange angle, her weapon gone, and a bone sticking out from the middle of her forearm. She would have cried out had a fist not hit the side of her skull just then, silencing her.
The commotion attracted the attention of a tall, slender man. He slowed down and turned on his torch. The beam of light revealed two figures, one, a woman, lying down unconscious, the other rising from a crouch over her. For a moment, he thought his co-worker had been successful in taking down subject one. Until the figure’s face turned towards him, and her eyes reflected the light as two bright orbs, he was wrong.
John had heard Mashka dash out. No, it’s too early! he thought, getting ready to come to her rescue. The next thing he heard was a quick shuffle, than a thump, and finally a sickening smack. After a moment of silence, he heard a barely audible growl.
He saw another figure turn on a torch. John emerged, and ran into a third person. The two of them looked at each other in surprise. John recovered faster, grabbing the small man’s muscular arm and twisting it around his back. Then he grabbed the man in a chokehold, cutting off his breathing and circulation. He needed to hurry and help Mashka. Already she could have been caught.
From a buoy on the lake, Evan stood watch. When he saw the mist erupt from the water, and engulf the docks, he knew something was wrong. He was unsure whether he should head in now, or wait for the signal. The plan was, signal or not, for him to enter into the fray in about six minutes. He needed to come in behind the enemy’s second wave. He knew The Administrator would send in the grunts first, and then follow them up with the better agents. That is when he would be needed to make a his entrance, giving the others enough time to get on the plane.
He decided to wait a few moments longer. If he came in too soon, the element of surprise would be gone, and that was what they were counting on.
Aleksei tried to lighten his breathing as he hid in the small tool closet within the boathouse. He had already discarded the tracking device in the lake. Finally the coast felt clear, the sounds of conflict outside of the boathouse had died down. He cracked the door open, taking in his surroundings. The large boat shed was empty, all he saw was the dark water and the dock on the other side of the building. He exited the closet, closing the door gingerly, and was about to make his way to the exit, when he felt an odd presence.
Looking behind him, all he saw was the dock he was on, and a few random crates against the port side of the building. Through the boathouse door, he could see the dark waters of the lake stretch onward into the distance. His mist told him all was peaceful, but still he felt uneasy, tempted to return to his hiding place. His determination got the better of him and he turned around to continue. To his dismay, in front of the door was a dark figure.
“Well, I am lucky today,” the figure wheezed from the shadows. “I have caught you.”
“You,” was all Aleksei could utter, a shiver running up his spine.
Like a flash, the thing was right in front of him delivering a punch to his gut. “You’re mine! The Messenger will take good care of Aleksei.” it chuckled darkly.
Aleksei backed away quickly, bent over in pain, but he could not stay still long. He had to leap backwards to avoid another swipe, then made two back-flips. On the second flip, he also spun around, so he faced away and started running. He felt like he was going to throw up, and he knew he was badly bruised in the gut. Judging by what he heard, the thing was gaining on him quickly. All Aleksei saw in front of him was a dead end, and the large door to the lake.
When he came to the wall, he leapt feet first against it, twisted around and pushed off in one swift motion. He rammed into The Messenger with full force, knocking it to the ground. Aleksei, unable to stop, tumbled head over heels. Getting up, he ran a distance towards the exit, spun around, his legs throwing sweeping kicks in the air. Following after this motion, a wave of mist tore itself from the water and hit The Messenger in the side, just as it was regaining its footing.
The creature braced itself, and stood its ground, as two more clouds struck. Then it dashed forward, leaping first to the roof of the tool shed, then up in the air, to pounce on Aleksei from above. Aleksei turned to run, making a quick hand motion for the mist to rise and hit The Messenger. However, his action was too slow and weak. The Messenger landed, scattering the meagre fog.
Aleksei’s eyes were wide in terror, as he realised he was outmatched. He tried to retreat, gain enough distance to use the lake beneath him. But The Messenger was too fast, and landed a vicious kick to the boy’s chest, knocking the wind out of him and throwing him back.
The force of the blow threw Aleksei’s upper body back, and caused the two charms around his neck to fling out, breaking the string, sending the saintly icons scuttling over the boards of the dock, coming to rest over a crack. The faces of Seraphim and Mary looked on in lifeless compassion and concern.
With a thud Aleksei slammed against the lakeside wall and slid down into a sitting position. His head was throbbing from the impact, and his breath was only barely returning to his lungs, as his eyes closed like curtains, granting dark respite.