Moderator: Simon Toews
“Listen!” She called over them. “I know you’re scared. I am too. But we need to remain calm. The door will hold off anything he can throw at us. We can outlast him in here. Stay strong.” She told them, those blue eyes trying desperately to hide the fear behind them. “Now, I have something I need to do and I’ll be right back. Okay?”
She looked to each of them in turn. “If something happens to me, you shut this door and lock it. Do not open this door for anyone but Simon. Understood?”
One by one they agreed to her terms. Anna swallowed hard and nodded. “Take care of each other.”
Each of her people stepped forward, wrapping her in desperate, possibly final embraces. Finally, she forced herself to step outside. Anna set herself to frantically rig one last trap. Her fingers refused to cooperate as she tried to wire the explosive. Behind her, Otis was holding the door. Gunfire echoing down the tunnel did nothing for his anxiety.
“Ms. Anna! We need to move now!”
Anna clenched her jaw. “Otis! Get in the room! Do NOT wait for me!”
“I ain’t goin anywhere without you!”
Even through the tension, she couldn’t help but appreciate his unquestioning loyalty. Frankly, she was glad to have his company. A big man who could crush a windpipe like a paper cup wasn’t a bad deterrent for people trying to hurt them.
Sounds of a struggle echoed down the tunnel, a struggle ensuing at the bottom of the stairs. She knew she couldn’t hang all her hopes on Simon, she had to do everything she could to protect her people. The problem was, her trembling hands made the task almost insurmountable.
“Shit!” She cursed as a rigging pin dropped from her grasp. She immediately dropped to her knees, searching desperately in the darkened space for where it had dropped. Everything she’d seen, everything she’d done hung heavy upon her shoulders. She wouldn’t let him take it from her. She couldn’t.
A large hand landed on her shoulder.
“Anna.” Otis said softly. “It’s time.”
Anna looked back into the large man’s big, brown eyes. The look in his eyes gave her pause, silencing those shouting voices in the back of her head. Empathy mingled with concern upon his face. She swallowed hard, staring for what felt like minutes. Without a word, he told her what she already knew. She was no good to her people dead. Finally, she nodded.
Otis nodded, the hint of a smile on his lips. “Come on.”
The sound of limping footsteps approached. For a moment, Anna dared hope it was Simon. Otis turned his gaze to the entrance. The look on his face immediately washed that hope from her mind.
“Anna!” he cried out. Those massive arms wrapped around her, whipping her around, planting that huge body between her and the new arrival. Deafening Gunfire erupted into the small space, Otis spasming hard as round after round ripped into his back until they heard the telltale clip of an empty weapon.
Anna stared up in wide-eyed shock. Agony, fear, and sadness filled his eyes, the life already slipping away from him.
“...Otis?” She said, her voice shaking.
“Anna?” He managed hoarsely. His legs gave out, dropping his massive form to his knees. His chest heaved, blood running from his mouth. He peered up at her, wheezing. Tears welled in Anna’s eyes as she looked into his eyes.
“...run.” Otis said with every last bit of effort he could muster. His breath caught in his throat and the life left his body, his large form fell to the side. Anna stared down at his corpse in stunned silence, hope circling the drain.
The limping steps approached. She knew it was him before she saw him.
“Hello, Anna.” She heard Falk say. “It’s been a long time.”
The starlet’s body pressed back against a wooden beam, slowly sliding down to the dirt floor. Her thin arms wrapped around her knees, pulling them to her chest. How had her life spiraled so far out of control? One moment, she was a thriving pop star, the worst of her worries boiled down to contract disputes and the leering eyes of her stepfather. Awful as it was, it seemed a far cry from running for her life from a psychopath bent on killing her. The more she considered it, the more fitting it seemed.
Her entire life, she had been used as currency to benefit someone else. Her mother, her agent...and no Jakob Falk and his arrogant, petty need for revenge. It was almost fitting that her life ended the same way. At that thought, something inside of her snapped.
“No.” she said quietly to herself.
No, it wasn’t ending like this. If she’d learned anything from Miles and Simon, it was that it was better to die on your feet than live on your knees. She didn’t intend to spend any more time on hers. The cycle had to end.
Those bright blue eyes turned to the mangled corpse peeking out from under the rubble, the grip of a knife sticking out from a sheath. With a hard swallow, she reached over and pulled it free, eyes traveling over the length of that serrated blade for a moment.
Tessa steeled her gaze down that dark tunnel, the hint of light at its end.
“On your feet.” She whispered to herself.
“You know…” She said. “I never got it. Why he favored you. Why Jakob put so much time into someone so utterly unworthy. I used to dream of killing you. Slow. Painful. I wanted to watch the hope and light drain from your beady little eyes. So...I suppose I should thank you. You’re about to make my dream come true.”
She attacked fast with a right cross, Miles blocked with his forearm and threw a quick jab, hitting her in the sternum. Ruby just took it, stumbling back a step, and clocked him in the face. As he recoiled, she grabbed him by the shoulders, kneeing him in the stomach and then the chest. She didn’t get a third shot, as Miles grabbed her and spun her around throwing her into a table full of paint cans, spackle and all sorts of small construction equipment. Miles leaned over the table, just to catch a can of paint to the head, yellow paint splattering against the wall like a modern art piece.
Ruby scrambled to her feet, clutching tight to her makeshift weapon. She screamed, wildly swinging it at him, but he kept blocking and dodging it as best he could, absorbing the hits with his forearm, bicep and shoulder. The next swing, he caught the bucket with open hands, and slammed it back into this opponent’s face. Blood gushed from her nose, Ruby reeling backwards. She ducked a punch that should have taken her head off and threw an upper cut to the underside of his arm, then to his ribs, and finally dealt a palm strike to his nose.
Miles fumbled backwards trying to get control of his flailing limbs. Ruby was already on the move sprinting towards him. As his sight cleared, he saw her leap, both feet connecting with his chest and sending him through the air, crashing down in the pathway Falk and his father had disappeared down. Dirt puffed up around him as he hit the ground, coughing.
Ruby scrambled to her feet again, charging after him. She pounced, but the young man caught her with both hands and feet, flipping her onto her back. Quickly as he could, he rolled and moved on her. Those battered fists gripped her lapels and yanked her to her feet, wheeling her around and slamming her into a wooden wall brace. She yelped in pain, that murderous rage in her eyes. The smaller fighter broke from his grip and threw a one-two jab at his face. Her shoulder plowed into his gut, putting his battered body into a pipe on the wall. She was relentless, hammering at his torso with quick, vicious punches.
Agony filled his body with every hit, something was most certainly broken. Both hands connected over his head and came down, as hard as he could, slamming onto her shoulders. Ruby’s knees buckled, a shriek leaving her throat as pain vibrated down her bones. Yet, she stayed standing, her fists wrapping around the pipe behind him, bracing herself as she thrust her knee into his stomach again and again and again. With everything he had, the young fighter shoved her way, the pipe breaking and pointing outward. Miles drove her back, plowing her slim body into the wall brace again. Both of them grabbed each other at the same time, their fists grabbing handfuls of clothing.
Ruby’s knee drove hard into his groin, Miles’ knees buckling as an unimaginable ache filled his body and weakened his grasp. The woman wasted no time, kicking out his knee. As he dropped, she grabbed him by the hair, planting her shin into his throat, and pinned him against the wall.
Ruby glared down at him, the fires of hell burning in her eyes. “I'm gonna watch you fucking die and then I'm gonna find that little bitch and send her screaming to hell!” She roared in his face, spitting blood at him.
Suddenly, a shrill scream erupted from behind. Before Ruby could even look back, the blade of a knife plunged into the spot where shoulder met neck, burying to the hilt. Ruby’s teeth grit so hard, she felt like they might actually crack.
Miles gasped as her shin left his throat, air rushing back into starving lungs.
Tessa stood there, fully expecting the woman to immediately weaken and die like in the movies. Instead, Ruby lashed out with her good side, backhanding her across the jaw with a closed fist. The singer stumbled back in a daze, only to get kicked square in the chest. The assassin stared down at her like a predator, malice filling those sharp eyes. She reached up, her nimble fingers wrapping around the grip of the knife. With a piercing scream, she ripped it from the wound, crimson spurting and soaking down into her dirty, torn blouse.
Tessa’s face pressed down into the dirt as her eyes fluttered open. Her chest and jaw ached like never before. She could see Ruby’s footsteps approach, slow and deliberate. She did everything to will her muscles to move, but terror held her at bay.
Miles finally regained his bearings and saw what had happened. Tessa laying there, helpless, terrified...and that vicious bitch approaching her with a bloody knife. The animal in his came roaring to life. The noise that emitted from him downright feral, as he pushed up to his feet and charged. He grabbed Ruby from behind, his arms lifting her almost effortlessly. For a moment, that arrogant pride of her’s fail and turn to panic. With his full strength and body weight he threw her around and smashed her lithe form into the other side of the tunnel, his forearm connecting with her chest. But Ruby didn’t fight back. It took a moment for him to notice the pipe, sticking out from under his arm, skewering her just before the sternum, and missing him by less than an inch.
Ruby’s body shook and convulsed as she coughed blood. Those eyes were clouded with defeat and pain, crimson pouring down from lips. Gurgles emitted from her throat as she tried to speak to no avail. Miles let out an exhausted breath, every bit of compartmentalized pain coming to life. He stumbled back and collapsed on the other side of the tunnel, slumping against the wall. He took one last look at her, watching her slowly die.
“Fuck...you.” She finally managed before the life utterly left her eyes. A phantom of a smile crossed Miles lips, his head lolling back and resting against the carved-out wall. Tessa pushed herself up on shaky arms and crawled over to him, wrapping her arms around her battered boyfriend’s torso. She buried her face into his chest and wept as he held her tight.
Half of his face was streaked with blood, dirt marring that usually well manicured appearance. His hands clutched his empty rifle tightly. “This little trap you’ve laid is really quite ingenious. You’ve come a long way, my girl.”
Anna slowly edged to one side putting herself between Falk and the door. “I’ve thought about this moment for twenty years.” She said, rage radiating in her voice. “I thought about all the things I’d say to you. About telling you that I beat you. That I had a life, a family and you could never take that from me.”
His smile was full of condescension. “But I have. And I will, before the end.” Falk said in a quiet, mocking tone.
Anna’s expression took on a victorious little smirk. “Will you?”
Before he could respond she spun on a heel, her fingers wrapping around the handle, and yanked that heavy door shut with an echoing click. There was a feeling of peace that filled her entire body. She’d done it. Whatever else happened to her, her people were safe. In his state, he simply couldn’t wait them out. Not without medical attention. Even as his body slammed into her back, she smiled. He pressed her face to the door.
“I win.” She said softly.
“You have delayed the inevitable.” He said to her, lips so close to her ear she could feel his breath. “After I’m finished with you, I’m going to destroy this little labyrinth you’ve constructed. I will leave your little family trapped here. Buried alive.”
“You’re a small, pathetic little man.” Anna said, full of spite.
Falk’s grip was so tight it hurt as he pulled her around and pinned her by the throat. “I am a god. I built an empire that has made slaves of the most powerful men in Rhy’din. At a word, I could have the entire power structure of the city crumbling to ash. Your little commune is nothing. You and Toews and your little bastard are nothing to me, do you understand? As we speak, my finest pupil is dispatching them. Toews and Miles will die. And then I will send you to join them.”
Anna sneered. “You underestimate him.”
“My dear girl. I *made* him. As I made you.” He grinned, blood staining his teeth red. “The damage he’s done is a temporary setback. In days I will have everything my empire back. Perhaps I won’t kill your friends behind that door. Maybe, I take their children. Put them in the arena. Maybe I will create a whole new generation in your name.”
That confident sneer left her lips, replaced by something worse. Somewhere deep inside of her a terrifying rage had boiled over. Anna’s jaw set, her teeth clenching tightly. She drove her knee into that injured, bloody leg, drawing a pained scream from him.
But Falk didn’t fall. Rage contorted his bloodied face, his arm cocking back and dealing a vicious right cross that sent her careening to the dirt. It had been a long time since she’d taken any sort of punch. Instantly, she was back in that dank filthy arena, the scent of blood and sweat filling her nostrils. She could almost feel herself straddling a younger fighter and smashing her fist into his face. Her hands around another fighters throat as she bashed their head into the hard ground until she heard a crack. Hands upon her...she couldn’t move. She could only feel what they did to her. green eyes went wide and panicked, her breath coming in quick rapid gasps as she relived it all.
It was his footsteps that brought her back to the present. Those wide, feral eyes flicked around looking for something to use as a weapon, but there was nothing. Falk grabbed a fistful of her hair, yanking her head back roughly. Her brows knit as he pulled against her scalp, her fist clenched shut. The old instincts kicked in, her elbow shooting back into his groin. As Falk doubled over, she grabbed him by the neck and, with every ounce of her strength, flipped him onto his back. That raging beast inside of her took over, her legs straddling his slight form.
Immediately, she began slamming her fist into his face, mercilessly beating him into the ground. Her screams of rage echoed through the tunnels, twenty years of anguish pouring out of her directed right into Jakob Falk. She saw every face that cheered her on as she killed or maimed other children. She saw every grown man and woman who had put their hands on her when she couldn’t even say no, let alone fight back. All the pain, all the helplessness turned to blind, screaming rage.
His hands weakly tried to protect him, but she shoved them aside and continued her vicious onslaught. His blood splattered onto her face with every hit. Pain was an afterthought, she could not stop herself. Finally, she wrapped her hands around his throat and roared into his face, tears streaming down her cheeks. Falk’s eyes bulged as he tried in vain to pry her hands from his neck. He looked helpless and afraid. Just as so many of her opponents had in the ring.
“Good.” She thought. “Feel it. Feel every ounce of terror we all felt because of you. Feel that pain and hopelessness before you die.”
He knew the look on Anna’s face. It was one he never thought he’d have to see again. It was like looking into a mirror. Cotter, Vicelli, and so many others had seen it before they died. That animalistic, merciless hatred. Seeing it on her sank his heart.
He could hear her voice in his head, begging him not to let Falk turn him into the beast he always said he was. The soulless killer. This was what he wanted. To lower her to a place she’d never come back from. Simon wouldn’t allow that. He slowly approached her, not daring to touch her just yet.
“Anna…”. He said softly.
Her head snapped in his direction, those blue eyes wide and feral. It stopped him in his tracks. His hand slowly rose.
“Don’t.” He pleaded quietly.
“He deserves to die!” She said, her voice quivering with pain and righteous anger.
“He does.” Simon nodded. “But not tonight. Don’t do this.”
Anna grit her teeth and only tightened her grip, defiantly turning her gaze back to Falk. She wasn’t willing to give up this moment, this opportunity. Through that bloodied, broken face, Simon could see a grin form on Falk’s lips. He almost wanted Anna to finish him off. Almost. He stepped towards her carefully.
“Anna. This isn’t you. This is what he wants. This is what he made us. You are better than this.” His hand rested gently on her shoulder, Anna turning to him.
There was something different in her eyes now. The rage was fading into sadness. Simon looked her in the eye, into the depths of her soul to a place only he could reach. “Don’t let him win.”
Anna turned her eyes down to Falk, her grip loosening a little bit as the tears began to pour down her face. “He took so much from us.”
“Don’t let him take more.” Simon responded.
As Anna looked back at him, Miles and Tessa stepped out of the darkness. She recognized him instantly. Those features a perfect mix of Simon and herself. Her lips parted and her breath left in a shudder. Her hands left Falk instantly, the old man gasping for air and coughing raggedly. She immediately wrapped her arms around Simon. He pulled her to her feet and embraced her tightly. Anna clinged to him with everything she had, sobs wracking her body.
When she finally pulled back, her eyes went to Simon’s, rimmed red with tears. Her fingers traced the side of his jaw, relief flooding her body.
“Thank you.” She whispered.
Simon’s hand rested upon her cheek and he leaned forward, his lips pressing to her forehead. Anna’s eyes slid shut, all of that darkness washing away. She peered up at him with a grateful smile.
Miles clinged to Tessa watching the moment. Then, he saw her. His mother looked to him for a long moment, tracing every inch of his face. He didn’t know to feel, a million thoughts running through his head. For years, he’d hated even thinking about his parents, the people who’d abandoned him to a life at Falk’s side. But now, seeing her and knowing the truth, he couldn’t hate her. He couldn’t even resent her.
Anna peeled away from Simon and slowly approached, those sweet, gentle eyes staring up at him. He didn’t dare move.
“My son.” She said in a broken little voice. “My beautiful boy…”
Anna wrapped her arms around him, clutching his body tightly to hers. “I never stopped hoping…”
Miles remained rigid and still, confusion clouding his eyes. A whirlwind of emotions ran through his mind, but he couldn’t escape the fact that his mother was holding him in her arms. Without realizing it, he placed a shaky hand at her back and slowly melted into the hug.
Tessa and Simon looked to each other from across the room, a grateful smile lighting up her face. “Thank you.” She mouthed.
Simon nodded, his smile was twinged with sadness. They’d been denied so much, all three of them. All because of one man.
His expression darkened, Simon swiveling his gaze upon the bloody broken man wheezing on the floor. Falk lay on his side, propped up on one arm. He spat a shattered tooth in a wad of blood and saliva from smashed lips. Anna had given him hell.
Simon approached slowly, towering over Falk’s ruined form. The old man turned the eye that wasn’t currently swollen shut up at him. A low, weak chuckle escaping him hoarsely.
“Come to finish me off, boy?”
Simon simply shook his head. The years of pain and self hatred flowed through his mind’s eye. Every dark and terrible thing he’d ever done because of this man playing out like some awful, depressing movie in his memory.
“Do it. I know you want to. I know what you are. You can lie to your friends, you can lie to yourself, but you can’t lie to me.” Falk sneered up at him, blood running from his split lips. “You’re a killer. A vicious animal. You thrive on blood and screams and pain...it is your very essence. You cannot escape your true nature.”
“That’s not me anymore.” Simon said firmly.
Falk chuckled darkly, his throat gurgling blood. Falk spat upon the ground, his still defiant, broken face turning back to him. “In time you’ll see. In time, they’ll all see.”
Looking down at him, Simon couldn’t help but notice that the rage had gone. Yes, he’d always hate Jakob Falk, but this defeated, desperate creature...he could only pity. Tessa placed a hand on Simon’s shoulder, slipping around him. She smiled up at him a moment and then turned those pretty blues down to Falk.
“Heya, Jake.” She said. “Tessa Bradley. Don’t think we’ve been formerly introduced. You and your friend tried to kill me.”
Jakob laughed weakly. “Ms. Bradley-“
“You talk too much.” She interrupted and swiftly kicked him in the face. Jakob fell immediately unconscious, his battered face bouncing against the dirt. As Miles and Anna stepped up beside them, Tessa glared down at his limp body and spat. “Fucking asshole.”
Something inside of Simon broke in that moment. A peace fell over him that he’d only ever known when falling asleep at Anna’s side. She grabbed onto his arm and rested her head on his shoulder. Simon and Miles glanced to each other, words passing unspoken.
It was over.
The blonde man had his feet kicked up on a chair across from him, his head lolled downward as his chest rose and fell evenly. Simon. Of course, he looked like hell. Frankly, she’d have been surprised if he didn’t.
A grin spread across her lips.
“Hey, stranger.” She said quietly.
Simon’s eyes snapped open with a start. He looked around, the haze of sleep hanging over his head. He turned his eyes to her, a smile forming.
“Hey, there, Detective.” He said with that fond little drawl in his voice. “You look good.”
Corrine laughed weakly, knowing she looked anything but. She peered up at his bruised and scratched face. “You look like shit.”
“Charmer.” Simon laughed, a pain in his ribs making him wince. He scooted his chair to her side and leaned forward. “How you feeling’?”
Paige’s eyelids slid shut, a lazy smirk on her lips. “Mmm...high off my ass.” She said slowly, punctuating every word.
Simon chuckled, looking at her fondly. Corrine’s eyes turned toward him, quiet for a long moment as she searched for the words she wanted to say. She and her team had gone to liberate children. It had nearly killed her and taken her friend’s life. A dark, awful feeling filled the pit of her stomach.
“The...the kids?” she managed in a whisper.
Simon shook his head. “No. They weren’t there when Falk blew the building. Your people found them at the docks in a shipping container.”
Of course, she thought. Jakob Falk would never give up such an investment. For once, she was glad that he was such a greedy, ruthless monster. It hit her then. If Simon was here, what had happened to Falk?
“Is it done?” It came out quietly, her voice hoarse.
Simon nodded slowly, his smile fading. A wave of relief washed over her, Corrine letting out a long, rattling breath.
“You kill the son of a bitch?” Paige asked after a moment’s pause.
Simon remained silent for a moment. Part of him still wished he had, but death was too quick for Falk. He deserved to rot.
There was a pain behind his voice. Regret and uncertainty hung over him like a cloud. The detective could read him like a book, her hand squeezed his weakly. She would have preferred Falk die as much as he did, but the bastard would face true justice. His empire was in ashes, his power reduced to nothing. There would be no easy escape for him this time.
“You did good, Toews.” She assured him.
“Yeah?” Simon asked, still unsure.
“Yeah.” Corrine nodded.
A knock came from the doorway, a woman in scrubs standing there. She had to be in her late 30s, early 40s, hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. Beautiful, even at the end of a 24 hour shift. An ID badge above her right breast read “Dr. Debra Sellip”. She smiled at the pair of them.
“She wakes.” The doctor said pleasantly. “Hi, Corrine. I’m Doctor Sellip. Good to see you in the land of the living.”
“Good to be seen.” Paige said. “How long was I out?”
“Three days.” Deb said, canting her head toward Simon. “Mr. Toews here has hardly left your side.”
The detective shot Simon a look, her expression melting into a grateful smile. “Yeah. He’s a good friend.”
Deb grinned warmly. “Yes he is.” She said. “Well, I have good news. We were able to save your leg. It’s gonna be a helluva recovery process...but I think we’ll be able to get you up and on your feet.”
“Seriously?” Paige rose her brows.
“You won’t be running marathons or anything, but...yeah. It’s looking good.” Deb nodded. “For now, I’m gonna have to ask Mr. Toews to step out so I can run a few tests. Cool?”
Simon nodded and started to get up. Paige gripped his hand tightly and looked him in the eye. The words wouldn’t come, but in that moment, they understood. Simon squeezed back and finally stood up.
“I’ll be back to check on you.” Simon promised her.
“You better.” Paige responded.
Simon walked out into the hallway, leaving the detective in the capable hands of Dr. Sellip. He had one last thing he needed to do.
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