Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.
Chapter 1 - Hunter ~ Wordcount: 1922
Dusk had faded into a starless night as the last of the sunset’s light bled away, replaced by a haze of streetlights. The city was unrecognizable after dark, the pounding of our feet against the pavement seemingly the only sound for miles. Grey lead me down abandoned sidewalks and across empty streets until she stopped abruptly.
We stood at the entrance of an unremarkable alleyway, which was partially blocked by a large dumpster. Then, she reached out and touched my cheek. In the time it took to blink, her face morphed into a mask but not her typical mask. It was pure white, had no mouth, but had a place for two blue eyes to peer back at me. I assumed she gave me something similar because she immediately walked into the alley. I followed.
Shadows quickly enveloped us as we moved deeper between the buildings. Once my eyes adjusted, I noticed a burly man propped up against the backwall, smoking a cigarette. He gave a side glance to Grey as she approached him and puffed out some smoke. He must have known from the masks what we were here for because he shuffled a few feet to the right and kicked up a sheet of cardboard to reveal a trap door on the ground.
As Grey opened the hatch and began to lift herself inside, the man said, “Bold to already be wearing those. Police might think you’re actually one of them.” Another cloud of smoke left his lips as he continued not looking at us.
Grey gave a slow, mocking response as her lips curled into a grin. “Even the police are too scared of Splinter to come out at night.” She continued down as if the conversation hadn’t happened, and I moved to follow her. The man tried to hold his nerve, but I could sense he was shaken. As soon as I had made it to the bottom of the trap door, it slammed shut above us.
We were thrown into darkness, the only light a faint outline of a doorframe several feet in front of us. The hall was damp, dark, and empty, and the air felt cold against my skin. Grey pressed her mind against mine and urged me forward. I strode past her and listened to my footsteps on stone echo around me.
As I walked, I reminded myself of the mission: find the target and bring him to the docks. Grey came to control any external variables, but it was my job to collect the man.
It took about a minute to reach the glow of the doorframe, and as we approached it, I paused to listen. There was complete silence from the other side, but there was an uproar of thought and emotion. There was an energy of excitement and dread as a crowd of people waited for the event to begin. I knocked on the heavy wooden door as Grey had instructed me to.
There was a soft click and another white mask identical to Grey’s greeted me. He had brown eyes filled with shock as he looked at me and then at Grey directly beside me. He opened his mouth to speak, but she moved in and forced the door open, saying quietly, “We’re newcomers, just interested in the cause. We won’t cause you trouble.”
He swallowed hard as she moved past him and replied, “Oh. Well, alright. We were just about to start.” I followed Grey inside and found a cramped room packed with a small crowd of a few dozen normals. Wooden crates were stacked up beside mossy stone walls. I quickly noted that there was a second entrance to the room besides the way we’d come, which was a thick metal door in the back-right corner of the room.
No one spoke as we merged with the crowd, but there was a new ripple of thoughts, most of which were concerned about not just one, but two new masks joining the meeting tonight. I tried to comb through the thoughts, looking for any distinguishing traits, but I was drawn to a normal woman hanging towards the back.
Her essence reeked of fear and desperation that pooled into the room as she tried to hold her thoughts close to her. She had the same mask as everyone else in the room, but she had another mask of confidence and ease that tried to cover everything else festering underneath. I caught glimpses of disgust, at herself and all the other people here, which was equally matched by the hopelessness which had driven her here to begin with. She thought of the promises of a better world, of a comfortable life, and of a cure to her son’s illness. She waged an internal war between her morals and us, and it seems as if we were winning. I wanted to reach out and tip the scales a bit in her mind, noticing the strength of her thoughts as perfect recruit.
Grey’s presence surged into my mind and blocked my current thought. Her tone was sharp as she said, Hunter, you have a target to collect. As quickly as she had appeared, she retreated, and I had control of myself again. She was right, I had gotten distracted from the objective. I moved my mind away from the woman and continued scanning the crowd for signs of the target.
A man jumped on a crate on the opposite side of the wooden door. His mask resembled that of a captain, with an outline of white lips and opened white eyes that covered his own. I could not feel any thoughts or feelings radiating with him as I could with any normal, and as I tried to sense his thoughts, I was met with an eerie silence. I tried to reach into his mind without detection, but I was met thick wall which did not easily crumble as I pushed against it.He was prepared for someone to use influence. This must be the target.
He began to address the crowd as he conjured a broad smile underneath his mask. “I’m happy to see you all back tonight, as well as the two new masks in our midst.” His voice was not muffled by the mask he wore. Did the target also have influence? I tried to reach out to Grey for an answer, but she blocked me with a wave of irritation that was directed at the target.
He continued. “We all have our reasons to don Splinter’s mask tonight, and I would like to begin by saying that our Great Leader appreciates the support you give, the sacrifices you make so that magic can be in everyone’s hands. The history of influence is tainted by its beginning, but we all know that in can do incredible good for the people.”
There were murmurs of agreement throughout the crowd as several people looked around at those standing around them. None of them could even think that two real members of Splinter stood so close to them.
The target lifted his hands and said, “I want to begin this meeting with another story of miracles, to remind you of the cause we are all fighting for.”
Grey’s presence sat in my mind, and I could feel her anger rising as the man continued to speak. I shuffled a little closer to Grey, as she had settled just behind the first row of people. I noted that his words had an oddly compelling quality which encouraged my mind to keep looping back to him. This was the use of influence. I attempted to breach the target’s mind again, this time with a bit more force. I was surprised at the resistance again, especially as he was occupied with his use of influence and telling of his grand story. No normal had this much mastery over his mind and influence naturally, and our target was decidedly not a member of Splinter. So, who was he?
Someone forced the wooden door open, which slammed into the man who had stood by it. A gunshot followed, and the same man fell to the ground, blood dripping from his arm as he clutched it in pain. Three normals in DAI uniforms stormed into the room, guns pointing towards the crowd as one yelled into the stunned silence, “DAI! Nobody move!”
The woman in the center aimed her gun directly on the target as the other two beside her swept the crowd. I didn’t turn around so that I could keep my eyes on the target for his reaction, but I noted there were three other agents in the hall lingering not too far behind. Now, a wave of intense fear wafted from the target as he stood frozen in place.
Grey decided she’d had enough. She spun around to look at the woman who had made the command. One of the agents noticed her and trained his gun on her, saying to the crowd, “You are not to resist your arrest for conspiracy against the government with a known and dangerous terrorist group.”
I felt elation surge through Grey as she pushed her way past two bystanders to directly face the agents. She did appear to be an intimidating woman, currently short with small frame and the blank mask hiding her real identity. “Or what?” she asked.
A second agent pointed her gun at Grey. “Ma’am, step back or we will be forced to shoot.”
As Grey took the attention of the agents, I noticed our target begin to compose himself, his fear dissipating as he replaced his carefully crafted barriers, perhaps even strengthening them. Still, his mind moved fast, and his attention turned to the iron door not a few feet away. He would be waiting for his chance to run.
Grey did not stop, didn’t even flinch as more guns were trained on her. She made it to the edge of crowd and into the small space separating the agents from everyone else. She stopped. And she waited. All eyes were on her as every other normal in the room stood shocked and terrified of what would happen to them.
The center agent dared to open her mouth, probably to demand Grey stand down again, but before she could speak, her jaw snapped shut. Her body stumbled back as she was shoved with an invisible force, knocking into the agent beside her. His immediate reaction was to pull the trigger. Three more bullets followed.
Time froze. Or rather, the millisecond after the bullets left their barrels was stretched and pulled into the space of one second, two seconds, three seconds, and more until I couldn’t register the passing of time. It felt as if time coiled in my brain instead of running linear and pounded against my skull, demanding to be released, but I was not the one holding it still. Grey was.
She had bent the fabric of reality to her will and held that millisecond in between her fingers and waited for the pressure to keep building as thirty seconds, a minute, two minutes passed. The pain in my mind grew louder and louder, almost like screaming behind my ears.
Grey let go, and time snapped back into place, exploding with enough force to shatter the bullets into shrapnel. The metal fragments flew back towards the agents and shredded through their body armor and exposed skin as if they were paper. All six agents fell to the ground, and chaos erupted in the room.