The bus station wasn't very crowded. Wide-eyed tourists with cameras, the occasional businesspeople with their cell phones, women with screaming children, even a few runaway kids with burgers and duffel bags. Not an unusual day in the Durman City bus terminal.

One woman, childless but looking as though she might have some in another city, came to sit on a bench near where the buses would soon arrive for the one o'clock departure. She was dressed nicely, in a blue skirt and matching blazer, probably on her way to some important business meeting in the near future. Of course, her bus had yet to arrive, and so she had a little bit of time to relax between transfers. She set her leather suitcase and her purse down on the ground next to her, and then looked to the only other occupant of the bench, a young girl sitting and reading the local newspaper in silence. All the girl had on the floor beside her was a small black suitcase, scuffed up and scratched as if it had been through many of these bus stations and travels before. The girl didn't look as if she was particularly frightened of someone stealing it, for she never looked up from the paper, even as the woman shifted herself to better make conversation.

"Hello," said the woman with a kindly smile. "What's your name?"

"Brooklyn," replied the girl in a mumble, her eyes searching over the page.

"My name is Connie. Are you traveling far?"

"Yes."

"Where are your parents?" Connie blinked and looked around, figuring a girl that age wouldn't be going as far as the buses here would go without so much as a parent to accompany her. She didn't look a day over eighteen.

"Beats me." Brooklyn didn't look up. Connie still couldn't see her face clearly through the thick curtain of black hair that fell about her face

"You don't know?" Connie felt a slight pang of pity, thinking of her own children back at home. Maybe this girl's parents had died. The neighboring city had been destroyed by explosions only a week or so before, and many people had died there. It had been reported as a terrorist attack so far, but the federal officers were still investigating the ordeal. "Where are you headed?"

It was almost as if the girl didn't even realize that she was speaking, as if her words were simply an answering machine set to reply while she participated in far more desirable activities than speaking with this worrisome woman. "Carneta City."

"Do you have family there?"

Brooklyn made a little sound in her throat, a grunt of exasperation. She folded the newspaper shut with exaggerated frustration and turned her head to look at her new company, almost as if asking her why she was bothering her, and Connie almost jumped away from her due to her appearance.

Brooklyn was pale, it was true, and it looked as if she avoided sunlight and heat like the plague. Her eyes were narrow as it was without her looking as aggravated as she did, her irises the color of unused silver bullets while matching that portrayal in the amount of warmth that they held. Her overall appearance in that moment was more of a reanimated version of the dead bodies that had been all over the news lately rather than a living, breathing human being, and that characteristic frightened the woman slightly, but even more so, it repulsed her for that short moment in time.

"No," Brooklyn, this model of disgust, replied clearly, before turning to look back at the front page of the paper that she held. She obviously didn't want any more interrogation, but Connie continued to press, figuring that if she could help this girl, she would. It wouldn't be right to leave her here, alone and unattended, if she could help it. Maybe she was thinking of her own teenaged son at home, and what she would have wanted somebody to do if locked in such a situation with him. Maybe she was feeling a bit ashamed of her fleeting revulsion at the look of this girl.

"Friends?" The older woman asked.

"No."

"Where do you live? Or was it back in that wreck in the city?"

"The buses are here." Brooklyn folded the paper in half and reached down, picking up her suitcase off of the floor, an act of finalization to end it once and for all. She tucked her retrieved items under her arm and stood up, unintentionally giving Connie a very good look at her. Brooklyn was not particularly tall but neither was she very short, and she appeared to be fairly slender. It was hard to tell as to what her frame looked like, due to the heavy black trench coat that she wore. She was dressed rather plainly and in loosely fitting clothing, in a pair of simple black pants and a black shirt with a blue rose print across the chest. Her hair was long; falling nearly to her knees, and was brushed haphazardly behind her ears so as not to get into her face with a few strands falling in front anyway.

Brooklyn made a quick adjustment to her coat, straightening the old and dusty garment out around her frame, apparently making herself look what she understood to be more presentable. She then gave her suitcase a quick once-over with her eyes and then glanced to Connie, an awkward silence dragging out of her.

"It was nice meeting you, Brooklyn," Connie said kindly, breaking the silence. She turned and reached to collect all her things together – her bus would be coming fairly soon, though she was not on the same one as this odd girl – and then turned back to the girl. "I ho-"

Connie stopped with a slight blink. Brooklyn was gone.

--

"Nosey little idiots," Brooklyn muttered to herself as she boarded her bus. "I can't stand it when people butt into business that isn't theirs. Like I have to go around and explain myself. And what was it with her and using my full name? It's just Brooke."

Shaking her head, Brooke walked along the aisle of the bus. She had been one of the first ones to board, and so she was able to choose her own seat, which she did, finding a seat towards the back and next to a window. Carefully, she set herself up for the long journey ahead of her, the suitcase resting on the floor beneath her seat, on its side. When she finished with that, she unfolded her newspaper to look at the headline with a grim smirk on her face, muttering the headline to herself in what could be described as satisfaction. "Suspected Terrorist Attack Demolishes Criton. At around noon on Wednesday, November first, an explosion demolished the entire city of Cri-"

"Anyone sitting here?"

Brooke stopped her reading and looked up with a slight glare, seeing a tall businessman standing in the aisle, looking at her nervously. He had one arm in a sling, the other holding a briefcase at his side. Brooke grimaced slightly towards his presence, not attempting to hide it, and muttered, "Nope, feel free."

"Thanks." He sat down in the seat beside her and set his own briefcase in his lap, removing his hat a moment later. "I didn't think I'd be able to get a seat."

Brooke glanced around at the near empty but slowly filling bus. Sarcasm was thick in her voice when she spoke. "With good reason."

He winced a bit. Maybe this was not the best seating companion. "Well, I mean, people are still trying to get out of that wreck in Criton. I only just got out of the hospital, and I wasn't even near anything that exploded, lucky me. I've been trying to get a bus home since last week, but they've all been sold out."

Brooke blandly turned her eyes to the front of the bus, obviously disinterested in his tale of survival and woe. "Yeah, it was awful, just terrible."

"Where were you when it happened?" He peered in at her, as if looking for something more in her pale and mostly unhurt form.

"I was nearby. Lucky me."

"You don't look too much the worse for it."

Brooke turned her face away from his prying eyes, moving her own eyes down to the floor. "That's great."

"They're calling it terrorists. What do you think about it?"

"I think I'd like to read the paper that I spent what little money I didn't waste on bus fare to get, much thanks." Brooke flashed a humorless grin and turned back to her paper, cutting off the conversation as coldly and swiftly as a butcher's knife.

The man blinked and turned back to look ahead. Neither he nor Brooke said a word throughout the rest of the ride.

--

It took the better part of the day to reach the Carneta City stop. Brooke's seating companion had left a few cities before. She wasn't sorry to see him go.

When the bus finally ended up at its final location, Brooke glanced out of the window and grimaced. In the dusky shadows of the bus station, she could clearly see a girl standing ahead of all the others waiting for the long-awaited travelers, her calf-length dirty blonde hair pulled back in a braid that made it seem much shorter than it was and her eyes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses. She was shielded against the cold air by little more than a worn-out denim jacket and blue jeans. She looked like a mill-worker's daughter.

Brooke reluctantly got up and collected her things, letting herself be pulled out of the bus with the final group of rushing people. It seemed her feet had just touched the stationary ground where the couples around them hugged and kissed when the blonde girl came over and grabbed her arm roughly, hissing, "Bathrooms, Chandlier. Now."

With that the girl turned and began walking towards the bathrooms, Brooke trudging behind. She was in trouble, and she knew it. She cringed at the thought of how this was going to go. Not well, if she knew anything about this girl.

Within a second or two they had reached the female bathrooms. The blonde girl checked every stall, opening them instead of just looking under for security's sake, then finally turned to Brooke. "You've got a lot of explaining to do, Chandlier. You're a week late. As soon as anything went down, you were supposed to get out and get back."

"It would've looked suspicious if I'd left right away, just as it happened, Meghan," Brooke replied uneasily, her body twisting back a bit away from this taller girl as if to avoid an oncoming strike. "I had to wait so it'd look normal. Besides, the bus tickets started selling like hotcakes the day the buses went back on the road. I couldn't get one even if I waited in line six to ten every day. I had to pay double for scalped ones just to get back today."

"That's bull and you know it, Chandlier. You just wanted to stay there and hang out for a while, didn't you? Thought you'd have some fun at our expense, laugh at us while you went and had a grand old time on the town? Maybe thought you'd find some two-bit drunks to sleep around with while you were at it?" Meghan, the older girl, gave a wide grin towards Brooke, mocking and biting in her derogatory remarks.

"Sorry, Meghan, you must be looking in the mirror. The only one around here who likes getting paid to sleep around is you." Brooke gave a flat look towards the temporarily speechless girl, but her look was underlined in vivid fear that showed through her deadened eyes and her rigid stance.

"SHUT UP!" Meghan screamed out suddenly, livid with rage. She reached to the belt loop of her jeans and pulled out a rusty old chain, wrapping the end once around her hand, raising it into the air and advancing on Brooke.

Brooke paled dramatically, her eyes widening. That temporary look of faked superiority vanished in an instant, driven away by the fury of the larger girl, and more importantly by the appearance of that chain. She backed against the row of sinks, scrabbling and slipping across the floor as she gripped for anything that might protect her, but her hands found no shields nor any weapons with which to fight the inevitable that was coming to her. "Meghan, don't, I'll-"

"You'll WHAT?" Meghan hissed, baring her teeth and showing a pair of sharp canines. Her breathing was suddenly harsh, and a dull laugh highlighted her troubled air intake, giggling along with the sight of the smaller girl's fear. "What are you going to do about it, Chandlier? Tell on me? Just try it. I am dominance and you are submission. You are SHIT."

Brooke began to speak in reply to this, but Meghan swung down with the chain, slamming her hard across the face with the opposite end. The force of the blow spun Brooke into the wall, where she hit hard and dropped to the ground. The haphazardly folded newspaper had also been thrown from her grip, the separate sheets of paper each separating from the whole to fly about the room in different directions, creating a semblance of confetti for this sick parade of inequality.

The suitcase, the most important part of her inventory, had been similarly thrown from her grip and skidded across the slick floor, its latches rebounding it off of the flat wall and causing the old springs loading the hinge to snap the case open. The items inside were a bit odd to see on such a girl; a few lines of dynamite strapped against the top of the box and a roll of wires at the bottom, these items accented by the presence of clocks and blasting caps, and metal or plastic pieces that served some purpose that was known to the younger of the two but most likely to no one else. A map accompanied these items, heavily scrawled over in blue and red ink, and a few other pieces of equipment that would look quite incriminating to anyone from the demolished city that she had just left.

Meghan grinned even wider as her eyes turned to the suitcase and its contents, and looked to the object of her torture, Brooke. "What a wonderful way to disguise things. You're so clever."

Her foot made contact with Brooke's stomach hard enough to make the girl gag sharply, and then Meghan reached down, looping the other end of the chain into her opposite hand and putting the slack around the back of Brooke's neck. She pulled the black-haired girl's head off the floor and twisted her arms so that the chain came tight, closing off most of Brooke's airway. Her dead blue eyes glared down into Brooke's silver ones, waiting a long moment until Brooke began to gasp for air and her eyes began to redden with bloodshot veins, and then she spoke.

"You might want to clean up. My car's parked outside; you know what it looks like. Meet me out there once you're done."

She then jerked the chain away, letting Brooke's head crack onto the tile floor, and left her where she lay.

Brooke lay on the floor for a few painful minutes before finally dragging herself up to her feet. As she leaned forward over a sink, her hands bracing herself on it, she felt the overwhelming urge to vomit, but she kept her stomach down. After a moment of fighting her stomach and fighting herself, she forced her eyes up to the mirror, up to that pathetic little girl in the mirror before her, the submissive little teenager with the dead gray eyes. She watched herself for a while, her eyes, her black hair now mussed up a bit from that scuffle, her sallow complexion rising into a bruise on the side of her face. She kept her eyes there until she felt blood rising in her mouth, and wondered with a dull curiosity if Meghan had broken another of her back teeth.

Poor Brookey, a voice hissed inside her mind, low and rusted but very familiar.

"Shut up," Brooke snarled lowly.

Poor pitiful kid, the voice whispered.

"Go away." Brooke squeezed her eyes shut.

Kill her. Spill the blood, the voice crooned suddenly.

"No." Brooke brought her hands up to cover her ears, but the voice only grew louder, echoing about the room as it howled higher and higher, demanding everything that she could but wouldn't give to it in its race towards a deafening crescendo.

Stab the whore stab her spill her blood all over the floor break her neck NO MORE MEGHAN NO MORE MEGHAN NO MORE-

"NO!" Brooke screamed out the single word, lashing out with a fist forward into whatever she could strike to make the howling stop. Shattering met her now-uncovered ear as the screaming stopped abruptly, and she opened her eyes. The mirror above the sink was broken, large chunks crashing into the sinks and onto the floor from the spider-web break pattern that distorted her piteous reflection.

Look what you did, Brooklyn, the voice scolded sanely.

"Don't call me that," Brooke muttered, shaking her head as she stared into the broken image before her. It took her a moment before she finally backed away and moved to the suitcase where it lay, kneeling down to check over its contents, making sure that nothing within was broken or damaged. When she was satisfied, she shut the suitcase and locked it that way before rising up to move across the floor. Her eyes watched her reflection only for a moment before she looked away, and pushed out through the heavy door between her and that god-forsaken blonde girl.

It wasn't a long walk to the parking lot, and she had done it many times before, this being a fairly common pickup spot for Meghan to take her home from after she had finished such a job as she had done in that now-defunct city. She avoided the eyes of the people she passed, her eyes on the floor and only rising up to check the directional signs or to make sure than no one was following her or trying to make an approach. No one did, but she remained wary and ready for an attack, as always. It was her way, and she'd been like that for as long as she could think back on at the moment.

When she did reach the parking lot, she spotted the car right away, that blue sports car with the mud all over the front of it, and the dirty blonde girl behind the wheel, reading something or other. Brooke came to the back seat of the car and opened the door to slide inside. At this noise, Meghan looked up and tossed her book into the passenger's seat, then started up the car. It was only a few minutes before they were out on the road once again, heading for the home that both of them knew.

"You took quite a while in the bathroom." Meghan grinned as she finally spoke up, glancing back from the driving seat to look at her victim, crunched into a corner of the back seats with her briefcase of explosives hugged close to her chest. "You lure in some guy to work out some extra cash or what?"

"Just drive, Meghan," Brooke snapped. She pushed her suitcase to the other side of the seats with her feet and crossed her arms, eyeing the girl up front.

"Watch your mouth, you snotty little shit. You think you're better than you are, but you're just a worthless little nothing who was given to us as a present from your own mother." Meghan smirked into her rearview mirror, her piercing, dead blue eyes staring through her sunglasses. Staring with their abnormally small pupils, staring with the hate and the mocking.

"She wasn't my mother!" Brooke snarled, narrowing her silver eyes towards this insult. "She was my stepmother! And she didn't sell me! You bunch of junkers pulled me off the streets because your quota ran low, and that's it!"

"She didn't exactly go out on all cylinders to find you, now did she?" Meghan grinned cruelly, ignoring the rest of the sentence in favor of the part that bit at Brooke the most.

Just pull out your knife… the voice whispered.

"Shut up, Meghan."

"I guess you weren't too sorely missed."

Stab the whore's brains out… the voice crooned.

"Don't talk about things you don't know anything about, Meghan. Besides, why did you ever come to the castle?" Brooke leaned forward to hiss mockingly. "I heard you're an oh-vee, own volition, of maybe you just lie because you don't want people to know the truth. What, your parents sell you for a few nickels worth of crack?"

Brooke saw Meghan's eyes narrow in the rearview mirror and the car slammed into a stop so hard that Brooke collided with the back of the passenger seat, not having been prepared for such an abrupt halt. As she quickly pushed herself back into the corner where she'd been, she knew she'd crossed whatever line Meghan had set. Now she was going to get it, unless she could weasel out of it.

"Would you like to get out of this car and walk?" Meghan hissed, eyes dead on the girl in the back seat.

"Not particularly." Brooke pushed herself back as far as she could, but attempted to put on a brave face, not willing to let the wolf see her fear.

"Then I suggest you shut that gaping suck-hole in your face. If you don't like that idea, I can just kill you now. Imagine how much no one would care if they found you dead in a ditch beside the road."

"You know you're not allowed to kill me, Meghan." Brooke narrowed her eyes and glared into the rearview mirror at Meghan's eyes.

"True… but I'm not prohibited from accidents, am I? You accidentally fell into a ditch on the side of the road, and your neck snapped… I could do nothing, though I valiantly tried to save you…" Meghan was grinning now, almost wistfully.

Brooke's eyes widened and she paled impossibly further. Her open jaw came shut with a snap, and she hugged her knees to her chest, curling her legs up close to herself. Her huge staring eyes met Meghan's, causing the blonde to smirk. Brooke knew well that Meghan couldn't kill her, but she also knew well that the girl could give less of a shit about rules if her gains were greater than her losses. Meghan would kill her, and all it would take would be some semblance of a reason formulating in her tiny mind.

"I didn't think so." The honking of angry cars behind them finally seemed to reach Meghan's ears, and she began to drive once again after flashing another nasty grin of domination in Brooke's direction.

Brooke turned her stare to the back of Meghan's head and hissed, "You're insane."

"Uh uh, my dear, I do believe that's you," Meghan said almost affectionately.

You've had enough, Brooke, the voice hissed. She could practically feel a violent double of herself sitting there, hissing in her ear, breathing down her neck. She jumped slightly at this thought and glanced around the back seat nervously. Instantly she felt silly; no one was in the car but her and Meghan.

Turning her eyes back to Meghan, she muttered, "At least I'm not a skank."

She saw Meghan's eyes close temporarily, a vein in her jaw giving a slight tic. The car rumbled on, though, and all that Meghan did was turn up the radio. The news came on as the song that had been playing finished, and Brooke fell silent to listen.

"The explosion in Criton City is still being investigated," the voice on the radio said calmly. "The police have issued a suspect list in the discovery that this may have been an intentional terrorist attack. However, if that is true, then this is far from the first time these terrorists have struck. Last year, explosions demolished eleven cities, but the cases of those cities are still in gray areas on the cause. In the last one before the Criton attack, four thousand twelve were killed, two hundred fifty left in critical condition. In Criton, two thousand are reported dead, with cleanup uncovering more."

"And it was all us." Meghan grinned into the windshield. "And we never get caught. And you know why? It's all because the humans don't want to believe in us."

Brooke grimaced slightly. "And because they think we're dead. They loaded our coffins with bricks and dumped 'em in the earth."

--

Eventually Brooke fell into a fitful half-sleep, having hazy nightmares while laying sprawled over the back seat, a suitcase of explosives under her head and her arch nemesis at the wheel. She was engaged in a vague dream that she was trying desperately to understand when she was interrupted by something striking her in the face.

"AH!" She yelped, snapping into abrupt consciousness. As she tried to figure out where she was and what was going on, she was suddenly grabbed by her hair and thrown out of the car. She landed on her face, getting a mouthful of sand and dirt clods as she tried to yell. She rolled over and sat up, coughing and hacking, spitting sand onto the ground and trying to rub it out of her eyes. When her eyes were fairly clear, she looked up and almost screamed in anger.

A girl stood there ahead of her, laughing so hard that she was beginning to cough as if she were trying to hack up a lung. She was halfway bent over, her waist-length auburn hair falling around her face as she coughed and laughed and shook with the racking of her lungs all at once. She looked to Brooke, pausing for a second in her laughter at the girl's expense, and then she toppled over onto her back in the hard sand, kicking her feet and laughing like a child.

"Katsi!" Brooke yelled, clenching her hands into fists and narrowing her eyes sharply at the girl. "Katsi, quit it!"

"You – you – you looked so frickin' funny!" Katsi managed to gasp, hauling herself into a sitting position. She opened her streaming, dead green eyes, grinning so widely that she looked like a Cheshire cat. She wheezed a bit, still recovering from laughter, the sickly-looking yellow and purple bruises around her throat owing evidence to her difficulty. "You snapped up like a jackrabbit and then when I dragged you up you were squealing like a piggy and you ate sand, Brookis!"

Brooke muttered, finding nothing funny at all about this, and stood, brushing sand off of the fabric of her coat. "I'm glad I gave you your six minutes of happiness, Katsi. Does this wonderful greeting mean I'm back home?"

"Home as home can be, Brookis."

"So then what are you doing here?"

Katsi grinned at her. "Ah, Meggy said you wouldn't wake up, so she sent me off to give you a little wake-up call. Besides, I was on guard duty anyway, not like there's anything to guard or be guarded from. What else am I supposed to do in this rat hole?"

Katsi stood up as well, stumbling a little bit as she breathed shallowly. She glanced off to the side, and Brooke followed her gaze with a smirk.

The structure itself was a bit of a disturbing sight out in the middle of a desert, as this place seemed to be. It was a large castle with countless turrets, towers, and boarded-over windows. It looked like it could have been held together with tacky glue and scotch tape. The very top roof of the main structure rose in a steep slope to be cut off into a flat, even, rectangular-shaped roof. As the girls watched, glowering figures came into sight along the dark ramparts, still and watching this apparent threat. On a second glance, as Brooke was used to taking, the place looked much more like a warehouse with tacky dividers and built-up additions, but the illusion was good for fear's sake.

There was a long, heavy silence, and then Katsi raised up a hand to wave towards the building and the guards atop it, crying out, "It's okay, guys! It's just Chandlier! I've got it covered!"

There was no reply, but the guards continued on their ways, doing whatever it was that they did up there all day long.

The makeshift drawbridge was lowered over the large ditch that surrounded the "castle", as it usually was when there was no immediate threat to the building in the vicinity. Katsi reached into the car to grab Brooke's briefcase, and then slammed the door shut, turning to walk with her friend towards the bridge that stood about twenty feet away from them.

"So I heard this job went even better than usual," Katsi said cheerfully. "You must be getting better at it."

"I sure hope so. I've only been at it for four years," Brooke replied dryly, shoving her hands into her jacket pockets. Her eyes strayed over the open country around them as she spoke, always on the lookout for something of interest.

Katsi gave a shrug, and looked upwards to the building ahead. "Well, you've got a month between now and the next job, so you just get to chill here and not have to worry about drowning in gasoline or whatever. We're getting trainees soon, you know?"

"Aw, damn," Brooke groaned loudly, and slumped her shoulder in exaggerated aggravation. "I hate trainees. Do I have to be here when they get here?"

"Probably." Katsi abruptly grinned and elbowed Brooke in the side with a teasing snicker. "Oh come on. You got to give 'em a chance. I mean, you were a trainee once, remember? My trainee, actually."

"Not like I was supposed to be. We're not even from the same gang. I'm a Rat and you're a Snake. I'm under Jasmine and you're under-"

Katsi interrupted her with a moan to match Brooke's earlier one. "Oh god, don't even remind me. That psycho bitch Khanor. Meghan's idol."

Brooke only gave a grin as the two of them passed over the bridge, ignoring the stench of death and rot that threatened to make their stomachs turn as they wandered over the rotting wood. The ditch below them was what produced the rotten stink, but neither of them cared to look down into its depths. They passed over the wooden bridge and into the castle, the freezer of life that was still at the moment, most girls being in rooms other than this large entrance to pursue their jobs or other activities, whatever it was that they chose to do.

This was the home of the corpses, also known as the corpse girls, or the living dead girls. It had been there for as long as the oldest of them could remember, but it had undoubtedly stood for at least a few generations. The castle was not the only structure, much of the inside being constructed in tunnels and chambers underneath the earth. The diggers of the tunnels, who were eternally tunneling out further and wider, were often referred to as the Gravediggers by girls lucky enough to avoid that job, so named because they were essentially digging all the corpse girls their rightful graves under the earth.

As large as the castle and its warrens were, it would be impossible to fit all of the corpse girls currently in action into the castle. This afforded for jobs such as Brooke's, she being the only deconstruction worker of the place, and the jobs of the city patrol girls, the ones who kept up like undercover officers in the cities near to and far from the castle, both jobs requiring extensive travel away from the castle. The ones elected to these jobs, so far outside the safe walls of the home base, were usually the girls who had outlived their usefulness at home or the social rejects from the hierarchy.

Most girls were the first. Brooke was slipping down to becoming the latter.

--

"'Ugo's a good boy! What a good buddy! Yes he is!"

Brooke watched in disgust as Katsi crooned through the bars of a small iron cell to a man who, frankly, looked quite disturbed. He was backed into the corner of the grimy cell, his wide eyes watching Katsi and Brooke, clutching what little of his shirt was left onto himself. He was quite clearly emaciated, and had probably been there for a while. He was a real trooper. He was Katsi's favorite.

The room looked like an ordinary room, but small, square, iron-barred cells had been constructed around the room with three people in one cell at the most. A few cramped cages similar to large birdcages hung from the ceiling with inhabitants crunched inside. The room was absolutely freezing, but Brooke barely noticed, despite her lack of warm-weather clothing.

"C'mere, 'Ugo!" Katsi opened the lock to the current victim's cell, opening the door and crouching down. She toddled in, hiding one hand behind her back. Brooke smirked to herself, seeing what "'Ugo" could not: a large, heavy iron collar with a thick chain attached to it. The collar was open, ready to capture whoever it was locked onto.

"Please… please, don't…" 'Ugo whimpered, backing further into the corner, his sunken eyes growing impossibly.

Katsi smiled comfortingly, and Brooke saw 'Ugo relax for a moment; saw the huge mistake he made. As soon as his muscles relaxed, Katsi leapt forward, cracking his head back against the wall with her shoulder. She surged up while he was dazed and snapped the collar shut around his neck. By the time he was fully aware again, Katsi was standing with his leash in her hand and a grin on her face.

Brooke smirked as Katsi walked out, dragging the struggling 'Ugo easily behind her. She waited where she was until her friend paused at the door and the auburn-haired girl asked, "You coming, Brooke?"

"I'll be out in a few," Brooke replied, her eyes searching over the inhabitants of the cages about her. She heard Katsi pause a moment later, and then the girl moved out through the door, leaving Brooke to the whimpering inhabitants of the cages around her.

"You demonic broads…" hissed a voice behind her.

Brooke blinked and turned her head, glancing back behind her. She raised a brow at the man who stood there, probably a recent addition judging by his fairly decent body weight, pressed up against the bars, his glaring blue eyes on level with hers. She smirked infuriatingly and asked him, "What do you mean, Pet?"

"We aren't your pets," The prisoner spat at her. A few of the other inhabitants of his cage tried to hush him, while the rest simply sat and watched the goings-on with limited levels of interest.

"Rightfully, you are." She turned around to face him full on, her body language nothing less or more than bored.

"You creatures… you don't even belong on this earth, much less owning all of us human people-"

"Look, I'm sick of your talk. We aren't creatures or broads, we're corpses. Can't you get that through your thick skull? Corpses." Brooke narrowed her eyes at him.

"Corpses, broads, creatures, all the same," the man snarled, baring his harmless human teeth at her. "Night whores, that's all you are. Rot and decay in some imitation bag of girl-skin."

Brooke grinned. "Yeah, but at least I'm not stuck in a cage twenty-three hours a day until somebody comes to walk me around like a puppy on a leash."

"You want to try that with me? Why don't you do it?" the man asked, smirking and leaning in a bit towards the front of the cage.

"Would you like me to?"

"I really would."

"You aren't worth my time."

Suddenly the prisoner gave a wider and dirtier grin than any on the ones previous to it, and said to her, "You think you're so much better than us, but you're the weak one here. Even that blonde bitch can kick you around."

Brooke's eyes snapped to the man from their wandering position, and she moved abruptly forward to put her face quite close to his. "You'd better shut your mouth before I show you who the real subordinate is."

The man simply continued with his snide expression, infuriating to the girl he faced, all of his cellmates now silent and watching on with interest. "Uh oh, I'm scared, the little girl's going to beat me up. I think I hear Blondie coming around the corner. You'd better hide."

The black-haired girl's hand found its way into her coat pocket again, and she pulled out her Swiss Army knife, unfolding the knife out of it. She held it up to show it to him, and asked in a forcedly pleasant voice, "So, which orifice was it that you wanted this shoved into?"

The man seemed unfazed. "I bet she's got that chain of hers with her, you'd better-"

Suddenly Brooke shot her hand through the bars and grabbed onto the short hair at the back of the man's head, pulling him forward to slam his face into the bars. He cried out, but before he could try to pull away, she pressed the tip of the knife into the soft skin of his forehead, hard enough to cut into it, though she stared into his eyes with a total and utter glare of hatred just for him.

"Say that again," she snarled lowly into his face, her gray eyes burning away at his wide blue ones.

The man remained silent, staring at her, his eyes wide now that there was physical threat to him involved.

"SAY THAT AGAIN." She was demanding it now as she screamed the three words into his face, her voice rising slightly more with each word. Her victim stayed completely silent, like maybe she'd think he was dead if he just didn't say anything.

"I didn't think so." Instead of releasing him without injury, she turned the knife and dragged it across his forehead, opening a jagged wound that she crossed over a moment later to create a large 'X' across his forehead while he let out one pained and cracking shriek of pain after another. She released him when she had finished her design and shoved him backwards, where he landed and took to covering his bleeding head with his hands while howling endlessly. His cage mates did absolutely nothing for him, each too concerned about his – for all were male – own welfare to worry about their injured comrade.

Brooke's eyes came to the other cage-mates, and she closed the knife within her hand before turning and walking away to the door. As she did, she brought a hand up to rub at her face, squinting her eyes shut while she pushed her way out through the heavy wooden door. She'd overreacted to that, and not only was she going to get it from her superiors, she was already getting it from that voice in her head. It was loud now, and it wouldn't shut up. This was going to be a heck of a day.

"You're a monster," she heard one of the men call from behind her.

"No, I'm a corpse," she replied lowly, slamming the door shut behind herself so that she wouldn't hear those agonized howls any longer. "But you were close."

--

"Brooke, you've only been back for three hours. What are you doing?"

The young woman who had spoken stood before Brooke, her dank hazel eyes glaring down at the younger girl, her arms crossed over her chest. If age was any judge, this girl was not only superior to Brooke and to Katsi, but also to Meghan, and was most likely very important. In fact, she was important, but Brooke tried not to think about that as she looked at this girl with her very long brown hair back in a ponytail and her attractive but headstrong features.

"I got a little carried away," Brooke replied, looking away from the woman and to the floor at her right. She was sitting now, on a small wooden crate, and she kneaded her hands together in her lap nervously.

The woman gave a snort, and shook her head a bit. "You carved that guy's face up like a Thanksgiving turkey. I'd expect that out of Meghan, but I never expected you."

"Oh, who cares?" Brooke grew a little anxious at this comparison between herself and Meghan, and crossed her arms over her chest. "Pets die all the time, and most of the time it isn't natural causes, so why am I getting the third degree?"

"Brooke, you've got to work with me here." The woman began to pace back and forth, running a hand back through her hair until it reached the band tying her hair back, and then she looked back to younger girl. "If you don't control yourself better, I can't control the consequences for you. You know that it's more important for you than anybody else, and you know why. It's not as if everyone doesn't know the way that you are."

Brooke narrowed her eyes towards the older girl, and hissed, "Oh, don't even bring 'the way that I am' into this. That's low and you know it."

"Excuse me, Brooke, but I would remind you to give me the respect that I am owed as your gang-master by not giving me orders." The girl looked down to Brooke, and tilted her head slightly to the side, her expression going flat and cold.

"Of course, gang-master Jasmine," Brooke muttered submissively, and lowered her head once again. Of course she knew to give this girl respect, and she really did respect her, she had just forgotten in that moment of resentful anger. This was her superior and the closest thing that she had to an idol. This girl was everything that Brooke could aspire to be; she was the head of what this castle could call an army, and also the master of the "gang" – as the twenty-girl subdivisions within the castle were called – to which Brooke belonged. She was smart, and she was very capable. She was faultless.

"You're a good kid," Jasmine said as she continued to pace, running a hand up and through her hair again, becoming somewhat calmer. "You do your work and you don't complain about it, and I know you've got a lot to deal with, especially with Meghan on you all the time. You just have to keep yourself out of situations like this one. That's what got you into trouble with Meghan in the first place."

Brooke shook her head just slightly, and rested her hands on her knees again, looking downward as she spoke the response expected of her almost mechanically. "I apologize for my rash actions and will take better care to act with greater control in the future."

"You know your status in this place," Jasmine said to her, coming to a halt in front of her. "I don't like the way that things are any more than you do. Just try to keep a low profile while you're here, and then you'll be out for two months on your next job and you can do what you want there. I'm telling you for the last time. Stay out of trouble."

Then the gang-master turned away and left the room, leaving Brooke alone in that dark and cold place that her eyes and flesh had already adjusted to.

Might as well tell a fish to stay out of water, hissed the voice from the depths of Brooke's mind.

As she got up to leave, she glanced down at herself, and after a moment she pulled back her left sleeve to look at her wrist. Her wrist held an ugly scar there, healed over years before but still darker than the skin around it, rather jagged but quite a firm cut. It reminded her all too much of when she had come here, how she had become like this, and what was going to happen to her. Most of the inhabitants of the castle had been kidnapped from their own hometowns, usually by city patrol girls but sometimes by hired hands. Few were sold to the castle, and some – the "oh-vees" – took a road of life that eventually led them there.

Brooke was in with the majority, and she recounted the story in her head as she moved to the door of the room and eventually out through it, into the empty hallway. She had been abducted out on the streets at the age of thirteen, the age that most of the new trainees were taken at or around. She'd been brought back to this place in the back of a van and immediately had been cut where the scar now lay, to share her blood with an older corpse girl who was dead by now. That was apparently what made her the way she was, something in the blood, some infectious disease that made her rot from the inside out until it finally killed the body at some point between fifteen and seventeen years later.

She was really just in a state of continuous decomposition, but nobody had told her body to die.

It wasn't long before she found herself endlessly wandering the corridors as she often did when she was back at this place, head down, shoulders up, hands in her coat pockets. Her work took place outside of the castle, out in those crowded cities with all those people, and when she came back to this place for her month of recovery and regrouping and planning, she had very little to do. Sometimes she just ended up doing something stupid like this, wandering around in the infinite hallways with her mind blabbering away. Usually she would be with Katsi, playing the tag-along while her friend did her own normal duties. Usually Meghan would be beating her up.

Suddenly that voice broke in again, quickly hissing out, Speak of the devil.

"What?" Brooke lifted her head in reply to this prompt, and no sooner had she done so than she heard a howling laugh and felt a cracking pain across the back of her head. A yelp was squeezed out of her before she fell forward onto the hard floor, just barely able to bring her hands up in time to brace herself from banging her face into the stone. She was just about to get up and defend herself when she was suddenly grabbed around her knees, and dragged upside down into the air. That was when she saw the brown boots and the dirty jeans. Meghan.

"MEGHAN!" Brooke shrieked the name as if she had any authority to do so, flailing her arms about desperately for anything to grab at, her coat and hair dangling onto the floor as her blood sluggishly seeped into her head. "Put me down!"

She heard Meghan give an ugly laugh in reply, and howled out, "As you wish, my dearest Brookey!"

Her body moved further into the air and was just as quickly dropped, she landing on her shoulders and the back of her head, narrowly avoiding landing straight on her head to crack her skull and neck wide open. Dazed, she crumpled onto the floor, the inside of her head suddenly as cold as ice, all of her feeling so abruptly light and dizzy in the hallway. The feeling took a minute to go away, and when it finally did, she propped herself up on her elbows, feeling the beginnings of a headache breaking into her skull.

Meghan was still there. Her back was turned and she was walking away, but she was still there.

I WILL KILL YOU.

The thought was pure and simple, and it took over Brooke with a ferocious simplicity that surged her muscles into action against this single foe. She let out a screech, a furious battle cry, and lunged forward before the blonde girl could even respond, slamming into her back and knocking her onto the floor. Having taken down her enemy, she knelt there on the girl's back for the tremulous millisecond that she had, breathing heavily.

"You ugly runt!" Meghan's arms swooped back and grabbed two thick handfuls of Brooke's long hair, pulling hard on her scalp. Brooke let out a yell of pain and jerked her hand back, bashing her fist into the back of Meghan's head. Cursing loudly, Meghan rolled over as she pulled down harder on Brooke's hair, crushing the smaller girl under her weight.

Brooke let out a shout of rage and brought her hands up around Meghan's head to grab at her face blindly. She succeeded in shoving her fingers into the blonde's mouth and nearly lacerating the skin around her left eye before Meghan bit down hard on her fingers and then elbowed her in the stomach hard enough that she nearly threw up again. While Brooke lay there dry heaving, Meghan rolled off of her and rose to her feet to tower over her, pulling her chain out of her belt loop.

"You think you're such hot shit that you can stand up to me?" Meghan leaned down over Brooke mockingly as the girl laid there, the air trampled out of her and her vulnerable underbelly exposed to her attacker. "You nasty little pig. You forgot our little lesson on superior and inferior so soon? I won't be taken down a notch so easily by such a runty little brat."

The girl on the floor made an attempt to rise, but Meghan lunged down on her, straddling her body and pinning her arms with her knees, wrapping her chain around her neck and pulling it tight to strangle about her neck. Brooke tried to yell against the chain, but it sufficiently cut off all of her air, stopping the flow of air in either direction. This was not new but it was not pleasant in any case, and she gagged horribly, clawing at the chain around her neck, scratching up her skin and doing everything but removing the chain. All the while her eyes could only focus on those blue eyes above her and that snarling, laughing face as the chain came tighter and tighter, her vision closing into tunnel vision and eventually falling into utter static darkness with ghostly white outlines moving against the background that pulsated sickly with her racing heart.

It took a few minutes of this strangling, to which Brooke was forced to remain eternally aware and continually in pain, before Meghan finally grew bored and released one end of the chain. The pressure was suddenly gone, and as the blonde girl rose up, dragging her chain with her, Brooke sucked in a huge inhale of air before she coughed thickly, her lungs and throat aching and sore from their recent abuse, her head pounding.

"Keep that in mind next time you think you want to attack me," Meghan snapped at her, and she heard the footsteps moving away as Meghan left. She didn't try to follow this time, staying where she was to lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling. It was only a second or two of this, she trying to regain her breath and stop the pain by staying still and breathing deeply, before another face came into existence above her. Green eyes, auburn hair, that ring of bruises around her throat.

"Why did you do that?" Katsi asked Brooke, and reached down a hand for the other girl to grab.

Brooke took the offered hand, and was hauled up to her feet. She felt light-headed as she came to her feet, like her head was barely attached to her neck and was just lolling around mindlessly. "Exactly what did I do?"

"Go after her. She would have left you alone if you had just taken it," Katsi said, and looked down the hallway in the direction that Meghan had apparently retreated in.

"You saw it, then?" Brooke reached up a hand to rub the back of her head, where she'd been struck in the first place. "Thanks for your help."

Katsi shrugged a little, and grabbed her friend by the arm, leading her in the direction opposite that in which the blonde had gone. "I would have if I could have, but then all that would have happened would be that both our asses would get beat."

"Weren't you supposed to be playing with your pet or something?" Brooke asked, changing the subject off of the uncomfortable topic. She didn't want to talk about that kind of thing any longer than she had to.

Her friend went with it without a problem. "What? Oh, right! Oh, he fell in the moat and drowned. Poor little bugger, but it was probably the best thing for him."

Brooke raised a brow and muttered sarcastically, "Try not to flood the room with your tears."

"Yeah, well, I'll just get a new one. We'll be expecting quite a few, seeing as the freak show's in town. You wanna go see? There'll be lots of humans to take down and they'll be burning all kinds of stuff!" Katsi grinned excitedly at the prospect of more little men to play with a drag around until she drowned them in the moat, and more fun to be had in the midst of a lot of destruction. Katsi had been to many of these "freak shows" before, but Brooke always avoided going. There was nothing to lure her to a place where the only thing to do was watch people be tortured and killed in repetitive ways.

"You have fun with that," Brooke said, and shook her head. "I think I'll pass."

Suddenly Katsi pulled her head to the side, cocking it sharply as she gave a dirty smirk. She had the key. "This one's got bombs."

This caught Brooke's attention, and she jerked her head up to look towards the shorter girl, her eyes blinking once. She raised an eyebrow after a moment of silence, and then she finally spoke. "When are you leaving?"

"I was thinking of leaving today," Katsi cheerfully answered, fairly well dragging Brooke now as the two of them moved down the hallway at a brisk pace. "Right now, in fact."

"And we have permission from the superiors to go and loiter like idiots at the freak show?" Brooke knew that Katsi wouldn't have gotten permission – Katsi didn't really abide to rules – and usually Brooke wouldn't have cared either, but after all of the things that had happened today concerning her inferiority and the necessity of her obedience, she wasn't too eager to go off breaking rules so soon. It could get her into big trouble if she made a minor slip up, and she knew it.

Katsi only laughed a bit, and turned away. "You're so anal about that kind of thing. If we're home before we're missed, nobody's going to care. Don't be such a spoilsport!"

"Katsi, we can't just go," Brooke protested as they came nearer to the entrance hall and nearer to the bridge. "And besides, how are we supposed to get there?"

At this question Katsi stopped and released Brooke, jamming a hand into her windbreaker's pocket and rummaging around. She searched about in her pocket for a minute or two before she apparently found what she wanted, and lifted it out, holding it up to Brooke's eye level teasingly as Brooke simply stared at the item that she saw.

Swinging the ring of keys from side to side, Katsi smirked. "Who says Meghan never did us any good?"

--

"I can't believe we stole Meghan's car! This is so cool! I mean, we're ridin' in style, Brookis!"

Brooke glared at Katsi and reached out to turn up the obtrusive music on the radio. "This is probably going to get us killed."

"Brooke, we can't die… I mean… We're already dead!" Katsi cracked up at her own joke, despite the fact that it really wasn't funny at all.

"Just shut up and drive. I want to get to the freak show, get some bombs, see some burning flesh, and leave, okay?" Brooke sank further down in her seat as they drove through the desert. She glanced into the side view mirror, but all she saw was a cloud of sand and dust behind them, blocking the view of home. She felt a bit queasy, looking back at that great lack of home, but she quickly brushed it off.

"Oh, come on. There'll be lots of fun stuff. And besides, with the explosives and the crappy guarding, you can probably restock, eh?" Katsi smirked, taking her hands off the wheel and turning to Brooke with a grin. "I know what you like."

"KATSI! WATCH THE ROAD!" Brooke shrieked, grabbing onto the passenger door for lack of anything else to hold onto in the face of death.

"What road?" Katsi blinked obliviously and turned back around, taking the wheel into her hands again.

"You idiot! Just drive!" Brooke snapped, sitting back in her seat again.

--

Brooke didn't know how long it had taken, but it was a while before they reached the freak show. After they had finally parked – with Katsi driving, crashed was more like it – they were left wondering how to get in. Or, at least, Brooke was. Katsi had been to one of these before.

"You just sneak in, Brookis. Simple as stealing candy from a baby." Katsi grinned and climbed onto the hood of the car to have a better view of what lay ahead.

"Sneak in? How?" Brooke unsurely glanced to the top of the chain link fence that encircled the baseball field that housed this show. The fence was lined with barbed wire, probably to keep out non-paying intruders like the two of them. Brooke could hear the huge crowd easily from out here, and she didn't like what she heard. "I don't suppose there's any holes under the fence."

"See the fence behind the bleachers? No barbed wire. We climb up there and drop into the bleachers, we're in!" Katsi pointed, hopped off the car, and started walking the way she had indicated.

With no other choice, Brooke followed her. The two made an easy entry over the back of the gate and into the bleachers, though Brooke's coat nearly got stuck quite a few times. Once they were in, Brooke looked to the field and instantly wanted to leave.

In the center of the field was a red and white stage, sixteen TVs arranged on the back of it. There seemed to be fires everywhere, in the bleachers, along the fences, along the stage, even outside the fences, all started in blue metal trashcans. There were dark spots on the stage, dried blood on the barbed wire of the fence and that around the stage.

"Katsi, I really don't think we're welcome," Brooke hissed. They were considered freaks here, she knew, and it looked as if these people would be quite ready to recognize that, what with how eager they were about the freaks they had taken already.

"Nonsense. Let's find the explosives and then get a seat, I'm rarin' to go!" Katsi smirked and began to move through the noisy crowd. Brooke followed nervously, her eyes darting to and fro as if to see if someone was about to notice them. No one seemed to notice. Or at least they didn't care.

Katsi led Brooke onto the field and a bit to the left. They slid past security with practiced ease and came to the first dugout, where their goal undoubtedly lay. Its entrance was blocked by cheap plywood, not much of a challenge to get past.

"Here, take this so you get the right stuff," Katsi hissed, sticking a small flashlight into Brooke's hands.

Brooke uneasily opened the door, wincing at the squeak that resulted. Flicking on the flashlight, she stepped in, nervously wondering when someone would burst in to find her. She glanced to an open box first, bringing her flashlight up, and saw a flash of a rat flee from the top of the box.

Well, rats lived in damp little dumps like this, right? Didn't mean her dynamite was wrecked.

Shrugging it off, she went to the box on the right that the rat had been on and pulled off the top. She glanced around once more and began pulling out sticks of dynamite and stuffing them into her pockets, the regular and hidden ones. She really hoped that Katsi didn't shove her into one of those fire bins as a joke; she'd go off like a Fourth of July firework collection.

Carefully replacing the top of the box, she turned and hurried to slide back out the door.

"I really don't like this, Katsi," Brooke hissed, clutching her coat shut and glancing around with a bit of paranoia.

"Oh shut up, Brookis. You can't ever look on the bright side." Katsi strolled along the bottom row of bleachers, looking for a good seat. "This'll be good."

Brooke muttered darkly, following her friend. It didn't take long for her to get the feeling that she was being watched. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw one of the humans – a male with a leather jacket and blonde hair – moving after her and trying very hard to appear innocent. He was failing miserably.

After a second or two, when the boy failed to drop away, Brooke stopped and turned around to face him. He stopped, blinked, and looked at her with a sheepish grin. A wolf in sheep's clothing.

"What do you want?" Brooke snapped irritably, narrowing her eyes.

"I-"

"Shoo, go back to whatever slime-hole you came from," Brooke cut him off, flapping her hands at him dismissively.

"Hey, babe, don't be so cold." The boy grinned and raised his eyebrows at her. She wanted to punch him.

"I suggest you enjoy the show while I allow you to." Brooke scowled at him, crossing her arms.

"Come on, baby, we can watch it together… then maybe afterwards we can go back to my place and-"

"Do I look like a slut? Get away from me." Brooke bit off each poisonous word sharply, and for a minute he seemed to get the point, but to no avail.

He actually started getting mad, on the contrary of what she had though would happen. "Don't be such a bi-"

"I TOLD YOU TO GET AWAY FROM ME!" she screamed at him, his arrogance and persistence pushing her too far. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her knife, not even thinking as she pulled up her right sleeve, exposing her wrist. She slashed across her wrist and looked up to glare at him. "Do you see that, you little bastard? If you see that, run your ass off and get the hell away from me, or this knife goes in you. And I can assure you, you will bleed."

The boy stared at her wrist, stared at how her veins were cut but she didn't bleed until a moment later and then only a small, coagulated amount, and, instead of running, he screamed, "A FREAK! ONE OF THE FREAKS IS OUT! HURRY!"

"Oh shit," Brooke heard Katsi hiss from behind her, and Brooke turned around, but Katsi was running up the bleachers towards the fence by the time Brooke was able to spot her.

Brooke squealed and tried running after her friend, but two large men grabbed her before she could even start. She struggled and shrieked, "KATSI! KATSI! COME BACK!"

She continued shrieking after Katsi, but her friend was long gone by now. The guards dragged Brooke off the bleachers and towards the largest holding box, dragging her across the dirt. They dragged her inside and she started screaming at them.

"AUGH! LET GO OF ME YOU FUCKING BASTARD! LET ME FUCKING GO!"

She thrashed and struggled and howled as they dragged her further inside. It wasn't any use, but it couldn't hurt to try.

"YOU FUCKING BITCHES! YOU SHOULD ALL FUCKING GO TO HELL YOU MORONS! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOUR KIND!"

One of them hit a switch, the other pulling a ring of keys from his pocket. The one with the keys unlocked and opened a cage, and a second later she was thrown inside. She landed on the four other occupants of the cage, activating a vicious snarl from at least two of them. With a squeak, she moved off of them.

Staring at her cage-mates, Brooke barely heard the conversation behind her, but natural eavesdropping kicked in through her fear.

"I thought you were on stage," a male voice said.

There was a cold silence following this. Receding footsteps told her one of them had left.

Footsteps started up as the remaining person started walking around again.

"Please don't kill us… Have mercy! Mercy! Please…" a quieter, pleading voice said.

"I won't kill you yet," said a new voice, a cold voice, a dull and fairly quiet male monotone.

Free! Squealed the voice to her. You better get on this guy's good side, Brookey wookey! He's gonna get us out!

Brooke spun and jumped to her feet, peering out at the owner of the cold voice, her stomach full of nerves and her mouth full of lies, but she stopped when she saw him.

He gave the impression of being a man, but he looked just to be a tall boy, maybe not much older than herself. He wore a long black coat over his very tall self, obviously he was over six feet tall, maybe even six and half; he was amazingly thin and amazingly pale, perfectly white with fiercely contrasting shoulder-length jet-black hair, rather long for a boy but not anything unsightly to look at. He also wore a black and blue baseball cap, with some red design clashing on the front of it.

Brooke's nerves fell away, replaced by a bit of anger. How could he be setting them free? How could he say he didn't work for them when the evidence sat upon his head?

Best to take the opportunities when they came.

As the boy strode towards the main switch, Brooke grinned out persuasively, deciding to try her luck. "Are you going to let us out, then? No use in keeping what you can't destroy, after all."

Stupid thing to say, a whisper from her mind warned.

The boy glanced over slowly, hand poised on the lever. His silver eyes focused on hers, and Brooke wanted to shrink. After a second he said, "Everyone else goes but you."

Brooke's expression shattered on the floor, and she looked downward, then looked at him sharply again. "You wouldn't need me for anything. Just for spite?"

A pause again before he spoke with his apathetic gaze. "Don't strain yourself."

Brooke bit back the snap that threatened to come into her voice as she proposed a question. "What's that supposed to mean?"

He leaned on the lever but did not move it, giving her that same look. "Figure it out."

Feeling embarrassed and defensive, she scowled. "What's your beef with your little human buddies anyway? They run you out a few bucks on which freak dies fastest?"

"You know, I bet you wish you had a lighter for that dynamite, don't you?"

She stopped there, choking on her words, and narrowed her eyes towards him. What did he know about her and that dynamite? There hadn't been anybody in there; she would've heard them. There was careful caution in her voice when she spoke again. "What dynamite?"

"Don't play stupid." He looked at the lever, his fingers playing over it as if he was bored with her already.

"What makes you think I haven't got a lighter anyway?" It was easier to watch him now that his eyes weren't on her. It was always easier to look at somebody if you didn't have to have them analyzing you in the meantime.

He said nothing more to her, and moved away from the lever instead. Her heart sank into her stomach as he looked over the cages. He had to let them out. He couldn't just bluff them like that. It was against the rules. And besides that, these freaks would kill her if she had prevented their freedom. First rape, and then murder. She could just see it now. Well, die young, have a good-looking corpse. Not if they mashed your face in.

Brooke looked up with a blink. The boy had just pulled the lever, yellow sparks catching her eyes and leading them down to the ground. Only a second of this fire, but her brain registered with the fact that she was not to die at this moment. Some freaks filed out past her eyes, from the one or two cages that had opened.

Is this stupid cage going to open? The voice hissed.

She reached out, hands touching onto the cold metal, and shoved at it once or twice. Still looking at it, she spoke to the boy, "Hey, you gonna open these doors?"

"I told you that you're not leaving."

Her push on the cage increased, and she said distractedly to him, "Yeah, I was thinking about my fellow freak and all that..."

Wolf, the voice muttered in disdain.

Brooke looked upwards, stopping her pushing, and saw him head towards the end of the line with a large set of keys jingling in his hand. Probably freeing them. Everybody but her, as he had so kindly reminded her a number of times. What a shame.

WOLF.

"Aren't you worried about those cronies coming back before you mosey your way around here?" Brooke asked, narrowing her eyes. She was annoyed by the way he walked, annoyed by how he was so calm, annoyed by everything about him. Some savior he was. Just some vengeance vulture.

He seemed to go ever slower at that, turning the keys over and around in his hands as he peered through them. "No."

She made a face after him and stewed quietly, wiring her fingers through the fencing of her cage. What a savior, oh yes. She watched as he opened one of the doors at the end once he found the key, freaks running out and swarming away before he slammed their door shut behind them. Savior. More like a wolf. "So why're you feeling like some sort of Christ on cocaine? You one of those liberation freaks? Or just a regular one like everybody else?"

"So why are you in here? What did you do to get yourself locked up and ready to be burned at the stake?" He questioned back. Hopefully she could get him mad enough he'd bust the gate just to get at her, and then she could beat it.

"What's it to you?" She drew back her lips in a wide grin. "You could be up on that stake just as easy as me when they get you for this."

"You're missing the point. They won't get me." He continued unlocking cages, and she wondered if she wasn't getting to him after all. He had to be a freak, why else would he let them out? No reason.

"That's what all the freaks say. Then they end up in the pound." Fingers gripping at the gate, she wanted to laugh out of giddy fear, but she held it back. Must retain composure now.

He paused and looked back at her. "You ought to know. Considering you're behind bars and I'm not. You must be more human than you think."

What in the hell was that supposed to mean? She raised an eyebrow towards this statement in confusion.

"You speak like you know it." He continued with his unlocking.

"Know what?"

This boy gave her a frozen stare. "Like you know us. Like you know them. And this place, and these things."

She turned her eyes away. Why did he have to look again? "I know enough."

His eyes turned from her. "You know shit."

That was not too far from the truth. She held her tongue and waited to see if he would come to let them out. Her stomach felt cold and her head a vacuum. Fear wanted to take her. The boy took out a knife, and jammed it into the lock that he was on.

She spoke up at last. "Why are you doing this?"

As the door came loose, he released another line of freaks from their cage. "Why do you care?"

Her hands went to the fence before her once again. This boy was annoyingly difficult. "I don't. You must be a freak, you wouldn't do this if you were a human."

"Then you must be right." The door of the newly opened cage shut behind the filing freaks, and the boy moved on to the next cage. It was the last one before she was up for release.

"Then it's just what kind. Perhaps a kelpie." If he was a kelpie, she was in big trouble. They – well, they were called werewolves, too – were known to be traitors and cannibals. It would figure. She really didn't like kelpies.

He looked to her in a way that told her that she couldn't be further off, and said a moment later, "Vampire."

He was evidently lying. Vampires were night creatures, and hideous creatures at that. They had no care for other creatures and one would not have gone to this kind of trouble for anyone but himself. Oh well, let him believe what he wished. He was still at that cage. "You about done there, Mr. Vampy?"

"You don't believe me." He looked to her as people ran from the cage he had just opened.

Hit the nail on the head right there, he did. Her eyes twitched away from his. "No, I don't."

He didn't bother closing the gate this time, instead walked to her cage and stood before it, peering in. She backed away from force of habit and looked towards him, shoving her hands into her coat pockets. He didn't unlock the cage, though, and simply stood there with his knife in hand. What was he waiting for?

Gently she pushed. "Well? Those cronies are going to start noticing their freaks getting loose soon."

He cocked his head to the side and then began to move away. "Have fun in center stage."

She watched in horror as he turned to follow the others, and pulled at the fencing. Less that a second and she started to scream.

"HEY! HEY! YOU CAN'T LEAVE ME HERE! COME ON!"

He stopped at the door, and dropped his keys on the floor. His eyes turned back to her. "Who says?"

"I do! Come back here and let me OUT!" She wired her fingers through the cage door, glaring wildly after him. He couldn't do this. He just couldn't.

"Give me a good reason why I should let you out."

She choked. A good reason. She could have come up with a million reasons not to leave her, but none of them were particularly good. What could she do for someone?

He had seen her getting explosives.

Blowing things up.

Why would he have been in the shed unless he was getting explosives?

Explosives.

Criton.

That was it.

"I can blow this place up for you! I've got all that dynamite, and I'm the best in the trade!" She had to have a chance now. She was an expert at this stuff. No way he could turn her down!

"I really don't think I need help lighting a fuse."

Okay, so maybe he could.

Brooke felt she was losing her thread, her persuasive test getting less and less credible. Grinning desperately, she gave it another try. "Yeah, but... but... But I can help set stuff for maximum effect... I'm small and dark... Nobody'll see me, even you... I'll be quiet as a mouse."

He opened the door to peer outside. "You're not convincing."

She had to get out. She just had to keep him here. "I may not be convincing, but I am good with all kinds of combustibles."

Coming to her cage, he leaned up against the bars and spoke. "Why would I, a person like myself, need someone like you, a kid behind bars, to help me do what I need to?"

She leaned away from him, but held her ground as she said, "Because if you want this done right, you need someone who does this for a living. You can get the job done, but I can get the job done right."

"I need no one." He moved away from her cage, going cold as a dead fish again. This was going nowhere. This called for some desperate terms of service.

"Hey, hey, listen. If you let me go, I'll do whatever it is you need done, we go our separate ways, no payment necessary, I'll never bother you again, none of this ever happened."

It must have worked, because he grabbed the bars of the cage, ripping it open. Brooke moved aside of the so-called vampire and made her way towards the door, fully intending to split. A hand grabbed her by the back of her coat, and the vampire said, "Not you."

"Uh?" She looked back into the boy's face, and he began moving towards the door, shoving her along with him. He said nothing to her, and as she went with him without much resistance, she asked, "Where are we going?"

"Somewhere." He grabbed her arm, and she knew. The stage. He had to be taking her to the stage. No, she wouldn't go up there, not alive. That place with the televisions and the blood and all that death stench. No. She struggled against him, to no avail. She couldn't get away. His grip was too strong. It was no use.

She fought anyway.

He easily pushed her up the stairs, onto the stage.

PANIC!

Brooke turned and tried to run back at him, maybe knock him down, run past him, anything to get away from the stage. However, he had other plans. He grabbed her by the neck and pulled her towards him. Sounding unreasonably calm, he hissed, "Play along and maybe I won't kill you."

All the fight left Brooke with that sentence. She gave up, dejected. He'd won. She let him pull her up the stairs, and he shoved her onto the stage. It was rougher than she'd expected, and she tried not to trip.

No balance will be the end of you, hissed the voice.

The crowd was screaming. Too loud. Too much. Brooke looked to the boy. He was speaking into a microphone now, speaking out to the crowd.

"We have a fine specimen here, folks. Feisty too."

What a liar he was. That was all Brooke could think of. The words ran through her head until it became a steady stream of "liar".

He moved to her other side and took the microphone away from his mouth, leaning in to her ear. "Do as much destruction as you can, when I give the signal."

Brooke was about to respond that she couldn't, all she had was a flashlight and a knife, when the boy punched her in the stomach. She backed up from the force of it.

"I don't have a match or a lighter, remember?" she hissed. How could he forget something that important?

"Take this." He dropped something to the floor of the stage. A lighter. Suddenly he shoved her in its direction, lifting the microphone back to his mouth. "What do you say, folks? What is it?"

Hitting the ground, Brooke grabbed the lighter and quickly jammed it into her pocket. As she rose, she realized with dread that they were chanting again. They were chanting "burn", over and over.

"What? I can't hear you!" The boy called.

The crowd continued chanting, growing steadily louder. Brooke felt like she was going to go insane.

"What's that you say?" The boy actually smirked this time, his free hand retreating behind his back.

The crowd continued to chant, screaming the word "burn" over and over now.

"Do I hear 'burn'? Is that it?"

Brooke pushed a hand into her pocket, feeling the lighter and dynamite comfortingly close to her fingers. She didn't have a clue what the signal would be, but hopefully she'd find out before she died. She glanced towards the boy, tense.

He didn't look at her. Instead he looked to the barrels on either side of him. "Well… burn it shall."

Suddenly he threw the contents inside his fist into one of the barrels. The barrel exploded, covering the stage in fire and smoke.

Brooke gave a yelp, squeaking, "Was THAT the signal?"

Nothing replied except the explosion of the barrel close to her. It started a chain reaction of barrels blowing up. Brooke was scared, that was for sure, but after a second she realized that this was what she worked in. This was the chaos of every single job she'd ever done. She just hadn't expected it. There was nothing to fear in the smoke and death of an explosion or five.

She grinned and set to work.

She pulled out a stick of dynamite and the lighter, lighting the dynamite and throwing it towards the bleachers. She couldn't see where it landed, but she heard it go off. With a blink, she began to laugh. It wasn't good laughter, happy laughter; it was the insane, terrified laughter of someone who helps the danger. She pulled out another stick, lighting and throwing it, then another, then another, and another still. They flew in different directions. It was perfect.

Suddenly one flew back her way.

"Oh crap." Brooke's eyes widened and she ran for the edge of the stage, jumping off and fleeing across the field at a sprint. The stage blew up behind her, the shock wave sending her down onto the ground.

Ow.

Another barrel, right next to her, exploded. She rolled the other way, jumping to her feet and lighting another dynamite. She threw it blindly, but couldn't tell if it went off or where it landed. It seemed as if everything was exploding on its own, smoke engulfing her.

The fight-or-flight instinct kicked in, and she turned, breaking into a run again. She couldn't see where she was going, but she lit sticks of dynamite even as she went, throwing them without a care to where they went. She slammed into someone, earning a "watch out," but she continued running.

After about three seconds she skidded to a stop and, without any sense of reason, pulled out four sticks of dynamite. She lit them simultaneously and threw them towards where she thought the bleachers might have been – she couldn't tell in the blinding smoke and chaos.

A teenage kid ran by, screaming, and a second later another followed, yelling for the first to shut up. Brooke raised a brow and threw a dynamite stick towards where she thought the stage was, then threw another.

And the gunfire began.

Blocking out the sounds, Brooke muttered to herself, "Come on, you can do this, you've done it a thousand times…"

And so she continued throwing off her little bombs, the only thought in her mind to carry out the order given. Do as much destruction as you can.

Suddenly bullets began whizzing by her head, and she was grabbed by the arm and pulled along. Brooke yelped and caught her feet, trying to keep up as best she could, and caught a look at the grabber.

The psychopath with the fangs.

Of course. Why not?

"I thought it was every freak for themselves!" she yelled, trying to keep up with his fast pace.

"Don't call us freaks," he replied, ducking the return fire from the guns.

Figuring it was as good an idea as any, she ducked as well. "I suppose they're shooting at us!"

"No shit, Sherlock. Once we reach the fence, we're good to go."

"And where's the fence?" She could barely see, and she didn't suppose he could see any better.

"Right here." Almost on cue, they reached the fence. He hooked four fingers, two on each hand, into the fence, and pulled himself over, crouching on the barbed wire at the top.

Brooke stared up. That was barbed wire. Barbed wire was sharp.

No way was she cutting up herself to get over a fence.

"There's barbed wire," she said plaintively, pointing out the obvious.

He reached down a hand to her. "Just climb the way and grab my hand."

She hesitated, and then grabbed his hand. So maybe he'd kill her, but she'd die either way, wouldn't she?

Surprising her, he pulled her easily up, then jumped from the fence, taking her with him. He landed first and then caught her in his arms.

Brooke blinked, feeling bewildered and appalled. It wasn't as if she was some sort of weakling! She thrashed angrily. "Put me down!"

He did so, looking around the fence, seeming unfazed. Brooke looked out as well, feeling proud of the work she'd done. How wonderful it had turned out!

"See? What'd I tell you? With what you did and what I did and probably some other people..." She stared out beyond the fence.

He looked at her then, seeming very annoyed. "I didn't need your help. Get that through your head. I spared your life because you begged me. You killed them, a lot of them. You're no better than they are."

Brooke shrunk back in response to this, but replied defiantly. "What do you care? Simple revenge. Crude but satisfying."

"Revenge for what. They didn't do anything to you. Just like we didn't do anything to them."

"I don't care. If it bothers you so much, why did you tell me to do as much destruction as I could? You were out there killing them too."

"Don't even say that. I didn't kill a soul while I was here. I keep my word." He pulled out six sticks of dynamite and slapped them into her hands, then turned and walked away.

How dare he blame this on her! He'd been the one to order her in the first place. And at the littlest comment he'd exploded in her face.

Hypocrite, snapped the voice, though Brooke knew well that it knew no more than her how much the boy had done.

"Don't you dare go blaming me for anything!" Brooke snapped, storming after him.

He stopped and turned to face her, hissing, "Then why in the fuck would you come here? You wanted to see burning flesh, did you not? You wanted to get explosives, did you not? Don't fucking say any of this is my fault because it's people like you that run this place."

Balling his hands into fists, he turned to leave again.

That pushed Broke too far.

Reason fleeing her again, she threw a stick of dynamite at the back of his head, almost like a spoiled child throwing something into the back of their parent.

However, he snapped back around and grabbed it before it hit him, then dropped it to the ground. He grabbed her by the front of her shirt and lifted her off the ground, coming face to face with her.

Oh god, he's going to kill us, wailed the voice piteously.

Brooke very much believed it this time.