Before the first man leapt from the shadows, the knife was out and its sheath on the ground. I turned at the slightest sound, crushing Vaden's note beneath my foot. That earliest attacker was the easiest. He didn't know I had been warned. With the flick of my wrist and the sting of my blade, he just…went away.
To me death is not terrible. It is nothing to fear. All death really is in my mind is shifting your life. You may be buried physically, but there are memories of you. There are always memories. Therefore killing is not a crime in my head. I send these people out of this life where they cannot hurt anybody anymore. It's all justified.
Soon, there were bodies all around me, surrounding me. I was drowning in a sea of men who I could only assume had been given orders to kill me. They materialized from the dark, letting me know there was no escaping. I don't fear death. I haven't since I was a child. Since my father died before me and his last words were, "I love you. It'll be alright. Don't be afraid." Still, I wasn't prepared to go quite yet.
There were dozens of them. I would guess fifty, tops, if I had to. This was not something I could do alone. 'If at first you don't succeed, call in an air strike.' The words echoed in my head from long ago. Vaden. "Vaden!" 'The Cavalry doesn't always come to the rescue.' Where are you? They were on all sides still, and I had only taken down seven or eight. Others I had wounded, but it wasn't enough. They still were not attacking as one. A single man at a time would come up and attempt.
Another one of the men came up from behind, pinning my arms at my sides. I slammed my foot as hard as I could onto his, jerked my elbow into his ribcage, and was free to slit his throat. Why aren't they just shooting me? They don't have to worry about making a scene; there's nobody around for miles. They want me alive.
"You know there's really no limit as to how bad things can get." I heard the shout closely follow a thud. I couldn't take my attention off of the assailants, but I knew he had come back. He must have guessed what I was thinking. "Never leave a man behind."
I turned to face Vaden. He stood there before me with a depiction of calm on his face. The tails of his duster swirled, shedding dust and debris. He took a step forward and opened the long coat, spreading his arms and revealing a number of weapons. He withdrew a handgun for himself and I followed suit.
Together, we killed twenty men before running out of ammo. Then we dropped the useless armaments to select more. Twenty more men were killed before the remaining withdrew. They melted back into the shadows and night. Again, we dropped the artillery. Then we just waited, standing back to back in the regained calm. We stood for a few moments, scanning the area. When there was naught, something struck us both from training. We repeated it almost in unison. "A retreating enemy is probably just falling back and regrouping."
I could hear Vaden crack his neck and sigh. His hands were on my shoulders shortly, and he turned me around. Reaching a hand into the confines of his jacket once again, he pulled out a stick of dynamite. I looked up at him, uncertainty showing. He raised his brows to ask the silent question. 'Well?' All I could do was nod and take one last look around.
He directed his hand north, east, south, and then west. "Which do you think? They withdrew east, right? You'd think they would know enough not to be staying there. What are your thoughts? We might not have much time." I could take little time to consider before mouthing the word 'all' and having a final look around.
Vaden cleared his throat, and pulled out more of the explosive and a lighter. He approached me, staying close enough to whisper "Five second fuses always burn in three seconds." Another reminder of our training. There were so many things we remembered still, and even more that we had made up over time.
Each of us held two sticks of dynamite. He pointed to signify he would throw his north and south. I nodded, knowing what to do. He flipped open a silver lighter. A glowing flame struck up. I felt the heat of it as Vaden lit all fuses. We threw them in accord and ducked.
Vaden jumped to cover me, almost on top of me. It took me by surprise. I never would have expected him to do something like that…unless something was in it for him. He had come to my side when I called for help. He had saved my life, most likely. Now he sheltered me from fire. After all of that, could I trust him, or should I not?
After the worst of the explosions, I got myself up. Vaden was quickly on his feet as well. He squinted around and pulled out yet another piece. That was Vaden for you—always extremely prepared. Perhaps it paid off, though.
"Why did you come back?" I had to ask.
His head turned to reply. "You called. You called me and I came."
I raised my eyebrows. "That's all there is to it?"
"No more, no less."
Another question came to mind. "How did you get to me when I was surrounded?"
Vaden glanced away, sighing lightly. He looked up toward the moon as he answered me. His eyes shut when the words came. "You called in an air strike. How did you want me to come? From under ground?" He chuckled softly, facing me again. "I did what was necessary to do what had to be done."
My voice nearly whispered, "What was that?"
"Enough questions. We should be leaving."
"Vaden. What have you done?"
He looked at me as if he could see through me. "You have heard of Jacques Bordeaux, I presume?"
My brow furrowed at this. "The bounty hunter. Why?"
He tried to strain a smile. "I am his target."
"He died years ago; don't play games with me. Explain yourself or I'll—"
Vaden cut me off. "You'll what? Kill me? Death does not frighten me, Kara, it fears me. It will not accept me. Take my word; Death refuses me. I know, Kara. You think I have been a killer for so long and not been attacked, not met an opponent? I have been shot, stabbed, bludgeoned. I was locked up for a month without food, but still I survived. I have attempted the unforgivable act, suicide, and failed. Pain is no stranger, and I will never be afraid to die. To die would be a welcome reprise. Take a shot at me, if you will. Put my dagger through my heart. Remember, though, if you mean to threaten me, you do not accomplish your goal in doing so."
Caught momentarily off guard, I drew the dagger that he had earlier deposited into my pocket. I held it out to my side for him to see, and dropped it. I took a step closer to him and wrapped both arms around him, underneath the long coat. It was he that was caught off guard when I did this. He thought I was embracing him. Rather, I was searching for the pair of handcuffs I knew he had, and another gun.
Cold metal met my right hand, and a cool grip found my left. Withdrawing, I acted quickly. I spun him around and latched one ring of the cuffs to his right wrist and the other to my left. The barrel of my new firearm was in his face in no time, his eyes flashing with anger and a sense of betrayal.
"I was going to say I'd turn you in." I watched him carefully, noticing every movement. "I remember when you returned from your 'imprisonment'. You were thin. Weak. Shaky. Paranoid. Recovering from that was the worst time you've had in your life. If you don't wish to revisit it, I suggest you do some explaining."
Breathing heavily for unseen reasons, Vaden caught my gaze and held it. "Bordeaux faked his own death, Kara. He hired a look-alike and told him his job was just to make a drop-off at an abandoned warehouse. The new employee didn't know the building was wired with C-4, and Bordeaux set off the explosives. They replaced the victim's teeth with replicas of Bordeaux's. The teeth were examined by officials and it was agreed they were authentic. Not much else had been left after the blast, and Bordeaux was declared dead—supposed murder. They suspected several crime lords, but never pressed charges. The real Bordeaux took a private plane to Hong Kong that same day."
"If this is true…how has Bordeaux kept quiet all these years? The man had a thirst for blood. How is it he didn't snap and quench it?"
Vaden made the answer sound obvious. "He hasn't 'kept quiet'. He changed his style, is all. He never stopped, just changed his ways somewhat. He became 'Mis Confesiones.'"
The nickname was familiar. "The murderer who makes a confession each time he kills. None of the confessions help authorities capture him, of course…"
"One and the same."
"Why you? Who sent him after you?"
"That, I do not know. I have a few theories, but no evidential proof. Kara, you're in danger as well. I believe they wanted to capture me to get to you."
I rolled my eyes, shaking my head slightly. With sarcasm, I mused, "That might explain the attack a few minutes ago." There was still something bothering me—something that hadn't been answered. "Tell me the truth, Vaden—no stalling or changing the subject. No giving half of an answer or avoiding the question. How did you get to my side when those assassins were all around me?"
He had known it was coming all along. He was prepared, if not entirely willing, to respond. "I haven't been 100 honest with you."
"Why am I not surprised?"
He gave me a look that was a mask of anger and amusement at once, with a hint of agreement. "Bordeaux did find me. They are after you. I was told that if I cooperated, I would be released. If not, they claimed that you would be caught anyway, and I'd decay my life away in the basement. I said I would help."
Unable to restrain myself, I lifted my free right arm and punched him in the jaw. "How kind o' you."
"I was leading Bordeaux's cronies here. I thought it would be deserted. I was going to finish it. They all would've been dead. Then you came along and complicated things. When we heard you, they took to the shadows. I told them to wait for my command. The damn fools couldn't listen. That, or Bordeaux radioed in. They started to approach you after I left you, and I heard your shout. They let me pass, Kara. They let me pass because they thought I was going to kill you." His left hand was on his jaw, wiping an amount of blood from a newly split lip. Dropping the hand to his side, Vaden opened his mouth and shifted his jaw. "I helped you, Kara. I was trying to save your fucking life. And now you've trapped me, given me no way out but one. By the way, my jaw hurts like hell."
To my amazement, Vaden seized the gun I had previously stolen from him and jerked it out of my hand, holding my elbow with his left hand and clutching the metallic grip with his right. He turned, stooping beneath our connected hands and I was flipped onto my back. He was crouched beside me with a key then, gun returned to the confines of his duster. He was free from me in seconds, and the silver cuffs also were replaced into a pocket.
I had hit my head hard on the fall; I was seeing three of Vaden above me. My ears were ringing, and a hot sensation of blood began to spread throughout the back of my head. I reached slowly to feel the thick, red substance as the world became blacker than the night. The last thing I saw was Vaden's face coming into focus. He looked indifferent, wearing neither frown nor grin. His face was vacant of emotion, just like his heart.