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Remission

prologue.

--

Then Samuel said, "Bring me Agag, the king of the Amalekites." And Agag came unto him in chains. And Agag said, "Surely the bitterness of death is past."
- I Samuel 15:32

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If sound had colour, she'd swear she was surrounded by black.

She felt along her arms, brushing her fingers over the raised goose bumps on her skin, reassuring herself that her body was still intact. Everything about her spelled the opposite – the cold inside her, the weakness about her limbs, the blinding fear in her heart. If she was honest with herself, however, she'd rather be impaled and shoved off Earth to heaven or hell or wherever it was dead people went, because that meant she wouldn't have to listen to her mother begging vainly for her life, for her child, mercy be damned.

A solitary tear escaped her eye and slid down her roughened cheek.

The harsh laughter of their torturers sliced through the cold air of the barn, causing her skin to crawl. There were three of them, all men, all tall and thin, all pale. They towered over her, over them, dangling time and fire in their faces. One of them had his electric-blue eyes fixed on her, a crazed light shining in them, a hunger that terrified her. The other two stood on either side of her mother, who was bent over the motionless body of her husband, crying harder than she'd ever seen her cry. Her fingers were splayed over his lower chest, light glinting off the braided wedding ring on her left ring finger.

She shook uncontrollably, remembering the way the 6x4 had pierced through flesh, so cleanly and smoothly, like it took no effort at all. She could still hear her father's grunt of pain, the half-choking, half-gurgling sound he'd made as the piece of wood had been withdrawn with a savage twist; she could still see his eyes widening ever so slightly in surprise, his mouth forming an 'O' as he collapsed onto the ground.

After all that, the nauseating finality of it, her mind hadn't registered the fact that he was dead despite the pool of red she tried so hard to avoid looking at. He was going to get up any minute now. He was going to laugh and get up and run at their attackers and kill them. He was going to cup her face in his hands, tell her they wouldn't be able to hurt her or Mom any longer … but he wasn't moving.

And the blood – oh God, the blood. Just seeing that much of it made her so dizzy she couldn't breathe whenever she looked at it. But she couldn't stop, like passers-by couldn't help looking at the carnage of a car accident. She wanted to, more than she'd ever wanted anything in her life … she wanted to look and see that it was gone and that he was–

Her fingers dug into her palms. He couldn't be dead! He was her father! He'd kissed her head as he'd hugged her that morning before leaving for work, and she'd breathed in the crisp smell of his newly-washed suit and his cologne, and he'd promised to buy her a cake with yellow frosting – yellow, not pink like it had been last year – for her birthday ... he couldn't be dead!

But he was. He was, and now it was their turn.

The very thought caused her insides to shrivel up, trying to shy away from the realization. They were pleading for their lives, an option her father hadn't even gotten. And if he, a man who'd survived countless attempts on his life as a high-profile prosecuting lawyer, had been killed so easily, then they had no chance. No chance at all.

Her mother had put up a surprisingly good fight when the men had burst through their front door, breaking the arm of one of the men as she screamed for her to run. But she'd been frozen in place, caught fully unawares, and then her mother had been hit from behind and knocked senseless, and then her father had come home and ... had been run straight through. She remembered opening her mouth to scream, then something smashing into the back of her head, before everything went dark.

She'd awakened to find herself in a barn, locked inside a chicken coop, with a dreadful headache. Lanterns were lit around the barn. It was pitch-dark outside – a couple of hours must have passed. It could've been years for all that mattered.

Staring at her father's body, which the men had brought along for some perverse reason, she thought about how she'd looked down at where the smashed cake box had fallen, yellow icing splattering the floor, and stifled a sob. That caught the attention of the man with blue eyes.

He gave her a slow grin, his pale gums pulling back from his teeth, his eyes feverish with madness. "Do you like the blood?" he whispered, his voice horribly grating. She bit her lip, and his smile widened. "Isn't it beautiful?"

"Leave her alone!" Her mother's voice cracked, shoulders shaking from the sobs wracking her entire body. "She's – she's done nothing-"

"You had no right to keep her from us!" one of the other men shouted, his dark eyes blazing. "Did you really think you could hide from us forever?" He shook his head pityingly. "Even if we couldn't feel you anymore – did you think we'd stop looking? Give up?" He sneered. "You always were a fool."

"Don't do this, Ian."

"It was clever of you, I admit, to stay in the city. How did you manage to bear it for so long? How could you deign to live in this place?" His eyes narrowed."No matter. I don't want to hear your pathetic reasons for leaving us."

"Ian-"

"We've been looking for you for eighteen years," Ian interrupted her. "Eighteen. Fucking. Years." He licked his lips. "And we're angry, Polly. We're very angry. She's going to suffer for your crime. Whatever the others went through will be nothing compared to what she'll have to endure."

"Go to hell," her mother hissed, her head snapping up.

Ian threw back his head and laughed. She flinched, clutching at the bars of the chicken coop till her knuckles turned white. His laughter was inhuman.

"You forget, Polly," Ian said, very quietly, when he'd finished laughing, "our lives are already hell."

"And you can't run away from it, no matter how much you try," the third man of the trio added derisively.

"Remember the pain when it happened that night?" Ian continued. "Remember the way you clung to me, the way you begged me to end it? Do you remember ... the first time? How much it hurt?"

Her mother drew in a shaky breath. "You didn't have to kill Stuart. You didn't have to – he didn't have anything to do with this."

"Oh, so that's his name. Stuart." The man rolled the word across his tongue, dragging it out, somehow making it sound like something filthy. "How ... deliciously quaint. And he had everything to do with it, Polly. What happened? Fell so deeply in love with him that you couldn't bring yourself to do it?" He smiled down at her father's body. Happily. It was a genuinely happy smile. Her stomach rolled horribly. "It's like something out of a fairy tale, except you falling for him condemned him to death. Isn't that a wonderful thing to know? Your husband is dead because of you."

Even though the world had ceased to make sense long ago, she still struggled to understand what the man meant. To no avail. Her head hurt too much.

He spoke again. "Now..." Then he yawned. "This has been a lovely family reunion, but I'm getting bored of this. I think it's time we took what we came for."

The others chimed their agreement, their voices reverberating throughout the barn.

"You can't have her!"

Her? Her eyes widened. They wanted her? Why was this happening? They'd killed Dad because of Mom? What the hell hadn't her mother done?

"Who's going to stop us?" the third man spoke up. "You? You're outnumbered, three-to-one! We all know you'll never be able to overpower us even if you tried."

"I'll die before I let you have her," her mother snarled, twisting around to look up at him.

"That's good to know," the man murmured, and his smile, too, pulled his gums back, distorting his expression, "because we were never planning on leaving you alive."

She closed her eyes, her gut twisting. No. No, no, no...

"Open your eyes, sweetheart," a voice growled from right in front of her. She started, her eyes flying open to find the blue-eyed man centimetres from the other side of the coop, grinning at her. It was like he had no soul; apart from the hunger, his very gaze was empty. Or maybe filled with emptiness. They marked just as clearly as his actions what kind of a person he was.

She spat at him as viciously as she could, but he took no notice, letting the spit slide down the side of his face. His grin never wavered. "I want you to see this."

God, what was he, some sort of savage psychopath? Yes, she decided as she glared at him with all the animosity she could muster up, he was. He fit the role to a T, down to the band of steely muscle circling both his upper arms - the black wife beater he wore emphasized that. Right now, they were flexed as he stood, leaning forward against her makeshift cage, bracing himself with his hands.

Ian chucked. "If she tries to close her eyes again, Nate, cut off her eyelids."

She couldn't stop the whimper that escaped her, but didn't close her eyes again. She huddled into herself, staring at Ian, watching the light glitter off the scythe he drew from inside his cloak. Watching the look of deep contemplation on his face, knowing he was only pretending, toying with them. Dragging it out.

"Please," her mother whispered, and it was the worst thing she'd seen all night, including her father's murder. Her mother, her proud, strong mother, pleading. Pleading on her knees before their torturers, her face tear-stained and her voice breaking. The despair in her voice, the sheer level of fear ... "Please don't take her. You can do whatever you want with me – you can use me to try and do it, just don't – I'll do anything you want. Please!"

"As nice as it is, having you like this, Polly," Ian intoned, shaking his head, "I think that's enough talking."

"Please, Ian-"

His voice cracked through the air like a whip. "I said, that's enough!" He ran a finger along the edge of the scythe, almost lovingly. "You never did know when to shut up. Well, now you're finally going to do that, and for good. Say goodbye to your daughter one last time; sing her a song, maybe. Make sure you choose a good one, darling, because it'll be the last she'll ever hear from you." When nothing happened, his lips drew back in a feral snarl. "Go on! What are you waiting for?"

Her mother turned towards her slowly, her green eyes swollen, rimmed with red, and the hand she reached out was covered with blood. Her father's blood. Yet she continued to smile.

She scrambled forward, trying to get as close as possible to her mother, pressing her palm flat against the cool metal bars, ignoring Nate's laughter. Her eyes watered, her throat starting to close up. Please, no …

"Dani." Her mother's eyes pinned her, didn't waver. "I love you. Don't ever doubt that."

"Mom..." Her voice cracked, another tear rolling down her cheek.

"Be strong. I'll be watching over you."

"I love you, too," she whispered.

Ian clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, sighing. "Such heart-wrenching love. So hard to find, and oh-so-touching." He smiled. "Sorry, party's over. Time … to be roofied."

"MOM...!"

As her mother smiled at her one last time, Ian cut her head off with a single blow. It rolled across the floor until the wall halted its progress, and it rested there, the smile still on its lips.

Dani's stomach recoiled, her breath slamming into the back of her throat. No.

Bile threatened to rise up and out of her mouth. Her mind scrambled for leverage, trying desperately to hold back her horror, but as her mother's body tipped over and fell to the ground in slow motion, she couldn't stop the dams from exploding. Grief, fury, and sickness blinded her momentarily, causing her to curl up into a ball.

Grief, especially. And as the men whooped in gloating triumph, it only intensified.

What did they want with her? Why were they doing this?

She might have known this was coming, but the trauma of watching it first-hand still made her heart feel like it'd splintered into a million tiny shards. They'd killed the man dearest to her. Did the same with her mother, the one who had sung her lullabies when she was younger and laughed with her over her father's mishaps with the paper fastener. The one who stayed up eating ice-cream with her and watching cheesy romance movies on their old TV. And she had only been able to watch everything play out in front of her like a horror movie, helpless beyond hope.

Both her parents were dead by these monsters' hands now. Under different circumstances, if she wasn't half-blinded by fear, she would have laughed over the bitterness of it; or cried, maybe, if she had the gall to.

The only assurance she had was she wouldn't be an orphan much longer. A living one, at least. What good did that do, though?

Somebody, save me … please …

After surveying the scene with morbid fascination, Ian turned his dark eyes towards her with a new addition to them – satisfaction. Slowly, deliberately, he stepped over her mother's body and walked towards her.

Her legs worked to move as far away from him as she could in her captive state, unable to take her eyes off him as he neared, the scythe swinging casually from his right hand, its blade glinting in the glow of the lanterns. Every nerve inside her screamed at her to run – to leave these men in her shadows forever and ever. It terrified her that she couldn't do that. There was nowhere to go. She was locked in limbo, stuck in a claustrophobia-inducing space, about to be sentenced to her end at eighteen.

She'd never get to graduate from high school. She'd never get to go to Paris like she'd always dreamed, never get to lick her fingers clean discreetly after pinching a bit of cake icing when her dad wasn't watching, never get to watch The Princess Bride with her mom again, reciting the lines verbatim.

Never say never …

In an effort to distract herself from Ian's approach, she thought about her friends, how they'd thrown paintballs at each other just earlier that afternoon and how different it had been from this. They'd been happy. She'd been happy. Laughing as she ran after her friends, yelling in exhilaration as she hit them. She pictured Kelsey's face, the little crease that would appear between Simon's brows whenever he frowned, and Fiona's crooked smile.

Crooked. That was a good word to describe these cold-blooded murderers. It was clear what their intentions were. She'd long since given up on surviving beyond the night, resigned to a death for reasons she would never understand, but dying would be a welcome relief from all of this, all of this Scream-worthy gore and untold horror.

As she thought this, her friends disappeared from her mind, replaced by the saying about how parents shouldn't have to bury their child – but where was the one about the parents being buried with their child?

"Danica." Ian smacked his lips, his gaze wandering over her body. She felt sick once more, a sour taste filling her mouth.

"You look just like your mother." He grinned a close-lipped grin. It was the first time she could bring herself to look at him, really look at him, and she found that he was everything she hated in a person. The very aura of him reeked. If he got any closer, she'd probably smell stale whiskey on his breath, being the very cliché that he was – or maybe the stench was real.

"Why have you done this?" she managed, her voice shaking.

He leered at her. "Less talk, more action, girly. We have some time before we have to take you back. It's just too bad I had to waste your mother so soon, even if I did get her on her knees." His hands made an obscene gesture. "She was no fun ... I bet you would be, tasty little morsel you are."

"Shut up!" Dani screamed. "Don't talk about her like that!" At the corner of her vision, her mother's head smiled at her, and her eyes watered once more.

His thick eyebrows rose. "Feisty! I like that in a woman. What say you come out of your cage and play with us, kitty?"

"Fuck off, you wanker," she gritted out, quivering with rage. "You're a sick fucker."

Ian began to laugh; she was too angry now to be scared by it again. "A fucker? I'll certainly be one, after I'm done with you." He considered her, his face hovering behind the bars. "Oh, look at you. You're trembling, you poor thing. Are you scared? Don't be; I'll make it all better. Ian always does."

"Hurry up, Ian," the third man, the one whose name Dani didn't know, said from behind him. "I want a turn with her, too."

"There's plenty of time." Ian waved him off. "And if it gets too late, well – we can always go at her together."

Dani sucked in her breath, the fear beginning to creep back through her veins. "What do you want with me?" she asked, trying anything to stall them now.

"You ask too many questions. Just like your mother again. You never learn from each other."

"If you're going to kill me, I deserve to know why," she pressed on stubbornly.

"Why, why, why. So many questions, so little time." Ian tapped his yellowing fingernails against the bars, pushing his face right against her cage. And then he laughed. "We're not going to kill you. Not right away, at least, but by the time we're through with you, you'll wish we had flayed you alive right here and now instead." Ceasing his tapping, he wiggled a finger through a space between the bars at her. "Now, I'm going to take you out of your cage. But know this – you are powerless against us. Nothing you do can hurt us, and if you try anything, I'll pull your father's guts out and make you eat them." He smiled, another one of his cheerful smiles, as she clapped a hand to her mouth. "Is that clear?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"Now shut up, before I get irritated and decide to do it anyway."

She shut up.

"Good kitty."

And resisted the urge to stab him in the eye.

As he leant against the little coop she was trapped in, panic overwhelmed her. He was thumbing through a set of stained silver keys now, looking for the one that would unlock the padlock that secured her. She had to do something. But she couldn't do anything; nobody could protect her now.

"Now," Ian said softly, "let's see how loudly you can scream."

Her fingernails dug into her own skin, drawing blood, and her head spun. Everything that'd happened tonight flashed before her, a photo strip of gore and nausea, everything that made a person's worst nightmare even worse than he thought possible. Her mother smiled at her from the corner of her eye.

That sealed it. No, she had to fight, damn the impossibility of it; no, he was holding the key out in front of her, waving it and gloating; no, she could still do something; no, HE WAS UNLOCKING THE PADLOCK; NO-

Light seemed to explode from her; a searing pain ripped through her hands, nearly making her scream. Ian roared, his hand frozen on the padlock, seemingly welded to it. The keys dropped to the floor.

Shit, what was happening?

She couldn't feel herself anymore but could see him yanking on his arm futilely, the hem of his white t-shirt burning up, burning a trail to his screaming mouth. The metal bars of her cage liquefied under her, collapsing, sending her sprawling two feet down onto the ground. Her heart felt like it would burst out of her chest unless she did something, yet all she could do was stare in horror as the man who'd been inches from raping her went up in a conflagration worthy of the Prairies' bush fires, his skin blistering horribly, twisting and blackening as it seemed to melt into his bones, his mouth opening to scream but swallowing ashes instead.

Dizzily, she realized that Nate and the other man had disappeared, but she didn't have the strength to wonder at how quickly they'd left. The smell of burning flesh filled the room. Acrid smoke hovered above her head, clinging to her lungs, billowing in her head. Still, a limpid sense of relief shot through her in spite of the nausea wracking her.

He was going to die. Not her. If he was dead, she wasn't going to die. Not by his hands, at least.

Was she supposed to be comforted by that?

She didn't know, because she couldn't think. She could barely digest the fact that one of her attackers had somehow been set on fire – by her? Why was her entire body glowing like a beacon? Where had the gripping fear gone? What had happened?

She'd somehow saved herself. But how?

The last thing she saw was the whites of Ian's eyes before her world vanished in a sea of red.

If memory had colour, she'd swear she'd be in sepia the rest of her life – that is, if she didn't die first.


A/N – YO.

You has stumbled onto Kait (aiur)'s and my collab fic! This is our first effort together. Firstttt. Evaaaa. And can I say that we are totally, wholly, completely excited about it!?

Oh, and I am angels and effects, obviously. For those who have read my work(s), Remission will be rather removed from them, but still similar enough. Kait and I are combining the areas we usually work within (hers being drama/angst, mine being humour/drama), and hopefully it isn't a total train wreck 'cause that'd be effin' bad for our protagonists, no? Just kidding, we work awesome together :P Also, not to worry, most of the goriness is over as the prologue is special to itself. So no, this isn't going to be some sort of twisted serial chain-saw hacker slash psychopathic killer romance.

Do feel free to review and tell us what you think! :)

-Louisa