An uneasy chuckle circulated the kitchen, causing Rei to tighten her grip on the guard's arm that she had twisted behind his back. Although she couldn't see the faces of the masked men, their eyes disclosed all that she needed to know. The amused glances that they cast one another revealed one thing to Rei's trained eyes.
They knew that she and the prime minister wouldn't be going anywhere.
She inched the dagger closer to the brown-haired guard's throat and turned her attention to the Fuhrer's other two guards. "Well?"
The tallest guard, who had short neat black hair and teal eyes, slowly drew his gun and aimed it at Rei. "Let's hear your deal."
Rei increased the pressure she had on the guard's arm and she heard him exhale quietly in an attempt to suppress the pain. "You let us go and he doesn't get his throat slit."
The third guard sniggered and he brushed his hand absent-mindedly against his five-o'clock shadow. He watched her with grey eyes that looked all too familiar to her. A haunting memory flickered through her brain, but the recollection was fleeting, as Rei struggled to dismiss the sudden distraction.
"You obviously do not know how the Federates operate."
A sudden murderous intent consumed the room.
Rei, with her hostage in hand, began hastily going through the possible escape routes.
She knew that she could try to drag the guard out the kitchen door with her, so that she and Waltz could attempt to flee through the front entrance of the hotel. However, the brown-haired guard was at least 5'11", which would make maneuvering difficult at Rei's 5'4" height. She was also confident that he had enough combative training to gain the upper hand while she was even the least bit preoccupied.
Rei went through another scenario where she could shove the guard forward as a diversion and then acquire a handgun from one of the less threatening masked men. Despite being quick on her feet and skilled in four kinds of martial arts, she wasn't sure she could fend off twelve grown men long enough for Prime Minister Waltz to make an escape. Rei knew that she would most likely receive at least five gunshot wounds within ten seconds of engaging the men. She wasn't troubled about that, though. She was just worried that the prime minister would turn around and try to save her.
"I feel like we're alike, you and I," the grey-eyed guard took a challenging step forward. "On the outside we look and act like monsters. We shed blood almost ceremoniously just so that we can stay noble to our cause. So, if you were I in this situation, what would you do, Devochka?"
Rei knew exactly what she would do. She would fire off as many rounds as was necessary to kill the offender and if a member of her team died in the process then that was just how it was.
"Well?" he prompted.
She responded by nicking her hostage's throat with her dagger.
Then, unexpectedly, the third guard broke into a grin.
And Rei was instantly thrown off her feet.
The brown-haired guard had shifted his weight, trapped her weapon-brandishing arm under his armpit, and then, with the drive of his hips, had single-handedly flung her over his shoulder in less than a second. Rei had sensed his plan of attack from the twitch of his muscles, but his sheer speed and strength had caught her off guard.
"Rei!" came the prime minister's alarmed cry.
Waltz had tried to remain behind the trolley obediently, but at the sound of the assault, he had emerged hoping that he could somehow assist Rei.
"Run!" was all Rei had time and air for after suffering a direct impact to her back.
Without delay, the former member of the Desert Phoenix Division was on her feet, albeit unsteadily. She threw a palm shot at one of the masked assailants and seized his fallen gun. In the heat of the moment, Rei fired the gun three times. The first shot killed a masked individual and the other two clipped three offenders.
Then someone shouted a command in German and Rei felt a harsh pain in the back of her neck. The blazing sensation promptly travelled up to her head and she felt as if someone had suddenly tied a weight around it. Her surroundings blurred before her, as she wiped a quivering hand against her neck. Placing her fingers in front her she saw that they were stained with blood. She staggered forward and then someone, taking advantage of her disorientated state, snatched the weapon from her right hand.
Rei, managing to partially stabilize her clumsy feet, clenched two fists in front of her.
"Run," she heard herself mutter through numb lips.
There was another order in German and the burning in her neck swiftly spread to her entire upper torso as the second tranquilizer dart penetrated the bare flesh underneath her right shoulder blade. Her body pitched forward and she clutched the collar of the nearest attacker with both of her wavering hands. She stared into the teal eyes of the tallest guard and felt her energy quickly draining out of her.
Then her knees gave way and the world before her spun in a whirlwind of greys, blacks, and blues until the darkness finally engulfed her.
"Jarek's face was so surprised!" a man with a heavy Swedish accent laughed, which roused Rei from her stupor.
"He looked at the dagger and his eyes got so big!" his German companion joined in heartily.
"But I can't believe that she still wanted to fight after the first tranquilizer shot," the Swede spoke in slight awe. "I heard someone say that she was a part of a special military team like the Terrible Three."
"A young girl like this? I don't believe it!" and the German gave her behind a light tap. "Oh, firm."
And then the two commenced to chortle again.
As she slowly came to, Rei felt pressure at her temples and a soreness that chafed both her wrists and ankles. Still subdued by the sedatives, she lethargically parted her eyelids and was greeted by an opaque cloth. Rei wriggled her fingers and toes to assess the injuries that she might have sustained during the altercation. Except for the tender spot on her neck and the upper region of her back, Rei had escaped the ordeal unharmed.
Little known to Rei, whose wrists and ankles were bound by a coarse yellow rope, she was being transported through one of the many Northern Federation underground facilities slung over the shoulder of a meaty Swedish-Federate soldier.
A loud clanking filled the empty concrete corridor, as a pair of metal doors almost adjacent to the soldiers were unlatched and slid aside. The Fuhrer's grey-eyed guard, in the formal midnight blue garb of the Federate army, stood in the narrow opening with an irritable look on his face.
"Matik, sir!" the two soldiers suddenly exclaimed and Rei felt the Swede lift his arm up for a stiff salute.
"Why are you carrying her like that?" his expression darkened.
"W-well, I t-thought-"
"Give her to me," said Matik.
Rei felt her body being passed off to a set of muscled arms that supported her weight with ease. The sudden movement brought about an unexpected dizziness that swiftly transformed into a state of nausea. A muffled dry heave escaped her mouth.
Matik responded to her reaction with an amused laugh.
"Awake already, Devochka?" she felt him begin to walk briskly.
Rei's blood suddenly chilled and the grey-eyed guard's ruthless expression flashed before her mind's eye. "The prime minister. Where is he?"
She could only manage a hoarse whisper.
"You should worry about yourself first," he replied.
They travelled for another five minutes before Rei felt Matik push open a door. On the other side, she heard upbeat conversations in German, Russian, and English, but all of it ceased when Matik stepped through the doorway.
He began speaking in Russian and exchanged a few words with a man that had a calming tenor voice. Rei felt him setting her down on a cold tabletop that was covered with a paper-like material. They untied the cloth over her eyes and she squinted against the blinding light that bombarded her vision from all sides.
As her vision adjusted, she could make out a face covered with a surgical mask. Then with a burst of hidden strength from her reserves, she threw her bound wrists upwards in the hopes of making a sudden escape. However, a large hand snatched her smarting wrists and thwarted her plans.
A stern face with tired-looking grey eyes, a high, narrow nose, and thin pale lips came into Rei's field of sight.
"Calm down," Matik told her coldly. "I can order Dr. Shkarov to put you down if I wanted to."
With the entire effects of the tranquilizers having yet to wear off, she became overwhelmed by how sluggish and heavy her limbs felt. That attack, which caused further straining all over her body, had been Rei's final attempt at fleeing. She lay on the tabletop in bitter submission.
Dr. Shkarov's considerably kinder face replaced Matik's and he shone a small flashlight into her eyes. He then inserted a tongue depressor past her lips and inspected the state of her mouth and throat.
Dr. Shkarov exhaled in thought, as he brushed her jet-black bangs from her face. "How many shots?"
"Dva," Matik replied.
"Dva?" and then Dr. Shkarov continued voicing his astonishment in Russian.
He then propped Rei up with his left arm and lifted up the navy t-shirt that the Federates had changed her into and gingerly fingered the small puncture wound below her shoulder blade. The doctor motioned for a medic to take his place.
"Bandage the puncture wounds."
Dr. Shkarov moved away from the table and rummaged through his cabinet filled with medication. "Forever reckless, eh, Matik?" He then handed him a translucent orange bottle. "You used the I-5 darts. Two shots should have sent her into a coma," he paused and sent the Russian-Federate guard a skeptical look. "The Hauptmann won't be happy with her in our facility."
"If you're that afraid of her then I will put you at ease and take full responsibility if anything happens," then Matik scoffed. "And since when do we answer to the Hauptmann?"
"She even manage to best Jarek-"
"She did not best me," a haughty voice entered the room. "I had been momentarily caught off guard by her appearance. I didn't know she could move so quickly."
Dr. Shkarov sighed, exasperated. "Petty details aside. Word of the damage she caused our unit will circulate to the Hauptmann and he will surely do something about it. Remember that even if you two answer directly to the Fuhrer, Captain Rothstein is still in charge here."
"And Captain Rothstein can thank us later," Matik grabbed Rei's cheeks between his fingers and squeezed, forcing her lips to part.
He then tilted her head back and poured a fuchsia liquid into her mouth. Rei coughed and attempted to spit out the contents, but Matik foresaw this and immediately clamped his hand over her mouth.
Rei felt the acrid liquid slid down her throat.
"Ten minutes and she'll be ready," Dr. Shkarov informed them and he gestured for one of the soldiers to unbind her feet.
"Ah," Matik grunted. "Jarek, greet the audience."
"What? Gah," Jarek grumbled angrily in German and he disappeared through another hallway that was directly connected to the infirmary.
She could already feel the effects of the foul tasting medicine working in her limbs. It took away the heaviness and replaced it with a rejuvenating burst of energy that coursed through her arms and legs. She easily sat up and stretched out the kinks in her back.
The medicine they had given her was known by Federate militants as "Holy Water". It was a hyper-enhanced energy drink that not only provided twelve hours of energy and keen alertness, but it also triggered enough adrenaline to be produced for an individual to overcome pain and weakness to the extent of if that person had had a limb severed.
During the Third World War, nations across the world knew that Germany had successfully engineered an ingestible liquid that enabled their soldiers to perform optimally for hours. However, scientists outside of Germany could never accurately reproduce the chemical composition of Holy Water and, thus, enabled Lodovico Kaiser to conquer Northern Europe.
"An audience," Rei turned to look at Dr. Shkarov. "Like a public execution?"
The Federate doctor fixed his aged eyes on the slender eighteen-year-old who was warming up her shoulders with slow rolling motions. "You ask that out of curiosity."
"I suppose," replied Rei, as the loosened ropes fell around her ankles
"How old are you?"
"I guess that doesn't really matter when you're about to die, does it?" she heard those nostalgic words tumble off her tongue and an uncustomary smirk formed.
"Leave her wrists bound," Matik ordered. "Lukas, take her to the holding area."
The tallest member of the Fuhrer's security team suddenly appeared and closed a firm hand over her bicep.
"Let's go," and the point of a rifle dug into Rei's lower back.
Rei allowed Lukas to lead her out of the infirmary and down another concrete corridor. Her eyes darted downwards for a full-body scan and she noticed that she was wearing an oversized navy cotton t-shirt and khaki shorts. For an unguarded moment, Rei remembered her ruby red gown and its undoubtedly tattered state. She felt a pang of regret because she knew that it had probably cost the prime minister more than a few hundred dollars.
At the thought of Waltz, a devastating sense of failure washed over her.
"I shouldn't have been the one to protect him," Rei said to no one in particular. "We never got along. He just seemed so…silly."
The pressure on her lower back did not waver.
"Maybe it was because he seemed so useless that I lacked commitment-"
Then with a spur of sudden courage and energy, Rei rapidly sidestepped and, with her bound wrists, knocked the rifle out of Lukas' hands. However, the full effects of the Holy Water had yet to set in, and the Fuhrer's guard raised his right hand and forcefully shoved Rei into the concrete wall before she could pivot for a second attack. The air left Rei's lungs with a whoosh and she crumpled against the concrete surface, struggling to catch her breath.
"No, you simply lack skill," Lukas had already retrieved his weapon and had it pointed at Rei. "Get up."
With a prolonged inhale, she got onto her feet and faced the guard squarely, the top of her head barely leveling with his chest.
"Turn around and keep walking," Lukas commanded, but his eyes were not fixed on her face; they were trained on her midsection.
Rei recognized that hardened gaze. Those teal eyes were watching for any offensive twitch or unusual movement. If there were any indications that she would attempt to strike or flee, Lukas would be ready with to take action be it to restrain or kill.
Rei turned on the balls of her feet and they continued down the hallway. The further down the corridor they went, the louder the sound of human voices became. They finally halted in front of two heavily armed Federate soldiers posted on either sides of a steel door. They saluted when both she and Lukas came into view.
Lukas slipped a key into the lock and pushed the door open. "Get inside."
He nudged Rei forward with his weapon and then swiftly slammed the door behind her. She could hear the door's mechanism locking; sealing her in. Rei spared no time mourning her situation and instantly started scanning the area for any possibility of escape.
The holding area was a sparsely furnished room that only contained a rectangular metal table and a three-legged stool. Fours yards was the distance that separated Rei and two tall sliding metal doors that reminded her of an entrance into a horse stable.
At this point, the sound of incoherent chatter past the metal doors decreased in volume, and Rei could make out a crisp announcement made in German.
Suddenly an object fell from the ceiling and landed on the table with a clang. Her eyes darted upwards to check for any further movement and then she inched forward to inspect the item.
A short dagger lay harmlessly on the table. The note that was taped to it read,
'Free your wrists or face the consequences.'
Rei, without a moment's hesitation, grabbed the shaft of the dagger with her fingertips, flipped the blade so that the point faced her, and commenced cutting rapidly.
For a split second, Rei paused to commend her brothers for frequently tying her to inanimate objects because if it weren't for them, the ropes would not have been severed in the two minutes that she presently took.
Gripping the shaft of the dagger, she inspected the room for further weapons. Rei tested the table and the stool, but found that they were stubbornly bolted into the concrete floor. With a final sweep of the room, she climbed onto the table's metal surface and waited.
Jarek stood in the center of a massive amphitheatre, which was normally used as a training centre for new recruits and veterans alike. However, today, the customarily vacant stands were filled to the brim with blue and charcoal military uniforms. The centre floor was cleared of all its equipment and in its place was hardwood flooring that was spotted with dried and faded brown blood.
The boom of the crowd grew to a deafening volume, as Jarek made his third, and final, announcement in English.
"Today we have a very special guest!" he began, his eyes sparkling fiendishly. "An eighteen-year-old female militant from Canada! Rumored to have been a part of an exclusive and special military force, she will be facing five opponents today of the audience's choice!"
The entire assembly started to stamp their feet wildly and a sudden explosion of cheering consumed the large space.
A broad-shouldered man in his late thirties hurled himself over the ledge that stood nine feet above the floor of the amphitheatre. He brushed a hand over his closely shaven head and gave the gathering an arrogant smirk.
"Leutnant Kohl!" Jarek declared Rei's first challenger. "When you're ready, Leutnant!"
"Ja," the second lieutenant nodded confidently.
Jarek signaled to the technicians in a viewing box above and the metal door to the holding room snapped open at once.
However, before anyone could begin to jeer at the teenaged girl that was expected to emerge, a dagger shot out from the opening and embedded itself into the chest of Second Lieutenant Kohl. The big man toppled backwards in shock and pain and landed on his back with a resounding thump.
Rei's slender figure slinked towards the middle of the amphitheatre. Her entrance was met by utter silence.
Leutnant Kohl gazed up at the round and innocent face, which was framed by wavy black locks. She stared down at him with a blank expression. Without so much as a blink, the young girl reached forward and wrenched the dagger out of her victim.
This action was accompanied by a strained guttural noise that left Kohl's throat.
Rei then angled the tip of her foot and allowed it to collide with the side of the second lieutenant's head. His body lay motionless save the slow, arduous up and down motion of his chest.
Her eyes flew to the audience with only the image of Prime Minister Waltz in her mind.
"So, who's next?" she challenged.