"When did she tell you that ?" Sally asked, shocked by what she'd just heard.

"Last night," Billy said. "She was really upset... I think she's wanted to tell someone for a long time."

The girl felt tears coming to tickle her eyes. "This is terrible, to think she's been through all this... I never imagined... what can we do for her ?"

Her boyfriend gently wrapped his arms around her shoulders to soothe her. "Don't cry... she has to work this through herself, you know. The only thing we can do is be here when she needs us. I think it will all get better when Bronco Jones gets finally arrested."

"Yeah, I guess you're right." The bell rung in the crowded hallway. "We better go."

She took him by the hand and together they went to chemistry. There was one absent in the class. Dany, of course. This was the only class the three of them attended together, and the class she would skip most often, bullying Billy to get her homework done. Now, the boy knew why she wasn't here today.

They were halfway into the course, Miss Jarvis trying to explain to them, with all the patience in the world, how electrolytes work, when the fire alarm resonated into the classroom. Students began to shout out in joy at the prospect of missing class and were already standing up to leave, Miss Jarvis struggling to keep a minimum of order, when the door suddenly burst open, letting in a man with a gun. Everyone went silent at once, surprise quickly giving way to terror when another man followed, and a third one, and a fourth whom Billy recognized pretty well, for he was the tall bastard from the construction site. Finally, a fifth man entered the class room and closed the door behind him. This fifth man didn't appear to be armed, and judging by his posture and clothes, he seemed to be their leader. A bald, golden-skinned man, he was dressed in an expensive-looking brown silk suit, and had tinted rimless glasses. His fingers were all loaded with jewelry. He was of strong build, and something deeply nasty emanated from his presence. He smiled at the kids cruelly and said:

"I'm looking for a girl named Danielle Cassidy. We have business to settle, you might say. No ? No-one seen her ? How rude of me, I forgot to introduce myself ! You can just call me Bronco Jones."

Dany had slept a lot that morning. She had barely woken up that Billy had already left for school. Like a zombie, she went to crash on the living-room couch, watching TV. Mrs Brewster was so glad that she was actually doing something other than sulking in the dark, that she kindly brought her a bowl of cereals. But she had just left for the bathroom when she heard a loud crashing sound, and she hurried back to the living room to see the bowl down, milk and cereals spilled all over the floor and the girl's lap. She was about to ask the girl what had happened, but she saw that Dany was staring mesmerized at the TV, not even noticing the accident. And she was pale as death. When Mrs Brewster herself turned to look at the TV, she understood why, as she fell under this state herself. A journalist was saying:

"At 9:30 this morning, Central District High has been taken over by an armed group of over twenty people. According to the informations we could gather, this group has sneaked into the school, rung the fire alarm to empty it, and taken control of the main building, keeping one class as hostages. The police have surrounded the vicinity and have established contact with the hostage takers. They have identified themselves as belonging to the gang of notorious drug dealer Clifford Darrell "Bronco" Jones, and have expressed one request in exchange for the lives of the hostages: they want Danielle Cassidy, the missing schoolgirl who had been identified last week as being the vigilante known as Blaze..."

Mrs Brewster rushed to her phone and called her husband. Dany, her eyes still focused on the TV, tried to listen to their conversation. The poor mother was in tears and her voice was shaking:

"Jack ! Tell me this isn't true... oh my God ! God, no ! What are we gonna do ? ... Okay... okay... you think they'll be safe ? You really think so ? Okay... love you..."

She put the phone down with a trembling hand.

"Billy and Sally are among the hostages, aren't they ?" Dany asked.

"He said they had it under control... said they had the SWAT and all... said we don't have to worry about the host..."

"I said, are Billy and Sally among the hostages ?"

The girl's voice was cold and cutting with determination, and, impressed, Mrs Brewster found no alternative but to tell her the truth. Immediately, the girl sprang up like a robot, her shoulders straight, her muscles tight, her eyes blazing with wrath. The mother stepped back in fear. The blond girl who was standing in the living-room right now was no longer Dany Cassidy. She had turned into something terrible...

The girl made her way to the exit, and Mrs Brewster, her maternal instinct taking over, tried to stand in her way. "Danielle, don't ! I know what you're planning to do, but it's suicide ! Listen, there are a lot of policemen out there who are doing their best, okay ? You don't have to put yourself in danger again. Just wait here with me..."

She had no time to finish her sentence when Dany brutally shoved her aside. The mother fell on the floor and shouted, terrified:

"Danielle ! Are you insane ?"

Quietly, the girl responded as she put on her heavy boots: "Sorry, can't stay here when I know what's going on out there. You can't stop me, don't even try. They want Blaze, they'll get Blaze. And I'll bring your son back safe. Promise."

Shocked, Mrs Brewster was lost for words as she helplessly watched the girl leave the apartment.

The armed men had ordered that the twenty kids of the class and Miss Jarvis sat down on the floor against a wall. Then they left, leaving Bronco Jones and the tall bastard in an army vest alone in the classroom with the terrified teenagers. Billy heard a girl weep a few feet from him, he looked and saw an equally scared Tommy DaSilva trying to comfort her. He looked at Sally. She was doing her best to hide her fear. With all they had been through together, they were growing strong.

"There are over twenty of my men patrolling the hallways of that school," Jones declared. "So you better not try to make a run for it. Now, anyone here knows where I can find the Cassidy girl ? We've searched her apartment but it was empty ! Maybe she's hiding at someone's place ? So ? We're not leaving here until we have her. Don't worry, it's just some business to settle. I've lost too much to that Batman wannabe, so if I got to go to Hell, I'm taking her with me !"

"Even if we knew, we're not giving Blaze away !" Tommy shouted as he rose defiantly. "She's our hero, and we'll not give in to scum like you !"

Jones responded by walking very close to him, and looking at the teenager in the eyes. Then, he laughed loudly. "You got guts, kid, I give you that !" Then, he gut-punched him. Tommy bent over coughing, and fell on his side. That's when Billy realized that, all along, the tall guy had been staring at him.

"Hey, Jones !" Tall bastard called. "Check this out !"

"That one," he pointed his finger at Billy. "I know that one. He's a friend of hers."

"A friend of Cassidy ? How interesting ! Come here, boy !" And the dealer grabbed Billy by the collar and lifted him up. "So ? Maybe you know where she is ?"

The boy was trembling, terrified, but deep inside he found the courage to look at Jones in the eyes and say defiantly: "Haven't heard the news ? She's dead."

"I don't believe so. You're gonna tell me what I want to know or I promise I'll smash your face in."

"Fuck you." He couldn't believe he had had the guts to say that. The answer came right away, in the shape of a jewelry-loaded fist ramming into his cheek. The boy fell back, dizzy as if he were on a boat, a sharp pain radiating throughout his face.

"No !" He heard a pleading female voice shout, and he looked up and saw the angel face of his girlfriend, bathed in tears.

"It's no use," the tall man said. "Tried that before, that boy's tough as nail."

"Is he ?" Jones asked. "Well, then..." he cast his eyes on Sally, and a smile appeared on his face. "She your girlfriend ?"

Billy felt all his organs freezing and getting numb with fear at these words. His eyes grew twice their size and he stuttered when he said no.

"Cute. I can recognize when someone's scared, my boy, and you are. So if we can't get you talking the old-fashioned way... what could we do to her instead ?"

When Dany arrived at her apartment, she found that the door had been cracked open. Inside, the place was ransacked, as though it had been struck by a tornado. She sighed. Looked like Jones's men had searched the place. She was glad her mom had been taken to somewhere safe. She rushed to her bedroom which had been searched too, her wardrobe opened with all her clothes on the floor, her bed overturned, the mattress stabbed open. They really had searched everywhere... or maybe just caused random destruction out of frustration. Anyway, she had no time to feel sad about that, she only hoped they hadn't found her secret place. If she had to resurrect Blaze, then she had better gear up.

She knelt down and carefully removed a loose floorboard. There was a shallow space underneath, not much but enough to hide a few small things. Her secret place. Inside, there was a pair of black leather fingerless gloves which she had bought long ago for her vigilante costume, until she considered the matter of fingerprints and opted for full gloves instead. She put them on. No need to worry about fingerprints now that everyone knew who she was. She also found in her secret place a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, the last of the three flash grenades she had bought on that illegal website with the money she'd taken from the muggers, as well as... something else she'd confiscated from a mugger long ago. Something she'd kept hidden there, afraid of the day she might have to use it. That day had come, it seemed. So she took the six-shot .38 revolver and put it in her belt, along with the grenade and the cigarettes. Then she left her apartment.

It was still the morning, but the Summer sun was already blazing hot as the girl walked out of her building towards the school. There were a few people in the street, people whom she knew, but as they saw her, they got more distant, avoiding her eyes. Did they also know ? Didn't matter, though. A black tank top showing her muscular arms, blue jeans, black boots, fingerless gloves, not to mention the gun and the grenade at her belt, she looked like Sarah Connor, no wonder people were scared of her. Slightly amused, she lit a cigarette and went on. She turned at the corner of her building when she saw him. She recognized the Perfecto with flames on the sleeves and back that looked too small for his hunky frame. He was sitting on his Harley-Davidson, looking like he was waiting for someone. She walked to him and called him smiling, her hand on her gun, ready to draw:

"Hi, Burton !"

The man cast his eyes, concealed behind a pair of aviator mirrorshades, on her and smiled: "Winnie ! Been a long time, what are you doing here ?"

The girl stopped dead, caught completely by surprise. Winnie ? No kidding ? He was one of Jones's men and he didn't know who she was ? His ignorance was almost endearing.

"Could ask you the same question."

"Well, the boss asked me to watch out for a girl, err... Cassidy, I think. But, I dunno what she looks like so..."

"You didn't look at the news in a long while, did you ?"

"What makes you say that ?"

As a response, she drew and aimed at him, this time holding the gun with both hands to steady it.

"What the ?"

"Sorry Burton, but I'm gonna need your jacket and your motorcycle."

"Winnie, what are you doing ?"

"Look, let's cut the bullshit, I'm Cassidy, okay ? Or Blaze, we're the same person, get it ?"

The biker appeared confused for a moment, then he swiftly put his hand in his jacket, looking for his own gun. Dany shot. It was the second time she used a firearm, and this time she had anticipated the recoil to make a clean shot. The bullet smashed the rear-view mirror of the motorcycle, just as she had expected. The impact made Burton start and drop his own gun. She guessed he had never been a very good henchman.

"Hurry up, Burton, I don't have all day !"

Scared, the biker complied: he stood up and took off his jacket, which he put on the saddle. Then, he stepped back a few feet.

"Wait !" she called. "The glasses too, please. The sun's so bright..."

Burton obeyed, taking off his shades and putting them on the saddle.

"Good boy, now run away."

"What do you intend to do ?"

"Got a few friends of mine to rescue. You might want to consider another line of work, by the way. You're very likely to be unemployed when I'm finished."

"Wanna have a drink in the next few days ? I liked it when we had that drink... liked it less when you beat me up afterwards, though..."

"I'll think about it. You're not such a bad guy, after all. Now, run !"

When he was finally gone, Dany put on the jacket and the mirrorshades he had left. They suited her perfectly. When she looked at herself in the bike's mirror - the one she hadn't destroyed - she understood why he had kept it even though it was too small for him: she looked absolutely terrific in it. The flames wrapping around her arms and shoulders were killers. Behold, this is Blaze, Mark II, she thought, amused. Then, she straddled the bike. The Harley-Davidson was massive, nothing like the Honda. When she turned it on, the deep purr of the engine sent pleasant vibrations on her intimate parts. Riding down the street, she took her time to get used to it, squeezing her thighs tight around the gas tank like a lover's hips. The pleasure of riding that massive vehicle was odd, very sensual. Feeling the vibrations under her, and the hot wind blowing in her hair, she felt better than she had ever before. She felt like she was exactly where she was supposed to be. She felt alive.

Jones and the tall guy had taken the couple of teens downstairs, walking through several hallways from the classroom. Jones had not been kidding: his men were patrolling absolutely everywhere, all armed with handguns or shotguns. That was serious. The two kids were taken to the kitchen, where the tall bastard found some thread which he used to bind Billy's hands behind his back. He then dropped the boy on the floor like a sack of potatoes and went to help Jones with Sally. With the thread, they tied the girl's hands to an exhaust pipe that was running across the ceiling, so that she ended up dangling helplessly in the middle of the room.

"Now," the dealer said, "young boy... what can we do to that girl to make you talk ?"

While speaking, he browsed around the stainless steel furniture, eventually stopping to turn on the gas cooktop. The kids gasped at the sight of the small flames, expecting the worst, but he only lit a cigar before turning it off. The tall bastard remained standing, impassible, beside the boy, and Jones came back towards the defenseless girl and blew smoke into her face. She coughed.

"She's quite a cutie, isn't she ? Would be a shame to damage that pretty face of hers, right ?"

Billy tried to stand up, but the tall guy lay a heavy hand on his shoulder to keep him down. He was lost, he didn't know what to do. Perhaps he could save Sally by giving Dany away, but he didn't want to, and he knew Sally would not want him to do that. On the other hand, he couldn't stand sitting here, powerless, watching her suffer. He wanted to beat them down, but he was tied up, and even if he wasn't, he simply was not strong enough. He wished he were Blaze, at that moment. Blaze would have found a way.

"Of course," Jones continued, "we don't need to be so hard on her. I can also be very... soft..." on these words, he gently put a hand on her leg, and slowly caressed her jeans up to her buttocks. Her whole body tensed in disgust.

"You bastard !" Billy cried out, breaking free from the tall guy's grasp and standing up. But he didn't even make a step forward before the tall guy punched him back down. The boy kissed the floor, numb with pain. He heard Sally cry his name, then he heard a male groan of pain. He raised his eyes to see the dealer bending over, his hands on his crotch. Tough girl, he thought. She had just rammed her knee in his jewels.

"Alright," he groaned angrily. "You want to play it that way, your call ! Let's just..." he looked around, searching for something. Then his eyes lay on a large refrigerator. He smiled. "Got an idea... Curtis, gimme a hand."

The tall guy came closer. Sally tensed, expecting the worst. Would they lock her in it and let her freeze to death ? No, instead, they grabbed her legs and she protested but she couldn't keep them from taking off her shoes. On that hot day she had been wearing ballet flats without socks. The tiled floor felt cold under her bare feet.

"What are you going to do ?" she asked.

Jones opened the refrigerator. It was full of large bags of ice. He took out one, and dropped it at the girl's feet. She yelled when she felt the burning cold against her sensitive skin and tried to move her feet away, but he threw another bag. And another. Soon, she found herself unable to put her feet to safety, and was pathetically jumping from a foot to the other to try to avoid the cold.

"What's wrong ?" Jones asked, laughing. "You felt like you wanted to move your legs a bit, so move them, I'm watching. Give me the ice dance !" Then he turned to Billy, who was still groggy from the punch, and shouted: "Look at that, boy ! I can leave her like this for hours, you know. You really want to inflict that on a poor girl ? No ? So tell me where's Cassidy !"

Dany stopped the Harley to think for a few moments. She had just ridden around the school, keeping enough distance not to get spotted. There was no way to get in there. All of the entrances were blocked by police cars and barriers set up to keep the curious crowds at a safe distance. From where she had stopped, she could see the main entrance, crowded with policemen, journalists and passersby. In the thick crowd she could make out the SWAT guys, hulking masked men in dark blue suits, who stood there waiting for orders. Why didn't they get in already ? What were they waiting for ? These guys were perfectly trained policemen, her Blaze stunts were nothing compared to what a single of these men could do. Yet, they were limited by the orders they had to follow. She knew from watching the news that it could take hours before the assault was greenlit. Too long. What they needed now was a loose cannon to speed things up a bit.

But how to get in ? She looked around, and thought that the bank across the road from the school was a three-storey high building. The school's main building was only two-storey high, and it seemed to be close enough... maybe... God, she thought, her mother would flip out if she knew what she was about to do. But she couldn't think of anything else. If the normal entrances were blocked, she had to go in from above.

The automatic door of the bank opened as she approached. She rushed inside in a thunderous roar echoed by the horrified screams of the employees and customers, and braked in front of the reception desk. The receptionist had instinctively crouched under the desk, and when she lifted her head carefully to see what was going on, Dany smiled at her and asked where were the stairs, please. The poor woman pointed a hesitant finger in a direction. The girl thanked her and proceeded, squeezing furiously at the gas handle to make her monstrous bike climb the narrow staircase. As she reached the first floor, though, she lost her momentum, and after struggling for a while, the bike plain refused to climb any higher. Stuck in the stairs, she was quickly caught up by two burly security men armed with tasers.

"Em... hi, guys !" she said, trying to smile her way out.

"Off the bike !" one of them shouted, aiming at her. "Slowly !"

"What's going on ?" another male voice intervened, and Dany looked in its direction too see a middle-aged Asian man in an expensive-looking suit. Surely an executive of the bank, the girl thought.

"Mr Parks !" one of the guards answered. "We caught that girl breaking in with her bike ! But it's under control, sir."

The Asian man came closer to take a good look at Dany.

"And... what exactly were you planning to do ?" he asked, confused.

"Well," the vigilante answered coolly, "you know about the hostage-taking in the high school across the road ? My friends are in there, I want to help them. So I thought I'd jump from your roof to the roof of the school with my bike to get in."

"Jump from the roof ? Do you think you're in an action movie or something ? Wait a minute... aren't you the vigilante girl ? Blaze, that's right ?"

"That's right, sir."

The man's attitude changed all of a sudden as he looked at the two guards and issued his orders: "You, go to the roof and see if you can make a ramp or something. And you, help me push that bike up the stairs."

"But, sir... are you helping her ?"

"That girl saved my daughter from a maniac last year. Least I can do is return the favor."

Dany smiled when she realized what he meant. Mr Parks... of course. The two men went behind the bike and pushed with all their strengths. She accelerated furiously and they eventually managed to get her all the way to the rooftop. There were piles of construction materials on the roof, and the guard Mr Parks had sent up was just finishing building a makeshift ramp out of thick wooden planks.

"It doesn't look very tough," Mr Parks commented.

"That will do," she said.

"You really think you can get to the school roof this way ? You know there's a high risk of crashing down below..."

"Who dares wins."

"You know, Blaze, I helped you because I'm indebted to you. But I still think this is completely insane."

"Insane is my middle name. Thank you, Mr Parks. Say hello to Debbie for me."

He smiled. "No problem."

"Now, everyone step back. This may not look pretty."

She turned her eyes towards the ramp. Concentrating all her energy to this precise point. Of course she knew it was risky beyond understanding, but she'd rather risk falling flat on the road like a pancake than sit around doing nothing while her friends were in danger. And she would succeed, because she was crazy. She braked and accelerated, making the engine roar like a tiger. It got louder and louder, she felt the rear wheel turn faster and faster on itself, screeching, smoking, like a wild animal waiting to be released. Just this one spot, the ramp... don't lose focus... Go !

She released the brake and the bike flew forward like a bullet, a gust of wind hitting hard on her face, almost making her lose balance. Almost. But she kept steady, and accelerated as hard as she could. The engine's sound was deafening, and the bike was shaking all over ! Then she felt it rise up all of a sudden as she climbed on the ramp, and before she could realize, she was out of the roof. She didn't know how long she had remained up in the air, flying, maybe less than a second, but to her, it was like a long, anguishing long hour. In spite of the heat, she felt cold sweat forming under her arms. She didn't dare look at the street, far below. So she looked up at the sky, imagining herself to be a bird. Yes, a bird that flies without fear... the wind messing with her blond hair... then she felt an unpleasant sensation, as though her breasts were trying to soar up her throat, when gravity caught up with her and started to pull her down. That was the moment when she would crash to her doom. She didn't want to look. She closed her eyes.

A shockwave shook her body all over, sending throbs of pain on her arms and legs. The handlebars began to wiggle out of control in her hands, and so did the whole vehicle, until she lost control completely and fell off. She rolled and rolled, her limbs scratching painfully on the concrete, and when she finally stopped rolling, she stood up trembling, her legs seemingly made of Jell-O, and finally opened her eyes. She was... on the roof of the school. She couldn't believe it. She had made it ! The relief was so intense she felt she could piss herself. She let out a deep sigh and realized, as her lungs filled with fresh air, that she had forgotten to breathe all along the jump. But she had made it ! The Harley was was down on its side a few feet from her, the engine still purring. She limped to it, trying to regain control of her legs, and turned it off. At that moment it was her phone that began to vibrate in her pocket. With the stunt she'd just made, she was surprised it even kept working.

"Yes ?"

"Danielle ? This is Jack Brewster. I'm in front of the school with the SWAT... please tell me it's not you who just made that jump."

"Err... you want the truth or a comfortable lie ?"

She heard him sigh with desperation. "Shit, Danielle, what the fuck are you doing up there ? We are assessing the situation, you will only put yourself in danger !"

"Assessing ? Why aren't you getting in here already ?"

"We have to be careful. There are many men in here, and they claim they have rigged the place with explosives. Danielle, this is exactly what I told you: he's lost everything, now he's on a suicide attack just so he can take his revenge on you. This is very dangerous, get down and let us work !"

"Nevermind. Now I'm up here, and there's only one way to come down, so... wait a second."

She hung up and turned around. She had just heard a noise. Someone was opening the roof access door. Swiftly, she went to hide behind the door. A man with a shotgun appeared.

"What's going on ?" he asked. He hadn't seen her. When he saw the Harley, he began to shout in surprise: "What the f..."

He had no time to finish being surprised as the girl jumped on him from behind, her elbow raised in front of her so that it would strike him with full force when she came down. She hit him right on the top of the head, knocking him out immediately. Quickly, she took the shotgun from the unconscious body, strapped it around her shoulder, and called Mr Brewster back:

"Sorry for the interruption. I'm going in, don't care what you think. Stay close to your phone, we'll keep in touch."

Okay, time for a status checkup. She came down the staircase into the main hallway of the eastern wing, first floor. She didn't know where the hostages were kept. And there were armed thugs. And maybe explosives. Mission objectives: 1. Find the hostages; 2. Disarm the explosives to allow a SWAT entry; 3. Find Bronco Jones. Oh, dear Lord, this had nothing to do with her usual Blaze nights... this was fucking Metal Gear Solid.

She walked softly down the hallway, hugging the wall, ninja-style, casting a sneak peak into every classroom she passed by, hoping to find her friends. All of these classrooms were empty. She kept going when she heard footsteps around a corner, coming in her direction. She rushed through the first door she saw. The boys' room.

"What was that ?" a male voice said. Shit. She had been seen. She heard the steps coming towards her. She hid in a stall. The man entered the room, cast a suspicious glance around. There was nothing. He thought he must have been dreaming. He relaxed, and while he was there, he went to the urinals to answer nature's call. Then he went to wash his hands, and when he looked up into the mirror, he saw her, appearing behind him like a ghost, a black-clad figure with blond hair. He startled, but had no time to scream before she grabbed his head and smashed it against the mirror with all her strength. He collapsed, unconscious, blood gushing into the sink. Two down, she counted.

"Hank ?" another male voice called from the hallway. "That you in the bathroom ? Everything okay ?"

Shit ! The voice was too close for her to hide the body, or even to hide herself. It was coming. Only one choice. She took the shotgun, and aimed at the door. When the man came in, he ended up face to face with her barrel.

"Freeze !" she ordered, like she had seen in countless shows. Surprised, the man dropped his handgun and raised his hands, his mouth agap. "Turn around !" she ordered, and he complied. When he had his back at her, she stepped closer and hit him with the butt of the shotgun. Three down. Keep it up, Snake.

She disposed of two more men in her exploration of the eastern wing. Looked like this was not the most protected part of the building, which surely meant that the hostages were kept in the western wing. She went down the stairs to the ground floor, heading for the main entrance. If she could secure the front door, maybe she could let the cops in to give her a hand. The hall was heavily guarded. Seven men gathered in the middle, chatting. They seemed to be casual, but she knew they were murderously attentive, and they would shoot her like game before she came anywhere close. Even if she tried to shoot them, the hall was an wide space with few places to hide, and they were more experienced than her with guns. She didn't want to shoot them, anyway. She was a vigilante, not a killer. Gladly, she had another option.

She took her last flash grenade, removed the safety pin. One, two, she threw the grenade at the men and quickly shut her eyes and covered her ears. Even so, the detonation was awfully loud. She opened her eyes again to behold the armed men tottering, groaning in pain, blind, deaf and confused. Perfect ! She ran in, tackled three of them at once, punched them to sleep. The others understood that she was here in the middle of them, tried to aim at her, but they were still blind. She stood up, took the shotgun, swung it around like a baseball bat. She felt the shock in her wrists when the gun connected with their skulls. It hurt. But soon enough, she was the only one standing. She caught up her breath, then went to check on the front door. There were steel wires all over it, connected to what looked like piles of modeling clay stuck on the walls. She was not stupid, she knew what it was, and she knew it wasn't wise to open the door right now. She took her phone and called Mr Brewster.

"It's Dany... I'm at the front door right now. I took care of the guards, but the door itself is wired with C4. How do I take that off ?"

"Thank you, Danielle. Listen, do not, I repeat, do not touch the door, okay ? You have no way of knowing if it'll blow or not. Have you spotted any other explosives so far ?"

"No."

"And the hostages ?"

"Dunno."

"Okay... is the roof access clear ?"

"It is."

"Good. Listen, I think we're gonna send a SWAT team in from the roof, like you did. Problem is..."

"What ?"

"It will take time to get an authorization for a helicopter."

"How long ?"

"Half an hour, maybe less."

"Too long, we've wasted enough time already. Do what you want, I'm going for the hostages."

"Whatever you do, don't touch any explosives. And, Danielle ?"

"Yeah ?"

"I'm counting on you."

She hung up with butterflies in her stomach. These simple words, I'm counting on you... said to her by a cop ! That was it, she thought with excitement, that was her super-hero moment. How foolish of her to believe she could bury Blaze that easily ! She took the mooks' guns away while they were still unconscious, then she grabbed one of them by the collar and shook him awake. She asked him where the hostages were. He said classroom 203. She thanked him with a headbutt that took him back to sleep. Classroom 203, so that was on the first floor, western wing. She hurried there, but when she reached the hallway leading to it, she was greeted by a dozen fully alert, angry men, aiming at her. She froze. Same crap as in the boat, she thought.

"I knew I'd heard a noise downstairs !" one of them said. "We got you know, Cassidy. Jones will be glad..."

"And I'll be glad to meet Jones again, but I need to free the hostages first."

"You're doing what we tell you to do, Cassidy. Try anything funny, we blow you to pieces."

Okay... she only thought of one way out of there. And she didn't know if it would work or not, but she had no choice. Trying to control her fear, she smiled at them mockingly, and slowly, very slowly, she took her shotgun and put it down on the floor. Then she kicked it away from her, stood back up and said:

"A dozen, fully armed men to capture an unarmed schoolgirl ? Dudes, your mothers just called, they said you forgot your balls at home."

Piqued, the men began to hesitate. Some of them stopped aiming at her. Eventually, they all exchanged a look to make sure they were thinking the same thing, and they all put their guns down. Some cracked their fists, some stretched their arms, all while giving her a nasty look. Just as she expected. Now, the hardest part was to come...

She dashed to the first man. She saw him raise his closed fist at her, throwing a large hook. All her senses were on alert. She saw it come in like in slow motion. Dodge, body uppercut, hook to the temple. First man down. The others rushed in at once. She ducked, dashed forward, turned around, threw a swing punch in the air, touching no-one. She was in the middle of them now, her fists raised in front her eyes in a boxing posture. One man attacked, jabbed. She grabbed his arm, pulled, smashed his face against the row of lockers on the wall, punched, and punched again. A hand grabbed her arm from behind. She struggled free, turned around swinging her elbow, hitting the aggressor off her. Everyone was on her at once, and as she was, dodging and punching out of pure survival instinct, progressing inch by inch towards the classroom, she felt like she was in a side-scrolling beat-them-all come to life. But in real life, the game was nowhere close to fun. All of her capacities for emotions were like shut down at this very moment. She even forgot where she was, or why she was there. She lost touch with reality and beheld the scene as though from the outside. Beheld her body breathing with difficulty, her muscles aching, the two open, bloody stubs that passed for her fists pounding and pounding blindly, viscerally. Her world, at this very moment, was reduced to nothing but screams and blood. And she just kept going.

Something hit her on the leg from behind, and she lost balance. A man with a crowbar had hit her. She looked up, the man was raising his weapon, ready to strike again. She tackled him down, snatched the weapon from him, and struck, and struck, and struck again. She hadn't even realized she had started striking at the other men, for she was just a machine right now. And she kept going.

Someone kicked her in the back, bringing her down. Instantly, those who were still standing gathered all around her and began to kick her on the ground, thrashing her to death. She covered her face with her arms, but the feet all around were still hitting her back, crushing her ribs. But she had to keep going.

She grabbed the foot closest to her face, and suddenly brought herself up, dashing forward, toppling all of her attackers over. Except one, one who managed to escape the melee, and stab her in the shoulderblade with a flick knife. She yelled in agony, but her arms had a life of their own, as they grabbed the man and punched him, and punched him, and smashed him against the wall, and released him. Then, she pulled the knife off her back. She was in such suffering she wanted to die. But she kept going.

Raising her flayed fists in a boxing stance again, she waited for them. There were only five of them still standing. She braced herself. The first of them sprang forward, but hesitated as he came within punching distance, his eyes wide open, terrified by her determination. Hesitated too long. She kicked him in the stomach, then punched, then kicked him again in the head when he was down. The second man was more determined. But too slow. He threw his blow, she ducked. Body uppercuts, hook. The man was stunned but still standing. Tough. So she kept hitting, her arm moving like a piston until he was down in his own blood. The third man arrived. She was exhausted, out of strengths. But she kept going.

In the classroom, Miss Jarvis, Tommy, all the others were looking at each others, murmuring, worried, confused. The sounds they had been hearing for several minutes, coming from the hallway... sounds of people roaring, screaming... sounds of bones hitting bones, sounds of flesh hitting flesh... and among these screams, a feminine voice. Could this be ? They didn't know what to expect, what to hope for. Eventually, the noise stopped, a deathly silence returned. Then, slowly, the door was opened, letting in the only fighter still standing.

"It's Dany !" someone yelled happily.

They looked at her. Sure, she had the same blond hair, the same body as Dany... but she was nothing like the Dany they knew, the mildly attractive bitchy jock girl who was the school's terror. The girl standing there in her place, lurching, limping, panting, sweating, bloody, cut, bruised, in a flame-printed jacket and mirrorshades, looked absolutely gorgeous in a morbid kind of way. She was radiating with an intensity that kept everyone in an admirating silence. An angel of death.

"No guys," someone else said. "It's not Dany... it's Blaze."

She smiled. "You guys missed me ?"

There were a few uneasy giggles. Blaze took out her phone and called.

"Jack ? Found the hostages... okay..."

She hung up and addressed the class:

"Everyone move to the infirmary at the back of the building. The cops will be coming soon to pick us up."

The kids were hesitant at first, nobody dared to make the first move. Eventually, Miss Jarvis stood up and invited them all to follow her. She put a hand on Dany's shoulder as she passed beside her, and thanked her. They all did the same as they passed by. It warmed her heart. When Tommy came close, though, she grabbed him by the arm.

"Wait ! Where are Billy and Sally ?"

"They... that Jones guy has taken them away... dunno where... downstairs, I think."

When everybody was out in the hallway, the vigilante simply declared: "You guys continue without me. Just stay in the infirmary and wait for the cops. The guys you see scattered everywhere on the floor had guns. Take them with you, just in case."

"What about you ?" someone asked.

"Me, I gotta save the last two. I'm going back downstairs."

"I'll come along !" Tommy said.

"Hell no ! Boy, you don't know what you're up against. You already tried the vigilante business and you sucked at it. Just leave it to me."

And without waiting for his answer, she parted way and went on her own, went back towards the staircase. Downstairs, but where ? She was tired, so tired... no ! No way to stop now !

She was within sight of the staircase when she came to a full stop. He was coming up the stairs. And he saw her. And he smiled at her. Tall bastard. Curtis Malone, the Zombie.

"Thought I'd heard a noise," he said. "What a pleasant surprise ! Jones, I and your friends are having a party downstairs. Care to join us ?"

She sighed. If this was a video game come to life, then Curtis Malone would surely be the final boss or something. She was in pain, and out of strengths, and she was to face her most formidable opponent yet. The man who had defeated her twice before. The man who felt no pain at all. But she had to keep going.