Matthias checked his phone for a reply once again. It was the sixth time he'd checked in the past few minutes and even he was beginning to recognise his own anxiety. Things seemed pretty hectic back at the Institute, so he had decided it would be best to text Lucy as opposed to phoning her. Two hours later he was still waiting for a reply. He didn't want to text again, but at the same time he couldn't help but worry about what might be happening back home. Stuck in a cycle of checking for a text and writing a new one just to erase it, he now stood on a fifteenth-floor balcony of an abandoned building waiting to be destroyed, high above the not-so-busy streets of a city he barely knew.
As he repeated the cycle one last time, he caught himself doing it and stopped himself from beginning a new text. He forced his attention away from his phone and angrily shoved it deep into the inner pocket of his coat, before placing both elbows on the metal railing of the balcony and leaning slightly further than he ought to. It was a cold night, which was comforting to him; aside from Mikey, the cold nights of autumn turning to winter were the only reminders he had of his home, but maybe that was for the best. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, before exhaling and turning to face the doors that would lead him back into Victor's makeshift base of operations. He took one last look at the night sky before walking back inside.
Truth be told, the inside and the outside of the building weren't all that different; both were a dull grey and both were about as cold as each other thanks to the holes that littered the walls. Victor had done his best to cover up holes on the fifteenth floor with old tattered sheets and wood pallets, though neither of which had really made much of a difference. Most of the walls that might have once separated the rooms had been knocked down, and all sorts of furniture had been scattered about what was now essentially a low-ceilinged hall. Matthias walked to the nearest place he could rest – a small, tattered sofa – and sat down heavily, for a moment doing nothing but existing. He took a quick glance around the area, taking note of a desk in the corner, papers and pencils haphazardly strewn across it as well as covering the ground around it. He took a moment to listen out for any sign of Victor, but found none and, perplexed, stood up and walked over to the desk.
He picked up the sheet of paper at the top of the pile – or, one of the piles – and turned it over. Drawn in pencil, sketchy with construction lines still showing through despite someone's best attempts to erase them, was the face of a man, somewhat amateur but certainly detailed enough to resemble a real person. There seemed to be a signature at the bottom of the page, the name 'Marcus' scrawled with a question mark beside it, along with an approximate date: December 2013. Matthias discarded the sheet and picked up another, finding that it had a very similar layout. The face was of an older man, though the drawing was obviously incomplete. The word 'wolf' was written in large text next to the face, and beneath that in smaller text was the name 'Wolffe', underlined several times, to the point where the pencil had torn the page slightly. Matthias went to pick up another page but he heard a stirring behind him, prompting him to spin around instinctively. He raised his hands defensively but calmed himself upon seeing Victor across the room.
"What're you looking at?" Victor asked inquisitively, staring Matthias down with a suspicious gaze.
"These drawings," Matthias replied honestly; he saw no reason to lie, after all, "are they by different people? The signatures aren't the same."
"Those aren't signatures," Victor replied in a matter-of-fact tone, "they're my drawings, and those 'signatures' are the subjects' names."
"So, what, you draw people for a living or something like that?"
"Something like that."
Matthias saw no point in prying further. Victor was furtive enough as it was, and he didn't want to invade his privacy too much within twenty-four hours of meeting him. He put the page down carefully and walked over to Victor, crossing his arms as he got close.
"Did you get what you needed?" Matthias asked, with a slight nod towards the half-filled backpack Victor had dropped at his feet.
"Yeah, more or less."
"More, or less? It's important," Matthias insisted, "it's unlikely you'll come back here. Not for a while, at least."
"I've got everything, okay?" Victor replied, a familiar tone of annoyance beginning to appear in his voice. Matthias knew he should cut the kid some slack.
"When are we setting off, anyway?" Victor asked, the annoyance in his voice replaced with a sense of urgency, possibly excitement.
"Not until morning," Matthias said, mulling the thought over in his head.
"What? Why? The streets are empty at night and we could be out of the city in minutes!"
"The guys who came after us? They thrive in the darkness," Matthias explained, "they're bold, alright, but they're not completely stupid. Even with their police connections they wouldn't risk turning a busy daytime street into a warzone."
Victor supposed that made sense. In the daytime they could just slip into the crowd and walk right out of the city. Or, at least he hoped so. Matthias seemed fairly certain in his assertion, but how could Victor trust the word of a man he'd met only the day before? Matthias was rude and didn't care much for him – that he'd made perfectly clear – and it didn't help that he'd killed several people mere hours ago and was showing no signs of remorse. None of it made sense to him. It was just so surreal. He'd been running from these people for a fair few years, but now suddenly some sort of ruthless ice ninja – for lack of better words – was here to whisk him away to a better life? Surely there was a catch.
"On second thoughts, since we've got some time, I'm going to double check that I've gotten everything," Victor said, a slight quiver in his voice that he hoped Matthias hadn't heard.
"Fine," Matthias answered nonchalantly, "just don't weigh yourself down too much."
With that, Matthias turned away and walked back out to the balcony, reaching into his pocket as he left the room. Quickly, Victor picked up his backpack and walked over to the pile of drawings, picking up all of the pencils frantically and stuffing them into the front compartment. He looked at the drawings for a moment, contemplating taking them with him, before turning away and slinging the backpack over his shoulder. He could always redraw them if he ever needed to.
Victor walked across the room to the stairwell, taking one last glance back at Matthias to check he wasn't looking. He was oblivious, staring down at his phone and standing completely still, exactly as he'd spent the best part of the past few hours. It was time to decide: to stay, or to leave. He could either trust a killer he barely knew, or he could trust himself. To Victor, the answer was obvious.
Amber woke up long before Scott. At first, she didn't quite remember what had happened, but as soon as she made an attempt to recall anything, everything came flooding back. The gunshot, the pool of blood, the explosion and then… and then the crash. They had been hurtling towards the ground at such a speed that the chance of survival was next to nothing. Yet, there she was, slowly waking up and slowly beginning to make sense of her surroundings; sure, her head was pounding like a jackhammer, but she was very much alive;
She took a moment to consider that: her head hurt, but she couldn't say the same for the rest of her body. In fact, she felt perfectly fine for the most part. She looked around and was surprised to find that she was in an open space, the twisted carcass of the plane forming a sort of dome around her, perfectly spherical in shape. She stood up cautiously, weary not only of her surroundings but also of the blood that would inevitably rush to her head and took a moment to just observe everything. As she initially observed, everything within a few metres of her had been physically pushed away from her, forming a small bubble of safety untouched by the carnage outside. There were holes in the wreckage, and she could just about make out the night sky through one, pitch black against the orange light inside the wreckage.
Wait, orange light? Why would there be any light? Where was it coming from?
She spun around and saw that all around her a faint orange glow was emanating from many points, coming in through many of the holes closer to the ground. She took a step forward and heard a slight splash beneath her, prompting her to look down. From outside her previously impenetrable bubble a dark, sticky liquid was flowing in, creating a steadily growing puddle on the floor. She put two and two together quickly enough.
She backed away from the puddle quickly, at first trying to scrape the fuel off of her shoes but soon giving in and throwing them away. She barely managed to reach the perimeter of her dome before the puddle erupted into flames, the sudden flash blinding her momentarily. As she regained her vision she began to feel the scorching heat of the flames as they danced relentlessly in front of her, growing by the second as more fuel poured in from other gaps in the wreckage. She soon realised that the flames weren't her main problem; the enclosed space was acting like a massive furnace, and she would be cooked alive before the flames could even reach her.
She crunched the numbers quickly. Based on the size of the space, the amount of fuel being added, the intensity of the flames… she had a minute and a half, maybe two if she was lucky, before she would begin to lose consciousness. It was a rough estimate, as – after all – there was no predetermined formula for this situation, but it was accurate enough given the circumstances. She looked around for something, anything that she could use to escape, but found nothing. All around her was twisted metal and dangling wires, but she couldn't think for the life of her what to do with any of it. That's when the familiar feeling of despair began to set in, that nagging voice in the back of her head that made it all too clear that there was nothing she could do to get out of the situation. She began to hyperventilate, breathing in smoke for the most part, causing a painful cycle of deep, sudden breaths and equally sudden spluttering coughs. It was too much.
She backed herself all the way to the edge of the bubble and dropped to the ground, subconsciously withdrawing into herself and curling up. She brought her knees to her chest and her head to her knees, before interlacing her hands on top of her head, shutting her eyes. And then, she screamed at the top of her lungs.
It wasn't a choice she made, but rather an instinctive reaction to her environment. Like a cornered animal, she lashed out in the form of an ear-splitting, inhuman screech, undoubtedly audible for miles around. The dastardly sound was over as soon as it began, however, and afterwards there was a deathly, hollow silence.
Ever so slowly, she began to calm down. She felt a shiver go down her spine as a cold breeze passed over her, and it wasn't long before she opened her eyes. The wreckage had been blown apart and the fire had been reduced to a smouldering patch on the ground. For a brief moment she was relieved, but then her head caught up to her. The pain returned tenfold, and all she could do was writhe in silent agony.