January 25th, Victoria, Texas
Priss personally flew down to Victoria, and as soon as she arrived at the Gayda Ranch, she went to work, turning the place into a fortified safe house. Five local police officers had been assigned to guard the thousand-acre ranch, as well as the attractive, split-level house where Tally lived. Priss herself moved into the house at Tally's request, after the sultry violet-eyed Texan had refused to move into a hotel until February 1st. Priss was convinced that the killer--be it Axel Storm or somebody else wanting revenge against Katrina Arcieri--would strike only on the exact day that Michael K. Storm was stabbed in prison, and that if he (or she, if it came to that) was unable to get to Tally Gayda on January 31st, then the poor girl would be safe for the time being. Or at least until January of 2007.
It was an unusually hot day
for mid-winter, and Priss absently reached up to tie her hair back into
a casual ponytail as she walked down the dusty streets of Victoria, keeping
one gray eye on her watch and the other carefully fixed on Tally Gayda
window-shopping nearby, making sure to never let the tanned Texan out of
her sight so that she might somehow wander right into Axel Storm. Priss
irritably blew a strand of chestnut hair away from her forehead, and briefly
wondered to herself whether her scheme might work in capturing Axel Storm--should
Axel turn out to be the killer, of course. Somehow, Priss doubted he would
be so stupid as to walk into what was obviously a trap set by the FBI...unless,
of course, he was just brazen and daring enough to carry out his crazed
mission of revenge with federal agents right there. Lost in her thoughts,
Priss forgot to watch where she was going, and promptly wound up crashing
right into someone, smacking her forehead against his shoulder and letting
out a grunt.
"Ugh…" Priss grumbled to herself, gingerly rubbing her sore spot with the palm of her hand, before hastily apologizing, "Sorry, guess I wasn't watching where I was going."
"That's all right, Miss," a pleasant male voice spoke in return, and Priss glanced up to see just who exactly she'd bumped into. Her stormy gray eyes narrowed, and she frowned in recognition. His features were somewhat familiar--but only vaguely so--and she wondered whether she'd met him before. He looked rather sexy, sort of like a young Axl Rose, and Priss shrugged, before dismissing that his physical resemblance to the reclusive Guns N' Roses frontman was probably where she got the idea that he looked familiar to her. Offering a final apologetic smile, Priss quickly got out of his way, following after Tally and never once thinking that she might possibly run into the red-haired young man again.
By nightfall of that same day, all memory of her encounter with the sexy redhead had all but vanished, as Priss absently toyed around with her Beretta 92, anxiously checking her watch every five minutes. It was nine p.m. of January 30th--a mere three hours away from the date that she'd calculated would be when the serial killer--be he Axel Storm or whomever--would attempt to wipe out the last of Katrina Arcieri-Storm's four daughters. Priss's lips tightened into a grim smile, as she twirled her gun around on her index finger. She'd like to see Axel try and get in; thanks to one efficient federal agent, the Gayda Ranch had been converted into a safe house, virtually overnight, with two security guards patrolling the grounds and checking in with Priss every hour. So far, there had been no incidents, and by eleven o' clock, Tally had reluctantly decided to take Priss's advice to get some rest and gone to sleep on a leather couch in the living room.
Gong! Gong! Gong!
Priss started up, and her gun crashed noisily onto the uncarpeted rosewood floor. Springing up like a panther, she took a few seconds to collect herself, before realizing that she must have dozed off sometime during the night, and had only just been awakened by the antique grandfather clock in the hallway striking twelve midnight. Priss covered her mouth with the back of her hand as she yawned, bending down to pick up her fallen Beretta and checking on Tally, napping fitfully on the couch beside her. She settled down on a red leather chair and leaned over to switch on a nearby lamp, now wide awake and ready for action should Axel be so bold as to attempt to break into the heavily guarded house and complete his macabre mission.
Nearly half an hour later, when a good hour had passed since her last communication with the sentinels and receiving no further word from them since, Priss had begun to get worried and impatient. Finally, after waiting another five minutes and deciding that she could take the uncertainty no longer, she sprang up from her seat, absently darting a glance over at Tally Gayda as she checked the magazine of her gun. Finding three bullets remaining the clip--certainly one more than she would need--Priss quickly made up her mind and wandered out of the living room, deciding that since she had nothing better to do than wait, anyway, she might as well investigate what had happened to the security guards as to delay their hourly phone calls by a good thirty minutes. The dark-haired FBI agent crept stealthily out of the room, opening every door and flipping on all the light switches she encountered on the way, all the while wondering what had so abruptly severed all communication between herself and the sentinels. Surely Axel Storm wouldn't be so cunning as to overpower not one but two trained security guards...or would he? Priss bit down on her lower lip, frowning in concentration. Thunderclouds started to gather in her stormy gray eyes, as she realized that someone very willing and very capable of killing three innocent young women was probably resourceful enough to dispose of two sentries. Worriedly increasing her pace, Priss hoped that the cruel sharpshooter hadn't already "disposed" of the two guards by now, and broke out in a run, impatiently rounding one hallway after the other in her search for the front door.
Priss nearly rocketed right through the ceiling at the sudden and abrupt sound of a fragile object crashing onto hard, uncarpeted floor and breaking into pieces. A bizarre, high-pitched screech followed the noise which had pierced the heavy silence of the night, and Priss didn't waste another second trying to regain her senses, as she turned around and headed toward the source of the noise, Beretta held out in front of her and finger poised on the trigger, all too ready to fire at the first sign of an intruder. Priss finally reached the room from where the noise had emanated and burst inside…
…And promptly found herself
gazing at the broken remains of what had once been a turquoise seashell
lamp. A tabby cat was poised nearby, green-flecked golden eyes gleaming
in the dark as it purred. Priss relaxed, and even managed a small laugh
at her own jumpiness.
"Silly kitty cat," she muttered, before remembering her mission at hand and quickly becoming serious again. Heading out of the room and leaving the cat by its broken lampshade, Priss finally found her way to the front door and strode purposefully out into the silent night. A cool breeze blew lightly, the wind lifting her chestnut hair behind her like a flag as she tightened her maroon leather coat around her and wandered cautiously into the darkness, gun held out at arm's length. Priss's features tightened grimly, as she realized that the sentinels had failed to show up for their hourly patrol around the house like she'd instructed them to. Something must be wrong. These weren't just newly-hired rookies who were more likely to slack off than get the job done; these were trained professionals who knew the importance of the situation and wouldn't just wander off for no reason. Priss had made sure of that when she'd hired them. Something must be wrong if they were nowhere in sight; Priss was now positive that Axel Storm was on the ranch grounds.
"Let's see—" she muttered to herself, "if I were a psychopathic marksman bent on revenge, where would I dispose of sentinels?"
At that moment, the sound of a horse snorting caught Priss's attention, and she turned around sharply in the direction of the noise...and caught sight of the little supply shack built next to the horses' corral. Her eyes narrowed grimly, as she crossed the ranch grounds in a series of brisk, efficient steps, until she had reached the wooden shack and flung the door wide open.
The unconscious bodies of the security guards promptly fell out. They had probably been dealt twin blows to the head--Axel had probably used the hard metal of his gun for that, Priss deduced--and then tied up with duct tape and shoved into the storage shack. Priss scowled, but before she had the chance to do anything else--attempt to wake up the sentinels, untie the hapless guards, run back into the house to await Axel's imminent arrival--a gunshot exploded from within the interiors of the one-story ranch house, followed almost immediately by a terrified, high-pitched scream. Priss gave a start, before tightening her grip on her Beretta and sprinting back into the house, slamming the front doors wide open and bursting inside, gun cocked and dark gray eyes alert.
Once inside, Priss ran frantically from room to room, tripping over a telephone wire and nearly falling facedown onto the carpeted floor in her haste. Squinting several times as her eyes struggled to adjust from the inky darkness of the outdoors to the harsh yellow lights which she'd switched on before wandering out in search of her MIA sentinels, Priss forced herself to slow down and try to detect any source of noise which might give the killer's location away. Finally, she detected a harsh scuffling noise, coming from inside the master bedroom, and without a second thought jogged off in its direction, dark red lips set in a grim line as she prepared to burst inside.
The door was locked, and
after Priss tried in vain to break the heavy white oak down using her left
shoulder, she finally stood back and raised one heeled boot, before violently
kicking it through. The oak splintered and gave way underneath her assault,
and as Priss hastily stumbled inside, she found herself face-to-face with
a full-length mirror. Specifically, a broken silver mirror with a bullet
lodged in its center, a bullet meant to strike at the reflection of Tally
Gayda that it had previously held. Priss gave a start, wondering where
the Texan girl was...before finding her cowering at the foot of her queen-size
bed, complexion ashen and with tears streaming down from the dramatic violet
pools of her eyes. Standing a mere few feet in front of her was a tall,
lean figure sporting a flowing mane of long red-gold hair and dressed in
all-black leather. Priss quickly stalked into the room, holding out her
gun in his general direction as she shouted authoritatively, "Hey you!
Drop your weapon, now!" Her fingers deftly pulled the safety off, making
sure the would-be assassin could hear the sharp metallic click signaling
that she was all too ready to fire upon the slightest wrong movement. The
figure, who had been glaring down at the terrified Tally before, reluctantly
held up his hands in a gesture of surrender, his gun going limp and dangling
from his index and middle finger as he slowly turned around to meet Priss's
cold gaze with a chilling one of his own. Upon taking in the sight of his
long red-gold hair and chiseled features, Priss leaned back in surprise,
realizing that she recognized him. It was the same sexy redhead she'd literally
bumped into earlier that day, the same one she'd thought she'd recognized
but later immediately dismissed from her mind. She realized that she also
recognized him from a series of photographs she'd pored over throughout
the course of a few months.
"You...you're Axel Storm, aren't you?" she guessed, already knowing what the answer was going to be. His upper lip twisted up in a cruel, condescending sneer, as he quipped in a rather good-natured fashion, "Guilty as charged." His next course of action struck like a bolt of lightning. Before Priss was finished processing his words in her mind, his hand tightened around his gun, which had previously been dangling harmlessly between his fingers, twirling the metallic weapon around in a single circle, cowboy-style, and finishing his little display by aiming the gun directly at Priss's chest. Without warning, Axel fired, pulling the trigger with a vengeance and watching in satisfaction as a single bullet flew out of the pistol at a fantastic speed. The whole action took less than a second, and Priss barely had time to react. As Tally let out a terrified, high-pitched scream, Priss grunted as she dove wildly to--right, left, down, anywhere but directly in the path of Axel's bullet--and a fraction of a second later found herself being slammed forcefully against a red cherry cabinet, as a searing pain seemed to course through her entire body. Despite having avoided grazing Priss's heart, Axel's bullet had managed to find a target nonetheless, and exploded violently in her right shoulder. Priss's healthy hand flew up to her injured arm as the dark blood began gushing out, feline features twisted in a grimace of pain as she gritted her teeth to keep from crying out. Her gun clattered harmlessly onto the floor with a metallic noise, as she herself collapsed against the wall, breathing heavily and desperately scrabbling at her injury even as blood continued to seep out from in between her fingers. Axel smirked cruelly, briefly admiring his handiwork, before deeming Priss no longer a threat and turning around to finish the job he had started…
…And finding himself being
forced to dodge wildly to avoid getting struck squarely in the forehead
by the expensive china vase that Tally had hurled with a vengeance toward
him. Axel grunted, gingerly ducking downwards and covering his head by
instinct as the vase flew past him, missing the tip of his head by a mere
inch and smashing against a wall. The red-haired young man turned around
to watch blue-and-white china break apart and shatter a million pieces,
a few raining above Priss's now prone body. Aside from a brief startle,
however, Axel was soon recovered from this rather annoying inconvenience,
and once again trained his attention on his original target. Tally, meanwhile,
who'd let out a little shriek after she'd hurled the vase in his direction,
hastily straightened up and began half-scrambling, half-tottering out of
the room, nearly tripping on the narrow heels of her open-toed sandals
as she made a mad dash at the door. Axel shook his head; silly girl, why
did she even bother to resist him? Almost lazily, he raised his gun again,
took careful aim, and let a bullet fly, this one taking out Tally's legs
as it lodged itself in the back of Tally's left leg and exploded. The striking,
raven-haired Texan cried out in pain, collapsing facedown onto the floor
upon impact. Axel began taking slow, deliberate steps toward the helpless,
fallen girl, his chiseled features set in a monstrous mask and his smoldering
eyes burning like coals into Tally's own violet pools. The terrified girl
averted his glare, instead opting to gingerly prop herself up on her elbows
and begin crawling away. Axel's lips twisted up in a cruel sneer, as he
raised one heeled black leather boot and kicked her viciously in the center
of her back, knocking her back down onto the floor with a hard thud to
the point of nearly knocking the poor girl unconscious. As Axel continued
to glare, Tally managed with tremendous effort to twist her body around
and meet his gaze, before opening her lips and beginning to speak.
"Why...why are you doing this?" she sobbed, tears streaming openly down her face. "What did I ever do to you?" Axel spoke nothing, only continued to glare at the last daughter his mother had ever borne out of wedlock, and after a few moments, Tally's quiet misery turned to desperation and hysteria.
"Please leave me alone!" she shrieked hysterically, nearly choking on her tears as she screamed. "Please, don't kill me! I didn't do anything to you!" In response, Axel only glared down coldly at her, before reloading the magazine of his gun and aiming it straight between Tally's eyes. He raised the metallic weapon and prepared to squeeze the trigger.
A shot erupted...but it had come from another Beretta. As Tally drew in her breath sharply, on the verge of fainting, the stunned Texan glanced up to see Axel Storm, his features forever locked in an expression of shock. It was a face she knew would forever haunt her whenever she closed her eyes, as his body went limp and he collapsed on top of her. Tally drew in a series of shuddering breaths, forcing herself to calm down before she started hyperventilating, before scrambling in disgust to get his body off of hers and wondering what miracle had saved her life. Looking up from the red-haired assassin's now lifeless body, her eyes caught sight of a striking chestnut-haired young woman with fierce gray eyes and dark blood seeping through a piece of ripped white cloth she'd hastily bandaged around a severe bullet wound in her shoulder. Priss, leaning against the same cherry cabinet Axel's gunshot had thrown her into and with her arms hanging limply by her sides, offered a weak smile. Her smoking gun, which she'd been gripping so tightly that her knuckles had turned white, promptly clattered onto the ground. For a minute, neither of the two young women spoke. Just then, in the distance, the sound of police sirens was heard.
One Year Later…
Austin Texas. It certainly brought back rather unpleasant memories; granted, the city was a reasonable enough distance from Victoria, but just stepping on Texan soil still brought back a rush of unwelcome flashbacks about the night Priss had nearly lost her life...and the coldly calculating young man who'd been determined to play the role of Death God that night. Priss Aguilera, two weeks away from her twenty-seventh birthday and working on a case that had taken her down to Texas--yet again--sighed tiredly, before pushing her damp chestnut hair away from her forehead and trying to concentrate on her work. Which wasn't exactly the easiest thing to do when one was walking along a dusty Texan sidewalk in ninety-degree weather. If the saying about how ladies don't sweat, but rather, glow, Priss thought to herself wryly, then by God, I am glowing like a damn pixie fairy! Tinkerbell Priss! She let out a dry laugh, catching the attention of her partner, Kyle McGinnis, who shot her a curious look but refrained from asking any questions upon receiving Priss's somewhat apologetic smile.
Upon her casual sweeping
glance of her surroundings, Priss's gray eyes caught sight of a local newspaper...or,
specifically, the headline splashed across the front page in bold black
lettering. Priss froze on the spot, squinting to make sure she'd read the
words right. Going over the headline again, Priss realized with a sinking
feeling that her eyes weren't playing tricks on her from the heat. VICTORIAN
WOMAN SHOT DEAD, EXECUTION-STYLE glared back at her from the front page
of the local newspaper, and somewhere in the back of her mind, Priss realized
that a precise year had passed since Axel Storm's supposed death--it was
January 31st of 2007, the sixteenth anniversary of the death
of Axel's father. The yellow folders Priss had been carrying fell like
autumn leaves from her hands, a sheaf of documents fluttering noiselessly
onto the cracked cement sidewalk.
"Priss? Are you all right?"
Dimly, Priss recognized the sound of Kyle McGinnis's voice calling her name in concern, sounding tinny and hollow to her ears as she continued to stare dazedly in stunned surprise at the newspaper.
"Priss? All you all right? Priss? Priss?"