Chapter 34:

Volume 2, Chapter 1: The Unhinged District

Parable of the Renegades


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AUTHOR'S NOTE:

Heyo! Jio Kurenai here!

Here's what I'm considering to be one of the most important chapters in this volume! A lot of new stuff will be introduced here and I hope for this to deliver!

By the way, with a name like "Parable of the Renegades," I've been abbreviating it as "POTR" but lately my artist, HikariSoul, has given her own spin on it as "ParaRene." Among these two abbreviations, which one do you think sounds better or catchy? I just want to go along with what the majority would prefer.

Feel free to leave a comment below. It can be anything like a random question, a comment for fun, or any constructive criticism to help me improve! If there's anything I like more than writing a story, it's interaction with those who are reading it. I must admit, that's one of the best feelings in the world for me!

Lastly, please give yourself some credit by giving that "LIKE" button a [insert verb that can substitute for "click" here] after reading this chapter! I'm always interested to know who's following me and I'd absolutely love it if we could start a conversation too! Likes and Comments will give points to your Honeyfeed badge, so make me recognize your mark by doing at least one of those two! I'll be singing your name in praise if you do both! ;)

Oh yeah, one more thing!

I have a Twitter account now, where I (mostly) post all sorts of news related to this story such as official artwork illustrated by the ultra-talented HikariSoul! Please follow us both! If you follow me on Twitter, I'll follow you back in a heartbeat!

*Phew* That's all for now. I hope you have fun reading this as much as I had fun writing it!

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Cameron’s Feint was a town located next to the beaches of Sarkansas, a southern region state in the West. It may have not been one of the biggest communities to ever grace the planet, but it had almost everything to suit one’s needs. Restaurants specializing in cuisine from other nations were scattered far and wide, a supermarket was established for the convenience of anyone living in or near the town, and educational facilities for all levels were just a few of the business facilities big and small to be available in the town. There was even a small cottage that functioned as a clinic near the beach for those who felt the price to pay at the hospital was too much.

While Cameron’s Feint had a population of over fifteen-thousand, its streets were hardly filled with crowds of people walking about. With all the businesses that were established, most of the population had their jobs to keep them occupied, and job hunting wasn’t a difficult task.

It wasn’t like the lack of people on the streets made for a bad sign either. In fact, it encouraged introverts or those with a distaste for crowded areas to go out more often while also preventing others from thinking of Cameron’s Feint to be like a ghost town.

With its landscape spread far and wide, mostly small structures occupying its space, and its abysmal rate of crime, Cameron’s Feint sounded like a pleasant and safe place to anyone hearing about it for the first time.

And that was true… to some extent.

If Cameron’s Feint were to be viewed from a distance, anyone would notice the horde of taller structures erected on the northwest district of the town.

In the day, that part of town would be in a state of half-sleep. Although there had been sightings of people entering and exiting, there was often nothing to note about.

But at night, the opposite happened. As soon as darkness blanketed the sky, every structure on that location would buzz then glow in different shades of pink neon lights. That was the signal that attracted many visitors near and far into the district.

Their purpose? To let loose and drown themselves in all manners of guilty pleasures.

Aside from the neon lights that were practically everywhere, enticing music from different venues blasted within the confines of the district’s vicinity, and outspoken women in provocative outfits stood outside to hand out pamphlets that advertised their services.

The northwest district of Cameron’s Feint conformed to a different kind of culture not practiced by the rest of the town. It even declared independence over a decade ago to cement this fact. Thus, a new identity was needed for the former northwest district of Cameron’s Feint.

It’s unknown when and who came up with the new name, but the district had since then became infamously known as “San Desquiciado,” a place where people were granted the freedom to do as they pleased.

Established as a red-light district, San Desquiciado was the location of many brothels, nightclubs, adult theaters, and other facilities dedicated to pleasure, but that wasn’t all it had to offer.

San Desquiciado was also the home of restaurants that made the others in Cameron’s Feint feel obsolete. Call them holes in a wall, because while none of them were fancy, expensive or in a sense, well-known, they all deserved bragging rights for the quality of the food they served. No restaurant in San Desquiciado was terrible. In fact, they were more than capable of competing against the best of the best around the world. This can be testified to their star-ratings with none of the restaurants having a star-rating below four, with five being the highest score possible.

The critics who awarded those stars deserved a lot of praise; not because they had a good sense of judgment, but because they had the guts to venture into San Desquiciado and make it out alive.

The reason why Cameron’s Feint had an almost non-existent crime rate was not entirely because its citizens were all good people who abided the law. To be fair, many of them did believe in good morals, however every person in the world had a darkness to go with their light, and those who couldn’t suppress the negative sides of themselves were free to unleash their immorality in San Desquiciado.

You never know who you may come across. A clean-cut office worker who does his job with professionalism during the day at Cameron's Feint may rough up his hair and swap his business attire for more liberating clothing as he went on an obnoxious run of freedom during the night at San Desquiciado.

And best of all, no one within the district’s boundaries had to worry about the police – San Desquiciado was one of the few places in the world that the authorities feared to tread. And that was the basis for its unwritten law.

Every form of crime was legal.

Want some instant money? Rob or mug someone in San Desquiciado.

Feel like committing murder out of a desire for revenge or because you want to know if taking life in reality is as fun as a videogame? Kill someone in San Desquiciado.

Want to take that step into adulthood while you’re underage? Do it in San Desquiciado. No one will judge you for doing something so sophisticated. In fact, you’re more likely to be labeled a “real man” for making a move before your eighteen years of age gave you the green light.

For any crime anyone could come up with, San Desquiciado was the place to commit it without fear of getting thrown into the slammer. While the police weren’t going to be arresting anyone anytime soon, that didn’t mean there were no consequences.

While anyone had the freedom to do their worst, they had better be prepared to carry the weight that comes with it. Just like how anyone was free to cause harm to others, others were also free to do the same to them.

It’s either you ride or get rolled on if you intend to go wild in San Desquiciado.

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Panting with his mouth wide open, Davis Crane watched the sweat from his face fall in droplets to the pavement. He was hunched forward with his hands gripping his knees tight after running a long distance from his house with hardly any breaks.

It was now 1 am, an unusual time for him to be going out. He’d usually be sprawled out on his bed, snoring with a goofy smile from living an erotic dream most suitable for an adolescent. But he knew now wasn’t the time for nightly fantasies. Davis had a bigger issue to take care of.

As he waited for the burning pain in his chest to stop, Davis tugged down at the hem of his shirt and checked his left pectoral muscle.

He cussed in disappointment.

The strange black mark was still there – an outline of a heart surrounded by three layers of circles as two hollow arrows were trying to breach through them. Its overall design looked no different than a henna tattoo, although this one had ridges.

When he first saw it, a series of questions flooded Davis’ thoughts. When did this mark show up? How did it show up? Will it do something to him?

Davis had no interest in giving himself a tattoo and he wasn’t keen on changing his mind anytime soon. The only way he could think of obtaining one on his own so suddenly was if he somehow stumbled upon a tattoo artist after getting himself wasted on alcohol again. He may have been five years below the legal drinking age, but he didn’t think that mattered. Undisciplined or rebellious people were very common in the west.

That, and because Davis enjoyed doing anything that would make it seem like his father made mistakes in raising him. Call it his personal form of respite.

It was only when he got tired of panicking that Davis started to retrace his steps and by the end of his recollection, someone started to feel more and more like the culprit responsible for somehow imprinting that mark on him.

That “someone” was Rio Kiyodera.

She was the Nihanese girl Davis met earlier during the day and who seemed to be living in the house of his best friend, Lucas Thorne.

Meeting a Nihanese person (and a girl at that) came as a surprise for Davis. He had always wanted to visit Nihan so he could explore the source of everything that made him an otaku. Wasting no time in flaunting his fanboyism, Davis asked Rio to give him a self-introduction in her native tongue of Nihanese even though he wasn’t fluent enough to understand most of what she said. He was simply interested in hearing the language outside of anime for once.

Then shortly after granting his wish, Rio did the unthinkable. She made Davis lose his sanity for a moment when she told him something he never thought to be possible.

The alluring Nihanese proclaimed herself as Lucas’ girlfriend. One of Davis’ greatest fears had been realized. Out of all people, Rio was interested in someone like Lucas!?

It was difficult for Davis to accept that the shy friend he had known since childhood was actually in a relationship with someone from the other side of the planet. Then again, life can be full of surprises, so Davis had no choice but to accept. Nevertheless, it irked him to no end that someone as introverted and reclusive as Lucas actually scored ahead of him. It made him curse his fate, which he had done a lot in all his years of existence.

Then came the turning moment.

Hours later, Davis translated some of the words he could remember from Rio’s self-introduction through an app on his phone.

That was when his perspective of her took on a more serious turn. In a flash, Rio was no longer just another pretty face.

Apparently, part of Rio’s Nihanese introduction included her telling him straight that she was an assassin as well as a [Renegade]. Davis couldn’t say for sure if she was telling the truth or not, but for her to say something related to a controversial topic, it was only natural that suspicions within him would grow.

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The burning pain in his chest stopped and a methodical weight was lifted off his legs. Having recovered from his exhaustion by taking a short break, Davis straightened himself as he looked at what lay ahead of him.

Jealousy was no longer his concern. It had been replaced with worry over the danger Lucas could be in. Davis didn’t know the extent of how much Lucas felt about Rio, but if she was truly a [Renegade], she cannot be trusted.

Davis clenched his fists, steeling himself to take the steps needed to protect the friend who accepted, or at least tolerated him for who he is. He had considered calling Lucas through his phone the moment his suspicions first came into play, but he decided against it right when he was inches away from hitting the green phone icon on his touchscreen.

There was a possibility that if he warned Lucas about Rio being a [Renegade], his friend may lose his composure the next time he was around her, which may lead to Rio finding out her cover was blown, and a dead Lucas as a means to get rid of any suspicion.

That was too risky. Davis decided that the best way to deal with Rio was to lead her to a trap, and that trap needed time to set up.

Like almost everyone in the world, Davis had little to no knowledge about the [Renegades]. Their strengths, their weaknesses, their abilities, and all other vital information about them remained as unknown as the same day he first heard about them.

He simply knew they existed.

With that in mind, Davis resorted to preparing for the worst-case scenario by bringing out the full power he could get his hands on, and the source of that power lay dormant in the company his father owned.

“Craneworks Industries” was the reason why almost every resident of Cameron’s Feint was well-equipped to handle opposing threats if need be. It was a blacksmithing company that specialized in the development and creation of high-quality equipment for protection purposes. Those who were employed by the company underwent strict training to learn different crafting techniques for weapons or armor with many of those techniques originating from foreign nations. Davis himself was no exception.

Thanks to their high-income rate, Craneworks was a successful company. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Davis’ family had more than enough money to live in a grand mansion on the finest property of land. Despite their wealth, they continued to reside in one of the simple houses that almost looked no different from the others in the suburbs of Falcon Rock.

While it was true that the company was doing well, the secret to their success was more than a high demand for equipment considering the current times.

Craneworks industries were actually comprised of two divisions, and each followed a different business model.

The first division was located within the local shopping mall of Cameron’s Feint with a few other branches situated in other locations. It was a friendly and well-known shop to the public that sold weapons for close combat like swords, knives, spears, hammers, and lances, as well as a few ranged weapons such as bows and arrows.

The second division, however, operated on shady transactions and tax-free deals to earn massive profits that put the earnings of their public shops to shame. It peddled firearms, explosives, and other controversial weapons that were suitable for modern warfare or political assassinations. The business conducted in the second division was likely to raise eyebrows, so it had to be established somewhere the authorities would never interfere.

That was why Davis had come all the way to San Desquiciado.

He looked around as he stood still outside the boundary that separated the district from the rest of Cameron’s Feint. No one appeared to be in sight and all he could hear was the vicious upbeat music booming across the streets.

Taking a deep breath, Davis stepped over the boundary line. First came the right foot, then came the left.

Then came an empty wine bottle flying at him from his right.

“Gah! My sexy face!”

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Lana… Please forgive your bloke of a husband for charging into harm’s way without a plan.

That lamentation came from a man who was beaten black, blue, and red all over.

The brim of his flat cap and most of his metallic blond hair was stained with blood that ran down in copious amounts over his face to form a crimson mask like those of a masquerade ball, and a crude one at that.

The extent of his injuries left him with no strength to stand on his own two feet, but his knees had yet to touch the floor thanks to his victorious opponent, who dangled him by a wrist in an unceremonious manner.

The blond man’s vision faded to black. Deep within his subconscious, a speckle of light grew bigger the closer his life was to getting extinguished. It was that phenomenon again; a phenomenon he experienced too many times to count and now was still too soon to surrender to it.

When the light started to blind him, he was forced out of this realm between life and death and his most recent memories came running back.

He awoke to find himself in a swank room with walls of industrial wood and multiple picture frames hanging off them. It was an office suitable for a boss and situated on the top floor of a building nestled deep in the heart of San Desquiciado.

The man recalled why he was there in the first place. He had infiltrated that location and fought the gang leader who orchestrated the kidnapping of his wife after a successful sneak attack.

And his endeavor failed miserably.

The gang leader he lost to didn’t break into even a trickle of sweat. His casual shirt remained tucked into his black slacks with only a few visible wrinkles to tell of the minuscule effort he needed. His clothes remained spotless. No splash of his opponent’s blood, not even an accidental drop, landed on the silky fabric of his shirt, velveteen purple in color and embroidered with a black inguz rune on one of its rolled-up bicep sleeves.

“Unbelievable. You’re unbelievable,” The victorious gang leader, an athletic young adult named Logen Thayne, sneered. He swept a hand through his wavy chocolate-brown hair until it found a minor bump on the back of his head. “I’m still trying to comprehend the fact that the only hit you landed on me was a dirty sneak attack,” he said in utter disbelief. “And if you’ll allow me to give my honest opinion? Really!? Were you actually trying to hurt me? That felt like a love tap and a very green one at that!”

Logen was adamant that even his underlings could have made short work of this weak opponent of a man. And that was saying something because his underlings were all simple, dim-witted hooligans he picked off the streets. Whether they were truly dim-witted or not was up for debate.

Considering how one-sided this fight (if he could call it one) turned out to be, it was a no-brainer for Logen to dismiss his opponent as someone who had nothing worthy of his attention.

Nothing except for what the beaten man was wearing on his right arm.

It was a sleek gauntlet that reached up to its wearer’s elbow. Strange golden accents decorated the piece of equipment and an arrow-shaped shield jutted out of the gauntlet’s forearm. Overall, it looked like a priceless relic with enough intrigue to make anyone invest a few seconds of their time to marvel at its appearance.

“That weapon of yours deserves more respect. I’d be more than happy to give it that after I take it off your hands,” Logen said, knowing from experience that the gauntlet was most likely one-of-a-kind. “I think it’s a fair price to pay for assaulting a man who was just doing his thing. You know, I didn’t simply eye your wife and go ‘Oh mommy, I want that one!’ or something like that. She just so happened to be one of the many expendable riches from the spoils.”

He opened his hand and dropped his beaten opponent, who slumped to the floor. Then Logen planted a foot, augmented by a size-ten leather shoe, on the groaning man’s head and grabbed the gauntlet with both hands. He took a moment to run a finger across the shield part and grinned out of admiration for how its curving accents and textures were quite the pleasurable touch.

“The more I look at your weapon, the more I want it.” Logen’s eyes grew mad with desire as he yanked hard at the gauntlet. “I have to admit, it makes me excited. You know, like a woman when she’s gifted a shiny new cage to sleep in!”

Though weak and convulsing in horrible pain, the defeated man wasn’t willing to give in. He kept his gauntlet secured by curling his fingers into a tight fist.

“Not… a bloody chance,” he muttered in a posh accent. A mouthful of blood then came out with a cough and stained the nylon carpet below him.

Undaunted by the resistance and tolerating his desecrated carpet at first, Logen continued his prying with every succeeding yank gaining more force behind it. If taking that gauntlet for himself meant the cost of an arm, so be it - that arm wasn’t his anyway, so he was all on board with that. Occasionally, he delivered a vicious stomp to his opponent’s already bloody face, hoping the blunt force trauma would force him to release his hold on the weapon.

Punishment after punishment was sentenced and the defeated man’s injuries grew worse with every passing second, but his refusal to yield remained the same despite all that. He was helpless with no hope of fighting back but preventing Logen from taking his gauntlet was a stake worth fighting to his very last breath.

It turned out half a minute was all it took for Logen’s patience to reach the summit of his boiling point. After drawing more strength to himself out of pure frustration, Logen yanked the man’s arm once more and did so in tandem with one last crushing stomp to the head—

A deafening scream made only possible by the internal ripping of bone and muscle tissues rattled everything inside the room.

—The beaten man’s arm had been rendered useless. A wet pop that came forth from a vicious pull in opposite directions distinguished the injury as a shoulder getting unplugged out of its socket.

“There! You see what happens when you try to defy little ol’ me!?” Logen grabbed a handful of his opponent’s blond hair by the bangs and held the now whimpering man up to his level. Rose quartz eyes with bloodshot veins looked deep into a hazel pair that was brimming with tears of pain. “Now stop trying to resist and hand me your weapon!”

Instead of a “yes” or “no”, Logen was given another answer. The beaten man, still refusing to yield, spat cough blood into one of Logen’s eyes and momentarily forced it to shut.

Logen was far from amused. His expression turned emotionless as he monotoned, “I think you have a mess to clean up.”

He drove the beaten man face-first into the carpet he dirtied with his cough blood. Logen wasn’t gentle in the least as he used the poor man’s face like a cleaning rag on all the stains he made while ignoring his muffled screams. It was obvious all that scraping was only further desecrating the carpet, but Logen was fine with that. The carpet used to be white. Maybe changing its color to crimson would make a nice paint job.

*Ring!* *Ring!*

“Hmm?” Logen looked over his shoulder.

He would have continued torturing the beaten man into submission if it weren’t for the annoying ring of the landline phone standing on his desk.

Churning a grunt as he adjusted his clothes from their minor ruffling, Logen approached his desk and pressed one of the twenty-five buttons on his phone as he picked it up and held it against his ear.

“This had better be worth hearing,” he warned whoever was on the other end of the line.”

"Y-yes boss, it is.” A shaky voice oozed from the phone’s speaker with exhausted wheezing. “I… I got back from… scouting, and I have some information… you’d definitely want to--"

"Do you have any idea what time it is?” Logen hissed. He took a second to check the diamond-encrusted watch on his wrist. “It’s 1:03 am! This had better be good, or you’re a dead man!"

“I-I’m sorry, boss!” the voice belonging to one of Logen’s underlings apologized in between his labored breathing. “I just arrived home!”

“Wait, wait, what did I just hear!?” Logen gripped his phone harder. The pressure was almost enough to crush it. “So, you were goofing off instead of doing your job? This report should’ve happened hours ago! Did you forget you’re paid to do this!?”

“Y-you never give me any money sir.”

“I know. Your compensation is the extra time you get to breathe. It has and will always be.”

His boss’ words burned themselves into his ear, reminding him of the life he had no choice but to live. Fear gripped him by the throat, preventing him from talking back until he was given permission to do so.

“Good,” Logen was pleased with the lack of a retort. “Now out with it. What information would someone like me, want?”

"Y-yes... W-we found a possible new candidate for your collection. She seems just the way you like em’. Girly, slender figure and her eyes remind me of a kitten,” the voice opinionated. “She's also from a foreign nation and--"

“You, shut up for a second,” Logen commanded, eliciting a yelp from the other end of the line.

In the midst of his phone conversation, another source of sound caught Logen’s attention and made him turn his head almost a hundred-eighty degrees.

The beaten man in his office was trying to get up, his remaining arm shaking as it tried to work alone and elevate him off the ground. His legs shivered then slipped. They were still too numb to function properly.

“Leaving so soon?” Logen walked to him without a rush, the phone still in his hand.

Before the beaten man could give any kind of answer, every last drop of breath was squeezed out of his lungs as his body was forced down to the floor in a sickening thud.

Allowing gravity to drop all his weight, Logen sat on the poor man’s back just when he was on the verge of elevating himself off the floor. If the man wanted to leave, he was free to try, but not without leaving that one-of-a-kind gauntlet behind.

"Now then,” Logen returned to his phone as his behind resisted the futile struggle beneath it. “Where is she? I must admit I’m dying to meet her."

"S-she got away!” the other voice admitted after some hesitation. “She killed the four of us except me with her bare hands! And she left without a single scratch!"

"..."

"B-boss?"

"SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THAT YOU AND THOSE THREE OTHER GUYS GOT YOUR ASSES KICKED ALL OVER THE STREET BY A CHICK!? SINCE WHEN DID I START GIVING JOBS TO PANSIES!?”

The frightened listener, an injured and exhausted hooligan lying on his back because he couldn’t stand up, yelped and held the phone as far from his ear as he could. That wasn’t enough to keep him from hearing Logen’s explosive outburst even though the phone wasn’t on speaker.

"B-boss, you don't understand!” he pleaded in defense. “She's a [Renegade]!"

And with that, Logen went silent for a moment.

“A [Renegade] you say?” He parroted with surprise before regressing to a calmer state. “Well now, I guess that explains why you chumps got your asses beat. Her [Laws] must be something, or maybe she used her [Rebellion] to even the odds.”

"Y-yes... That's exactly why." The hooligan played along, keeping to himself that neither of those two [Renegade] abilities was actually used (unless one would count the use of a [Law] after the “massacre” ended).

"Alright then," Logen decided. “If she’s gonna be too stubborn to let herself be spank material, it’s no biggie. I know other uses for her body.”

A malicious grin representing the thoughts floating within his subconscious crept onto his face. His immersion was so radical that he almost forgot he was still on the phone.

"What would that be?" the hooligan asked for the third time after his first two tries went unheard.

"DID I GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO ASK QUESTIONS!?" Logen roared after getting snapped out of his thoughts.

"S-sorry! O-owww!! Shit! Oh!” the hooligan writhed in pain and was too late to realize Logen heard everything. “P-please forgive my language! The girl broke both of my legs and one of my arms before she spared me! She even forced me to drag myself all the way back to my apartment and up four flights of stairs with just my good arm and--"

"SINCE WHEN DID YOUR SOB STORY MAKE ANYONE SHED A TEAR!?" Logen interjected.

"N-never..." the hooligan admitted, almost bursting into said tears.

"THAT'S RIGHT, AND NOW I REALIZE I WAS BEING TOO NICE WHEN I CALLED YOU A ‘PANSY!’ CONGRATULATIONS FOR REACHING ANOTHER LEVEL OF LOW I NEVER THOUGHT EXISTED! SERIOUSLY, WHAT KIND OF CHICK CAN ACTUALLY BREAK A MAN’S LEGS!?"

“S-she used submis—”

“AH-TUT-TUT-TUT-TUT-TUT! I’M NOT INTERESTED IN ANY EXCUSES YOUR DEGENERATING BRAIN CAN COME UP WITH!”

Logen swept a hand through his hair once more and closed his eyes while keeping his phone far enough to not hear the whimpering coming from it. Some steady breathing with no annoying complaints to bother him was all he needed to calm down after going through yet another outburst.

"But then again, this kind of info doesn’t show itself every day,” Logen said following a return to his phone conversation. “I’ll find a way to get that girl later. For now, I want you to tell me the name of my future property."

"It's Rio Kiyodera, boss. She says she's from the Eastern Nation of Nihan, but-"

"But what?" Logen pressured with a soft voice that hit hard.

"S-she says she already belongs to someone. Named uh… "Lucas Thorne,” I think. And if you want her, you have to go through him first!"

“…”

“Boss? H-hello?” The hooligan checked for a disconnection on the line, unaware that a burning rage was building on the other end.

From his office room, Logen refrained from sitting on the beaten man’s back. The man tried to get up again when he realized nothing was holding him down.

“Do you remember the first rule I gave you when I took your sorry ass in?” Logen asked his hooligan subordinate as the phone trembled in his hand.

“A rule?” the pressured hooligan tried to recall but couldn’t, try as he might. “I’m sure you never mentioned any rules when you--”

“YOU NEVER…! EVER…! MENTION…! THAT NAME…! TO ME!”

With every pause Logen made, the hooligan could hear another man choking out a moan of pain.

With every pause Logen made, he stood up then dropped the concentrated force of his weight on the beaten man’s back, forcing him to get intimate with the floor over and over again. It was a miracle the man’s spine wasn’t broken after all that punishment.

“By ‘that name’ boss,” the hooligan trembled but needed clarification. “You meant to say ‘Lucas Thorne’, right?”

“ARE YOU THAT DESPERATE TO KNOW WHETHER OR NOT THE AFTERLIFE EXISTS!?”

The hooligan nearly dropped his phone after Logen’s outburst frightened him out of his wits. “I-I-I’m sorry, boss! Please forgive me! I won’t do it again!”

“You better!” Logan’s nose breathing became so exaggerated, it was audible through the hearing piece. The heavy noise lightened when he calmed down again seconds later. “Anyway… All your fuck-ups aside, you did a decent job providing me with this information. I expect better results next time. Are we crystal clear on this?”

The hooligan was pleased even though the praise for him hardly sounded like anything to celebrate for.

"T-than--URK! GRRH!!!"

He collapsed alongside his phone, gurgling and croaking before he could express his thanks. Finally, he twitched in spasms until his body stopped moving… permanently.

When Logen heard no response, he went ballistic again. He didn’t even consider the strange gibberish noises or the sound the phone made when it hit the floor.

"WHAT!? NO THANKS FOR ME WHEN I TOLD YOU YOU’VE DONE WELL!? SPEAK UP WHEN I'M TALKIN' TO YOU!!!"

There was still no response. The hooligan with two broken legs and an arm had died on the spot. The cause of his death? A strange mark that had been imprinted on the left side of his chest half a day ago. It consisted of a strange heart-like tattoo that had now been stabbed by a pair of arrows converging into it before the entire mark faded away with no former trace of it left behind.

If the police were to discover his body, they would have determined his death as a result of “natural causes.”

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Logen slammed the phone to its slotted terminal on his desk. The appliance didn’t break, but a few wires were now sticking out of the terminal.

Something appeared to be wrong with him beyond his already questionable behavior as observed by the beaten man, who was now lying still to pretend being incapacitated.

From what he observed, Logen’s speech patterns seemed to change with mood swings. One second he was talking smooth like a car salesman, then he started to sound like a bratty child on a sugar rush, and then he erupted like a man who got frustrated from stubbing his toe.

The beaten man moved only his eyes, watching without making the slightest sound as Logen, the younger man at the age of twenty, walked over to one of the many framed pictures of attractive women that lined the walls of his office.

After subjecting one of the pictures to a half-minute stare, Logen, with a sudden aura of frustration enveloping him, yelled and drove a fist through the frame’s glass, shattering it. He wasn’t bothered at all by the shards of glass that were now embedded into his bleeding hand. He proceeded to rip the picture from its frame and showed no ounce of mercy as he tore it into countless shreds.

That wasn’t the end of it. Logen repeated this process to the framed picture next to it, before moving to the next one after that.

This strange behavior had overtaken him to the point that he ignored the other person with him in his office.

Realizing he had been taken off Logen’s radar for the time being, the beaten man eyed his escape route – one of the windows on the wall. He supported the mangled arm that wore his gauntlet and aimed for the window closest to him.

He clenched his right fist and exerted all the grip force he could draw out by pretending to crush an object in his hand.

Steam burst out in a conical shape from one end of the gauntlet toward him. On the other end, a short sword was ejected out of a narrow slot in the shield’s pointed tip.

The bladed projectile flew like a missile, its sharp tip piercing through the air. It was the injured man’s intention for the sword to crash through the window and create an exit, but the weapon barely missed its mark. Instead, the sword plunged itself into the wall just slightly below the window.

The man cursed – either his accuracy had dulled or the injury to his arm made him lack the necessary force needed to launch the sword, which was the more likely answer.

No matter the result, all of that created enough commotion to remind Logen he wasn’t alone.

“OH NO YOU DON’T!” He spun around as a demented scowl marred his face. “HAND ME THAT WEAPON, FIRST! THEN YOU CAN TRY TO FLEE!”

Barreling with his leather shoes thumping the floor, Logen leaped with the intention to dogpile the beaten man, but just when it looked like he was about to land on his target, the beaten man vanished in the blink of an eye even though his legs were still too weak to help him stand.

Following a burning skid on the carpet from his miss, it didn’t take much time for Logen to find where the beaten man had moved to. A hard crash to the wall and shards of shattered glass hitting the floor gave away the man’s new location. He was now by the window and trying to crawl out of it, having pulled his sword from the wall before using it to smash the glass and create a risky exit.

Now barreling once more with an arm outstretched to its limit, Logen tried to stop the man in his tracks, but he only managed to grab him by his shoe – just as gravity started to pull the other man down to the outside and drag Logen along with him.

His life was now in jeopardy. Logen released his grip on the other man’s shoe just as he was on the verge of slipping through the open window. After a struggle to tip his balance in the right direction, he fell back to his office floor on his behind while his breathing grew haggard from nearly seeing his life before his eyes.

Logen approached the window after recovering and gripped its edges for safety as he peered down with squinted eyes.

The man with metallic blond hair had escaped him without surrendering his weapon but was now falling off a ten-story building with nothing to slow down his descent.

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧

Lying in an awkward position of spread out limbs, the man with metallic blond hair groaned. Once again, he berated himself for making a move without giving it some thought and for doing it too soon. Escaping through a window with nothing to help him get down safely had to be one of the dumbest stunts he ever performed in his life.

He was lucky that he just so happened to land inside a dumpster filled with plastic bags of trash instead of the hard ground, but still, that didn’t mean he had a painless landing.

As he struggled to climb out of the massive and smelly rectangular container, an object vibrated in the man’s pocket while playing a short chorus reminiscent of violins.

It was his smartphone. The man had to put in some extra effort to reach deep into his right pocket with the opposite hand. After pulling the phone out, he investigated its touchscreen, hoping the displayed name of his caller was the person he had on his mind.

And it was.

With haste, he pressed the green phone icon on his touchscreen then forced his phone hard against his ear.

“Lana? A-are you unharmed?” The man huffed and stuttered, begging for the voice of his wife to answer him. “Please tell me you’re unharmed!”

“Guess again, lover boy.”

He gasped and his eyes almost widened beyond human standards when the response came from a poor imitation of a feminine voice.

“Logen!” He growled, teeth gnashing. “Lana better be fine or else--!”

“Or else what?” Logen snubbed him. “If you’re looking for a repetition of your piss-poor performance five minutes ago, then by all means, come back to floor ten and try again!”

There was no retort following that, but the line of their phone call remained uncut. Logen saw this as a sign that the other man was waiting for him to finish the rest of his piece. He obliged and continued uninterrupted.

“See, here’s the rundown. Now that I know what you’re capable of -- you suck ass by the way -- security at my place is gonna lock up real tight. So tight you can’t do shit if you wanna bust in a second time. However, if you want my doors to stay wide open with your wife in plain sight, I have only one condition: bring me the one with the name… ‘Lucas Thorne’. Bring him to me, alive.”

The man with metallic blond hair raised an eyebrow. Was it just him, or did Logen reek of nothing but murderous intent when he snarled that name? It was best to think about that later, as Logen still had more to say.

“And here’s a little incentive to give you a kickstart. You ready?” Logen cleared his throat, then delivered the sweetest whisper he could make. “Do you know what’s ‘Lana’… spelled backward?”

Following a moment of silence to let the question sink in, Logen beamed a grin full of malicious glee as one of his ears enjoyed a desperate, but unimposing threat from the man with metallic blond hair.

“You filthy cur! Keep your hands off her or I’ll--!”

Shouting the rest of his threat became pointless. His phone played a neverending bleep into his ear, meaning Logen had disconnected the call from his end.

As he shoved his smartphone back into his pocket, the blond man cursed his inability to save his wife as horrifying thoughts of Logen having his way with her played like a movie he was forced to watch.

He was left with no choice. He had to find this person and bring him to Logen as soon as possible if it meant the slightest chance of being reunited with the woman who could’ve run away with any man but choose someone as mediocre as himself.

And then there was that name he’d be told about.

“Lucas… Thorne...” The blond man muttered to himself, his gut reeling from an inner tremor.

It’s been over a decade since he heard half of that name.

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