Out of the city, we drove into a scrap yard. It looked abandoned, with no lights along its pathways or perimeter either. From what I could see, the area looked about a mile wide, and I couldn't see the end of it on the horizon.
After a few minutes of driving into the maze of metal, we came across a singular man standing in the pathway. Even with the headlights on him for a few seconds, his face was still hard to make out. Yuno parked the truck off to the side. Not only metal was thrown here, but broken down cars, cargo hover ships, satellite dishes, and even people now. The homeless would tend to build homes here from the discarded trash, making their own communities with their own rules. That doesn't sound too bad to me.
We exited the truck, shutting it off, thus increasing the darkness around us. Not a soul in sight around here. All alone. The group formed a semicircle around the man in the shadows. Still, ominously standing in silence. I've never met our leader, the mastermind behind countless heists and attacks on corporations, including other gangs, so this will make our first encounter.
He was very cautious and mindful of his anonymity, based on the fact that he would not meet me for this long. But not only is he an enemy to the cops and mob bosses, but he's one of the most wanted people alive in Ultima City. So not showing up to your own group's meetings makes a bit of sense. This night was special; he would be appearing ceremoniously for the occasion.
"Well done, I am proud," the gentleman hidden in the shadows spoke, "This will be our biggest investment yet." The man stepped forward into the light, revealing his face. He was handsome, with big eyes, light brown shortcut hair, and a warm smile. So this is him... just give me- "Were there any unexpected issues?" he continued.
"We had to leave through the front, roughing up a few guards to avoid the main convoy unit in a full assault. Then, we blew up the entrance to cover our tracks," Crono stepped forward with full respect within his stance.
"I see. Making our mark as usual," the man from the shadows smiled. "How was our rookie?" the man now faced me casually, as if I were familiar.
"Not too bad," Nix said.
"He could use a beating, but I guess he was helpful," Crono added.
The man waited for Zhivago's response. The only other member who was close to me during the mission. I had a bad feeling he was about to play me down or suggest killing me on the spot. Zhivago grinned to himself but then took a sigh.
"The runt ain't too bad. Although, to be honest, I don't like him personally. But he had our backs in the end; he's a hell of a fighter too. So if you want him in, I'll trust your judgment," said Zhivago.
Wow. I looked around, and the rest of the group either nodded in agreement or listened without protest. Seemed like I made quite the impression. Which is what I had hoped, but I expected the worst considering the circumstances and based on their attitudes towards me.
"You weren't bad out there, kid," Silene said.
"Just make sure not to piss Zhivago off again," Witcha chuckled.
The tension died down, and the vibe felt welcoming now. The man from the shadows spoke up again, clapping his hands together. "Well, that settles it. Darkstar, step forward."
I did as asked, now readying for the moment of truth. The initiation of the Skulls. Seven months' worth of work, all for this moment. Get their attention, fight a member, do their labor, kill their enemies, and complete a mission contributing to the team. All I needed now was a name.
"The Skulls have given their approval… or lack of opposing. But nonetheless, I'm impressed. You've done your duty; now it's time to claim your prize. A number among the Skulls. Our Midnight Clan. Darkstar, do you accept?" the man of shadows announced as I nodded in acceptance, "Then I, Nero… leader of the Skulls, welcome you. I look forward to seeing what else you have to add to our group."
The shot was crisp and chilling. Nero's face was burned into my brain. The shock in his eyes was faint, yet his face remained ever so calm. It looked as if he accepted his death, but I could tell, like many before, that he wanted to know one thing before passing: 'Who wanted me dead?' It wasn't me, but I was the one pulling the trigger.
My right hand had aimed for the head, but the anticipation got the best of me. I had fired right through his exposed throat, with blood now spilling out rhythmically. He raised one hand futilely to his neck to confirm the reality of his situation. Right before collapsing, he spoke his final words, "Goodbye, old friend."
"You son of a-"
I instinctively clicked the button in my left hand. The collective sound of electric buzzing and grunting of struggle came from behind me. The tracing markers I placed on my group and Yuno were fitted with electric stun gun-like capabilities. One click and the discs could temporarily paralyze multiple targets at once. Luckily I was able to get Yuno in the truck earlier. But there were those I didn't get.
I quickly spun around and fired off at the stragglers still standing. Victor, Melody, Witcha, and Silene now lay dead with bullets in their heads. The rest were still on the ground, alive, fighting to stand. Zhivago was moving the most, now looking me in the eye. "Ha- knew it. Make it quick, you lit-."
I shot Yuno next. He was whimpering when I found him. Evidently, the most scared of the bunch, but who wouldn't fear death? So I begrudgingly put him out of his misery; I wasn't a fan of torture. Crono was next. He only stared as usual in silence, with nothing but hate and wrath in his eyes.
Lastly, I aimed my gun at Nix. Thanks to her, I got an audience with the Skulls to join. This was going to be the hardest one. I owed her a lot...
"I'll kill you! Skum! You dishonorable piece of shit!" she spat.
"I'm sorry, Nix. This isn't-"
"You're using that on me? Just business, my ass… aghh," she struggled, still trying to fight the voltage, "You a hitman? Assassin? It's all the same, I guess… Just for money, eh? When we stole, lived, and killed, we had no line. No morality as some would see it. Monsters… 'The Virus of Ultima City.'"
By this point, she was no longer affected by the electric voltage. She was just lying there, staring blankly at the sky. For some reason, her words held me hostage. Keeping me from pulling the trigger.
"We were a… we weren't perfect... but we were just enough to keep us going through all this. Cause at the end of the day, no jewel stolen or man killed can make you feel human in this world anymore. What we had was real. Something special. What do you have?..." she now stared at me. Tears were starting to build in her eyes, yet no sadness or fear was shown. I hated this.
I collected the electric discs from the crew members I placed on. Not only to clear evidence, but the discs were reusable. The bullets I use are untraceable and manufactured privately with alloys not used around the region. So I don't have to worry about those, luckily.
As I was finishing up, three identical black cars drove up the pathway of the dusty scrapyard. Once stopped and parked, the formally dressed driver of the center vehicle came out to open the backdoor with purpose. Out stepped an older bald gentleman wearing an onyx black suit with a cigar in hand. He had a trimmed goatee with a bold, large gold ring on his left hand. You couldn't get more cliche than this. All he needed was a fedora and a thick Italian accent. It was Marshall, my client.
I had phoned him immediately after the execution, but he was already close by tracking my location. Once he began walking toward me, the other car doors opened with more men in suits lining up in front of the headlights uniformly. Marshall walked right past me casually and began to look at the fallen thieves I'd killed. He scoffed in disbelief while walking around them.
"What a lineup. Geez. The tip of the spear. Edge of the knife. The 'Virus of Ultima City,'" Marshall chuckled. He pointed to Nero's body. "That him?"
"Yes," I replied.
"Wow. The man himself. Handsome devil, at that. No more will the Skulls wreak havoc on the city, nor will they cause me any more trouble."
Marshall took a big puff from his cigar and leaned closer to Nero's body. "I told you I'd get ya, you sonofabitch." He proceeded to put out his cigar on Nero's head. He then tossed it over into the heaps of scrap metal nearby as he walked back to the cars and his men.
"Seven months? Must've been tough."
"I was fortunate enough that they were searching for a new member by the time I ran across them. So next, I made them trust me and have them see and rely on my skills. After that, patience was key."
"I meant befriending them only to stab their backs. That's cold, even for me. I would've just done it from a distance. No hard feelings."
"I could never figure out where Nero was, and the group was never all together at once. So getting close was the only option, and this mission was my only opening. As for betraying them … it was nothing. The moment you attach feelings is the moment you fail at being an assassin. It's the whole point."
"Well, I thank you. You've done me a great service. Fine job indeed. Frank and the boys will be most pleased when I bring the news. You clean up well?" he gestured his head to the bodies behind me.
"All clean. Nothing to trace me with."
"Good. Well, I guess that's that. Oh, I almost forgot. I've been thinking, how about you work for me? Become my personal assassin. Make a consistent, honest living from some dishonorable work. Mm?" he offered.
"No thanks. I don't often take jobs from repeated clients or offer exclusive service."
"Too bad. Ah well," Marshall said, unfazed, as he began to turn back to his car.
"My payment," I reminded.
"Oh- silly me. My apologies," he reached into his breast pocket to pull out a small silver object, "A Confirm Key. Hope that's alright. Figured that'd be simpler."
He tossed the object into my hand. A Confirmation Key. It looked like an old USB drive, only heavier and silver-like. This was a key to accessing payments to transfer money discreetly through underground networks. Meant for singular use and could only be received through specific locations with Key Ports. Most Assasins Guilds had them.
"What of the gem?" I asked. I figured he'd want it since it was taken from the mafia, which he had friends in. Plus, shiny rocks and trinkets weren't that attractive to me.
"Keep it. Let's just say it was 'conveniently' misplaced in the fire."
"The auction item containers were fireproof."
"I'll make it work," Marshall flicked a dismissive hand, "Besides, consider it a token of gratitude- for the next time I ask for your services, you'll think about it?"
"Attaboy!" Marshall grinned.
"And the bodies? Should I dispose of them?"
"Leave them. I want the world to know that the Midnight Clan is no more. Hell, even the cops will pop some champagne. Till next time."
With that, Marshall and his men drove off, leaving the dead and me alone in the dark. I stashed the heavy gem in my pack, grabbed my hoverboard from the truck, and made my way out of the scrapyard.
I had brought the hoverboard in case the rendezvous was far from home, which ended up being the case. The board was black with blue strips of light on the edges when on. There were feet locks for rapid speeds and turning. Its hover engine was the main propeller but had boost turbines at the rear when needed. It was a pretty sick ride and tons of fun at times.
This might've been my longest job yet. The pay might be worth it, but I don't think I'll be taking on something that tedious anytime soon. Guess all I had left now was to officially collect my payment.
The scrapyard was outside the city in the boonies, away from it all. In the distance, I could see downtown Ultima with its neon glow. The noise and violence screaming from miles away. Not so much different elsewhere in the world, though. Even here, the cruelty of fate reaches with its death-gripping hand.
Gritting my teeth and swallowing down the heavy events that transpired tonight, I got on my hoverboard and activated its hover function. Then, accelerating to full speed above the road, I dashed back to the city to continue my endless battle for freedom.