I woke up on the ground coughing raggedly. My body was cold and wet, feeling more than pain. The area around me was different from when I was awake before. I was in some abandoned stadium.
Rows of seats were all around me, filled with cobwebs and dust. The roof was slightly closed, with moon rays leaking through along with rain. All of the grass or terrain where I was lying was desolate and dirty.
I’ve been here before.
It was the hideout of the Skulls. The crime syndicate I killed what felt like ages ago. My arms barely managed to pick my body up from the dirt. I sat up to find a lone man sitting in a chair in front of me. He was a good distance away, but I was able to tell that it wasn’t the Hunter that knocked me out. This one was slimmer, with no mask and a mournful expression on his face.
His hair was dark brown and reached his shoulders. His eyes were sunken deeply, giving him a look as if he’s never fallen asleep. He held a single knife in his hand, running it along his fingers.
“You’re finally awake,” the man spoke.
“Where’s the Hunter?” I groaned.
“I bought you off his hands,” he said dully.
I stood up, gasping for air, trying to stretch my muscles. All the tense bones cracked to some relief. My legs, however, were frail and were barely keeping me standing.
“And what do you want with me?”
“To bring you here… for your death.”
“Who are you?”
“Draven. My name is Draven. And I’m the last Skull of the Midnight clan you didn’t get.”
The Midnight clan was a group of thieves that comprised ten members. Every time a member dies or retires, another will join to take their place. They were fierce, loyal, and clever. It took seven months to get to their leader just so I could kill them all.
But this stranger in front of me was telling me otherwise. When I joined the Skulls, I was told that I would be getting a number, replacing a member who was leaving. There were nine people, and all suggested that I was there to fill that spot. Now there was a man claiming to be the last one standing.
Draven continued to slowly speak, “They might’ve told you that you would be replacing a member who had left. But in reality, I was only away on a mission of my own. The member who was supposed to leave was Nero… and I would’ve become the new leader.”
“I’m sorry, but I think-”
“I know you killed them. I saw you with the group just soon after I left, and when I returned after completing my mission, I found nine bodies… except yours. Darkstar. I searched for you until finally, I met that Bounty Hunter. Making a deal to trade you off, as long as I killed you at a specific hour.”
So the Hunter gave him that instruction so Dygen could have enough time to extract Ava’s memories. Pretty clever, but I don’t think Draven knew about anything about that matter.
“You’re here to kill me… for revenge,” I guessed.
“For honor! It’s the least I could do in their memory. I’m here to bring justice for my fallen comrades. They may never witness this. But, even in death, our loyalty does not break.”
Without thinking about the consequences, my mind blanked. I fell to my knees. Giving in to the fate before me.
“Then… make it quick… avenge your friends.”
Draven stood up and gripped the knife in his hand. “No, not like that. You’re gonna have to fight me.”
“I will not do my friends the disservice of killing their murderer like some starving hound. You will fight me to the death. And I will kill you in battle. I even give you the chance to face me equally as I kill you, something you never offered to my comrades.”
“Stand and fight!”
I knelt there thinking back on all the things I did to lead me here. All the piled-up opportunities I had to change and start a new life. Instead, I chose this. The mistakes, the killings, the hardships, the bad, the good… Keiffer… Elena… and Ava.
Draven charged and drove his knee into my face. The impact flung me across the dirt. The wind knocked out of my lungs as I rolled.
“Stand, assassin. Stand, or I’ll rip your flesh off piece by piece until you comply,” Draven shouted.
Ava, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I let you go.
Draven kicked me around. Picking me up and then sending me flying with a barrage of punches.
“Fight! Fight you, coward! Why can’t you give me this?!” he started wailing. “You took everything from me. We were killers and lowlifes, but the Skulls… they were my… we were family.”
As Draven continued his onesided assault, I recalled Nix’s last words just before I killed her. It played in my head clearly like a film.
“... we weren’t perfect… but we were just enough to keep us going through all this… What we had was real. Something special. What do you have?”
Ava begged for my help. Crazy or not. Paradoxical or not, she was my daughter… and she needed me.
Draven was about to land another punch across my face, but without thinking, my hand caught his fist and gripped it. I pushed him back, to his surprise. He stood up, now more confident and full of life in his eyes.
“Yes, that’s it. Give me a fight worth dying for!” he yelled.
I raised my fists and prepared for his charge. He thrust his knife at my chest as I jumped to the side. Then, in one move, I disarmed his weapon and nabbed it from his hand. My hand held the blade like an extension of my own arm.
Draven, coming back around, threw a wide right cross. I dodged underneath and cut his side. He then recklessly threw himself at me with full force.
With Draven on top of me, he redirected the knife was holding to my chest. He pushed down with all his might as I struggled to keep the blade from making contact. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I stuck my palm into the knife and turned the back of my hand to his chest. The blade sticking out of my hand was attached to his body as I pressed hard. The feeling was beyond tremendously awful.
I turned Draven’s body over as I pulled the blade from out his chest and my hand. He lay there, dying, with blood pouring out slowly.
“What were Nero’s… final words,” Draven sighed.
As I recounted the memory, I gave Draven his dying wish, “‘Goodbye, old friend.’”
The last of the Skulls… was finally dead.
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