Sehjada jumped from her mattress, her hair wild and damp like her bedsheets from her sweat. She palmed her face, breathing erratically. From the space between her fingers she could see the image of Marissa.
Her best friend’s bloody face stared back at her with dead eyes and she screamed. She swung her hand at her sheets then swung her feet off the bed, tripping over her slippers as she tried to escape. At the last minute, she managed to grab onto her dresser before she could hit the thing. Then, she collapsed on the floor.
Her body shook and she wrapped her arms around herself. Every night for the past two months she went through this. The guilt of aiding in the death of her best friend had consumed her. She had no idea how to stop it either. She was sure she would have been fine. Marissa was a monster. She had to die. They all had to die.
“Why won’t you leave me alone?” She held her head with both hands and shrunk into the fetal position. “I didn’t do anything wrong. She was dangerous. They’re all dangerous. I was right.”
Her mind was swamped with memories of the last time she saw her alive.
The group didn’t know there was a bomb waiting for them. Kaleb had been moved to another facility hours before their arrival. The building was evacuated and when they arrived, the entire building was leveled in the explosion after his execution. Following the bombing, a team was sent to search the ruins. The report claimed that everyone was killed in the blast, especially after finding a burning arm and a skull.
She didn’t know that after the incident that this is what awaited her–constant mental anguish.
She opened her eyes as she tried to convince herself, and was met with Marissa’s face directly in front of hers.
Did you? It asked, and the face began to melt on one side. Did you do the right thing? A hand reached out to her and Sehjada scurried to her feet in a panic. She ran for her door and was again met with the face. DID YOU DO THE RIGHT THING?!
“Leave me alone!” She screamed and dropped to her feet, again cradling her head. A shiver ran down her spine as she felt a cold breeze against her neck. In her mind Marissa was circling her, asking her the same question over and over.
“Please, just go away,” She cried, and spent the night fighting with her inner turmoil.
Robert was spacing out in his office, staring at the family photo on the wall; back when everything was simple.
Had it ever been simple? His family life was built on lies and he lost them all as a result. His wife was in the other room packing her things. She was leaving. He had finally explained it all to her; that Marissa wasn’t some child he adopted on a whim.
He’d met Sophia not knowing who she was at the time. She’d been volunteering with the a relief unit in one of the disaster areas in the Caribbean following a tsunami that had struck. She wasn’t supposed to be there. Neither was he. His team was diverted from their original mission–to assassinate the Caribbean Queen–in order to provide extra aid to the crumbling country.
She’d been a beauty. Casually dressed in a black top, camouflage pants and sneakers. Her thick, tight, dark brown curls had been pinned up in a high bun. She was thicker than the other women there, and towered over them at 5’11. She had introduced herself as FiFi in an accent that left him weak. He found himself mesmerized with her skin that looked like she had been dipped in pure cocoa powder, and many times he wished to be the beads of sweat that ran down her bosom.
And though she looked sweet, she was anything but. She ran the relief efforts as though she was in charge, and they cursed at each other numerous times.
Still, he was enamored with her, and when he’d stumbled across her bathing in the moonlight under the waterfall, he was sure he had seen a goddess and fell in love. A secret love that was reciprocated and in the following year, Marissa was waiting to be born.
A landslide, however, brought their fairytale to an abrupt end. They were scaling a mountain to rescue a lost child when the earth came tumbling down. In an effort to save him, she shifted, and at the sight of her spotted fur he’d felt his heart stop.
She was a Felid, and no doubt their child would be one too.
He was prepared to kill her and she made no efforts to stop him.
But he couldn’t.
He then admitted to her his purpose, and about his wife and children. To his surprise, she suggested two solutions to their problem: Kill their unborn, or deliver in secrecy and pretend it was another lost child.
The latter was chosen, however, that presented them with new issues. Sophia disappeared when she began to show, only reappearing when it was time to deliver. Her sister in tow, Marissa was born in the presence of him and his best men Butch and Claire. Unbeknownst to them, McCormic, who’d been there watching for Sophia’s safety, also saw it unfold.
Then, Sophia was gone again, but this time she didn’t return. All she left was a note. She explained to him that she never had any intentions to kill him or any of his people. Her mission was to save the people of the villages, many of whom were Felids as well. It was her duty as Queen over the region.
Not only was she a Felid, but she was also his target, and had left him with their child out of fear that the baby would be murdered for merely being a half-breed.
Robert sighed, and reached over to his desk picking up the glass of whiskey. Quickly, he swallowed the contents and sighed again.
At the sound of the door closing behind him, he glanced down at the glass to see the reflection of his visitor.
He chuckled, but never turned to face his guest.
“Quick and painless?”
“Your wife deserved nothing less. She was a good woman,” George responded simply.
“And what of Melanie and Dominic?” He asked.
“They’re still useful.”
“Good. That’s good,” Robert said, then closed his eyes.
A second later his blood splattered against the wall and along the frame of the photo. In death, his eyes remained locked on the portrait while blood ran down his head and out his sockets; a soulless cry from the hole in his head and an even larger hole in his stilled heart.
Dominic stood with his arms folded across his chest, watching silently as the firefighters finished checking the ashes of the burnt building. The blaze at the crack of dawn, along with the flashing lights of the police, ambulance and fire trucks attracted a large crowd that was now dwindling.
He had received the call while he was staring at the ceiling in his bedroom, unable to sleep after trying to soothe Sehjada from her night terrors. With all that was happening, he didn’t exactly know when they became so close, but she had appeared one night after her first episode and he allowed her to stay. She was no stranger to his family after all.
When his phone rang, he thought to ignore it, but something told him to answer. He threw on a T-shirt, jeans and a black coat then left his home in a hurry. Since then, he had been staring at the ruin that was childhood home.
“I’m so sorry,” a woman, one of the officers at the scene, said to him. He heard that phrase at least twelve times so far. Each time, he returned their condolences with a simple nod.
His parents, or what was left of them anyways, were found in the rubble.
Someone’s hand rested on his shoulder, then he felt pressure as they gave him a slight squeeze.
“I’m sorry,” Again with the apology. “This must be a lot for you to take in.”
Dominic swatted the hand away from him. “Cut the bullshit George. I know what happened.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
George Thomas had been a long time colleague of his parents, but his loyalty was always with himself and no one else. Even when he adopted Sehjada after her parents’ death, it was to create the perfect marksman, not aid a mourning child.
Dominic turned to face him with a bored expression. “I don’t feel like playing this game with you.”
Robert and Isabella Coldwell would be recorded as a murder-suicide. Robert, apparently, killed his wife and then committed suicide after setting the house on fire. That was how this chapter was going to be closed regardless of what truly happened. The only truth to the report was that there was indeed a murder.
“Three counts of treason against the organization wouldn’t simply end with a happily ever after. Surely you know this,” George said, finally cutting his ignorance and sympathetic act short. “He deliberately disobeyed orders 24 years ago, birthed a hybrid and raised it, and then after being told to bring her and the other one alive he still proceeds to have her killed.”
“Technically I’m the one who killed them,” Dominic said.
George shook his finger at him. “No, you were following orders, even if they were the wrong ones. The council placed the fault on Robert.”
“So I’m here because?” “Here” meaning alive, because normally there were no loose ends allowed period.
“Because you have a purpose. Nothing more, nothing less,” George said, then spun on his heels at the sound of cars pulling up.
Several men dressed in black suits exited the equally dark Mercedes. But it was the shortest of them that appeared from the center in a smokey gray suit and a matching hat that drew their attention. The dark skin man removed his cigar, and released a long breath, as though annoyed, before speaking.
“Everything about this town disgusts me,” He said in a thick Russian accent, then fixed his icy stare on the burnt house. “Nothing done in quiet. Smoke, fire, explosions it’s all too theatrical and a bitch to clean up.”
He turned to George, seemingly ignoring Dominic’s presence. “What part of keep low do none of you understand? You know what we’ve got to deal with at the capital now? We’ve got people out the ass that have to go missing because they keep talking about people turning into pussies.”
“The root of the problem is gone so everythi–” The man threw his cigar at George, silencing him.
“Don’t give a fuck ‘bout roots,” One of the men behind him quickly gave him another lit cigar. “Problem’s bigger than that. You took out the Felids here and suddenly we’re losing hunters everywhere. Shit’s getting out of hand. Who the fuck was the girl?”
George brushed the ashes off his coat, hesitating before he answered.
“Caribbean Queen’s daughter.”
“You imbeciles took royal blood?”
Dominic opened his mouth to speak, but George raised his hand to keep him quiet.
“With all due respect, I don’t think that mattered. From what we understood, until recently no one knew who she was, and then other Felids were suddenly trying to kill her. My guess is she was going to be killed regardless and used as an excuse to cause trouble.”
The man stroked his goatee while he listened to George’s explanation. After a moment, he appeared to accept it.
“Trouble? This is the beginnings of war,” He finally turned his teal eyes to Dominic. “Boy, where’s your sister.”
“She left last month to train new soldiers in the Virgin Islands and quell the rumored uprising of Felids there.”
“Fine. George, we’ll need you at the Capital,” he began his trek back to his car. “Oh and scrap this.” He said, waving his hand in a circle.
As he and his men disappeared, Dominic felt a surge of uneasiness.
“That’s Yefim Petrikov,” George said in response to the unspoken question. “He’s the new Commander of Threat and Resistance in the Capital.”
“Get your things and Sehjada. We’re leaving,” was all he said.
Smoke smothered the road as the car skidded around yet another sharp turn. A man stuck part of his body out of the window and shot at one of the speeding cars tailing them.
He ducked back inside short of being shot as the driver swerved again, dangerously going around a curve.
North Shore Road held one sharp turn after the other and left little room for mistake, especially at this time of the night. On one side was the mountain, and on the other was a drop into the ocean. There was barely enough room for more than one car on the narrow roads, and there was no telling when someone would come from the opposite direction.
A barrage of gun fire came from the vehicle behind them. The man inside ducked as the back windows shattered, then grunted as another turn slammed him into the passenger door.
Pissed, he climbed into the back seat, and then to the surprised of the men following them, he jumped out the broken window. His body shifted mid turn, and a Puma’s body slammed into their windshield. The car swerved violently, hit one side of the mountain, then spun again, broke through the guard rail and fell into the dark depths of the ocean.
The driver of the other vehicle, while mourning the loss of his comrade, felt a surge of relief for a second. That is, until headlights of a second vehicle appeared. He was making another turn when one of his tires were shot out. Panicked, he swerved and the momentum caused the car to flip, until it finally crashed along the side of the road.
He was crawling from the wreckage when he was met with the face of a woman.
He stared up at her, and into the barrel of her weapon. He laughed, until silenced by a bullet.
“VIPD is not going to enjoy cleaning this mess up. They are just about sick of you Melanie.”
She rolled her eyes at her partner’s comment and slid into the passenger seat. “Just get me back to the hospital Shawn.”
Inside the Gov. Juan F. Luis hospital was eerily quiet, which was expected considering it was after 1 a.m. Visiting hours were long over with, but she was an exception. Even the room she was visiting was in a special area, tucked away from prying eyes. The patient wasn’t registered either. And for good reason.
It had been two years since Melanie slipped away to the Caribbean. She had used her connections and the chaos of the time to escape, under the premise of work, and brought some extra baggage with her.
False premises or not, she still had work to do and had to put her personal matters on hold often to get rid of problematic Felines. The islands already had an “Us vs Them” conflict. The people versus the government. That dynamic grew as hunters infiltrated the islands, took over the police department and essentially began murdering and capturing Felids, many of whom were locals. The Governor was already a hunter which made the takeover much easier.
As Melanie came upon the room, she expected to be greeted by silence, but instead was met with muffled noises. Cautiously, she opened the door, and saw it was only the television. One of the nurses must have left it on.
She locked the room door behind her, then sat on the bed. News media were still fascinating themselves after over a year with stories of Auburn Valley…or what it used to be. The town was completely wiped off the map. No one knew how, or why. Or rather, normal people didn’t. The town was scrapped, and she was sure she knew why. Too many mishaps. It had to go and the people with it.
She turned the television off, then went into the bathroom. A long day called for a long shower. Half an hour later, she hopped out as she heard noise from the television again. She snatched a gun from under the sink, and forgoing the need for a towel ran into the main room.
She gasped, dropping her weapon to cover her mouth from the shock.
Sure enough, after being in a coma for a year, her sister was awake.
After she had been caught in the explosion from her failed rescue attempt, Melanie had been sure she was dead. She led the team responsible for surveying the ruins of the building, and when they found a skull her fears were confirmed. She’d found a body under a section of the roof. Immediately, she recognized the girl, and called Shawn. When he arrived, they took Marissa’s body. Shortly after, they left for their current location on a private flight with Marissa in tow.
Tears streamed down Melanie’s face as she silently watched the body that was seated upright. Her hair had been cut and straightened into an asymmetrical bob as part of her new image if she did wake up. A false birth certificate had already been made for her as well. She would have to live her life as an entirely new person if she ever woke up, whether she wanted to or not.
Warning bells began to go off for Melanie. Despite sitting up, the girl had not moved nor said a word. She was staring at the television in the darkness. For a moment, Melanie wondered If perhaps that was a demon and not her sister at all.
Cautiously, she stepped back, and then flicked on the lights.
“Marissa…?” Melanie called again. “Is…Is that you?”
Finally, the girl moved. She turned her head, and focused her gaze on Melanie. But it was all wrong. Hazel and golden eyes stared back at her. One human, and one the slit trade mark of the Felids.
And then, she spoke.
“Who are you?”