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August 19th, 2036

12:01 A.M., EST

Undisclosed location

Come on. I'll tell you a story. I'll tell you a tale of an individual, an individual who refers to herself "the Asuri".

I should also tell you that someone just met their doom to her just last week. They weren't very fortunate; the slaughter was brutal. Poor souls. Extra profit.

But that's another story for later. I'll tell you this one about a group of vigilantes, exactly from five months ago….

Just don't blink or close your eyes for too long, now.

Otherwise, you just might miss it.

It Begins

February 19th, 2036

2:31 A.M., EST

Undisclosed location, Michigan, United States

"All right, a new case just came in...."

The enforcer glanced up from his dusty, rickety desk and the pile of paperwork he was working on, and caught a glimpse of the figure handing him the blank folder, then the folder itself. He zoned out, his vision fogging for about a half-second, squinting, but he quickly regained his focus and contemplated his Stygian surroundings. He carefully stroked his stubbly chin. The chair he sat in squeaked loudly with every movement. It was actually rather vexing and irksome.

The room was somber and gloomy, and its atmosphere was as well. In addition to that, it was muggy and dank, and the odor was musty. A desk lamp illuminated the area its head pointed to. There were rusty, dented filing cabinets scattered across the room, as well as a dead office plant. The wallpaper was peeling, and the wall in itself was full of scratches and holes. That guy sure did try hard to keep his “office” "intact”.

The man observed the folder with closer examination, and he noticed a straight, no, a kind-of jagged line cut through the middle of the folder. Weird.

"You okay?" The figure, also known as the man’s colleague and roommate, Ivan, looked at him, concerned. He dropped the folder onto the desk. It made a small, curious noise rather than make a thud as it hit the desk.

"Yeah. Sure. Whatever." The enforcer, a.k.a., Rick, rubbed his eyes. It almost seemed like he was reading the same paragraph on each paper over and over for about 11 minutes, due to the identical formatting on every single sheet and nearly identical contents on each page. Talk about “professional formatting”. Rick scratched his head and inhaled sharply.

The man, Rickert G.O. Damicky, or just "Rick", was a freelancer; he was self-employed as a vigilante, enforcing the law. He was a fairly tall and lanky figure, with black buzz-cut hair, with a nose for adventure. Rick was only about twenty, but he looked as though he were forty-five, with worry lines and stubble and all. His face was long and gaunt. He appeared to be of African-American descent.

His roommate, Ivan Allochka, was somewhat short in height, with short, whitish hair in a swept-bangs hairstyle. He worked alongside Rick. Ivan looked very young compared to Rick; he appeared to be 15 or 16; however, he was about the same age as Rick was. He had high cheekbones and had a feminine appearance. Ivan was of Russian descent, but mind you, he has a quite stereotypical name.

Rickert stretched his limbs in his chair, again, it squeaked, and he absently rubbed his weary, bloodshot eyes again. He snatched the curious beige folder from his desk, opened it and tiredly beheld its contents.

Expecting a paper-based dossier or document about a criminal or a case, Rickert received instead a small, conspicuously-patterned and textured black 64GB flash drive, taped into the folder. The tape wore off and fell atop his thick mound of papers. How odd.

"Ivan, what is this?" Rick inquired, raising an eyebrow.

"There weren't any papers for this one. There was only this flash drive that I found," Ivan replied, hands behind his back. "Besides, y'know how clumsy I am; if those were papers, half the dossier would've fallen out before I even started to get back."

Rick sighed, and he plugged the drive into his computer's USB port. The computer beeped, and the drive illuminated, indicating that it had access to the files now. But, lo and behold, inside weren't files, but a file. It was a lone .pdf file, labeled: "m-felon_vs". Rick double-clicked the icon and patiently waited for the document to load up.

The antique block computer finally loaded up the file; Rick saw all the personal and general information of the felon and the case. In this case (no pun intended), the criminal was evidently a female, shown through the image that was provided.

She had lengthy, jet-black hair, tied up into two long twintails, and wore a headband. Her skin was nearly as white as alabaster, and her face was riddled with minor grayish scars and calluses, and she donned a smug grin of unexpectedly white teeth. In addition, she had a rather peculiar pair of eyes: they were a deep, fiery shade of orange, one with a scar running through it. They had a particular glint about them, and were often likened to the facets of a spessartite garnet gemstone by people in their last moments.

Judging from the massive collar of her emblazoned black coat, it was likely a greatcoat, though it did bear some resemblance to one that a stereotypical pirate might wear. Its rather abysmal condition and dilapidated quality indicated that she probably donned this piece of apparel very often. Some bandages were wrapped around both sleeves, while one sleeve also had a thick band with a knife sheath strapped on. Two gargantuan belts secured the bottom midriff of her coat. Chains were visible from the unzipped portion of her coat.

Rick skimmed over the text beside the image.

The name read: Vendetta Tiberius von Schwarzstahl III. Under aliases, there was the word "Asuri".

According to the file, Vendetta was a towering figure, measuring at about six feet, nine and a half inches, weighed 196 pounds, and she was twenty-four years of age. Her ethnic background consisted of American and German, and no other living relatives or family members have been observed at the moment, aside from her sister and mother, Valentina and Vendetta Jr., respectively.

Vendetta was stated, by the document, to be a highly-wanted fugitive and criminal kingpin in several countries, including the United States, Sweden, Norway, and Mozambique, charged with an assortment of several federal offenses, felonies, and even misdemeanors, such as assassination, mass-murder, contract killing, torture murder, vehicular homicide, extortion, kidnapping, spree killing, high treason, prison escape, theft of federal property, and public urination, and she had a bounty on her head for $998,420.69.

Word on the streets say that she originated from a genetics laboratory in Nebraska; however, no has been able to prove or support the claim with evidence.

She was also the prime suspect behind several mysterious human disappearances in numerous locations and countries. (Evidence was rare, and if any, it included several large bloodstains at the scene of the crime, most of which were tested, but the blood, oddly, was shown to belong to no known identity.) Wanted: dead or alive; preferably dead.

What a maniac.

Last seen: Benton Harbor, as the suspected cause of a ship accident, just last week.

Both Rick and Ivan stared at the image long and hard, furrowing their brows in an attempt to recall something. Something about that woman seemed strangely familiar, but they couldn’t quite place their fingers on it. They also seemed awed at the sheer number of felonies and offenses that Vendetta had committed. The fact that she was still at large and not festering in prison (or dead) contributed to that awe as well.

“Honestly, she really looks like one of those stereotypically cocky mercenary hotshots that you see in video games or action movies,” Ivan judged from her mugshot. No JPEG artifacts there.

“Yeah,” agreed Rick.

And then, Rick cracked his knuckles quietly and scrutinized the document's contents one last time. He sighed happily as he leaned backwards in his office chair.

"Hmmm?" said Ivan.

"Yeah," Rick said with a re-energized tone. "Go contact the others.... We've got a case on our hands...."

“Aaaah....Okay. But this had better be good, man..." replied Ivan, as he dialed the numbers on his smartphone. “I don’t want Nami yelling at me again.”

Rick chuckled, “Oh, don’t worry, Ivan, this is gonna be good, all right…”

Rick leaned over and unplugged the USB flash drive from his computer. Despite his incredible observational skills, he did not manage to notice something strange.

The miniature indicator light on the device remained was still lit up.

Just barely audible to even an attentive ear, it whispered something through a speaker, in an enigmatic, static-muffled voice, but neither Rick nor Ivan didn’t hear it, nor did either of them take notice.

“You’re next!"

Which was funny, because that didn’t really need to be recorded. Not when I was sitting about the skylight. I shook my head. (Damn, I mean, seriously, a skylight for a dingy office?)

Chariot of Despair

February 21st, 2036

9:24 P.M., EST

Walkerton, Michigan, United States

Soon enough, Rick and Ivan had finally reunited with the rest of their group, consisting of Nami M., Aaliyah Signhild, and Timothy Richardson. They stood right outside the town’s outskirts, discussing the case. Rick had brought his laptop and the flash drive to show them the details.

The fluorescent lightbulb above them flickered ever so slightly, and gave off a very quiet, constant humming sound. Moths fluttered to and from the light through the dusty, frigid atmosphere.

Nobody really knew what that letter “M” meant in Nami’s surname. She was constantly rude and snarky to everyone she met, always greeting her/him with a formal “fuck you!” or something along the lines of that, except towards maybe Rick. Nami was more headstrong and durable compared to most of the other members. She was about an inch or two shorter than Rick, and had the same white hair Ivan had, only much, much longer, down her back.

Aaliyah, or as her friends called her, “Lee”, was an easily approachable and friendly person, in contrast to Nami. Lee was a very intellectual individual, which made her an important asset to Rick’s team. She was the youngest in the group, at the age of seventeen. Lee was quite tall at her age, almost as tall as Rick. She had long blonde hair and magnificent verdant eyes.

Finally, there was Timothy, or, as everyone knew him, “Tim” or even “Timmy” occasionally. Unlike every other member, he usually seemed to be quiet and reserved. However, he was happy to speak if he needed to. Tim was about eighteen or nineteen, and he took on the appearance of Rick, only shorter and that Tim was white.

“I TOLD YOU NOT TO CALL ME IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, YOU FUCKING MORON!" Nami screamed at Ivan as she chastised him. Her hair was evidently suffering from bedhead, as it was tangled and, overall, in a mess. Her eyes were pink and bloodshot from lack of sleep.

“It was all Rick’s idea! Nami! Stop!” Ivan said in his defense, shielding his face to protecting himself from her lethal smacks and deathly stare.

“Okay, okay, settle down, you two lovebirds. We’ve got something important on our hands,” Rick said. He handed Nami his laptop. And Nami eyed the computer device cynically.

“So, what’s all this about, huh?” Nami snapped in an instant. She wasn't very fond of computers.

“Oh, I don’t know, what do you think, fellow vigilante?” Ivan retorted sarcastically.

She smacked his face one last time. Hard. Nami shook her stinging hand.

“Ow…. Rick... she yelled at me anyway,” Ivan whined. He caressed his cheek to assuage the stinging pain.

“Ivan... look, that’s your problem, not mine,” Rick replied.

Tim and Lee silently read over the details on the laptop’s monitor. They seemed to be genuinely astonished at the sheer volume of damage this particular criminal has dealt to society.

Just as they were reading, they could hear a faint screeching, scraping noise behind them. Wondering what it was, they all turned around to see.

What they saw: a steely gray “V” etched into the silvery surface of Rick’s Jeep; however, the Jeep was so old and in bad condition so they might as well not have seen it. It was against a gray paint job that was only a little bit darker than the V itself, making it even harder to notice anyway in the low ligthing… but then again, the letter was carved into the hood rather deep

There was a very quiet, nearly inaudibl mischievous giggle, almost like a cackle.

They all glanced at each other, puzzled. They looked around. Rick scrutinized his surroundings, almost paranoid, so as to find the culprit. He brandished his Desert Eagle. What a relic.

“Hey, who’s there? Show yourself!”

The white light above them dimmed.

Rick pocketed his firearm. Of course the perpetrator wasn’t going show. He turned and looked back at his colleagues. They all shrugged.

“We’d better get going.” Rick said, slightly relieved.

Just as they climbed into the Jeep, the culprit laying in silence was awoken by the noise of the vehicle’s engine. She shook her head, awakening from her short slumber. She squinted as it drove into the distance.

She said, “Well, I’d better greet my guests at Benton, because I don’t want be a bad hostess, do I?”

But just before Rick and his buddies left, he thought he heard something, but you know, humans these days, he paid the “something” no attention.

Pathway of Eternal Damnation

February 22nd, 2036

5:24 P.M., EST

Somewhere around Interstate Route 80, Michigan, United States

Long story short, it was a truly lengthy road trip.

The went left from Walkerton to La Paz and then to Benton Harbor.

The fierce winds whipped at their faces as they cruised past the setting sun at 30 mph in the open-framed Jeep. The road was asphalt, but it was sort of rocky and rough, and required a re-paving.

They took shifts sleeping and driving, but they never let Nami drive. They were pretty damn sure that Nami would purposefully crash the Jeep into something and probably kill them all as they slept. That is to say, if the middle of nowhere counted as an object you can crash into.

Nami occasionally woke up and sometimes played her harmonica, partly for the sake of trying to irritate the others, but mostly because she was a show-off. But, usually, when she was awake, she always would blast the Galactimecha 8bit BGM (feat. Warlic) from MechQuest on her headphones. Meanwhile, Lee slept often, usually leaning on Tim’s shoulder. Ivan was riding shotgun, playing some Fruit Ninja on Rick’s phone.

Slice, slice, slice, oh, what a fun game, no?

It began to get dark. Rick’s phone was running low on battery. Meanwhile, Tim, Aaliyah and Nami were asleep in the back of the vehicle, snoring in a somewhat obnoxious manner, with Nami’s mouth agape and drooling slightly.

“She’s going to catch some flies sleeping like that,” Ivan muttered to himself, glancing over his shoulder at Nami, then going back to slicing up a pomegranate.

Just then, during the middle of that night, while it was Rick who was the driver, Rick’s phone rang; it was an ominous call from an anonymous number. The screen displayed 435-5228; however, it displayed no name. Ivan, still playing on the phone, said, “Uh, Rick, someone’s calling. Do I accept it?”

“Yeah, accept it, and set it to speaker,” Rick replied.

Ivan accepted the call and set the phone to speaker. He held up the phone up to Rick’s face. They could hear raspy, hollow breathing, almost growlish, like it was breathing from under a gas mask or something, or even both. Ivan cringed at the grotesquely exaggerated sound.

“Who is this?” Rick asked, mildly irritated that someone had called while he was driving while in the middle of the night. “And make it snappy, because I’m still driving here... in the middle of the night. It’s dangerous. And I’m really tired.”

“Maybe that’s the point?” the caller replied, a delicately psychotic tone creeping into the distorted, high-pitched (I mean, it was high for a voice on a distorter) voice.

“What the fuck’s wrong with you? Do you want us to die?”

The caller paused a moment to chuckle. “No. Not yet, anyway.” The voice faded a bit after “No”. Then the caller began to laugh louder and louder, sounding like a series of evil, groggy exhales, then gasped and barked, “I’ll see you at Benton, you wannabe federal scoundrels!” and eventually hung up.

The dial tone was the only ambient sound, apart from the whipping of the freezing winds, Jeep engine, and the piercing ambience of Nami’s snoring.

“Who the hell was that? Could it be...” Ivan asked, bewildered.

“Yeah, maybe. I had that idea of who it might be…. But I’m not really sure.”

“I’m not really sure either.”

Then, Rick faked an old man voice, with a subtle lisp. Sarcastically, he remarked (not his idea), “Maybe, it’s one of them young whippersnappers using their newfangled voice distorter doodads!”

They both chuckled at the notion.

A faint pulsing began. It became louder and stronger to the point of piercing through the engine noise and wind whipping. The vehicle came to a screeching halt as Rick slammed the brakes. Uh-oh.

"Hey." Lee was jolted awake by the sudden stop. "What's goi--"

"Hit the dirt!" Rick yelled, hopping out of the vehicle and ran off a few meters. He jumped to the ground, and the others repeated the action. Luckily for them, they were just distant enough to only suffer minor injuries.

The vehicle immolated in a gigantic ball of fire. Bits of the vehicle flew out and was scattered across the ground like shrapnel from a grenade. The explosion generated a deafening shockwave, causing tinnitus among the group.

Rick received voicemail of maniacal, hysterical cackling. He compulsively deleted it. According to the map, they were just about a mile from their destination. "I guess we'll walk," Tim said, looking down at the remains of the Jeep forlornly.

I honestly thought that those fools didn’t know what they were in for, though I did find them really amusing for the time being.

Morituri Te Salutamus

February 23rd, 2036

2:27 P.M., EST

Benton Harbor, Michigan, United States

Took ‘em long enough.

When Rick had arrived, the place seemed awfully grim and silent. He stared at the empty streets and then looked up at the steely gray gloom above him. The wind howled. It looked like a modern-day ghost town. The buildings showed peculiar signs of advanced aging and severe structural damage, appearing much more dystopian than anything of this time. Even stranger, for a place with a high population density, Rick could not even find a single human being within two miles, aside from his team.

The climate was freezing and frigid. Where there was grass was at least thick frost. Snow drifted down to the lonely, fissured road. Snow had accumulated and packed itself into ice between the cracks. Tim shivered in his relatively thin apparel.

"Vendetta was here..." Rick whispered under his breath. No one heard him.

“We have to stay on guard and vigilant,” Tim reminded everyone.

“Gee,” Nami responded snarkily, “don’t you think we could have figured that out on our own?”

Tim did not reply. Instead he scowled at Nami.

They walked along until they finally noticed: a crime scene located near the gangplank of a large ship. There was bright yellow police tape enclosing a hexagonal perimeter. There were police cars and some armored vehicles, and they were empty, but there was no obvious evidence that the occupants left or were killed. Some handguns and assault weapons were littered across the ground. They all appeared to be broken. There was a slight displeasing smell in the air, mixed along with a smoky one.

The team looked around, then stared at the entrance to ship reluctantly. It was propped open by a wedge-shaped doorstopper. Written on the door in dried blood read the phrase: "Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate!" It was Italian, translating to "Abandon all hope, you who enter here!" The dock was constructed of rotting, soggy wood, and it was ancient. The wooden boards creaked underneath the team with their every step.

Some feeble, flickering light escaped the doorway. As the team trekked inside, they were finally struck with the full wave of the foul stench. The ships interior reeked with the nauseating miasma of decomposing corpses. Nami and Lee scrunched their faces in extreme disgust, eyes watering. Ivan wretched, coughed and gasped, exaggerating slightly. Rick instinctively put his shirt collar over his face as a filter, and the others followed suit.

Speaking of said corpses, that was another thing that Rick and the others found perplexing. The grotesquely-mutilated human carcasses appeared to be in an advanced stage of decay, despite the fact that these people should have just perished just last week, in proper accordance to the ship accident mentioned in the .pdf file on Rick’s PC. Flies buzzed just above and crawled on the putrefying human tissue. Maggots squirmed and writhed inside gaping wounds.

Some of the more brutally mangled ones had bones protruding from the flesh. Some had decayed enough so that there was exposed bone. Some dead bodies were completely bisected, either vertically, with all of their internal organs spilling out, or horizontally, with their intestines prolapsing outward, paired along with severe chemical burns along the cuts. Some suffered a quick death by means of a gunshot to the head of a large caliber, instantly rupturing the cranium with great force, leaving their eyes hanging out of the remains of their heads. Some were riddled with copious bullet wounds. Others suffered blunt force trauma, bone stress fractures, and wounds that seemed to have come from a whip.

They sauntered on, constantly vigilant.

About fifteen minutes in, the team heard soft, eerie singing in a language Nami was able to identify as Japanese. The voice apparently belonged to a female. They moved along. The somber lighting above the group began flickering, and they could hear and feel the ship move and tilt. The sound of old ship steel groaning under stress.

“Shhhh…” Rick shushed the other members.

"What was that?" Lee asked, hesitantly. "I have a feeling that investigating this case isn't the greatest idea ever."

"We decided to recruit Nami, and that wasn't the greatest idea ever," Ivan pointed out. He gestured to Nami's face, which was full of hurt feelings and smoldering rage. Mostly rage.

Nami held back the urge to lash out at him, and Lee the same with laughter.

"Will you keep quiet!?" Rick ordered in a angry, hushed voice. He threw up his arms in exasperation.

They continued walking along quietly, scanning the vicinity for Vendetta. Lee could hear quiet rumbling in the ventilation shafts above her, giving her all the reason to be worried about this case. The rumbling intensified to the sound of loud, echoing and distinguishable footsteps, along with the sound of what was probably fabric. Tim pointed his gun in the direction of the sound above them and began to open fire. The footsteps did not cease, but until a few seconds later. A hand gloved in delicate pinkish-white gossamer fabric bashed out one of the ventilation grilles, popped out and proceeded to hurl a canister at the group. Within a second of throwing, before the team could do anything about it, the canister began to spew a smoky gas substance at them.

"What is this...? Is this...." Tim's voice began to slur drowsily. "Slee... ping... ga-a-ah...?" He fell to the floor, passed out.

The rest of the team succumbed to the effects, aside from Rick, who managed to stay awake for a few more seconds through sheer willpower. Rick could see a figure through the gas, and hear a voice in his last few seconds of consciousness. The figure of a female in a dress, and the voice of a stuck-up female to match. "Ugh! That is the last time I am ever going to help you make a game out of--" was all Rick heard before he was finally rendered unconscious; his head dropped to the floor, eyes shut.

Nighty-night for you.

Vivere Militare Est

February 23rd, 2036

8:27 P.M., EST

Benton Harbor, Michigan, United States

Everywhere inside of the ship, the lights went out... no, actually, the lights just turned really dim, but use no light as a close comparison.

When Rick woke up, he found himself alone and in a completely different location. Strangely, it subtly had the aroma of a good perfume. His back felt horribly chafed, like he was hauled along the cold, steel floor for hours. On his chest was a note, taped on. It was written with a brownish-red ink, resembling dried blood, on lined paper. Every other team member had the same note on them.The note read: "I'd say you have about two hours before you die. Search and destroy!" Rick couldn't help but read the last few words in his head with a cheerfully sadistic voice. Rick flipped over the paper, and it read: "I might as well give you all a fighting chance. It's more fun that way." He scrunched up the note into a ball and picked up his gun. His pants pockets felt extra weighty, in which he soon discovered were full of handgun magazine clips, all of which were fully loaded with .50 AE and fit perfectly, in accordance to Rick's Desert Eagle.

"What the..." Rick began. He looked around, searching his surroundings for anything useful. The grated galvanized steel floor was grazed, grubby and damaged. There some patches of rust and oxidation, and scratches. There were a few mangled crates here and there along the sides of the corridor. Some contained bloody corpses of the staff on board. Rick exhaled sharply in mild exasperation and also sympathy. He checked his ammunition, and cocked the hammer of his firearm. In his coat pockets, he discovered, were also assault rifle ammunition magazines. "Just in case".

"It's just you now, Rick... just you now..." Rick whispered to himself under his breath. "The others are probably dead, but I don't know that yet. So I'll just pretend it's so..." He was gradually becoming paranoid of his surroundings. It was almost completely silent, apart from the quiet grinding and blowing of the ventilation fans. "Actually, you'd think that you'd hear Ivan and Nami's bickering through all this silence, but then again, this is a really large ship," Rick said to himself.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Ivan and Nami were in some other distant part of the ship. Ivan was the first to come to. He beheld an astonishing sight: Nami's head was resting on his chest; she cuddling up to him, cooing and purring softly. When Ivan nudged her head, she immediately woke up, and upon seeing Ivan, she screamed, "Holy shit! Ugh! I hate you! You are so disgusting!" Apparently, being left with Ivan didn't really help with her hostile disposition.

"Hey! You can't call me out, you were the one cuddling up to me, you stupid bitch!" Ivan retorted. He pushed her off and briefly searched for the others in the nearby vicinity. "Hey -- where the hell is everybody? Where the hell are we?" Ivan proceeded to get into a sitting position.

"Oh, we're in the ship, and we were gassed, remember? Dumbass." Nami sat up as well.

Ivan and Nami finally noticed the note left taped on them. They read it back and front. When they stood up, they noticed the same thing Rick did -- they found spare ammunition in their pockets, along with other types of ammo. They both brushed off any grime and debris off their clothes. "Did they wake up before us? Did they just leave us behind? Those--" Nami wondered out loud. She was gradually getting angrier.

"No, we were dragged here while we were asleep. Because my back feels horrible. Also, my clothes feel really, really, dirty," Ivan responded. He massaged his own back.

"So--" Nami began.

"No, shh, shut up for a sec," Ivan suddenly interrupted. "You hear that?"

Above them, they could hear the same faint singing that they heard earlier when they had entered the ship. They could also hear the faint, booted footsteps accompanying the voice. Listening closely, a metal-on-metal scratching noise could be heard too.

"Quiet," Ivan ordered, in a very low whisper. "We don't want Vendetta finding out where we are. That might as well cut those few hours we have into a few seconds." He did a decapitation gesture with his hand. "How do you know that was Vendetta? Remember the hand from the ventilation ducts? I don't think Vendetta would be wearing something pink like that." Nami shook her head in denial. "Besides, if that is Vendetta, then she's probably just toying with us right now. Vendetta gave us a few hours. She'll take notice of our noise, but she won't hunt us down... yet. 'Search and destroy', remember? Kind of like hide and seek. Except we die when she finds us."

"Touché," Ivan replied. "Plus she gave us all this ammo. But we still need to keep quiet."

"Should we go search for survivors?" Nami suggested, moving on. "I mean, I'm pretty sure the others are okay, but aside from them."

"Yeah." Ivan picked up a flashlight, which was eerily and conveniently situated nearby.

Just then, they both heard a powerful stomping noise right above them, and the sound reverberated like thunder, as if it hit the vent shafts themselves. The loud noise startled the two, and they ran off. The offender laughed deviously. "Y'all better get a move on," she snarled.

During about the time Rick woke up, in another section of the ship, there was Tim and Lee, albeit separated yet still in relatively close proximity to each other.

Tim awakened, waking into a massive headache. He rubbed the back of his head, and straightened his back, groaning. Any more dragging and he might as well have gotten pressure ulcers. He tousled his hair and looked at the note taped to his chest. Tim mumbled out the contents of the note, and he tossed it away. He didn't bother checking his pockets like the others did because he already knew.

"Hello?!" Tim called out. "Anybody? Guys!?" He sat there in despair, not knowing what to do. Tim decided to scour through the vast gloom of the ship for any surviving personnel or anything useful, so he got up, loaded his gun and went off.

Meanwhile, nearby, Lee was roused from her gas-induced slumber from the constant noise of vent fans. Like Tim and Ivan, she massaged her head and back, and stretched out. She exhaled, and then inhaled sharply as she studied the grim environment. There were several corpses sparsely scattered in the wide corridor, and bloody human entrails to match. There was a thunderous radiator-like groaning and grinding sound.

"Ugh." Lee grumbled about her situation with distaste. She adjusted her headband. Like the others, Lee scanned over the same note taped on her shirt. "Where is everybody?" she wondered out loud to herself, albeit in a whispering voice. "Sheesh. This place is really bumming me out," she commented when she stumbled upon de-motivational messages painted and engraved into the wall, such as "NO HOPE" or "NO FUTURE". The paint dripped, and the carvings were desperately jagged.

As Lee continued on, traversing the lugubrious and extensive labyrinth inside of the lower portion of the ship, she could hear the sound of a man moaning and whimpering somewhere nearby. Lee turned left, towards the direction of the sound and she opened the cabin door quietly, discovering a rather large pile of crates. She was getting close.

Lee scaled the mound of crates in silence. Just beneath her, the whimpering had stopped, and it had turned into paranoid, labored breathing.

"Who's there?!" the man shouted. "I know you're here, whoever you are!" He pivoted his head to look around frantically. He pointed his firearm almost everywhere.

Lee jumped down from her perch and over him. The poor man screamed; he shut his eyes and began to open fire. Fortunately for Lee, the guy's weapon was completely out of ammunition. Lee instinctively raised her arms to in front of her face in defense. The man shivered in fright. He was mentally and physically in a shambles. "Woah there," Lee said. She pocketed her gun and held up her hands in front of her, open-palmed. "Hey, it's all right... I'm not going to hurt you," Lee reasoned with him. The man scrutinized her body language skeptically, still training his gun on Lee's head. His angry facial features softened a bit, but then his appearance reverted to angry again. A name tag on his uniform: "Arthur" it read. It was bloodied, much like his face, which was covered it cuts and bruises. His uniform was soaked with sweat and blood, and there was evidence of gunshot wounds. "Call me Art," he said, with some physical effort. With even greater effort, he managed to get himself to get up and walk.

Rick and Tim began to roam around the area in their individual places. Lee and Art, and Ivan and Nami did the same as well. Lee had lent Art some ammo for his gun. Rick was the first to be jumped. (Ironically... sorry, I had to, but please, excuse my racism.)

It was then when Rick was still wandering he could hear the delicate heel-toe stealth walking technique right above him. He thought he could perceive a shadow; either that, or he was beginning to hallucinate out of sheer paranoia. The next vent grille in front of Rick blasted forcefully from its rightful place and out came a canister. It began to spew a similar smoke substance as before" Smokescreen," Rick quickly identified, in a grim tone. "No, wait..." The smoke was somewhat translucent and had the humidity of water vapor, effectively making it something of a "fog-screen". He began to pace more quickly, just in case. The soft footsteps above him quickly turned into a tumultuous racket of booted footsteps against shallow metal. Rick managed to track the footsteps and opened fire with his handgun.

Of course, whoever was up there was feigning injury and death by falling over, "dead", and becoming silent. Well, from now on, I might as well refer to her by her name, as you well (probably) know as "Vendetta". Her instincts had told her that Rick had the idea to shoot up here. She quickly retreated a few steps with utmost silence, hugging the walls. Then she proceeded to fall over after shots were fired. Little did Rick know that Vendetta wasn't dead, nor was she even incapacitated. Rick searched for a way into the vent system through the thick smog of smokescreen. He swiveled around from his spot to look behind him....

"Boo," Vendetta said rather tersely. Her voice was slightly muffled, kind of like she was speaking softly into a can.

Hanging upside down from a shaft opening was Vendetta, staring at Rick's petrified yet determined expression. She appeared to be completely identical from her mugshot... well, aside from one thing. On her face she wore a feline ceramic mask, embellished with lines of peeling red paint, which had shown to have also dripped when it was first painted on. Near the bottom areas were two small filter cartridge canisters, which indicated that the mask doubled as a gas mask, and greatly amplified the ambience of her breathing as well.

"How would you like to know that," Vendetta told Rick, "time... is up?" Her voice was surprisingly soft and innocent-sounding. However, it had a malignant tone behind it.

The mask had some profound psychological influence over people, and it likely had its greatest effect on Rick. He suddenly had the intense urge to cut and run for his life and never return, and wished that he'd never caught sight of that mask. He'd seen that mask somewhere before, but he couldn't figure out where. Another compulsion conflicted with this, telling him to stay and fight, even if... no, when death was impending and inevitable. Rick began to break a sweat and trained his gun straight on her head. I couldn't blame him: it was pretty hot that day.

Something about that mask seemed oddly familiar, like Rick had seen it somewhere before, but he just couldn't tell where or what.

Vendetta, being able to read body language, asked him patiently, "So? What's it gonna be?" Her voice was threatening and slightly gravelly this time. She could possibly have been charged with aggravated assault with just this voice. Vendetta's arms were folded in anticipation. The lengthy twintails on her head hung loosely, almost reaching the floor.

It was like trying to stare down Death itself. And Rick was losing.

Instincts taking over, Rick discharged a clip and a half in various segments of Vendetta's body, but to little or no effect. Her jacket was bulletproof. Rick began to sprint as fast as the ammo in his pockets allowed him. "There's no hope! Time's up, Rick, and there's no escape!" Vendetta snarled vociferously down the misty corridors. "You can run all you want, but you can't hide!" Rick turned his head to look back and opened his mouth to make a retort, but just as soon as Vendetta finished, she was already gone. He didn't hear anything that could pertain to her running off, despite the fact she had been wearing combat boots and a greatcoat with Kevlar. Or something else, anyway, because the fabric appeared to be relatively loose, quite unlike Kevlar. Rick kept running, and he noticed that on the floor, every now and then, there were those fog canisters, and with them, naturally, there were vast amounts of fog.

One more minute of running was enough to have him stumble upon Tim through the fog, and they almost shot each other in the face. They just barely missed, fortunately for them. It wouldn't be fun if they died right then and now, would it?

"What the hell was that?" Tim ranted angrily through clenched teeth. "I almost died because of you!" "I didn't know it was you. I thought you were dead, and everybody else, too," Rick said in his defense. He quickly dropped and changed the subject. "Oh, hey, Tim, if you're alive, have you seen Nami or Lee or Ivan anywhere?”

"Oh, them?" Tim replied, "No, not recently. I was going to ask you the same thing."

"Allright," Rick began. "We should-- shit! Tim, heads up!"

Directly behind Tim was the shadowy figure of Vendetta about to lunge at him, but as soon as Tim turned around and noticed, she vanished into thin air -- well, more like fog, but whatever. He staggered backwards in awe a little bit.

"Woah." Tim was startled. "That was close. How'd she just - you know - disappear like that?" Rick just shrugged. "Beats me."

Just half a minute later, Tim and Rick could hear a shrill, piercing shriek of a female voice. Tim and Rick began to head in its direction.

"Hey! That could be one of us!" Rick had a headstart on their way towards the voice.

"All right, all right," Tim said. "Wait for me, why don'tcha?" There came the shriek again.

When they arrived, they found Lee and Art. Lee did not notice Rick and Tim arriving to the scene; Art was unable to identify them, and vice versa. And there it was for Rick and Tim: Holding Lee by her neck with her off hand was Vendetta, staring into her psyche, as well as threatening her. In her right hand Vendetta firmly grasped a leviathan of a scythe: it was ostentatiously embellished with onyx and gold, and its argent blade shimmered, even in the misty atmosphere. It looked completely impractical, but it was actually very light for its sheer volume. Lee was desperately clawing at Vendetta's cast iron grip, whimpering and sobbing. Lee's face was ruined with bruises and cuts and was stained with blood and tears, and her hair was tangled and in a mess. Art attempted to muster up strength to lift his gun and shoot, but was far too exhausted and injured, and thus he promptly passed out. Vendetta, within a New York minute, took notice of Rick and Tim. The two guys had their guns drawn, training them against her head.

And there it was again: that mask. "Oh, hi, Rick! And other guy... Tim, isn't it?" Vendetta greeted them in a sweet, yet dangerous voice. "I was just about to look for you! Hmmm...." Rick scowled at her angrily. "Let her go!" Rick barked.

"Hmmm, very well," Vendetta complied, much to Rick's shock. Then, she finished, "I'll finish her later, maybe." She tightened her grip to the point of strangling Lee, as well as squeezing some major arteries and veins a little bit. Lee clawed at Vendetta's hand even more desperately and frantically, attempting to scream in pain, but she only could release a few brief yelps and spit and hack due to the lack of air. Vendetta squeezed until Lee's face changed from a violent hue of violet, then a worrisome shade of cobalt, her eyes rolling back into her head and saliva dribbling from the side of her mouth. She gave one final yelp before succumbing. Then she was relinquished from the brutal grip. Lee fell to the floor with a thud, comatose.

Vendetta lowered her off hand, and faced Rick and Tim. She held out her scythe, which then proceeded to fold back into a small, ebony pole. She folded her arms in anticipation again. The two guys lowered their weapons. "Should we...?" Tim began. Vendetta finished his sentence for him. "....Run? Oh, yeah, you better." And so they bolted off for their lives, thankful Vendetta gave them a fifteen second head-start. Not that it was going to really help them, anyway.


Nami and Ivan were still roaming around the ship, and obviously, took notice of the mist and its canisters. They heard Lee's screaming and shrieking, and they were headed there right now, but weren't in any hurry because who knows what could be in all this mist? Traps? A grenade? A C4? More dead guys? Guys who climb on rocks? Okay, just kidding, but seriously, they were just paranoid that Vendetta was going to jump them. Plus, they had already tripped on five corpses and slipped on over a dozen canisters already. Through the mist, Ivan could barely locate an ominously-placed piece of paper on one of the canisters on the floor. It read:

"Dear whomever it may concern, I'd like to tell you something: time's up! XOXO, Vendetta"

Ivan sighed. "Uh-oh." He scratched his head. "Exactly what I thought. Time's up..." When he looked up from the paper, he could see a trail that he hadn't spotted before. Nami, who was standing there behind him, astoundingly, did not make some kind of insult regarding Ivan's intelligence. Instead, she yelled, "Come on!" She was already meters ahead of Ivan. Ivan shook his head. "No," he said, "I don't think we should..." He had a feeling in his gut. He was out of focus for a few moments. Again, he shook his head blinking. But he started catching up to Nami, regrettably abandoning his gut feeling.

When the trail ended, they arrived in the middle of nowhere. The mist was lighter and everything was much easier to see. The surroundings had more rusty, old pipes and tubes than before. They were slick with oil and water, and the liquids seeped through the grille flooring. Here and there were bloodstains, intermingling with the water and oil. And most of all, the most dangerous of all, a particular series of small pipes were leaking a certain volatile vapor, making a noise much like steam spouting from a teapot. The vapors irritated Ivan's and Nami's eyes, reddening them and causing them to tear up and blink often, as well as irritate their lungs, resulting in long coughing fits.

"Huh...?" Ivan began. Suddenly, a figure appeared down the corridor. They didn't notice yet, because of the minimal sound it had made upon appearance.

"Wait a sec..." Nami recalled her thoughts. "Hey! This gas is--"

But before she could finish, the figure cocked the hammer of a firearm, interrupting her with the sudden noise. Naturally, it was Vendetta. As they turned around, the two quickly identified the weapon as a modification-laden G36. Nowadays, in 2036, you could only find those in museums or in abandoned military arsenals... where did she get this? They were able to identify countless attachments, including a HAMR, a grenade launcher, a bayonet taped on, a heartbeat sensor and a laser sight, as well as customized ammunition and drum magazine, and yet Vendetta was able to steady the weighty firearm with a single arm. "Shit! Heads up!" Nami hollered. She darted away from their precarious location, holding Ivan's hand, like a dynamo, just as Vendetta pulled and held the trigger. She wasn't aiming for either of them in particular, but as the bullets penetrated the pipes, the area instantly ignited in a massive firestorm, along with a follow-up explosion from the grenade launcher. The fact there was methane from dead bodies didn't facilitate in Nami and Ivan's dash to safety.

Nami and Ivan were just barely able to reach a sufficiently safe destination from the explosion, by some sheer amount of luck. They stayed down low in a prone position as the intense wave of thick, turgid heat blasted floated mostly above them. The fire continued blazing with a radiant, scintillating golden-orange incandescence. As the heat died down and was eventually consumed by the frigid atmosphere, Ivan managed to grin slyly and blush even in a situation like that. He chuckled as he looked at Nami. "Ugh," she groaned and threw his hand on the ground. "How are you laughing about this at a time like now? We almost died, you immature jackass. And you're welcome." She rose to her feet and looked around the corner. "Oh.... She's gone." Ivan extinguished a tiny fire using his fingers on Nami's hair. Nami folded her arms, glanced at him and sighed, already completely exasperated within a short amount of time.

In the meantime, Rick and Tim were still running. Ha. "Did we lose her?" Tim asked, both pausing to check if she was gone. He also needed to take a breather. "We probably didn't," replied Rick, who was panting. They could hear a distant explosion and the whooshing of the firestorm. “What the fuck was that?” Rick wondered aloud. They took a quick break and went back to running. But just a soon as they took off, they crashed into someone. She stood there, arms folded patiently as if she remained present there all the time. Rick finally snapped when he looked up at that mask again. He roared vehemently in frustration as he tackled Vendetta with all his might and anger, who stumbled backwards a foot or so, and then Rick snatched Tim's gun, drew his own gun and emptied the clips all over Vendetta. But try as he might with that, as he opened his closed eyes, she wasn't there, revealing a few bullet holes on the ground. He turned around and saw Tim staring at him angrily. "God damn it, Rick." A wide knife blade protruded from his abdomen, and he was kicked forcefully to the ground, mortally wounded. Vendetta merely scoffed. She sneered contemptuously from inside her mask. "Pathetic," she droned metallically. She slipped back into the fog and with that, she was gone. Again. Temporarily anyway.

Then she shifted back to Ivan and Nami. Stealthily sneaking through the ducts, she quietly carved a hole right above Ivan and hopped down on him. She plunged a combat knife into his shoulder and he screamed in pain as Vendetta giggled gleefully. Then she pulled it out, wriggling it painfully and jabbed into his leg. But by then, he was able to throw her off, leaving the knife. Ivan looked at the mask on her face, and he felt a sudden, rage-filled impulse, pulling out the knife, ignoring the pain and pounced on Vendetta with her own bloody knife. "Heh." She chuckled when she witnessed Nami fumbling nervously for her gun, scooting away a little bit so that Ivan missed with his first lunge. Ivan, seeing another opportunity to finally slit Vendetta's neck, lunged further and aimed for her jugular. Vendetta was able to block his lunge, but he pushed on for her throat great effort.

But unfortunately, Ivan blinked for a second too long. Nami yelled, panicking, “What? Where did she go?!” When he opened his eyes, he no longer encountered resistance. Just a big coat. When he looked up, there he beheld Vendetta before himself in all her glory: a snug, lacy tube top and tight-looking short shorts secured with a belt, along with other numerous accessories, such as an armor plate barrette and a choker. A Yakuza-style tattoo of a scene depicting a samurai fighting a dragon decorated her left arm.Sure, it looked pretty embarrassing on a mercenary, but when that get-up looked like it was soaked in a vat full of blood and innards and then thrown into a woodchipper, it actually really wasn’t. On her right arm seemed to be part of an exoskeleton, with shabby wires protruding from it, insulated with tattered and threadbare rubber. It was the same with her left leg as well. There were worn plates of armor partially covering her midriff, as well as strapped on to her left arm, her left and right thigh, and the right side of her chest, bound together with chains of ominous black iron.

As Nami raised her gun, Vendetta jumped overhead, then lunged back, and performed a leg sweep on her. Vendetta caught Nami and her right arm half-Nelson, resulting in a fractured arm. Nami's left hand was still free, but before she could anything, Vendetta covered Nami's mouth and gored her deep in the stomach with another knife. She threw her handgun in panic, discharging a single round. Blood leaked from the wound profusely. The knife was pulled out once and slammed back into place again. Nami, like Lee, scratched and punched at Vendetta's hand in great despair. Nami gave a muffled hysterical screech to Ivan with an extremely panicked expression. He did not respond. "Drop the weapon, and sleep, Ivan... 'to die, to sleep; to sleep, perchance to dream'," Vendetta ordered in a delicate, lullaby voice, yet it was mildly distorted with a static effect, much like a radio transmission. She twisted her knife gently inside Nami. Ivan's bloodshot eyes contracted, and he stared blankly ahead and dropped the blade in his hand and fell to his knees. Vendetta brandished her G36 and shot him along the arm. He fell backwards from force, unconscious, in a mask-induced catatonic stupor. Nami could not bear the pain any longer, her eyes scrunched up with tears and she began to wail in agony. Vendetta sensually caressed Nami's face, with some sincere concern, and she tried to comfort her, "Ssshhhh, don't cry now, baby, it's going to be all right now..." Vendetta violently jerked out the blade with a grotesque squishing sound, tearing out minor sections and pieces of viscera, and Nami hollered at the top of her lungs in excruciating torment when Vendetta gently placed her on her back and she curled up into a fetal position. A shallow pool of thick blood accumulated under her. She flipped onto her back and groaned, gasping to live. She nearly vomited at the sight of bits of her own internal organs.

Vendetta sauntered over their bodies and retrieved her greatcoat, pulling it out from under a catatonic Ivan. "I'll be taking that back, Ivan, thank you very much," she said, walking away. As if anyone could hear. "I'm going to see if Rick's gone anywhere." But before she abandoned them, when she was fully sure that Nami had passed out, she vigorously shoved her fingers into her gaping wound and reluctantly had a taste. Apparently, Vendetta was wrong, as Nami was still awake, who shrieked in extreme agony. "Mmmm. Tangy. B-negative," Vendetta remarked, licking her fingers. She placed her tongue on the flat sides of her knife and licked it up and down, and smacked her lips. Then she hopped up and pulled herself into one of the many ducts.

Unfortunately, Rick and Tim retained their common sense, and their nerve system was still in good condition and mostly intact, even after prolonged mask exposure, and thus fled the scene. Why wouldn’t you cut and run if you had a sadistic mercenary after you? There was a splatter of gore, still fresh, where Tim had lay. Vendetta sighed and compulsively scratched her head. "They probably split," she deducted. She was right. Tim and Rick split up, Tim running as fast as his wound could allow, with Rick going the opposite direction. Vendetta brandished a short pole, which then unfurled into the humongous scythe she wielded earlier while strangling Lee. She began pursuit of the other two, occasionally sprinting up walls to retain momentum.

She went for Tim first, who was rather easy to track and hunt down due to the stains of blood he left behind. He, surprisingly, managed to evade and elude most of Vendetta's scythe swings and a single knife throw, even with the handicap of an abdominal wound, the scythe which horrifyingly and curiously burned through the grille floors with ease, leaving behind dripping, completely corroded metal. Tim was nicked by the blade on the shoulder once, leaving behind a scaldingly painful chemical burn, but that was it. Tim also managed to stab Vendetta's upper arms several times with a switchblade he'd brought along. Eventually, Vendetta grew annoyed and irritated, and figured out that this wasn't working, so she drew a custom-made machine pistol, which she endearingly referred to as "Thanatos". She fired a lengthy burst of lead at no particular body part or limb, but it was effective, as it killed Tim quickly, splattering gore all over the wall behind him. They corpse - at least, what was left of it, anyway, was forced against and slid down the titanium wall, streaking and smearing bits of visceral matter and sanguine liquid down it. Rick was next.

Vendetta didn't have time chasing down someone who didn’t leave breadcrumbs behind through the tortuous, labyrinthine corridors of the ship, so she sliced down the walls with her scythe, which caused gradually increasing structural instability. Eventually, after sufficient tracking, she finally encountered Rick. It seemed like he was prepared, because he had found a light machine gun within the depths of the ship's storage. Aiming it with two hands, he discharged a massive amount of lead at Vendetta.

Bad news was that her coat was durable enough to help her survive against most of the gunshots; the good news was that Rick managed to score a few hits in the area that her apparel did not cover. From there, the rounds penetrated her skin, where she hemorrhaged a viscous Stygian, inky red blood. As she staggered back, injured, she roared in frustration, and Rick fired off some more rounds, this time directed towards her face. He managed to shatter part of her mask, revealing as well as cutting her face. Rick ran up to her with this opportunity and bashed her face with the butt end of the machine gun several times, hoping to knock her out. But she sprang back onto her feet and delivered a roundhouse kick to Rick's face, to be "even". It was particularly painful, with Vendetta wearing weighted combat boots. Just as Rick landed, a man came storming down the stairs. It was Art. He yelled at Vendetta, pointing his gun at her, "Hey! Get out of here!" That was pretty much all he had to say before he was violently kicked and elbowed in the face. Art was picked up and lobbed against the wall. He remained silent. Rick lay facedown on the floor, bleeding copiously from his mouth and left nostril, with a broken nose. He managed to turn himself over. A shadow bolted across his blurring vision and he felt cold, yet burning and poisonous steel pressing against his neck.

"Any last words?" Vendetta hissed, pushing the blade into his neck gently.

He was just barely capable of distinguishing her face through her mask in the dark environment. Her ocher-orange eyes glimmered unusually with avarice and sadism, piercing his heart and mind with her deathly stare. Her thin lips were spread across her gaunt face with a mirthfully barbarous and calamitous grin. A short fang protruded noticeably out of the straight teeth Vendetta had. Again, it was almost like staring down Death. And he was losing.

But after a minute or two, and a single, final urge from Vendetta's noxious, ghastly and bleeding mouth, he could finally recall why she appeared so familiar. Ah, yes. "The Asuri", she referred to herself. Infamous for her feline mask, which had profound psychological influences, and her death-like complexity.

Rick was there that one fateful, rainy night, when he was just visiting from his workplace. Vendetta walked along and ravaged his innocent life, slaughtering his family before his very eyes. It was just sheer luck that he wasn't caught that day. And that mask. He vividly recalled that mask the most from his memories. Rick chuckled. He began to laugh mirthfully in the face of certain death. He almost fell into hysterics. "Oh, yeah," he said casually, still laughing. "I remember now." Vendetta tilted her head and raised one of her eyebrows.

Vendetta finally took a hint. "Oh... so... you saw that behind closed doors, didn't you? Heh." She eased her pushing.

Rick shut his eyes, preparing for the worst. When nothing had happened, he opened his eyes. Nothing was pressing at his neck, no one was there. Vendetta vanished without a trace, kind of like a dream or nightmare, ebbing and flowing around and about in the currents of somebody's subconscious, like a raft or canoe that was lost at sea.

For once in her life, Vendetta decided to have pity and be merciful. Instead of brutally decapitating him, there was a large opening ripped open on the side of the ship. That was when Rick also noticed a note stabbed into his right shoulder. On it, it read, "I'll get you someday, just not today obviously." He writhed over to the opening, and what he saw was beautiful compared to what he had confronted inside the ship. The ship groaned and creaked as its structural integrity was compromised.

He leaned over on the hull incision, which felt hot to the touch. Rick's weary eyes gazed outwards. The same lonely, grayscale structures. Same sullen, steely gloom above. Same snowy atmospheric conditions. Same old, rotting docks. The wind still howled and gusts still blustered through the ghost town as if no time at all had passed. But out there, there was one thing different. Out there, down the melancholic boulevard, was Vendetta, walking away, waving goodbye at him. She blew a kiss, winking seductively, and she made a "call me" gesture. Rick dialed 911 on his phone, stating his situation. He shut his eyes.

The landscape was completely identical again.

And then there were none.


March 14th, 2036

4:43 P.M., EST

Lakeland Healthcare, Michigan, United States

Rick slowly regained consciousness. He could perceive soft, comfortable fabric from the back of his head to his heels. He opened his eyes, and his vision seemed fuzzy and fogged momentarily. His mind was in a shambles, and his thoughts were distant. He could hear the ambient pulsing of the electrocardiogram next to his bed. He could see that his shoulder was wrapped in bandages.

"Huh?!" Rick grunted aloud. He could also see Ivan standing next to Nami's bed. "Shhhh...." Ivan told Rick to keep quiet. Nami appeared to begin stirring, but she only turned and purred softly. Nami had nearly suffered death through exsanguination. Ivan had only recently woken up from his catatonia, and he had bandages wrapped around his head, arms and leg. Lee was truly battered; she was covered in bruises, had a neck collar, had limb casts, and to top it all off, she was in a coma, yet she looked so peaceful, asleep. Ivan walked over to Rick.

"Hey, Rick, did you see the guy that was with Lee two-three weeks ago? He was an employee on the ship," he asked.

Rick recalled his memories and replied, "Yeah, I think. What about him?"

"Yeah, well, he's dead," Ivan reported. "His name was Arthur. So many broken bones."

"Oh.... Oh! Oh my God, is Lee d--" Rick began panicking. His EKG started speeding up.

"No, no, she's not dead, calm down, she's just in a coma. Tim is dead, though."

"Oh. Well, damn it! He was a pretty good friend." They both closed their eyes solemnly, craning their necks down to mourn his death.

"Yeah. We all love Tim. It was a damn shame he died." He whispered under his breath, "Plus, he still owed me five bucks."

Ivan left to go eat something. Rick tried to fall back to sleep, but someone awoke him to bring him more news. "Mr. Damicky, sir?" an official said.

Rick opened his eyes and coughed. "Yeah, what?" He rubbed his eyes and blinked again. The official cleared his throat. "Your vehicle has been totaled."

"Oh. Well, I plan leaving it like that, I didn't like it anyway." Rick ad-libbed so he could get some rest. He closed his eyes and attempted to fall into a refreshing slumber, but he couldn't quite rest. There was a hostile, malevolent presence about. And it wasn't Nami. Rick could feel it beside him. He searched his bedside table. What he found shocked him.

A mended ceramic feline mask, embellished with ornate, yet peeling red paint lines that had dripped. On the front were two small gas mask filter cartridge canisters. Rick became tense and rigid, clutching his heart as it convulsed in torment. He had cold sweats. His brain throbbed and swelled with great discomfort. He then fell limp, falling from his bed and onto the floor. His eyes rolled back into his head, mouth agape, taking choking, dying gasps of oxygen. Saliva dribbled from the side of his mouth. His EKG began ascending into tachycardia, then into ventricular fibrillation, and soon enough, it displayed an asystole.

Moments later, Ivan returned from his meal, horrified at the sight of his deceased friend, and yet another note, taped over his face. It read, "The Asuri always gets her client's targets, don't you ever forget that~". There was a thick, lavender lipstick stain imprinted onto the paper. The mask was gone.

Ivan fled the scene, and went to fetch paramedics, but as soon as he left the room and returned to check just for any last-minute developments, Rick's body was gone. No traces, no evidence, nothing.

The cat mask was there again, though.

Death can be a tragedy to you humans, but to me, it's just another statistic and number. And also profit.

~XOXO, Vendetta Tiberius "Asuri" von Schwarzstahl III

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