For readers who like fighting, tension, inner turmoil, the pains of finding yourself, and just a hint of romance.
A Heart of Fire
The sky blankets me in its loyal arms, draping me in familiar shadows. Perched on the roof of some building across from my target, I ignore the hesitation that digs into my chest.
The lights of his study shine brightly against the rest of the dark three-story building, illuminating my way with an encouraging smile. I watch his silhouette as it moves with jerking, nervous movements, pacing his large study. A small grin tugs the side of my stiff features. I watch as he obtains something from a draw with a familiar shape. Guns. I find them rather impractical.
With a defeated sigh, I ready my body. The jump from rooftop to window is exactly five metres. The buildings of Linlow standing so close together that this distance here is rather far compared. Muttering a thanks to the creator of this miraculous suit, I stretch out my limbs.
I breathe. I run. I jump.
Crashing into the lush study of Mr. Richie Rich, I disregard the sting of glass as I pass through it. I roll onto a plush red carpet, reaching for the slim knife sheathed to my thigh as I rise from the floor. Standing to face the middle-aged man, I stare at his nervous but defiant expression. I smile and not for the first time wish that I didn't have to wear this blank mask. I think that seeing the face of your killer has a sweet bitterness to it.
"Your boss didn't have the guts to come kill me himself," Richie mutters, his tone edged with surprising disappointment. "I can't believe I wasted all that money for protection when all the bastard sent was a little girl."
A soft laugh flitters from my mouth, causing him to stiffen. "You should know sir," I say quietly, my voice smooth and deceivingly sweet. "It's always the ones you suspect the least who make the most damage."
The man sneers at me, his decently handsome face twisting into something shocking.
A laugh escapes my lips once again. "How 'bout this." I chirp, "I'll close my eyes for ten seconds. You can choose to use those seconds in any way you want. Promise I won't cheat."
Richie Rich looks to me wearily but his head bobs twice. I nod in acknowledgement, closing my eyes tightly. Once he sees my closed lids through the gaps in my mask, I hear the heavy shuffle of his feet. I don't bother to count out loud, finding that tension makes the chase all the more enjoyable.
Slowly, I force my mind to sink into a steady, familiar calm. Readying my body for the brutal few minutes that are to follow. That I've trained myself to not only survive but relish.
"Ten," I mutter.
Opening my eyes, I'm shocked to see someone in the room. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it isn't Mr. Rich.
I feel my eyes as they widen, betraying my emotion as I blink at the figure before me. Ocean eyes. Never in the space of this unseen world could I ever forget those eyes. He's supposed to be dead. Instead, he stands there, adorned in mundane clothing of jeans and a white shirt, his pitch-black hair cut short, hands in his pockets. The only sign of a weapon being his gaze that he pierces me with.
Cameron Lyne. What the fuck is he doing protecting? What is he doing going against the Guild?
I curse my body, forcing it to relax and loosen to apprehend his coming attack. To see what he's thinking, what he's plotting. Stupid idiot isn't wearing a mask. I can see everything.
"You don't have to do this. You can turn around and go home. I won't follow."
My breath hitches as his voice fills the air. As it brings in the harsh wash of memories I'd spent months boxing away.
I don't answer. He can't see my face. This is a new suit. He doesn't know who I am. He will if I speak.
Rolling my shoulders, I look to the exit where the door is cracked open. Mr. Richie Rich is escaping me. Unacceptable. With a sigh, I straighten and begin to turn towards the target.
"What are they paying you to kill him?"
Before I can register what's happening, I open my damned mouth. "More than he's paying you to protect him."
I feel Cameron's body stiffen behind me. Cursing myself fluently, I rush for the door. He blocks me.
Twirling the knife in my hand, readying, I look him up and down. I've never been able to defeat him before, can I do it now?
Cameron narrows his eyes on me and I bark a shout, lashing out as I feel him knock me across the face. I stumble back, clutching my burning cheek with a wince. My head snaps up. He's got my mask. We stare at each other, both of us bare.
"Avery." He breathes.
Straightening, I do my best to appear calm. "Cameron. You're in my way."
He blinks, taking a hesitant step towards me. "I-You're still doing it. You're still killing."
"What else did you think I'd be doing?" I bark. "Fake my death like you and lead a life of 'good'?"
I make to move past him, taking a few steady steps to the door. As I brush past him though, I'm shocked as Cameron attacks. I inhale sharply as his ankle catches me around mine, swooping me to the ground where he pins me violently. I struggle to escape but he knows all my moves.
"You can stop, Avery. You can escape them." He says urgently.
"No, I can't!"
"You don't have to be an assassin. You can be whatever you want to be." He growls, grunting under the pressure of keeping me pinned.
"I want to be an assassin."
"Do you?" he asks seriously, his deep-sea eyes thrashing against an internal storm. "Do you want to walk through life with the stench of death tailing you? Watching you?"
I stop moving, stop fighting, staring up into his familiar welcoming gaze. I let a small whimper escape my lips. Cameron's strong grip on my wrists eases as he sees my defeated posture, as he sees something that's not there.
I breathe deeply as he rises, as he offers me a hand. Knocking it away, I swiftly stand and place a good few metres between my present and my past. I feel his sharp gaze on me as I lower my own to the ground, fighting for breath as unwelcomed thoughts rush my head.
"Shut up!" I gasp, gripping my head tightly. "You're supposed to be dead. You're supposed to be gone and taken my doubts away with you! So, shut up."
He does, and I find the silence louder than his damning words.
My chest rises and falls unsteadily as I stumble to a wall for support, gripping the knife in my hand tightly. If I go now, I could still find Mr. Rich. I could still fulfil my task and get my money.
"Avery," Cameron whispers, his voice deep and soothing. "With every death you cause, a part of you dies with them. With every battle you rage against yourself, you lose a little bit more. How long till you find that you're killing yourself? How long till you find that you've made yourself the target?"
I shut my eyes tightly. Cameron was always like this. He joined the Guild to obtain quick money for someone he was losing. He lost them anyway and immediately started to find outs. For the both of us. But I was born into death. I was raised to make others fall.
"You wanted to stop before, Avery. Why not now?"
"You. You left me!"
Cameron nods solemnly but says nothing, leaving me to the cruelty of my mind. I struggle, fighting the urge to drop the knife and everything that’d been drilled into my mind. My core.
How long till I kill myself?
I force myself to think, to ignore the hurt in my chest. I don't feel when I kill anymore. It doesn't make me sad or regretful. It's simply a thing that needs to be completed. A task I get rewarded for in the end. I've trained myself to be calm, to think of nothing, and do everything. But what happens when I forget to forget? What will happen when eventually I force myself to look?
"You're destroying yourself trying to hide who you are." Cameron breathes, looking at me with some fire that I don't feel. "When will you allow yourself to heal? When will you give yourself permission to discover what you want?"
"I know what I want," I say automatically.
Something pushes against my chest, a heavy force that causes my eyes to sting and my skin to tighten. I gasp, clawing at my body. Screaming internally. Stop. Stop thinking. Stop feeling. Stop listening. Just do what you're told. Do what you're meant to. Do what you need to.
"No. No Avery." Cameron shouts, shocking me enough to look up at him with wide eyes. Cameron rushes towards me, crushing our bodies together as he grabs me around to waist. I tense as he clasps his firm grip around my wrist, pushing my hand against his chest. "Feel that?" He asks, passion burning so fiercely I have to look away. "Do you feel my heart?"
"Yes," I whisper unsteadily.
"Now," He answers softly, "Do you feel yours?"
I close my eyes. Reaching inward, I smoothen my breathing so that everything is quiet. A shake rakes through my body aggressively as I feel a sharp stab against my insides. As I feel a familiar weight in my body which I constantly shelve as useless. Something rises in my throat, a force pulling on delicate strings within me. As it heaves and jerks against every wall I'd built over long years. I feel the walls start to crumble and the strings start to snap.
"Do you feel your heart?"
I nod, my voice breaking as I lean my forehead against Cameron's collar bone. "Yes."
"What's it like?" He questions, voice tender and caressing.
"It hurts." I sob, dry tears and silent cries easing from my body.
"What will make it better?" Cameron murmurs.
I'm silent for a moment, silent as I listen to my heartbeat defeatedly. Whispering to me. Begging me. "It wants me to stop."
"Stop fighting what?"
"Are you going to?"
"…I want to."
Cameron leans back, looking down at me with furrowed brows. "At the centre of you, Avery, you know who you are and who you want to be. You know what you're willing to do to complete yourself."
I nod stiffly, pulling back from his familiar warmth. "How do I start? Healing myself."
Cameron smiles softly. "You have to find yourself first."
"Will you help me?"
He frowns slightly. "Only you can do that part, love."
"Okay." I nod, looking up I gaze into the sea that surges within his soul. That shows some of his hurt. "But will you be there?"
"Of course." He grins, "Wouldn't miss it for the world."
I turn away from him, looking to the shattered window with slight shame. I let myself feel it though. Let myself see and know the damage I cause. To myself. And the world.
I smile through the pain and decide my next move. Decide how far I'm willing to go to find myself. To discover where I go. Where I stay.
The earth trembles.