Chapters, Guns & Roses

Guns & Roses VIII – Finale

The two men stood watching eachother for what felt like an eternity. Fingers poised around their guns, waiting for the other to break the silence. Small beads of sweat collected under Antonio’s brow, his breath held.

Antonio raised his arm to aim and a shot rang out. The gun flew out of his hands, a trail of smoke rising from the barrel of Axel’s guns.

“Not one move, fucker.” Axel said, training his gun on Antonio’s body. Slowly, he stepped forward until he reached the other end of the desk.

“What do you want, Axel? And how the hell did you survive?” His breath hitched in his throat as he saw light glint off the revolver’s metal body, the smoke only now starting to dissipate.

“Nothing much. I just want ya’ ta’ bleed.” In one swift motion he brought the revolver against Antonio’s temple, throwing him to the ground. Antonio scrambled to grab the golden gun on the ground. Securing his fingers around it, he spun around and tried to take aim, soon feeling a shoe pressing his wrist to the ground.

“Augh!” Even as he felt something in his wrist crack, he kept his grip on the gun. A ghostly, second gun seemed to fly out of it into the air, whizzing past Axel and suspending behind him, aimed at his back. “Do you like it, Axel? It call it… 「Fistful of Steel」…”

Axel felt his heart skip a beat. He lunged forward, jumping over Antonio’s body. The ghostly gun fired and the bullet burned a clean hole through his leg, grazing the bone. “Shit!”

As he turned around, he saw Antonio, already up on his feet. The boss threw an uppercut that connected with Axel’s jaw, making him stumble backwards. He hunched over as Antonio punched him in the stomach, the air expulsed out of his lungs.

Antonio pushed him against the wall, one arm against Axel’s throat. His eyes were bulging, irises shaky on the glossy surface. His usual dashing smile was tainted with the blood issuing from his mouth.

“So… ya’ also have that kinda’ ability, huh?” Axel managed out, returning Antonio’s crazed glare with a cold expression even as his air supply dwindled. “That’s good ta’ know.”

“This is so fun. I’m so happy.” Antonio said, his smile growing. “I was almost sad I had shot you in the back. But now – now that I know you’re just a pushover, I can make you bleed as much as I want! This is so fun!”

“Fun? We’re gonna have fun, a’ight.” Axel shot his knee upwards, meeting Antonio’s groin. With a wheezing laugh, the boss backed away, holding his midsection until his back hit the desk.

“Let me tell you why I did it, atleast!” Antonio ducked under a punch and took another, his head whipping to the side as a tooth flew out. “It’s no fun if I kill you and you’re still an ignorant asshole! Atleast you’d be just an asshole!”

“I don’t give a shit! Just focus on screaming for me!” Dodging a bullet, Axel tackled Antonio into the desk, shoulder into his chest, a gush of blood expelling from his mouth and onto Axel’s suit.

“But it’d be so much fun.” Antonio gripped Axel’s neck and forced him off his body, tossing him to the side. “I first heard of you people when you killed Vincenzo, actually – good friend of mine.”

Axel rolled to the side and sprang up to his feet, facing Antonio. “Is that why? Is that why you went after us? Because we killed a damn nobody?”

“You know, if you were anyone else – and I mean this, Axel – I would tell you that. But, honestly?” Antonio shrugged, his arms raised in a ‘what can you do?’ expression. “I just love knocking down big shots like the two of you! Probably thought you were invincible, didn’t you?” His crazed expression softened as he aimed at Axel, a more elegant smile gracing his features. “You’re not.”

Axel remained where he was, gripping the brush inside his pocket. Glaring at the gun as a plan formulated inside his mind. The bullet had tore through his body like it was nothing, but when it impacted against Veronica’s ink, it had stopped. “That’s ya’ reason? Ya’ wanted ta’ feel superior? You’re nothing but a spineless coward.”

“Maybe. But Veronica’s body must be cold by now, musn’t it? If you had seen your face when you saw me in her apartment – like it all came crashing down on you! I should have taken a picture.” Antonio slowly backed away from Axel, reaching into the drawer of his desk. Axel was ready to spring, but froze at the sight.

Antonio held a white, tube-like device between his fingers. Axel paled until his complexion resembled the device’s color. “I got this from Veronica’s apartment while the two of you were on the ground. I had to get some kind of souvenir, didn’t I?”

“No…” Axel shook his head in disbelief as his surroundings seemed to blur, as his world seemed to come apart at the threads.

“No? But it has two marks on it – that means positive, right?” Antonio uttered a short, mocking laugh. “Hey, looks like you got to bang the broad before you killed her, huh? How’s that for silver…”

One moment, frozen eternally in his mind. One second, Axel was crouching on the ground, ten feet away from him. The next, the sharply-dressed youth was right in front of him. Axel grabbed Antonio’s wrist and forced it upwards, Antonio’s delayed shot burning a hole into the ceiling above. Then, a crack, as his wrist was crushed under the sheer force.

“How the hell…” was all Antonio could manage as Axel grabbed his forehead, slamming him into the bookcase behind him. He felt a deep gash open on the back of his head, blood trickling down his hair. “What the hell… what the hell are you?!”

“Ya’ wanted ta’ have some fun, Antonio?” Axel caught one of his punches and whirled around Antonio, twisting his arm behind his back. Head brought against his desk. Arm twisted in ways it wasn’t meant to, the bone slowly cracking. “Fine, let’s have some fun, then.”

“Hey, fuck you! You think I’m gonna listen to you just because…” He screamed as his arm was dislocated, hanging loosely. “Okay, okay, just stop, I’ll do whatever you want, okay?”

“Ya’ can start by rolling over and dying.” Axel forced Antonio to his feet and shoved him to the ground. Antonio rolled, grabbing his gun and turned to aim at Axel. Two more ghostly guns floated into the air, aiming at the approaching blond.

“Just fucking die already! Stop walking, goddamn you!”

“I don’t need to. I’ve figured out your weakness. Snakecharmer.” Axel said. Antonio squeezed the trigger and three bullets shot towards Axel. From his wrist, a dozen tendrils poked through the fabric of his sleeve and batted away the bullets like they were just paper balls. “Ya’ can’t hurt Stands, can ya’?”

One tendril wrapped itself around Fistful of Steel and ripped it from Antonio’s hands. Axel grabbed him by the collar and slammed him against the window. A dozen shards fell to the streets below as Antonio’s body was forced through it. He felt the cold wind rush at his face, sending his hair to and fro.

With one hand, Axel held him over the edge of the window. He raised the other, the sleeve falling down to reveal Snakecharmer. The diamonds were cracked and the ink was almost all gone. Fistful of Steel glimmered in his hand against the light.

“This is the last of Veronica’s spirit… she gave it ta’ me. She used the last of her strength ta’ save me… so, there’s no way in hell I would have died tonight. The moment I walked in, ya’ were already dead.” The dozen tendrils shot forward and impaled Antonio’s right eye as the diamonds exploded, the last testament to Veronica’s life the ink that exploded Antonio’s eye.

“That’s for Veronica. And this…” Axel raised the golden gun over his head, and brought it hard against Antonio’s temple. Up and down again until his hands were covered in blood. “…This. This is for myself. Goodbye, Antonio.” With his hand releasing the man, Antonio fell down, down into the darkness and out of sight. There was no scream as he fell, and no sound as the darkness swallowed him.

***

November 8th, 2010

Axel stood in front of a small grave. Carved into the stone, it read “VERONICA MONTELLO. 1987 – 2010”. He watched not it but the horizon past it, letting the cold wind tickle his face and rustle the bouquet of roses in his hand. Collecting his thoughts.

“…I don’t know where ta’ start.” He started. “There’s… a lot I never had the chance ta’ say – and it’s all because I rushed without thinking. I got… so angry, thinking that ya’ had never actually loved me, I just… I snapped.” Axel sighed, forcing himself to face the gravestone before him. “I didn’t want ta’ imagine a world where I didn’t have you. I think… after I killed you, I was going ta’ kill myself, too.”

He squatted, keeping a hand on his hat as the wind threatened to blow it away. “We really got played for idiots, didn’t we? Because we cared so much, we would go ta’ such lengths ta’ keep those we care about… and what do we have ta’ show for it? Nothing but graves and lonely funerals.”

Axel set the roses down on her grave, muttering under his breath. “Roses. Ya’ always liked roses, didn’t ya’? They were your favorite…”

He crouched there until time seemed meaningless, the sun performing its ritual dance across the sky. After he felt it was enough, he got up.

“But I can’t give up, can I? No… it’s not what ya’ would want. So, for you, Veronica, I’ll keep going. Until life finds meaning again.”

With his coat rustling in the wind and a hand on his hat, Axel turned away from the grave, and began to walk.

“It’s not that being alone scares me, Veronica. It’s all the blood. It’s slipping through my fingers, and I’m drowning in it…”

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Chapters, Guns & Roses

Guns & Roses VII

November 5th, 2010

“Why are we still out here? It’s midnight, shouldn’t the boss have gone to sleep a long time ago?” One guard asked another, the door to Antonio’s hideout to their backs.

“Beats me. All I know is that the boss’s celebrating, and that we’re getting paid more than usual. Quit bitchin’, would ya’? Like anyone would be dumb enough to try and break into this place.”

“That’s the thing! Who’s gonna come into this place? Nobody’s got that much of a death wish, right?”

“Just do your job, man.”

With a small scoff, the first guard leaned against the wall, looking up at the sky. How the smoke from his cigarette distorted the stars above, but he had no appreciation for their beauty. He was bored out of his mind, for the most part.

After a span of excruciatingly long ten minutes, he was desperate to fill the silence. “Hey, Phil, you got any idea as to why the boss’s so happy?”

There was no answer.

“I said something, are you listening to me?” Taking his eyes off the firmament and directing them towards Phil, he gave a start. Phil was lying on the ground.

“This ain’t the time to sleep, you asshole. You just told me that I should do my job…” He gave him a light kick to no response. Squatting, he began to shake him. “C’mon, get up!”

He froze. In the darkness he hadn’t seen the puddle of blood that was collecting under his body. Gripping his gun closer, he took a shaky step back. Only to back into someone else.

And then, darkness.

***

While the boss celebrated on his own up in his office, everyone else on his payroll spent the night in a bar room downstairs. They had no idea why the alcohol was flowing, but nobody seemed to mind. There were about ten men that night spread about the room.

And although it was just another room in Antonio’s rather ostentious hide out, it was big and well stocked enough to have been considered an establishment of its own, with pool and poker tables set up, to the bartender’s back all the fine wine dirty money could buy. It was on the ground level, and a few of the windows were opened, letting in cold wind and streaks of moonlight.

“How you doin’ tonight, Larry?” The bartender asked a man sitting on the barstool, pulling out glasses from under the counter. “The usual?”

“Can ya’ really call it the usual if we only use this room about twice a year? Yeah, I’ll be having that.” Larry nodded, leaning against the counter. “Something must have the boss in high moods for him to throw something like this, yeah?”

“I wouldn’t know. Maybe an important job went off without a hitch?” The bartended filled a glass and handed it over to Larry. “Really, I don’t see much more than this bar room. I don’t know anything.”

“Guess we shouldn’t worry too much. Cheers, Moe.” Without much preamble Larry downed the drink in one go, letting the soft buzz of the drink wash over him like a comforting blanket. He closed his eyes to enjoy the moment.

There was the sound of glass breaking overhead, three times and with hardly a pause between them, that jerked him back to reality. As he opened his eyes he noticed little difference between having them closed – the room was submerged in darkness, the moonlight poking pinpoint holes into the inky blanket.

And then there was the rustling of fabric. In quick succession, the curtains were drawn together and the room was completely obscured. Some of the drunker men had only now noticed the impregnable darkness and glanced around confused.

“Who put out the lights?” One inquired.

“Somebody playin’ a trick?”

“C’mon, cut it out. We’re all just tryin’ to have a good time here.”

Larry heard a grunt of pain to his side. He leaned over the counter, peering into the darkness. There was no sign of movement, but as he felt his fingers on the wooden surface, they were sticky with blood.

A flashlight had been issued to every guard and Larry pulled out his, pointing the thin beam of light to the floor behind the counter. Moe laid on the ground, his nose a mangled mess, unmoving but breathing.

“Hey, guys – flashlights out! This ain’t a joke!” Sobering up in an instant, Larry drew the gun from a shoulder holster, getting off the bar stool and glancing about. A few moments later, ten cones of light danced around the room, searching every inch.

“Here’s how I want this ta’ go down.” A voice that didn’t belong to any of the guards broke out. The flashlights rushed to the voice’s location, but all they caught was a glimpse of a shadow moving quickly out of the way. “One of ya’ is gonna tell me where Antonio is. If ya’ refuse, well, the bodies start pilin’ up. Ya’ gonna talk?”

The voice seemed to come from everywhere, above, below and to the sides, as if its owner was moving about the room unnoticed.

“Block the exits!” Two guards rushed towards the two hallways that led out of the room. Larry heard a scream from one direction and the sound of gurgling blood from the other. Light soon fell upon the two guards – one with his head dashed against the wall, one with a knife sticking out the side of his neck.

“That’s two down. Wanna see how high we can get?” The voice called out again. There was the sound of glass breaking and rushing air. Another man had been slammed against the window, impaled on a triangular shard.

Larry gulped, feeling his mouth dry. In the span of a minute they had lost three of their men. A scream broke out near the pool table and all the flashlights rushed to illuminate it. Only catching a glimpse of one of their comrades being dragged under it, his scream of surprise interrupted with a knife.

Shots rang out as the guards took aim at the pool table, squeezing the trigger until it likened swiss cheese. Silence hung heavy on the air, their gasps for breath the only sound that filled the room.

A poker table right next to Larry exploded in a storm of splinters – a dead body had been dropped onto it, crushing the table under his weight.

“While ya’ boys were busy with your peashooters, I took the liberty of cutting your number ta’ half. That’s five down. How’s about it? Feel like talkin’ now?”

The voice came from above. In an act of desperation one of the guards aimed in its general direction and started firing. Petrified, Larry watched as the gun lit up in the room in split-second flashes. Watched as he saw a dark figure jump down from one of the hanging lights above and landed on another guard. How the dark figure slit the man’s throat and sprung onto the next, grabbing him by the throat and driving his head onto the corner of a table with a sickening crack. It was like a slide show.

The flashes ended. By Larry’s count, there were about three of them left.

“Seven.”

“To hell with this!” One of the guards broke into a sprint, running for one of the exists. Larry jumped as another shot rang out and the running man slumped to the ground. The muzzle flash had given away their tormentor and one of the guards rushed towards him.

In the darkness, Larry heard only the crunching of bones, and then, silence. He stood, frozen with his back to the counter, cold sweat running down his back. He couldn’t breathe – he was afraid the slightest movement would give him away.

“Nine.” The voice was directly in front of him. Larry swung the flashlight and saw his face for only half a second. This blonde haired man couldn’t possibly be older than twenty, was all he could process before the gun was forced out of his hands. Two firm hands gripped his shirt and pushed him against the counter.

“Is the boss man in?”

 ***

Antonio sat in his office, forced out of his cheerful mood by the sound of gunshots downstairs. When he heard knocking at his door, he almost jumped in surprise.

“What the hell’s going on down there?” He said. “Don’t get so drunk you’re shooting each other, Christ…” Antonio got up on his feet and froze. Whoever was behind the door was trying to force it open.

“Who…” Antonio felt a cold chill ravage his body as he reached inside the drawer of his desk, pulling out a golden gun.

Splinters flew as the door was forced open with a kick, knocking it off its hinges. Antonio could do nothing but stare, gun in his hands.

“Hello, Antonio. Ya’ look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Axel said.

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Chapters, Guns & Roses

Guns & Roses VI

November 5th, 2010

Veronica froze. It was like a vice grip held her throat in place, rooted her to the ground. Axel watched her with a pair of glossy, uncaring eyes. His hands hid in his pockets.

Their masks cracked.

His face transformed into a snarl, an angry yell booming from his throat. Axel shot forward, producing a knife from his pocket. Veronica let her instincts take over, taking a step backwards. Her body danced between his blows. Even as the cold steel nearly grazed her flesh, her irrational mind had trouble likening it to anything else but a dance between them, a sparring match.

It was only when it ripped a cut into her arm that her mind returned to the present. She backed away from him, towards the kitchen.

“A-Axel, how are you…?” Veronica tilted her head, feeling the edge of the knife cut through the air beside it. “How are you alive?!”

“Thought yourself the greatest assassin, didn’t ya’?” He feinted a swipe to the right, catching her nose with his left fist. “How’s this for a rude awakening? Because I sure had one!”

Her face covered in blood, she backed into a wall, eyes closed with her hands over her nose. She immediately ducked and felt splinters fall on her head. He had jammed the knife into the wall, missing her head by the breadth of a hair.

Veronica jumped forward, driving her head into his stomach and her arms around his waist. The two of them went to the ground, Axel letting out a grunt of pain as he fell on his bandaged wounds.

“Axel, listen to me!”

He reached to throw her off and her fist shot out like a snake, meeting the side of his jaw. His head whipped to the side, a small stream of blood waterfalling over his lips. She brought her hands onto his arms like nails on a coffin.

“Axel, listen to me, I didn’t want to kill you, I swear! I had no choice!” Even as he snarled at her like a frenzied animal, she brought her face closer to his. “You have to listen!”

The world turned into an explosion of pain as he slammed his head with hers. She fell backwards, disoriented, her legs refusing to follow what the brain told. Axel jumped up to his feet and ran, tackling her into the kitchen.

Her back met the kitchen counter, the air expelled out of her lungs. She brought her knee upwards into his stomach and pushing him off his body as she struggled for breath. Axel rolled backwards onto his feet, holding his bruised midsection with a hand.

Axel pulled a brush out of his pocket, gripping it close. Veronica secured the bracelet around her wrist, forcing air into her burning lungs.

“Killing in the Name.”

“Snakecharmer…”

He rushed forward with the arcing motion of his arm, a wave of ink leaving the brush horizontally towards her. Snakecharmer’s tendrils coalesced together into a rectangle in front of Veronica. The two constructs of ink collided and dissipated.

Veronica reached behind her, fingers patting around until they found a knife set, quickly pulling one out. As Axel reached her she swiped in a line, aiming at his torso. He leaned backwards, the steel ripping open the fabric of his white shirt.

She darted to the side, towards the kitchen table. Axel sketched in the air and in the blink of an eye there was a knife in his hands, running after her. Veronica jumped over the table, every muscle tensing as she felt the back of her shirt rip open.

“You always liked throwing knives around, didn’t you?” They stood at opposite ends of the table, watching eachother’s movements. “You were always spot-on…”

There was no response from his end. One hand sketched in the air while the other threw the knives. Veronica watched his hand carefully, ducking to the right, weaving to the left. Knives flew around her and lodged themselves into the wall.

Axel held two knives between his fingers, throwing both with the flick of his wrist. Veronica dodged one way and was caught by the other, feeling it cut across her side. Snakecharmer grabbed one of the table’s chairs and flung it at him, her user darting out of the kitchen.

Gripping the brush tight, he sent out a wave of ink towards the chair and cut it in half. An animalistic grunt issued out of him as he ran out the door.

They were back in the living room, Veronica running towards the door. As she heard his thundering footsteps coming up behind her, she whirled around, knife in hand.

Axel thrust forward and time slowed to a crawl. Watching his arm, Veronica brought her elbow up, ready to drop it.

And then time sped up again as she felt his fist connect with her face. She was thrown backwards, spinning, only stopping as an arm secured around her.

She didn’t scream as the knife dug into her back three times.

“I taught ya’ that move. Hurts, don’t it?” There was no feeling in his voice. Veronica fell forwards into a puddle of her own blood, words frozen in her throat.

It was over. He had to take a deep breath as his mind caught up with his movements. Even now, seeing her like this, he couldn’t help a pang of sorrow that struck the chords of his heart.

The click of a hammer broke the silence. Antonio was standing in the doorway, aiming a golden gun at him. And he was smiling.

“Sorry, kid… but this game was rigged from the start.”

Axel felt the impact of the bullet and his mind disconnected from his body. It wasn’t him falling down to the ground next to Veronica, it was someone else. It had to be.

But when the darkness swallowed him, he knew it wasn’t.

“How’s it feel to be the world’s greatest assassin, huh?”

***

There was light, breaking through the darkness. His body screamed from the pain, every nerve ending frayed knots. He felt groggy, sluggish as he got up. But most of all, he felt sticky.

Sticky?

Axel reached around his body, eyes adjusting to the light. With two fingers he tapped his back, near the epicenter of the pain, where he presumed the bullet had hit, dabbing both digits in a sticky substance.

“This ain’t blood. It’s too sticky, too viscous, it’s almost like…”

Ink. He parted his fingers and a bridge of black liquid formed between them. The bullet hadn’t even broken the skin, just impacted against the glossy layer of ink. His head darted to the woman that laid at his side, her red clothes blending with the blood below her body.

Veronica slowly turned her head towards him, eyes glossy and unfocused. “You survived… that’s… good…”

He sat frozen for a moment, feeling his heartbeat quicken. “Veronica… did ya’… why the hell would ya’…”

“You haven’t figured it out yet…? Axel, you’re sharper than this… I never wanted you to die.” Her voice was faint, like all her strength focused on holding on, just for a few more seconds. “…come closer.”

Like a machine, he obliged, lifting her body off the ground and closer to him. Tears welled in his eyes and the world turned into prisms, the one Veronica turned into two, four, eight, sixteen. “I didn’t… I really thought… Veronica, I was so…”

“Shhh… we both… made mistakes. He played us both like idiots… but he doesn’t know you didn’t die.” She brought up her hand, gently caressing his cheek, a thumb wiping away one of his tears. “…this is it for me. I’ve done… all I can do. Please… use this opportunity well.” Her grip on his face grew fainter and fainter as her life slipped away. “This is my final gift to you.”

With the last of her strength, she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his. It was brief and weak, but he could feel her life, her essence, leave her body. One last sigh, and she dropped back down.

“I love you. I’ve always have.”

“I…I… oh, god.” He couldn’t stop shaking. “I-I love ya’, too…”

There was a tiny smile, and then, nothing. Cold, unfeeling. Death stared him right in the face like he had stared at it his entire life.

And he blinked.

It took him a long time to let go of her body, carefully setting her on the nearby couch. He was still shaking and no amount of warmth could cease his tremors. After an even longer time, he even managed to leave her apartment. There was a gun in his hands.

“This game isn’t over yet…”

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Chapters, Guns & Roses

Guns & Roses V

October 27th, 2010

“…who?” He squinted his eyes, vision blurring in and out of focus, the man before him turning into two, three men. “Sorry if I’m… supposed ta’ recognize your name. My head’s…”

“Swirling, I imagine?” Antonio nodded, offering a reassuring smile. “Take your time. I’ll go slowly… anyone would be confused after that, I don’t blame you.”

“Throbbing, mostly. Ye’. Thanks…” He rubbed his eyes with his thumbs, letting his head drop against the soft pillow. After a short while, he laid it on his side, facing the man with the white suit. “Let’s start from the top…”

“Of course. Well, a few weeks ago, Veronica came under my employment. As an assassin, obviously.” Antonio placed his hands together on his knee as he talked.

“She did mention she was getting a lot of work, but she didn’t say from whom…”

“She spoke of you, pretty frequently. Told me that she was happy to be working alone, finally. Made more money, that way – I assume that you two used to split the money?”

“…I… yeah. Yeah, we…” He trailed off, processing Antonio’s words. Feeling his heart shake within its cage, blood pressure on the rise. “…we split the money…”

“Makes sense. It must have weighed her down, I guess?”

“She…” He swallowed as his surroundings blurred again, the world consisting of countless prisms in his eyes, forcing them to close. “Her mother came back into her life, but I didn’t think…”

“Woah, woah…” Antonio reached forward, laying a gentle hand on Axel’s shoulder. “Easy, now. No need to exert yourself – you’ve just woken up. It’s been days… I shouldn’t be telling you this so soon. I’m sorry.” Like a cloud, concern passed over his features.

“It’s fine. Just fine. But, it’s just… uh, why are you telling me all this? Way I see it… ya’ coulda’ left me for dead without a second thought. I ain’t nothin’ ta’ ya’.”

“Frankly? I didn’t find it fair. To walk into somebody’s home and leave them bleeding on the ground… it all struck me rather unfair. Veronica went over it a lot – about how she’d do it, and take out the only competition in her field. So, I had someone follow her to your place… but we got there too late.”

Axel felt something like a vine with thorns wrap around his heart as he spoke. ‘Competition’. ‘Field’. His teeth gritted against eachother, small mountains that made the earth shake. All this time…

“Not too late. But that’s not the only reason, is it? If you’re paying out of ya’ pocket, I can only assume ya’ want something when I’m on my feet… so, let’s hear it, ‘guardian angel’.” He looked up at Antonio with a pair of cold eyes that seemed to size him up.

Antonio paused, as if he had been undressed in a moment. Then, he shrugged and nodded once, twice. “You’re sharp. Can’t afford to do things out of the kindness of my heart. I’ve heard about you, Mr. Dillinger. As always, there’s a business offer…” He gave the man a pat on the shoulder, turning to walk out the door. “But for the time being, focus on getting better, yes?”

Axel didn’t respond, sinking his head into the pillow. Closing his eyes and letting the darkness swallow him once more, completely giving into it.

“And don’t worry… it’s all been paid for… my friend.”

***

November 5th, 2010

It was a rather swift recovery. But the days had blurred together still, and between bouts of unconsciousness, he was left alone to his thoughts. And his thoughts screamed and echoed inside his mind like a cacophony of hatred. ‘Competition’. ‘Field’. ‘Money’. These words burned into his brain, scars as permanent as the ones on his lower back. When he walked into Antonio’s hideout, he had very much a mask of his own.

A mask that fit on his smooth features like a glove, hiding the narrowed eyes and snarling mouth that came with anger. Guards moved to the side as he walked through the hallways. Even in his hazy state of mind, he made a mental map of the place, floating about the edges of his subconscious.

He came upon a door, no different than any he had seen throughout his life. Yet as he secured his fingers around the knob and stepped into the richly decorated office, he felt a sense of finality. Maybe it had always been to be this way.

Antonio sat at the other end of the room, elbows resting on his desk. As Axel walked in, he gestured him to come closer.

“I’m glad to see you’ve made a great recovery.” Extending a hand, he quickly put it away after Axel gave it a mechanical shake. “Please, have a seat. How do you feel?”

“Just fine.” Axel lowered himself onto the cushioned chair behind him, his back parallel with the chair. “Let’s get right ta’ it, if ya’ don’t mind?”

“Naturally. There’s not much to discuss. I’m sure you can imagine what I’m going to ask you, already.” The smile vanished from Antonio’s face, with eyes that seemed to pierce through Axel. “Veronica’s vanished, but I doubt she’s left the city. She knows too much about my business. I need…”

“Someone ta’ deal with her.” Axel rose to his feet, hands in his pockets. His expression never changed. Antonio likened it to looking at a corpse’s face. “Anything else?”

“No. Oh, and Axel…” The smile reappeared, growing across his face. “Have fun.”

“With pleasure.”

***

“This isn’t right…” Veronica laid on the couch inside her apartment, looking at the lazy circles described by the overhead fan. She had seldom left the house in the days following her attack, only to buy groceries when they became necessary. “Mother… I haven’t seen her.”

She turned to her side, strands of hair like a waterfall falling down her face, peeking out between the gaps. “Did she get killed after all? Or did she leave my life, like she should have?” Brain and heart at odds, hoping against hope and knowing it was unlikely. “Either way, I’ve been played like a fool…”

Looking down at herself, she placed a hand on her belly, a frown disjointing her flawless features. “And Axel…” Her fingers lingered over it as something stirred inside of it. A deep feeling of guilt and shame, but there was more. Ever since that night, there had been a strange feeling emanating from the very core of her being. “I… this is really all my fault, isn’t it? To rush ahead like that…”

She knew exactly what it was, these strange cravings and morning sicknesses, and yet she denied with all her heart. “…what an ironic fate.” Veronica sentenced, getting onto her feet. “I… refuse to let this fate control me. I won’t be their toy anymore…”

Veronica steeled herself, taking a deep breath. She knew where Antonio’s hideout was. She knew the layout like the back of her hand. She knew ways to get in and out —

There was a knock at the door.

And as she opened it, her heart froze inside her chest.

“A…A…”

“Hello, Veronica.”

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Chapters, Guns & Roses

Guns & Roses III

October 2nd, 2010

Antonio Fortunato was a mysterious man. With ties to the old blood back in Italy and a history of dealing in shadows and whispers, Veronica wasn’t sure what to think when she was told to meet him. Just in case, Axel had imprinted the image of a revolver on her skin, just below the thigh. Her mind reeled back to the blonde haired man, and a conversation with her mother.

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Forgotten, Short Story

Forgotten Scrap

Waking up from the black void was like being stuck to the bottom of the sea, and then slowly start to float up. Light from the surface reached his eyes, growing more and more visible as he neared it. It was a slow process, and the lethargy kept him from breaking free, from reaching the light. He pulled away from the darkness, struggled against it. When he finally broke free, it was like waking up from a long, dreadful sleep, full of nightmares.

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