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There was no better time than night for an assault. The area was quiet, the traffic clear, and witnesses were never an issue. The smell of salt water and fish were powerful, and the sound of seagulls crying out in the night added a tension to the five men of the Op. team.
Shou Takeshi tried to clear his mind. He tried to forget the disturbing phone call he’d received from his brother, Kazou. His little brother was in pain, and Shou burned for him, but there was work to be done. Even in the simplest of hunts, one stray thought could lead to the death of you and your team. Despite this, Shou was unable to erase the sounds of his brother’s weeping from his mind.
Kazou had never been one for tears, choosing instead to push forward and plow through the pain. Things were different now. His team had abandoned him, leaving him with nothing. Shou had tried to get him a spot on his own Op. team, but Kazou had always held a staunch opposition to the hunt. There’d been more than a few family squabbles between them as a result, and it was something they’d seldom talked about because of it.
“Get your head out of the clouds, Shou,” Norm, his team-leader said. He was an older man, but his grey hair and wrinkled face only accounted for his experience. “Listen up, men, and listen well. We’ve got ourselves a two-mark Psych in there. We think he’s a Kinetic. He’s killed both the Investigative teams pursuing him, so don’t screw around.”
There was a laugh from the Manipulator next to Shou. He was the new guy, Clyde. Shou didn’t recall his last name.
“Freaking Carebears,” he said. “Always getting themselves killed. Ya know what? It serves ‘em right. Dying is about the only thing they’re—”
As if by an invisible force, the man’s face was thrown forward and slammed into the concrete. The rest of the team laughed at his misfortune. Their Kinetic, Lucas, was always the roughest on the new guy.
“Now look here, you,” Norm said. “I don’t know what Op. team you transferred from, but we don’t go around talking like that of any Psych Operatives, Investigative or Op. These were good men and women that died, just trying to do the right thing in the wrong way.”
Shou nodded, and so did the other men on the team. Not all Op. teams were bloodthirsty animals that took pleasure in slaughtering people. Norm’s team was composed of like-minded individuals. None of them enjoyed the hunt or took any pleasure in their kills. They did what needed to be done: end the lives of people that didn’t deserve to live. They didn’t prolong the pain, and they didn’t taunt their victims.
Clyde had anger in his eyes and small cut under his lower lip. Shou knew he wouldn’t last more than a few days on the team before being transferred off. They were going through Manipulators faster than they could find them. Shou appreciated the way Norm operated; he didn’t want any bloodthirsty idiots on his team. There weren’t many Op. teams like his, but they did seldom exist.
“Marcus, give me a status, please,” Norm said.
The young Telepath, Marcus, crouched just ahead of Shou and tilted his head skyward, then closed his eyes. “He’s got two with him now. Hmm, I think he’s been recruiting. One’s a Manip, and the other’s a Kinetic.” Marcus grinned. “They’ve got no Path, so this should be an easy job.”
Shou relaxed and breathed a sigh. Without a Telepath, the group of Psychs had no chance. Norm didn’t seem convinced, though.
“Still, keep your guard up. Even taking into account that the Investigative teams aren’t as trained in combat as we are, they still shouldn’t have been taken out; no, not even by a two-marked Psych.”
Shou grunted. Norm’s words were the truth. Whenever a Psych criminal was exceptionally dangerous, he was given a mark. It was a rare occurrence, and it symbolized the need for caution and swift removal of the target. The man they were hunting had two-marks, and Shou wasn’t eager to face him. He wanted to get back to New York City and see his brother. Kazou needed him, and he wasn’t there for him.
They were in a harbor off the coast of southern Long Island. The floor was messy and covered in fish guts. Just at the other end of the harbor, across a narrow pier, Shou could make out the small packaging factory that, at one time, had shipped fresh fish to local restaurants. It had long since been abandoned, and now their targets were taking up residence inside.
“Let’s get this over with,” Norm said. “I’ve had just about enough of this stench as I can handle.”
The men all seemed to agree, and after a quick three count, they moved out, rushing through the dark pier. For an old Kinetic, Norm ran almost as fast a Reinforcer, leading them across the narrow pier and to the side of the old packaging building. It was covered in grime and smelled like the rest of the place.
Norm signaled. “Shou, we’re going loud. Break through the side wall. I want you in first and leading the charge. Marcus, you need to keep him protected from that Manip, and keep the Kinetics from knocking him down. What’s your read on the two he’s with?”
Marcus tilted his head to the sky and answered in an instant. “They’re weak, nothing like our target.”
Norm nodded. “All right, we’ll take them out first. It’ll make our lives easier. Clyde, they’ve got no Path, and you’re a Manip. I expect you’ll make short work of them. I hope to be done and out of here within five minutes from now. Is everyone ready?”
“Ready,” Shou answered.
“Yes, sir,” Marcus said with a salute.
“I’ll try not to enjoy this, honestly,” Clyde added with a grin.
“One. Two. Three. And breach!”
With might only a Reinforcer could command, Shou drew power into his right fist and then smashed it through the wall, ripping out an entire section. He ran inside, followed closely by his team. Marcus was the only one carrying a weapon. Only a few Telepaths trained themselves in offense, while most others focused on support.
Shou ran to the center of the packaging building. There were metal girders everywhere, and automated assembly lines stained with fish blood. The stench was nauseating. Shou wondered if he’d ever eat fish again after spending just a few minutes in the place.
“Where are they?” Norm asked.
Marcus closed his eyes and looked around. “We should be … standing right on top of them. Is there a lower floor to this place?”
Norm winked at Shou. “Well,” Shou said. “There’s only one way to find out.” Shou slammed his fist into the old flooring, destroying another section of the place, his fist making a crackling sound as it destroyed the floorboards beneath him. Looking into the newly created hole, he could see three men, almost ten feet below him in a wide room with beds, a refrigerator, and racks filled with weapons.
The one in the middle looked up at him and smiled. Shou felt the fear immediately. Without a doubt, he was the man they’d been looking for. He was tall, just over six feet, black hair and dark blue eyes. That wasn’t what made him unsettling, though. The man had two circular scars surrounding each one of his eyes, and his forehead had a vivid tattoo of a raven swooping down on a mouse, moments from devouring it.
“B-boss!” one of his men shouted. “More of those guys are here.”
Shou wasted no time. He leaped down, falling the ten feet. He interlocked his fingers and raised his hands above his head. When he landed, he crashed them down on the face of one of the men—probably the Kinetic—standing nearest to their target. The man’s skull was crushed, and his head cracked like a melon. Shou gained no pleasure from the brutal act, but at least the man’s death was instantaneous.
The other one—the Manipulator—backed up and turned to look at his companion for help. Unfortunately for him, the two-marked Psych only stood there and laughed. There was a loud crackle, the sound of gunfire, followed by a quick flash of light. The Manipulator’s head was snapped back as a bullet penetrated his brain. Marcus was an excellent shot.
Two down, Shou thought.
One after the other, the members of Shou's Op. team leapt down into the room below and surrounded their target, who despite being outnumbered didn’t appear overly concerned. The two-marked Psych looked down at his fallen men. “Worthless,” he muttered.
“Time to die, buddy,” Clyde teased. “You’re about to—”
“Shut it!” Norm snapped, clasping his hand over Clyde’s mouth. “We don’t tease, we don’t taunt: we do our job, and this is the last time I’m gonna tell you that.”
As if growing impatient, their target spoke. His voice was powerful. It was a low, rumbling sound, with a scratching edge.
“If I said I was expecting you gentlemen,” he asked with a twisted, crooked smile, “would that be too cliché?”
“Clyde, Shou, end this,” Norm commanded.
Clyde extended his hand, the pleasure unmistakable on his face; he really wouldn’t last more than a few days with the team. While Clyde prepared his Manipulation, Shou bolted forward and threw a punch at the target’s face, with enough force to kill. Oddly, the man didn’t move; instead, his eerie smile widened.
At the last possible moment, with a speed too fast to follow, the target ducked. Shou’s fist missed him by a centimeter. The target countered, jabbing Shou in the right side of his body. At first Shou wanted to laugh. After all, what business did a Kinetic have attacking a Reinforcer? Was the idiot trying to break his arm?
Then the pain hit, and Shou was thrown off his feet, clutching the right side of his body. He heard the sound of his own ribs breaking while he rolled on the floor in agony.
How? How is this possible?
Shou fought through the pain, and through squinting eyes, he saw a similar expression of confusion on Clyde’s face. A puff of smoke appeared almost a foot in front of the target, which meant Clyde’s Manipulation was being counteracted in a way that only the use of Telepathy could bring about.
“W-what’s going on?” Clyde whispered.
“Think about it later!” shouted Lucas. “Norm, I’ve got your back.”
“Indeed,” Norm said. “Hit him with everything you got.”
Norm and Lucas, wasting no time questioning things, picked up boxes, food, knives, and just about everything around the room. Then they launched it all at the target.
Yet still the target did not move. He rubbed his left hand over his right, a gesture of washing hands, and all at once, the objects flying around the room halted midair then fell lifelessly to the ground.
Shou was the first to call it out, the first to come to the horrifying realization. “He’s an Unrestricted! We need to leave, now!”
The target looked down at him from where he lay, wounded, on the dusty floor. The circular scars surrounding the target’s eyes caused Shou to tremble.
“They always shout the same thing, right before they die,” he said. “Yet, it never gets old hearing it.”
The man rubbed his hands together, and a puff of smoke appeared a foot from Clyde’s face, much like the one still in front of his own.
“He’s using Manipulation!” Clyde called out.
The target looked around the room. “Hmm, it seems your Telepath is ruining my fun. It’s that one isn’t it?” He pointed at Marcus.
Marcus darted his head around in confusion; it was the last thing he ever did. The man rubbed his hands together for the third time, and the refrigerator in the back of the room lifted off the ground, flying into Marcus and crushing him. Shou swore under his breath. He hoped that his friend’s death was painless.
Despite how quickly things were falling apart, Norm didn’t seem to be afraid, and thinking back, Shou wondered if the man was even capable of feeling fear. But he did sigh as he looked at Marcus’s corpse. They were like brothers, the four of them, and Marcus would be deeply missed.
Now that their Telepath had died, Clyde whimpered in fear. He obviously knew what Marcus’s death meant: without anyone to shield him from Manipulation, he was vulnerable.
Clyde screamed, clutching at his face while his skin became soggy then melted right off the bone. His death was gruesome, as were all the killings done by a Manipulator. Without a Telepath present, Manipulators were Gods among mortals.
Shou tried to stand up, but the man had hit him hard enough to shatter most of his ribs. Norm and Lucas looked briefly at each other and then doubled their efforts. Around the room, more objects were sent flying at the man, each one falling to the ground well before making impact.
The target charged at Lucas. He brought up his foot and delivered a powerful kick, snapping the poor Kinetic’s neck. He twitched once before falling to the floor.
“Are you the leader of these men?” the target asked Norm.
“I am,” Norm said.
“Would you like to beg for your life now? It's okay, I'll wait.”
Norm spat at the target. “I never beg. Just end it.”
The target shrugged. “Well, if you say so.”
What happened next was the single most horrifying thing Shou had ever seen. In the most incredible display of Telekinesis Shou could imagine, the man rubbed his hands together, and Norm’s head, as if nothing more than the head of an action figure, popped clean off his body. Then it landed on the floor next to his still-standing torso. The body twitched before falling on the floor while blood fell from the top of the headless corpse.
Shou cried, tears streaking down his face. He wondered how any of this could be real.
“You look afraid,” the target told him. “Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” He raised his voice. “Hey, anyone want a piece of this? I left one of them alive.”
Several men and women, both young and old, seemed to appear out of nowhere. Looking around, Shou could see there were several doors in the darker corners of the room.
How did Marcus not detect them?
A young woman and an older male sauntered over to him. The woman sniffed the air then looked around the room in disgust. There was sadness in her eyes, and she shook her head when she took in Norm’s headless corpse. She was beautiful, with fiery red hair and sparkling blue eyes. She stood next to an attractive, middle-aged man, whom to Shou appeared vaguely familiar.
“Oh, Sebastian, sweetheart, Darling, why do these people keep showing up here every week to die?”
“Now, now,” he said. “Are you sure you want to be watching this, Requiem?”
The girl shrugged. “I’ve seen much worse.”
The target stepped between the two. He laughed. “Hey, don’t tell me neither of you want the kill. Sebastian, you and your stepdaughter rarely kill anything. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you both don’t enjoy it.”
“You already know we don’t,” the man, Sebastian, said. “My stepdaughter and I are here for the money and the money alone. You never said we had to do anything except our jobs when we agreed to work for you, Cyrus.”
So that’s his name, Shou thought with a grunt. No one—to Shou’s knowledge—had ever been able to obtain the man’s name, content to simply call him “Target 90-B” or “the target” whenever they referred to him.
“It reeks in this place, Darling,” the woman said. “How much longer must we stay here?”
“Until Cyrus tells us to move, sweetie.”
The target, Cyrus, laughed at the two. “You guys crack me up, you know that?” He cleared his throat and raised his voice, addressing the others now appearing in the room. “Anyone else want the kill?”
There were several volunteers, enough to replace Shou‘s fear with confusion.
How can there be this many criminal Psychs? There’s got to be at least fifty in here.
“Please,” Shou begged. “My brother, Kazou, he needs me. Please, let me leave, and I promise I won’t say a word to anyone.”
Cyrus broke into laughs even before Shou had finished speaking. “Yeah, because that’s really something I’d consider.”
Another woman approached. She was a small girl with a ghost-pale face that reminded Shou of death. “Can I kill him?” she asked. “I’d like to tear him up piece by piece.” She chortled. “I’ve been developing several new methods of torture.”
Cyrus patted her on the back. “Go ahead, Clair. Tear away.”
Shou trembled, realizing he was the most unlucky one on his team. Their deaths were at least quick, but his would be slow and agonizing.
“Wait!” the man named Sebastian shouted. “On second thought, I’ve decided I’d like to take this kill after all. You owe me one, don’t you, Cyrus?”
The tiny girl pouted and made a sour face. “But you said you didn’t want it!”
“Yeah, well, now I do.”
“Let him have it,” Cyrus said. “Poor guy and his daughter never get to have any fun. Come on, Clair, I’ll show you my coin collection.”
Shou looked with pleading eyes into the face of the man who would kill him. “Please …” he begged.
“I’m sorry,” Sebastian said. “Really, I am.” He looked behind him, to where Cyrus and the small girl were walking away, now out of earshot.
“I’ll make this very quick, and you won’t feel a thing.”
The one called Requiem, who stood next to him, frowned. “Darling, if my angel ever found out his father had done something like this, I don’t think he’d be very happy.”
The man gave her an awkward stare. “You’re still calling him ‘your angel?’ Jeeze, you don’t know how ridiculous you sound. Why would Jack come to learn anything about this? I’d rather kill this man myself than have him tortured by animals.”
“Still,” she said. “I really don’t think Jack would be happy if he found out.”
“I’d like to think he’d understand,” Sebastian said. “Though, sometimes I think he’s too stupid to think very deeply on things.”
The girl slapped him, hard, across the face. “Never call my angel stupid! You horse-faced idiot!”
The man rubbed his cheek. “Yesterday I was a raccoon, today I’m a horse, you and your animal insults, Requiem.” He turned to Shou and his face turned serious. “I’m sorry, I’m prolonging this, and it’s cruel. Close your eyes and think of something pleasant. I promise you there will be no pain.”
Shou closed his eyes, which stung from his tears. Is this really the end? Am I really going to die here? Will my—
The world gave way to darkness.