Her hair was a haphazard mess of pieces chopped by unknowing hands with a knife that hadn’t been quite sharp enough. It was as short as she could manage without nipping at the skin of her scalp with the hunting knife. Despite her small hands and the heavy weight of the blade, her skin had remained unscathed.
Forceful hands pushed into her back, making her lose her footing for a moment as her feet hit the cool cement floor in the dimly lit warehouse. She knew better than to avoid his shove, knew better then to turn and release the anger that boiled up inside her then.
So instead, she walked slowly into the center of the room, where a single overhead light swung slightly.
Rotating her head, she cracked her neck as she waited. Feet parted slightly, she took a deep breath and let her senses take over. She was prepared for anything.
There was humor in his voice when he addressed her, looking over the disheveled look of her. “You know what to do. Do not disappoint me!” His voice was stern as he spoke to her in Dutch. It had the harsh precision of someone who was of German decent, and learned Dutch later in life.
Her senses went wild as she jumped to the side; she rolled to the floor barely avoiding his foot as it came down hard next to her head. Scurrying across the floor, she could feel the angry gaze of him as she was once again on the defensive.
Looking over her opponent, she tried to see his weakness. He was older than her, larger. In his preteens, he had already started developing. Muscles were filling in his arms, testosterone surged through his veins, and she hadn’t thought she would be paired with him.
As much training as she had been through, she was still only six. She was small and weak in comparison to him.
Those excuses meant nothing, and would earn her no sympathy or pity, all they would earn her was a lashing.
“Een!” The command was to the boy. He should have landed a hit by now. The forceful tone made him jump alive. All this movements seemed to be faster, harder.
Suddenly being defensive wasn’t enough. She needed to get on the offense. She needed to end this and end it fast… or it would cost her.
Blocking a hit to her stomach, she winced as pain vibrated up her arms. He was too large, too strong to block successfully. Twirling away from him, she dropped down to her knees and slid between his legs. Jumping up, she rammed her knee into the small of his back and wrapped her arms around his neck. She pulled back with all her strength.
He gargled, the small bump of his Adam’s apple vibrating under her small palms.
She could win this, she thought suddenly.
Reaching up behind him, he wrapped his hand around her throat. Pulling her up over his shoulders, he flipped her over. She landed hard on the floor, all the air leaving her lungs. Gasping, she struggled to push herself up, get back to her feet but she didn’t have the air she needed to move.
Straddling her, he brought his hand down hard in her chest.
The crack was loud, it screamed in her ears as pain rocked through her. She bit down on her lip to stop from screaming out. Grabbing her arm, he flipped her over on her stomach and pulled it behind her. Her vision blurred as pain overtook her.
She could not lose, she reminded herself.
Another crack in her arm silenced the thought.
As her vision tunneled and the room darkened, something primal awakened inside her. She was in agony; she called for Death knowing he wouldn’t come. Even if she powered through the excruciating pain she was in now, she would still be punished. A loss was unacceptable, and if you were alive after a loss, you were in the condition to be punished.
Reaching behind her with her good arm, she shoved her fingers into his eye. When he staggered, groaning, she scurried back between his legs. Resisting the urge to cup her broken arm, she got to her feet. He dropped to his arms and knees, his back of his hands rubbing at his eyes.
She kicked at the side of his head. When he slumped to the floor she kicked him again.
He went limp.
The defeat meant nothing to her. As the adrenaline slowly ebbed away, she was filled with pain. Dropping to her knees, she took slow, steady breaths.
“Tell me what you wish for little one? Is it Death?” Walking out of the shadows, he moved to kneel beside her. “Before Death comes here, he must first check with me. And I have plans for you… Een.”
In the darkness, a pool of light showered over Sasha Aleksandr. Of all the children Master Aleksandr kept, she was the one they all envied. No matter how well she did, no matter how she disappointed or pleased him, she was still somebody.
Standing in the darkness, watching an unconscious Sasha slowly come to life, she wondered if that was something she still envied.
Rolling onto her side, Sasha wrapped herself up into a fetal position before fully stretching out and rolling onto her back. She brought her hand up, pressing it to the sore spot on her head.
Sasha took her time.
Curious, she thought. “Your reflexes seem to have dulled over time.” She noted. “If this was back at Refuge you would have blocked that blow and a fight would have ensued. Part of me would have preferred that to lugging your unconscious body into the trunk of your car and driving you out here.”
“It was Een when you left… I suppose without you on your place on that winner’s pedestal, there was no way to knock you off, no way to steal that title. I suppose I should still call you Een.” She spoke in Dutch. “Number one.” She said in harsh English, her accent heavy before laughing and pushing herself into a sitting position. “A lot of time has passed, I’ve left the life in Refuge behind me to move on to bigger and better things. Have you?”
“In a way.”
Through squinted eyes, Sasha tried to pick her out of the darkness. “In a way.” She repeated. “And this,” She gestured to her head before waving her arms to encompass the whole room around her. “Is this the way you are speaking of?”
“I have not kept my eye on you, to be honest, I haven’t spent a moment thinking of you since I left Refuge. However, I was intrigued when you popped up on my radar. You first popped up with some money-laundering, insider trading, counterfeiting. I contemplated coming for you then, but told myself there were bigger fish. Then it turned to blackmail, which turned into murder and more murder.”
“I have been busy.” She smiled weakly.
“Busy.” She repeated the word as though she had never heard it before.
Sasha sighed, still sitting in place on the floor. “So tell me now, are you some type of vigilante? Coming for the corrupt, those full of sin? What a turn. How disappointed father would be to hear this is what’s become of you. How far from what he’s trained you for.”
Ignoring her, she stepped closer to the light. “On your feet.”
“Usually I don’t get this close to a mark, yet with our backgrounds I figured ending your life from the top of a roof miles away was beneath you. For the sake of old times…”
Sasha laughed. “For the sake of old time…” She shook her head. Laughing, she crossed her arms over, reaching over her side, stretching out. “You stupid girl.” Turning, she fired the gun she had holstered to her ankle.
Twisting, she avoided the bullet before pulling her own from the holster on the back of her belt and shooting the gun from Sasha’s hand. “Come now… is that really how you would like to do this?” She asked her. “I had thought to fight you honorably, but I can sooner end it with this, if you’d prefer.”
All humour was gone from Sasha’s face as she was suddenly on her feet. “Alright then. Shall we?”