Panting and huffing, I took a moment to rest in the back of the warehouse. Blood dripped from my claws to the packed dirt below. I only managed a couple words as I sucked in the chilly night air.
"At least they… retreated…"
I sank down to my knees, letting out one big breath.
Con Number One of murdering people in the Government Citizen 'Assistance' Group: everyone thought you were killing innocent folks. Like, no, I was slaughtering people who were doing horrible things under the guise of innocence. And yeah, I was part of that group of people too, but that's because Past Me was a desperate piece of trash. Current Me wanted to get out of the situation he was in.
I couldn't say any of that, though. Not right now. It's pretty clear whatever ‘vigilante group’ that just chased me wasn’t going to buy that anyway.
And, well… okay, I was on my way to go kill one innocent person right now, so maybe that wasn't entirely true. But murdering a college-aged kid because someone made a deal with me was, somehow, the quickest way I found to survive right now.
Oh, and by 'survive,' I meant 'earn money.'
Listen, when you were stuck and starving on the streets with nobody else but your girlfriend to help you… well, you were bound to do some crazy, messed up things. Might as well let the desperation get to you, because it wasn't going away any time soon.
I deactivated my ability and watched my claws slowly form back into fingers before getting to my feet, the wind picking up its pace and its shrill whistle piercing the air.
I turned to face the dark glass door of the warehouse that was smeared with globs of blurry fog. Swinging it open, I strolled back through the building— bumping into some shadow-smothered, worn-down shelves along the way — and over to the front entrance. Rolling back my shoulders, which were covered in painful bruises from the fight that happened a few moments ago, I pushed open the front door of the warehouse.
“Alright, Mateo. Let’s get to the real job for tonight," I mumbled to myself.
Shiro and Kennedy said today was the deadline for their request, and I procrastinated too long on it. Goodness knew what would happen if those two crazy guys found out I didn’t get the job done.
Flipping open the pouch strapped to my hip, I rifled through my materials. First thing I spotted was the needle, cased along with the sedative. In case I couldn’t kill my target on the spot, Kennedy said I’d be better off knocking her cold and dragging her to them.
I had my so-called ‘emergency dagger,' since my claw ability didn’t work all the time. I had my plan written out on a scrappy post-it note.
All I needed was the location of one Talia Mako.
And that was the hard part…
"I have a theory about all these assassinations," said my friend near the kitchen table, his hair a white, half-shaved undercut that complemented his dark clothes. He leaned back in his chair, making the floorboards creak.
"And… what is it, Alexander?" I asked, placing another dried plate onto the rack sitting atop the kitchen counter. I hated washing dishes, but Terrence — the brown-haired man seated next to Alexander — spent enough days doing them, so it was time for a change.
Alexander pointed to the cork board behind the table, which had many of his reports tacked onto it. "We saw that all the victims had either claw or scorch marks, right?"
"Yeah…?" I slowly turned off the rushing tap water and looked over my shoulder. "Go on…"
"If they all died in the same two ways, then I think it's plausible that there's not multiple murderers — just one of them, with multiple abilities —"
"Alexander, I told you already: your multi-power theory is baseless," Terrence said, irritation etched into his tone. "If there are two methods of death, that means two different superhumans are killing them. It's a pair of killers. We have never seen a superhuman with more than one power. That's not plausible, you idiot."
I quickly dried my hands on the towel hanging from the rack overhead before jogging over to the cork board. "I mean —"
"Well, we don't know that there isn't someone out there with more than one power," Alexander retorted with a frown. "We haven't met every superhuman in the world."
Terrence sighed. "What made you even come up with this theory when there's zero evidence for it? At least we have some form of proof that there are superhumans with strictly one power. We have nothing to support your claim, so what makes you so sure—?"
"Like I said: we dunno jack about powers, Terrence, so why don't you consider that for a moment? And I've seen mysterious cases of superhumans who appeared to have multiple abilities, so why —"
"Yeah, that's the problem. Who 'appeared to.' Not 'who actually did have multiple powers.' We can't say for sure," Terrence muttered. "Quit trusting your gut feelings, stop straw-grabbing, and actually LISTEN —"
“Guys, guys, shut the hell up!"
Both boys almost jumped out of their seats, eyes wide and staring right at me.
My face flushed red. "I-I mean… calm down." A deep sigh escaped my throat. “I swear, every interaction between you two turns up to be a dumb argument. If our whole motive as a group is to bring peace, then we need to talk peacefully as well."
"The Peace Group?" Terrence said, his tone suddenly shifting. "If that's our entire motive, then should that be our name? We can't just call ourselves 'vigilantes' forever."
"What does that even have to do with anything we're talking about?" Alexander raised a brow.
"Nothing; I just thought of it." Terrence shrugged. "We need a name anyways —"
"Guys, I think we're past the name thing, because at this rate we'll never come up with one." I sighed. "But we're getting off track now. Alexander, what were you saying about your theory?"
"That one person with two powers — claws and fire — is doing this. Hey, these attacks don't happen fast either. If there were two people, then there'd be more murders in a day. And why would you need two people to kill one frail, innocent person? It doesn't make sense. Plus, the burn marks sometimes happen on the exact same spot as the scratch marks." Alexander stood up and pointed to a photo on the cork board — one of a deep gash overlapping a scorch mark. "Remember when this assassination case was reported? We found that both the burn and the scar were fresh, like they'd occurred at the same time, remember? How's that, Terrence? You really think I'm just straw-grabbing here?"
"I'm open to all possibilities, but that is a fair point," I said.
Terrence scowled and crossed his arms. "Well, Ava and Lydia are trying to find one of the murderers — if there's multiple — so we'll just have to wait and see!"
"Were you talking about us?"
We collectively jumped and spun around to see the door that had been flung open, with two figures in the hallway.
Well, speak of the devil. Ava and Lydia had come back early, and…
Oh my goodness, what happened to them?
Gaping wounds stretched across their faces, the dripping blood as red as their outfits. Their hoodie sleeves were short and singed, tattered fabric tinted with pitch black scorch marks. Bright burns littered their arms.
"What the hell?" I blurted out.
Alexander yelped. "Who'd you face off with? Those claw marks… those burn marks…"
"I think we found the guy," Ava mumbled. "And I also think Alexander's theory is actually correct."
"Wait, what?" Alexander's eyebrows shot up.
"We'll explain after we get healed,” said Lydia, the woman with short, sideswept brunette hair and flaring dark brown eyes.
"Oh jeez…" Terrence hopped up from his seat and shook his head.
"Alright, sit down" — he pointed to the couch — "and I'll fix you up."
"So what happened?" I asked.
Lydia's wound couldn't be fully fixed, as Terrence's healing powers couldn't ever repair something all the way, but she was doing much better. Same for Ava, whose burns — which were, surprisingly, not severe — had to be treated with a mix of Terrence's abilities and natural remedies, like Alexander's burn medicine that he kept on him. But at the very best — or least, depending on how you looked at it — they weren't in any pain, and the bleeding had stopped.
"Well, I think we got to chase down this guy who was about to break into someone's house. Ava and I chased him, and he fled. He had a dark jumpsuit, full-face mask and everything. He stumbled into some empty warehouse, where we cornered him and fought,” Lydia answered. "He used claws and fire."
Shocked silence fell over all of us.
"Alexander, you can applaud yourself now if you wanna." Ava rolled her eyes.
"Wait — I — what did he…? How…?" Alexander searched for words.
I cocked my brow. "Well… I guess he was right. Let's not waste too much time marveling over it, because the fact that this murderer does have two powers is scary. What else happened? How'd the fight end? Why'd he even head into a warehouse in the first place?"
"Probably his hideout or something," Ava said with a shrug. "I have no idea. But as we were about to retreat, since we couldn't win that fight, I grabbed something that our enemy dropped."
Ava dug into her sweatpants' pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper. Unfolding the page, she lifted it up to all of us, revealing an old, tattered, one-sentence note:
I’m doing the right thing, you know.
"What?” Alexander shouted. “Why the heck did this… 'M' guy have that on him?”
Ava shrugged. “Does it look like I know?"
"We have no idea what his motives are," Lydia added. "Either he sees his actions as good when they're not, or there's some other side to the story that proves what he's doing is actually valid. Plus, this note is a bit old."
“That's true, but… 'the right thing?'” I took the note into my hands. “He's still murdering people in cold blood —”
I paused, a memory quickly resurfacing in my mind. A memory that made my heart drop; one that made me regret this entire mission to take M down. I’d hurt innocent people without knowing. I’d killed people who were trying to do good before. If my PFA buddies were still around, they could tell the whole damn story.
So If I hurt M, would I just be repeating history? Was I doing the wrong thing?
"Kazu!” boomed Alexander’s voice.
I practically yelped. “What? What?”
His blue eyes were full of concern. “You were mad distracted for a moment. I was thinking about heading out with you to search for M.”
"Everyone else already decided it was cool," Ava said.
"Uh… s-sure,” I mumbled. How'd I miss that much conversation in a few moments of thought? ”Ava, Lydia, you guys take a break.” I gave the note back to Ava and followed Alexander over to the coat rack.
"We’ll be back soon. Hopefully."
"Don't get caught, you guys," Terrence said sternly. "You've already been on the news twice, and while they still don't know your identities, it's imperative you lay low."
"We get it, we get it." I chuckled, slipping my soft black hoodie over my shoulders and fixating a mask over my mouth and nose. Alexander did the same, although his mask covered his entire face.
"And be back before midnight! That way you don't wake up late the next day and skip breakfast. You already eat too little!"
"Okay, Mom, no need to worry." Alexander muttered.
We headed out of the kitchen, making our way to the exit — a ladder at the end of the dim hallway.
And, in the distance, we could hear Terrence shouting:
"I'm not a mom!"
Tap tap tap, went our feet on the ground.
Arlox City was always alive at night. If you stuck in the more public places, you’d see it was full of neon lights, bars, parties — you name it and it was there. But if you were treading through deserted, private areas — like the silent neighborhood we were working our way through right now — you’d see quite the contrast.
I yawned. Man, was I tired. Night missions were cool, because you got to move swiftly through the shadows, emerging in and out of the moonlight like some spirit of darkness (Alexander's cringeworthy words, not mine), but it definitely wrecked my sleep schedule. Then again, when you’re a vigilante, being a normal healthy person really wasn’t really a thing —
"Over there!" Alexander suddenly shouted, his voice yanking me out of my thoughts.
I spun around, and, from the alleyway we were entering, a shadowy figure came running out.
Wait, not a figure — a person. A man.
He had the same dark jumpsuit and signature mask Ava and Lydia described.
How did we find him so fast?
I darted after M, although he'd already disappeared down another alleyway. Lord, was he fast!
"Oy, get back here!" I shouted, sprinting forward. Alexander shot ahead, using his super speed to catch up with the assassin.
Gritting my teeth, I pushed myself harder, using determination as energy. We had gotten few answers and only gained more questions. I wasn't going to rest until this entire thing made sense.
If that meant interrogating M until all the dots connected, then so be it.