~~~

Their captors kept them hooded as they were handcuffed, lined up, and escorted into what Alysa assumed was the central hub of West Farmington Village. Once there, they were led into an unknown building where they were forced down several flights of stairs, the daylight quickly diminishing through their hoods, before several flashlights came on. They were walked down a dark hallway and then shoved into a room. Their captors never said a word as they slammed a heavy door shut behind them, the sound of a lock securing was amplified within the small empty space.

They were left hooded and handcuffed in the darkness. Tony tried to keep them calm but Alysa could hear the doubt in his trembling voice.

The hunter, who still had the freedom of her left arm, their captors obviously not considering her a threat, removed her hood and then helped take off the others’ hoods. She then started to search the room for anything she could use as a weapon. This only resulted in her swearing in frustration as she physically confirmed that the room was empty.

Alysa could hear Wendy weeping softly somewhere while some of the others continued wasting energy moving around in the dark. The only thing they could deduce was that they were in some sort of padded cell, probably in the lower level of a hospital, perhaps the psychiatric wing. There was a small window built into the door, but the hallway provided no light and was just as dark as their cell.

The former Shadow Dead could appreciate the psychological tactic of their enemy, leaving them locked in the darkness and wondering if their captors would return, or if they would all die rotting away, forgotten in this cell. This was an obvious attempt at making the prisoners more submissive and compliant to what came next.

Thirty minutes later, the cell door abruptly opened as a bright spotlight stung their eyes.

“Move to the back of the room immediately with your faces to the wall!” It was the voice of the man in charge from the bridge. “Do it now, or one of you dies!” This was reinforced by the sound of several automatic weapons charging.

“Do it,” Tony told the others through gritted teeth. They all complied.

“Take the woman,” the lead captor said. “And watch out for her… I’m sure she fucking bites.”

“Leave her alone!” Tony barked.

The lead captor sighed and said, “Last warning. You speak again… I shoot the one-armed gimp.”

Tony remained silent.

Two men moved toward Alysa. She considered turning and charging them, using the advantage of the small space to temporarily block the others line of fire, but opted to wait instead. She was confident she could get one to the ground and snap his neck with her legs before they mowed them all down with automatic gunfire. Not yet, she thought. Seize a better opportunity to kill more of them first. If it’s time to meet Death… than take a few more with you.

Tony looked over at her with a pained expression on his face.

She smiled wickedly at him as if to say, Relax, Tony. Do you not understand yet who I am?

Alysa allowed her captors to roughly pull her out of the room as they replaced her sack over her head.

“Next time we come back and find another head uncovered, we’re going to splatter those melons all over the walls,” the lead captor told them, before slamming the door shut, and locking it.

~~~

After twenty minutes, someone finally ripped the sack from her head. Alysa squinted, turning her eyes away from the stationary spotlight pointed directly at her face.

She was sitting in what appeared to be a lobby waiting room chair. After removing her from the cell, they had gone a short distance down the hall and entered another room. They had removed her handcuffs, roughly forced her into the chair, and then secured her wrists and ankles to the arms and legs of the chair with duct tape.

Alysa quickly sized up the situation. She was in another padded cell. There were four armed men, all wearing army-type uniforms and black ski masks. Two stood by the door, another behind her, the last one stood in front of her with his arms folded across his chest. The others had rifles but this one had only a holstered sidearm on his right side.

This one will lead the interrogation, she thought, understanding exactly what this situation was. They remain masked to intimidate and create an illusion of hope that I might have a chance to leave this room alive, since I can’t identify them. She found the situation absurd considering there were no authorities left to identify her captors to. They are amateurs or simply lack imagination, she assessed, believing this was the result of watching one too many bad spy films. Alysa was no stranger to interrogations. Her Order had trained her to endure many hardships, torture included, if this came to that.

The lead captor continued to stand there in front of her, just close enough to make her uncomfortable, but not too close to make himself uncomfortable. She followed his eyes behind the mask as he stood silently, staring from her breasts to down between her legs, and then back up again, as if considering where to begin.

She made silent calculations, preparing herself for various degrees of pain and possible humiliations, and then decided to make the first move to throw them off and make plain that her fear was nothing they could exploit. “You’re doing this wrong,” she said, staring defiantly into the lead captor’s eyes. “If you’re going to stand there and eye-fuck me, you should’ve ripped my clothes off first, maybe struck me a few times, then strapped me in. That way, you clearly establish that I’m a woman in room full of armed men, forced to consider how far you intend to take this since violating my flesh in any way to get what you want is of no consequence to you.”

She studied the lead captor’s reaction. He didn’t flinch.

Okay… maybe not amateurs, she thought, concluding that this could get ugly.

Finally, the lead captor turned toward the door and nodded.

One of the armed men exited the room.

The lead captor retrieved a hunting knife, her hunting knife, from where he’d placed it in his belt at the back of his pants. He started twirling the knife through his fingers while pacing back and forth in front of her, seeming to lose interest in the woman. He finally said, “This isn’t an interrogation. There’s no information that you or any of your friends possess that matters to me. This is only about one thing. Can you guess what that is… hmm?”

Alysa’s face grew hard. She stared down at her captor’s feet and said, “Control.”

“That’s right.” He pointed the knife at her and continued. “You… and your smart-ass mouth… are now mine to do with as I see fit. We chose you to make an acceptable example for the others, since you are clearly the most defiant.” He walked over and knelt down in front of her. “I’m not going to ask you a damn thing. I’m not going to torture you either. Torture and interrogation are means to get something I want by doing things to you that you don’t want. And I strongly suspect that I won’t get much for my efforts… and I hate wasting time.”

He got up and started walking again, twirling the knife between his fingers. “But what I am going to do is this: I’m going leave this door open, and then open the door at the end of the hall so that your friends will hear everything that’s about to happen to you in this room. Then, I’m going to hurt you for a while with this knife, so that they will hear you scream. Then, I’m going to bring in the squeakiest bed I can find from upstairs, let the boys rape you a bit, so they’ll hear that, too. Then… I’m going to remove your eyes so I don’t have to keep staring at them plotting to kill me… and, I must confess, I’ll enjoy that part. Then lastly, I’ll throw you back into that room to die, and they will give me exactly what I want after I’ve plucked the fiery wings off their warrior dragonfly. Because, as you’ve already figured out, this is only about control. And making an example out of the ‘hard ass’, guarantees compliance from the rest of you.”

Alysa scoffed, continuing to stare back defiantly. She leaned toward the lead captor, as far as her restraints would allow, and promised, “This is what will really happen: I will not scream when you pierce me with that blade, and I will laugh when your little boys pierce me with their thin pencil dicks. And I will smile when you cut out my eyes because I have welcomed the darkness since birth. And then, when you do place me back into that room, and they see what you’ve done, they will know what pussies you were and attack you with all they have for your grave miscalculation. And I will be right there with them, a phantom with no eyes, but I will smell your cowardice out, find you, and rip your wee little dick off with my teeth and spit it back into your worthless face before I gut you… with that very knife… slowly.”

The lead captor considered her a moment, then laughed. “Wow… I am really going to enjoy our time together. Thank you for… well… just being you.”

“Look carefully into these eyes,” she hissed. “Come closer… and understand the magnitude of your death found within them. If you dare.”

“Perhaps,” he said with a longing smile, considering the strange and remarkable woman. “But not yet. There’s still one other thing we gotta do first, before our little dance begins.” He nodded to the other armed man remaining at the door. The man exited into the hall.

This has all been for show, she hoped. They were testing my resolve. Now… they will reveal their true intent. Be ready, warrior, she reminded herself.

The lead captor placed his hands behind his back. “Now, I said I wouldn’t question or torture you, and I meant that. However, I will need one thing from you… for his sake. A simple thing, really. I’ll just need you to say in front of your… leader… one little line. Say it convincingly, and I won’t have to torture your friend. Just look me in the eyes and say, ‘We thank you for your mercy, and we humbly submit to your service.’ Again, simple, right? Hell… between you and I, you don’t even have to mean it, as long as he believes you do. It would go a long way as a convincing prelude to the show that will follow, you know, the matter we discussed already. We can send him on back and he’ll tell the others. Do you think you can do that… for your friend?”

“Fuck you,” she spat.

She could hear a familiar sound coming from down the hallway.

He showed her the knife again and shook his head. “I wonder if his resolve to die so valiantly is as strong as yours. I really didn’t want to kill him, although, we are authorized to execute the leaders of any groups we capture. We could just kill you instead and just tell our employers that you were the one who was really in charge… and I think we both know that this is the truth.” He added a wink.

Both armed men entered, escorting a wheel chair.

Tony was securely strapped to the chair.

When they locked eyes, she could clearly see a mixture of fear, anger and confusion in Tony’s gaze.

Alysa frowned. For a moment, she didn’t see Tony in the chair. Instead, she saw a badly tortured woman, bloody and bruised, naked and humiliated.

This is just like before, she thought.

And just like before, she was surprised to discover a familiar weakness—that she once again cared about another person whose life was now in her hands.

She closed her eyes and was abruptly thrown back into her hellish past…

~~~

…After her first trial, Alysa had spent her first night back at the training facility under observation in the clinic. She’d been treated for hyperthermia and pneumonia after spending hours alone in the frigid waters of Lake Erie. Donovan had returned with the boat to retrieve the pale and near-death woman from the hazard buoy that had saved her life. She had survived the trial, but it was now up to Mother’s doctors to find out if she would survive the night.

The Ama-Eskua recruit had proven herself strong again, surviving her illness with no permanent physical injuries. She’d been cleared from the clinic the next morning and confined to Isolation for the next three days before continuing her training.

When Alysa reached the doorway to her small quarters, she quickly entered, closed the metal door, and then collapsed to her knees as a level of exhaustion she hadn’t experienced since her first weeks in training fell upon her immediately. She’d made sure to hide it in front of the others, as the other recruits welcomed her back with cold and professional detachment, each clearly trying to discover any new weaknesses to exploit in their competition. She despised most of them, not because they pretended to care, but because they were weak, and many of them would be dead before graduation… assuming she passed all three of her trials and was still around to find out if she was correct.

She crawled over to her bed, her body still fighting the lingering after-effects of her illness, and pulled herself up to the thin, single-sized mattress, rolling over on her back and sweating profusely from the effort.

Alysa scanned her dull grey surrounding. The walls were void of photographs, letters from home, posters, or anything else resembling individuality. She turned and examined the only other piece of furniture in the room. A small grey table held her training bow with a full quiver of arrows and a small basin of water for cleaning purposes. There was no memorabilia from her former life, no ties to attachments of any kind. She was just another weapon, like the bow, her small bed serving to house it for those times the body needed rest. Built into the table was a drawer with fresh grey uniforms. They were clean although the blood stains never came out. No matter. Those crimson stains were looked upon as badges of accomplishment. There was no greater honor than to proudly wear the blood of your enemies… and her uniforms were more crimson than grey.

She turned away, staring toward the dull ceiling, and managed a weak smile of appreciation for the simplicity of her comfortable surroundings. Isolation was the closest thing they had to personal time set aside for rest and reflection… or in her case… recovery for the next round of grueling training.

She considered her present state. If any of the other recruits were assigned to murder her in her sleep, she figured that now would be the best time. Hopefully, she’d kept up appearances and showed herself physically strong, dissuading any such attempts, at least for now. But she had to be prepared since there were no locks on any of their doors.

She placed her hands under her pillow, found the comforting hilt of her personal dagger, and then allowed herself to fall into a half-sleep, a poor substitute for the real thing, but sufficient enough for her frail body to do its job and repair itself while remaining ready for battle.

Alysa finally allowed the bricks above her eyes to close as she immediately fell asleep. If her ruse had worked, the others would leave her be. If not, she expected to wake just before her throat was slit open.

Two hours later, she awoke to a light knock on her door.

Alysa rolled her eyes. That could only be one person.

“Come in, Christina,” she said. It took real effort to raise her voice.

A tall woman with short-cropped brown hair entered. She was wearing all grey, not a good sign, and a sheathed dagger attached to her black belt. Christina was smiling from ear to ear. Alysa hated that.

“Welcome back,” Christina said. The tall woman closed the door and then sat down in front of it, as was custom. No one ever entered another’s quarters without permission, and no one dared to come within three feet of another without risking a combat situation.

“Stop smiling at me like we’re friends,” Alysa grumbled. “You know I hate that.”

Christina waved her off and laughed. “You sound just like your old anti-social self. I’m relieved.”

“What do you want?”

“Just checking in on my ‘ally’.” Christina always thought the use of that word to carefully conceal their unauthorized friendship was funny. Alysa never understood why.

“I am well. Now… if there’s nothing else…”

“I guess congratulations are in order.”

Alysa’s face grew hard. “I don’t know what you’re talking about… and neither do you since it’s forbidden to talk about The Trials.”

“Who said anything about that?” Christina added dramatically. “You know… it’s not forbidden to have a conversation in here. You should try it more often.”

Alysa shook her head at the foolish girl. “And you should try to talk less rather than make friends with potential threats. You know we could be ordered to kill each other at any time… don’t you?”

“Yeah… yeah,” Christina said in her familiar ‘I’m bored already’ tone. “Just because we’re training to be killers doesn’t mean we have to walk around here like we’re dead already.”

“We’re not training to be killers. Stop saying that!”

“Oh… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.” Christina laughed. “Really, Alysa, you need to lighten up. We train to carry out the ‘missions’… is that better?”

“Yes.”

“Although all the missions use words like ‘execute’, ‘eradicate’, ‘exterminate’, ‘assassinate’-”

“Again, what do you want?” Alysa was getting annoyed.

Christina’s face grew soft. “Like I said, I just wanted to see if you were okay?”

“And like I said, I’m fine. Now why are you really here?”

She laughed again. “There’s just no fooling you, girl. ‘Everyone’s got an agenda even when no one has an agenda’,” Christina mocked, referring to one of their teachings.

“That’s right. So, what’s yours?”

“I’m leaving.”

Alysa eyebrows shot up. “What does that even mean? You’ve not even been here long enough to… you know.”

Christina let out a heavy sigh. “No, I’m not facing The Trials… there… I said it. Just relax. I’m only here to say goodbye, you paranoid freak!”

Alysa waited.

“You’ve been kind to me… in your own way. And don’t worry, I won’t dare tell anyone. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciated it. Our talks made me feel less like a machine all the time.”

“You’re talking nonsense,” Alysa said. “No one just… leaves… and we aren’t machines. We’re weapons.”

“Yeah… yeah… you say ‘to-may-to’, I say ‘to-mot-to’. Doesn’t matter now. I’m telling you, I’m out. No more of this bullshit for me.”

“You could be executed for such insolence.”

Christina shook her head. “There you go… always the warrior.”

“And what are you? I see no stains on your clothes. I don’t know how you’ve survived this long-”

“Without getting my hands dirty?” Christina mocked. “There’s other ways to kill your opponent, Alysa. I prefer a more ‘cunt-ing’ approach.”

Alysa looked confused. “You mean, ‘cunning’?”

Christina laughed. “‘Cunt-ing’… oh come on! That’s funny!”

“I don’t understand you.”

“You poor girl.” She looked over at Alysa’s bow. “You’ve been playing with that toy for so long you’ve long since forgotten the weapon God gave you… right… down… here…” She grabbed her crotch.

Alysa caught on. “You’re disgusting.”

“Say what you want but every sword needs a sheath… and I can sheath like no other.”

Alysa shifted uncomfortably.

Christina laughed at her prude friend. “Okay… sorry. Whatever you think is probably best for you, Alysa. But for me, I’ve fucked my way to the top… and now, I’m on the next boat out of here.”

Alysa couldn’t fathom the possibility. “But… how? No one leaves… not unless you’re dead or until you’ve faced The Trials… and you’re far from being ready for that.”

“True. True. But like I said, I’ve got an ‘out’. In fact, you nailed it.”

Alysa waited.

Christina broke protocol and moved in next to Alysa’s bed, causing the injured warrior to tense up and nearly draw her dagger from beneath her pillow. The tall woman looked around and whispered excitedly, “Someone will be coming to kill me tonight, and I’ll die peacefully in my sleep with a nice crimson smile beneath my chin. It’s been arranged. Except, I won’t really be dead. They’ll bag me up and transport my body to the incinerator room, except I won’t make it that far. My corpse will end up on the next boat out of here.”

“You’re insane!” Alysa sat up. “They’ll catch you.”

“Not if they don’t know I’m alive.”

Alysa shook her head. “It’s impossible. They will find out.”

“No… they won’t.”

Alysa gave her a stern look. “Then why tell me? You know that I have to turn you in.”

“You will do no such thing!” Christina’s face grew hard. “By doing so they will see you as an accomplice… and you’ll be dead, too.”

Alysa considered this and then frowned at the foolish girl. “You do want something from me. Or else you wouldn’t have told me.”

Christina smiled. “I told you because I want you to come with me. We can both be free of this horrible place. You think you’re one of them, but you’re not. They know it, and that’s why they hoped you’d drown in the damn lake!”

“How could you possibly know about that?”

“Doesn’t matter how I know, Alysa! You’re a liability, a loose cannon, and they want you gone!”

“What do you mean ‘loose cannon’?”

Christina was getting frustrated. “You’re dangerous, girl, and not in the way they want you to be.”

“Explain that?”

“None of us were saints when they pulled us into this… we were all damaged goods left out in the darkness a bit too long. They want to harness that darkness and forge us into their precious weapons… but some of us are beyond shaping. You, ally, are where you are because they didn’t make you a killer. You already were one.”

Alysa wanted to stab Christina in the eye. “Get out,” she said.

“Come with me. The arrangement can be modified for two.”

“I said get out of here… and if I see you again… I will kill you.”

Christina saw something in Alysa’s gaze… something crazy. She wisely backed toward the door. “Okay, I’m leaving. I tried to help you because… well… I knew what they were up to… and I care about you, believe it or not.”

“Then you’re a fool,” Alysa accused. “I’m in training to be an Ama-Eskua warrior, something you will never be or understand. Now get out of my sight before I bloody that nice, clean uniform of yours!”

Christina looked hurt. “Okay. But I mean it. You can’t say anything, not without incriminating yourself.”

“I will do what I must. Now… get out of here… while you still can.”

Christina nodded. “Goodbye, Alysa. I wish you well… I really do. Just know that I tried to help you… and warn you. These fuckers don’t have your back. They never will.”

When the tall woman finally departed, Alysa took a deep breath, trying to calm the tempest within her. Christina’s words had threatened to unravel everything she’d tried so hard to overcome.

“I know who I am… who I was… and who I will be.” She repeated the mantra several times while trying not to picture Christina’s blood all over her hands.

~~~

Next Episode 42-4

Previous Episode 42-2

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-3: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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