Danni California, Part 24

Continued from Part 23, here.
Start the story here.

* * *

The next morning, I rose solemnly from where I had spent the night sitting on the floor.  My joints felt stiff for a moment as I stretched them, but they quickly limbered up.  I still went through the full range of exercises, making sure that I had a full range of motion for all of my limbs.

Once all of my muscles were loose and ready for action, I began to dress myself.

I didn’t let myself stop to consider that this might be the last time I ever did so.

First, I pulled on the lightweight armored vest I had picked up.  It wouldn’t stop a direct slug, I knew, but it might slow down and deflect shrapnel or ricochets.  More importantly, it let me keep the flexibility and speed that I knew would be my best defense.

Next came the two belts of ammunition, bandoliers that slung across my chest.  I made sure to tighten the straps so that they wouldn’t catch on anything.  I couldn’t let them slow me down.  The bullets slid into their little leather loops weighed me down a little, but I knew that the belts would grow lighter as I expended their contents.

The revolvers slid snugly into their matched shoulder harnesses.  I made sure that they were loose enough for me to draw in a single, fluid motion, without any snags.

To cover it all, I pulled an item from the bottom of my pack.  I hadn’t worn my Priest coat in weeks, now.  To do so would be to draw attention to myself.  That wasn’t what I wanted.

But now, for my destination, it would serve as my camouflage.

And finally, finishing the ensemble, I pulled out my old black, flat-brimmed hat.  Its time in the pack had flattened and crushed its shape somewhat, but I smoothed it back out with my hands.  Only once it was once again somewhat crisp, as best as I could manage, did I carefully fit it on my head.

I was walking into the place where I would be most known, most likely to be recognized.  Every other man and woman in the building would know me, would instantly know the price on my head.  Each second of anonymity I could buy was precious.

I looked around the room, gazing down at the bed for several minutes.  I didn’t speak.  What else was there for me to say?

And then I left.

The sun was still barely a red shard above the horizon, and the streets were not yet filled with people.  It was nearly silent as I made my way through the maze of little back roads I’d mapped out.  My eyes remained up on the horizon, locked on the black tower that rose up from the other buildings, directly ahead of me.

The Organization.

My first challenge lay in front of the tower.  A large courtyard, covered in stone, with no cover, stood between me and my destination.  Even in building their headquarters, the Priests had thought defensively, strategically.

Despite my focus, my heart quickened slightly in my chest as I began crossing the courtyard.  Keep calm, betray nothing, I thought to myself.  Don’t let anyone question you.

I made it more than halfway across the courtyard before someone noticed me.

“Hey, you’re coming in early!” a voice called out behind me, nearly making me jump in surprise before I clamped down on my reactions before they could betray me.  “Wait up a moment!”

The other Priest jogged forward; I could hear his footsteps on the smooth stones.  It wasn’t until he came up alongside me that he slowed, and I saw his expression shift from open greeting to one of confusion.

“Wait a sec,” he said, his brow furrowing.  “Hold on, aren’t you the rebel-“

I spun towards him, my hand flashing out.  The knife blade extending from my fist buried itself to the hilt in his neck, silencing him forever.

But now, my cover was blown.  The man’s body sagged, his eyes already glazing over.  I pulled the bloody knife free, but the man was dead weight, and he sagged down onto the ground.  Already, blood spurted out from his body to puddle beneath him.

As soon as I’d released him, I broke into a run.  I was scarcely thirty paces from the front doors of the tower.  I could make it.

Thankfully, luck was on my side.  There were guards stationed outside the front doors of the Organization’s tower, of course, but their reactions were slowed, by some combination of the early hour and their surprise at a direct frontal assault by a lone man.  My knife cut deep across the left guard’s throat before he could even draw his weapon.

The right guard was drawing his gun, but I didn’t slow down.  I spun around, pulling my arm back in against my chest to increase my speed, and let go of the knife with my hand tilted sideways.

The blade flew true, disappearing into the other man’s chest.

I got to see the man’s eyes go wide as he tried to sluggishly comprehend what had just happened.  He looked down, down at the handle protruding out from his chest.  He opened his mouth, trying to say something, or maybe ask me a question.

I reached out and grabbed the handle of the knife, pulling it free.

It was as if I’d flipped a switch.  With the blade out of his chest, the other guard slowly toppled forward, falling to the ground like a felled tree.

I didn’t watch him drop.

My eyes were up, on the doors leading into the tower.  I didn’t see any panicked movement inside, not yet.

That would soon change.

The time for subtlety was over.  I drew one of my revolvers, wiped my knife blade clean of the blood and tucked it away.  I took a deep breath, several breaths, filling my muscles with oxygen.

And then I entered the tower.

To be continued . . . 

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