The girl stood at the entrance to the apartment block, feeling strangely self conscious, even in the empty, moonlit street. Of all the changes she’d made to her attire in the past few days, the dark green cloak that now shrouded her was debatably the most flamboyant, competing with the cheap white plastic theater mask that now covered her face. She shook herself. Appearance didn’t matter. What mattered was effectiveness, and if these new additions helped give her an edge in this second round, then that was all that mattered. Tasha clenched her fist slightly around the handle of her sturdy new metal bat, then pushed the door open, stepping back inside the lush interior of the building.
The halls were empty, as before, and Tasha wasted no time in heading for the stairs. She had her goal, and she was determined.
The girl made it perhaps halfway along the corridor before her plans went awry. A door opened, and a boy stepped out into the hall. He was wearing pajamas, a toothbrush sticking out of one side of his mouth, and for the first few moments, was apparently far too focused on scratching the side of his head to notice her. Tasha stopped in her tracks, unsure how to proceed. She wasn’t here to hurt the kids, but if he got in the way, what was she to do?
The boy stretched, his hands reaching high into the air as he tried to pull the muscles in his shoulders loose. His head lolled gently to the side, which was when he noticed her, his eyes going wide.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Tasha realized that she recognized this boy. He was the one who had called her ugly on her previous visit here. The boy, on the other hand, did not recognize her, concealed as she was in her ostentatious new costume. Lacking anything else to do, she tried to seem bigger than she was, more impressive. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could get a word out, the boy bolted, the toothbrush falling forgotten from his mouth as he made his way up the staircase two at a time.
Tasha swore to herself as she began her pursuit, sprinting towards the stairs after him, her feet thudding on the thick carpet. He saw her following, and redoubled his speed. The boy was faster. She hadn’t even reached the bend in the stairway when the sounds of people speaking stopped her short.
“Alistair,” murmured a woman’s voice, a note of suppressed anger clear under a forced calm. “What are you doing up here? It’s not your night for taking custo-”
“Weirdo downstairs,” the boy cut her off, just a little out of breath. “Has a baseball bat! Chased me up here!”
“What?” A mature sounding male voice cut in, agitated. “Men, block the stairs.”
There was no audible response, but Tasha hadn’t been expecting any. She grinned. Time to give these guys a show. The girl crouched slightly, gazing up at the wall opposite. She’d practiced stuff like this before, and was more than a little pumped at the thought of getting to try it out for real. She coiled like a spring, then released, launching herself up from the midpoint of the stairway and high along the plaster covered wall. If they were expecting someone to come at them up the stairs, then she’d come from somewhere else. Tasha pivoted in midair, feeling her back and feet connect with the ceiling and wall, the plaster cracking slightly with the impact. She reached out her free hand and dug her fingers into the wall, holding herself in place. With this shift in perspective, she caught sight of the men who were, indeed, blocking the stairway door. Four of them, adults, dressed in close fitting business gear and matching shades, short batons and knuckle dusters in hand. If it was possible for someone to look like a gangster, it was these guys. They were gazing at her with a unilateral look of surprise. Before they had time to do more than stare, she pushed off from the wall with her feet, holding the bat sideways before her with both hands, and shot into their barricade like a cannonball.
To his credit, one of the four men was quick enough to dodge to the side. The other three, however, took the impact dead on, the metal beam colliding with weapons, arms and rib-cages with a loud, solid crunch as she bowled them back onto the floor. One groaned, clutching his wrist, another began to stand. The one whos ribs she had struck lay still. No time to think about that now. The one who had avoided her strike stepped forwards, pivoting on one foot to kick her in the side with all his might. Had this been a few days ago, that might have stopped her. It would at least have served the purpose of throwing her off balance, slowing her down and forcing her onto the defensive. As it was now, however, his foot bounced off her homemade armor with a metallic ring, and the only thing that spared him of a broken foot was his shoe, apparently steel toed. He let out a confused ‘huh,’ and she chuckled, swinging the bat sideways into the knee he was still using to stand. It bent sideways around the weapon, and the man dropped to the ground, screaming. As he grasped his shattered leg, eyes wide, the skin of his cheek began to shift and flush, the dark, intricate pattern of the mark of pain emerging on the forefront of his skin, interlocking with the mark of purity under his eye. Tasha pushed herself to her feet, taking a moment to take stock of her surroundings.
The room was quite full, just as it had been in the previous instance, a collection of attractive men and women of varying ages occupied the space, dressed as though they were all attending some cocktail party somewhere. Their faces, she noted, were all oddly unblemished by the marks of purity or pain that she might have expected them to carry. She hadn’t noticed that before.
Unlike before, however, there were others interspersed among them. Four or five, at most. Older, and, to varying degrees, far less attractive. Customers?
The man with the broken hand pushed himself to his feet, face set in a determined line, and came at her, swinging a short baton in his uninjured hand. She brought her bat around to intercept, and stopped the blow dead with ease, before slapping it down against his knuckles. He didn’t fall, even as the mark of pain began to bloom across his cheek like black smoke, but merely backed away, cradling his broken hands and glaring at her.
For just a moment, all was silent, the twenty or so people staring at her as one. Tasha, for her part, was pumped. For this one moment, everything in the room revolved around her. When she moved, they all moved in response to her. Time for some answers. She had her suspicions, time to test them.
“Right,” she spoke, loud enough for the room at large to hear. “Now then, who came here to fuck some whores?” No response. She raised her bat. “Honesty, or I start hitting things. This is a sex place, right?”
Now the people around her were looking at her less like she were an angry person with a baseball bat, and more like she were a confused toddler somewhere she shouldn’t be.
“… Yes.” Replied a thirty something woman in a black dress suit, a little too formal to be one of the residents. “Are… are you really asking? Do you actually not know who you’re attacking right now?”
“Pretty much,” Tasha admitted with a slight chuckle. “I’m not really a figuring it out ahead of time type of gal. Now, everyone who came here for sex, pockets empty please, money on the floor in front of me, or I start breaking thumbs.”
Around the room, the four or five ‘customers’ began turning out their pockets. The woman did so with something of a grin.
“I know it sounds cliche, but you have no idea how much trouble you’re in right now.”
Tasha wasn’t listening. She was distracted, for the moment, by the fact that the suited men and woman had deposited what looked to be well over a thousand dollars on the floor before her, amassed as a collection of crisp, neatly folded bills.
“Man,” she murmured. “I should mug buildings more often.” That said, she lowered herself to the ground, bending her knees rather than her back so as not to open herself up to attack, and picked up the cash, stuffing it into the cloak’s pocket with some difficulty, the thick material of her costume gloves impeding her grip a little. Then, she stood. “Right. Time to free everyone.”
The crowd followed her, more perplexed it seemed than genuinely concerned, as she strode on into the corridor. She tried the first door, and found it locked. She pulled back with her bat, and swung it down towards the handle. The metal and wood gave out with a loud snap, and on the other side of the door, she heard a yelp of alarm. She kicked it open and looked inside.
The interior of the room was furnished just as opulently as the hallways, a lush carpet running the floor of the small space, covered at one end by a mid sized wooden dresser, and at the other by a large, comfortable looking double bed, on which sat a small girl, perhaps eight or nine years old, staring at her wide eyed.
‘So Casper was right,’ Tasha thought to herself with a note of anger. ‘They are using kids for this.’ Out loud, she only said “Come on. I’m getting you out of here.” Before turning away from the door and moving on to the next.
Before she had a chance to break the door open, however, a voice stopped her, a familiar softness to it.
“Hello, miss. A pleasure to see you again.”
Tasha looked up, catching sight of the same, brown haired young man whose hand she had broken on her last visit. He stood in the corner, where the corridor turned along the wall of the building. His hand, she noted with some satisfaction, was heavily bandaged. She lowered the bat, and turned to face him.
“Want something?” She asked. “You should know, I don’t like people who waste my time.”
“Oh good,” the man smiled. “So it is you under all those clothes. Great. I was hoping we’d get another chance to talk.”
“Not interested in talking,” Tasha replied evenly. “I just wanna get the money, and the whores, and get them somewhere safe. Away from dickbags like you.”
The man let out a genuine laugh at that, as did a few of those following behind her.
“They’re all very safe, thank you,” he smiled again. “And perfectly happy where they are. Although,” he dropped the smile. “We don’t like being called whores.”
“Don’t care,” Tasha said bluntly. “I’m taking them away from you, where no one is gonna sell them to anyone ever again.”
“And where might that be?” The man snorted. “Where exactly are you planning to take my family once you’ve kidnapped them, hmm? I assume you have somewhere set up already for them. And that’s assuming they even want to come with you, which, believe me, they don’t.”
Tasha ignored him, turning back to the task at hand. She stoved in the doorknob with the hilt of her bat, and kicked it open. The occupant was a boy this time. He looked to be around twelve, and was staring at her, confusion and fear warring on his face.
“Come on,” she said gently to him. “We’re getting you out of here.”
The boy didn’t move, instead simply staring at her.
“M-Marcus?” He called out, his voice tremulous. “W-what’s going on?”
“Don’t worry about it, Leo,” the brown haired man called back, his voice calm. “Just some outsider being weird. Go back to sleep, kay?”
“…Kay.” The boy gazed at Tasha for a few more moments, before turning in his bed, and laying himself back down against the pillows, his back to her.
Tasha stared at the boy, then directed her gaze back towards Marcus.
“What… the fuck?”
In reply, he only shrugged.
“The kids like it here,” he murmured. “And why wouldn’t they? They have love, and family, and food and a warm bed at night. Are you trying to take that away?”
“And in exchange, you sell them for sex?” Tasha asked, feeling a little sick. “No dice. I’m not leaving till I’ve torn this whole fucked up place to the ground.”
Marcus sighed, then pushed off from the wall he had been leaned up against.
“Well, if that’s how it is. You’ll have to start with me.” He shifted positions into some sort of fighting stance., his legs spreading slightly and his shoulder turned towards her, holding his undamaged arm at mid height, the bandaged one behind his back. Tasha almost laughed. She raised her bat, grasped the handle firmly with both hands, and charged.
She made it within perhaps two feet of him, before something struck her with what felt like all the force of a truck, lifting her off her feet, and slamming her into the wall. Too dazed to catch herself, she fell to the floor with a thump.
“So,” said a new female voice that Tasha didn’t recognize. “You’re the girl Father called me out here to test? You sure are convenient. We weren’t expecting you to come to us on your own like this.”
Tasha’s whole body ached. She pushed herself up off the ground, staring. Standing across from her, previously concealed by the bend in the hallway, was a young woman, perhaps only five or so years older than Tasha, with a face that, were she to guess, she would have called Middle eastern. This girl too was utterly unmarked and, equally strangely, oddly, unnaturally beautiful.
“Well then,” her attacker murmured. “Let’s get started, shall we?”