Claden Markett was one of the wealthiest and most corrupt arms dealers on the West Coast, using the San Francisco docks as his preferred place to conduct business. He had once dominated New York City using the same tactics of murder, thievery, and intimidation but that was back in the mid-1800s. No one would remember him now, especially with his new, fictitious name.
More importantly, he was good with handguns, wielding them as effortlessly as an old western gangster, and he maintained a small group of bodyguards equally as dangerous.
This was just a small summary of what his dossier told me and it would come in handy this evening.
I’d watched him throughout the day, careful to duck from cover each time he looked up in search of me. He knew I was nearby, but he couldn’t pinpoint me. His radar was less precise than Pablo’s had been.
Every once in a while he spun quickly around only to find an elderly lady behind him struggling with grocery bags or snapping his head in the direction of a stray dog approaching. Knowing that none of these were me, he grew more tense and agitated throughout the day, a clear advantage to me.
Finally night fell and he withdrew to an office on the docks, where all but two of his cohorts filtered in behind him. The windows, grimy with years of buildup, obscured any possibility of a view but my senses were up and I could hear them clearly.
Claden was issuing orders for the evening and they involved me.
“We have company,” he told them. “Keep your eyes open.”
By the time he’d finished his warning, the two men outside his office were already unconscious and dragged around back. When the next two emerged from the small building, they too were rendered useless and piled with their friends.
Humans had never been a challenge for me, my strength and skill far exceeding any level a man could reach. Claden’s men, in particular, were merely inconvenient and annoying obstructions to the one I had come for.
When the last two had fallen, I waited just outside the door, leaning against a stack of crates with arms crossed, and whistled.
Claden opened the door slowly, a handgun at his side.
“Magdalene,” he stated almost jadedly.
“So we meet again,” I replied.
His head ducked to the side and he smiled in memory of our last reunion, which hadn’t been pleasant other than the fact he’d survived it. He lifted his eyes and looked directly at me then.
“Heard you were comin’,” he said wistfully.
“Oh yeah? From who?”
“Word’s spread. You can take out two of us, even three, and we won’t notice.” He paused to suck in a deep breath from between his teeth. “But fifty of us…well that makes us a little uneasy.”
“Sixty-three,” I corrected him, surprised at the arrogance in my tone.
Claden didn’t seem to notice. “You do understand that the attempt to decimate us has been made before and failed.”
My eyes narrowed. “I won’t fail.”
“Be honest with yourself, Magdalene. There is only one of you and there are hundreds of us.”
The insinuation was clear yet I chose to ignore it. “I like those odds,” I said with calm confidence. “I will prevail, you will die, and the humans will live in peace.”
He paused to stare at me before asking, “Why do you love them so much?”
“Why do you hate them so much?” I asked.
“I don’t hate them. They serve a purpose. They provide for me, whether they like it or not.”
“They are not here to provide for you.”
He grinned lightly. “Oh yes they are…” His face fell slightly then. “Everyone serves a purpose, Magdalene. Take Eran, for example.” My muscles tensed at the sound of his name and Claden found he’d sparked in me the reaction he’d intended, which only emboldened him. “Eran is your guardian, dedicated to protecting you at all costs. That is his purpose and yet…” He swept his hand across the dock. “Yet, he isn’t here to defend you.”
“I don’t need his help, Claden,” I replied, stepping forward.
The gun in his hand shifted and I realized Claden had strengthened his grip as I closed the distance between us. He was still frightened of me, I realized, but tried to hide it by continuing.
“You will find yourself regretting those words,” he threatened.
“I don’t believe so,” I said, taking another step. With a rapid snap of my shoulders, my appendages released, stretching wide and imposing.
Claden raised his arm, the gun barrel pointing directly at my chest, even as his own appendages extended. They looked a sickeningly dull grey color in the dim light of the dock.
His expression grew dark a moment later and his finger cautiously squeezed the trigger. I was ready for it.
My wings pumped once and I sprang several stories high, the bullets flying from the end of his gun, each aimed in my direction. With heightened senses, I knew where each bullet would pass well before it reached me and my body swerved effortlessly to avoid them.
When the cartridge was empty, Claden threw it aside and reached inside the door. He faced me again with two more guns, these being .50 caliber Desert Eagles.
They sounded like small cannons launching, echoing down the lengthy San Francisco dock.
Still, these too missed.
When he had exhausted his supply of ammunition, I hovered above him, waiting to catch his eye.
Then I grinned with arrogance, swiftly moving to a position of attack and launching myself towards him.
Our bodies collided with such force that we tumbled along the hard, rutted dock, peeling back shards of wood the size of lamp posts.
It was now a test of speed and strength, both in which we seemed equally matched.
Our fight took us over the water and back again, landing us against the wall of his small office.
Then something happened that I least expected…Claden got the upper hand. He slammed me against the wall and held me there with one arm to my neck, his free hand hastily digging inside his jeans.
That brief distraction turned the fight in my favor, or so I thought. As I drew a dagger from my suit and thrust it up through his heart I found a second later that Claden had a gun to my head with his finger on the trigger. He only needed to squeeze.
But he never got the chance.
Claden’s body was suddenly thrown back, his limbs flailing weakly. He landed with a thud and tumbled until his body rolled over the edge of the dock and into the water.
In his place, standing before me, was Eran.
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