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Second Chance Slaughter

9

Chapter 9: Decision

25

Avery stood frozen, the small blade trembling slightly in his grip as he stared at Billy’s faint, bloody smile. He couldn't bring himself to move.

 

That smile—why did it feel so familiar, so humanizing in a moment filled with blood and darkness?

 

The Cleaner, watching with growing impatience, finally sighed. “Leave us,” he instructed his henchmen.

 

His voice was soft, but the command was absolute. Without a moment’s hesitation, his six men exited.

 

Now it was just Avery, Billy clinging to the last strings of his life, and the Cleaner in the dimly lit space.

 

The Cleaner took a step forward, his polished shoes barely making a sound on the grimy floor. “

 

Since you claim to have forgotten some bits and pieces, allow me to refresh your memory,” he began, his tone chillingly casual. “You are a contract artist for the Night Gallery.

 

I am a Cleaner,” the man continued, “one of those tasked with tying up loose ends and cleaning the society. We’re ranked by grades, from the tenth to the first. I’m a seventh-grade Cleaner, and the highest in our province is a fifth-grade. This province,” he gestured around with a slight disdain, “is backward and unassuming, making it relatively easy to manage.”

 

The Cleaner’s eyes glittered with a dangerous light as he continued. “We have Whisperers who relay information between branches and Collectors who handle our technology and gather intel. They’re more than just IT—even Cleaners are scared of messing with them. Here, we only have a few of us: Cleaners, Whisperers, and Collectors. But in other regions, we have Butchers, Enforcers, Sentinels, and more, each with their own specialties.”

 

Avery’s mind struggled to piece together these fragments. The Cleaner’s revelation painted a picture of a vast and shadowy network that controlled and manipulated from the darkness. And he, Avery, was a part of it.

 

The Cleaner’s smile grew more chilling, a predator savoring its prey. “You see, Avery, you have no choice but to complete your task. Fail to do so, and the Whisperer will send a kill notice. How confident are you in your ability to survive then?”

 

Avery gripped the blade tightly, his knuckles turning white with the pressure.

 

The original Avery had been entrenched in this shadowy organization far too deep to simply walk away now. The weight of that realization pressed heavily on him. He glanced down at Billy, who lay on the floor, blood pooling around him, and felt a pang of pity. Is killing him the only way I can keep my ordinary life? he wondered. Could he lead a double life like Theodore, balancing normalcy with the darkness?

 

Avery's mind churned with conflicting thoughts. The Cleaner’s voice echoed in his head, cold and unyielding.

 

“Don’t hesitate to kill these people. They are the dregs of society. They live off taxpayers' money without contributing anything. They’re nothing more than parasites. One less of them means one less mouth to feed.”

 

But Avery saw something different in Billy—a spark of humanity, however dim. He was torn between the ruthless practicality of the organization and his own emerging sense of morality. If he spared Billy, he would have the entire organization hunting him down. If he killed him, he’d be condemning himself to a life of bloodshed and guilt.

 

Suddenly, Avery made his choice.

 

In a swift, decisive move, he turned and launched a powerful kick at the Cleaner. The Cleaner’s eyes widened briefly in surprise, but he reacted quickly, raising his arm to block the attack. The force of Avery’s kick sent the Cleaner staggering back several meters. He hit the ground but quickly regained his composure, rising with a calm, almost amused expression.

 

“Is this your answer?” the Cleaner asked, dusting himself off as if Avery’s kick had been nothing more than a mild inconvenience.

 

His eyes glinted with a dangerous curiosity.

 

Avery clenched his jaw in frustration. His kick had lacked the power he once commanded when he was known as the King of the Night. He could feel the difference keenly. The Cleaner, however, seemed unperturbed. With a sinister grin, he reached into his pocket, pulling out a sleek pen. With a flick of his wrist, he twisted the cap, revealing a hidden blade that glinted menacingly in the dim light.

 

“Have it your way, then,” the Cleaner sneered, his eyes gleaming with a bloodthirsty eagerness. It was as if he had been waiting for this moment, relishing the prospect of a fight.

 

Avery’s muscles tensed. He hardened his stance, feet planted firmly on the dusty warehouse floor, ready for the inevitable clash.

 

He adjusted his grip on his own blade, positioning it for a quick, lethal strike. His mind cleared, focusing on the upcoming battle, every fiber of his being tuned for the confrontation.

 

The Cleaner lunged first, moving with lightning speed. His blade aimed straight for Avery’s throat, a blur of silver slicing through the air. Avery’s instincts kicked in. He parried the strike with a swift motion, their blades colliding with a sharp metallic clang. Sparks flew, casting fleeting light on the darkened surroundings.

 

The Cleaner’s attacks were relentless, each strike heavy and swift, pushing Avery to the edge. But Avery stood his ground, his movements precise and controlled. He could feel the Cleaner’s strength, the force behind each blow, but he didn’t budge. He met each attack with equal determination, their blades a flurry of motion, the sound of metal on metal echoing through the empty warehouse.

 

With each passing minute, the Cleaner’s frustration grew.

 

He had assumed killing Avery would be a trivial task. After all, Avery was just an artist- people who lose their mind in front of their target, not a trained combatant. He should have been easy to break, to drive mad with the act of murder.

 

But this was different. Every strike he delivered was met with unwavering resistance. Avery didn’t falter, didn’t even step back. It was as if the man before him had a strength and resolve that defied his expectations.

 

The Cleaner’s eyes flicked to Billy’s battered body, slumped on the ground behind Avery. Avery was positioning himself to shield Billy, protecting him despite the danger.

 

The Cleaner couldn’t fathom why. Wasn’t Avery supposed to be a ruthless killer? Why protect someone so seemingly insignificant?

 

Then, it clicked. This was Avery’s weakness.

 

With a sly grin, the Cleaner faked a stumble and retreated a few steps. His eyes darted around the room until he spotted a rusted metal pole leaning against the wall. Without hesitation, he seized it and hurled it like a spear toward Billy.

 

Avery’s reflexes kicked in instantly. In a blur of motion, he caught the pole mere inches before it could pierce through Billy. His muscles tensed as he held the makeshift weapon, his gaze snapping back to the Cleaner with a fierce intensity.

 

The Cleaner burst into a maniacal laugh, the sound echoing through the empty warehouse.

 

“I can’t believe what I just witnessed!” he crowed. “To think there would come a day when I’d see an Artist protecting the life of such an insignificant creature!”

 

Avery’s eyes narrowed, his expression cold and unwavering. “The only insignificant one here is you,” he said, his voice cutting through the Cleaner’s laughter.

 

The Cleaner’s smile twisted into a sneer. “Let’s see how long you can keep up this hypocrisy,” he spat.

 

Avery dropped the pole, its clang against the floor reverberating in the tense silence.

 

The Cleaner shifted tactics, launching a flurry of attacks aimed not directly at Avery, but towards Billy, who lay defenseless on the ground. To an untrained eye, these strikes might seem hasty and careless, but Avery’s past as Yeomra, the King of the Night, had honed his instincts. He recognized the precision behind each blow—designed to unbalance him, to force him into a critical mistake.

 

Every strike was a test, probing for weakness.

 

Avery’s muscles strained with each counter, his body moving on reflex. He knew that the Cleaner was waiting for the slightest slip, the tiniest lapse in his defense, to exploit with lethal force.

 

Sweat trickled down Avery’s brow, and he could feel the creeping fatigue sapping his strength. This body wasn’t built for sustained combat like his old one. It lacked the stamina, the resilience he desperately needed now.

 

As the duel raged on, the Cleaner’s attacks grew more relentless. Avery parried and dodged, but he could feel his movements slowing, his reactions dulling with exhaustion. How much longer can I keep this up? he thought, his breath coming in labored gasps.

 

And then, it happened—the moment the Cleaner had been waiting for.

 

Avery’s guard faltered, just for a split second. The Cleaner’s blade, hidden within the pen, found its mark, slicing into Avery’s shoulder. The wound was shallow, but the sting of the cut and the sight of his own blood drew a triumphant smile from the Cleaner.

 

“Just abandon that pitiful guy you’re trying to protect,” the Cleaner taunted, licking the blood from his blade with a twisted satisfaction. “Save yourself. That’s how you should act.”

 

Avery flinched. What’s changed? he wondered. In his past life as the ruthless Yeomra, his mission always came first. Gather intelligence, eliminate targets, complete the mission—that was his creed.

 

Yet now, here he was, putting his life on the line to save a man who was practically a stranger. All they’d shared was a pack of cigarettes and a few moments of conversation. Why did it matter so much to him whether Billy lived or died?

 

Despite the questions, Avery stood his ground, resolute. Blood trickled down his arm from the cut on his shoulder, mingling with the sweat that dripped from his brow. The Cleaner's relentless assault continued, and each blow chipped away at Avery’s stamina. His body was refusing to obey him, sluggish and unresponsive.

 

If this kept up, both he and Billy would likely end up dead.

 

But Avery couldn’t allow that. This new life, as mundane and ordinary as it was, had given him something he never had before—a chance at normalcy. A chance to be more than just a weapon.

 

He wasn't ready to let that slip away. He had to fight, had to survive, even if it meant putting everything on the line.

 

Fending off another vicious strike, Avery’s eyes flicked to the metal pole the Cleaner had thrown earlier. As the Cleaner regrouped for another attack, Avery seized the pole, swiftly cutting it down to a size comparable to the blade in his other hand. He fashioned the tip into a sharp point, turning it into a makeshift weapon.

 

His plan solidified.

 

He would abandon his defensive stance, channel all his remaining strength into a decisive offensive.

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