To be a hitman was to kill. That was it. We could have whatever motives we wanted—to protect, for a greater sense of justice, or for the mere sake of killing—the bottom line was that we were all killers. We were all guilty of taking the lives of another. I could never speak for another, but personally, the thought of how many people I killed throughout my life was sickening. Hardly any room for regrets now, though. I had the blood of countless people on my hands. We all did.
We were killers. I was a killer.
To be a hitman, it was to kill.
Alleyway, Gold Fortune District
Sunday, May 13—11:36 PM
"Make me proud."
The words of seventeen year old John Egbert's mentor rung in his head as he approached his target, his blue and silver hammer brandished and at the ready. His target, a man who looked like he was in his late thirties, lay on the ground, already badly bruised and cut. His wispy gray hair was matte with his blood from a wound near the crown of his head the boy had inflicted on him in their earlier scuffle. John had managed to back him into a dark alley, with only the quarter moon as their source of illumination. The older man had inflicted a few bruises on him as well, including a bit of a bloody nose, but none were nearly as bad as what the boy had been able to inflict. The years he spent training leading up to this moment had surely paid off.
"Finish him," a voice said behind John. He briefly looked over his shoulder to another man watching him with a knowing smirk. The man, who was much taller than he—maybe a good head taller, leaned against the building. One of his legs was propped up, foot against the wall, and his arms were crossed over his broad chest. One hand held one of his dual pistols, safety off and ready to fire at any time should something with his young mentee go wrong; and the other held a freshly lit cigarette between his index and middle finger. Twenty-two year old Jake English took a long drag from his cigarette and breathed out the smoke softly before repeating his words to John. "Make me proud."
John nodded slightly and turned back to his prey. The man clutched the gunshot wound to his bicep, trying in vain to stop the bleeding. His eyes squinted at the boy through the blood that dripped down his forehead, his vision blurry from an oncoming concussion. That would be fixed soon enough. Going comatose would be the least of his worries.
"Come on then," the man spat at him, a bit of blood coughing out and dripping down the side of his mouth as he did so. "Get it fuckin' over with already!"
John just stared at him hard, his grip on the cushioned handle of his hammer tightening some. Not even gonna beg for mercy? Come on, now! That's no fun! Well, if the man wasn't going to let him have a good time—especially on his first job, he might as well make the most of it.
Lifting the large hammer with practiced ease, he swung it with all his might into the side of the man's head. The bloodied man let out his last grunt of pain before slamming against the wall and falling to the ground like an abandoned rag doll. If the sheer blunt force hadn't killed him, then the unnatural snapping sound coming from his neck surely would have. But that wasn't enough for John. He walked over to the now dead man and, lifting his hammer again, repeatedly stuck him into the corner of the alleyway.
Jake watched it all unravel from near the entrance to the alley. He couldn't help but let out a chuckle as he did so. Kid sure was eager.
"All right!" Jake finally called out to him. John stopped his onslaught at the sound of his mentor's voice, his footsteps drawing closer to him. "That's quite enough of that, young lad!" He eyed the mangled mess of a body in the corner for a quick second. Anyone would have certainly lost more than a meal at the sight, but not Jake English. Oh, he'd seen much worse.
"…Might have actually overdone it a bit," he chuckled again. He took the pistol in his hand, making sure the suppressor was on tight, and fired two more shots into the man's abdomen, just for good measure. It was a signature of sorts that he left on any hit that he was associated with.
"How was that!" John asked him in a hurried voice, brimming with excitement. The older of the two looked down at him. Some blood stained the lens of the boy's glasses, and Jake gingerly licked his thumb and wiped a few of the spots off clean.
"You did well, lad," he beamed at him, ruffling his shaggy black hair. "Not bad for your first hit."
John just nodded with a toothy grin, wiping the blood dripping from his nose with his fist. Jake reached into his back pocket for his handkerchief and handed it to him to wipe his nose clean. No gentleman was without a handkerchief. It was one of his rules.
Jake reached into his other pocket for his digital camera and, turning it on, aimed it at the body and snapped a picture, the flash blinding him for a moment.
The man's crime was the rape of a shopkeeper's fifteen year old daughter. It had happened behind a strip club in one of the poorer neighborhoods in the city's industrial districts where she worked—illegally and obviously underage mind you, contrary to the what she told her father she was doing every Friday night—sleeping over at her best friend's house. The job had never been much of a problem before, but unfortunately for her one night one of her clients didn't understand the "no touching" rule. From there, the situation turned very ugly very quickly.
One of the quirks of the city's law enforcement system was that each of the city's five districts had police forces that were almost autonomous of each other despite the entire system overseeing the same city. It wasn't the place of one district's police force to interfere with the crime happenings in another, and although the girl lived in a wealthier district, the crime had occurred in another. She had reported the incident to the local authorities, but seeing as how law enforcement was comparatively more lax and less funded in the poorer areas of the city, the officers couldn't—or more like wouldn't do much for her.
That was when she turned to her father and admitted to him her shameful moonlighting. Of course he was upset… On second thought, "upset" didn't quite begin to describe his initial reaction. But his baby girl had been violated, robbed of her innocence (although one would argue that she had given in that innocence long before the incident). And no self-respecting father would just stand idly by and let such a heinous act happen to his daughter.
The man had approached Jake about the situation the week before. Normally Jake didn't take cases for such little money; a gentleman had to pay his rent, and no gentleman would ever trifle with pocket change in exchange for his services. But this one time he made an exception, if only because how much the man pleaded with him to take the case. He had his former partner, John's older half-sister, track the man down for him; she was infamous in hitmen circles for her skills in logistics. And John, poor John had been bugging him for the longest time over when he would finally get his chance at a case rather than just watching and observing. The man, according to the information she had given Jake, seemed easy enough for the young lad to take on by himself. Little did he know just how easily he would fall.
"My first hit!" John exclaimed, brimming with joy. Jake just laughed at him from the driver's seat of his dark green sports car as he sped down the spacious and empty avenue, typical for a late Sunday night. "When do you think we'll be getting the next contract!"
"Easy there, my boy," the older one smiled. "Don't get your knickers bunched in too tightly!" He admired the boy's enthusiasm, but it tended to wear even him out pretty quickly. "We'll procure the next contract when it comes our way, so you just sit nice and pretty till then, yeah?"
John just nodded a bit before calming himself down and turned back to the scenery rushing by before him. "…Thanks again for letting me take care of that one back there, Jake."
Jake glanced over to him, but smiled warmly and reached over to ruffle his hair some. "You seemed ready enough, and you handled the old man well… I'm just relieved we were able to get him so early in the evening. You have school tomorrow, don't you?"
"It's fine!" John exclaimed, trying to mask a bit of a groan. "Nothing's happening at school anyway, so it's not like I'm going to miss something."
That just earned him a lopsided smile and slightly raised eyebrow from Jake, who scratched his medium length black hair as he did so. "I don't think your sister would be all too pleased to hear you say that." That was a bit of an understatement, actually; his sister wouldn't be too happy with what John was doing at all.
John just rolled his eyes a bit at that. "Well I'm safe, aren't I? You're always worrying about her… What, did something happen between you two?"
"W-what?" Jake began to press down on the brake at the oncoming red light, but the boy's question had thrown him off so much he accidentally stepped a little bit too roughly, causing the two to jerk forward a bit against their seatbelts.
John cocked an eyebrow at his sudden reaction, rubbing his neck a bit where the seatbelt roughly rubbed against his skin. "You two were partners before, right?"
Jake just looked out the window with a nervous smile at that, reaching into his back pocket for his pack of cigarettes. "Y-yeah, we were. Back when we were in high school."
His answer didn't quite convince the teen; he knew Jake was hiding something else. "…And?"
"And… that's it," Jake chuckled with a shrug, hoping John wouldn't press any further on the topic. He grabbed his lighter from the small recessed compartment under the radio controls and lit his cigarette. Luckily for him, John decided to just let up; he knew Jake could be rather tight-lipped when he wanted to be. He just watched the streetlights before him turn green, and Jake sped off forward where the street eventually turned into the on-ramp to one of the city's many highways.
The city was named Terranos, and to anyone from the outside, seemed shrouded in an enigma far thicker than any of the region's seasonal fog. Nestled on the coast of the deep, island-littered Grand Hussie Sound that protected it from the Pacific Ocean, and surrounded on its northern, eastern and southern borders by thick evergreen forests that extended into the foothills of the not too distant mountains; its geography almost effectively isolated it from the rest of the country. The closest city to it, Vancouver to the north, was about an hour north past the Canadian border; the closest major American city to it was San Francisco, and that already was a good day and a half or so by car. Terranos dwarfed both of them in terms of size and population, and was by far claimed the title of both superlatives in the Pacific Northwest. How a city so isolated grew so large just added to the mystique that surrounded Terranos.
Terranos's city proper population of six million was broken into five administrative districts, the two largest and most urban being at the nucleus of the city next to the water; the other three surrounded them and as such diffused into much less dense and more suburban areas. A wide, deep river that started in the high mountains and emptied into Grand Hussie Sound bisected the city horizontally, with those two major districts on either side of the river. John and Jake's home, Gold Fortune District, was on the northern end. The other, the Veilchen Borough, occupied the south.
The Gold Fortune District, or "the Fortune District" or "The Fortune," as it was known colloquially, more than lived up to its name. It was by far the largest and wealthiest of the five districts, as would one expect what with it being the seat of the city's central government, administrative departments, and home to the headquarters of some of the country's and the world's most powerful companies. It overflowed with wealth, and its residents lived in opulence, almost at the expense of the other four wards:
With such wealth, of course, came corruption of equal proportions; and just because the district seemed so idyllic on paper didn't mean it was exempt from such a fact of life. As stated, money—not the people, ran civic affairs in the Fortune District. The Fortune was able to thrive so fabulously because almost everything was privately funded, from healthcare to education to even the police and fire departments. Public funds—of which there was a disproportionate amount of for a city of Terranos' size, were mostly allocated to the rest of the city; The Fortune could do famously without a cent of any of it.
As such, crime became rampant in Terranos, even in the Fortune District, and it wasn't even necessarily just government corruption or petty crimes—although there was much of that, very seldom were perpetrators apprehended and convicted for their wrongdoings (such things only happened to amateurs, and the criminals of Terranos were certainly no amateurs). Violent murder, extortion, grand larceny—you could name it all until you were blue in the face and it would do more justice to describe the especially rougher parts of Terranos than "wealthy" or "cosmopolitan" did. Crime had become such a common occurrence in the city over the years that the local news didn't even bother to update the public on it anymore. What was another person found dead in an alleyway or a businessman filing for bankruptcy due to blackmail at that point?
It went without saying that the police force in the city had more than their fair share of work cut out for them. It didn't help that each district also handled criminal affairs independently of each other. That's where hitmen such as Jake and John came in. With formal law enforcement so enfeebled by the lack of cohesion in the system and the mounting logs of reported cases, it was a commonality for people—if they could pay the right price, to hire such mercenaries to bring their trespassers to justice and vicariously through them exact their revenge. In a city like Terranos,anyone could have been a hitman, and everyone had their reasons for being. One such John Egbert, the teenaged son of a wealthy businessman and a seemingly unsuspecting prep school student, was a testament to that. The entire city seemed in an unstoppable downward spiral of crime and excess that all surely took issue with yet did nothing to stop. That was the enigma. A city in which money alone talked and assassins in finely tailored suits and dresses carried out their clients' deadly wishes. That was Terranos.
Egbert Residence, Gold Fortune District
Monday, May 14—12:34 AM
John shook off his light blue Converses as he slipped through the entrance to his family's high rise penthouse. As he held them in his hand by their tongues, he checked the bottom of his shoes; they were stained with a bit of blood, having stepped in some of the man's earlier in the alley. He also got some smeared blood stains on his matching blue waist coat and black dress shirt. Luckily for him, his father was off on a business conference in New York and his returning flight wasn't due for the next morning. His father was the CEO of the BC Corporation, one the world's leading manufacturers in instant food mixes and confectioneries.
A feminine voice called his name. It was his sister… What was she doing home?
From the second floor, he saw his half-sister come out of the hallway and run down the staircase that curved along the concave wall.
Twenty-one year old Jane Crocker was the heiress apparent to the BC fortune. She and John were half-siblings due to having different mothers: Jane's biological mother was the former CEO of BC, her and John's father having married into the family but retained his last name Egbert. Her mother died when Jane was three—her limousine crashed, the driver having secretly been an agent who was sent to take her life, and successfully did so in that suicide mission. There have been decade-long accusations of BC participating in underground business operations to eliminate their competition to monopolize the food manufacturing market, and her mother unfortunately had been the victim of other companies trying to usurp BC's monopoly.
Her father eventually remarried a woman who eventually went on to give birth to John (who took his last name; Jane retained the Crocker name), but he divorced her when John was nine and Jane was thirteen. Because their father was not part of the direct BC bloodline, he had no direct control over the company's fortune and thus John's mother received virtually nothing in the divorce settlement; she ultimately faded into obscurity and their father went on to raise John and Jane alone. Because of family traditions that they had no intention of abandoning even in spite of Jane's mother's untimely death, Jane was the technical owner of BC upon her mother's death. However, her she was far too young to directly inherit it, having been only a toddler at the time, so her father took over the company in her stead. She was set to become the formal CEO upon her 25th birthday.
"What happened!" She cried out, rushing over him and thumbing the blood on his clothes. "You're not injured, are you?"
"Just some cuts and bruises," the boy shrugged, setting down his hammer and leaning it against the wall.
"Jake texted me; he told me what you two were doing… He didn't let you get hurt or anything, did he?" She eyed him suspiciously as if he himself were Jake.
"No, no," he shook his head. He brushed his older sister's hands off her, telling her he was fine. "But he did let me take on my first hit! It was so cool, you should have been there!'
Jane just kind of shook her head disapprovingly at that, but she playfully poked the middle of his forehead and walked off into the kitchen. "I'll take your word for it."
He rubbed his forehead a bit, returning the gesture with an equally playful scoff before following her.
"But you know, you're just lucky that Dad isn't home to see you." She chastised as she opened the fridge to get two bottles of water for him and her.
"You're one to talk," he smirked smartly as he sat at the large granite breakfast nook. She just cocked an eyebrow at him as she slid the bottle across the countertop into his hand. They both kept from their father their business as hitmen, naturally. They weren't so much worried about what he would do to them directly if he should find out, but how it would affect him personally; Dad Egbert had a history of a rather weak heart, and there had been enough tragedy in the family as it already stood.
"…Well as long as you're okay," she smiled a bit, facing him from the other side of the nook, taking a few swigs from her water and leaning on the ornate countertop as she did so. "What was the case tonight?"
"Hm?" John looked up at her, eyebrows raised. She just cheekily raised her own brow in response, silently drinking her water. "Oh, some guy raped someone's daughter. Jake was going to take care of it and I was just going to observe again, but when he shot the guy in the arm, he let me finish the job."
"That so?" Jane asked somewhat rhetorically. "That must have been the case me asked me to get that intel on… How's that doofus been taking care of you, by the way? Better not be putting you in any bad situations."
"Everything's fine!" He drew out with a bit of a groan. God, she could be so overprotective! "Jake's fine too. I hang out at his place sometimes. He feeds me, I pull a prank or two when he's not looking—you know, the usual."
Jane couldn't help but laugh at that. Capping her water bottle, she pushed herself off against the counter and turned around to the sink behind her. "'Usual' is right."
She had always attributed it to the fact that John always seemed a bit lonely as he got older, especially when she started becoming a little more missing-in-action due to school and her undercover hitman workings (at least until John found out about them); but so as to create some form of amusement for himself, John developed a bit of a penchant for messing around with people. He tended to do it particularly to their father's business associates when they were over for conference dinners and meetings, or to the help around the house whenever they were in to work. Or to Jake. Especially Jake.
"How about you, by the way?" John asked her as she turned on the water to clean up the dishes in the sink. "What are you doing home?"
"My roommate's parents are in town visiting," she replied as she squirted a liberal amount of dish soap onto the sponge in her hand. "They're staying over for the night, and I thought I should give them a little space. So don't worry; your big sis'll be out of your hair in the morning."
He tilted his head to the side a bit, a sheepish smile directed at the back of her head. "I didn't mean it like that."
Jane unhooked the hose at the sink and swiftly aimed it at her little brother, her finger poised on its trigger and ready to shoot water at him. He awkwardly flinched backwards in his seat at that, almost falling off the stool, but she just playfully made a shooting gesture with the nozzle, as if it were a pistol, and made a squeaking "Bang!"
John, only just slightly irritated by her antics, poured a bit of water from his bottle onto his hands, not caring about the puddle he was making on the counter. As soon as Jane turned back around to the sink, he splattered the liquid on his fingertips at her hair. "What the hell!"
She gasped at the cold contact on her neck and bare shoulders, having been clad in just a tank top and shorts, and whirled around to glare at his snickering face, her jaw open. "Wow, at least I didn't actually do anything to you!" She snapped at him, wielding the nozzle again. "You little brat!"
"God!" She heaved, spraying the bubbles off a plate. John just snickered teasingly at her, wiping his hands and the counter clean with the long coattails of his vest. As they fell into silence, John thought of how Jane held the hose nozzle like it was pistol, and it brought Jake to mind.
She and Jake had been partners since at least when he first found out that she was a hitman; that was maybe around her third year in high school when he was thirteen. They went their separate ways sometime while she and Jake were in college, but they maintained their friendship even after parting. John didn't know all that much about their relationship other than the fact it usually consisted of Jake not taking things as seriously as she would have liked him to and scolding him because of it.
…Come to think of it, Jane almost always chastised him on everything, even on things that seemed so miniscule. And Jake, well he was… He was just Jake. He'd tease and poke at her, almost the same way John did, although for some reason Jane never found it nearly as cute or endearing when it came from her former hit partner. Or whenever Jake spoke in a little of an old-timey 1920s slang and slipped into a bit of a fake, badly imitated British accent, she would just roll his eyes at him and tell him to shut up. John only formally met Jake when he was 15 and Jake was 20, when Jake offered to take him under his wing after he came back from a year of study abroad in London. Jake had some naïve and so stereotypically American idea that all people in England actually talked like that, and started reading up on 1920s colloquialisms "to fit in." Whether he actually did or not was anyone's guess, but it apparently became such a habit for him that it just stuck, even after he moved back to the States.
"Hey, Jane," John spoke after a little bit.
"What's up with you and Jake?" He asked her. Jane paused for a bit, not turning to face her brother, before continuing washing the dishes.
"What do you mean?" She asked calmly.
"I mean, do you not like him?" He asked again, scratching his cheek with his index finger a bit.
"…He's my friend," she replied coolly, almost as if trying to dodge the question. She pulled open the dish washer and slid out one of the racks to place the plate that she held in. "Why do you ask?"
"I dunno," he shrugged. "I mean I know you two were partners back in high school, but why aren't you two working together anymore?"
"…Things…" She started slowly, as if trying to find the right way to describe it. "…Things didn't work out. I wanted to work one way, he wanted to work another… You know how that is, right? I mean… It was just so long ago, I hardly even remember exactly why anymore."
He cocked an eyebrow at that. "…It was just five years ago."
"After you turn twenty, John," she chuckled, "anything before then's just a bit of a blur."
John just nodded silently, scratching his head a bit. He didn't pull nearly as much information from her concerning the matter as he wanted; but as much as he wanted to know, he didn't want to press her on the matter. Her business was her business: the law of the sister, as he always saw it. If he couldn't ask her, then maybe he'd try asking Jake again the next time he saw him.
The grandfather clock from the living room chimed then. It was one in the morning.
"It's late," Jane spoke, rinsing out a coffee mug. "Come on, go get washed up for bed. You got school in the morning."
"I know," he breathed a bit begrudgingly, hopping off the stool and dusting himself off.
"I'll take you to school when you wake up," she said as she turned around to smile at him. John just returned it warmly before walking out of the kitchen.
"G'night!" He called out to her, not turning to face her.
"Good night, John," she replied, turning the faucet off and shaking the water off her hands.
Maple Valley Preparatory School, Gold Fortune District
Monday, May 14—7:45 AM
John knew he shouldn't have come to school.
The teen made no effort to yawn with even just the slightest bit of discretion as he took a small step forward down one of the side aisles of Maple Valley Preparatory School's auditorium, waiting for the long line of students before him to finally shuffle into the numerous rows of seats.
"This is so pointless," John muttered under his breath as he took another step down the aisle of the amphitheater, lecture hall styled room. It was that time of the month for what the school called "town meetings." What they were, were essentially just run-of-the-mill school assemblies with a fancy name tacked onto them in true Gold Fortune District private school style. It was the monthly opportunity for administration, student government, and clubs to all come together to put on an hour-long dazzling spectacle of campus happenings, policy reinforcement, and sloppily rehearsed performances that never failed to spectacularly bore the entire school to sleep. He personally didn't know why they didn't just call them what they were; maybe it was to create a sense of camaraderie among the students, that a school was a community of scholars-in-training carrying the torch of the sacred institution that was education… or some shit like that. Not that John particularly cared as to why exactly either way.
As he scanned the crowd, someone in particular caught his eye. It was actually a bit hard to miss; the person stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the students around them, who were all talking and laughing. One of the girls around the the body covered by the uniform blazer pulled the jacket off them, revealing a headful of long, thick black hair resting on the seat's fold-out desk and cradled into folded arms. Who John assumed to be the person's friend playfully knocked her fist against the sleeping head. The head shot up at that, her round-shaped glasses crooked on her face. It was a girl, probably the same age as John.
"Sleeping again?" The girl's friend scoffed with a teasing laugh as she gave the girl her blazer back.
"Y-yeah!" She giggled, fixing her hair and putting her blazer back on. "Sorry about that… What were you saying again?"
John just chuckled at her. He had seen her around many times on campus before, but he never actually talked to her or even bothered to learn her name. Despite that, the only reason he remembered her so vividly—which was something to be said, considering how bad John was with remembering faces, was that almost every time he saw her, she was sleeping. She slept in the library when he was studying. She slept on a bench in the quad during lunch. She slept at the freakin' Homecoming football game—and she sat right next to the marching band! What, did the girl never sleep at home or something? And God, what was her name? It was on the tip of his tongue… What was it again, Harlot-something?
"Hey, dumbass!" An abrasive voice shouted behind him, snapping him out of his thoughts. "Pay the fuck attention!"
John whirled around behind him and saw his friend, Karkat Vantas, glaring up at him and point over the teen's shoulder. "You're holding the rest of us up!"
John faced forward again and saw that the line in front of him had moved quite a few steps forward. Blushing a bit, John hurriedly caught up with them, apologizing to Karkat as he did so. "Sorry about that."
"What were you thinking about, anyway?" The shorter albino teen cocked an eyebrow at him, folding his arms over his chest.
"N-nothing," John shook his head, smiling at his friend. Despite them being in the same grade and John being a year younger, Karkat was quite the shorter of the two, almost reaching up to John's chin. His platinum blond hair was a bit messy, almost like John's but not quite as thick. The most striking features about him, though, were his ruby red eyes framed by his somewhat natural eye bags, which almost seemed to glow in stark contrast with his pale skin.
Finally, it was John's turn to file into a row. As he followed the male student in front of him down to an available seat, he watched from the corner of his eye the thick-haired brunette. Sure enough, she was passed out again, soundly asleep.