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a spiders web

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Natasha doesn’t remember that fateful day very well. Her memories are blurred together, lost to time. It was a few days before her eighth birthday, and she has begged her parents and baby sister; Petrina to take go to the bakery, even though a blizzard was due to arrive shortly. How she would regret it.

They were bundled up with coats, boots, and hand-knitted scarves to protect from the subzero weather until they could reach the nearby bakery before it closed.

Natasha remembers her parents asking her to sit down on a bench beneath a tree to provide some attempt at a shelter with Petya as she had so kindly nicknamed her sister, and to wait for them until they returned with the bakery sweets. It had gotten too cold to continue walking even for Natasha who got her young age tended to be quite patient with such weather and temperatures, so she complied easily.

Natasha held her sister as tight as they waited, whispering nursery rhymes she had overheard her mother sing just the night before, hoping to distract the baby from the frigid weather, harsh gales, and snowfall that threatened to blow them away like a feather.

The two siblings waited for what seemed like forever in Natasha’s mind before their parents finally returned, smiling as they held tight in their hands the bags of sweets.

It came without warning.

Two loud gunshots filled the air. Her sister began to cry from the shocking noise and Natasha watched with wide eyes and disbelieving tears, holding her sister as close as she could, shielding Petrina’s gaze.

She couldn’t avert her eyes from the spreading crimson stains on the fresh and crisp snow, bleeding steadily from her parents. They were both still smiling in joy.

She barely noticed the hands taking and whispering they would bring her and her sister away from there. Where she would be taught at an academy.

‘No.’

‘But...no why?’

Natasha questioned in denial, ignoring the hot tears that fell from her face, instead opting to soothe Petrina whilst dealing with her despair and shock.

They arrived at the academy.

It was from there she and her sister would spend the next several years of their lives training to become master assassins and spies in the infamous Red Room.

———

Natasha had been with the Red Room for just over a year now. She trained every day with the other girls in her unit, alongside typical school topics ballets and foreign languages. Time with her sister was limited but the Professor told her as a prized pupil she would have opportunities to help teach and interact with Petrina as they grew older.

Natasha wasn’t very pleased with these arrangements but agreed to comply with the Professor's wishes. After all the Red Room wanted what was best for her and Petrina.

Pale sunlight streamed in through the small windows of the vast attic where all the students of the Red Room slept. She could hear the doors clicking open and the steady clicking of heels enter the room, so she got up from the bed. She waited patiently for Madame to unlock her cuffs so she could dress and begin the day. Though she didn’t let it show on her face, she was quite excited. (One of the Red Room’s first lessons was the importance of never showing emotion. It was a weakness. They didn’t allow weakness.)

Today the youngest unit in the academy would join them in their ballet lessons to observe them. Petya would be in that group, and she couldn’t wait to show her baby sister what she had learned.

Madame B. reached her bed and wordlessly unlocked the cuffs. Once she had unlocked the last of her unit before the girls stood up and dressed in the uniform, matching braids, skirts, and sweaters. The hairstyles signifying their rank in the Red Room. They went through their day as usual.

It began with repetition. The would repeat the words of a cartoon. Simple enough.

Next, they learned typical but important school topics. Natasha breezed through easily.

After spending what Natasha assumed was an hour reciting phrases in the latest language they were learning, German, they changed into their ballet leggings and leotards.

Natasha enjoyed ballet, and couldn’t wait for Petrina to see her skills.

Natasha and her classmates went through the routine warm-ups as the younger students filed in. Petrina was in front of the group, she noticed with pride. The Academy had the top student lead the others in their unit, just as Natasha did with her unit.

A silent hello passed through the two sisters' eyes before the toddlers sat down.

Natasha followed the routine, pirouetting and dancing in silence at every right moment of the dance beside the hum of piano music coming from the back of the room. By the time the ballet had finished every toddler was watching in barely hidden awe, to which Natasha smirked at internally.

The lower unit left the room leaving the older girls alone for training.

The girls changed outfits once more and entered a dark room. Lining up in a circle they waited for their instructor.

They practiced the fighting stances and techniques for a while waiting for approval. Then the instructor stopped them.

They gazed over the girls with a cold and calculating stare, before gesturing for Natasha and a girl she briefly recognized as Sofia to step into the middle of the circle.

Natasha felt perplexed. What were they doing?

“It is time to begin the next step of your training.”

“The Red Room doesn’t allow weakness. In this world, the strong survive.”

Natasha felt the answer to her question dawn on her slowly. She wondered if her opponent had realized what was to come.

“Fight. Only one of you will come out of this battle.”

Natasha readied her stance as she had been taught, watching the other girl with a perceptive watch.

The other girl's eyes widened ever so slightly in shock. She moved into her stance hurriedly, waiting for the instructor’s signal.

She analyzed her adversity for weak spots.

‘She’s holding herself in a different stance then I am, focusing more on offense. If I disguise my actions as defensive and strike first I can get an edge on her.’ Natasha thought shifting her stance unnoticed to simply appear defensive while being able to strike with ease.

‘Her arms are held higher up in protection of her face. Hit the shin and she’ll lose balance and I’ll gain a brief upper hand and opportunity.’

‘Punch’s and using her arms are a strong suit. Eliminate that advantage.’

“Begin.” The instructor commanded.

Natasha darted forward kicking the girl's shins and backflipped long her without hesitation. Her opponent got back up and punched her in the gut before they began to exchange punches.

Natasha aimed a right hook whilst feigning another punch to throw Sofia off. As the punch hit her face she kicked her competitor throwing her across the floor.

The girl attempted to grab Natasha’s braids and pull her down but she had already placed her in a chokehold. Natasha looked to the instructor waiting for the signal to release the girl.

It never came. Instead, they narrowed their eyes. Natasha understood. Pushing down her guilt and remorse she finished the girl's life within seconds.

The girl lay on the floor limply the terror in her final moments forever etched onto her face.

The instructor decided that was enough and sent the girls back.

“Except,” Natasha paused from where she followed.

“Natasha.” The young girl turned around and faced the instructor.

The other students exited the room and the instructor gestured for Natasha to follow them.

“Madame B. wishes to speak with you.” They informed.

Natasha simply nodded. They turned a corner and reached Madame’s office.

The instructor turned the handle and Natasha entered the vast chamber. The door closed with a sharp click behind her. Madame B. was sitting in a chair facing a wall of towering windows. All of which reached to the top of the vaulted ceilings of the Academy. The sun appeared to be set outside and added to the dim light in the room from the lampposts.

“Natasha.”

Madame B. walked over to the desk and gestured for Natasha to sit down. Natasha complied feeling the pointed gaze of the older woman watching her.

“I’m quite pleased with your performance as of late. Top of your class, best in training. Efficient, Intelligent and Deadly. I haven’t seen talent like that in years.”

“That’s everything one looks for in the Academy. I believe that you could become one of the very best.”

“You have what is called my dear, a crimson touch.”

“Thank you Madame B.” Natasha replied easily.

“I have also noticed your sister. At such a young age, her instructors and I have seen promise in her. I believe that if you can continue to prove yourself to the Red Room, you could help your sister follow in your footsteps under your tutelage.”

“I will not let you down Madame B.” Natasha replied automatically.

“I know you won’t. You’re dismissed.” Madame turned back to the book she had been reading. Natasha left and returned to her room. The girls received a small amount of time before they went to bed which Natasha typically spent with Petrina, however her talk with Madame had spent her time.

And as Natasha fell asleep, she forgot of the girl whose body had laid limply on the floor mere hours before.