Rob stood in the middle of a deserted downtown intersection just after midnight, having been running for his life the past twenty minutes or so from three masked assailants looking for blood. His blood.
It had happened so quickly. One moment he was sleeping soundly in his meager one bedroom apartment on the fifth floor of a rat-infested building, only to be awoken by the sound of his door being kicked in and three strangers rushing inside. He hadn't even a moment to get dressed as he was still in his white t-shirt and blue plaid boxer shorts when the intruders broke in. Thankfully, his kid had left a well-placed Lego set in the middle of the living room floor when he was over playing earlier that day or he wouldn't have had time to grab the Louisville Slugger resting next to the closet on the other side of the room. Without knowing who or how many had broken into his apartment, he managed to take a wild swing at one of them, feeling the unmistakable sensation of the baseball bat colliding with something solid. His only thought immediately after that was to flee out the fire escape, and so he did.
A chase through downtown immediately ensued. It was strange, though. Here they were in the heart of downtown of a metropolitan city of a few million people, and the streets were completely desolate. Admittedly, it was the middle of the night, but even in cities half this size there would still be at least someone out and about. There wasn't so much as a vagrant sleeping in an alleyway next to a dumpster, let alone a drunk crawling home from the bar after last call or even a cop, whom he very much needed right now.
Now here he was, trapped in the middle of an intersection with nowhere else to go. It was uncanny, their ability to pursue him through the dark, winding streets. While he wasn't at his peak physical fitness, he was by no means out of shape. Only a little over a decade ago, he set a state record in the two-hundred meter dash in high school. Not to mention, he was still in shape after three tours of duty in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. Regardless, these guys had managed to follow, and now, trap him without so much as breaking a sweat.
Rob was able to finally get a good look at the three masked men as they slowly enclosed around him. All three were dressed in black from head to toe, with the exception of the devilish masks obscuring their faces. Those differed for each one of the trio: Green, Red, and Blue. As they moved in closer, Rob noticed the gleam of steel clutched in each one of their hands, catching the refracted streetlight. It didn't take long for him to realize each one was wielding a buck knife in their hand, the kind hunters would carry on a deer hunt, presumably to finish off a buck after shooting it from afar. But there were no deer here; they were after something far more sinister.
His heart raced faster now than before. He was completely surrounded by his assailants. He could run, but what good has running done for him thus far? They had managed to stalk him for several blocks and now had managed to set a trap for him in which he had no choice but to fight his way out. Yes, there was no question about it. Whatever tricks these guys were using, he couldn't run away any longer. He would have to make a stand right here and now. The question was, which one did he stand the best chance against?
Rob looked to his left. Blue was the smallest of the three, but also the fastest. It was Blue who first pursued him down the fire escape. Nearly would've had him, too, if he hadn't used his bat to lock up the last ladder on the way down. While Blue had every chance to make the ten foot drop down to the street level, there was a high probability of him twisting his ankle or somehow else injuring himself on the way down. Rob knew this as well as Blue, meaning Blue must've also been as smart as he was fast. Man, he wished he had that bat now. No way he could outrun or out-evade him at this point. Even rushing him would be extremely risky with that knife brandished and at the ready.
Rob then checked his right. Red, the largest and strongest of the three, was slowly closing the gap between them. Big as he was, the man lumbered forward with a slight limp in his left leg. Must've been the guy he took out with his bat. This alone frightened him. Rob had swung that bat with enough force that it should've shattered his kneecap. By all regards, Red should've been writhing in pain, crippled, back in his apartment living room. The fact he had managed to track him down across the many blocks between here and his apartment with little else to show for it other than a slight limp was a testament to Red's strength. And now he as well had a knife in hand. Rob had little doubt in his mind this hulking brute of a man would tear him apart limb from limb with as much ease as he would have snapping a pencil in two.
He turned from Red towards the final assailant, Green, coming up the street from whence he came. His and Green's paths had already crossed earlier in the pursuit. At one point, he had thought he lost them and had leaned up against a parked Prius to rest and catch his breath, still reeling from the surprise of his sudden attackers. Not thirty seconds later, Green had jumped out of the shadows of the adjacent alley and pounced on him. Strong fucker. Rob was knocked to the ground, but he too was pretty strong. Both wrestled on the black asphalt, still warm from the unseasonably hot day hours earlier, as Green attempted to plunge the blade into his stomach, while Rob fought with all his might to keep that from happening. In a move out of pure desperation, Rob had managed to kick him in the stones with all his strength, leaving Green to choke on his breaths as he lay in a crumpled heap. Despite this, Green had managed to catch up and trap him at this intersection. While Rob knew from their previous engagement he could handle him in a fight, he feared his resolve, practically feeling the man's seething spite and contempt from under the mask. Whatever the reasons he had for chasing him, they were now personal.
There was no time to waste and no good options. All three, now, were only a few yards away. Thinking Red would be the slowest to react, he quickly broke in his direction only to be immediately tackled to the ground from behind. A flash of Blue as he collapsed to the ground was his only indication of who attacked him. The other two rushed forward to help their friend pin him down. Rob attempted to shake them off, but their grips were too strong and his muscles too weak.
This was it. He was helpless. There was no point in trying to shake them off. He couldn't break free, and even if he did, he knew he wouldn't get far. These guys were one step ahead of him from the very beginning. They planned for him to be caught here. So many thoughts ran through his mind but only one question.
"Why?!" he shouted at his assailants as Blue and Red held him on his knees before Green, who coolly stared down at him without mercy or compassion.
Rob couldn't make anything out from behind the green, opaque and featureless mask, but he had the feeling Green was smiling a twisted, wicked grin. He enjoyed this. As Green readied his knife to thrust, Rob closed his eyes shut, knowing that question would forever remain unanswered.
Blue stared in shock at Rob's sprawled and mutilated body on the street laying in a pool of his still warm blood. They had butchered him, gutted him like he was a trout plucked fresh from a brook. Well, he didn't do the gutting. There had to be some way he could justify his actions in some attempt on his part to evade his growing guilt. There wasn't any use. He had been part of it. Along with his two blood-thirsty comrades, it was he who invaded his apartment. He who pursued him down the fire escape and through the streets. He who pinned the man down and held him tight while Green sliced his belly open and strung out his entrails, hearing the howls of agonizingly unimaginable pain, as Green felt around inside the body for his prize like a kid searching through the contents of a cereal box for a cheap, plastic trinket.
Green tore off his mask and shouted up towards the night sky in pure ecstasy and jubilation, brandishing the pea-sized blinking tracker in hand for all to see. He was a handsome young man in his early twenties with a perfectly proportional face of piercing blue eyes, defined cheekbones, and sandy-blond hair combed perfectly to the side without a single strand out of place.
"Wooo!" Green cheered, "God damn, what a hunt!"
The three of them had set off exactly at midnight for what was described as "the hunt of their lives", as apart of an initiation of sorts into the Iron Star Brotherhood, an ancient and exclusive fraternity established long ago in antiquity. According to their Elders, nearly all world leaders, generals, industrial tycoons, and even popes going back over two thousand years, were members of this secret society designed to groom aspiring movers and shakers of the world. Many were legacy members, such as Green, who's ancestral achievements granted him a spot in the Trial Period. Red was another legacy, though to a slightly less affluent degree than Green.
Being legacy, however, didn't guarantee you entrance into the exclusive Brotherhood. Occasionally, albeit rarely, they would consider outsiders who demonstrated outstanding merit and potential. Blue was one of those select few. Going in, he had no idea what was in store for him with The Hunt. He was handed a knife, a blue mask that clearly had previous owners, and an iPhone with only one app downloaded: Traqer. He had thought it would be a simple scavenger hunt, though he had learned very quickly it wasn't. Marks were chosen unwittingly and at random. He had come to find out from both Red and Green, these Marks had been unknowingly implanted with a small tracer the size of a pea a day prior and they would have to retrieve all three if they were to be accepted into the Brotherhood.
Red's Mark was up first, taking them to the suburbs outside the city. Hell of a start to the night. Turned out, the Mark was a middle-aged woman named Monica, married with two children ages six and ten. Wrangling the children was no problem. Kids tend to be pretty obedient when faced with scary people in scary masks. Green had tasked him with keeping the children at bay, but not to kill them. They weren't monsters, after all. Keeping the husband subdued was another issue all together. Green ended up breaking the man's leg before gagging and tying him up in the master bathroom, while Red dragged the poor screaming woman into the living room. Blue wasn't there for the execution and could only imagine the brutal end that poor woman faced at the hands of Red's body-building strength. He could practically feel each blow doled out, bones cracking like potato chips under Red's sheer raw strength. It didn't take long for her cries of pain to transition into moans, and finally fade to whimpers and then silence. The whole ordeal lasted about five minutes from intrusion to execution. In the end, Red was successful in his hunt and then there were two.
Blue stared at Green in contempt as he danced about. Only a psychopath could bounce around with so much glee after forcibly inserting their hands in someone while they were still alive and conscious. If there was any fortune in Rob's unfortunate circumstances, he had passed out from the pain shortly before Green did his most vile work on him. In fact, Rob had still been alive and twitching when Green removed the tracer from his intestines. At that point, Blue had had enough and plunged his knife into the back of Rob's neck to put an end to his suffering. He should've left right then and there. Hell, he should've left after the first one.
"Alright, Blue, you're next!" Green shouted, still on an adrenaline high from his first kill. He had slipped the tracking device into a small bag with the other and stuffed it in his right pocket.
Blue turned to him, without uttering a word, and stared at him through the opaque eye holes in his mask. This was too much. He didn't witness the first one and found himself able to compartmentalize it somehow. Since he was neither an actual participant in her murder nor even in the same room to witness it, he managed to convince himself he was not responsible for her murder. As loose as that justification was, that was how he was able to cope with his actions.
The same couldn't be said for this guy, who now laid lifeless and butchered in the street. Because of Blue's immediate and conscious actions, he was now dead, and there was very little to justify it on his part. No one else had to die tonight. The next Mark was his to kill or not kill, if he so chose. The buck could stop with him. His thoughts shifted again to the victims: a mother and wife in the suburbs, and a single father in the heart of downtown. Neither deserved death, let alone such a brutal one.
"Blue?" Green repeated.
Blue locked eyes with him. He would have no part in this.
He removed his mask and tossed it to the side, not moving his dark brown eyes from Green's.
"No," Blue growled in defiance.
Green cocked his head slightly, unaccustomed in his life to hearing the word "no" or experiencing any sort of defiance.
"The next Mark is yours," he explained, clearly missing the subtext of Blue's response. "Come on, open the app and let us know where to go."
Green took a couple steps towards him but paused the second Blue brandished his knife at his former comrade. He looked at him with confusion for a moment or two until he finally understood Blue's intentions and his face morphed into that tight-lipped and smug look rich, arrogant people seemed to have by default.
"I see," Green said. "You just don't have what it takes."
"Suppose not," Blue retorted. "I didn't sign up to be a killer."
"Well, see, that is what it takes," Green stated. "To be in this Brotherhood, you have to kill, to take what you want from others, willingly or otherwise. That's the name of the game."
"No," Blue shook his head and nodded at Rob's body. "There's killing, and then there's that. And I want no part of that."
Green rolled his eyes in growing annoyance. "Fine! Just open up the app and hand it over. We'll do the rest and you can go home and we'll forget this little delay occurred."
His mind was torn. On one hand, he could just give the phone away and abandon this sick and sadistic game he found himself partaking in. Though, if he did so, he was certain Red and Green would try to kill him right then and there. It wouldn't be easy though, as he was positive he could hold his own in a fight against these two. Red was injured and not particularly quick. One well-placed stab to the neck or heart would put him down pretty quickly. Though with Green, he felt he was rather evenly matched. However, there was a chance Green could get a lucky blow in. All it would take is one misstep, one hesitation, and that would be it for him. He would need to be fast if he were to take him down, and he just wasn't sure if he could do it.
On the other hand, he could continue the Hunt. He shuddered at the thought that would even be an option. Ignoring the obvious fact he would be forced to kill an innocent person, he would also be forever stuck with a hundred self-entitled pricks like Green. Though, he would have their power and be an equal member of their society. Possibly, even using that power for some kind of greater good, making people's lives better rather than continuing this endless cycle of violence and greed in the world, something he knew all too well first hand. The thought was tempting, though there was still the undeniable fact he would have to end someone else's life to get to that point. Was that worth it? One life in seven billion? He had already assisted with the deaths of two others, what was one more?
"Any time, now," Green groaned impatiently.
The choice was clear.
"Forget it, Green," Blue shook his head. "Let's finish this."
Green grinned and clapped his hands with excitement. "Yes! That's what I'm talking about! I knew you wouldn't let me down!"
"Let me just get my mask," Blue stated flatly, clearly not taking any enjoyment out of this decision. He had to be cold, dispassionate. He wasn't a monster.
Blue pulled out his phone as he walked across the street to retrieve his mask, opening up the Traqer app. The app loaded on his screen as he reached down in the gutter to grab the mask. Some dead leaves had clung to it prompting him to wipe them off on his leg before turning back around, his eyes never leaving the screen as he watched the grid-like map of the city load up on the screen. Within a couple seconds, the app fully loaded. He held his breath as he waited for the red dot, symbolizing the third Mark, to materialize. There was already a small green dot on the screen, indicating his own position. Only thing left was the red dot. Once that appeared, there would be only one more thing to do.
Soon enough the red dot appeared on the screen, pulsating rapidly with vibrant intensity like a heartbeat. It was close, very close, and appeared to be right behind him. Blue narrowed his eyes as he studied it and tapped the red dot with his finger. A small text popped up when he did so, telling him the Mark was only a hundred feet away. Blue looked up around him, turning around facing the other two. The red dot turned with him, still ten meters away right in the direction of his two comrades.
"Where we going?" Green asked.
Blue took a few steps forward. The pulse on the red dot quickened and the text now read eight meters. That was impossible. Eight meters was the middle of the road and there was nothing there except…
He looked forward, staring at the other two. Without taking his eyes off the others, he proceeded towards them.
"Blue? What's up?" Green asked warily.
Blue glanced at his screen as he made his way towards them.
Soon, he was mere steps from his Mark and stopped. He panned over to Red, who stood to his left, and watched the screen on his phone. While his direction changed, the Mark did not. Only when he panned back towards Green did the dot on the screen line up with his line of sight.
"Blue?" Green asked. He was shaking now.
"It's you," Blue breathed.
Green shook his head. "No. No, it must be picking up the last Mark."
Green reached in his pocket and procured the bag holding the other tracers. He tossed it aside and waited for Blue to confirm his desperate theory.
"Well?" Green asked, his teeth chattering despite the warm air around them.
The red dot was unchanged.
Blue shook his head.
Green was breathing heavily now as he stared desperately at Blue.
Red looked between the two, unsure of what to do next.
Blue, meanwhile, knew what had to be done. Green was the third and final Mark of the night. All notions of cold dispassion he was reserving to terminate his final Mark diminished as he slid the mask over his face. He was going to enjoy every last minute of this. Every cry, every scream, every plea for mercy, he was going to relish in it.
Red, having made up his mind, grabbed Green and attempted to wrestle him down. Unfortunately for the big lug, Green was faster and plunged his knife deep into Red's thick skull. Blue acted quickly and tackled Green to the ground, pinning him down with little effort. As he readied his knife to finish the deed, he was thankful for the fact Green's mask was off, allowing him to see his face in all its expressive glory with what he planned on doing to him.
He wanted to see him beg for mercy and beg, he did.
He wanted to see him cry for his mother and cry, he did.
He wanted to see him scream in pain and scream, he did.
Soon enough, he was left with the silence of the ghosts of bodies around him as the cries of the dead vanished into the hot, night air. Blue released a euphoric gasp of exhilaration as he rolled over on his back to lie next to the third Mark he had just made into a corpse with a satisfied grin on his face and the final, much desired tracking device blinking in the palm of his hand. His Hunt successful, he was now a Brother and he was going to go far in this world. A world that will soon be his.