A screen was stretched across the wall of a black, featureless room. The enormous screen was the sole source of light in the room. A man stood basking in the glow of it. He took a long, slow breath through his nostrils before calling out, "Open training facility surveillance tapes 7993, 8410, 8561, and 9218. Subject file: Longshot."
Upon his command, the screen split into four displays, each playing a recording from the Horizon compound's state-of-the-art training area. Each showed a young man with wavy blonde hair running through the rigorous exercises every assassin had to endure, the same exercises that prepared every inch of their bodies to be the greatest killers in the world. In the top left played a recording of the student running the obstacle course, beset on all sides with danger. He vaulted over a steal beam just as the electricity running through it was switched off, weaving through the dozens of heavy rubber balls that shot through the air fast enough to break bone. Across from that, there was a video of him displaying his gymnastic prowess, flinging himself effortlessly from one bar to the next. It was a level of skill that rivaled the greatest Olympic gymnast. In the bottom right, the assassin in training stood on a circular blue mat, arms at his sides as a dozen sparring partners, each clad entirely in white, closed in around him. For a moment, they paused, then they were upon him. He kept his eyes closed throughout the entire exercise, parrying attacks and shattering the bones of his opponents with his own blows. Within moments, he stood stoic amidst a pile of writhing enemies. Two of them were dead. Finally, in the bottom left, the boy took up a bow and slung a quiver over his shoulder. He drew an arrow and stared down the shaft, letting the arrow fly from his calloused fingers. The arrow burst through a target ninety yards down range, dead center. Finally, in the center was a photograph taken of a man in a red and black suit, gray mask with a glowing red eyepiece. The face had changed, the man had changed, but the name was the same... Longshot.
"He's good." called out a voice in the darkness.
The man simply kept his eyes locked on his old runaway. "Yes." he said plainly, "Yes, he was." He straightened his tie and turned to his guest. "Apologies for making you wear the hood. I trust the ride was comfortable?"
"Oh, yes." said the guest, stepping into the aura of the screen and revealing the handsome face of Victor Ross, "Although I must say, I wish we'd spoken in person sooner."
"I'm a very private man, Victor." his enigmatic host stated in a very slithering tone, "I do all my business with an unseen hand." Out of the ground beside him rose a small column with a crystalline bottle of amber liquid and a glass of the same quality. "Brandy?" asked the man.
"Sure." Victor replied, taking the glass poured for him. "You want one?"
"Oh, no..." the main replied, "Things like this aren't meant for a man my age. But let's not get in to that. How's your wife, Raven?"
"She's fine. Do you have any family, Mr... uh..."
"Brixby." the man interrupted, "It's just... Brixby. And no, I don't have any blood ties. Horizon is my family."
"That's where you and I differ, Brixby." said Victor, taking a sip of his drink, "The Facility is an extension of Ross Corp. It's just business. And as a businessman, I don't take kindly to stolen property." Suddenly, footage taken from from the hood of a Facility assassin was stretched across the screen. It captured Longshot running down a hall and bowing out of the way just as another archer sent an arrow straight toward the viewer, striking the assassin in the forehead.
"Your runaway cut one of mine loose." said Victor in a not so pleased tone of voice, "That's never happened in the history of the Facility, and I plan to nip this in the bud before it becomes a trend."
"Longshot was the first defector in Horizon's history as well." Bricby replied. It was eerie how the shadows always fell upon his face. No matter where he stood, no matter how much light there was in the room, his face always seemed draped in darkness. "We instilled lifetimes of training and resources into them, gave them power, rescued them from the enslavement of a normal life, and they have repaid us with rebellion."
"They have to die, Brixby. We have to shut them down before things get any worse. You've had Longshot running around for over four years now. No matter how good your assassins are-"
"They're the best."
"No matter how good they are, it's obvious that you can't kill him alone. And after the fiasco in Bandari with 1147, it's becoming apparent that I can't put Abel down either. I shouldn't need to tell you that this is bad for business."
"No, you don't." Brixby answered calmly, "But before 1146 became involved, the situation was manageable. His betrayal united the others in hatred. Only in the last few weeks has the risk truly become prominent. But my boy made you desperate, and desperation... is VERY good for business." He glared back at the screen before asking, "Were Ace and Dragonbane satisfactory?"
"Yes. They didn't manage to kill Abel, but I think the message was clear."
"They weren't told to kill Abel." Brixby explained, "If they had been instructed to, they would have. They were only assigned to send a message... to tell them that there is nowhere left to run." He glared up at the screen as it was overtaken by two large photos, one of Longshot and one of Abel, "We. Are. Coming."
Longshot stood tall against the unrelenting wind. He reached out his hand and felt the heat rising from the city streets far below. Flags flapped in the wind at either side of him and the sound of wafting fabric was oddly soothing to him. He was still trying to cope with the news, to piece together some sort of plan to protect himself, to protect Abel. The warning shot had been fired. He knew exactly what would come next.
In all his years on the run from his old life, Longshot had only ever been encountered by a maximum of three Horizon assassins at a time. In those situations, he usually had help, and even when he did have someone to back him up, he barely escaped with his life. Now, every last one of them was coming for him and Abel. Death was no longer debatable. It was guaranteed. But even then, the day grew darker. Horizon had somehow forged an alliance with the Facility, the group that created Abel. Longshot was still recovering from the injuries inflicted on him by a pack of clone murderers who had attacked him several nights ago. When he tried to figure out how these two could join forces, he only came up with one reason. Him. He was the one who saved Abel from deactivation, who helped him turn his life around. He was what bridged the gap between two competitors in the business of blood and now, this insurmountable wrath was descending on them because of him.
Now, with the darkness closing in, there was only one thing left to do. The archer jumped from the rooftop and fell through the air with rigidity and grace. He had to act fast. He had to find allies.