The Sphinx and the Prince …. (Espionage 10: Finale)

The Prince charged through the smoke and fire of what remained of 10 Downing Street’s entrance, blown up only seconds ago by Sofia’s bomb, hunting for the Sphinx.

Pulling out the shemagh that he had used on the Jacket Malik raid, he wrapped the bottom half of his face in a smooth motion that would help him to breathe.

Already sirens and alarms were blasting loudly, but above the din was the distinct sound of an AKS-74U rifle clattering and pitched screams following the gunfire.

Gripping his MP7A1 tightly, the Prince moved cautiously through hallowed British ground. There rooms in 10 Downing Street were exquisitely refined and spoke of simple luxury. Everything was comfortable, clean, pristine and without a single element out of place.

A sitting room had comfortable, but expensive mahogany furniture that faced a fireplace that complimented the cream interior of carpet, walls and coffee tables. It was marred only by the body of a maid, who was clutching her stomach in agony, as she wept and bled in the room alone.

The Prince, all former traces of the more compassionate Woods extinguished in his mind, ignored the maid and kept moving down the corridor, where he came across a grisly scene only 10 metres later.

4 Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection (PaDP) Officers were in the midst of eating their meal and going for their guns, when the Sphinx chanced upon them. He had sprayed his weapon in an accurate, long burst that raked the entire standby room.

An Officer had his head on the table, his body slumped over, a bowl of porridge, as blood seeped through the gaps in his armour. Another was still on the floor, the back of his head blown apart by the powerful 5.45mm round of the Sphinx’s AKS-74U, vainly reaching for his pistol belt that was hanging on a coat-hanger nearby.

The Prince whipped his MP7 up as he heard a gurgling sound. In the corner of a room, an Officer had tried in vain to save his fellow PaDP, his body riddled with holes, as he laid over a severely wounded, gasping Officer who had a MP5 lying forlornly next to him.

The wounded PaDP was clutching at his perforated throat, blood pouring out in buckets over his slowly weakening hands. His eyes widened at the sight of the Prince, in his terrorist-styled garb and choked once more, before his eyes glazed over.

The Prince moved past the waiting room with a clenched jaw. This was going to end tonight.

Muffled gunfire resonated ahead and the Prince moved faster, leapfrogging the body of a dead PaDP whose corpse was slowly staining the carpet and the precious framed photograph of Churchill leaving Downing Street in WW2.

~

The Sphinx was trained by the best. The poor PaDP, essentially well-trained policemen, were completely outclassed. None of them had much combat experience and despite their rigorous training, they were unable to tap into any of that knowledge, because fear crippled their bodies and clouded their minds.

Speed

Surprise

Violence of action

The key 3 principles of warfare.

The Sphinx was using all his considerable years of warfighting to maintain the upper hand. Much like the Prince’s terrifying one man army action on Malik’s forces in Croydon, the Sphinx was now unleashing his fearsome skills as a warrior on the PaDP.

Officer after officer fell, as the Sphinx continued his relentless advance towards the War Room. In some cases the Sphinx even used the bodies he had just kill as a human shield and confuse the Officers who were waiting for him. In their panic they would shoot at the dead policeman, whilst the Sphinx slotted his AKS-74U on the shoulder of the dead Officer and blazed away, the fight ending in the room almost as quickly it began.

After minutes of vicious CQB fighting, the Sphinx waited for a moment and took his bearings, as he reloaded his gun. If he knew his floor plan, he was only 2 corners away from the security room that guarded the entrance to the War Room.

The Sphinx scowled and began to psyche himself up. Unlike his fanatics, he didn’t resort to prayers to better himself. Instead, he was using a tried and true tactic that was taught to him by his mentor.

Meditation.

By performing, deep breathing techniques, it allowed him to quell the overwhelming amount of information that was flooding his brain. In clearing his mind, the Sphinx could react and analyse situations more accurately, limiting the amount of mistakes that could lead to his death.

It was a new technique that was slowly gaining ground in the military. Instead of hard and fast charging into situations, military men were now taught to be more cautious, methodical and limit their exposure to gunfire. Battlefield meditation allowed soldiers to clear their mind of the chaos happening around them and, with enough training, suppress feelings of fear, anxiety and confusion.

The Sphinx looked around the corner and noted that an officer was holding a riot shield, his MP5 submachine gun outstretched in front of him shakily. Smiling grimly, the Sphinx bought out another wad of C2, and rolled it into a ball. Sticking a blasting cap inside of it, the Sphinx underhand tossed it, and watched as it stuck to the riot shield, whilst the officer let loose with a burst from his submachine gun.

Ducking back coolly, the Sphinx flipped open his detonator and slammed his index finger down.

Whump!

The officer was flung backwards, as the shield combusted into a thousand pieces of reinforced glass, shredding the officer’s face into strips of bloody meat. The scream that came from the officer was horrific, freezing the 7 Officers who were waiting around the other corner, their guns aimed out from beyond the security station’s cage.

Then a small object flew through the air, identical to the last and it affixed itself to the metal cage.

All 7 pairs of eyes looked at it.

Whump!

The second ball of C2 was even more devastating than the last. Fragments of metal flew everywhere and the three Officers who were closest to it were instantly cut down, their bodies lacerated by burns and shrapnel.

The other four weren’t so lucky. One of the officers, was flung backwards into a computer panel, and in maintaining poor trigger discipline, had inadvertently pulled the trigger as he flew through the air. The Officer next to him was immediately struck in the back of the head and he dropped to the floor, dead with a big hole in his forehead.

The other two remaining PaDP struggled to get their bearings and were unable to hear or comprehend anything.

It was then, a red visible laser punched its way through the cloud of debris and melted frag and found their chests and head.

Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam!

The Officers dropped instantly, and the Sphinx himself came through and looked at the man who had just killed his own buddy, now desperately trying to bring his gun to bear.

The laser found his head and 3 shots later, the Sphinx was in control of the security station that protected the British Prime Minister in his War Room bunker.

The Prime Minister stared at the screen, terrified as the Sphinx walked up to the computers and with a eerie smile at the camera, began to tap away at the laptop, ignoring the blood splatters on the screen.

Everyone in the War Room stared intently the screen that showed what was happening, literally metres away from them.

Minutes passed, then to the extreme shock of everyone inside the War Room, the Sphinx finished at the computer, gave a final ironic salute to the camera and ran off for the secondary exit out the back of Downing St.

What the bloody hell was that? asked the Prime Minister.

No one could answer him. They just stared at the screen in shock as another terrorist came into view.

~

The Prince had only just come across the corpse of the riot shield officer, when he saw the Sphinx dash away for the back exit.

Cursing, the Prince ran over to the security station and was confused when he saw an GPS map splashed across the screen.

Frowning, the Prince looked more closely at the details and realised that the Sphinx had just conducted a search for someone. He had only just saw the name, when suddenly the screen flickered and an ominous timer began to appear on the screen.

20 seconds to upload.

Cyber attack! thought the Prince instantly and he began to look over the computer, to see an innocuous USB sticking out from the side. Yanking it out, the Prince swore when the timer continued to tick downwards.

Shit! said the Prince as he continued to type furiously away at the computer, trying to isolate the virus.

However, despite his best efforts, the timer continued to tick ever downwards.

5

4

3

2

1

Beep!

Nothing happened.

The Prince frowned.

Then a hissing noise began to issue from the all steel door that barred the War Room from the outside world.

In a split second, the Prince realised what had just happened.

The door for the War Room was opening and there he was, in terrorist gear, looking like he was hacking away to gain entry to the British Prime Minister. It didn’t matter to the men inside whether the Sphinx or the Prince had killed the PaDP Officers inside, they were going to go out guns blazing.

The Sphinx had just bought himself some very valuable time from the Prince’s wrath.

The Prince whirled around and began to sprint for all it was worth, as the UK PM’s bodyguards came out of the door, their guns tearing everything to shreds.

~

The Sphinx only had 2 spheres of C2 left, and he used one on the back gate of Downing Street, sprinting as fast as he could for the coordinates he had just hacked from one of the most secure and powerful computers in the United Kingdom.

Using a worm, he had piggy-backed off the greater London’s CCTV surveillance system and intelligence network and began a facial and name recognition search.

The man who had fuelled so much of the Sphinx’s hate and anger came up as a match on the screen, literally only seconds later.

The location?

St. James Square.

A mere 5 minutes run away, if you cut through St. James’ Park.

The Sphinx tucked his AKS-74U underneath his blazer and started running the moment he left the gates, ignoring the sirens and alarms he had left behind.

He began his northwesterly run, as, nearly a minute later, the Prince sprinted out, chased by the furious bodyguards who were intent on revenge.

Spraying his MP7A1 in an accurate burst, the Prince covered the doorway that the bodyguards were about to come out from in rounds, causing them to crash into each other and hustle back into cover.

Using those precious seconds to sprint further away, the Prince saw the Sphinx ahead, running furiously through St. James Park, his handsome face etched in a concentrated scowl.

Pulling out the empty magazine for his MP7A1 and reaching down for his warbelt, the Prince realised that he had no more spare magazines for his PDW. Tossing it away as he chased after the Sphinx, the Prince knew he was down to his trusted Glock 19 and 3 spare magazines.

How the hell does this keep happening to me? Never enough ammo for these fucking terrorists thought the Prince as he made his way furiously through the heart of London.

The Prince and the Sphinx dashed their way through Pall Mall, the iconic street that led to St James’s Square, the area of London they were currently waging war in, a very posh area.

Beautifully maintained old classic Napoleonic and Regency-era houses and buildings clashed with the more modern brick styles that dominated that Industrial Revolution. This juxtaposition was only further enhanced with the glass and steel, synonymous with contemporary styles and the effect was as jarring as it was interesting.

One could literally trace architectural lineage and styles from the 18th Century to the 21st.

However both men’s targets was the singularly drab building, known simply as 22 St James’s Square. There was nothing remarkable about the styling from the exterior.

Endless windows were intersected with fading white concrete in a style that was as anonymous a building could be in London. Glass doors showed the way to a boring, corporate style interior that emphasised taupe as a colour.

A sign outside told people that there were 79 office spaces that could be rented to the public for use.

What it did not disclose was that the first 4 floors were completely booked out by a shell company, and that the building had 3 basement levels that were not accessible by normal elevators and it had been soundproofed and that there were always a 4-man security team of ex-soldiers guarding the place 24/7.

To men like the Sphinx, it was just one of the many London training facilities that were nicknamed “The Institute.” It was where he learnt how to be the most professional terrorist in the world and how he became the Sphinx.

It was within the bowels of the Institute that the Sphinx planned to end a very private chapter in his life.

Every single attack, had lead up to this moment. Nothing was coincidental. Every station that had burned across Europe, to the timing and date of the Valentine Day massacre was symbolic to a dark history.

The Sphinx looked at the simple glass doors of the Institute and walked in, his AKS-74U up.

~

William Aitken was one of the most formidable men that had ever served the British intelligence apparatus. A former SBS (Special Boat Service) operator, Aitken was as much at home in the sea as he was serving in the shadows.

The beauty of light owns itself to dark places he once famously said, during a training briefing.

A monster borne out of necessity during the Cold War, Aitken had cut his teeth serving for MI6 as a deep cover agent in East Berlin, gathering intelligence and performing assassinations on high value Soviet targets. He was also the agent responsible for personally escorting over 200 illegal migrants across the Berlin Wall, to be reunited with their families.

What the heroics failed to discern though, was the sheer number of bodies that Aitken had left behind during these illegal crossings. The Soviet Command at the time were all too aware of this cruel British agent who would collect personal belongings of soldiers he had killed and then mail them tauntingly to the Soviet High Command barracks.

The number of rings, watches and precious trinkets numbered in the high hundreds by the time the Berlin Wall fell.

The nickname, Volk (Wolf) was soon assigned to Aitken, a callsign that he would wear with pride for the rest of his life, as did the 9 million dollar bounty than followed him everywhere.

His years of service though did not end with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Transitioning from the grey, cold climates of Russia and Germany, Aitken went to work once more against the Soviets in Afghanistan and Iraq, where late in his career, he met a young orphan named Hassan Malik.

It was 1989, the final year of the Soviet-Afghan War. The Mujahideen had in essence recaptured back their country, save for one formidable stronghold that was protecting the Soviet’s last stand in the bloody war that had raged for 9 years.

Aitken was one of the most pre-eminent military advisors to the guerrilla force and had gone completely native. A strong black beard covered his face, and his normally pale skin, was now leathery with a deep tan. He was limping in one leg, a previous engagement with a Soviet sniper, causing him to fall and roll into a deep ditch that cut open his thigh.

However, despite the thick robes that shielded him from the Afghan chill, there was no mistaking the piercing blue eyes, the confident English accent and the professional casualness in which he held his AKM with jungle taped double magazines.

It was Aitken that lead the charge against the stronghold, using heavy cover fire, smoke grenades and accurate mortar strikes to shield their approach. It was an old-school method for an ancient country.

50 Mujahideen charged the wall of the stronghold that was etched into the side of a mountain, an ancient fort that had crumbling walls and a big open clearing inside for helicopters and trucks.

Only 30 made it. The men sprayed the upper parts of the wall with gunfire, desperately trying to stop the Soviet troops from firing down at them. One man fell on his back screaming as a Soviet soldier blind-fired wildly over the lip of the wall. Seconds later a RPG smashed into the trooper, spraying dust, bricks and blood over the men crouched below, swift vengeance coming in for their fallen comrade.

Aitken laid a satchel charge at the wall and set the timer for 10 seconds.

Running back and firing his AKM furiously at the troops above, Aitken slammed his body against the wall and waited for the blast.

Crack!

Bodies, brick, mortar and even a truck was overturned as the satchel charge blew open a gap in the wall with deafening violence.

Go! Go! Go! yelled Aitken at his troops.

The Mujahideen yelled as one and with war cries, charged into the breach, where they were instantly met with hyper-machine gun fire, from a crazed General who was manning the side door gun of a large Russian Mil Mi-24 Gunship.

10 Mujahideen were instantly cut down, the bodies blown away by the intense fire. Before Aitken could react to the death of his men, a maelstrom of sand, dirt and debris began to whip at everyone in the fort, as the pilot began to lift off.

Soviet soldiers, seeing their opportunity for escape flying away, abandoned their posts and leapt for the open doors of the gunship, hitting it from all sides.

But they were met with fire from inside and outside as the crazed General in his panic, began to shoot at his own troops, unwilling to let his men weigh down the helicopter and the Mujahideen who had regrouped and were now peppering the chopper with rounds.

Men died, screaming and scrabbling to get in the chopper and in a grotesque display, bodies began to fall from the helicopter, as the pilot struggled to concentrate and lift the cumbersome beast away from the ground.

Gunfire raked the entire compound in a 360 degree arc, as chaos reigned over the battlefield. Several rounds punched right through a jail where locals assisting the Mujahideen had been captured and tortured. Their cries of help were overwhelmed by the cacophony that was happening in the clearing.

Just as the Mi-24 was rising above the wall, a Stinger missile shoomed from the nearby Mujahideen controlled hill and smashed its way into the helicopter, causing the whole thing to reel in midair and fall back into the compound.

Aitken looked up in horror at the helicopter that was about to crash right on top of him.

Just as it was about to decapitate him, someone crash-tackled him out of the way and he was sent sprawling back behind the wall, through the breach point.

The Mi-24 crumpled into the ground, and the rotors snapped, sending huge blades of metal flying every which way. One poor Soviet soldier was literally cut in half as the blade sliced towards him and his legs stood still for a full second, before toppling over, as the upper half of his body slammed against a wall.

William “Wolf” Aitken, a veteran of some of the bloodiest conflicts in the Cold War looked at the young boy who had saved his life.

The boy looked old for his age. The fact that he was old, didn’t show on his boyishly handsome face or the strong lean body that still showed fresh wounds from torture …. it was his eyes.

The brown eyes that looked back at Aitken showed a focus, determination and anger that could only come from a man.

War had accelerated the boy’s mental growth. He went from being a child to a man in the span of 9 years, a process that would take some 20 years and others their whole lifespan.

Hassan Malik was only 12 when he met William Aitken. The Wolf, out of gratitude and perhaps something else, informally adopted him soon after the assault on the final Soviet stronghold in Afghanistan.

He had plans for the young Afghan boy. Even in the waning days of the Soviet-Afghan War, Aitken could see a new threat emerging for the heat of the Arabian desert. He was going to need a new breed of soldier to defeat a new breed of terrorists.

By the time Malik left the Institute at age 15, Aitken knew that he had created one of the most dangerous men in the world.

The Sphinx was the Wolf’s crown jewel.

The ultimate result of warfare, distilled and refined by Aitken’s careful tutelage and brutal indoctrination methods.

~

For a man who was almost Stalinist in his paranoia, Aitken trusted Malik completely. It was entirely out of character for the old spymaster and soldier, but he had spent so long on his own, that he needed a release.

In Malik, he found that release. Over the course of 3 years, Aitken honed, shaped and crafted Malik into the ultimate terrorist.

To defeat terrorists meant learning how to be one. The Wolf ensured that the Sphinx was the most professional in the world.

Every piece of knowledge, no matter how trivial, Aitken entrusted to Malik. It was as if Aitken knew, that he would die soon and he didn’t want to waste any of his experience and lessons learnt.

Malik was the perfect student. He excelled in every aspect of warfare. Marksmanship. Guerrilla training. Enhanced interrogation techniques. Subterfuge.

Aitken even took Malik to Alexanderplatz Station and made him practice how to spot a suicide bomber. Then he told him to kill the target.

Malik, spotted the S-bomber within 2 minutes of the exercise. Then with a hypodermic needle laced with an enhanced digitalis poison, he stabbed the man through the heart, pretending to trip over his feet.

The S-bomber died with vomit in his throat, within 20 seconds of ingestion.

Aitken was pleased.

More exercises across Europe were conducted with brazen arrogance. A Spanish target was killed whilst boarding his plane. A Saudi national lost control of his car whilst holidaying in Saint-Tropez. A Russian oligarch and his trophy wife killed each other in a double suicide, whilst relaxing in their Swiss Alps retreat.

But it was the Valentine Day exercise that truly showcased the rigors of the Wolf’s training.

Hassan Malik, for the years he had spent in England, was mostly allowed to venture out of the safehouse at his whim. What he wasn’t aware of though, was that Aitken had known every time Hassan had snuck out to explore the city and taste the nightlife.

The Wolf was far too smart and cunning to not keep track of his pseudo-son.

Hassan however was none the wiser. He thought he was getting away with it.

One night, whilst it was still early in Hassan’s training, and he was now getting bolder with his escapes, he met a beautiful girl his age, who was also escaping from her troubles. A pretty Irish girl who went by the name Niamh. She had alabaster skin, cute brown freckles on her cheeks and nose and stunning blue eyes.

When she laughed, her nose would crinkle just so and she had the most disarming smile that would reveal her braces.

Hassan was smitten.

Niamh’s story was almost as tragic as Hassan. Her parents were a casualty of the Troubles and its bloody history between Ireland and Britain. She was fending for herself and making trouble for the British whenever and with whatever she could find.

Hassan likened her struggles to his own against the Soviets.

Their friendship only deepened as they grew older.

Hassan was 14 when he finally asked her out on a date for Valentine’s Day.

Niamh didn’t even bother answering him. They shared their first kiss that night and more. For once in their young lives, they both felt something different other than hate for the world.

The date had gone beautifully. They had dinner together, a simple Chinese takeaway meal that they both shared together, sitting at a park. Niamh had squealed with joy when she saw the flowers that Hassan had bought her.

It was 7pm when they were walking, hand in hand around Hyde Park. Niamh was laughing at a joke Hassan had just told her.

Then it happened. A black van pulled up alongside the teenagers and 4 men with Uzis and pistols ran out the side, balaclavas disguising their features. Hassan tried to go for the pistol that he always kept on him, that Aitken told him to always wear.

But it was too slow. He had never quick-drawn in a panic before and with a girl slowing down his gun arm.

The men clubbed both of them with their guns and barrelled them unceremoniously into the van.

When Hassan came to, harsh light assaulted his retinas. They were in an non-descript room, with plain tiles for the floor and ceiling. Only a one-way mirror lined the East side of the room. Hassan saw Niamh bound and gagged before him. Her blue eyes were pleading with Hassan. Hassan trashed around in his chair, desperate to get out, desperate to do anything.

He couldn’t even fall over, because the chair was bolted into the ground.

From behind him, a door opened and Hassan froze in place.

Niamh’s blue eyes went wide at the sight of the man standing behind Hassan. She seemed to recognise him.

Then two men hovered into view. Hassan recognised both of them immediately. To his right was Aitken, a scowl across his face. To his left was a large man with a ruddy complexion and a scar across his right cheek. He was Paddy Conaill, one of the IRA’s most lethal enforcers.

The two men stood between the teens staring at each other.

Fucking lovebirds. Would be sweet if it weren’t so stupid. drawled Conaill.

Hassan kept wriggling. He didn’t like any of this. Hope flared inside him when he felt one of the bonds, strong duct tape, loosened around his right hand. He kept at it, one minute movement at a time.

I’m sorry to involve you Paddy. But this is a situation isn’t it?

Yes, yes it bloody is Wolf.

Conaill cuffed Niamh across the face. Tears welled in her eyes and a red mark marked her smooth pale skin. Hassan began to wriggle faster.

You stupid bitch. Fucking fell for one of these Arabs. You should have been more careful. He’s working for the fucking English. You know what we do to traitors?

Niamh’s blue eyes couldn’t control the tears of terror.

That’s right. We’re going to give you the Treatment. No good Irish woman can be consortin’ with the enemy. You’re lucky that the Wolf here is allowing you to go back with me. You got no idea what he would have done to you. You’re lucky we go way back before the troubles started. He found out about you and the raghead here. So he caled me to clean up this fookin’ mess.

You’re done. You’re my mess to cleanup.

Goddamn stupid bitch.

Conaill, with shocking swiftness, pulled a large Beretta 92FS from the waistband of his pants and levelled it at Niamh.

Blam!

Niamh’s blue eyes closed as her head rocked back in the chair, blood slowly dripping from the entry wound like a tear down her cheek. Conaill snorted dervisively and tucked the Beretta back in his pants. Aitken remained silent and looked at Malik with calculating eyes.

Hassan Malik, with a primal scream, ripped through the tape that secured his hand to the armrest of his chair and using brute strength, forced his way out from his captivity and lunged at Conaill.

Conaill, astonished by the move, fell ass over backwards, his hand reaching for the Beretta, but unable to find any purchase on the pistol grip.

He landed awkwardly on his hand, causing him to roar with pain as the wrist broke. But Malik was already all over him. He delivered blow after blow that smashed through Conaill’s pathetic one hand defence.

When Malik couldn’t strike at the throat, he would slam his fist into Conaill’s kidney or liver. The big Irishman would curl up in pain, only to reel instantly back to the floor as another blow slammed into his head.

Bloody sprayed into the air, as Conaill’s nose broke and in his desperation, he made one final move. He rolled and pushed Malik off him.

However, Malik was ready, instead of continuing his hand to hand assault, he grabbed the pistol from Conaill’s waistband and stood up, the Beretta shaking slightly in his anger, his brown eyes looking deadly over the sights of the pistol.

Conaill looked at the Wolf. His eyes were pleading. Trying to hearken back to some previous relationship they shared. The Wolf merely smiled coldly.

Wolf! Please do some-

Blam! Blam! …. Blam!

The Mozambique drill was executed with clinical precision. Two to the chest and one to the head. Conaill’s head listed aimlessly as his eyes sightlessly stared at Aitken.

Malik spun around, the Beretta moving fast. But the Wolf was too quick for him and he disarmed the pistol out of his protege’s hands and tapped him in the side of the head once.

Malik slumped to the floor, losing consciousness. He reached out for Niamh, but all he heard was Aitken’s gruff voice.

Sleep with one eye open. Never trust your enemies or your friends. Remember this lesson, son.

Malik’s final thought was defiant and angry. Any trace of the boy named Hassan Malik was extinguished in its entirety now.

One day, you’ll pay, Wolf. I swear to God, I’m going to kill you.

~

The Sphinx fought to control his emotions as he walked down the familiar white, plain hospital-styled corridors that only served to enhance the unnerving effects of the violence that had been committed within these walls.

The Institute would forever be the darkest chapter of the Sphinx’s history. There was no escaping the fact that he had learned how to torture a man here. Even now, he could recall the way how blood looked brighter against the searingly white rooms, and the sound water, congealed with blood made as it trickled slowly towards a drainage pipe in the centre of a room.

Those skills had come back to bite the Western forces though. The Sphinx lost count of the amount of Coalition forces he had tortured under UBL’s leadership but the information he had amassed was incredible. It was one of the main reasons why UBL had escaped the detection for so long.

The Sphinx even remembered his first execution. A man, with a hood over his head, was sitting forlornly in the corner of a room. He was dressed in typical military fashion, with baggy camo pants and a plain brown shirt.

He remembered being handed a pistol, a chunky Sig Sauer P226 by the Wolf. It was too big for his hands at the time, but grip it he did.

What has he done? he remembered asking.

It doesn’t matter what’s he done. He’s against us. The Wolf had replied coldly.

Who is he?

It doesn’t matter. What matters is the will to make things right.

The Sphinx remembered the way how he stared at the man.

A complete nobody. But he was breathing. He was alive. He might have had a family. Children. He could have been him in the future.

But it doesn’t matter echoed the Wolf’s answer in his mind.

It took him nearly 5 minutes, but when he made the final decision, something inside of him clicked.

Something dark. Something apathetic and cruel.

The cold inner workings of any assassin.

The Sphinx stood up from his chair, wrapped his 14 year old hands around the pistol and without hesitation walked up to the target, who flinched slightly, and pulled the trigger three times.

The Wolf looked at his protege approvingly. He nodded seriously and the Sphinx remembered the smallest hint of a smile.

This approval was something the Sphinx had craved. He remembered the unique mixture of guilt and pride in his actions. But the feelings of guilt wouldn’t last. To get the Wolf’s approval, he would kill for this man.

The Sphinx felt his breath quicken, as he continued his search for the Wolf in the bowels of the Institute.

Even in this state, the Institute was clean. It was undeniably empty, with only a few trace evidence of the horrors that were conducted here. A stretcher in the corner of an empty room. The reinforced glass that prevented escapees. The keypads that could only be opened from the outside.

But to the uninitiated, it was as bare as could be. Nothing really showed that it was an enhanced training facility for one of the world’s most feared terrorists. The entire place reeked of deniability. It didn’t exist anywhere.

The Sphinx moved with the familiarity of memory. He knew where the Wolf would be. Not dead of a heart attack, that James Ashford had claimed to the Prince.

Instead, he would be working in his office. It didn’t matter that the Wolf was in his mid-60s. His commitment to the cause would have him working to his actual death.

Like the Prince, the Wolf also enjoyed anonymity from the grave. The only people who knew of his true existence were a secretive group of influential Englishmen who liked to ensure their secrets remained within their fraternity.

The Sphinx hadn’t known it at the time, but every action and exercise he had undertook was for this elite fraternity. These men would occasionally work with the government, sometimes against but it was always in their best interests.

Their motto was simple: sunt superis sua iura – the gods have their own laws.

Known simply as The Round Table, they were the shadowy organisation who funded the Institute and the Wolf’s training programs and sponsored his death.

But the Sphinx didn’t care. He was here only for one man. He kept moving through the Institute, his gun up, aware that the 4 man security team could be anywhere and were watching him through cameras.

Approaching the final staircase that would lead to the final 3rd basement floor, he spun around, thinking he had heard something. Silence and emptiness sneered at him and his AKS-74U.

The Sphinx frowned but shook off the feeling of disquiet and began to descend the final flight of stairs to confront the man who had controlled his destiny for so long.

~

The Prince shadowed the Sphinx the entire time as they descended further and further down. He was completely lost and disturbed by the Institute. They had first gone up into the floors where the building’s empty office spaces had been rented.

Rows and rows of empty cubicles stared at them, devoid of life. The Prince watched as the Sphinx ignored these cubicles and headed to a curiously placed fire-escape in the centre of the building. Silently following him, the Prince caught the door before it fully shut and hugged the wall as he looked down.

The Sphinx was walking down the flight of stairs. They seemed to descend forever into the depths of the ground. It was highly disorienting. The Prince watched as the Sphinx reached the bottom of the stairs and smoothly open the door, his AKS-74U up and ready to confront any threat.

Moments later, the Prince silently opened the same door and was shocked to see a hospital-styled room, with a long central corridor and many rooms with reinforced plexiglass, and one-way mirrors.

It was a classic interrogation wing. Only like the Sphinx had noted, it was studiously clean.

The Prince stayed back, watching the Sphinx professionally clear the area, before disappearing around a corner.

The Prince hurried after him, noting the familiarity that the Sphinx’s body language seemed to exhibit in these strange surrounding.

He’s been here before realised the Prince.

Minutes continued to crawl, as they went through another basement level, this one an advanced gun-range with a kill-house mock up, similar to the one that the Prince had trained in countless of times during his tenure in the SAS. However what set this basement level apart was the sheer height of it, with catwalks running across for observation and examination.

As the Prince watched the Sphinx cautiously move his way through the kill-house, he became aware of a strange detail in the CQB-training area.

The targets weren’t just cardboard cutouts. They were full blown silhouettes of both terrorist and counter-terrorists units, with realistic images of hostages. Empty chairs also lined the kill-house’s many rooms, with blood-rusted bullet holes behind them indicating that they had used live rounds against live targets here.

The Prince didn’t like any of these ramifications.

Where the hell am I? he thought as he continued to move his way through the kill-house silently.

As they came across the final staircase that would lead the final floor, in the north-east corner of the training level, the Sphinx nearly spotted the Prince following him.

In a hyper-fast move, the Prince ducked down and was relieved when the Sphinx continued on his way.

Keeping his Glock 19 close to his chest, the Prince continued to stalk the Sphinx, as he ventured deeper into the final level of the Institute.

~

The final floor of the Institute was a constant. An aberration of time and space. It was always perpetually dark and quiet. Only the barely audible hum of supercomputers and the flickering of thousand of TV monitors disrupted the shadows and silence.

This final floor was much smaller than the upper interrogation and training wings. In spite of that fact though, it was still a huge office for a single man. Measuring roughly 20×20 metres, it featured a central hub where the Wolf could observe a wall of large monitors that showcased feeds from operations around the world.

An assassination in Poland. A bombing in Syria. A governmental collapse in Argentina. A turf war between rival gangs in Los Angeles. A chemical factory explosion in Ukraine. A pirate raid on a supertanker off the coast of Africa.

The Wolf watched and processed them all through 4 supercomputers that allowed him to process and analyse data at an incredible rate. Currently, the Wolf was coldly eyeing the progress of the Sphinx and the Prince as they neared his command centre.

Along the east wall was the personal collection of the Wolf’s many escapades. An array of guns, swords, bows and even a large taxidermist Afghan horse were on display. Across from this collection though, along the west wall, was something far more gruesome.

Rows upon rows of index fingers lined the span of the wall. They were all perfectly lined up straight, with only one centimetre separating them. Some were slender and long, others short and stubby. A few had nail polish on them, others were painted. In some cases, the finger had suffered badly with cracked nails, broken bones, shrapnel damage, all left as they had been found when removed. In one case, torn flesh billowed softly from an open wound from what looked like a dog bite.

The entire index wall was encased in a yellow fluid, the stench of formaldehyde quickly consumed by strong vents that removed the smell elsewhere in the facility.

All 744 fingers were a memento of one of the Wolf’s kills. Each of them unique, each of them a strong memory.

Behind the central hub was a security station that separated the main entrance to the command centre. A large mounted machine gun provided a final stand of defence and the entire wall that filled most of the central space, except the two sides, was made of bulletproof opaque glass to shield the Wolf from any damage.

This was the Wolf’s lair, the place where he resided for much of his death.

It was the perfect Ops centre for conducting operations and easily defensible.

His loyal 4 man security team were at the security station desk, ready to fight till the end.

One man had his finger on the large mounted M240 Bravo machine gun that could tear through anything in seconds. The other 3 men were crouched beside him, submachine guns ready, fingers on the trigger.

They all stared at the door and waited anxiously.

Minutes passed when they heard a strange sound, like a suppressed pistol shot.

The Wolf said nothing to his men as he saw the camera feed outside the main door turn to hash.

~

The Sphinx placed his final C2 sphere on the door as quietly as he could.

There was nothing to it, but to go in guns blazing and make sure his fire was more accurate than the men inside.

The Sphinx looked over at his AKS-74U and thumbed the paddle to release the magazine. Looking at the bullets inside, the Sphinx sighed and noted that he had one full magazine left, one full spare on his belt and his Beretta with a half magazine.

It’s enough to finish this fight. thought the Sphinx as he reinserted the magazine into the gun and pulled out the detonator for the C2.

For Niamh

Crack!

The C2 sphere blasted the door open and the 4 men inside ducked instinctively. Within half a second, the M240B machine gunner instantly began pumping rounds through the door, firing blindly in a panic as his teammates soon unleashed their own torrent of fire.

The walls next to the door was soon perforated with hundred of holes.

As the three men ran dry and began their reloads, whilst the machine gunner continued to pump bullet after bullet, the Sphinx, crouching low near the door, risked a peek through one of the larger bullet holes that was created.

Slotting his AKS-74U in the hole, the Sphinx let loose a burst that chewed off the machine gunner’s head and froze the other three men, as the comforting thump-thump-thump of the M240B ceased.

Seizing his chance, the Sphinx ran through the door and with three bursts put all the remaining men down.

One man, his chest ripped apart, looked at the Sphinx in fear. The Sphinx smiled coldly, and with the final rounds in his AKS-74U’s magazine, shredded the man’s face, before dispassionately reloading.

As the Sphinx stood there, breathing heavily, on the cusp of entering the Wolf’s Lair, the Prince watched as he rolled swiftly to duck a 40mm grenade that was launched from the centre of the room.

The Prince swore as he realised that it was aimed at him. He dove under the grenade and tumbled down the stairs, as the staircase above him exploded spectacularly and a large chunk of debris slammed into the side of his head.

The Prince laid face-down, seemingly dead, as blood slowly crept out of the side of his head.

~

The Sphinx glared at the Wolf, who stood still in the middle of his command centre, a M4A1 rifle with a smoking underslung M203 grenade launcher aimed right at the Sphinx who was still crouched after his desperate roll.

Hassan. said the Wolf coldly.

The Sphinx chose to say nothing. Instead he was desperately trying to think of a way to get the upper hand.

You saved my life once Hassan. Consider this mercy as us, even. If you make one foolish move, don’t think I won’t kill you. You were stupid to come here. Look at you, repeating history again, bringing an outsider into our world. You didn’t even know that the Prince was following you the whole time.

I, once thought that you were my greatest student.

Perhaps once, I might have even thought you would be my son.

But you’re sloppy. You let your emotions control you again. Revenge has clouded your decision-making.

It’s pathetic. Have you learned nothing from me?

The Wolf tightened his trigger finger and coldly blew off the Sphinx’s left index finger which was by his side.

Blood sprayed from the Sphinx’s hand as he roared in pain. He looked down at his hand in shock. It was mangled beyond recognition, blood oozing from the wound and he could see the white hint of bone where the finger had been separated.

The feared terrorist looked around in morbid fascination for the missing digit as he gripped his hand furiously.

There it was, only 2 metres, his severed index finger, another trophy for the Wolf, weeping blood unceremoniously on the dark floor. For some odd reason, it was only when he saw the finger, the pain really started to hit him.

The Sphinx began to breathe heavily, as he prevented a scream from coming out. He wasn’t going to give the bastard Wolf, the satisfaction. Instead, he glared up at the Wolf defiantly.

The Wolf allowed himself the smallest of smiles in respect as he tilted the M4A1 up and aimed at the Sphinx’s head. His finger closed around the trigger and … was about to pull it all the way …

When the Prince groaned.

The sound was enough.

It distracted the Wolf for the smallest of seconds.

The Sphinx lunged into action and swept up the AKS-74U he dropped when the Wolf blew off his finger.

Gritting his teeth, the Sphinx loosed everything he had in the magazine at his enemy, at the man he once called a father. He didn’t even fire in bursts, he just held down the trigger, desperate to kill.

But the Wolf was too quick. He was already moving when he realised his mistake. The Wolf dove out of the way and gasped as one of the Sphinx’s bullets slammed into his M4A1, rendering the weapon useless.

The Sphinx’s crazed burst lasted for 4 seconds. The rounds echoed in the small room viciously, joined soon after by the sounds of computers and monitors sparking into death.

Fuck! yelled the Sphinx as the AKS-74U ran dry and began to click uselessly.

Whipping out his Beretta, the Sphinx rolled for cover, adrenaline-soaked revenge causing him to forget his wound, as the Wolf pulled out a big and rare Arsenal AF2011A1 and let loose.

A very odd pistol and the personal favourite of the Wolf, the Arsenal AF2011A1 wasn’t just any ordinary 1911 clone. It featured another .45 barrel next to the original, making it a weapon that had two barrels that could be pulled with one trigger. With a special magazine, the weapon featured 16 rounds and could easily blow fist-sized holes in a target.

Which is exactly what the Sphinx discovered when the flimsy table he was hiding behind blew open in a shower of wood and plastic and nearly took his head off. Peering through the hole and ignoring the splinters that had raked his face, the Sphinx loosed several rounds from his puny Beretta that caused the Wolf to duck.

They traded rounds after rounds, the ops centre viciously reporting each crack of gunfire in a headache inducing volume.

Suddenly, the exchange of fire stopped as both men ran dry.

Metallic clangs were heard as magazines were dropped to the floor and new ones were inserted with a sharp click.

Both men were breathing heavily, the Sphinx looking down at the blood that was dripping from his left hand hitting the floor, only for another drop to follow from the frag wound to the side of his face.

This ends now Wolf! called out the Sphinx.

The Wolf only snorted derisively.

Join her in hell … Sphinx.

With a primeval battle-cry, the Sphinx whirled from behind the table and raced towards the Wolf, just as the Wolf did the same.

Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! … Blam!

The Sphinx and the Wolf stood stock still in the centre of the room, mere metres apart, their guns outstretched.

The Sphinx collapsed first, his head blown apart by the final round that the Wolf fired.

The feared terrorist who had wreaked so much havoc across Europe because of revenge was dead. His chest was blown open by three powerful shots from the Wolf’s Arsenal.

No-one was getting up from that, not even the Sphinx’s desire for revenge. But ever the professional, the Wolf executed his protege with a headshot that created a huge exit wound, spraying brain matter everywhere in a gruesome, grisly grey-red mist.

The Wolf looked down at his own body and saw that the Sphinx had gotten him twice. Once in the left shoulder and another in the stomach.

Sinking to one knee, the Wolf looked at the Sphinx and shook his head.

Revenge. So petty. he said disdainfully as he clutched at his stomach.

Such a waste …

The Wolf breathed calmly as he began to assess the situation. The stupid emotional little shit was dead. He was wounded but nothing a Round Table medical team couldn’t patch up. Everything should be under control …

It was then the Prince arrived, his head bloody, his green eyes cold and strangely curious, his Glock 19 aimed straight at the Wolf’s head.

~

The Wolf spat on the ground disrespectfully.

Gabriel Woods. 31 years old. Australian. Former member of the 22nd SAS. Now an assassin. Never worked for any bidder. 79 confirmed kills in 4 years.

Renowned for killing a member of the Royal Family. Earned the sobriquet “The Prince” because of it. 2 fucking years later, through some quirk of fate, ends up working for Her Majesty anyway.

Talk about irony.

The Wolf laughed.

You know, we thought about hiring you. But when you killed one of us in Argentina, we figured you were too principled for our taste. Such a pity. We were big fans of your kill on the Prince. Probably one of the best we’ve ever seen and trust me, I’ve seen plenty to be impressed. We could have used a man like you.

The Prince looked down at the Wolf and cocked his head.

Could?

The Wolf smiled coldly.

You didn’t really think that I was going to tell you everything as I laid here dying did you? Who do you take me for?

The Prince looked up at the monitors that dominated so much of the room. His eyes widened in anger and shock.

Through the security camera footage, a 12-man SWAT team was making their way through Institute. They had just cleared the interrogation wing. In minutes they would be at the training floor, where the Kill-House was.

The Wolf began to laugh.

You’ve got nowh-

Blam! Blam! Blam!

The Prince shot him three times in the head.

The Wolf’s head lolled lifelessly and then fell over, meeting the same fate as his protege.

Master and apprentice, dead in the same room, their brains missing.

It was almost poetic if one knew their history. But the Prince didn’t, nor did he care.

They were just two more dead assholes.

Staring at the screen, and seeing the Round Table SWAT team get closer, the Prince gritted his teeth and walked over to the Wolf’s weapon arsenal on the east wall.

~

The 12 man SWAT team was anything but ordinary. For starters their uniform was entirely black, instead of the normal dark navy blue that normal Police teams would wear.

Large, bulletproof gas masks covered their faces, and they were armed to the teeth with breaching shotguns, assault rifles, submachine guns and large calibre pistols. Two of the men out front were holding large assault shields, with rare fully automatic Glock 18 machine pistols.

Whilst a normal SWAT team would be carrying cable-ties, non-lethal grenades and equipment for suspects, the Round Table team was suspiciously absent from any such kit. Instead they were carrying large body bags, and were equipped with thermite grenades, which when activated would burn anything to ash.

They were here for one purpose … the complete destruction of this Institute.

Sanitize and sterilize all traces of evidence.

The team leader, going by Gawain, stepped up to the door that lead to the training floor. Placing a breaching charge, he waited until the men were safely behind the riot shielded men before counting down.

3, 2, 1 … Mark.

Crack!

The door blew open and the men rushed in to begin their assault on the Kill House, where the Prince was waiting for them.

~

Having taken a spare backpack and stuffing it full of hard drives from the supercomputers that lined the back wall of the Ops Centre, the Prince was moving quickly. He knew that he didn’t have enough energy, nor firepower to defeat this SWAT team.

So this was all going to hinge on how stealthily he could sneak past the team.

Grabbing the quietest gun on the Wolf’s arsenal and his personal favourite, a familiar MP5SD, and stuffing his warbelt with 4 spare magazines, the Prince also grabbed a suppressor for his Glock 19, stowing it in a pocket, before grabbing 3 big packets of C4 explosive and a detonator.

Taking position on the far side of the Kill House and recalling the layout, the Prince crept forward as he heard Gawain blow open the door. He was making his way for the catwalk that was high above the kill-house. But to get there, he had to go through the kill-house’s south-west corner.

The Kill House was atypical of those seen in training facilities everywhere. Sturdy plywood lined with bulletproof material were used for walls, and the doors had multiple holes in them to practice breaching. This one featured over 20 rooms that were variously conjoined and interconnected.

The SWAT Team moved swiftly through the Kill-House. They were evidently well trained. They leap-frogged one another with precision and speed, already they were a third of the way through the Kill-House.

The Prince set down one of the C4 explosives in one of the rooms closest to the entry of the staircase that lead to the Ops Centre and moved into the Kill-House, where he waited in the adjoining room that would lead to the catwalk.

Bang!

With shocking swiftness, the door swung inwards to the room the Prince was waiting in. An assault shielded man came through, with 2 men behind him shooting over the shield into the corners of the room.

But what they didn’t realise was the Prince was lying on the floor and he shot the shit out of their legs.

Slit! Slit! Slit! Slit! whispered the MP5SD.

All three men collapsed on the floor, their shins exploding in sprays of blood.

The Prince, acting quickly, grabbed the riot shield, flipped it and rammed them all back through the way they came, causing them all to stack on top of each other, before ramming the edge of the shield into each of their heads, knocking them out cold.

Sprinting for the catwalk staircase, the Prince pulled out his detonator and pressed down viciously.

Shoom!

The C4 explosive blew apart the southern end of the Kill House, launching the remaining 9 men backwards with the blast.

As they staggered to their feet, Gawain looked around and saw the Prince sprinting above them, gunning for the staircase entrance that would lead to freedom.

Gawain bought his HK416 assault rifle to bear, only for the Prince to dive off the catwalk and onto the ground, where he rolled across the floor and to the only exit out of the training ground.

Fuck! swore Gawain. All elements! Back to the north entry now!

The Prince placed his second C4 at the door, before sprinting all the way up and placing his final one on the top of the staircase.

Then he ran right through the interrogation wing and at the end of the hall, smiled coldly and pressed down on the detonator.

Chunk!

From the Prince’s angle, fiery smoke billowed out through the open doorway he had just run through.

From Gawain’s angle, his team were launched backwards once more and they stared at the destruction the Prince had wreaked upon them, ensuring that they were stuck down here for a long time.

Gawain furiously punched the wall of the Kill-House and radioed in a report that was met with an angry but cold response.

Mediocre, Knight. Very mediocre.

~

The Prince ran outside, and saw the driver of the SWAT van that had just deposited the team sent in to kill him, who was in the midst of getting out.

Not one to waste time or opportunity, the Prince whipped up his MP5SD and blew out the driver’s kneecaps with two shots.

The man staggered face first onto the floor, where the Prince shot him again through the top of his head for good measure.

Pulling out his phone, the Prince called Ashford as he walked away from the Institute, his head reeling from everything that had just transpired. It was imperative that he go underground as soon as possible.

Ashford answered on the second ring.

Make me disappear, now.

~

Epilogue

It was another beautiful day in Tidal River, rural Victoria. The bright golden sunshine complemented the yellow grass that ended on a cliff that jutted out to the Pacific Ocean.

Big waves crashed against the cliff and the noise they generated created a soothing natural soundscape to the environment.

Gabriel Woods looked out from his brutally modern house from the second floor and sighed quietly.

It had been nearly 2 months since the V-Day Massacre in London, and it had taken all of Ashford’s considerable powers and resources to hide Woods from the new threat he had uncovered.

The Round Table.

Only Gabriel Woods and James Ashford were aware of their existence. Ashford couldn’t even trust his own SIS team, assuming, rightly so, that the entire intelligence agency was compromised.

At first, Ashford didn’t know what to make of the intelligence that Woods had secured off the 4 hard drives that once belonged to a man named Wolf. But it slowly dawned on him just how bad the situation was.

What the hell are we going to do? asked Ashford, aghast at the entire situation.

You know what you have to do. replied Woods evenly to the question.

Ashford looked at the man standing before him. Then the head of the British Intelligence nodded once and left, never to contact Woods again. He would do, what he had done for Gabriel for so many years, protect the Queen’s only assassin remotely and leave him to his devices.

The ultimate sign of trust amongst men who run in the shadows.

Gabriel Woods was now all alone in the fight.

The Prince was back and eager to rule once more.

Staring out at the landscape, the Prince turned his back to the view, turned on his laptop and began to research the latest target’s death:

Gawain of the Round Table, a Maltese Knight.

Let the hunt begin.

~

Author’s Note

And … I’m finished!

I know I let it end on a sequel-bait, but honestly, it’s more fun that way.

I might revisit this character later, but for now I’m pretty happy with the way how everything went.

I shall be writing a post-mortem entry for this whole short story, so hopefully that will be up soon! I can’t believe that this is only the second one I’e finished on this blog. Anywaw I hope you guys have had a blast reading it, as much as I did writing it.

I shall also be compiling and editing the entire thing into one big blog post, so you can read it from end to end!

Stay tuned for the reflection post on this story!

Big thanks to those who have been following this story since Espionage 1, way back in 2020!

I hope this ending was fun for you!

~ Damocles.

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