Peter’s body was wind as he moved through the trees of the forest where he promised to meet Thomas Reed. The landscape was flat, but the trees were several feet in diameter allowing Peter plenty of cover. With a handgun gripped firmly in his right hand and a smoke grenade gripped in his left, Peter felt as though there was no one who could stop him. Thomas had experienced the same training as Peter, but Thomas had been gone from NOTCH for over ten years so his skills were most likely out of practice. Never the less, Peter was not insolent enough to believe that he would be able to kill Thomas with any type of ease. Overconfidence was a deadly weapon for one’s opponent, and Peter knew very little about Thomas’s method of fighting.
Undoubtedly, Thomas was planning something for he would not have told Peter his location thus giving Peter a chance to prepare without somehow benefiting himself. Peter’s instincts told him it was a trap, and he would be surprised if it wasn’t. However, as much as Peter hated walking into traps, he knew it was better than the alternative. If he failed to fight Thomas, then Thomas could easily go after Molly or Rodrick, neither of whom deserved to die. They had invited Peter into their home, and Peter had done nothing to reward their kindness, at least not until a few hours ago. Before he left Rodrick and Molly’s house, Peter had written a two-million dollar check and left on the dining room table beside a note that explained that there was a high probability that he would be unable to return. Peter knew that he should have told them in person, but he knew it would just make things worse since they would only attempt to talk him out of fighting Thomas and Peter did not want to dwell on his impending battle any more than necessary.
This was it. This was Peter’s big fight. If there was anybody who could pose a threat to Peter, it was Thomas Reed. All Peter had to do was kill Thomas and he would have overcome his final obstacle. This was what it all had been building towards. Every decision Peter had made had led him to this battle. Peter’s life had purpose, but he felt hollow inside. It was as if his organs had been removed leaving nothing inside his body, and it hurt him more than a hundred bullets could because when bullets hit him, he knew how to feel. This feeling of emptiness left him with nothing, and Peter could only imagine what his life would be like if he had to live with that feeling of emptiness. Still, Peter could not think about that now for Thomas was lurking somewhere in the forest, poised to kill Peter the second Peter made a mistake.
The woods were quiet as if all the animals had sensed the impending battle and fled. It should have made Thomas’s movements easy to hear, but the only sound Peter could hear as he moved from tree to tree was the sound of his own heartbeat. Suddenly, a dark figure rose out from inside a thorn bush with leaves so thick that no one could see through it. Peter cursed himself for missing the very obvious hiding spot, and before Peter could react, a sharp pain shot through his body. Immediately, he realized that he had been hit with a fast-acting tranquilizer, and he stumbled onto his knees. In a desperate attempt to take out the dark figure, Peter pointed his gun at the position where the dark figure would be located if he was moving towards Peter, but the dark figure was already on top of him. A millisecond before Peter’s finger closed around the trigger, a foot shot out and struck him in the face, and everything went black.
For how long he was unconscious, Peter did not know, but when he regained consciousness, he was sitting down against a very large, oak tree. The grass beneath Peter’s butt was moist from the rain the previous night, and he tasted blood in his mouth. He opened his eyes to see that he was still in the forest and that sitting against another oak tree a dozen feet away from his was the dark figure that had attacked him. This time however, the dark figure was sitting in the sunlight allowing Peter to see his rugged, grey facial hair, his dark, black skin, and his skintight camouflage outfit that was almost identical to the one Peter was wearing. Undoubtedly, this man was Thomas Reed, but if that was the case, why was Peter still alive?
“Ah, you’re awake.” Thomas’s lips barely moved when he spoke allowing his face to keep it’s threatening scowl. “I see you didn’t heed my advice. You know I would have spared you and your friends if you had not come to fight me. I have no love for Rex Darkstar, and I have even less for his petty son bent on revenge.”
“You’re Thomas Reed?” Peter asked as he arched his back and found that Thomas had failed to take away the gun that Peter had strapped to his hairless back underneath his camouflage outfit, and Peter knew that if he could get Thomas talking to the point where he got distracted, he might be able to withdraw his gun and fire before Thomas could shoot him. Thomas had a handgun similar to Peter’s gripped loosely in his left hand, but his finger was not on the trigger meaning he was not prepared to shoot Peter.
“Don’t play dumb with me,” Thomas replied in a manner that gave the impression that he had not slept in days. “I know what you’re thinking, and if you think you’re fast enough, we can see who draws their gun faster.”
“What do you want,” Peter sighed after a moment realizing that he was not going to be able to surprise Thomas.
“Death, adventure, purpose,” Thomas muttered. “I’m a broken man, Peter Saneto. The only thing I want is to be fixed, but I won’t allow myself because, at the same time, I don’t want to be fixed. I’m a broken man, and if I am no longer broken, will I still be who I am?”
“I don’t know what this has to do with me?” Peter asked curiously.
“Eh, I guess I thought it would help to talk to another broken person,” Thomas shrugged. “Maybe, I was dissatisfied with how quickly I bested you. Maybe, I want a rematch.”
“Why do you want that?” Peter asked, baffled. “If we fight, I could kill you.”
“I was thinking the exact same thing.” Thomas smiled a thin smile. “You know, I reckon you and I aren’t so different. We both left NOTCH against our will, we both have family and friends who we itemize, and we are both cowards.”
“I’m not a coward,” Peter snarled. Causing a devious smile to creep upon Thomas’s face.
“Oh, so that’s the one you get mad about. Sounds like that’s the only one you disagree with,” Thomas replied cause Peter’s face to turn red. “No, I’m not calling you a coward in the sense that you avoid monsters or killers. I’m calling you a coward because you are unwilling to face your fears. Sadly, if you are anything like me, you never will.”
“I’m not afraid of anything,” Peter retorted as he impatiently rose to his feet.
“That’s what I kept saying,” Thomas sighed, clearly lost in deep thought. “There was always something. Always another villain. Sometimes they were villainous, and sometimes they weren’t. I needed them, and that was all that mattered. Eventually, I thought I was done, but the second my brother set me up with the girl of my dreams, I left. To be honest, I don’t even remember my motive. I just know that I couldn’t face the possibility of what awaited me if I settled down. My whole life, I fought for my country. I fought against countless enemies until fighting became a part of me. I was trained as a soldier to fight the injustice. I am a warrior, and warriors fight. If I don’t keep fighting, am I still a warrior? If I’m not a warrior, who am I? If I don’t act like Thomas Reed, am I Thomas Reed. If I’m not Thomas Reed, what am I?”
A dead silence filled the forest, and Peter found himself wordless. The way Thomas spoke was one of defeat and acceptance like he had already given up on trying to help himself. Yet, there was undeniable truth enwoven into the words, and Peter couldn’t help but feel like Thomas was describing him. As if in a trance, Peter emotionlessly stared at Thomas as Thomas continued his monolog.
“I don’t fear dying because I know what happens when I die, but if I stop fighting, will I cease to exist? In the end, I’m just too afraid to find out.” Thomas’s eyes dulled as he gazed at Peter. “I’m afraid, Peter Saneto. I’m afraid of the unknown.”
“Because of your fear, you can’t move with your life,” Peter muttered, finishing Thomas’s monolog. “The life outside NOTCH isn’t something we know, and that is why we’re both here.”
“Aye,” Thomas responded as he pushed himself to his feet. “I could have killed you, and you could have killed Rex Darkstar’s son before he hired me. Subconsciously, this is what we both want. A final standoff with the one other person of equal skill. Draw your gun, and lets settle this here. There’s no reason both of us have to suffer any longer.”
“Agreed.” Peter nodded as he withdrew the handgun strapped to his back. “Standard one on one. Last man standing.”
“May the best man win.” Thomas smiled warmly. “And, Peter Saneto, if you kill me, I wish you a better life than mine.”
“I think we both know that isn’t going to happen,” Peter sighed gloomily.
“Perhaps, but you are a warrior, Peter Saneto,” Thomas shrugged. “If you keep fighting your death, then you will never live. However, if you fight for yourself, then maybe, this time, things will be different.”
“I guess one of will never know,” Peter replied as Thomas led Peter towards a large clearing that had to be at least 100 feet in diameter. When they reached the clearing, the two men exchanged a look and each set their watches to release a beeping sound in one minute. When he reached his end of the clearing, Peter took a deep breath and turned to face the trees putting his back to Thomas who had done the same thing. As he stood with his back facing the man who would probably kill him, Peter recalled his time in NOTCH. It felt like such a long time since he had joined NOTCH. This was the end of Peter Saneto. If he lost, he would die, and if he won, he would slowly disappear as Thomas was disappearing.
The sound of Peter’s watch beeping drew Peter out of his thoughts and he spun around to face Thomas and found that Thomas had done the same. For a split second, the two adversaries faced each other motionlessly, and then, the air became filled with the sound of a single gunshot. The bullet travelled through the air, striking its target straight through the heart, and Peter smiled.