• Outside of my cottage, the wind howled as a predator does when closing in on its long stalked prey, and rain trickled from the roof like saliva dripping from the famished maw of a starving beast. I stood near the fire's protective barrier against the chill air that permeated the interior of my temporary home. As I rubbed my hands before the amber flames devouring a birch log in front of me, a sense of trepidation suddenly washed over me like a wave. Just as I began to ponder what the cause of such a disturbance in my psyche could be, a small knock broke my inward concentration, and I hesitantly approached the door. Cautiously, I placed my hand on the knob and called "Who's there?". There was a short pause, in which I pressed my ear against the timber separating me from whoever or whatever waited on my front porch in order to hear above the din of the storm. "It's Amelia Strand." Said a female voice quickly and imploringly. I did not recognize the voice, but she must be here for a good reason if she was willing to brave the raging tempest outside.
    Now with haste, I unbolted the door and permitted the middle-aged woman onto the rug set in the entryway. Her hair was red, her eyes two emeralds glowing in the flickering light cast by the fire. Amelia Strand. That name rang through my head like a bell; somehow, I knew this person. I got a better look at her face, and the sense that I had seen her somewhere before intensified. Unfortunately, I still could not recall in the least bit how I knew her.
    Then, sudden realization made my jaw drop to the floor. I think it was her eyes that betrayed her to my memory, for I still remember them from the first time I had met her. Now I wondered if letting her into my home had been the wisest course of action. After all, she was supposed to be dead. "A-A-…Amelia?" I stammered, my mouth as wide open as the door of my house. She gave me a small smile and shut the door for me. "Hello John, it's been a while." She said in response to my stunned silence. And with one quick step, she came forward and wrapped me in a tight embrace as she began to cry. I wrapped my arms around her as well, more out of reflex than want.
    We stood there for a while, until her sobs subsided and she looked up into my face with those beautiful forest green eyes, now stained by her tears. By this time I was shaking uncontrollably, and I suddenly pushed her away from me with more force than I intended. "How…how is this possible? I witnessed it all: the gunman on the roof, the bullet as it ripped a hole through you. Your blood soaked through my sleeves as I cradled your head in my arms and watched the light fade from your eyes…" her lips tightened and it looked like she might cry again-she could see the pain she had caused me. "Honestly, I thought I was dead as well. After I hit the pavement, everything went black. I wandered through darkness for what seemed an eternity, all alone. Then I saw a light flickering ahead of me and I ran to it. The moment I stepped into that light, I woke up in a bed, wired to all kinds of medical machines. That's when Zack walked in the room and informed me that I had been in a coma for nearly a year."
    None of this made any sense to me. "But the obituaries. They had an article in the paper about you passing away in intensive care. And Zack is supposed to be in Afghanistan. How could he have been taking care of you for all of this time?" Now she looked at me irritably, like a mother eyeing a child who should have known better than to put his hand on the hot stove. "Come on, think about it John. You're as much of a professional as I am! They tried to cover up the fact that I had survived. When I was brought to the hospital, the only reason I made it out alive was because of Zack impersonating a doctor and what he discovered in Afghanistan. You see John, someone attempted to murder him. They nearly succeeded too, but he fought them off and returned to the states worrying for the safety of his colleagues. I'm lucky he got me out of the hospital before they could show up and finish the job."
    They? Who was she talking about? My mind was on the brink of shutting down because of the questions and emotions rattling around inside of my skull. I took a deep breath to steady myself, and asked the most prevalent question, "Who exactly are THEY?" Knowing your enemy was the key to surviving any type of engagement, and her response did not help in the least. Dropping her gaze to the floor, she replied, "I don't know, and neither does Zack. The only thing we do know is that they tried to kill Zack, me, and I believe the only reason why they haven't made an attempt on you is because they haven't been able to find you out here. You're lucky you got out when you di-"
    The faint crunch of soft footsteps outside of the cottage caused her to cut off mid sentence. Despite the screaming wind, I could tell by sound alone that the cabin was surrounded. Simultaneously our weapons flew from their concealed hiding places in our coats; mine was a silver M9 and hers could have been its identical twin except for its golden color. We glanced at each other and exchanged nods. It seemed whoever had tried to off Zack and Amelia had finally caught up to me as well. When Amelia had "died", I had sworn that my life as an assassin was over. I remember thinking of this as we rolled to the floor, bullets shattering windows and whizzing through the spot we had stood two seconds before. "I guess some habits die hard..." I murmured as I took aim at a dark shape moving outside and pulled the trigger…