“NO!” cried out Grace clinging to Aaron as he slumped forward his weight pressing down on her.
She tried to keep him steady as he coughed up blood, collapsing to the floor.
“No no no! Stay with me Aaron!” she cried, trying to pull him up.
It was no use though, the back of his coat was leaking blood and the shirt underneath was drenched in red.
Barret looked on, a frown on his face. He cocked his head to one side. “That was too easy. The years have not been kind to you Black-Heart.”
Lowering his pistol, Barret looked down. “He saved your life, be grateful, woman. I have no reserve in killing you. Now step back from him if you want to keep living.”
Grace looked whipped her head around. “I will not! How could you kill him!? I’m staying by him if it kills me!”
“So be it,” said Barret calmly stepping forward. He reached down and grabbed Grace by the arm. She tried to struggle and throw him off, but his grip was strong and he pulled her up with enough force to wrench her shoulder.
She cried out as he tossed her aside, sending her crashing into a table across the room. With a loud clatter the tabled toppled over, but not before she caught herself on it, trying to keep her feet with her wrenched shoulder. She glared back at him as she hung onto the table.
“You are resilient, I will give you that. But why Black-Heart saved you I will never know,” said Barret, his voice deadly as he raises his pistol.
Grace watched in fear as he took aim, she didn’t look away.
A cough came from the floor and her gaze shifted, her eyes widening in hope and surprise.
Aaron had managed to push himself up with his hands onto all fours. “Leave her alone,” he growled, and then spit out some blood onto the floor. “She has nothing to do with this.”
Barret grinned wickedly, his gaze still on Grace. “The great Black-Heart is alive. I knew you weren’t dead yet. That would have been too easy.”
Pushing himself to his feet, Aaron wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and then grabbed the bottle of brew from the bar top, taking a long swig. The liquid burned as it went down his damaged esophagus.
He coughed some of it back up, as he set the bottle back down. The pain in his chest radiated outward with intensity, but it was overshadowed the by the rolling headache created by the curse in the back of his mind. He could feel it trying to take control. He wasn’t going to let that happen though. He couldn’t, yet he could feel himself trying to reach for his pistol safely tucked away in his coat pocket.
Aaron didn’t let his hand get far though as he turned the motion into a fast jab, lunging at Barret from behind with incredible speed.
Barret reacted in kind, whipping around and counter-attacking with a jab of his own. His straightened fingers caught Aaron in the gut, sending another wave of pain through his torso. He collapsed forward into Barret’s grasp. The man brought the butt of his pistol down hard on Aaron’s back and Aaron coughed in pain sputtering up more blood.
How was this happening? The man couldn’t be this strong, this fast, that he could counter so quickly. Aaron had been able to defend against Mai when she’d caught him off guard the first time, so why was he losing? He didn’t think he was that rusty or fatigued. He’d had time to recover on the airship from his fight with Van.
Barret leaned in, whispering in Aaron’s ear. “How do you like my new strength? I’ve gotten much stronger since the last time we saw each other. And with the power of that pistol, Headquarters will finally be forced to realize my strength.”
Aaron felt Barret’s hand reach inside his coat pocket. Blinking, Aaron regained his focus and grabbed Barret’s hand with his own, his grip crushing around the other man’s forearm.
“No,” sputtered Aaron in a growl, spitting up more blood.
He shoved Barret back, whipping up his leg in a fierce kick that struck the man on the side, sending him sliding sideways. “It’s my burden to bear!” shouted Aaron.
Barret regained his balance, holding up his hand, flexing his fingers. Aaron heard them crack as Barret closed them into a fist. “Now there’s something I remember well,” he said. “That grasp nearly killed me once. It won’t do much good now though.”
Raising his pistol, he took aim. The silver weapon was similar in design to the pistol Aaron wielded. It was a large, heavy pistol, with six shots, save for one thing though, it shot rounds designed to fragment and explode inside their target, shredding the target’s insides. It was miracle that it hadn’t done as much damage to Aaron’s lungs and heart as it had.
Aaron dodged just as Barret squeezed the trigger. The shot whizzed past as Aaron hit the ground rolling into a crouch. The moment he hit his feet though, Barret was on him. The force of the blow sent Aaron flying backward. He felt himself hit the wall of bar, then suddenly it was crumbling around him and he blew through it, flying out into the street outside.