The Azrael Initiative
After several months of hard training, the two women are dropped into Al-Raqqah, the capital of ISIS, in Syria. Once there, they must blend in with the locals as they strike from the shadows to kill ISIS leaders, destroy their facilities, and free captives. As Americans deep within enemy territory, they know that they will be killed if discovered. As women, they also know that they would suffer before death. Walking the line between vengeance and justice strains their relationship. As they work to resolve their differences, the symphony of brutality around them ultimately pushes them closer together and forges them into the warriors that they were meant to become.
Kayla jolted from her thoughts as she heard the crack of gunshots from outside the restroom.
Kayla froze in place. Screams tore through the air. What the hell is happening out there? Leaving her bag behind, she crept to the door of the bathroom. She peeked out and surveyed the violent, surreal scene playing out in the Union.
At the opposite end of the Union, to Kayla’s right, a man in a ski mask pointed an AK-47 toward the ceiling and shouted, “Everyone get down and stay still! If you do as we say, you’ll all leave here alive.”
Across from the restroom and near where Kayla and Olivia had sat, another assailant pointed his gun at a group of students, two of whom lay on the ground, a boy bleeding from a wound on his side and a girl from a gunshot to her leg. The boy turned pale from blood loss and shock. Other students cowered on the ground, behind tables, counters, or any other cover available. All except for Olivia, who kept her head down as she moved toward the wounded students with her bag.
“Stay where you are!” commanded the nearest terrorist.
“Please,” begged Olivia, “let me take care of them. Nobody else will bother you, I just need to stop their bleeding.”
“Fine. You can waste your time keeping him alive until we kill all of you. If you try to go anywhere else, you won’t get another warning.”
Kayla watched as her friend opened her bag of nursing supplies and pulled out some gauze for the wounded students. As she watched Olivia get to work, she caught movement on the second floor of the Union. A third terrorist stood up there and peered over the railing to keep an eye on the proceedings from above.
Shit. I can’t just sit here. I have to do something.
Sliding back into the bathroom to think about how to help her friend and the other students, Kayla took off her cardigan and stuffed it into her backpack. As she scanned the room, she spotted a closet on the far wall. Hoping that it contained something helpful, she tried the handle but found it locked. She knelt on the ground and pulled a bobby pin from her hair, letting the strands fall to her shoulders.
Years of helping her father in his shop had taught Kayla many skills, including how to pick a lock. She wiggled the hair pin into the lock, feeling for the key pins. One by one, she felt them click into place. It felt like it was taking forever, as she thought about the students in danger just outside the bathroom door. The shouting and screaming from outside the restroom distracted her. Adrenaline coursed through her veins, causing her hands to shake as she manipulated the pin.
Finally, she popped the last pin into place and tried the handle once again. It gave way and revealed a closet full of cleaning supplies, likely locked to prevent troublesome students from stealing Windex.
Her searching green eyes looked over the shelves, looking for anything that she could use as a distraction or a weapon. At first glance, Kayla grabbed a mop and unscrewed the handle to use as a staff. Behind the mop, she saw shelves stocked with bleach, vinegar, and baking soda. Looking through the trash, she found several pop bottles. She used these to divide the chemicals into smaller portions.
Placing the rest of the soda bottles of cleaning supplies into her backpack, Kayla grabbed one small bottle of vinegar and poured some baking soda into it. As the mixture started bubbling, she sealed the container with a twist and tossed it into the restroom’s entrance corridor. Dashing across the room, she pressed herself against the wall so that she remained out of sight to anyone entering the restroom.
Kayla grasped the mop handle as she waited for the chemical reaction to take effect and burst the bottle. She felt her heart pounding in her chest with anticipation and fear of the fight to come. Sparring with Olivia had taught her the moves she needed, but fighting an enemy who wanted to kill her would be very different from a contest with her best friend. She closed her eyes and covered her ears as she waited.
The vinegar and baking soda bomb harmed nothing, but made a terrible racket, sure to catch the attention of the gunmen occupying the building.
The attackers began shouting.
“Go see what made that noise!” ordered the voice of whoever must be in charge.
Kayla heard footsteps dashing toward the restroom. She held her breath as the sound reached the entrance. From her position hiding around the corner from the corridor, she remained out of sight and relied completely on her sense of hearing. As the sound of running feet reached her corner, Kayla stuck the mop handle across the bottom of the doorway. The staff caught the terrorist’s legs and sent him crashing to the floor. His rifle skittered across the room.
Kayla rushed toward him to keep the initiative in her favor. However, he recovered quickly as he hopped onto his feet and pulled out a long combat knife from his belt.
He stabbed at her with a quick thrust, and Kayla knocked his hand aside with a sweep of her staff.
As he twisted to slash at her, she jumped to the side. However, her foot slipped on a puddle on the tile floor. She managed to keep her balance, but the terrorist used this disruption to catch her off guard. He kicked her with a strong blow to the abdomen.
With the wind knocked out of her, Kayla fell to her knees and dropped the staff. Her attacker fell on her with the knife, sending them both to the ground. Kayla, with her back pressed against the hard floor, barely managed to catch his wrist before the knife could plunge into her chest.
There was a brief stalemate as the two combatants strained against each other, neither gaining an advantage. As the terrorist shifted on top of Kayla, she saw a brief opening and seized it, kicking him hard in the groin. He grunted in pain and the distraction caused him to loosen his grip ever so slightly.
In the blink of an eye, Kayla turned the knife away from herself. Before she realized it, she had plunged it deep into the terrorist’s eye socket. He shrieked in agony, then collapsed on top of her and stayed still.
Kayla shoved the now lifeless body off of her. As she took in the scene of the corpse and the rapidly expanding pool of blood beneath it, a wave of nausea swept over her. She rushed into the closest stall and vomited into the toilet.
Despite the life and death nature of the struggle, Kayla could not believe she had just killed another human being. She had never considered that she might need to do something like this. Still feeling queasy, she jolted from her thoughts at the crackle of a radio. Another terrorist was checking in with the one she had just killed.
Acting before someone else came to investigate, she removed the bloody mask of the terrorist, hoping that the dark material hid the gory stains, and paused to look at the face of the man she had just killed. Laying on the bathroom floor, he looked eerily peaceful, his one remaining blue eye gazing up at the ceiling. Around his neck, he wore a pendant featuring a five-pointed star with arcs extending clockwise from each point.
Fighting against another wave of nausea, she grabbed the man’s mask, along with the rest of his clothing, and disguised herself as one of them. Kayla stood taller than average, and she thought the guise might just fool them long enough to get into a position to handle them. Grabbing the terrorist’s gun and the bag of chemicals, she walked out of the bathroom and gave the lead terrorist a wave to signal that everything was fine. He seemed satisfied and turned away.
Kayla next needed to deal with the attacker on the second floor. Unless she took him out, he would see any attack against the one on the ground level. Making her way over to the nearest stairwell, Kayla passed Olivia as she kept helping the wounded students.
Glancing to make sure that none of the terrorists looked in her direction, she knelt and whispered into Olivia’s ear, “Liv, it’s me. I’m going to see what I can do.”
Olivia turned her head to look at Kayla, her eyes widened in terror. “No, keep your head down. They’ll kill you,” she gasped.
“I have to take my chances. Keep up the good work here.”
Climbing the stairs to the next level, she overheard the other two terrorists talking on the radio.
“Looks like the police are starting to surround the building,” said the first voice.
“Good,” replied the second. “Keep an eye out for the news trucks. Once there are enough cameras, we start killing these students.”
“These windows will give them a great view of the action.”
Kayla slinked her way around the second floor of the Union, looking for a good angle on the terrorist perched up there. She found a nook between a coffee table and a plush green armchair where she had a view of him, as well as the remaining attacker on the ground floor. Since they could both see and hear each other, she needed to distract them both and occupy the one on the main level long enough to deal with the enemy on the second floor.
Looking into her backpack, she found a small bottle that contained vinegar and another that held bleach. Pouring the vinegar into the container with the bleach, she twisted the top until it felt just tight enough to stay affixed. Taking aim near the terrorist on the ground, she chucked the bottle over the railing.
As expected, the bottle smacking the floor startled the assailant on the ground level. He kicked the foaming bottle and looked around for the source. Before he had a chance to spot Kayla, he began to choke on the invisible chlorine gas leaking from the bottle. Such a small amount would not kill him but would keep his eyes and lungs burning long enough to occupy him.
This diversion also attracted the attention of the gunman on the second floor. He looked increasingly concerned by his comrade’s coughing and wheezing. Kayla thought about shooting him but didn’t trust her own ability to hit him.
She seized the moment and sprinted toward him. Tackling him from behind, she heard his ribs crunch from the impact with the railing. Without allowing him time to react, she smashed the butt of her gun against the back of his head and shoved his shoulders over the ledge. His body tumbled down and crashed onto a table below, where he remained motionless.
Looking across the Union as she caught her breath, Kayla saw that the sound of the man falling to the floor had jolted the remaining terrorist on the ground out of his coughing fit. He glanced up and spotted Kayla. As she ducked behind the wall, he let off a burst of fire from his rifle. She heard footsteps as he dashed toward the stairwell. As she started to move to a better position to ambush the terrorist, the footsteps stopped abruptly with a pained grunt.
Peering back over the edge, she saw the gunman sprawled face down on the floor, while Olivia dashed toward him. Kayla concluded that she must have tripped the terrorist as he ran past her position where she had been helping the wounded students.
Olivia dove on top of him, landing with her weight on her left knee, driving it into his back. Gritting his teeth through the pain, the terrorist pushed himself up, throwing Olivia to the side.
She lay on her side as the terrorist stood up. With surgical precision, the nursing student drove her foot into his knee. The joint popped backward with the impact and the man collapsed to the ground. As he writhed on the ground, Olivia stood up, and with one swift kick to the head, knocked him unconscious.
With all of the terrorists neutralized, a strange stillness set over the Union. Kayla pulled off the ski mask she had taken from the first attacker. Olivia and Kayla looked into each other’s eyes from across the room and, at the same time, each saw a best friend and a stranger looking back.
Kayla made her way down the stairs and, without a word, embraced her friend. They stayed silent for a long moment. Despite the victory, they both felt like they had lost something.
Finally, Olivia broke the silence. “Let me look at your shoulder. A bullet or knife must have caught you.”
Kayla looked at her left shoulder and saw a two-inch gash bleeding into her confiscated jacket. She guessed that the cut had happened during her fight in the restroom. “Wow, I didn’t even feel it until you said something.”
Olivia reached into her bag and grabbed a bottle of antiseptic. “I don’t really believe what just happened, or what we did.”
“I know,” winced Kayla as the liquid stung her wound. “I…I killed one of them, in the bathroom. Now that this is over, that’s all that I can think about. Every time I close my eyes, I see his face in my mind. Oh shit, I feel like I’m going to vomit again.” She just managed to hold back the bile rising in her throat.
Olivia looked into her friend’s eyes, searching for comforting words. However, before she found any, the sound of smashing glass broke her concentration.
A SWAT team had forced entry to the building and dashed across the floor to secure the area. Two of the officers surprised Kayla when they rushed up and forced her to the ground. As they handcuffed her and stripped her of all of her weapons, she realized that she remained dressed like one of the terrorists.
“Wait, I’m not with them! I was just trying to help!” she pleaded.
“That’s not for me to decide. You’re coming with us,” one of the officers ordered in a gruff voice.
Her head spinning from the events of the evening, Kayla felt like she was floating as the officers forced her out of the Union and threw her into a van. She shuddered they slammed the doors shut. Then, overwhelmed with confusion and emotion, she began to weep.
K Hanson is a new author and is currently working on launching his debut novel, The Azrael Initiative, which features two young women being thrown into the fight against ISIS. He is also working on Storm Raven, the first book in a new fantasy series.
K lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he works as a software developer. In his spare time, when he isn’t writing, he enjoys reading, working out, playing video games, and spending time with his wonderful girlfriend, Bobbi.
Some of his favorite authors are Tom Clancy, George R. R. Martin, and Sarah Maas.