~ Mind Games ~

Prague, Czechoslovakia.

He walked through dusky chambers and wide corridors, full of dust and dirt. There was no sunlight nor sound except the low creaked noises that resounded with each taken footstep. This mansion was old and had been left uninhabited and untouched for what seemed like an eternity.

What had happened at this place? Who was the one responsible for sealing off this house forever? And why? Which dark secrets lay buried here?

His right hand was tapping in the air as if hitting the keys of an imaginary keyboard.

Inspector Heinrich Lunge closed his eyes, his facial expression contorted with concentration.

His mind was working like a clockwork. He waited patiently for it to do click , to discover something he hadn't noticed before.

With his left hand he reached for a picture-book he had kept inside his jacket-pocket. For a moment he just stood there, silently peering at the book's worn-out cover. A small picture of a weird green monster caught his attention. "The Monster Without A Name", he read.

"I am Johan Liebert. I am a Monster. A Monster without a name. A nameless Monster. I am here to find something." he murmured and looked around, his black eyes searching his surroundings. "What am I looking for? My past? My future?What is my intention?"

Lunge raised an eyebrow. No click. No revelation. There was nothing. His mind was blank. He let out a sigh of frustration.

How often had he succeeded to immerse himself into the mind of a criminal?

He smirked while his mind began to operate like a calculating machine recalling his excellent memorized data.

Ah, so it was 63 times.

Lunge reflected on his different cases which had happened to be easy tasks most of the time.

He'd just imagine to be someone else. To think exactly like the killer he wanted to catch. He even started to unconsciously behave like the one he was looking for.

But this time it served no purpose. He had already tried to get inside Johan's head many, many times now. The policeman always tried to imitate his train of thoughts. To anticipate his next potential moves or targeted victims. Without success. It was like running and slamming against an invisible wall.

Why was it so difficult to be like him? To think like him? To tick like him? Was it because he was a special case unlike the other serial killers he had investigated before?

Yes, it was true. Unlike most criminals Johan was hard to grasp. If you reached out with your hand to find the truth, you'd only snatch at thin air.

He had many identities yet no one knew his real name, his true name.

Furthermore he had no motives. The crime-scenes were unusual like anything he had ever seen before. The murders he committed were without purpose. Without emotion. Without hesitation. No hatred, no rage, no jealousy, no passion, nothing. The killer was calm and serene.

A buddha on a path of destruction. That's how he'd describe this person he sought.

He killed without emotion, without compassion. Like an angel of death Johan only seemed to exist to end another life.

And he left no clues, no traces nor witnesses whatsoever. The people who were unfortunate enough to cross Johan's path didn't tend to have a high life-expectancy. Before you could get any useful information out of them they always disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances. An unexpected suicide here, a sudden car accident there. Every investigation ended in a dead-end.

Johan certainly knows how to cover his tracks perfectly.

To Lunge this man was like a ghost.

You had witnesses who tried to convince you that this man really existed. That he was reality.

But you wouldn't believe them.

Because there was no proof of his existence. And a detective like him required evidence.

It was needed to keep him going. To ignite his inner fire. To awake his hunter instincts.

Lunge wanted to see him with his own eyes. Face to face. Was this guy reality or just a fabrication? The inspector had profiled the prime suspect, the japanese neurosurgeon Kenzou Tenma who vehemently insisted that Johan Liebert was the true culprit. Yet, at that time Heinrich Lunge didn't believe him, thinking Tenma possessed an inner personality named Johan who committed the murders through him. The creation of a dual personality, or more precisely a dissociative identity disorder

Later, when he heard how Tenma attempted to kill a man named Johan Liebert at the university in Munich, he realized his internal logic held too many flaws and all the collected evidence and witness statements concerning Dr. Tenma weren't substantial enough. There was a fault in his deductions, his instincts told him something was amiss here and Lunge wanted, no he had to know the truth.

So he decided to try again, "I am Johan Liebert. I'm in Prague. I walk through the halls of the Red Rose Mansion."

The inspector entered another empty room, his observant eyes scanned every tiny detail methodically, continuing "What do I want here? What is my goal, my next target?"

Lunge slowly ran his long fingers over the armrest of a wooden chair and continued, "To look for traces of my past. The past of the real me...me.", he paused and said "I am Johan Liebert. I am a monster and no one knows of my existence because I..."

"You are not me, Inspector Lunge" A calm, smooth voice interrupted him.

He's here? When did he...? I didn't even hear him...

Lunge shuddered and turned around immediately. His black eyes met the cold blue ones of a young man dressed in an elegant light-brown jacket, expensive black pants and elegant shoes.

The blond man tilted his head slightly. "I'm glad we finally meet, Inspector."

Heinrich Lunge didn't belong to the kind of people who got scared easily. But now he had to admit that he hadn't expected someone like this man to be the monster named Johan.

This young man didn't even look like a criminal at all. Or like an unscrupulous killer who had already started to murder people at the age of ten.

There was nothing that aroused suspicion. He had the appearance of a common well-dressed student with a charming, handsome face. A lean body stature like an athlete, light-blond hair and pale skin, brilliant blue eyes and wearing a smile that was both mysterious and nonchalant at the same time, a facial expression that gave nothing away. This man certainly knew how to use his good looks to his advantage, winning someone's trust easily, charming the pants off anyone he encountered.

But still... there was an aura around him that felt more than slightly disturbing. There was something unsettling in his eyes. Lunge felt those boring eyes quietly studying him, seeing right through him, deep down into the inner depths of his bare soul.

This man standing in front of him was a skillful puppeteer-player, he enjoyed toying with other people's minds and feelings. He could infiltrate and corrupt your mind until the only thing left of you was a broken, tormented soul. A lifeless shell of the person you once were.

Mental torture. Brainwashing, it's the ultimate control over another person's life, the power of god..., he thought, This is probably the most elegant, the most effective method to kill someone, telling your victim to kill for you and letting them commit suicide after the deed is done.

A feeling of uneasiness washed over him.

His eyes. Like the hunter who focuses on his prey, he thought and felt his throat tightening instantly. It made him feel weak and powerless. Like a helpless mouse staring into the eyes of a hungry cat.

For a moment those clear blue eyes seemed to shimmer as if being satisfied with his silent observation. Or was it perhaps expectation? Lunge suddenly felt a shiver run up his spine.

The inspector didn't want his opponent to see his fear. He inhaled deeply, gathered his voice and asked seemingly unfazed "Why are you here?"

Johan just stood there at the doorway, completely motionless, his hands folded behind his back. A small smile played around his lips, "Shouldn't I be the one to ask you that, my dear Inspector? Since you are so far away from home? What brings you..." he gestured with his hand to the large window, hinting at the city outside these walls, "here to Prague?"

His smile grew even wider and with growing anticipation he said, "Are you here to hunt me down, Inspector? Are you following the good doctor's footsteps? Do you intend to kill me too?"

Lunge shook his head and tried to look surprised, "I'm not here on duty, I'm actually on vacation. I didn't expect to find you here."

"Well, that's a coincidence, isn't it? You abandoned the Tenma case and decided to go on a trip. And on top of that, you chose your destination to be Prague."

Johan gave him a taunting smile, "I'm really disappointed, Inspector Lunge. You're not very convincing."

The tall inspector grimaced, clenching his fists. "How did you know?", he asked.

"I've been watching you.", Johan answered truthfully and when he detected the sudden alertness in Lunge's tense posture, he continued, "In fact, I was there, detective. In Munich. I watched you when you had paid a visit to my empty apartment."

Lunge's eyes widened as realization struck him, "All this time you've been following me?"

"Oh, yes, but of course.", he responded in an amused tone. "I must confess that I have taken an interest in you. You are not like all the others out there."

For a brief moment the blond man threw a contemplative glance to the window before he went on, "They are all boring, showing predictable behavior like ants. Everyday they go to work, they live their pathetic little lives without ever getting the bigger picture. And when you decide to play with them... To pull a stick into their tiny little anthill... And show them their greatest fear, you'll finally get to see their true face."

"And what is their true face?"

"You work for the police force, do you not? You have to deal with this scum of society everyday so you should know what I'm talking about. This world is rotten to the core and almost everything is meant to die. Human lives are no exception. They are nothing more than an insignificant speck. Their worthless lives shouldn't even count as an existence."

"So, when you strip them away from their illusion of safety, the only thing they care about is their own survival. Like animals they only act on their primal instincts. You only need to push them to the brink of death and they'll reveal their true self to you."

Johan stared at him, his piercing blue-eyes seemed to bore straight into his soul "Just remember the library fire incident. You were there, weren't you? The heat, the smoke and the fear in the air. Ah, yes, you could see it all. Their desperate cries for help. Their last dying screams when everything was engulfed in a sea of flames. And like a horde of wild animals they searched for a way out of this hellfire. Trampling and stumbling on one another. Every single one of them only thought of saving his or her own life. As if their own life was more important and much more valuable than the lives of others."

Lunge gave him an accusing look, "That fire at the Munich University Library... it was your doing?"

Johan shrugged, "Well, let's just say that this explosion wasn't a part of my initial plan. But I had changed my mind right after I heard somebody stating that this unique collection of precious books were the treasures of humanity."

"I just couldn't resist the urge to burn them, destroying the symbol of humankind's greatest treasure.", he whispered in a low voice.

He's insane, Lunge thought and slowly moved his hand up to his jacket.

Ice-blue eyes followed his every move, a hint of slight amusement lingering in them.

His hand froze in mid-air.

My gun... I've left it at my hotel-room, damn it! Lunge cursed himself for being that stupid and careless.

Just great! The hunter has become the hunted. This situation can't get any worse now, can it? He thought grimly.

The young man smirked, "It seems you're unarmed, Inspector. Unfortunately for you, I am not."

He took one slow step toward him and pulled out a gun. It pointed straight at Lunge's forehead as he went on, "I'm looking forward to... us spending some quality time together. But first..." Johan took a pair of handcuffs and threw them in Lunge's direction, the cold metal touching the floor with a loud clanging sound, "you should take these. I'm sure you know how to use them."

"Is this really necessary?" Lunge asked him wryly as he held out his hands to remind Johan of his defenselessness. His chances of survival were decreasing minute-by-minute.

"I know you better than anyone else, Inspector. Perhaps even better than yourself. You're quite a stubborn one. And I won't make the grave mistake to underestimate you." , he made clear with a dangerous glint in his eyes.

Lunge sighed and was reluctant to follow Johan's order. But he knew how to read a face. And Johan's expression warned him 'Try to resist and I won't hesitate to shoot you.'

The young man nodded with satisfaction, absolutely aware that he had the upper hand now.

Lunge glared at him defiantly.

"You look pale, Inspector. You're not getting sick, are you?" Johan asked, feigning worry.

"Well, considering my current predicament, I am fine.", he grumbled.

"Oh yes, you are, ... for now.", Johan added and let his last words hang in the air..

"To be honest with you I haven't decided your fate yet. I'm a spontaneous person, after all. And there are so many ways and possibilities to exploit your fear..."

With each passing moment Lunge slowly began to lose his calm composure, ready to release his growing anger any minute now.

Here he was alone with this madman who enjoyed to play with him, to challenge him, to taunt him. To have his fun wih him before the final kill.

"Why don't you just get it over with?" He growled through clenched teeth, "Kill me already and quit playing your sick mind-games with me!"

"This isn't a game, I'd rather call it an experiment." Johan corrected him softly.

"An... experiment?" Lunge asked irritated.

But before he could ask any more questions Johan waved his hand in apology. "It seems I've forgotten my manners. A good host should always offer his guest something to eat and drink, hmm...", he casually placed his gun on a small side table and showed him a little bag. Inside it were whiskey-sweets."Would you like some candy, Inspector?"

His stomach tightened. It's poison, he's going to kill me... It instantly shot through his head.

"I'm not hungry.", he denied hastily.

"It's not very polite of you to decline an offer.", Johan warned him with a smile, still holding the candy in his hand.

"Three men died at the Prague Police department last week. Chief Hamrik, Head Detective Patera and Detective Janacek. The cause of their death... was poisoned candy. Traces of a muscle-relaxant substance were found in their blood-samples. The number one suspect is Jan Suk, a young detective." Lunge explained, his mind recalling the latest data of the Prague police murder case.

Then he eyed Johan carefully, "But we both know who the true culprit is, don't we?"

"I'm impressed by your excellent deductive skills, Inspector. You live up to your reputation.", Johan admitted, a hint of mockery in his tone.

"This detective Suk...", the BKA agent pondered, his hand moving on its own, recalling his collected data and comparing its content in his mind, "he reminds me of a certain japanese Neurosurgeon, Dr. Kenzou Tenma."

Johan's smile was gone, replaced by an expression, he couldn't quite decipher as he heard him mentioning the name of the doctor.

Finally, a reaction... he noticed and then continued, "Suk and Tenma have a lot in common. They both were successful and famous, the people around them admired them greatly and they both stood at the starting point of a promising career. That was before you showed up and decided to ruin their lives."

Lunge glared at him, "I wonder, why are you doing all this? What is your goal? Is it perhaps that you wanted to witness their fall from grace? You've planned every single detail of their downfall, didn't you? You've put them on that high pedestal and supported their career by killing the ones that stood in their way. Until you decided that it was finally time to let them fall. To bring them to their knees."

Lunge watched the young man carefully, waiting for another reaction. But there was none.

He was oddly and surprisingly calm, his face an expressionless mask. He didn't show the predictable behavior of a common criminal. And it was easier for Lunge to deal with somebody who screamed at you, attacked you, argued or threatened you.

But this calmness... It meant that Johan's mind was working relentlessly. Carefully calculating his next steps.

His piercing blue eyes gazed at him with such intensity it made Lunge's blood run cold.

After minutes of unbearable silence, Lunge cleared his throat and decided to challenge him.

This is my chance. I still have this picture-book with me. If I give it to him he'll definitely show some sort of reaction, I'm sure of it. He anticipated.

The tall, dark-haired inspector pursed his lips and took one step forward. His cuffed hands held up the old picture-book in front of him like a shield to defend himself. "Do you know this picture-book, Johan?", he began and swallowed hard when Johan gave him a cruel smile in return.

Lunge hesitated and stopped moving. The book... he realized in his thoughts, it doesn't affect him anymore.

"Did you really think I'd faint because of this book?" Johan leaned forward, his face wore a mocking expression.

"I've heard that you've passed out at the library and they had to bring you to a hospital...after reading this book."

"Yes, and now I should really thank you, my dear Inspector. For reminding me of the fact that there are still people out there. People who know of my existence and who've told you about me. Certain people I need to kill. I can assure you I'll deal with them sooner or later." he promised him.

"Don't! Leave them alone!" he hissed, feelings of rage boiling inside of him. It was seemingly visible that the detective struggled to maintain control over himself.

Johan frowned, unmoved. "Why should I spare their lives, Inspector? Does their existence have any meaning in this world? Or to you?" he wanted to know, an unpleasant edge to his tone.

"Every human being has a right to live." , he said through gritted teeth, „And you have no right to take their lives away!"

The blond man smirked. "Now you sound just like Dr. Tenma, Inspector."

Lunge felt himself tense when Johan compared him to Tenma.

Johan shrugged, a soft laugh escaped his mouth. "Everybody is equal, right? And they all have a right to live... Ah, it all sounds so familiar. I feel like having a déjà-vu."

Lunge's expression darkened. "Now that you mention doctor Tenma. What did you do to him? Does it excite you to toy with him? To destroy his life?"

"I could ask you the same questions, Inspector. Since you are the one who was so obsessed with Tenma in the first place. It was you who hunted this innocent man. It was you who wanted to bring him to justice, not me."

"I know that I made a mistake. And I'll apologize to him in due time." Lunge glared at him "Now you will answer my question. Why Dr. Tenma? Why did you choose him?

Johan's eyes took on a distant look as he told him quietly "Dr. Tenma is special. He saved my life. In exchange I only helped him to correct his naive view of this rotten world."

"By making him a fugitive being chased by the whole police-force?" he asked coldly.

"It's a gift, Inspector. The good doctor finally sees the world with my eyes. He knows now just how wrong he was. Human lives aren't equal. The only thing everyone is equal in is death."

"You're wrong." Lunge objected stiffly.

"Perhaps I should change your views too. Would you like that, Inspector?" he said, his voice suddenly thoughtful.

A muscle in Lunge's cheek twitched as he watched Johan's hand hovering closely over the table where his gun was lying.

Johan smiled. "Are you afraid now?" he asked, his all-knowing eyes gleamed like he could somehow read Lunge's mind.

Lunge squeezed his hands into fists, his knuckles whitened. "I'm a BKA-Detective. I have to deal with the likes of you everyday. So don't think that I'll be intimidated by you." he countered.

"Ah, Inspector, you disappoint me. You don't really believe this now, do you?" Johan had his gun back in his hand and slowly walked towards him.

Lunge quickly moved backwards instinctively, trying to place a bit more distance between the two of them. Yet soon enough his back hit the wall and he realized that he was trapped. There was no way to run. No place to hide.

The young man paced toward him, relentless, inexorable. He got closer and closer till he was only a few inches away from him now. Lunge's heart-rate increased, he felt the heated adrenaline in his pulsating veins.

All his instincts warned him, his inner voice echoing loud and shrill in his head like alarm bells.

Danger! Run!

But he couldn't do anything and wanted to scream against his own helplessness. The fear of approaching death numbed his entire body. Knowing that this man could end his life in a matter of seconds now.

A strong hand grabbed his shoulder, pinning him to the wall. Johan's weapon was pressed tightly against Lunge's chest. He felt his body start to tremble slightly, but he refused to give in to the fear that threatened to overwhelm him.

Lunge protested, tried to break free from his firm grip. But it was of no use. Blue eyes regarded him steadily. Lunge tried to look away but Johan held up his chin.

"Look at me, Inspector." he demanded, his blue eyes widening as if had the intention to hypnotize him.

Lunge looked up to find Johan's eyes on him, bravely meeting his gaze head-on. For a second those ocean-blue eyes seemed to shimmer as if he had found something. Something that could break Lunge's soul.

Don't think that you have won your little game, you bastard. I won't give up that easily. He thought resolutely.

The weapon moved up and the inspector felt the cold steel of the gun pressed against his throat.

"Go ahead! Do it! Pull the damn trigger!" Lunge demanded hoarsely.

Johan smiled. "Have a little patience, Inspector. We're just getting started."

Lunge didn't say anything. He just glared at him angrily.

"You're not scared." Johan stated, watching and studying him closely.

He leaned in closer, and the other man heard him whisper against his ear. "Are you not afraid to die?"

"As an officer of the BKA I'm always prepared to die. It's part of my job." he answered dully. "And if I had to choose between death and...", he paused and eyed him coldly, "your sick mind games, I'd gladly choose to die."

They locked eyes and for half a dozen heartbeats they both were silent. A thoughtful expression suddenly appeared on Johan's face "You know that I can grant your death wish, Inspector. Here and now."

"Yes, I know. But I also know that you won't do it." Lunge challenged him carefully, hardly daring to breathe.

"And why is that?" Johan asked him curiously.

Lunge tapped his forehead with his finger. "You won't simply kill me. You want to get inside my head first. To twist my mind and drive me insane."

"It must be frustrating to know that your simple mind games won't work on me." Lunge said with a knowing smile.

"You think so, Inspector?" Johan asked, peering at him closely.

Lunge heard the click of the trigger as Johan trailed the gun up to his forehead. His weapon pressed painfully against his temple, yet he refused to flinch. Lunge knew that Johan wanted to see him break. This man was fascinated by fear. That kind of fear you show when you're close to death. He fed on that fear and he savored it like a Connoisseur.

"I've told you before, Inspector, that I want to exploit your fear. Death isn't your greatest fear and now I wonder, what it is, hmm..."

Johan studied his face. "You've said you're prepared to die. Because you believe you have nothing left to lose. Am I right?"

"Look at you, the brilliant agent of the BKA. Here you are all by yourself in this foreign country. On vacation without even your police badge. You've been alone all your life, haven't you? You're a loner, a stranger. Everybody, your colleagues at work, your few friends and your family, they all know that you're a workaholic, obsessed with hunting down criminals. But one day, after you looked too deeply into a senate member's scandal you were abandoned. You were hung out to dry. And now your sole purpose in life is to chase after Dr. Tenma. It's the only reason that you're alive, the only reason why you still exist." he said, letting his words slowly sink in, like a knife cutting deep into his flesh.

"You did your research well." Lunge admitted drily, his face hardening.

"Of course, Inspector. I know everything there is to know about you. You're solitary in this world. You have no friends. No family. Your wife left you because you never had time for her. Work always comes first, right? Do you know that your wife lives with another man now? The last time I saw her she looked really happy. Happier than during the times she was with you."

"Shut up!" Lunge hissed through gritted teeth.

But Johan only smirked when he saw his reaction. He seemed to enjoy it greatly, this display of anger in front of him.

"And what about your daughter? She has abandoned you too." He went on, his voice tinged with sadness. "I know what it feels like to grow up without a father. It's cruel, isn't it? To have a father who doesn't really care about you, who doesn't even love you. She must have felt like an unwanted child, a daughter no one cares about."

"I said shut your damn mouth!" Lunge screamed, he obviously didn't care to hold back his anger anymore.

But Johan ignored his sudden outburst, knowing that he had touched a nerve here and wanted to dig deeper into the open wound, to pour more salt on it. "Did you know that your daughter was pregnant? She gave birth to a little baby boy a few months ago. Congratulations, Inspector. You have a grandson."

Lunge couldn't say anything. He was completely taken aback and gave him a blank, astonished stare.

"You didn't know this, did you? They haven't told you about his birth..." He looked deeply into his eyes and Lunge felt himself drowning in them.

He leaned close, as though to share an embarrassing secret. "Tell me, Inspector. How does it feel to know that you're all alone in this world? To know that nobody cares about you? That they all live their lives without you now? That you're not needed anymore?"

Lunge went very, very still. In his eyes he found the permanent, immutable truth – his own reflection in those blue eyes. Distorted. Broken... Lifeless.

"I, ... I have chosen this life. I have... no regrets." He muttered warily, as if speaking to himself.

A long, long silence, in which he seemed to hear the entire room drawing a slow, slow breath.

"Indeed? You regret nothing?" Johan's eyes were alight with mockery. "We both know that you keep lying to yourself, Inspector. I wonder, why do you try to hide from the truth? It's painful, isn't it? It must really hurt to know that your grandson will grow up without you. To know he will never call you grandpa."

Johan's eyes seemed to clear, a hint of a smile curved his lips. "Ah, self-deception, it's such a cruel thing, isn't it?"

Lunge's knees buckled, and he staggered to maintain his balance, stumbling, reaching for the wall behind him, leaning against it to keep himself from falling. Lunge knew that Johan was right. Why had he suppressed this truth for so long? Because the truth hurts. His inner voice reminded him sadly. All this time he had lied to himself, he had deceived himself. He had pretended to be content with his life. That everything was exactly the way he wanted it to be.

But it isn't. A bitter chuckle escaped his lips. His laughter choked itself to a smothered sob.

So this is how it feels like to be dead. He thought. His dark eyes were dull, glazed and empty.

Johan placed a hand upon his cheek, almost tenderly. He brought his mouth within a decimeter of his ear. He came close enough that his lips brushed across Lunge's earlobe. His voice merely a whisper, light as a spider crawling into his ear. "Look at you, Inspector Lunge. How far have you fallen? This emptiness, this solitude and this pain... It's unbearable, isn't it? These feelings will haunt you forever. But...", Johan stared at him, his eyes were shining like two jewels in the darkness, hypnotizing him. The tone of his voice sounded kind and sincere like the voice of an angel, reaching through the darkness to bring him back to the light, "there's a way out of this misery. A way to end all your pain and all your suffering."

Lunge blinked in surprise. The handcuffs are gone. He noticed absentmindedly.

Johan had placed something in his hand. It was his gun. The cold metal felt strange and alien in his grip.

"Now, Inspector, you have a choice. You can either go on with your miserable, pathetic life, continue lying to yourself that everything is alright, deceiving yourself that you feel content with the way things stand right now or...", he raised his arm, clasped the gun and pointed its tip straight at Lunge's forehead, "you can end it right here and now." With the back of his fingers, he touched the line of his cheek. "And I promise you, Inspector, all this pain and sadness in your heart, it'll all fade away."

Lunge stared into soullessly eyes as dark blue as the ocean at midnight. Johan waited, motionlessly patient for his answer. His words rang with such clarity inside his head. He knew that everything he had told him was the truth. The painful and sad truth. Live this meaningless life a little longer or let it all end here and now. He didn't need to give it much thought. He had already made his decision.

The detective could barely breathe, but somehow he forced out a whisper. "You're right. Everything ends. Now."

Lunge took the gun and pressed it against Johan's chest, smiling grimly. „Yes, I will die. But I'll take you down with me!"

To his surprise Johan only smirked and Lunge realized too late that something was very, very wrong here. Before he could react or do anything, he already heard a loud 'BANG', the gunshot resonating through the air and the sound ringing in his ears. That one moment felt like he was watching it all in slow motion.

Johan just stood there with an expressionless face as Lunge was flying backwards through the air.

Droplets of blood splattered against his face, running down his cheek. His blood.

From the corner of his eye Lunge also saw something else. There was a man he hadn't noticed before. He pointed a gun at him. There was smoke and that familiar smell of gunpowder in his nostrils.

He felt himself falling backwards. His head cracked against the ground with pure blazing pain.

He somehow knew that he was lying on the floor now. He blinked many times but he couldn't see anything. Everything was white. Like snow. I'm blind. Must be the temporary shock. He thought instantly.

The touch of a hand. It felt like a claw, sharp and unyielding. Someone pulled him up, grabbing him by the neck and slamming him against the nearest wall. Tides of agony rolled over him. Lunge winced, coughed and squeezed his eyes shut. Though his whole body suffered, he tried to suppress the pain, shutting it out of his mind. He could open his eyes again and saw a figure towering over him, a black, menacing shadow entering his field of vision.

„Ah, look at that! Our good Inspector is awake again!" Mocking laughter echoed through the chamber as the unknown man approached the injured detective. A kick knocked him to the floor. And then there it was again. Hot searing pain. The shadow's strong hands wrapped around his neck. Lunge felt the strength leaving his body as he struggled against him. He could hardly breathe, he gasped for air and felt his own blood dribbling from the corner of his lips.

"Roberto." Johan interrupted him, his voice merely a whisper.

The man Johan called Roberto instantly stopped choking his victim. His expression changed from pure hatred to confusion. "Why?" he growled. "We should kill him! He knows too much. We can't allow him to stay alive."

Then Roberto sneered "And besides, this old fool can't see it. The landscape of the end, that is."

"Leave him." the young man demanded calmly.

Roberto looked up and raised a questioning eyebrow. But Johan just stood there, waiting silently for Roberto to leave his prey.

"A change of plans again, huh?" The tall man let out a deep sigh and suddenly burst out in hysterical laughter. "Oh, I get it, ha, ha, this is good, so good, Johan. This will be fun, oh yes."

Roberto smiled like a child who had just discovered a new toy to play with. He got up and slowly stepped past Johan out of the room, never looking back.

"I'd really like to apologize to you, Inspector Lunge. Roberto... he often fails to restrain himself and gives in to his temper. And sometimes he even gets a bit too violent for my taste. Still, I'm relieved, you seem to be fine."

Lunge forced himself to get up, coughing. "Why? Why didn't you let him... kill me?"

"Isn't it obvious, Inspector?"

Lunge hissed "How I should I know what's going on in that sick mind of yours?"

A strange smile appeared on the young man's features as he explained. "I greatly enjoyed this experiment, my dear Inspector and it'd be such a pity if it were to end now. Don't you think?"

"I've had enough of your stupid games!" Lunge shouted angrily.

Johan extended a hand and pulled him close. He whispered in a low voice as though he were sharing a secret. "You can finally see the sad and terrible truth, Inspector. And maybe you are now able to catch a glimpse of it too... the landscape of the end."

With that, the young man turned and walked towards the door. He paused there for a second, narrowing his eyes. "Auf Wiedersehen Inspector Lunge. I'm sure we'll see each other again."