Time had moved on the way that it does, evaporated, really against his burning brow as he leapt from the still-rolling car. As his sandals scattered the gravel, two motorcycles were zooming off into the distance and a van or a truck had just launched on two wheels into the whirling streets below.
“Boy—you’re too late,” his driver called with a smug smile on his face. “You’ll never catch them and Bishop will have your hide.”
“If I were you,” the boy said as quite calmly, “I would hide. Because the next time I see you will be the last time I see you.”
The man cursed him and sped off, probably pretending to chase the retreating criminals. He didn’t want Bhatt to end up bringing anyone in. He had driven so slowly on purpose, anyway, he wanted to give him as little margin for success as he possibly could. All the while he knew that the only reason the boy hadn’t cut him down right then was because he would have to operate the vehicle on his own.
Bhatt straightened up, not even bothering to run after the car as the driver left him in a cloud of dust. Instead he stepped backward to make sure that the swirling soot did not soil his linen pantaloons or mar his sleeveless mahogany shirt. He took his belt from around his waist and wrapped it carefully around his face, the scarlet scarf trailing after his agile frame. He crept through the blast in the building and wound his way through the prison. Even if he couldn’t find the escapees, someone had seen something and that person was about to sing.
People were talking. Laughing, really. He walked forward slowly, tuning out former mothers who asked where his was and ignoring catcalls from the more demented detainees. He walked closer to the sound and saw a woman standing in a hallway, shackled, wiggle her way out of her bonds with some sort of ritual motion that looked more like animatronics than actual movement.
“What magic is this?” Bhatt whispered to himself, watching with interest.
Her momentum was quickly deflated by a burly man or woman who was crowing at her from behind the bars of its cell. Bhatt looked on, confused. Sometimes being a child made him forget his past maturity and he could not think of the word that described this strange he-she dynamic. He shook the idea out of his head and focused instead on the potential spoils this situation promised. If he were able to capture this escape artist and she had seen anything, Bishop would be pleased. He would not leave out the details of the driver abandoning him either, and finally he would get what was coming to him.
Sadiq ordered his steps carefully and was able to climb a pipe that led to the rafters, a place he could perch and watch unnoticed. There was a second woman. She too was doing some sort of ritualistic dance—he had to have them both! Oh what a great joy it would be to turn them both him. He felt sort of like a spider, watching its pray dance and squirm before striking. And what an even better benefit if he were able to show Bishop how their magic worked. Yes, he would study them closely and then take them in. But just as he was trying to absorb this the door to the cell had opened and the dark skinned girl that looked like a shaved bird with all its feathers relocated on top of its head was ushering out a dizzy pale woman that looked like she could be a vampire.
Had he blinked?
How was this possible?
Was this stick woman able to bend metal?
No time for questions.
Sadiq fell from the rafters into a neat roll on the ground below. He stood directly between them and the hole in the cell that they might escape from.
“Stop where you are,” his accent was British and his voice had not reached its final deepness but coasted in a drawn alto. “I am going to take you both into custody. You can go fighting or you can go peacefully. Whichever way you decide is your preference, the end result, however, is inescapable.”
“Hey kid,” Nesace scuffed mid-yawn. She rubbed her stomach thoughtfully and surveyed the tiny tot that stood before her, muscles trembling as if he were about to take a game winning penalty kick of the beat down of a lifetime. “What are you doing here?”
“Sow,” Bhatt replied fluently, “If you had listened you would have heard me say I was taking you into custody.”
“Is he for real?” Providence asked. She looked at the kid with a mix of pity and consternation. She didn’t want to have to mal a prepubesent baby with delusions of grandeur. Was everyone around her insane?
“I don’t know,” Nesace replied. “Maybe the kid got lost on a field trip or wandered in from outside. Kids are so bad in this city these days. They’ll do anything to get into jail.”
The two further discussed his reason for being there between themselves as if he were not able to hear the conversation at all. It was the typical way adults talk about children.
“Well,” he said retying his scarlet scarf like a trailing bandana. “I guess you’ve made your choice. You’d rather be brought in the painful way.” They both ignored him… that was until he pulled his weapon from his belt. Or rather, when they realized his weapon was his belt.
Across his middle was a metallic four pronged battlement. It was a sword, of sorts. Unlike a normal sword the edges on it were not straight, they could curve and move. It was a flexible sword that seemed to be a hybrid of a blade, a whip and a veritable death trap. This little kid was wearing it around his middle as if it were an adornment,and it could have been, the handel was encrusted with rubies. Now that he had pulled it out completely it shown even in the darkness belying its deadliness shamelessly.
“Uh, kid,” Nesace said tentatively. “That whip blade thing looks pretty sharp. Maybe you should put your belt back on…”
“Oh, no doubt, wench, it is sharp. And it is not ‘whip blade thing it is called a urumi and only those practiced in the art of Kalarippayattu know how to weild it.”
“What did you just say about Kalari? Or did you say calories? You trying to say I’m gaining weight? Watch your mouth little boy!” Nesace warned.
In response Bhatt whirled the sword quickly through the air in a piercing arc that opened up five clean, precise lines across Nesace’s chest. Her shirt sagged then suddenly turned red.
“Oh please you didn’t even cut me with your plastic training sword.” It took about that long for the pain to reach her. “HOLY SHIVA! That’s sharp as—“
“Yes, sharp enough to shatter chatter mouths.” He turned to Providence as Nesace’s shirt grew darker and darker, “Now are you two going to go peacefully or will you go in pieces?”
“What is your opponent?” He paused, while walking past a young boy and girl that struggled to remain cemented in their horse stance.
He continued, “Should I have asked who? Really, do we need to know the name of our opponent? Is it essential to say while during combat ‘this is Jin-san or Akira-san’? Ichiro!”
“N-no,” the young boy said struggling to keep his stance firm.
There was silence. Neither Ichiro nor his twin sister, Ume, could answer the question. They were under the strict tutelage of their grandfather Keiichi and one step could cause them harm.
“Ume? Any takers?” He said looking around the surrounding proximity mockingly.
“The answer that I wanted from the both of you was simply ‘I do not know’. Why? Well, if you do not know something why would you take a chance and fail even if there is a possibility to succeed? When a matter in your mind is doubtful, dispose of it in order to protect yourself. Some may think that yes they can succeed, but why would you take that chance? Your mind, your movements must run on fact, they must dance with the truth. Same in life as well as combat.”
He approached Ume and extended his hand toward her throat, each fingertip pointing directly at her.
“Your enemy is not a name. Instead, he is a target that must always be hit in the center. His character, his movements, and the way he thinks are him. When he breathes you inhale and when he strikes you defend and when he is open you attack. The Almighty has created points on each and every person’s body. Every time you walk down the dirt road you are susceptible to death. So to begin, when I asked you a question that you did not know, your answer should have been silence. Remember your mind is empty. If you fill it with ignorance, your character, your movements, and your heart will be ignorant, but if you fill it with beneficial knowledge you will overcome...
The van door clicked open and a pair of eyes scanned the front seats. First they looked towards Ume, then at the passenger with a peculiar stare. Then, the owner to the eyes abandoned the side of the van without a word. The sun did not peek over the horizon yet, but Ume knew it was early. The night was long but morning was overtaking it.
Slowly, Ume slid from her seat and left from the vehicle. The passengers within followed her lead, while the man whom the eyes peered at came over to the driver’s side and took hold of Ume’s arm.
Even though various thoughts of kicking him in the shins or gouging out his eyes came to her mind, she could not bring herself to act upon it, although she said she would have. It was a known fact the mind was the pioneer, but the heart always seemed to be the rebellion.
“After you,” she replied in a sluggish voice.
They walked toward the entrance of the safe-house, down a rather short passage way to two steel metal doors. When they reached their destination, the man punched in the code and the doors slid open in a low humming sound revealing a horrific scene behind them. Ume inspected the room with her eyes in bewilderment. Two dead bodies lay limp on the floor. One was shot in the head curled up next to a chair which was toppled over, and the other was sprawled out a couple of feet away from the other body with two bullet wounds to the chest.
The man first gasped and then released her and stumbled toward the corpse next to the chair. He was whispering something in a low monotone voice before he turned to Ume then to the door.
“Ale-Alex. Alex!!! Cashhh—hhhe!!!!” He yelled, and then in a small whisper he said, “Come quickly…”
Ume was not in a position to feel pity, especially for her captors, but this ordeal was quite unexpected and disastrous.
“Hey kid, what about him?” Ume said pointing to the other corpse, but the young man did not even avert his attention from the other dead body as if his shock muffled her speech.
Ume walked slowly toward the lonesome corpse and kneeled next to him. To Ume, this was deliberate, an assassination. One corpse with a bullet wound to the cranium then the other to the chest. Someone had the intent to kill.
“This was an execution...all jokes aside, but I doubt this safe-house is safe anymore,” Ume whispered.
His fitted cap was pulled low over his ebony eyes and his black flight jacket and baggy blue jeans concealed his skinny frame. Nestled safely within the back of his pants pocket was a folded spiral notebook accompanied by a tiny copy of “Pride and Prejudice”. He sat slouched against rosewood countertop of the bar, his arms cradled around an empty shot glass.
“Hit me again Jill,” he cooed to the brunette bartender, whose beautiful features danced under the crayola lights.
“You got it, Pearl.”
Swaying her hips seductively in a pair of skin tight ‘phat farm’ jeans, Jill sauntered over to his favorite beverage below the countertop, gracefully picked it up, and tilted its amber contents into the vacant glass. She then gazed at him with a smile of satisfaction and a spot of red lipstick on her tooth.
Jill was one of those girls who tried hard to make men fall head over heels for her. Granted, the girl was beautiful. Behind all the foundation and Maybelline was a genuine human being in search for her purpose in life, however, until she found it, she played plastic Barbie doll to all men with one thing on their mind.
It perturbed her deeply that Pearl completely disregarded her antics with an uninterested stare and an impassive demeanor. She was always trying to set sail with the wanton display of her scantily clad body, but she could not fathom why it all went unobserved by him. Perhaps it was a deeply rooted piece of wisdom she failed to grasp while trying mercilessly to cultivate her physical appearance. Maybe it was something much more than complete and absolute physical gratification of his appendages. Or maybe it was simple. Maybe she didn’t have enough lip gloss on.
Pearl laughed inwardly as he watched Jill apply more gloss to her already pork chop greasy lips.
“You’re so tight within in yourself hun,” she yelled over the loud music, checking her lipstick art within her portable mirror. “Relax and let life take you baby.”
That was her way of offering.
“And be like these heathens?” He asked, looking around at the out of control, jumping, gyrating and pulsating crowd. The lights played wildly on their untamed movements, and THIS was CIVILization? All you had to do was turn the music off and allow them to keep moving and the reality of their stupidity would be made evident to any sane onlooker.
“I’m sorry ma, but that,” he said firmly, indicating the savage crowd, “does not appeal to me.”
This was his way of refusing.
She sighed hopelessly at another lost battle during the long war of trying to loosen his belt strap. He just smirked apologetically, downing another one of his shots with one huge gulp.
A lady suddenly came and sat beside him, piquing his curiosity of her personality with the peculiar request of milk.
Jill arched her eyebrow a bit puzzled at the odd request, but simply shrugged it off.
“One glass of milk coming right up.”
Her beauty was exotically alluring, yet graceful all the same. Her gold hoop earrings in unison with copper skin sparkled exquisitely in the many colored lights. She delicately pushed her long black hair behind her ear, and it seemed as if the atmosphere around her requested it so.
Pearl knew this girl from somewhere. Somehow she looked so familiar.
“Long day huh?” was the conventional conversation opener that found his lips as he reluctantly pulled his eyes away from her.
She thought about her ordeal. “Day is an understatement. Try long life.”
Pearl thought back at his lifestyle of being a rebel against the Trident and smiled at the sudden arousal of his empathy. “I know how it can be. But I must ask, why this place as your coffee cooler?”
“Depends on how I’m feeling. And besides, I don’t like coffee all that much, so I try to think of it as tea. I think that helps a bit with the selection.”
Jill placed the glass of milk before the woman.
“Thank you,” she said politely.
“It’s on me,” Pearl told Jill without as much as a glance.
He felt the jealousy flare within her, but he expressed no concern for it. His attention had been captivated and he was now wrapped up in the game.
“Pride and Prejudice?”
“Huh? Oh yeah,” he said, recalling the novel in his back pocket. “I’m a bit of a novel fella. You know, gotta know everything about anything.”
“Yeah, my Pearly here likes books,” she chimed in, caressing his shoulder.
He felt like territory just pissed on.
“I’m sorry, you two are…” she trailed off, allowing the unasked question to ask itself.
Jill raised her eyebrow and pursed her lips, casting and questioning stare onto her territory’s imminent proclamation.
“Uhh, not that I can recall.”
Jill huffed up at the publication of his adamant refusal. A string of profanities conjured from jealously almost found her lips but they were immediately hushed by her duty as a bartender.
“Would you be a doll and hit me off another?” He asked.
Her eyes narrowed upon him as she snatched the glass from the counter and went to fetch his drink.
“I’m sorry about that,” he said apologetically. “You know it’s just…”
“You don’t have to explain. I kind of understand what side of the field she’s playing at?”
“So you’ve been interested in the uninterested?”
She only smiled at him, finally looking at him in the face. Those cold blue eyes displaying a diminished vitality. He desired to ask of the burden that showed through the windows of her soul, but he bit back on the question and decided to be receptive in her refusal to talk about it.
A sudden awkwardness swept over them like a dark grey cloud, but she brushed it away with her previous topic.
“So why Pride & Prejudice?”
“I like the intelligent disputes of the characters,” he began. “I’m not really one for sappy books with all the romance tied into writing a story within a notebook. I’m into the more enlightened approach to love rather than the whole teenage romance.”
“And that’s why said bartender can’t get a night?”
“She doesn’t understand the depth of love, only the surface television has created.”
She looked at him again.
“And you do?”
“I’d be willing to find out.”
She widened her eyes, pressed her tongue upon the roof of her mouth and smiled, turning away at his strong proposal.
He felt stupid. He was an idiot. Why did he come on so strong? So this was what Jill felt like.
He welcomed the awkward cloud as atonement for his actions. He couldn’t say anything, he wouldn’t, but somehow he could not let this girl get away. He knew her. He felt like he had seen her before.
“Umm, you didn’t touch your milk.”
Another stupid statement. Boy was he on a roll. He should just escort her out of the club now, give her gun and ask her to blow his brains all over the pavement.
“You didn’t touch YOUR drink,” Jill spat, slamming the glass with merciless fury before him and spilling its contents all over the counter.
“Damn Jill, what the hell is your problem?!”
“You know what’s my problem?! She’s my damn problem,” Jill said, gesturing to the innocent looking lady.
“Maybe I should go,” she said.
“Yeah maybe you should,” Jill hissed.
Pearl was so preoccupied with wiping the drink off his clothes that he didn’t even respond to her choice of exiting or even hear her for that matter.
Astonished by her immediate rise from the chair, he hastily called out for her attention and she paused almost as if she was waiting for it.
With those cold blue eyes now turned onto him, he felt his mind go blank. “Can I…” Damn what did he want to say? “Can I accompany you home, I mean…sh*t.”
She probably thought he just wanted to get into her pants now.
“Look ma, I’m just so sorry for all of this. I mean…”
“Don’t apologize,” she said with a smile. “My car is parked outside. I could do with a little company getting to it.”
Kyle nearly did a spit-take, but was able to swallow quickly before dropping the soda onto the counter and pulling out his sidearm as he rushed towards Ammon's voice. He hadn't expected some problem to break out so quickly. Sure, there was a handful of new strangers around, but it wasn't like that was all too uncommon for them here. This though. This was something different from some disagreement or scuffle, this was sincere alarm.
It wasn't more than two heartbeats before he was in the doorway, and saw the scene that had inspired the bloodcurdling cry.
Ammon kneeled over the dark-skinned body of one of the best men that Kyle had ever known, Terrance Wilde. There was a clean bullet wound in his chest, with the blood still glistening in the fluorescent light. From his position on the floor, he'd been hit in a charge, and thrown backwards over a chair before hitting the ground. The shot had been clean and quick, fired directly into the heart to cause maximum damage. Terrance had bled to death.
“This was an execution," said the young woman, Ume. "All jokes aside, but I doubt this safe-house is safe anymore."
Kyle wasn't sure what to say. He wasn't sure what to feel. His heart just turned cold. He was getting a little dizzy. But luckily, his instincts took over for him.
He stepped quickly around the room, his gun still outstretched as he began his search. The other body belonged to the man who he and Cashe had brought in two nights ago, the man who had tried to kill Najm. His name was Lance, but Kyle would still need to talk with Cashe about the debriefing that she had with the man. Terrance had insisted that they do the information swapping later tonight. A later that seemed would never come.
His foot kicked something metallic. Something heavy. Something lethal. He reached down a picked up the Ruger .22, and gripped it in his hand. He didn't need to be told that this was the weapon that had been used. He didn't need to look in the clip to see that there were exactly two rounds missing. And he didn't need to look in Terrance's chest or Lance's head to know exactly the caliber of round that had laid them to rest.
Kyle dashed his way up the stairs.
He made his way throughout the Safehouse, but even as he checked room after room, he knew he wouldn't find her here. His trust, he knew, had been betrayed. Though there may have been a number of people who knew where Terrance's operation was based from, this entire group had been dedicated to maintaining the mask of an international shipping warehouse, Jansen Global. There were only five people who knew the true nature of this group, and each of them was now here in this safehouse, yet one of them was dead.
He knew where that wild card had come from.
Najm was gone.
Why he had trusted her made no sense in his mind now, though it had been perfectly logical at the moment. How do you get a tiger to change its stripes? You don't. Najm was a trained assassin, and had been performing executions for the better part of a year, taking out high-level officials and throwing the entire city into a panicked populace. And Kyle had made the idiotic decision to bring the tiger into their home, and leave her there without warning the residents who might still be inside. They had left Terrance without saying a word, and Kyle had just assumed that Najm would come along just like old times.
He suddenly lashed out, his fist creating a puncture in the wall. He pulled it out and slammed forward again, striking anything that he could. Again and again his fist rained power upon the innocent concrete, perforating the cold grey surface with reckless abandon. Finally, he struck one more time, and slammed his way all the way through.
"I saw," came a voice. Cashe was standing there, two doors down. Kyle didn't look over - his attention was still riveted on the hand that had now punctured 6-inch thick concrete slab. He pulled it out, the dust starting to crumble its way to the ground. His hand was bleeding, but there was no pain. His mechanical hand had no pain receptors, no feeling.
He leaned against the wall, and slid to the floor, his left hand rubbing his face as he fought back his emotions. Finally he just stared forward, into nothingness. He wasn't even aware of when Cashe sat against the wall beside him.
Just in the past year, they'd had at least twelve different teammates wander their way through the House. Most now had been lost to the violence of Imperial City, except for these last five. Ammon, Zylee, Cashe, Kyle and Terrance had been the last five of the grand project. The last of the team who had dedicated themselves to eliminating the Purists once and for all. To fighting the good fight, and keeping the innocent alive. To making a difference in the world, and giving people the chance to live their lives as they saw fit.
And then, there were four.
"Who?" There was no need for the superficial. Cashe and Kyle knew each other's thoughts only all too well.
"I think it was her," he said. He placed the pistol on the ground between them, and she picked it up.
"This is hers?"
"Was," said Kyle. They said nothing for a moment, as both mulled over what had happened. It occured to Kyle that Cashe was being unbelievably calm about all this. But then again, she was always calm. She was always collected. She controlled her emotions much better than even Kyle could, which was saying something.
"We can't just leave it be," said Cashe finally, placing the pistol back on the ground.
Kyle picked up the weapon, and stared at it. Najm had invaded their home, and murdered his friend. Sister or not, that was a sin that merited retribution. There was no coming back from this. Terrance had been Kyle friend, his ally, his brother. The blood of freedom ran through both of them, and it was truly a familial bond. There was hell to pay.
Cashe suddenly placed a hand on his shoulder, as a comrade and friend. Kyle looked over into her eyes. "What are you going to do?" She asked.
Kyle continued to look forward. He knew that a lot depended on his answer. This would be the catalyst of whatever was about to come. Through this one act, Najm had wittingly or unwittingly set in motion a chain of events that would cause all of Imperial City to spiral into a maelstrom of change, and would draw the line in the sand for any and all to cross. Across the hall was the room, and the bed where Najm had left her old clothes, the room where Kyle had brought her to.
The Blue-Blade Warrior stood, his eyes narrowing, and his remorse now replaced by focused rage. He tossed the gun into the air, and in the same motion pulled out his titanium dagger. In the millisecond of float, he launched the dagger, and in sliced directly through the middle of the firearm, nailing the weapon to the concrete wall like just a thumbtack and a piece of paper.
"We," he said. "Are going to burn these Purists to the ground."
As he watched the blurry shapes of taxi cabs and night-delivery trucks hurtle past them in spurts of mechanized noise and streaming lights so close that he could kick them if he wanted, and the chill night air bit through his clothes and stabbed its cold wind into his flesh, Caspar decided that he did not enjoy riding on a motorcycle. Then again, maybe he was letting his bubbling emotions influence his opinion, it was his first time after all. No one enjoyed anything the first time they did it. But the only thing keeping him from flying off the bike were the Lilliputian-conceived handles that were mounted on either sides of his seat. The things were tiny, miniscule even, he could probably swallow them with a sip of water like tylenol if he were so inclined. Plus, his hands were wrapped around them with enough force that he was sure that once he finally let go of the handles, if he could pry his frozen fists off them in the first place, that he would leave fingerprint indentions on the hard, molded plastic. Caspar hated the handles for being so tiny and uncomfortable to hold onto, but loved them for keeping him from becoming street-putty. Ofcourse, there was an alternative, but he simply couldn't bring himself to hug his driver from behind. That would simply be un-gentlemanly, and so he endured.
The motorcycle's engine revved and whined, propelling them ever quicker into the dark heart of the city, when a police-car suddenly bolted out from around a corner and attempted to cut them off. Caspar's stomach tied itself into a knot at the sight of the imminent roadblock, they were moving too fast to stop and there was no way around it. His muscles stiffened and he stifled a scream of fear as his driver, Cashe, hissed a word he couldn't hear and maneuvered the bike over the curb and onto the side-walk, before throttling forward and using a parked sports-car as a ski-ramp. They seemed to move in slow-motion, their bike vaulting up the hood and windshield of the car and jumping up into the air at an incredible speed, as their forward momentum carried the motorcycle clear over the roof of the police-car roadblock.
"Oh s***!," Caspar croaked, his stomach resting in the back of his throat as the bike sailed over the police vehicle before hitting the pavement hard and fish-tailing a bit, and then speeding back up again. "I reeeeeeally don't like this," he groaned.
Kyle and Sway appeared on their right from an alleyway, somehow keeping up with their frenetic pace. Caspar glanced over at their inter-twined figures. Sway was clutching onto Kyle like a drowning person would hold onto a piece of buoyant flotsam in a churning ocean. There was perhaps a micron's width between their two bodies. He couldn't explain it, but he felt jealousy stirring inside him...or was that motion-sickness? He thought back to what she had said earlier when Kyle had gone to retrieve his motorcycle.
"We’re at jail and the police are after us. Everything is going to work out fine. I mean I can’t see it getting any worse", she had said comfortingly.
Maybe she didn't see it, but Caspar could. It was already getting worse. She had gone on to make some jokes about how big his driver's head was, as well as some convivial banter that was probably aimed at trying to cheer him up. It wasn't like he had been trying to hide his distaste at Kyle's appearance and resurrection as the de-facto leader. He appreciated her efforts, but nothing would change the way he felt until he got the opportunity to have a one-on-one with the Blue Blade Warrior. They had much to talk about.
His bike lurched and for a sickening moment tilted forward and balanced only on its front wheel, Cashe had been forced to brake abruptly to avoid colliding into yet another squad car. At this point, Cashe and Kyle had apparently decided to split up, with them disappearing into a parking garage the size of a small mountain, and his own bike skidding to a stop before screeching down an alleyway. He was trying to lean with the bike, so as not to make it so hard for his valet, but he was fairly sure she was struggling with the burden of an undisciplined rider like himself. Though if she was having problems, she wasn't voicing them. Instead, she leaned in closer to the handlebars and gripped them tighter.
They navigated a labyrinth of alleys and side-streets, all the while passing vagrants and street-gangs that were either huddled around trash-can fires or instead gathering around some poor victim who probably had seen their last night. Caspar tried not to look at them, he knew that there were millions of people in the city, suffering every night, and that there really wasn't all that much he could do about it. Instead, he told himself that he was already doing enough. He stole from the corrupt, rich citizens of Imperial City, making large charitable donations with their "hard-earned" money. He stole plans, models, and prototypes from the huge, evil organizations that sought to use their technology for what could simply be described as nefarious purposes. He even policed the underground, bringing vigilante justice to wrong-doers who had the bad luck to get caught in his web of surveillance cameras. He was already doing so much, but no matter how hard he tried to ignore it, he knew deep down that it hardly made a dent. The impact of all his efforts was comprable to a grain of sand in the desert. He didn't even understand why he tried so hard, what were these people to him? Nameless bodies that passed him by on the street, scowling at him dissapprovingly for the cuts and bruises on his face that he had received while doing his rounds. Was it really worth it?
Caspar felt the bike slow to a stop, loosening his grip hesitantly on the hands on either side of him as Cashe set the motorcycle on its kickstand. Wherever they had been headed, they were there now. They were in a drab parking lot and a large, unassuming warehouse loomed over the group like an ominous shadow. Cashe hopped off the bike and strode over to where Kyle had just pulled in and was taking his helmet off. Sway took her own helmet off, handing it to Kyle with shaking hands,
"I don't think this would have done any good, I think I died", she said as she laughed nervously.
Kyle took it from her as he replied with a smirk, "You did fine, and since when are you afraid of heights?"
"Probably ever since you left us high and dry," Caspar muttered as he awkwardly wiggled off the motorcycle. He was glad to be back on his feet again. He couldn't tell if Kyle had heard him, but he hoped he had.
Kyle fiddled with something on his wrist and a wall of the building they stood in front of split open and revealed a large, steel door. That's my trick, I guess everyone's got secret doors in this city. As he walked the bike to its parking spot, followed by Cashe, Caspar took the opportunity to get a word in with Sway while they weren't listening. He sidled up beside her and spoke softly.
"Do you think this is a good idea? Cuz, you know, I've got a cool secret hide-out too, except it's even better. I've got a cat, and a fridge full of chocolate milk, and these delicous little things called hot-pockets. And even better, no Kyle! And there's plenty of room, Jett can come too."
Caspar glanced over at the huge man as he set Kyle's sword on a table and thanked him. Kyle sheathed the weapon on his back and grinned back at Jett before stepping over to a refrigerator and reaching in before offering him a Diet Pepsi.
"Look, all he's got is Diet Pepsi, blegh", Caspar added seriously.
The sight of the gruesome scene was like a fang of a cobra in the side of this man named Alex. First arrived the denial and the pain, and then came the fast burning torch of anger. Like a match he was struck, his head screaming with fire for all to see, and even the wall felt his wrath. Ume turned from him and the girl, whose name was Cashe, and directed her attention to the corpse that was lying in front of her bent knees. His eyes were vacant and down cast as if he was humbled by the bullets to his torso. The living being departed from him, and his borrowed body was stretched along the tiles, rotting. Keiichi...He was once lying in front of her, his body torn, his cheeks soaked in tears from the thralls of death’s hands. The memory was vivid in her mind; she could still smell the fear...He was a man of honor, kind and gentle, but strict in his way of life.
Peeking over the sliding doors, small Ume saw him moving fluidly like waves along a shore. His left leg arched, slowly uplifting from the beige straw mats that were upon the floor and making its way parallel to his elbows, and then quickly back to the ground as he thrust his tension-filled palms in front of him. His eyes were concentrated on something beyond reality. The white candles surrounding him on the floor remained steadfast, although their flames were swirling furiously. He brought his arms around in front of him like windmills standing in a horse stance. Then, he straightened his body, bringing his arms and hands toward his chest as he inhaled, and then he steadily pushed them back down towards his waist as he exhaled.
He then outstretched his arms in front again, and slowly curled his fingers into the Eagle’s claw. He shot down into the horse-stance, one hand tightly balled into a fist at his side, and the other still in front of him displaying the deadly Eagle’s claw that disabled many in the past. His ghostly shadow was wavering along the straw mats, following his every move, subjecting itself to him. He was rather a short man, but his spirit made him appear as if he was six feet tall. The embers from the candles reflected in his grey eyes, which matched his long flowing hair that reached his shoulders. As the wind blew through the window, his white linen pants and long sleeve shirt fluctuated against his firm body. He was a painted picture of perfection, a wondrous wonder that wandered with the wind. Ume’s grandfather and her friend...
“Ume,” Keiichi called out her name in a booming voice like that of thunder.
The small body of Ume jerked vigorously at his voice and the sound of her name. It was as if the entities of silence whispered to him the secret of her presence.
“Come in, my child.”
Ume’s little hands pushed open the sliding doors revealing her small body which was cloaked in her gown pajamas. He smiled at the sight of her, now seated upon the mats with his legs crossed and his hands upon his knees. A girl no older than seven approached him and sat directly in front of him. Her small body reached over and kissed his wrinkled forehead. He smelled of lavenders and of the freshly anointed water lilies that sometimes passed by in the river next to their house.
“And why are you up so late?” He said breaking the silence between them and casting out the entities.
“I-I don’t know, I’m afraid of the dark, and Ichiro won’t let me light a single candle in our room,” little Ume said rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
“This is a big problem.”
Ume shook her head intensely in agreement with him. His mouth curled into smile and he rubbed her head ruffling her short brown hair.
“You want to see something that no one else has seen?”
“Yeeaah,” she uttered reluctantly.
Keiichi uplifted himself from the ground and strolled over to the corner of the room where a small cupboard lied. He picked it up, walked back soft and quietly, and took his seat in front of her again. He was so patient in his movement, every step he took was of patience, slow and calm. She remembered one day she asked him why he was so slow. He replied, ‘Why should I run and trip to my destination, when I can easily walk and preserve my breath. If it is destined for me to die before I get there then running will not suffice nor rushing, but if I walk patiently and my soul is taken away from me then I can easily die in peace’.
While Ume’s eyes were transfixed on the cupboard, Keiichi produced a small key and unlocked it. There were two clicks and the small door to the cupboard opened revealing a round transparent sphere.
“This is a secret between you and me. One day I’m going to give it to you. And then you can...
Ume felt inside her inner pocket where the orb was securely placed. It was the only connection she had left to Keiichi from her past. Now, she was torn from her life and placed in this Imperial City with people who were strangers to her eyes, even Sabin seemed to be converting into one of them.
The cold eyes of the body never moved. He was submerged in a place unknown to the living and entitled as home amongst the dead. Some of them, Ume always thought, were free from the bondages of this world; the only real freedom was death, because on this earth no human can grant one freedom. They were prisoners in this vast desert of skin and appendages. Their real selves were their souls; therefore death was the liberation of them and life was their captivity.
Ume rose from the corpse and once more surveyed the two bodies with her eyes, she then looked at the man they call Alex, and the woman beside him, Cashe.
“I don’t know what the plan is going to be, especially in the early morning, but I suggest we cover these bodies, put them in a room until we can find a place to bury them or whatever, and call it a night,” Ume paused and inhaled deeply, “I expect you have rooms up there?”
Providence was still on her knees, catching her breath, when the sound of her cell-door slowly grating open startled her.
"Wha? Are you serious? How the heck did you do that?" she asked the baggy clothes-wearing hatrack that stood in front of her grinning like an idiot. "Because, I know a thing or two about getting through locked doors, and I've never seen anything like that."
"Duh, I already told you", Nesace replied, rolling her eyes casually, "I've got moves! I just shimmy to the left and bounce..."
Providence grabbed her by the shoulders and held her still. "No, uh, actually I think I get it. No need to strain yourself." She hadn't, but anything to stop the dancing.
"Now, I just need to grab my stuff from the evidence room and we can get out of here," Providence said, switching gears in an attempt to curb any more discussion of further rhythmic movement.
Her liberator groaned and stomped her feet like a little kid throwing a tantrum. "Ughhh, nooooo, not back there again!"
Providence brightened up at her response. "Oh?", she chirped, "So you know where it is? Great, let's go!"
She grabbed the addict's arm, her fingers practically wrapping around it twice, Da** this girl is skinny!, and began to drag her away from her cell when in a blur of movement and red fabric a child flew out of the air and rolled to a stop at their feet rather theatrically.
“Stop where you are,” he said in a high-pitched, British accent. “I am going to take you both into custody. You can go fighting or you can go peacefully. Whichever way you decide is your preference, the end result, however, is inescapable.”
Providence's mind did a somersault. They were already in custody, so to speak, but it was rather obvious the boy wasn't a police officer. So what other custody could he be referring to?
"Hey kid," the druggie interjected lazily, "what are you doing here?"
“Sow,” the boy said piously, “If you had listened you would have heard me say I was taking you into custody.” Who does this kid think he is?
"Is he for real?" she asked, obviously puzzled. She didn't want to have to beat him down for standing in their way, but no-one was taking her into any kind of custody, over her perfectly proportioned dead body.
“I don’t know,” her partner in crime responded. “Maybe the kid got lost on a field trip or wandered in from outside. Kids are so bad in this city these days. They’ll do anything to get into jail.”
"True," Providence agreed, rubbing her chin thoughtfully, "He might be one of the guards' kids, trying to emulate daddy."
The kid glared at her as he retied his red-scarf around his head. "Well, I guess you’ve made your choice. You’d rather be brought in the painful way.” As he finished his sentence had reached down to his belt and yanked it off his waist with a flourish, whipping it out and allowing its flexible steel blade to stretch out.
Providence gawked. Who IS this kid? And why is he wearing a weapon around his waist?
“Uh, kid, hat whip blade thing looks pretty sharp. Maybe you should put your belt back on…”
“Oh, no doubt, wench, it is sharp. And it is not a "whip blade thing", it is called an urumi and only those practiced in the art of Kalarippayattu know how to weild it.”
“What did you just say about Kalari? Or did you say calories? You trying to say I’m gaining weight? Watch your mouth little boy!”
This time is was Providence's turn to roll her eyes. "I'm pretty sure he wasn't inferring that you needed to lose weight, you look absolutely...", she searched for the right word, "...skeletal." Ok, maybe that wasn't really the right word...
In response, the kid swung his weapon through the air in a flash of steel and opened up five, shallow cuts across her liberator's chest. It happened so fast, Providence hardly had time to react to his attack.
“Oh please you didn’t even cut me with your plastic training sword.” Was she retarded? She was bleeding from five different places on her chest, and her blouse was practically ripped to shreds.
“HOLY SHIVA! That’s sharp as—“ Ok, not retarded, just slow...
“Yes, sharp enough to shatter chatter mouths.” The boy turned to Providence, his cold eyes burning into her as her friend's blouse grew darker and darker, “Now are you two going to go peacefully or will you go in pieces?”
Providence's face took on a steely expression, she was starting to get angry. She began edging her way sideways to the left, as she talked. "Great, I finally manage to break out, with the aid of one of the strangest, but nicest people I've ever met, and the only thing standing between me and my freedom is an insolent, pre-pubescent punk with an 'urumi'", she formed quoation marks in the air sarcastically as she said it, "and a bad attitude. Well I've got news for you, little guppie, I've got bigger fish to fry, so get out of my way!"
Her bleeding ally looked at her with surprise. Was she going to fight this kid unarmed? She regarded herself and somewhat crazy, but this girl was insane!
The boy studied her with a bored look on his face before replying. "Oh? And I suppose that you" he spat the word like it left a bad taste in his mouth, "are going to stop me from taking you in?" Just as Providence suspected, the boy was moving to his left in unison with her, keeping her at an equal distance from him and preventing her from flanking him. His back was now to the cell that was next to the one she had occupied for so long.
"No", she said, as a devious smile crept on her face, "I'm not going to stop you..."
Two meaty arms shot out from between the bars and encircled the youth. One huge paw grabbed him by the wrist of his sword-hand, and the other clamped down around his neck. His eyes bugged in shock as he was forcefully yanked back against the bars.
"...she is." Providence finished her sentence as she licked her fang-like incisors like a wolf relishing the taste of blood in its mouth.
"You don't hurt my perdy little friends!" Tess growled in a monstrously savage voice.
"Thanks Tess," Providence laughed, enjoying the look of consternation and rage that was boiling in the boy's gray eyes. "Okay then, shall we be on our way to the evidence room, um..." she realized she had yet to learn her liberator's name.
"Uh, N..Nesace", Nesace stuttered, still in awe at what had transpired in front of her. Had she been expecting for that to happen and somehow planned it in advance with that Stegosaurus-woman? It all happened so easily and flawlessly that she was at a loss for words. This woman was not to be taken lightly. "And you're...?"
"My friends call me Providence, so feel free to call me by it," Providence replied.
Nesace smiled, she had made a new friend, and she stole stuff as well! They were meant to meet eachother! She grabbed Providence by the hand, running past a furiously struggling Arun, and led her back into the prison to the evidence room.
A few minutes elapsed in the absence of Arun's prey, but it felt like an eternity. He was ashamed to have been fooled into capture so easily, but to make things worse his captor had been scolding him and telling him all the different ways in which to treat a lady properly as she held him against the bars in a vice grip. Thankfully, it wasn't long before the door at the end of the row slid open and his prey leisurely walked, hand in hand, back over his way. He had been shamed already, but failure was not an option. Luckily, he had been granted a second chance.
"Oh, so you've always been that thin! And you can do some kind of magic by dancing? Ohhhhh, I see now. I thought you were a drug addict! Hahaha, can you believe that?" Providence and Nesace giggled together as if they had always been best friends. You couldn't have looked at them and believed that they had been complete strangers less than an hour before.
Providence walked over to the gap that had been blown in the wall, she was about to step out until she realized that Nesace had pulled away from her. She looked over her shoulder and saw her skinny body ambling over to where the boy was still pinned against the bars of Tess' cell.
"C'mon, let's go Nes! What are you doing?" she called out.
"Just one sec, Prov, no-one gets away scot-free with cutting my perfect skin. I'm getting even!" Nesace yelled over her shoulder as she neared her target.
The boy's eyes widened in anticipation. Patience he told himself. Let her get close enough...
Providence reached into her backpack that she had freed from the evidence locker and rummaged around for the shuriken holster that was hidden in a secret pocket sewn into the lining. She had a bad feeling about this.
She had just located the small leather holster that held her throwing stars and begun taking it out of her bag when she heard a surprised yelp.
Providence looked up to see Tess groaning and rubbing one of her hands, and Nesace with a sword held against her throat. The boy was standing behind her, his sneering face appearing from behind her head.
"Now then, this little charade has been interesting I'll grant you, but I've grown quite bored of it. You will come with me willingly, or I will be forced to separate this imbecile's head from her stilt-legged body!" Nesace had a scared look in her eyes, the blade was being held firmly against the soft skin of her neck and was already drawing a thin line of blood.
Da**it! I shouldn't have taken my eyes off her and let her go over there! You're slipping, Providence! She looked over at hole in the wall. She could still escape. She didn't really know this girl all that well. And chances were that if she ran off the boy wouldn't kill Nesace, he had to bring atleast one person into cutody, whatever that meant. But she couldn't bring herself to do it. Nesace had thought about leaving, but had instead risked her freedom and stayed behind to help her escape her cell. She couldn't turn her back on her now. She had a debt that needed to be repaid. Calling in favors and repaying debts were huge in the thieving world. It was how you got things done that ordinarily would be impossible on your own, plus it was important to a thief's honor. To welch on a debt was to declassify yourself from a thief to a simple robber, a pick-pocket, a nobody. And as all thieves know, honor is one of the few, valuable things that can't be stolen from you.
"Sh**" Providence sighed. She stuffed her shuriken into the backpack and hung her head in defeat. She would go willingly with the little brat, but once there she would find a way to escape again with Nesace. She vowed that to herself.
"Fine. I'll go with you. Just don't harm her" Providence grumbled as she slung her satchel around and fastened it on her back.
The boy looked at her haughtily and grinned, "As I expected."
Mainly her arms were sore. But it was her butt that hurt the most. Well, it was numb. Her feet felt like a sock full of feather cinders, hot and tingly. It was kind of hard to walk in a straight line after straddling a 500 pound bike in a vice grip at over a 100 mph. She was holding on to that thing so tight that if someone had picked her up by the shoulders they would have brought the motorcycle, Kyle and the pavement it was perched on along.
Needless to say, she was relieved to be alive at all. Kyle drove his bike with the recklessness of a boy playing an arcade game with a pocket full of quarters.
"You did fine,” Kyle said, “And since when are you afraid of heights?"
Caspar, walking like a man still riding a horse, muttered, "Probably ever since you left us high and dry."
Sway looked at him and half smiled at the joke, then she frowned when reminded of the truth. Kyle had left her, but she knew that it was her fault that it had ever happened. And while Sway had hundreds of years to think on this subject, Caspar was still upset. “I’ve always been afraid of heights,” she said to herself. Ever since she had realized she could fly, she also learned how terrifying it was to land. That was the reason why she rarely did either.
Kyle opened the door to a building that revealed yet another building within. Not quite as swanky as her place but much more practical.
Caspar appeared at her side. "Do you think this is a good idea?”
“To tell the truth, I really don’t see how we could back out of it now. I don’t know any of these people or where we are—“
“Cuz, you know, I've got a cool secret hide-out too, except it's even better.”
Sway turned to Caspar with a competitive smile. “Can’t be better than my place. I’ve got a penthouse in the city that overlooks the bay, a red Falcon tr, and cable. Now beat that.”
“I've got a cat, and a fridge full of chocolate milk, and these delicious little things called hot-pockets.”
Sway’s stomach grumbled. She hadn’t eaten in quite some time. She felt like she could tap into her inner locus and devour a few fields of crops. “I have something like a cat that you can have. It calls itself Nesace. It also likes chocolate milk.”
Caspar would not be sidetracked with thoughts of human trade. “And even better, no Kyle! And there's plenty of room, Jett can come too."
“We’ve got to stay here, though, until we figure out what’s going on. Besides,” she looked up at the stone façade of the building, “Kyle’s place has a lot of nice stuff too,” Sway said evenly, almost dismissively because she had no idea what kind of ‘stuff’ Kyle had. That wasn’t the point. If Caspar wanted to have a sleepover at his house later with popcorn and cats, that was fine. But for now she had to stay with the group and had to make it her business that Caspar stuck around. She couldn’t afford to lose another friend when she had so few. Besides, if she left Kyle and his crew now she doubted she would ever find them again. She didn’t want to have to go back to her old life quite so soon. Being a surgeon was an unfavorable sort of catharsis. It was like being a lion on a prairie of gazelles, but only being allowed to observe and graze. Eating grass instead of doing what her instinct said, bite, rip, render. Destroy. She could see the carnage but she could not have any of it. Just being in the element of it was the only satisfaction she could have. So she did get very close to death, and even controlled its ebb and flow with the blade of her knife, however for all the blood she let, her life was very dry.
"Look, all he's got is Diet Pepsi, blegh", Caspar added with the utmost sincerity.
“Isn’t that for fairies?” She recalled some adage. Maybe Kyle had changed more than she thought.
“Ale-Alex. Alex!!! Cashhh—hhhe!!!!” someone was yelling, “Come quickly…”
Blood was spattered thickly in a beautiful mosaic on the floor. It shined against the surface of the lighting and, picking up that light, carried it tenderly across the room in scarlet rivulets closely, a lover waltzing with its beloved. The pattern was intricate. It could never be duplicated; it was the fusion of his life’s blood and burial shroud. It varied, sometimes like a spider’s web and in other places, an elephant’s trunk. Sway swore she saw the shape of an orchid in its gleaming midst and the print of an ant’s trailing fingertips. But most notably, this puddle harbored a footprint, just the heel and toe, where the killer had taken subconscious artistic liberties with a self-portrait.
At the center of this mural was a man who had long since forgotten this world and now dreamed in different colors; a newborn again. In fact, right now, he was probably being cradled by a new set of parents in a new set of circumstances in a new life far removed from this. He might only think back on this existence later in dreams and fantasies. In childhood games he would probably carry a gun and look for people to bring to justice, not knowing what he was doing, not knowing what he had done.
“Hey kid, what about him?” An eastern girl said to Kyle. His face was rigid.
Another man lay in the same red web. The back of his wrists touching, his brow knit where his skin bubbled. His knees were raised in a half-run that explained his open, still, panting mouth. She could see his molars. What was not explained was the third eye in his head that was so wide it caused all three eyes to run together revealing, in a slippery auburn, the tile on the floor. In that gap Ume could have seen her reflection.
The girl walked toward him, not to weep but to inspect. To think that when you die people look over you only to see how it happened. Not because they are emotional, out of simple curiosity. She regarded him like a dirty slide in a microscope.
“This was an execution...all jokes aside, but I doubt this safe-house is safe anymore,” she whispered.
“No doubt,” Sway said absentmindedly. She didn’t know who these people were but apparently they were very important to Kyle. He had disappeared upstairs and when she went to talk to him Cashe glanced in her direction and followed him up instead. It was at once confusing and clear. The look said no, but it made no effort to explain why.
If there was something going on there, Sway was not going to do anything about it. At this point she could easily just go back home and curl back into the warm spot in her canopy bed.
Instead Sway focused on the situation around her. It would seem that she was only watching the glowing end of her cigarette thoughtfully, but she was thinking about the people she was around. She surveyed them individually. An eastern girl that carried a sword, Jett a known ally, Caspar who seemed to be on a mission to prove his independence and a vampire who was a constant distraction. His skin was like marble. She wondered. If she shot him would he crack? Was he thinking lustily about the blood that was lying as delicately as a woman, ripe and vacant, at their feet? Was he the killer? From his boots, no. She exhaled. Fragrant, white wisps floated slowly like the sails of a ghost’s ship, like the wings of the angel of death.
“I don’t know what the plan is going to be, especially in the early morning, but I suggest we cover these bodies, put them in a room until we can find a place to bury them or whatever, and call it a night,” the girl paused and inhaled deeply, “I expect you have rooms up there?”
Sway could see that this girl liked to take charge, however there was no reason to soil another room with blood. Besides that, what kind of person was she to think ‘oh there are dead people here, let’s cover them up and go to sleep’? Freaky. She could respect that. At least she wasn’t squeamish. “Blood is a messy thing,” Sway said. “It can tell a story. Like there,” she pointed, “Someone’s footprint. Probably a girl by the shape of the shoe and walking slowly, no hurry. We should be more like that. More calculating. If we move these bodies upstairs there is more blood to clean up. However, we could get them ready for burial and clean up once instead of twice.”
That was practical enough. Everyone looked at her as if waiting to be volunteered for some task. She shrugged. “I didn’t say I was going to do it.” They looked away. “Oh all right, fine,” she said. “Jett help me carry chest wound and vampire grab the other guy.”
Both of the bodies were taken to the bathroom where they were seated in the bathtub facing each other. They looked cramped and sleepy, that is if a faceless man could look anymore tired or someone so heartless could be so weary. They reminded her of two men sharing a window cleaning swing on a high rise.
“Well that’s taken care of for now,” Sway said. “Thanks Jett.” She looked at the vampire and rolled her eyes, looking away.
She began to walk upstairs. Caspar must have still had hot chocolate and sleeping bags on his mind. “Sway, where are you going?”
“I’m getting in a bed and I’m closing my eyes and thinking about faraway places. You guys can do whatever it is that you all do. I’ll see you in the morning.”
With that she rounded the corner and was gone.
She fell on the tile so hard she felt it might file down the sharpness of her cheekbone. Swollen faced, she turned over and sat on her rear just as the great yellow door snap shut with the finality of a crocodile’s jaws. Her fingers draped under her eye delicately touching it the way someone gingerly handles a hot glass of tea. The corner offered refuge for her and, leaning in it, she sat back thinking about what had just happened. They were asking her questions she didn’t know the answer to and would have readily enough ratted about had she any way of doing so.
Something warm mingled with her lips. In alarm she touched her mouth but the sensation had started in her nose. In all the years she had lived she had never had a nosebleed and blotting her finger across her perfectly shaped nostrils she felt even more blood well up. Her nose felt tingly and hot like a sock full of warm feathers. She squeezed her fingers together and held her head back swallowing something coppery.
Everything about Nesace was dainty. Even though she was thin as if she had been a ginger bread man cut from a wafer, she still tried to talk tough. But she was undoubtedly very delicate. Her hands were miniscule, her feet no better. A man could wrap his mitts completely around her waist and her legs, neck and arms were long for someone so slender and short.
The only thing big about Nesace were her eyes which were heavily lidded, huge and far apart. They were like a heart split perfectly down the middle and arranged on either side of her face. They gave her the distinct look of someone who was searching for something. But now she had no idea what to look for. She buried her face in her elbow now, as if burrowing for more comfort. A profuse puff of curly black hair hung down to her shoulders, standing up with its volume and bowing with her head.
She sniffled. She was cold. She was alone. She was scared.
“Sahale!” she cried all of a sudden. “Sahale! Come save me! Please. I’m sorry. I’ll let you talk to other people. I promise I won’t be jealous or anything. I just have to see them first and make sure that they’re ugly. That’s all I’m asking—okay? They have to be ugly! Come on—that’s a good deal. Sahale? Don’t you ignore me! I’ll—I’ll fight you. I promise I will. Tell these people to let me go or it’s on! Okay okay—they don’t have to be ugly. They could just be mildly good looking. But not completely! You understand. Oh Sahale don’t be so freaking heartless. Help me! Please help!”
“Enough!” Someone shouted from the hall. Nesace drew herself up in the corner. When she stood her shoulders touched some of the padding on the wall which was so sparse it could do no good.
The door swung open again. A woman clad all in black grabbed her and led her, terrified down a bleak hallway. They entered a door and Nesace followed her with no resistance. She was so afraid she wondered whether or not she was going to pee on herself now or whenever they got where they were going.
Another door. This time things were decorated as if they in the hallway of a hotel. The carpet felt good on her bare feet but she walked half-ashamed of her webbed toes. The girl tightened her grip at the back of Nesace’s neck, like a child she arched her back at the mere insinuation of pain.
A new room. It was decorated like a mermaid’s lair. Everything was silver, aqua or white. The room was soft and airy. There was a heavy mirror in one corner and a plush white chair in the other. The bed was immaculate and the decorations reminded her of something she had dreamed of.
The woman sat down. She nodded for Nesace to sit.
She did so. Looking at herself in the mirror she thought she was smaller than she had been when she arrived here.
The woman commented on this.
“I know. They were force feeding me four times a day.”
“You were underweight then. Besides, you probably had a problem.”
“You mean I had a drug addiction? Well I almost got one when I got here. Especially with all the stuff they were pumping in me to cure me.”
“Watch your tone.” She warned, “And no one could have known anyone could be so scrawny without narcotics.”
“I’m not chasing clouds or anything, I’m just skinny.”
“But you’ve done it before. Nimbus, that is?”
“I mean you do anything in college…” Nesace rambled pressing her fingertips together apprehensively.
“Recently, though. Why?”
“Because this girl I like… she never pays me any attention. I thought it would make me look cool. Turns out all it does is make you feel like you’re traveling at high speed through space and time. Then it makes you go get a 10 piece nugget and five burritos. Then it makes you go to sleep.”
“But it’s not something you can get addicted to, though. Well not easily. It seems you have another addiction. This girl. Who is she?”
“Uh… well I’ve told you all a thousand times.”
“A thousand and one. This will be my first.”
“Her name is Sahale Lox. She lives in a penthouse on the top of the Pierre Hotel. It’s got a 360 degree view, four baths, six bedrooms, a ball room which is now a living room, and a garden on one of the four balconies. She has a French bulldog I call Taco and a few rare birds. She is the first person in the city to see the sunrise in the morning. She’s also beautiful. Tall, bronze, black hair, gold eyes.” Nesace moved her hand like she was wafting something. “She’s like a moving painting. I hate her. But… I can’t leave her alone.”
“Hmm…” the woman said thoughtfully, “It doesn’t sound like you hate her.”
Sway was sitting on the roof of the hide out. She had acted like she was going to bed when she left those two bodies waltzing in the bathtub, but she hadn’t done anything of the sort. Instead she waited until people started to go to sleep and crept back downstairs. There she washed the two bodies and wrapped them in white cloth. It was something she had learned a long time ago when she started working in medicine. She took a job in a morgue. There she saw a lot of people who had died for a lot less than she had lived for. Stupid deaths. Infections that had simple cures. Blunt force trauma that could have been rehabilitated. Broken bones that were not set properly and ended up growing back in ways that could only be described as grotesque. Burn victims that were so seared there was little left but their chattering teeth.
She found all of it terribly interesting. The anatomy of humans was fascinating. Not quite as complicated as Pamuyans, but distinctly different. Humans had fewer organs, for one. The difference was humans had bigger organs. Huge, really. There was no reason to have two gigantic kidneys, for example. Their bones were different. They were so dense that they could make a Pamuyan flightless for their weight. Humans also kept their hearts all in one place, which made them less vulnerable to attacks.
Sway thought on that. Where was Kyle’s heart, now?
Probably curled up beside Cashe.
She tried to sedate her thoughts on this with another cigarette. A white plume floated in the air mixing with the fumes of the city’s insomnia.
How could he pick her, anyway? She was so cold and quiet. Just like her. She sighed. So he had found a replacement? Fine. But she didn’t really have an equivalent and that bothered her. She liked to be in control of things and she was quickly realizing that she was in control of nothing. She decided to wait to affiliate herself with this cause. Right now she would just see what was going on and go from there, but as far as committing herself to anything, she would have nothing of it.
Time went by in this aquatic wonderland. Nesace woke up, realizing that she had been drugged. To her left sat a dazed and woozy looking Providence.
She almost sprang out of her chair to run over to her, but thinking more of it, she lay there as if she were still asleep. She could feel someone watching them. She didn’t move.
“Providence,” the voice cooed. “Wake up.”
Providence roused herself groggily. From the tiny glimpse of her that Nesace could see she was much more beat up than her. That was probably because Providence had tried to be brave, but Nesace knew well that she had no threshold for pain so she didn’t even try.
The woman, seeing that Providence was more dead than alive left for a moment.
Nesace opened one of her eyes. “Providence—“ she scream whispered. “Are you alive?”
Jett almost wept with the relief of downing the Pepsi as his throat ached from dryness. He gulped the entire bottle in one drag and then realized just how stupid what he had just did was. The tickle in his throat was amazing as the carbonation worked its way up to his eyes and made the water. He gasped, then belched, then heard yelling.
Turning, he noticed he was the only one still in the room and quickly made a dash toward the noise. When he entered he saw Kyle’s face first and it struck him to the bone. The shock and horror etched on it he recognized and understood all to well. His own anger fizzled at once and his heart lurched as his eyes tracked to one body than the other.
Jett wasn’t the only one who had been dealt a blow this night with the death’s of those he loved. And Kyle had actually found them, held them, touched them and made it all the more real. He wondered if the envy he felt was unfounded or if he would truly have preferred the same tangible confirmation of the death.
Kyle quickly left followed by the girl who seemed to follow him around like a puppy and soon Sabin was left with his old friends and enemy. Yet he didn’t care as he stared the bodies. He was done, he couldn’t take any more of this, he thought as the weight of all his years seemed to bear down on him at once and he was afraid he wasn’t strong enough to hold them up any longer.
Sabin kept silent during the entire ride home and even during this new murder scene. Sway was right that it was a female that had done them in for not only was their the mark of the shoe but also the confirmation from Kyle just up the stairs that he could hear clearly as he focused his hearing as the others all chattered around him. Not that it mattered; they weren’t vamps, so there death’s brought him only a feeling of wastefulness. The living should be left that way, he thought, at least those that didn’t deserve worse he knew thinking of himself.
It wasn’t until Ume had elbowed him that he returned his focus to those around him and noticed that Jett was carrying one of the bodies and he was no doubt suppose to carry the other. He didn’t mind lugging it in and setting it down to rest for it weighed less than nothing to him and meant much less than that to him. Ume covered both with sheets as Sway had said her good nights as if they were all just chums and gave a damn about each other and what they were doing and then just left them there.
What was worse was Jett stared at him as if daring and asking him to speak but he could think of nothing better to do than stare back. What was he suppose to say? Ume wasn’t even a thought at this point as the two were transfixed standing in a room full of the stench of death with the question between them of just what to do next. Fight? Scream? Kill?
All the options played through their minds but Jett was the first one to just give up with an exasperated, “We will have this out. But not tonight.”
Jett paused trying to gain the strength he needed and failed, “It’s just not in me to say what I need to say to you and hear what you have to say back. So let’s just leave it buried for now and kill each other tomorrow.”
Sabin wondered if he meant it as a joke but it was impossible to tell so he only shrugged and replied, “For me it’s been over four hundred years. Another night means nothing.”
“I’d have left it buried where I thought you were. Only fate it seems is not without a sense of irony and decided to bring us of all places and times right here with the rest of my dearest friends,” Sabin finished with sarcasm.
Jett winged up an eyebrow, “A vampire that believes in fate?”
Sabin only shrugged again the sarcasm leaving him and responded, “I’ve seen to many coincidences in my life time for me to ever believe in random chance.”
And with that he left Jett in the room all by himself now as Ume followed Sabin out. The two wondered upstairs as Sabin started looking around for a room with no windows where he might be able to bed down for the day. Coming to a small practically closet sized room with a single bed he turned in the doorway.
“I’m dead tired,” he said to Ume with a grin, “But I don’t trust our hosts and their guests as far as you can throw me so I’d be more than cautious if I were you. I don’t think Kyle or Jett would ever do anything to harm you without reason, but the others...”
“What you don’t have any confidence in your training?” she replied cheekily.
“Darlin, I have all the faith in the world in you. The trouble is I’ve seen more than one of them almost destroy it before. But I suppose you do still have that blasted thing that brought us here still with you right? So that’s something, if you can still control if of course.”
Glenna hated getting scooped. And what was worse, so did her producer. Actually it was one of the few things they ever agreed on- getting scooped and Prada.
So when there had been reports of police break out, that the guy that supposedly attacked the mayor getting away, and that some sort of mutant dog sword fight had ensued she couldn’t help but not be surprised that Rachael Green had been the first on scene. Channel 13 was full of stories of UFO, Bigfoot, New Jersey Devils, and Elvis sightings and Rachael Green was their top girl on scene. So it was no surprise to her that this ridiculous story was one of Rachael’s and was running at the top spot on Channel 13.
No, what surprised her was the footage of Jett and a bunch of others actually fighting mutant dog things after busting out of the jail in full color with Rachael’s stupid sing songy voice narrating the whole time in fear for her own life. Got! It was irritating to be hours late and completely footage short on the story of the year!
Glenna just knew that something didn’t smell right when she got on scene and was watching Rachael being interviewed by the press and police on scene and just lapping it up. There was just no way she could have known that such an amazing story would have happened right then and there if she hadn’t been tipped or been a part. And she was going to find out exactly just which it was.
Storming up cutting a swath in the crowd of press and police with ease and grace, Glenna jabbed her mic right in the b****’s face and stated, “Is it true that the source that tipped you to this crime can not be reached by you or the police?”
"Isn't that for fairies?" Sway asked in a tone that sounded half-serious.
Caspar chortled with mirth. "Yes, I believe it is," he agreed, failing to maintain a straight face so as not to let on that he was actually enjoying himself in Kyle's company. Appearances had to be kept up, after all.
He really enjoyed it when people poked fun at others with him. And it was even better in this situation, because he didn't have to insert the comments himself. Generally, he conferred with what/whoever was close at hand, such as: cockroaches, sewer rats, crazy homeless people, his cat, random passerby's on the street, mannequins, etc. Unfortunately it was a very long list that only grew lamer the farther he went through it mentally.
"You know I have to admit, I'm kinda having...", he started to say...
“Ale-Alex. Alex!!! Cashhh—hhhe!!!!” someone was yelling, “Come quickly…”
Caspar groaned at the interruption, what was it now? Had one of Kyle's black-light posters spontaneously combusted? His curiosity outweighed his distaste for venturing further into Kyle's pad, so after trading querying looks with Sway he followed her through the large doorway into a scene he was rather unprepared for.
A dark-skinned man was lying in a pool of what was most likely his own blood. Kyle rushed over to the corpse where a guy Caspar had briefly seen earlier was already crouching over the body, obviously disturbed by what he saw. Not that Caspar could blame him, the guy had a crater where his heart should have been and there was enough blood around him to drown an elephant in. He saw Kyle's jaw go stiff, his face was cold but there was a hint of sadness creeping around the edges. Whoever it was, he was important to these people, Caspar reasoned. Probably part of their crew.
"Hey kid, what about him?", Samurai-schoolgirl interjected thoughtlessly.
Caspar frowned at her. "Great, kid, real tactful," he whispered reproachfully. She was probably the kind of person who, when at a funeral, would ask the bereaved if there was going to be snacks.
He looked over where she was indicating, curious none-the-less. There was a second body, this one with a single bullet-wound to the head. His face was frozen in a lifeless mask of surprise and fear. His killer had caught him off-guard. The girl gingerly stepped over to where he lay, neatly avoiding the scarlet puddles that were strewn across the floor. She stared down at the cadaver, her voice unwavering as she voiced her next tactful observation.
"This was an execution...all jokes aside, but I doubt this safe-house is safe anymore,” she whispered.
And the award for compassionate humanitarian of the year goes to...
"No doubt," Sway muttered in response.
Kyle stormed off further into the building, with Sway in his wake, but she was cut off from following him upstairs as the girl Caspar knew as Cashe gave her a look before going after him herself. Caspar wondered how close she was to Kyle, he always did seem to attract girls like a magnet. He was still pondering their relationship when a cloud of silver smoke drifted across his vision, framing the grisly scene in front of him in an elaborate web of gray tendrils. He reeled at first, quickly glancing around himself, worried that something had caught fire. He was both relieved and surprised to find the source to be a cigarette that was perched ever so delicately between Sway's lips. Wasn't she a doctor? But then again, she had survived worse things than cigarette smoke. She knew what she was doing.
Caspar shot her a look that said, "I didn't know you were a smoker, but that's cool."
She seemed to be lost in thought, staring dourly at the glowing cherry of her cigarette when the humanitarian spoke up yet again.
“I don’t know what the plan is going to be, especially in the early morning, but I suggest we cover these bodies, put them in a room until we can find a place to bury them or whatever, and call it a night,” the girl paused and inhaled deeply, “I expect you have rooms up there?”
Caspar grimaced audibly. Bury them or whatever? Wow. He was floored. He didn't know what to say. Fortunately Sway filled the silence.
"Blood is a messy thing, it can tell a story. Like there...", she said, pointing, "someone's footprint. Probably a girl by the shape of the shoe and walking slowly, no hurry. We should be more like that. More calculating. If we move these bodies upstairs there is more blood to clean up. However, we could get them ready for burial and clean up once instead of twice.”
And the prize for runner up goes to... Caspar wondered if he was just old fashioned, but he didn't like being so matter of fact and objective in a situation such as this. Shouldn't they wait for Kyle to decide what he wanted to do with the bodies? One of them seemed to be someone very close to him. In the culture that Caspar had been brought up in, it was inappropriate for anyone other than family and close friends to handle the body of a recently deceased loved one. But then again, the sound of something smashing loudly against a wall was emanating from upstairs where Kyle had disappeared off to. Perhaps this wasn't the best time for him to be dealing with the bodies.
Everyone seemed to look to eachother awkwardly, unsure of how to proceed, their wandering gaze finaly settling on Sway, since she seemed to be doing most of the talking.
She shrugged. "I didn't say I was going to do it," she said in an annoyed tone.
The group turned to look at Caspar for some reason. His eyes went big and he glanced awkwardly around himself. Why was everyone looking at him?
Sway saved him. "Oh alright fine, Jett, help me carry chest-wound. And vampire, grab the other guy."
Caspar nodded robotically before his eyes went even bigger than before and he glanced at Sway and then the large, scary man that she was indicating. "Wait...what?!"
No one else seemed to be surprised by her statement, instead they began to carefully pick the bodies off the floor and move them. He looked over at Jett, puzzled.
The group stood somberly in a semi-circle around the bath-tub they had placed the bodies in, surveying their handi-work. The cadavers were seated facing eachother, each staring into the other's lifeless, unblinking eyes. Caspar whispered a prayer under his breath, an entreatment to the heavens to welcome and guide these lost souls as they found their way onto the spiritual plane.
"Well, that's take care of for now, thanks Jett," Sway announced, breaking the ice as she turned and began to ascend the stairs on the other side of the building. Caspar followed her tired, retreating form, he didn't want to be left alone in Spooksville with the apparent vampire.
"Sway, where are you going?" He asked quietly.
She kept trudging up the stairs as she responded over her shoulder to him. “I’m getting in a bed and I’m closing my eyes and thinking about faraway places. You guys can do whatever it is that you all do. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Caspar watched her reach the top of the stair and disappear around a corner before sighing morosely. He fidgeted with his bracer absentmindedly as he stood at the bottom of the stairs, staring dumbly at his shoes. He glanced back at the bathroom at the sound of a conversation being held in muted tones. Jett was talking to that vampire guy, they seemed to know each-other from somewhere before. Jett wasn't a vampire too, was he? Caspar tried to imagine Jett swooping down in the night on some innocent stranger and plunging his teeth into their neck in search of warm, bloody goodness. No, it looked too ridiculous. There was no way.
Caspar decided to let them talk, they seemed to have some things that needed to be said, and turned his attention to investigating the cavernous hideout that Kyle had brought them to. None of the lights were on, but that didn't bother him at all. He began his search in earnest, going from room to room, taking everything in and forming a mental map. He wasn't sure exactly what he was looking for, he just didn't feel comfortable staying somewhere unless he knew all its secrets.
There was all the usual suspects one would expect to find in a house, a kitchen, bathrooms, offices, a well-supplied den, even a library of sorts. And then there were the not so ordinary things such as weapons and ordinance rooms, a workout room with some serious equipment, interrogation rooms with one-way glass windows, even a detention area of sorts. Caspar wondered what it was that Kyle and his group actually did, and what necessitated some of the furnishings he had come upon. Were they some illegitimate branch of the police, or a terrorist cell of some kind? Surely not the latter, the Kyle that Caspar had known would never do anything like that. That is, however, unless he believed what he was doing to be right. Either way, his curiosity was piqued.
He continued his exploration until he found himself once again at the foot of the stairs. Weariness and physical exhaustion tugged at his eyelids. He had had a busy day, and there was nothing he would like more than to collapse into a bed and let all his cares slip away, but that was the old Caspar's way of thinking. He couldn't just let things be and disconnect himself from the drama, and hope that things worked themselves out in the end. He at least wanted some idea of what his next step was, and whether or not it was in the same direction as everyone else was heading.
Caspar raised his nose in the air, sniffing delicately. His nose sorted through the competing smells in the air until it locked onto the scent he had been attempting to identify. Cigarette smoke. Ever since he had found the entity he knew as Wolf to be missing from his fragile psyche he had simultaneously realized that Wolf had at least left him a parting gift. A more acute sense of smell and hearing, and impressive low-light vision. Not necessarily the most useful of abilities, but he found it helpful in more situations than he had originally anticipated. This was one of them.
He grinned to himself as he followed his nose, walking through corridors and ascending several flights of stairs until he found himself at a bulky, iron door with the words "EXIT" painted on in a faded, reflective red. He put some weight on the door, it squawked and swung outward an inch before stopping. It seemed to be seldom used and had fallen into some dis-repair, nothing a little WD-40 couldn't fix, the stuff worked wonders. And it made a cunningly handsome hair-gel as well.
A little more force, and the door eventually relented and opened noisily, its hinges protesting loudly. Caspar could see Sway's silhouette against the security lights of a nearby pier. She didn't seem startled at his intrusion, so she was probably too lost in thought to notice. She was probably wondering how he had found her.
"I just followed my nose, and tadah, here you are," he said, pre-empting her question.
The lights of the heavens continued their dance, with the morning star chasing his evening mistresses over and over again. Darkness became day became darkness, and the eyes of the city turned their attentions on their everyday lives. The safehouse had gained something of a rhythm as each of the denizens settled into their several routines. This wasn't exactly a normal week for any of them, but considering the history, months and months that these people had known one another, it seemed oddly comforting to have each under one roof.
That next morning had been difficult.
Kyle stood beside the pyre, now blackened with the soot of cooling coals. Terrance was gone. There had been no service, no eulogy. This wasn't the first time that he had been privy to the taste of death, and he was all too used to the flavor. Instead, it had been a simple burning, as Kyle looked on. Ammon hadn't the stomach to attend, and Cashe was nowhere to be found. Instead, there was only Kyle. He watched unflinching for two brutal hours as the flames flickered and burned, taking the final step to send his fallen comrade into oblivion.
He hardly moved all that time, his eyes intently focused on the flames before him. He saw himself in that glow. He saw the years that he had spent fighting to protect those around him. He saw his failures in that fire, all the times that he had not been fast enough, or not been strong enough. He saw his past teammates, each one that had been lost in the service of helping those who were too weak, or to fragile, or too unable to help themselves. He saw the countless soldiers, bandits, guardsmen, and enemies that he had himself put to rest, their faces stared back at him through the fiery tongues of his past, and seared out to grip his soul.
Who was he, really? Just an emissary of death and destruction, leaving the bodies of the fallen and the souls of the damned in his wake? In all his years of fighting, of defending, what had he really accomplished? Here lay one of the most honest, determined, and loyal leaders that Kyle had ever known, killed only because Kyle had been involved. If Kyle had not found Najm, if he had not brought her back, then Terrance would still be alive. He would still be breathing.
So what good had this guise of "Blue-Blade" actually accomplished, then? Sure, there were a few minor thugs, a few small-time criminals brought to justice, some to their final judgement. But at what cost? How many others had been killed in this war? A war that Kyle himself had been determined to wage, a war that most of Imperial City hadn't a single clue of?
When the original team had been formed, Kyle and Terrance both had shared the dream that this would be the beginning of the end of the Purist cause, that as a team of talents such as this, the city, and even the world, might become safe from the clutches of those who would seek to enslave the populace. There was no illusions about what the Purists were doing. Ever since their resident spy, Triska, had been able to send back the images, the resolution of each member of the crew had been strengthened into iron. The images of Imperial residents being attached to some kind of machine, locked in an eternal slumber for some nefarious plot, no matter what it was, was enough.
But that fire that had been lit inside of each of them had been the beginning of an undoing.
Triska had been the first captured, along with Michael, just one day after the successful infiltration of the Purist main compound. She had only been in the process of sending the photos she took when her filesend was suddenly cut short. All comm traffic was lost with Michael not two seconds later.
Three days later, Point and Tracy were practically trampled by a Purist induced riot, but the final blows were delivered by two clean sniper shots directly into the crowd.
With only eight members left, Kyle had begun his search for the sniper.
Donning his mask for the first time, Kyle began his solo hunts. He began shaking the Imperial underworld, searching for the sniper who had eliminated his friends, in the hopes that somehow their deaths might lead him to the Purist source. In his wake he left only the broken bodies of the criminals that he found. It had been better for him to leave them with a lesson than to end their lives.
Two weeks later, he'd finally found a reliable tip. Cameron Royal was to hold a charity event on the sixth floor of the Exuberance Hotel, in the ballroom. Kyle's information had placed the man directly into the sniper's line of sight, and the newly-christened "Blue-Blade" would be on the scene to be sure that it wouldn't happen. Kyle had crashed that party, and dove towards Royal as soon as the man came close to the window. He didn't hear the bullet fire. He didn't see the impact. Instead, all he felt was the overwhelming pain.
"I understand why you didn't tell me."
Kyle turned slightly, and noticed Zylee standing behind him.
"Why you keep your secrets," she continued in earnest. "I think I understand."
Kyle continued to stare into the smoky remains of the fire. "I didn't want you to be burdened with this part of our job," he said slowly. "I'd rather you didn't have to see what I see."
"I get that," said Zylee, stepping forward. "But I think that's my choice, not yours."
Kyle did turn then. "That's true," he said. He paused for a moment.
"Even though I wanted you and Ammon, both of you, I wanted you to remain safe here, I realize that I can't do that any longer. There is no more safe. This threat that we're facing, it has come right into our home, right into our front door, and there's no way that we're going to fully remove that kind of threat until the head is removed."
Zylee flinched a little at the violent imagery. "I know that you and Cashe, and even Terrance, you were trying to protect me. But I'm a big girl, I can handle it. You have to remember, I've been here a whole year. Those were my friends who have died, too, you know. Zack, Varnish, DC... I was here, and they died out there."
Kyle nodded. She was right. He'd been treating her like a child, and that's not who she was. It was time for her to step up, and they both knew it.
"Alright," said Kyle. "You and Ammon are going to take over the in-house operations. Like I told Cashe yesterday, nothing's changed, except that we're going to have to hit back harder than ever. If they want to send an assassin, then we're going to have to build up and army to take them apart piece by piece."
"What do you need me to do?"
Kyle glanced at the smoldering fire, and then turned back. "Get me a list of Centaur Bile Bullet dealers."
She grinned. "I think I might already have that on file."
After laying in bed for an hour and a half she changed her game plan. Instead she found an uninhabited bathroom and colonized it with cleaning products before drawing herself a bath and settling in.
She in an ancient-looking claw footed tub for a long time. It seemed as if it had no place in such a technologically advanced house but it was probably too heavy to remove. She draped her hands over her stomach admiring her wrinkled fingertips. Her legs were crossed and with the tips of her toes she could touch the other side of the tub.
She went underwater. Her wings were a black cradle between her and the tub’s sides. Bubbles frothed to the surface. She closed her eyes and began to think.
What was it like to die? She remembered the two bodies that had been staring each other down a few hours before. She scrubbed them without curiosity, without introduction. Was there dignity in death? There was an unspoken stillness about it. And also a silliness. Why did people get so worked up over it? Didn’t they know how temporary life was designed to be? But she tried not to acknowledge it as too sacred, too untouchable. How could she? It was everywhere. Yet for some reason she had avoided it.
She had a different understanding of death than most people. She was from Pamuya, the gateway of souls. Many people came in and out of there headed out of some bleak existence into the next.
But not always. Not all the time.
Sometimes people were able to go from bad to better, from good to incredible. There were lives that were worth living. Lives that were worth dying to get out of. She often wondered what sort of lives those around her were living. What sort of life she had made for herself.
She curled up in a ball. The water was getting cold. She sat up and tried to heat the water with a flame spell but as soon as she put the ball of fire in the water it turned into a narrow pillar of smoke. She sighed. She touched the metal side of the tub and told it to warm up.
It wasn’t working. At first. Then the tub turned napalm orange.
Expletives. She launched herself out of the water like a manatee. Still slick, she ran across the bathtub and slid into the door, fanning her fanny where it had touched the tub’s bottom.
Being nocturnal had prompted many of her life’s most questionable choices. For example, she had just scorched a pot of Sway soup. If she had simply been asleep she could have avoided tub burn completely.
She dried off, half disgruntled; half amused and found a random robe. She balled up the clothes she had been wearing and tiptoed with the surefooted stealth of a point ballerina. The hallway was a cavern of voices. No one was asleep but all the doors were closed. As long as they stayed close, everything would be okay. That was, until she turned a corner and whisked passed one of the only open rooms. She heard footsteps. She ran inside, not sure why she was hiding or who she was running from.
The vampire turned in. He was so handsome she forgot, for a moment, that she was supposed to be escaping. Her hesitation made the bed an impossible cover and the closet too far away to dash in. Jett stopped him for a moment in the hallway. Second chance! She bumped into the wall and channeling Nesace’s innate clumsiness, fell out of the window toward the street below. She opened her wings and pushed off toward the roof. Updraft. She tried to gather her clothes, but in the effort lost almost all of them. Expletives. A few flaps later and an unsure landing found her settled on an unimpressive rooftop balcony.
Her inventory of damages: a scraped elbow, one shoe, no socks and a pair of ripped jeans. She had lost the rest of her clothes and half her mind in the escape. She felt her jeans pocket. At least she still had her cigarettes. She relaxed.
She needed to quit. It was a definite problem. It wasn’t the potential health risks that Sway hated about smoking, it was the cost. The things were seven bucks a pack and they always gave you an odd number. That meant you always had to get more. Somehow. If she wanted to pollute her lungs at least they could permit her to do so at a lower cost.
She tried to open the door on the roof but it was locked. There was no way she was going to try to fly back down, not with people looking out of the windows and her dirty clothes littering the alleyway. Besides, what if somebody saw her? She was a woman with wings wearing a robe. They might think she was bringing glad tidings of joy. All she needed now was a harp and a choir sheet.
She inhaled. Smokey goodness. As long as she was up here she might as well eavesdrop on the vampire and Jett. She leaned over the balcony, listening carefully to what they were saying. She just caught snatches of things. Rebecca, Revenge, Ume. Blah blah blah. Kyle. Whose clothes are these? Yada yada yada. Ume. Something something something Dark side.
Now if the situation called for seeing something from a mile away, Sway was the person to call. If there was any time that is was necessary to smell something to ensure quality, Sway all the way. However, if anyone’s cooking needed to be vouched for Sway was the second to last acceptable reference. Roach, dung beetle and fly larvae all tied for last. She had virtually no sense of taste and the only thing that she actually could taste were these tasty cigarettes. But that wasn’t her concern. She could hardly hear what was going on below her because of the wind and the cars in the distance. She needed Caspar. Or a horned hearing aid. Whatever.
The door shook.
The vampire knew she was spying. Explitives. She prepared herself to jump over the ledge. The door lurched again and exploded open. She was two seconds from liftoff.
Caspar. She probably looked like a pet cat who had just swallowed a pet bird. How could she explain this?
“Uh…” Sheer eloquence.
Caspar deemed it necessary to explain something in a situation that has been utterly ridiculous up to this point. "I just followed my nose, and tadah, here you are," he said.
“Right,” she said. Her cigarette ashed. Somewhere in the distance a goldfish blinked. It was so quiet while Sway tried to formulate an explanation you could hear a rat piss on cotton. “Okay…” Sway articulated, “I’m not crazy. I mean… like the robe and the wings and stuff,” she said flicking her hands up and down, “this was kind of an accident. And then I thought the door was locked. And a minute ago I tried to take a bath but a vampire came and I had to jump out of the window.” She put up her hand, “Not out of the bathroom, out of some other room. I lost half my stuff but I had a cigarette so I thought I’d stay on the roof and spy until I could figure out how to get back inside.” She swallowed. “Yeah.”
Caspar raised an eyebrow. He was very clearly trying to decipher what question he had raised to get a response like that. Having found his interrogation log blank, he decided to let Sway think she had answered correctly.
“Oh, is that all?” he said with tea-room poise.
“Yeah and now—I’m glad you’re here—I’m trying to listen to what Jett and the vampire are talking about.”
“Does this vampire have a name?”
Sway shrugged, “I don’t know. I think we met him before or something. I believe I was going to kill him but Kyle was like” she did a “Keanu Reeves concentrating” face, “come on, Sway don’t worry about it.”
Caspar grimaced at the mention of Kyle. “Kyle, eh?” he said.
She picked up on what wasn’t said. “I don’t know Caspar. I don’t really know how to deal with that. It was kind of a long time ago.”
“Kind of. Only like a year or two.”
“Try four hundred years.”
Caspar practically jumped, “You’re four hundred years old!”
“Five hundred and twenty two. Or so. But I didn’t spend the whole time in Illusionia. I went home a lot. That burned up like at least a hundred years. And another hundred was just spent traveling. There are a lot of planets that can inhabit life that you wouldn’t really consider. And I spent a chunk of my time in jail. That sucked. Apparently if you murder someone on Bujrati you go to jail. No one mentioned that the natives were mobile vegetables. Cannibalism is a life sentence, not a light sentence.”
“You ate someone?”
“I was hungry. What can I say?”
“So wait—wait—wait—wait—wait… you went to Bugaloo or whatever and you land. And you see a buffet and end up in handcuffs.”
“I was innocent! I didn’t know the thing could talk until I was halfway done.”
“But—ha!—you didn’t stop eating?”
“Hell no. It junk was teriyaki style. I’d do it again. Tomorrow.”
They both laughed.
“See if you can hear what they’re saying though,” she said. “Let’s be nosy.”
“Darlin, I have all the faith in the world in you. The trouble is I’ve seen more than one of them almost destroy it before. But I suppose you do still have that blasted thing that brought us here still with you right? So that’s something, if you can still control it of course.”
Ume traced the orb with her index finger in her pocket and nodded.
"Yeah...yes, yes I still have it," Ume answered rubbing her face, trying to rid herself of the weariness that suddenly took hold of her.
They walked up the metallic staircase and pass a few rooms. Two rooms that were related was divided by a thick layer of sheet-rock and a two-way mirror. One of those rooms were kept dark and the other brightly lit. It reminded Ume of the interrogation rooms one might see in a police station.
A few other doors were kept locked, displaying no signs to inform a person where they led to, instead it sheltered its mysteries away from the strangers of the safe-house. One room on the left of the long corridor was vacant. In the room it contained a fluorescent light which was flickering on and off, and a twin-sized bed in which was perfectly wrapped in a navy blue blanket and immaculate crisp white bedsheets. In one corner of the bed was a small sack of a pillow, and on the other side of the room was a rotting wooden desk and chair that looked as if it was being attacked by termites. It was like a prison cell designed for torture.
"The only thing that's missing is a mat saying 'Welcome, Home Sweet Home'. I guess you can take the blanket and sack, and sleep on the floor, and I'll take the bed. It's not really a suggestion just stating what the arrangement will be," Ume said, with sort of a witty smirk appearing on her face.
In these sort of situations she could not help but to remind Sabin that she was still a woman and 'deserved' comfort even in the most miserable state such as the room. The only aspect of it that seemed to be taken care of was the bedding and the white tiles on the floor. The matching white walls was painted with flat paint in which was more susceptible to collecting unknown substances and grime. Ume walked past Sabin and entered the room. She peeled off the blanket from the mattress and took up the sack in her arms, and then turned to Sabin and handed them to him. For the first time she could not tell what Sabin was feeling with the exception of weariness. His eyes seemed to tunnel down into a dark void, submerged in blackness upon blackness, but the barrier of indifference was heavily constructed blocking Ume from entering.
She despised when these awkward moments would occur so she turned away and took her place on the bed.
The room was surprisingly warm aside from the cold air outside. Ume looked toward the ceiling and saw the vents which were softly blowing hot air into the room. So much for consideration. Sabin turned off the flickering bright light and laid down on the floor with the blue blanket outspread and the sack nestling comfortably under his head. No words were exchanged between them, no explanations, and no answers; only a slight whisper of slumber filled the room then silence.
Hollow dreams and empty minds immersed in boisterous bellows
And by and by the people stand watching the dead sing
Along the roads, upon the streets, beside a tyrant king
And all together they stand and say
' What a monstrous day!
How can someone be treated thus on such a glorious day!
But they continue to stand and say while their actions are of nothing
While they watch the wealthy flourish and the bodies of the weak left slumping
And by and by the people stand hearing the dead sing
Along the roads, near the palls, praising a tyrant king
While their souls become immersed in darkness
And their hearts failing to beat in a tomb consumed in blackness
Under the streets, under the roads where they begin to sing
Shrouded in their own palls, beneath a tyrant king."
Ume saw slender feminine hands close a leather bound book, and as she uplifted her eyes she saw the smiling face of her mother, Mao Tanaka. The image slowly faded into the horrific scene of her mother's legs dangling from the ceiling the night she commited suicide after her father was murdered. All life gone...
"Beneath a tyrant king," Ume whispered in her sleep.
She opened her eyes slowly, uplifted herself from the mattress and looked towards Sabin. She did not know whether he was asleep or awake, but she suddenly had a strong feeling of loneliness.
"Sabin...when you said the names Kyle and Jett, who were you talking about? Who are they?"
Sabin was laying staring into the darkness trying to clear his mind. He’d spent a good deal of time with some devout monks in a land he couldn’t remember off hand and was quite adept at meditation. But apparently not quite skilled enough for his talents to work tonight as the best he could manage was to subdue the writhing snakes in his belly and get back control of his emotions. His mind however was still playing reels and reels of movies with the cast of characters that he had just run into tonight in all their past glories.
So he lay attempting again to blank his mind and pay attention to all the sensations his body was receiving instead. There was the stale air of the room that seemed to pour in from a poorly maintained furnace system. There were the normal tremors of a building this size maintain the life within it. And then there were the sounds, so many sounds. He had worked tirelessly to learn how to be able to sort through them all as he wished.
From roaches nesting in the walls, to someone walking a floor below, to the traffic outside as someone blared their horn, he could hear it all. Most of his focus was in the room where he lay at the moment listening to his traveling companion as she tried to sleep. He could tell she wasn’t at the moment, for he knew by now all the sounds she made and what they meant. Smirking, he thought he knew what all her body language meant as well.
They had little secrets from each other, but the past was just that and they rarely talked of it. They knew what each other could do and how each thought about every pertinent subject. But does he really know her? He couldn’t help but ponder.
He heard her stir and turn toward him and speak quietly, "Sabin...when you said the names Kyle and Jett, who were you talking about? Who are they?"
“I knew them long before Belise,” he said still quietly but pausing so that she would take in the reference and remind her that these rooms could be bugged and he would tell her only what he could until they could be sure they were alone.
“Yes long before the brunette blue blade beauty and the big bad bald Jett and I were enemies of a sort, although Jett and I have had a much longer feud than Kyle and I,” he said almost wistfully.
“But both are very similar, men of honor, justice, and courage. So naturally they’ve killed more than you can imagine,” with a bit of a chuckle he continued, “now that I think about it I wonder if I’ve passed Jett yet in the death count.”
“You see they are both dangerous if you are not on whatever side they decide is the right one. But at the moment, it would appear as though they don’t think us against them. Or they are fool hardy enough to think they could kill us which isn’t really them. Not that it matters, I don’t really care as long as we can get some sleep.”
“And tomorrow we are gone after I get some answers. There are no coincidences in this world, and they may know why we happen to have all been at the same place in the same time yesterday. And if so, they are going to explain it to my satisfaction,” he said the last word resounding with an almost scary resoluteness.
Pearl watched her, the way her skinny jeans went tight around those bite-size hips. The way they swayed gently from side to side in unison with the clicking of her wedge heels against the concrete. He saw her turn around as swiftly and as elegantly as any human being possibly could, her loaded piece pointed dead at his skull. For a moment shock seized his limbs, but it quickly melted away in one whisper. A whisper of a name the night air of Imperial City was all too familiar with.
It hit him like a ton of bricks as her mug shot flashed before his mind’s eye, but it was too late to react. He was done. The only thing left to say was his prayers, and he started from the very beginning….
What a simpering idiot, Moloch thought to himself. If he had had any sense he would have known that a girl of Najm’s caliber wouldn’t waste any time on a guy that weighed less than a bag of groceries.
Either way, Najm had been dodging him the entire time that she had been at headquarters. Not that he had been trying to make a move. She just hadn’t really noticed him. Despite the fact that he was 6’3 and could have carried the motorcycle he was riding on his back.
It didn’t matter. She would make short work of the poor scarecrow she was talking to. Not that Moloch minded. He did want to see her at work. He had heard whispers about her abilities but he hadn’t seen it for himself. Being a seasoned killer, he watched her as if he were viewing an instructional pamphlet on crochet. Impassive, slightly impressed. How could something so small move so quickly?
He shouldn’t be surprised. Did a bullet bench press? No. It penetrated, scattered and finished its target just as well as Moloch’s fire or his rope.
He sidled up behind her after she had turned to walk away.
“Najm,” he said. “Bishop wants to speak with you.”
Arun was securely nestled into a navy green futon. There was a sheet over it. It was a fort. But he tried to convince others that it was a loft. In his left hand was the latest mint conditioned issue of Fortuna!, a comic that he read obsessively—even though he tried to keep up appearances by wedging it in the pages of a heavy book of Tennyson’s poetry. He lugged it around and read over the pages again during long briefings. While pretending to recite the greats he ogled cartoon breasts. In his right hand he clutched a deadly juice box. Or at least he thought of the juice box as deadly. He figured that it was only masculine and grown up to drink a juice box if it was given to you by your enemy. It could be poisoned. He was showing his mettle by slurping on it. Slorrorrroorrooop. Empty. And he was still alive.
Being child sized, child-like in appearance, and treated like a child came with a few allowances. A gaming system, a punching bag, a bike, for example. But the negative aspect was that people constantly tried to demean him with babying. But the other side of the coin was much worse. Some people were out to get him for his youth alone.
One such person was named Moloch. A legend in the present. Now muted and somehow more detached and dangerous than he had been when he was on the payroll. Formally a frozen killer, his rope had strung one too many necks and now lay limp in his belt like a dying snake. Though Arun knew that Moloch was not allowed to kill any longer, the boy also knew that even a dead serpent carried venom.
Arun learned quickly that there was no thought of morality in this man’s mind. He took what he wanted, he ate when he wanted, he slept where he wanted. He was so focused on eliminating magic that he went to playgrounds to collect the bones of magical children. Arun had seen the necklace he wore around his thick, brown neck. Teeth. Baby teeth. All chattering. Once polluted with candy, now clicking softly together as if to communicate some important warning.
His name was Moloch because he collected children and made mothers weep. But it was his brutality, his complete lack of control that resulted in his demotion. He had killed exactly one too many children and now he had been stripped of his ability to participate in the struggle. No one would say when he could return to work. No one would say whose child had crumbled like a sleeping dove in the man’s hand. Or had curled like a trapped rabbit in his snare. Whispers were weighed down in warning for fear that they would carry to his every ready ear.
The only person who would talk to Moloch was Arun and he did so with the care of a man brushing his hair with a machete.
It was Moloch who had taken off a night ago and abandoned Arun at the jail, fully expecting him to fail at apprehending Nesace and Providence. But Sadiq did not call Moloch by his name. No, he was introduced to him only as “Mom” which was a running joke that was communicated more as telepathy than speech.
The same day that Arun had been discovered by Bishop was the same day that Moloch lost his ability to take life. It was that day that Moloch had murdered his last child and had been ironically put in charge of another one. He was sneered at, only behind his back, as a doting mother. As far as he knew, Arun was Moloch’s replacement and Moloch was not enthusiastic about babysitting the twit that had supplanted him. To Moloch’s consternation, despite his best efforts to set his ‘son’ up for failure Arun constantly defied him. He hadn’t failed at all. At least not completely.
Arun spent as much time trying to prove himself as Moloch spent trying to undo him. He had succeeded in capturing both of the girls, one by blackmail the other by sheer ignorance. And now they were probably being interrogated to within an inch of their lives. All thanks to Arun. He was the man—er—boy—whatever.
But Moloch wasn’t the only bad boy walking around. Underneath those black cherub’s curls, rosy apple cheeks and wet, mossy eyes was a weathered, wounded, wound up individual. Arun was dangerous. He was fast. He was… extraordinarily bored.
He stood up and his fortress crumbled onto the floor below. He took a few minutes, rushing through his prayers while half-gathering his stuff and half-clasping his hands. The door vibrated behind him as he exited.
His eyes were keen and he walked with care. That girl, that girl that Mom had described. The one that was better than him. He would find her. What was her name? Star. Najm.
He waited for people to walk passed then slipped behind a table. He waited silently, listening. Trying to feel the vibrations around him. Half an hour passed when things leveled off. He knew he was completely alone. He slid from under the table making no more noise as he glided across the floor than a painter’s brush makes ballooning on canvas.
He turned the corner and bumped into something massive. A brown, immobile glacier stared down at him. The whites of his eyes were blackened from some unquestioned illness. His bare chest was smooth concrete interrupted with a heart-shaped patch of thick black hair. His hair curled down to his waist but could not hide the hardness of his gaze. He was strength. Even breathing steadily caused his body to ripple with coiled tension. Moloch’s face was a series of sharp lines further obscured by stubble. He would have been very handsome but his misdeeds had siphoned away anything that could have made him as beautiful as he should have been. His booksized hand wrapped around Arun’s narrow neck.
Moloch tilted his head. “What are you doing out?”
Arun closed his eyes in a long agitated silence. “I was just… going to the bathroom, Mom.”
Moloch’s narrow eyes narrowed. “You would lie to a liar?”
“I—wanted to talk to someone,” Arun said remembering himself. He pried Moloch’s fingers from around his neck, something he even knew would have been impossible to do if the man had not allowed it.
“Who is this?” asked the hapa man. He was multiracial. A mix of mankind that had adopted only man’s worse habits.
“Her name is Najm,” said Arun.
“Funny,” said Moloch without a hint of a smile on his lips. “Your ends meet m ine.”
Moloch’s hand dug into Arun’s shoulder. The boy let himself be propelled down the hallway. “Where are we going?”
“There is a meeting with Bishop. I came to collect you because for some reason you were invited.”
“So what does that have to do with my mission?”
“You mean using the bathroom—that was your excuse, wasn’t it? Nothing. But if you wanted to meet Najm then here is your chance or should I return you to your fort?”
“It’s not a fort! It’s a operation control center!”
The best way to imagine what it would have felt like to be Providence at the moment would involve a scenario including jackhammers, several metric tons of concrete, and a circus. Just take those three things and pack them into the little space right behind your eyes and crank the volume to eleven. That can get you close to the sensation that she was feeling when her drug-induced coma was suddenly pierced by the scream-whisper of her new-found friend, Nesace.
Was she even attempting to not be heard? It was about as subtle as picking your nose with one of those giant, foam novelty hands they give out at ballgames.
"Unghghhnnnnnnnnnmmmmnnnnn," her moan wormed its way through the crack between her swollen, cracked lips. The best reply she could manage at the time. How long had she been unconscious?
"Are you alive!?" Nesace barked, apparently unconcerned about being overheard.
She managed to unscrew one of her beat-up eyes and tried her best to glare venomously.
"Unfortunately..." she deadpanned.
She swiveled her head and took in a panoramic shot of her surroundings, she had apparently been moved from her earlier location, one of many identical interrogation rooms. The room she was in now was a far cry from the stained, cement cubicle and cliche single, dangling light-bulb. This room gave her the impression that she was being held prisoner in some swanky, undersea-themed nightclub. All that was missing was a giant scallop-shell stage and faux-seaweed curtains on the windows.
She summoned a small amount of strength and took a deep breath before talking again.
"Are we still in the compound? I haven't seen this part of it before if we are..." she paused and took another painful, ragged breath. One or more of her ribs seemed to have been cracked during the "interview" process. A process she recalled in fractured snippets of pain interspersed with fuzzy gaps of dizzying blackness.
"Nesace, listen to me. We need to escape. They'll never let us go unless we're dead. Trust me, I know these people, they're..." several graphic images careened around Providence's mind causing her to shudder, "they're monsters!"
Providence was scared. Well, that would be the understatement of the year, rather she was mortified. Nesace had no idea what the Company was capable of. She remembered the first time she had been taken into the compound. She had been contacted on her unlisted number, and a message had been left on her machine saying something along the lines of, "Ms. Halona, our company would like to make you a generous offer in return for your unique gifts and services. Please come by our main offices in the Metro-Plaza area, any of the buildings will do as they are all ours."
The message in itself wasn't necessarily frightening, but the fact that they knew her real name in the first place, as well as where to reach her, had been jarringly scary, as well as an impressive display of how well connected they were. She had held off the temptation of going to the offices for nearly a year, until the threat of owing money to several dangerous people began to become more than just a threat. It was then that she finally succumbed to what her instincts had told her was a very bad idea.
The reception at the building she had chosen was cold, with stately marble floors that seemed to stretch for miles, and cushy, exotic rugs that had caught her well-trained thief's eye. Judging from just their foyer, whoever this organization was, money was of no issue to them. When someone had finally agreed to see her they had taken her on a tour of their premises before escorting her to an elevator that seemed to be hidden in a back room. And as the elevator plumbed down into the depths under the building for what seemed an eternity, she began to realize that she had indeed made a bad decision going there. Just what kind of organization kept its offices hundreds of feet underground? Everything above-ground had appeared to be what one would expect of a successful corporation, but it was just a cover. A mask that concealed the true nature of the organization. She knew that to be the truth when the elevator doors finally parted and she was greeted with the unsettling sight of a body-sized leather bag being carried between two people into a room with the words "Waste Disposal" etched on the door. And from there on it only got worse...
Providence let her fears and anxiety get the best of her. Normally she was a bulwark of a girl, unphased by the waves of hardship that crashed against her, but not now, not here. The things she had witnessed and experienced within the subterranean lair spurned her to action even when it hurt just to blink. Leaning forward, she moved her limbs hesitantly, none of them seemed to be tied down, or more importantly, broken. Knowing this, Providence rose unsteadily to her feet with all the grace of a brontosaurus pirouetting on a frozen lake.
"Got....to....get....out..." she slurred, the drugs still heavy in her system. She managed to make one faltering step before her strength gave out and she stumbled to the floor. She was barely hanging on to consciousness. Her small body had withstood too much punishment and was saturated with pharmaceuticals. She was helpless.
“Hell no. It junk was teriyaki style. I’d do it again. Tomorrow.”
Caspar laughed so hard he was in tears. He wiped them away with his sleeve and grinned widely. He couldn't remember the last time he had laughed. For the years he had spent trapped in Imperial he had been doing a lot of the opposite, whatever the opposite of laughing was. Crying? Frowning? Muttering curses? Whichever it was he had done plenty of all of them at one point or another. But now that he had his friends back, that was all in the past.
“See if you can hear what they’re saying though,” Sway said, turning serious for a moment, “let’s be nosy.”
Caspar pushed out his bottom lip. "Do I have to? I don't wanna spy on some icky...vampire. I don't know if you remember or not, but I have a certain spotted past with the living dead. I gargle mouthwash an hour a day obsessively as a result of that incident."
He could tell that she wasn't going to let him off the hook. "Guh, fine, fine, but I would like the record to indicate my adamant unwillingness to do this."
Walking over to the edge of the roof, he lifted one of his legs and rested it on the short wall that encircled the top of the building and leaned forward, focusing his attention and hearing into the room below. At first he couldn't pick out what was being said from all the other ambient noise that was interfering but he tightened his focus and managed to begin sifting out the conversation.
"We will have this out. But not tonight.”
Caspar relayed everything everything he heard as it was said.
“It’s just not in me to say what I need to say to you and hear what you have to say back. So let’s just leave it buried for now and kill each other tomorrow.”
"The vampire is speaking now..." he interceded.
“For me it’s been over four hundred years.
"Hey, he's almost as old as you, awwww, friends forever," Caspar joked.
Another night means nothing. I’d have left it buried where I thought you were. Only fate it seems is not without a sense of irony and decided to bring us of all places and times right here with the rest of my dearest friends,”
“A vampire that believes in fate?”
“I’ve seen too many coincidences in my life time for me to ever believe in random chance.”
The sound of foosteps fading told Caspar that one of them had left the room. He walked back from the ledge.
"Huh, what do you make of that? Look like there's some score to be settled between them. Who would have ever guessed that Jett had a haunted past?" Caspar said sarcastically.
He didn't say anything for a while, thinking about what had brought him up to the roof in the first place.
"Look Sway, you know, I didn't come up here just to hang out. I'm having a great time, don't get me wrong, but I've got some things on my mind."
He sat down on a metal box that jutted out of the roof, probably an air-vent hood, and fiddled with his bracer as he was prone to do when discussing serious matters. Being serious was hard for him.
"Okay, I know it's getting late so I'll try to say keep it brief. Firstly, you don't know how glad I am that we're here. All of us, I mean, I've been stuck here for a while and I had lost all hope of ever seeing my friends again. And it's not really like I can make new ones that easily, 'cause like if anyone here finds out that you're different they either try to sell you to the cops or want nothing to do with you. So what I'm trying to say is we can't let ourselves get separated again. I hate to get all mushy on you, but we've got stick together. That being said, ah, well, what do you think we should do now? I mean, you know I'm not exactly Kyle's biggest fan, but I also can't help shaking the feeling that maybe the vampire was right. It seems like we were brought together for some reason, and though I'd like nothing better than to go off to some sunny beach with you and Jett and tan our cares away, I also kinda think we should stay with Kyle and help him out. Judging from tonight, I think he's going to get in over his head and those kids he has with him aren't going to be enough to bail him out of trouble when he needs it."
Caspar turned his head and looked off in the distance, the glowing outlines of skyscrapers winking in the darkness at him.
"As much as I hate to say it, I've gotta help him."
He thought about what he had just said. It wasn't like it was necessarily anything he had imperatively need to tell Sway as much as he needed someone to listen as he spoke his mind aloud and tryed to figure out what he should do.He had come to a conclusion, but he was also worried that if they joined Kyle in his vendetta against whoever that there was a chance that after finally being reunited, it could spell the end for them.
Caspar started pouting. He looked like a little kid that had just been asked to practice piano. "Do I have to?”
“Yes, Caspar. He’s a vampire,” she said settling on the edge of the building. “That means he’s a threat to both of us.”
“I don't wanna spy on some icky...vampire.”
“But he has an advantage over both of us. I mean he could be plotting on us right now. I’m not going down willy nilly because some vampire decides to sink his teeth into me—again. The last time I almost died and I probably would have if Yemoja hadn’t been there.” She made no mention of Kyle’s obvious absence.
Caspar’s eyes were wide. “Yemoja saved you? Oh come on Sway, the last time I wasn’t even there—“
“I know! But you’re here this time. And if we could just know what the this undead barbarian is doing we can at least know if he’s a threat or not.”
Caspar sighed. “I don't know if you remember or not, but I have a certain spotted past with the living dead.”
Sway half laughed half blushed. She remembered. “Okay that wasn’t even your fault. You can’t beat yourself up about that forever.”
Caspar would not be excused. “I gargle mouthwash an hour a day obsessively as a result of that incident."
She crossed her arms and replicated his pout.
He was sold. "Guh, fine, fine, but I would like the record to indicate my adamant unwillingness to do this."
“It will, don’t worry. When we look back on this as a mistake I’ll be the first to admit that I made you do it.” He leaned over the ledge and told her what he was hearing.
"We will have this out. But not tonight. It’s just not in me to say what I need to say to you and hear what you have to say back. So let’s just leave it buried for now and kill each other tomorrow.”
So Jett and this vampire thing were not friends. But not enemy enough to slit each other’s throats.
Caspar told her it was the vampire’s turn. “For me it’s been over four hundred years”.
"Hey, he's almost as old as you, awwww, friends forever," Caspar joked.
Sway laughed then said thoughtfully, “Well he does look familiar.”
”Another night means nothing. I’d have left it buried where I thought you were. Only fate it seems is not without a sense of irony and decided to bring us of all places and times right here with the rest of my dearest friend,”
“Wait. Caspar—is this a romance or something? Are these two like… friends with benefits?”
Caspar stifled a laugh, "Jett again."
“A vampire that believes in fate?”
Sway’s eyes widened. “So they are together. Oh geeze. This explains a lot. I always wondered why Jett never tried to talk to Sara. Now I know.”
"Vampire," Caspar laughed. “He did toss back that diet Pepsi earlier.”
“I’ve seen too many coincidences in my life time for me to ever believe in random chance.”
“That is true…” Sway said quietly.
Caspar turned away. The conversation was over. "Huh, what do you make of that?”
“It sounds like a sordid romance gone wrong. But what do you think?”
“Looks like there's some score to be settled between them.” Caspar shrugged.
“Yeah,” Sway said. “But what could it be?”
Caspar raised an eyebrow with a smirk. “Who would have ever guessed that Jett had a haunted past?"
Sway shook her head. They both sat under a canopy of stars choked by the city’s lights, thinking. Sway closed her eyes and leaned against the roof’s stone chimney. She tried to watch Caspar without being obvious. He had really changed over the years that they had been apart. But then again, hadn’t they all?
"Look Sway, you know, I didn't come up here just to hang out.
“Oh come on we haven’t hung out in a few hundred years.” She paused. He looked sort of downcast. When he made this face it could mean a great number of things either he has about to sneeze, he was sad or there was a fish on his line. Since they weren’t by any river and allergies were impossible in such an expansive city, she discerned that he had something to say.
“I'm having a great time, don't get me wrong, but I've got some things on my mind."
“What things?” Sway said seriously.
He sat down and fiddled with his bracer.
"Okay, I know it's getting late so I'll try to say keep it brief.”
“I’m nocturnal, I’ve got all night. Shoot.”
“Firstly, you don't know how glad I am that we're here. All of us, I mean, I've been stuck here for a while and I had lost all hope of ever seeing my friends again. And it's not really like I can make new ones that easily, 'cause like if anyone here finds out that you're different they either try to sell you to the cops or want nothing to do with you.”
“No doubt about that. Life has been pretty hard. I mean every time I turn around somebody’s watching me. It’s weird. Humans, I mean. Their senses are so dull—like vision or smell—but they have a sense of things unseen. I mean humans could have a high level of intuition. But they don’t believe in anything. Nothing. I can’t tell you how often someone has seen my wings or caught me doing magic and simply told themselves it wasn’t so. You can never be yourself anymore. You’re always being monitored. I’ve tried to live a normal life. Be a doctor. Save people. But at the end of the day, if people know what I could do—how I saved them—even my most hopeless patients would drive the same scalpel I saved their lives with into my back.”
They were quiet.
“So what I'm trying to say is we can't let ourselves get separated again.”
She nodded in agreement. “It’s dangerous.”
“I hate to get all mushy on you, but we've got to stick together.”
She brightened and smiled, “I always knew you were a cornball. But not a sentimental cornball.”
He let it ride, “That being said, ah, well, what do you think we should do now?”
“Honestly I have no idea. I don’t know where we are exactly or how I would even get home. But what I do know is that it’s important for us to try to keep the group cohesive. I mean, it won’t be like old times, for sure. But there is strength in numbers. But whenever you think of a group you also have a leader and I’ve noticed that you weren’t too excited about the one we would have.”
“I mean, you know I'm not exactly Kyle's biggest fan, but I also can't help shaking the feeling that maybe the vampire was right.”
“The vampire was right!” Sway said incredulously. “Listen to you. Brainwash.”
He persevered. “It seems like we were brought together for some reason, and though I'd like nothing better than to go off to some sunny beach with you—“ she raised an eyebrow—“and Jett and tan our cares away, I also kinda think we should stay with Kyle and help him out.”
She reluctantly agreed.
“Judging from tonight, I think he's going to get in over his head and those kids he has with him aren't going to be enough to bail him out of trouble when he needs it."
“You’re right,” Sway said. She remembered the way no one from his crew had lifted a finger to take care of the bodies of their own fallen teammates. She wondered what type of people these were, anyway. That they could know someone for months even years and not flinch at the sight of their deaths. Were they gangsters or rouges of some kind? What type of people had Kyle gotten himself involved with? She expressed these concerns to Caspar.
“Really, I don’t think that this group he has now could stand another counterattack. And what makes it worse, the person who did this obviously knows where Kyle sleeps, where his house is, where his guns are. We’ve been in some pretty messed up situations but at no time did Aker come to our door selling cookies, shelling out rounds. I think that what we need is to call a meeting.”
Caspar looked skeptical.
“That way whoever wants to stay can stay and whoever wants to leave can leave. There are already too many people who know about this place. The less people that are around and not down for the cause the better.”
The cause. What was the cause?
“Things are getting desperate. They’re about to get much worse. Even now, I bet our enemies are plotting on us.”
It was probably Sway's specialty. After living for a few hundred years she had finally gotten breakfast down to a science.
She flipped, the pancakes sizzled and then landed a few moments later into a huge blue plate beside the stove.
What Sway did not realize was that someone had been grabbing pancakes and discreetly stuffing them into their mouth while she wasn't paying attention.
Further distracted she found a microphone in the kitchen and, turning it on toyed with it.
"Good morning True One family! This is your captain speaking. There will be a free continental breakfast today. Please come down on your own accord or be snatched from your bed on mine. I mean it. Get down here or I will drag you like a hostage." Then in the sweetest voice she added, "Thanks, have a great day."
A delicate interest for his existence had blossomed into that of a profound one throughout the day. His face had reawakened a fervent desire within her which was only a trifle more fierce on her nerves since the last time she had saw him. She did her best to bite back on her feelings, but her resolution quaked under the violent demand of her emotions, and thus she found herself seduced, standing before his prison door, thumbing her prints in for access to his residence.
She saw him, a helpless figure slouched against the dank stone wall, its visage partially concealed by the long black hair that hung lazily from its head. Her profound interest in him was thus hushed by his lack of enthusiasm for her, for he did not even stir upon her entry or even acknowledge her presence with a slight glance.
Usually her supercilious lips voiced words that were long winded, embellished with intricate vocabulary that either confused her listener or left them dumbfounded altogether. However, she knew the vernacular she preferred would not sit well with him, so she allowed her eloquence to melt away under the cold force of his aura, and, at length, she found the right word to say. A name that expressed the years that were taken away from them by her decision. A name that embodied the resentment that grew to be a cruel and ugly void between the both of them.
“Ilias,” fell off her trembling lips as though an entreaty rather than a name, and he, as expected, slowly turned his attention to the source of his lost son’s name.
He remembered those thick sensual lips, those beautiful black eyes that were once filled with love and joy at the sight of his face. He remembered her touch down to the finer details of her warm flesh against his body. Although new lines had ascended to the surface of her face, manifesting their years well spent without each other, he still recognized her hair, the sound of her voice, the shape of her body. However, behind those eyes was a stranger, someone he did not know…. Someone he did not want to know.
“Nahla….” was now the name of a loved-one he had lost long ago although the owner stood right before him.
“So this is how you greet me after so long?” he inquired dolefully. “Wonderful decorum. I have to say, I did not think a person of your stature would disregard such courtesies.”
“Please Cekic, I did not come here for that.”
“So what did you come here for? To watch your husband meander in his cage while his wife is off bumping pelvises with the head of the Elite Purists. Tell me kurva, did you chuck the panties before he unbuckled or while we were together?”
She didn’t say anything.
“Yeah, that is what I thought.” He turned away muttering a string of vile profanities.
She did not expect consideration for her feelings, in reality she did not know what to expect coming into the holding chamber, but for some reason some part of her needed to be quenched and being greeted by the exact opposite did well in slightly vexing her.
“I just wanted to tell you that your son is safe.”
This broke all boundaries, seizing the atmosphere with a deadly silence akin to that of a person’s last minutes to life.
“Where’s my son?” he asked in a faint whisper, reluctantly finding himself on the receiving end of the conversation.
“Like I said, he is safe.”
The vagueness of his whereabouts was done purposely, no doubt, to share a bit of the anger that was smoldering within her. After all, he was the man who caused all her grief, who made her life turn in this abominable direction. He was the man who was the reason behind the death of her son Ilias. But she was not about to go on a tirade comprised of the afflictions and distress he had caused her, no matter how bad her heart ached to do so. He was….
“I didn’t mean to…” he flexed his jaw muscles in a violent search to find the right words to say, and her thoughts were hushed all at once by the sudden introduction to his feelings.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you. But by God the agony you cause me by finding you like this is not in proportion to what happened to us. You fail to realize that he was my son too and we both bear the burden of his lost soul. How could…” silence. “I loved you,” he professed in an injured tone.
She felt a twinge of guilt as she watched his body throb with misery. It was apparent now, tattooed all upon his face as if it was there all along. Years of pain and anguish, something she could not heal.
“Bishop has given me something you could never give me.”
Words no husband should ever hear from his wife.
And in the distance, veiled behind the inky blackness of years of numbness, something very fragile shattered.
There was a meeting scheduled at 9 o clock that night between Bishop and the Shadow Grade. It was to be a briefing of some sort, and Najm had shown up a half hour early, praising the Lord all the while that the monotony of her days was coming to a definite end. She sat spread eagle on a backwards chair, her chin resting upon its outer rim and her mind on the events that were to come.
It was her first time meeting with the rest of the people in her squad, and she could not help but to be a little excited. She wondered what other creatures was hard ass enough to take up a deal with the devil and just how crazy they all looked.
Wild rumors circulated about the fierce group known as the Shadow Grade. They were like the Bishop’s own assassination squad, his ‘secret weapon’ as some people liked to call it. Whatever this meeting was going to be about, it meant heavy business because he was equipping himself with the big guns.
The door to the room suddenly gave a robotic melody and slid open to reveal the man of the hour, Bishop himself. His lips curled into that same venomous smile that sent chills down Najm’s spine every time she caught sight of it. It was as if it insinuated a variety of evils within itself, but at the same time it publically professed the oxymoron of a glee in which no cold blooded creature should possess.
He once said to her that evil is only a perception of those who oppose the opposing sides view. He then proceeded to say that one must embrace the instincts of one’s natural self, even if it may be against the expectations of the world. And surely he did embody all that he stated. He was the fiend created from the mistake she had made all those years ago. An insatiable demon veiled in man’s clothing. How could she rid the world of her own offspring when fate had deemed it so?
“Welcome Najm. The others shall be here shortly.”
The long brightly lit corridor stretched far, its only ending being a single door with the numbers 393 upon it.
His narrow brown eyes looked at the door down the hall, regretting their position and loathing their sight. Why had he come here again? Awaiting your enemy to come to you was one thing, but arriving at his domain was another. It was as if the door was a predator and he was its prey, or rather what was behind it. But there was this connection, he was somehow manacled to it and he could not liberate himself. It was his personal prison and the man with the keys was none other than his father, Tetsuya Yamamoto. That was his name long ago when he was the son of a man who was knowned to be most honorable, but now he was Tetsuya Nakajima, an accomplished man who was a fifty-three year old Purist with a heart like the summit of Mount Everest, and a mind like Dorian Gray. Mr. Nakajima was an arrogant man who thought himself superior than his past and a king in his future, so much so he would able to evade death's cool breath.
And here was his son, leaning against the striped wallpaper on the wall and contemplating whether stepping forward or exiting the building altogether. He was a rather tall man with broad shoulders, exceedingly black shoulder-length hair, and a goatee. His attire was very simple for such a tense occasion. He was wearing only a white button-down shirt and a pair of black jeans. He produced a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his pocket and looked inside, nothing. He inhaled deeply and began to take his walk down towards his prison cell.
He rapped upon the door and waited for a reply. There was none. Again he knocked harder upon the door and this time a man around 5'8" opened the door and smiled showing his pearly white teeth.
"My son Ichiro, to whom do I owe this pleasure?"
"I thought you might say that, that's why I just ordered a bottle of wine. Please come in, come in," he said ushering him inside his emaculate suite.
Ichiro stepped inside ignoring the neon sign in his mind that read 'At Own Risk', and closed the door behind him, sealing the deal.
His father walked towards the master bedroom wrapped in a silk brocade robe and wearing sheepskin slippers. The living room was decorated with cream sofas and a white carpet, while the fireplace was kindled casting swirling shadows upon the walls and the floor. The kitchen was also sparkling white, free of stain and insect. Appearance meant everything even if it was his son visiting.
Ichiro exhaled and closed his eyes, then said, "Are you ready to go? The meeting is at nine."
He looked at his watch praying that the time was near, but to his dismay it was only eight o'clock leaving a whole hour of father and son time to play with.
"Yes I am," Tetsuya said emerging from the bedroom wearing a well-pressed black suit and a crimson red tie. His gray hair was slicked back with gel and his wrinkled face was clean shaven.
"Put these cufflinks on for your old man."
He handed Ichiro a pair of golden cufflinks and extended his arms in front of him. He grabbed the cuffs of his father's sleeve and began putting the cufflinks in. A small Asian-style dragon decorated one and on the other was his father's initials.
"Why don't you clean yourself up and shave that grungy goatee of yours, hmm?" his father asked with a sort of smirk appearing on his face.
Ichiro let his sleeves go causing his arms to drop down at his sides. He then remarked, "A beard is the distinguishing mark between a man and a woman."
His father burst into laughter while grabbing his long trench from the coat-rack.
"Let's go Ichiro, a car is waiting for us. It takes about a half an hour to get there."
Ume listened attentively as Sabin spoke of his two acquaintances. 'There are no coincidences', were the words he so fluidly poured from his lips, which was the burning truth. There are no coincidences. It was not a coincidence that Ume appeared in this world with Sabin, it was not a coincidence that they appeared next to that van, it was not a coincidence that Keiichi gave Ume the orb, nor was it a coincidence that Ume found Sabin. They were more than that, they were signs of what was to come, and what they both needed out of life.
She wanted to inquire more about the man named Jett, but she bit back on what perhaps would seem like an inquisition of some sort.
"Sorry," she paused then whispered, "for waking you that is."
She laid down, but could not fall back to sleep. It was as if her thoughts were galloping away and she was persistently trying to catch up, but they evaded her whenever she tried to grab them. But like Sabin had said, they would know by the morning, or rather they were going to force answers from them in order for their thirst to be quenched. There were still a few unanswered questions between the two of them as well, but they did not seem to ever address it.
The dream that had occurred troubled her greatly. She saw her mother's hands. Those slender hands in which touched the pages of that book as if they were golden, and her words slipped from her lips and against her white teeth like a waterfall rushing over the edge of a cliff. Or was this just Ume's fantasies as someone had said so long ago? She let out a long soft sigh, releasing the questions and thoughts from her mind. This was a new time, and thoughts of the past would not heal the wounds of tomorrow, ever. So she left them where they were for a time, or until they seeped back into her mind.
Tetsuya and Ichiro entered the room where the meeting was being held. Bishop and a woman had already occupied it which perturbed Tetsuya a little because he wanted to be there before anyone else, but he mastered his facial expressions and gave a broad smile. "Bishop, how are you?"
Ichiro turned away from his father in contempt and pulled up a chair a foot from where the girl was seated. He slicked back his hair into a ponytail and looked down at his hands. It felt as if something was missing. Day by day a hole as deep as a well grew faster and faster in his soul and nothing he did, nothing he killed could fill it. It was the toilet in his prison cell where he was shackled and left alone. He begin to smile because the pain was so potent that it was causing him to incline to....insanity. What was it?
The warehouse furnace had been Terrance's final resting place, as well as that of the attempted murderer, Lance, finishing the last of the job. Covered in soot and human ash, Kyle made his way through the underground tunnel that connected the warehouse to the ready-room. It was the last of the morning's chores, ticking off the last tally before Kyle would finally get an hour of two of precious sleep. He keyed in the command code on his wrist-comp, and extended his right arm, pressing his ring finger to the plate, noticing the blue-steel ring still wrapped around it. Memories of freezing a bow in Sway's hands as she stood there with a scowl danced through his mind, and made him chuckle a little.
Whirring sounds accompanied an audible click and release as a plate in the floor of the ready room fell down slightly before sliding underneath itself, revealing a hidden set of stairs that extended out of it. Out of that new depression emerged the blackened face of the former Blue-Blade Warrior, as he stepped out, and keyed in the code for the floor to close up. As the plate finally slid itself back into place, Kyle imagined that it was in fact the lid of Terrance's coffin, finally closing for good. To Kyle, it was the end of one chapter, and the beginning of another, as he vowed to make his friend's death a worthwhile one.
Cold water ran over the scars that sprawled across his body like a roadmap, each the souvenir of an unpleasant journey. The ashes of Kyle's comrade drained down, off of his face and hands, into the whirlpool at his feet, disappearing for eternity into the depths of Imperial City. Kyle finished up, toweling off before retiring to his room.
He'd chosen the third floor for his quarters, because it was quiet, and away from most of the other teammates. When they'd first converted the hostel, Kyle had found the northwest corner room, and had taken a sledgehammer to the adjoining wall, converting it into a double. His bed lay unassuming at the north end, his closet on the south, with a desk, chair and mini-fridge on the west wall. The only decorations were empty hooks and notches, which were were now filled with a certain blue steel broadsword, a pistol and shoulder-holster, a sheath, body-armor, two daggers, and a black tactical vest.
Kyle threw on a pair of shorts, but that was all, as he methodically checked each piece of his equipment, re-stocking ammo and clips, oiling and sharpening his blades, and inspecting his body armor for any tears or marks. The process was lengthy, but now a rote routine that he followed though without any thought. He could perform the same check in his sleep, and often wondered if he did so. But so far, it had kept him alive.
Finally satisfied that everything was in order, Kyle tapped the lightscreen next to his bed, the room went black with closed shutters, and he laid back and closed his eyes.
Well, at least for a second.
"Good morning True One family!"
Kyle's eyes shot open. Sway had found the intercom.
"This is your captain speaking," she continued. "There will be a free continental breakfast today. Please come down on your own accord or be snatched from your bed on mine. I mean it. Get down here or I will drag you like a hostage."
The exhausted Blue-Blade rolled over.
Then in the sweetest voice she added, "Thanks, have a great day."
Closing his eyes in defeat, Kyle begrudgingly sat up and made his way to the closet. Along the way, he opened the fridge, and popped the tab on a bottle of Rejolt, slugging down a few swallows before placing the bottle on the desk. He hoped the caffeine would get him through the day.
Dressed in a standard jeans and navy t-shirt, Kyle finished off the Rejolt as he walked into the oversized staff kitchen. The smell of pancakes was unmistakable, and sweetened the air with an aroma that lightened the mood. Throwing his empty bottle into one of the waste bins, Kyle leaned against the counter.
Sway was still at the stovetop, griddling hotcakes like an expert.
"So," said Kyle slowly. "Good morning, then?"
They clustered around her like bees to a hive, their cameras swarming in waves to catch the lady of the hour from different angles. She pouted, she pleaded, she sighed helplessly and even cried in order to evoke an emotion that was not even there.
Rachel flawlessly wore the veil of a damsel in distress, her words akin to that of hollow timber propped precariously on the edge of the cliff, ready for the wind to blow it away. However, behind the empty words and false gestures was a searing eye in the back or the side, depending on the angle, of her head, burning a fierce hole through her audience. (Or audient, if there is such a word)
Glenna. The innocent bystander in the sea of media watching the fruit of Rachel’s work. The beautiful bombshell’s mystical telepathy had unfortunately come up short, giving her a back seat far from Rachel’s stage. And how a beautiful backseat it was for Rachel to bask relentlessly in the spotlight, knowing all the while that her rival, if she wanted any story, had to gaze.
But, like all things in life, Glenna’s attention was thus exhausted, and she, utterly defeated, spun on her heel with a sigh. And with that went the color to Rachel’s world, for the camera’s and their mikes, all dancing with exuberant joy in Rachel’s face, transformed into the objects that they were. And without a care in the world, she pushed the closest mike aside and barreled her way through the crowd, catching up Glenna’s arm within her fierce grasp.
Glenna’s attention was thus arrested by the sudden yoke, and she turned an intent stare upon its source.
“How does it feel cleaning up my stage?” Rachel’s voice was barely audible over the tumultuous buzz of the crowd.
The cameras magnetically turned toward the whispered drama, scooping up a story for the contents of those dirty tabloids.
“Sweetie, your days are numbered.”
She released her arm and allowed the crowd to break free through the dam of their connection.
She took a deep breath and resolved that the world once again revolved around her.
She then snorted imperiously. How could she have possibly have feared that it wouldn’t? I mean look at her….
There was a sudden ringing in Ume's ears in which interrupted her melancholic reverie. At first it was like the braying of a donkey, or the clamor of bells, but once her thoughts were silenced it became the clear speech of a human's voice. She unloosened her grip on her dagger and turned over to face the door.
"Thanks, have a great day..."
Ume looked towards the ceiling, in which appeared to be spiraling deep inside a black vortex, and exhaled. The woman over the loud speaker uttered something to the effect of 'One Family', or perhaps the word 'truth' was in the beginning of it, Ume could not be too sure, but she did not know what the lady meant nor did she understand how could someone not be weary after such a long night.
"I guess there's no sleeping in this story of ours Sabin......" she whispered, then began to laugh lowly as she shook her head.
Nesace had been whiling away the hours in a drug induced twilight. She watched her partner with a mix of pity and confusion. Providence was at least twice as beat up as she was because she wasn’t half the snitch. Nesace had told her torturers everything—even before they could pick up the pliers, attach her to the water board or hang her by her thumbs. She had blurted out every social security number she knew, the address to Sway’s apartment, Taco’s breeder’s information, and everyone’s blood type in the room. When they asked her how she knew that, she drew a blank and in that interval her head was shoved underwater yet again.
But it seemed that no matter how often they tried to drown her, she would pass out before they could kill her. No matter how often they tried to freeze her in a dank, drafty cell she felt toasty enough to ask an off duty guard if he could smuggle her some smores. It didn’t matter how long they held her in that infamous pool of filthy water in the basement, she wouldn’t struggle for air. In the end they got tired of second hand torture and got their frustration with her inability to succumb to their witty machinations out by passing her around like a scrawny punching bag. Then they were pissed when they found that repeated punches caused her to giggle.
The bad news was that her torture sessions would go on twice as long while being half as productive. The good news, however, was that she had survived long enough to see Providence alive. As long as she could hold on to her, Nesace knew that all could not be lost. Providence was street smart and Nesace was sure she could talk them out of this. But her hopes were fractured as she quickly began to realize that her savior was too damaged to be any good.
"Are we still in the compound?” Providence asked in a voice fuzzed by a nosebleed.
“I don’t know,” Nesace said. “I think we are, but this room looks like an underwater level in Mario. Have you ever been here?” She had her eyes closed and was bobbing her head to some unheard music. If she could get the rhythm maybe she could get them out again…
“I haven't seen this part of it before if we are..."
“Well don’t worry. If I can just catch the beat again I’ll just get us out of here.”
Providence seemed vehemently against seeing another Soul Train spectacle. She had been through enough torture and an ounce more of any discomfort would extinguish her will to live entirely. Besides, if her last memory in life was going to be Nesace doing the Turkey Neck than she would rather dance with the reaper’s sickle and get it over with quickly. "Nesace, listen to me.”
“Shhhh— you’re talking over the beat!”
“We need to escape.”
“And that’s what I’m trying to do! Now, if you’ll excuse me.” She swiveled her neck in the piston-like motion of a galloping camel. Providence looked ill. “My dancing will convince them of our brilliance and worth and once they see my moves they’ll let us go.”
“They'll never let us go unless we're dead.”
“But what would be the point in letting us go then?” Nesace mused to herself, moving her shoulders like a school of fish. “We’ll be dead.”
Providence gagged. “Trust me, I know these people, they're..." a shadow came over Providence’s face. Nesace momentarily ended her dance.
Nesace’s dance card was shredded when Providence rid herself of her binds and promptly collapsed onto the floor. "Got....to....get....out..."
“Holy sheet!” Nesace squealed. Immediately she turned up the heat and tried to shuffle out of the chair. Failing to do this, she tried her best to wiggle herself toward Providence. Snap. One of the legs shattered. Her chair fell on the ground with her still strapped tight. She was at such an awkward angle she became a giant version of the deadly and hastily placed Tetris block that leads to a player’s demise.
At the same time Nesace somehow fell out of the chair and crashed onto the floor beside Providence. Amazed she inspected her arms and legs, and finding nothing new in their boniness, instead turned to her fallen comrade.
“Okay,” she said, “I didn’t want to have to do this but—“
Nesace bent down and hoisted Providence up. She weighed the girl in her arms for a moment, then completely collapsed. Nesace’s fighting weight was one hundred and seven pounds holding a seven pound baby. Instead she moved on to plan B. She drug the drugged. She was at the door when everything changed. She put her hand on the knob and opened it.
In stepped the biggest person she had seen in her life. He was so tall the door frame brushed the top of his head when he entered and his shoulders were wide enough to comfortably strap a yoke. She balked.
He had a booming voice and even though he had not raised it, it carried in a clean, urbane baritone that did not match his brutish appearance. “Nesace Asani and Providence Halona.”
“Who wants to know?” Nesace shook. She dropped Providence and squared up ready to fight.
He frowned. “I am Moloch and we have met many times before.”
She raised an eyebrow. He looked almost disappointed she didn’t remember.
“Your head was underwater, you probably don’t remember. We were asking you about Sahale Lox.”
Nesace looked up, considering. “Well, that happened a lot of times—I don’t really—“ she heard something, “Behind you!” she shouted.
Moloch turned slowly, the curtain of his curly black hair brushing against his waist, but the only thing that was there was Arun. Their eyes met. Nesace launched herself on top of the boy and though he outweighed her as a child they wrestled in this mermaid’s alcove like flyweights.
Moloch let them fight and instead turned to someone even more familiar. Providence lay there more helpless than a wingless bird standing in the shadow of a cat. Now she would remember him, and remember him well. Years ago they had met and Moloch never forgot a face. Especially not a smile.
He fingered his necklace and the teeth clattered together secretly. There were more now than there were then, but not much more. Not enough. And Moloch thought momentarily if he should add another set to the collection now. But no—how could it be fair? She was almost dead. Not living enough to fight, not dead enough for him to take credit. And did he even want to? Their confrontation was long ago. If she were like Nesace she would forget all that happened and focus instead on other things.
But even he knew that she was not like her. He knew that she could not forget.
He padded down the corridor holding her like the only adherent to an ancient religion holds his most sacred chalice.
They would meet again, but when they did things would be fair this time. And he would give her the chance to have her revenge.
Nesace and Arun fought a solid six rounds. They stopped to rest for a little while between their struggle. Then agreed to pick up the battle, even though the agreement was not always simultaneous, they pressed on.
“You filthy toad—“ Arun spat. His mouth was full of blood and his clothes were ripped. “I should have done away with you when I had the chance!”
“Well you didn’t you forking fetus! But I would like to see you try!”
“Have at you, sow, I’ll show you what I’ve got now!” He screamed. He jumped on her back and pounded his fist into the back of her head. She fell forward, and accidentally launched him headfirst into the hallway’s wall. He groaned, cursing. Blood seeped from his lips. His brown knuckles were coated in red.
Nesace, seeing Arun in a prone position, jumped on him and buried him in sissy slaps.
He shoved her off of him. She landed into a table that promptly broke and deposited a vase of flowers and a cascade of water on her head.
He sneered. “There’s not enough water in the world to clean your filthy little—“
She didn’t let him finish. Her foot collided with the side of his head and he doubled over like the letter C and lay in the ceramic remains of the vase for a moment. They both retreated to their corners, exhausted. Almost an hour had passed since the battle began. They were at a stalemate.
“I’m tired!” Nesace cried. “I keep trying to kill you and you won’t die.”
“Agreed!” said the young boy. His eyebrows were knit together in anguish. “My ribs hurt and I’m sick of being near you—no—touching you at all. You’ve got your poisonous briers all in me, you salamander.”
“Shut up chicken spit!” Nesace drawled quietly into the flower petals she was laying in helplessly. “I’ll kill you yet.” She kicked at him but her legs weren’t long enough.
They sighed simultaneously.
“We’re going to be late for the meeting,” Arun said matter-of-factly.
Arun rolled his eyes. “We’re supposed to see Bishop. If we don’t get there in ten minutes we’ll wish we had killed each other.”
“Who is Bishop?” Nesace said.
“Oh yeah,” Arun said smugly, “You’ve been in containment this whole time. It happens to all of us when we first join,” he propped himself up against the wall hautily.
“Join? Join what?”
“The Nocturne, you idiot. The group responsible for the elimination of magic. The most important thing you can do with your life. The purpose of why you’re here.”
“Why am I here?” Nesace said slowly. She hadn’t given that question any thought up until this moment.
“To work for Bishop. He’s going to make you an offer. And if you take it—he’ll make something out of you. He did it for me.”
“Bullsh*t,” Nesace countered, “You’re still a testicle-less bundle of gametes.”
“Well you have man parts for the both of us,” Arun said getting up slowly.
They both laughed, then remembering themselves scowled.
“Take me to Bishop,” Nesace said. “I’ve got a bone to pick with him. If you’re the best he can do, I want to see what else he’s done.”
The scene was finally clearing up, as the sun came up over the city skyline horizon, and the darkness of night was replaced with the smog-hazed light of the morning. Yellow ribbons of crime-scene tape gift-wrapped the gaping hole of the Capetown station, providing a barrier where two patrol officers stood, keeping the final onlookers at bay. The incident had happened hours ago, but there were still a number of curious citizens trying to peer into what was easily one of the most curious scenes in a long time.
After all... What kind of idiots would try to break into a police station?
Chattersen, tired and sleep-worn, gulped down a drought of lukewarm coffee, keeping himself awake as they ran through the footage again. Funny, he thought. Only in Imperial does the news van get to the scene before the Emergency Response Team. And it hadn't even been Glenna Ward! It was some nobody rival reporter, Rachel something-or-other. Travis was getting annoyed by the sheer ludicrousness of not only this situation, but the fact that this city was quickly falling out of governmental control. When emergency protocols took longer than a newscast to get to a crime scene, especially one outside of a police station, something was awfully wrong.
It had taken some wrangling, but after leaning on the network with some legal pressure, they'd finally given up the tape. It was overlayed by the newscaster's dialogue, but otherwise was decent camera work. The video showed an initial two individuals - a tall, dark male and an Eastlander young woman with a katana in hand. These were soon joined by four others, two looked like regular beat police officers, a male and a female, albeit with ill-fitting uniforms, the third was dressed in a spec-op uniform and body-armor, and the fourth was a large, tall bald man, carrying a long blue-tinted steel sword.
Words were exchanged, before the six figures were surrounded by a pack of glowing blue beasts, with similarities to wolves or coyotes, but with grotesque disfigurations across their faces and bodies. The reporter's assertion that these were some new law-enforcement technique had gotten only a chuckle out of Chattersen. The six and the beasts battled with deadly results, as beast after beast was slaughtered. What was more disturbing to the Lieutenant, however, was the fact that the beasts seemed to disintegrate into practically nothing after death. An unbelievable ability at covering their tracks. These six individuals were obviously not new to the struggles and dangers of life in Imperial City, and their finesse and comfortable expressions in the face of danger and death were astounding.
Six hours of probing the networks of every worldwide government agency had brought up nothing on all but one of them. They had discovered that one of the uniformed officers was in fact a Dr. Sahale Lox, a surgeon at Warbash Medical Center. They'd dispatched a pair of detectives over to check out her workplace and apartment, but so far had come up with nothing - nothing to link her to any past crimes, or even anything beyond being a very capable surgeon. Chattersen wondered if maybe she was being blackmailed into helping. It really wouldn't be the first time. But a surgeon? Why?
Chattersen and his team had spent the hours creating three-dimensional scans of the faces on the newscast, and so had a fairly-accurate depiction of each individual involved, except for the spec-op officer. His mask had revealed nothing but his eyes, but as soon as Chattersen saw the 3D figure, he remembered those eyes, and the mask.
After hearing the description of the man that had been arrested yesterday, Chattersen knew immediately that it was not the real Blue-Blade, but he kept that revelation to himself and the two officers had had been on the roof with him earlier in the week. It was nice to pull some department heat away from his own personal investigation of the urban-mythical character. But now, with this large, bald man parading about as the key figure in the investigation, especially now that the man had escaped, and had a considerable entourage of support, would bring the heat back tenfold on the Lieutenant.
He sighed, picked up his coffee cup, and restarted the video.
Ume whispered Sabin’s name again in order to see if he was awake, but his reply was only the parting of his lips and a deep sigh of sleep.
The soft creaking sound of the door startled her, but her alertness was soon rocked away when she recognized the face of the intruder. It was the man who cried out for his companions when he witnessed the horrid scene with her. He peeked through the aperture of the door, allowing a fragment of light to enter, and whispered in order not to awake the inhabitants.
“Erm...here are some clothes for the both of you...and...a...you’re supposed to be downstairs, so I suggest—
“Yes I know...I mean I heard....thanks.”
He looked around nervously then while closing the door he murmured, “Your welcome.”
She could hear the muffled pattering sound of his shoes on the floor becoming distant as he walked further away from the door, and the hushed voices of the dwellers in the safe-house.
Ume slowly and carefully swung her legs from the bed and placed her feet on the cold floor. She then uplifted herself from the mattress causing the springs to squeak in relief from the freedom of her body. Her eyes darted in Sabin’s direction to see if it had awoken him; he only stirred but his sleep was not broken in the least. She tiptoed toward the entrance, picked up the clothing provided by the intruder, slowly opened the door and crept from the room.
It was like she was Alice in a wonderland of numerous doors facing one another and stairs running along the walls from the attic to the basement. There were different levels possessing different things in which she had not yet ventured and was not planning to. Her only goal was the bathroom, and finding it would be like discerning between a butterfly and a moth against the darkness of space.
She looked down one end of the corridor then the other deciding on which one should she should take, and not knowing which one was ‘the road not taken’ she decided to go right and check each room. The first room she checked was filled with boxes and papers then the one next to it was a similar room to the one she had just left. She turned around and peered into a room across from it and to her relief saw the familiar occupants of a bathroom. Ume never thought she would be so happy as to see a sea of white porcelain.
The door closed behind her and she locked it. It was sort of a vintage bathroom, containing a showerhead you would have seen in the 90s, and also a lever instead of a button of some sort.
Ume placed her clothes on top of the toilet seat and walked over to the shower.
The warm water reached out and ran its fluid fingers through her hair and over her face. Her silenced thoughts began to speak to her again and this time they were followed by a new companion. The memory of a man she once knew who went by the name of Random. His real name was Akira Watanabe, but Random became his name in Ume’s small village when his mother said he did things without a particular order or pattern. Everything he did changed and was either better or worse. In that time long ago, every child had a specific ability in which they were taught. Random’s father taught him how to be a traveler of dreams, and he would always threaten his mother with nightmares so that he could get his way. When he found out that Ume was the possessor of anyone’s abilities, he gave her the power of a traveler. Every night they would journey into the villagers’ dreams together and cause mayhem, and one of the Elders would have to stop them.
A couple of years later after many tragedies, Ume father, Tetsuya, made her forget her powers and the ones she was given. Now, she was a hollow maggie tortured by the emptiness.
She tilted her head back letting the water collide onto her face. Every drop that hit her did not and will never be able to fill the gaping hole. But one thing about her past with Random made her smile, she never forgot what he had given her, and one day if she ever returned back to her old life she would thank him.
Ume crept down the stairs, her hair now tightly pulled into a bun with black loose sweat pants, and a black tank-top, in which revealed a Japanese-style dragon twisting from the lower part of her back to the nape of her neck. She followed the foreign smell into a brightly lit kitchen. Peeking in, she saw man leaned against the counter and a woman standing in front the stove. Ume inhaled and sauntered into kitchen casually with her hands in her pocket. She found an unoccupied counter and sat on top of it. She grabbed a blueberry muffin that was next to her in a glass bowl and bit into it, trying to avoid the awkward tension that was there. Where was Sabin?
The pancakes were stacked in three separate foot-high towers that leaned into each as if bowlegged in rich buttery goodness. Shimmering brown sausage engulfed the plate nestled beside it and a colony of eggs lay yellow and crumbly on the outskirts. The whole thing looked like a little island with the pancakes being the resort, the sausage the beach and the eggs the surf. Not that Sway noticed. She was busy filling a pitcher with orange juice and trying to keep Caspar from devouring all her progress.
“—And if you’re going to eat everything could you at least use a fork?!”
Caspar tried to look grown up to show his indignation with being branded with a faux middle name and talked to in the “mother voice” but his plan failed because as he opened his mouth to reply he hiccupped because of all the food. He realized how hard to was for someone to seem mature while wiping syrup off his soul patch.
“I’m not eating everything,” he said defensively.
“Then what’s that?”
“Some crepes you made.”
“I didn’t make crepes—” she inspected it, “that’s a yellow napkin! Caspar get your life together.”
“Hey do you think you can go and preemptively warn people they need to get down here before I do? I think what we discussed last night is important. We’re going to have to have a squad against the Purists or we have no chance of winning whatsoever.”
“I think that the group Kyle has now isn’t as thorough as the original True Ones. We’re going to have to add soldiers or we’ll just get mowed down.” She realized that she was saying ‘we’ a lot. Part of her still felt like going back to her old school mentality: There was no ‘we’ there was only ‘I’ and anyone who wasn’t ‘I’ wasn’t anyone at all.
But she couldn’t keep living like that. Even after they had separated and everyone left her she still found herself in a new community, fighting in a new war on the Islands of Ire. Not a month after she arrived there ship wrecked she was already in the military and a few months after that she was a captain sitting in meetings beside burly foul smelling generals trying to find a way to crush the Vetala and Sadiq’s marauding hordes.
Fighting was a great deal of who she was. And though at times she wanted to stop it, now wasn’t that time. She had just been reunited with Caspar, Jett and Kyle. She wasn’t about to let her selfishness separate them again.
A can clanked into the garbage can. Sway looked up. Kyle was standing there dressed and ready to go.
"So," said Kyle slowly. "Good morning, then?"
She smiled. “Hey, good morning.” It didn’t look like he had slept. Which was usually her job since she didn’t really need to sleep every day. “Caspar and I were talking… and we were kind of trying to gather everyone together this morning so that we could figure out who is staying to fight the Purists and how we’re going to do it.”
The vampire and Ume were coming down the stairs talking about something. They were probably not thrilled with being woken up so early, but Sway figured they would get over it.
The stairs creeked as the girl crept out of the darkness into the shining kitchen. She was wearing sweats and her hair was pulled back into a shiny bun. It was that weird awkward walk that people do when they know that they've either interrupted a conversation or they've interrupted a conversation about them. Sway acknowledged her, but said nothing. She sauntered over and sat on the kitchen counter.
She kept talking to Kyle. “There are a lot of people here, some we don’t know anything about” she said with a eyebrow raised in the direction of the stairs, “and we need to make sure that everyone is on the same side before we end up with another…” she couldn’t think of a politically correct word.
She looked at Caspar, he drew a blank. She glanced at Ume, she was busy working on a tray of muffins that had just been plucked from the oven, gingerly trying to handle the lava heated pastry.
Sway sighed. “Situation.” There was a kind of question mark at the end, as if she didn’t know if that was appropriate. She figured it was probably better than what she was going to say which was ‘headless corpse.’ One step at a time.
“On top of all that—I’m not really that great at rallying people, mainly because I don’t like people, so I’m nominating you.” She smiled briefly and sighed. “So there you have it. Go get ‘em.”
By then everyone else had filtered down from their beds and found a place at the table or was hovering over some food. Zelli was funneling omellets, Ume had found the butter, Cashe was stirring some coffee and Jett had made a sandwhich out of two pancakes and a quantity of sausage that could only be consumed acceptably at an eating contest.
She cleared her throat and stepped behind Kyle. “Hey everybody—Kyle has something to say. Kyle?”
The eyes turned to look at him mid-chew, as he ate from a plate on the countertop. He turned and swallowed, his mouth with his forearm as a just-in-case gesture. Swallowing, he stepped away from his plate to address everyone after Sway's impromptu introduction.
"Well," he began, crossing his arms absent-mindedly. "Since everyone's here, I guess we have some things to go over."
Kyle realized that if he was going to gain the trust of everyone here, then he better be honest from the start. It wouldn't be ideal for him to start keeping secrets now. Better to see how these people react first.
"Some of you already know who I am. Others think you know who I am. And there's a couple who don't have a clue what they're doing here, I'm sure."
"My name is Kyle Alexander Brogan," he said, looking directly at Cashe, Zelli, and Ammon. "I was born in the year 872 in the Kingdom of Alohan, which would currently make me about 423 years old, I guess. About two years ago, I, along with several of my friends here, was pulled into a rift of time which brought me here, to modern Imperial City."
He watched for reactions from anyone in the crowd, but everyone seemed to just be listening. He turned his attention to Sway, Caspar and Jett.
"In those past two years, I've worked with Terrance Wilde to build a force strong enough to battle against the Purists and the corruption that they've brought into this city. I guess some things never really do change."
He paused for a moment, but then shook his head, wrangling the memories from his mind.
"Originally, there were twelve members of the team. Each was chosen and invited because of their specific skills, be they espionage, computer skills, or their marksmanship. The five of us," he paused again, realizing again that Terrance was indeed not here. "Four of us... Are all that is left."
"Last night we decided to hit that police station for the sole purpose of getting my friend, Jett, here, out of police custody. The rest of you here was kind of an unforeseen bonus. But we're planning on continuing our mission, and each of you is welcome to join. Most of us have a lot of common ground. I figure I'll just introduce everyone to everyone and we'll proceed from there."
He made his way over to his team.
"This," he said, indicating the brunette woman, "is Zylee Wrathmore, weapon's expert. She knows everything about every gun, bomb, explosive or energy beam ever made, at least from what I've seen."
He moved to the kid. "This is Ammon Miller, computer whiz kid. He can hack anything, anytime, anywhere."
He moved on. "And this..." He looked up and noticed that Cashe was walking out of the room. There was a moment of pause. Cashe was never afraid of anything. Why did she leave? He turned back to the others.
"That, uh, that was Cashe. Her jobs are a little more... ambiguous in nature."
He then moved over to the other table.
"This is Sway Clearmoon," he said with some renewed zeal. "The woman with the amazing cooking skills. She's can also wield a bow better than anyone I know."
"The big guy here is Jett, who could probably lift that van outside on his own."
"And this rogue here is Caspar Ashani." Kyle hesitated for a moment. He wasn't sure what else to say about the man. Caspar and he had been through a lot, but they had also been apart for a long time.
Kyle moved on.
"Finally, there's these last two. From their conversations, I know that their names are Sabin and Ume, but that's about all. I'll leave them to give their own introductions."
Tiredly, Kyle stepped to the front again.
"I would be appreciative of your help here. We're a little outmanned, and we believe that the Purists know where we are, and what we're about. If we're going to be able to take the fight to them, then we're going to need all the firepower that we can get."
He closed his eyes for a moment, and then pulled out a certain .22 Ruger that had a gaping hole through it the shape of a knife blade's strike. He placed the weapon on the table.
"This is the weapon that killed Terrance Wilde, the leader who was murdered last night, here, in our own safehouse. The woman who pulled the trigger is Najm Alam, whom we had in holding last night after rescuing her from her own murder. I don't know why she did what she did, but I have to assume that she was working for the Purists the entire time. Right now, she's the key to gaining entrance to the Purists' inner circle. If we're dangerous enough to merit an assassination, then we're getting somewhere.
The heat is on, and that means that everyone's going to be a target. For most of us, that's nothing new. But there's something else that you should understand."
Kyle stepped over to the vid-console next to the fridge, and pressed a couple buttons, bringing up his personal display from upstairs. A couple clicks, and up came a newscast.
It showed all of them but Zylee and Ammon, each of them as they fought off the blue, wolf-beasts, as they made their escape. There they were, with the broadcaster narrating the entire event. Finally, it watched as the van and two bike barreled off into the night.
Kyle paused the video.
"This was broadcast live last night, city-wide. It's already on the nets, so it's been gaining hits all night. Like it or not, we've all got a stake in this, and so we either do something together, or we die alone. I'll leave the choice up to you."
And with that, he grabbed his unfinished plate, and stepped out the door. He needed to know where Cashe had gone.
Caspar rolled over restlessly in his bed. Well, it wasn't his bed, it was a bed that he was attempting to get some sleep in. The problem was, he was spoiled. The bed at his hideout had a spongy, pillow-top mattress and the softest sheets he had ever felt. It was like sleeping on a warm breeze. Ofcourse, no one could ever know about this, or else his masculinity could be thrown into question. Real men slept on bricks with a blanket of woven tree-bark, and liked it.
"Cmon Caspar, you shouldn't have any trouble sleeping," he told himself reassuringly. One of the unfortunate consequences of living as a hermit for so long was his penchant for talking to himself. Maybe he was just so used to having conversations with Wolf that he didn't realize that he was still talking to himself, much like the homeless that roamed Imperial's streets at night wearing tin-foil hats and slippers. Atleast he was slightly more well-read than them.
"I mean, it's not like you're trying to sleep in the same building as a couple of recently-murdered dead bodies, a blood-sucking immortal hellspawn, a traitorous friend from your past, and your old, well, ancient crush. (He DID always have a thing for older women). Oh wait, that's right, you are. Poor Sap."
He punched his pillow a couple of times in an effort to shape it into something more comfortable, bit no amount of abuse was likely to match it to what he was used to sleeping on. He rolled around listlessly for a few minutes and finally pulled the covers over his head and moaned piteously.
"Ah, sometimes you're so naive. Do you really think Sway didn't see through your shenanigans about keeping everyone together. Yeah, you meant it, but not much for the others so much as her. She knows you still have a crush on her, and every time you say something out loud to her you just make it worse."
There was a soft, shuffling noise outside in the hall. Caspar paused his monologue and sat still for several awkward seconds. His eyes bounced from side to side as he strained to hear the soft sounds of breathing outside in the corridor. Had someone been listening outside his door? No, that was just his paranoia, wasn't it? He ignored it and continued his self-deprecating tirade.
"...and though I'd like nothing better than to go off to some sunny beach with you--uh--...and Jett too."
Caspar rolled his eyes and smacked himself squarely on his forehead with the flat of his hand. "Ugh, man, that was some line. Smoother than a broken-glass martini. Heck, you might as well staple a piece of paper to her forehead that says Do you like me? Circle yes or no."
He thought back to the last time he had made several disastrous attempts to hit on a girl. What was her name again? Praire dog? Provost? Prosti...no, that's not it. Think man! Providence, that was it! She hadn't really been his type initially. He liked his girls dark and dangerous. She had been blond, tanned, and bouncy. Though he had always suspected it was nothing more than a facade, so as not to let anyone get too close to the real her. Some self-defense mechanism she had imposed subconsciously to protect her from some kind of trauma she had experienced in her past. He really needed to stop reading so many psychology journals in his free time, but free time was one of the things he had plenty of. Nearly three years worth, until now. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- They had been introduced to each-other through a mutual friend, though "friend" wasn't quite the right moniker. He had eventually turned on them and ratted their home addresses to the highest bidder. Other than that though, nice guy, really. After being introduced to each-other, they had gone on to pull a great many jobs together. Caspar couldn't explain it, but for some reason the jobs he pulled with her always seemed to work out really well. Everything had simply fallen into place for them, like some invisible force was going on ahead of them and setting everything up perfectly. Providence always seemed aloof to their incredibly good luck, but Caspar had suspicions that something else was at hand. Luck was not one of his allies. His blood-line was freaking cursed after-all. He even had the tattoo on his hand to show it.
He remembered the first time he had tried a line on her. It had come as much as a surprise to him as it had to her. It wasn't like he was the kind of guy that was dashing and got the girl, that was Kyle's gig. He was more like the guy that the girl would hang out with when she wasn't with her knight in shining armor and needed someone to hold her hair back while she prayed to the porcelain altar after one too many amber-colored drinks. And he was the kind of guy that would be hit by the puke that somehow ricocheted off the bowl and splattered all over his brand-new shark-skin shoes. He was the guy that would then keep those shoes, and never wash them again, no matter how foul-smelling, because he cherished them as a reminder of one of those rare moments he had spent some quality time with the girl he could never hope to get. Yeah, that was him.
Incidently, that situation was remarkably similiar to the one in which he had first hit on Providence. He had never meant it to happen. It was just one of those things that couldn't be ordained or controlled. When you spend a lot of time with someone else who is of the opposite gender and is physically attractive, and you're as incredibly lonely as he was in that situation, it's inevitable. She was the closest thing to a friend he had in Imperial City, other than his cat, and they shared a lot of things in common. She was a thief. He was a thief. She liked cats. He had a cat, and at one time had taken on a form remniscent to a cat, 'cept a little more ornery. She didn't trust anyone. He didn't trust anyone. She spent a lot of her free time curled up with a book at her apartment. He spent a lot of his free time curled up with a book, outside her apartment, in the shadows, with binoculars. Okay, that was kinda creepy now that he thought back on it, but it had been for good reason. Atleast it had been a good reason to him. His paranoia had instilled in him the notion that she wasn't just pulling all these jobs with him b/c they had good chemistry when stealing stuff. Rather, he thought that she was keeping tabs on him, monitoring his activities. So he had to investigate her properly to make sure this wasn't the case. He hadn't even peeked when she was getting in and out of the shower. So it wasn't THAT that creepy.
After he hit on her though, things kinda got weird between them and they started pulling less and less jobs together. On the night of their last job, she disappeared down an alleyway after successfully pinching some extremely advanced power-storage cells and splitting the loot fifty-fifty. The last thing he had said to her before she left had been, "The dynamic duo triumphs again! We really make a great team, you know. Wanna grab some celebratory dragon-rolls at Hongs?" In response, she had peered into his eyes while a look of guilt danced over her face, shook her head, and took off running. She had rushed off so fast that she had forgotten her share of the power-cells in a duffel at his feet. He had blinked a few times in surprise, realized she had left her spoils, and took off after her meaning to return them to her. But when he had rounded the corner of the alley she had gone down, he had found it to be completely empty. Just like that, after nearly a year of working together and forging a friendship, he had found himself just as alone as his first night in Imperial City. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- As Caspar lay in bed, thinking back to that night, wondering what had happened, gone wrong, sleep finally found him and drew its merciful curtains across his eyes.
His hand grasped the door just as he heard the Nakamura turn over. In the instant that it took for him to step into the garage, Cashe's bike revved, and was peeling by him at Mach 10. He called after her, but he knew that she wasn't going to stop. Instead, he grabbed his own bike, and started her up, blazing a trail right behind her.
The midday sun blazed down, and Kyle was thankful that at least he had picked up the habit to leave his sunglasses on top of his head every morning. As thin of a disguise as it may have been, at least it kept a fraction of the wind out of his eyes as he struggled to keep up with Cashe's breakneck pace. She pulled a sudden turn onto the interstate, sliding a little to make the onramp. Kyle burned his back tire as he leaned into the turn, losing just enough traction to miss the oncoming wall. Cars began to blur by them as they weaved in and out of traffic, two hummingbirds flitting through a herd of cattle. Finally, they hit a long stretch, and Kyle called out, despite the triple digit speeds that they were flying at.
"I need to talk with you!" He called out, his words ripped from his throat before they could reach her. He indicated with his hand that she should pull over. He knew that she couldn't hear him, but she seemed to get the point. At least, that's the only reason that he could think of for her sudden middle-digit salute. She cranked back on the throttle and pushed the bike even faster. Shaking his head, he dodged a mini-van that seemed to be standing still on the freeway, and followed.
They rode for nearly two hours, as Kyle refused to leave her. She dodged this way and that, and nearly lost him a few times, but eventually they settled into a constant, high-speed run as they reached the northern farming outskirts. The freeway and city disappeared, replaced with the open greens and scattered barns and farmhouses that dotted the landscape. They reached a freshly plowed field, and finally she began to slow. She pulled a u-turn, and stopped as Kyle approached, until the two bikes and riders faced one another five feet apart.
She still had her helmet on, but even through the tinted visor, Kyle seemed to see her eyes. They were glaring right at him, angry, but not with the spite that had obviously been there before. The ride had drained something from her, but the residue was still there.
After an eternity of silence, she finally pulled off her helmet. Her hair was half-matted and wild, and her eyes seemed to still have tears in them. She dropped the kick-stand, and pulled herself off of the saddle, placing the helmet on the seat. Kyle followed suit, lifting his sunglasses.
"Cashe," he began. "Let me..." Her knuckle cut him off as she landed a right cross onto his cheek. He staggered a little, not so much from the force of the blow, but from sheer surprise. He put up a hand in defense, but she was just standing there, her fist still clenched.
"Okay," said Kyle. "I probably deserved that."
"Probably?" Said Cashe, her anger a little out-of-character. "You've lied to me for the past year and a half, and you think you 'probably' deserve that?"
"Alright!" He said, standing up straight. "I definitely deserve it! Is that what you want to hear?"
"No," she replied, approaching him. "I want to know why you felt that this wasn't something that needed to be shared with the rest of us! The fact that you brought a person into our safehouse that you knew was a methodical killer and assassin, and left her unrestrained. The fact that you then left her there with Terrance and now he's dead, because you didn't warn him!"
"I know!" He turned away, and rubbed his face with his hand. "I know! You think that hasn't been going through my head all night?! You think I don't realize that this, all of this, it's all my fault?! I know that! But what was I supposed to do? Were you really going to believe the truth?"
She paused for a moment, and though her response was calm and controlled, it might as well have been the sound of an earthquake.
"You could have tried."
She turned, and began to walk back to the bikes.
Kyle hesitated for a moment, staring at the ground. Then he rushed over to her, and grabbed her shoulder. She turned, her right fist whistling again, but this time he was ready. He caught her fist, and looked right into her eyes. She struggled for a moment, but then relaxed a little. They were locked like that, their noses nearly touching as he spoke.
"You're right," he said, exhaling slowly. "I should have told you. But it's not as if mine is the most common situation in the world."
"I guess that's true," said Cashe, her smirk appearing for just the barest of moments. "So who are you now, anyway? A shining-armor knight? A time-traveller? Some old hero from the past?"
"My name is Kyle Brogan," he said slowly. "I'm just a man trying to do the right thing."
She rested her hand on his arm, but their eyes were still locked. "And what's that, exactly?"
"These people don't deserve to live in fear," he said slowly. "And they should be free to live as they like. Not under the Purist boot. Not being crushed under the heels of a corrupt government. They need to know the truth, and they need to be free to make their own decisions."
Cashe actually laughed at that. "You know," she said suddenly. "I may not have known where you came from, but I still know who you are."
"So can you forgive me?" He smiled a little. "You know, for old times sake?"
She lifted her hand, and pressed it to his cheek, and Kyle winced a little. She tapped the darkening bruise lightly. "I guess that's worth the mark on your face."
To that, Kyle actually smiled. "I guess it goes with all the others."
"You'll be lucky if that's the worst of them especially with the mess that you've gotten us into."
"Well," replied Kyle. "I can only hope."
Suddenly she grabbed his collar and pulled his face to hers, their lips locking in a sudden embrace. They lingered there for a moment before she released him, his eyes now wide as he almost gasped for breath.
"Me too," she said. She then got on her bike, and disappeared down the road, headed back toward the city. Kyle, on the other hand, put one hand on his gas tank, and the other touched his mouth.
"Kyle," he said aloud. "You're definitely in a lot of trouble now."
“My name is Kyle Alexander Brogan...About two years ago, I, along with several of my friends here, was pulled into a rift of time which brought me here, to modern Imperial City.”
The last part of the very beginning of his introduction was a turning point that turned and shifted the heart of Ume completely. Those words which were uttered rather nonchalantly was the very answer in which she sought. ‘Pulled into a rift of time’ resounded repeatedly in her mind like a gong being struck by an entity, whose anger exceeds bounds and is no longer controllable. Perhaps she also was pulled through this rift that changed the sky she once knew, the land she once walked upon, and the people that were apart of her life. There was one thing she noticed that did not seem to change throughout time, the evil in which humans created. They created their downfall with their own hands but they seek to blame others but themselves. They are self-destroyed, and here today they continue to fall. Hence, the Elite Purists being at the very top of this massive filth of destroyed hopes.
Now, she knew that some of the people present shared one thing in common, they were in a playground in which they never experienced before and they were blind, while the rulers were one-eyed.
After some explanations of why they were in the police station and a few introductions, he went on to say,
“I would be appreciative of your help here. We’re a little outmanned , and we believe that the Purists know where we are, and what we’re about. If we’re going to be able to take the fight to them, then we are going to need all the firepower we can get.”
To his dismay which was painted meticulously on his face, he revealed the weapon in which killed the two men that once lay in a part of the safe-house. He told the inhabitants of the kitchen who was at fault for such crime, and why they should be on alert.
He pulled up a video from last night’s standoff in front of the police station. Ume could see her small figure alongside Sabin performing a number on one of her opponents. She chuckled then nudged Sabin and whispered,
“Not too shabby eh?”
“....and so we either do something together, or we die alone. I’ll leave the choice up to you.”
Then he exited leaving everyone to wonder what their next move would be on such a large chessboard; to decide whether they would be a pawn or a knight.
It was very difficult for Ume to make such a choice. First, she did not trust any of them. This reason being that one of their party had already deflected causing a chaotic situation into a monstrous one, then who was to say that there were not any emotional attachments between the two parties. If so, the heart will be twisted in a retrograde motion of disaster leaving Ume and Sabin in the middle of events that they were not linked to in the first place.
She sat on the counter top and thought for awhile through the silence. Those beasts at the police station was strangely attracted to the orb and its energy. When they were destroyed, it appeared that they were not flesh and bone like an animal, rather they were machines. Their metal interior rattled and disappeared into a wisp of smoke that was swept off by the cold wind. If these beings were manufactured by the Purists, then Ume and Sabin could be more involved in this ball game then they had hoped. Perhaps her mind was rambling through ways to place herself in such a situation in order to justify fighting a war that she did not belong to. No, she did not belong to this world, this Imperial City. But there was only one choice she had to make in order to tarry longer in this world with a purpose, and she was going to make it.
“Write my name down on the list”
Sabin shot a surprised look in her direction, and mouthed,
She leaned closer towards his face so that no one could hear the conversation between them.
“Listen Sabe, those people have us on tape. They put us in this when they rolled that camera. The night that passed it seemed as if we really didn’t know each other at all. I don’t know your past with these people and frankly I don’t give a damn, but there’s something inside of me telling me to do this,” she paused, then pointed in the direction where the paused screen of the newscast was, then continued,
“Those things that attacked us were after something, and I feel it was the orb. Now if the orb is somehow connected to this...future or whatever you want to call it, then that means so are we. Maybe I’m just whistling dixie, but there is still a slim chance that we can do something about this. Sabin....I never asked you for a favor, but can you put aside your schism with this Jett character and...I need you in this.”
Ume lowered her arm back to her side, but her eyes never turned away from Sabin. Tension and anger flowed between them, but she had made up her mind and it was final. She would help in the resistance in order to discover where she stood in the future.
She lost the battle of the stare down and turned away from his cold stare. She then jumped off the counter-top and walked toward the brunette named, Zylee.
“Zylee, right? If I remember correctly you are a weapons expert. Please start the tour,” Ume paused, then looked around the kitchen to the others, and asked sarcastically,
“Or does everyone want to stay in the kitchen and wait ‘til this whole thing blows over?” She waited for a reply, then turned back to Zylee,
Bishop was an imposing man. To Nesace, he seemed very smooth. His movements were precise, the way a magician’s should be. And there was something quite magical about him. Perhaps it was in the way he could make someone’s life, family, and livelihood disappear. But then again it seemed as if he were hiding something. And like any good magician, he could not reveal his secrets. She felt that if she blinked she might miss something important. Some crucial clue. He caught attention that way. It wasn’t that he seemed threatening exactly, although there was a fine level of intimidation that lead to a wasteland of healthy, fear. It was as if she were confronted with something wild. If she minded her business and did not cross its path she would not be attacked, most assuredly. However, he was still untamed. And like nature she would respect him, though she did not fully understand him.
Shrewdly he sat across from them at a table so large and silver it reminded her of the moon and together they assembled around it like planets, all distinct in their styles waiting patiently for the big bang. Waiting quietly for Bishop to stand among them and speak.
Nesace looked around the table suspiciously. If she played her cards right she could get in on this evil killing action without being killed by these evil people. But for now she was trying to get her fingernail to reach the bottom peanut in the bag. The crumpling was about as loud and distinctive as a dissenter at a wedding. There was no way to overlook it. And no one tried to. Soon she realized that everyone in the room was staring at her.
A beautiful woman with warm, dark hair and cold blue eyes sat to her right. Her eyebrows were askew. Nesace smiled feebly. If she were in different circumstances she might try a lame pick up line. Right now she was thinking of something in the region of “Come here often to evil-let’s-blow-up-the-planet super villain camp? Oh really? This is your usual haunt, huh? My first time here. This ain’t my first rodeo, but maybe you can show me the ropes?”
Even Nesace knew that would never work. Instead, the woman frowned and shook her head. Still crinkling with an amphitheater’s amount of sound, Nesace finally retrieved the stray peanut with her fingernails with surgeon-like precision. It was a careful procedure, but rewarding just the same. She stuffed the peanut in her mouth like a rabid squirrel then tentatively felt around for one remaining legume.
The woman instantly snatched the bag from Nesace’s hand, crumbled it and threw it at the side of her head.
Arun looked down while pretending to yawn to hide peals of wild laughter.
“Shut up, Arun!” Nesace whisperhissed.
Moloch took that opportunity to stand up.
He was a silent, solid stone. The caramel skin of his strong, thick fingers coiled around a piece of parchment. He rested his heavy elbows on the lectern. His long spiraling black hair beguiled his deadliness. He sighed. “This is the first meeting of the resistance against magic. We are a team that has been assembled by our incomparable leader, Bishop.” Moloch gestured with the respect a trusting, yet bitter, assistant would give. It was a whole respect tinged with a hint of regret. Moloch remembered a time when he and Bishop were sitting around a table like this one. A time when they were equals. That would never come back.
“He is our leader and has called us all here because he believes we are capable of eliminating magic—but only if we combine our forces. We were created outside the jurisdiction of the government. The difference between us and the C.I.A.? We don’t fill out paperwork.”
Nesace raised her hand. Moloch regarded her with a raised eyebrow that she interrupted as an invitation to speak. “So Mr. Big Handsome Curly Hair Evil Guy… What you’re saying is that we’ve been gathered here to kill the maggies. That’s all well and good,” she said, pausing momentarily to prop Providence back up as she began to slide out of her seat in a haze of unconsciousness. “But what if we don’t want to participate?”
“I will answer that question later,” Moloch said shortly. “As I was saying. We have a high level of access to very classified information. The only way that we can be sure that we can accept you all into our organization is if you all vow to forsake your other ties and align with us now.”
Nesace’s slim hand shot up jingling the many bangles on her arm. “And who are you all exactly?” The dark haired woman beside her swatted the back of her head so hard her forehead meet with the table. She whimpered and was quiet.
“Thank you.” He said, “We are a fraternity of freedom fighters. We try to make the world safe for those who do not know the danger that they are in. You have been hand selected by Bishop to carry out this end,” Moloch said bowing to his master respectfully. “If you will not join, you agree to forsake your life and can consider this your final night on the earth. We don’t have to worry about privacy and security. The reason? When one of us messes up, the others take care of it.
Nesace raised her hand again. The dark haired woman glowered. Her arm went limp as she angled it to protect her face.
Moloch continued. “I will go around the table and introduce you all in turn.” He turned to his right side. “This is S. Arun Bhatt from the ruins of Arjuna.”
Arun looked up and laid his weapon on the table. The urumi lay glittering on the table as if filled with a snake’s venom. “I have come here to clear my name.” Arun was a child that had trained his body to the point that he was as strong as most young adults. He was lanky with a cherub’s curls and mossy eyes as wild and wet as the woods.
He had a drawling British accent and took his time to speak. “My twin brother was devoured by the evils of magic. I have made a vow to avenge him at all costs, even if it means I must make the most personal sacrifice anyone can.” He paused and looked as if he were about to sit, but thought better of it. They must know his intentions, his true wishes. “I should hope that I could give my life in battle for his sake because… because I have died a thousand times for I failing to save him. I will live only now to make some beneficial change so that this may never happen again.” He wrapped his urumi around his waist again and sat with the sobriety of a young emperor.
Nesace nudged Providence. “A twelve year old with a death wish?”
The dark haired woman cleared her throat.
Moloch waited a moment then turned to the next pair. “These are the esteemed Yamamotos. First is the elder, Tetsuya Yamamoto.” Moloch gave a genuine smile that never reached his lips but rested in his eyes for a brief moment. He knew Tetsuya as a cold man but the perfect example of a heartless killer. “He is a very wise man and has advised me on many occasions. Quick with weaponry with an even sharper mind. The utmost respect.” Moloch bowed. Tetsuya glanced up and placed his well-manicured hands on the table. He addressed the room with eloquence, and though he did not raise his voice, his message was clear.
When he was done Moloch moved on to the brooding young man sitting resentfully beside his father. He was wearing a white button up that paled in the grandeur of his father’s full suit. He had long black hair and a goatee. Arun rubbed his chin meditatively wondering when he would grow such a beard again. “At his right hand sits his first born son, Ichiro Yamamoto. He has come here on short notice to join us, following in his father’s footsteps. He is… accomplished at what he does. We have never met but his reputation precedes him. He finishes what he starts. Ichiro, you may speak.”
Moloch mused at the interchange between Ichiro and his father.
“Beside him is…” Moloch tried to disguise something like a leer, “The matchless Najm. There is no equal assassin that I have ever known. Beautiful. Deadly. Thorough. A dangerous necessity. A world famous mystery.” He said these things professionally. As far as he could tell they were all true. But he did not make the mistake of seeming to hit on her. Najm would never go for that. And for that reason he remained at a respectful distance from her. She seemed as if she were still tied to her husband, anyway. Besides, men that tried to get close to Najm did not last long. Just ask Pearl.
“Would you like to address the group?” He offered.
By the time she was done the person beside her was a wreck of excitement and nervousness. Nesace was biting her nails until there was no nail left to nibble. At which case she began to suck her fingers. A nasty habit that she had tried unsuccessfully over the millennia to do away with.
“This is Nesace Genile. She has ties to Sahale Lox a big time magic user that, if captured, could lead us into the belly of the counter resistance. Nesace has latent abilities that she may not be aware of that are her birthright because of her lineage.”
Nesace tilted her head. Moloch was obviously waiting for her to speak. “Oh, um. Yeah. I really don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never really been able to do any magic. Not any real magic. If you’re talking about my dance moves that’s not magic—don’t kill me.”
Moloch crossed his thick arms and shook his head. “We’re not going to kill you for doing magic. That’s not what we do. We eliminate threats that could bring harm to the whole.”
Nesace did not catch the insult and was relieved instead. “Oh. Well if that’s the case then good. I hate Sahale. I’m going to just put that out there. She’s a filthy rich b*tch. She cooks and can sew and fly. She’s trash, really. Did I mention she smokes! What kind of surgeon smokes? And if I get a chance to punish her for what she’s done then good. She deserves it. She left me to be with her little magic friends. Well all they do is cause problems. All they do is hurt people.” She was rambling but didn’t realize it. She balled up her small fist and slammed it on the table. “I want revenge. I want my chance to get her back. Can you give me that? Can you tell me I can destroy her?”
“I assure you,” Moloch said, “You will have your vengeance—“ he added in an undertone, “but be sure that it does not have you first.”
“Next is a world class thief, Providence Halona. There are few people that are as stealthy, cunning or clever as Providence when it comes to gathering information or valuables. Even though she is kind of out of it right now she is no stranger to this round table. She has sat at it before and now will fulfill her obligation to see her service to the end.” He said these things with finality.
“Is there anything that you would like to add, Providence?” Moloch remembered her well. He had been very unkind to her in the past. Very unkind. He could understand why she might want an opportunity to return the favor, and if she did he would not stand in her way. Moloch had been, and still was, a savage killer. Only now he had been stripped of his ability to kill. Despite his body, stamina and vitality, the knowledge that the people around this table could do the one thing he had longed so many years to do made him feel weak.
He introduced three other members.
One could only be described as a cygnet, a young swan. He was long, lean and the color of fresh milk. His eyes were a clear piercing blue. They were heavily lashed and had the guileless gaze of a sweet puppy. He was bird-like in his movements and crowned with hair so blonde it was almost as white as his blemishless skin.
He interrupted. “Excusez-moi. My nom de guerre ez Grégoire Pascal. Zat is not important. Pourquoi? Becauze, kittens, we are not important. We are only vehicles for an end, yes? You must understand this. Our enemy? Our femme fatale? Magic. If we can stop zim from abusing zer powers we will be able to… how to say… bring or-door back to zis great country, no?” He pulled an egg shaped object from his pocket. “Zees is my desire. Blow zem back to hell where they belong. Their actions are against got himself. I will not stand for zim to make a mockery of all zat is ‘oly, eh?”
Nesace realized that he had not pulled a snack out of his pocket. Instead it was a sleek black bomb he was handling. “I cannot wait to stuff zees in the face of a maggie and pull zee pen,” he grinned. “Boom.” He took his seat laughing to himself.
“Thank you Pascal,” Moloch said. “Next is Lupita Santana—“
“Just Santana,” she said cutting him off. She was an attractive Mexican woman with green eyes. “I am here simply to repay my debt to Bishop.” She looked at him with a seething resentment that was only superficially glazed over by a winsome smile. Her weapons were on the table in front of her. Two fully loaded assault rifles.
Finally Moloch came to the last man. He was Arab with thick eyebrows and the look of someone who had never slept a day in his life. However exhausted he appeared, he was very neatly dressed and spoke with a quiet poise. “Please call me Kasim Zafir. I am a friend of Mr. Yamamoto and have been brought here to serve Bishop from a place I would rather forget. Because Bishop freed me from my prison I will fight for his cause in this city. But I am no mercenary. Believe that. I will fight this cause as it if were truly my own. My sincere word.”
He moved down the line to the man of the hour, Bishop, who up until this point had been unwaveringly calm, surveying his handpicked group of marauders. His vision was to turn them into something more focused and malleable. A unit that could be used for a purpose, not a gaggle of odd ends.
Moloch introduced him. “This is Bishop. He will be our leader and mentor. He expects excellence. Do not bother him with asinine questions. If you have any questions ask me first and I will relay the message. Do not disappoint him by failing to carry out his orders. Just know that if you do not do as you are told it may be the last thing you do.” He muttered under his breath, “I would know.”
“And I am Moloch Brass. I assist Bishop and disseminate out his orders. As it stands I cannot join you in the field until… until Bishop clears me to do so. However, I am in charge of escorting those who do not want to join our organization.” He cleared his throat. “If you would like to join please stand.”
They looked one to another. Some whispered among themselves. Arun was the first on his feet. Pascal stood too, admiring a few grenades he was tinkering with. Lupita stood, her hand on her rifle. Kasim did not hesitate, but stood in his pressed white and gold linen shirt very still. Nesace rose, propping Providence up on her shoulder. Others rose
Moloch sighed heavily. “Those of you who will not join, please make your way to the door.” Moloch wrapped his hand around his rope. It was his main weapon. He converted it into things like nunchakus, or a noose or a meteor hammer. Whatever was needed.”
“If we are all agreed,” Moloch said, “Then I will invite you all to The Nocturne, a shadow grade caste of warriors destined to change the world as we know it. Tonight our assignment is simple. We are to devise a plan to get close to Sahale Lox. This is an important woman. She is very dangerous but not to be killed. Once we capture her, Bishop will proceed with her.”
Nesace wavered. Did she really want Sahale to die? There was no way to tell. She was heartbroken. That woman was always trying to rip her heart out. It was her turn to know what it felt like.
“But for now our mission is an orb-like object. It was seen on the prison cameras. You are all to work together to track it down. Bishop wants it in his hand by this time tomorrow. You know your assignment now.” Moloch looked around. “Disperse.”
Miss Wrathmore seemed a bit reluctant in allowing Ume access to the weapons. With two men down it did not feel like the right decision, but the resistance was beginning and trust would have to commence sooner than expected. They stood there for seconds which seemed like hours waiting for her to decide what she should do, but since she did not have any other choice, she gave in and uttered,
Ume turned to Sabin with a smile on her face and repeated what Zylee had said in the same tone. Then, they followed her out of the kitchen and to a staircase down the right-side of the hall.
“So, when did you join this little gang of yalls?” Ume asked while walking into the darkness of the basement.
Zylee remained silent, a bit perturbed at leading a stranger and a potential enemy into an armory, and also by the probing question.
“You don’t have to answer, I can guess. You felt isolated in this world. Ever since you were a child you felt as if you had to ‘do’ something in order to feel alive. So you became an adult and learned a trade that will help you become apart of an underground rebellion against the forces of Imperial City. You honed your skill, then met this mysterious character that spun a web of lies to get you to help him for the greater good, and you joined along with the others.
“A new group was formed, hiding out in this safe-house. Now, you felt as if you were something in this life, now you had a purpose. Years later, and a few deaths of a few members, here you are in a midst of a war, just found out your leader lied, but you still push on because your mind said, ‘Zylee, your not doing this for him, your doing this for the people.’ And here you are leading two people, one a samurai and the other a vampire to a room full of weapons. What a life.”
Zylee turned around in the middle of the staircase, her expressions shrouded by the darkness.
“Listen, do you want to see these weapons or are you going to continue on rambling about something you have no clue about?”
Ume could feel her anger pulsating and exiting through the orifices in her face. She smiled then put her hands up as if Zylee was holding a .22 at her dome.
“My Lord Missus Wrathmore, cut my heart out with a spoon and feed it to the cats. Your fury is fascinates even the rats tinkering past our feet. Continue, please.”
Sabin whispered, “Relentless, eh?”
“What can I say,” Ume said shrugging then laughing.
Zylee turned on the fluorescent lights, which flickered then illuminated the room that was a little smaller than a suite. There were guns ranging in sizes, katanas placed neatly upon the walls of various colors, and other metallic objects that Ume had never seen before. Her eyes lit up at the masterpiece that was displayed in front of her.
As Ume finally came off the last step and into the room, Zylee began to speak about each weapon inside as if she had studied them. She burned with a sort of pride while she was in her domain like a mother who was the only person in town to have twins.
“As you can see there are countless amount of weapons here in this room. If you look to your left you will see something I like to call The Gun Playground. In said playground, we have the Beretta series, ranging from pistols, rifles, shotguns, to revolvers etc. We also have the Browning series, AK-47s, Colts, Smith & Westons, and many more. Over to your right, we have swords, daggers, and knives sheathed in beautiful cases but inside contains the sharpest metals men have ever touched or seen.
“In front of you, are the new manufactured weapons called energy beams. If you are feeling on the Obi Wan side then wield it in your hand and careful with it you should be."
Ume chuckled at the Yoda reference while looking attentively at the swords then to the energy beams. Sabin was picking up and trying out a few guns to his liking. He was pointing a 9mm, which was called, ‘Calico Liberty’, at a wall, then turned it to each and every side and checked the weight.
Zylee continued, “Over in the opposite wall of the guns is the ‘Explode or Be Exploded’ corner, carrying grenades, smoke bombs, clay mines, any explosive that fits your mood. Here in the middle of the room is the gear. Face masks, body armor, sheaths, helmets, etc.
“So, what will be the weapon of your choice?”
Ume turned around with a smirk on her face and placed her cold hand onto her cheek.
“This is the first time all morning you’ve been speechless, Miss Ume,” Zylee said pursing her lips.
“That’s what weapons do, they speak for me,” Ume responded.
Sabin laughed while checking out the hand grenades, and said,
“Yeah, dead bodies as well.”
Ume nodded her head to Sabin in acknowledgment, then turned on her heels to face the swords once again, only this time she freed one of them from the wall. She slowly unsheathed it, allowing the gleam to brighten her face. The edge was sharp like the teeth of a python and the handle was like that of its body. Exception shown in a weapon which was crafted by fire, but not destroyed.
She steadied the sword in front of her just as Keiichi had taught her, and slashed through invisible enemies one after the other. It was a long time since she wielded the weapon of her grandfather,
Ume heaved the duffle bag of weapons onto the unkept bed in her room. She stood for awhile, her eyes lost in the blackness of the bag, her mind deep in thought.
"You really want to do this Ume?" Sabin asked standing in the doorway.
Ume kept her eyes on the bag, and said, "I think so."
Kasim Zafir stopped alongside of Bishop before exiting the room. His long nose wobbled like the beak of a toucan as he bowed his head in courteous regard of Bishop’s presence.
“With all due respect captain,” his heavy, Arabian accent resonated within the room. “Najm is a liability to this operation. I do not wish to cast your judgment into doubt, however, I entreat you to look at the painting from all aspects.”
Kasim Zafir had fought in Afghanistan against the Russians and was all too familiar with the face of war. Something within in Najm was undecided, and the distinguishing look was as evident as a blemish of ink on a white parchment. In his world, it would practically be suicide not to call to recognition such observations.
He watched Bishop intently out of his peripheral take in a huge whiff of oxygen as if slightly agitated by the sudden disturbance of his Zen.
“I’m not asking for her withdrawal, only your consideration of the matter,” Kasim pressed.
Bishop’s firm hand reassuringly took up Karim’s shoulder within its grasp. “I wish for you all to perform well on this mission. I wouldn’t want such trivial matters to tardy your conduct, so in order to lay to rest your fears, watch my little hummingbird closely for a faulty wing.”
Bishop slowly turned around and walked toward the door, which gave a mechanical buzz before opening.
“If she is compromised,” he continued, “then subdue her and bring her back to me.”
“And if she defects?”
Bishop only slightly turned his head at the sound of the word. Kasim caught sight of a fleeting grimace and that was all he needed to know.
The magazine came crashing down onto the coffee table with a loud thud.
“And so, publicity has its ways Joe,” Rachel mused, crossing her legs and allowing her skirt to brazenly ride up upon her thigh. She stretched her arms out along the back of the sofa and rolled her neck from side to side. “I just wish it wasn’t so tiring.”
The magazine upon the coffee table was called the ICU. It was an acronym for ‘Imperial City Underground’, but apparently some nerd with a bad sense of humor deemed it worthy of a laugh. What sane person would name a magazine after a special facility within a hospital and then consider it funny? Publicity sure did have its ways.
What was even more bizarre was the headline of the magazine in which read, “Extra-Terrestrials or Just Steven Spielberg?” Sure, the media is a colorful place filled with the wildest imaginations, however, to say the unidentified creatures recorded on Rachel’s report were a bunch of ETs was just plain ludicrous. Every time something unexplainable catches the public eye it was always as if these people within the media, Rachel and her co-workers liked to call them UFOs, would blame it on some alien race that lived outer space. It was wearisome, however, fame was fame and Rachel was not about to be selective in its approach.
“You got the coffee going Joe!” She barked.
Joe grunted a loud affirmative from the kitchen.
She slouched over on the sofa and began messaging her temples, trying to hush the headache that was pounding like a madman at her cranium.
Her cell phone chirped wildly. She furiously snatched it from her waist and accepted the call.
“What do you want?”
“Oh now is that anyway to talk to your informer?”
Rachel sighed, defeated. “I’m sorry I did not know it would be you.”
It was hard not to think about him, and it was completely absurd for her believe that she had even began to succeed at dispelling him from her thoughts. At times she tried to shake it, allaying the onslaught of unanswered questions with a whispered lie of his good health. But the satisfaction was limited, leaving her again to be the victim of numerous unsettling thoughts.
Instinctively, she blamed herself, wondering exactly what it was she was doing wrong that did not warrant his attention. Then her mind unwittingly gravitated into a more insecure approach of the situation as she relentlessly compared herself to Nahla. From personality all the way down to the toes, she added, subtracted, divided, and even weighed the pros and cons, tallying the marks of her victory in all aspects.
Okay, maybe she wasn’t doing Nahla justice. She did have cute eyes but that was nothing in comparison to Najm’s pouty lips, was it? But then again her damn bust line was bigger. Kurva!
The turbulence of the helicopter jolted Najm back to reality, forcing her to scan the area in order to assure the safety of her location.
The Nocturne had securely strapped themselves in the MI6 ICAV (Infantry Carrier Aerial Vehicle) in two rows facing one another. It was an armored helicopter in which provided protective transport of a squad of up to twelve soldiers to any location deemed necessary. The primary function of the vehicle was not only for mere transportation, but it was also designed to unleash an assault of its own. With a remote weapon system (RWS), the controller could remain within the protection of the vehicle while launching a flurry of attacks on the opposing target. The exterior of the vehicle was painted a jet black in order to strategically camouflage into the night atmosphere, the time of choice for the Nocturne.
As for them, they sat staring at each other bathed in an eerie, red, dim light, which only did well in exaggerating the more prominent features along their faces. Their all black jumpsuits and shouldered AK-47s only further assisted the live Picasso into a more threatening portrait.
Najm, sandwiched between Kasim and Moloch, squirmed uncomfortably in her seat with an agitated sigh.
“You see this gun,” began some grungy man across from her, brandishing his AK. “This is the most reliable weapon out there. Rain, sleet, or snow, you don’t ever have to worry about this baby damaging.”
“Speaking of baby man I haven’t been laid in year,” added another Nocturne. “I didn’t know signing up for the Elite Purists also meant I was going to be signing away my sexual rights. Sh*t, if I knew that, I woulda took the blue pill you feel what I’m sayin’?”
The soldier adjacent to him laughed and gave him a pound.
He laughed and repeated as his comrade encouraged him on. “Do you feel what I’m sayin’?! Shoo, they should include some Hoor-ul-Ayn on the contract or somethin’. Kasim know what I’m talking about.”
Kasim only grunted at the accusation, and the soldier shrugged him off. Everyone was accustomed to Kasim’s stuck-up behavior and thus ignored him accordingly.
“What about Lupita man? Now that’s a fine piece of…”
“Man, I ain’t into those sloppy seconds.”
“Hmph, more like sloppy 24’s,” offered the grungy man.
The two men laughed.
Najm rolled her eyes. Men always had a way of turning a completely innocent situation into molestation of the mind.
“You gotta problem pretty?” asked the grungy man with a taunting smirk.
She smiled, rolling her eyes yet again and turning away from him.
The whole carrier went up in a flare of prolonged ooo’s.
The grungy man trained his AK onto her with a nonchalant attitude. “You know who I’am pretty?”
There was nothing behind his eyes.
Slightly alarmed, Kasim’s eyes darted in the man’s direction, his grip tightening on his own AK.
She turned to look at him, her head titled to one side.
“Obviously no one important if I don’t know your name,” she replied coolly with a raised eyebrow.
There was nothing behind her eyes now either.
“Relax,” uttered Moloch calmly. “We will be there soon.”
Lupita Santana, operator of MI6 ICAV, watched attentively the rotating antennae of the radar sweep across the external terrain. According to the coordinates given to her during the briefing, the MI6 was approaching its target at a rather moderate pace. Moderate because the Elite Purists did not know exactly what to expect. This would be the first time they were contacting an outside opposing force such as this, and underestimating such dissent would not exactly do them any good.
Lupita also wanted to take care to stay a reasonable distance away from the coordinates in order to avoid any radar jamming or deception. Although they did well in manufacturing the MI6’s radio detection and ranging system with the countermeasure of cloaking its outgoing signal with noise, which made it difficult for opposing sources to determine the radar’s frequency, it was still wise to remain far from such disturbances. Lupita could not afford to mess this one up. Her a$$ was indeed on the line. All of their a$$es were.
Her gloved hand thumbed the button above her for the intercom.
There was a mechanical screech and the operator’s voice sounded over the loud-speaker, informing them of their coordinates and approximately how far they were away from their desired target.
Gripping her AK, Najm soaked up the message delivered by the Operator.
She knew undoubtedly that Kasim was sent by Bishop to watch her on her first mission, and in turn, she knew she had to prove herself once again.
Terrance’s life had not afforded her the luxury of the Elite Purist’s trust, and now they wanted more from her. Their chief desire was to parade her in front of her comrades as some type of taunt. They wanted to publically display her defection in order to solidify her betrayal to them, guaranteeing her desertion if she would ever walk away from her job as a Purist.
She had to smile herself at their unrelenting efforts to certify the longevity of their power. They rolled the die and now it was time for her to assure them of a safe bet.
The tail-gate of the MI6 slowly opened, emitting a loud wail of operating steel. A violent gust of wind immediately entered the aircraft, sweeping pass the Nocturne in one forceful blast.
Like robots operating off of a single command, they all stood in unison. Then one by one, without the slightest inkling of hesitation, they jumped head first out of the aerial vehicle.
Najm slowly walked to the edge of the tail gate, her black boots gripping the metal platform as her tense muscles fought off the raging wind.
Kasim came up slowly behind her, his footfalls hardly audible against chaotic drumming.
She turned around to face him, searching his brown eyes.
They did not have the warmth that Cekic possessed, nor did they have the light and vitality like that of Kyle’s. In fact it was not even a feeling; rather, it was the emptiness of feelings. His eyes were scarred with the same injury like that of hers.
Her long black hair whipped wildly with the wind as she looked away, disinterested in her reflection. Despite her efforts to try and block it, she could still feel the intelligences pulsating with his presence. His aura was a dark one, malicious. He reeked of evil intent, but it was veiled behind a transient sort of control, ready to collapse with the slightest ripple from the gentlest touch.
Reading the intelligences was a delicate art, and as she looked up at him again, she felt a subtle change in the forces around her.
The universal language.
Unbeknownst to him, he inquired of her taking so long without the slight utterances of a word.
And in response…. “Tell Bishop he took a risk with the right one.”
She fell back into the sky.
The Nocturne had made it safely to the ground, standing before their destination with an uneasiness that was normal before any operation. It was not fear of their enemies that seized their limbs, more like the rising trepidation of possibly failing a mission. Unlike their enemies, lulled into the false sense of security by their perfect little safe-house, they were alert with the knowledge that their lives were on the line. Each and every one of them owed it to themselves to force their limbs to move twice as hard, their thinking to be twice as fast. If not, they paid for it in full.
They were waiting for their signal. Najm was waiting for her signal.
“Nocturne on standby, over,” said Moloch into his earpiece.
“Roger that Nocturne, ammo for flight,” Lupita paused for a moment. “Now.”
Blinding flashes of light swiftly scraped across the sky in a monstrous roar, cutting through the safe house at incalculable speeds. The windows burst upon contact, shattering into glittering shards, imitating the stars in their heavenly embrace. Another fierce whistling streaked across the sky, crashing into the right side of the safe house, sending a spray of sparks flying wildly into the night.
At first, the Nocturne started at a moderate pace toward their destination, but as the overhead assault grew louder and more malicious, their steady steps became a sprint upon the toes. With the muzzles of their AK’s lowered in order to gain momentum, they dashed through the night like fiends prepared to open the gates of hell.
Najm and Ichiro pinned themselves to the nearest wall of the safe house, the ground beneath them quaking in a loud rumble of anger. A downpour of debris pelted them from overhead and they swiftly ducked into the garage to avoid injury, taking cover behind a white van.
“Scared yet,” he asked.
Najm smiled. “Not on your life.”
They both dipped around opposite sides of the van, darting into the gaping hole which now served as the safe-house’s entrance thanks to the MI6.
Ichiro pressed his earpiece. “Entering second phase of operation.”
He then nodded at Najm and she reciprocated the gesture.
Immediately their paths diverged, Najm making her way up the stairs with her AK steadied before her.
All of the Nocturne was in search for Sway, waiting upon the slightest piece of evidence that pointed in her direction. However, with Najm's first area of inspection, she felt a little optimistic. Something told her Sway was in this room.
Not only did Kyle come up with a way to get everyone to come together, he took the first opportunity to abandon them all.
She half believed that he would be his old self. Today he was in rare form.
The last time Sway had seen Kyle was with lips stained by someone else.
She remembered that moment. Ruebio’s lips against hers. It was like the first time she had been drunk, she slowly sank into some hazy place where things were edgeless and fuzzy. She moved her head and the lights blurred, swam, sang to her.
She knew it was wrong.
But Ruebio had sang to her. In the same timbre and tone as those lights. It was one of the ancient songs that a man sings to a woman that he loves, could love, wants to love. She was touched. Ruebio was handsome. She was flustered, even. No one had ever sung anything to her before. Most of the come ons she got were too sleazy to be taken seriously or to timid to entertain. It was probably from the way she looked. Sway was something like a lioness, beautiful, strong, cunning but also designed to rip the throat out of a passing gazelle with horrific swiftness. Not to be trifled with, not to be taunted. So why had she allowed herself to be led away?
There were many reasons. Reasons she could not admit to herself until after everything had passed. Really, after everyone had passed that could have remembered the event. And she had so methodically thought of these things over the years that her compounded rambling, focused, hysterical thoughts had come down to a simple itemized list. There were two basic reasons. Kyle wasn’t giving her enough information or attention.
Kyle had been growing distant. She expected him to keep almost everyone in the dark about what was going on but now there was no more ‘almost’. He was keeping things from her. He was not telling her the whole story about what was going on with his life and she suspected that there was something huge happening with him that did not in any way involve her. After he had spoken to Alva she had her conformation. He had told him something that he would not make a mention of to her. She had been very open with him about the things she had done on Pamuya in his absence. After she escaped from Yemoja she had even told him about her feelings for Dean, in so many words as to remain respectful while still being truthful. But he knew that she did not love him and Kyle did what he could to absolve her.
After all, it wasn’t as if Kyle had never noticed another woman’s beauty or charm in his life. He was a man and she expected him to have his passing thoughts of other women or doubts about the one he had. Still, they had always had some sort of system where it was okay to be honest, in fact it was something that was expected, and they operated in the mindset that their friendship was more important than their relationship. And so again, Kyle had been growing distant for a long while. There was something going on between him and Najm that Sway did not understand and was unsure about. When she found that Najm had been in the house with Kyle all along she was angry but could not identify why.
The second reason was more basic. She felt alone. While Sway tried to keep up the façade that she was a completely independent creature there was a part of her that was sensitive. In fact, extremely sensitive, and that was why it was so important to be so cold, no cruel, no guarded. Cruel was the right word. She overcompensated.
Even though Sway could be pompous and uncompromising she was too deeply cut by criticism, particularly her own. And when she needed a boost of confidence the shoulder she usually leaned on had turned into an arctic shelf. Sway did not believe she asked for much but she had such unrealistic expectations of people that she often found herself disappointed. She knew that she was too high maintenance for Kyle, but she loved him. But love is never enough. Slowly and without her knowing, her disappointment turned into a savage loneliness.
The fact that Kyle was keeping things from her was an insult to her intelligence. But then again, didn’t she have secrets? She did not want to talk about Dark Seas, but that was really the only subject she would not go into. But then again, it was the only subject that mattered. He was the reason that she was the way she was. It was as if he were Zeus and had simply pulled her full grown and armor clad out of his forehead. His little Athena, his wise warrior. He had made her so secure and insecure.
But that wasn’t the point. Did she expect Kyle to forgive her immediately? Absolutely not. Did she expect him to take four hundred years to wait it out? Honestly, no. But then again why did she have these expectations for Kyle, anyway? He was not hers anymore. So why, even now, even after hundreds of years of not seeing him, was she so disappointed—no—pissed that he left to chase after a blonde?
Was it her deep-rooted hatred for the blonde species? No.
It was the fact that he belonged to her now.
Lupita cursed in rapidly in Spanish. It was like the chiming of bells the way her tongue tangoed with R’s and rolled around D’s. She hated Bishop. She was as fond of him as a pin-up model was of manual labor.
And speaking of pin-ups, that is exactly what Lupita appeared to be. She had shoulder-length wavy black hair with V bangs that flirted with the edge of her perfectly arched brow. Her eyes were wide and crescent shaped, prominent and as green as the sea. A peacock, with its frayed and winsome feathers, would envy her eyelashes. There was something clearly sensual there, but also something very wild that she wisely reserved. But not too reserved. Lupita had a reputation that she was not ashamed of. And why not? Flawless skin covered high cheekbones and a mouth as red as a viper’s. Right now that same mouth was chewing a cigar while slender brown fingers traced against two riffles.
She was seemingly doing recon for this mission, but every woman has her secrets. That wasn’t all she was doing. She was a woman, after all, and a crafty one. She knew how to multitask.
In the meeting she had sized up all the men around her. Kasim seemed like a complete stick in the mud. There was no warmth in that man. Even though she wanted to entertain some fantasy of turning a bad boy worse she found it hard to find any real attraction to him. He seemed dishonest in an offensive way. Not the way she liked.
Moloch was something entirely different. Handsome, dimpled, brawny. That man could probably wrestle a grizzly bear and come out with a fur rug. And oh, what they could do on that rug. But he was reserved, mysterious. Even though he was evil she could tell that there were only aspects of him that were so. He would be a difficult man to seduce. He asked too many questions.
Pascal, on the other hand, seemed as flamboyantly masculine as a Chihuahua playing with a box of birds. But she had dated androgynous men before and they had seemed most open to fantastic suggestion. So she would not write him off completely. He had thumbed those explosives as if they were rosary beads. There was something truly wicked there.
But none of those men were important at this moment. No, her focus was someone completely different. She heard that he was boyishly handsome. But she loved boy-men. They were so timid, confused. So eager. Like little puppies and she collected them, fed them, walked them and demanded only that they obey.
Her eyelashes tickled the scope of her twin Monoliths. These guns were especially made to fit into the holsters on her hips and were sawed off to match the length of her arms. They were deceptively light but were so long range that there was a meter on it that calibrated the gun to compensate for wind resistance and the curvature of the earth. She could stand on top of a Horus Towers downtown and shoot the pollen off bees in the suburbs. She had named them. One was Bettie. The other was Page. These girls always got the job done. She scanned the windows of the hideout, searching.
“Pascal,” she grinned into the mic.
“Why yes my pet?” the Frenchman drawled.
“How do you get your hair so blonde?” she asked.
In her sights was a man with fair eyes and dark hair. He was talking to someone who was sitting behind a bookshelf.
“Can’t you tell? I am an angel.” He said with a robust laugh.
Her eyes widened. “No way,” she said breathlessly.
“Oh, believe it,” he said, “I got kicked out of heaven for stealing too many halos, if you know what I mean…” He blew up a car with the flick of his wrist.
But that wasn’t what took Lupita by surprise. Bishop admonished her to find a young man named Caspar and assess whether or not he was like her. But she had seen something that she had never seen before. Behind a bookshelf. An angel. A real angel.
“Sway,” he said, fumbling with the doorknob and two mugs.
He had opened the door with difficulty.
She was reading. She was stunning.
She was sitting in a huge leather chair, her legs crossed. Her wings, stretched from one end of the room to the other. He had rarely seen her stretch them out completely and now he felt as if he were seeing her for the first time. They weren’t just black, anymore. On the inside there were stray feathers outlined in gold.
They were both in their pajamas. Caspar was wearing his undershirt and a pair of cotton bottoms. Sway had layered two tanks and was wearing sweatpants designed for a man a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier than her.
Caspar didn’t notice, he swept his eyes over her without seeming to stare but in his haste to seem calm he had lingered in the door too long and his gaze had made her uncomfortable. He didn’t notice that she had done the same thing.
“Don’t get up,” he said.
She settled back down in a library that was as cluttered and unorganized as the seabed’s shells. Here there were leather bound publications that were so diverse and unrelated that they could have been of little use to anyone alone but collectively held a general knowledge of the world.
“Seems like a lot of books,” he said lamely.
“Yeah, not as many as I have back at home,” she said absent-mindedly.
“You must have a really big apartment,” he said sitting. He leaned in to hand her a mug.
“I don’t keep it there,” she said turning the page. It was hot chocolate. How did he know these things? Her eyes worked down steadily without moving from side to side. She turned again. Sipped. It seemed as if she were reading each page at a glance the way a child does who cannot read at all.
A marshmallow mustache lined his lip. “Well where do you keep your collection?” he asked.
“The main library,” she said.
“Oh?” he said. “Well let me guess what section. The paranormal?”
“No, Caspar. The whole library.”
This broke the ice. They both looked up at each other and laughed.
Lupita was shocked. There was a woman with wings in that room. And her target. As clear as day she saw the person she thought must be the Wolf. He was the type of thief that could steal the pants off of pantstealing thieves.
Her voice, always sultry, did not crack for a moment.
“Upper library. Maybe a boogie. There’s some real science fiction s*** in there. Or somebody’s into role play. In any case I’m intrigued. I see a lusty young man and a—“
Moloch interrupted her transmission, “Save us the romance novel. What else do you see?”
“Pretty Asian girl. She’s all alone in the bathroom. Pascal, you want to make sure she stays that way?”
“Roger that,” said Arun dragging Nesace along with him.
Lupita again, “Big guy. Huge ponytail. Looks like a real stallion. Kasim?”
“Will you stop your prattle? Najm and I will take care of him.” Kasim glanced up but Najm was long gone. “Never mind. I’ll go solo. Bishop will hear of this.”
Lupita shouted, “Look Kasim, if you’re going to grumble take your hand off the com! Nobody wants to hear that bullsh*t!”
“Listen here now you insatiable vacuum!”
Providence cut in to diffuse the situation. “You said there was a guy in the room. What does he look like?”
“Olive. Dark hair. Light eyes. Ample,” she paused, “assets.”
Providence’s grip tightened on the com. “He’s mine.”
“This is Moloch, again. Everyone else is assigned. Santana, where do you want me? Over.”
Lupita laughed. “Where don’t I want you. Do you really want me to answer that?”
“Why are you so distant all of a sudden?” Caspar asked. “Is it because Kyle left?”
Her smile faded. “I didn’t notice,” she lied.
“Well I did,” said Caspar. “He left you before, you know. When Sadiq was in that castle—that fun house—trying to kill us all. He left you there. You remember?”
“I remember.” She said. “Sadiq cut off my wings. I was bleeding out. I thought I would die. If it had not been for you and my brother Malik I would have. Do you know that Sadiq bit me?”
Caspar was alarmed. “Are you a vampire?”
“I think the only thing that saved me from it was the fact that I’m not human.” She said. She put her book down and looked at him. Her cat eyes cut into his soul. They sized each other up. “My turn to ask a question.” She said.
“Are you a werewolf?”
Caspar’s jaw clenched. It was his turn to look away uncomfortably. “I don’t know,” he said.
“Or you won’t tell me?” she sighed. “You know you’d be surprised how much like K—“
“Don’t ever say that,” he had never spoken to her sharply before. His hand was around her wrist. He remembered himself and let her go.
Her look was hard, but when their eyes met her frustration turned into a strange sort of compassion. They were both wrecked over Kyle. So much of who they are and what they felt were modulations of his more thoughtless decisions, so many of their trials and triumphs the fruits of his brilliant ones.
“Don’t be,” she said. “I get it a lot.” The wall was going back up.
“But you shouldn’t!” He said furiously.
“So then tell me, Caspar. You used to whisper to yourself sometimes. I didn’t know who you are. You’d change. And then you’d become something else. You would call yourself Wolf and when you were that person, I didn’t know you. So I guess what I am asking now is, do I know you or do I not?”
He thought over these things heavily. “You do. You always have. Do I know you?”
“Completely.” She looked down and closed her eyes. “No you don’t. Not anymore.”
“So where do we begin?” He asked.
“Wherever you want to,” she said. “But first—I have to tell you something. Caspar, this is serious. I’ve always had this feeling. A peculiar one. It’s like when I’m around you I feel different. I feel like I can be… I can be good—“
“You are a good,” he said lightly. There were some other adjectives he could roll off.
She interrupted him. “Now, Caspar, you and I both know that I am a deleterious bastard.” They laughed. “There is no excuse for the things that I have done. But you—“ she touched the side of his face—“you’re what good means.”
“I’ve grown up a lot since the last time you’ve seen me,” he said. And this was true. Caspar was, in a word, strapping. There were so many things he wanted to say to her. She should forget about Kyle. He did not know what he had. And even if he were going with Cashe, she was the worse type of rebound. But did Caspar want to make himself Sway’s rebound? Was that possible, even? She had been alive for centuries. She had to be over him by now, yet they still spoke of him. Was he her Cashe?
No. They weren’t even that close and Caspar doubted that Sway noticed him at all. But he was noticeable, good-looking, well muscled, clever, witty. But had she seen any of this?
Her cocoa was gone.
They had no idea that everywhere else in the house the inhabitants were being contained or embroiled in battle.
“Caspar I think that I can trust you,” she said at a time when all around here those she would trust were being betrayed. “And… when I decide to trust someone I tell them something that I’ve never told anyone else before. A secret no one knows except for me and them.” She hesitated.
“Is it embarrassing?”
She laughed. “Do you want it to be?”
“Do your worse.”
“On one condition. More cocoa.”
He laughed. “You’re trying to buy time. You’ve promised now. You’ve got to give up the goods.”
“Extra marshmelows,” she called as he left.
Meanwhile Najm was walking through the hallways. It was almost the way a lioness can instinctively sense prey nearby. She seemed to know where she was going without anything beyond her intution. Her hand touched the door.
Sway tensed. Not out of any expectancy for terror but because she was going to have to steel herself to tell an embarrassing story. And this was the only thing that had kept her from jumping in surprise when she saw her.
Najm stood in front of her. All swirling hair and fair eyes. So dark, so pretty. She had something of the look of a gypsy about her. A bewitching look of someone who had been finished and wanted only to bring down anything they could touch in the finale. She was armed to the teeth and her teeth were gritted.
Sway stood up immediately and scanned the room for things she could use in her defense. There was nothing here and she was completely weaponless. She had a sinking feeling. She would have to use her magic.
“Najm, what are you doing here?”
“Oh. So you believed that it would be that easy. You would waltz in here and kill us while we were sleeping?”
“You may be right. There is a possibility that I have over trusted Kyle again. But something tells me that you have underestimated us.”
“There’s no more need for discussion. You’ve come here to take me. But I’ll warn you better people have tried and while I would refer them to you to relate their experience—unfortunately I can’t. They’re dead. That dry kind of dead you don’t come back from.”
They squared up like two fencers.
Najm launched the first attack. Sway dodged and rolled into the table beside her upsetting a torrent of books. Her socks were on fire and burned completely off her feet. A trinity of holes appeared in the wall.
Sway launched an electrical spell. The room was a healthy, horrific white and a few book cases turned into chicken feed. The lights went out. Najm sank into the shadows and Sway realized that she was out of practice with her powers and was grasping at straws.
She had to change locations or Najm would have hog tied in the back of a truck.
And that’s when she realized what was going on.
“You b*tch! You and Kyle set me up!”
Hadn’t Caspar just excused himself. Why was it that there was all this noise and no one had come to help her. Who were these strange people she had fallen in with? Even Nesace had her part. She got her to go to the prison. There she had happened to run into Kyle after four hundred years. Soon after he had her in his trap, teeth still sunk into the cheese.
Fury. Blind, fury.
She had been laying low for years and suddenly her life was being threatened by another woman associated with Kyle.
“I’ll kill you first. Then I’ll cut his throat out.”
Sway’s eyes widened momentarily, only to return to the soft golden embers that they were. Najm caught sight of them looking around in haste to find a means of defense against her threatening presence, but their lot was immediately quieted by the harmless books that lay scattered about.
A soft whisper escaped her lips. “Najm, what are you doing here?”
It was simple. “To take you in.”
Sway seemed a bit astonished by the sudden, yet effortless reply. “Oh. So you believed it would be that easy? You would waltz in here and kill us while we were sleeping?”
Najm smiled. “Oh no, Sway, that would be too much of a luxury. Besides, your knight and shining armor isn’t on the premises, yet again, and that would be one less body for me to gut. Now you know I cannot have an unfinished job on my plate.”
“You may be right. There is a possibility that I have over trusted Kyle again,” she retorted defensively.
“More than again,” Najm corrected.
Sway ignored her. “But something tells me that you underestimated us.”
“Can you prove me wrong?”
“There’s no more need for discussion,” she said with a conclusiveness that tugged at the intelligences. “You’ve come here to take me. But I’ll warn you better people have tried and while I would refer them to you to relate their experience—unfortunately I can’t. They’re dead. That dry kind of dead you don’t come back from.”
That was a threat. Najm did not do well with threats. This b*tch did not know who she was dealing with. She would crumble her with her bare hands.
“Only dry Sway?” Najm threw her AK to the floor. “Obviously you’ve never courted a Shadow Assassin before.”
The lioness and tiger squared off, both casting a deadly stare into the others eyes.
Najm was the first to launch an attack. Swift and precise, her fist came cutting through time toward Sway’s doll-like face. She dodged the blow, casting an electric spell in which blew pass Najm, scorched a heap of books, ricocheted off of a mirror, and hit the lonely light that hung suspended from the ceiling.
Instinctively, the shadows around the room hugged Najm’s body, concealing her location.
A savage scream cut through the darkness. “You b*tch! You and Kyle set me up!”
Najm was puzzled. The little angel seemed to be undergoing her own internal battle. She had thought Kyle betrayed her, a fine supposition indeed that would give Najm the advantage she needed. However, the similarity of the situation forced her to think about Cekic. And with that came an inkling of empathy that drew some of the power from her limbs.
The shadows fluttered and the subtle movement caught Sway’s eye immediately.
“I’ll kill you first. Then I’ll cut his throat out,” came a low, menacing growl.
Sway bolted at the motion in the darkness like a linebacker, throwing a flurry of fists straight hood. Najm was caught completely off guard, taking one to the stomach and then to the face. She blocked the remaining few and out of frustration flexed her muscles savagely.
The intelligences sensed the command immediately, shoving Sway with all the force Najm could muster into the darkness.
She did not want Sway out of her sight.
With two hurried steps, she advanced upon her position and summoned the intelligences to act upon her will. She threw punches, kicks and even uppercuts which did not in the slightest degree touch Sways body, but impacted the corresponding areas all the same.
Najm watched with dark glee Sway’s body yank and jerk with her assaults. With the final hit from the combo, Sway doubled over onto the floor, clenching her stomach.
Najm stood over her, her eyes empty, her thoughts occupied with nothing but hate and rage.
So this was a True One? A heap of appendages upon the floor. This was what a good guy looked like.
He looked into her gray eyes. Wrinkles gathered around them and crow’s feet appeared near each corner. She sat swinging slowly back and forth in her creaking rocking chair, peering out into the horizon although her sight was no more. Her thin lips curled into a smile as she felt his presence. A man whose hands were soaked in her family’s blood, his eyes on her then on her poor granddaughter who lay on the cushion of the patio’s bench. Her lifeless teenage body, her empty eyes. He then turned to the old woman again at the sound of her raspy voice.
“Is not the sky an amazing companion?”
He remained silent.
“It is with you in every place, but it remains silent, and it listens. What a beautiful companion. Do you not think so?”
“Its Creator is sufficient,” he whispered.
She giggled as if she still contained the little girl she once was, and said, “Of course, you are correct, but if that is so, then why have you come here and collected the souls of my family?”
He paused and peered at the teenage girl once more, and answered, “I do not collect souls, I free them from this prison.”
She looked in the direction of the sound of his voice. Staring here and there, but her sight never came to her.
“And is that your choice to make?”
“No, but it is my sickness.”
“And yet you are still alive.”
He took the stool next to the bench and drew it closer to the old woman, then sat directly in front of her. Her eyes never moved.
“Your eyes are like my heart, it has failed me, you see, and I have been seeking to cure it. But...when I look at you, I see that my heart, like your eyes, will remain in darkness.”
Her slim, wrinkled hand touched around for his face. She found his cheek and patted it softly twice. Placing her hand back onto her lap, she looked towards the sky once again. The sun was bowing itself behind the trees staining the sky with its blood red afterglow.
“If I had one wish, it would be to see the sky again.”
He uplifted himself and drew his face close to hers, then placed his right hand onto her shoulder.
“You will see it again, I will show it to you.”
She closed her eyes and for a moment saw the sky and the sunset, and began to weep.
He gently slid his knife into her.
Another inkblot of darkness appeared on his heart.
That was many years ago, but through his myriad of thoughts this was the one that was most prominent in Ichiro’s mind. For a long time now he could not feel his heart after that event, not after that. An old blind woman, a teenage girl, a husband and a wife.....and a child. How could he bring light to his dark heart? How could he revive what was dead?
The numbers on Ichiro’s goggles decreased rapidly as he approached the ground from the bleak winds of the quiet sky. It held the Nocturne as if they were long lost friends. The rush, the excitement, of being alive but on the precipice of death’s tongue filled Ichiro’s veins with adrenaline. The veil between death and life gave him the fuel he needed for his mission. For he was to see his sister that he had not seen ever since she disappeared along with Keiichi’s orb.
Turning from a head dive position, he directed his feet toward the earth and pulled an elastic string which was concealed in his suit. It slowed his movement and with this, his feet collided with the ground causing his body to jerk downward ever so slightly. He recovered from the landing, and pressed the butt of his weapon firmly into his shoulder, then stealthily paced toward the safe-house, his feet moving in a rhythmic tone, his eyes focused.
Ichiro swung his body around and pinned his back against the wall of the safe-house. Lupita was releasing a unrelenting tumult of bullets onto the buildings exterior causing it to rain fragments of brick and glass shards upon him. Along his side, was a woman with a diminutive figure, clasping an AK-47. Her name was Najm, but that was all that Ichiro had known of her, the rest remained confidential.
The rainstorm of remnants from the safe-house caused Ichiro and Najm to make their way into the garage and lean themselves against a white van.
Panting, Ichiro turned to her and asked,
With a smile, she retorted, “Not on your life.”
Ichiro gave a small cackle then swayed to the opposite side of the van from her, and quickly approached a hole in the wall of the safe-house.
“Entering second phase of operation,” he whispered into his earpiece.
He then turned to Najm and nodded as if to say, ‘See you at the after party’.
Now parting from his comrade, Ichiro walked softly into a hallway with various doors on each side. With an annoyed gaze, he treaded down the hallway at a slow pace with his weapon raised. He checked a few rooms, but they were vacant. A presence crept behind him which sent a cold chill upon the nape of his neck causing his hair to stand. He turned around quickly and saw a blonde woman who he had recognized as the informant of the Nocturne Grade. He then lowered his gun as she said,
“There is a woman and a man down the hall in a room to your left. There you will find the orb,” she whispered.
She had the look of determination in her eyes and a confidence that was painted on her visage, its illustrator being a minion of the devil himself. Ichiro knew all to well the mien of such fiend, and its dark aura. He felt it often in the presence of the Nocturne and while he was surrounded by the Purist. He himself was one of the pawns of such plight.
She pursed her lips and bowed her head softly, then walked away as if she was a ghost haunting two sides of the field.
Ichiro turned around to his former position and raised his AK-47. He heard low voices talking back and forth to each other at the far end of the hall. As he drew near, he saw a tall figure of a man standing at the opening of the door. The man was conversing to another entity in the room, but he could not see who it was from his angle.
Ichiro inhaled deeply and stalked up behind the man like a prey hunting down its predator. He swung his arm around and grabbed the tall man’s neck, swiftly took out a pistol and smashed the butt of it into the back of his head. The man went limp in his arms then fell to the floor. Ichiro looked down at him for a moment, then peered into the room.
There she was, his sister,
“Ume,” he whispered.
Her eyes looked on with horror and awe darting every which way. You could see the light of stupefaction in those green orbs of hers. Ichiro felt a tunnel of ease and a flash of happiness come over him. He was perplexed that he could feel such a feeling which he thought he would never feel again. Her small face he once knew grew to become the face of a woman who was a stranger to him, but in her eyes he could see the child he once knew, the dreamer he once lived with, and the sister he once loved.
Her mouth gaped open but the words never escaped into the silent atmosphere. There was only a hidden conversation that was being spoken without words but with feeling, and they understood each other.
Tears began to stream from her eyes. When Ichiro witnessed such pain, he could feel himself inclining, inclining towards her, but with great fury he turned his gaze away and looked at the floor. It could not be! Not his heart, nothing could quake it so. Nothing could cause his savage and evil demeanor to incline to something so pure. He saw the light of purity in her eyes, the existence of pain, and the presence of love. The eyes of a human being. A trait that Ichiro had lost long ago.
Ichiro dared not look at Ume lest his heart capitulated itself for her.
“I’m here for the orb.”
“Is dad here?”
He paused, then answered lowly, “Yes.”
“So he sent you for me?”
“No not for you. And no not him. The Purist, Ume. Did you not hear the commotion?”
“I-I-we heard something but we only thought...it..”
“Give me the orb, Ume.”
There was a silence that rushed into the room that seem to last forever.
He looked at her as she stood up and grabbed her katana.
“I can’t do that Ichi.”
He raised his AK-47 and said, “Ume, I only have to pull this trigger once and I’ll get what I want. Don’t test me.”
“Are you truly the Ichiro I once knew?”
“Ume,” he answered, his voice shaking out of frustration.
“Answer me dammit! When did you get here?!”
Ichiro looked down at the floor again, he body trembling. He put his AK in his back strap, and slowly pulled his pistol from its holster. He lifted his head and with it, his hand and the gun.
Before she could finish, he shot a tranquilizer into her neck then let the gun drop to his side. He holstered the weapon then pressed his earpiece.
“Mission Complete....Orb retrieved.”
This is not how Ichiro wanted it to be. He did not want to face her, not in this condition, not the way he was. He wanted her to see him like the way he used to be. Innocent and funny. Full of light, but she had to see the Ichiro of Imperial City, and he despised himself for that, he despised Tetsuya and Bishop for sending him on a mission of emotions. They tested him, and he almost failed.
He walked to her body on the floor, crouched down, and began to search her pockets. Pulling out the medium-sized sphere, Ichiro examined it then placed it in his breast pocket.
He looked at her face then murmured, “I’m sorry.”
With that, he uplifted himself and walked out of the room leaving two unconscious bodies as its inhabitants.
“Najm, what are you doing here?” It was a simple but obvious question. She asked it as if she were interacting with a ghost. Someone that should have been dead and gone long ago had waltzed breezily into her room. It was the awkward question that one asks the grim reaper. “What are you doing here?” And the answer was the same.
“To take you in.”
Her heart beat like carnival drums. She swallowed because her throat had tightened. Not out of fear, but out of some deep-rooted anticipation. She had known that it would come to this. She felt the thrill of being kissed and pressed against a wall and the tension right before a perilous leap. “Oh. So you believed it would be that easy? You would waltz in here and kill us while we were sleeping?”
Najm’s smile was a silent flash of lightening, bright and fleeting. “Oh no, Sway, that would be too much of a luxury. Besides, your knight in shining armor isn’t on the premises, yet again, and that would be one less body for me to gut.”
In turn Sway smiled. “Gut? Be serious. You couldn’t gum a piece of butter.”
Najm ignored her. “Now you know I cannot have an unfinished job on my plate.”
Sway was serious again. “You may be right. There is a possibility that I have over trusted Kyle again.”
“More than again,” Najm corrected.
Sway ignored her. “But something tells me that you underestimated us.”
“Can you prove me wrong?”
“There’s no more need for discussion,” Sway said. She didn’t like long talks before battle. That’s what the bad guys did in cheesy movies and she was already aware that she was one of those bad guys without being a cliché. However, she could not miss the opportunity to trash talk. It was, after all, one of her more refined abilities. “You’ve come here to take me. But I’ll warn you better people have tried and while I would refer them to you to relate their experience—unfortunately I can’t. They’re dead. That dry kind of dead you don’t come back from.”
“Only dry Sway?” Najm threw her AK to the floor. “Obviously you’ve never courted a Shadow Assassin before.”
“I’ve lived for four hundred years. I’ll try anything once.”
They got into their battle stance exchanging blows. That was when things became hazy for Sway. Najm was doing something that was interfering with her magic. She remembered a fist coming from her from nowhere and turning a solid wall of books into powered sugar.
After that the fistfight of the century ensued. They could have sold out Madison Square Garden. Not only were clothes ripped and hair disheveled but elbows, insults and blood were flying.
That’s when Sway slowly realized that all this fighting was going on without Najm. She was being beaten into gravel by an outside force. She tried to flail her arm to defend herself but a force she could not see was holding her body down. A cold feeling flooded over her body. She felt as if she were under a thick sheet of ice in a coursing river. The more she tried to press against the glassy sheet the more useless strength she exerted. She was loosing it.
A memory. Tree trunks as thick and broad as soldiers. Blood swirled around her like die. She was in shallow mud the color of her skin caked with sticks and debris. Small hands were in her hands, her wrinkly limp hands. It was nearly dawn and the stars had closed their eyes to her pitiable, wrecked frame. She was curled in a ball and smelled of vomit and lake water. Urine. She gagged.
She remembered where she was. The beating was not stopping. She had tried to get up but she was hit so deeply in her stomach she heard something snap. She fell to her knees. Dark blood covered her teeth. She had forgotten her magic. All of it. All of it? She fell on her side. Something was broken.
There was a bright healthy glow ahead of her, somewhere. She staggered toward it, not knowing it was only something she had imagined. She sank into its warmth. Blood soaked her shirt and beautiful bruises blossomed like tulips to blush her cheeks. She gave into the invitation of comfort her endorphins offered. She blacked out.
People were shouting about her. She as on a ship, no, someone was carrying her. She did not open her eyes. A man with long curly hair was holding her in his arms. She heard Najm’s voice to his right. Was she gloating? The man’s voice rumbled and she could hear his heartbeat but could not understand his words.
A very sensual voice, “Honestly, Moloch if only you would carry me in your arms like that. You look like Superman.”
“Only he ezz a bad guy, eh?” came another voice. “So you would be… eh… Bizarro Superman, no?”
“Is she—is she dead?” A child with a British accent that sounded familiar.
“I hope so,” came the first voice.
“Well you know she has to be alive or we can’t take her back to Bishop.” An Arabic twang.
What bishop? Sway thought.
“Did anyone even come to try to save her?” someone asked.
“I don’t think anyone gave a damn,” came a smug reply.
She felt herself being carried up into the chopper because the wind was strong. She hated herself. Why was she not trying to fight back? She had to do something. She had to make a break for it.
She kicked her legs out and made the man carrying her stumble. He tripped into the helicopter and dropped her. She opened her eyes and found herself surrounded by people she had never seen or met before. They all seemed as shocked to see her move as she was to be doing it.
With everything in her she channeled a pillar of fire that engulfed her and repelled the spray of gunfire that was immediately let loose on her. She opened her wings. Everyone but Najm was momentarily stunned.
“Get her! We can’t let her escape!” Kasim cried.
“Well how the hell do you suggest we do that? If you haven’t noticed this b**** is on fire! Up in flames! En fuego! Unless you have a fire extinguisher up you butt the ball’s in her court you tight ass,” Lupita scowled after emptying her clip. Her bullets littered the roof as melted lead splatter. She was only mad because her tactic hadn’t worked.
Sway ran for the door. “Kyle! Caspar! Somebody!” No one came. Her spirit was faltering. The adrenaline was wearing off. She realized how much pain she was in. Her shield flickered.
Moloch saw an opportunity. He ran toward her and using his rope grabbed her wrists. The intelligences began pounding on her again. Her shield flickered up again but this time it was a water spell and failed to do anything but coat the roof in its iciness. That was the end of her strength. Moloch tied the flailing girl up while Lupita stood over her with a gun to her head execution style.
“Don’t move, doll,” Lupita said. “Oh and… I like what you’re doing, Moloch… can I be next?”
He rolled his eyes.
It was at that moment that Nesace came out of the house. She saw Sway for the first time since the jail. She was soaked, bleeding and smelled like sulfur. She looked as if she had been to hell and back. This had been Nesace’s friend, her confidant, her love.
And no matter how many times Nesace had tried to tell Sway how important she was in her life, Sway would reject her. She did not want to be involved, she was always so unavailable. Sway would have affairs here and there but she never seemed to have time for Nesace. Why did she always think everyone else was more deserving of her attention?
It was perfect. They were both Pamuyans trying to find themselves. Nesace and Sway were perfect. Except Sway could not be serious about anything. There was always something holding her back and invariably that something was male, irresponsible and of inferior quality and moral character.
She hated her.
She hated her for reasons she did not fully understand. It was infuriating the way Sway constantly insulted her, spurned her, treated her like Helena when she should be Hermia.
And for some reason Nesace would hold on anyway. There was something irresistible about her but for the first time in her life Nesace had an epiphany. She realized two important things.
If she could not have Sway, no one would. And if she could not resist her, she would control her.
“Nes?” Sway said looking up. Her hair was dancing wildly to the helicopter’s symphony. Her arms were tied behind her back and her legs were bound, knees bent, so that she could not run again. Moloch was working on some sophisticated knots.
“I am not your Nes anymore,” she said.
“But—“ Sway tried to retort. “You can’t let them—“
“Them? What about us? What about your friends? You treat everyone you know like s*** and we have had enough of it!”
Sway spit blood out of her mouth so she could talk better. “But I’ve always been there for you. I’ve always backed you up.”
“Only when it benefited you. I’ve known you for centuries and you’ve never been truthful with me.”
“I have followed you throughout the universe, been there for you when you needed help, listened to you when you were sad and kicked a** beside you when you were angry. All I ask is that you would love me.” Nesace choked. “Say you love me.”
Sway looked piteous. She broke down. “I can’t. You know I can’t. I’m—“
“A deleterious bastard. Your excuse for everything.” Nesace’s gaze turned into a glare and she visibly hardened turning from water to ice. “If you can’t bring yourself to lie then say one thing,” Nesace hissed, “One thing right now that is true.”
Sway tried to think. What did Nesace want to hear? What did she want from her? Her hesitation was her undoing.
“You see! Right now you’re trying to think of a lie. ‘What can I say to make Nesace happy?’ It’s too late! I’ve been unhappy for too long, Lox, I mean Sway.”
“But Nes—Nesace! Tell them to let me go.” She knew it was hopeless. Was she begging? “I didn’t do anything.” But she was lying again.
“That’s your problem. You never do anything. Since you don’t understand the meaning of the world sacrifice, it’s time for you to learn the meaning of the word karma. Moloch, let’s go.”
“We need to hurry,” Arun shouted running from the fire door. “Someone is coming up the stairs quickly.”
With that Sway was hauled onto Moloch’s shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Lupita was already in the cockpit making off-color jokes that were thoroughly ruffling Kasim’s feathers. Everyone hurried into the helicopter but where was Providence?
Nesace had not noticed her absences. She was thinking of ways to make Sway suffer but could not imagine how she could reciprocate hundreds of years of heartache. She vowed to make an earnest effort.
And just then, when the helicopter was a foot off the ground, the doors swung open and everything changed.
There was a slender red vase on the library table. In it were a bundle of forgotten tulips that had once been beautiful before but were now brown, their former color and scent forever anonymous. Sway looked up at these wilted flowers and tried to think not of her pain but rather of the way she would arrange them on Najm’s grave.
Her feelings were convulsing. How could it be that Kyle and Caspar could consiper to turn their backs on her? She had been hiding from the Purists for the last few decades. She could remember the time that they had caught her the first time and she had only escaped with her life then because it was something that was hard to take.
Now she was facedown in a pool of her own blood that circled darkly, eagerly around the legs of the plush chair she had been resting in previously. The thick orental rug that she had warmed her feet with previously was drinking in healthy gulps of her blood.
She had been up against a wall before. Now the wall she had to push against was her own. Blows rained down on her from above with such biting accuracy that she thought she was being bit by a pit of vipers rather than pummeled by the unknown powers of the intelligences.
She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on a spell that would tip the scales in her favor. The room was getting colder. Ice seeped into the crevices of the window above her where it had collected as dew in anticipation of morning. Her blood slowed its flow and stopped, completely frozen. It gleamed a black diamond stained reflection of herself. She was intact, she was not dead yet and though she had no idea what was causing her all this pain what she did know was that she could met out twice as much. She staggered to her feet.
The vase, under the pressure of the water, broke and icy chunks rolled onto the floor around her.
Meanwhile, Najm was busy on her com speaking heatedly with someone.
“When did you start doing magic?”
“Oh that’s cute because I started doing magic in the womb. And I can move things with my mind too—just watch.”
Sway summoned a wind spell that sent Najm flying out of the room, but not before she slammed into the doorframe and then was pushed through the adjacent wall into another room.
Sway didn’t hesitate to swagger over to Najm’s discarded AK. She was a much better shot with her bow and arrow but was accuracy an issue with a weapon that could butcher a cow?
She heard the sounds of Najm collecting herself after being through a wall like a straw is squeaked through a fast food lid. Sway checked the weight of the gun and made sure that there were bullets in it. Najm may have dropped the gun just to give her a false sense of security, and Sway realized that it oculd have been a trap but Sway believed that Najm was so cavalier and confident that she believed her first assault would be her last leaving her assault riffle something Sway would never triffle with.
Sway sidestepped through the opening in the wall and quickly checked the room. There was no retreat here. She didn’t know who was on her side. All she could do was take Najm out, not run for back up. She needed to know her location and since she was the one holding the hardware she called out.
“What I want to know is how long you all have been working on catching me. And I also want to know… why did they send you?”
“Oh… that’s the reason?” Sway said laughing. “That’s reasonable.”
Something moved. Sway unleashed her weapon and when the light from her gun brightened the room in all its bottle rocket glory she realized where she was. This was the room that lead to the weapons keep. She always did have a knack for making her terrible situation worse.
An unsheathed sword and just as swiftly a line opened up on her back and belched a black line of blood.
The second attack came as quickly. Sway used her riffle to stop the blow from slicing her a new part in her scalp.
“A knife to a gun fight. Really?”
Sway dodged the next blow from the sword. She'd played this game with Kyle before once on a rooftop. She knew all his moves and if Najm was anything like him her confidence in her blade made her predictable.
Najm thrust the sword and Sway was waiting on her. She turned her hands into ice and clasped the sword between them. Then as Najm charged forward to plunge the knife into her chest Sway changed the ice to water, parried the blow with her gun and electrocuted Najm to the point that her hair turned into a windsail.
"It's electric..." Sway said laughing. She picked up a sword from the table to cut Najm's head off but as soon as her hand touched the table she electrocuted herself.
The palms of her hands turned black and she tripped and fell onto the floor. Expletives.
Quickly she got up while Najm was still twitching and jumped on her planting her knee in her chest. She elbowed her across the forehead and glared into her eyes. Then she felt herself become someone she wasn't.
She wrapped her hands around Najm's neck, her fingertips like fire, and squeezed as if to suck the life out of the girl.
"I won't go back there," Sway said through gritted teeth. "You won't take me alone."
In a suite, lit by the crackling and dancing fire of the fireplace only, Tetsuya was seated on the white carpet with a glass of champagne in his hand. His legs were crossed and his eyes were focused on the fire-dancers. Their ominous bodies leaping and falling then licking the wood with their scorched tongues. They lived jubilantly by the destruction of the wood, and feared the liquefied touch of water. Thus was Tetsuya’s life.
He was fire, a creation existing blissfully only by the destruction of others, and he detested the one thing that could destroy him, which was his own daughter and her clever ways. She was his water, but he did not fear her, for he was too proud and confident to fear an offspring of his which he had seen grow before his eyes. A morsel of weak flesh and bones and overall a woman. Not in the least comparable to him or rather Ichiro.
Now, Ichiro was a son that lived with eyes open. Listening to Tetsuya and being obedient to the commands in which he was ordered to do. He was not a slave, but he was rather a person who willfully submitted to his father’s demands and of that of the Purists. Only sometimes did Tetsuya see a gleam of weakness in his eyes. The face of a puppy rather than a lion. Through Ichiro’s windows he could his soul, and what he saw disappointed him. With this mission, Tetsuya and the Purists will see how loyal Ichiro really was to them.
Bishop, a very cunning man who crafted this plot like that of a carpenter to a wooden table, never divulged to Tetsuya that Ume was indeed in Imperial City along with the orb. He enjoyed to see that expression on the peoples’ faces when his grand plan was manifested. He ardently loved the feeling of knowing that he alone knew everything that was occurring while the others were ignorant of it. Or this was rather what Tetsuya viewed of him.
Other Purist, along with the Nocturne Grade, had different perceptions of the man named Bishop. He himself remained an enigma, but they judged him nonetheless. Some of them perhaps thought him to be their door way to the ‘Promise Land’ while others thought him the devil while they were trying to buy their souls back. Tetsuya thought he was indeed a door to the ‘Promise Land’, but a door with splinters protruding from it and a knob with thorns.
The fire flickered in his grey eyes and hurled their lurching shadows on his milky skin. He gave a little smirk at a memory that suddenly reappeared at the forefront of his mind, then sipped the bubbling champagne.
Ichiro jogged up the staircase and to the door of the roof. He pushed open the red metal door, and drew his 9mm, examining the roof top for any foes. Pointing his weapon from left to right, he finally looked ahead and saw his comrades along with the MI6 ICAV and its dual propellers revolving at a neck breaking pace above it.
A creature, or that is what Ichiro saw from behind, was in the arms of one of the Nocturnes. It turned out to be a female with long black hair, and to Ichiro’s astonishment, black wings.
He began to walk toward the MI6, when suddenly the winged-being leaped from Moloch’s hands and toward him. Ichiro paused and just stared at the broken creature, her cat-like eyes containing anguish, and her flailing arms trying to free themselves from their bondage like a bird from its master‘s cage.
A sphere around her blinked repeatedly like the eyes of a sleeper who has reached REM. She screamed for help, for her colleagues named Kyle and Casper, but there was no one in front of her except Ichiro.
He reached into his pocket and took out a cigarette, then cupped his hand to light it in his mouth lest a strong wind came by. While he did this, Moloch stealthily wrapped a rope around her wrists as if she was his dog who tried to escape.
Ichiro took a long pull of the cigarette then took it from his lips, letting the smoke rush from his nostrils. He then walked away leaving the capture to Lupe and Moloch.
Ichiro climbed into the ICAV and seated himself at the far end. Still smoking the cigarette, he scratched his head and thought of the events that had transpired. Events that he wished had not happened, but like all fleeting moments in one’s life, they became the past and once it was locked inside that dungeon no one could free it.
There was a veil between the past, present, and future. No one would know what will happen the next minute while living. Perhaps they would reach a juncture that moment and walk away a different person or even die. There were only mere predictions like when the meteorologist predicts the weather, it is only speculation. Hence, the title of his predictions is called a “Forecast”.
Therefore, Ichiro did not trouble himself with his future, but this recent past moment left him in shambles. He had to watch a woman that he did not even seem to know, that possessed the eyes of his sister, express an emotion that sent a sensation, like crawling spiders, upon his spine. It had been years since he saw that face. It once had a smile upon it, and eyes brightly lit with innocence. A miniature child with short brown hair and small teeth, running along the river with Random and himself, playing hide and seek, and sneaking into the Temple of the Elders.
Now, she was a woman. Did he think she would never grow older? When one leaves someone that person knows that they will possess a different appearance, but when they actually witness this change they are still surprised because they only remember the person they use to know, the person they use to see.
Therefore, Ichiro was in awe of seeing her, but what about her seeing him? She must have been astounded to perceive Ichiro become a person he was not. A fiend, perhaps she thought he was or a monster that was posing as her twin bother, Ichiro. This guessing game only sent his mind in whirls, which resided in a monstrous wonderland, and it only further exhausted him.
He exhaled, releasing the fumes from his mouth and into the carrier of the MI6. Ichiro’s cell phone began to vibrate in his suit pocket. He first paused then took it out and answered it.
“Yes, father I have retrieved the orb from,” he paused then whispered, “Ume.”
“Good, good. What did she say when she saw you?”
Ichiro took another pull on his now short cigarette and responded, “Nothing memorable.”
He grimaced at his own remark.
Tetsuya chuckled, then said, “How did she look?”
“Like a father and a brother betrayed her.”
“Is something wrong Ichiro? Usually our tit for tat is pleasant. This seems a bit cold, don’t you think?”
Ichiro took the phone from his ear in disgust. Who the hell did he think he was? He wanted to break a window then drag his father’s face through the jagged edges.
He placed the phone back to his ear.
“I’m hoping that’s a rhetorical question because the b**** made me exhausted, and your not the refreshment I was looking for,” Ichiro finally answered through gritted teeth.
“Hahahahahaha! Perhaps not, maybe a woman and a glass of wine is your remedy.”
“Or a gun.”
Tetsuya ignored him and continued to speak.
“One last question before I go.”
Ichiro remained silent.
“Did you tell her that Keiichi is still alive?”
Ichiro looked at the ground of the MI6 then turned his gaze to the safe-house with one final look.
The final centaur fell, unconscious, to the asphalt, joining his brothers and satyr cousins in the throes of dreamland. Kyle crouched in the alley, and checked over the tattoo markings on several of them, noticing a familiar howling wolf tattoo emblazoned across them. The Moon Wolves. Kyle chuckled over the goofiness of such a name. These young men, boys really, were nothing more than common street punks, fodder to be used by more prominent organizations in the constant war over criminal territories. Kyle tied each unconscious boy up with a zip string, being careful to tie the centaur hooves together so there wouldn't be any undue surprises. Then he sent a quick text message to a cell phone that he knew belonged to one Lieutenant Chattersen:
Package for you, courtesy of the Moon Wolves. Alley at corner of 9th Ave and Quella. Send cars and ambulance. - BB
He slipped the phone back into his belt slot as he jogged over to his Nakamura, starting up and revving the engine. Obviously, the Magician crime lord meeting had been nothing more than a setup, a way of gaining street cred by taking down the steadily more infamous Blue Blade. If Kyle hadn't taken precautions and watched from the building roof before swooping down, then the coup might have gone through without a hitch. But now, he was just plain pissed off. He'd had quite enough double-crosses to last a thousand lifetimes, and he wasn't about to let someone else get away with it. The Courino crime family would soon have hell to pay.
Why was every part of his life just one big double-cross? The gods, it seemed, had seen fit to bestow upon him an unbelievable mistrust of every person around him, for every person that he allowed himself to rely upon seemed to eventually reveal themselves as disloyal. From Zerbas the Swordmaster, to Thokk, to Yemoja and Aker... He'd long ago given up on trusting the demigods, for they were only interested, it seemed, in gaining power for themselves, and never in the greater good. But his own family, it seemed, wasn't much better.
There was his brother, Banon, an evil, twisted wretch of a human being who had fallen so far into the depths of forbidden magic that he might as well have had bones of black. Kyle remembered being convinced that the man was the rightful prince of Strayle, only to be betrayed when the kingdom was his, resulting in Dianna's death, and Kyle's narrow escape.
There was the fact that his one true savior, Wyntei, who he now knew to be his mother, had completely abandoned him, leaving him alone in a time and place which he did not understand, to fend for himself when his one cause and goal had been ended centuries before.
And most recently, there was Najm, his sister. A young woman who he had protected, cared for, and kept out of harm's way. A woman who had shown nothing but ingratitude after Kyle had risked his life and the lives of others to keep her alive. A woman who now had proven to be yet another betrayal, yet another reason for him to trust no one, and distance everyone from him.
His heart had grown ever colder in the past years, turning at first to ice, and then to stone, and now to hardened steel. The burdens of his life continued to haunt him, pressing down upon him, forcing him into a self-induced mental solitude that affected everything about him. While years previous he had been an upright, caring and overall happy man, that person had been replaced with a lost soldier desperate for a purpose, and void of heart. He shifted his bike into its highest gear, and twisted the throttle as he flew down the freeway.
As his mind worked back through his own history, he realized that he could track almost everything back to two singular events, both of which were intimately connected, and yet separate in source.
Alva had thought that he was doing him a favor by revealing the grand secret of Kyle's heritage, but instead, he was only driving a hidden blade into Kyle's heart that would be revealed later. Before that point, Kyle had been confident in knowing that Najm was to be protected, and that Wyntei had commanded it. Now that the reason had become clear, that Najm and Kyle had both sprung from the same womb, that increased complications. And now he was on a collision course to destroy the only family that he knew existed, his heart and mind locked into an eternal battle of will.
That, however, was simply the catalyst for the greatest tragedy of Kyle's life - Sway. Though outwardly, Kyle was always the steady one, the rock that the others could rely upon, inwardly, he was wracked with confusion over Alva's revelation. When Sway had asked, though, Kyle wasn't ready to tell, and apparently that ignited a spark under the kindling that Sway's own struggles had laid down. Sway, the one steady friend and companion of his life, had finally proven to be yet another betrayal. Another double-cross in a life and history marked by such familiar strife. Kyle couldn't handle it as the final straw had broken the back of the finally overburdened camel.
When Kyle had first realized that he was all alone yet again, he had hoped that it would be a new beginning for him. A chance for him to start anew, to set his own course. But the soldier within him commanded him to take up his arms again. And here he was, again in a battle of insurmountable odds. Now, his past had finally caught up with him, and it seemed as though the gods were going to pile on even more strife. He cursed the sky.
He cursed the sky as rain began to fall. He cursed the sky as his heart turned ever colder. And he cursed the sky that it would deliver his grandest betrayal into his life yet again, never giving him rest.
He cursed the sky, and urged his machine to move ever faster towards his home.
Life, it seemed, never really changed for Kyle Brogan.
The vase beside Najm shattered into icy chunks, raining to the floor in a cluster of glittering jewels. The creaking of ice creeping over every corner of the room grew louder with the sound of Sway’s dark whisper.
“When did you start doing magic?”
It was a publication that the battle between them was far from over, and Najm, almost under estimating the lovely tulip, smirked to herself slightly impressed.
“You know, I can honestly say I almost under estimated you,” Najm said, turning her frosty blues upon the fiery golds. “What a terrible mistake I would have made.”
Sway reflected the smirk with an additional arch of her eyebrow.
“I should warn you though,” continued Najm, cracking her knuckles. “I’ve been doing magic for quite a while now and what I’m about to do to you ain’t gonna be too pretty.”
“That’s cute because I started doing magic in the womb. And I can move things with my mind too. Watch!”
Najm rocketed through the adjacent wall with one quick blast from Sway’s incantation. She felt the sharp taste of her blood rise in the back of her throat as she pounded onto the cement floor like a rag doll. With wind from her body being suddenly exhausted, the only thing she could accomplish was rolling onto her side and spitting up the excess blood from her mouth.
Upon hearing the metal of her AK grate against the floorboards of the other room, she assumed, no, she was quite positive Sway had armed herself with the weapon in order to deliver death. Now her life rested within the fickle hands of time, which only and always seemed to slip away faster when you needed it the most.
With all the strength she had left, she heaved her aching limbs from off the floor and limped behind the numerous shelves stacked with guns.
Like any other killer, she had immediately thought to use one, but as quick as the thought came, it was swiftly hushed by her weariness of the manufacture.
Ever since she stumbled into this word, she was bombarded with a whole new fighting style. Her skill was imposed upon by the manufactures of fine technology at its best.
Being from Elderin rendered her a nature girl, and by nature, her limbs innately refused the new fashion of death they defined as the development of technology. If they succeeded in changing everything else to their hearts desire, why couldn’t they just leave to the blacksmiths their rights of the classic craft?
And it seemed nature cherished her desire, for no sooner than she conjured the thought a faint flicker of light caught her eye from the other side of the room. Like a long lost friend, she knew that glint from anywhere, and she smiled triumphantly at the thought that nature, for once, conspired in her favor.
Cautiously, she placed her tiny hand upon the edge of the shelf, and like a child reluctantly in search of the boogie monster, slowly peeked over the shelf’s frame.
Sway, ready to do the devil’s bidding without much remorse or the slightest hint of a scruple, stepped like a barbarian through Najm’s work of art.
Najm quickly tip-toed to the other line of shelves on the other side of the room. Her eyes flickered sinfully as her diminutive fingers instinctively wrapped themselves around the onyx handle of the nihonto.
“What I want to know is how long have you all been working on catching me?” Asked Sway. “ And I also want to know…why did they send you?”
Sway must have thought Najm was a complete fool to give up her location with the vocalization of something as frivolous as to why they had sent her in the midst of battle.
“Oh…that’s the reason?” she responded sarcastically, knowing all the while that her clever plan, if it could even own up to that much, did not work.
Keeping her peripheral steady upon the grim reaper only footsteps away, Najm deliberately allowed the blade of the lovely craftsmanship to reflect the bright glare of the florescent lights overhead.
As expected, Sway whipped around the AK, unleashing a wild spray of rapid fire in Najm’s previous location. Little did she know that Najm’s speed was unmatched, and she had long before dipped behind Sway unbeknownst to her.
It was but a moment, like lightening. It was quick…but deadly. With blind fury and rage, Najm came down hard and fast with the extension of herself, and Sway clenched her shoulder blades together against the unexpected lick of her blade. But there was no time to bask in the pain of her enemy. Swiftly, Najm swiped again, the blade coming to an immediate halt against the steel of the AK.
“A knife to a gun fight. Really?” Inquired Sway rather irritated by the deficiency.
“Sword Sway,” corrected Najm. “Sword.”
They flew back away from each other, but Najm, not willing to let up, dashed in her direction with another attack. Sway bolted out of the way and caught the blade up within her icy grasp, turning the ice into water, and then electrocuting.
She felt like a plug as her body immediately lit up into a bright “Eat at Joe’s” sign.
She collapsed to the floor twitching relentlessly with the aftershocks of the electricity ripping through her body.
She put her and face upon the floor, her heavy pants kicking up the dust of the cement.
Sway whirled Najm around, wrapping her eager fingers around Najm’s neck. Her breast jerked for oxygen as she clawed at Sway’s angry fingers around her jugular. She saw her eyes. Those golden orbs filled with years of overdue rage waiting to be unleash with the departing of her soul.
Then Najm felt it. The cold feeling that settled before the onset of death. The edges of her vision began to blur then blacken with the threat of non-existence.
It would be over all in a moment. She could let go, and it would all be over. She would not have to worry about the pain of being created a monster and playing the role of immorality. The stain of the True Ones would be wiped away and once again destined to be the righteous slaves of the world. Cekic would be liberated from the irritation of a love that was not mutual….
But why should she…?
The soft cotton blankets outlined the petite silhouette of Najm’s body. She smiled genuinely as she jumbled the blanket beneath her head. Ace’s hand delicately stroked her soft, jet black hair.
He stared at her longingly, his most prized possession. The beauty of her hazel eyes leaving him transfixed in a feeling of utter awe. He listened to her hum her mother’s song. A sweet tangle of sounds that always gave him a feeling of security and peace.
“So this is what sprung feels like,” he said with a smile.
Najm nodded childishly as she pressed her cheek into his chest. He laughed taking her up within his strong grasp.
“You’re so innocent,” he whispered, kissing her head.
He could tell she adored when he attributed such angelic traits to her grace. He did not understand why, but he could tell it was something she loved more than anything. Perhaps it was the acceptance that she basked in, or perhaps it was simply the love of a bikr for her first love. Whatever it was, he enjoyed making her happy.
Ace pressed his lips to her ear. “Promise me something….Promise me you will always be here…. Be my tranquility. Promise me you’ll be alive forever.”
It was childish at the time. She did not answer his plea because no one could promise immortality. But….
“I promise,” she whispered.
Najm’s eyes fluttered then opened, focusing on Sway’s intent glare of madness.
She felt it rising within her. A storm of fury. An explosion of resentment. An outburst of pure, unadulterated power. In that instant she heard it. The melody of the universe acting as one. The ballad of power resonating around her in coils of soft sounds, delicate as the web of a spider but strong all the same.
She inhaled deeply as she felt it course through her limbs, ensnaring her presence within its grasp. It was beautiful, it tasted sweet, but she couldn’t control it.
She felt the rage within her erupt in a blast of fireworks, and all the power within her vehemently burst forth in tidal wave of twisted, dark, harmony.
She screamed as her body seared with pain, the power savagely ripping away from her soul in one forceful blow.
She slowly rose from the floor into mid-air, her pupils dilating like a rabid beast, her heart ferociously drumming against her rib cage.
Sway could not fight the powerful force. She flew backward almost instantly into the cement wall, pinned there by the surge of vicious energy. Then in hordes, controlled by the wild, untamed delight of the diabolical fiend that floated at the heart of the room, the contents of the room darted like bloodthirsty creatures all at Sway’s tiny body.
Crazed, Najm’s lips curled into a devilish grin as the objects one by one crashed mercilessly into Sway’s body. She heard the fallen angel yelp with pain, which only increased Najm’s desire to inflict it.
But like all the things, the torrent of unrestrained power had to come to an end, and she, almost depleted, felt its presence leaving her. Her eyelids grew heavy and her body began to ache.
When the last of the objects brutally pounded her enemy like a nail into the cold cement wall, she felt her limbs give way, and she crashed into the floor.
The lights above flickered and then went out.
And in the darkness could be heard her tears, the delicate tears of devil far beyond forgiveness….
As the MI6 ICAV began to depart from the ground floor, Najm caught sight of a motorcycle within the distance. Slowly the silhouette of the speeding vehicle grew bigger only to reveal Sway’s knight and shining armor. Sadly, he was a little too late.
Kyle’s Nakamura came to a screeching halt below the departing helicopter, and he, sensing his tardiness looked up with an agitated stare.
Najm gazed back at him with her frosty blues. Cold as ice, delighting in the pain she knew he was enduring.
How many times had he abandoned his comrades? How many times did he betray them? She knew Kyle was looking at the situation from a narrow point of view. He always had a way of shouldering the burden of others as well as his, which was in reality his gift and his curse. His gift because in the end he was the hero that sacrificed his all….His curse because the oppression of such a heavy burden only enabled him to distance himself from those he loved. He was not a team player, so he might as well take a dagger and kill his comrades himself.
Therefore, in Najm’s eyes, they were not completely polar opposites, her and him. In reality, he only pretended at playing hero, he did not really know what it meant at all. On the other hand, Najm gave up the façade long ago. She embraced what she was.
“Who is that?” she heard Kasim ask.
She smirked as she stared down at him, his body growing smaller and smaller with the ascension of the helicopter.
The Nakamura slid to a stop, the black tire mark shining under the streetlights above, and the even brighter running lights from the helicopter. Kicking down his stand, he unsaddled himself, and stood there, the rain falling down upon his face as he watched the chopper begin to rise.
Almost out of instinct, he put out his left hand, and willed for time to stop, for him to have a chance to reach the roof. But as had been the case ever since he'd lost his arm, the magics of time had seen fit to remove their services, and so the seconds ticked by unabated.
Kyle watched in pained regret, as he recognized the figure standing in the helicopter's doorway, her black hair whipping in the rising storm. Lightning flashed, illuminating her features as she gazed down to him. Her face was one of set determination, with just the hint of a smirk. He knew that she was enjoying this. Once again, Najm had struck, and once again, Kyle had not been there to stop her.
He reached for his sidearm, but knew that there was nothing he could do from this range. He may have been a pretty good shot, but it would have taken more than a pistol to reach that far. Instead, he simply watched, his expression glowing in the flames that emanated from the safehouse. The entire lower floor was destroyed, with gaping holes in the walls, and fire licking its way up to the second, despite the rain's attempts to keep it at bay.
Damn you, Najm.
Kyle had little else to say, and that statement was only in his mind. He didn't know her motives, and didn't know her reasons. He didn't even know why she had come back. His thoughts were blank even as he watched the helicopter disappear into the night sky.
He stood there for what seemed like an eternity, the raging flames before him winning the battle to survive against the onslaught of rain. He could hear sirens in the distance, and knew that emergency crews would soon be here to finish the problem.
"Kyle!" It was Cashe. Kyle turned, and figured that Cashe must have arrived just before he did. She had Ammon and Zylee with her, but Kyle could see no one else. He stared into the smoke and flame, hoping that the others might emerge. He looked toward Cashe, his eyes hopeful, but she had no comfort for him.
"It was Najm," said Zylee. "I was in the control room when they touched down on the roof. They seemed like they were only after one target."
Kyle didn't need any other clues. There was only one person among them who could create flames from her fingertips. And there was only one person who Najm would merit such a quick and sudden amount of attention.
Sway was gone. Yet again, another force had reached into their lives and stolen her away. And yet again, Kyle wasn't there to protect her. He had failed in his oath yet again.
The sirens were growing closer. Kyle knew that there was little left to do, and the fire was too much for him to deal with. Zylee confirmed that the basement hatch was sealed, and that would be enough. They would have to come back later, but they couldn't risk any corrupt authorities finding any hidden secrets in the safehouse.
"Drop it," he said to Ammon. Ammon looked to the others, worry in his eyes. Cashe and Zylee both nodded. They had prepared for this eventuality long ago, and tonight would be the time for it to occur. Ammon reached up to his neck, and pulled a small emblem from underneath his shirt. He pressed a small sequence. Kyle pulled out his knife, and reached over to his own left arm. He made a small incision at the forearm, cutting away the flesh to reveal an identical emblem, which Ammon had helped him to implant there. He repeated the sequence, and suddenly eight explosions rocked the foundation of the building.
The safehouse seemed to shudder for a moment, floating in mid-air, as if hesitant to move. And then, it caved in on itself, imploding and guarding the secrets that lay hidden underneath its own rubble. The flames continued to rage, blackening the ground, and Kyle knew that they needed to leave. A fire may be natural, but an explosion would draw even quicker attention.
Ammon jumped onto Cashe's bike, and Zylee jumped on with Kyle, and the four quickly fled the scene, leaving their haven of safety behind.
There was a slice of skin between her shoulder blades that felt and hurt like the sun baring down on a jagged horizon. Only the wound was in no way jagged, it was as straight and true as fire-white poker and equally hot. Her only desire was to scratch it. Scratch it until her fingernails cracked.
“And who are you, love?” Lupita chirped. The woman’s hand was viced on the intersection of her neck and shoulder which Sway thought was completely unnecessary. In her previously drug induced state someone had fashioned her with a collar and metal chain as if she were some stray mongrel. Sway expected to be led into some dungeon but after her bedraggled nap on the helicopter she found herself in something of a technological utopia. Everything was clean and brightly lit. If she weren’t currently in a hostage situation she might have imagined she was with a friend window shopping in an expensive mall.
“Do you have to squeeze my neck like that? You’ve already got me on a leash.”
“And I’m walking you, my pet,” said Lupita with a broad smile. She paused, “And you are so adorable, aren’t you, ma? Just like a little puppy. Or maybe a parrot,” she laughed. “Just please, don’t try to use the bathroom.”
Silence. Then Sway said, “That joke was lame. And besides, what would you do if I did decide to pee. Like right here in the hallway. What would you do?”
Lupita shifted her weight. “What kind of a question is that?”
“What kind of stupid joke was that?”
“Hmm…” Lupita murmured.
They walked together now in obstinate silence like two nuns through a graveyard, carefully padding as not to wake the dead. The only sound was the clicking of Lupita’s heels and the whistling sound of Sway’s wings. This gave them time to reflect on one another.
Lupita Santana was thinking quite a lot lately, in fact. Her fantasies about Moloch’s chest were momentarily put on hold, which was strange because she spent the greater part of her day losing count of his abs. This girl she had been put in charge of was strange. Not only in the awkward nerdy sense of strange, but also in some self-assured “I’ve-been-here-before” way. She was captured, surrounded by enemies, and yet she had time to audit jokes. Lupita had the sense that if someone would leap around the corner, in a moment’s notice, the girl would snap the offender’s neck and then continue on with Lupita unruffled. That was it. She was unruffled, even with all those feathers. She must be afraid, somewhere, but she did not show it. Or perhaps, even crazier she had been in these situations so often she could not waste time on terror.
“You are in an impossible situation and all your friends have abandoned you.” She drug on her cigarette with her free hand and carelessly flicked her ashes on the immaculate tiling. “Are you afraid?” Lupita pried.
“Not of you.” Sway said. Then more quietly, “No offense.”
“I have two riffles,” Lupita scuffed. Her perfectly arched brows furrowed. “I could blow your head off and make your neck into a decorative vase.”
“Yes,” Sway agreed thoughtfully. “You could. But it’s because you have two guns that I’m not afraid. You see, when you shoot people they die. I don’t think you want me dead.”
Lupita disagreed. “They don’t die always.”
They turned down the hallway into a corridor so narrow there was little room for two people, especially if one of them had wings. Here there were many doors and Sway assumed they were getting closer to her prison. Sway zoned out. She had perfect teeth—Lupita did. With the odd exception that her canines seemed ridiculously sharp and a little longer than the others. This, the woman could easily hide behind a full pout of revolutionary red lipstick. Her hair was like a pin-up model, black with a curled bang. She had on flawlessly white 50’s sailor pants with a blue and white zebra stripped shirt that buttoned up but somehow revealed her midriff. Around her long, tan neck was a delicate red scarf and when she moved she smelled like cupcakes and liquorish and something metallic. She was taller than Sway, but probably only because of her sea-blue stilettos. Sway waivered on whether or not she could outrun her. If she took off and couldn’t escape she doubted she could overpower her. The woman was petite but clearly stronger than she looked. Sway could tell by the Vulcan-death-grip she had on her shoulder.
Lupita was in quite reflection. She had volunteered to detain this girl. Bishop had blackmailed her into joining in his evilness and the only way that she could escape from him was to be a good prisoner herself. So she would go above and beyond, she would do whatever she had to do. Anything to get out, even if it meant throwing more people in. Lupita was an amorous person, but really the only person she loved was herself. The girl had been taken more of a beating than she had ever seen a human take. Her clothes were in tatters. She only had one shoe and the sleeve of her shirt had been ripped off so that the garment was limp. Despite all this she was still strangely lovely. Her hair was the embodiment of blackness with a whitish streak across it that reminded Santana of a falling star. Her eyes were a bold, fleckless gold with long, wet eyelashes. It seemed she was the perfect combination of ethnicities, something more than human, in fact. Lupita, having no sense of tact decided to start the interrogation early. “Are you black or native or some kind of Spanish?”
“I can speak Spanish, if that’s what you’re asking,” Sway said in Spanish.
“No, that’s not what I asked you…” Lupita said a little thrown off. Almost no one bothered to learn more than one language now-a-days and given the opportunity to speak in Spanish again, she took it.
“Well then the answer to that question is simple. I’m a lot of things. But instead of telling you what I am I will tell you what I am not.”
“Yes? What are you not?” Lupita said eyebrows raised.
More quietness. Sway realized that this woman must be a very curious person or a very disinterested person. Curious to know about a stranger or totally disinterested in doing her job. And that she could use to her advantage. If she could get her interested in talking to her, she was sure she could get some information out of her one way or another. Despite the fact she had two riffles strapped to her back and twin bullet clips across her chest, Sway discerned that the woman was not a killer—and if she was a killer she had no desire to kill her. After all, Sway had been kidnapped, beaten and imprisoned before. This could be going a whole lot worse. Only her captor was joking around and asking personal questions. She would take that any day to being slammed around.
“Okay we will play a game,” Lupita said. “I will ask you questions and you will answer them.”
“And what is my prize?”
“You get to ask me one question. So my first question. Can you pull up your sweatpants because your underwear is showing?”
“I can,” Sway scuffed, “but I didn’t because I thought you might think I was reaching for a weapon or someth—“
Lupita pulled the band of the monstrous sweatpants and shrieked, “¡Híjole! Do you have on bloomers? You do!” Lupita stopped and tears streamed down her cheeks. “Look, ma, I don’t care what kind of situation you are in there is no excuse for granny panties!”
“I mean, are you eighty-nine years old, ma? Has it been that long since you got some churro, ma? Did you just give up? I bet when you go to the bathroom the toilet laughs at you behind your back!”
The embarrassment was unparalleled. “I was eight-nine like four hundred years ago. I don’t think like two years is a long time if you live more than two hundred years. I didn’t give up I’m just… lazy. And I don’t use the bathroom.”
Lupita stopped, “You don’t?”
Sway rolled her eyes. “You’re so gullible. And don’t pick on my granny panties—“
Lupita howled, “They’re pantaloons!”
“Whatever—at least I’m wearing panties!” Sway shot back.
Lupita’s eyes widened, “You can tell?”
They both laughed.
“Okay, you’re not so bad, you.” Lupita said.
Suddenly they were blocked by a brick wall—or rather the male equivalent of such.
“What is all this chattering?” It was Moloch Brass.
Lupita rapidly fixed her hair. “I was just taking our prisoner to her quarters.”
Quarters, Sway thought. Not cell. Quarters.
“But with all this laughter?” Moloch said. “You are not here to make friends.”
With that he snatched Sway out of Lupita’s grasp the way a larger kid would take a smaller child’s candy, roughly and with every intent to ravage the spoils.
Sway was jostled into the wall and hit her head, wincing. “Come on!” She said. “Freaking psychos.”
“No, YOU come on!” Moloch boomed. He drug Sway down the hallway, leaving Lupita behind.
Sway was trying to walk as fast as him but he was far too tall and she could not keep up. The man was practically running and Sway’s knees were too bruised for a jog so she did the best she could to skip beside him.
“Why are you so slow?” He growled.
She decided it was a rhetorical question and was silent.
“Answer me!” He said stopping short and pinning her against the wall.
“Keep your hands off my man, b*tch!” She heard Lupita cackle from down the hall.
“I—My knees hurt.”
“I fell twice.”
“Fighting Najm and someone pushed me off the helicopter before it landed earlier, I think it was you.”
He sighed. “Very well.”
Moloch picked Sway up as if she were a needy child and transported her, rather quickly, to a waiting room. And it was in fact a room. He carried her like a bride over the threshold then promptly dropped her as soon as the door closed.
“This is your room. You are not allowed to leave. Please do not try to escape because doing so will cause you to be imprisoned. I am Moloch Brass, the mouth piece and right hand of Bishop. You must understand that he has plans, plans that even I do not fully understand. Do not ask questions. The only way that you will retain this room and even some level of freedom is to answer all questions you are asked and not to use any of your magical powers, is this understood?”
“Yes… well no, exactly. I know I look bad but I could still electrocute you and kill you where you stand, so why shouldn’t I?”
“No questions. But if you were to try that you might find that the people around you have more power than you realize.”
“Can I ask—“
“No. There is a bathroom in the back, I suggest you clean up because you smell like a brothel. Good day.”
Before she could reply Moloch closed the door, shutting her in.
He walked at a nice clip down the hallways. Everyone that saw him either nodded or saulted but he knew in the back of their minds they were weary of him. Moloch the monster, who had only been unleashed for this special assignment. If he were to make any mistake he would end up right back where he was, or worse.
He opened his link. <Bishop, the female is detained in her quarters. Are there any more instructions you have for me?>
<Not now, Moloch, I am in the middle of an auction.>
<Yes… I have a prized piece… now I must see what it is worth.>