Night Of The Wolf – Part 32

Lucien Riviere stood in the middle of North Point Transit Station and closed his eyes. The voices were whispering at him again over the din of the crowd. Anxious, terrified voices that spun like a whirlwind, tracing the length of his body. Some passed by, while others cut right through him. His skin crawled at every utterance. The moment one left, another took its place, leaving him gasping on the verge of panic. This affliction had gone on ever since he was a child.

He recalled quite well the memory of standing there in the cold dark of his father’s museum, his mother clutching him tightly as the tears froze onto his face. She was blood-drenched and warm. He was clean, soft, and yet rigid in place—a melting ice sculpture. In that moment, it seemed the presence of his mother had been enough to calm the voices. Other methods over the years did comparatively little to quell their burning rage. Alcohol, huffing the occasional cologne, and swallowing capsules of morphine were but a temporary fix afforded by his Level One clearance. This time, however, he had decided to pay a visit to Constance. If nothing else, perhaps she could jog his memory regarding the events of that fateful day.

Lucien concentrated hard on the sounds of the station—the father behind seeing his daughter off at the platform, the intercom spouting off destinations overhead, the familiar ding of the train doors as they opened. The lanky boy opened his eyes and gazed upward to the right where his mother’s office stood atop an outcropping that overlooked the entire station. The lights were on. And inside, there she was, pacing back and forth with her telephone. In some ways, it felt like coming home. But in others…

“Sir, you look lost. Can I help you?” Blast. He’d forgotten that her platform guards were paid ridiculous amounts of money to question and apprehend potential stowaways.

“Ah yes, I’m here to see Director Renou,” Lucien mumbled. The sweat on his back grew cold as he snapped back to reality.

“You have the appropriate clearance, I trust?”

“Yes sir,” the boy said, handing the man his security pass. The guard looked it over.

“Lucien Riviere…seems to check out. This way, please.”

The man led him through the bustling crowd and over to the west stairwell, where a security checkpoint had been set up to control the flow of employees and visitors on business. Lucien yawned and waited in the queue, resisting the urge to close his eyes again. He pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time. 2:04 PM. Thank god the line was processed in rather quickly. At this rate, he’d have about ten minutes with his mother, which was just enough to hop the A-train out of the Metropolies and make it back to the safe house in time to check on Igor. Igor, that evil menace, he thought. And yet in some ways, the words that boy had said before he left stuck with him. “Don’t think for a second that you and I aren’t alike, chicken. I can smell it all over you. I’ve tasted it in your blood. You’re just one crack away from turning full Outlander. And when it happens…I’ll be waiting.”

“Sir…sir, your papers please!”

“What? Oh, of course,” Lucien stammered.

“Are you feeling all right?”

“Fine, thank you.”

The guard eyed him suspiciously and stamped the papers to let him through the gate. As Lucien plodded up the concrete steps, his thoughts ran rampant as to what he’d say to his mother once he entered her office. It had been months since they’d seen one another—at least in so informal a capacity—and there was no telling how she would react to him barging in unannounced. The last time was little more than a “here’s your security clearance, now get out.” But this was different. He was beginning to feel unsure of himself for whatever reason. Perhaps it was Igor’s words, or maybe doubts about the direction his plans for the city were taking. Either way, he did need information on his mother’s recent projects. And morphine.

Lucien made a right at the top of the stairway past an array of offices before settling on the center one. He was sweating again at the sound of her voice as she paced about, throwing a fit. He put his ear up to the door to listen.

“No…no, I don’t care what you do, just keep it under wraps! If the papers find out, we’re bloody finished…no, you fucking imbecile! And in the meantime, I want at least three squads patrolling the Barreau district to keep an eye out for anyone skulking about. And keep Pontius at the precinct…I see. Has anyone apprehended Tomas yet? Well get on it!” She slammed the receiver down. Now certainly didn’t seem like the best time to knock, but it was the only time. Lucien held his breath and went for it.

“What the!” his mother began to bark, but composed herself. “Enter!” Her son opened the door.

“Hello, Mother.” Her eyes widened.

“What the bloody hell are you doing here!” she seethed, rushing over to the door to close it behind them for privacy. “This really is not a good time!”

“Since when is it ever?” Lucien sighed. He stepped across the room to draw the blinds. “I know you don’t take the greatest pleasure in seeing me. What was it you called me again in the mayor’s office? ‘Riffraff’?”

“The art of theatre is obviously lost on you,” Constance rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “I know it’s been rather difficult on us over the years, and for that I apologize. You think it’s easy for me, knowing you’ve grown up in that shithole of a district-”

“Oh, save it!” he cut her off. “Everything always has to be about you, doesn’t it? You should be happy to know I’ve made my way just fine, with little help from you. Or the remainder of Dad’s assets for that matter, which by the way is the only reason you continue to live in the lap of luxury! So don’t try to tell me it’s been anything less than easy. You seem to be doing just fine without me.” Tears were beginning to flood his eyes, and as they streamed down, they seemed to stop cold. No…

“Why did you come here? Oh, shit…” his mother breathed, stepping over to him. She put her hands up to his face and caressed those frigid crystals with her fingertips. “It’s happening again, isn’t it?”

“I’m sorry, Mum…I don’t know why. I can’t remember the rest of that day in Dad’s gallery. But you looked so frightened, so upset. All I want…all I ever wanted was to ease that pain…to be the son you always wanted me to be.”

“Oh, Lucien,” Constance sighed, hugging him tight.

“But I’m not, am I? And both of us know that.” The tears he cried now felt warm, soft, even as his mother’s body grew rigid and cold in his arms. It was as if he’d breathed his own tension into her, using her emotion as a pillar of strength. “You’ve lied to me this entire time.”

She let go of him, her arms stiff. Lucien backed away to face the wall. He considered this newfound power a moment, and all the possibilities it might entail if he chose to seize the full force of it. To kill his mother right now if he chose, assume his birthright, leave her like a frozen statue in his father’s museum. No. Igor had it all wrong. Lucien was nothing like him. He was better. Stronger. Able to feign emotion and drive the entire stone-cold stake of it through the hearts of every last citizen in Cavarice. But today was not that day. Today, he needed grounding.

“I did what I had to,” Constance spoke, shivering as she crossed her arms again. “To protect you, and the future of this city-”

“By abandoning me in that goddamn orphanage?” Lucien spun around. “Oh yeah Mother, you’ve done a stellar job!”

“I watched you die!” Constance shouted. “Marco Corcini and his men, they came for us that night. He cut my own son’s throat right in front of me! Then he left me all alone in that gallery of misery, mourning your…my son’s…death. And then out you came, in all of your cloned glory, the only piece of Lucien Francois DuPont I had left! So I hid you as best I could, hoping that monster would never find you. But you, Lucien Riviere, are still my son!”

“What…” the boy shuddered. A tightness was forming in his chest. “That can’t be true.”

“What can’t be true? I thought you remembered-”

“No…no, I remember you taking me into your arms, telling me everything was all right. I remember you talking to Dad on the hologrid, I remember sneaking down the secret passage to his lab, I remember waking…fuck!” He was a getting a splitting headache. How could this be real? He felt these memories were a part of him, and yet…it was as if they belonged to someone else. Blades and fragments cut through his mind. Images of what he remembered—sneaking around display cases, watching the boy get his throat cut, but also being that boy—it was too much to process.

“Darling? Darling, stick with me, all right?” Constance wrapped her arms around him, but he shoved her away.

“NO!” Lucien roared, smacking the lamp off her desk. It flew against the far wall and shattered. His mother jumped. “I am not your son. I never was. And this image, this face that you love so much…it’s just the mask of a dead boy. Your child is gone.”

Constance huffed, the familiar pink hue returning to her skin as the blood rushed back to her face. There was that staunch look of determination again in her eyes, the kind that Lucien had resented for years. Perhaps everything she wanted had come to pass by sheer will alone. Such a personality could topple empires. Maybe that’s why he hated her so—he could never muster up a similar courage. Every action he’d taken thus far was based on the fear of failure, as if it were woven into him from the moment he had awoken on that work table. Something in him was weak, subpar, flawed. And he was reminded of it every time he looked at her. From his exile to the western districts to the stony gaze that pierced him. It was obvious she did not care for him as she had her real son. The distance she kept was destroying him.

“Here,” she sighed, snatching a piece of paper off her desk. She scrawled down a list of items. “I want you to take this to the chemist at 4th and Main. He’ll know what to do.” She threw down her pen and handed it to him.

“What the bloody hell is this?”

“Medicine. It will keep you intact…for a while, at least. It’s stronger than the morphine, with no side effects. Dr. Kotzias is a personal friend of mine from Helias, so you can trust him. But you must ask for him, and only him.”

Lucien paused. “If this formula should lead to my death-”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” his mother cut him off. “There’d be nothing to gain by that, now would there? If you really want to go through life believing I don’t give a rat’s arse about you, that’s certainly your prerogative. At least I know my conscience will be clear.”

“…You’ll be next.”

“Great to know we’re on the same page.”

Lucien paced around the front of her desk, aimlessly thumbing over her work papers as he went. Their heated exchange had almost made him forget what he came here for in the first place. He needed access clearance to his father’s old airship hangar for the next phase of the revolution. Mayor La Cour’s welcome gala presented them with the perfect opportunity.

His mother, of course, would again be forced to answer to the esteemed citizens of Cavarice, who would soon enough be screaming for more blood. Such a plan would accomplish two goals in one—bringing the city to its knees, while utterly destroying Constance Renou. He wanted to leave her as weak and powerless as she’d left him, alone in a crumbling house, starving to her very last breath. Perhaps he’d even serve her up on a platter to Igor and watch him devour what remained of her flesh.

“Perhaps there is something I can do for you in return, since you’ve been so gracious,” the lanky boy smiled. “La Cour’s welcome gala is being moved to Verdevale, yes? I assume there will be an air show to entertain the new arrivals.”

“That’s correct. Bit of a nightmare to organize on such short notice. I’ve been calling pilots all morning. Half of them have yet to respond, and the other half are still soiling themselves over the attack on the wall. I’ve arranged for telegrams to be personally delivered to them with access codes to the hangar, should anyone grow bollocks enough to show up. All my couriers are out on other runs. If you and your Barreau boys wouldn’t mind delivering the telegrams, it’d certainly take a load off my back.” Constance stepped over to her box of outgoing mail, stamping the appropriate envelopes before handing him the stack. “Just be as discreet as you can, yeah?”

“Of course.”

“And Lucien…do take care of yourself.”

“Not to worry, Mother. I do a better job of that than you ever have.” Lucien moved for the door, but she stopped him.

“You think you have all the answers, don’t you?” she smirked. “You wouldn’t have come here today if you didn’t require my help. I know you’re not about to listen to anything else I say, but I certainly hope you keep in mind that others out there will not be as forgiving as I am. Fact is, you’re only around for as long as anyone needs you. My advice? Stay useful and don’t be such a cunt.”

“Funny,” the boy chuckled. “Being a cunt seems to work just fine for you.”

He stormed out, slamming the door behind him. The uncontrollable wave of voices returned in her absence, growing ever louder again as he descended the concrete steps back to the station platform. Something about her last words stuck with him like a cut from Igor’s dull blade. They mixed with the din of the crowd below, penetrating his skull and swirling around him in a cacophonous roar that threatened to send him over the edge. Still, he held fast to the stack of telegrams under his arm and made haste for 4th and Main.

“I can’t wait to watch you die,” he muttered to himself.

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 31

Emilie slumped over the balcony railing with a yawn. The telescope slipped from her grasp, but she caught it at the last moment. She’d barely gotten any sleep since the night Igor decided to march his way into the city. From the looks of things, it had been somewhat of a disaster. The sandstorm had dissipated about an hour ago, which afforded her a better view of the west gate. At least four bodies were dragged out and incinerated by Dispatchers that morning. Six more came out once the sands let up. She worried, too, about Severo and his team. He seemed bold, confident, exactly the sort of leader they needed. Had he been among the fallen? She turned back inside and tried not to think about their food situation. If no one returned from the city, they could surely starve.

She turned back to the stairway, surveying the second floor before making her way down to the underground level they’d dubbed ‘The Pit’. It was hard to believe that just days ago, they’d staged a standoff with a squad of Dispatchers using the Barreau boys as bait. She missed Quentin, double-agent though he was. Most of her friends were now gone, save for Devonne, Leo, and a handful of others. Eerie to face such an empty house. But for what it was worth, she did her best to keep her promise to Severo and look after the others. Sooner or later, they would hear word of what happened. Even if she had to march into the city herself.

As Emilie rounded the last corner and proceeded to the basement level, Leo, the only twelve year-old among them, came rushing out to alert her.

“We’ve got a visitor!” he exclaimed. She readied her rifle and followed him down the dark, sand-covered corridor to meet Devonne at the end, who was already guarding the hatch that led back to the caverns. They kept it locked at all times for security. The bulb above it was flashing red, which meant the sensors detected someone on the other side. Whoever it was, Emilie hoped for good news. She took a deep breath as she pointed her rifle at the door and nodded to give Devonne the go-ahead. Her friend hit the button. The door slid open.

“Severo…” the girl breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank the Salt God!” The young Dalishkova Knight smiled as she embraced him. He did not hug her back. What a strange boy.

“Emilie. Good to see you again. I see the fighter’s spirit hasn’t left you yet.”

“It’s waning,” she admitted. “We need to talk.”

“Yes, we do. How’s a walk through the caverns sound?”

“I could use it.”

The two proceeded through the underground system of caves for privacy once Devonne closed the hatch behind them. In many ways, Severo seemed anxious, which was not like him. The boy had shown nothing but poise ever since joining the Outlanders some months ago. They’d found him wandering around the tunnels. He looked as if he hadn’t eaten in weeks, and yet something deep down was holding him together. It wasn’t up until a month ago that Emilie at last learned what that something was—his Dalishkova prayer book. But now as they paced the caverns together, he appeared to be without his amulet, and perhaps more gaunt than when he’d left.

“How have things been on the home front?” Severo asked.

“Lonely,” Emilie admitted. “But we’re holding things together. We’ll need more food stores within the next week.”

“I’ll send for them.”

“How many survived the wall?”

“Not enough, I’m afraid,” Severo sighed. “Only a handful of Igor’s team made it, but we’ve since amassed more recruits. I haven’t asked where he found them.”

“Probably that shit-stain Mordecai. Igor’s been squawking for years about getting revenge on the man for abusing him and stealing his girlfriend Abigail. Good on him if he slit that boy’s throat. I’d probably have done it myself.”

“My own methods aren’t nearly as straightforward,” the knight smirked. “What can you tell me about Abigail?”

“Not much, I’m afraid. Just that she’s a Japanese girl, and Abigail was a nickname they gave her because they couldn’t pronounce her real one. I doubt you’d be able to uncover much from the city records about her. Then again, you don’t see too many people of Asian descent in Cavarice. Chinese migrants, mostly. Why the curiosity? Or is that classified?”

“Just wondering,” Severo assured her. “Well, yes, I suppose it’s classified.”

“Look, I don’t mean to pry, but if you need someone to talk to-”

“I know,” the knight cut her off.

“All right.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you, but it is not your burden to bear. On another matter…you should know that Igor’s getting sick.”

Emilie stopped as they reached the subway tunnel. Much as she couldn’t stand the leader of their Outlanders gang, it wasn’t for lack of caring. She noticed, too, the despair in Severo’s voice as he spoke about the boy, almost like he was some sort of unsolvable riddle that would expire before he had the chance to figure it out. For better or worse, he had been their backbone. Emilie also feared the added responsibility of looking after the others, should anything happen to Igor. He was an insane mess, but he was a brother to them all the same.

“Sick in what way?” she sighed.

“I’m not quite sure yet.”

“Look at me,” Emilie insisted. “You always turn away when you’re lying.”

“Classified,” Severo uttered.

The girl rolled her eyes. “Well what the bloody hell do you want me to-”

“I don’t know!” the knight snapped. “But I’ll bring him back here when the time comes…sorry.”

“It’s fine…any idea how much time he has?”

“The way things are going, I’d wager a month or two. He’s fainted a couple times, and his nose bleeds. Good bet it’s something with his brain.”

“I can’t say I’m surprised, what with the way he thinks,” Emilie said. Severo remained silent. She wished so bad to chip away at his brain, but knew it would lead nowhere.

“Anything else to report?” His annoyed tone bothered her. Emilie brushed it off.

“Devonne and I have been watching the west gate. Dispatchers incinerated three corpses yesterday morning and at least ten this afternoon. I was going to ask if I should be worried, but it seems you’ve got things under control.”

“For the time being,” the knight sighed. “Look, Emilie…you should know that I’ve never been very good at articulating my emotions. The Dalishkova discourage it unless absolutely necessary. Some things are better left unsaid, because there’s nothing to be resolved by saying them. This is one such situation.”

“I understand,” Emilie replied. “We’ve all got our own shit to handle, yeah?”

“Right.”

“Just out of curiosity though, aside from telling me about Igor and asking for a report…why the hell did you bother coming back here?”

The knight hesitated. “I suppose because I view you as family, and as someone a bit more compassionate than my father. And because I just wanted to let you know…I’m all right.”

Emilie smiled and put a hand to his cheek. It was warm for once despite his pale, almost alien-like complexion. Funny. She always assumed he would be cold as death.

“It’s good to see you too, Severo.”

He grinned sheepishly and put a hand over hers to peel it away. “I must return now. Igor and Lucien need a fair amount of babysitting so they don’t kill one another. I’ll have Olivier bring you food rations in two days time.”

“Sounds good. Do take care of yourself.”

“You as well.”

“And may the Salt God’s tears keep you afloat.”

Emilie watched him depart back into the darkness of the tunnel from whence he’d come. At least the brief visit had given her hope, and perhaps a renewed sense of strength she desperately needed to continue. The Outlanders had made it to the other side after all. She only hoped her group could do the same before anything went south. But for now, they would keep a watchful eye on shipments of Dispatcher parts crossing the desert from the Falvarre province in the west. They’d need items to trade on the black market once it came time to leave that horrid villa. Perhaps with Severo’s help—or with whatever leader they saw fit to appoint next—they could build a new legitimate life for themselves in Cavarice.

Emilie returned to her spot on the balcony above to keep watch as Leo and Devonne joined her. She dug out the scrap of paper from her pocket that Olivier had copied down from Severo’s book of Dalishkova prayers. Together, they began to recite the Pinnacle. Her heartbeat quickened at the thought of the young knight. She hoped he would come back safe and sound. The more verses she spoke, the more she had undeniable faith.

My dearest, sweet Severo. I love you.

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 30

But I might, Marceau now thought to herself. Somewhere into that darkened sea of blue that stretches for miles and miles. And when I get to the other side, I hope you will wait for me. It helped her to think of Cecile as often as she could between the bitter stings of loneliness and color. To envision that sweet, soft girl in the distance, untouched by the Machine Men and their metallic voices. Soon enough, she would be home free, and with a fresh regulator.

Marceau continued on through the sandstorm, creeping around a narrow mound of parts and to the left past a gutted bus. A Machine Man was patrolling the other side. She stopped and pressed her back against the front of it to peer around the corner. Another was approaching fast from the east. No time to move yet. Steady. She scooped a rock from under the wheel and hurled it behind her. It thudded off the roof. One of the machines leapt up onto the bus and slammed down hard, rattling the structure. Marceau ducked and slid beneath the wheel well. Her heart was racing so fast, she thought she might black out.

“Cecile, I know you’re waiting,” she sniffed. The Machine Man stomped toward the front of the bus and jumped back to the ground, planting its feet mere inches from her nose. The girl closed her eyes, about to accept her fate if it decided to lift up the vehicle. A metal hand grasped the bumper. “Not today!” she shrieked, rolling to her left as the bus rose above her. Marceau tore off the goggles and scrambled to her feet. She readied her sword. In a swift, fluid motion, she buried the blade into the back of the thing’s neck. Sparks rained down onto her, but she stood her ground. The machine bellowed an unintelligible sound and dropped the bus. She tore her sword free and ran back into the gusts of wind, cramming her goggles down.

A light blur approached from the west side as she neared her pile of scrap salvation. She charged the machine and leapt up to kick it down, slicing its head clean off as she went. Another came from behind. She slid to her back and planted the blade through its neck. Victory was within her reach in just a few more steps. Marceau raced over to the mountain of twisted metal, keeping a lookout through the gap. Both piles were flush against the wall, so she didn’t need to worry so much about the robots approaching from multiple directions.

She snagged two pocket watches from the scrap along with some phase unit parts—cogs, an old leather strap, batteries, the cleanest emitter assembly she could find, and a few wires of varying sizes she had to strip and cut to length. She fused most of it together with the emitter assembly to be sure it would spark. Success. Another skeleton lay pinned beneath several beams behind her, so she tore off its jacket to form a crude satchel in which to carry the parts.

“Sorry,” she breathed. “Not about to join you.”

Marceau tied the satchel to her shoulder and grabbed her sword for the journey back. She was finished with sneaking around, and that last bit of adrenaline from the bus hadn’t died down just yet. At this point, it would be easier—and safer—to stick close to the wall, rather than maneuver through the mountains of scrap in the center of the yard. The rest of the Machine Men would no doubt be more inclined to investigate their fallen comrades. She held her breath and snuck around the west pile and over to the wall. She drew her sword.

“Now or never.” Marceau envisioned Cecile. “I’m coming, my sweet girl.” She broke into a run, counting each pile as she went. There were about ten or so on this side until the main gate. Three came by with no incident. She dodged around a Machine Man at the fourth and continued on. Five, six, seven. Two more robots blocked her path at the eighth. Marceau jumped and sprung off the wall, somersaulting left and back into the center of the yard. They were catching onto her now, echoing their metallic chants from every which way. She flew past another mound of junk before one of them caught her satchel from behind and dragged her to the ground. Raising her sword, she cut the makeshift bag off her shoulder and kicked back to her feet, spinning around to land a hard blow on the back of its neck. Thank god for Dalishkova steel.

Marceau grabbed up the satchel, dodging another Machine Man blocking the gate. By now, she’d worked up enough momentum to get up the last pile and jump over the gate. Most of the mound was grating on the one side which had fallen to form a crude ramp, so it would be easy to run straight up and flip over, but the climb was steep.

“Here goes nothing,” she sighed, and ran as fast as she could. The first step nearly knocked the wind out of her, but she kept going. Her legs burned. The wind almost took her off balance, and yet she focused her mind on Cecile the whole way up. Up, up she went, kicking hard, though the grating crumbled behind her as two Machine Men pursued. All the way to the top. She prayed the wall was close enough. She prayed the parts she salvaged would work. She prayed she would make it back into her original body. She prayed she would see Cecile again. Please…

Marceau went airborne, feeling the brush of a metallic hand scratch her leg. She flipped up and somersaulted through the air, landing hard on her feet on the other side of the wall, safe at last. Pain rocketed up her legs and she fell to her knees. She double-checked the satchel to be sure all the parts were still intact and raised her arms in victory.

“YES!” she howled. “Yes, yes, YES! Fuck you!” But it wasn’t quite over yet until she reached the bunker, and those blasted heaps of clanging excrement were already pounding on the gate. If they broke through and detected her again, it would all be for nothing. She rushed back to the bunker and pounded the button until the doors slid open, making sure to reset the lock code once she was inside. The doors closed, and she slid down against them with a sigh.

Now it was time to get back to work. Cecile would be waiting.

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 29

Marceau stirred as the intermittent banging noise continued on the bunker doors. She was phasing in her sleep again. Every morning was like waking up from anesthesia. A certain momentary awareness came and went, during which she’d feel a cold rush of air. The mattress beneath her disappeared and reappeared again in a torn state. Lights flickered on and off. Hypnagogic jerks often startled her awake at that point somewhere between the frequencies, and she could never be sure where she was. Several days of riding it out without her regulator had become torture. Once she was conscious enough to realize what was happening, she began to time the bangs on the door, counting the intervals between her phases.

“One, two, three, flash. One, two, three, four…flash. One, two, three, flash. One, two, three…now!” Marceau leaned over and reached for the injector gun on her desk before the next phase came and shot herself in the shoulder. She closed her eyes, listening for that terrible noise as she counted. Five seconds. Ten seconds. It didn’t return. “Back in Viktorium,” she sighed, propping herself up against the cold steel wall. She switched on the lights and looked at her right arm. The machine virus eating away at her flesh receded back down her bicep for now, though it had still managed to rise a little higher than the previous day. For better or worse, she was stuck with the constant reminder that her time was running out. “Fuck.”

The same infection had taken the others several weeks ago. Not that she’d been there to see it. Everyone was dead by the time she arrived. Soon enough, the great Marceau would be little more than a Machine Man herself, doomed to guard Tesla’s junkyard and protect the masses of the Metropolies from the very virus that claimed her—unless she found a cure. At this stage, it was doubtful. Still, it was nice to hope. She owed Cecile that much after lying to her. My sweet girl. I’m afraid the air is not so crisp here.

Marceau surveyed her room a moment to be sure everything was in order. Some of the frequencies she passed through during her phases had a tendency to look exactly the same, with minor variations. Even the dimensions of the room could be slightly off. She’d posted a large calendar on the wall to keep track of her flashes, as well as painting measurement tic marks across the middle of the floor. Thankfully, it remained the same seven-by-seven foot closet space she was used to. A loud bang came on the bunker door.

“Shit!” she shrieked, leaping out of bed. The floor was colder than expected on her bare feet. That meant the freezers were probably malfunctioning again, but it would have to wait. “You’d better not be an anomaly,” she sighed. She strapped a phase unit onto her wrist and headed for the door. Everything felt heavier without her regulator, and the weight of that steel behemoth was no exception. It took several tries to twist the centered wheel until she unlocked the bloody thing. “Goddamn it I’m an engineer, not a bodybuilder,” she cringed, pushing the door open just enough for her ninety-eight pound frame to fit through. She rushed up the few steps to the lab, flipped the breakers for the lights, and prayed as the holograph display booted up on her work table. A lone Machine Man flickered into view.

“Thank god,” she breathed. The robots only wandered outside the main gate of the junkyard if they detected something was amiss in the bunker. In this case, the malfunctioning freezers must have set them off, although Marceau’s presence in recent days was just as much a trigger. Another reason she needed a regulator—it scrambled her frequency enough so they wouldn’t label her an intruder. This, however, presented another problem. The parts she needed to construct a new regulator would have to be salvaged from the junkyard. That meant scaling the wall, unless…

“First thing’s first, let’s try to distract you, yeah? Freezer temperature is one degree Centigrade…damn.” She could dial it down as a temporary measure to draw the Machine Man away, but the conduits were still leaking cold air out of the coolers. She would have little time to sneak through the main gate and retrieve what she needed. If she was out too long and the temperature of the bodies rose too high, decomposition would reach a point of no return. After that, she could say goodbye to any possibility of returning to Viktorium permanently. Her own corpse had become something of a time capsule to her, a precious piece of herself she was desperate to preserve until such time she could inhabit it again. Even then, she wasn’t a hundred percent sure her plan for reintegration would work. The negative particle load on the piece of scrap metal she’d infected herself on was such that it tore across several frequencies. Committing suicide hadn’t been the solution she’d hoped for, although it saved her body and freed her to travel across other dimensions.

The girl wiped a stray tear from her cheek and focused back on the task at hand. “Lowering freezer temperatures manually,” she sniffed, jumping over the metal rail that separated the lab from the freezers. She set the dials back down and grabbed her cutoff trousers. The cold atmosphere of the bunker was something she’d grown accustomed to in recent days, so she was used to working in her underwear and a tank top. Hot oil and other mechanical parts provided enough warmth anyway. An irony that cold, unfeeling machines can give me comfort. And yet it was not the same as having Cecile with her. Soon.

The banging on the door ended abruptly as the holo grid showed the Machine Man turning away toward the main gate. Marceau snatched her goggles and head scarf off the work table, slinging a short sword over her shoulder as she rushed up the grated stairs to the bunker doors. She braced herself before pounding the button. A sandstorm was brewing outside, which meant lower visibility. She would have to fight off the Machine Man after the gate closed behind them. Phase units didn’t work on their reinforced casing. A direct blow to the back of their necks was enough to significantly disable them, but that only worked for a short period.

“Steady,” she told herself, and smashed the button. The doors slid open to a squall of whipping golden winds that nearly took her off her feet. Marceau adjusted her goggles. When paired with the regulator, she could see through almost any obstacle ahead, but the most they offered her now was protection from the elements. The dark blue hue at least showed the sandstorm in darker tones, while the Machine Man appeared lighter. Not ideal, but it worked. She would just have to stay within the gusts of wind to obscure her location.

Side-stepping into the flow of sand, she made her way forward, making sure to keep the robot in her sights. The Machine Men walked at a relatively slow pace unless they detected an immediate threat. Marceau considered kneeling down for a rock to hurl at the gate in hopes the thing would go faster, but thought better of it—their sensors could pick up on any movement coming from behind. She took to counting its steps to calm herself until it reached the door, following along in a zigzag pattern.

“Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen…come on, you metal hunk of shit,” she muttered under her breath. Her patience wore even thinner once she realized her counts weren’t accurate. “Fuck it.” Marceau grabbed her short sword and plowed through the gusts as the Machine Man neared the control panel. She got just close enough for it to enter the code, then waited until the gate began to open. Time to move. In a swift, calculated motion, she leapt up and allowed the wind to carry her spin, slicing through the air to land a hard blow on the back of the robot’s neck with her sword as it stepped through the gate.

“INTRUDER-!” The thing fell, bellowing in a metallic voice. Marceau somersaulted ahead and landed on her feet just in time to hear the gate crunch the machine in two behind her. A shower of electric sparks shot out, scorching her left shoulder. She winced and brushed them away. Son of a bitch. More of those ugly tin cans would be along soon enough to investigate. For what it was worth, at least the burns set off a nice bit of adrenaline. She continued on through the blur to locate her preferred pile of scrap on the west end of the junkyard.

Clangs of metal echoed in the distance as the machines went about their work, hurling heavy beams and crunching unusable parts into cubes. A large conveyor belt ran overhead on the north side, which was where most of them tended to congregate. Marceau clutched her sword tight and turned left around a tall assortment of jagged metal grates to be sure the coast was clear. Two Machine Men blocked her usual path, tearing parts from on old rusted clock. She was about to turn away and maneuver around them until something curious caught her eye. A lone skeleton lay buried beneath the clock, and a decaying foot poked out of the sand just a few feet further. The uniform on the skeleton was similar to those she had seen on the dead bodies in the freezer back at the bunker. These were not intruders, they were scientists who had worked maintenance on the machines.

“The plot thickens,” she whispered. One of the Machine Men dropped the clock and turned to face her. “Shit!”

“INTRUDER!” the robot bellowed through its casing. Marceau whirled around to see a third machine bounding toward her. She charged back, turning to the right of the screaming beast as he reached out to grab her, and sprung off the clock to the left, narrowly avoiding the one behind him. She whipped around the back of the pile and weaved right. The Machine Men were already bounding overtop of the metal heap to catch her, sending an avalanche of parts careening downward as they went. She dipped down and grabbed a handful of sand to toss in the air. It managed to throw them off her trail until she could hide behind a rusted-out Model T across the way. Marceau knelt to catch her breath.

“Fuck!” she whispered, pressing her forehead to the pommel of her sword. The scrap parts she needed were still two mountains away. She closed her eyes and listened to her own heartbeat pound in her eardrums. If she were to die out here alone, no one would ever find her. Cecile would never know what happened either. It would be as if she never existed. Not that it mattered. Marceau already felt like enough of a ghost to the outside world. Oh get a grip, she told herself. Not today.

The girl opened her eyes and rose to her feet, braving the gusts of gold until the clanging noise of the Machine Men faded far behind. She’d been walking through the dark for most of her life. This was no different, and yet the irony of color in her goggles amused her. She certainly felt just as blue in recent days. Navigating the sea of faces in Cavarice was akin to dodging the light wherever it stood, weaving in and out of intermittent periods of blinding black. But the brightest color in her world was undoubtedly Cecile. That girl was her sole reason for staying. Until they’d met, Marceau had very nearly resigned herself to death.

Mayor La Cour had hosted a birthday party some months ago for Vice Mayor Beatrice Castile. Marceau happened to be in the Metropolies at that time, observing the masses as she did whenever she got lonely. She’d stuck close to the Dispatchers when they did their rounds in the mansion. Not the most comfortable tactic, but one that proved necessary. Her regulator was not yet aligned properly, so she wanted to test whether or not they could detect her. If so, she could always duck into the nearest bedroom.

During her tour of the second story, the voice of a young girl caught her ear from behind a closed door. She seemed to be arguing with a male suitor, so Marceau had torn away from the squad of Dispatchers to listen in. When the door swung open, she learned it was not a male suitor, but her father. She was being belligerent and refused to come down for the party. The mayor let out a huff and plodded back downstairs with the Dispatchers in tow. Before the beautiful girl came to shut the door, Marceau managed to slip in and watch her from afar.

“‘It’s just a party, Cecile,’” the girl mocked, throwing off her shoes as she plopped in front of the vanity mirror. “It’s never a party when that rat bastard is here! ‘A blossoming girl like yourself should feel privileged for male attention!’ Maybe I don’t want male attention Daddy, you ever think about that? Women are supposed to be able to do whatever the bloody hell they want in Viktorium. Maybe I’d like a woman instead.”

By then, Marceau was holding back a smirk as she neared the mirror. Everything about this girl was perfect, and she was about to see just how perfect. The straps of her dress came off around her shoulders. It slipped downward over her chest exposing her cleavage, and then the tops of those two lovely, creamy breasts, almost to the nipple. That’s when the young traveler made her move with a single whisper in Cecile’s ear.

“Can I keep you?”

The girl reacted as suspected, immediately covering herself in terror.

“WHAT THE BLOODY HELL—”

“Shhh,” Marceau went visible and covered her mouth. “Don’t be frightened, I’m not here to hurt you. I’m a Dispatcher, I’ve been watching over you.”

Cecile giggled. “I doubt that. Besides, aren’t you a little short for a Dispatcher? What, do they recruit pervy little boys to spy on me now?”

“I’m not a boy, I’m a girl.”

“Take those stupid goggles off, they’re not helping.”

Marceau obliged.

“You’re Asian?”

“Japanese.”

“Pretty.”

“Don’t ever call me that. Ever.”

“Then what shall I call you? Handsome?”

“You can call me Marceau,” the girl smiled.

“I’m Cecile,” she said, shaking her hand. “Marceau…that’s more of surname, isn’t it? And how the hell did you get in here?”

“It’s…a long story.”

“If you tell me, I promise not to have the Dispatchers escort you out. Besides, I’m certainly not going anywhere, trust me.

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 28

Thunder rumbled in the distance, followed by a downpour of rain that battered the orphanage windows. Max had just shut off the lights after settling the boys in for the night and plodded back to his office for a drink. All was quiet and calm. He savored such moments to collect his thoughts in the dark. It was rare he ever got time alone, so he made sure to make the most of it. A gas lamp burned dim on the edge of his desk, illuminating the soft amber of his whiskey bottle. The shadows were soft, yet sharp. For a few minutes at least, he could relax and pretend that everything was good, that all the boys under his watch were happy and the Dispatchers never bothered them. He liked to imagine, too, that Quentin was somewhere safe in a warm bed with not a care in the world. It was certainly easier than facing the truth of things.

He poured himself a shot and creaked back in his chair, staring at the fractals of light as they swayed over the ceiling. Perhaps Quentin had been adopted by a wealthy family. Yes, that was it. And the rest of the boys who had left with Lucien, maybe they, too, were taken into good homes by eager parents in the Metropolies. Living the good, privileged life, sheltered from all manner of danger. Proper schooling, career opportunities, dating and courtship, marriage, the whole bit. No losses, only wins. Not a care in the world. A loud knock came on the door, tearing Max out of his fantasy.

“Bugger!” the elder snapped through clenched teeth. It was nearly midnight. Who the hell would be visiting at this hour? Hushed groans emanated from the hall of boys across the way. Max set down his shot glass and rose up from the chair, strapping on the phase unit he kept on the ledge just in case. “Quiet,” he called. He headed for the door as Bernard stood watch over everyone. Another several knocks came, followed by furious banging. The elder closed his eyes and sparked up the phase unit. He twisted the locks on the door, cautiously reaching for the knob as his heart began to pound. In one swift motion, he swung the door open and prepared for the worst. A strong breeze splattered his face with rain as he squinted at the boy before him.

“Tomas?!” He extended his palm outward, illuminating the face of the child in a soft blue glow. Dried blood and bruises covered the length of his soaked, naked body from head to toe. The boy shivered in the cold as he cupped his genitals.

“Please let me back, Max!” the boy sobbed.

“Jesus Christ, come inside! Bernard, fetch some blankets right away!”

“I’m on it.”

The elder shut the door and led the child into his office to sit him down in the chair. Bernard returned promptly, draping a duvet and several blankets over him. Max turned up the gas lamp and set it at his feet for extra warmth and proceeded to dry the boy’s hair with a towel. As he worked his way down over Tomas’s shoulders and over his chest, the boy winced in pain.

“Careful around the burn!” he cried.

“Burn…” Max peeled the top of the blanket down to reveal a dark red, bubbling brand mark surrounded by dried blood in the shape of the letter ‘O’ on his chest. His heart began to thud in rage. “What happened? Who the hell did this to you?!”

“Dispatchers caught me with Isaac…”

“Why the hell would you fuck with Isaac?!” Max demanded. “Are you stupid?”

“Max,” Bernard shook his head. “Don’t.” The elder ignored him.

“You realize how much danger you’ve put us all in?”

“I’m sorry, I love him, okay?!” Tomas cried.

“For fuck’s sake.” Max grabbed his whiskey and poured shots for them both. “This should help ease the pain a bit. I was having a nice quiet time pretending all was well before you arrived. Lovely evening we’re having. I certainly hope your little tryst was worth it…sorry.” He handed Tomas the shot, and the boy gulped it down. “Now what happened?”

“We were having sex,” he shivered. Max rolled his eyes. “A squad of Dispatchers broke down the door and surrounded us…they took Isaac off the bed and made him watch as they held me down and branded me, then dragged him off. Afterward, they took me to the alley and threw me down, started kicking me all over…then one of them, he…” The boy started crying again.

“He did what?”

“Nothing, it doesn’t matter…I got away. Around the corner, not far,” the boy gulped. “They chased after me and I thought I’d be done for. They saw me…or they should have, I don’t know. They looked in my direction, but…it was like they didn’t see me, like I wasn’t even there. I noticed a damaged wooden crate lying out on the street that must have fallen off a truck. It was full of these pretty necklaces, so I took one.” Tomas reached under the blankets and produced a silver chain which held a pendant of a winged figure plunging his sword into a rock.

“Looks like a Dalishkova prayer amulet,” Bernard remarked, taking the object in his hand to examine the back. “Says something in Greek.”

“Give it here,” Max said. He had little experience with the language himself, though he did his best to translate. “Salt God, protect me from mine enemies…I don’t know the rest. You said you found a whole crate of these things?”

“Yeah,” Tomas shivered. “I knew I had to get away, and for a second, I imagined what it would be like if I was invisible. That’s when I found them.”

“Strange,” Max thought aloud. “It’s a good bet these are illegal. A Dalishkova presence in Cavarice would mean trouble for the Dispatchers. Did anyone see you come back here? They had to have, if you were walking naked up the street.”

The boy shook his head. “I just kept believing I wouldn’t be seen. No one bothered me.”

“The Dispatchers who did this to you, did you recognize them?”

“Antoine branded me,” Tomas whimpered. “He said I meant nothing to Isaac, that he’s been with plenty of boys. I loved him! I thought I was special!” he cried. The memory was clearly causing him more pain than whatever torture he had endured. Max knelt down and set his hands on his shoulders to comfort the boy.

“You are special, Tomas.”

“No I’m not!”

“Yes…you are. Look at me, all right? No one else can mod a phase unit like you. You taught us how to operate them, figured out how they work. When the power goes out in this place, you know how to fix it. Bernard and me, we’re not electricians. You have a brilliant mind and you know how to handle yourself in a fight. We couldn’t survive here without you.”

“I should have been stronger for Isaac, but I froze!” Tomas wept. “Why did I do that?! I never do that, I’m never afraid!”

“It happens to the best of us. Even when I was selling the parts to Mordechai this morning and Igor showed up, I didn’t know what to do. I cowered in the corner. Things happen and you’re caught off guard. It doesn’t mean you’re weak.”

“I should have killed them!” the boy snapped. “I want to kill them. Every last one of them should pay!”

“And they will,” Max assured him. “Tomorrow morning, we’ll head to the precinct. You need to make a statement about what happened-”

“Fuck the statement!” Tomas cut him off, rising from the chair. “Where’s my phase unit?! I have to go back out there and finish what I should have done!” The boy snatched his prayer amulet off the table and threw off the blankets, plodding nude toward the main hall. Max followed.

“Tomas, you’re in no condition to-”

“I don’t care!” the boy whirled around. “I have to save Isaac, if he’s even still alive. I lost the only person I love tonight! Doesn’t that matter to you?!”

“Of course it matters! But we have to be practical about this. Igor is still out there planning god-knows-what, and the last thing I need right now is to lose another boy on my watch. You matter to me too.” Several of the boys had woken up and stood behind him now, watching curiously from behind the door frame. Great, the elder thought. What is this, a mutiny?

“You’re pathetic, Max. Don’t wonder why I joined Lucien, because at least he lets me take action. Maybe that’s why I was scared. I’m too used to your leadership. Funny how you judge the upper class for what they do, yet you trust the Dispatchers to just handle everything?”

“That’s not true.”

“I don’t have time to argue,” Tomas shook his head, choking back tears. “I’m leaving.” He continued on to the back of the main boys’ hall as the elder followed with Bernard. A small metal rack sat near the fireplace at the far end to dry an assortment of clothes they’d brought back earlier from the laundromat. Tomas picked out what he needed and started getting dressed. Max weighed his next words carefully, considering all the boy had been through. Of all the places he could have chosen to go—and there were plenty—he still picked Barreau in the end over Lucien. Even if his allegiances were shaky, it was clear he preferred the familiar.

“You came here for a reason,” Max crossed his arms. “You asked to come back.”

“I know…”

“Look, I’m not going to stop you from leaving, all right? But if you do want to stay, my rule is that you get some rest tonight. Can you do that?”

“Yes. I’m sorry,” Tomas sat down to bury his face in his hands. He had managed to pull a pair of trousers halfway up his legs. Max helped him with the rest and put an arm over his bare shoulder, hugging him close. Louis snuggled up on his other side.

“It’s okay. You’ve been through enough for one day. We’ll figure everything out tomorrow, I promise.”

Several of the other boys crawled out of bed to join them in a semicircle around the fire while the storm continued to rage outside. Torrents of rain cascaded over the roof, bringing a relaxing ambience to the room. As the flames danced over the wood and Bernard brought out a few more blankets for everyone before plopping down with them, Max closed his eyes. Moments like this made it all worth it. And though none of them had any family left to speak of, it was enough they took care of their own. It was enough to honor Quentin.

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 27

“Wake up, we’re here!” Edmond shook him.

“Huh? Right, sorry.”

“You sure you’re sober enough for this?”

“Yeah, give me your canteen.” The reinstated commander gulped down a few mouthfuls of water as they got out of the car and approached the precinct. “I’ll do what I can to free Isaac. In the meantime, I want you to keep Antoine busy and don’t let him leave under any circumstances. If I have my way, he’ll be sitting in a jail cell by dawn. Any word on Tomas?”

“We have two squads out combing the streets for him,” Dimitri answered. “So far, no sign.”

“It’s a safe bet he went back to Barreau.”

“Or Lucien,” Edmond rolled his eyes. “That Riviere fellow is holed up at the corner library down there. As far as I know, he’s got no permit for it.”

“Oh, I love a good ordinance violation,” Pontius smirked.

The trio made their way through the glass doors and into the main lobby. The secretary at the front desk seemed flustered as she scribbled over her paperwork and let out continuous sighs of exasperation. Edmond strode ahead and knocked on the counter to get her attention, almost causing her to spill her coffee.

“Antoine still here?”

“Yes!” the woman snapped. “Sorry, I’m a tad swamped at the moment. Of course it doesn’t help that Isaac’s mother came by while you were gone and gave me quite the earful. We tried to get her to leave, but she’s been down at his cell screaming all manner of shit for the past half-hour! She wanted me to phone his father, which I refused to do. But Antoine graciously did it, so he should be along any minute now, which will be just dandy!”

“It’s almost ten o’clock. Denise will be here shortly to relieve you. Stick it out, all right?”

“I’m trying,” the woman huffed.

Pontius reached into his inner jacket pocket and set his reinstatement forms on the counter with his flask of scotch. He had filled it before leaving his flat just in case, but he wasn’t about to trust himself with it on the job. The young secretary eyed it and flashed him a dirty look.

“I don’t drink, you know.”

“Trust me, you need it more than I do.”

The group made their way around the front desk, meandering through a maze of cubicles, busy detectives, and other Dispatchers. Edmond peeled off and headed for Antoine’s office while Pontius walked toward the back cells with Dimitri. Muffled shouting and cries could already be heard, even from beyond the thick steel door that sealed off the holding area. A lone Dispatcher stood guard in front. By the looks of it, he was a new recruit, maybe thirteen or so. Guard duty was standard grunt work for most initiates when they weren’t out fetching coffee for everyone else. Upon seeing Pontius, the boy immediately saluted.

“At ease, soldier,” the man nodded.

“Private Arthur Batteaux at your service, sir.”

“Your face looks familiar. Batteaux…you related to Pascal, by chance?”

“He was my older brother, sir.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. He was the bravest Dispatcher I’ve ever known.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“You’ve got some big shoes to fill. Stick around awhile, maybe I’ll put you on a squad.”

“Of course, sir-”

“Enough with calling me ‘sir’. Go get yourself a coffee, huh?”

“Yes sir…I mean…sorry!”

“Forget it.” Pontius watched as the boy ran off, his face red with embarrassment. “There’s no way in hell I’m putting that kid on a squad. What is it with these rich, bourgeoisie parents, anyway? We’re not a goddamn reformatory and we’re not babysitters. Jesus, they send these kids to us before they even grow hair on their nuts anymore.”

“My parents didn’t let me join until I was fifteen,” Dimitri said, entering the code to unlock the door.

“Responsible folks. Wait, don’t open the door for a sec.”

“Why?”

“I just want to savor the low volume while I can,” the man sighed, collecting his wits before the inevitable hurricane. “All right, go ahead.”

The narrow hallway before them was an echo chamber of screams and wails emanating from the far end. The concrete and steel enclosure had been built long before the rest of the precinct and had soundproof walls, courtesy of Tesla. There were eight cells in total. Six of them could fit two occupants each, or fifteen if you didn’t care to make anyone comfortable. The remaining two at the end of the corridor were for solitary confinement. At least they’d given Isaac enough room, and had enough sense not to pair him with any other criminals. Dimitri locked the door behind them. Pontius immediately regretted giving up his flask.

“I can’t believe what a disgrace you are!” the boy’s mother shouted, rattling the bars as Isaac sobbed in the corner. “We thought joining the Dispatchers would help, all that talk of respect and honor you fed us. We were proud of you, Isaac! I thought you would complete your service, hmm? Marry a nice girl, give me beautiful grandchildren someday. I would have had your wedding all planned out, your father would have paid for it! But you ruined it with your vile sickness! YOU RUINED EVERYTHING!”

“All right, visiting hours are over, it’s time for you to leave,” Pontius said firmly. He tried to peel her off the bars, but she wouldn’t have it. Her son had curled into a fetal ball on the cold concrete floor.

“I’m not finished here!”

“Oh, I think you are.”

“Unhand me right now, or I’ll speak to your superiors!” the woman shrieked.

“And I’ll have you jailed for disorderly conduct. You’ve caused the kid enough damage for one day, he’s already been beaten to shit as you can see. You need to leave. Now!”

“He’s my only son and he’s ruined our family!”

“All due respect,” the commander twisted her arm, “but you don’t know what it’s like to lose a son. If you abandon him, it’ll be the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life and it will haunt you for the rest of your days. Him fucking the occasional boy is hardly the worst that could hap-”

She slapped him in the face and turned around to spit on her son. “You’re dead to us, Isaac!” With that, she stormed out. Dimitri paced briskly ahead of her to unlock the door, even as she hurled insults back at Pontius and muttered something about having him demoted. Not like that could happen. The man cleared his throat and knelt down next to Isaac’s cell. All was quiet in the hall now, save for the boy’s whimpering. For the longest time, neither of them knew what to say. Pontius mustered up the courage in his heart as he thought back on his son. How could he calm this boy? It was the first such instance of any Dispatcher being jailed for homosexual debauchery. He hardly knew where to start, but he tried anyway.

“Hey, try to calm down, huh? I promise we’ll get you out of here soon. It’ll be all right.”

“It’s never all right!” Isaac cried, sitting up against the wall and burying his face in his knees. “Didn’t you hear what she said? I’m disowned! I’ve nowhere to go now. I have no family, I can’t go home. I can’t go to my flat, what if they kill me next time?! And they took Tomas…oh god, they took Tomas, it’s all my fault and now I’m nothing!” he sobbed.

“You stop that!” Pontius snapped. “Just…stop, all right? We’ll get things sorted out, you’ll be fine. I’ll vouch for you and see if we can keep you on the force.”

“That’s not going to happen! And what about Tomas? He probably doesn’t want to see my face again either! Antoine told him he meant nothing to me, that I hated him and I’ve been with other boys, and it’s not true. I love him, I love him so much!”

“They’re looking for Tomas now. If we can bring him in for evidence and you testify what they did to him, Antoine’s going to be taking your place in solitary for excessive force. You have my word on that.”

“What if I’m gone from the force? Where will I live? I have nothing!” the boy sniffed. Pontius hesitated. He was no good at emotional confrontation, but the weight had already tugged on his heart enough. He had to do something, no matter how big or small. Isaac was a formidable Dispatcher, and he wasn’t about to lose any more men. Even if the boy couldn’t rejoin the force, he had to be taken care of somehow, and Barreau Orphanage was no place for him.

“With me,” Pontius said. “You’ll live with me for a while, okay bud?”

“Thank you…”

A single tear ran down the veteran’s cheek as the lights flickered.

 

*          *          *

 

“What the HELL have you done?!” Edmond roared, slamming Antoine’s office door. The teen barely flinched at his desk as he finished writing up reports for the day.

“I’ve done what is necessary to ensure the continued order and survival of the Dispatchers police force. We have been corrupted for too long, Edmond. And where corruption is permitted to thrive, it must be found and cut off for the cancer that it is. I should think you of all people would appreciate that. After all, you’re our acting leader. Or aren’t you?”

“How dare you! Isaac is our friend and one of the best bloody Dispatchers we have!”

“He is a homosexual. Such proclivities interfere with our work, especially if they involve the boys of Barreau Orphanage, who I understand possess questionable ties to a certain gang. It’s also come to my attention that you’ve permitted them use of stolen phase units sold on the black market, is that correct? I just need to include that in my report-”

“Fuck you, Antoine! You’re as much in Lucien’s pocket as the rest of us!”

“Not for long,” the boy smiled, placing his papers in the outgoing tray. “We have a real chance at reform, here. Promotions. Retirement packages, such that even Pontius could never dream of. I’m talking estates. Our own homes. Proper places to raise families, which are far from the reach of Cavarice and its political dissidents. Perhaps you’ll understand when you’re older.”

“What I understand is that you’ve betrayed one of my closest friends!” Edmond seethed, slamming his fists down on the desk. “And you, me, and Isaac know for a bloody FACT that Lucien was behind the attack on that wall!”

“When I’m the only one left with that knowledge Edmond, it’s hardly going to matter. You’ll incriminate yourself, of course. The Outlanders will fall. Igor will be hanged in public at the Metropolies Square, you will be in prison along with the Barreau boys, and Pontius will be dead. So will Lucien when the public becomes aware of who his mother is, and their misguided attempt to orchestrate a coup. After that, what do you think will happen to this city?”

“You’re insane…”

“Am I? Cavarice will burn. What you really have to ask yourself is, where do you want to be when that happens? Because it’s going to, whether or not any of us want it. Ah, here comes the good Commander Pontius now,” the boy nodded at his window as the man strode in and shoved his way past Edmond.

“What the fuck did you do?!” Pontius demanded, seizing the Antoine by his lapels.

“I’ve done what is necessary-”

“Oh, I’ll show you what’s necessary you piece of shit!” he roared, slamming the boy into a row of cabinets. “Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going in a cell since I have probable cause, and Isaac’s coming out to make a statement. Once we find Tomas, you’re finished!”

“Are you sure about that?”

Pontius tore Antoine’s coat off and unstrapped the phase unit from his wrist, shoving the boy over to Edmond. “Cuff him and get him the hell out of here!”

“With pleasure,” the lieutenant said.

“You’re making a mistake,” Antoine grinned.

“My only mistake was hiring you,” Pontius sneered.

Edmond reached for the handcuffs on his utility belt with his left hand, but by the time he realized they were missing, it was already too late. Antoine tore away from him and unstrapped his phase unit, firing two direct shots into the district commander’s chest. Pontius fell over the desk and slumped to the floor. The rogue teen delivered a sharp uppercut beneath Edmond’s chin that sent him reeling backwards before fleeing out into the main hall.

“STOP!” the lieutenant screamed, chasing after him. Time slowed down as he caught sight of Dimitri leading Isaac up the opposite way toward them to make his statement. Edmond immediately knew Antoine’s next target, yet the panic within left him paralyzed with fear. All he could do was watch in sheer terror at what happened next. The rogue teen had unsheathed a knife from his sleeve. He lunged forward and plunged the sharp blade deep into Isaac’s stomach. Once. Twice. Thrice, then a quick slash across the neck. Isaac’s face went white with shock. He looked to Edmond and dropped to his knees, clutching his throat. Fountains of blood spewed forth from the horrified boy as he gasped for air that would not come, sending crimson droplets spraying out between his tender fingers.

“NOOO!” The boy shook and fell to the floor, dead. Edmond’s heart thudded in his chest like a canon ready to explode. By the time he was able to move again, several Dispatchers had already scrambled over through the patchwork of desks to apprehend Antoine, tackling the traitor to the floor. Pontius came rushing out of the office with his phase unit drawn, but Edmond threw him back against the wall. The pulse weapon misfired and shattered the glass window of the office.

“Get off me, Jesus Christ!” Pontius yelled. “Fuck! FUCK!”

“He’s gone!” Edmond cried over the lump in his throat. “He’s dead, Pontius! My friend is dead!”

“I know! I know…” the veteran held the boy close. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…” He then tore away from the boy and charged toward Antoine in unbridled rage, dialing his phase unit to the highest setting for stun. “You piece of SHIT!” he roared as he blasted the teen with several thousand volts of pure electricity. Antoine screamed in pain and vomited while seizing violently against the wall, but Pontius fired on him twice more. Static burns tore into the boy’s flesh, melting the clothes to his skin in several places and charring the skin black. Smoke poured out of cauterized wounds, giving off a terrible stench that wafted throughout the precinct. By the time the throng of Dispatchers pulled Pontius off of him, Antoine lay motionless and unresponsive.

Edmond slumped down against the wall with his face buried in his hands. Cavarice was finished.

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 26

Pontius took a swig of gin and paced around the coffee table in his luxurious flat, the spoils of which retirement had offered. A soft jazz tune crackled out of the phonograph near the hearth, where a fire burned slow and bright. Candles were lit atop the ledge, illuminating a painting of the Beaumont, the first vessel on which he’d served as captain. The atmosphere was decidedly perfect, yet more than the young woman sitting on the couch probably deserved. He seldom ordered call girls. When he did, he was usually smashed out of his wits. Today, however, was a cause for celebration. The aging veteran had quit the force of his own accord and managed to reunite with his teenage son. However brief their meeting had been, he was satisfied. The boy was alive. That was enough for now.

“This is nice,” the woman smiled, taking in the grandeur of the moment. “Most of my clients aren’t very romantic. Usually they just throw me on the bed and get down to business. I appreciate guys who take their time, get me all warmed up.” She was a redhead, twenty-five or so. Her blue eyes, milky skin, and sultry lips reminded Pontius of Severo’s mother. Of course, her demeanor was off. Christine was a more driven and domineering figure. Call girls in the Metropolies lacked the appropriate level of bitchiness. Catty charm was more their specialty. The women in Falvarre were better, though at least her appearance was up to par.

“You don’t have to do that,” Pontius smirked, joining her on the couch to fill her glass.

“Do what?”

“Pretend you’re all impressed. I called the higher end agency for a reason. Besides, I’m pretty well-known around here.”

“I’m sorry,” the girl said, removing her black fur coat. “Most men want me to be all sweet and innocent.”

“I’m not like most men. I can spot a fake act when I see it. It’s what I was trained to do.”

“What else were you trained to do?” the girl grinned. She stroked the stubble on his face. That was enough to get him going, but he restrained himself. Intellectual conversation was better foreplay than a wandering hand any day.

“Tactical warfare was my specialty. Devising plans to eliminate threats in the most efficient ways possible. Figuring out vantage points, flushing out the most dangerous enemies. Rioters, gang leaders, political dissenters-”

“Jealous, inferior men?” the woman kissed him as he pulled her into an embrace.

“You got the idea,” Pontius smiled. The girl set down her glass of gin and pulled him down on top of her. So much for the intellectual stimulation.

“Train me, Commander,” she whispered in his ear. Just then, a knock came on the door. Pontius groaned, hoping it was just his senile neighbor Mrs. Delacroix again. The wealthy old woman frequently confused their apartment numbers. This would be the third time this week, and it seemed she was getting worse. She had already mistaken Pontius for her son on several occasions. Then again, her knocks were typically softer.

“Hold on,” the veteran sighed, leaving his woman of the night to answer. The rhythm and volume of the knocks had given way to a desperate pounding by the time he made his way over. “All right, all right, I’m coming!” he shouted, twisting the locks. He made sure to grab his cane from the corner table before opening the door in case his latest visitor had ill intentions. But it was Edmond who stood out in the hallway now, joined by Dimitri, one of their newer additions to the force. The lieutenant looked ready to pull his own hair out. “Oh Jesus, what the hell do you boys want?”

“We’ve got an urgent situation down at the precinct!” Edmond blurted out.

“Not my business hours, not my problem,” Pontius said. He went to close the door, but the young lieutenant pushed back.

“Please!” he cried.

“Edmond…It’s not…my…problem. Besides, didn’t you hear? I quit the force yesterday morning. I’m done playing games with you kids. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more important things to do tonight.”

“Oh yes, about you leaving the force,” the boy said, reaching into the inner pocket of his trench coat to produce several forms of paperwork and a gold-plated badge. “I already spoke to General Rodin about your resignation. Technically, you’re a civilian in possession of the phase unit you chose to retain, which means I could arrest you. Unless of course you sign these forms and reinstate yourself as District Commander.”

“Piss off, I don’t have time for this!”

“Isaac is sitting in a cell!” Edmond seethed. “We’re still missing four phase units from our inventory, Mayor La Cour was crucified by the press last night so I’m bending over backwards trying to find enough security detail to cover his stupid welcome gala, and to top it all off, nobody seems to have apprehended Igor. I am not in the mood to be fucked with, SIR!”

Pontius snatched the forms out of the boy’s hand and yanked him forward by the collar. “You scrawny little shit, if you make me regret this, I swear to Christ I’ll shove your prick through a meat grinder before it ever sees the insides of a woman!”

“Actually, it’s already-”

“I don’t give a shit, let me be perfectly clear! I know I’ve made my share of mistakes and I own up to them. But I’m not doing this for you or your pathetic friend, I’m doing it because I want to watch Rodin burn. And I’ll be damned if I let you sit there with your fist up your ass making any more of a mockery of the force I helped to build from the ground up!” The man let go of him and opened the door. “Get your asses inside, I’m not about to have this discussion in the hall.”

Pontius opened the door for them. A renewed sense of rage and annoyance came over him, the likes which he had not felt since the day he lost his son. Deep down, he knew that he owed the Dispatchers for his constant streak of misconduct and alcohol-related issues, but he wasn’t about to admit it. He had far too much pride. Perhaps that was the problem. The previous morning, he figured the best way to save face and avoid confrontation was to quit the force entirely.

After La Cour’s very public roasting, however, and Constance Renou’s announcement of her campaign for mayor, he was beginning to reconsider. Renou and Rodin were good friends. The more power she acquired, the more would undoubtedly be given to Rodin. Pontius still had a very uneasy feeling about Lucien Riviere concerning the events of the prior two days. If Constance had somehow managed to orchestrate a false flag operation in order to assume power, her disowned son was the perfect boy for the job. His actions could never be traced back to her. Then again, such an assumption was farfetched. He could just as easily have been working on his own to do the same. Either way, Pontius decided his skills were of better service back on the force.

“Ooh, what’s this?” the call girl giggled, eyeing Edmond and Dimitri with excitement. “We havin’ an orgy?”

“Official business, sweetheart,” Pontius sighed. “Sorry, but you gotta get lost.”

“But you got me all warmed up!”

“Really, she can stay,” Edmond defended. “We won’t be long.”

“Not a chance!” Pontius snapped. He turned off the phonograph and dug through his wallet to pay the woman extra. “Here honey, buy yourself some nice Louis Vuitton shit.”

“Fine. Thank you.” The woman huffed and put her coat back on. As she passed by the boys to see herself out, Dimitri powered on his phase unit and zapped her in the rear. She shrieked and dropped her purse. “Oh my god!” she laughed. “You boys are bad.”

“Later!” Pontius waved sarcastically. She rolled her eyes and backed out the door. The veteran smacked Dimitri upside the head.

“Ow! What, she was cute!”

“You’re a moron,” Pontius said, reaching for his glass of gin. “So Ed, what’s Isaac doing in a cell? Oh wait, let me guess. He’s a fag and the wrong person found out.”

“You knew?”

“Of course I knew, I’m not stupid. Not that I care what you do in your personal lives, as long as you boys do your job. Was never one of my rules. That’s Rodin’s thing,” he explained, taking a big gulp.

“It was Antoine. They found him in his flat in bed with Tomas, one of the Barreau boys.”

“Who’s ‘they’?”

“He took a squad of Dispatchers, but Isaac said there was another who seemed to be leading them. Tall, older gentleman with dark hair and scars on his face, spoke with an Italian accent. They branded Tomas as an Outlander and cut him loose.”

“What?!” Pontius choked on his drink.

“Antoine said something about cleaning out corruption, that-”

“No, the Italian guy,” the veteran shuddered. “Did he mention his name?”

“Just said he was the devil.”

“Fuck!” Pontius sat down, burying his face in his hands. “This is my fault. I knew Antoine was a loose cannon, I should have fired his ass a long time ago. I took him under my wing because we both had similar sentiments on the Dalishkova. He wanted his sister back, I wanted my son. But he’s always been obsessed with this idea of revenge. I tried to talk him out of it with no luck. Did my best to distance myself from him after that, made sure he wasn’t stationed at the wall. Ha. He’s got some balls to talk about corruption if he’s working with who I think he is. Playing right into the hands of the enemy and doesn’t even know it…”

“Sir?”

“Where’s Antoine now?”

“Down at the precinct, as far as I know.”

“Let’s go.”

Pontius signed the forms to reinstate himself as District Commander and gathered up his equipment. So much for a peaceful retirement. Not that anything about it had thus far been peaceful. Willful ignorance was no longer the bliss he’d hoped. There always seemed to be anomalies to chase, both literal and figurative. The ghosts of the past were every bit as daunting to eradicate as those which threatened Viktorium’s continued existence, weaving in and out of the veteran’s psyche. If he didn’t remain sharp from now on, they would always gain the upper hand. His drinking had placed the entire force in jeopardy enough times. And with his son out there doing god-knows-what, it was best to stay vigilant. No more alcohol tonight.

The precinct was only a few blocks drive from Pontius’s flat. As Edmond skirted the car in reverse and sped down the alley in good time, the old man felt his stomach churn. The wind whipping through his hair dredged up old memories of the Workers’ Rebellion just before DuPont was ousted. Chasing down anomalies while flushing out rioters in the underground tunnels had not been easy, nor had his job of exiling the Outlanders gang. All of it had been orchestrated by Marco Corcini, Viktorium’s Minister of Defense. Once it was discovered he had ties to a rogue group known as the Cult of Archaides, however, he was remanded to the Dalishkova and banished to the Earth frequency. If it was true that he’d somehow returned, Cavarice was doomed.

Thoughts crowded the mind of the aging veteran as he began to doze off. Thoughts of his son, thoughts of his actions in the past. There was more to regret than the loss of Severo. Rounding up rioters was bad enough, but what they’d done to the Outlanders by order of Corcini was something he would never forgive himself for. Every time he closed his eyes at night, he could hear their screams. The heat of the iron, the looks on their faces as they were branded one by one, the stench of burnt human flesh. At least two of the youngest died from shock. And yet something about Igor…the boy did not flinch. In fact, he had smiled. That evil grin haunted Pontius, too. I’ll get you, chicken.

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 25

When he came to, he found himself lying on an uncomfortably firm mattress beneath a layer of torn cotton sheets. Wire springs dug into his back in several places, shielded from full impact only by shreds of tarp. A small gas lamp sat on the end table beside the bed. Several books and other reading materials surrounded it. Among the pile was a copy of Moby Dick, Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season In Hell, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, Journey To The Center Of The Earth, and three issues of the Viktorium Free Press, all dated 1912.

Upon closer examination of the room, the boy realized he must be in a bunker of some sort. It was constructed mainly of concrete, with steel columns and various reinforcements placed on the walls throughout. His bed was positioned next to the left wall on an assortment of metal grating, beyond which lay a sandstone floor. Tattered rugs and clothing were strewn throughout. Beyond that, the bedroom itself was more of a crude structure outlined with metal beams; no glass or stone enclosed it.

The boy listened for any signs of activity in the distance. Given that someone had obviously been kind enough to bring him here for shelter out of the storm, he saw no reason to be suspicious of their motives. And yet somehow, he recalled having heard enough horror stories to put him on edge. The fact that Frankenstein was among their choice of reading material certainly didn’t help matters. Still, he felt that whoever it was deserved the benefit of the doubt. He peeled the covers off him and sat up in the bed, somewhat startled at one of the springs as it dug into his tailbone. He carefully elevated his body to avoid any further surprises and hopped down over the edge, where the cold of the metal grate sent a shiver up his legs.

“Shit,” he clenched his teeth. Migraine. “Where am I?” He took a step forward, only to discover yet another surprise. A projection of blue light suddenly shot out from the other end of his bed, displaying a garbled holographic message across the length of the floor. The boy froze in awe at the three-dimensional creatures now pacing about on the grid, picking at what appeared to be dots of bread crumbs as they clucked and flapped their wiry feathers about. “Chickens?” A static audio message soon began to play from a large speaker positioned at the far corner. Another projection then came into focus of what looked like a small child crying as he cradled a dead hen in his arms.

“I’m so sorry…Henrietta…” he whimpered. The message continued playing on a loop from that point over and over. “I’m so sorry…Henrietta…Father made me do it…why–I’m so sorry…Henrietta…” That voice. Something about it seemed eerily familiar to the boy, and yet he could not place it for the life of him. The projection kept skipping to and fro across the grid as it repeated. “I’m so sorry…Henrietta…”

“Chickens,” the boy whispered again. He stepped over to the corner nearest the speaker to listen more closely as the projection continued, hoping to find some clarity. When he approached the image of the child in question, he realized he knew that face from somewhere too…another thing he recalled from the past. But why did it elude him so? “I know you…I know I remember you!” What is your name? The pain from his headache pulsed through his temples.

“Ah good, you’re awake,” a raspy male voice spoke from the doorway.

“Fuck!” The boy backed away in fright. He had been so focused on the hologram that he’d tuned out all other noise.

“Sorry. Wrong projection,” the young teen sighed, kneeling down to switch off the hologram. The boy gazed curiously up at the one who had saved his life. He looked approximately fifteen years of age with a slight frame and tanned complexion. His curly ash blond hair was held back a bit by a pair of dark goggles, below which sat the greenest eyes the boy had ever seen. His face was dirty and a tad cherubic. A sheen of sweat covered the teen’s soft chest, which dripped down to soak the top half of his undershirt. Suspenders hung loosely off his dark brown trousers. “I thought you could use something to eat,” he said, handing the boy a bowl of steaming hot soup.

“I’m sorry, what’s your name? And what is this place…” He reluctantly took the bowl and sat against the edge of the bed where he surveyed the room again, very much confused.

“What’s in a name?” the teen spoke. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

“Is that supposed to be a joke?”

“Perhaps,” the teen smirked. “Been passing the time with a bit of Shakespeare. Also a way of saying that my name shouldn’t really matter. I saved your life, yeah?”

“Yes, but-”

“That’s all you really need to know. As for this place…it’s Outpost 426. It was built by the Dalishkova some time ago as a sort of observatory, from what I can tell. I repurposed it into my home base of sorts. Welcome to Enverniam. You made it! Not many people do.”

“Enverniam? I don’t understand.”

“Eat your soup,” the teen insisted. “You’ll need it for your strength. Sorry if the meat is a bit tough. The fish in the water here can be a bit carnivorous, but they’re packed with protein and vitamins. You’re damn lucky they didn’t start chomping on you.”

The boy chanced a spoonful of soup. The meat was indeed harder than any fish he was used to, and yet it didn’t taste entirely unpleasant. As for the stew itself, it seemed rather bland, though he was in no position to complain. After all, who knew what would happen if he’d been left out in the elements to perish? Perish, he shuddered. The thought had occurred to him. Why else would he remember nothing of the situation which brought him to this strange land? Enverniam…curious. He could not recall having ever heard that name. What is your name?

“The boy in the hologram…who was he?”

“You ask so many questions!” the teen smirked. “All right. I suppose I should start with the purpose of this place. From poring over the records, it seems it was constructed as a sort of neutral zone for Dispatchers and Dalishkova to work together. See back in the early days, DuPont’s technology wasn’t perfect. His first machine for transferring souls to Cavarice was the Viktoria I, which as we all know, malfunctioned. There was a small chance they ended up here in Enverniam.”

“I still don’t know what that has to do with-

“Hush, I’m getting to that part,” the teen assured him. “Earth is one frequency of reality, right? Viktorium is another. All these different dimensions are stacked on top of each other with identical topography, but in varying states of condition. Enverniam is just one in a whole handful of unexplored territories. If you leave one, you’ll end up on another. Before DuPont and Tesla attached their little gadget onto the Eiffel Tower, the intention was that if a soul got rerouted here, they would be brought to this outpost. The holograms are memories meant to reacquaint the soul with their former life…mine is still stored on the machine.”

“You’re the boy in the hologram!”

“More or less,” the teen explained. “The manner in which I got here was, shall we say…complicated.”

“And my memories…they’re stored on that thing too?”

“Ever the curious one, aren’t you?” the teen giggled, tousling the boy’s hair. “Shut up and eat your soup. You’ll need a full stomach for what’s to come. Trust me, chicken.”

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 24

What is your name? The boy awoke unto darkness with a burning question in mind as the black tide rose and fell around him, enveloping his frail body. Every moment the cold water rushed up through his shirt to caress his chest, he shivered. But it was not the temperature that bothered him. It was the voice which spoke the question. An angry voice, one carried on the winds throughout this cold, infernal place. It cut to the deepest core of his being and choked the air clean from his lungs with every wax and every wane. So cold. So dark. Molten ash dug into his soft, tender cheek. He hesitated to open his eyes for fear of what he might behold. The scents of the shore on which he rested were that of sulfur and coal mixed with a distant fire. There was no fresh aroma of sea salt, as he would have expected.

“Oil,” he gagged, propping himself up onto his elbows. Cold, black oil. He crawled up a bit further and vomited out what had accumulated in his throat from the rushing tides and opened his eyes. All was quiet and dark, save for distant thunder and the occasional flash of lightning just over the horizon. A dull, gray fog surrounded the beach. What is your name? He rolled over onto his back, allowing the frigid water to lap eagerly between his toes as he took the shallowest of breaths. The night sky above was overcast in a layer of thick clouds, though it was impossible to tell whether it was a result of the storm or a raging fire from afar. Had he been lost at sea and thrown overboard? Strange.

Something compelled him to crawl farther up the beach to seek shelter. No matter where he had come from, survival was certainly paramount. The boy pushed upward with all of his might, weak as he was, and stumbled to his feet. The trousers he wore fell loose off his tiny frame at first, but he pulled them back over his rear and continued across the surf. Lightning seemed the only source of illumination. He watched the strikes a few moments before resolving it best to travel in their direction. If he’d had a reliable source of fire, he’d have soaked a piece of fabric in the oil to form a torch, but as there were no sticks lying about, it was impractical. That aside, he found it curious that the bolts appeared to be concentrated on a single epicenter past the rock-laden hill overlooking the beach. He had to find out what it was.

Pain racked the boy’s legs with every step. The cool squish of wet ash beneath his feet provided the barest of comfort, even as he shivered. His soaked clothing clung cold to him like something of a second skin, equally as much a prison as a source of protection from the elements. Falling to all fours again once he’d reached the hill, he ascended upward, all the while plagued by a burgeoning sense of fear. The question struck his mind over and over again with every flash of white that tore across the heavens. What is your name?

He rose up again when the ground grew level enough to traverse by foot alone. The air now seemed to have grown warmer in tone, a marked contrast from the calm breeze sweeping over the shores below. The child removed his wet jacket and undershirt to drape them over a nearby rock. Hopefully they would be dry by the time he returned—if he returned. At the very least, it served as a marker to retrace his steps, should he need to.

The sharp strikes of light increased in frequency as he drew nearer to the top. Frayed strings pulsed downward, followed by a drizzle of rain. They almost took on a personality of their own, speaking a language the boy might understand if only he knew the answer to that one elusive question. What is your name? Closer and closer he drew, until at long last he reached the summit of the hill. Warmth streamed down his face in the form of tears…or perhaps sweat. He could not be sure, and yet the first taste of salt was a welcome transition from the oil and ash clouding his lungs. But what he saw next frightened him.

In the valley below stood the bleak remnants of a forest, charred black as night. And there in the epicenter where the lightning continued to strike was a magnificent tower constructed of wrought iron in a latticework pattern. But it was not just any tower. This structure was quite familiar, and unlike most, it had a name that was easily recalled by all who recognized it—the Eiffel Tower. I said…what is your name?!

A final bright flash rocketed down through the spire, generating a loud audible crack that shook the ground beneath the heaving boy.

He blacked out.

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 23

Severo froze. Every instinct of training within him told the young knight not to answer, though the homesick child somewhere deep inside was begging him to. He had buried that side of himself years ago out of necessity. And yet something about that man’s voice brought it all screaming back to the surface like the false-fleshed body which had served as his corpse. He had done his best to avoid such feelings on the night of the attack, but he knew it would only be a matter of time before his father managed to track him down. Pontius.

“You are my son…are you not?”

Shit. There was no avoiding it now. Sure, he could put up a psychic barrier between them to make his father believe he wasn’t there, but that would be far more effort than it was worth. As it was, the man had lived with a substantial guilt over losing him all those years ago in Helias. Perhaps that was the weight Severo felt in his chest now. His father’s feeling…so much pain. So much anger and sorrow. So much love for his son. Tears streamed down the boy’s face, though he refused to budge.

“I am,” he answered. His heart thudded furiously in his chest.

“What the hell happened, Sev?”

“I did what I had to do,” the boy breathed. “I’m sorry I hurt you, but you had to let me go. It wasn’t safe for you-”

“Bullshit! Look at me,” Pontius cut him off. The knight hesitated. “Turn around Severo, and look at me! Don’t you dare shut me out. You used to do that when you were a kid. I won’t have it. Not now.”

“I don’t know why you think I feel ANYTHING for you!” the boy snapped, facing his father. “You never knew when to let go, even after I died! That day on the beach, when you took a picture of me holding the trout. I saw you in the distance with your camera, and though your face was hidden, I knew it was you. I could have had you thrown in prison.”

“Everyone called me insane when I told them you were still alive. Everyone! So what, am I supposed to be grateful-”

“Yes!”

“Goddamn, they’ve done quite a number on you.”

“Perhaps I’m not your son.” Severo clenched his teeth as he felt his lower lip begin to tremble. “Maybe he really did drown and wash up on the beach that day.”

“No,” Pontius shook his head. “I can’t accept that. I won’t! I saw you on the Cassius, and we were…we were heading home,” the man choked through his tears. “I was going to bring you home, Sev!”

“Don’t you understand? I was home. I made my choice, and it wasn’t you…I’m sorry.”

Pontius bit his lip and looked nervously about the room, avoiding his son’s stone cold gaze. Severo did not feel he owed the man anything. He was Dalishkova now, through and through, and his father was branded a permanent enemy of Helias. For years, Pontius had completely cut him off from his mother and denied him of his true purpose. He had kidnapped him and brought him to live in Cavarice, where life was miserable and devoid of freedom. Anyone who spoke out against the city’s oligarchy faced imprisonment or death. And while the Dalishkova in Helias were certainly strict, it was nowhere near as bad as living beneath the constant smokescreen of Viktorium’s capital city.

“At least tell me what you’re doing here, huh?” Pontius sighed.

“I’m on a mission. That’s all I can tell you. Don’t worry, I won’t get in your way.”

“I’ll try to stay clear too,” the man nodded. “How’s the training going?”

“I’ve completed Five of the Seven Trials. After this, I’ll be returning to Helias for the final Two.”

“Impressive,” his father raised an eyebrow. “I know those aren’t easy for initiates.”

“They are difficult, but…I’ve so far been at the top of my class.” Severo relented as a sudden sympathetic feeling began to overcome him. This was a man who, despite his many faults, clearly loved his son. Perhaps it was time to put the past away.

“Good…that’s great,” Pontius smiled. “I’m proud of you. I mean that.” The two again avoided looking one another in the eye, perhaps out of fear of what they might find if they did. The gravitational pull in Severo’s chest created such a feeling of tension, he wished he could slice it with a sword. Still, he knew that even once they had both left this room, they would each carry a piece of it with them, a sense of connection and longing to continue their relationship from the moment of lost time in which they’d abandoned it. “Well hey, I should probably leave you to it,” the former district commander said, moving for the door.

“Pontius!” Severo stopped him. The knight immediately realized he sounded a bit more desperate than he’d intended, but at least his father turned back. “Just…take care of yourself, all right?”

His father beamed. “You too, kid.”

“Maybe when this is all over…”

“Yeah…tell you what, you complete those Seven Trials, and I’ll buy you a drink.”

“Deal,” the boy grinned.

He threw up a psychic wall to render himself invisible from his father’s field of vision, though stayed just long enough to watch the man leave. Pontius had earned one final good memory of his son. That smile, Severo knew, would carry him through and become a source of refuge, of true belief that the prayer amulet could never have provided. For gone, now, was the pervasive sense of gravity in the knight’s chest. He surveyed the room one final time, secure in the knowledge of what to do next.

“Don’t worry, Igor,” he whispered. “It’s almost time to rest.”

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