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.”


“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.



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…”


“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.


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.”



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.



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-”


“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.”



Night Of The Wolf – Part 22

The upper room was awash in the glow of dim candlelight. He stood at the end of the bed aside a circle of men in black robes whose faces he did not recognize, their expressions listless. Outside, a thunderstorm was raging and rain battered the windows. A blonde priestess at the head of the bed was reciting passages from a book of Dalishkova verses, while the middle-aged man next to Severo held up a sacrificial dagger. And there, naked and chained to the mattress writhing in agony, lay none other than Igor. He was covered in bleeding lacerations from head to toe. A prayer amulet dangled around his neck.

“Please make it stop,” the boy whimpered. “Please…no more…”

It was then that the young knight noticed the two figures on either side of him were women, holding up bowls of a steaming viscous white liquid which they then began to massage over his body to heal the wounds. Their touch had a paralytic effect on the boy, who ceased movement until the two men positioned aside the priestess brandished knives and started to slice more horizontal cuts into his tender arms. The process of torture was almost rhythmic in nature. At the beginning of each cadence uttered by the priestess, the women would massage him, and at the end, the young men would place another cut. It took several more moments of overhearing the verses before the knight at last realized what he was witnessing.

“An extraction rite!” he gasped. “I knew it.”

Severo recalled having read about the practice during his free time in the temple library. The ceremony in question was an ancient Dalishkova ritual designed to slowly release the living soul from its physical body without outright destroying either. It was forbidden by the Order. The purpose of such torture, which ran the gamut of all human senses and emotions—pleasure, pain, anger, sadness, fear, and every other—was to bring the subject into a state of such high euphoria that the soul would depart to Enverniam, and the physical incarnation left behind could then be manipulated in whatever manner was seen fit by the head priest or priestess. In effect, it turned the victim into a pawn.

During the first stage, the subject was isolated and deprived of food and most basic human necessities in order to evoke a feeling of powerlessness, thus purging them of all positive energy. The second stage was one of hope, offering the illusion of a way out. The subject was paired with a companion who would provide emotional support and offer stories of redemption and a desire of closeness. Such a bond was permitted to continue until affection was inevitably expressed between both parties.

The third stage was a return to isolation, this time adding methods of sensory deprivation. Light and sound were completely cut off or otherwise restricted to short periods. Fear and anger were also induced at that point. Sounds of screaming and crying were filtered into their cell. The subject would be told their companion was being punished for crimes they had committed. Naturally, they would want to save their newfound friend, and so would consent to undergo the punishment in their stead.

The fourth stage was the beginning of pain. It was simple at first. Sessions during which the body was cut and battered while limbs were bound were interspersed with short, rapid recovery periods offset by intensive healing remedies. At the end, they were reunited with their companion whilst remaining in isolation. Being that the cell was typically cold and the subjects were stripped of their clothes, they would cuddle up for warmth, often leading to sexual activity. The companion was removed the following day. Anger and hostility ensued.

Torture was resumed at the fifth stage with a marked increase in severity. Cuts and battering were more frequent, and bones were often broken. Sections of skin were excised. The subject was read healing verses and permitted to rest. Ritual sexual abuse was added into the mix at that point, with utterances of their fallen companion’s name to taunt them. Next came the amputation of lesser parts that the subject could survive without. Fingers, toes, ears…external genitalia.

In the final stage, the soul was fully extracted by way of death. The physical body, having been consistently repaired by the use of false flesh, could then survive on its own as a separate entity—highly prone to various levels of suggestion, depending on how much of their mind remained intact. But without the guiding force of a Sculptor, the flesh could in time turn parasitic, feeding on the brain of the host organism until they went insane and destroyed everything in their wake. Such documented situations had been a direct cause of the Flesh Wars.

Severo watched the sheer horrifying precision of the extraction rite up to its ultimate conclusion. Igor was continuously cut and bruised, then healed. The women massaging his body began to kiss him all over, after which the men would beat and taunt him. One of them sliced off a portion of his ear. His penis was amputated, releasing a gush of blood that squirted out onto the bed sheets. The inhuman screams that followed drowned out the priestess and echoed off the chamber walls, but she uttered her verses louder. All the while, the beating and slicing continued. Everyone in the group began to chant when she neared the final incantation. The two men nearest Severo then climbed up onto the mattress with their daggers at the ready. When the boy writhed in his last fatal cry, they plunged their ritual instruments deep into his heart, ending his life.

The young knight closed his eyes as the room fell deathly silent. He could bear no more. And yet the flickering candlelight did not cease. He had expected that by now, the shadow would be finished with him. But the gravity had not yet left his chest. No, he thought. A rush of panic surged through him as the momentary fear that he might be stuck in this vision forever took root. After all, as his superior had said, it was possible for a Dalishkova to get lost in such travels without the grounding influence of his prayer amulet. He took a deep breath and reconsidered the possibility he might be wrong. Perhaps there was more to see. Severo opened his eyes, but the room was empty. The light, however, came from the glow of a lantern. Then he heard a familiar voice behind him.

“Thought I might find you here.”



Night Of The Wolf – Part 19

“I’m telling you, he knows too much!” Max raged. “About the tunnel, about the Outlanders, Quentin, everything. Every word that came out of the bastard’s mouth was like he was accusing us of something!”

The young elder had been pacing back and forth in the office for the last twenty minutes, trying to convince Lucien and Bernard that the journalist he’d shared drinks with the previous night was a major threat to them all. Lucien kept smirking in that stupid way of his while Bernard crossed his arms and huffed. But no matter how much Max tried to make his point, neither of them seemed to believe him.

“Would you relax?” Lucien chuckled. “Benoit Laurent is nothing more than a bloody hack, and everyone hates him. The Dispatchers even have a price on his head. You really think he’d go running to tell them anything we’ve done?”

“If it clears his name, I wouldn’t put it past him!”

“Not that I agree with Lucien,” Bernard sighed, “but he’s right. They would have done something by now. Edmond knew about the stolen phase unit Tomas had after his visit yesterday. He barely said a word about it.”

“That was before the attack on the wall. If they’re running inventory of these parts, sooner or later they’re going to question where we got them and come after us. And for some reason, Igor didn’t take the ones we stole, which throws a pretty heavy wrench in things!”

“Seriously?” Lucien’s eyes widened. Max rushed out the open door, grabbing the old potato sack full of stolen wares from the boys’ hall and returned promptly. He dumped the three phase units onto the counter and flung the bag on the floor.

“Any further questions?”

“What specifically did Benoit say to you?”

Max sighed. “The official story on record is that we were kidnapped and held hostage by the Outlanders. He deduced that the only way any of us could have been taken was if we were in some way using the subway tunnel in the old Steamworks building.”

“Or we could just be using the building itself,” Bernard added.

“Either way, we’re not supposed to be there.”

“Doesn’t matter. The blame falls on the Dispatchers for not having sealed the tunnel,” Lucien said. “Besides, one of our poor, helpless children could have escaped and gotten hurt on the tracks. Prime material for a lawsuit.”

“You have an answer for everything, don’t you?”

“Shouldn’t I? What answers did you give him, Maxwell!” the lanky boy shoved him.

“Nothing he didn’t already know. How many phase units did you give to Igor?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“How many phase units, Lucien!” Max seethed. “You must have given them something, otherwise how else did they manage to blow a giant fucking hole in the city wall?!”

“All right, can we not do this now?” Bernard sighed, stepping between them. “We all agreed Barreau is neutral territory. This office is for diplomatic resolutions, not wrestling matches.”

Max narrowed his eyes. “And what about the ten phase units that went missing from the precinct? Antoine thought we had one in our possession last night,” he said, pushing past Bernard. “Sure, it could have been anyone. But why accuse us? He named you specifically.”

“Hello!” Bernard grinned, gesturing wildly to the three phase units left on the counter. “Seems you’ve forgotten our more pressing matter.”

The two boys glared at him a second, incredulous that there could be anything more important than their current spat. Max was just about to concede until a furious banging sounded on the front door. All three of them jumped out of their skin and looked at one another. Lucien rushed to the window and tore back the curtain to see who was there.

“It’s Edmond,” he smirked. “I’m out, au revoir, have fun!” The insufferable boy dashed out the open office door to make a clean break for the back exit past the staircase before either of the elders could catch him.

“This isn’t over!” Max yelled, charging after the lanky bastard, only to have the door slammed in his face. “Goddamn it! Bernard, lock the back door. Now!” He whirled around and tossed his key ring over to his second-in-command as he passed by him, making way for the boys’ hall. “Hide our shit, the Dispatchers are here!” Every child in the room immediately dropped what they were doing and scrambled to gather up their stolen wares. An assortment of old rugs they kept placed strategically about the floor were thrown back to reveal trapdoors which served as storage spaces. In a matter of seconds, phase units, badges, trench coats, radios, and other Dispatcher gear were being shoved into them amid a cacophony of anxious voices.

“Fuck!” Max rushed back to the office, nearly forgetting about the three phase units he’d dumped onto the counter as the banging on the front door continued. “Please, just one bloody second,” he cried. Tears streamed down his face as he loaded the things back into the potato sack. Stupid. The elder was not one to cry under tense circumstances, but considering that everything seemed to be going to shit lately, such involuntary responses must have got the better of him. He swiped the tears with his sleeve and rushed back to the hall, clamoring to fit the bag into the space before Bernard answered the door. The rest of the boys kicked the rugs back into place and returned to stand at attention in front of their beds. Max heard Edmond’s team charge in before he’d even had the chance to turn around.

“Ah, Ferrier!” the lieutenant chimed. “You just can’t stop showing up on my radar, can you?”

Max scowled. “Believe me, it’s not as if I try.”

“House calls aren’t a pleasant experience for either of us,” Edmond sighed. “I prefer to avoid them when I can. But given recent events, I’m sure you understand the necessity.”

“What I understand is that one of my boys is dead and Lucien is off founding his own orphanage at the corner library up the street! Why don’t you go give him a house call? You’re wasting your time here. We have nothing to hide.”

“Is that so?” the lieutenant narrowed his eyes. “We found Quentin hiding away in the crawl space of your room just the other day-”

“Don’t you dare speak his name!” Max seethed.

“Of course. Forgive me,” Edmond said. “All the same…we were missing ten of our phase units from inventory the other night, for a total of thirteen. Three were confiscated that morning from myself, Captain Georges, and Isaac here by the Outlanders. Some were undoubtedly used to construct the bomb they used to break in, and we managed to retrieve four from the gang members we killed. Judging by the blast radius on the wall, we estimate that five units were detonated at maximum capacity. That leaves-”

“Four. I can do the math.” The elder shuddered. Three of those lay under his very feet, which meant all the missing units were accounted for…except one. Where the hell could it be? Not that it mattered much. Max was certain they didn’t have it, unless Lucien in all of his craftiness had somehow managed to smuggle it onto the property—of course, he wouldn’t have put it past his former friend.

“Look, I don’t mean to place you under suspicion-”

“That’s exactly what you mean,” Max sniffed, wiping his nose. It was still stuffy from the tears.

“You have obviously acquired older models of phase units before,” the lieutenant stepped toward him. “I’ve no idea how you managed it, but I’m sure you’re well aware that the possession of such equipment is illegal for civilians. We have come across a few units being sold in back room black market deals during previous investigations-”


“I’ve resolved to look the other way for as long as I can. The Barreau District is a dangerous place, and out of principle, I must allow you some form of protection. I’ll spare you a search for now, but those units must be tracked. Given my generosity…I trust you’ll keep the settings low and report to me all serial numbers of any units that may pass into your hands. Can you do that?”

“Yes…of course,” Max swallowed. “We have two older models currently in our possession,” he said, nervously making his way over to a shelving unit aside one of the stone support columns. He rummaged across an assortment of old radio parts and picked it out from behind a pile of books. “This is the one we were caught with last night. Florian gave it to me and then ran off. I’m guessing he’s with Lucien now, but who knows.” He watched Edmond pull out a pad and paper. “This is number…006374.”

“And the other?”

“Tomas has that one, he’s always tinkering with it,” the elder sighed. “Tomas…Tomas?” Max gazed over the faces of the boys under his watch, who all seemed to be making bewildered glances at one another. He frantically checked the ranks, but the child was not amongst them. “Shit! Any of you know where Tomas is?! Anybody!” They all shook their heads.

“Oh, I believe I might have some idea,” Bernard cringed through clenched teeth.

“Well let’s hear it!” Max demanded.

“Private affairs of a…certain nature.”


“That thing he does every morning when he crawls-”

“Oh! Right…let’s not embarrass anyone.” Max felt a cold sweat come over him as he looked again to the boys, some of whom hung their heads a bit lower than usual to hide the flush of red on their cheeks. For one consecutive week during the summer, he recalled coming downstairs to wake everyone up and noticed a rhythmic movement beneath the sheets of a different boy’s bed each morning, after which Tomas would emerge and slink back to his own mattress. He had been performing oral sex on several of them for some time. In an orphanage of hormonal kids, Max figured it was bound to happen now and again. Out of respect for their privacy, he would whistle quietly and wait a few moments until they’d finished their business before ringing the bell. But where most were content to talk about girls and exchange dirty magazines, Tomas seemed strictly more interested in males.

“If you have the serial number, that’s all I need,” Edmond assured him.

“Anyone remember that stupid number?” the elder asked.

“I do,” a shy, red-headed boy named Louis said. “It’s 006981.”

“Thank you,” Edmond nodded.

“Wonder how he remembers those two middle numbers,” one of the older boys smirked. Max slapped him. “Ow!”

“Shut up.”

“Well then,” Edmond coughed, “seeing as this was just a routine visit, and you’ve provided the information I needed, I see no reason to bother you any further. We will of course be increasing security detail in this district over the coming days up until the gala celebrations. If I deem it necessary to conduct a more thorough search, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, you may want to keep an eye on your own ‘inventory’,” he nodded toward the boys. “I wouldn’t want you to lose another.”

Max frowned. “You’re so charming.”

“So I’ve been told. Cheerio,” the lieutenant said. He moved for the doorway, but stopped short. “Oh, one last matter I think should be brought to your attention. Your Outlander boy who was killed-”

“Quentin,” Max corrected him.

“Yes…a blind elderly gentleman came by the precinct earlier claiming to be his grandfather. We released the body to him.”


“You said you didn’t want it, so I saw no harm in doing so, and since family takes priority in such matters, I thought you deserved to know.”

“He doesn’t have any family, why do you think he was staying at Barreau? There were no surviving relatives listed on his citizenship papers! Or didn’t you bother to do your job?”

“I would not normally disclose this information, but standard Dispatcher procedure is incineration of any deceased bodies that come into our custody, whether they are released to proper relatives or not. His name is Fernand Vaugrenard if you’d care to look him up, perhaps pay a visit.”

“Thank you, I will,” Max breathed.

“Good. Well I’ve got to be going, so I’ll get out of your hair. Enjoy the rest of your day.”

With that, Bernard led the young lieutenant out the front door and promptly locked it behind him. As Max watched the rest of the boys disband to resume their daily leisure activities, he couldn’t help but feel overcome with a strong sense of loneliness. There was a certain finality to the knowledge that Quentin was now truly gone. So long as his body remained, he’d thought, perhaps there might be some way in Viktorium to…no. That’s silly. People die here, just as they do in the real world. That night was proof.

And yet if there were any truth to Benoit Laurent’s articles, which—considering the man’s remarkable knowledge, there had to be—maybe, just maybe, it was possible that some part of Quentin was still alive somewhere. Max had also observed that he was among one of the few in Viktorium who aged. Bernard didn’t seem to, and neither did most of the orphan boys. But all of the Dispatchers aged normally. In fact, he couldn’t recall a single Dispatcher on the force who appeared immortal. I still can’t remember my own death…if Quentin were to come back, would he remember his?

Max shivered and did his best to shake such questions from his mind. Unable to do so, he paced back to his office and dug out the bottle of whiskey he kept stashed in the bottom drawer of his desk for such occasions. Bernard came through the door a second later and grabbed two shot glasses from the corner shelf.

“Read my mind,” the African boy smiled. “That was pretty close.”

“Yeah,” Max smirked.

“So they released Quentin’s body. That was pretty damn quick.”

“And unauthorized, as far as I can tell.” He tore open the center drawer of the desk and slapped the dead boy’s citizenship documents down to look over them again. “Yeah…not a single living relative listed. No mention of a Fernand Vaugrenard anywhere.”

“Must be a new arrival,” Bernard winced as he downed his shot. “Damn.”

“I’ll look into it later. No time to head to Immigration Affairs now. We’ve got preparations to make for La Cour’s welcome gala. It’s being moved to Verdevale, which means we’ll need all hands on deck. That also means smoothing things over with Lucien, yet again,” Max rolled his eyes and downed another shot. “Where the bloody hell is Tomas?!”



Night Of The Wolf – Part 18

Antoine Sartre sat in his usual dark, lonely corner of The Green Fairy, a local dive bar on the outskirts of the Metropolies District, sipping his usual brand of cheap, watered-down absinthe. The past week seemed to have changed his life for the worst, and even more so after the attack on the wall two nights prior. He had suspected for some time that corruption ran rampant throughout the ranks of his fellow Dispatchers, but being sent on shakedown assignments through a middleman by a mysterious operative who called himself ‘The Wolf’ was not his idea of justice.

“Justice,” the brown-haired, crew-cut boy muttered. It was the entire reason he’d defied his parents to join the now defunct Dispatchers Training Programme at the tender age of thirteen. Justice for his sister Isabelle, justice for Severo, justice for all the lost children who had wound up missing because of those Dalishkova scum. Back then of course, he had been quite the bullheaded child. His life up until now was one motivated by revenge. His father always said he required a certain modicum of restraint, and for good reason.

Antoine’s walls had been covered with reports of missing children, case files from the investigation into both his sister’s disappearance as well as that of Severo. He had grown obsessed with finding out what happened to them. But now with the reappearance of a boy two nights ago who fit Severo’s description, it seemed he had the answer he’d most feared all along—the Dalishkova were a cult who needed to be exterminated by any means necessary. And Edmond’s willingness to look the other way after seeing his old friend would put the entire force in jeopardy, which made him an enemy of the state. His new benefactor seemed to agree.

Five nights ago, Antoine, while sloshed out of his wits, had been approached outside the bar by a balding man in his mid-forties who volunteered information on alleged Dalishkova agents infiltrating the political ranks of high officials in Cavarice. If it were true, it gave them the power to influence Dispatcher operations throughout the city, placing them all at risk. The culling, he’d explained, was to begin with bringing to justice any Dispatchers who might be sympathetic to the Dalishkova cause. In exchange, Antoine would be well compensated for his loyalty and receive a promotion at the end of his quarterly term.

The eighteen year-old took a hit off his cigar, then another sip of his drink as he listened to Andre Casanov spewing another round of useless drivel over the airwaves from the corner radio. In all honesty, he hated this bar and most of its working class patrons, but the quiet, shadowy atmosphere was a nice comfort away from his usual duties. It also unfortunately happened to be the middleman’s preferred meeting place. He checked his pocket watch again. Any minute now, the portly old fellow would stroll through the back entrance and take a seat across from him, slide him an envelope, and be on his way. Sure enough at exactly twelve noon, the bell clanged on the door and in he came.

“Hey,” Antoine greeted the well-dressed man as he plopped down on the green leather, ejecting a hiss of air from a cut in the cushion. The boy stifled a laugh, but the gentleman eyed him sternly without saying a word. He set his briefcase in his lap and tossed an envelope on the table, just as expected. This time, he didn’t leave right away. Antoine went to grab the paper, but the man slammed a hand on it to stop him. “What the hell?”

“Boss knows you’re not going to like this, but he trusts you to get the job done. The payment he’s offering is generous. You’re going to have to earn your keep this time.”

“I fuckin’ earned it last night!”

The man snatched the envelope back. “The Barreau boys were in your custody. You should have kept it that way. Anyone against us is a traitor to Cavarice. From now on, you get half with the assignment, and the rest when you’ve completed your mission. Understood?”

“Fine,” Antoine clenched his teeth. “But you know I must respect the hierarchy, lest we raise suspicion. Unless you’ve got any convenient ways to dissolve that and grant me a more immediate promotion, I’m still bound by certain rules.”

“Then consider this your promotion,” the man smirked, releasing the envelope and sliding out of the booth. “By the way…The Wolf himself will be accompanying you this time, along with Solomon. Try to make a good impression, kid.”

“Shit.” Antoine closed his eyes and swallowed the lump in his throat, waiting for the man to exit before tearing open the envelope. He gulped down the rest of his absinthe to prepare himself for its contents. Not as if there was any such thing as being prepared these days. Screw it. He checked around the bar to be sure none of the usual nosey patrons were skulking about. Andre Casanov’s grating voice continued with his broadcast, so the Dispatcher leaned over and turned the dial to more favorable station that played mellow jazz. Fitting enough.

He stuck the cigar back in his mouth and carefully emptied out the contents to look over the report. His heart began to thud deep in his chest when he saw the photograph of his next target. A cold sweat overcame him, along with the sudden urge to vomit. This would be a promotion all right. No wonder they’d upped his pay grade. He shivered and flipped the page over to note any possible charges. Debauchery. Really? Even Andre Casanov sounded like a more appealing target, if that were the case. The aging poof with his undeserved radio show and green hair and that frilly monstrosity of a button-down was begging to be put out of his misery. Hell, even a bar full of screaming patrons throwing alcohol at one another. Anything to distract Antoine from that familiar picture and the name alongside it. The boy was one of his closest friends, if not the most loyal Dispatcher on the force.

“No…I can’t do this. Not him,” Antoine shuddered. “I can’t!” Isaac. Why Isaac? What made his private homosexual activities such a threat? Then an even worse thought came to mind. Me, the boy thought. What if I’m next? Certainly will be if I don’t do this. “Fuck…FUCK!” Antoine screamed, swatting his glass of absinthe off the table, where it hit the bar stand a shattered into a million pieces.

He stuffed the envelope in his jacket and stormed out.



Night Of The Wolf – Part 17

Edmond Fache slumped onto his desk at the precinct with his chin resting on the knuckles of one hand while he twirled Severo’s prayer amulet in the other. He found himself toying with it ever more frequently since that morning, when they’d all been called down to General Rodin’s office for a firm reprimand. He had been almost certain he wouldn’t have the motivation to process every individual report from the Dispatchers stationed at the wall the previous night, and yet somehow, he’d managed to blaze through fifteen of them before the lunch hour. It felt strange to ponder, but it seemed that shiny hunk of metal in his palm was increasing his ability to concentrate on heavier tasks he might have otherwise put off. Whatever works, he thought, setting it aside.

His mind drifted back to the events of the previous night, and to the long lost friend who had showed up seemingly out of nowhere. The last time he recalled seeing Severo was when they were both about eight years old. Pontius, having fought the Dalishkova for years, made the mistake of vacationing in Helias. Severo couldn’t stop talking about when he discovered Edmond’s parents had planned a trip there in the early spring. He’d begged his father to go. Even Edmond himself was excited to show his best friend around and help him reconnect with his heritage as much as he could. Severo was born in Helias after all, and the longing in his heart was stronger than anything else.

On the last night of their stay at the Hotel Apollonius, they’d been leaning over the balcony of their second story room to listen to the waves on the beach and watch the stars twinkle overhead. The plesiosaurs were still eating the last of their fill for the evening, raising their heads now and again to let out the gentlest of roars. A calm breeze drifted in from the Sea of Helene, bringing with it the aroma of salt combined with fresh fish from the merchant markets up the street. The atmosphere was so serene, yet bittersweet. Severo’s excitement still had not waned. But something in particular about their conversation from that night stood out to Edmond, and he would never forget it.

“I really want to visit the temple! I hope my mom will be there. You think she will?”

“I don’t know. The temple is off limits to visitors.”

“But I was born in Helias. I’m sure I could get you in.”

“I don’t think so. And I’m starting Dispatcher training in a couple years, so this is the last time we’ll be able to come here.”

“Oh…promise we’ll always be friends, Ed?”

“Of course we will, stupid. Why do you ask? You sound sad.”

“I’m just homesick.”

“It’ll be all right, I promise. Tomorrow we’ll run off on our own and meet our parents back at the boat, and we’ll have the best day ever! We’ll remember it and talk about it a lot until the day you can come back.”

“Father would never let me return to Helias…”

Edmond had placed an arm around his friend to console him. Perhaps he had changed the subject, he couldn’t remember. But it didn’t matter what was said after that. The next morning, the two of them had run back to the docks and stood in line to board the Cassius. They even held hands so they wouldn’t be separated. Edmond was sure of it. So sure, in fact, that he recalled Severo boarding the vessel. Yes. They’d spoken on the return trip. Sometime that evening, when the last green rays of Viktorium’s sun were fading from the sky, the boy said something about exploring the lower decks and ran off. By the time the ship docked on the south port of Cavarice, he had vanished.

Pontius searched the vessel from top to bottom, along with two teams of Dispatchers. They shone spotlights at the water and along each side of the hull. Another team dove into the sea. They threw out crates, overturned tables, tore down the sails, chopped apart barrels of rum, dumped all the remaining cargo. No single inch of the ship was left unexplored that night, and yet…nothing. And the more they searched and called his name, the more enraged Pontius became. He shouted at the crew, held the captain down by his neck and choked him on the wheel until the Dispatchers pulled him away. The next morning, he had the entire vessel scrapped. Still nothing.

Some weeks later, reports came in from Helias about the body of an eight year-old boy who had washed up on the shores near the statue of the Salt God. He matched Severo’s description to a tee—raven black hair, pale skin, wearing the exact same clothes. The pictures were published in the Viktorium Free Press a week later. Sure enough, it was Severo. But how could that be? He had boarded the Cassius, and there were enough witnesses to corroborate the fact. Even if Edmond’s memory indeed failed him on the events of that day, the boy’s name was logged in the passenger manifest for the return trip. And he certainly could not have floated all the way back to Helias, given that they were closer in range that evening to Cavarice when he’d claimed he was going to explore the lower decks. None of it made sense. Then again, few things did when it came to the Dalishkova.

“‘Father would never let me return’,” Edmond whispered. “I’m sorry, Sev.” He remembered, too, how his own father had scolded him for losing his friend. His mother, naturally, favored a more mild approach. Everyone had seemed keen on pointing fingers that night, even the passengers who hadn’t known the boy. But Edmond did blame himself, and had for a long time. Yet suddenly, here his childhood friend was, back from the dead? Impossible! The sound of footsteps nearing his office prompted the second lieutenant to shove the prayer amulet back in his desk drawer.

“Sir?” Isaac appeared to address him timidly with a knock on the door frame.

“What is it?” Edmond sighed.

“A rather curious old man is asking about the bodies.”

“What bodies?”

“Um…attack on the wall…last night, boom boom? Captain Georges, Outlanders blew through the west gate-”

“Yes, yes, I’m awake, thank you much,” Edmond cut him off, yawning again. “Sorry, I’ve been swamped by all the paperwork General Rodin wants on his desk tomorrow.”

“Looks like you’ve got a lot done for the evil bastard.” Isaac raised his eyebrows at the giant stack in the outgoing tray. “I thought you hated processing reports.”

“I do, but…something about that amulet Severo gave me last night…I’ve never felt more motivated in all my life. Can’t explain it.”

“Yeah, well just don’t let Antoine see it. You know how he feels about the rivalry and all.”

“Yes,” Edmond said, rising from his chair to circle around the desk. “His sister was taken by the Dalishkova too.”

“Taken? I thought she-”

“Drowned? I just saw my best childhood friend last night for the first time in seven years, Isaac. I looked him square in the eye, I felt him in my arms. Trust me. She’s alive. I don’t know how, I don’t know where, but I’m sure she is. Something fishy is going on in Helias. Not that it matters, since all public transport to the island was cut off after DuPont’s exile. We have more urgent matters to attend to. You were saying?”

“Strange old blind gentleman showed up at the precinct earlier. Says he’s the Barreau kid’s grandfather. Wants to reclaim the body or something.”

“Quentin?” Edmond balked. “He was an orphan, which means no documentation of surviving relatives was found anywhere in Cavarice. This better not be one of Lucien’s tricks!”

“Doubt it,” Isaac shrugged. “I mean, the man could just as well be a new arrival. Besides, it’s not like Max or Lucien wanted the body anyway. And do you really want more paperwork to add to that ridiculous stack of reports-”

“Fine!” the second lieutenant huffed. “He can have the bloody corpse for all I care. I just hope he brought his own wheelbarrow. That thing is pretty messy.”

“Right…” Isaac moved for the door, but Edmond stopped him.

“Wait! I want to meet him first. Seems odd. If this man is really a new arrival, what the hell does he know about burial rites in Viktorium? They’re all told that people don’t die here. This is ‘the grand and perfect afterlife’. We don’t even have so much as a morgue or cemetery.”

“Oh please, you know how fast news travels, what with the Free Press doing all their damn exposés. I’m not sure how La Cour hopes to do any damage control after last night. Pretty soon, there may not be much of Cavarice left to defend.”

“Good, I can’t wait to retire and go to Heaven.”

“And I can’t wait for my shift to be over,” Isaac smirked. “Got my own bit of Heaven to catch.”

“Gross,” Edmond rolled his eyes at the boy. He often forgot that Isaac was a homosexual. Not that it mattered one bit to him, though he did fear for the safety of his colleague; such behavior was overlooked among the lower classes of society, but for the Dispatchers, it was an offense punishable by expulsion from the force and significant jail time.

As the two made their way down a corridor that led to the main lobby, the young lieutenant considered the implications of releasing any corpses. They had rarely done so before, and only in certain special cases. Being that no morgue or cemetery existed in the capital city—they had to maintain an aura of perfection, after all—a small freezer had been built at each precinct site for storage. They were required to keep the bodies for a period of one week. Proper protocol dictated that any claimants were to sign nondisclosure agreements, after which a squad of Dispatchers would escort them to the desert outside city walls and allow them to hold a brief burial ceremony at what was essentially a small pit. Once the grieving parties said their goodbyes, the squad would power up their phase units and incinerate the remains, and that was that.

But claimants in general made Edmond nervous. Newcomers tended to be testy. Not that they could legally cause damage, being that the first release form they signed was a similar NDA stating that they could not speak of the second form’s contents outside precinct walls. No one would believe them, in any case. No public transport came in or out of the west gate anymore, and no registered civilians could cross into the desert without special clearance or Dispatcher escort. Still, the events of the previous night had shaken the entire force to their core, and it seemed odd that on the very next day, a claimant had appeared to take the body of the one Cavarice civilian killed in the attack. Not only that, but the one who, Edmond knew, had ties to both the Barreau boys and the Outlanders. He did not like it at all. In fact, he prayed it was one of Lucien’s tricks. At least then, he could shut it down quickly. As they entered the lobby, however, it seemed anything but.

A blind elderly man with a kind face was waiting patiently on a bench to the side, twisting his cane. Edmond approached him with skepticism while Isaac took a seat next to him and began to verbally explain the forms. He had no choice, of course. They did not have Braille copies at the precinct. Convenient, the lieutenant thought. Everything about this stinks. And all the while, the man nodded, even as he turned his head in Edmond’s direction and smiled.

“May I ask what you want with the body, Mister…?”

“Ah, Vaugrenard!” the man exclaimed, extending a hand. “Fernand Vaugrenard, pleased to meet you.”

“I am Second Lieutenant Edmond Fache,” the boy breathed, reluctantly shaking his hand.

“Edmond, really?” Isaac protested.

“Oh no, that’s quite all right my dear boy,” Fernand chuckled. “You have protocols, I understand. I realize this must seem rather odd, doesn’t it. Well, fact of the matter is, I just arrived here in Cavarice about two days ago. The young woman down at Immigration Affairs said my name sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t find any documentation. I was being escorted back to my assigned flat last night on the metro train when I overheard the news about the west gate. This morning, my nurse was reading me the obituaries in the Viktorium Free Press, and Quentin came up. I had hoped to reunite with him here, but fate, it appears, is not so kind. He was my grandson.”

“I’m so very sorry,” Edmond sighed, taking a seat next to him. “And I can assure you, those responsible for the attack on the wall will be met with swift justice.”

“It’s good to know you boys are doing your job, despite the circumstances. I cannot imagine it’s easy.”

“I take it you weren’t shocked when you discovered people die, even in the afterlife?”

“Edmond!” Isaac scolded again, but the boy put a finger to his lips and shook his head.

“I may not look it now, but I’ve seen quite a lot in my lifetime,” the man smiled. “Nothing people do to one another shocks me anymore. Besides, before my murder in Paris, I was a complete cripple, wheelchair bound for life. And here I am now, fit as a fiddle for the most part. Who am I to argue with what choices the Good Lord makes?”

“Right,” Edmond sighed. For god’s sake, stop getting so worked up over a bloody corpse. “You understand what you’ll be agreeing to once you sign the release forms? Following a private ceremony, all bodies must be cremated, personally, by us. No questions, no complaints. Or else no body. Also, our conversation regarding this does not leave the precinct.”

“Understood,” the man nodded.

“Sign away,” the boy patted his shoulder and stood.

“I do have but one small request,” Fernand said. “The body…might I be permitted a few moments alone with him? He was my only grandchild. I’d like to properly say goodbye.”

“Of course.”

Once the man signed the release forms, the boys escorted the old man down to the cellar and unlocked the walk-in freezer. Edmond removed his beige trench coat and draped it over the man’s shoulders to keep him warm while inside. A blast of cold air greeted them as Isaac pulled open the door. The bodies of the slain Outlanders—or at least the parts that were left of them—had been stacked crudely in the corners in black trash bags. Those of the Dispatchers, several of which had already been claimed, were placed in alcove beds built into the sides of the walls. Quentin’s nude body lay on a table in the center, his head draped in a black cloth. Isaac shivered and leaned against the door frame. Neither he nor Edmond took their eyes off the old man for a second.

“What do you think he’s doing?”

“I don’t know.” The second lieutenant watched with curiosity as Fernand removed a small vial from his coat pocket and proceeded to anoint the body of his grandson in some kind of white oil, even removing the face cloth which covered the ghastly wound where the child’s skull had been torn open by phase unit fire.

“I think I’m going to be sick!” Isaac wretched, ducking around the corner to vomit. Edmond rolled his eyes. How any of the Dispatchers had developed such weak stomachs, he would never know. Then again, he’d seen plenty of death in his lifetime.

“All finished?” he called. “I don’t mean to rush, but we’ve got quite a busy schedule ahead of us today.”

“No worries,” the man cleared his throat and stuffed the empty vial away in his pocket.

“Isaac, you ready?”

“Yes, just a moment,” the boy gagged.

“Forget it, I’ll take care of it.”

Edmond plodded into the freezer and gently removed his trench coat from Fernand’s shoulders, wrapping it around Quentin’s body. He made sure to tie the face cloth over the head before lifting the dead child off the table to hoist him over his shoulder and took the old man’s hand to guide him out. Once the door was locked, Isaac appeared from around the corner to help him carry the boy up the steps. Another squad of Dispatchers aided them the rest of the way.

Every protocol was then followed, right up to the incineration. Overall, there turned out to be nothing strange about it. The old man thanked them for their help back at the precinct and went on his merry way. But Edmond still couldn’t help the sinking feeling in his gut that something was terribly wrong.



Night Of The Wolf – Part 16

It had rained late the previous night, leaving a humid mist in the air that reached from the western districts to as far up as the Metropolies. In some ways, Severo preferred the raging sandstorms of the desert villa over the fog. There was a sense of calm in isolation, and the sand banks, while not easily navigable, did not harbor any potential enemies. Now that the Outlanders had made their triumphant return to the city, there were far fewer places to hide. One’s business could be exposed at any moment for all to see. To that end, discretion in Cavarice was a bit of a lost art. At least the Barreau District was not heavily patrolled by Dispatchers.

To that end, the young knight had taken the liberty of setting up a meeting with Bishop Archibald of the local Catholic Diocese on his outing the previous day. The Church had once played a rather prominent role in the rehoming of all orphans who arrived in Cavarice prior to 1915, so if any records of Igor existed from that time, perhaps it would help shed some light on his current predicament. Of course, there was also the matter of returning to Helias to attend to, though that would have to wait. The sooner he uncovered the truth about the troubled leader of the Outlanders, the sooner he could return home with dignity and resume his training in the Seven Trials.

The courtyard of St. Benedict’s Orthodox Sanctuary stood overgrown with weeds and an array of thorny rose bushes that protruded over the iron fence of the walkway like prostrate skeletons. The sidewalk was cracked in various places, the stone walls of the church quickly surrendering to reclamation by a layer of thick vines. With all the miracles in Christendom, perhaps the biggest was that this particular building had managed to remain open all these years. Severo ascended the front steps to a large set of oak double doors and rang the brass bell on the side as instructed. Within seconds, the heavy wooden door unlatched and swung inward. Bishop Archibald’s smiling face greeted him.

“Ah, Severo, good to see you,” the aging man said.

“Thank you.”

“Please, do come inside.”

The knight hesitated and gazed back at the path behind him. He sensed a strange sense of power in this place, unkempt as it was, which railed against his Dalishkova faith. It was odd he had not noticed it before in his travels. Without his prayer amulet—which served as a tool both to protect him, as well as influence belief in others—these energies appeared much more detectable now. So, it seems we’ve been blinded…interesting…

“Are you ready?” the bishop said.

“Yes. Forgive me.”

“As they say, it is not the path which lies behind, but that which leads forward that brings one out of the dark.”

“Of course.” Severo smiled and stepped through the door into a massive foyer that afforded a view of the sanctuary. On the archway above was carved an inscription in Latin: ‘Victoriam In Christo, Solatium In Matrem’—Victory In Christ, Solace In The Mother. The strain of Catholicism that continued in Viktorium was an odd departure from that which was practiced on the Earth plane, mainly because most of its followers viewed this dimension as a sort of Purgatory from which to escape. They often referred to it by name.

The symbols used were much the same, though most of their crosses were designed as broken crucifixes with obtuse angles and a ray of light emanating from the top, while lacking the quintessential figure of the suffering Christ. The reasoning behind this was supposedly because they wanted to encourage their followers to imagine a world without Christ and thus frighten them away from a darker path, though not all churches agreed with the change, favoring a more traditional approach. In recent days however, the second most common image was that of Mary clutching the bruised and battered body of Jesus, signifying a sort of hope for the downtrodden. But no matter the symbology, it was all the same to Severo. Belief, he’d been taught, was the most important aspect. And today, the young knight believed he would find something.

He followed Archibald up to the front of the dim sanctuary, gazing above at the iron chandeliers constructed in a gothic revivalist fashion. Some of them creaked to and fro from their chains, creating an eerie atmosphere as their candles cast shadows on the painted images of saints portrayed on the ceiling above. As they neared the altar, a few uneven portions of carpet drew his attention downward. Between the worn holes in the ornate fabric, he could make out the face of an occasional demon staring up at him. It seemed the floor had been painted at one point to resemble the fires of Hell. Perhaps enough followers had disagreed with it for the church leaders to cover it up.

“Creepy,” Severo muttered.

“I’m sorry? Oh…of course.” The bishop looked back and cringed in acknowledgment, but kept walking. “That floor has always been a subject of contention, I’m afraid. It was meant to better illustrate where this sanctuary stands…to serve as a reminder that this is Purgatory. Above us is Heaven, below us, the pits of Hell. Needless to say, most of our congregation did not take it well, so we covered it until such time it can be repainted. Sadly, our donations in recent days have been rather scant.”

“I would imagine so,” the knight replied. “The Barreau District has fallen on hard times.”

“That’s putting it mildly. Over two hundred people once populated our pews here. Now, fewer than fifty remain, and of those, only about twenty are regular attendees. Of course, closing our doors is never an option. Too many souls left to save.”

“Of course.”

Archibald led him over to a corner office and unlocked the door with a skeleton key. The scent of rich mahogany wafted out from the room as he swung it open and turned on the lights. It was a marked improvement from the dim atmosphere of the sanctuary, brighter and far more inviting. Hanging plants had been arranged near the windows, lending the room a touch of green that was amplified by the stained glass windows.

“I like to keep my office fresh. The rest of this place reminds me of a haunted house!” the old man chuckled. “But the designs were not my choice, you understand. I simply go where I’m called.”

“As do we all.”

“Yes, so,” the man took a seat behind his desk. “What is it that I can do for you today?”

“I’m looking for any information you might have on young boys who were rehomed in Cavarice prior to 1915. It’s my understanding that the Catholic Diocese up to that point worked closely with orphanages to foster transfers and adoptions of children who had arrived here without their parents.”

“Ah, yes,” the man nodded. He rose from his chair and stepped over to a file cabinet in the corner, kneeling down at the bottom drawer. “We should still have some information here in our archives, though much of it was sent to the old courthouse for processing back before it was closed. Do you have a name in particular that you’re searching for?”

“Igor,” Severo breathed. A twinge of anxiety always seemed to hit him every time he had to say that name. Even as a Dalishkova Knight, he could not deny that the boy struck a certain amount of fear in him. And though the scrappy child was blocks away holed up at the safe house, he still felt as though he were being watched by a wolf in the shadows. A wolf he could conquer, and yet a wolf all the same, one that both stalked and eluded him at once.

“And the surname?” the bishop inquired. “We’ve got several boys on file.”

“He doesn’t have a surname that I know of, but he’d be about twelve or thirteen years old.”

“That narrows it down to two. One went to Barreau Orphanage, the other was sent to Rothreau in the northern districts because Barreau was too full at the time. Although it does seem rather strange,” Archibald stood up. He put on his glasses to gaze from one page in the folder to the next, shaking his head. “Their arrival dates were identical, as are their filed dates of birth-”

“Let me see,” Severo said, snatching the folder out of the man’s frail hands and read the second boy’s file aloud. “Born August 23rd, 1902, arrived in Cavarice approximately April 3rd, 1914. No room at Barreau, suggest move to Rothreau by April 14th as several children are being adopted.” He looked back to the first. “Igor has been successfully transferred to Barreau…”

“Perhaps it was misfiled?”

“I don’t think so…this has got to be a cover of some sort. Yes…here it is,” Severo breathed, flipping over the page. “He had to have stayed somewhere else in the interim waiting period before being transferred to Rothreau, and since there was no room at Barreau, they couldn’t have kept him there…oh no!” the boy gasped.

“What is it?”

“The shelter he stayed at…do you mind if I take this?”

“I don’t see why not, it’s not as if many people come looking for old-”

“Thank you!” Severo cut him off and rushed out of the office.

“Wait, where are you going?” Archibald called.

But the young Dalishkova Knight was already halfway through the sanctuary. Why the hell didn’t I think of that before? It was all beginning to make perfect sense now as his earliest childhood memories came to him in fragmented pieces. Ever since he’d rid himself of the prayer amulet during the events of the previous night, the flashbacks were occurring with greater frequency. For years, he had wondered why his father fought so hard to protect him against the Dalishkova, why he hated them so. Severo’s mother was a High Priestess, which he knew had led to some conflict between them. Not like he ever got much of a chance to talk to her.

After his father’s return to Cavarice on that fateful day, he’d been quickly shuffled away into the depths of the temple and given a prayer amulet. For several days, he was provided no food—only water and a book of prayers. By the time the door to the room where he was held prisoner opened, he emerged as a fully-fledged convert and began his training in the Order of Knights. He placed utmost faith in his peers, as well as his ability to protect and serve according to the holy tenants. And yet the further away from the truth of the Order he got, the more he realized it was just manipulation; a smokescreen which deceived everyone in Helias the same as La Cour had managed to do in Cavarice, so that everyone, no matter where they came from, would all be pitted against one another…for what?

Severo rushed for the set of double doors as the bishop trailed behind him. With a single breath, the boy exhaled all the emotion which had bottled up in his chest and concentrated on his obstacle. The doors immediately flung open and smashed against the inside walls of the foyer, sending rippling cracks that extended up to the ceiling. Archibald stopped dead in his tracks and backed away in fear. The knight did not bother to check on him. After all, as the man had said, it was never about the path he would leave behind, but that which led forward that would lead him out of the darkness. It was time to pay a visit to an old Dalishkova property called ‘The Shelter of Motherly Light’.