Night Of The Wolf – Part 32

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

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

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

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

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

“You have the appropriate clearance, I trust?”

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

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

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

“Sir…sir, your papers please!”

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

“Are you feeling all right?”

“Fine, thank you.”

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

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

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

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

“Hello, Mother.” Her eyes widened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the bloody hell is this?”

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

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

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

“…You’ll be next.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course.”

“And Lucien…do take care of yourself.”

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

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

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

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

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

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I could use it.”

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

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

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

“I’ll send for them.”

“How many survived the wall?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know,” the knight cut her off.

“All right.”

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

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

“Sick in what way?” she sighed.

“I’m not quite sure yet.”

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

“Classified,” Severo uttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right.”

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

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

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

“It’s good to see you too, Severo.”

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

“Sounds good. Do take care of yourself.”

“You as well.”

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

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

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

My dearest, sweet Severo. I love you.

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 26

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

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

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

“Do what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please!” he cried.

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

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

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

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

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

“Actually, it’s already-”

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

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

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

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

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

“But you got me all warmed up!”

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

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

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

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

“Ow! What, she was cute!”

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

“You knew?”

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

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

“Who’s ‘they’?”

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

“What?!” Pontius choked on his drink.

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

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

“Just said he was the devil.”

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

“Sir?”

“Where’s Antoine now?”

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

“Let’s go.”

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

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

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

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that supposed to be a joke?”

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

“Yes, but-”

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

“Enverniam? I don’t understand.”

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

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

“The boy in the hologram…who was he?”

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

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

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

“You’re the boy in the hologram!”

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

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

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

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He blacked out.

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 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.”

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 21

Nightfall had brought with it a warm, steady breeze that extended inward from the west. Severo stood in front of the abandoned building marked on the old Cavarice city map as ‘The Shelter of Motherly Light’, about four blocks east of the Barreau District. The map in question was not difficult to find—newspaper vending boxes on the surrounding blocks had not sold any new issues since 1915, so he’d broken into one and retrieved the back page. On paper, the shelter was listed as a Catholic reformatory, but prior to its conversion, it was run by the Dalishkova. Many of the old symbols still remained if one knew where to look. The most blatant was an image of the kneeling Salt God carved into a white marker stone just outside the front entrance, though most of his sword had been chipped away to resemble a crude cross.

“And yet Christians like to speak of desecration,” the knight sighed. He gazed above at the dilapidated structure before him. Oddly enough, an inscription of the dialect of Koine Greek spoken in Helias remained on the archway above the door, a phrase which most accurately translated to Her Mercy Hath Saved Us. But being that converting certain Helian words into modern English could get problematic, the word for ‘mercy’ was typically mistranslated by Cavarice scholars as ‘grace’, a definition that was far from its intended meaning. How fitting that they would bastardize the story of the sacred Oracle Helene to apply instead to the Virgin Mary.

Street lamps buzzed and flickered in the wind, giving off a dim electric glow that barely lit the entire length of the sidewalk on Rue De L’Abri, though cast an eerie light on the shelter walls. Severo surveyed the many large windows laid within the crumbling red brick. Numerous panes had been broken or shattered by rocks from vandals, while others were splattered over with black paint. Those that weren’t shuttered had been boarded up from the inside. The knight stepped toward the gated door, his footsteps crunching on broken glass. His heartbeat quickened. Much of the surrounding block was rife with similar abandoned structures, and the wind howled through them, as if to give a voice to the ghosts of the past.

“No turning back now,” he shivered. The gate creaked open at his touch, but the door was locked. No surprise there. Using the same method of concentration he had at the church, he closed his eyes and focused on the locks with every shred of his will until he heard the door blast open and slam against the inner wall, releasing a cloud of ashen debris onto the street. Severo coughed and cleared his throat. “I suppose I’ve got to work on that. Now…where are you?”

The knight continued on into the darkened building. Much of the front lobby was still intact, with a small desk at the center for admissions. Crumpled paperwork and broken ceiling tiles were strewn about the marble floor, while open leather suitcases packed with uniforms sat on an assortment of broken benches to the left side next to a fireplace. Stacks of bibles lay neatly on the end of the desk next to a tray of outgoing mail that had not been postmarked. To the right was a wooden staircase that angled square against the back wall, overlooking the lobby. Severo considered checking the file cabinet for old admissions records before proceeding, though it was safe to assume that anything from the Dalishkova years was lost in the purge. Besides, his psychic abilities could use some fine tuning. That much at least was best done alone. He dug into his pocket to check the silver watch he had managed to steal from one of the Outlanders.

“One hour,” he whispered, gazing back over the lobby. He moved for the stairs, stepping over a pile of discarded dolls that were missing eyes, and made his way across the landing up to the second floor. Strange, he thought. There seemed to be a greater confidence to his stride now. Any feelings of fear or doubt he had acquired before were markedly absent. Whether that had anything to do with ridding himself of the amulet, he could not be sure. Perhaps it was the time spent living amongst the Outlanders that had toughened his spirit, forced him to reconsider other possibilities for his life. Even on the night of the attack, Emilie and the group he’d overseen pointed out that he possessed natural leadership qualities. Up until that point, Severo had viewed his time with the gang as little more than a simple assignment, and yet…he had made friends.

That insufferable Emilie with her overly courageous spirit and terrible cooking, Olivier with his intricate artwork and timid demeanor, Quentin…the Outlander-turned-Barreau boy, his greatest confidante and friend in the group with whom he could share his secrets, and who had certainly not deserved the rotten turn of fate Igor dealt him. Severo had promised to save the boy. I promised…

“Let’s not get carried away,” the knight reminded himself as he continued through the doorway toward the second floor dorms and stopped. That’s when it came to him. A strong, sudden, undeniable feeling of gravity that tore into his soul like an anchor and pulled him forward. “Igor.” The sensation seemed to strengthen in the moment he uttered that name, tugging at his chest with a deep emotional power that begged to be set free. It was eager as a child and just as untamed, feral even. Perhaps the confidence in his stride was not confidence at all, but a force that possessed him in much the same way a demon would when it entered the faithless. Faith. Maybe that’s what this was all about. For without the amulet, without his book of prayers. how could he be certain he had any, that he would not lose his way?

“I am a Knight of the Order of Dalishkova,” he breathed as he continued into the abysmal dark. “My sword is my Oath. Salt God, protect me on my journey and raise me up with the Twelve Pillars, that I may ascend an instrument of your glory through rising tide and shivering storm…last room on the right, third floor…”

The knight dashed back through the open doorway and up the stairwell over the landing to the very top, stumbling as he went. That feeling. Something about that feeling was overwhelming, intoxicating. It engorged his veins until it screamed through his blood and set fire to his heart, just as the alcohol had done to his father on the night of the attack. The shadowy spectre of the past dragged him forth like a rabid horse over a canyon, and it would not allow him to rest until he beheld the truth with his own two eyes, even if he had to die himself to see it. Severo burst through the doorway to the third floor corridor, kept at the mercy of the spirit that held him.

He arrived at a door at the far end of the hall unlike any of the others he’d passed on the way. It was made of the same oak wood, though crudely reinforced with riveted steel plates. The knob was placed on the right, above which an assortment of six deadbolt locks were arranged in a row. He assumed the door was intentionally reversed so that it could be locked from the outside. A small sliver of pale light protruded from a horizontal crevice cut into the bottom, presumably for a plate of food to be slipped through. Whoever—or whatever—had once resided in room 301, they couldn’t have escaped easily, if ever they had. The young knight shuddered at the prospect. It was not the first such door he had seen of this nature.

Following his capture in Helias, he’d been placed in a similar holding cell beneath the Dalishkova temple for reeducation. For one month, there was no sunlight. Only the cold embrace of dolomite rock and cobwebs, and whatever skeletal remains were left behind in the former crypt. The chittering of rats, an occasional bowl of food, and a candle supplied with a book of prayers were all the sustenance provided. Whoever emerged from the First Trial with their wits about them was deemed worthy to participate in Mass, and thus continue on to the Second Trial. Severo had so far completed the first Five.

The knight closed his eyes and ran his slender hand over each the deadbolts, hearing them unlock in succession with the power of his mind. Nice and easy. At least he’d managed not to shatter them. His manner of focus this time bordered on quiet rage, which appeared to be a healthy medium where telekinesis was concerned. He made a mental note of it and turned the knob. The draft of stale air that greeted him was considerably less pungent than that of the main lobby, probably due to the hole already cut into the door. The sight, however, was most disturbing.

All of the curtains were drawn. A queen size bed was positioned dead center in the middle of the room with rusted iron shackles attached at the head and foot. The cuffs were small enough to fit around a child’s limbs. Water leaked down onto the mattress creating a puddle from several cracks worn into the ceiling, though that was likely a more recent development. The stains present on the torn sheets, however, were not. A dark yellow and brownish cloud of human waste was splattered over the bottom half. And mixed with that, blood. Lots of blood. Enough to prove beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that someone had died here.

“Igor,” Severo whispered. A pitch black cloud rose up from the sheets, followed by a sudden gravitational force that slammed the young knight in the chest so hard that he staggered backward from its sheer power. “Show me.”

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Night Of The Wolf – Part 20

Isaac lay restless in bed staring at the shadows on his ceiling cast by the slivers of ambient light pouring in from between his Venetian blinds. Somehow, the warm, soft body of the boy resting on top of him did little to dispel the darkness. He was tired of living in it. Between those shades stood everything he’d become accustomed to avoiding in life—that was, everything the light touched.

Where his Dispatcher duties were concerned, he was of course quite adept at throwing on a mask and joining the others in their pointless social banter regarding the opposite sex, and he could appear tough when required to. He’d had plenty of practice after all, considering his father’s abusive tendencies. His mother, naturally, went along with it up until their divorce, at which time his father grew weary of her newly progressive attitudes picked up from a women’s book club she had joined. But she still often berated her son.

Once Isaac became aware of the laws dictating Dispatcher behavior—that he was forbidden to engage in the debauchery of a homosexual lifestyle without facing judgment and harsh scrutiny—he realized all too late that he had exchanged one prison for another. It seemed a cruel twist of irony, then, that he had enrolled in the training programme for the specific purpose of escaping the clutches of his family. Still, he was provided his own flat from the deal, and thus, a private place in which he was somewhat free to be himself. So why was he still so terrified?

“Your heart’s beating fast,” the younger boy whispered, stroking his cheek.

“I know.”

“What are you thinking?”

“Too much,” Isaac smirked. He pulled his lover close and planted a gentle kiss the boy’s forehead as he stroked his dark brown hair. “Don’t worry about it.”

Tomas was fourteen, two years his junior, but far from naive. He’d first caught Isaac’s eye about a month prior while on patrol in the Barreau District. Edmond thought it best to do security sweeps around the canal and check up on the orphanage now and again, so Isaac always volunteered. If anything, it seemed a good excuse to lay eyes on that beautiful boy. He’d been stealing food from a corner convenience store when they’d first met, and that sly smile offset with sky blue eyes was all Isaac needed to look the other way. Both of them in that moment knew what the other desired.

When Isaac’s squad would split up to survey separate streets, Tomas would sneak out and pull him into a secluded alley where they’d have sex. At first, the young Dispatcher feared he might be taking some sort of advantage of the orphan boy, though it soon became abundantly clear who was in control. Tomas had far more sexual experience than him, and while he favored submission, he knew exactly what he wanted and could turn eerily dominant at times, tinkering with Isaac’s phase unit to use it in ways that made one blush.

But considering the recent attack on the city wall and General Rodin’s demand that security be increased surrounding the Barreau blocks, Isaac began to fear the very real possibility of getting caught. To that end, he had provided Tomas with his home address. It seemed to be a good solution at the time, although in retrospect, it had the potential to make things so much worse. Edmond was the only friend on the force he trusted enough to confide in regarding his activities. And while he was certain nothing would happen to Tomas—debauchery was overlooked among the lower classes of society—Isaac could go to prison for it if any of his fellow peers in the building found out.

“You really should relax more,” Tomas grinned, kissing Isaac’s tender neck.

“I’m sorry, I can’t.”

“Would you like to fuck me again?” The boy sat up, straddling his waist and started running his hands over the Dispatcher’s chest. “No? Not even if I nibble your ear?”

“Stop that!” Isaac giggled.

“Mmm, I have an idea,” the boy said, climbing off of him. He grabbed a silk bathrobe from the lounge chair and draped it over his slender, naked frame before lighting up a cigarette. “Turn over on your stomach.”

“What are you going to do?

“Just trust me.” Tomas handed him the cigarette and grabbed his phase unit from off the nightstand.

“You realize, sir, that you are breaking the law,” Issac said in his official voice. “I’m afraid I’ll have to take you down to the precinct for questioning.”

“Shut up and do as you’re told.”

“Fine,” the Dispatcher smiled, setting the cigarette on the edge of the ashtray. He rolled over to face the wall and heard a slight electric snap as Tomas powered on the phase unit to its lowest setting.

“Don’t be scared, I’m not going to hurt you much.”

“That’s not what I’m scared of.” Isaac suddenly found himself whimpering and felt stupid for it. As a Dispatcher, he’d grown accustomed to setting his feelings aside because the job required it. But hiding in the narrow shadows between so many slivers of light had become exhausting.

“What’s wrong? Talk to me,” Tomas said with empathy in his voice. “Please.” He put down the phase unit and threw off the robe, crawling back into bed under the sheets. Isaac shifted onto his side and pulled the boy close to kiss him deeply. Tears were flooding his eyes.

“If I’d had a better choice, I would never have joined the Dispatchers. But it was the only thing I could think of to get away from my parents. And then I met you, and it was the warmest, brightest moment of my entire life. My job led me to you. I’ll never regret it. You have nothing to fear about being who you are,” he said, stroking Tomas’s cheek. “But for me, my career could be over. I’m just afraid of losing the only good thing I have left in this life.”

“Don’t talk like that. You’ll never get rid of me, I promise,” the boy smiled. He kissed Isaac as he climbed on top of him again, and the Dispatcher squeezed his buttocks. “Now fuck me again before I have to-”

They were interrupted by a loud bang as the door to Isaac’s flat suddenly burst wide open. A tall, dark-featured older man clad in a black suit stormed in with a squad of four Dispatchers, all of whom wore face masks and had their phase units drawn and ready to fire. Tomas shrieked and backed away behind Isaac, who pulled the covers up over them. The young Dispatcher shook with fear. His thudding heart dropped to his stomach. A wave of panic overtook him. Cold sweat followed. His erection died. This was it. It was finally happening. He didn’t know how, he didn’t know when they’d found out, but somehow they had. A thousand questions swarmed his mind. How long had they known? What was going to happen? He would go to prison for this tryst, he knew that much. But what about Tomas? No time to think. No time to act. The only thing either of them could do was lie there in shame with those thin sheets covering what little remained of their dignity. Isaac shut his eyes and prayed for the best. It was over.

“Well well, what have we here?” the tall man bellowed. “Seems we’ve caught the young lieutenant and his secret lover in the act of homosexual debauchery.”

“No please, you don’t understand!” Isaac cried. “This isn’t what it-”

“Looks like?” the devil laughed. “Oh, I think it’s pretty clear to the rest of us. Seize them, boys!”

“Leave him alone!” Tomas protested.

“No, please! You can’t! STOP!” Isaac shouted as two of the squad members forcibly dragged him from the mattress and shoved him to his knees. The other two pulled Tomas out by his arms as he tried to wrestle them away, until they dislocated his shoulder and stunned him with an electrical pulse. The boy screamed as one of them yanked him off the bed by his hair and threw him hard onto the floor at the end of the bed like a rag doll, where they held him down to cuff him. Isaac’s heart ripped in two as the teen’s helpless, muffled cries rose from the rug. “YOU BASTARDS, you’re hurting him! Don’t touch him! You hear me?! Don’t you TOUCH him!” Isaac struggled beneath the grasp of the two squad members placing him in shackles, but it was no use.

“You brought this on yourself with your sickness,” the older man spat. “As a Dispatcher, I am sure you’re well aware of the rules. Besides, what do you care for an Outlander?”

“What?!” the lieutenant shrieked. “He’s got proper documentation, he’s not…oh god…” He watched in horror as one of the Dispatchers holding down Tomas produced a small branding iron from his trench coat and began heating the end of it with his phase unit until it gave off a bright orange glow. “NO! PLEASE GOD NOOO!”

“Do shut him up,” the older man instructed Isaac’s captors.

The fallen Dispatcher felt a sharp pulse fire into the back of his neck, sending a shockwave of electricity surging throughout his body. Pain jolted in his chest and down to his stomach. He lurched over and vomited. Through the blurred vision of his tears, he watched helplessly as they turned Tomas over and pressed the hot iron hard into the boy’s chest. The Barreau teen’s screams were enough to make him pray for the boy’s death, after which he vomited again. Isaac closed his eyes, unable to watch anymore—not as if he had to. The squad members holding him in their talon-like clutches gagged him and placed a black hood over his head.

“Isaac, I’m sorry!” the battered boy sobbed. “I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have come here!”

“It’s not your fault!” Isaac cried. “Don’t you dare say that, it’s not your fault, okay?! Don’t you ever think that!”

“He’s lying. You’re nothing but a filthy faggot Outlander,” one of the Dispatchers spit on him. “He’s had plenty of boys before you. You are nothing to him.”

Isaac shuddered. He recognized that voice, though could not place it, but it was one he knew well. He’d heard it almost every day down at the precinct. As the symptoms of electric shock began to subside and his thoughts coalesced back to rationality, he searched for that elusive, familiar thing.

“I am!” Tomas cried, “I am nothing, I’m just a stupid filthy Outlander-”

“Antoine!” Isaac growled. A silence hung in the room following his utterance of that name, the name of a boy he had once called his friend. Over and over again, he played that sentence in his head, you are nothing, matching it with previous conversations recalled from the day. Soon enough, he wouldn’t have to wonder anymore. Agitated footsteps charged their way toward him and tore off the black hood without hesitation. The Dispatcher in question lowered his face mask. “You son of a bitch!”

“And what are you going to do about it, nancy boy?” The older teen struck him across the face. “You disgust me! I should have known from the way you looked at Tomas every time we showed up to Barreau for a shakedown.”

“Fuck you!”

“Oh, I bet you’d like to. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of other boys in prison who I’m sure would love to have their way with a former Dispatcher,” he smirked. “Of course if you’d like to be an Outlander…we can arrange for that as well. You would never see this city again.”

“I HATE YOU!”

“Good!” the teen spat, choking Isaac as he held the hot brand close to his face. “Because with all the corruption we’re sniffing out, there’s about to be a new sheriff in town, and he won’t take kindly-”

“Enough,” the older man cut him off. “Justice first. Take the Barreau boy to the alley and cut him loose. We are finished here.”

“Who the hell are you?!” Isaac roared.

“The devil.”

The fallen Dispatcher again found his vision blacked out as the hood was replaced and the squad dragged him to his feet to lead him out. Please let them kill me, he thought. Please. For living in Cavarice—the so-called “City of Eternal Life”—now seemed a fate worse than death, and if this were to be a sign of the coming future, he would much rather rot than live in it. As it was, his only light had been taken from him. There seemed no way to fight his fate, and he knew no one would step to the plate in his defense. For better or worse, he would serve his time in whatever circle of Hell was fit for his supposed illness. He managed to whimper one final ‘I love you’ to Tomas before they shoved him out the door, but his voice was too shot. He doubted the boy even heard him.

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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-”

“But-”

“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…oh, right. He left with Lucien the other night.” Several of the boys sunk their heads. How could he have forgotten?

“At this hour, I believe I might have some idea where he is,” Bernard cringed through clenched teeth.

“Well let’s hear it!” Max demanded.

“Private affairs of a…certain nature.”

“Pardon?”

“That thing he did every morning when he crawled-”

“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,” the 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 cracked. 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.”

“What?!”

“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. “All right, I’m not about to lose any more boys. Where the bloody hell is Tomas?!”

 

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