The World Grows Dark
Sometime in the evening, around the time the Febwith Team’s plans were hitting a snag, a white car with MACATTO INSURANCE stenciled on its sides in black paint arrived in Metromax City. The car eventually found its way to an establishment called the Caprice Motel. The car parked in this establishment’s parking lot, and a man emerged from the car. The man walked to the front office and paid for a room. The owner of the motel, a middle-aged red-haired woman named Madelyne Caprice, did not like the look of him, but could find no reason not to take his money and give him a room; so she did. Still, she was so discomfited by the man, she considered calling an old friend of hers, a psychic; but decided against it.
This is not to say that the psychic in question, Rynza Adreynac, was not made aware that something was afoot in her city. As she and her sister Carissa were enjoying a television program in their home (which was also their place of business), Rynza suddenly gasped, and grabbed her sister’s arm in a painful grip, and said: “He is here.”
“Who’s here, Rinnie?” her sister asked.
Early Friday morning found the same white car parked in front of a frain station. The driver got out of the car, walked up to the entrance of the building, and entered.
Inside was a cacophony of voices; the voices of people who sat at, or navigated around, paperwork-cluttered desks. The man walked up to the front desk, and spoke to the officer there for a moment. The officer took down his information, then pointed up to an office on the second floor, and directed the man there. The man walked up the stairs to the specified office. On the frosted window of the office door was writ:
OFFICE OF THE CRELLAT.
Under that, in smaller letters:
The man opened the door and walked inside. There, behind a massive desk, was a small balding man of about forty. He seemed to be sweaty despite the air conditioning, and looked like the kind of man that absorbed punishment for a living. He wore a brown suit and had a thin almost fake-looking moustache.
He had a telephone receiver to his ear and was writing down the information from the officer downstairs. He looked up at his visitor.
Mallacharr’s first fleeting thought upon seeing Charles Longstreet was: this man is a ghoul. He shook this childish idea from his head. True, the man made Mallacharr’s skin crawl, for some reason, but he didn’t LOOK bad. So why did he feel like bolting from the room?
I need a vacation, he thought to himself.
Of course, if he didn’t find and catch the Vignach’s current obsession (the gang of child thieves known as the Dreadniks) sometime soon; the vacation he would receive would be permanent.
“So, Mr. Longstreet,” Mallacharr said, as Charles Longstreet sat down in the chair opposite him, “How did you lose your kids?”
“They ran away.” Longstreet replied.
“Give me their names and ages.”
“Michael and Callindra. Sixteen and fourteen.”
“Where are you from?”
“Noah’s Oak, New Heedol.”
“How do you they came here?”
“A friend tipped me off that they would be here.”
Mallacharr rubbed his fingers to his temples. He was beginning to get a headache. “Mr. Longstreet, the chances of us finding your kids are---“
“They’re with the Dreadniks.” Longstreet said.
“What did---? What?!” Mallacharr stammered; thrown off his stride, and not knowing how this conversation had veered off the road into this, of all tangents. “Did you just say, ‘the Dreadniks’?”
“What do you know of them?”
“Only that my kids are with them.”
“How do you know this?”
“Like I said, a friend told me.” Longstreet said, “He also said that you were interested in catching them.”
“Who is this friend of yours, and how does he know so damn much?” Mallacharr asked.
“Trust me; you wouldn’t want to meet him.”
“Okay, but did your friend happen to tell you WHERE we could find the Dreadniks?”
“Alas, no. My friend is a tad unpredictable with the sharing of information,” Longstreet said, “Sometimes he makes me work for it.”
“What does that mean?” Mallacharr asked.
“That means he told me how I could find out for myself. That’s why I need your help. I need to get the Dreadniks out of my way; otherwise they’ll complicate things.”
“If you can indeed find them, call me. I’ll order a sweep, and catch them all.” Mallacharr said, “Including your children.”
“Understand this, though: my kids are mine. You will hand them over to me when you catch the whole group. No questions, no paperwork, no further entanglements. Do we have an understanding?”
Mallacharr thought it over.
What did he have to lose? The axe looming over his neck was ready to fall, and if this lunatic could succeed where he had failed, who needed to know?
“We have an understanding.” Mallacharr said, and pointed out a small holder with a vertical stack of his cards in it.
Longstreet stood up, took a card, then offered his hand.
Mallacharr was loathe to shake it, but forced himself.
“You’ll hear from me soon, Crellat Mallacharr.” Longstreet said, and exited the office.
Once he was gone and the door to his office closed, Mallacharr grabbed his trash can, and vomited into it.
There was a storage room adjacent to Mallacharr’s office, and in that storage room, Siana Nandehl crouched low, next to an air vent. She had discovered, weeks ago, that it was possible to hear what was being said in the crellat’s office, if she put her ear to the vent.
She heard the exchange between Mallacharr and the man named Longstreet, and it perturbed her. She was a hairsbreadth away from landing Mallacharr’s job, and she wasn’t about to let anyone help him keep it. The Dreadniks were the key to getting Mallacharr axed, and if this Longstreet person was actually capable of finding those kids, he could ruin her plans. She had not risen this far this fast in her career to be stymied by the likes of worms such as those two.
Siana walked out of the storage room and went to her office. No few male eyes followed her; for she was a head turner. She was in her early thirties, and had gorgeous blond hair that she rolled up into a tight bun. Her cold blue eyes looked damn near predatory.
Rak awoke earlier than anyone else in the Wherehouse that morning. The day looked bright and promising, and he was eager to get started on his pounding run.
Once downstairs, something caught his eye: the table where Spencer had prepared the Tullaxiffan. It was all still there; the bottle of the pure stuff, the gallon container of the diluted stuff, as well as the box of syringes. No one had bothered to put any of it away yet.
Always thinking ahead, Rak considered the utility of having a syringe of super knock-out juice at his disposal, against some future moment of need.
He went to the table, removed a syringe from the box, and uncapped it. He unscrewed the top of, and drew a syringeful from, the gallon of diluted Tullaxiffan. He recapped both the syringe and the gallon container, and slipped the syringe in his pants pocket (the same pocket where he kept his special wad of clay).
Finished, he went and prepared his breakfast. He was done before the first of the other Dreadniks started descending the stairs; and slipped out unnoticed.
Pounding was his joy, and he had a particularly fruitful morning. Even this early, he was always able to find easy targets.
He had no need of partners, though they were often forced on him. Even the best of them he found to be cumbersome, and a drag on his quick style. Such was his skill that, most of the time, his targets did not even realize they had been pounded until he was long gone (Mike was one of the few exceptions).
Because of him, the Dreadniks not only survived, they thrived.
It was getting close to noon, when he decided to head back to the Wherehouse for lunch. He was baffin-heavy, and hungry. His homeward route cut across the enormous parking lot of the CityScape Mall, where he had first met Mike and Callie, two nights ago; though now it felt like he had known them forever. Nor was this a recent feeling; he had felt that way not fifteen minutes after meeting them.
Rak marveled at how sure he had been, that they would be allowed into the Wherehouse; and damn if he hadn’t been right! Who could have forseen that? Especially after some of the betrayals and close shaves they’d had to overcome recently (nothing breeds envy amongst the inviduii like success). Rak didn’t need a psychic to tell him that there was something special about the Longstreets; something mysterious that lit them from within.
It was then that Rak entered the long alley between the Jakes and Bozun buildings; the same alley he had led Mike and Callie through two nights ago. In the daytime it didn’t look as spooky as it did at night; though it still looked like the bottom of a great abyss. He was a third of the way through, when he realized that there were no slumped figures at the sides of the alley. True, the homeless and destitute tended to congregate here more at night than during the day; but he had never seen this place as empty as it was now. Plus, there were cloaks and blankets and personal junk strewn at the sides. Things guarded fiercely and fought over by these people; never left behind or abandoned like this. It was as if something had scared them all off suddenly.
Well, not all of them.
At the halfway point of the alley, Rak spied a single figure, slumped under a grey tattered blanket.
I guess he didn’t get the memo, Rak thought, and continued walking, unafraid.
He had walked confidently past such figures many times in the past, sometimes even at night; why should this one be any different?
But, as he neared the slumped figure, some primal intuition at the base of his brain woke up, and began to scream.
Without sound or preamble, the figure rose to it’s feet; the blanket still over it’s head making it look like a grey ghost. It pulled the blanket off; but Rak had already turned back, and began to run.
Without people, objects, or architecture to weave and dodge around, Rak was reduced to depending on mere speed; and though he was fast, he felt a cold hand grasping at his back.
It would have him soon, if he didn’t do something.
Rak tried to duck and whip around, to get his pursuer to stumble (a trick that had worked for him before), but the grasping hand managed to hook in on the back of his shirt collar.
Rak’s feet flew out from under him as his attacker lifted him up, and hurled him against the side of the building. Rak remembered the syringe in his pocket; but it was already too late. He smashed against the wall, and his world went black.