Friday, September 24, 2010

Chapter 24


When the Boxwood Bookstore went out of business some time back; the squat empty building served as the Dreadnik’s first home. When the building was later leased to another business; they had had to move out and find another.
To Corrina and Kitty’s delight, the place was now empty again. They broke in through the back door, and entered.
Inside it was dusty and cobwebby, but nothing they hadn’t dealt with before. The previous leasers had left behind some rusty folding chairs in the back, as well as a weather-worn sign that read: “WAXLEAF MAP CO.”, loitering in a corner.
“Businesses always leave something behind when they vacate a building.” Kitty said.
Corrina said nothing in reply.
They unfolded the two least rusted of the folding chairs and sat down near the boarded up front window. The board had been attached haphazardly, and from beneath it, they could see anyone walking toward the building from the front.
“Do you think anyone else escaped?” Kitty asked.
“I don’t know,” Corrina answered sullenly, “And I don’t care.”
She still hurt from Jon’s pledge of love for Callie, as well as from her self-inflicted humiliation. She kicked herself for not taking the opportunity to kill the shank when she had the chance. As for Jon; better that he go to Ragginarck, than go away with HER.
She remembered then, the crumpled note in her pocket, and pulled it out.
“What’s that?” asked Kitty.
“It’s the paper you had stuck to your shoe back at the Wherehouse,” she said, “It’s Rynza’s stationary.”
“What’s it say?”
“Let’s find out.” Corrina answered, and unfolded it.                             
It read: They bring trouble with them. DON’T let them stay!
“I’ll be damned…” Corrina said. She felt her anger rising again, like toxic black fumes from a chemical fire.
“It’s a warning!” Kitty said, “Rynza was warning Jon not to let the Longstreets in! That they would bring trouble! Why would Jon disregard her advice like that? Disregard the safety of the invidium?”
“Because of HER!” Corrina said with bitter fury, “He ignored Rynza’s warning and the danger to us all; all because of that SHANK!” she spat the last word out like a wad of phlegm, “If I ever see her again, I swear I’m gonna KILL HER!!”
If there was ever a worse moment for Callie, Mike, and Edward to have the spectacularly bad timing to show up, it was this one.
And, of course, this was the moment they did just that.
Edward had led Mike and Callie there, thinking that maybe the others might be found there should the place be empty. It was, and when they saw the broken-in back door, that seemed to confirm it. So they had entered.
“Speak of the devil.” Kitty said.
But Corrina was beyond words.
“SHANK!!” she screamed, and hurled herself at Callie.
She wrapped her hands around Callie’s neck and squeezed as hard as she could. “YOU STOLE MY JON!!” she screeched.
Callie grabbed Corrina’s hands and forced them off of her neck. “He’s not YOUR Jon, and he NEVER WAS!!” she yelled back at Corrina, “Grow up, you stupid silly girl! LIVE WITH IT!”
Callie shoved Corrina back hard. Corrina stumbled back a bit, straightened herself out, and went for the syringe of undiluted Tullaxiffan in her pocket.
Kitty saw this, and walked in between Corrina and Callie; presumably to play peacekeeper, but in actuality to block everyone’s view of what Corrina was doing. “C’mon, girls, STOP this!” she said, sounding almost sincere, “This is helping nothing!”
Behind Kitty, Corrina took out the syringe, flicked off the cap, and turned it so it rested with her thumb on the plunger.
Mike and Edward had closed in on the two, ready to pull them apart; but now it seemed further violence had been averted by Kitty’s intervention. They backed off, thankful they hadn’t had to break up a girl fight; thus were not in position to be of any help when what happened next, happened.
Kitty stepped aside, and there was Corrina, weapon held high in her hand, like a dagger. She lunged at Callie.
Callie saw the syringe, and understood intuitively what it was, what it meant, and what she had to do.
As Corrina came within striking distance, Callie bolted forward and grabbed her by the wrists. Like a dancer, she used Corrina’s weight and momentum to whirl her around and around, and then let her go.
Corrina, unable to stop herself, ran right into Kitty, and the two of them tumbled and fell over the chairs they had been sitting on earlier.
They both sat up at the same time, and looked at each other. The moment was almost comical.
Then…they saw.
The hypodermic needle had embedded in Kitty’s arm, and Corrina had inadvertently depressed the plunger all the way down.
Corrina quickly took it out, but it was too late; the Tullaxiffan was all gone. Corrina and Kitty looked at each other in utter horror.
Kitty’s eyes then rolled up in their sockets in a horrible fashion, and she fell back; her head hit the bare wood floor with a loud and resonant THUNK.
Corrina stared at the body of her dead friend (the only close friend she had ever known or ever would know) with a look of complete incomprehension on her face.
Then, she screamed.
She screamed and screamed and SCREAMED.
When at last she stopped, she stood up. The others moved back, prepared for violence, but it did not come. Her face was empty. Something inside of her had jarred loose and come undone.
She walked past them, and out of the building, in a daze.
Outside, a white car parked on the curb. Two people came out of the car and walked toward her. One of them was Rak.
He looked awful. There were dark shadows under his eyes, and he seemed pale and clammy; almost as ghoulish as the man with him.
When the two reached her, the man asked, “Are they in there?”
She didn’t know who this man was, or who he was referring to; but at the same time, she did. Who else could it be at this point?
“Yes.” she answered.
The man seemed happy about this. He turned to Rak, “Is this girl one of the Dreadniks?”
Rak nodded.
“Good!” he said, and brought his hand out of his pocket, as if he meant to shake her hand; only there was an opened pocketknife in it.
In one quick motion he sliced Corrina’s throat open with it, and had it closed and back inside his pocket before her body hit the ground.
“Bring her along.” he said to Rak, “It’ll add to the fun.”

Inside the building, Mike, Callie, and Edward looked down on Kitty’s body.
“What should we do?” Edward asked.
“I think we should leave as soon as possible.” Mike said.
“Where will you go?” a voice asked.
The three looked up, startled.
“Gods!!” Callie gasped, “It’s…”
“Dad!” Mike finished her thought.
Charles Longstreet walked over to Kitty’s body, and looked down on her with a smile.
“How did you find---?!” Mike started to ask, but stopped when he saw Rak enter, dragging Corrina’s body in by the ankles.
Callie suppressed a scream when she saw her cut throat.
“Rak!” Edward cried, “What are you doing? Who---?!”
Callie put a hand on Edward’s shoulder, and pulled him back behind her. “I don’t think Rak’s himself anymore, hon.” she said.
“Perceptive as usual, Callie.” her father said, as Rak put Corrina’s body next to Kitty’s.
He took his pocketknife out, cut a red slit across his extended middle finger, and let the blood drip from it, to Corrina and Kitty’s dead faces.
“What are you doing?!” Callie shouted.
“I’m showing you what it is you are dealing with,” he said, as the blood absorbed, with sickening speed, into the skin of the two dead girls, “You should have at least a glimpse, before the end.”
Kitty and Corrina’s eyes fluttered open.
“Behold, the wonders of magic.” Charles Longstreet said, as the two reanimated corpses stood up and faced Mike, Callie, and Edward. Together, the four stood between them and the open back door.
“How is this happening?!” Edward wailed.
Both Kitty and Corrina drooled, and looked devoid of all thought and personality.
“And now…” Longstreet said, emerging from behind his new creations, “I think it’s long past time I dealt with the little bastards that tied me up and left me to rot.”
Callie and Edward ran to the front door, but it would not open.
Mike stood his ground, rooted to the spot by a sudden flash of memory. Back when they were at Rynza’s, Carissa had asked to hold their father’s ring so it would not further contaminate Rynza’s spirit room. Mike had told her to keep the damn thing, but Rynza said they would have need of it later.
If it’s not now, it’s never, Mike thought, and took the little blue bag with the ring in it out of his pocket. He fished the ring out, and held it up in his outstretched hand. “I believe this belongs to you.” he said.
Fear flickered across his father’s face, and he stopped in his tracks. “The ring!” he said, “You still have it with you?!”
“Of course!” Mike said, “Did you think I’d throw it away? Pawn it? This precious family heirloom?”
“Something like that.”
Mike realized his father was backing away from him, back behind the resurrected Kitty and Corrina.
“Why would I do that?” Mike said, “When it belongs to YOU!”
Mike threw the ring at his father’s face. His father shoved Kitty in front of him, like a shield, so that the ring hit her instead of him.
The ring hit her on the left cheek, and upon contact with her flesh, Kitty immediately turned into a living, writhing, twisting pillar of thick black gelatinous gunk, which wavered for an instant, then collapsed on the floor; whereupon it broke up into a multitude of wriggling ropes, like long black snakelets, which untangled themselves and darted off in all directions.
Some crawled up the walls, but most crawled up the legs of Charles Longstreet, Corrina, and Rak; ignoring Mike, Callie, and Edward altogether. Something landed on Mike’s shoulder, startling him, but it was Callie’s hand.
“Let’s go!” she shouted.
They ran around the besieged three, and out the back door. Mike took one last look back and saw his father and Rak struggle to remove the black snakes that threatened to envelope them. Corrina did not struggle. She simply fell, and was swarmed. She opened her dead mouth, and it was soon filled. Her dead eyes looked back at Mike with utter vacuity; before they were obliterated by the black snakes pushing through them on their way in.
When Callie, Edward, and then Mike made their way out the back, they saw the car their father had arrived in.
“I think I’ve seen this car somewhere before.” Mike said.
Callie was more on point. “I’ll bet the idiot left the keys in the ignition,” she said, “He was always doing that.”
She was right. They got in.
“Where do we go from here?” Callie asked.
“After what we just saw, I think we better give Rynza Adreynac another visit.” Mike said, "Things are a helluva lot more disturbing than we thought they were."  

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chapter 23

The Last Gathering

It was already past noon, when the green station wagon pulled in at the back of the Wherehouse. All of the other Dreadniks, save one, had already returned.
Jon gestured Peggy, Edward, and the Longstreets to follow him to the planning table; the one with Woodrow’s chalk diagram of Finorio Braneegan’s Car Dump still visible on it.
“I need everyone down here!” Jon called out, “I have an announcement to make!”
Jon turned to Mike and Callie, “Let me do the talking.” he said, as one by one, the Dreadniks began to join them at the table.
Corrina and Kitty sat side by side at the bottom of the stairs, thick as thieves, as usual. Corrina spotted a piece of crumpled paper stuck to Kitty’s sneaker with gum.
“You got some crap stuck to your shoe, Kitty.” she told her.
Kitty stood up and lifted her foot up to her back. Corrina unstuck the paper and used it to remove the gum. “There you go, it’s off.”
Kitty didn’t bother sitting down again; she headed to the planning table to see what was going on.
Corrina was about to toss the paper, but recognized that it was Rynza Adreynac’s stationary. Curious, she removed the gum and was about to uncrumple the note, when Kitty turned back and called her. “C’mon, Corrina! Quit lollygagging!”
Corrina tucked the note in her pocket for later perusal, and went over to the table, where everyone else was already seated. The note, however, was not alone in her pocket. It shared that space with the syringe of undiluted Tulaxiffan in it.
Corrina took a seat at the table like the others, ready to hear what Rynza had told the Longstreets; and if Jon even suggested that they join the Dreadniks, Corrina was quite ready to kill the Callie shank right then and there.
Jon surveyed his assembled invidium. “Are we missing someone?” he asked, “Where the hell is Rak?”
The Dreadniks looked around at each other.
“He never came back?” Wes asked.
“He’s probably still out pounding.” Kevin said, “You know how he is, sometimes he loses track of time.”
“Don’t tell me he went out alone again.” Jon said, “Woodrow, aren’t you supposed to be his partner?”
“Not that that matters much!” Kitty said.
“What do you mean?” Jon asked.
“Kitty, SHUT UP!” Woodrow said. He knew where this was going.
“Let her speak!” Jon said, “What did you mean, Kitty?”
“Everyone knows that Rak and Woodrow go off on their separate ways after just a few blocks.” Kitty said, her voice giddy with the unbridled joy of troublemaking, “Then they join up again at some point on the way back, to fool you into thinking they’ve been working as a team.”
Jon put his fingers to the bridge of his nose and crinkled his eyes shut. Woodrow braced himself for the unavoidable (and probably well-deserved) tongue-lashing.
Instead, Jon opened his eyes and said: “You know what? I’m not dealing with this right now. As for Rak, one of you can fill him in when he shows up.”
Woodrow looked relieved. Kitty looked disappointed.
Jon continued: “As you all know, we went to go see Rynza, to see what she had to say about Mike and Callie’s mother. Well, she had a lot to say. First of all, their mother isn’t here in Metromax, another city.”
Corrina’s head perked up. She liked the sound of that.
“What city?” Dom asked.
“Doesn’t matter. Another city in another state is all you need know. More important, Rynza said that Mike and Callie’s father has followed them here, and knows they’re with us. He has joined forces with Mallacharr to find us all. Rynza says that for the good of the group, Mike and Callie must leave Metromax City. Today.”
It took all of Corrina’s self-control not to jump and cheer at that moment. The shank was leaving!
“And I’m going with them.” Jon added.
Corrina felt the air get knocked out of her. Nor was she the only one. The other Dreadniks looked at each other and at Jon with shock.
“WHAAAAT?!” was all Corrina could say.
“Jon, are you crazy?!” Bear asked in disbelief, “We need you! You can’t just up and take off! What are you thinking?!”
“Up to now everything I’ve done has been for the group,” Jon replied, “This I do for me. The Dreadniks will still have you, Bear. You can lead this invidium as well as I can. You and Dom together.”
“Why are you doing this?” Dom asked.
Jon struggled with how to best answer that question, and decided only the plain unvarnished truth could: “Because I love Callie, and I want to be with her wherever she goes.” he said.
Corrina thought she was going to have a heart attack. She clamped her hands over her ears to keep from hearing Jon’s traitorous words; words that should have been only hers to receive, and treasure forever.
“If you care for my happiness,” Jon continued, “You’ll let me go.”
“NOOOO!!” Corrina stood up and shrieked, “YOU’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE!! YOU DON’T LOVE HER! YOU LOVE ME! ME!!”
The room fell silent. Everyone was looking at her.
Corrina’s face went deep red as she realized what she had just said out loud. In her humiliation, she forgot all about killing Callie, and ran off up the stairs. Kitty ran after her.
That was when it happened.
Through the open windows of the Wherehouse, they all saw a congregation of frain vehicles screech to a sudden stop in front of the building, and in the back.
Mallacharr’s frain sweep had arrived.
Chaos erupted as frain swarmed into the Wherehouse. The Dreadniks scattered, time seemed to slow to a crawl, and many things happened at once.
Jon, Dom, Woodrow, and Wes (though not all at the same time) threw themselves at the frain to give the others a chance of escape, and were thus the first caught.
Kitty and Corrina ran up to the third floor. They were on the roof in no time, and headed down the ladder. No frain were at that side of the building as it had no doors or windows, and they had not yet caught sight of the ladder.
Kitty and Corrina made it down safely, and fled.
Bear, Spencer, Kevin, and Peggy ran up the first floor stairs to do likewise. At the end of that line, Peggy looked back to see the frain closing in behind them on the stairs, so she hurled herself at them, creating a tangled logjam of bodies falling backward down the staircase. By the time some of the frain managed to get past this and up to the roof; Kevin, Spencer, and Bear were already down the ladder, and on the run.
Meanwhile, inside the Wherehouse; Callie rammed her knee to the groin of an officer trying to manhandle her into submission. As he collapsed, she grabbed his dropped baton and gave him a good whack. She then ran over and used it to club the shin of an officer that had Mike in a headlock. The frain yelled with pain, and released Mike. Together, the Longstreets weaved and dodged all the way to the kitchenette.
Edward got there at the same moment, having just escaped a tall officer by hunching down and running between his legs. The three closed and locked the door behind them.
Mike opened and looked out of the kitchenette’s small and only window. It was close enough to the edge of the building that Mike could see the wagon at the back, surrounded by frain. Thing was, none of them were looking their way.
Mike and Callie hoisted Edward out the window with no problem. Callie slipped through lithely as well, even as the frain inside started breaking down the kitchenette’s door. Mike, however, got stuck halfway through. He looked at Callie and Edward, “Leave me.” he said.
Callie and Edward looked at each other, and then at Mike.
“No.” they replied.
Elsewhere, Jon, Dom, Wes, Woodrow, and Peggy were led outside, their hands cuffed behind them. They were to be put in the back of the frain’s prisoner transfer wagon.
Jon shouted “NOW!”, and each of them lifted a foot, and brought it down hard on the toes of their keepers. They shrugged off the hands of the frain upon their moment of pain and surprise, and ran off in five different directions.
“AFTER THEM!!” came the wholly unnecessary shout, as the frain dispersed after them.
At that same moment, Callie and Edward pulled Mike out through the window. The frain ran inside, seconds too late to grab Mike, saw the three now outside, and ran back out to get to them.
Mike considered a run to the wagon, as it had been left unguarded when the frain dispersed after Jon and the others; but there was no way to reach the wagon before the frain ran out the back door and intercepted them.
The wagon was lost to them. Mike let it go.
“Run like hell.” he said instead.
And they did.
In the end, the frain managed to recapture four of the five handcuffed runaways (Woodrow somehow gave them the slip); and after all that effort, and the element of surprise even, those four were the only ones they had to show for it.

“ONLY FOUR?!” Mallacharr yelled at his frain officers, as he surveyed the aftermath on site at the Wherehouse. He had just arrived, and had expected to see Dreadniks piled inside the prisoner transfer wagon.
“Those kids fought like sailors, sir!” one of the bolder officers complained, “And they ran like cwarnas!”
Mallacharr rubbed his hands over his face.
“Well, I guess four is enough,” he muttered to himself, “It’s not what I was hoping for, but it’ll have to do.”
“Uhhhh sir…” one of his lieutenants spoke, “If it’s any help, one of the four we caught is the leader of the group.”
“The Grash kid?”
“Uh huh.”
Mallacharr lightened up. “Yeah, I think that might just be enough to impress the Vignach.”
He turned to go, then remembered something and turned back.
“I almost forgot!” he said, “Was there a Michael or Callindra Longstreet among the captured?”
“No sir,” the lieutenant said, looking at his clipboard, “Just Grash, Hansen, Goreth, and Spyre. That, plus some beat-up old station wagon we impounded that was on the premises.”
“Damn.” Mallacharr muttered, “Longstreet is not going to be happy.”

Inside the frain’s prisoner transfer wagon, the four captured Dreadniks sat.
“Well, that went well.” said Dom.
“At least the others got away.” Wes added.
“Bear will lead them now.” Jon said, “She’ll find them all and find a safe place.”
“And what do WE do?” Peggy asked, “Besides end up in Ragginarck?”
“We stay alert,” Jon replied, “Sooner or later, a window of opportunity always opens.”

Mallacharr returned to his office. The phone rang.
It was Charles Longstreet, and after Mallacharr answered his initial question, he became rather vocal.
“The information you gave us was correct, but your kids and several of the Dreadniks escaped our sweep.” Mallacharr tried to explain.
Longstreet hung up on him.
Mallacharr put the phone down. He didn’t care about Longstreet or his kids. He had got what he wanted, and the Vignach had been satisfied with the result.
Mallacharr finally had some elbow room, with which to elbow that Nandehl bitch out of his way. The sooner the better.

Charles Longstreet banged his fist on the table.
“They didn’t get them!” he shouted.
He and Rak were in Longstreet’s room at the Caprice Motel. From there Longstreet had called Mallacharr to inform him of the location of the Dreadnik’s hideout; to no apparent benefit.
Longstreet walked over to Rak, who sat staring into space.
“Where will the remaining Dreadniks go, now that they’ve lost their hideout?” he asked.
“There’s lots of places they could go,” Rak said, his voice lifeless and dull, “Some old hideouts that are still usable.”
“Come with me,” Longstreet said, “You are going to show me these places until we find them.”
The two left the motel, got into Longstreet’s stolen car (the one with MACATTO INSURANCE writ on its sides), and drove off.



Friday, September 10, 2010

Chapter 22


At Rynza’s orders, Carissa scurried Mike, Callie, Jon, Peggy, and Edward out of the Spirit Room, and back into the waiting room.
“My sister has to perform a ritual to cleanse the Spirit Room of any residual traces of dark magic.” Carissa said, “This is for your safety as well as hers. She’ll be ready to see you in a few minutes, okay?”
They all nodded. Carissa turned and re-entered the Spirit Room, to assist her sister.
“Where’d you put the ring, Mike?” Callie asked.
“It’s in my pocket.” Mike said, “I should never have given it to you, Callie.”
“There was no way you could have known.”
“I should have suspected something.” Mike insisted.
“Well,” Callie turned to Jon, “I’m sorry we didn’t tell you guys the whole story. We didn’t lie, but we kept things from you.”
“It’s understandable,” Jon said, “There was no way we were equipped to handle that information.”
“I’m not sure we’re equipped to handle it now.” Peggy added.
“Yeah, but we’ve put you guys in danger.” Mike said, “That’s a pretty big breach of trust. I wouldn’t hold it against you if you threw us out for that.”
“No one’s throwing anyone out.” Peggy said. She meant it to sound like a confident comment, but it ended up sounding more like a question. She looked at Jon, “Right?”
Jon looked down at his hands, his brow furrowed in thought. He looked like someone on the verge of a big decision.
“For the good of the Dreadniks,” he said, “I have no other choice. A Palabrin must look to the good of the group first.”
“Look Jon,” Mike said, “If you have to throw us out, we understand. There are no bad feelings from our end. You’ve all done a lot for us, and we’re thankful. Besides, with our wagon back, and Rynza about to tell us the whereabouts of our mother, there’s little reason for us to stick around anyway.”
“Isn’t there?” Callie asked. She looked at Jon.
“I guess not.” Jon said, but perhaps not to the question Callie had in mind, as he seemed lost in his own thoughts.
The five of them were left in an awkward silence that remained unbroken until Carissa at last returned from the Spirit Room once more, and beckoned them to go in.
“You can come in now.” she said.
They walked in. Carissa stopped Mike at the entrance. She held up and opened a small blue drawstring bag that looked shiny on the inside.
“Rynza says I should hold the ring for you outside the Spirit Room, to prevent further contamination.”
“You can keep the damned thing.” Mike said. He reached into his pocket, withdrew the ring, and dropped it inside the bag.
“You’ll get it back.” Rynza said, once Mike was seated, “My intuition tells me you will have need of it, somehow. You can keep it in the bag. It’s made of Sarsarin silk, which should provide ample protection.”
“What about all that time we had it in our pockets?”
“Unless one of you put it on your finger at some point, you should be okay.” Rynza said, “Neither of you ever put it on, did you?”
“No.” said Mike. Callie shook her head.
“Good.” Rynza said, “The bag is just for extra safety.”
“So...why did all hell break loose when Callie put the ring on the table?” Mike asked.
“This room and this table were designed to amplify my psychic powers. When the ring hit the table, the table must have amplified the dark magical forces within the ring. This radiated outward to the room, which amplified it further. If it wasn’t for you, Mike, I shudder to think what would have become of us---or what we would have become, for that matter.”
“Yay, Mike!” said Peggy.
“How did you do that, Mike?” Jon asked, “I couldn’t move a muscle.”
“Me neither.” Edward added.
“Beats the hell out of me,” Mike said, “I suppose the paralyzing effect wasn’t quite finished with me, or something.”
“Back to the subject at hand,” Callie said, “What’s the deal with the ring? What is its purpose?”
“I don’t know.” Rynza replied, “So let’s work with what I do know. I assume most of you have heard of The Lost City?”
All but Edward nodded.
“It’s in Goskoh, ain’t it?” Mike asked, “Not all that far from here, the cursed city of Cathim.”
Rynza nodded. “It was once a big city---not Idus Alth big---but certainly on par with Metromax. In fact, had Cathim not fallen, Metromax City would never have grown as much as it has, to take its place. No one knows who cursed it, and all attempts to undo the curse have ended badly, for those making the attempt.”
“So, who cursed it?” Mike asked.
“Nobody knows, dingleberry.” Callie said.
You do, don’t you?” Mike said, looking at Rynza, “You wouldn’t be telling us all this if you didn’t, right?”
Rynza nodded. “I know, because my spirit guide, Valtina, knows, and told me. The one who cursed Cathim, all of its citizens, and all who may yet venture beneath its hazy mantle, was a powerful and evil Ma’jai named Araboam Sinestri. And I believe it is this very same Sinestri who is your unseen enemy.”
“Who is this guy?” Mike asked, “What’s his damage? What the hell does he have to do with me or Callie?”
“I cannot see his plan or purpose.” Rynza said, “That’s one of the pitfalls of psychic ability…sometimes you know the WHEN, the WHERE, sometimes even the WHY; but never all at the same time. Though I do think you’ll find the date of Cathim’s cursing provocative.”
“Why? When did it happen?” Callie asked.
“Eleven years ago,” Ryza answered, “In 3642.”
“That was the year our father took us away from our mother!” Callie said, “You don’t think…?”
“Yes,” Rynza replied, “I believe Cathim is the big city Mike remembers from long ago, the city where you two were born, the city where your mother may yet be found, among the accursed. You two and your father may have been among the last to see Cathim before it was damned.”
“You think he knew it was going to happen?” Callie asked.
“I think it went beyond mere knowing.” Rynza said, “Where could your father have picked up a dark magical ring, I wonder?”
“From a practitioner of dark magic, of course.” Mike said, nodding, “Say…an evil Ma’jai?”
“A gift from Sinestri, then?” Jon said, “A symbol of a pact?”
“You think he had a hand in it?” Callie asked.
“Foreknowledge does suggest some species of involvement.”
“That’s an odd statement from a psychic.” Callie retorted.
“Perhaps,” Rynza said, “But there is this: your father is here in Metromax, and he’s looking for you.”
Mike and Callie’s blood froze.
“He entered this city last night. He went to visit Crellat Mallacharr early this very morning. He knows you two are with the Dreadniks, somehow. He and Mallacharr are joining forces to catch the lot of you.”
Everyone leapt to their feet, but Rynza. “My spirits could not stand to be near your father for very long,” she said, “They told me he was foul with dark magic. Till the ring incident just now, I didn’t realize how dark.”
Rynza fixed Mike and Callie with a stern look. “You two must leave Metromax City immediately. You must draw your father and Sinestri away from here, before something terrible happens to our mutual Dreadnik friends.”
“Then what?!” Mike asked, “How do we deal with this Sinestri person?”
“I don’t know,” Rynza said, “But you have to confront him, of that I am sure.”
“How do we even find him?” Callie asked.
“Find your mother, and you will find Sinestri.” Rynza said, “To do that, you must travel on to Cathim.”
“And if we don’t?” Callie asked, “What’ll happen if we just head off in another direction?”
“How long are you two willing to be on the run? How long will your father give chase? How long before Sinestri comes and gets you in his own time and on his own terms?”
Mike squinted. “Are you implying that Sinestri is working on a timeframe?”
“No, I’m implying that Sinestri doesn’t seem to be playing at a level commensurate with his power---yet. Then again, a cat doesn’t always eat its prey directly upon capturing it; sometimes they toy with their food.”
“Cathim it is, then.” Mike said, “What do we do when we get there?”
“I wish I knew.” Rynza said.

Back at the frain station, in the office of the Raishera; Siana Nandehl sat at her desk, and drummed her fingers on its metal top.
Today had not been a good day for her, so far. Her long power struggle with Crellat Mallacharr over his job (she wanted it, he wanted to keep it), had come to an unexpected junction.
Here she had him over a barrel; weakened and prone for the kill (it helped that she had weaseled herself into the Vignach’s good graces, which gave her an unfair advantage over Mallcharr: he could not strike back at her with impunity). Then fate had appeared out of nowhere and had given Mallacharr a big sloppy wet kiss in the form of Charles Longstreet, who said he could find the Dreadniks.
Siana had sent a car to tail him, as he left the station, but somehow Longstreet had given them the slip. Her two usually competent compatriots had returned with embarrassed looks on their faces. They had no idea how Longstreet had shook them.
Siana had then contacted the frain station in Noah’s Oak, New Heedol, and found out that Longstreet was a low-profile kind of guy; no criminal record, no traffic tickets, no overdue books, no useful information on him beyond the fact that he owned a house there.
Now, to top it all off, came word that Mallacharr had just put in an order for a sweep team. This could only mean one thing: Longstreet had made good on his word, and had located the Dreadnik’s hideout. Frain sweeps were too much of a bureaucratic pain-in-the-ass to be ventured upon without some certainty of success; and Mallacharr’s last one had turned up nothing.
If Mallacharr succeeded now in capturing some or all of the Dreadniks, his position would be strengthened, and hers weakened. With new confidence and job security, he would be able to take her out, and she would no longer have protection against his reprisals. Mallacharr would act quickly.
So Siana Nandehl sat and drummed her fingers on her desk. She would not go down easy. Even now, she bent her will to the task of finding a way to rob Mallacharr of his victory (should his net catch the desired fish).
However it went, it was going to be a long day.

The consultation was over.
Mike, Callie, Jon, Peggy, and Edward, along with Rynza and Carissa, congregated in Rynza’s waiting room. Carissa gave Mike the blue silk bag, with the ring inside.
“So are you guys gonna take off from here?” Edward asked; a little sadly.
Since last night’s febwith, Mike and Callie had grown on him to an amazing extent. They had risked their own lives to save his, after all. He felt he could follow them to the ends of creation, if they’d let him (which, of course, they wouldn’t).
“I think we should probably drop you guys off first.” Mike said.
“I think you two should have a last lunch with us.” Jon said, “Plus, we can set you up with food and supplies.”
Rynza looked at Jon askance. “I’d skip the lunch.” she said.
They said their good-byes to Rynza and Carissa, got in the wagon, and headed off, back to the Wherehouse.
Rynza clenched and unclenched her hands (a nervous habit) as she watched them go. 
“I have a terrible feeling, Rissa,” she said, “That things are going to go badly, if they haven’t already.”

Friday, September 3, 2010

Chapter 21


When Jon awoke from his long sleep, the first thing he saw was Callie’s smiling face.
“Good morning, sunshine.” she said.
“Morning?” he asked. He sat upright.
“Well, it’s closer to noon.” Callie said, “We all had breakfast already.”
“Except you, of course,” she added, “Bear felt it would be better if you were allowed to sleep off the effects of the stuff.”
“Stuff?” Jon asked. He blinked with bleary confusion, “So…where’s everyone now?”
“Most of them are off on their rounds. Bear’s downstairs, Kitty and Corrina are sleeping in their room, and Mike, Peggy, and Edward took off in the wagon to run down the last seven Shales in the phonebook. I decided to stay here and keep an eye on you.”
Jon rubbed his bloodshot eyes. “Callie, what the hell happened last night? What happened to me?
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Braneegan throwing me out of his shack. Everything’s a blur after that. I think I jumped on his back, I’m not sure.”
“You did---and then Mike accidently injected you with Tullaxiffan. You went out like a light.”
“Oh.” said Jon, “That explains why I feel like crap.”
“It’ll pass,” he replied, “But tell me, how did the febwith go?”
“It was a success,” Callie said, “Eventually.”

        Downstairs, Bear sat alone at a table. She heard voices and looked up to see Jon and Callie coming down the stairs.
        “How ya feeling, Jon?” Bear asked.
        “Like I spent the night in a concrete mixer.”
        “Yeah, you look it.”
        “I see you decided to stick around here this morning.”
        “I figured at least one semi-conscious palabrin should keep an eye on things here.” Bear replied, “You want some breakfast? There are still some left-overs left over.”
        “Nah, I’ll just wait till lunchtime.” he said, as he and Callie sat down, “Callie was just filling me in on everything that happened last night.”
        “You missed a funfest, from what I hear.” Bear said.
        “So, Callie,” Jon asked, “What do you and Mike intend to do, now that you’ve got the wagon back?”
        “Continue to look for our mother, I guess.”
        “You could always stay here with us.” Jon said.
        Bear watched them, but said nothing; she did not seem surprised.
“I’ve…we’ve…considered that possibility.” Callie said.
        “We haven’t decided anything, yet.”
        Mike, Peggy, and Edward suddenly entered through the back door; talking and laughing. They walked over to where Bear, Jon, and Callie were sitting.
        “How’d it go?” Callie asked.
        “Sorry Cal,” Mike said, turning serious, “Not a single one panned out.”
        Callie did not look particularly distressed by this news. “So what’s our next move?” she asked.
        “Peggy says we should go see Rynza.” Mike said.
        “The psychic?” Callie asked.
        “Yes,” Peggy replied, “She’s really good. If we leave right now, we could get back in time for lunch.”
        “Alright, count me in.” Callie said.
        “Can I tag along with you guys some more?” Edward asked.
        “Sure,” said Callie, “There’s room enough in the wagon, now that all our stuff was cleared out of it.”
        “Then I think I’ll go too.” Jon said.
        “Sure,” Mike replied, “You can ride in the back like last night.”
        They all laughed.

        Rynza Adreynac’s home and business were located on Wedgewood Street; situated between a rowdy bar, and an empty, boarded-up building that used to be a rowdy bar (before it’s owner got shot). The front window of the place had a neon sign (underneath the security bars, of course) with pink glowing letters that read: PSYCHIC, beneath a representation of an open hand with an eyeball staring out of the palm, and licks of flame above each digit.
        “This is it.” said Jon.
        Mike parked the wagon in front, and everybody got out.
        There was a SORRY! WE’RE CLOSED! sign on the door of the building, but the door was opened for them nonetheless, by a pudgy woman in her early forties. She let them in and locked the door behind them.
        “Rynza, I presume?” Callie asked.
        “Carissa,” the woman said, “Her sister. Come with me to the Spirit Room. Rynza’s been waiting for you.”
        They were in a small empty waiting room, which had a burgundy colored vinyl sofa and matching chairs, as well as an oval table with old magazines set upon it in haphazard piles. The five of them followed Carissa through a door which opened into a large circular room.
        The room was windowless, and painted black from floor to ceiling; decorated all around with mystical symbols and writing and designs in gold paint. On the ceiling was drawn a celestial map of stars and constellations. The room was illuminated by three white plastic globes which hung about a foot down from the center of the ceiling, equidistant from each other; Mike figured there was a light bulb inside of each globe, as they glowed brightly.
        In the center of the room was a round table, the top of which was black marble; with ornate calligraphy also drawn in gold. There were six chairs around this table, and an empty spot in which sat a woman in a wheelchair, about three or four years younger than Carissa. She was thinner than her sister, and had short, raven-black hair.
        “Please come in and sit down.” she said, “We have much to talk about. You two sit across from me. What are your names, please?”
        “Mike.” said Mike.
        “Callie.” said Callie.
        They all sat down.
        “I’m Rynza Adreynac.” she said, and turned to Jon, “I don’t think we need to go into that note I sent you the night before last. The choice was yours to make, and you made it. All that remains is to deal with the consequences of that choice.”
        “What note?” Peggy asked, “What choice?”
        “We’re not going into that now.” Jon said, with finality.
        Peggy got the message, and pressed no further.
        “Okay, you two.” Rynza said, turning once more to Mike and Callie, “Tell me your story, and this time include all the interesting bits you didn’t share with the Dreadniks.”
        “What do you mean?” Mike asked.
        “You know,” Rynza said, “Something to do with a ring…and an old man with a dog…or something.”
        “You read minds too?” Mike asked.
        “No. I just pick up things from the psychic stream.” Rynza said, “Bits and pieces. Sometimes, I get enough to put a picture together.”
        “I thought you had spirit guides or something.” Callie said.
        “I do.” Rynza answered, “One of them has been rather troubled since you two entered the city. Her name is Valtina. But we’ll get to that soon enough; after you two tell me all about yourselves. C’mon now, spill it.”
        They spilled it.
        Mike and Callie told Rynza the same story they had told Jon, Bear, and Dom two nights ago; only this time, Mike described his father’s reaction to the removal of his ring, and how his eyes had seemed to go black for a second, when Mike had looked at him the next morning. This he had never even told Callie.
        When the story got to the part about the Rough Country, and Rufus Kantry, Rynza stopped them.
        “Are you telling me you two met THE Rufus Kantry? The Ma’jai?”
        “Yes.” Mike said, “Do you know him?”
        “Valtina does, or rather did, when she was alive; over a hundred years ago. Go on.”
        Mike and Callie went on to describe their meeting with Kantry, and what he had to say about their unseen enemy.
        “Typical Ma’jai,” Rynza muttered, “Always stingy with crucial information.”
        “You think he knew who our spellcaster was, and didn’t tell us?” Mike asked.
        “I do.” Rynza said.
        “Do you know?” Callie asked.
        Rynza weighed her words carefully. “I believe I just might. Some of the bits of information you’re giving me are snapping into some puzzle pieces I already have, and a picture is beginning to emerge. If I am correct, and that’s a big if, I might also know where your mother is, as well.”
        “WELL?!” Mike said, making “gimme” motions with his hands.
        “In due time,” Rynza said, “Finish your story. Tell me everything.”
        Mike and Callie finished describing their encounter with Kantry, then hurried through the rest of their story: their entry into Metromax, meeting Rak, the Dreadniks, the febwith, and then at last they were done.
        “Okay, thank you.” Rynza said, “Now show me your father’s ring.”
        Callie retrieved the ring from her shirt pocket, extended her hand, and dropped it on the table in front of Rynza.
        It was an innocent mistake, but a nearly catastrophic one.
Immediately, all the gold mystical lettering on the marble table went black, as did the writing on the walls and ceiling. The lights went out, and a feeling of great menace fell upon them all like an oppressive weight. A living, suffocating darkness, like a thick black cloud, encircled and surrounded them; while eldritch murmurings, like the despair of generations, filled their ears and assailed their spirits.
        “TAKE IT OFF!!” Rynza shrieked.
        Callie tried, but could not move. All she could do was writhe in her chair. None of them could move, not even to escape and run away.
        They were all screaming now; their voices overwhelmed by the infernal din of the abyss.
        Somehow Mike, with great effort, got his arm to move and grab at the ring; but found it stuck to the spot like a powerful magnet. He pried his fingers under its obscenely vibrating mass, and wrenched it off with a violent jerk that nearly sent him tumbling back over with his chair.
        The darkness and the murmuring receded upon the instant; and little by little, light returned, the lettering on the walls and on the table came back, and their paralysis broke. They all sat there sweating and breathing heavy as if they had just run a marathon.
        “What the…what the hell was THAT?!!” Peggy gasped.
        “Darkest magic…” Rynza, at last able to speak, said. She looked over at Mike and Callie with alarm, “You two are in terrible danger; and you’ve endangered everyone around you!”

        Rak awoke.
        The first thing he realized was that his wrists and feet were bound. He was curled up in a dark, smelly, and bumpy place that could only be the trunk of a moving vehicle. He tried to yell, but his mouth was taped over; all that came out was a muffled cry. Panic threatened to set in, but Rak forced himself to calm down. He moved his bound hands down the side of his leg, hoping to find the form of the syringe of Tullaxiffan in his pocket, but it was no longer there. The wallets he had deposited in his shirt when he was out pounding were gone too.
        The vehicle came to a stop.
        Rak heard the driver’s side door open. Seconds later came the sound of a key being inserted and the lock being turned.
        The trunk was opened.
        Rak’s eyes were blinded by the sudden sunlight. A shadow figure was outlined in the bright blur.
        “Good, you’re awake.” the shadow said, “Here, let me help you with that.”
        The tape over Rak’s mouth was removed.
        “Don’t bother screaming for help. No one will hear you, and I will have to hurt you.”
        “You’re going to hurt me anyway, bastard!” Rak spat out.
        “That cannot be helped.” the shadow said, “But the time for screaming will arrive soon enough; there’s no need to get ahead of yourself.”
        At last Rak’s eyes began to acclimate to the light, and the visage of his abductor began to become clear. It was not a face he knew, but there was an oddly familiar cast to it.
        “Let me introduce myself,” the shadow said, “My name is Charles Longstreet. I’m Mike and Callie’s father.”
        Charles Longstreet took out a pocketknife from his back pocket, and unfolded it. The blade was not long, but looked sharp.
        “This will be unpleasant, I’m afraid.” Longstreet said, “But when it’s over, you’ll see things my way.”
        Rak had a terrible moment of revelation: this was not going to go well for him. His luck had at last run out, as he had been warned many times that it would. Jon had been right all along; if only he had listened.
        Panic set its claws into him, and he began to scream.
        “HELP!! SOMEBODY HELP ME!!” he screamed at the top of his lungs, as he struggled against his bonds.
        Longstreet silenced him by putting his hand over Rak’s mouth.
        The feeling of Longstreet’s hand on his face was so utterly loathsome, Rak began to vomit. The hand was removed, but the feeling of revulsion remained.
        “The knife is not for you.” Longstreet said, smiling horribly, “But you will wish soon enough that it had been.”
He took the knife and cut deep across the pad of his left hand’s pinky finger.
“What do you call the tainted blood of one who has been touched by dark magic?” Longstreet asked.
Rak had no idea what the madman was talking about.
Malevolencia.” Longstreet said, as he extended his left hand over Rak, and tipped his cut pinky over; spilling black blood on Rak’s face, “And as you’ll see, it has some interesting properties.”
Rak screamed and shook violently, as the blood burned and somehow absorbed through his skin.
After a time, his shaking became seizures, and his screams became moans. Then, he fell silent.
“That’s better.” Longstreet said, “Now tell me…where do you live?”