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!”
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?”