These machines therefore run, without complaint or dissention, down the same
track for their entire existence, doing only what they know, every action
perfectly predictable. Better then to be a man, free of choice, free of thought
and free of restraint! The machine is an aberration to the human spirit. When I
explained this to the foreman he predictably failed to grasp the notion…
- Prince Bevard of Enton, a Treatise on Dwarves
Horne was clearing out the drawers of his desk. Several piles of folders en
paper adorned his desk, crowding the phone, the monitor and the little plant he
was unsuccessfully caring for. His keyboard lay on the floor. In theory nearly
everything could be done with the stone age program on the computer, but Horne
was born old-fashioned that way. He liked the tangibility of paper.
frustrated him. Nearly every file, every piece of paper on the Delao case lay
before him. Eight months of solid work. Eight months of work down the drain
since the court hearing yesterday – not that it mattered that much; he should
be out there after yesterday! He had barely slept at all. First the car
had to be inspected, documented and towed to the garage, and even then he could
not sleep for the adrenaline in his body. The little projector in the back of
his head kept running past the same memory of the rows of teeth inches away
from his face. He felt exhausted and angry and anxious all at the same time. He
should be looking for Ferrick.
lifted the last stack of folders out of his drawer and dumped them on the
others. These were probably going to need a little sorting.
Franklin put on his professional face and looked up into the mustached, puffy face of Bob
here for some information,” Bob said, inviting himself to a nearby desk,
sitting down on the empty chair and swiveling it towards Franklin. He set down
his paper cup of coffee on the desk and leaned back nonchalantly.
Franklin said. “I’m working on that.”
rubbed his mustache.
Franklin had held a mild dislike towards Bob for a number of years now. Bob had been there
when Franklin had been made detective. Bob had always been there, with his
little failure of a mustache, his bloated body and the perpetual paper coffee
cup glued to his hand. You could tell where Bob had been by the little coffee
rings on the surfaces, and while Franklin had never directly worked with him,
he suspected that Bob was one of those people who was especially good at looking
like he was working. It was as if the positive results of other people’s
efforts automatically clung to him as if attracted by a strange sort of
gravity. Franklin wasn’t sure what Bob actually did.
picked up his coffee, took a sip, and put it back down.
you got in a bit of an incident last night,” Bob said.
“Yyyeah, bit of an incident,” Franklin said, sneering at the euphemism.
to fill me in?” Bob asked.
Franklin sighed. His brain felt like it was running on fumes.
Bob, I’m a bit busy…”
okay,” said Bob. “I’m investigating the matter, see.”
Franklin stared at him. Bob was investigating the matter? Bob!?
erm,” he said, trying hard for detached neutrality. “What do you want to know?”
saw a man fall from an undetermined height on Brunswick Avenue, correct?” Bob
said. “What.. Do you remember happening afterwards?”
I ran towards him. He’d fallen into a car and he looked like he’d be pretty
broken. So I kept an eye on him and waited for the ambulance. Pete did crowd
control. It’s in my report.”
ignored the last remark.
was taken to the hospital, and then what?”
what’ what?” Franklin was getting irritable.
you tell me what happened there?”
you be more specific?”
you just… Summarize?”
did you read my report?”
“Right,” Franklin said. He turned back to his folders. “Can you come back after
you read it?”
“Frank,” Bob said with a nervous and insincere grin, “I only want—”
Franklin burst out. “Last night a giant beast wrecked my car, nearly bit my
face off and flew off. I barely slept, my car’s in the garage and I have things
to do. Just read the damn report!”
eerie silence descended on the conversation, one that became all too audible
due to the subtle change in the volume of the background noise. Franklin became painfully aware that that outburst had just earned him entry to the center
can’t,” said Bob, who’s facial expression had turned decidedly distasteful.
Franklin stared at him for a few moments.
me,” he then muttered. He stood up and walked through the room, eyes fixed
straight ahead of him, to the captain’s office. He peered through the window in
the door, saw she was alone and burst in. He closed the door behind him.
Totes was a small black woman whose size had only served to heighten the
general sharpness of her character, which at times seemed to have edges. She
was busy typing on her keyboard in a sort of accelerated hunt-and-peck style.
She paused a moment for him, then said “Franklin…” and typed a few more letters
before pushing away the keyboard and giving him the full glare of her
been meaning to have a word with you,” she said. She nodded at an empty chair
but did not take off her half-moon reading glasses.
Franklin sat down. He did not quite know how to proceed now; around superiors he always
felt a bit like a schoolboy in the headmaster’s office.
just came to speak with me,” he said.
Totes removed her glasses and tightened her lips.
fault, I’m afraid,” she said. “I don’t think I was entirely clear with him.”
This was the effect Bob had on people. “Franklin, I’d wanted to speak with you
first, about your report.”
Franklin said nothing. Captain Totes picked up a transparent plastic folder containing a
small stack of paper.
here,” she said, “the one copy of your report. I printed it before I called IT
and had it removed.”
and indignation jockeyed for first place in Franklin’s mind.
can’t do that…” he said.
can,” said Captain Totes, “And I did. Detective Horne,” – she really only
reserved the D-word for special occasions – “Disregarding the discussion
of truth for a moment, what on Earth possessed you to write such a
it happen to me?” said Franklin.
“Franklin,” Captain Totes sighed, “yesterday afternoon you were murdered before a full
courtroom, and I was faced with the unpleasant prospect of having a talk
with you, about speaking your mind.”
Franklin found it best to say nothing.
then you sent me this,” she said, holding up the file.
“Franklin,” the captain interrupted him; her voice was tinged with a sort of concerned
desperation. “They would have eaten you alive for this. Do you realize
that? Do you realize what would have happened had this report ended up higher
up? Or worse, in the media? Police looking for dragon, er…” She waved
the report around in short, nervous motions as she grasped for a more catching
headline. “Dragon wanted for questioning, APB out for dragon, you
know how they are.”
don’t say it’s a dragon!” Franklin burst out.
but this Ferrick does. And here you are describing it two pages later. After a
rooftop chase no less.”
were three cars—”
whom saw nothing, detective. But go ahead, what do you think it
was, Detective Horne?”
sudden question hit Franklin hard. This one didn’t sound rhetorical; she
actually expected an answer of him. He hesitated.
“Detective Horne?” she asked.
don’t know,” he said. “How the hell should I know? Maybe if we can find it? I
got fingerprints in my car.”
Totes tossed her reading glasses on her desk and sighed.
thing is, Franklin,” she explained, “it doesn’t matter what happened, or what
you think happened. All that matters is what’s in that report and how
people will read it. You’re a good detective, Horne, you care, you have drive.
I don’t know many men who want justice more than you want it. You are
honest and forthright, and they are all fine qualities that make you a good
man, Franklin, but it also makes you vulnerable. And I have to protect you from
that. Don’t you see?” she said. “Nobody” – she held up the folder for emphasis
– “wants to hear this.”
Franklin lowered his head. He realized that while It was difficult to imagine Captain Totes
as anything but a stern and demanding captain, in her time off she was also a –
presumably – loving grandmother and a caring wife. The proof of such a claim
lay in the one personal item on her desk: a picture of three smiling young
children in the grass, which she replaced every year with an updated version.
And she was protecting him.
sighed a long sigh.
what happens now?” he asked.
asked Pete to write the report, and I’m going to assign you to smaller cases,”
said the captain, and she held up a hand before any protest could be filed.
“Nuh-uh, listen Franklin: after yesterday you cannot afford to so much as trip
over a loose shoelace. It’s about reputations, egos, your taxes at work, you
know, the whole deal. So you’re going to stay inside, do a good job and wait
for people to forget all about you because the last thing any of this is about
is you. And I don’t want to lose you, Detective Horne.”
sat in silence for a few moments. Franklin felt bitter, but was not sure
towards whom exactly. Everyone? No one?
“Look, Franklin,” the captain finally said. She had lowered her voice slightly. “I’m no fool. I
read the reports from last night – including this one – but more importantly, I
hear the stories. Something screwy went on last night, everyone can see
that, people raining down on the city and all, but hell if I know what it was.
And this Ferrick may know more.”
is not to say I’m ready to believe a word of what this says yet,” she added,
and with that she opened a drawer in her desk, lifted up a pile of files and
shoved the report under it.
“Now Franklin,” she then said. “Why don’t you go home and get some sleep. Because frankly… You
look like hell.”
Franklin stood up. His head felt fuzzy, and he noticed that he shook slightly. He felt like
a humiliated idiot, humbled by a part of the world that he never could get to
grips with. He very much wanted to sleep. But instead, he said:
I still have files to sort.”
Totes gave him a small, slow nod, then picked up her reading glasses, pulled
her keyboard towards her and hunted for the next letter. Franklin observed that
she never found it before he walked out of the office and closed the door
* * *
drizzled on Varsity.
ago Varsity had had a city hall in the style of an old court building with a
large clock tower. But the city outgrew it, and it was therefore abandoned for
a modern, soulless cube of an office building. This was a somewhat
controversial move, however, that was paid for with the assurance that the
stately old building would be given a fitting and dignified new use. This too
turned out to be a controversial issue, and over the following decades many a
committee, council member and mayor considered the matter through their own
prism. It almost became a museum, a plan to turn it into apartments narrowly
fell through and in the end the property was sold to a private party, an
investor who had meant to turn it into a mansion before the financial crisis du
jour put an end to him, his money and his plans. The tower was gutted of its
clockwork mechanism, because even that turned out to be worth at least something.
And now it housed a dragon.
lay behind the open service door of the clock face, staring grimly into the
veil of water on the other side. Square in the middle of the empty space, on
the concrete block that once housed the clockwork mechanism, sat Kara. She sat
with her feet close to her body, soles touching, and her arms outstretched
until her fingertips were a mere inch off the floor. Her face expressed a sort
of very grim inner peace, or at least something akin to an inner peace accord.
is insanity,” Scyce grumbled.
interruptions,” said Kara, with closed eyes.
Scyce cried out over his shoulder. “We sit here and do nothing!”
Kara said. “You sit here and do nothing.”
sat here all day!” Scyce stood up, stomped over to the healer and stopping only
when his snout was inches from her face. It appeared to have no effect on her,
so he sat down instead and glared down at her.
destruction takes seconds, General Scyce” Kara said. “All other things take
jaw squared. He was not used to this. Powerlessness was an old familiar
condition that he had left far behind him years ago; most people either did
what he wanted or died, which was often roughly the same thing.
are you finding?” he demanded.
“Nothing yet,” said Kara.
of this then.”
craned his head in frustration and growled a gurgling growl at the heavens or,
in this case, the ceiling.
are a distraction, Scyce,” said Kara. “Please leave.”
jumped up on his feet. He paced around her like a stalking predator, swishing
his tail agitatedly.
let me do it,” he demanded. “Show me how.”
are not capable.”
flash Scyce’s teeth moved to within inches of the healer’s face. The anger that
would have powered the remaining gap came out as a slow, soft growl hat seemed
to slowly deflate the dragon.
not?” he demanded.
seemed to hesitate for only a moment before speaking boldly:
“Because you lack the strength.”
Something jolted Scyce from the inside. He seemed to bulge back up with
me!” he roared.
time Kara opened her eyes. She turned her head and glared straight into the
wish to learn the techniques of the old Masters of the Azean Temple,” she said. “Who meditate twelve hours a day and sleep four each night. Who take their
students among the smallest of children so that there is a chance they may
learn before adulthood. Who teach without speaking, live without owning and die
gaze faltered for a moment as he processed the litany. Backing out was, of
one: sit down.”
alleyway off of Dove Lane four figures shambled around in filth. The filth was
their own fault; it came from various trash bags which they were methodically
tearing open. Cluttering the alleyway were discarded foods, packaging,
wrappers, paper, glass, all the hallmarks of civilized modern life, stinking to
them was a zombie wearing jeans with scuffed knees. The jeans were both too
short and too wide, so he was holding them up with one hand. With the other
hand it chewed the meat off a bone; it was chicken. Two other zombies were
scavenging through the layer of refuse, while the fourth was examining an
overly large blue sweater, sporting a big yellow 3 on the back. In fact,
this is what they looked like:
zombie wearing the overlarge jeans also wore a red buttoned shirt washed down
to the colour pink, and a white left sock. Another zombie – the female one –
wore bright pink track suit pants and a brown leather jacket that was shedding
fluff through a large gash in the left arm. On its head it wore a light beige
baseball cap with the insignia ‘VR- Varsity Rangers’. The third zombie wore a
sensible combination of slightly scuffed jeans and a blue plaid buttoned shirt,
which it had topped off by putting faded red tea cozy on its head. The last one
was just about to exchange a frilly white blouse for the large blue sweater. It
wore lightly coloured sunglasses to hide the empty eye socket in its head but,
alas, no pants. Occasionally they went “beuh” at each other, but quietly,
because the radio barely gave out any volume at all anymore.
over the ages have tried to answer some of life’s important questions: what
happens to you when you die? What is it like to die? In this world the
questions remain just that: questions. In a world where the dead may be raised
from their graves, though, it would seem like a triviality to find an answer.
Alas, it is not. Death, on the whole, has a negative effect on the brain: once
it stops, it cannot be fully restarted, and the end result is usually a sort of
more or less benign animal stupidity, a mockery of the man that used to inhabit
the shambling shell. Such a being could not understand the question even if it
still retained the answer.
the radio changed things: four rotted minds are better than one, if they
are synchronized! Detached in the most complete and utter way from the bonds
of their master, moving to the heartbeat of an otherworldly song, the four
corpses became aware of something rare and unusual happening inside them. They
started to regain awareness of the world around them, and a magnificent world
it was, full of new things and new sounds and new tastes! It was an exciting
time to be dead indeed.
radio was important. The radio was their prized possession. The radio held them
about eight seconds complete silence filled the alleyway. Each zombie stood or
sat frozen, listening intently to the silence. Then they turned their gazes to
them turned the volume knob, both ways. Earlier this had produced interesting
results. This time it did nothing.
pressed the power button. This too had presented fascinating results in the
past, but it proved fruitless in the present.
while, a third zombie began fiddling with the tuner, to no result.
Beuh?” said one of them.
all looked at one another, and broke out in a alarmed discussion:
“Beuh!” “Beuhbeurhbeeeeeuh!” “Beuh beuh
“Beeeeuh!” “Beeeeeeuh! Beurh.” “Beuh.” “Beeeuh!”
Beurh.” “Beh Beuh BEURH.” “Beeeeeeuh” “Breuh.”
few moments they looked silently at the radio, and then they continued, this
time with a lot of finger pointing in various directions:
“Beuh!” “Beuhbeuhbeuh! “Beurh!”
“Beuh!” “Beeeeeeeeeeuh!” “Beuh!” “Beuh.”
“Beuh.” “Beurh. BEURH!” “Beuh.”
was laborious – one zombie got turned around for a while and spent some time
pointing to the moon – but by the time they were done all arms were more or
less pointing in the same direction. With a united spirit and a shared drive
they picked up the radio and, carrying it between two of them, ran off onto the
up a deep breath. He held on to it for a fraction of a second, eyes shut, and
then pushed it back out of his lungs. He did this again, and again, and once
more. His face grew more tense with every breath. He breathed in one more time,
and then let it out in a snarl as he opened his eyes. He stood back up and
walked back to the door.
“Meditation requires balance, patience and strength.” Kara still sat motionless
where she sat before, eyes closed, but inner peace apparently did not make her
any less stern.
“Really,” Scyce said, “And what do you expect to see?”
which binds us,” said Kara.
turned around and took a step towards her.
“Explain,” he said.
Azean Masters teach us that the goddess Azea took the energies that flow free
and weaved them together,” said Kara. “So she created life. Through meditation
a Master, or a gifted student, can envision these energies in the world wound
them, both bound and free.”
world has gone cold, but is not without life. If all its energy is bound to
life, then I may see the free energies that leak from the rift into this
you can find it?” Scyce said.
Kara said. “Life manifests. It requires no originator.”
“Bedacian Acolytes teach us both the finest mathematics and that demons live in
legumes. One does not invalidate the other.”
grunted and turned away. He looked out the door to the bright and rainy world
outside. He made a decision.
going out to find the rift,” he said.
opened her eyes.
no,” she warned. But Scyce crouched down and leapt up with a single flap of his
wings, up onto the rafters of the belfry, where the openings were wide enough
for a dragon to pass.
bore his teeth and growled softly from the very back of his throat. Then,
propelled by sheer frustration, he leapt out of the belfry.
world changed in an instant. Cold drops blew in his face as this new, bright
world rolled out below him. The noise of human habitation and the stench of
their machines rose up to greet him. He flapped his wings hard, gaining height
and speed as swiftly as he could manage. The lights shone at him like a second
night sky under the clouds, orange, red and white. He banked, if only to be out
direct sight of the clock tower, and glared down at the world below. Rage
sloshed around inside him; the healer’s chains chafed and her stoic ways
aggravated him to no end.
inside Kara snarled at the space that used to contain dragon. She got up,
straightened her dresses, pulled her hair behind her airs and headed for the
Scyce landed on the gravel-strewn rooftop of one of the many multi-story
buildings that littered this city – harder than he needed to. He felt defiant;
even without his power he still had strength – whatever the healer meant to
imply – and he was eager to assert it. He quickly looked around in all
directions. It seemed that no one had expected him there; he was alone.
down to the street below from the side of the rooftop. He had seen the same
last night, but back then he had been to busy to really take it all in. Down
below he saw cars moving along smoothly paved streets. He saw humans rush
through the rain. He saw street lights that emitted an unnatural light, much
like the lights on the vehicles that the humans used. Any other time he would
have guessed at the magic involved, but this time it was a mystery. The healer
was correct; this was a cold world. If not dead in life, then it was at least
dead in spirit. So were these all simply machines, or were there powers here
that he simply did not know how to tap into? Could he learn?
attention was drawn to the sound of a conversation that seemed somehow off. Directly
below him passed a woman with a cell phone. Scyce saw that she was holding
something to her ear and spoke an unfamiliar language with great articulation
to no one in particular. Occasionally she paused, uttered some sounds that
sounded like confirmation of something, and continued. None of the other humans
seemed to pay her any mind. He followed her first with his gaze and then along
the side of the rooftop until he reached a corner. He watched her pace off
through the drizzle and then withdrew silently.
His blood boiled at the sight of them, defiantly going about their daily lives
without so much as a fearful glance. But on this rooftop in this cold cinder of
a world, his rage was mixed with apprehension. He lacked power; Scyce was not
prone to fooling himself easily; a mass of humans such as that would easily
overwhelm him. He would have to move with some discretion until he found a way
to either leave, or overpower them.
walked back to the edge of the rooftop and peered down again at the human
population, frustratingly oblivious to his presence. He still had his strength.
What he lacked was knowledge, but knowledge could be gained and from strength
and knowledge came power. And with that power he could destroy whatever human
stood in his way. First the healer, and then…
leaving Scyce took the time to look at the population below just a little bit
longer. The corners of his mouth curled up around his grim expression, because
a pleasant thought was one worth holding on to.
took flight into the cold and wet night.
Cold and wet
was hardly an issue for the quartet of corpses shuffling through the rain. For
one thing, being dead somewhat negated most other negative bodily experiences.
A bit of rain just doesn’t seem like a big deal once you have died, been
stuffed into a casket, buried, rotted and then brought back to the land of the,
roughly speaking, living. But aside from that, they had a bigger issue, for
which they now stood before an old and ugly little building sandwiched between
two larger apartment buildings, labeled thusly:
T.V. & RADIO
the window was a bright yellow sheet of paper which optimistically read: “We also do VCRs”. It was a dingy little shop, named
with little imagination, but it had the worn look of a loved but dying trade.
Everything in the shop window looked old in some way, like it had been
cherished to pieces. It was like a museum to the shop itself, and how it had
branched out to survive over the years. On display were a large cathode tube
television, two tape decks, three VCR’s, various portable CD players and,
scattered about, various CD’s in jewel cases and sleeves, some of which were
plain white, with the name of the CD written on it in pencil. A few vinyl
records were leaning up against the corner of the display, right next to the
most important relic of the entire display: a scuffed portable radio.
owner of the shop, one Roy White, a name which applied more to his hair than to
his skin tone, looked up from a partially disassembled mixer when he heard a
gentle thud against the store window, followed quickly by three more, more or
less simultaneously. He leaned to the side; there was a crack between the VHS
tape display case (The Ice Pirates, the 1984 classic, only $2.50!!) and
the TV set in the window where he had a good look of what was going on in the
outside world, were he so inclined to find out. Through it a row of
unpleasantly damaged faces, pressed up against the glass, stared back at him.
Roy White put down his screwdriver and stared back at them for a few seconds.
Finally he pantomimed a wordless “Well?” by spreading his hands and raising his
eyebrows. The four faces detached themselves from the window, engaged in some
enthusiastic debating and disappeared. Two seconds later the door went ‘ding’
and four… Persons entered the shop. They squeezed themselves through the door,
clustered together and paused to look around with immense interest. One of them
even went so far as to give the ceiling an extended inspection.
I help you?” Mister White asked.
turned their heads to face him, as if only now remembering he was there in the
first place. Then they shuffled hurriedly towards the counter, where two of
them deposited a portable radio that they carried between them.
said a third.
added the fourth.
pairs of eyes and a pair of blue sunglasses looked at him expectantly.
White slowly ran his eyes from one end of the group to the other. To a one,
they looked like the semi-finalists to a ‘ugliest hobo’ competition: their skin
seemed actually in worse condition than their clothes, which themselves carried
with them an unpleasant smell with overtones of garbage. One of them wore a
freakin’ tea cozy on his head!
second from the left raised a finger –hideously scarred – and lowered it
theatrically on the radio’s ‘on’-button. When he pushed down it did nothing.
he said earnestly.
immediately taking his eyes off of the customers mister White grabbed the radio
and felt his way around the edges.
let’s see now…” he muttered. He took a deep breath, tried to forget that he had
just noticed that the one on the far right was not wearing any pants and laid
the radio down flat on its face. He opened the battery compartment, took out
the batteries and touched one of them with the tip of his tongue.
stared at him with a kind of desperate awe that was unsettling.
around under the counter for the batteries he kept around for situations just
like this – or at least somewhat like this – and swiftly inserted them into the
battery compartment with an experienced hand.
we go again, I feel the chemicals kicking in!”
one of the customers cried out. The others chimed in immediately, excitedly
uttering the same monosyllable grunt over and over again.
alright!” yelled a startled Mister White. He quickly pulled out the
batteries and as the radio fell silent, so did his customers. “Yeesh…” He
turned around, took one of the battery packs off of its peg and put it down on
“There’s your problem,” he said. “Dollar six.”
four figures before him stared at the new item. They did this for a while, then
conferred among themselves in muted tones until finally one of them slowly
reached out for it. On a hunch Mister White casually laid his hand over the
batteries and asked, with a bright, serviceable smile:
looked stupidly at him.
six,” Mister White repeated.
them blinked. There lay a silence over the shop that became increasingly awkward.
Any of you speak English?” he ventured.
stupid looks. One of them looked at the others and went “Beuh.”
replied another, and another contributed with “Beuh, beuh. Beuh!”
“Beeeeeuh,” added the fourth, even as the first continued with “Beuh?” This
went on for a little while during which Mister White thought it prudent to
remove the batteries from the counter.
he interjected. “Look…” He held up one finger. “One dollar…” And then he held
up six. “Six cents. Dollar six.” With age came patience, and he made sure to
pronounce those last two words with the greatest of care and clarity.
response, the one with the tea cozy on its head took it off and held it out
no,” said Mister White, leaning away from the vile object. “No,” he added more
firmly. “Money,” he said.
cozy remained where it was.
“Money?” Mister White continued. “Mon… Nee…”
said one. Another seemed to agree: “Beuh,” and they sagged collectively. The
owner of the tea cozy slowly held it slowly up against his chest and fumbled it
slowly, like a corpse at its own funeral.
this point Mister White let his heart – and, it had to be said, his discomfort
“Alright,” he sighed. He held up the batteries and dropped them hand and all on
the counter. “You can pay me later.”
four looked up in wonder and stared at the batteries while at the same time
slowly glancing at each other.
said one, very quietly. This led to a brief interlude of muttered utterings,
which in turn ended with four fixed, uncertain stares.
take it!” said Mister White, who was reaching his limits with respect to
unsettling visitors. He picked up the pack of batteries and tossed it lightly
at the group. Eight hands fumbled to catch it and four bodies disappeared below
the counter to go after it. Shreds of packaging savagely flung through the
store, and when the buyers re-appeared they bore big smiles and four double-A
batteries distributed between them. One of them grabbed the radio, and they
began an attempt to cram batteries into the battery compartment any old way.
After a few false starts where they put in too few batteries, or put them in
the wrong way around, the radio suddenly came back to life:
waaaiting foooor, take a bit of my heart tonight!”
… And a
collective cheer filled the shop. The four of them cried out excited “Beuh!”s
while, with wild gesticulation, indicating the radio and the apparent hero of
the hour: Mister White.
“Alright, alright, please!” Mister White yelled out over the ruckus. And then,
meaningfully: “Will that be all?”
them pulled a notepad out from under his shirt. Another took a pen from his
(her?) pocket. Two of them held the notepad between them while the one with the
pen started scribbling on it with great concentration. The one without pants –
oh God… – looked on, chiming in with an occasional syllable. When they were done
the owner of the notepad tore out the page and held it out at Mister White with
something resembling a flourish. It looked like this:
White smiled, nodded and told them goodbye and saw them off. After he saw them
off and made sure they stayed off, he walked back to the cash register and
looked at the drawing they had given him.
some thought he put it in the register as a form of IOU. It just felt like the
thing to do.
outside. She actually liked being outside because being outside was not being
inside, and sometimes things were just as simple as that. The drizzle was
persistent, she noticed; a perpetual blanket of minute raindrops soaking this noteworthy
city and its inhabitants. She wondered if this was a common form of weather
around here. There was a lot she had yet to learn.
she had gone outside she had left the frustration behind. It was a common trick
that she had learned to cope with the demands of her calling: when she shut the
door behind her she trapped the emotion inside. She could picture it in her
mind as a stifling purple mist, waiting patiently in the clock tower for her to
come home; a more loyal companion could not exist.
that she could concentrate, though, she could see her target quite clearly
before her mind’s eye. But, walking through the streets of this city, she did
not neglected to keep her actual eyes and ears open. She had a knack for
remaining innocuous. Like most small people she had learned to assert several
inches to her height; when she let that melt away all that remained was a
little black haired woman in several plain dresses, shuffling quietly through
the streets, watching, listening and learning.
a nearby parking garage, Scyce was conducting some reconnaissance. He stalked
through one of the upper levels, wings low and head close to the ground. He did
not like the confined space; a roof over his head meant fewer options in
battle, and the amount of light made him nervous. He felt vulnerable.
his way over to one of the parked cars and regarded it suspiciously. It was
white, or at least it had been at some point. However, when he scraped a talon
along the driver side doors it left a deep scratch revealing metal. Metal was
interesting. Metal vehicles were rare. Metal implied machines. He
briefly reared up on his hind legs to confirm that his surroundings were
abandoned, sat back down and proceeded to roll the thing on its side. It was
heavier than he had expected, and it landed with a loud metal crunch that
echoed through the building. He reared back up again and looked around,
listening intently for approaching footsteps. After some time, when he became
convinced that no one was coming, he dropped back down on all four legs and
examined the result of his work.
belly of the car now exposed he noted pipes of various sizes running along a
chaotically organized metal undercarriage. A machine that moved itself – he had
heard of these. As the stories went, they were used in the dwarven tunnels of
Maynmar. The scouts had also reported similar devices when they cleared the
Worbaen Mines. They ran on rails and moved troops at great speed. He had those
destroyed unseen, though. A battle is no time for surprises. What kind of a
city would have such machines in such abundance, he wondered. And what kind of
a world would hold such a city?
crossed through one of the busier parts of the city, where the amount of light
became outright staggering. The myriad of lights glowed brightly in the rain,
mostly red, orange and pale white, casting long streaks on the wet pavement.
Lights that did not flicker like a flame were, under normal circumstances, a
sure sign of magic. In this world she considered them a wonder.
already observed the vehicles that the people here were using to get around and
she too had wondered how they worked. It was an interesting question but she
knew that when it came to facts ‘interesting’ was not the same as ‘useful’. The
fundamental fact was that they did, and the how seemed largely irrelevant. What
she observed instead was how these vehicles – most of them – gleamed in the
light. She observed the smooth streets on which they ran and, after some study,
the intricate light system which regulated their flow through the city. Red,
green, orange, red…
many years ago when she had still been a child, a man had come to the Azean
temple seeking shelter from a terrible storm. He had with him a small, heavy
box. When he wound it up and opened the lid bells played a gentle piece of
music and a little man and a little woman danced and spun in jerky motion. She
had watched it with fascination. The man had explained that it ran on
clockwork, but it was clear that he himself had no real idea how it really worked.
had spent hours staring at the rigid little performance, as the man had been
kind enough to wind it up for her many times throughout the evening. If she
tried she might still remember the music, or even the storm. The rigid
start-stop motions, repeating themselves tirelessly in an endless dance,
however, came to mind easily as she watched how the city operated. Organized
and clean, it ran like a giant clockwork box with people as its gears, moving
in start-stop motions. And she too wondered about this city: what kind of a
people would build one such as this?
Back in the
parking garage Scyce was squinting up at the sickly white bars of light that
lined the ceiling. They were strategically placed so that there was not a
single dark spot on the entire floor. It made Scyce apprehensive. Such light
was to see what would otherwise remain unseen. What was it that they expected
to see here?
reared up and carefully tapped one of the bars. It appeared to be a glass tube.
He reared momentarily to sniff it and tap it again. Then he reached up, gently
placed his talons around the tube and pulled at it. It dislodged fairly easily;
the light in the tube went out.
he muttered as he examined it. Though it appeared to be sealed, whatever it was
that emitted light in there appeared to be either gone or inactive. He smelled
it again; this time he noticed that it emitted a strange, alchemical or static
smell, somewhat reminiscent of the aftermath of a magical discharge. Curious,
Scyce snapped it open. A foul hot stench emerged and hit his nostrils with such
force that he instantly threw the two halves of the tube down and backed away.
He dropped back on all fours, coughed and wheezed at the ground and spat out a
glob of corrosive acid that sizzled slightly between his front legs. When he
was done with most of the coughing he roared briefly and then growled resentfully
at the shattered remains of the offending tube.
turned his eyes back towards the lights above him. The bars of light lining the
ceiling did not seem to be hindered by the removal of the tube. In fact, even
though he half expected light to pour out of the opening like some sort of
liquid luminance, the effect was more like that of a missing tooth. Treading
carefully, not eager to step back into a cloud of hot, toxic gas, he approached
the gap. There were no open holes on either side of it. There were two
circular indentations where the holes would have been, each filled with metal.
He examined one of them closely and reached up to touch—
the zombie in the tea cozy.
agreed the zombie with the Varsity Rangers cap.
“Beurh,” added the zombie with the overlarge jeans.
concluded the zombie with no pants.
they were of one mind: Mister White was a swell guy. Mister White sold them
things for nothing and fixed their music. Their resurfacing sense of morality
told them this was a big deal. With a few more grunts they came to a further
conclusion: they should do something nice for Mister White…
brain switched itself back on it found its body lying on the ground in
darkness. The right side of it felt like it was recovering from a massive
pushed himself up on his front two claws. It was difficult at first – his right
arm felt like it was not quite back under his control and initially he just
fell back down. He managed on the second try, though, and followed up with his
hind legs. He looked around cautiously. A whole block of the lights had gone
out; in turn, a few tiny lights had sprung on, providing some bare minimum of
lighting to see by. Scyce usually felt more comfortable in the dark, where his
night vision provided an extra advantage over most foes. Under the
circumstances, though, he felt even more unsafe than before. He took cover
beside a parked car and peered around for signs of hostility.
short while his ears picked up an approaching sound. It came to him as a
distant hum, repeatedly working itself up towards a high-pitched wail before
dropping back down. Then a light approached from the floor above. One of the
vehicles rolled down the ramp, cutting the darkness with bright beams of light.
It rounded a corner and suddenly the light was heading directly towards him.
Scyce clawed over the top of the car and dropped on his side down the other
side just in time to dodge the approaching beams. The light flashed past and a
few seconds later the car rolled past without taking notice of him. Scyce
watched it tensely as it rolled down another ramp and out of sight. He rolled
back onto his belly and growled after it.
the city streets, Kara paced away with as brisk a pace as she dared. She felt
the eyes of the unhelpful bystanders in the back of her neck. It had been frighteningly
unexpected: one moment she was examining the buildings and people of this city,
the next her muscles contracted with such a searing pain that she could not
help but fall to the ground. The entire right side of her body had felt like a
badly twisted ankle. When she looked around she had almost met the gazes
of the people watching her; their eyes darted away before she could capture
them with her own.
healer helps. Nobody helps the healer. That’s what mother used to say. A person
took action. People waited for someone else to take action. It was human
nature; there was nothing to be done about it. That’s why the healers had to
take action. Healers had to be responsible all the time. The healer helps.
however, had been too forgiving. Fueled by embarrassment and resentment Kara
swung around and glared back hard. Then she quickly picked up her pace and
got back up on his hind legs and, looking around cautiously, started walking
back towards the outside air. He stopped to kick a car hard enough to bump it
off its spot. It made a big dent and an even bigger noise, but it didn’t matter
anymore because he dropped on all fours, charged towards the open air and flew
off in a rage.
* * *
are,” said Pete. He pulled his car up at the doorstep of the nondescript
apartment building that Franklin broadly called ‘home’.
for the ride,” Franklin muttered, opening the door and climbing out of his seat
in one motion.
hold up,” said Pete. Franklin looked back tiredly. Pete gave him a little
gesture with his head to indicate that he should get back inside. Franklin closed the door, sat back and looked at him.
mouth moved slightly for a second, and then he said:
been saying things ‘bout you.”
me,” Franklin repeated. “To you?”
Some of the other guys.”
what’s he been saying to ‘the other guys’?”
paused for a moment.
“Bullshit, Frank,” he said. “Bullshit. Look, they came asking me, just thought
I should tell you, you know?”
Franklin exhaled tiredly.
“Thanks,” he muttered.
some sleep, Frank,” Pete said. “See ya tomorrow.”
Franklin opened the door and leaned back out into the drizzle. He paused at a
thought, and then asked:
“Speaking of bullshit, what are you going to write in the report?”
“Captain told me you are writing the report now.”
just get some sleep,” he said.
were there with me in the car,” Franklin said. He got out and turned
around to lean back into the open door. “You saw what I saw.”
gripped his steering wheel tightly.
were there, Pete” Franklin said. “You were there!”
what did I see, huh?” Pete said. He glared at Franklin. “You tell
me what I saw. What did I see? A monster? A man jumping rooftops? You
honestly think that’s what we saw?”
what I saw,” Franklin said.
Pete said. “Explain it to me then, because I don’t know what the hell I
saw. Okay?” He sighed again. “Look, Frank, get some sleep, will you? You look
same to you,” Franklin said. “Good night.” He stood up, shut the car door and watched
Pete drive off.
was just brilliant, he considered. He hauled himself up the steps at the door
of the building. There was no sense getting mad at Pete. Hell, there was no
sense getting mad at anyone. That was the maddening part, wasn’t it?
* * *
The coin was
dull, scratched and merely a quarter, but it still found itself under great
attention. One zombie held it up between thumb and index finger, still
crouching where it found it. The other three admired it from above. They moved
their heads closer as the first zombie got back up. They all recognized it as a
coin. The concept of coins transcended not just nations, it transcended worlds.
Wherever there was trade, there were metal disks with engravings, shorthand for
wealth. This particular one had an engraving of the head of a man on one side
and of an unrecognizable lump on the other. Both sides were littered with
symbols which they presumed to be letters of some sort.
first zombie pointed down at the piece of sidewalk at his feet and said:
led to a brief but excited debate from which flowed a unanimous consensus. Then
they broke up and spread themselves out through the street, scouring the
The drizzle was
letting up a bit, though this barely improved Scyce’s mood. He looked out over
the city from atop the tallest building he could find. It was a tower of glass
and steel, square with a mysteriously slanted rooftop. It was possibly taller
than the Black Stone Tower itself. The humans had built a number of smaller
towers as well, roughly clustered together in one part of the city. The reason
eluded him. In the distance he saw the skeleton of yet another tower being
constructed, far away from these.
Scyce’s view of the world, tall buildings were for important people. A king
lived in a castle or palace; a magistrate lived in a large house; the rich
lived on any hill they could find and many temples had towers from which the
priest could look down upon his flock. For beings with wings the concept was
difficult to grasp, but humans really liked to look down upon their
inferiors. This here was the tallest tower he could find. Somewhere, he reasoned,
there would be a mage, or this world’s version of a mage, or an important figure
or someone who either knew how to get home, or who could find out.
stepped down the slope of the rooftop and scaled down the side of the building
using available seams and ledges. There were many windows on this tower; in
fact, and this puzzled him, the tower was nearly all window. A single trebuchet
would reduce it to rubble in a matter of minutes. He tapped one of the window
panes experimentally and then pushed his claw through it. It broke, but not in
shards as he had expected. All he had achieved was to make a small hole the
size of his arm. Annoyed, he climbed up a bit higher, wrapped his claws around
the ledge of the rooftop and kicked hard against the glass with both legs.
This worked better; after a few attempts he had managed to clear most of the
glass from the window, making a wide enough gap for him to squeeze through.
What remained of the glass snapped off against his thick hide.
it was dark. Scyce carefully stalked through the room. He found it housed a
large amount of tables and chairs and many objects he did not immediately
recognize, but it was abandoned as far as humans were concerned. The tables
were flimsy, the chairs were on wheels. He was not sure what to make of that.
a picture frame off of one of the desks and regarded it with great suspicion.
It contained an image of the world so precise that it seemed as though someone
had frozen it in place and then cut out a rectangular portion. In the image
stood three children. Two of them were blonde; the middle one was much taller than
the other two, had light brown hair and metal on his teeth. They all grinned at
him in a way that made the back of his neck prickle.
turned the picture over. The back was black and flat, with a little protrusion
to make it stand upright. He turned it over again to look at the image. The
three children still stood there, motionless and grinning at him. He put it
back in place, gently, and watched it for a while. It was like looking into
someone else’s mirror, where little human children just grinned and grinned…
Something snapped inside him. He grabbed the picture frame into his mighty claw
and threw it hard against the nearby wall. The frame fell down to the ground
face down amidst shattered glass. For good measure he stomped down on it with
his front claw and ground it hard, crushing it completely. He stepped back and
huffed at the mangled remains, growling slightly to himself with satisfaction.
Wiped the grins off of their faces.
meanwhile taken a slight detour. Humans needed to eat and by extension so did
she. So when her nose picked up the smell of fried foods, she followed it and
found herself at a restaurant.
she had seen a sterile place, with humans sitting at small red tables eating
what looked to her to be their entire meal for the day. She had gone around the
back because, as she had learned, where there were humans there was garbage.
There she had found a large dumpster. It had been difficult to open with her
small frame, but inside it she found a surprisingly large amount of fried
potato products and, after some brief searching, part of what she did not yet
know to be a hamburger. She also found some greasy but otherwise relatively
clean pieces of paper, which she used to wrap the food in. The hamburger she wrapped
foresaw a problem. Humans needed to eat at least once a day; her hunger was a
stark reminded of just that. Dragons could go without food for days and would
then eat large amounts of food. In a few days Scyce would need to eat, and
it was unlikely he would make a meaningful distinction between, say, human and
alternatively, he would starve, and she possibly along with him. The bond
between them was quite strong. Should that time come she might be forced to let
She would have to find a way to keep him fed. Things were starting to get quite
two dimes and one nickel. The zombies had put the meager result of a thorough
search in the tea cozy and placed it beside the radio at their feet. They had
looked for the biggest, busiest street they could find. Now they gazed at the
crowd with, for the first time, some unease and shuffled nervously.
said one of them quietly.
plan was sound, the execution frightening and thrilling at the same time. After
the dead and emotionless world of before, stage fright was a particularly
exciting new addition to the pallet of emotions that they were now
them kneeled down and turned up the volume on the radio. A rapid dance beat
rang out across the street. Four heads glanced at each other and bobbed up and
down. And then the dancing began. One dictionary definition of the word dance
goes as follows:
dance [dans, dahns] 1. verb
to move one’s feet or body, or both, rhythmically in a pattern of steps,
especially to the accompaniment of music.
And this was
indeed precisely what they were doing. While Lady Gaga sang loudly about her
poker face one stomped its feet theatrically, the other gyrated its upper body
and the third paraded in place while swinging its arms wildly, smacking the
fourth in the face no less than three times before they found some sort of rhythmic
compromise. This, even on a rainy evening, attracted attention. On the sidewalk
and across the street people slowed down to grant the spectacle a confused,
across the street, safely anonymous behind the passing traffic, a few people
stopped to gaze. These were the first beginnings of a crowd and, since even a
small mass has gravity, people on both sides of the streets now slowed down or
stopped – if sometimes just briefly – to join in watching the spectacle. Sure,
it was not much of a spectacle: the dancing was terrible, the music low
quality and the slapstick somewhat predictable. But on the other hand: the
costumes were impressive and, above all, it was unusual. The dancers danced
with a great intensity to their expressions, as if their very lives depended on
it: squared jaws, eyes wide with concentration. A few little cameras here and
there began recording for posterity, or at least a brief moment of fame on the
little while a young lady left the crowd, walked past the dance spectacle and,
in passing, added a coin to the tea cozy. This caused the dancers to freeze in
unison. They stared at the coin for just the briefest of moments, then at the
generous young lady, and then burst out, wildly gesticulating their joy and
made a little jump and squealed in shock, enticing some muted laughter from the
assembled crowd. The dancers trailed off in their utterings, looked at each
other, pantomimed embarrassment and quickly continued their dance, marching in
place, swinging arms, gyrating upper bodies, hopping back and forth…
was a rational being. As he viciously tore through the rain in flight, reason
positively filled his brain from front to back. A magnificent tower, in the
middle of a thriving city, completely abandoned and utterly undefended. So far everything
he had done was wrong and his experience only served to deceive him. And if
everything he did was wrong, then he needed to change his plan. If mighty towers
stood abandoned, if magic took unfamiliar forms, if machines took the place of
the mundane, then perhaps the answers he sought lay behind answers to questions
he should have asked first.
those questions could be answered by, perhaps, anyone.
being a completely rational being, Scyce raised his wings, dove down and took
his rage to the city streets.
Kara stood up
against a dull grey piece of wall between two window displays. Wedged between
these two attention magnets, she was barely noticeable at all. Her stomach was
full, though her body was exhausted. She closed her eyes, raised her head and
soaked up the world around her. Perhaps this time it would be easier.
was not. Her mind’s eye saw little of the energies of this world. Here and
there as people passed her by she saw a faint wisp of life, a golden puff of
smoke in her mind’s eye. She could feel them. The energy of this city
vibrated around her, hidden in darkness. She could feel the pull of it, close
enough that she could almost touch it with metaphysical hands.
tried harder she could occasionally see the outline of a human being passing
her closely. But everything continued to be overwhelmed by the glowing red
silhouette of a dragon. It was far away yet nearby, wrapped around and
wrangling with a part of her soul. It dwarfed everything, pulsating with an
energy so raw and angry that all else simply evaporated before it. It was on
the move again and she had no hope of catching it.
left the office late, which was not unusual for a systems administrator. Often the
moment the office workers left was the moment the administrator could do his
job. The evening jobs were not so bad, overall. They usually entailed software
updates which would take care of themselves. He was just there in case they
often considered that Jenn was a good woman for him. He knew women who would
have complained endlessly about their man coming home late. But Jenn
understood: a man has to balance responsibilities toward to more than one
master. Things would get more difficult in a few years, though, when they were
thinking of expanding their family. But all that did not matter because shortly
after he turned his car off the parking lot an enormous crash rocked the world.
claws dug deep into the hood of the car. He glared through the shattered
windshield, where a pair of yellow balloons blocked his view. With a brief
snarl he dug out one of his claws, grabbed the balloon on the right and tore it
in half in a single swift motion. Behind it he found Harold. Harold
straightened his glasses and stared back in dazed shock.
rules this city?” he asked.
rules this city!?” Scyce repeated.
of utter incomprehension passed over Harold’s face. He touched the side of his
head. Bits of glass fell from his hair. Blood started to run from a small cut
in his forehead.
am I!?” Scyce demanded.
began to look away, as if the dragon was not really there, in his face,
threatening his very life. Scyce regarded him with impatience. Then he pulled
his out other claw, leapt onto the hood and grabbed him with both claws. The
human was tied into his seat, but that did not prevent Scyce from pulling him
closer and roaring in his face.
the human spoke. Harold began to whimper:
God… Oh God, no, God, no, no, no. No. God…”
stared at him. The terrible realization dawned on him that he had not
understood a word of what the human had just said.
am I!?” he roared. “Who’s in charge!? WHERE IS THE RIFT!?”
Kara hard: the rage bled into her mind, sloshing into her thoughts and washing
them away. The dragon’s silhouette turned into a burning red blotch, filling
human whimpered more words. Utterly incomprehensible pleas and prayers, a
language Scyce had never heard, words he had no hope of deciphering. This human
could not tell him anything because he did not know how.
he still tried against what was left of his better judgment. He pushed the
man’s body back into the seat with such force that he could feel the ribs snap.
were all around. Kara could feel them. Kara knew they were looking at her. The
blinding rage flowed unchecked into her head as her mind scrambled to save
itself from the madness it had tapped into. She fell on her knees and clenched
her fists. She knew a man stood nearby. She could see his feet and feel his
doubt. She wanted to claw him open.
pushed himself back and roared at the world. Then, with all the force he could
muster, he rammed his talons through the open windshield into the man’s body.
The blood momentarily warmed his claws.
sat up on her knees. She unclenched her fists long enough to clench them around
pulled out his claw and madly rammed it back in again, and again. Then he dove
after it with bare teeth.
she pulled and screamed. Hard.
scalp caught fire. His head jerked up and banged into the roof of the car. He
pulled himself out and fell on his back, screaming. Kara continued to pull with
all her might, until her hands held nothing but plucks of long hair. And even
then she grabbed more hair and pulled again, until she could stand the pain no
Finally, Scyce’s pain stopped. He lay on the road for a little while, panting
Kara fell forward on her hands, still clutching her dislodged hair. A healer
was strong. A healer had to be strong, for everybody else. And that was
about the only reason that she did not cry now.
* * *
had retired for the day. Yet, as he lay in bed, he heard the door of his shop
downstairs rattle. After a while it rattled again, then again, and then yet
after some brief silence someone on the other side said:
door rattled again.
“… Beeeeuh. Burh.”
“ Beuh. Beeeeuhbuhr!
“ Beurh. BEURH.
Beurh. Beeeeeeeeuh. BUH.”
“ BEUH. BeuhbuhrBUHR.
BEUHRbeuh! Burh. Beuh!”
Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeuh. Beeeeeeeeeeeeuh. BEUH. Buhr.”
there was some silence, followed by a lot of scratching.
time Mister White, who was not so spry anymore, had gotten out of bed and
worked up the nerve to take his baseball bat downstairs, the noise had stopped.
At the door he found $5.15 in quarters, nickels, dimes and dollar bills, along
with the following note:
this for a while, then put the money in the cash register, tore up the IOU and
went back to bed.
up towards the top of a building. It stood in a quiet street, which made her
dare raise her voice a little.
“Scyce,” she called up.
lack of reply was telling.
“Scyce,” she said again, more weary than stern.
Nothing. She closed her eyes.
see you up there, Scyce.”
dragon’s head reluctantly appeared over the side of the rooftop and treated her
to a grim glare.
can’t speak like this,” she said. She motioned over to the alley beside the
building and headed towards it. Shortly after she entered Scyce’s massive frame
dropped into it with a loud thump. She crossed her arms and looked at him. He
looked resentful, but not necessarily angry. She waited.
you know where I am?” Scyce asked.
I see you,” she said.
have a bond,” she said. “My life energies are inside you, and I know
where I am.”
looked down at himself. He seemed horrified by the notion.
“Problem is,” she continued, “you are all that I see.”
is my body!” Scyce growled.
body is yours,” Kara agreed. “It’s the one possession we are born with.”
no healer,” Scyce said, narrowing his eyes. “What healer needs a spell like
arts,” Scyce growled.
are dark thoughts,” Kara said. “There are dark actions. But there is no such
thing as dark magic. Things are defined by their purpose, not their use.”
You have murdered,” Kara said. “And you will murder again if I allow it.”
not be caged,” Scyce growled, “I will not be chained, I will not
be held.” He stepped closer. “I am strong, I have the will to be free! And,” he
roared in her face, “I will be FREE!”
flinched. She stepped back, wiped some saliva off of her face and gave him a
are a slave to your rage,” she said. “I can feel it. It drenches your soul.
They are chains just the same and whoever holds them controls you. You are
growled menacingly until the irony made him trail of. He stepped back, sat down
and glared down at her.
here we are,” Kara said.
we are,” Scyce agreed.
looked up at the night sky for a moment, a thin strip of black over the alley.
say I am no healer,” she said. “You will be satisfied that the Azerean temple
is in agreement. They too do not approve of the spell I cast on us. You seem to
have much in common.”
energies bound to life are more difficult to manipulate than the free energies,
but they can be manipulated nonetheless. I manipulated my own, mixed them with
yours. And so we are bound, you and I. What befalls the one, befalls the other.
It is a spell that can save the life of a man on the brink of death.”
“Because I share not only my weaknesses, but also my strength. Should your life
energies falter, mine will keep you alive.”
you would cast this on your enemy?” Scyce said.
“Reality collapsed,” Kara pointed out. “I had little time to improvise. Now I
am chained to you as much as you are chained to me. And this makes things…
leave through the rift by yourself, part me will disappear to another world.
And that part cannot live by itself. I expect we will both die.”
convenient,” Scyce noted.
unfortunate,” Kara corrected him. “We must leave together. And for this
we must first know where the rift is. But when I meditate all I see is you:
a red, pulsating dragon shaped blob. I open my mind to the world around me and
your rage seeps in. That rage has to go.”
decide what goes on in my mind!” Scyce stated.
first time in… Well, forever, Kara smiled at Scyce. It was a bit of a wry
“Scyce,” she said, “that’s what we all think.”
* * *
you Detective Horne?”
looked up from what was now considered his ‘work’. At polite distance from his
desk stood a tall black man in an almost immaculate black suit, sporting
little hair but a well groomed beard. Presumably he did not know the man, which
made sense, because he did not recognize him.
the guys over there told me you were Detective… Franklin Horne? If not I’ll
just leave you to—”
no, no, that’s me,” Horne said. He sat up straight and looked up at the man.
“How may I help you, sir?”
“Detective Hayes,” said the man. “Lowell Street.” He stepped forward and extended
his hand in greeting.
“Franklin Horne,” said Horne, shaking the hand. “But,” he added, “you knew
said the man. “Erm…” He averted his eyes, found an empty desk chair and made a
questioning little gesture towards it.
guest…” Franklin said. Detective Hayes rolled the chair to the side of Franklin’s desk and sat down with great care. Because the chair belonged to Esteban, who
was at least two full heads shorter than Hayes, he ended up sitting with his
knees leaning outward. Hayes folded his hands together, leaned his elbows on
his thighs and looked thoughtful for a moment. Then, for the first time, a grin
“Detective, I’m not sure how to ask you this,” he said.
this was not a good sign and he had not been in a good mood in the past few
days, Horne said nothing and let the man struggle.
Hayes continued, “I know this guy, and he knows this guy who works here
and he sort of… Dropped your name, you could say.”
“Nothing bad, I hope.”
Detective Hayes opened his mouth, hesitated, and then said:
“Detective Horne, have you… Have you recently encountered some sort of…
the way Hayes had said ‘creature’, the careful pronunciation, the pause, the almost
euphemistic quality of the word that gave Franklin a pretty good idea of
exactly how his name had been dropped. Fucking, fucking Bob…
he sighed. “I don’t want to go into—”
raised a finger to stop him.
up,” he said. He reached inside his jacket and produced a plain envelope. “I
approached this the wrong way, I apologize, could you please just take a look
at these?” He dropped the envelope onto Franklin’s desk and sat back, regarding
Franklin picked up the envelope; it was blank on either side. Inside was a thick wad of
folded paper. He took it out, unfolded it and looked at the first page.
these familiar to you, detective?” Hayes asked.
sheet was a print-out of a single photograph. The first one was familiar. It
showed a car in the middle of the road with a damaged front, people in
fluorescent clothing in the background, standard tragedy on the road. The
second, however, was a picture of the hood, which showed two deep impressions.
The windshield had shattered, judging from the shape of the hood possibly from
the force of the impact.
the exact same thing! The indentations even looked like claws, if you were
inclined to believe so.
“Careful with the third,” Hayes warned. “Not a pretty sight.”
Franklin flinched inwardly as he turned to the third. Not a pretty sight indeed.
treating this,” Hayes said with careful emphasis, “as a hit and run.”
Franklin studied the picture. He tried to look with a professional eye, checking for
telling details or interesting discrepancies. But the harder he tried, the more
his brain felt like it was taking a swim. Had that almost been him? There, in
that car seat? He remembered the teeth, oh so many of them… He was, of course,
aware that Hayes was studying him. He felt like he should say something, but
his mind was failing him spectacularly.
Detective Hayes said after a while. “Maybe I was wrong.” He unfolded himself
from the chair and straightened his jacket. “Sorry to bother you, detective. I
know we’re all quite busy, people never satisfied, so thanks for your time.
Keep the prints.”
up,” Franklin blurted out.
in the midst of turning away, looked back over his shoulder.
Where was this?” Franklin demanded. It was a solid question, no commitment
Street,” said Hayes. “Right past the Sandler building.”
happened, you think?”
and run,” Hayes said. “Unassuming man, no criminal connections, stable family
life, ripped apart in a gruesome and tragic car accident. Stands to reason,
Franklin glared at him.
some weird shit, though, lately,” Hayes added. He sat back down and leaned just
a little bit closer. “Like the other night. 911-call from a hotel. Guy who
works there is all worked up, wailing about things on the roof, some creature,
a little woman… So patrol comes by, guy’s in a back room, this look on his
colleagues faces when they pointed them to him. They talk to the guy and now
he’s not so talkative anymore. Says he was imagining things. Thing is, they go
round the building and find two cars with smashed roofs in the alley. So, they
take him to the station, we give him a cup of coffee, have a chat with him, and
he tells us, he got no idea what happened to the cars. He says he was stressed,
imagining things, his bosses were very understanding and he just wanted to go
home. Gonna take some time off.”
nodded knowingly at that.
man,” he said. “Why jeopardize what’s left of your career?”
detective paused for a moment, looked thoughtful, and then continued at a
of smart men in this world. I like to think I’m one. What about you, are you a
smart man, detective?”
Franklin stared at him. A feeling crept around his heart that he had never experienced
before in the seven years he was doing this job: dread. He had not
mentioned the little woman except in his mysteriously vanished report. An
important part of himself had resisted what the rest of him had seen,
truth be told. But it was out there.
the woman, find the beast. Find Ferrick, find the woman. He stood up.
me,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
Totes was reading from her monitor in the manner typical to her: she stared at
the screen through her half-moon reading glasses as though it would reveal a
surprise if she stared long enough. Occasionally she would fumble for the mouse
to spend a few seconds aiming for a button to click, or for stare at the
keyboard for that one navigation key. When Franklin entered she only tore
herself away from the task long enough for a quick glance over the rims of her
“Detective Horne…” she said slowly. She paused to find and press a single
button on her keyboard, and then continued to stare at the screen, pursing her
Franklin walked across the office to her desk, print-outs in hand, dropped them on her
desk and took a step back.
now looked away from the screen and at the pictures. She pressed another button
on her keyboard, rolled her chair to the middle of her desk and picked them up.
There, after taking off her reading glasses, she carefully studied the first
picture. Only when she had studied it into oblivion she continued on to the
second. She slanted her head very slightly at the sight of it.
“Interesting,” she admitted.
one’s the best,” Franklin said.
Totes flipped to the third picture. She studied that one with equal diligence,
pursed her lips and breathed out slowly.
did these come from, detective?” she asked.
“Lowell Street,” Franklin said. “There’s a detective Hayes here with them.”
see,” said Totes. She lowered the pictures and looked at him. “So what now,
died,” Franklin said. “We have to look into this.”
Totes said. “So what’s Lowell doing?”
Totes looked thoughtful for a while, staring at the three prints on her desk.
ask detective Hayes to come in for a moment,” she then said.
Franklin watched the conversation from his desk. It dragged on for several minutes, very
slowly, like a contest between two people on who can drop the most meaningful
pause. Finally, Detective Hayes came out and Captain Totes signaled him to come
the door, will you?” she asked when he entered. Franklin shut the door gently
and took the seat previously occupied by Hayes.
“Detective Hayes has shown … Personal initiative in bringing these pictures to
us,” the captain said. “Initiative that I know will not be appreciated
by everyone in the force.” She lowered her voice. “I think we should stay far
away from this if we don’t want a piece of the disciplinary pie.”
has, however, informally requested your assistance specifically in this
matter, Detective Horne. So I’ll reluctantly leave the matter up to your
judgment – if you can make the time between your assigned tasks. I only
ask, Detective,” – and here her voice became so stern it would make his old
teachers flinch – “that you do not disappoint me.”
ma’am,” Franklin said.
“Franklin,” Totes said, “I know you want this, but if you do this, I cannot protect you.”
ma’am,” Franklin said, nodding. He turned his eye towards the pictures, still
on her desk. With a finger he pulled the third picture partially out from under
the other two and glanced at it.
we’re not here to protect each other,” he added.
captain Totes grumbled. She put her reading glasses back on. “Now get those out
of here. I got enough to look at as it is.”
When Franklin returned to his desk he found Detective Hayes there waiting for him.
you in trouble?” he asked.
“Probably,” Franklin said. He pulled his coat off of the back of his chair and
put it on as he walked towards the exit. “Let’s have lunch before you leave.
You got a car?”
week just really sucks.”