“ARHHH!” Cassie screamed until her throat ached. In a bright green flash she was whisked out of the Heart of the Seven Faeries. She wobbled when she landed in front of Archel who was transforming in Patrick Field’s living room.
“WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME?” Archel bellowed. Tears streamed down the boy’s feathery cheeks. Blonde fur rose from his pores. Scrawny pubescent muscles filled out, elongated, and bent in abnormal directions. Archel bucked as a python tail ripped out of his lower back. He fell onto four paws, stared at the ground a moment, and then let out a terrifying eagle’s screech.
The groundskeeper, Patrick Field, stood in the doorway between his living room and kitchen. His bottom jaw hung open, his eyes were wide, and arms had gone limp. Although he had managed to maintain his grip on the two lunch plates he’d been carrying, the sandwiches and granola lay in heaps on the floor beside him. A small part of him wanted to back out of the doorway, to pretend he’d never seen the girl appear and the boy change. The rest of him was frozen in place gawking.
“A—a—” Patrick stammered, lifted one plated hand and pointed it at Archel, “a griffin.”“What?” Archel asked in the language of the birds.
“G-get help!” Cassie finally managed to articulate.
“No one can help me!” Archel growled.
“The Kaiser is—is shot.”
Sense rushed back into Patrick, he dropped the plates on top of the sandwich piles, and rushed into his living room. Passing Archel, by giving the young griffin as wide a berth as his furniture allowed, Patrick took Cassie by the arms and shook her, “what do you mean shot? Where is he?”
“Seven Faeries,” Cassie whispered.
“He’s dead,” Archel said right before he passed out.
The Inquisitor pulled up on the dead king as Adonis scrambled out from under him. When the Chief Justice was once again standing he looked at his reflection in the shattered remnants of the observation mirror. Adonis shook his head, instead of going directly to the transport, he’d have to run back to his quarters to change. The transport. Laughing wasn’t really Adonis’ thing, but the irony was too much, he let out a grand belly laugh. Tears came to his eyes, he grabbed The Inquisitor by the shoulder and hugged the man. The Inquisitor stared at the reflection of the Chief Justice’s blood splattered back. This crazy fit was not what he’d expected, yet was by far one of the better reactions he’d received over the years. As soon as Adonis let go, The Inquisitor pulled a container of wet wipes out of his toolkit and began cleaning Imler’s grime off the front of his uniform shirt.
“You—you’ll take,” while laughing Adonis wiped a tear from his eye, “take the job!”
All joking aside, The Inquisitor said, “double my usual fee.”
“Yes. Yes. No problem,” Adonis chuckled, “I must go to Avalona. Ordered there by the king,” he snickered and kicked Kaiser Imler’s torso. “I don’t know how long it will take. Tomorrow, the Bells ring for war. Half an hour after the last chime we’ll meet. Do you know Sentinel Cemetery?”
“Good. In the back of the cemetery is a freshly dug grave. Hide Imler there. We’ll need his body later.” Adonis used part of his bloody toga to wipe the gore from his face, “just disgusting. This place is compromised. The girl is probably already telling the Mercs what she saw.”
The Inquisitor nodded. He thought, a magic teleportation bracelet. Un-fucking-real! When I catch that little bitch, I’m going to show her one hell of a good time. After digging through his toolkit, The Inquisitor grabbed a two-way radio. He turned the radio on, checked the channel, and pressed the talk button six times in quick succession. “You should go. My crew and I will handle the body. Where are we meeting?”
“Ever been to Rainboy’s?”
“No. I can’t say that I have.”
“It’s a dining hall in the Forum Publicos.”
“You want to meet in public?”
“It’s exclusive,” Adonis eyed The Inquisitor, “wear something formal. When you arrive, tell the maître d’ that your reservations are under the name Rold Ajint. You’ll be escorted to a private booth in the back of Rainboy’s. Then, check under the table.”
“What am I looking for?”
“You’ll know it when you see it.”
“Tell me now,” The Inquisitor hissed.
Adonis and The Inquisitor locked eyes, both met steel with steel, neither yielded. They were staring each other down when The Inquisitor’s crew kicked open the slightly ajar door. Mr. Butano’s bulging blue eyes popped out a little further when he entered the room. In six years, Mr. Butano had seen The Inquisitor in a staring contest with only one other man who had the cajones for it. And, he was astonished by how much the Chief Justice of the Antigone Courts resembled the Supreme Guru of Poterit Dan.
“Mr. Butano,” The Inquisitor said without looking away from Adonis, “full containment. Do not dispose of the body. We’ve instructions to hide it.”
Chief Justice Fraunx Adonis loved a good challenge, however, he also knew that time was of the essence, “as much as I’ve enjoyed your company,” he waved a hand but did not adjust his gaze, “we’ll have to continue this later.”
“When we have a little more time,” The Inquisitor smiled, bowed his head slightly, then averted his eyes. Diplomacy and professional courtesy allowed the game to end without The Inquisitor feeling the sting of loss.
Kent and Fintan had barely passed the Phoenix Rose and her guard when all hell broke loose. They turned to see Private David Mack ducking in fear for his life. They gaped at the fiery Rose as the Phoenix flew up the stem and out the buds. The private fell to his knees, dropped his semi-auto, and cradled his head with his fingers in his ears. The Phoenix cried, soared, dove, and then screeched. The stained-glass windows in the Templus de Ambros shattered. Private Mack’s utterances were lost to the Phoenix’s vocals as she threw back her head and cried out. The two bards froze, hands to their ears, when they were simultaneously struck with an aerial vision of the Gryphon Gardens. A man ran through the gardens toward the huddled private. He was screaming something which the bards could not hear. The bards weaved. Kent collapsed. Fintan braced himself.
Santos rarely had the opportunity to enjoy real food. He leaned back in his chair, his full belly protruding over his tan uniform slacks. He contemplated undoing the button and the belt, but thought better of it when he saw the table full of young women. 1st Lieutenant Juan Pedro Ramon Garcia Santos made a brief attempt to pretend like he hadn’t seen the table. He found a place just to the left of the women and watched it intently for a moment. The waiter arrived, effectively blocking his view, and sat a to-go bag on the table.
“Don’t look,” Santos said to the waiter, “do you know who those women are?”
“At table 26?” the waiter snorted, “yeah, I know’em. Here every day. Why?”
“The one with the curly black hair,” the lieutenant grinned, “she’s fine.”
“That’s Audrey,” the waiter said without looking. “She’s a history apprentice.” The young man leaned over and whispered, “they say she knows things that aren’t written in any books.” That got Santos’ attention. He turned his gold-flaked hazel eyes up to the waiter who winked, “I can tell her you’re—”
Santos pushed back his chair with such force that it fell down. He cocked his head to the right at the same time that the Templus de Ambros Dining Hall windows exploded inward. He grabbed his jacket and dashed for the door.
The transport was a rickety solar and water powered white bus on loan from the Regular Militia. Eight of nine justices were seated and had been for at least half an hour. The only one missing was the Chief Justice. Eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, Ensign Balin counted. On fourteen he stopped, placed the toe of his right foot behind his left foot, rocked back on his left heel and spun around on his right toe. His about-faces were crisp bits of military perfection. His utterly blank face and perfect gig-line only served to enhance the aura of his professionalism. The justices watched him without realizing that the young ensign was beyond livid. He took the Chief Justice’s actions as a personal affront against the Kaiser and because of Adonis’ station, Ensign Balin felt helpless. He would, of course, report the happenings to Colonel Dagon. But, that didn’t change the fact that he really wanted to beat the living shit out of the impertinent bastard.
Inside the transport, the bus driver kept her eyes on the justices who sat in three cliques. Moira Thibodeaux, Seeley Songtree, and Levi Bayleaf were in the front of the bus. Frederick Mayfield, Crimson Bohner, and Cal Davies sat in the very back. And, fence-riding between the two groups was Travis Scott and Jo Casta. They were all speaking in hushed tones. The driver, Master Sergeant Reyna Barnes of Mercury’s Guard, quickly glanced at the blinking red light on the dashboard. The indicator showed that the recording equipment was on. She kept checking it out of fear that she’d run the batteries down if they didn’t get on the road soon. But, the sun was shining and no clouds were overhead, so she had nothing to worry about.
The transport bus engine turned over when the Master Sergeant saw the Chief Justice casually approaching. Ensign Balin glowered but held his tongue. Once Adonis was seated in the back, Balin nodded to Master Sergeant Barnes who revved the engine, it’s growl slightly deafened everyone onboard. With the deep throb of the engine, conversation died out. They drove south down the utility road alongside the Ambrosian Fields, through the feeder road in Mercury’s Marsh, and onto GV 17. The justices leaned back on their bench seats and one-by-one drifted off. With the exception of Adonis, who smirked as he watched the world whisk by his window. Master Sergeant Barnes kept one eye on the road and one eye on the rearview mirror. She made a mental note when she saw one of Adonis’ knees start to bounce.