A buxom woman sat in the shadow of the Pissing Puppy Statue just outside of Sentinel Cemetery on the edge of the Forum Publicos. From her vantage point she could see the heavy foot traffic going in and out of the forum shops while also maintaining an ever watchful eye on the cemetery passage. She chewed her bottom lip as she waited.
“I’ll never understand why you’d risk a public meeting,” a man whispered as he sat down in the shadows next to her.
“The bigger risk is meeting you in private,” the woman answered. “You’re lucky I waited.”
“I had no doubt that you would,” the Inquisitor laughed.
Ignoring his laughter she asked, “do you have it?”
He sat a small beige tote bag on the cement next to her, saying, “everything you need to start over.”
Quickly sifting through the bag, she mumbled, “good, good.” Once she was satisfied, she pulled an envelope out of her back pocket, “here’s the map. Never speak in front of the Eyes. They’re marked with triangles.”
“Do you really believe all the hype about the Messenger?”
She stared at the random passersby, while chewing her bottom lip. For a minute the Inquisitor thought she wouldn’t answer, and then she said, “I never should have told you about it.” Looking him in the eyes, she added, “I’ve betrayed everyone I’ve ever cared about because I thought they were crazy. I was wrong. But, I can’t go back now.”
He placed a hand on her shoulder, “no one knows you’re involved.”
The Inquisitor removed his hand, stood up, and said, “your instructions are in the bag. When I finish, I’ll meet you in Merced.” He bent down, putting his face near her ear. As his scruffy chin brushed her cheek, she shivered. He said, “don’t worry, Clara. They’ll never find out.”
“Don’t lie, Lawrence. We both know that my part will be discovered the minute Aunt Mary sends someone looking for me. Sooner if the Messenger accesses Mercury’s Eyes.”
“She’s been difficult to locate,” he confided. “We’ve had some difficulties. I won’t trouble you with the details. You still know what to do?”
“Yes, lover,” she sighed.
Cupping her cheek in one hand, the Inquisitor searched her eyes, and then whispered, “one week.” He kissed her hard on the lips before he disappeared into the crowded forum.
With tears in her eyes, she slipped the tote bag over one shoulder. Making her way to the cemetery passage, Clara Darin decided to meander through Sentinel Cemetery one last time before beginning her new life across the mountains in Poterit Dan.
The Stadium had initially been built to hold 10,000 spectators. It hadn’t filled to capacity in over 50 years. In fact, since the Hellions had claimed it as part of their territory 12 years earlier, it hadn’t held more than 100 spectators at any given time. From appearances, Dante figured the old box seating had been converted into Hellion housing, though it was hard to really gauge anything while standing in center field. They were surrounded by a loose circle of 20-plus younger Hellions, all glaring with their most menacing looks. Musgrove’s arm hair stood at attention, as he shifted his weight back and forth, in an unconscious movement that drove Dante to the edge. The next few minutes depended on convincing this rabble that they were crazier than the leadership. Nervousness was not the behavior of the insane. “For fuck’s sake, stand still,” Dante hissed under his breath. Musgrove shot him a dirty look, then braced himself.
“You wanna meet me?” a deep voice thundered over the loudspeakers.
Dante shrugged and yelled, “depends. You the baddest motherfucker here?”
“That’s what they say,” the stadium speakers rumbled.
“Prove it,” Dante challenged.
In response, the circle of young Hellions hissed and stomped their feet. After a few minutes, the circle opened to let in the leader and his retinue. The leader of the Hellions, a heavily pierced and tattooed dishwater blonde with a scar running down his left cheek, stepped close enough to Dante to get a whiff. “Damn, you smell,” he shoved Dante’s chest. “I ain’t got time for a crack-head. Go on!” He shoved again.
In a flash, Dante grabbed the Hellion’s hand, twisted it up and back as he dragged the man closer. With his other hand, Dante gripped the man’s nose piercing. The leader of the Hellions froze when Dante calmly said, “tell’em to back off or I rip it out.”
“I’ll fucking kill you,” he growled.
Laughing hysterically, Dante ripped the piercing out of the man’s nose, and dropped the jewelry on the ground. The leader stifled a screamed as blood poured down his face. “I don’t like to repeat myself,” Dante stated. “Now, tell them to back off or I kill you.”
“Back off,” he hissed to his crew.
“Good,” Dante said.
“Good,” Dante said.
In shock, Musgrove watched helplessly as the situation grew from bad to unbelievably impossible. They weren’t just going to die, after that little incident they’d be drawn, quartered, and their pieces would be left on the edges of Hellion territory as warning to others. Nervous laughter erupted from Musgrove.
“Let’im go,” a deep voice ordered from just outside the circle.
“No,” Dante replied. “I asked for the baddest motherfucker here and you sent out this,” he pulled up on the Hellion’s arm and the man wailed.
The circle once again parted and in walked two men. One was by far the largest man Dante had ever seen. The goliath wore a black leather vest covered with patches, faded denim jeans, and had more tattoos on one of his arms than the captive, blood dripping Hellion had on his entire body. The second man seemed oddly familiar, though Dante couldn’t place him.
“I said let’im go.”
“No,” Dante repeated.
Without warning the giant ripped the bloody blond out of Dante’s hands and tossed the screaming imbecile on the ground. “Get’im outta here,” he ordered as he stepped closer to Dante. “You crazy?”
Staring up, Dante said, “no.”
Curiosity bested the enormous man, who asked, “what gives?”
“I’ve got a job needs doing.”
“So. Go do it.”
“Not for me,” Dante responded.
Before goliath could respond, the second man slipped around, asking, “what kind of job?”
“Shut up Tiny,” the giant ordered.
“But—” he never finished the sentence as an enormous hand clamped over his mouth.
“You come into my house, fuck with my guys, then offer me work? You wanna die?”
Dante smiled. He flicked his wrist, releasing a small baton, which he slammed into the colossal’s knee. The man’s face exploded with pain as he collapsed bringing Tiny down with him. “Take one step toward me and he dies,” Dante said, the baton raised over the giant’s head. The shocked circle of Hellions stood still, eyes and mouths open wide.
Unable to contain himself, Musgrove shouted, “what are you doing?”
Ignoring him, Dante said, “I bested three of you. Anyone else want to try me? I’m waiting.” When none of them made a move, Dante relaxed his stance. “Good. Now, I’ll only say this once. I’ve got a job and I want a volunteer.”
“I’ll do it,” an unseen man said as he pushed through the circle. He froze when he saw Dante. “Sir?”
“Jessup.” Dante did a double take between Jessup and Tiny. Then, he glared at Musgrove, “not ready, eh?”
Captain Prescott stood over the slumped former chief justice, while General Tomlyn unrolled his sleeves and put his uniform coat back on. Normally, the general would have passed the unpleasantries on to one of his enlisted lackeys. However, Fraunx Adonis was not a normal prisoner and these were not normal times.
“Captain, wake him up. You’re to continue the interrogation until I return,” General Tomlyn ordered. “I’ll be back shortly. If he gives you the names, send Caspian to Command. I’ve got a call to make.”
Waiting for the general to leave, Captain Prescott searched the basement for anything he could use to wake Adonis. On one of the shelves he found a mostly empty medical kit that contained two smelling salt capsules and an old bottle of sterile eyewash. Snapping one of the smelling salts under Adonis’ nose immediately revived him. Wild eyed and confused Adonis tried to look around, but nearly passed out again with the movements.
“Wakie. Wakie,” Prescott said, repeatedly smacking Adonis in the face.
“Wh-what?” Adonis asked.
“You can end this nightmare,” Prescott said as he pulled the chair near the stairs closer to Adonis. “It’s simple really. Just tell me who you’re working with. And, it’s over. No more broken bones. No more burns. In fact, once you tell me the names, I’ll bring the medics down and we’ll get you something for the pain.”
“I already told Tomlyn that I’m innocent,” Adonis slurred.
“We all know that’s a lie. Now, here’s the difference between me and the general,” Prescott lifted Adonis’ head, “I’m not going to break your bones. I’m going to flay you. I’ll hang the bits of skin I strip from your body all around your head so you can watch the flies as they congregate on your missing flesh. Do you really want that?”
“You wouldn’t dare!” Adonis shouted.
Captain Prescott snorted, “you don’t know me, so you don’t know what I’m capable of. Perhaps, you need convincing?” Prescott dropped Adonis’ head, crossed the basement to the shelf he’d found the medkit on, and picked up a couple kitchen knives. “These aren’t my tools of choice. But, you work with what you’ve got.” He tossed all the knives save one onto the chair, grabbed one leg of Adonis’ pants and began sawing through the fabric. “Quit struggling,” Prescott ordered. Adonis did everything in his power to rip his leg out of Prescott’s grip. When the rickety folding chair fell over and the knife pierced Adonis’ calf, the former chief justice shrieked. “Well, it’s not perfect, but I do believe you’ve just made my life easier,” Prescott laughed while ripping the knife out of the wound. “The names?”
“I’ll tell you whatever you want,” Adonis screamed.
“I want names,” Prescott said as he continued to saw through the pants leg.
“I don’t know their names.”
Prescott set the knife down, ripped the pants up to the knee, and said, “tell me what you do know.”
“You have to protect me. I tell you and they’ll kill me.”
“Looks like you’re a dead man, either way,” Prescott answered. He picked up two of the other knives, taking his time to examine them within Adonis’ line of sight. He set the flay knife at Adonis’ ankle and pressed down drawing blood. “The names?” Prescott asked.
“The Inquisitor! That’s all I know.”
“Bullshit,” Prescott drew the knife up slowly. “Who else?”
“He’s got a crew,” Adonis wailed, “I don’t know their names. I swear.”