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9. Damned – According to Plan

9 - Angyl

8. Torn – And on the Third Day…

chap 8

He rose again. I think that only works for the Lord God. And in this case, it’s a she.

I spent my time at home that night. I spent the next few nights at home, actually. It was about three days after the incident with the pictures that it happened. I was sitting in my own room, writing idly. My mother had called me out of school due to a death in the family, but she only told me that it was someone I didn’t know. I was writing, sketching in the borders. I heard the door open, turning to see my mother leaning against the doorframe.

“We have a funeral to go to.”

I almost fell out of the chair. “Who?”

She shook her head. “Nobody you know. Her name was Syn.”

“She’s dead…?”

My mother looked at me with an inquisitive gaze. “You knew of her?”

“Her and Pike run the tattoo shop. Everyone knows who they are. What happened to her? Or was it accidental?” There was a tone of irony on the last word, and my mother knew it. She’d been in this game long before I was barely a dream to be joked about. She shrugged, walking away, leaving me to answer my own questions.

I finished whatever thought I’d left running on the page, and got up to start changing. I hadn’t been to a funeral before. But it felt very familiar. Maybe I had been to one before, and I just forgot. I put the thought out of my mind and continued changing into “respectable” attire.

I searched the entire room, closet, the works, before realizing I wasn’t in possession of respectable attire. Mom seemed to have enough on her mind, so I went for a quick walk. Down the hall, down a few flights, knock on the door firmly.

“Hi, is Gin around?”

The adult gave me a weary look, but stood aside nonetheless. I didn’t even realize it was the middle of the afternoon; she should have been in school. I wandered in, waiting to be directed to the right room. The one in the back – furthest from the living room. Figures. I marched up to it and knocked softly.

“Hey Gin, are you there? I wanted to ask you a favor.”

“Come in,” she muttered. I stepped through, carefully shutting the door behind me.

 

“Um, I don’t mean to bother you…see, I have a funeral to go to…now. And I don’t have anything…appropriate…”

She looked up at me. “To wear?” I nodded my head sheepishly. She got up, did a quick lap around the room, rounded up a bundle of black and cradled it in my arms. I looked at the fabric, back up at her, then to the floor. She put a hand on my shoulders, turned me around, led me out the door and to the bathroom. I was pushed in and told to change, which I did. Every so often I assume the mentality of a child.

She’d given me a plain black skirt and shirt, nothing too obvious, but respectable as well. I came out, a few inches of pale skin showing where my boots and the skirt didn’t meet. She looked me over, top to bottom, shaking her head.

“There’s nothing I can do with those boots, but everything else seems to fit alright.”

I nodded, agreeing with her, uncertain of what to say. She nodded to herself, then ushered me out the door.

“Go on, you’ll be late, your mother’s probably waiting on you.”

“Thanks a lot Gin, I owe you one,” I told her as I was being thrown out. She stopped pushing and smiled when I got to the door. I honestly meant it. I wasn’t being hostile or insincere or bitter. I was truly appreciative. And I repay my debts. She thought about it for a moment. Before I went, she reached out for my hand.

“I’ll keep that in mind. Give her my regards.”

I gave her a puzzled look. She smiled wider. “The departed.” And with that, she let go, and I was back on my way upstairs, trying not to trip. My mother was at the door when I opened it and tried to sneak back in. The look on her face was priceless.

“Are you…feeling okay?” she asked.

“Yeah…needed…clothes,” I coughed

My mother didn’t seem to want to believe me right away, I could see her going over facts and figures in her mind. Everything figured out. I didn’t do formal occasions, why would I have formal wear? She shook her head, handed me my coat, ushering me back out the door.

And we walked to the cemetery in silence. Whether there was a wake, or a service, I didn’t ask. But there sure as hell was a burial. Someone was paying the cost for the box and the hole in the ground. And the rock to mark it with. Someone was feeling charitable.

Syn was an old association of the neighborhood. Everyone knew her, young and old. She was meticulously careful, with more people in fear of her than could ever love her. That’s just how she was. Her significant other, Pike, stayed by her side through the years. I looked through the crowd for him eagerly. He was always kind to everyone he came across. I couldn’t find him though. And what’s more, I couldn’t figure out why. He loved her, or he claimed to. He belonged to her; he should have been at the front of the line. My mother and I lingered in the back somewhere, making our way forward as the ceremony progressed. We ended up just behind two looming figures in matching black coats, hats pulled down tight to hide any sort of distinguishable features. The streets told stories of the phantoms that haunted the alleys, dressed all in black with no physical feature to be seen. And now they stood before us. The ceremony waged on, routine as clockwork. Or so it felt.

As the coffin was lowered, my mother bid her farewells, saying a few words to the two forms at the head of the congregation. They didn’t talk long, but they embraced before departing. I waited until we were a safe distance away to ask anything. I follow my mother’s rules and respect her wishes when situations such as these arise.

 

“Who was that?”

“Who?”

“The pair in the coats that you were talking to.”

She heaved a sigh. “You’ll meet them formally later, it’s been a long day. Let’s go home. I promise.”

Promises are meant to be kept, cherished, adhered to. My mother is one of a very small number of people who still believes this principle. I trusted her. Yet, I thought her foolish. I thought that she was ignorant of the great family that I came from, the Merrick clan. I thought that it was presumptuous of her to pretend that they never existed. But she was my mother. And the only blood family I had left.

We got home. I changed back into my regular clothes, running back downstairs to return Gin’s things. She wasn’t home when I got there, so I left everything with her folks, trudging my way back up the stairs. I was halfway up the stairwell when I heard a whimper. I was going to keep going, pretend it never happened, but it got to me. I went back down and listened again.

“Who’s there?” I called. My voice echoed down the empty hall. I moved to call again when a hand reached out to grab me. I shook, nearly jumping out of my skin. It was Gin. But it wasn’t Gin. She was bruised and bleeding and crying. This wasn’t the typical Gin. Sure, normally she wasn’t in the best shape either, but this was different. I put a hand on the arm that held me, holding another under her chin to see her face. She tried to pull away but I dragged her out into the hall lights.

“Jesus Christ, what happened to you?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” She moved to walk away, I held on.

“You’re coming upstairs with me, we’ll clean you right up.”

“I have to go home,” she muttered. Her voice was a whisper, a silent confirmation of the continued torture she’d go through. I shook my head, ignoring her, and dragged her up the stairs. I heard my mother’s voice calling, questioning what took so long. I heard the plate she was drying shatter when she dropped it upon sight of Gin. She stepped over the shards, moving over to examine Gin herself.

“Who did this to you?”

Gin wouldn’t say a word. She just shook her head, her lips locked firmly. My mother shook her head.

“Kid, you can tell me, come on, I won’t get you into any trouble. I just want to help. Okay? We’ll clean you up and see if you want to talk.”

And my mother led her away, just like that, leaving me standing there, the forgotten fool. I paced around for a while, frustrated, confused. When my legs couldn’t carry me anymore, I collapsed in a chair and waited for my mother’s return. It was about twenty minutes.

“Maven, Gin’s going to live in the show, okay? And you’re going to go with me to the Black Dragon. I have respects to pay, and we’ll get her a steady job. Do me a favor and call someone to bring her to safety? This can’t wait until tomorrow.”

I nodded and darted off for the phone. The only person I could think to call was Jack. And I did. He was over in less than ten minutes, leading Gin out, an arm wrapped around her protectively. With them gone, I was left with my mother again. My mother, who ignored half of everything, who hated to interfere.

“She’ll stay in the show. This way they can’t get to her.”

“Who?”

 

“Her family.”

I should have known. My mother looked around, then back at me. “Call Rev.”

“Why?”

“Tell him that we need a group of his boys to go to her house and get some…clothes, belongings, you know, things to make that sewer homey. And tell him to meet us at the Dragon.”

Again I marched off to the phone. Rev was always cooperative, especially concerning a direct order from an adult in the family. With that, my mother looked at me, her coat already sliding up her back.

“Come on, we have work to do.”

I followed her; rain had started to fall by this point. We trudged with a determined stride to the Black Dragon, the neighborhood tattoo parlor. My mother stopped in the doorway, uncertain. I remembered the frame from the picture she gave me, but the name had been different back then. When she had summoned up her strength, we ducked in, listening to the bell jingle on our way.

The place had people all over, but not too busy. Mostly mourners for Syn. Two people were standing behind the counter, receiving most of the attention. Their eyes were hollow, as if they were trained to breathe but not feel. I watched them like a hawk, daring either of them to blink. I don’t think they ever did. My mother pushed through the people to them, keeping me a good distance in front of her.

The two focused their eyes on us, following our progress to the very point where we were directly in front of them.

“Payge. Set. This is my daughter, Maven.”

The two adults nodded at me, outstretching a hand each, both of which I shook. The girl had a smile to her that warmed me up, while the guy had this sort of overbearing contempt in his glare that made you want to curl up and die. They nodded in acknowledgment with the handshake.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Maven. Pandora’s told us about you, but we’ve been waiting anxiously to meet you for some time,” Payge responded.

I wheeled around to my mother. These were…the Drake kids. They were legends. Their parents were famous around here. They were also dead. My mother caught my expression and bent down to whisper in my ear.

“Yes, these are Raine and Darius Drake’s famous children.”

“You grew up with them.”

“Yes.”

“How come I haven’t met them until now?”

“Because we had important duties that required our complete attention, and seclusion from the social realm.” Set’s voice was harsh, bitter and cruel. I shot him a glare, which he returned without batting an eyelash. I backed up into my mother.

As we were making small talk and my mother was establishing Gin with a job, an older girl caught my eye. She was leaning against a wall in the back, smoking idly, watching the milling people. Nobody was here for business. Hence, nobody was working. She was smoking anyway, taking it all in. I locked eyes with her for half a second, and I watched a broad smile sneak across her face. I wheeled around and saw Rev come in the door, soaked to the skin. He was trying to see over the moving people, catching sight of us, he moved over.

 

Eventually, the three of us collided paths. The strange girl in the corner, Rev, and myself. And a friendship, no, an alliance was made. Introductions were made on all sides. We all shook hands and took in the scene. And then we started to compare notes. We didn’t compare notes intentionally; we were just sharing some useful information that was mostly common knowledge. The introductions around the circle were simple.

Maven Merrick. Myself.

Rev Ransom. The boy that I literally grew up with. He’s not related to me in any way, but I consider him a brother to me. He’s an orphan, with all the family on both sides deceased. I felt bad for him and did all that I could to help him. When he needed me to be, I was a street demon. And when I needed him to be, he was a performer.

And Angyl Hunter. The tattoo artist that worked the back of the shop, smoked idly, kept her thoughts to herself. Her eyes were always shining, showing that the wheels in her mind were always turning. Nothing got by her, and nothing that she was involved in happened without purpose. She wasn’t here to mourn Syn. So why was she here? To rejoice in her passing? Miss Hunter was the biggest mystery of all right now, and possibly the most…unsettling aspect of the entire fiasco. She had a smile that would make you want to trust her, right up to the moment she slit your throat. And even then, you’d still want to forgive her.

As such the team stood.

And that was how it started. The Trio of Treason reestablished. Reborn. I could feel eyes burning through me from all directions. But I couldn’t be certain if they were coming from the original Trio, comprised of the two newly claimed owners of the Black Dragon – Payge and Set, and my mother. Or if the glaring expressions were coming from my comrades themselves. I couldn’t be certain, but this was life, and I was going to have to take a gamble. It’s what a true Merrick would do.

Never show your weakness, keep all your cards face down at all times; sneak just a slight peek so you know what you’re carrying. But never give the game away. Don’t be too obvious.

Ever.

7. Exiled – Competition

chap 7

News came to me that there was a funeral to attend. Maven would be going hence, I was expected to be there. I was raised with her – she’s like a sister to me. I look out for her. She tries to be part of the gang every so often, and if it’s a simple job, I let her. It’s not that she doesn’t have talent; it’s more that I don’t want to see her hurt. I neglected to mention her earlier because it just seemed so obvious that she’d be important to me. Her, Colt, and Irish. They’re the most important things to me. I’m older than Maven by a few hours. We grew up together, I don’t know. Her father’s dead too, but she’s still got her mother. Everyone helped raise everyone. Her and I were raised by an entire series of people.
Back to the point. There was a funeral to attend. One of the owners of the Black Dragon was dead. Syn. She was the owner of that place for years. She ran it with a guy named Pike. They were together. Not married or anything. Just…together. For years. Never had kids. The circumstances of her death were bizarre – being such a prominent name in the community. And to top it off, Pike had disappeared. Rumor was that he skipped town. Stories started that he killed her and ran. I knew better. Most everyone knew better. Pike was one of the best kinds of guys you could ever find. He was sedate and calm and he wouldn’t hurt a fly unless he had to. He skipped town to save his own skin.
Irish and Colt joined me at the funeral. To pay their respects. A lot of the demons came actually. Syn was known by almost everyone in the area. I started to make my way to the front, to stand with Maven and her mother, but decided against it. I stayed where I was, with Irish and Colt. With the rest of my boys. I had to stay where I was needed. We stood and silently watched the coffin lower, my eyes scanning the crowd. I could see Maven and Pandora, her mother, from here. And I could see two matching forms, swaying in the transparent mist. They seemed to appear and disappear. We’d all heard the legends of the Endless, the black clad forms that came and carried away the dead, anyone killed in/by the streets. But nobody had actually seen them since the last set was killed. And that was years ago. When my cousins reigned.
They were there though, sure as all hell. Their eyes were surveying the scene. I could feel their gaze burn through me as they scanned the attendants. They were actually there though. In the flesh and everything. Irish and I conversed about it quietly for a few minutes, paid our last respects, and shifted away from the scene. We decided to go back to the bar for a drink or two, wash off the overwhelming despair that comes with burying another legend. It’s like losing a part of yourself, where you come from, who and what you are. Syn wasn’t the most well loved person, she was very…cold. And distant. Even with Pike. I don’t know. It’s not a heartbreaking loss or a great tragedy, but with each body that hits the dirt, we lose part of the stories that made these streets alive.
We walked back to the Drown in silence. That’s what it was for short. We got our drinks and all. Harley was there; she must have walked back from the funeral faster than we had or something. There was an entire group at the funeral that we felt we should have known but didn’t. There were two guys at a table talking back and forth near us. One was also decked head to toe in black, hiding his face. And the other just felt shady. I went up to the bar.
“Hey Harl, what’s doing?”
“Not too much. Just come from the funeral?”
I nodded. “How could you tell?”
“I don’t recall you looking that respectable all the time.”
I laughed and pointed at her. “And look at you, huh? A skirt and everything. Who knew? Lucid must have been shocked to find skin under all that black when you two first went at it.”
She put down a glass all types of abruptly, raising an eyebrow. She had this sarcastic grin on her. I was still laughing a bit. “Excuse me? Went at what, Rev, darling?”
“Harley, you’ve got a kid, who are you trying to fool?”
She put our drinks on a tray and pushed it over to me, “I’m sure you can handle carrying that. Being such a big, strong man and all. Right Rev?”
I nodded, smiling big. “Damn straight.” I was walking away when she grabbed me from behind, sending the tray down. I was covered with booze, as was the floor. The two strangers looked up and laughed. Harley had jumped the bar and grabbed the back of my coat. She still held on, pulling me closer.
“Don’t ever talk about my sex life again, alright, kid?” And she let go. I turned around to face her, finding her still smiling. She handed me a dustpan and broom. “You don’t mind cleaning that up, right?”
I nodded, chuckling still. She’d gotten me back fair and square. I cleaned up the mess, we got fresh drinks and we had a good long laugh over it. Before we could move on, a call came from Maven. There was business to be taken care of.
A kid from the circus was being abused. She needed help. So I sent Irish and Colt to
round up a few of the boys to take care of it. I had business elsewhere. I finished my drink, bid farewell to Harley, and started out for the tattoo parlor. My presence was requested. And hence, I would appear. After all, it was for family. I loved them dearly – they were all I had. Course, I had the gang, the street family, but it wasn’t the same. I made my way to the shop through the rain. Even with my coat on, I was soaked by the time I got there. Random downpours…fun.
I got in the door, finding the place packed. Pandora was at the counter talking to two people, a guy and a girl. I recognized them by description – their legacy preceded them. Payge and Set Drake. They were the same two I’d seen together in the cemetery. They were the Endless. I was putting pieces together when I caught sight of Maven. I smiled at her. She was looking elsewhere; I followed her line of sight.
Everyone in the room was engaged in some sort of conversation. Except for Maven. Myself. And a stranger in the back. She was leaning against the doorframe, smoking. Of all the people in here, I think she was the only one smoking. She seemed distant, turning her eyes over the crowd with a bored enthusiasm. She caught sight of Maven and straightened up a little. And when her eyes rolled over to me, they lit up.
The girl in the corner belonged here – she must have been the new artist. She seemed at ease here, like she was the queen idly watching the commoners. There was a sort of regal air to her. She was almost misplaced here though. I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t seen her before, sooner. The way she carried herself…my type of girl. She had sin in her eye and a lie ready on her tongue but she had innocence burnt into her. She made it work though. I started toward her, meeting with Maven along the way.
And that was my immediate impression of her, the solitary smoker in the corner, watching the mourners, even though she herself wasn’t mourning. Her eyes were dark, and flawless, not one streak detectable anywhere from a stray tear. That was how I met her.
Angyl Hunter. There was something that got under my skin about her, but I didn’t let it take over. I’m suspicious of most everybody. Being the street boss, I think I have reason to be. There are people after my life all the time. I have to always be on my guard. Constantly careful. Maven was at my side when I met with Angyl. And introductions went around the circle. We began to talk idly, about minor stuff. Minor details, which built into larger discussion. And we stayed there and spoke for a while, hours, retreating into the back, comparing ideas and strategies we’d come into over the years. Angyl was open to anything, having notes of her own to add.
We decided to resuscitate the Trio of Treason. Bring back the old idea, just with new members. We were each the last member of a legendary, and deceased, family line. We were going to set out with the purpose to attempt to trust each other. Which isn’t the easiest of goals. I wonder if we just said it, to say it, or if we actually meant that we were going to try to bend.
It was the new project though. We all got along – it seemed logical. Then again, most of the more logical ideas in this world aren’t as logical as we think they are. And when dealing with crazy people, every so often you have to lower yourself to their level. Otherwise, how the hell are you supposed to decipher anything?
The Trio of Treason – reborn. We would attempt to restore it to its former state of glory, before its previous occupants screwed it up. We would stand for something. Between the three of us, we had power, influence, intelligence…you name it and it was there. I had the gang to back me up, as a shield to hide behind. If this turned on me, I had my vengeance. And I would make sure that Maven had hers as well.
And so the wheel turns. Another cycle continues. We talked for a while longer and parted ways. I was eager to get another drink, but I remembered seeing Harley milling around here somewhere, I figured the bar was closed. I went home instead, finding Irish at the door. Colt had already shuffled off.
“Hey Hun,” she whispered. I bent in and kissed her.
“How did it go?”

She smiled. “Flawless.”
“Good,” I told her. I opened the door and we both trudged in, exhausted. I felt like days had passed since I last saw her. We both shifted off to change, meeting after boots had been pulled off and emptied out. We were both fairly soaked.
“Have fun?” she questioned. I shrugged.
“Business, you know. Family and all.”
She nodded. I curled up on the couch and she crept over and curled up with me. I put an arm around her, thinking about the day. Thinking about meeting Angyl. I could feel Irish trying to see into my eyes, my soul.
“Where are you?”
I smiled down and kissed her forehead. “Here. Now. With you.”
And we went to sleep, my worries and suspicions put to rest for the moment. Because I wouldn’t let it take up my entire life. There was more to life than that. Time had to be taken to relax and take things in. I’d handle things as they came at me, but until then…here’s to now.
And to family.

6. Damned – A Travesty of TreaSyn

6 - Angyl

5. Torn – Attracting Attention

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Being Serkis and Layne were the top of the food chain, they left their reclusive nook in the sewers. It was offered to me and I accepted. I had a home with my mother, but I spent less and less time there as I got older. She accepted it as a perfectly normal part of growing up. She knew that she was a child once herself and she accepted how I was. I smiled and nodded and let it pass. It gave me more room to grow and expand. Which is what I wanted. What I needed.

I was down in the depths, collecting my thoughts, writing aimlessly. There wasn’t much to record. Just another day at the end of the week. I sat and often wondered if Harley felt like this. In her long hours spent in these dank depths, if she was ever overcome with depression. This place, however well lit or repainted, is still dark. It still houses an overwhelming atmosphere of despair. It probably always will.

Most of the usual crew has shifted off home. I was alone, save for the few sceneshifters remaining, setting things up for the next show. I was still in costume, the hat hanging off the back of the chair. The top hat was the symbol of rank here. It was passed down from Harley herself. As much as I laughed at her getting old and settling down, I respected what she did for the show. What they all did for it. I still have to change, take off makeup, and get home. I looked around as I wrote. I think I’ll sleep here tonight. No harm in it. I heard the usual shifty steps, trying to sneak in undetected. I kept writing, speaking without looking up.

“Hello Jack.”

He smiled as he crept in. “Heard me?”

I kept writing, staring at the page intently. I moved my eyes away from the sheet, to him, catching his eye, my hand still recording words. “I always do.”

He nodded his head and took a chair somewhere at my side. I didn’t look over to him again, I just kept writing, forming my letters meticulously to kill the most time. He didn’t falter, heave a sigh, or fidget. He just sat there, patiently. Waiting. I finished the sentence and put the pencil down to look over at him.

“Can I help you?”

He shrugged, leaning back in the chair. “Wondering when you’re getting out of here.”

“Everybody else gone?”

“Pretty much. Gin’s still cleaning some things up. Nothing major.”

I nodded and kept writing. He watched me silently for a while. I would ignore him all night if that was what it took to make him go away. I figured he’d get bored and quit. An hour passed. And still he sat. I glanced over at him, still writing.

“Don’t you have a home?”

 

“What’s with the hostility?”

I shook my head, trying to show my boredom. That I didn’t want to play. That I didn’t care to talk or be social. But this was Jack, and he wouldn’t just go away. He knew better. He knew me better than anyone down here. He knew this. I knew this. I was just too damn stubborn to admit. As per usual. And I kind of hate to be interrupted while I’m working.

“How is Gin?”

He shrugged. “You know, alright. She’s surviving.”

For those of you who aren’t caught up – Gin is Jack’s ex-girlfriend. It was a cute running joke for a while – Jack and Gin. Then she tried to kill herself and he had some sort of a breakdown. They’ve been a good distance apart for months. Then they both turned up here, at the show. Naturally, we took them in, gave them jobs. It was a smart choice – they were both talented. And the show needs all the talent it can steal.

I never dealt with Gin much. It was an uncomfortable situation with her. Jack and I were a bit too close for her liking. We both knew it. And we did nothing about it. I don’t know, everyone in the show seemed a world apart. Then again, there were some who overlapped with Rev’s world of street life. Gin was a street demon. Jack might have been too. But they primarily ran the show here, below the street’s rough surface.

I closed my book and pulled the chair out, tucking the book in my coat pocket. I looked around. Where was I going? I slung the coat back over the top of the chair.

“Jack, are you intending to stay the night?”

He smiled a silly little grin, like a child with a secret. I shrugged and moved off to the darkest back nook of the place to change. He was still balancing in the chair.

“That’s not a problem, is it?” he yelled back to me as I changed. I was angry but I was comforted as well. To have someone in this desolate place. Jack and I spent a lot of time together. Nights included.

I wouldn’t call it love. I’d call it affection out of necessity for human warmth. We were comforting to each other because there was no one else to comfort us. He used to have Gin. And I was raised with Rev. Rev isn’t my brother, but he placed himself in that kind of position over me. The watchful parent trying to keep me out of trouble. We were each other’s savior. It was a bizarre situation, but that was simply the way things were. Something you can’t control or contain. I had changed and we found the quiet corner that the lost came to curl up into. And we went to sleep. In the dark, alone if not for each other – sleep came swiftly. And the new day was on us again.

I crept out from his grasp, sliding to the back to get dressed again. When I came back out, Jack was up and around too. He was sitting at the little poorly lit table, leafing through my book. I snatched it defensively from his grasp.

“What’s with the book?” he asked, pointing crookedly.

I clutched it to my chest, hoping it would disappear into me, knowing it wouldn’t. In it was my life. My thoughts and ideas. My family history. Anything that might have been precious to me. I didn’t let anyone read it, lest the truth get out, the ideas, everything, anything. I shook my head, shoving the book back into my coat pocket, shrugging it onto my shoulders. Jack watched me apprehensively, unsure of what to do. I swept past him, taking a casual glance over the shoulder, trying to recover from the scene.

“Coming?”

He still had this sort of puzzled look on him, but he shrugged and fell in step behind me anyway. We were late for school. Even the demons need to learn a thing or two.

I walked to school a good distance ahead of Jack. He fell behind on purpose, stopping completely to wait for Gin. Even though they were on odd terms, they still talked. They were a comfort to one another in a different way from Jack and I. We got there, went to classes, and started back; all part of the routine. Another day. I decided that I should go home and check up on Mom, see how things were operating in her world.

The walk to home from school was easier, being I didn’t have to think about Jack being anywhere in the vicinity. I don’t talk about school because in my mind, it’s a waste of time. I go because it makes my mother happy. I go because the state says that I have to. And every so often, I learn something remotely interesting.

I get to the building my mother lives in. She’s been here for years. She lived here with my grandfather. And he lived here after his sister’s death. I don’t know how he managed. But he did. I opened the door, latching it quietly behind me. I didn’t want to make too much noise; Mom’s nerves get a little edgy from time to time. I hung my coat next to the door, looking around the place. Everything was in order. All the frames were straight on the wall. I crept in further. My mother is a photographer. I figured she must be in the back.

“Mom, I’m home,” I called outside the door. It was locked so I wouldn’t barge in and ruin all her work. I might resent my mother sometimes or think her decisions foolish, but I love her work and would never harm it. She’s got a rare talent that I’ve come to appreciate. I tried my hand at photography, but things never seem to come out how I intended them to.

I listened for the familiar sound of shuffling, putting materials away, the click of the lock and the scraping turn of the doorknob. I took a few steps back. My mother wore a smile she’d worn for years – it was burned into her face. But there was pain. There was misery and madness; there was a history of dysfunction lost in her eyes. And she knew it. She’d smile until it hurt, but that was the point. It always hurt.

“Hey Hun, how’s things?”

I shrugged. “Same old.”

She nodded and moved past me, a stack of prints in her hand. I fell in step behind her.

“Can I see?”

She nodded at me and handed them over. These were older pictures, restorations. She was making prints from old negatives. I looked over the old faces, smiling back at me, seeing me from decades away. I narrowed my eyes, desperately trying to recall a name to match any of the faces. I went over to where my mother was sitting, waiting for me.

“Who are all these people?”

She smiled, an age-old grin that told me she knew something I couldn’t, wouldn’t, ever know. She took the prints and flipped through them, coming to a shot of five young kids. They were also decked in black, as I was, but younger, from ages ago. My mom pointed face to face.

“That’s Syrius. That’s Raine, and Darius. This was before they were married. That’s my mother, Madison. And that is my father, Draven.”

I could see the tear slip down her face. All of these pictures were from before my mother’s time. I didn’t know how she’d gotten the negatives, but she had, that’s all that mattered. She had a stack of pictures, the same five kids, getting older slowly, some of them disappearing, replaced by smiling babies.

 

“That’s me,” she pointed. I had been standing over her shoulder to see. I bent down to hug her, holding onto her tight. As much as things got to me, as hostile as I was, as much as I longed for the past, all it would ever be is a black and white image. On paper. In my mind. But this, right now, my mother – she was alive. She was breathing. And I had to focus on that. The now is fleeting. There’s plenty of time to be dead. She shuffled the pictures and handed me one, older than all the rest. I couldn’t begin to imagine where she got it from, how, or why.

“What is this?”

She smiled, pointing at the faces pressed together, the two forms as one, standing idly before a tattoo parlor old with wear. There was a shine that emanated from them, like they were beyond the reaches of man. My mother’s eyes were moist just looking at them.

“That is Miss Harvey Hunter. And that is your great-uncle, Magus.”

4. Exiled – Stomping Grounds

RO4lp

I had an entire gang under me. And they were available, 24/7, rain or shine. Always. They were absolutely loyal, no questions asked. They learned a long time ago that asking stupid questions could, and probably would, get you killed in this line of work. There’s little leeway for stupidity these days. I have zero tolerance for it. And my boys know it.

I’m very sexist in my choosing of ranking officers. The gang is primarily male, with a few very exceptional exceptions. Besides the few fortunate females, it’s all guys. The most fortunate girl in the group, naturally, is mine. She’s also the most talented and the most deadly.

If she had a true name, nobody knew it. They called her Irish most of the time, which was the simplified version of her previous nickname – Celtic. Being most of the boys consistently screwed it up, we just made the name simpler for them. She was Irish, but whether she’d ever been to the country was another matter. But she could drink like a fish; that girl could out-drink most of my bigger, tougher guys. She demanded respect and got it. She was my right hand. She’d never done me wrong, but even she wasn’t protected against the punishments of treason, should she ever be accused of such a crime.

My second in command, behind Irish, was Colt. Nobody knew his real name either. We weren’t too big on the names anymore, considering the fiascos that had gone on with the families over the years. We figured we might as well leave last names out of it, if we could. It was common knowledge everywhere that I was a Ransom – it’s not something I can hide. Like I would ever want to. Colt was just as efficient as Irish or myself. He spoke less and took considerably good care of himself. He was probably the user of the least, overall. He was smart as all hell though, could tell you a little about just about anything. He was that damn clever. He knew the rules though – never embarrass the boss. Never surpass your master.

They were the two most important people to me. Everyone else was just a face, a name. Part of a group, a piece of the family machine.

Task for the day was the usual, check the streets and see how everything’s going around. There was nothing exceedingly unusual going on lately. A new artist was hired at the tattoo shop. The bar was doing well, the circus, or the “show” as they like to call it, is working on finding new acts. The freaks running a freak show. Does anyone else see the irony here, or is it just me? Who knows? One way or another, I have a job to do. We all do.

I set out for the bar to see how things are going there. Harley’s around tonight. I haven’t seen her in awhile. She’s another one that had a hand in raising me. There’s an entire congregation of them. She smiles when I come in, giving me a nod from behind the bar. I come behind, grabbing glasses along the way to fill orders.

“Need help?”

She smiled at me. “You have impeccable timing.”

“See Colt and Irish around tonight?”

“Yeah, the report’s over there.” She nodded somewhere, where a sheet of messy paper was left. I was meticulous with my affairs, asking that when I sent people on task that a report was written up. Like the police do. The irony of it was kind of entertaining. I filled a few more glasses, sliding them to the waiting customers. I caught Irish’s eye a minute later. She works the tables here every so often, usually when the boys are up to something. It keeps her out of trouble. Gives her an alibi. I only ever insisted on bringing her for the big stuff. She was just too talented to rot at home if we had a big job. If she was here, that meant that Colt was out running things. I felt better having her here, close to me, where I could keep an eye on her. It wasn’t a matter of distrust, but of security.

I stayed the rest of the night, helping Harley with the rush. Harley’s got to be in her 30s by now, but she’s still working this place. Makes sense – Harley owns “this place”; she inherited it from her late uncle when she was younger. The elder family members all work here if they’re up for it. If they’re bored. And they’re all competent.

The night wears on and we’re left cleaning up. Irish is taking care of the tables while Harley and I work on the bar. There’s a funny little look in Harley’s eye, a shooting glance from one to the other. I prod her with my elbow.

“What’s with the look?”

Harley kind of laughs, a little smile on her face. “Is she really your girl?”

“What do you mean?”

“Is she only yours?”

“Course she is, why?”

Harley kind of smiles a silly little grin. “Good.”

I think about it for a few minutes, smiling to myself. “Why?”

“Oh, nothing,” she shrugs. After awhile she laughs to herself. “I miss being young.”

“You still are.”

And she shoots me such a look, such an evil glare. I couldn’t help but double over, I’m laughing so hard. Irish creeps up in the middle of it, leaving a tray of glasses on the bar. She looks from one to the other, grinning wickedly.

“Well now, you two are having fun. Trying to steal my fella, Harl?”

Harley glares at her, grabs hold of me and grins. “You know it.” She kisses me on the cheek and pushes me away. “Get out of here, ye demon.” I shuffle out from behind the bar. I move over and kiss Irish, who keeps a firm hold on me.

“Better not be cheating on me with Harley. Not only will I kill you, but Lucid will massacre you.”

I laughed, walking out. Harley was laughing too, yelling after us: “Damn straight!”

And we left, side by side, like the king and queen that we were. We had jokes of that sort all the time, nothing serious. There had to be a lighter mood to things. Being serious all the time is just…ridiculous. And depressing. It can’t rain all the time you know.

But when it rains, it pours.

 

3. Damned – The Prodigal Hunter

3 - Angyl

2. Torn – Bad Influence

2 - mavensmoke

“I can teach you some good bad habits.”

And that’s how it started.

The creed of a generation, a symbol of where we’d come from and where we were going. A few simple words to separate the saved from the damned.

Between death and damnation.

We’re already dead, in some ways. Damnation might be a step up. Depends on the subject. Depends on the crime.

A bad habit is merely a distraction from a bad life. With enough flashing lights and colors, most anything can be overthrown.

“I’ll teach you some good bad habits,” she repeated with smoke trailing from her mouth between the words. She leaned simply; her body bent just enough to stay standing. The nonchalant shrug, the uncaring gaze. I nodded my approval and stepped away.

She was Me. Every so often I tried to take a step back, to see what they saw. But it was impossible, even being as removed as I was. There was a wall that bore my own convictions, devoid of their preconceptions. I walked away, exhaling smoke as I went, the image of myself in the mirror dissipating like the smoke.

She was Me. And I’m Maven.

A Merrick by birth. By indecision and deception. Love is merely a fairy tale, a nice story for ignorant children or dying fools. The most pleasant fiction of all.

I was bred for madness. My heritage demanded it.

I am the child of Pandora Riddle and Doyle Merrick.

Pandora – solitary daughter of Draven and Madison Riddle. Madison, daughter of Sketch, a past owner of the local tattoo parlor. Draven – older brother of Darius, and murderer of dozens of people. Out of all those names, only Pandora lives.

Doyle – only son of Cicero Merrick and the girl he raped. Cicero, baby brother to the legendary Magus, older than Elysium. Half-brother to Vincent. Born of Jasper and Erika. The entire family – dead.

My lineage lay lost, six feet deep. Forgotten by those who should have known better. The body dies, but the name lives on. The idea continues.

If you institute it properly.

If you know what you’re doing and why. What was I doing? Why?

Upholding a good name. Because even the insane deserve respect.

 

What am I?

An actress. A manipulator of deception. A fool, a lunatic. You name it – I might be part of it. Overall though, I was just the leader of the act. The most extravagant liar of all if you will. Years of practice will do that for you.

I led the distraction. And below the streets, I was home. I stayed there more than I stayed at home. As long as I showed up at school, the family didn’t care too much. They cared I guess, but they knew where I was and that I was safe. They established the show, after all.

The show – the circus. They set up shop. And we took over. They’d come around every so often to check up. Harley most of all. It’s because they used to be here, because they’re out of the loop. Because they’ve been replaced. And they’re too old to be as strong as they were. Age stole tone from their commanding voices, took light from their shining eyes.

It’s something…to see the wheel turn, the cycle continue, and the survivors collect dust. Times like these I’m glad that the great Merrick family was spared from the fate of age. We were meant to drive fast and die young. What does the badass do when she grows up anyway? What job is waiting for the adult rebel?

That’s why we’re all artists of sorts. So we can be free.

That’s also why we work the circus. Layne takes care of everybody. The circus was a cover for the drug ring. There was more going on than drugs. That’s probably obvious. Layne and his girl took good care of their “family” of the streets and sewers. It was named for her.

It was my home. I was the ringleader now. I took Harley’s place at the top. And it suited me just fine. I learned from the best. We were a family of truly exceptional people.

Excellence breeds excellence. The same principle applies to madness. It breeds. I tried to deny reality, but the blood doesn’t lie. The words are there, proof positive.

You can’t hide or run from who and what you are. The truth is the same, and always existent, whether you choose to see it or not.

I am Maven Merrick.

I am a street demon. I’m the ringleader of the show. I’m an addict. I am the self-proclaimed reincarnation of my grandfather.

I can’t act like I knew him personally. I merely have the perceptions of other, more ignorant persons. And a small piece that’s supposedly his. He was gone long before me. I can honestly say that I’m truly disappointed that I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting him. From what I’ve found, he was truly remarkable.

Ambition can be dangerous. Deadly at times. I’m torn between my duty to those who raised me, the duty that I owe my mother. And my true family. My dead relatives. The real, true, Merrick family. Buried six feet deep. Lost from this world.

Welcome to the show, kids. This should be fun.

1. Exiled – The Demon King

1

 

Rev Ransom is the name and if you need anything done, I am the guy to come see. Known by few, heard of by many, the shadow that everyone’s seen. I am the guy you run to, the guy you run from. Either way, every which way, you’re mine – and I’m yours.

The lost, the condemned, the damned or otherwise, all end up coming my way. And I’ll straighten them out; give them jobs, a life – a family. I provide security. I preach trust and honor. The way of my true family is simple; I’m at the top of the chain and I’m always right. Always. And if you doubt my word, I’ve got two words for you.

Click. Bang.

Any other silly questions? Wasting my time can get you hurt. Or killed. My indifference is an inherited character trait. My name is Rev Ransom. While you’re in my house, you will respect me. Not only am I master of the house, but also of the people in it.

I’m a Ransom, distantly. My father’s name was Vagrant Ransom. My mother’s maiden name was Requiem Draft. They’re both dead. My mother only had a sister left, Serkis, who helped raise me. My father was the cousin to my more infamous relations. Toryn, Urban, and Baroque – the three Ransom siblings that revolutionized the game. People still tell tales of them. Proof of the greatness that once was. I would live up to the title and make the name proud – as it deserves to be.

I’m an orphan, my mother’s only son. My aunt and her husband, Layne, run the actual business itself. What I mean is this – they control business. They hold my leash, theoretically. They raised me; I was bred to be a street demon. It was logical for me to be the top street demon. I come from a long line of demons – the Ransoms were notorious in their time.

So hence, I was notorious in mine.

I’m 16 years old. And I run the streets. I do this by choice. This is the life that I longed for. And got. Street leaders are usually ruthless, clever, and manipulative. Being that I was still alive, I figured that I had all of the above. Or at least enough to get by. I’m surviving, and that’s the best I can hope for in my line of work.

I had a hand in everything – the tattoo shop, the bar, the show. I came and went from one place to next, working if they were shorthanded. No matter what happened, I was still respected as the big bad.

I regretted being unable to meet my true family. But I didn’t obsess over it. I had a good upbringing, which I had to appreciate. As big and bad as I was, and would always be, I’m not bitter. I’m in control.

I demand strict loyalty from my street family. And they understand the cost of betrayal. As I said, I’m the man to run to, the man to run from. I serve the family, always, and in any way that I can. There’s been a long line of leaders before me. All dead by now. Very few are able to retire from this game. Lucidius managed it. I hope to be so lucky.

My name is Revere Ransom, Rev for short. Anywhere you go, ask around and you’ll find me. The thing that makes me amazing – I’ll find you first. Very seldom does anyone get the jump on me. Any one who did is probably dead by now. And if they’re not dead, they’re lying.

This is who I am and what I’ve come from. There are no second chances in life hence I only use forgiveness sparingly. Family always gets the benefit of the doubt. They are the only ones that are truly innocent until proven guilty. I mean my real family. My aunt and uncle, the rest of the crew that raised me – they receive the little warmth I possess.

 

I’m the street leader. I’m a guitarist. I’m a chain smoker. I’m a drinker.

And beyond all contestation – I’m a man.

Young as I may be, with the responsibility I carry, I consider myself an adult. And I expect to be treated as such.

My word is street law. I am the enforcer of justice.

This is the realm over which I hold the reins. For as long as unbiased luck would allow it. Fear isn’t permitted in this line of work. Layne and Lucid trust me with their business. My boys trust me. I will stand up to my name.

Rev Ransom, which I shout with pride. This I am, and will always be.

I’ve got streets to run, so as the line goes –

I’ll be seeing you.

Rogue Status

Some of you may have noticed a lack of communication from the Press lately.

My grandmother died. For some of you that know me closely you understand exactly how important this woman was to my life and how lost and alone I feel without her. For the rest of you…imagine your best friend, mentor, ally, protector you’ve known your whole life…and imagine losing them in an instant. Even typing the words feel painful to my fingers, searching the keys for some profound meaning in this explanation. In short, it hurts while numbing me to all things and I would wish never with this on anybody.

So the Press suffered as a result. I apologize to the handful of readers who may have been impacted by this shift in communication.

But in an attempt to get back to form, we’re taking a short pause as Volume VI wraps up before diving into VII, giving folks time to catch up, ask questions, subscribe, do whatever strikes your fancy. Because May 12 will kick off an entirely new Volume that carries readers through to mid July. So welcome back, thanks for bearing with us during this hard time, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the show thus far.