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5. The True Beginning

This is where things start actually moving in order. I might want to explain what’s happened so far. Then again, I might not.

I should though. Should. Because otherwise, you won’t get the full experience. You’ll be missing out. Let’s see.

I was born to Hadley “Harley” Morrow and Lucidius Mason. Seventeen years ago. My mother was 20 when she had me. My father was the street boss when I was born. I was raised on the streets, with him, due to my mother’s sudden and unexpected death. Circumstances of which will come later. My father was a lunatic. Hence, my death was faked. There was no other way to remove me from his custody. He believed me dead. And when his own madness wasn’t enough to finish him off, when he wasn’t honorable enough to pull the trigger, I helped him.

I killed my own father. My father, who killed my mother.

He went insane. He killed people. But it was expected. He was being manipulated without realizing it. Or maybe he knew and just didn’t care. My father wasn’t in the best mental state. His mental state rivaled that of the more insane lunatics. The grand total of lives lost during his reign? Uncertain. Why?

Half the bodies are yet to be found.

My father did his work well. As most lunatics tend to. It’s ironic, the fact that they’re insane, but they can carry out their work so effectively. Makes you stop and think. Maybe. If my death was faked, that brings about the question of my adopted parent. Who raised me?

Angyl. Miss Hunter herself. She was there when my father put the gun to his head. She was there most of the time, as he tore lives apart and tried to destroy what was left. And she stopped him, saved a choice few. People continue to breathe because of her. Important people.

But why? What in her heart brought her back? She got away with murder, why come back?

To start the wheel turning. To make the cycle continue. She started a trend, she came back to make sure it got finished properly. When she was still young, I was born. When she left, I was about twelve. And my father had started on his downward spiral. She came back as a duty of conscience. To make sure that everything she had suffered for was done right. And after all, my father was sent to try and kill her. After all was said and done. As a test. And she survived. She passed with flying colors. And she got close enough to him to learn his plan. And she found holes. And she manipulated him to his untimely tomb. But it was necessary.

I was stolen from my life when I was 13 years old. Give or take. She would have been…20 or so. She was six years my senior. Right now, she’s 23.

Angyl Hunter. Check the other stories for background history. If you can find them. There’s no survivors left to tell the tales. Only the shadows and the fairy tales in people’s minds that won’t ever fade away. The stories will live on and be passed on, but there are no witnesses left. No survivors to prove or disprove anything. Just word of mouth. Nothing more.

The thing with her, she was raised by an adopted sort of family as well. And in turn, she knew how to handle things with me. She knew that my father was gone, that he would turn on me. Somehow she knew and found it in herself to care. She took me away from the problem. She was born and bred for it. History repeats. She removed me. And she took care of my father, guiding his madness in a safer direction.

And it’s done. I’m here and this is the now. This isn’t about my father. Or my mother. They’re both dead and gone. I just wanted to get that out of the way, get the obvious off my chest. This is about me. And my adopted mother, Angyl. And the business. This is about the eventually reinvented Black Dragon, the restored Drowning Raven. The reborn Gothik-Serkis.

I don’t have a name, it was destroyed a long time ago for my own protection. I know that I’m a Mason. Fallen is merely a title for what I am. If you think you can come up with a better, more appropriate name, be sure to let me know. I’m all ears. But until then, we’re stuck where we are. So it goes.

4. The Child

Even though the battle is ongoing, the madness never ends. Fighting is futile when neither side will give an inch. Not an inch, not a mile, not a motive or ideal. And here we stand, locked in this war of selves, this ongoing debate where nothing is certain and everything hurts. Breathe in pain, breathe in madness and uncertainty. Breathe out the past, breathe out the present. Breathe out yourself. The trenches have been dug in ancient ground and will never be overtaken. And we shall always be locked in the ongoing cycle, the circle with no end, walking further away and getting nowhere. Locked to more than this – locked to each other more than ourselves. But the lack of compassion suffocates the core and in the end there’s nothing left. Nothing left to this but ashes. And as the flags fall and the body count rises we’re left here, still locked in, not an inch given or gained. And all that remains is consideration. Contemplation. The scars and dried blood. The lost tears and forgotten memories. Black and white. Words and images. And this. This moment. The wheel turns again but the team’s not all on board and it doesn’t matter because if you don’t scream, nobody will notice. And if you do scream, they won’t notice anyway. And here it goes. Here it stays. In motion or merely the illusion of it.

My name is…

Does it matter? Perhaps. Perhaps it matters just because I’ll be a person in your mind, I’ll have a title to which you can refer to me. You’re not getting my real name though. Because it’s mine. And it’s my secret to keep to myself. I’ve already given you my father. But this is mine. This is my lie. My tragedy. I am the living dead. I am the ghost of something that’s been gone for years. I’m the lie that lived simply to motivate my father’s madness.

I’m sorry Dad. I really, truly am.

I only wish that you were here to see it. I wish you were. And Mom too. But it was your own doing. Your own undoing. And me as well. Your child.

You had to believe I was dead. Or else you wouldn’t have gone on your crusade. You wouldn’t have killed the remaining narrators. Including Mom. You wouldn’t have gone through the trouble. Left no proof standing. But I stopped you from burning down the Dragon. That was her. I stopped you from destroying the parlor. I faked my own death. Not without help of course. And the cycle will start new. Without interference. It won’t end.

It’ll start over.

With more, smarter, more rational people at the wheel. And this is your end. I’m sorry Dad. I’m…I’ll miss you. I’m sorry. I couldn’t take any chances. You won’t pull the trigger. And Mom was lonely without you. I’m sorry Dad. I really am. But this is how it had to be. It had to. You understand, don’t you?

This is my life. My tragedy.

Hello.

My first name is…

Fallen.

3. Lucid – Led Astray

She leaned against the doorframe casually, smoking as her eyes burned through me. I curled up on the floor, my knees bent up into my body. The floor was comforting, cold and without feeling. Like myself.

“Come on, get up from there. You’re being ridiculous.”

I ignored her, heaving a heavy sigh. She paced around, considering a fresh approach. My eyes followed her motions. When watching her watch me became too hard to keep up with, when I was overly dizzy, I closed my eyes and shut everything out.

I felt the hands on my knees, shaking me, bringing me back from the darkness of my solitude. I opened my eyes to find her at my level.

“Go away,” I muttered.

“She’s been dead for years, Lucid. Let go.”

“That’s a lie.”

She shook her head, looking away from me to collect her thoughts. I didn’t want to hear her elaborate lies anymore. She shook her head, then reached out for my hand. She opened my fist slowly, letting a chain slip into my open palm. She pressed my fingers closed, than got up to leave. She took a glance back at me.

“Least she’s not alone – she’s got her mother with her.” And she kept going.

“Harley…” I whispered. Turning the chain over, I let it fall from one hand to the other. It took me awhile, but I got to my feet. I slipped the chain into my pocket, starting out. I looked back at where I’d come from, sending a glance to where I was going.

“Be seeing you soon, kiddo. Stay with your mother. Take care of her, Harley. Our girl.”

And I left.

She was right. My daughter was dead. She’d been dead for years. I just wouldn’t let go. There’s a story that goes with the death of Harley. And the death of our daughter. But I’ll get around to it later. Right now, I need air.

My work is done. The blood won’t wash clean. Ever. I’ve done the best I could. I could bow out, sit back, be the first to let old age take him. I stepped outside of myself, trying to see what others saw. I closed my eyes as I went, unable to focus.

Sleep. That’s what I wanted – to rest.

No rest for the wicked. And the damned are left to merely wander.

To the sunless lands of my damnation, where the darkness itself burns.

Click. Bang.

2. Lucid – Occupation

Money makes the world go round. The economic gears are the basis of all else. Society, government, even mental/emotional stability – all rest on the point of currency circulation. And it gives me the motivation to keep going. You’d be surprised just how far a little bit of the old green can go.

I work for the highest bidder. Not because money means happiness – on the contrary. I work because there are more noble ambitions in this world. My noble uses of time aren’t your concern, at least not right yet.

I don’t live the high life, I’m just a working class fool. One of millions of others. The difference between them and me? Isolation, disrespect of authority; perhaps the guns have something to do with it. They’re my tools, my only companions in this. They are all I need to get by, and they never fail me.

I’m a mercenary. A hit-man. A contract killer.

Emotion, compassion, heart and soul, conscience – all were given up to pay for the new set.

Concentration. Dedication. Honor. Talent.

I’ve gotten set in my methods. Never get too close. Aim to kill. Be merciful. Even the best killer in the world has the sense to deliver a killing blow if the first shot is a fluke. Never let anyone bleed out. Just let go. Control is intoxicating, and that’s what this is about; deciding who lives and who dies. Maybe you’d have to be me. Or in my position.

I live in an abandoned church. It’s mostly broad open space, but it’s all I have. I don’t need much to get by. Just oxygen and the desire to continue on. That’s all anybody should ever need. Should.

I was being employed to go after this girl, to scare her a bit. As a favor for an old friend. I call it a favor; he was paying me. I was humoring his bizarre requests. Every so often, he was a bizarre type of guy. We all are sometimes.

This point was my exclusive concern. There were very strict guidelines to be adhered to; no room for failure. Such a crime is punishable by death in this business. And not always a quick one. Depends how merciful the parties involved are feeling that day.

I’m not too great at this, the stream of consciousness principle, the writing. But I needed proof in black and white. To show how hard I’d tried; how far I’d come. The record to show what happened to me, what makes me as I am. The blow-by-blow description of my troubled existence. Irrefutable evidence.

To show my daughter. To prove I didn’t abandon her. She’ll see when she’s older.

A kid should be proud of her folks. Should be.

I’m currently 34 years old. I’ve been in this line of work since I was a teenager. This is my life. There’s no changing the truth. I am the end of my line.

The name dies with me.

Perhaps my daughter will understand someday. Perhaps she’ll see that I did what was necessary. To survive. To make things better. For the future. My goal?

Destroy. To finish what Miss Hunter started.

I’m going to use the money I’ve earned to buy the remains of the Black Dragon. The bar is mine already, from inheritance. From my wife. The dear departed soul herself.

I intend to buy the plot, rebuild the place – and burn it down. I want it to be legitimate. On paper, I lost it. The more proof, the better. I want to tear the remnants apart, piece by piece.

Leave nothing but dust.

Even if you cut off the monster’s head, the body continues to move, to flail around. You have to burn it, leave no body to bury. There’s still the possibility of rebuilding foundation.

This life killed my family. It killed me. So this is my revenge.

Who is left to stop me now? Most of the great families have ended. The Ransoms, the Merricks; the list goes on. I’m a survivor. The last remaining of my line. The really insane part?

My brother and sister were fools. They deserved what they got.

I’ve read the stories. I know the history. Everyone does. And yet, nobody learned. People died, the wheel turned – and proof still remains. Without the evidence, it’s merely a fairy tale. I’ll end this, for always.

Mercy? Is that what you want me to rant about? Mercy died.

With Harley.

The details are a bit twisted, but they’re there. This started for her. Because she wounded me deeper than anybody ever could.

She loved me.

Once upon a time.

This madness, my life and career, everything I am…I did it all for you.

My name is Lucidius Mason.

This is my tragedy. My salvation. Redemption. For my blood family that I’ve been orphaned from. For love that won’t die.

Only burn.

1. Lucid – Establishment

Tattoo the word “traitor” on my back and it might be true. No promises either way. Just the simple possibility. Nothing more. Then again, everything’s a “maybe” these days. Nothing is forever. In the end, even the headstones turn to dust to match the inhabitants that they mark. There will be no place markers, there will be no places. Only ashes.

Traitor. Amongst other things. The more important point – I don’t really care. And it’s really there. On my neck. For all to see. On the back, so everyone can see it but me. Why would I need to see it anyway? I designed it, kind of like my life. I set everything up, just as I wanted it. I set up the mold that restrained my madness. Or so I kept telling myself.

Look at me and tell me who I am, why I am, what I am. If you dare. Would you betray a traitor? Give ammunition to the spineless coward, would you tempt it? Would I? Is it worth the risk; is anything? Fuck the rhetoric. Always.

Everything’s so goddamned theoretical anymore. Rhetorical. Metaphorical. What the hell happened to the real? The now, the constant; everyone is so damned focused on the then and the coming soon, nobody gets the true point anymore. If there is one. Say it again.

Traitor.

Louder, one more time. With feeling; without compassion.

Traitor.

Always and forever. Now and never.

In the flesh, product of solitude and suffering. Blood that flows warm, carrying the lack of compassion with it. A body animated simply to bleed, a life granted simply to destroy. My point and purpose were unclear, even to myself at times.

What am I? Who am I? Most of the lies are burned skin deep. For always.

Whatever happened to Heaven? I’ve searched far and wide and was only able to find Hell. Salvation, or even the chance of it, was dead. Like me. That’s what I am. Dead. It makes it easier to get around. The details aren’t entirely necessary.

Traitor. Who did I betray? The only person that matters.

Myself.

All I do is work. No family. No friends. Only this. Nobody to blame but myself. And I honestly prefer this. The solitude. My damnation. For eternity.

The lone wolf never has to ask permission to leave from the pack. I don’t do groups well anyway. Besides, who wants to sleep next to a corpse, a target waiting to catch a bullet. You can’t love the heartless. You can only pretend to try.

What makes me a traitor?

I lie convincingly, compulsively. And I’ve managed to kill anyone I ever cared about. Or loved.

I pledge allegiance to – the highest bidder.

The United States, and its republic are the biggest scams going.

One nation, under God. Under who?

Indivisible – like the fusion of my mind and morals.

With liberty – one of the most abused ideas in this land. We fight, and die, in the name of enduring freedom. How many went to war willingly? Numbers never lie, unless produced by our government. How many died senselessly in unnecessary conflicts? Are you sure? What about all the unknowns?

And justice – Now that’s just a fairy tale. A flat out lie.

For. All.

All of the best lies, all in one place, cemented into the minds of young, impressionable would-be voters. Funny; Hitler appealed to the youth too.

I don’t dream – I seldom sleep. There’s always work to be done, a restless conscience to calm. A conscience is a dangerous thing; and mine still lectures me.

Click. Lecture this. Bang. And the bastard keeps going. Just like me.

Define “impossible” and I’ll tell you a thing or two. In this day and age, impossible is bending, reinventing itself as improbable. Yet, the cycles continue, the events come and go. And we stand, surrounded by ash, to wonder.

Children wonder. Teens experiment. Adults reflect. Past. Present. Future.

I’m only really concerned with the now. When the travel time of a bullet decides the measure of life, time is wasted on anything other than the present.

This might make no sense. That’s not my problem. Dangerous is the man who has rationalized his emotions, right? What about those with no emotions to rationalize?

Welcome.

Do you feel alive?

If so – great. You’re ahead of the game. If not, better get moving. Time’s running short; it’s always against you. Like me.

I play no sides. I owe no favors. Pay no respect.

The man with the gun always has the floor.

Rogue Updates

Greetings readers.

It’s been awhile since a proper update and Volume VII has recently concluded so I thought now would be an ideal time for such things.

Going forward, the Rogue Press chapter posts will be text only. Due to personal and financial obligations on my part. I apologize for the inconvenience and at a later date we may be able to retroactively create images to correspond to the text.

Volume VIII gets running Monday and we hope that if you’ve been with us this long you’ll continue to. Share the link, spread the word. There’s lots of content to go.

 

29. Transient Despair

29 - ch29

“Time to rebuild.”

“From what?”

“Ashes. Dust. From what the Dragon is.”

“Rebuild what?”

“The pain.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s what the streets live for. It’s what we die for.”

“We live and die for family. For honor. For devotion.”

“Are you so certain?”

“Do I need to be?”

“Would you bet your life on it?”

“Do I have to?”

“Would you bet your daughter’s life, your wife’s?”

“What is this?”

“This, dear Lucid, is the beginning of a beautiful partnership.”

“Why?”

“Why?” She smiled at him. “Because I can.”

28. Playing the Audience

28 - ch28

I had a very logical reason for reopening the bar.

It just wasn’t time to close. And besides, there was only one place for the demons to run where they’d be completely safe. Or so they hoped.

The sewers.

And I was the expert on the topic. Hence, I set out for the bar. Reopened. And waited. I didn’t have to wait long – I knew something would unfold. And sure enough, Maven showed up.

She looked exhausted, out of breath, like she was running for an eternity and had just realized now that she’d been going in circles. I tried to seem calm and collected. I didn’t want her to know what I knew. I didn’t want her to know that they were caught. I didn’t want her to know that I’d quit on them, that I refused to save them. I smiled and nodded, keeping my opinions to myself. I let it be. I sat and listened to her talk.

She was ranting. Rev was dead. I wasn’t surprised. He trusted the wrong sort of people; it didn’t outwardly shock me to hear of his fall. From the way Maven spoke about it, it might’ve been some really screwed up back stab. I thought of his girl, but she wasn’t the one. I made a mental note to investigate his death later.

She needed a gun. She wanted a weapon. She was in danger and needed to make a stand. This would require involvement. I would be a part of this. And I knew it. And for a moment, I stopped caring. I wanted her to win. I wanted her to make it. I wanted her to learn and be stronger. But I knew it wouldn’t happen my way. I knew it just by looking at her.

But I gave her the gun anyway. I had a very special gun that I was most partial to. And I lent it to her. I knew I’d get it back, but I wouldn’t be getting it from her. I’d have to go claim it. I knew it just by looking at her. The more I looked at her, the deeper I saw. I saw the pain and the madness shining through. And I knew that I wouldn’t see her alive again, but I let her have the gun anyway. She might as well be prepared.

We believe firmly in the principal of fighting – to the last.

And she took it and she went down to the sewers. She was going to disappear into the circus. And that’s if she could live with that. If she could hack it, running forever. Forever is a really long time when you’re always in motion, when you’re always on your feet.

 

A few minutes went by that I sat collecting my thoughts, when I heard the door open and close again. I knew without looking up that this was the one going after Maven. I considered throwing her out. I considered getting involved. Stopping the pain. But with this, the two great families would end. And our worst fears would be over. That’s it. No more. I looked her up and down, this punk that wandered into my bar.

She looked like she’d walked through a tornado. She was covered in dirt and dust, possibly blood in places, I couldn’t be sure. She was young and confident, as most of them are nowadays. She took a few steps, looked the place over. She wasn’t paying attention to me, and I couldn’t tell if it was intentional ignorance or not. I decided to see how she’d react to the obvious. Worst case scenario? She’s imposing on my territory.

“Sorry, we’re closed,” I told her.

“Oh, don’t worry about it, I won’t be here long,” she replied. She had a tone to her that tried to impose on me that she belonged. She seemed comfortable even in the unfamiliar. I wouldn’t let that sidetrack me.

“I’ve been here too long as it is.”

“I haven’t been anywhere,” she replied, in a cold, almost monotone voice. A chill ran down my spine for a moment, but I kept up.

“Is there anything I can get you, being you’re not in too much of a rush to be nowhere?”

“I think I’ll be just fine, haven’t you heard? Time runs short,” she replied, again in the same icy tone. She had a small bit of a smile on her face, nothing too major.

“Do I know you?”

And she smiled such a wicked little grin as she edged closer to me, moving toward the door. “Do you want to?”

“We’re closed, go on, get the hell out of here.”

She looked around – thinking about her options, then asked in a sweet tone – “Can you wait around a minute for me?”

“Yeah, sure, if it gets you gone faster.”

And she started towards the door, walking even steps. Right before she went to follow Maven’s tracks, she turned around, smiling back at me.

“Thanks, darling,” she said.

And she was gone.

I listened to her steps in the empty corridor. Once they got past the doors into the circus, I wouldn’t be able to hear anymore. But I could hear the steps for a small piece. And I counted the time in my mind – I counted by beats of my heart. I tried to keep score. I tried to keep count. I wanted to know how long it took. I wanted to be able to say that she survived for a certain amount of time. I heard the steps, moving away. I could count down in my mind; I could imagine the fall that was coming, the evitable. And I listened with every fiber of my being.

And Maven Merrick joins the ranks of the lost.

As I heard the shot, the girl that had come in before crept out of the door. And I knew, right then, locking eyes with her, that this was Angyl Hunter. I knew that both of the kids had been screwed. I knew right then that we’d all been beaten, and she’d get away with murder on all counts. And she locked eyes with me, smiling real slowly. And she spoke in such a surreal tone…I had to stop and consider if I was really here –

“Thanks Harl, it’s been real.”

And I saw her back as she slipped out the door. I was confident that I’d never see her again. The silhouette of her leaving, the smile and the look in her eyes, it was gone. Right then, right there. Like a trick of smoke and mirrors.

 

I stood for a minute, out of respect for the lost. Out of respect for Syn, for Payge and Set, for Rev, and for Maven. And I looked around, and went down to the hallway. I crept in the dark, using the little light available to find her. Maven lay in the ground, bleeding from the head. I bent down, picking up my gun from the ground next to her. She had tears still running from her eyes, for a moment I thought maybe she was still alive. But it was just another trick of the night. Another elaborate gag. Nothing more. She was dead. It was done, over. And the wheel would turn no longer. I turned the gun over a few times. And I turned and walked away from her, from this. I had the gun in my hand, my arm relaxed. It was like a part of me, I couldn’t let it die with her. This gun was an important part of my life, as a precious gift from a friend.

It was the most powerful reminder of my past that I possessed.

I walked away, leaving Maven where she was. The circus kids would find her, and they’d bury her like they were supposed to. I was sure that Irish would find Rev, and he’d be tended to as well. Either which way, they were demons of some sort. I debated on what to do next. I had the gun in hand while I locked up. And I brought it upstairs with me when I trudged up to collapse. I wanted to sleep. I needed to, desperately. But there was one order of business that needed to be tended to. A favor I had to fulfill. I tucked the gun away, out of harm’s way, where I alone could find it. And I found my daughter and husband curled up on the couch, sleeping soundly. I bent down, kissing them both softly, before moving off.

I thought about it for a moment. I couldn’t walk anymore. I picked up the phone instead, dialing the familiar number. I heard the click as she picked up, the familiar greeting. The normal pleasantries were exchanged. I coughed, searching for the words.

“Pandora…we have to talk.”

And from there, I think you can fill in the rest of the story. If not…it becomes your problem. Sorry kids.

27. Endless Treachery

27 - ch27

I was still hanging out, wiping down tables, when Rev showed up. Saint and Damien got bored of my company and let themselves out shortly before he showed up. It was getting late, but business was slow since the funeral. Things were just shaken up. Syn was like a neighborhood icon. Not adored or anything, but she was respected in some way. Her loss was big – it took a chunk out of all of our lives. And Pike’s disappearance, that was unsettling as well. He just picked up and left. He supposedly loved her. Yeah. Oh well. I don’t know. It just seems highly suspicious to me.

Rev shows up at the bar, sauntering in like he belongs. I looked up from the table I was wiping down as he collapsed into a chair. He looks exhausted, worn out. Like he’d been running for days and didn’t even know what he was running from. He was looking into the tabletop, trying to assess how bad he really looked. He was a train wreck, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. I kept going, trying not to seem overly concerned. When he wouldn’t talk, I sat down and stared at him. Eventually things got underway.

I zoned out in the midst of the conversation. What he wanted, I couldn’t give. He wanted the story. He wanted my life, my pain, the collection kept in black and white. Many a day I’ve considered burning it, but I never actually did. I can’t come up with a valid reason as to why. I don’t know why I didn’t get rid of it. Lucid doesn’t even know that I have it. It’s a secret that I keep in my soul, buried away, far and deep from the world. I killed my former self. The madness. I had a kid. I have a family. I couldn’t let it survive. I had to let go, move on – grow up. But I kept it. The actual words. Somewhere hidden away. My former self. My former life. My youth. No. It was gone and over. Over. Over.

He leaves and I’m still sitting there, hoping it wasn’t real. He knows that I kept it somewhere. He knows that it exists. But he’s just a brat. He’s a street demon, what use is it to him? None. It holds nothing…except the truth of what happened to his father. It has the truth in it to everything. Absolutely everything. But why now? Why at this hour of the night is it so important that he get it? It just didn’t add up. I sat on the table, pondering for a while, trying to figure out the details. But I couldn’t. I gave up and locked the door. I was all set to trudge upstairs and collapse, when I decided to take a walk. Just in case. To make sure all was right in the world. To try and catch what kind of no good Rev was up to.

I had my coat held close against my body. There was an unusual air in the street. There was a sort of unsettling fog that seemed to float in the air. I moved towards it, venturing deeper into the mist. It didn’t make sense, its presence. I couldn’t make it work out in my mind but I would try like hell anyway. I kept going until I got to where the Dragon stood.

Where it used to stand.

 

The entire place was burned to ashes. There was nothing of purpose left inside. It was gone, everything, the entire place, burned to pieces. There was…just memories. The pictures, the designs – everything. Gone. I could only think of Maven, of Rev, of Lucid’s warning. I thought of Angyl. I searched the entire place over and could find nothing, not one remnant of what was. It was all ash and soot. There was nothing else to know. I looked around the place in vain, stepping away from it. This was real. This was now. This was a reality. I could feel the cold tears slipping down my face, even though inwardly, I felt no pain. I didn’t hurt yet I could feel the scream slipping through from my heart. From my soul.

This is now. This is real.

This is real.

Not a dream. Not a delusion. I had to stand in the midst of oblivion just to be sure. I was covered in ash and dust that seemed to float in place. It was just in the air, waiting to be scooped up. I felt like I could take all the ashes and reassemble the place like new. But I knew better. I walked away, turning into the alley, searching for something to sit down on. But I found blood instead. Fresh, painting the walls. It was all over. It was everywhere. And I couldn’t make it go away. It too was real. This was now. This was now. This was always.

This was the end of forever. The death of legends. The end of martyrs. There would be nothing more that would go on for always. This was the end of Endless.

I curled up in the alley, letting my eyes follow the trail of blood. I let my eyes wander all the way to the end of the alley, where the wall should have been. Instead there were two bodies. They were hanging from some impossible location. Both of them were hanging from their necks, arms outspread, as if they’d been crucified. I got up, creeping closer slowly.

It was Payge and Set Drake. The owners of the Black Dragon tattoo shop.

And they were hung there on purpose, in that fashion.

Because they were Endless. They were seen as saints and martyrs.

And hence, they were displayed as such in death.

And on top of that, this was an extravagant way of exclaiming triumph. That the ghosts were gone. That the demons were beaten. The Endless were human after all and this was a scream at the top of the murderer’s lungs. This was showing the world the truth. For a moment, the name “Damien” rang in my ears. Who else would set up such a garish display? But the boys left for home, there wasn’t enough time…I stopped trying to make sense of how he managed it. I knew he did it, and that was enough. I couldn’t tell you how or when. The bodies had been here longer than the building had been burned down. But he’d done it somehow. I turned away, trying to block the scene out. I needed to go home. I needed to sleep. I needed this to just…stop. But it wouldn’t. I got to the end of the alley when I found Lucid waiting for me. His head was down, a smoke in his hand and arm down at his side.

“Hey.”

He looked up at me. “Hey.”

“I…”

“Don’t. It’s fine.”

 

“Is it really?” I whispered. I felt…scared. Scared that if we spoke too loud, we’d wake them. The spirits of the lost. All the dead that had passed through this one alley. I had my back to the scene as Lucid glanced back there. His eyes were vacant. He reached out his arms and pulled me close into him. He smelt like smoke. He smelt like…pain and memories. I wanted to get lost in that embrace forever. He held me close, the cigarette in his mouth. He kissed me on the forehead and we both turned away from the scene. I was still buried in him, desperate to hold on. Hold on to what? Anything.

He had known something was up. He could have stopped this. And the guilt weighed heavily on his conscience. How he knew to come here, to find me, I didn’t know. I didn’t know if he knew before he came or not. But somehow, he was where I needed him, when I needed him. And that’s all that matters. He was here, now. I was with him. And we could go home now. And I could curl up and cry as much as I wanted to. And I wanted to desperately. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t. And I pulled away from him, kissing him as I did.

“Where are you going?”

“To Drown.”

26. Burying Tradition

26 - ch26

I was at work the next night, the usual routine. Relic was in the corner, drawing idly. I liked when she came to work, it calmed me down, to know she was safe. I let her help here and there with things if I could. Just to remind her that I knew she was there. And that I cared. So she would never forget that I loved her, always. I was also more nervous when she was there, should an occasion come up, should a riot ensue…she’d be too close to the flame. I didn’t want to put her in danger, to risk her life. Life’s a game of risk. Of chance. I had to play the cards the way they were dealt. Being here made her happy, so I let her be.

Maven came in. I saw her from the doorway. I saw everyone that came in from the doorway. Every person that set foot into the bar was caught at the door. If they were trouble, I just had to nod a certain way to have them removed. We were running a safe haven, but only for our side. The enemy wasn’t allowed refuge here. The entrance to the underground was through here, so we always had a varied sort of crowd coming and going. But for the most part, it was good people. Decent, hard working, they just needed to unwind.

Maven came and sat down. We exchanged the usual nods. She seemed edgy, but I learned not to intervene. She was her mother’s child. Pandora worked at the bar a lot too, but she happened to be off tonight. I wished she were here; I debated calling her. But no, kids will be kids. I would let the dog lie. I didn’t want to get bit. She was having a bad day – I’d let her have it. I didn’t want to seem like the prying aunt or anything. I had no real claim to her. I tried to start a conversation but it just didn’t fly, so I went back to cleaning glasses.

Gin was helping people behind me. She was doing really well too. The door opened to allow Jack to creep in to see her. A lot of the travelers were still around. Saint and Damien came back for another few drinks before starting home. I went over to talk to them for a while, coming back behind the bar in time to see Set come in. I checked the time. It was getting late – they’d be closing up the shop. It was always open, in a matter of speaking. Payge and Set, supposedly, moved in upstairs, so if you were desperate for something, you could go knock on their door. But who would have that kind of nerve? If you’re going to wake up the owners at some ungodly hour, you better have one hell of a design.

Set came in, shaking off the change of atmosphere, settling down. I moved down the bar to him.

“So what can I do ye for, stranger?”

 

He smiled back at me. “You decide, I’m through with thinking for the night.”

“Now that’s a dangerous thing to say. I could come up with something wicked troublesome.”

He shrugged again. “What kind of trouble could you possibly get me into?”

And I shot him back a wicked sort of grin. “The worst kind, babe.” And I went off to get him a drink. I saw him look down the bar. I saw him lock eyes on Maven. I took the initiative to get back to him as he got up to move.

“Listen, Lucid came home a little shook up last night. Said the kids were up to no good. Do me a favor, be careful?”

And he laughed. “Harley, you can only imagine what I’ve seen. What can three children come up with that I’ve not already gone through? I mean, really, what are they to me?”

And he winked at me, moving down the bar quietly to talk to Maven. I watched him go, and all that I could hear in my head was this:

“You will be the death of me.”

Over and over. And I knew just by watching him that he’d set himself up for one hell of a downfall. I knew, and it was carved into stone when I saw him grab Maven and shove her out of the bar. I wanted to jump over, to stop them, to intervene. But I felt Gin’s hand on my shoulder. I felt my daughter’s eyes burning into my own. And I knew I couldn’t risk it. I couldn’t make the leap. I had been out of the game, out of the loop. I was replaced. I was old news. And I had to let the new generation take over. I had to…step…back.

Lucid came in a little while later. I threw my towel to Gin, crossing from behind the bar to hug him. He held me tight for a moment.

“Feeling better?”

He shook his head. “No matter. All in due course.”

I nodded. “Staying awhile?”

He smiled at me, letting go. “Course.”

And he sat himself down next to Relic, eying her drawing carefully, trying not to be too obvious. She laughed, pretending not to notice, turning away from him.

“Oh, that’s how it is huh?”

He reached over and tickled her, making her giggle and laugh. I couldn’t help laughing too. With all the madness of my youth, this is where we were. I took the towel from where Gin left it and went back behind the bar. Lucid was still being a brat.

“Can you stop terrorizing her? She’s a big girl now, too big for your antics.”

“Aw, come on. It’s my paternal right.”

“Don’t make me send you to your room.”

He smiled, leaning across the bar to get up in my face. “Oh yeah? What gives you that kind of power?”

“I’m your wife,” I replied smugly.

“Eh, I don’t know about that.”

And I pretended to get offended, to walk away from him, when he reached out to me and I kissed him. I could feel Relic watching. I could hear the pencil scratch as she tried to sketch the outlines in before we moved. I could hear her disappointed sigh when she didn’t get everything there in time. Lucid looked over at her, patting her on that head.

“We’ll sit like that for hours when we get home and you can draw all you want, how’s that grab you?”

 

And she laughed, turning away again, pretending that she was watching someone else. She didn’t want to seem too obvious. She didn’t want us to know that she was caught. Lucid settled himself back down and stuck around for the next few hours.

It was getting late and Relic was falling asleep when I poked him.

“Go on, take her home, I’ll finish up here.”

He looked around – the place was mostly empty. Saint and Damien were still hanging out. Gin and Jack were both gone, as well as any other demons. Set hadn’t come back. Lucid glanced over to where Relic was curled up on top of her sketchbook, her arm and hands covered with dust from the pencil. He nodded, leaning over for another kiss, which I returned.

“Now, get out of here you beast.”

“Yes, master,” he sighed, lumbering over to pick up Relic. He took her carefully, making sure to take the sketchbook with her. “We’ll see you in awhile?”

I checked the time. “A while not too far from the present.”

“Good. Should I wait up?”

“Don’t strain yourself too much.”

“Later, kid,” he said, winking slyly. He thought he was so damn cool.

And he was gone, cradling Relic in his arms. I sighed and went back to wiping off tables. I got to the one where Saint and Damien were at, looking at the two of them.

“So, am I locking you fellas up in here or are you planning of depriving me of your presence at some point?”

Saint laughed. “Well, when you put it that way.”

“Come on boys, you have to get on the road, I have to get home. I have a family waiting.”

“Been staying out of trouble?” Saint questioned.

“Naturally.”

“Anything out of the ordinary lately?”

“Saint, there’s nothing ordinary about this neighborhood, you know that. Since Syn died, everything’s been screwed up.”

We all put our heads down, thinking for a moment. I dropped into an empty seat next to them. We were just looking around, idly.

“She’s gotten big,” Saint said absentmindedly.

“Relic? Yeah. I thought you’d never met her before now?”

He smiled a wicked little grin. “All because you think it doesn’t mean it’s accurate.”

I shrugged. “Yeah, yours has grown up a bit too.”

Damien shifted in his chair. “She’s not ours.”

I looked back and forth at the two of them. Slowly from Saint to Damien. I coughed into a sort of laugh. “Well, obviously, unless you two know something I don’t.”

Damien didn’t laugh – he just locked eyes with me. I couldn’t break away, and I couldn’t help it.

“What’s she up to, Damien? What kind of trouble is your little girl brewing?”

And he smiled. He smiled such an eerily unsettling smile that I could feel my skin crawl. “Trouble? When is my little darling ever brewing anything troublesome? You know she’s a perfect little angel, hence the name.”

“Did anyone ever tell you that you’re completely full of shit?”

He smiled wider. “According to you. I dare you to prove it.”

I shrugged and let it pass. “Why are you guys still here, really?”

 

I was looking to Saint for an answer, but I got it from Damien. “Security.”

“If you say so boys. You’re welcome to stay until the minute I lock the door. After that, sweet dreams.” And I got up, excusing myself kindly, and continued wiping down tables.

The eccentricity wrapped up in a few short days versus lifetimes…it’s just unbelievable. I went back to cleaning, they went back to drinking. And the world went back to not making sense. But that’s how everyday typically ends.

With lack of sense.

Reason and logic are overrated anyway.