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31. Respawning in…

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A new day. – a new day unlike any other, with a bright sky and a brilliant array of clouds to define the moment. A sky I envisioned in my mind, safe from the slings and arrows of reality at the moment. I almost didn’t want to leave, to embrace what was true. But I knew that eventually I would get up, as I had before, and carry on. It was my primary function, the only mission that I truly understood.

But a moment of peace was worth all the bloodshed and pain that had been wrought down around me. I would have my second of silence that I had suffered for. It seemed only fair. So I kept my eyes sealed as tightly as I could, counting the seconds in my mind that I was removed from the world, and thus secure.

“You going to just lay there all day?” Colt’s breath was soft against my face as he leaned closer, realizing that he was lying at my side. I scrunched my eyes together for a final few seconds before rolling over to face him.

“Don’t you have other people to terrorize?”

He smiled, kissing me on the cheek. “Not today. Today I’m yours. And only yours.”

I was going to ask him what happened, how we ended up here, why we were both alive, but I thought better of it. There was no need to upset the delicate balance when there was already so much going on as is. I would enjoy the limited moments I could steal away with him and be satisfied. Everything else could wait, and so it would for the time being.

I spent a day free of beatings and pain. Free of stories and lies. I didn’t need to worry about who was watching or why. I didn’t need to be constantly waiting for the horizon to settle safely. I had survived the gauntlet and that’s all that mattered. For now. Until Lucid fired the first shot, took the first life. Then everything would change.

And it did. The day Relic joined her mother.

We had buried Harley quietly, with a sort of relief that her death was an internal defect. Her loss disheartened us all, but we were glad that it hadn’t been the official onset of the war. I had some time to relax, while I helped Colt pick his officers. Jekt and Dusk were naturally at the height of the chain. I was unofficially the second in command. Everyone had their dark purpose, but one we would come to bear nonetheless.

Relic had been out on one of her signature walks with Edward. He had become her entire world with the loss of her mother. Angyl hadn’t returned to as someone to guide the girl to salvation, so she was left to ponder how best to go on with life. As Irish ran the bar, Relic’s importance in the community began to dwindle. She existed merely as an attraction, a fragment of a much larger and more impressive tale. And she knew it. Her legacy was her parents’ and always would be. She would merely become a topic of gossip and gawking, the last survivor of the Mason clan.

Until Linkon found her. Linkon and his crew.

They caught them both on a walk. Dragging them down into the abyss of Linkon’s most devious haunts, they were held down and beaten senseless.

Relic was given a choice – a deal that Linkon would be willing to negotiate. As he held both of their lives in the balance, he wished to see the value of life versus morality. What would they be willing to give up in exchange for their lives? The trick was…you couldn’t save your own life. What would Edward give to keep Relic breathing? And what would she give in return for his life?

Each would be granted one chance. Linkon would be the “impartial” judge.

Edward gave Linkon forgiveness. For his current and future sins. Edward swore that he would commit no personal ill will against Linkon or his men.

Relic however would need to offer more than simple words. She offered the only thing she had left of substance – herself. He had tried to tempt her in the past, but she had been the stronger person. The better person. She was willing to put it all on the line for Edward, though she couldn’t quite figure out why.

So Relic slept with the demon, as Edward pondered whether his loyalty had bought her life. By the end of the day, they’d both have their salvation in some way. The pair was brought to face each other one last time, and Relic’s head was blown clean open. Edward would have to live with that guilt for the rest of his life, and ravage him it did. He’d remembered the calm expression on Relic’s face, the resolve in her eyes. She was sure that they’d both walk out of this. Instead, Edward carried her back to the underground. She was the example, the sacrificial lamb, and now we all knew it. The obvious choice, hidden in plain sight, and we’d let her slip past.

No matter what she’d said or done for Linkon, she would have died that day. It took Edward awhile to arrive at that conclusion, but once he did, a wave of rage overtook his life. He was no longer the soft-spoken executioner we had come to expect. His temper was constantly on a hair trigger, his moods wild and manic. When his outbursts were getting harder to control, his place as cleaner at risk, he was removed from the underground by the uppers. They found him a nice set of foster parents who deal with troublesome teenagers. They were kind and patient people, eager to handle any of his issues as they came up. Therapists. But they were better for him than any of us. Luke and Carol Dorrance.

He spoke to us when he returned, recounting the details of the story. His pledge to Linkon, which has been refused, left him on a path wrought on revenge. The only thing that kept him breathing was avenging that child’s murder. His sister, but he didn’t know it. Somewhere she had to exist on paper – it had to be recorded. Should he know the truth?

Or would the lies continue as we hid more and more of each other’s souls?

There are some things better left unsaid, and with Edward’s current downward spiral we didn’t want to push him any further than we had to. The hate in his soul was eating him alive, this much we all knew. And without proper measures in place, his rage would know no bounds in the long run. It was our mission to keep him stable – to keep that rage at bay. It might come in handy later.

Or so I hoped. That kind of blind hatred is a terrible thing to waste.

We held our own, ready for the assault. As the first stone had been cast, we had to make preparations of our own. Colt and I had long discussions on strategy, arriving only at one solid conclusion. I would have to play both sides against the middle. My leverage against both leaders would swing the war in the manner I supported. But Linkon wouldn’t know that. If he thought I was serving him, then he might leave himself more open to attack. He didn’t think I was bold enough to lie to his face; his overconfidence was his flaw. And I would do everything in my power to exploit it.

So I would abandon my safe haven, leaving behind my only sense of security. The boys would keep their eyes on me much as possible, but there was only so far they could go. Holed up deep behind enemy lines, I’d be more than simply unattainable. These last days would be the few where I could comfortably stay with my newfound family, safe and warm. I would have to degrade them, attack them, confront them – all manner of psychological warfare to ensure the authenticity of my performance. But it was all part of the plan.

I was the plan.

In Harley’s passing, Irish inherited the bar. She would be its keeper and general. She was a commanding officer on the front lines. Her life’s value has increased tenfold lately, but for all the wrong reasons. She had worked so long and hard to escape her gang roots and stay out of the line of fire. But no matter how hard she tried, how far she ran, she still ended up returning to the center that she started at. The Drowning Raven was her ward now, and she would guard it diligently.

Before I left the underground though, as my first sign of loyalty to Linkon, I beat Irish within inches of her life. Bare knuckle, into the ground, I let out every ounce of frustration I had pent up on her. The great truth I held in my soul that would have damned her for life. I let it all rage, and she allowed it for the most part. Everyone thought it was just part of the act, but we both knew it was more than that. And that was enough for me. The blood dripping off her chin was just a bonus.

The remains of the tattoo shop that Linkon obsessed about passed curiously enough to Angyl. How, or why, I’ll never entirely know, but such was the state of things. She would hold it ransom for as long as nobody wanted it. Being the last remaining survivor of the events surrounding the place, nobody seemed to mind her taking over. The stories were rampant, the memories shaky – but we all knew the amount of pain that had occurred there. She had lived it. Despite the suspicions, the allegations and rumors, Angyl’s innocence was never so certain.

What happened in the past was simply put past. We needed to move ahead together, a single direction as a single family. Saint would stand by quietly, ever vigilant, keeping the strings moving silently overhead. Without a child to babysit, his attention would remain squarely on Irish at all times. He assisted in all matters of business, constantly at the bar to help with tasks high and low.

And the boys got to ransacking. They attacked every individual who dared utter Linkon’s name in earnest. They torched any buildings with connections to the opposition. They busted drug dealers and pimps trying desperately to make a buck to stay in Linkon’s good graces. And every dozen they beat down or scared off, another two dozen would replace them. Where these blind young soldiers rose from, and why they would gladly march to their deaths, was beyond me. But just like clockwork, the pattern continued.

Once I crossed the proverbial line into enemy territory, I was interrogated and tortured for a week, to see if my story stuck. Of course, it did. Linkon welcomed my return with open arms, eager to let me loose and see what damage I had wrought. I brought him to Irish’s bedside, where she lay battered and broken, feeling seconds of her life slip by. Confident in my loyalty, he had left me in charge of incalculable forces. However, she healed as she was meant to.

But what of dear old Angyl? Was she part of the plan all along, did she know I was playing both sides against the middle? I assumed that someone of her stature would know all things, but with a growing boy to focus on, I wondered how active she would be in the revolution. I had to disown all things I had known before, all the past pain and madness. I would carry on as if it had never been. Angyl’s loyalty lied on the other side of the fence, and I had to remember that.

As if she’d ever let me forget it.

It was one of those days you wish hadn’t come, one of those long rains that isn’t too heavy, but heavy enough to make you wish you could stay indoors. I had errands to run, so I was hustling place to place when she came looking. I remember being dragged right off the street and back into an alley. The alley. Where the legends were bled dry, where naïve children would sit in wonder of all that had come to pass. By this time, Harley’s stories had been released, so everyone was up to speed on her side of things. And Angyl’s streak of madness. The stories proved that Angyl murdered a number of people. Suddenly, she took my place at the gallows – hunted at every turn.

Her arms kept me locked tight, pressed against her chest. She was waiting to see if I was followed, though I’m sure she had scoped out this meeting a lot more clearly. After roughly two minutes, I was released and able to wheel around and face her.

“Long time no talk Dacien.” Her voice was even, unfamiliar. She would be giving nothing up, allowing no secrets to see the light of day. I nodded slowly.

“You couldn’t just say hello like a normal person, could you?”

She shook her head, stepping closer to me. The shine of the weapon in her hand caught my attention immediately, as I sidestepped further into the alley. Dueling sharks, we would carry on this dance to its end. She shook her head again, reaching out to hand the weapon to me.

“I need a favor of you. I need you to make this end.”

I took the weapon, knowing I might not get another chance to keep the odds in my favor. I pulled the clip out on impulse to make sure the rounds were live. They were. She stood there, forlorn and weary. More tired than I’d ever known her, the fire and spirit lost in her eyes. She’d been running for weeks now, trying to conceal both herself and the child. It would catch up to her; they would discover her secret all along…unless she did something.

“Angyl, what will Corvis do without you?”

And she smiled – that same slow and weary grin that I had become accustomed to. That sly shifty smirk that told you there was more in every action than met the eye.

“He’s not going to do anything without me. Someone like me doesn’t just drop dead, don’t you know that?”

Her words were enigmatic and her voice barely a whisper, but I let them continue nonetheless. I raised my hand slowly, pulling the gun to aim squarely at her chest. A centimeter either way could ruin this. A centimeter either way would have a radically different result. But from the angle of the audience, it was a kill.

I clicked the safety off slowly and started counting backwards from three. The body in front of me lurched then dropped slowly. I stared past her, at the ominous pair of eyes that seemed to search for me in the darkness. The demon monitoring my every move.

Saint.

He would go back and report that the great Angyl Hunter was murdered. The bounty on my head would triple as Angyl’s charges faded into black. Her record was clear – there was no longer a murderer to contend with. She was free, or as free as such a person could be.

Assuming I fulfilled the rest of my dark purpose. I had to get her to the best doctor I knew. I had to stop the bleeding. For every great secret, great treacherous purpose, there must be a partner to share it with. I pondered who I could share this with, who I could trust to bear the chore of keeping Angyl alive without incident.

After a few seconds deliberation, I carried the limp form that had been Angyl Hunter to the Dorrance household. She was breathing in gasps, barely holding onto air, but alive nonetheless. That would have to be enough. I pounded on the door until I got a response, sputtering and coughing some insane story about how I had found her like that on the street. The weapon was left at the scene to prove my “guilt” to Colt’s side. It would all fall into place, bit by bit.

As planned, the Dorrance family knew a collection of talented doctors who made house calls. An experienced surgeon was on the scene almost instantly performing miracles. While he concentrated on Angyl, I took the time to have a heart to heart with Edward.

I explained to Edward that Angyl had to survive this. And that her role in the great design was larger than all of us and for that alone she needed to continue on. I explained that her endurance and violence would inspire us to push ourselves harder and further. She needed to carry on because her child could not carry on without her. I betrayed her most sacred secret…but out of desperation and fear. Should the system intervene, that child would never have the proper upbringing and morality that he would find with Angyl. Though she was not a typical mother by PTA standards, she was a warrior nonetheless with power to be passed on. I couldn’t allow it to go to waste.

Edward understood my purpose, and the grand design. That Corvis, with proper guidance, would carry on to do great things, things that some of us could only dream of. He just needed the proper footing. Inspiration from people such as the Dorrances, Edward, and of course Angyl…Corvis’ potential was limitless. And that was the bigger picture right now – an innocent child’s future.

Hours wore on, and Angyl continued to breathe. After a period of deep sleep and rest, she would come around to talking again. I had recovered Corvis from where she had hidden him – Lucid’s abandoned church. She knew that she would have to choose a place that we had in common of equal importance. She had to believe that I would understand her decisions and actions without a novel to back them up. And so far, I had followed through perfectly. With the exception of Edward’s involvement. However, upon further consideration, I think she took fondly to the idea of a stable support system to depend on. The hounds could no longer hunt a target that had been declared legally dead, so she was free for the most part.

The Dorrance family stayed uptown, being a more proper establishment. Keeping Angyl from the old haunts was one of the many steps we had to go through to keep her alive. She changed hair colors as often as shirts, changing lengths every few weeks. Her style in clothing changed every other day, anything to keep a pattern from forming.

I wondered briefly what it must feel like to constantly reinvent yourself. Most of us do so out of boredom – Angyl did so to survive.

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