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15. As Our Players Reveal Themselves

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I arrived on the scene as simply as anyone else, parking several blocks away and walking the rest of the way as casually as I could. Whether the cops knew about our activities and simply chose to turn a blind eye, or they were involved, I didn’t want to know. But the streets were clear of activity, save for the slow roll of the fog as it surrounded the scene. I came up behind the crowd as quietly as I could, the racers lounging on their bikes by the starting line.

At the forefront was Marco, his smile wide, his eyes searching. Damiano, his unofficial girl, would be in the farthest depths of the crowd, hidden well amongst the gypsies. Their differing social classes kept them apart for the time being. Marco would have to exercise his rights as leader, prove his authority, before he could cross borders predetermined. It made sense. You had to convince the people that you were capable of your post before you were permitted to make use of all of your executive powers.

I caught Hyde’s eye, perched at the front of the crowd, failing in his attempts to appear nonchalant. His gaze shifted nervously, moving throughout the crowd. Someone needed to teach that lad the art of subtlety; as his eyes locked on Damiano, the tension became clear. The girl had the man she loved out of heart, and the one she loved out of need. Marco kept her safe and alive, in a manner of speaking. Betraying him could end badly. I almost laughed at myself, at the boys, at how obvious everything was in their eyes. But now was not the time or place. Or what it? I knew so little about Hyde that something about his longing made him all the more…human in my mind. It was easier to accept him into my world as a person with real needs and desires. I could respect him all the more as a man, thinking less of him as an axe-wielding madman. His quiet demeanor and constant attention to detail worried me at first, setting off a sort of paranoia when I first met him. But here, seeing the way his eyes melted at the sight of her, the danger faded away and he was as possessed as any love struck teenager.

It almost amazed me that I was able to pick up on that slight niche of Hyde’s personality. It was a familiar gleam though, a gleam Brie had carried with her everywhere she went. The sort of hope and optimism that one rarely sees; I was able to relate to the dreamer in his soul. He was hoping against hope for something impossible, no – improbable. Nothing was truly impossible for the man willing to toil for it, willing to suffer and bleed for it. And Hyde was not scared of pain of any kind.

Damiano Sera Morrow. I knew her mostly by reputation, from the stories that Caine had told me about her. I had never been formally introduced, nor did I ever expect to be. She was the love of every man bold enough to lay on eyes on her, but very few were granted the chance to get close enough to know her. She walked in a way that made you wonder if she touched the ground at all, her eyes deep and brilliant. She seemed to have a deeper soul within that could weigh yours for its worth, assessing the importance of her inner circle of confidants. There was a beauty to her though that was beyond words, hidden in her silent sadness. A purity lost in the suggestion of anything else.

Watching the racers assemble, I tried to resume normal breathing functions. I wished that Caine would appear by my side, but when I realized how he would play into my mental state I changed my mind. Seeing him might only complicate matters, and I was trying to avoid that at all costs. Right now I needed to relax and resume my place in the proper circle of life. Even amidst an eager crowd, hopeful to watch someone careen to a painful end, I found myself empty and uncertain. Why had Seven chosen me as her messenger? Who gave her the information she held deep behind her darkened visor? Nobody knew the truth. Not even Dacien could be sure. I had spoken to nobody from back home, hid my story from Caine, and left no written record of my story minus this. Which, even before her accusation I had never kept a concrete copy of it. I racked my mind for possibilities.

The shopkeeper I’d bought a test from, the only possible clue in the chain. It’d been a young woman, a bit older than myself. She had dark and clever eyes, reminiscent of a huntress, but I paid no mind as I tried to shift myself out of the place as quickly as possible. I had no idea who she was, and I’d never seen her since that day. Could she be of some relation to Seven, and even so, what did I have to do with any of this? My mind continued in vicious circles for hours on end, leaving me finally frustrated.

So one mystery begot another unknown. The cycle perpetuated itself and I was left with no answers. I decided I needed to return to the city. There were connections there, possible sources of wisdom that might be able to turn the world off its head. Or so I hoped. There was only so much help to be had, so much to hope for.

And would Dacien come to my aid yet again?

Three years had passed since I was raped on a dark, cold night I’d sooner forget. Three years since I conceived and birthed a child sired by evil itself. I couldn’t destroy a life based on the grounds it was created on; the child was mine no matter how I considered it. I had granted her a name, Doryn Ransom, named for her father’s lineage, and let her loose upon the world. With a strong, bold name like Ransom, I prayed that her pack would find her and care for her, that she would return to Dacien. And perhaps she had. Perhaps that’s how the truth had slipped out, and it just took a few years for things to relay this far. But how had the information passed to Seven? And what became of the child I had abandoned so long ago; convinced that no upbringing I could offer it would be even remotely responsible?

I shook the confusion off, deciding it was better to deal with such things when I returned to the city. There was more to be considered and I’d have a nice long bus ride to do it in. The race kicked off with an abrupt start and I became one of many cheering fans.

You must love yourself before you can love others, right? And three years ago, young and clueless, I was well beyond the self-loving limits.

Who were we cheering for, and why? Whoever was bold enough to finish the race. Races weren’t just about speed or style, they were about survival; a sort of fistfight in motion. Our warriors in the lead, the Wicked, needed to maintain their positions while others took wild swings at them. It was an unofficial team sport of sorts, with the Wicked rotating winners from race to race. If memory served correctly, it was Marco’s night to shine.

Except his bike started acting up in the first few turns. We stood at a safe distance, watching the nightmare unfurl. When riders careen around corners at around 80 mph mere feet from you though, safety becomes an illusion.

Around corner four, things were definitely in the red. He pulled through the corner, barely, relying heavily on his feet to make the bike react. It was pitching and tossing, but old Marco was too stubborn to quit. He didn’t understand what it meant to lose. Looking through the crowd, it was then that the grin caught my eye. Damiano’s gaze, locked on Marco’s faulty bike, she seemed entirely dependent on it. Almost as if a spell were at work, she muttered to herself, her eyes never leaving the machine.

Even as it kicked for the last time, coming around the final corner, colliding with a telephone pole. The machine crumpled instantly, becoming a pretzel of steel and plastic. Tiny shards were tossed everywhere as the explosion stole the attention of the onlookers, now satisfied with their pound of flesh. Marco himself was thrown entirely airborne, landing with a sickening thud a good few yards away, only to bounce and roll a few times more before reaching a final position that resembled what had been his bike.

I felt my jaw drop, cool air rushing down my throat to remind me to breath. The event had all happened in a matter of seconds. Marco’s twisted form was soon joined by another – the secondary male running down the road towards him. Seven continued on, battling other racers, trying to find who got the most enjoyment out of the wreck. The secondary continued as well, parallel with Seven, hoping to find a culprit to blame. The crowd formed a semi circle around the scene, all craning for a look but none bold enough to venture forth. The racer in front of me slid down into the grass as quickly as possible, screaming at the top of his lungs to rouse Marco’s attention. It took a few more seconds for things to start clicking in my mind, but the voice was undeniable.

Caine.

As if he could sense my presence, the helmet was peeled off his head and tossed aside, his eyes instantly locking on my own. Suddenly, his disappearances made all the more sense. His lack of information on the topic almost felt like a betrayal of trust, but it was nothing compared to the darker secret I held in my soul. I kept my frustration masked, allowing him to think I was upset with his simple deceit. It was actually a perfect cover to go back to the city with. Make him thing I was angry with him, he’d ask less questions. Might spend a few days kicking himself too hard in the ass, but it couldn’t he helped. I slowly closed my jaw, trying to assess the facts in front of me, finding myself unable to do so.

And like clockwork, Damiano started to depart the track, intently and casually. She had been waiting for this solitary moment, and with it, brought her freedom. Marco’s possession of her would end…assuming he didn’t survive. Considering his condition, chances were definitely grim, but nonetheless, it was a gamble of sorts. I smiled a bit despite myself, also turning away from the scene and taking a few steps back.

The injury, or possible death, or Marco Marek had nothing to do with me, so I did my best to remove myself from the situation. I had my own issues to resolve, and resolve them I would. The race would be ending early, as the other two females wouldn’t want to seem heartless for continuing on without their comrades. I had taken a few steps away when the twin bikes skidded to a halt in front of me. Seven sat back on hers, calm and collected, despite what had been an emotionally trying run. Or so one would assume. The other racer pulled her helmet off slowly, careful of the cracked visor, shards of glass jagged in corners of her face. I had never met her either, and finding my luck hysterical, I thought I’d wait a second to do so.

Her eyes were cold and calculating, which I hadn’t entirely expected. Even as warm blood dripped down her cheek, she seemed completely bored with the situation. Pain didn’t seem to phase her, nor the terrible situation of her teammate. I knew better than to question such people, and was going to turn away when something seemed shockingly familiar. The eyes. Cold and clever. Like there was a sort of deviousness hidden within that I couldn’t understand. Like a shopkeeper from long ago who had been the only other person who knew my secret. Eyes that radiated ice and sin, stealing your secrets from within; she smiled slowly at me, taking a step off the bike.

“I was curious if you could be of some help,” she started, her tone relaxed. “You had a good seat there on the sidelines, and I hear you’re a good observer of sorts. I was a bit curious if you saw anything unusual during the race, so we could figure out what happened.”

I shrugged as casually as I could. “Accidents happen.”

She smiled wider, grinning with sharp teeth in return. “True. And if the bike hadn’t exploded so suddenly, I’d almost believe you.” She started to step towards me slowly, forcing me to step away from her, away from the crowd, away from witnesses. She kept moving until my back slammed against a wall, leaving me mere inches from her inquiry. I had to give her something, and she knew I would, it was just a matter of time.

“It seemed to be malfunctioning from the start…” I whispered, unsure why this stranger seemed to have a fascination with me. She nodded politely.

“And I’d agree with you. Did you notice anyone watching a bit too closely? Anyone leave the scene a bit too fast?”

I thought about things slowly. What could she do to me, realistically? She didn’t know me, I didn’t know her…there was no damage that could be done here on a figurative level. On a physical level, she could do whatever she wanted. But was I afraid of pain? Would a little blood really do me much harm?

Then again, why should I suffer for someone I don’t even know? Damiano Morrow is not of any relevance to me so suffering for her didn’t seem like one of my more brilliant ideas.

To do what is right, or to do what is easy?

My new stranger’s patience had apparently worn thin. She nodded with a slight chuckle then slammed her fist into my stomach with a thud. I felt my body vibrate against the wall’s surface, gasping in shock momentarily.

“Contrary to what everyone else says, I actually enjoy hurting people, Deacon. Either you can tell me what you saw, or I can keep convincing you. Your call. But I wouldn’t want to hurt the baby.”

Now my head really started spinning.

I tried to piece together the few key points of her statement. How did she know my name? Who was this madwoman? And baby? I wasn’t carrying any…

Or was I?

I started to do math in my mind, count days, figure out the last time I’d been with Caine, the last time…dizziness took over. I’d been sick for a few weeks now, but I hadn’t thought twice about it. Settling into a new life with a severe change of pace must have upset my inner balance, or so I had convinced myself. It was entirely possible. It was entirely probable. But how would she know? Who the hell was this person?

As if to answer my mental ranting, she laid another thud into my ribs, then a second hit across the face. I staggered a little then went down. Seven had moved closer to shield the scene from any curious passerby. I tried to stumble up onto my feet, but the assault continued, leaving me battered on the ground in seconds. Each blow was calculated and precise, energy balled into specific pain targets. She knew what she wanted and would not take no for an answer. When I could no longer breathe comfortably, I coughed Damiano’s name.

I’m sorry Miss Morrow, but your life isn’t worth mine.

You can fight your own battles.

My attacker stopped, satisfied. She knelt down to where I lay on the ground, curled up and covered in blood. She smiled slightly despite herself, leaning to hand me a mostly clean rag to mop my face off with.

“You do me another favor, will you? You tell Dacien that Miss Angyl Hunter sends her regards. I’m sure she’ll be glad to hear it.”

I coughed up some blood, nodding slowly, and Angyl walked away. How she figured into the bigger picture, I don’t know. I didn’t care if I never figured it out. I had survived my encounter with her, and would hope it was the last such encounter I ever had. Seven had remained, despite Angyl’s madness, waiting to help me to my feet.

“She wasn’t kidding about the baby. You should tell Caine soon, before he gets himself hurt or something.”

She wrapped an arm around my shoulders, letting me lean on her, and walked me back to the hotel where I’d found permanent residency at Gus’ insistence. I had a mind full of questions, desperate for answers, but a body too weary to handle any of the hard work. She helped me lay down on the bed, and proceeded to pack a bag for me. I leaned up slightly to catch her at work, finding everything with relative ease.

“Am I going somewhere?” I choked. She seemed startled, almost forgetting I was there at all. She turned around abruptly, an apology on her face.

“Ah, well, you were going back to the city weren’t you? To find answers? I figured it’d be best if you got out of town while things are hectic, nobody will notice. And it’d be a good time to get away.”

I nodded quietly, agreeing with her logic, but wishing I had time enough for some rest to restore my energy. Bruises were starting to form, and my face felt like a horribly destroyed melon of some kind. When Seven had me packed, she helped me back downstairs and all the way to the bus station. Settling me down onto a bench, I grabbed hold of her arm.

“Why are you doing all of this?”

She blinked, going over her rehearsed answers in her mind, trying to decide on the one to tell me today. I refused to let her leave until I got something substantial, which she seemed to understand by my gesture. She sat next to me slowly, staring into space.

“Because everybody needs a little help. Even the rebel cries, the demons were once angels, and everyone deserves a second or third chance. The outcasts stick together, no matter the climate. And with a history like yours in that city, you think someone didn’t tell the big dogs up here what kind of monster was being unleashed in town? We’ve always known your back story Deacon, but we were advised to observe only. Unless things were severe.”

“Severe?”

She seemed to frown slightly, regretting speaking so much. “An innocent life must be preserved at all costs. If you go back and cause trouble, you will be putting it at risk. We needed to prove to you that which you’re denying. We needed you to act responsibly. You have a chance for a happy ending, one that very few of us get in our prospective lines of work. We expect you to take it.”

I nodded slowly in response, analyzing her words. When I left the city, Dacien had contacted them with my case history. How did Dacien know anyone this far north? Such a question was wasted, as I knew Dacien had power everywhere. Her legacy knew no bounds, or so it seemed. Seven remained silent for the rest of my wait, staying with me until the bus pulled into the station. It was just as the doors closed behind me that I realized the scene I was leaving behind.

Right behind the bench I sat on was Damiano, clutching Hyde’s arm. She seemed to be trying to hide within him, but to no avail. As I boarded the bus and Seven turned around, she locked eyes on the pair. And suddenly, things started to click into place. I could feel the wicked grin slip across her face, almost imagining her starting a friendly conversation with them. All that before the rage took over and everything faded to black. I settled into a seat as best as I could, counting down the hours until I’d be in familiar stomping grounds.

I hope you kids can fight, because running isn’t any sort of an option.

Sweet dreams.

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