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37. An Ongoing Riddle

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We settled into the place. The bar was ran by an almost entirely new crew. I dropped by the show every now and again, but more often than not, I was never there. I would make appearances from time to time, but nothing major. The crowd took care of itself, elected new leaders, found new acts. They preached the divine gospel of the Timeless. After the stories surfaced and started to make their way through the streets, things weren’t the same. Talk ran rampant. I began to wonder if we’d made the right choice in letting it loose.

We now had a Ransom and Merrick child. Living in the same apartment. They’d be raised together. What would we do to keep them apart? How would we explain their families to them? Pandora was there for her child. But the other was an orphan. The Ransom was alone. I thought about it for a while. As was the Hunter. In time, their paths would cross. As they were meant to. One family had killed the other – there was a valley of blood between the families. There would never be a united clan. And if there were, who would have to die for it?

I brought this question to Serkis and Layne. Pandora was still trying to get settled in, get used to being home again. They looked at each other, around the room, back to me. They weren’t sure. The stories were running on the loose…they’d find out. The kids in school would know. It was decided that they’d be home-schooled. They’d deal with that when it came up. They didn’t want to get into paperwork and the legality of it. But they were playing this by ear. And I wasn’t surprised. How can you plan things like this?

We got accustomed to the surroundings, a few weeks passed, the kids got used to us. I stayed there for the first few weeks, living off of the couch, eager to lend an extra hand. On days when he didn’t have to work, Sylum would stay as well. He usually slept on the couch and I would curl up elsewhere. On nights where the floor was especially cold, I’d creep up and curl up with him. If anyone else knew, they allowed it to pass. I didn’t care – I was warm.

Things had been settled down for a while. Peace. Calm. But such things don’t usually last. Nothing that good lasts. Ever.

I was curled up in Sylum’s arms on the couch, comfortable and warm when I heard the steps. I opened an eye apprehensively to find a pair staring back at me. I moved to scream but found a hand clamped over my mouth, the figure crouching down at my level. I could feel a cold blade to my throat.

“Shush,” he whispered. “We don’t want you to wake the dead.”

I couldn’t breathe. There was light sneaking in through the blinds from the moon and his face was turned. When he turned back to me, I recognized Mr. Riddle. Pandora’s father. Draven. He looked around the place.

“Nice work they’ve done here. I’m sure they don’t mind if I take over, right?” He looked around the place carefully. “And you’re still mixed up with this mob? I’d have thought you would have known better.”

I was dragged carefully out of Sylum’s arms and brought to my feet. I could feel his cold hands holding onto me as we moved away from Sylum. I was dragged into the kitchen and shoved against a wall, the knife’s blade still securely against my throat. I could feel a bit of blood dripping from the tip.

“Listen to me. I’ll take my hand away. I have some things I need you to respond to. But if you try to scream, you’ll be dead before the sound gets out. Understand me?”

I nodded carefully, mostly up, away from the knife. He pulled his hand away as promised and I let out a deep breath.

“Now, who’s where?”

“Why?” I whispered. He pushed on the knife.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll be asking the questions. I’ll be specific. Where is my daughter? And where is that bastard child?”

I refused to answer – he rolled his eyes. “I don’t want to have to repeat myself. Come on, Hadley. You’re a good kid. Help me out and you won’t get hurt. I promise.”

“Are you going to do damage?” I whispered.

“My best behavior. Trust me.”

“Then let me go.”

And he did. He pulled the blade away but held a hand to my throat instead. I pointed in the direction of Pandora’s room, hoping she’d hear him coming. He smiled at me.

“Good girl.” And he hit me. Hard. Across the face. And he pulled me over to one of the exposed beams in the place and handcuffed my hands behind me, around it. He’d taken them from Sylum. He looked me up and down as he stepped back.

“Now, be good and quiet for me. The screamers always die slow.” He winked at me – I wanted to kill him. I dropped to the ground and curled up. He looked behind him at the sleeping Sylum. “You wake him up, and he’ll die. And my word is as good as gold.”

He patted me on the top of the head and crept away toward Pandora’s room. I sat and listened to the muffled sounds of a struggle, waiting, waiting. The door burst open and Grey ran in. Pandora let out a yell of some kind and the whole house was up. Sylum came over and freed me from where I was. We all tore into the bedroom.

Draven was giving his girl the good once over. She was bleeding from…God only knows where. But she was in bad shape. I don’t know if it was because he was her father or what…but she wasn’t fighting back half as hard as she should have been. Grey burst in and went to grab him. Draven wheeled around and stabbed him hard in the stomach. Layne rushed to his brother’s side. Serkis and I stood shocked in the doorway, Sylum behind us. Pandora was getting up off the floor. The kid was crying. So was the other one. Draven raised his ear.

“That sounds like another brat.”

He looked around at us. “Why are there two of them?” His knife was stuck in Grey; he’d shoved then turned. Grey was on the floor bleeding to death. Sylum was searching his person for something. Draven laughed.

“Lose something, Officer? Like…your gun?” He produced it and aimed it at us at random. He laughed. “No. That won’t do. None of you care.” He turned and aimed at Pandora. “I know you don’t want to watch me shoot my own child.”

“You wouldn’t do that,” I muttered. Draven turned and smiled at me.

“Oh, no? After the whore she’s become, the bastard child she allowed in this world? A Merrick no less? A Merrick killed her mother. Don’t any of you remember? You read it. It’s there, black and white.”

“That was then,” I muttered.

“Who is the other brat?”

Serkis spoke up. “Mine.”

Draven looked at her and leveled the gun on me, taking a step closer. “Do you swear…on her life?”

Serkis looked over at me. Then back at Draven. He clicked the safety off. Her eyes hit the floor. “No. I don’t.”

He stepped closer to me. “What kid is it? Tell me.”

“Ransom.”

And he burst out laughing. Wildly laughing. I thought he was going to fall over – he couldn’t even stand straight. “Are you all insane? The two great families, and you all allowed them to continue? They were dead, gone, over…and you let it go on? Kill them now, while they’re young and weak and innocent.” Nobody moved. “Or I will.”

I looked over to the floor. Grey had stopped moving. Layne was soaked in his blood. Layne got up to face Draven.

“Stay back, junior. All of you. This is between me and my girl.”

Serkis stepped up. “No. This is a family. You want to beat up on her, you can try your hand with all of us.”

Draven looked around real calm for a moment. “Alright. Sure.” And he tucked the gun in his waistband and took a swing at Serkis that landed her on the ground. Layne and Sylum jumped up to take the hits. I ran to Pandora on the floor.

“Are you okay?”

“Get the baby. I’m fine.”

And I did. As I was told. I ran over and grabbed Maven from her crib and helped Pandora into the other room, where she locked herself in. She could hear the fighting from there. I ran back to the scene to get the latest. Sylum was curled up in the corner on the floor, bleeding from a few places. I crawled over to him.

“What happened?”

“Shot. I wasn’t quick enough. Try and keep him distracted.”

I got up. Layne and Serkis were having a tough time of it, taking hits as they did. Draven was working off of determination, desperation…he had nothing else left. This was to be his last…anything, and he knew it. Serkis was thrown into a wall – she landed on the ground with a thud. I went over to her. She was bleeding here and there as well.

“Harley, be careful.”

The two boys were having it out. Draven was bigger, older…more experienced. But Layne was smaller, faster, and stronger at points. It was a close fight. He hit Layne hard and he went into the wall and dropped too. Draven laughed as he looked at the pair; I had crept over to his blind side. He clicked the safety off again.

“Look at that, the two great lovers. If that doesn’t remind me of Darius and Raine…” and he moved to level his shot at Layne. “You first.” He shot a glance over to Serkis. “Don’t worry, I got one with your name on it too.” Layne was halfway standing when Draven had the shot locked to him. I counted in my head. Pulling the trigger…now…so…grab.

I ran and pulled his arm back, the shot landing in the wall shortly away from Layne. Draven wheeled around and hit me hard with the hand holding the gun.

“You’re smarter than this, you should have gotten out when you had the chance.”

“Smart has nothing to do with it. And I never had the chance.”

Draven smiled a little, looking over the three of us. He laughed. “There’s always three.” He had the gun pressed to my throat; I was close enough so he could hold me there. “Any last words kid, to the family who protected you so well?”

“Hey, Draven!” Layne yelled.

Draven held me against a wall with one hand, the one with the gun dropping idly when he turned. “What?”

Thunk. The grip on me tightened for a moment before loosening. I slipped away from him when I could. He looked at me in a shocked expression. Layne smiled as he slipped over.

“Say hello to my brother for me?”

Draven’s whole body shook – he wouldn’t go down. He’d survived too much, been around too long, he wouldn’t let this little punk take him out of the game. But the more blood he lost standing there, the truer it became. He dropped to his knees, the knife he’d used to kill Grey deep in his own gut. Fight fire with fire. Serkis crept over to him as he was dying.

“This is what family is. What you did was a mockery of the term.” As she spoke, she twisted the blade ever so slightly.

“We are what we are. We are Eternity. We will keep the stories alive. We will live by their lessons. And we will make up for where you fell short. You were out of date a long time ago, but you wouldn’t lie down and let go. So we’re letting you go.” Every statement brought another twist with it. The last twist brought a small tear that slid down Draven’s cheek.

“Your abuse is over. Of Pandora. Of us. Of anybody. The lives you took, the innocent blood you spilt, all avenged. Here. Now. You deserve to suffer as much as they all did. To die slowly and painfully for your crimes. But I can only kill you this once.”

He locked hold of her hand, the hand on the blade. He coughed a few times, coughs that were laughs. Or laughs that were coughs. “I’ll be seeing you,” he whispered.

She smiled and kissed him softly as she pushed the knife in to the hilt. “Not soon enough, darling. Give the rest of the lost my regards, will you?” She let go. And he dropped.

The late, great, Draven Riddle. Thank you for coming to the show. We all looked around in shock. Serkis got up and simply walked out. Sylum decided to take himself to a doctor. He edged out quietly, promising to return to care for the mess. I looked at Layne in silent reverence.

“I didn’t know you could throw a knife like that.”

He looked at me with a smile. “I didn’t either until just then.”

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