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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.

25. The Collapse

25 - ch25

I was home – it was my day off. Lucid was at the shop. I decided to hang around, try to see if Relic wanted to do anything. She was coming into her own, that age of rebellion when she learns the more important lessons of life. She’s got to decide if whom she is now is who she wants to be for the rest of her life. It’s hard being a teenager, I would know, I was there once, once upon a time. It feels like an eternity ago. The madness of youth. The ever-changing trends. I was swept up in the insanity. And miraculously, I didn’t drown. Look at that.

I hung around, cleaned here and there, checked in on what Relic was up to. I left her mostly to herself. She didn’t need me harassing her all the time. She didn’t need me consistently on her case. And I tried my best as a parent to respect that. It just takes getting used to sometimes. That’s life.

Lucid would be home kind of early. He didn’t stay too late; he just worked the earlier parts of the day. They had Angyl to work at night. Besides, business was kind of sketchy since Syn died. Time passed since then but it felt so…uncertain. You woke up and kept going because it was expected of you, because it was necessary. You couldn’t stop and wonder. It was gone and over already and that was that. Lucid trudged through the door, closing it quietly behind himself. He seemed…lost. Out of his own skin. I got up to kiss him but he seemed so cold…I thought better of it. I reached out for a hug anyway, which he returned. But he was still lost. Still vacant. I followed to where he sat down, pulling a chair next to him.

“Hey Hun, what’s up?”

He shook his head, trying to clear his mind. “Nothing. What’s Relic up to?”

I shrugged. “Living.”

He nodded quietly. “Good.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” He said it in such a soft tone, bordering a whisper. He coughed and repeated himself, trying to make it sound real. Trying to make it sound true.

“Lucid, really. What’s up?”

He shook his head, getting up. I followed him with my eyes as he walked out of the room. I could hear the clink of glasses as he poured himself a drink. I followed behind him a few paces carefully. He was looking down. I reached out to put a hand on his shoulder. He shook me off and sat back down.

“If you knew something that you knew better to get involved in…but it could save lives, would you act on it?”

“Like what?”

He shook his head. “I got out of the game for the most part. I stand on the sidelines, I let the runners run, the dealers deal. I don’t intervene in business that’s not mine. I can’t risk it. We have a life, a family, we…can’t.”

“Lucid, what’s going on?”

He looked around. “The kids are up to no good.”

“What kids?”

He looked around. “The kids. The Trio. Maven, Rev…and Angyl.”

 

I shrugged. “What kind of trouble are the little demons up to?”

He looked up at me, locking eyes. “The worst kind.”

“What business is it of ours?”

He shrugged. “Exactly.” He got up, taking the drink with him, sipping quietly, nodding. I could hear him repeat the word to himself quietly. He turned and went to the bedroom. I watched him go, shaking my concerns away.

For half a second, I was going to march down to the tattoo shop and sort this out. I wanted to slam Angyl into a wall and get the truth. I wanted to headlock Rev or shake Maven. I wanted answers from anywhere. But I knew I’d never get them. So I quit. I didn’t worry about trying. It would work itself out. We had a family now; we couldn’t afford to play the game anymore. It was gone and done. We were out of the loop.

There was a new goal now. To protect our daughter. To raise her right. Let the explosion happen without intervening – let it spread, as long as the debris didn’t stretch to our home.

24. Breathing Conspiracy

24 - ch24

The next order of business was Syn’s funeral. We all went as a group. Lucid, Relic, Serkis, Layne, and myself. Pandora took Maven with her. Rev went with his demons, also known as Colt and Irish. Jack and Gin showed up. A lot of the kids from the show and the parlor showed up. A lot of the bar’s regulars were there. And then of course, there were our special guests. Guests I had met in my younger years.

Saint Crowe.

Damien Thompson. Or – Klyde.

They stood shoulder to shoulder, both shrouded in black, faces hidden from the crowd. Syn’s significant other wasn’t present; Pike skipped town when she died. Suspicious. Angyl Hunter was there, in the back, watching in silence. And the other pair of suspiciously black-clad mourners?

Payge and Set Drake.

The living legends themselves. Here, in the flesh. To mark the end of the cycle. They were free now if they so chose. Syn had controlled their lives. Her death freed a lot of people. From fear. From persecution. We could breathe easy at last.

Syn wasn’t hated, but there was a lot that wasn’t known about her that came to light in a very…unconventional way. Her horrors, his mistreatment of people, the cruelty that she truly was…that girl was cold beyond cold. She was dead. We were here more to rejoice. Her “sudden” death raised questions, sure, but who wanted to investigate? I mean, really. I saw Officer Bishop at the funeral as well. I made a mental note to ask him about it. He would know anything that needed to be known.

I hate funerals – that’s why I don’t get into detail. I’m not much into fine-tuning anymore, just the bare facts. The hard evidence. I made my way over to Officer Bishop as people were clearing out. To avoid anyone overhearing. I elbowed him slightly as I went by.

“What, you don’t say anything to me anymore, Hadley?”

I wheeled around. I hadn’t been called by my given name in years. Harley was a nickname. Officer Bishop smiled wide at me. I came back and hugged him tight.

“How are you these days, Sylum?”

He shook his head. “Same old. What do you need?”

“Need? I’m offended, you thinking that I would only…”

He cut in. “Do you need something or don’t you? I know you better than you think, kid.”

I laughed. “Yeah. I kind of…need to know who killed Syn. I don’t need to know why.”

He looked around, thinking about it. The crowd was clearing out and Lucid was waiting. He reached out a hand for a shake, which I took. And he pulled my body into his, holding me to him. He bent to whisper in my ear.

“You’ll know when I do. Promise.”

And we parted ways.

He was right – I only called him when I needed something. We couldn’t be friends. We couldn’t have a normal relationship. Things had been so different when we were both younger. There might have been something between us, or it might have been puppy love, or desperation. Take your pick. But dealing with Sylum is always…difficult. Hence why he’s – Officer Bishop. Using his first name too often stirs up the past.

 

I went back to Lucid and Relic. My poor girl. She’d never been through all this before. This was new. And probably terrifying. I tried to remember my first funeral. I couldn’t. I bent down and kissed her, patting her head.

“I’m going to go to work and help the people there. You want to stay with me, or go with your father?”

She looked around, considering her options, but she ended up shrugging. I stood and looked at Lucid. He smiled and kissed me.

“I’ll take her. I don’t want her around the drowning anyway.”

“Thanks Hun. I’ll see you both later at home, okay?”

They both nodded and with a few more hugs and kisses they were gone. I walked to the bar alone. I could feel the eyes watching me. I could hear the steps behind mine. I took a few dozen steps before wheeling around.

“Do you two honestly think I can’t hear you?”

Saint and Damien were standing there, smiling wide, heads held high.

“We just couldn’t resist,” Saint muttered, speaking around a smoke. He shuffled through his pockets for a pack, which he held out to me. I took one from him and lit up while we walked back to the bar together. It was nice to have company.

Sure, I wasn’t best friends with them either. They were acquaintances from another time, another place. I was so young then. I was just a child. Foolish. We walked along like old friends, joking here and there. As bizarre as it seemed or felt, it was still something worth cherishing. It was better than being alone. And in times like these, where everything was questionable, nobody could be too careful. Everything was up for debate. Reality especially.

We got to the bar. Everyone was dressed in their finest. It was only proper. After awhile, when everyone had been settled in, Rev wandered in. As usual, we busted each other’s chops and he was on his way again. Not after making a bit of a mess, which I had him clean up. That clumsy child dropped an entire tray of drinks. Kids these days, completely hopeless. Heh.

I stayed at the bar to the late hours of the morning. Damien and Saint helped me carry out some of the real heavy mourners. On this day of days, I was horribly grateful to have them. At some point in the night, I left to go over to the Black Dragon, to see how things were going at the old parlor. They were equally packed with mourners. I did the typical “meet and greet” with all of the people I listed earlier, exchanged more shows of affection with my husband and daughter, and returned to my post. Cleared out the place. By the end of the night, all I had left was Damien and Saint.

“So, you boys getting out of here or am I locking you in?”

Saint nodded. Damien said nothing to me all night. I didn’t really expect him to. They both got up we all shook hands and they made for the door.

“Ah, before I forget,” Saint started. “Just be a tad warned, there’s a bit of a storm brewing. You might want to keep your head down. You know, just until it settles down.”

“And when will that be?”

Damien had already slipped out the door. Saint was hanging on, leaning on the frame, halfway out, halfway in. He thought about it a bit.

“You’ll know. Trust me.”

And they were both gone. I was alone.

Syn was buried. And as I learned when I went to the tattoo shop, the unthinkable had happened.

Maven Merrick. Rev Ransom. And Angyl Hunter.

Had met. And made good, close friends.

 

More to come in the next piece, if you don’t mind, it’s time for me to sleep.

Enough excitement for one day.

Sweet dreams.

23. Match Made in Hell

iIJuu

All great things must come to an end. But it was the end of Syn that marked the coming downfall of the old way. Pike and Syn are the current owners of the Black Dragon, Angyl’s place of employment, and the local tattoo parlor. They’ve been running the place for years. The death of Syn was more important than you’d think. She was more than just a local business leader. Syn came from a very special family. And like most of us, she was the last of her kind.

Like I said, the kids have their own lives. They see things their own way. Let’s walk you through the secondary characters.

Jack and Gin. Aren’t the names cute? They were boyfriend and girlfriend – they were the main attraction at the show. They were the top names under Maven’s. They had power and prestige…and the talent to get on each other’s nerves with the slightest effort. I had respect for them – they could do half of anything. Card tricks, eat fire, juggle, you name it – they did it. They had a talent for the art of deception. Perhaps that’s why they stuck together so long. They only made the world believe that they were troublesome together. But in the long run, they were truly best suited for one another.

Then there’s Irish and Colt. They’re Rev’s lackeys. See, Irish is Rev’s girl. She’s his right hand. Never, ever, elect a girl as your second in command, especially if you’re involved with her. That just makes things complicated. It makes it hard to pull the trigger when she screws you over. Yes, I say “when”, because it’s bound to happen. Sooner or later. Colt Brogan is the top of the chain under the happy couple. He’s more rational minded than Rev could ever be, more fair. He’s the kind of boss the streets need. Someone to balance things out, clean up the mess left by years of madness. From years of Ransoms and Merricks ruling the roost and fucking up. Someone like him is the cure. If he survives to get his chance. I have high hopes. Sometimes, that’s all you can have. Hope.

 

The kids had their lives, I tried to keep track of them as they came and went from the bar. When I heard Angyl was in town though, that perked my interest. Being Lucid worked at the shop, well, I had to stay informed. Whenever I wasn’t at the bar, I was there. I met her – we shook hands and everything. She seemed level headed for the most part, but she had the charm. She had that darkness in her that made you want to follow her, no matter where she was headed. You’d start smoking or drinking if it would allow you to spend more time with her. She was just very…inviting. In her own way, she had a mesmerizing quality. It was charm. She was born with it. You can’t learn something like that. She inherited it.

I was suspicious, as most people tend to be. I grew up with it and learned to ask more questions as I got older. And after asking questions, I realized I didn’t truly want to know the answers. That’s the way life went. And perhaps I could be more edgy around her, but she was an accomplished artist. She had a portfolio and everything. Angyl Hunter was the real deal. Through and through. And I couldn’t help but respect her for it. But that didn’t mean that I had to fall in love with her or bend to her beck and call or anything. I did what I had to – I got by. I ran the bar. I spent time at the shop. I lived on the sidelines. My years in the field were over.

Rev came by, as he usually does. His lackeys hang around, run their reports through here. As much of a cocky brat as he is, he’s fairly organized. A lot of paperwork in his organization. Then again, that could be a very foolish decision. It’s his choice. It’s his job. I won’t tell him how to run his boat. Not that he would listen anyway. He seldom, if ever, does.

I cleaned the glasses and I listened to the talk that night. I was the barkeep. I did my job. Syn was dead. I knew this because I had seen so much, I knew more than most. I was older – I was theoretically wiser. I knew because I had to know. I knew she was dead before the vulgar masses swelled to mourn her passing. Nobody was truly mourning though. They were inwardly cheering. She was dead. It was over. The chain, the cycle, the pain that she’d caused in her lifetime, the dozens of other lifetimes she’d destroyed or ended…the reign was done. She was no more. How could we help but be psyched?

I worked – saying hello to Rev. He helped a lot. He didn’t have to, but he did, and I appreciated the extra hand. Sure, he talked back a lot, but he was a kid, that’s how they are. And I don’t miss a beat; I throw it right back at him, just as quick. Irish and Colt work pretty steady. It’s a good cover and it’s straight money. It’s a job. That’s the bottom line with most careers in this world. It pays. It’s a job. Case and point.

Rev and I exchanged harassments and he was on his way for the night. I knew tomorrow would be a nightmare. He laughed and sauntered out the door with Irish. Colt disappeared along the way. I looked over my shoulder to find Lucid standing behind me. I bent back and kissed him. He smiled and held onto me.

“Who’s watching Relic?”

He smiled. “Who?”

I laughed. “You know, our daughter?”

“Oh, her. Well, I met some nice bikers outside, they said they were going to go score some coke, I left her with them.”

I nodded. “Oh, alright. Now, where is she really?”

He laughed, my body shaking with his. “She’s with Serkis and Layne. You know that.”

I nodded again. “Never can tell with you.”

He kissed me again. I looked over at one of my other bartenders. We exchanged smiles; I threw her the keys.

“Do me a favor and lock up?”

She nodded back at me, leaving Lucid and I to disappear ourselves. We moved upstairs, to where I lived, where I always lived. He’d moved in with me, being he had no other home. Serkis and Layne were always kind enough to take care of Relic for us whenever we wanted or needed time off. Due to the upcoming disaster, this was a perfect time to unwind.

And so, we did.

22. Introductory

VuGbZ

Consider…

Trust. Loyalty. Honor.

Family. Love. Devotion.

The Ransoms. The Merricks. The Hunters.

Three’s always been my favorite number. I can’t explain why, but there’s just a mentally satisfying effect to it. Two or four are even, balanced. Five just seems…redundant. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.

Legends are tricky. Usually they are the result of death; only after the source has passed away can the legend concept take hold. A legend is a story that lives on and is told repeatedly with mixed tones of pride and wonder. Every so often, the rules are bent. And on a very rare occasion, they are shattered.

The pieces are scattered on the floor, begging to be picked up. And the few that try will get cut. And those cuts will leave permanent scars. The pieces must remain. Only these three are capable of working with the pieces. If they get cut, I doubt they feel it.

Here’s to the Trio of Treason. Reborn.

As Merrick. As Hunter. As Ransom.

“It was all a circus, a three ring circus, that’s all life is. It keeps so much going on at once that you don’t know where to look, but you have to keep going. That’s why the Trio of Treason worked so well. Each of us had our eye on only one ring and we’d explain it to one another slowly. It helped us communicate and understand. We had each other to lean on. Always. The Trio was born of hate and deceit, yet it survived many a cold winter and persevered a desperate existence. We made it work because it was necessary that we have each other. Faith, hope and love, the pillars of true human expression.”

– Volume III: We, the Damned / Part 1: Fiction / Chapter 28: Renewal

 

That’s where the idea started. Of the three. Of the Trio. That’s where the concept was born. And they took it and ran with it. They ran with it to Hell and back. The originals were nothing like this. And they couldn’t be if they tried. It required a special upbringing for something like this. And the new generation had it.

The wheel turns, the cycle continues, but we’re only returning to where we’ve begun. We were here years ago, with different kids, during different times. Society hasn’t changed much since then, the world’s rotted away that little bit more. Time and oxygen spent, nothing more. This is the beginning of another rotation. And this rotation is merely part of a larger course. Everything is part of something more.

The truth is this. It starts here. Everything up front with as few surprises as possible. My name is Harley Morrow. I’m…in my early 30s now. Time flies…I’m an artist. I’m a writer, a guitarist, a barkeep, a freak…I’m an adopted child to my family of freaks. I’m an outcast, a misfit – different. I’m unique.

Our main players are simple:

Miss Angyl Hunter – Age 19. Works at the Black Dragon tattoo parlor. Up and coming…whatever she was, she had connections. Trouble walking. Child of Entropy Hunter and Elysium Merrick. Parents both killed by Toryn Ransom. Loyalty – to oneself. Family – devoted to. Warning: Rabid.

Miss Maven Merrick – Age 16. Works at the Drowning Raven bar, and my replacement as ringleader of the Gothik-Serkis. Up and coming artist. Trouble walking. Child of Pandora Riddle and Doyle Merrick. Doyle killed by Serkis Solace. Trust – misplaced. Love – abundant lack of. Warning: Subconsciously insane.

Mister Revere Ransom – Also known as Rev. Age 16. Works the streets or at the Gothik-Serkis in his spare time. Up and coming street boss. Trouble walking. Child of Vagrant Ransom and Requiem Draft. Parents killed by Layne and Serkis Solace. Honor – preservation of. Devotion – to family. Warning: Contagious.

And there they are. To better understand who and what they were would require a long explanation of history. To know them is to know where they’ve come from. Putting it into their own words might be more effective in understanding how they perceive themselves and others. I’m just here on the side, telling the story as I see it or hear it. You’d be surprised how much I’ve been able to just…stumble across in my time. All types of information seem to just fall in my lap these days. I work at the bar still. Being with Lucidius, I’m at the tattoo shop often. And I was there as two of the three grew up. I had a hand in helping raise them.

Lucidius was the old street boss, the second to retire since Doyle. Layne’s let him mostly take over things on top, the actual traffic of things. Lucid’s replacement was a kid less insane, but that’s probably what got him killed. Lucid reigned for about half a decade before someone else took charge. They ruled for maybe a year. There was another two or three, and then we got to Rev. He was a natural to take over – he was raised with this.

Maven took over my spot as the ringleader of the circus. It bore its old name, and always would, because that’s what established it. I was glad to be done with it, to be away. She was enjoying it. She hung around the shop or the bar whenever she got bored, knew everyone everywhere. But when they hired that girl at the shop, the family insisted that the kids stay away. And they did as they were told because they were good kids. And we had purpose for our actions. We had good reason for concern.

 

Miss Angyl Hunter had come into town. She’d always been around, but now she was out in the open, in the free world. And she had a job. Pike and Syn, the owners of the shop, left kids in charge more and more. They probably okayed the hire but never actually met Angyl. They wouldn’t come to meet her for a while. And when they finally did, there wouldn’t be time to regret it. That girl could smile daggers, and you’d still move closer to her for each doubt that crossed your mind. She was something wicked.

And that’s the basic set up, that’s the ranks. That’s how things are to start with. That’s where we come in. The set up. Times are about to change, there’s going to be some shaking up along the way. But here’s the establishment, up front. Here are the facts and from here on in, I’ll be your trustworthy source for the whole truth. When you are led astray by our young friends here who live through lies and deception you can always turn your glance over to me. I’ll always be here.

Lucidius and I. And of course, our daughter – Relic Fallen Mason, her first name inspired by the lost Hunter. Angyl’s departed aunt, killed tragically during her child’s christening. I almost forgot to mention her. She’s almost 13 now. Our own baby girl.

So trust in me.

My word is gold.

21. Damned – Click. Bang.

21 - Angyl

20. Torn – Click. Bang.

EffY8

We walked home in silence. Not a word was spoken. Whether or not she knew what had happened, what I had done…I didn’t know. I was cold and tired; I could feel the shakes deep beneath the layers of my skin. It was deep, held in my bones. I didn’t have to ask if she knew. She was my mother. She had to know. Mothers have a way of figuring things out without trying. She was just that good. My mother knew everything. I had heard the stories; I knew the truth. Her upbringing made her how she was. She had every reason to be like…this. She had her arm around my shoulder, holding me close to her. Her fingers dug into my shoulder almost in a desperate manner, as if she could lose me by not holding on tight enough.

We walked home in silence. Then again, I might have only imagined it. I was having problems discerning what was and wasn’t real. The Dragon had burned. I had seen the frame, still smoldering. I had smelt the ashes. The evidence was all over my clothes, in my hair. My eyes seemed to be covered with a thin sheet of ash that made everything seem…unclear. I couldn’t tell you the date or the time. I couldn’t tell you why I did what I did. Why I followed Angyl. Why I trusted her. I don’t know. I honestly don’t. Believe me.

Rev trusted her. But he’s a guy, of course he would. Why did I trust him? All guys are liars. I don’t know what’s wrong with me sometimes, why I make such foolish decisions. Why I never seem to trust my better judgment. If I even have “better” judgment. I don’t think I make many judgments at all these days. I should have known better. Should. Key word. Then again…no, there is no excuse. This happened. It’s real. And as hard as I try, as much as I shake my head or blink my eyes, it won’t go away. It won’t just…disappear. This is here. This is the now and the always and I have to deal with the consequences of it now. There’s no other choice. I tried to clear my head, make the thoughts and the ranting stop, but it just wouldn’t go.

 

We got home. My mother went her own separate way, walking to her room and closing the door quietly behind her. It wasn’t a slam or anything; it was just a very quiet, very careful, click. And that was that. I went off to my own room, minding my own business. I knew better than to get on her nerves right now. I knew better than to push her buttons. That would be asking for trouble. I was a wreck and there was no point putting her through it too. I’d be a wreck all on my own. No point in getting others involved. Especially my own mother. You could say that I loved her too much for all that. But I’m not entirely sure if it’d be true. Like I said, I’m not quite sure about anything anymore. How can anybody really be sure?

I sat and thought about the family. Not this. My real family. The Merricks. I thought about them all – Cicero and Vincent, I thought about my great-uncle Magus. I thought about Elysium, my grandmother. Long since dead. She was insane. Most of them were insane. Doyle was dead now too, my father. All of them, gone, lost. All of them mad – save Magus. He was the only sane one of the entire bunch. My great-grandparents were a joke. The entire line, all of it. There was no fighting the truth. As much I loved them, hearing about them, pretending I knew them once upon a time…the truth was there, shining in blood red. They were dead. All of them. And I’d join them someday. And the family would be ended. There would be no more Merricks. Save my mother. And she refused the name anyway for the most part. She was her father’s daughter. She was Pandora Riddle, now and forever.

I went to my room and sat on the bed. Sitting turned into lying down. I put my hands behind my head and tried to relax. I should shower. I should have tried to clean the mess. But I couldn’t. It was too deep now. It was below the skin, burning within the bone, in my heart and soul. There was no getting rid of it now. I closed my eyes and opened them again; nothing could make the fact that I was here go away. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t rest. I couldn’t clear my mind. I just couldn’t make the raging ideas…stop. I rolled over, tossed, turned, and quit. I looked around the room, trying to come up with something to waste my time on. There was nothing to be done. The past was gone. There was no present. And because of this, the future was screwed. And I had to accept this.

I got up and paced around my room for a while. Nothing to be done. My mother had no words for me. She knew though. She knew I took her past. She knew I burned it. I didn’t know how to make amends with her; I didn’t know how to make amends with anything or anyone. I would have to start over. I didn’t want anything to do with Angyl anymore. And Rev was on her team. I’d make my own way.

That’s right. I’d start over. I’d get by on my own steam somehow. Rev was on Angyl’s side; he would side with her over me any day. It didn’t make sense, and above all, it wasn’t really fair. I couldn’t talk to him about my uncertainty. I didn’t trust Angyl. Something was wrong. Something was very…wrong. But he went with it. And for a while, so did I. And to this day, I still don’t know why. I have no idea. No clue. But here I am. And here we all are. And this is what needs to be done.

I paced around some more and sat down again. I sat and thought. I thought until it hurt and I cried without feeling. The tears just seemed to slip out of my eyes without my knowledge. I had my face in my hands and the only way I knew I was crying was when I pulled my hands away and saw the tears. Nothing made sense. Nothing seemed real. But this is here. This is now. And this is dealing. This is my trying to cope. This is adaptation.

It was at that moment that the phone rang and I reached over to pick it up. It was Rev.

And naturally, there was trouble.

 

I picked up and I was told not to talk. I was told to listen. I was told to run. I was told to trust him. I was told that Angyl was the enemy. I was told that he was sorry. I was told that he loved me and no matter what, he’d be there for me. I was told that we were in this together. I was told that he was sorry until the words seemed to get lost in his voice. He kept telling me the same things, over and over.

The last thing he said to me was –

“Break the cycle. To the last, kid.”

And I heard Angyl’s voice, a tone that could never be mistaken or forgotten.

“Smile,” she said.

And with that, I knew that Rev was dead.

And I didn’t know what to feel. Or if I even honestly cared all that much. He was like a brother to me – we were raised together. We were kids from families that never should have been able to breed. But we were here. He was gone. He was dead. I was left.

And she was left.

He told me to run. He told me to go to the sewers. And I picked up my coat and bolted out the door. My mother didn’t even know I’d left, then again, if she did, I doubted she’d stop me. She seemed so indifferent sometimes. Now wasn’t the time to be concerned about that. I got outside, down to the street, looked up and down slowly, then made my way to the bar. From there, I could get down into the sewers. I’d be safe. She’d never get to me there. And I’d be home. Always. It was my domain. My safe haven.

I got to the bar to find Harley still there. She looked up slightly when she saw me. I felt terrible, and she looked just as bad. I went over to the bar, not too quickly, but quick enough so she could feel the urgency.

“Harley, I need a favor.”

She looked up at me. She was sitting behind the bar, trying to zone out. Her eyes took a moment to wander back in my direction. She nodded indifferently.

“I need a gun.”

She raised a brow curiously, standing up as she did. She stretched out, looked around. She looked me up and down, put both her hands on the bar, and bent down low to my level.

“For who?”

“For me, who else?”

She smiled a silly little smile. “No, I mean, who’s on the receiving end?”

I shook my head. “I don’t have time for this. Rev’s dead. Please?”

Harley must have known from the sound of my voice, or the look on my face. She walked a few steps, looked around idly, and produced a gorgeous weapon. It was a gun of beauty I’d never seen, then again, very few had ever let me hold one. She came back and placed it in my hands carefully, as if the impact might shatter it. I looked up at her.

“Be careful kid, I’ll be expecting it back.”

“Is it loaded?”

“Yes,” she nodded.

“And if I don’t come back?”

She looked around, shrugging. “Then I guess I’ll just have to collect it myself.”

 

And with that, we shook hands. We locked eyes for a moment, as I turned to walk away, I looked back at her. She had such a lost expression, as if she didn’t belong, as if she were beyond all this, by years and centuries. But here she was. In the loop. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to apologize. But I couldn’t stop. I made my way down into the sewers. I started to run. And I was almost at the door – I was nearly gone, when I stopped.

I stopped because if I ran now, I’d always be running. I’d never get away from her. If she were determined to find me, she’d follow to the ends of the Earth to make good on her word. She would find me; she would track me down. And the longer she had to wait, the harder she had to try, the more I’d have to hurt for it. It was just that simple. I turned around, gun in hand. And I waited. I stood there, body locked, square. And I waited until I heard the steps echo in the empty hallway. The quiet, even but definite steps. My damnation crept my way in the wavering light.

She called my name in a haunting tone, multiple times as she crept closer. I tried to make it stop. I fought to hold my ground. I wouldn’t back down now. I was here. I was armed. We would end this. There wouldn’t be a fight or a struggle. I had the motive. I had the means. This would end, here and now. I would avenge Rev. I would end the madness. And she’d pay for her crimes. I would do this alone because I had to. Because she put me to this option. Because she had killed the most important person in my life. I would stop her. She would hurt like I did. I wouldn’t suffer anymore for her madness. No. She would pay, as we all did.

“In case you haven’t heard – Rev’s dead. Aw, poor dear,” she said.

“I thought we were the new Trio? You drop out of nowhere and you expect us to trust you? It’s not all that surprising that Rev’s dead.”

I knew that she’d killed him. I had heard the final shot. The sound had blown through my mind at the same instant the bullet had gone through his head. I wanted to shoot her, right now. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to hear her. I didn’t want to fight or try. This was it. This was the standoff. But I had to face her – I had to take it. If I didn’t let her have her say, I’d never live it down, I’d always wonder. I had to let it all run its course. I couldn’t fuck it up.

“Well it’s no surprise to me, I was there, I killed him myself. I planned this.”

I was prepared for this. I had my comeback ready, to try and damage her front, to try and break through – “Rev and I are the last of the great families. You’re just the fuck up, the kid nobody wanted. Isn’t it tragic that you have to destroy better names to make yours survive? “

“Maven, darling, I don’t really have time for this. I’m just here to end it.”

I put my arms out, the gun in plain sight. I wanted to appear vulnerable but not too weak. I wanted to be confident, I wanted her to back down. I didn’t know how much longer I could hold on. I didn’t know if I could push her. “So come on, end it, kill me – get it over with.”

“I’ve pulled the trigger before…I don’t believe you have. Wouldn’t you want the privilege?”

I laughed out loud, my body fighting back the shakes. Was she even remotely serious? What was she on? “You’re going to let me shoot you?”

“As suicidal as this whole plan may seem, that wasn’t exactly my point.”

“So what is the point?” I yelled. I was losing patience fast.

“The point is…Maven, darling, I don’t really feel like killing you. I’ve been running around killing people all night, and I really think you should save me the effort.”

I quirked a brow almost offended by the audacity of her request. She was being foolish. I had no reason to kill myself. Right? I could hack it. I could do this alone. I would have to. She left me no choice. I tried to think about what to do. I wanted to shoot her. It ran through my head, the actions, the effort involved. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t just do it, pull the trigger and get it over with.

 

“Now why would I want to do that?” I questioned, too softly.

“Because you just burned down the Dragon. You’re a criminal. You conspired to murder, and Rev’s gone. Which is really kind of tragic…considering he was the stronger one. What are you going to do with yourself?”

She was hitting on my heart and for a minute I faltered. I let her in – I let her get the best of me. I opened up just enough that the shakes got worse and I could feel myself falling. I could feel the games slip away and I could feel myself losing, inch by inch. She was taking over and the longer I stood there the more I was certain that she would beat me.

“You burnt down the Dragon! You planned everything. You’ve got no proof!”

“You’re just as guilty as I am. If you’d told Rev that I was evil, he wouldn’t be dead now, would he? I might’ve pulled the trigger, but you were the bullet in the gun, kid.”

Something in me snapped, I felt the tears slowly sneak from my eyes. I couldn’t hide them. I tried to turn away, wiping my eyes immediately when I realized, angry with myself for breaking. But I couldn’t stop the fall now. There was nothing to make it end. I screamed at her at the top of my lungs. She was the object of my hate:

“You’re lying!”

“Rev’s gone, what are you going to do without him?”

“I’ll make it,” I whispered.

“No, actually, you’re going to kill yourself. See, I don’t have much longer to stand around and talk.”

I tried to straighten out, to stand tall. To be brave. I tried to show her that this wasn’t hurting as much as it was. I was still crying. I was shaking almost uncontrollably. I couldn’t get a grip. I’d have to shoot her and walk away. But I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger. In an effort to be strong, I laughed at her in a hollow tone.

“Why would I take orders from you?” I demanded.

“You did everything else I asked. You had a hand in everything – without you none of this would have been possible. Why should now be any different? And besides, you’d get to be with Rev. You really can’t hack it alone, and you know it.”

Having nothing left, no better defense, nothing more than tears to lose myself to, I heard myself whisper simply – “What were his last words?”

“He was a fighter to the last. He said he’d “save you a seat”. I don’t think he wants to be alone either.”

At this point, I couldn’t stop crying. I stopped standing, finding myself curled up on the ground, shaking – curled up in a ball like a child. I couldn’t fight anymore – I couldn’t run. There was nowhere to go. Nowhere was safe. The game was over and I had lost. She had won. She had taken all the pieces and owned everything. She had my life in the palm of her hand – it was just that simple. There was no fighting her now. I tried to, but I couldn’t even get my voice to come to a convincing level.

“I can’t,” I whispered.

“Kid, everything will be okay. You’ll be with Rev, and he’ll take care of you, just like always. It’s not that hard.”

 

“How can you just walk away?” I said, between tears and coughs and all else, from my place on the ground, below her. I was beaten and I knew it. I had nothing left. My family didn’t care – Rev was gone. We were in this together. His mistake was mine. I was responsible. I would take the blame. I would take the fall. How could she be so cold? How could she just turn away and let it be? I couldn’t understand. I wanted the truth – I wanted answers. I wanted…compassion.

“Just like this.”

And she walked away.

And she left me there. Curled up, crying. Arguing with myself, pleading for release. I sat there for a few seconds, considering my alternatives. There were none. She was right. I was beaten. And she’d known it the moment she pulled the trigger on Rev. I had known it too, but I was too stubborn to admit it. The one time in my life I try to stand up, and I’m only fighting time. This was inevitable. I can’t hack it alone. I know it. She knew it ages ago. She was always better. I just refused to admit it. I didn’t want to see because I always knew it too.

I was beaten by the Queen of Lies. She truly was every bad thing I could come up with.

And then some.

But as the line goes, we really never did see her coming.

Maybe, in some sick, twisted little way, we deserve this. Maybe.

I’ll be seeing you.

Smile. For me?