Cloak; Dagger; Wizard
Hector listened, and the house whispered in bendy creaks and occasional scampers: they kept him awake, though the doorway’s dusty, plank-wood floor — his pillow and mattress —might have accomplished this unaided.
A noise like curtains swishing came, and he tracked it with his mind, not wanting to move and ruin the stillness he’d preserved while attempting sleep. The distance between him and the sound lessened with time and with each swish, until it passed him by.
He peeked, and discovered the silhouette of a man marked out by the street’s light, which came in from a broken old window. It must have been Holmes; the figure was too tall to be Arthur and too young to be Merlin. With Hector on the ground only one candidate remained, and he moved like a cat, noiselessly opening the door and slipping down the walk.
A few heartbeats later, Hector pursued him. He felt secure — after all, tucked about him were all those hidden, loaded guns.
Holmes was a lone figure, looking like the only person in all the world; but he wasn’t: there was Hector.
It was still dark outside, save the streetlights, and a weekday. Hector cursed himself; it was hard enough to blend in, be unnoticed, but it was only him and Holmes, who gave off a creepy vibe as it was, among the shadows and the roads.
Hector believed Holmes would turn around any second, catch him there, not so far away, dogging his steps. What would happen then was an unknown, and depended on why Holmes had gone out, whether he had wanted to be seen.
Given the circumstances, this stroll didn’t make sense. As he walked, Hector wondered over it all, his tired mind unable to twist or fabricate meaning from what was going on. Not a glimmer.
A few blocks later Holmes finally stopped walking, his entire body drooping sullenly, like an abandoned marionette. He stretched and sat on a nearby bench, which Hector made out in the dark.
“Come on then, Hector,” Holmes called out, cupping a hand to his mouth. Hector froze, his heartbeat racing. Instinctively, he reached for one of his guns, but held himself, letting his arm fall to his side. He made for the bench and sat down, hunching his broad shoulders forward and folding his hands in his lap.
“How’d you know?” he asked.
“The shadows ahead of me; your back against the lamps.”
“Could have been someone else,” said Hector, feeling foolish. The exhaustion was getting to him; his lids drooped.
“Not with leather soles,” came the reply.
“True enough. So, what are you doing?”
“Sitting on a park bench.” The answer was curt.
“You know what I mean.”
“I wanted to look outside, again,” Holmes said. “Actually, perhaps for the first time.” Hector rolled his eyes.
“Come on, you’ve been outside before.”
“Part of me has,” said Holmes, correcting him.
Hector yawned, getting a mouthful of humid air. “I’ve decided not to try and understand all… all this,” he gestured expansively, “yet.”
Holmes raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Me being here is an accident.” Hector blinked a few times, trying to placate his ever heavier eyelids. “One second, I’m doing my job, the next I just snap.” He looked up into the sky, barely making out a handful of stars. “I just couldn’t take it, you know? Low satisfaction, high mortality. Not for me.” The other man nodded appreciatively.
“So you thought joining up with your targets might gain you some margin of safety from your old employers.” It wasn’t a question.
“Exactly,” Hector said. “That’s exactly it.”
“Well, in your defense, you could not have known what you were getting into.”
Hector laughed. “No, I couldn’t. But I don’t care anymore.”
“Why?” asked Holmes.
“I think I stopped caring when they told me I couldn’t change jobs. They kill you, if you try to quit. I mean, where the hell was I supposed to go from there?”
Hector let just one of his eyes close — a compromise of sorts. “See. No family, no prospects, nothing. Just, nothing.”
Holmes patted the muscle man on the back. “Chin up. You’ve won a fresh start. We’ve got a fresh start.”
“You’re right,” Hector said, rising. “I’m going to head back, you coming?” Holmes shook his head.
“No, I think I’ll stay out here and consider things for a while.”
“Okay, see you in a few,” said Hector, and, sleepily, he made his way back to the house, where he finally managed to rest.
But it wasn’t until both his eyes were shut and his groggy mind forgone that he finally managed to shake a strange sensation: Holmes’s eyes, drilling into his spine.
Moriarty Holmes watched Hector leave. When he became sure he was alone, he dropped his head into his hands and wept without tears - an intellectual’s weep, one of the mind.
Observing the night indeed. That idiot.
Parts of his mind rumbled with a maddening speed: deducing and calculating and feeling with shivering clarity; he wished it would slow. It almost hurt, and would, he knew, eventually.
Everything was so familiar, so real, but wrong. But where was Watson? Where was Moran? Each name stirred deep hatred within him, and deep love, the product of his two adversarial parts. Three parts, actually: Gregory’s memories linked with his own, which weren’t really memories — Conan Doyle’s fabrications. Magic was what he was. He didn’t feel particularly magical.
“That is because not even the wonders of magic can bring happiness,” whispered a voice. Moriarty leapt from the bench, twisting around, hands raised to defend himself. Standing behind him was Merlin.
“How did you sneak up on me?” He felt the irony, almost a full reversal of his and Hector’s positions just moments before.
In the streetlights, Merlin awarded the question a condescending smirk. “Magic. I am, if you’ll recall, a wizard.” He looked down, not meeting Moriarty’s eyes, suddenly grave. “I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry. I’m so sorry this happened to you.” It appeared to be the truth.
“Me too,” said Moriarty Holmes. He thought about lashing out, striking the old fool to the ground. But he didn’t. “Your not sorry about what’s happened to me.” The bitterness seeped off him like smoke. “You’re sorry for Gregory.”
The silence was long and thick. “I don’t know any more, really.” This also seemed true.
Then, Moriarty said “Let me see your wrists.” The wizard pulled his sleeves down uncomfortably. “So, it’s true.”
“Truth is relative.”
“Who do you serve, Merlin?” The wizards lips frowned. “Is it the enemy? Someone else? It isn’t, Arthur, that is for certain.” More silence.
“I serve my order,” he answered, finally.
So, there was another player, as he’d suspected. “And what order is that?”
“One in which less than ten remain.”
“That’s still more than the confused three left to mine.”
“I’m here, fool. That’s worth a great deal!” Moriarty Holmes gave a laughing cough.
“Until someone tells you to otherwise. Isn’t that so?”
“I will serve Arthur with all my resource, power, and strength.”
“Is. That. So?” repeated Moriarty Holmes.
Merlin hesitated. “I suppose,” he admitted, “that I could, in theory, be recalled.”
“Fair weather friend.”
“You know nothing,” rasped Merlin, raising his voice.
“Oh, I see. You think I’m just going to follow along, like a good, stupid, organ grinder’s simian.”
“I said no such thing,” said Merlin.
“I said such a thing. I, who knows far more than nothing.”
“I’m sorry, I spoke in anger.”
“Can you give up your order?” Merlin looked horrified.
“What? No, that wouldn’t help anybody.”
“Because my order is what grants me the arcane arts. What use am I without them?” The man’s point was compelling.
“Then how can you be trusted?”
“Enough of this,” sighed Merlin; they weren’t getting anywhere. “Good evening, Mr. Holmes,” and he was gone as suddenly as he’d appeared.
Blaise flew on enchanted wings; the head of the wizard order sped through clouds, holding the magical sword, Caledfwlch, in front of him. He had twenty minutes to reach a small warehouse downtown in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. Fifteen hundred kilometers left.
“Fenri’ri’anae’ona’tamcha!” A hole opened in front of him, a strange entity hanging in the sky. He passed through it, taking him from over coastal India to New Zealand’s eastern tip. Five kilometers left.
He pushed for more speed. He had gotten the distress sign twenty minutes before from his apprentice, Vilamur. A sonic boom erupted behind him, tracking water droplets from the feet of his cloak. Two kilometers.
He sensed the screams. Then, he was slowing, crashing through a roof window. His wings dissipated into the air. He landed, his sandaled feet touching the ground. It was dark.
He raised an arm and tiny orbs entered existence near the roof, casting their light into the warehouse.
There was Vilamur, crucified. Blood dripped from his right lip, and he caught his master’s eye. Blaise was a wrinkled, tiny man adorned in rags with hair that fell to his feet. ‘Old’ would not account from this man, a spindly stick. “Vilamur, what has happened?” he said quickly, not waiting for nonsense. His voice was the billowing of thunder.
The small, brown man looked up at his master. “I’m sorry, master Blaise. They made me call you,” and before he could say anything else a bullet erupted from the back of Vilamur’s head, its path almost striking the old man.
Blaise whirled, facing the dark around him. “You kill my order,” he shouted. “You try and trap my might?” The bellows echoed around the warehouse. “Well, come and die!”
And they did come.
Fifteen men, dressed in body armor and fatigues. Instead of guns they carried swords: rapiers, scimitars, longswords, broadswords, claymores, and some of a make Blaise didn’t recognize.
“Master Blaise, how nice of you to come,” said one of them. Blaise didn’t care.
“Caledfwlch, burn and prepare for battle,” Blaise said, and the sword gripped in his bony hands caught aflame. Tension and heat brought sweat to his brow.
This was the fourth apprentice he’d found in such a state in three weeks.
These, clearly the men responsible. “Who are you?”
“We’re the order of the Grail, master Blaise, and our lady demands the blood of wizards.”
“Morgose,” he hissed. “Very well, I challenge all of you to combat.” Some of the men laughed. They were knights, real knights, each and every one. “State your names, blaggards!”
“You insult us, wizard?” spat a man holding a claymore. “I am sir Delany!”
They announced themselves one by one, Blaise barely listening. Finally it came to Blaise.
“I am the Wizard Blaise, first among Mages, carrier of Avalos’s keys, keeper of the Fates, master of the orders. Let us combat, cowards.” His mind saw only Vilamur’s head exploding outward.
Blaise charged before they even had a chance to move. One moment he was standing in the glow of werelight, the next everything was pitch black save for the burning sword.
It lit horrified faces, protruded from jaws and chests, leveled heads from their shoulders. One moment it was so clearly in front of the Knights of the Grail, then it was behind and someone was screaming.
Swords struck the ground as they’re owners arms were separated from their bodies. You could hear the swish of raggedy robes passing by you, brushing your clothes, and would check to see if you were still breathing.
Blood begot blood, and death begot death. None survived, save for a single, tired old man. He looked like a beggar except that he carried a sword. It looked like a normal day, except for the warehouse burning behind him and the bloody footprints his sandals left as he walked.
Into Their Waiting Arms
Mrs. Vole’s emotional state was in shambles.
As she made her way down the purple and teal hallway, friendly colors for the children, she caught herself staring at last week’s art projects. Her boys and girls had had a joy making them, and she’d lovingly taped their pictures onto the walls, all the while telling them how proud she was.
Now she passed that same hall, each lopsided house and discolored building haunting her steps.
Mrs. Vole shut her eyes tight, but the tears snuck past. Maybe she would see her kids again one day, when this was all over.
She could only blame herself, really. After all, her master had said that war was coming; that it would just be a matter of time.
Now, coming in a new unfamiliar march, war had arrived. This wasn’t a war of ideology or countries. This was a war being waged on her.
And she had nearly thrust her wards in the crossfire.
As she turned at the end of the hall, she heard scuffling and finally opened her eyes, which were still blurred with tears, her spectacles misty. Men in masks were what she saw, one of them balled up on the the ground, sucking in breath and clutching at his arm; broken, she guessed. Four of them pinned Boris down against the wall; another three had Vivian cornered by the exit. Oddly, the ones guarding her weren’t getting too close, which confused Mrs. Vole until she caught the glint of metal in the young woman’s hands.
She let herself wander over the scene, getting a feel for it. The conflict had chipped some of the red paint from Eve’s drawing of a squirrel, which the little angel had been particularly proud of. In addition, many others were being crumpled or damaged, especially where Boris was struggling wildly.
Apparently too preoccupied, no one had noticed the old woman with the stuffed paisley handbag. Good, she had surprise. Mrs. Vole noiselessly lowered the bag to the floor, freeing her hands. Delicately, she took off her glasses and hung them on the front of her shirt.
War was at the gates.
Vivian was the first to notice the old woman’s arrival. “Why are you just standing there?” Vivian cried, jabbing her knife at a man who’d tried to inch nearer.
Some of the men stole quick glances over their shoulders, but were too concerned with their work to care about Mrs. Vole.
What a terrible mistake. She raised her hands like a puppeteer, and in her mind’s eye she wasn’t wearing frilly clothes any more, but a green military uniform patched with a Union Jack on its sleeve.
Her head tilted so that her brow almost hid her eyes; she was too offended by the sight in front of her to continue watching.
Mrs. Vole spoke. “You think you can do just about anything, Uthor. Oh, how far you’ve come from your bedwetting days.”
The man on the floor looked up at the mention of Uthor. “I bear the mark of his highness, and you will give him his due respect.” Mrs. Vole sniffed. She hated lackeys.
Boris started freeing an arm, but his oppressors shifted in time to keep him held. “And who might you be?” asked Mrs. Vole.
“Sir Waites, The Landsman.” Vivian swung again, landing a glancing blow.
“Well then, sir Waites.” She raised her arms high, splaying out her palms and curling her fingers upward. “Allow me educate you about his highness’s limitations.” She balled them into fists and throttled the air.
All around the room came the sound of unpleasant cracking and gurgling accompanying the breaking of necks. Heads dangled at awkward angles. Bodies thrashed wildly; hands searched for their owner’s windpipes, hoping to clear whatever was stopping air from entering their lungs. The man on the floor, the only one to be spared, tossed his head back and forth in horror. Mrs. Vole twisted her hands more.
The four holding Boris slumped to the ground; so did the men guarding Vivian. Each and every one of them, dead.
Beneath his mask sir Waites’s eyes widened. Mrs. Vole moved toward him, and he tried to inch away. He failed, recoiling on the pain of his broken arm. Boris and Vivian wordlessly stared.
Aberdeen Vole loomed tall over sir Waites. He shut his eyes. She bent over him. “Please inform his highness that he’s chosen the wrong war.” He nodded, trying, and failing, to shield his face with his good arm. “Inform Uthor that Aberdeen Vole is coming,” she whispered. “And she intends to bring ruination down upon his head.” She exhaled and turned away. Sir Waites was breathing shallowly. “Miss Bracht, please get my bag. Mr. Gant, the car.”
They obeyed, and soon the three were speeding down the road.
After a while, Boris, without looking at her, asked “What the fuck was that?”
The Truce and The Monster
The stretched feeling faded almost the instant it had come leaving both Boris and Vivian dazed; it had been roughly like seeing a new colour.
“What the fuck was that?” Boris muttered groggily.
“That was me leveling the playing field, mister Gant,” replied Mrs. Vole. At the sound of his name Boris jumped, or would have, if something weren’t keeping everything below his neck from moving. This woman, whoever she was, had far superior resources and intelligence than the dossier had lead Boris to believe.
He swiveled field of vision, hoping to find that Vivian had gotten free and was about to make confetti out the old bird; unfortunately, his partner was in much the same state as him. He wondered how much of a liability she would be, now that she knew his last name. “Also, mister Gant,” Mrs. Vole continued, “please do watch your language. There are children scuttling about everywhere.” The look she gave Boris was comically stern, especially when he remembered he was in an orphanage.
“And how,” asked Vivian, “have you leveled this field?”
Mrs. Vole grinned widely, revealing gums and teeth too healthy for her age. “I have discovered that I do not need to — necessarily — kill you like the last few.” Tiny things began connecting in Boris’s mind with her words, giving him the sensation - then the realization - that something had eluded him. Something was not right with this assignment, something that didn’t quite sync. But that all depended on what the old bird meant by ‘last few.’
He needed to be sure.
“The last few?” Boris said.
“Yes, you are the fifth team that has been sent after me,” answered the old woman, “but I think I won’t have to dispense with you just yet or maybe ever, if you act sensibly.” The way she said think made Boris’s momentarily relief run out.
“And why might that be?” said Vivian.
“Ah, miss Bracht! You’ll have to thank your friend, mister Gant, for this good turn.” Boris memorized the name, in case he needed to use it. Gant for Bracht: he could make a trade of secrecy, maybe not have to kill her.
“Sorry, what I do?”
“You, unlike your predecessors, have knowledge which will allow us to converse on a,” she thought, “more reasonable and common ground.”
“And where does the path of this ‘common ground’ lead?” demanded Vivian, which made Boris worry that she would go into hysterics and get them both killed.
“That will be for you each to decide on your own — once you’ve gotten the gist of things of course.”
As a rule, Boris hated circling around the point; he wanted to charge in and get things done — or set them on fire. “Alright, transmit the gist.”
“Most equitable of you. Let us begin by understanding that we have mutual knowledge,” said Mrs. Vole in a lecturing tone that she might have to explain something trivial to a child. “I know that you and your predecessors are employed by the Goruiren corporation.” Vivian laughed. “What’s all this dear?”
“Then your information is wrong,” she said. “We are never told who employs us; it’s part of the contract!” Boris wanted to slap her. The ‘common ground’ may be they stood on to keep themselves alive. Spoiling it did no one any favors.
Then, he registered what the old bird had just said. The connections in his mind completed, moving faster and toward an inevitable conclusion.
“Ah, but look at your comrade’s face there, miss Bracht.” She did, becoming confused by Boris’s look of frowning concentration.
“What about it?”
“He,” replied Mrs. Vole, “knows that I am correct.” She dipped her chin to indicate Boris’s direction; Vivian looked again, studying her partner’s features more carefully, perhaps looking for denial somewhere inside them, but finding nothing but his stony face guarding his thoughts.
“Is this true, Boris?” Vivian asked hesitantly. There was silence for a stretch of time where everyone watched Boris expectantly. Finally, he snapped out of his thoughts, having reached the logical destination and felt he’d adequately considered the options.
“Yes, that is the truth,” Boris said. Something about his thoughts made his tone go very grave. He felt like all all of him wasn’t quite there. Could he even go back to the Crematorium after this?
“So, mister Gant, do I sense that you have a grasp on the implications?” asked Mrs. Vole.
“Yes,” he answered breathily. Sweat creased his thick brow, but he didn’t feel hot.
Vivian, feeling left out of life-or-death parts of the conversation, became insistent. “What implications? What is everyone talking about?” she asked in diffident tones.
“Alright,” said Boris patiently. Vivian alive might be slow to the uptake, but they’d need each other soon. This was reason enough to keep her abreast of things, though part of him wanted to cut a deal with Vole then and there, leaving Vivian out. She was, after all, also a liability.
Mrs. Vole sat quietly, looking not a little amused.
Boris sighed. “Alright, so four other groups were sent here, right?” The harshness of this fact — his closeness then to death — made him reflexively shut his eyes as he spoke.
“According to her,” Vivian replied almost instantly, spitting her words at the old woman. “She could be lying, trying to get more information before killing us.” Boris resented that, though mostly because she was wrong.
“You’re the idiot, love. She’s already got at least as much, if not more, info than I do. If there weren’t other teams she’d just kill us here and now, then go about her day.”
“Oh,” Vivian acquiesced.
“So?” Boris prompted.
“So they sent four inferior teams? What difference does this make?”
“They all died, Viv.” Something in her face told Boris she’d gotten it.
“They didn’t expect us to live.” She considered this. “But why send us in the first place then?”
Mrs. Vole interjected, “Miss Bracht, it’s terribly obvious, though. You were never meant to finish this alive.” Boris found a superior mind in Mrs. Vole and traced her conclusion.
“Shit,” he cursed. He’d found the flaw in the assignment, the oddity that had nagged at the back of his mind the whole time. “Even if we’d succeeded we’d have questioned you and then killed you. Shit.” He didn’t understand how he could have missed something that obvious — maybe if that stupid german girl hadn’t distracted him.
Boris groaned. He wouldn’t be going back to the Crematorium. They’d been double crossed. “If they knew the last four teams died they must have known that the old bird knew too much, or at least enough. If we’d questioned her there would be no way of telling what kind of information she’d have given us.”
“So what,” Vivian shouted back. “the other teams died!”
“That means worst case we die, best case we know too much. We’re risks. Risks get fucking killed, get it?”
Mrs. Vole slammed her hand on the table so loudly that it shocked the assassins into silence. “Mister Gant, I do not wish to do nasty things to you, but I must insist for the final time that you watch your language with children about.” The room was so quiet it seemed empty. Boris wanted to burn it all.
“We’re going to die,” Vivian said quietly. Something about the way she said it took the conclusion floating around Boris’s mind and made it finally sink in. Now, death felt all too real, too soon. He felt sick. Everything seemed queazy and slow, like the world was trying to jump up his stomach and escape through his mouth.
“Actually,” said Mrs. Vole, “you do have less fatal options.” To Boris, the words were a light at the end of a shortening tunnel or a pure ring in the midst of a metallic clamor. He grasped them tightly, and hoped.
“Tell me,” demanded Vivian, beating her partner to the punch.
“I’m afraid all these murder attempts won’t do anymore, especially with the children about. I’m going to have to leave the orphanage.” Something wet sped down along the ancient wrinkles of the old woman’s cheek. “I’ve known for a while now, you understand. I’m forced to look at everything and choose — forced to leave this,” she gestured to the room around her, “my life’s work.” She produced a small white handkerchief from a pocket and batted at her cheek.
Boris waited until she was finished before asking, “Nice that you didn’t have to kill us and all, but where exactly does matters?”
Mrs. Vole’s face took on stonier features, perhaps resolve, and she peered down the desk at the man and woman who’d come there to kill her. “By now, you must have realized that I am not all that I seem.”
Vivian rolled her eyes. “You’ve got incredible information on a secretive company and have somehow used poison darts to paralyze us,” she said. “I think I’ve got the picture.” Boris blinked; he hadn’t thought of poison darts, but now that he did, it made sense.
Maybe Vivian wasn’t entirely useless.
Mrs. Vole tinkled another of her rusty-bell laughs. “Delightful, you young people are creative, just like my boys and girls.” At the mention of the children, she sobered and cleared her throat. “Yes, in any case, there are greater goings on than you perceive. Though, I dare suspect in time you’ll discover more than you’d ever want to.”
“Assuming we don’t die,” said Vivian.
“Quite,” answered the old woman. “In any case, I propose that we all leave this together and begin work on something much grander.” Boris wondered — had he not already decided to bolt for the door the second he could— whether he would still get to burn things if he went along with ‘much grander’ things.
“Done,” said Vivian.
“Right, as we don’t have choices, yeah,” assented Boris.
Mrs. Vole clapped her hands in the way that happy old women tend to. “Oh, that is lovely of you both!” she exclaimed. “Just one more small matter to attend to. Will that be alright?”
“Since we don’t have any real say, why not?” said Boris. The old woman ignored him. Vivian said nothing.
He wondered how long the poison would last before he’d be able to get up. Could this cause permanent damage or something? Hopefully not. Mrs. Vole continued, “I need you both to take an oath of binding fealty to me and those to whom I am, myself, obligated.” Boris checked that he had heard right, realized he had, and concluded that the old bird might be more insane than he already believed.
“Sure, yes, whatever you’d like,” said Vivian.
“And you, mister Gant?” asked the old woman. Boris gave a nod.
“Excellent,” said Mrs. Vole. “Please repeat after me, in unison if you would: I do swear by Avalos and Fate and Free Will to serve the fiefdom of Aberdeen Vole, and all to whom she swears allegiance, that I do this of my own volition and consent to the unbreakable pact which binds us in chivalrous servitude to the One True King.”
Both Vivian and Boris did as Vole asked, Boris growing more nervous by the minute that the old woman would kill them anyway after making them do all this rubbish.
A few seconds after they had finished, to the sound of many cries of surprise — except from Mrs. Vole — Boris and Vivian’s sleeves began to shine with warm, golden light. The skin under the sleeves lustered out, to the horror of the assassins.
“What is this!” yelled Vivian, frantically staring from arm to arm, still unable to move. Boris couldn’t words and just shook slightly in fearful shock.
“Those are your marks of allegiance,” answered Mrs. Vole matter-of-factly. While speaking, she pulled a colourful, flowery handbag out from under the desk and began packing it with various contents. “Here, this is a big moment after all, Plen’astria! There, the use of your arms should be returned to you.”
Just as she said, Boris watched as he twitched and lifted his arm; the light had stopped.
Suddenly, three razor-sharp knives hissed through the air at Mrs. Vole, aimed perfectly at her head. Then, a half meter from the old woman’s serene face they simply stopped and clattered onto the desk. Mrs. Vole promptly scooped them up and put them in her bag, giving Vivian a small smirk.
“Ow!” shouted Vivian. Boris watched her arms start glowing again, but this time with an angry, red light.
Mrs. Vole tutted. “Dear, I should have mentioned — I just thought the oath was so straight forward you understand. Anyway, you tried to betray your oath. I’m afraid twice more and you will die, and that,” she tutted, “will be your own fault miss Bracht.” Vivian moaned slightly, rubbing her arms through her sleeves in circular motions. “There should be a single black strike on your wrist to serve as your first reminder.”
Boris grinned. He ignored the two woman’s discussion, pulling his sleeves tightly over his burly arms to examine his skin; it came as s shock when a set of twin, amber-coloured tattoos came up to greet him. He didn’t understand.
No technology he’d ever heard of could do this.
He studied the pattern of the twin doves encircling one another, making two helixes around each of his wrists. Then, he noticed words among the pictures and colors. Inside the first loop read: Sir Boris Gant. He discovered more in the second loop which read: Champion of Dame Aberdeen Vole.
Things had officially gone beyond him, and he gave up trying to reason.
He glanced over at Vivian, to see if she had experienced something similar but found she’d already looked and replaced her sleeves. Boris looked back at Mrs. Vole who seemed to be having a rough time deciding between a roll of white and yellow yarn.
“Mrs. Vole,” he said, trying to be polite. Part of him was deathly afraid of all…all this..but at the same time oddly glad about there being an alternative to death.
“Yes, mister Gant?”
“I notice that you can paralyze our body parts at will and have tattooed my arms with very specific information and, well, doves,” he said in a tone unlike his own yet all he could come up with for addressing the situation.
“Yes, I do love doves. They’re my fiefdom’s raiment.” The old woman decided on both the yellow and white yarn, forcing them into her already overstuffed bag.
“Yes, it appears that’s the case,” said Boris, “But what I was wondering was how you’re doing all this.”
Vivian burst out laughing.
Boris glared at her. “Oh, and I suppose you’ve nailed it out, eh?”
“As a matter of fact I do,” Vivian replied concisely.
“Oh, do share, darling, do share.”
Vivian smiled, “This old woman is using magic.” Boris didn’t even try to formulate a response and just let the statement pass.
Mrs. Vole hefted her flowery bag over her shoulder and muttered something under her breath. “You can move now,” she said. Boris was way ahead of her. He lurched up and made a run for the door.
Then, he was stopped. His arms glowed red and nauseous pain climbed up his midriff. The old woman sighed audibly. “You swore fealty, mister Gant. There are no special exceptions for you. Attempting to forsake your duty is dreadful.” Boris lifted up his sleeve, thinking about a few dreadful things he’d like to do to her, and saw a new, blackened strike on his upper forearm.
Magic, why the fuck not?
He was just about to say as much when Mrs. Vole made a hushing gesture accompanied by a hiss. She stood motionless. Vivian straightened from her seat and waited. “Oh, dear. Oh, oh, dear,” the old woman crooned.
“What?” asked Boris.
“Your old employers sent something to catch up with us,” the old woman whispered. “Of course, you two were the distraction. Oh, oh, dear. With me focused on you it could get close.” Mrs. Vole tightened her grip on the bag straps.
“Let what get close?” asked Vivian, backing off from the old woman.
“We must flee, now.” Her voice was urgent. “There is a monster here, close, too close.”
Boris grinned and then frowned, “A monster?” He noticed Vivian’s gaze had shifted. Then, Mrs. Vole’s gaze shifted in just the same direction. Boris turned, facing the door behind him.
It swung inward.
Standing in the frame was a tall man wearing an ink-black suit. The light from the window reflected red off of blotchy stains which peppered his clothes. Boris could tell, having enough similarly ruined clothes of his own, that it was blood; it looked fresh — wet. The man grinned, chuckled, opened his mouth to just a slit, and said “I am the Rock, and I cannot feel.”
Boris raised his fists. There was something rabid in the newcomer’s voice. That made him instinctively defensive.
“Come to burn your bridges to make me real,” the intruder whispered softly, and with the words the many shadows cast within the tiny office quivered and elongated sinuously outward until each shadow caressed the man, weaving together to consume the monster within the dark.