Vesik reaches the top and is given the chance to save a world. Fal bluffs. Alitor gets drunk and naked. The boys torture. Someone does drugs. Koe slaps some sense into the others. Consequences and their effects.
Withdrawals afflicted Vesik. He felt as though he were a pull addict who had just stopped using the narcotic. He’d seen what the drug did to people if they went too long without it; their eyes becoming bloodshot and rattling in their heads, their bodies shaking and twitching, craving the feeling of just one more hit. He almost couldn’t make it to work in the mornings after having dreamless sleeps.
His current predicament made the news he heard from Bors’ office less intriguing than it should have been. The raid on Yorik’s place on Black Street turned out to be a flop. No one was there when they rolled through.
Vesik would question Fal until his throat was too dry to make sound, but he would do that later. His thoughts fluttered away and his mind was encapsulated by the last three dreamless nights.
The events of that horrifying morning replayed in his mind over and over.
Suddenly Bors’ door to his office slammed shut and Vesik spun his head around to catch his boss’s gaze. “Vesik! What the hell is this?” Bors pointed a stubby finger to a splotch of black ink on a document that covered a word.
“A drop of ink, sir. I must have spilled it.”
Bors suddenly crumpled the piece of paper into a ball and threw it at Vesik’s chest. “You’re wasting ink and paper and, most importantly, my godsdamn time! Write it all out again and I better be able to read it.”
Vesik stooped low, swiped the crumpled paper from the floor, then nodded to his boss. Bors spun back towards his door but stopped when Vesik spoke to his back.
“Sir. I was wondering what day exactly the next training would begin? To become a Sentry.”
Bors slowly turned back to him and regarded him with a cool look. “Why?”
“Because I’m trying again. That’s what I want to be, sir. I’ll do much better this time, I know it.” Vesik could feel the heat of Bors’ anger coming from him. The usual cold anxiety was absent, however, confidence abounding in him unlike it had before encountering the monolith.
“No you won’t. I’m not sure if I like the idea of getting a different clerk, Vesik. We’ve grown … accustomed to each other, have we not?”
Vesik stared at the man with a look that prompted Bors to choose his words carefully. “I won’t give you a choice.” Even with the absence of the monolith’s presence lately Vesik still felt its influence. “I’ll do so damn well that they’ll have to pass me … sir.”
Bors smiled, “You wanna waste our time again, go right ahead. I’ll sure get a kick out of it. Four days from now. Bright and early. Meaning that you’ll have to play catch-up on your work after training and on your off days.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Bors grumbled about Vesik shoving his gratitude somewhere it really had no business being and stomped back into his office. Bors’ motivation for keeping Vesik down was simple and transparent to him. Bors liked that he could control and demean Vesik to his liking. He felt as though he had Vesik broken, and he wanted to keep it that way. Vesik wouldn’t have it much longer though, he wouldn’t need to.
Becoming a Sentry meant much more to Vesik than a higher pay. In fact, he was fine with the money he made now, but dominating this challenge was important to him. Vesik had staked a lot on becoming a Sentry. If he could do it, then he would have proved Bors wrong, all the men and women who saw him freeze up that day wrong, and even his father wrong.
Obstacles usually proved damn efficient at cowing Vesik. But that was before he had begun believing in the power of the monolith, before he had come to love and worship it. Despite the fear of the creature that he had encountered, the monolith was still confidence inspiring and worth believing in. Its influence would let him become a Sentry, thus proving that he could conquer his goals when he wanted, and then shape newer, higher goals. Nothing would stop him from proving himself.
He was there, in the monolith. Joy and excitement claimed Vesik and he wanted nothing more than to simply sit and enjoy this wondrous dream world. But then he remembered his goal to reach the top of the monolith.
Vesik floated at the point where he had made the choice to turn down the side corridor and take a peek at the mirror. His gaze flicked at the hallway and he dismissed the very notion of its existence and floated down the tunnel.
The oval tunnel was littered with those small orbs of light that cast a soft glow down Vesik’s path. He could see that the tunnel was long, miles perhaps. A thought occurred to him; how could the tunnel be so long without it leading to the other side?
The realization followed immediately after. Laws of reality didn’t have to apply here; the tunnel led directly upwards, towards the top of the monolith. Moving through the thing would take an indiscernible amount of time, hours, or days even. Vesik remembered the darkening sky and the red sheen that infected it. Time was a factor now.
Vesik thought of moving through the tunnel and suddenly his vision blurred. His world coalesced and he was still in the tunnel. He realized that he had jumped a great distance in just a moment’s time, like he had done so before. He tried it again.
Wind assailed him, but didn’t threaten to move him. It was just a realization of a kind. Vesik likened the feeling to standing behind a wall of rock while strong gusts beat against it, only he was now the wall.
The sky stretched above him in all directions. Vesik tore his gaze from the glorious blue and black sky and looked to the ground. The same grey, smooth stone that made up the outside of the great pillar was beneath him. He was standing atop the monolith, he realized.
Vesik drank in the area around him with awe. The edges were so far away that Vesik couldn’t see the ground at all. Just the sky meeting the dusky stone.
He was here but now was at a loss for what to do. That mattered not though.
A silent bolt of lightning leapt from the cloudless sky and danced along the ground yards from Vesik. A figure emerged from the soundless maelstrom and strode towards Vesik. Joy and trepidation warred within him.
The bolt retracted back to the sky with as much noise as its arrival. A sound did emerge to caress Vesik senses though. A soft drone preceded the figure’s voice, “Setbacks and stumbles detail your journey here. Much in the way your life is composed.”
Vesik determined the being to be a man from his voice although a white robe covered his entire person and a cowl shrouded his face in shadow.
Vesik suddenly felt the freedom to speak. “Yes.” His voice was meek and childish compared to the man before him.
A soft purr, then, “This is not the method of living you would choose. Not the method I would have for you either. I should explain. This place is another world separate from yours but linked nonetheless. They all are. Certain threats force their hand upon some of these, and this is one of them. I should show you.”
Vesik looked away from the man and suddenly he noticed he was on the edge of the monolith, overlooking the world below. Breath caught in his throat as he glimpsed the earthen spine he had traversed to reach the monolith, hazy due to the immense distance that separated the two.
His gaze walked the spine back to where he had begun this dream at then continued onward. The world around him matched the terrain he had come to be familiar with. Swirls of clouds populated the ground and spires pierced through it, nothing as large as the monolith though.
This world was a visage of wonderment and awe. But off in the distance, terror.
The world burned. Set aflame by some unseen source but engulfing everything it touched. It seemed as though this planet or realm was half a burning star on one side. The horizon burned and was colored orange as the ground beneath was charred and black. Sinister was the only word to describe it justly.
Vesik forced his gaze back to the figure before him and awaited an explanation.
“An evil force burns my world and I am powerless to stop it. It sits beyond the inferno, a place I cannot go. You can be our savior, just as I can be of use to you.”
“What can you do for me?”
“I can give you power beyond anything you’ve imagined. The power to kill, to create, to control. You dream of obtaining the power of the monolith, well you needn’t do so any longer. You may become an extension of the great monolith. It is a conduit of power and I can turn you into the receiver of that power.”
Vesik almost immediately agreed but halted himself. He instead said, “What is it you want from me? To stop this for you?”
“Yes but indirectly. I will give you a serum, something that you must inject yourself with and then impregnate a woman within days of injecting the serum. The child will be mine soon after she is birthed. The child will be capable of stopping this and preserving my planet.”
“Why me? What makes me right for such a task?”
“You love life, Vesik. You adore the living things in your world and I know you would never want an entire planet to be destroyed, especially if there was something you could have done to stop it. I never would have wagered the life of my world against a man I didn’t think capable of fulfilling this task. You, Vesik, were born for this.”
All those times his father had commented on this gift rang clear in Vesik’s head. Vesik’s ability to feel joy in life, even when he was secluded from others by his own awkwardness, had been noticed by a being of another world entirely.
Vesik thought of the complexity of this request and tried to weigh the sense of ethical responsibility with his want for power. But couldn’t he satisfy both? It was certainly apparent within him how much he craved the power to conquer his obstacles and reach his goals. The monolith had inspired something in him that demanded he achieve something of high importance in life. Giving away his child to an unknown man was questionable, to put it lightly. But in the end, that one small life would save this entire, glorious world. If it had been his own life he’d have to sacrifice for the sake of an entire world, he liked to think that he wouldn’t hesitate to make that sacrifice. Denying this man’s request would be wrong.
Vesik felt the man smile within the shadow that hid his face. “Good to hear. When you awake you will find the serum clutched in your hand. I should be clear that the power of the monolith is only yours if you keep your part of the bargain. This entails several elements.
“The serum will be in a needle ready to be injected. You must inject half into each of your testicles. Be forewarned, it will be expelled from your body several days after injected if you do not use it. This means that you mustn’t inject the serum until you are sure that consummation is near. Soon after the child is born, I will find her and procure her.
“I should advise you of several things. Do not become attached to the woman you impregnate or the baby. Regardless of the good you are doing, this will be difficult for you. Also, you will feel the effects of my side of the agreement before you are endowed with the full amount of power. Use it wisely and without gaining suspicion. You will receive all of the power as soon as the child is given to me.”
Vesik committed the instructions to his memory as if his life depended upon it – in a sense it actually did. “Okay. Will I ever get to see my daughter again?”
“I’d like to think so, Vesik. That depends on how things play out though.”
“Good. We should shake on it. Cement the deal.”
A gloved hand extended from the cuff of the robe and floated before Vesik. He didn’t understand how he was supposed to shake the man’s hand since he was under the impression that he was not with his body.
But the man before him waited and Vesik knew that he must be in his physical body. He thought about extending his hand and sure enough he did. Only his hand was alien to him.
The two hands met and squeezed, Vesik’s wrapped in dark, glistening skin. Giant veins ran the course of it. Vesik stared in horror at the otherworldly hand that apparently belonged to him. He was certain that he saw a wavering appendage, the same color as the hand he possessed, in his peripheral vision.
The figure chuckled low and Vesik looked up into his face. The cowl had fallen back and the man before him had dark brown, styled hair and a full goatee. His eyes were crazed and he laughed wickedly.
Vesik awoke and immediately sprang off his bed and onto his feet. He was breathing heavy, hyperventilating almost. For several moments it was all he could do to keep sporadically inhaling and exhaling while still on his feet.
Fear cowed him from investigating his hand immediately. Curiosity won out though as his eyes slowly dropped to the limb dangling at his side. The relief that flooded through him was almost enough to completely calm his breathing.
He stared at his own hand, perfectly pale and weak. He wondered if the skin he possessed while in the dream world held any meaning for him in this world. Would he become that thing? Or was that simply the form he took while in the dream world for some reason? Perhaps it was the manifestation of his want for power.
His current thoughts were ripped from him though as he noticed the vial resting between his palm and fingers. His hand twisted around and brought the small container in front of his face.
A thick, silver substance sat in the vial and red liquid swam through the silver. The glass vial was held in a metal frame that had a needle at one end and a pusher at the other. The vial was no bigger than the tip of Vesik’s thumb and the needle even shorter.
After examining the odd instrument for some time, Vesik walked to a desk and deposited it into a drawer after covering it with a pile of undergarments.
Soft footsteps sounded outside his room and he looked up expecting someone to open his door, not at all an uncommon occurrence since he resided in the station and was called upon to carry out certain tasks often. A peculiar thing happened though.
The walls around him seemed to become less real. Very scantly, Vesik could see through the walls themselves and on the other side, someone walked down the hallway outside his room, a faint pulse of red light emanating from the figure’s chest in sync with the beat of a heart.
Vesik breathed, “Amazing” as the walls regained their complete form. If pull was said to be so addictive as to make a first-timer a user for the rest of their life, then this experience was even more intoxicating and addictive than even that.
A woman now, is all Vesik thought.
The darkness of night had claimed the skies, hiding the bilious clouds Koe knew were up there. He marched to the abandoned warehouse, Fal at his side. Koe had tried several times to staunch the trepidation building in him, each attempt a failure.
Fal said, “That’s it.” His pointing finger aimed at a short building that seemed a poor excuse for a warehouse. Koe wasn’t sure how much inventory could have been stored there, but it didn’t seem like much.
The duo moved towards it, Koe keeping his eyes open and shifting around as he looked for anyone spying on them. Fal opened the door and Koe entered into the dark place. He looked around, expecting not to see anyone, although he knew someone was here.
The darkness hid the warehouse but Koe and Fal began lighting candles then lit two torches and stuck them in iron sconces fixed to wooden beams. Several Short walls created a series of storage spaces, looking much like stables. Stacks of crates lay within a few of them, their tops off and the insides obviously empty. Koe had to keep himself from snooping around behind them.
With the room well-lit, all that was left to do was to play a part. Koe said, “Henkel, I told you this place was abandoned. Why the hell did you drag me out here?”
“For this.” Koe turned and found Fal suddenly holding a dagger. The pommel streaked for his temple and hit him. Koe fell to the ground and closed his eyes.
Paytus stood with Devanni to his left and Roark to his right. Each had steel at their hip and looked forward at Henkel and his captive, a thin black man restrained by ropes. One rope looped around his head and between his teeth, causing the black man to breathe heavily. His eyes shifted back and forth often, showing rage and fear.
Paytus swept the blonde locks from his forehead then said, “Henkel, you certainly are worth the money so far. This is the man who’s been giving us up?”
Henkel nodded and said, “The very one. I’m giving him to you out of a show of faith. I want this to turn into a partnership between us.”
“That’s something I’m going to have to clear with Yorik first.” Of course he never would. Henkel was an idiot. He had come at the gang too straightforward. There wasn’t anything else that Henkel could leverage, especially since they he had just proven that spies in the Watch were fickle. Henkel wanted to take the previous role of the captured man as their spy in the Watch, but Yorik had decided that they were done taking those kinds of risks for a while. Instead, Henkel was going to die here tonight.
“Well, I do hope that he decides to take my offer. He’s all yours.”
Paytus relished moments such as these, when he had accomplished something that had gone so smoothly. He lived for the times when he lied to someone’s face, outthought them, then slit their throat. This is what made him worth so much to his bosses.
Suddenly, a loud racket came from behind Paytus. He spun around as crates fell and splintered to behold a large, bald man, completely naked and with a glass bottle in his hand. The man began blathering as he swayed and fell. Suddenly he roared, “Get out of my home!” He stood back up and wobbled until he fell into a beam.
Paytus, Devanni, and Roark all pulled blades out. Paytus turned and looked over his shoulder to see Henkel standing there, still as a board with a wide mouth and the captive still bound and stuck on the ground. “What is this, Henkel? You better not try fucking me!”
Henkel hollered back, “Me? How do I know this isn’t your bullshit? Stop pointing fingers and take a look. This is a drunk, homeless man. If I wanted to screw you over, I’d do a better job than this.”
Paytus nodded then turned back to the drunk man. His fellows hadn’t turned their eyes from the man. “Devanni, kill that bastard.”
“Gladly.” Paytus watched as Devanni moved to dispatch the pest. The drunkard stared at his oncoming death as if he was trying with all his ability to see what was in front of him. Devanni was two steps from the man when a huge smile split his face. Devanni lunged forward, bringing his dagger down at the man’s chest.
The drunk man suddenly stepped to the side and the blade sliced only the air. He said, “Fooled ya,” and smashed the bottle into Devanni’s chin. The bottle didn’t shatter though and a loud crack came from Devanni’s jaw. Devanni stumbled backwards but the man snatched his wrist and kept him from falling. He then dropped the bottle, stepped to Devanni’s side, and hooked his other arm under and around Devanni’s arm. Suddenly, he forced Devanni to slam his own blade into his side several times over.
Roark suddenly cried out and Paytus turned to see Henkel stabbing him over and over in the side of the neck. His spastic cries became gurgles and yelps as blood seeped from his gaping neck and open mouth.
Paytus twisted his head around to see the black man completely free of his bonds and swinging a wickedly curved blade for him. Steel sliced into Paytus’ wrist and he screamed, dropping his blade as the searing pain made his hand useless. Suddenly, the black man was beneath Paytus, his head to one side and his arms wrapping his legs. The black man grunted loud and hoisted Paytus into the air.
A swift, terrifying moment came and went as Paytus was suddenly dipped to his side. He came down on the hard floor with his head in the lead. The impact dazed him and he could think only of the pain.
Fal pried his blade from the dead man’s neck, placing a boot on his temple for leverage. He felt sick for a moment but turned his eyes away from the corpse. He just needed to forget about this man he’d killed, about the wrong he’d done. He just needed to remember that this man was evil.
Koe had a knee planted on the blonde man’s stomach while he tied rope around his wrists. Fal could tell that Koe was troubled by the way he looked up for the briefest of moments, caught his gaze, then quickly looked away.
Alitor stood over the unconscious man, his manhood shamelessly dangling between his legs. Fal said, “Al, get some clothes on, yeah?”
A smile turned the corner of Alitor’s lips up and he said, “Sure thing, Fal. Business time.” The big man dropped his cement-filled bottle, letting it clunk down hard on the floor, then walked to where he had stumbled from.
Fal relieved Koe and sat the blonde man up. His eyes were open and he was shifting his gaze between the two men standing over him. “Hey, Al.” Fal stared at the blonde man as he spoke.
Alitor’s voice came from the other side of the warehouse, “Yeah?”
“Bring me the tools, if you don’t mind?”
Fal then turned his words on his captive. “You won’t like what happens here tonight. I would normally give you a chance to get out of this easy, but that won’t work well enough. Koe, gag him.”
The blonde man struggled but Fal gripped his neck and squeezed until his eyes became heavy. He let go when the man was on the verge of blackness and then Koe took the time to wrap a length of rope around his head, stuffing it between the man’s teeth. He slightly struggled but Koe quickly had the rope tight around his head.
Alitor ended up at his side and dropped a large leather wallet onto the floor next to Fal. The blonde man’s eyes widened in fear and became plastered to the leather. Fal flipped it open to behold several tools. He picked a set of pliers and a cigar cutter. None of the tools were made for torture, but that’s how Fal saw them now as he looked at the arranged instruments.
He played with the cutters as he said, “Ya know, these aren’t made for this kind of work. They’ll probably break and then you’ll end up with these metal slivers in your skin. But these,” he picked up the pliers, “won’t break. I can pull and poke as much as I want. So, in the spirit of saving the best for last, let’s save the cutters for later.”
Fal put them down and was pleased with the look of fear in his captive’s eyes. The man actually shook his head back and forth ceaselessly as if doing so would stop Fal. Although Fal felt good about his control over this man, it was only because he could use it to end this quickly and without too much torture. This wasn’t going to end well for the blonde man, but Fal at least prayed that it’d be over soon. He didn’t relish this type of work, but he certainly acted as if he did.
Koe shifted to stand behind the blonde man and looked Fal in the eye. It looked as though the black man was taking the side of the captive. Fal could read his gaze easily though, he was warning Fal against going too far, and showing his distaste for Fal’s mode.
Fal nodded to his friend, but needed to commit to his role. He reached out and seized the man’s hand. “These will grow back. But after they’re gone nothing else I take will. You better think about what’s best for you.” The man began to struggle and Fal said, “Alitor stop his moving around, please.”
“Gladly.” The big man lunged forward and took the man’s hand in a crushing grip. The man’s hand shook from the force of the squeeze or the fear running through him, or both. Fal took the pliers in one hand, drove them into the man’s fingertip, pinched, then pulled. A sound as if wet paper had suddenly ripped came from the man’s fingernail as it was pulled from his flesh. He thrashed and whimpered, screamed against the ropes in his mouth, kicked his feet as tears fell down his cheeks.
Fal went about the bloody business until the entire hand was void of fingernails. Then, he let the man sit and sob for a minute. Alitor had released the man’s arm, then went to Koe and lead him away from the scene. Alitor spoke with the black man for a moment, out of earshot of Fal, then put a hand on the back of Koe’s neck before returning to Fal’s side.
“See what he says now, Fal.”
Hate had seemed to come quickly to the blonde man’s eyes when this had begun, now there seemed only to be pain. Fal nodded then untied the rope. The man breathed heavily, stuttering as he did so, then looked at Fal and said, “Fuck you, you godsdamned whoreson. You’ve ruined my hand.”
“I didn’t ruin anything. They’ll grow back. After this though … Now, I want some information. Where is the new location for the pull operation?” As Fal spoke, he exchanged the bloody pliers for the cutters.
“What are you going to do after I tell you? You’ll just let me go? You expect me to believe that after what you’ve done? This may be hell but if I’m dying tonight, you’re not getting a damn thing from me.”
“You’re upset. I understand that. But if you talk and you do so without trying to screw us over, you’ll make it out of here alive.” Fal was lying. He was going to spill this man’s life onto the floor the moment he became useless.
Koe suddenly said, “You’ll be okay. Just give him his answers and you’ll live. He won’t have to hurt you anymore if you just talk.” Fal realized that Koe would make things complicated. His sense of right wanted this man to make it away from this warehouse alive. He’d already seen so much done in cold blood.
The captive nodded slowly then said, “Your word may be shit, but I want to live. The new spot is halfway across town from the old. It’s a tavern called the Vine’s Thorn.”
Alitor clapped his hands together. “I know where that is. And I don’t think he’s lying. I couldn’t tell that he wasn’t saying the truth anyway. How am I going to confirm it?”
The man stared at his fingers and winced. “Walk up to the barkeeper and ask him for a pull of his finest ale. Whatever he says next, you respond with the words, ‘all froth’. Then ask for the smallest loaf he has to go with it. He’ll bring you a small loaf of bread with a hollow center. Inside will be a small bag of uncooked pull. You’ll need to pay him whatever he asks you for. Right then and there. But I’m sure you have the money to cover whatever he charges, don’t you, Henkel?”
Alitor said, “We all do. I’ll go. On foot it’s a half hour walk. I’ll jog it. If I’m not back here before an hour is up, start cutting things off.”
With that, the big man winked at the captive, then turned and hustled out of the warehouse.
The night air had gone cold, prompting Alitor with even more of a reason to run. He jogged and thought of how the plan he’d crafted had unfolded without a single hitch. He thought it’d go wrong somewhere and there was still room for error.
Fal had done all Alitor had asked of him without qualms. Koe always took convincing, but his hesitance always helped keep Alitor’s head straight.
Inflicting pain on others wasn’t something Alitor enjoyed. However, gaining advantages and utilizing them for personal gain was. What’s a few broken fingers or slit throats in the grand scheme of things anyway? The world suffered much worse men than Alitor and his two friends. They were just keeping themselves a few steps ahead of the rest because they had the stones to do what needed doing.
It wasn’t long before Alitor reached the Vine’s Thorn. He was huffing and beads of sweat coated his bald head. He leaned against the wall outside, catching his breath before entering. A rowdy duo came spilling through the doors, noticing Alitor immediately. Both were obviously drunk and such became more apparent when one man swung around and put up his fists in a mockery of a fighting stance.
Laughing, the two men cajoled each other as if Alitor was suddenly invisible. Then, the man who had faked squaring off with Alitor said, “This man! Always working out at the oddest times. Look at it, the stars are all out and there he goes, running around town. Crazy!”
Alitor grinned, took one final deep breath, then went inside the Vine’s Thorn. He suddenly thought that he’d walked into the wrong tavern. But then he saw Ethran and recognized him as the barkeeper who ran this place. However, the atmosphere was all wrong. The normally higher class people that would sit and drink and act only fairly wild seemed to be hiding. Perhaps Alitor couldn’t see them because of the throng of rowdy people blocking his vision.
Roguish men and women hollered this way and that, threw mugs at one another, smoked pipes, and did whatever the hell else they wanted. Alitor’s entrance warranted some caustic looks from the nearest people. They didn’t quite return to their previous state as they kept their eyes on him as he weaved through the party.
Ethran hustled back and forth, filling mugs, directing his other barkeepers, and conversing with people. Alitor couldn’t find a seat but squeezed between two women. He turned his back to the pretty one and the mannish one gave him an odd look. She scooted away from him a bit then went back to her cup. Alitor pounded the bar and hollered for Ethran. The man grudgingly made his way over to Al and turned one ear to him.
“I’d like a pull of your finest ale.”
Ethran, with absolutely no enthusiasm, replied, “How was it last time?”
“All froth. Oh, and the smallest loaf of bread you have to go with it.”
“A single gold.”
Without any complaints, Alitor pulled the coin from a purse and slapped it on the bar before Ethran. The man took it and whispered in the ear of the barkeeper to his right who then left his station behind the counter.
Alitor noticed the woman next to him turn and regard him. She openly studied him and Alitor knew she was a part of the gang. She was trying to figure out who he was. She hopped off her stool and Alitor said, “You don’t mind me taking your seat, do you?”
The woman turned and said, “It’s all yours.”
“Unless you wouldn’t mind me sharing it with you as well?” Alitor patted his thigh and the woman snorted. She turned and stalked off.
Several minutes passed before a small loaf of bread was put before him. The block felt like it could have been used in constructing a building. Sure enough, Alitor noticed a seam where the loaf had been cut then sealed back together. Alitor thanked the barkeeper then turned and left.
The night had gotten even colder and he cursed himself for not bringing a cloak. Running immediately would have been a poor choice for if someone saw him, they’d certainly think his behavior out of sorts. Alitor had gotten just a few steps away from the door when it opened up and out spilled several gangsters.
The woman he had spoken to at the bar was with them. She said, “I ain’t never seen you before. Who are you and how do you know about what we do?”
Alitor looked at the other man and woman accompanying her. He could take them, but then he would have given too much away. He needed to talk himself out of this one.
“You expect to know every new customer before they come in? I really hope you aren’t this difficult with everyone.”
“I am exactly how I choose to be. When are you going to use that?” The woman nodded towards the loaf.
“Tonight. When I damn well feel like it.”
“What’s a better time then now?”
“It isn’t cooked.”
“I have a pan and there’s a fire inside. Come in and use it with us.”
“My needle is back at my room.”
“Where are you staying?”
“Well, I have a needle too.”
“I don’t share needles.”
“It’s okay. I got clean blood. Ain’t nothing to worry over.”
“That’s a rule I don’t break. Besides, how do you know my blood is clean?”
“Why would you come and buy some without bringing your needle? I know you’re craving it, everybody who buys it needs it right then. You ain’t adding up in my head right.”
“I left it in my room on purpose. I’d rather not miss out on my time with my whore. Perhaps you’d like to get involved with us tonight? I’ll make every moment worth your time, dear.”
“I bet you would. It’s as simple as this: come in, take a good hit, then I’ll let you go. Otherwise, you’re gonna make me feel uncomfortable. And don’t worry, I’ll get you a new needle.”
Of course they’d have needles, they ran an operation out of the tavern. They’d have everything someone needed to get high. Alitor had thought that there’d be a snag somewhere, and he’d hit one. “As long as you let me keep the needle.”
“Sure. It’ll be a show of my trust. Come on now.”
Alitor followed her back in, and then over to a table with a few other people near a blazing hearth. She pulled out a tin pan that was stained black from fire. Alitor put his loaf on the table and the woman split it open. Inside was a small fold of parchment with a white substance within.
The men and women around the table sneered as the substance, much like dry clay, was scooped from the parchment and placed on the pan. The next few minutes blurred together as Alitor took a needle that indeed looked completely knew, filled it with the small amount of now clear liquid, and injected it into his arm. He remembered the woman kissing his cheek and asking what room number he was staying at in the Serpent’s Eye. He wasn’t sure if he had responded or not. However, he did find a moment of clarity as he was walking the streets.
He suddenly felt a pang of fear because he wasn’t sure where he was or how long he’d been walking. He was confused by how everything since taking the drug was a blur of events. He remembered his task immediately and took a minute to figure out where he was. He had been walking back to the warehouse and thanked the gods that his drug-induced stupor had brought him the right way.
The effects of the drug were far from over but Alitor had heard that it operated this way, alternating between working its magic and dulling for hours on end. He hoped that what he had taken was small enough to wear off soon. Alitor found that he was holding his loaf in his hand and that the needle was in his pocket. Panic seized him as he thought of a future addicted to the drug. He threw the needle then began jogging back to the warehouse.
During his run and with his clear mind, Alitor thought of how the gang had infiltrated the tavern. He hadn’t seen the operation itself but he imagined the Vine’s Thorn had a large cellar where inventory was once kept. Now, it must be littered with thugs, tables, and equipment used to make the drug.
Alitor suddenly believed he was running through sludge. Then he was falling backwards, he knew he was even though the buildings kept falling behind him. He realized the drug was effecting him again and ran harder, somewhat dispelling the odd sensation.
The warehouse came into view, but the doors were blacker than night and seemed to undulate as if they were cavernous mouths to some creature’s gullet. Alitor banished the fear building in him, telling himself that it was only a hallucination brought on from the pull. He burst into the warehouse.
Fal and Koe jumped and pulled blades from their belts. Alitor arrested his sprint and looked at his friends with wide eyes. “What?” asked Fal.
Alitor shrugged then said, “Nothing. But the Vine’s Thorn is the place. Guys, come here. I need to speak with you.”
Both men looked oddly at Alitor but walked over to him nonetheless.
“How’s our blonde friend? Is he missing anything else?”
Fal said, “Nope. You were there and back quickly, Alitor. But you seem off. What happened?”
“I’m high. I’m really godsdamn high. I had to inject myself with some of the pull I got from the tavern. They wouldn’t let me go until I did it. It’s really screwing with me but I’m okay. I don’t think I had that much.”
Koe shook his head and said, “You better not get addicted to that shit. No big deal though. It’s all just a part of the plan right?”
Alitor understood the man’s meaning. He was upset that the plan had to involve so much shady activity and evil doing.
Fal said, “Al, we’ll deal with you later. We need to figure out what we’re doing with this guy.” Alitor followed Fal’s hooked thumb to see the blonde man still bound and gagged. He was calm though. “I only see one logical way.”
Grudgingly, Alitor agreed, knowing that Koe would throw a fit over it.
He was proved correct when Koe slammed his fist into Fal’s stomach then backhanded Alitor. Neither strike was meant to hurt, just to get a point across. “No! That’s your fucking problem, you both think logically. Alitor, you come up with good plans that end well for us but hurt everyone else. Fal, you fall head over heels for them and don’t actually use anything other than your head. You think what Alitor wants you to think and that’s how our plans go. Snap the fuck out of it! Use something other than your brains. That’s a person!” Koe pointed at the bound man.
Alitor heard the sense in Koe’s words. He realized he was guilty of forsaking his emotions and shutting up his consciousness. He was able to think up things that worked, that were logical. But he suddenly realized that he was ready to kill a man that could otherwise be saved if given just a little thought. The logical thing was the easy thing with the least amount of risk.
Alitor pondered Koe’s words and their current predicament. Fal said, “Koe, we’re sorry. We’ll think of a different way.”
Through the stupor, Alitor lit upon an idea. He raised his hand, wiping sweat from his forehead. “Let’s tie him up and leave him here. Tomorrow, the Watch will roll through and clear out the Vine’s Thorn. After that, we let him go. He won’t go to whatever of the gang is left. He won’t go to the Watch. He’ll probably get the hell out of town. We just need to make sure we hide him well and that he can’t talk.
The haze from the pull seemed to be steadily disappearing from Alitor. He looked to the blonde man who was nodding fervently. Koe reached out and squeezed Alitor’s shoulder. “Thank you.”
Before Koe, sat a terrible man. He was a gangster with long blonde hair. He had likely hurt others before. Perhaps he was a man with a murderous mind and possessing of hands that had wrung the necks of innocent people. But Koe still cried when he looked at him.
The smell coming from the man at first repulsed Koe, but now it hurt him, knowing that he had lived in such squalor for nearly a day. Infection clung to fingers without nails and cuts that had gone untreated. Blood shot eyes stared with shame at Koe, trying to appear human although they now seemed so far from that. The gangster’s pants were pulled down, his rear a mess of shit and blood.
Someone had chanced upon him and had taken his bound form for their own sick pleasure.
Koe peered at the man in horror through teary eyes. He held a wet cloth that he had brought with him in one hand and alcohol in the other, the latter to cleanse the man’s wounds. He slowly began creeping forward.
A bolt of cold shot through Koe and rooted him as the man violently shook his head and screamed. Koe could make out the words, “Don’t touch me!”
Koe swallowed the lump in his throat, blinked the tears from his eyes. He laid the cloth and alcohol down at his feet, then slowly moved forward again. The blonde man was still as he watched Koe approach.
Nothing could be done to fix this man, to fix Koe’s soul. He’d been a part of this travesty, this monstrous thing that should have never happened. The gold in his purse wasn’t enough to pay for this, no amount was.
Only a miracle had kept this man from being killed by whoever had attacked him, Koe thought as he stared into those broken eyes. He slowly pulled a knife from his belt and bent low. Before setting to work, Koe looked at the man, tried to apologize with his gaze. The eyes staring back at him would forever be burned into his mind, imprinted on his memory until he died.
Koe cut the rope at his hands, then at his feet, then the length that ran from the back of his head and to his arms. The ropes came loose but the man didn’t spring up. He stared at Koe, not even bothering to take the rope from his mouth. Koe understood.
Without a single word, although he wanted to apologize, Koe turned and left the small building, knowing that no words would help.
The street outside was empty. Night was coming and not many people ventured here anyway. Not much was down this street besides outdated buildings and a large amount of the homeless population.
Koe turned and began walking, but not towards his barracks, and honestly not anywhere in particular. He just never wanted to see that man again. How could he ever accept what he’d done? How could that man ever recover from what had been done to him?
Sounds of night carried over the buildings: burning oil lamps, carriages intent on getting home, the final cries of playing boys and girls, and the calls of men and women heading to dives and restaurants. Koe tried to focus on all of that, on the nearest flaming lamp, on the low moon still vying for dominance over the scant light in the sky. But he couldn’t.
He thought of the irreversible damage he’d caused, of the decisions of his friends and how he had played a spineless pawn, of those soul-shattered eyes. He needed to talk with someone, but he had no friends other than Koe and Alitor. But, there was another man. He could try to find Vesik. He knew where Vesik worked and perhaps he was only just now getting off. Koe didn’t dare turn around, fearful of coming into contact with that man again, but made a large circle around several blocks until he was heading in the correct direction.
Just an hour ago, the Watch had confirmed that the raid had been successful. Fal, Koe, and Alitor were not assigned to actually be a part of the raid but instead sat with several officers, explaining their findings. The Watch was thorough, ensuring that the trio had come upon the information by dumb luck as they said. He knew that he’d have to defend himself when the Watch came back to question them further. Someone in the gang would have heard of Fal’s, or Henkel’s as they believed, involvement in them moving shop.
Fal had left to go find Sarah, his alibi, while Alitor remained in the barracks ready to cover his friends. Koe had immediately left to let the gangster free of his bonds. Only, he was now the one with a chained soul. He wondered if he’d be able to cover for his friends and himself with such a terrible weight upon him.
The college fell away to Koe’s left then he was walking through the doors of the station Vesik worked at. He knew where Bors’ office was and walked a hall to get there. Vesik sat there, his head down and a pen in his hand as he scribbled on a piece of paper. Koe could just see his eyes and they looked bloodshot. He thought of the gangster and nearly teared up.
Vesik whipped his head around once Koe had taken two steps down the hallway. He stared at Koe oddly, scrutinizing his body as if it were a peculiar thing. Koe felt uncomfortable but waved nonetheless. Vesik eventually cracked a weak smile and waved back. He went back to scribbling notes.
Vesik finished whatever he was writing then put the pen down and stood up to embrace Koe. “Hey, Koe. How are you?”
“Fine. And you?”
“Stuck behind this desk too often. I’m trying to get ahead on work so I don’t have to spend so much time here. I begin training for the Watch again tomorrow.”
“That’s awesome, man. You’ll kick ass this time.”
“Yeah, I certainly feel better about it. So what’s going on?”
Koe was surprised that Vesik had discerned that he was tense so quickly.
“I need to talk. But not in here. When are you off?”
“I can leave now. Let me just put some things away and we’ll go. Did something happen to Fal or Alitor?”
“Not really. I’ll explain it all outside.”
Vesik nodded then turned to his desk. After a minute, they were outside.
Koe suddenly didn’t want to talk, but he realized that he was simply nervous, he needed to get this out. They walked in silence for a moment until they had crossed a street to a grassy area with benches and trimmed hedges. Vesik took a seat on a bench and Koe leaned against a grey statue of a lion.
“Alright. So something happened. I don’t think I’ll be okay unless I talk to someone about it but I need you to try to keep calm. Please, don’t let the guys know I told you this and please don’t run to the Watch about it.”
Vesik looked at Koe oddly then said, “Koe, you’re the Watch. What the hell could have happened?”
Koe sighed, feeling like he was one piss poor excuse for a Sentry. “You remember when you gave us that information about that gang?”
“The one that got taken down today, yeah.”
“Well, they never should have gotten away from that first raid.”
“What do you mean, Koe?” Vesik spoke with zeal. Koe believed that Vesik knew exactly what Koe was saying, he just wanted to hear the words from Koe’s mouth.
“We sold that information to them. They got away the first time because of us.”
“What? Why the hell would you do that? You’re a Sentry, Koe.”
“Look, it wasn’t my idea. Alitor and Fal saw it as an opportunity. They came up with a plan to sell the information for gold then figure out their new location and sell them out to the Watch. I went along with it but it didn’t go the way I thought it would.”
“Let’s forget for a moment that what you did was illegal. What went wrong, Koe?”
Hot shame burned in Koe, made him feel small and weak beneath Vesik’s gaze. “Well, we had to figure out their new location without giving ourselves away. We staged a trap and when it sprung, we did a lot more damage than I thought we would.” Koe didn’t want to go any further. He wanted Vesik to yell and scream at him, then tell him that he would be okay. But Vesik waited in silence.
“Fal, killed one of them. Al killed one of them. And then we tortured the information from the third guy. He is alive but when I let him go today, he wasn’t okay. Someone else had found him tied up and had … used him for their own pleasure. It was … terrible, Vesik. I can’t get the look of his eyes out of my head.” Tears swam across Koe’s eyes them dived downwards, sliding down his cheeks.
Vesik stood and looked down on Koe, showing how upset he was. “How the fuck could you have done that? You killed people for your own godsdamn gain!”
Although Koe knew he deserved the verbal punishment and more than that, he was suddenly very conscious of the volume of Vesik’s voice. “Vesik, keep it down, please! You can’t just scream that shit.”
Vesik apparently didn’t hear Koe as he hollered, “Who knows what they had done, if they deserved what you did to them. You sure as hell didn’t. You went and took their lives into your own hands, Koe. You stole from them something that will never ever be given back, and you didn’t know if it was right. You’re a Sentry dammit!”
Something in Koe snapped and he didn’t care that he was evil. “Shut the fuck up, Vesik! Who are you, huh? Have you never fucked up before? I came to you because I need help! All that shit is already in my head. I think about it every second. Yeah, I fucked up, but why wouldn’t you try to help me at all?”
Vesik deflated a little bit but still said, “Because you killed people who didn’t need to die, Koe. Life is special and the most important thing we have. You took that without caring what –.”
“I cared. I care now! Why do you think I needed to come to you? I need help, Vesik.”
Both men stared at one another, Koe not knowing how Vesik would respond. Finally, after each had just breathed in silence until they inhaled and exhaled normally, Vesik said, “Koe, everyone screws up. But just know that I’ll never be okay with what you and the guys did. You’ll never be okay with it. So what do you want to hear from me? What do I need to say to wash my hands of you?”
Koe wanted to sit down, actually felt as though he couldn’t keep himself up on his feet for much longer. “Vesik, I’m sorry. I don’t know what I need, just someone to talk me through how I feel.”
“You know what, Koe, I’d give my fucking life to save people. And I’m not even a Sentry. You are and you took the lives of others instead of trying to save.”
“No, Vesik, I saved that guy. Look, this wasn’t right and I know that. But see our side. Fal saw a chance and took it. No one was supposed to get hurt, and we only wanted some coin, the same as everyone else.”
“Yeah, well, you went about it one fucked up way. Most people just get jobs and work. You know what, Koe, I don’t think you had any ill intent. But the others, I’m not so sure. Here it is: you aren’t the worst, but you sure as hell aren’t the best. Get away from them as soon as you can. I blame you, but not so much as them.”
Vesik looked ready to leave for good, his thin, haggard face stoic. Koe knew that this hadn’t gone right. “We aren’t bad people, Vesik. We screwed up but we aren’t bad. I know that you don’t want anything more to do with us. Just keep this between us, please. I swear to you and all the gods above that we won’t do this kind of stuff again. We’ll stay straight. It’ll be a real let down if we never get to go out as friends again, Vesik. But thank you for talking to me.”
Koe pushed himself off the statue and stood there before Vesik. Koe had given up the worst pieces of himself to Vesik and now he was being judged. He hoped that someone other than his two friends would tell him that what he had done was forgivable.
Vesik slowly said, “Koe, just leave it be for now. I won’t go tell anyone. But I don’t want to hear from you again. I can see how it would have been easy for the others to rationalize what you’ve done. Yeah, they were bad guys, but it isn’t your right to judge them. People screw up, Koe. Doesn’t make it okay though.”
“I know. I’m not giving up on Fal and Alitor. They need me even if they don’t know it. Goodnight, Vesik. And good luck with your training.”