I guess the ending of the last chapter left some people feeling like the story was over. Oh, but we’ve still got a ways to go my friends. Pyre runs about 18 chapters or so. Thanks to everyone who’s been down since day one when I was posting Muse, and those that have shown up, caught up, and stuck around since. If you want, you can find me on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Minus-Three/267964253233282
The minutiae of my life aside, starting this week I no longer have 10 hours a day to write uninterrupted. This chapter is actually the first half of what I was going to post today, but real life rears its ugly head sometimes and we have to make the choice to rear back and lock horns with it. I’m putting it up today mainly so I can put this message out there; I’ll only be posting new chapters every two days most of the time now, except for the rare all night writing sessions I can squeeze in. When I put up chapters they’ll be longer than usual to make up for their delay. Take what you can get when you can get it I guess. Stay with me, I’m far from done with this.
Sleep Ends Wake to the Storm…
Charles Dint molested his daughter and we threw him out his window. Karen White was beating her son within an inch of his life each weekend and we ran her over with her own car as she tried to flee from us down the street. Carl Mercado liked to cut hookers and we let Samael cut his balls off and choke him with them. Pearl Street Peter was a pimp who got his girls hooked on crank and we left his body in the street for everyone to see. Jimmy Jam was a two bit stick up man that liked to shot clerks for no reason and we hung him with his own entrails. Along the way we ran across drive by shooters and rapists and sometimes leftovers from Beanie’s clan of skins and we ended them.
And that was two weeks in Boston.
There were more cities; more doom, more justice, more violence, more Wrath. The media loved to hate us, we developed fans and haters. Some said we were the best thing to happen to crime, others that we were no better than those we killed. From the old war days we had connections, safe places, supporters. Those of the Fold that had become those of the Host were now just those of the world and they saw what we were doing and either approved or didn’t. We didn’t care. We kept doing it.
Paul was in a fit most of the time when I talked to him. He still had it stuck in his head that eventually he was going to have to defend me for all of this in court. I kept reminding him that I didn’t ask him to do that. I told him to just keep writing it all down so that in the future if anyone wanted to read it they would be able to hear our side of the story. The details I emailed him were beyond defense; he received a daily confession from me about what I was doing and why. A daily interpretation of my own brand of healing and salvation.
Seb Turner was a mechanic that liked to clip brake lines and cause accidents just for kicks and we hung him from his own lift. Walter Morris was a drug dealer that sold hot spikes to junkies because he liked the thrill of knowing they kicked off so we shot him up with his own stash. Murray and Jan hired illegal foreign workers and treated them like slaves so we made Jan watch when we put Murray in a vice and then shot her when her screams got annoying. Along the way we came across muggers and stalkers and low lives the likes of which we all know exist but wait for someone else to do something about. We were that someone else.
There was always another city, another wasted scrap of life, another affront to everything my mother had fought for. She had fought to give choice back to people and they used that choice to fuck everything up. Sam and Bec were down with it, Magda was down with it. It got easier as we went. Sometimes, when they begged, it was almost tempting to let them prove they could change; but as my mother told me before we started, ‘intentional virtue is not virtue’. Compliance at gun point wasn’t compliance, it was self preservation. If the only reason they were going to get right with the world was so we wouldn’t kill them, then we killed them.
Miller Waits was a murderer. Cheryl O’Riley was a crook. Darren Cotter was a thug. The list got longer and longer and Paul’s notebook got full so he had to get a new one. Neil Curtis was a Nephilim though, and that’s when things got complicated.
It was in Miami and we were certain he was just another for the ledger. He was the type of criminal that sells out other criminals so it was easy to track him down. Importing coke, exporting pussy, importing misery, and exporting false hope. We’d all been waiting for Ephra to jump back in, so we shouldn’t have been surprised that it was a trap. We were though; the mission had become so front of mind that it took us for a spin when it hit us. We’d tracked him to a warehouse by the docks and knew that he’d have heavy heat helping him hide. We didn’t expect a cadre of sick zealots, we didn’t expect them to just throw themselves at us, we didn’t expect a fight like the one we were in the middle of.
“Fuck!” Samael yelled. “That’s the fucking car, then!”
It was a wrecked lump of metal and glass, riddled with bullet holes and smoking. Magda and me, we were behind a shipping container as sparks and lead jumped from its corner. Sam and Becca were ten feet away behind another, crouching from the spray of gunfire coming from where Neil’s crew hid near the warehouse entrance.
“I’m going over!” I yelled.
Magda grabbed my arm as I went for the top edge of the shipping container, stopping me. “Be careful, man!”
Of course she wasn’t trying to stop me; she knew I wasn’t going to die. She just wanted to look in my eyes before I went and smile and tell me that she loved me. I told her the same back and leapt to the top of the container, crouching behind the one stacked crookedly on top of it to get a better view of the defenders. They were dug in well, crates and cars and automatic weapons between me and them. I couldn’t cross the gap without being laid out by their fire. Bullets might not kill me, but they hurt like hell and getting pummeled by hundreds of them at once made it hard to walk forward. I could see Samael still from where I was and I motioned for him to cover me.
He couldn’t have done that with a handgun, it would have been like trying to stop a storm with an umbrella, but the grenade he lobbed around the corner of his cover sufficed. Grenades? When had we gotten so heavy handed? Part of me just watched on from a corner inside my mind as it arched through the air and rolled to a stop in front of the defender’s cover. With a thick ‘whomp’ it burst into a cloud of smoke and fire and I jumped from one container to another to another and then I was above them on the roof of the warehouse. They’d pulled back, two of them down from the blast, and were regrouping inside the half open sliding entrance door. I found what I was looking for, roof access stairs, and I slipped through the door to crouch on the metal stairs leading inside. The gunfire started again, covering any sound I might have made as I descended into the stacks of crates and the maze of barrels.
The first guy I came across was back a bit from the entrance, reloading. A twist of the arms, a snapping sound, and his neck was broken; he let out a choked yell as his life came to a sudden halt. The next turned to see what the noise was and I took two in the chest from his gun before I was on him with my black aluminum bat, knocking his teeth from his head with the first swing and his brains from his ear with the back stroke. One more rushed me and blood flew from his mouth as my boot hit his stomach, folding him backwards and throwing his body through some wooden boxes. Bullets from the side, bullets from behind, two more dead or dying at my feet. It’s hard to move forward with an assault rifle ripping into you, but you do it if you have to. It hurts like a bitch and it’s surreal to see bits of you flying away like rain splattering off a windshield but in some twisted way you get used to it. A stomp of the foot smashes the crates, a swing of the arm dents and knocks the barrels aside, a flick of the wrist sends the rifle flying, a rotation of the shoulder brings the bat down and ends life. It all becomes physics, mechanics, raw motion without emotional attachment.
I was really getting into this.
The others had fallen back inside the warehouse, yelling their frustration back and forth. Sam and Bec and Magda moved up and inside. We stopped and did some regrouping of our own as I waited for bits of me to grow back. Magda winced at the sight of me, but didn’t look away in horror; she was made of stern stuff, my girl. Bullets fell from me and clinked and clattered on the floor, bent and misshapen.
“You gonna be okay, friend?” Sam asked.
“I got this, just give me a second,” I said through tightly clenched teeth.
I growled in pain as I knit my flesh back together, healing powered by my desire to wreck our enemies. Magda put her hand on my shoulder and I put my hand over hers, looking at her and trying to smile. She winced again but said nothing. I could hear it in her thoughts though, “I wish he didn’t have to do this…”
“Someone has to,” I said, and she pursed her lips and nodded.
Bec was shooting, Sam was shooting, Magda was holding my hand tightly in hers. I looked around us; a car riddled with bullets, some barrels and crates, dead bodies. Hung above the warehouse at the top of another flight of metal rail stairs was an office, through its door and windows more bullets were coming our way. Down on the floor with us were four, maybe five, other guys foolishly defending the Nephilim we were here for. Accidentally, but here for nonetheless.
“Let’s go!” I yelled, putting my shoulder against the car and pushing.
Sam and Bec and Magda hid behind it as I leaned into it and pushed forward, the car sliding sideways along the floor and pushing through the debris and contents of the warehouse. After the first shove it picked up speed as I gained momentum and we crashed into the midst of the guys on the floor. Shots, swings, kicks, and they were down.
“We’re going to need a miracle to get up those stairs, yeah!?” Sam yelled.
“Yeah, whatever,” I said. “A miracle.”
I grabbed a barrel, heavy with whatever was in it, and lobbed it through the air up at the suspended office. As it crashed through what was left of the windows and broke open to rain white powder, Sam and Becca sprayed the door with bullets and me and Magda ran for the stairs. They were just popping out again when we got to the top and before I could get between them and Magda a bullet tore through her arm. All the fury of Wrath doubled inside of me and I hit them like a bomb, ripping the two guys apart with my hands. Now there was just him, Neil Curtis, and the machine gun in his hands. He pulled the trigger, the last few rounds hitting me, and then dropped it to go for a revolver in the front of his pants. I hit him as the bullet hit me and we crashed in a heap together on the floor.
On top of him I pushed myself up and raised my arm, my hand dripping and running with blood both mine and theirs, and was about to smash his head apart when I heard Sam yelling, “Whoa! Michael!”
“What!?” I yelled, caught in the Wrath, snapping my face to look at him.
“Let’s see what he knows, yeah?”
“You do it then,” I said, standing and staggering and then slumping against a desk.
The room was covered in white and splattered with red. Becca was kneeling beside Magda, binding her arm as she grit her teeth through the pain, tears streaking through the sweat on her face. My head was swimming and spinning and I couldn’t think straight. I fell to my knees and put my hand on my chest, coming away bloody. The wound from the revolver was still leaking; it shouldn’t have been. There was a pain like fire in my chest, I felt it spreading through my whole body like when Ephra had plunged his dagger into my back. I looked around but everyone was doing something; Bec was with Magda, Sam was covering the Nephilim with his shotgun as he motioned for him to get in a chair and handing him handcuffs to lock himself to it.
“Hey…hey guys,” I said weakly. The louder, “Guys!”
Sam looked over once Neil Curtis had secured his wrist to the chair. Magda pushed Becca away and moved to my side. Her voice was stitched with her own pain and fear for me, her eyes wide with fright. “Michael! What’s wrong!?”
“I don’t…I think I’ve been shot,” I said.
Becca started to laugh at the irony. Was that irony? I hadn’t paid much attention in English class. Then she saw the look on my face and pulled up midchuckle. I gasped for breath and reached into the wound with my fingers, screaming as I pulled the bullet out and held it in my hand. Blackness was creeping in around the edges of my vision. Sam was yelling at the Nephilim handcuffed to the chair, asking him what he did, and I was sliding down onto the floor with Magda yelling something I couldn’t understand. Her and Becca were kneeling over me as I slipped into the warmth of some kind of unfamiliar oblivion.
“I hate being shot,” I mumbled, and then they were gone and it was just me and the dark.
In the Dark I Heard My Name…
“Every time you shall emerge less than before,” a deep and disturbing voice was saying.
It was dark inside, but as I opened my eyes I was bathed in colorless light. I had to blink to try to see but it did no good. I couldn’t see anything but the white wash of brilliance.
“Am I dead?” I asked in a hoarse whisper.
“No,” the voice said, resonating in the void. “You cannot die. None die, they merely stop.”
“Where am I?” I asked, trying o look around but only seeing the light.
“Inside,” the voice said simply.
“Inside everything. You are in the Choir, Michael. Here all things begin and end.”
“Who are you?” I asked. I could hear a faint shimmering sound, a rhythmic pulsing like I was hearing the light, seeing the sound. Thousands of voices murmuring like crystal and humming like…like I don’t know what.
“I am no longer anyone. I have stopped.”
“Whatever, dude,” I mumbled. There was a rumbling chuckle. “You have to be someone.”
“You are insolent in all the best ways. I could not have asked for better hands.”
“Fuck, man. I hate riddles. Who the fuck are you?” I asked. I wanted to sit up but I didn’t know if I was standing or lying down. There was no up or down, just the light and the sound.
“Before I stopped I was Aposophes, the father of your mother. Now I am only an echo.”
“Why am I here?” I asked. “I have work to do.”
“And do it you shall. All those who have ceased are within you and strengthen you. The Spark is in your hands now. Know though that no more are those that thought they were invincible. All things cease, Michael. Nothing is permanent. All things cease, drifting incessantly. Each time you emerge you shall be less than before. The Nephilim, and Ephra their father, have ways long hidden to stop even you.”
“No shit,” I said. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“I shall. Your death shall be the life of the many. You will be catharsis and then they shall be free.”
“Riddles, dude. I hate riddles,” I told the void. The sounds were getting louder, resolving themselves into complex patterns and arpeggios the longer I listened. “Say something normal.”
“I have. You may listen or you may simply hear. The choice is yours. Listen to the Choir, Michael. In its tones are all things past and future.”
“The future? There is no future, man. We do what we do and that’s what we get,” I said.
“Some dooms are unavoidable, Michael. All paths twisted and tangled lead to one end point for the Spark. Choice is real, but so is fate.”
“Fuck fate,” I said. “I don’t believe in fate.”
“I knew you would say that,” the voice said. I thought I detected a murmur in the pattern of sounds, like wooden chimes chuckling.
“Laugh if you want, I’ll prove you wrong,” I said.
“And so you are the perfect vessel for all the Fold. Go back now, Michael.”
I should have asked something instead of being a dick, but I’m me and no one else. There really wasn’t any other way for the conversation to unfold. The flow of light and sound washed around me and the light faded to grey and then to black and then I sat up with a scream and opened my eyes. I was on the floor, covered in white and red, and Magda had jumped back from with a little shriek of surprise.
The hole in my chest had closed. Sam and Becca looked like they were at a wake.
“Fuck, Michael,” Same said, his voice sounding shocked. “You were dead.”
I thought back to when I jumped off my balcony. I mumbled, “Not the first time.”
I looked to Neil Curtis, the Nephilim, handcuffed dead to the chair. Sam saw what I was looking at and said, “He did it himself. Choked himself with his own tongue, the fucking zealot.”
“We’re fucked then, right?” I asked. “We didn’t get anything useful from him? I’m tired of waiting, we should go for Ephra now. But we’re fucked right?”
“Maybe not,” Becca said, holding something in her hand. It was the rest of the bullets from the revolver I’d been shot with. “These have some kind of oil on them. I think I know what it is, but we have to go back to LA so I can be sure. All my books are there. If I’m right then we can trail him…”
“We’re going to LA then,” I said, struggling to my feet.
I was staggered and unsteady, weak and shaky. Magda put herself under my arm and helped me stand. She winced in pain as my weight leaned on her and I wrapped my hand around her arm where the bullet had gone in and hit the bone, breaking it. I squeezed and she shouted in pain as her bone made crackling sounds. I brought my hand away and opened it, the bullet bent and mushroomed out in my palm. She took it between her thumb and forefinger, looking at it in front of her eyes.
“I’m keeping this,” she said. I shrugged.
Sam and Bec were running down the stairs, we followed. The car was fucked. We followed Sam and his sense of direction, a remnant of his immortality that hadn’t left with his Spark. Soon we were in a boat stolen from a dock near the warehouse and leaving the scene of a massive crime once again, always one step ahead of the cops…for now.
Magda was still leaning against me under my arm, and she looked up into my eyes as we fled. “Please don’t die anymore.”
“I’ll do my best,” I told her. “But I’m not making any promises.”