CHAPTER 42: A FAMILY REUNION
Cole didn’t know what was more unsettling; the fact that the greens had simply vanished, abandoning him in the van, or the fact that they might come back.
Where were they?
He quickly realised that he didn’t care. Thomas was heading to the Medical Tower and he had a large head start. And no van.
“My van now, suckers.” said Cole.
The road was empty, which was good, as Cole was not entirely sure what he was doing. He had acceleration pretty much down. Braking and steering were still a work in progress.
As the medical van tore through the garbage strewn streets Cole’s mind leapt from one crisis to another: What were two young girls doing in a place like New Gomorrah? How was he supposed to get them from the Medical Tower to the Chamber without the Blue Room to guide him? Was his plan really to somehow get them from one end of a warzone to the other and hope that when they got there a dead man could save them? Was that really all he had?
The Medical Tower loomed in the windshield. He gunned the accelerator, and the Tower stubbornly refused to come any closer.
“Weakness of tissue allowed for through and through, projectile slowdown from passing through the glass notwithstanding. Enhanced cellular regeneration allowed for some healing of the wound prior to death…”
“How can you tell?”
“He always talks to himself when he’s nervous. He needs to hear his thoughts aloud, he doesn’t trust himself not to make a mistake.”
Over Groethuis’ head, unseen, two figures hung in the air.
“I must say you seem remarkably calm given the circumstances.” said Rashgiel.
“Oh come now. It’s not as if we haven’t been in this situation before.” said the soul of Mabus.
“Not like this.” said Rashgiel “Look at yourself down there. Do you really think you are going to get up and walk away from this?”
Mabus met his gaze straight on. Rashgiel realised that he was the first human to ever do that.
“If I am dead beyond any hope of recovery, why are we having this conversation? Why am I not being dragged screaming to the fiery lake by the roots of my hair?”
“Perhaps I’m toying with you?”
“Look at me.” said Mabus.
And incredibly, Rashgiel found that it was he who could not meet Mabus’ eyes.
“I live today.” said Mabus “When I see Hell, it shall be on my terms.”
“I see.” said Rashgiel “You trust him that much?”
“Groethuis?” said Mabus “No. He is an excellent doctor, but I am beyond his saving.”
“Then who do you think is going to bring you back to life?”
“Rashgiel, my dear creature of the pit. You are, of course.”
“Are you insane?” said Rashgiel “You think I would spend one ounce of my power extending your already indecently long lifespan?”
“Well it depends. On whether you want my soul, or Marie Dashonde’s in a casket of New Matter, safe from the eyes of Heaven.”
“You failed, Mabus. You tried. You failed. You disappointed me. And you are going to find out just what that feels like.”
“I know what she is, Rashgiel. Don’t forget that. I know what she is. And I know you would bring me back to life a hundred million times if there was still the slightest chance I could give her to you. Now do it.”
Rashgiel’s eyes smoldered golden.
“We will have you one day Mabus. Remember that.”
Rashgiel stretched out his hand towards the corpse that lay on the table below them,
“Wait.” said Mabus “I don’t just want to be brought back. I’ll need to fix this. I want at least twelve hours of mobility. I want to be able to breathe without assistance. And I want to be able to speak without the damned machine.”
“Anything else?” Rashgiel hissed furiously.
“Yes. Change the colour of my eyes.” said Mabus with a smile “I’ve always liked green.”
Rashgiel swore a string of black infernal curses under his breath and stretched out his hand once more.
“Night vision.” Cole whispered quietly to himself, and Groethuis’ lab was suddenly laid before him in an eerie green.
“Hello?” he called out “Little girls? Is anyone here?”
Someone or something had torn through the lab like a force of nature. The power was gone, and the place was pitch black. In the green glow Cole could see Groethuis’ desk smashed in pieces, and he could feel the shards of a thousand test tubes grinding under his boot with each step he took.
“Ah no. No. Please.” Cole whispered to himself. Don’t let me be too late.
“Hello!” he roared again.
And he froze in the dark.
Something was wrong. Something about the echo from his voice was off. Cole had been in combat enough times to know the different kinds of silence. There was someone in here with him. He’d bet his life on it. He was going to have to.
He sensed movement in the corner of his eye, spun around, and froze.
A man stood in the darkness, his back towards Cole.
And suddenly Cole recognised the figure, and wished it was Thomas.
A quick glance confirmed his worst fears. There was the cage in the corner, the door swung wide open.
The figure stood perfectly still, little more than a green streak against the black.
Think very, very carefully now, Cole thought to himself. What you say next well decide whether you live or die.
“Hey.” he said.
The figure remained perfectly still.
“Look, uh. I know you probably don’t have a lot love for anyone in this city. And I can’t say I blame you, all you been put through. And you know, if you want to get out of here I won’t stop you.”
The figure twitched it’s head ever so slightly.
“Not that I could.” Cole added quickly “So, way I see it: I don’t have a beef with you, you don’t have a beef with me. So let’s just…keep out of each others way. Okay? ‘Cos I’m not here for you, I’m just here for the girls…”
Through the nightvision lenses Cole watched as the figure twisted and stretched like something out of a nightmare, becoming huge, terrible, claws and fur sprouting, a terrible roar shaking the darkness. A single giant green eye filled his vision for the hair of a second and the next thing he knew he was against the wall with the creature’s hand against his head.
Three seconds, Cole thought. Three seconds of this pressure and then my head will burst like a melon dropped on the ground.
The voice rang out like a bell. A young voice, a girls’ voice. And as the pressure melted away and Cole collapsed to the ground he was pretty sure that it was the sweetest sound he had ever heard.
He was lying on his back and all he could see was green mist. Maybe from the night vision, maybe he was just seeing colours from the shock of having his head pressed against the wall and almost pulped.
Two figures suddenly appeared on either side of his vision. Two girls, one with wild, haystack black hair, one with long red ringlets. Both stared at him with massive glowing green eyes, and they looked very thin and pale.
“Who is he?”
“He’s a man made out of plastic. I think you broke him, Joriel.”
“He is not harmed. Yet.” said a voice like a crumbling mountain.
Cole felt himself lifted by his ankles and the two girls shrank and became small figures many feet below him.
“He is a lackey.” said the voice “A crude weapon that dares to think itself a man. The loyal servant of the devil who has held me in chains and cut the wings from my body, and who entered your mind and used your most cherished memories against you. He has come here to kill you. The sound he makes when I break him with my bare hands will be the most delicious and satisfying noise I have heard in decades.”
“Please don’t kill him.” said the red-head.
Cole breathed a sigh of relief. Thank heavens for little girls.
“We might need him as a hostage.”
Aw that’s cold, thought Cole. He realised that he hadn’t said anything since this whole debate started and that it might be time to contribute to the conversation before it went down a path that ended with a satisfying (but fatal) snap.
“Please.” he said “Don’t kill me. I’m not here to hurt you, I’m here to get you out of here.”
“What’s your name?” the red haired girl asked.
“Mister Cole, do you know why we are here?”
“No Miss. I was just told you were here and that I had to get you somewhere that wasn’t here.”
“Joriel. Show him where we were.”
Cole felt himself being carried through the air by his legs, dangling from Joriel’s grip like a fish on a hook.
Below him he could see two hospital beds that looked as if they had been very recently slept in.
Lying on the sheets of each one was a nest of wires. Some of the ends, Cole could see, had dried blood on them.
He heard the padding of bare feet and looked to where the red-haired girl approached him with something in her hand. It took him a second to realise that it was Groethuis’ small black desk lamp. With a click she turned it on and shone it on his face. His vision went completely green.
“Nightvision off.” he grunted.
Obediently, the helmet switched to regular vision.
Amazingly, her eyes were almost as green like this.
“Is there a way I can see your face?” she asked quietly.
He nodded, up and down as he hung there. He reached to the back of his neck and undid the clasp. The helmet thudded to the floor and Cole swung, unmasked in the harsh white light.
He had a nice face, she decided. Large brown eyes, and a long, broad nose with generous nostrils. His skin was cocoa brown, just a shade lighter than Veronica’s.
“Hello. I’m Marie.”
“Are you here to hurt us?”
“Then what are you here to do, Mister Cole?”
“I’m here to protect you. That’s why I came. I came here to protect you.”
“Well in case you haven’t noticed, we have a fifteen foot lion protecting us.”
“I had noticed that.”
“He’s doing a pretty good job.”
“Yes, he is.”
“Do you still think we need your protection?”
Cole winced as he felt Joriel growl and tighten his grip slightly.
“And why do you say that?” Marie asked.
“Because he may be an angel, but that doesn’t matter all that much here. This is Mabus’ town. The guns here are Mabus guns. They fire Mabus bullets. Your friend here hasn’t been outside the box in years. He pokes his head out the door he’s going to get shot and he’s going to die.”
“And you won’t?”
“I won’t poke my head out. I won’t get shot. And I won’t die. Now he’s welcome to come along. But I’m just telling you which one of us you need and it ain’t the big kitty. Because I don’t care how fast and how strong he is. In this place he’s just a big fuzzy target.”
“I am going to kill you, shiny man.”
“No. You’re not. You’re an angel. Angel’s don’t kill people.”
“Clearly you don’t read your Bible.”
“If we’re going to go with you, I need to trust you.” said Marie.
“Only fair.” Cole agreed.
“Look at my face.” said Marie.
“Do you see these beds?” she said “We’ve been lying here for around three months now. They put wires in our heads. They kept us prisoner in a dream. A dream where I was back in a home I lost a long time ago. And they came into this dream, the men you work for. Mabus pretended to be my father. He took the form of my father, the father I loved more than anything and who I watched as he lay dying on his death bed. He did this. He took those memories and he used them against me. To try and get me to do something. I don’t know what. That’s what I want to ask him. Can you take me to him?”
Cole nodded silently.
“Put him down please, Joriel.”
Cole found himself on his own two feet once more. He staggered as the pins and needles kicked in, but fought it off.
“What made you decide you could trust me?” he asked.
“When I told you, you looked suitably horrified.” she said “You seem like you’re a decent man.”
So much for children being a good judge of chracter, Cole thought.
“What’s the plan?” Marie asked.
“This whole city’s a warzone.” said Cole “This place isn’t safe. My orders are to get you to Mabus’ chamber.”
“Then we’ll need weapons.” said Marie “Isabella found some over there.”
“You’re not taking weapons.”
“You’re a little girl.”
“I’m a Temporal Adept.”
“Ah. What kind of weapons?”
It was a beautiful blade, ever so slightly curved, with a golden handle that looked like the gold had flown like a river and then frozen. The New Matter steel was polished so that the light from the lamp glanced off it and it shone like a star in the darkness. Cole knew that it was a short sword, hardly more than a large dagger really. But for someone of Marie’s size it made a perfect
“Nice.” said Cole, handing it back to her.
“Yes, it is.” said Marie, slightly mesmerised.
“You gonna give it a name?”
“No.” said Marie “I’m not a boy.”
“You’re wasting time.” Joriel complained.
“Well, you were in that cage for a long time before we let you out so I think you can wait a little while longer. Damn, it’s dark in here.”
“You will never let me forget that, will you?”
“What? That the big scary lion needed two little girls to bust him free? I will never mention it again.”
“Do you know what happens to little girls who lie to angels?”
“They get a puppy?”
“Yes, but not the way you think. We should not trust that man.”
“Yes. He is one of Mabus’ soldiers. Whatever he says, that is where his loyalties lie.”
“So we keep him around, and if he steps out of line, you know…” she made the kind of face a lion makes when it leaps out of the grass and the antelope’s life starts flashing before it’s eyes.
“It is not that simple.”
“Why not? Oh, hello…” She stopped. There was a bundle of black satin lying on the table. She folded it out and breathed in. Lying on the satin were twelve small, identical daggers. Beautiful in form, wicked in design. Polished so that the air-thin blades shone silver, and the ebony hand grips glinted black. She picked up one of them. So light, like a kiss, but with a core of weight running down the spine. Such a perfect little artwork, such a perfect killing tool. And something in her blood loved the dagger, felt that holding it in her hand was right, while at the same time her mind recoiled at the idea of using it.
“I’m taking these.” she told him
“Do you know how to use a knife?” he asked her.
“My father was a thief and a cutthroat.” she said simply “My brother was a stone cold killer.”
She threw the knife into the air. It arced up, spinning gracefully, and then dipped down downwards the stone cobbles. Isabella reached out her hand and she heard Joriel gasp. The knife had come down and skewered her hand and now stood quivering, half in, half out, of her palm. She turned to show him. The knife had not cut her. She had caught it as it went down, between her middle and index finger, without so much as a nick.
“Knives run in the family.” she finished.
She replaced the dagger with its sisters and bundled up the satin and put it in her pocket.
“Oooh.” she cooed, noticing for the first time the massive red two-stroke petroleum engine powered chainsaw leaning against the wall “That could be useful.”
“No.” said Marie coming over.
“No. There is no argument you can make that will change the No. The No is staying.”
“Dammit. I want my whirling death machine.”
Isabella stamped her foot petulantly and then broke out laughing.
And then she stopped.
She face went white as if a shroud had been draped over it and she screamed, a hoarse, desperate shriek.
“No! No, no, no, not you!”
Marie grabbed, her trying to calm her down.
“Tell me you see him!” Isabella screamed “Tell me you see him!”
And then Marie turned, and she did see him. And that’s when she knew why Isabella had screamed to her. Because if Marie could see him, it meant she wasn’t mad.
Isabella, quite honestly, was hoping that she was.
He was there. He was standing there, as real as stone. The same stick thin frame, the sabre smile. The green eyes that were as dead as fish eyes one minute, and then would suddenly burst into hateful manic life. And Marie felt a hot ball of fury rising in the back of her throat. He was still alive. She had watched him die and here he was, whole and breathing. Mariana was dead. Kathy was dead. Her father was dead. And yet somehow this animal was still cheapening the universe with his presence.
“All three of you in the same place. And they say there’s no God.” said Thomas.
You’ve fallen asleep, Isabella told herself. You’re back in the electric dream. Now wake up before your heart bursts and you die in bed.
“Why sister, dearest.” said Thomas “Why do you stare like that?”
“You’re dead.” she whispered.
“And you can’t believe I’m back ? How touching. It is. I am touched by how glad you obviously are that I wasn’t burned and charred to a pile of black filth. And you are, I can see it in your face. How you must have wept at the death of your dear, eldest brother. Did you fill vessels with salty tears, dear sister? Did you cry your throat red with grief? Did you have a lavish ceremony, my remains carried down the street in a carriage drawn by eight black horses, their glossy ebony coats glinting in the morning sun, rose petals strewn before it by pink faced cherubs? Did you sing sweetly at my funeral, dear sister?”
“No.” said Isabella “I cursed the fact that you didn’t leave a grave to spit on.”
“And you?” said Thomas turning to Marie “Did you miss me, Marie?”
Marie felt her hands tighten on the hilt without even willing it.
“Oh you have no idea.” she growled and she realised with a certain sadness that she was looking forward to this. She wanted to kill him. Was she so much her father’s daughter?
“Thomas.” said Cole “What exactly do you think is going to happen here? I’m looking at my side and I see the Golden Scorpion, an angel, a Temporal Adept and a girl with a lot of knives. I look at your side and I see a skinny French dude.”
It was bluster, and Cole knew it. Thomas was dangerous. No matter what you had on your side, it didn’t change the fact that he was walking death. He had no doubt that he and Joriel could put him down, but whether they could do it and keep Isabella and Marie safe was not something he wanted to test.
“Ah. Quite.” said Thomas “Let’s adjust the picture, shall we?”
“Gentlemen!” barked Thomas “Places please! The dance is about to begin.”
And out of the shadows they came. Some shuffled like condemned men. Some swaggered like kings. In the darkness Marie could see the glint of gold teeth, and staring eyes, and she could smell sour sweat and fear. And still they came. Dozens and dozens. Still more. The room began to close in until finally, a thin line separated the four from Thomas’ army.
You could have chipped your teeth on the silence.
Swords were gripped, guns cocked. The tiniest sound was flinched at.
Not a few of the men waiting in the room began to wonder if they had made a terrible mistake in incurring the Scorpion’s anger. Then they would glance at Thomas, and realise that there were worse things to fear.
Isabella could feel Thomas’ gaze cutting into her. She was feeling very dizzy. The floor lolled horribly beneath her.
The last second was stretched so thin you could see through it…
“Can I show you something?” Thomas asked them.
He gestured to Holtz, who threw Thomas something long and large that he easily caught.
“Do you see this?” he said, aiming it straight at them “It’s called a bazooka. Isn’t that a funny name? They’re wonderfully loud.”
Marie was already in slow time before the rocket was launched, rolling to the ground, pulling Isabella down with her as the projectile drifted slowly through the air trailing long, langurous tails of flame. Joriel dodged it effortlessly. Cole hit the ground last, the rocket almost kissing his back as he ducked.
The wall behind them was not so lucky. The rocket bit, and Marie felt the air sucked out of her lungs as the wall splintered and blew apart.
She realised she could hear a strange, rhythymic sound, faint but getting louder and louder.
Suddenly they were standing in a pale spotlight.
A helicopter honed into view and was watching them through the smoking hole in the tower’s wall.
They have a chopper, Cole thought. Great.
Behind him, the mob braced itself.
In front of him, he could see the chopper’s gunner getting ready to fire.
This could be it, Cole thought. This could be the day the odds were just too damn high. This could be the day you go down. But that doesn’t mean it’s the day you go down easy.
“So.” said Cole, turning to Joriel “Do you want the mob or the chopper?”
Joriel grinned “I would really like to bat the big flying thing out of the sky.”
“Well you do just that.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Nah, I don’t even like choppers.”
“This anticipation is becoming too good to bear.” said Thomas “Kill them all.”
“You talking to me?” said Cole.
“No…” Thomas began.
“You got it.” said Cole.
And then Cole was running, right into the heart of them, looking for that first sweet crunch so bad he could almost feel it on his knuckles. Joriel was in the air, roaring like an earthquake. Thirty feet from the ground to the chopper and he crossed it in a single leap and hit like a thunderbolt.
Thomas roared a single word.
The rest was war.