CHAPTER 45: FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS
Isabella seemed to not even notice him, and ran out into the field of dust. She could feel the grains of the dead on her bare feet like sand but she paid it no mind. She glanced around. Nothing.
She bit her lip so hard it almost bled.
Cole stood there, leaning against a wall and struggling to breath. She couldn’t believe it, he was half dead with exhaustion and he had actually run after her.
Then she realised that he was pointing behind her.
She turned, and her heart broke a little with happiness. Footprints, leading through the dust, away from the chamber.
“He’s fine, kid.” Cole wheezed “He made it. He probably didn’t feel like staying and chatting with Mabus. You know how awkward these reunions can be.”
“He’s alright.” Isabella whispered.
“He’ll be back.” Cole promised her “Just give some time to lick his wounds. Come one.”
He stretched out a hand to her and she took shelter under his arm as they walked back to the courtyard.
On an impulse, she gave him a hug.
He hissed like a kettle “For the love of God, please don’t do that.”
CHAPTER 43: SCORPIO AND LEO ASCENDENT
There was fifty of them all told. Cole thought to himself. Cossacks, Vikings, few pirates what have you. Tough too. This is the best that Thomas has to offer. Any one of these could give me trouble on their own, Cole thought. Not much trouble. But still, trouble. All this went through his head as he arced though the air, spinning and turning to avoid enemy fire. Sometimes Cole thought he was a Temporal. Time was gliding around him, like a swan on a lake. If you could have seen his face under the mask, it would have been as serene as a marble saint. In his mind: odds, strategies, possible outcomes ticked over and over like some wondrous mechanical beehive. And even before his first toe, of his first foot touched the ground for the first time, he knew what he had to do.
They won’t try any fancy stuff.
No pretty moves, no posturing.
They are fifty big, burly men armed to the teeth with axes, swords and whatnot.
They’ll crowd me and hack me to bits.
Got to keep moving.
He was on the ground, on his knees, braced, arms crossed, ready for the spring.
First to die: Thin, lanky character with long blonde hair. No uniform but he’s carrying a Valaska, a light, elegant axe which means he’s probably a Slovak.
He’s wiry, the weapon’s light, he’s not wearing any armour so he gets to Cole first.
He’s smiling wild.
Thinks Cole’s unarmed.
Cole releases the clasp and two jagged blades shoot from his wrists.
Blondie stops smiling.
Scorpion doesn’t sting ‘till he’s ready.
CHAPTER 41: BROKEN SCORPION
Where am I? Cole wondered as he woke up. He couldn’t see.
Something was weighing down on him, covering his face and chest.
He tried to move his right arm to push it off.
When he came to again, he made a mental note that he was not to move his right arm. It felt like a dislocated shoulder (or at least, it had in that split second before his brain had shut down from the agony.)
He pushed the weight off and very slowly got to his feet.
He looked around (carefully, as it felt as if he’d sprained his neck).
Darkness, walls, garbage.
The thing that had been lying on him had been a body. It was not, as he gazed around, the only one in evidence. In fact, the alleyway only needed a layer of earth over it to qualify as a mass grave.
Did I kill them? he wondered groggily, did I do this?
He took a step.
When he came to again, he made a mental note that his left shin had been broken and that he wasn’t to walk on it.
CHAPTER 40: THE HUNT
She didn’t think. She didn’t stop. She didn’t let her mind wander.
“Oh come on. Let’s at least make this interesting.” said a voice in her ear.
She screamed and he was right there beside her, leaning over her shoulder as she ran. And then in an instant he was gone, flitted away leaving only the burning brand of a skull on her retinas.
Now he was standing by the side of the road.
The fleshless skull grinned unflinchingly at her as she ran past.
He was toying with her.
And when he grew bored, he would drag her back to the house and she would forget everything.
So she would have to make sure he didn’t get bored.
She shifted through space, re-emerging around thirty yards off the road to her left. Without even pausing for breath she ran into the forest.
CHAPTER 37: SCORPIONS UNDER EVERY STONE
As a single body, they dropped to their knees and buried their faces in the floor. Thomas did as well, except he was doing it as camouflage, not compliance. Leonard was hiding behind the bar, bathing in his own sweat. The Red Scorpions prowled menacingly through the prostrate figures. Apart from the colour their armour was identical to Cole’s, right down to the embossed scorpion emblem on the chest.. One of them came to the body of the dead Viking. He kicked it idly.
“Here’s the stiff, boss.”
“What’s it look like?”
“Looks like a dead Viking.”
“My God, you’re an idiot. Why is he dead?”
“I dunno, I think he was shot.”
“You think he was shot?”
“Well he’s got a bullet hole in his forehead.”
CHAPTER 36: A MAN WALKS INTO A BAR
Picture it now.
Above, the great dome of the stone sky.
Beneath; tents, shanties, caravans and the like stretching like an ocean as far as the eye can see. Closer to the centre they harden, tents become huts, huts become inns and cabins, which become tenement buildings.
This is his army.
To the west, the medical tower, a jagged stone nightmare clawing upwards like a demon’s paw. That is Groethuis’ kingdom, where he patched up Thomas and countless others like him.
To the east, the combat tower, a perfectly rectangular slab; two thousand stories of arenas, armories, sparring rings, training rooms and shooting ranges. Where every brick stinks of sweat and blood. This is where Mabus’ army trains every day. This is where they keep their brutal skills at their peak, ready for the day Mabus will call on them to be used.
To the south, Xanadu, the pleasure dome. Like nothing so much as the great shell of a turtle a mile across, this is where the troops go to unwind. Pretty much any entertainment you can think of is provided for here.
And the elegant black needle in the very centre. It is known as the Chamber. And the soldiers do not speak of it in hushed tones. They simply do not speak of it at all. This is where Mabus floats in his emerald pool. It is where any soldier who has displeased him is taken. It is not spoken of.
Picture it now. Mabus’ great army, the medical tower, the combat tower, the pleasure dome and the Chamber. The great stone sky and the endless tenements, tents and huts.
This is his kingdom.
This is New Gomorrah.
CHAPTER 33: LION IN A CAGE
He lay in the cell, naked except for a lattice of cuts and scabs that covered his flesh like old dry paint.
His ribs strained at his taught skin, and his eyes had sunk deep into their sockets. He lay in the corner, curled up in his stick thin arms and legs.
Thomas and Groethuis watched him through the glass.
“What did he do?” Thomas asked.
“Nothing.” said Groethuis “He’s not being punished.”
CHAPTER 32: BETRAYAL
She stood there for a few seconds, and then fell to the floor like an avalanche.
He was by her side in a second.
“Please, no dramatics.” Mabus snorted “She’s not dead.”
It was then that Virgil noticed the dart sticking out of her head.
“What did you shoot her with?” he hissed at Mabus.
“You know, I remember you being taller?”
“What was in the dart?!”
“Did it hurt?”
“Becoming a Time Ghost?”
“I am not a time ghost!”
“I know! Isn’t it bizarre? It’s just, I considered becoming one for a time, you see.”
“Good. Go do that.”
“Oh no, my dear boy. I’ve come up with something much better.”
“What did you do to her?!”
She was looking at him, her voice was weak.
“Jeda? Jeda, you’re alright!”
“Yeah. About that. Why is there a dart sticking out of my head?”
“He shot you.”
“Yeah. He did.”
“Well.” she said “I’m just going to have to kick his…oof…”
She tried to get to her feet, but her arms gave out from under her. With some difficulty she managed to grab a hold of the dart and pull it out.
There was very little blood, but a single bead of red swelled in the centre of her forehead like a bindi.