Saturday, December 25, 2010



He ran. Mired down in the grime of crowded city streets, crowded with the grit of asphalt and the choking refuse left by the garbage known as citizens, still he ran. His heart, once thundering in his ears from the exertion as well as the dangerous cocktail of fear and risk that he had lived so much of his life imbibing of, now only groaned in his ears, like a great mountain moaning under the weight of all it carried, very nearly ready to simply collapse. Yet he kept running. He wanted to tell himself he wasn’t fleeing, and in all honesty he wasn’t. His rattled mind told him over and over that he was doing this, this running, in order to get help, to make things right. Yet, as he stumbled head over heel leaping from the corner of a sidewalk out into the tumultuous street it skirted, he admitted between curses the real reason for his actions. Why he really ran.

Death had him surrounded. Death came from all sides and the only chance he had was somewhere in front of him. Some now seemingly ridiculous distance away with a man that even those who had lived in this wondrous, horrible city their entire lives believed to be somewhat mythical. That was why he ran. For the slim hope of an almost impossible chance to ask a fanciful legend for help that likely no one could give.

But it was still a chance. And better than the nightmares he knew by the prickling of the hairs on his neck that were behind him.

He hit the next sidewalk corner in a roll, his left shoulder down, full body tumble, and up on his feet again, crouched ready to attack, leading with his right hand, his back against the brick and mortar of some building. No one noticed him for a variety of reasons, but he was singly aware of everyone around him. Not that the men, women, and children tangled up in their own despair, damages, and decisions each individually meant him harm, but just his presence amongst them meant he may never see another smile from his beloved or even have the chance to gamble his life in such a way again. Those thoughts might seem paranoid or even pretentious if spoken aloud, oddly enough he thought that as his eyes fervently searched for the next threat on his life, but not for him. They were the demons that haunted him every day of his life, but never more than today. Because he knew somehow that today no matter how hard he ran, Death would catch him. As he skirted the wall of the building, looking for a break in the crowd to fling himself back into a wild run, he simply prayed that if it were to come, it wouldn’t be because a maddening crowd ran him over, but something more exciting, more fitting the life he’d led.

After what had only been seconds, but swept over him as if interminable years had passed, he saw his chance. Not in an opening in the throng of people moving to and fro along the sidewalks, flowing like the blood of the city through concrete and steel veins, but in a dangling cord. His mind couldn’t process it any other way at the moment, simply as something that caught his eye, a rope or something suspended from some point above him, coming from where he’d been and now passing him going where he needed to go. He shook his head, wiped sweat from his eyes, lowered his head, crouched, his knees against his chest and leaped, one hand out grasping for this lifeline, the other clung tightly to his torso, almost as if to hold his groaning heart in. This was a fool’s errand, he knew that, one that would likely only give him more bruises and scrapes and the acrid taste of the city itself in his mouth. But, still, time had ran out hours ago. And they were still coming.

His fingers tangled in something silken, a fringe of something, ratty tendrils of cloth. Still, it was enough and he held on because his life depended on it. He gritted his teeth as his body was thrown all around, much like the tiny handmade rag doll his beloved carried everywhere she went, bumping against hard corners and then crashing into something softer, but almost smothering and just as unforgiving. As he swayed there above the street, nothing more than a passenger on an unknowing transport, he let his practiced concentration slip again, something else that he knew would likely get him killed, and wondered about this man, this ‘savior’ as someone had called him that he was going to see. The stories were magnificent, the descriptions staggering. But, he worried as he tried to get his bearings, if this paragon of justice and whatever rot made good men legendary even did exist fully formed as a god among men, what would make a man of such accomplishments and adventures even listen to his pleadings? Would what he carried beneath his coat be enough or was all this really in vain?

This doubt vanished from his mind as his eyes filled with the glorious vision of his destination. Even being flung about as he was, dizzy and nearly nauseous, he recognized the building, the silver monolith, the futuristic castle spire of this king of the world loomed now over him to his left. As he let go of the cord that he’d hitched his ride on and freefalled to the unforgiving street below, he felt something other than concern and survival creeping in around the edges of his heart and mind. He felt the slightest bit of hope.

The beast snatched him from the air, its great, wet maw wrapping around his body at his waist. He screamed as it landed on the sidewalk, almost gracefully, and darted ahead, carrying him in its mouth, coating him in its saliva. Fury raged within him, how could no one see this massive monster attacking him, hauling him around as if he were some snack, some treat thrown to it by its masters. Then reality set in and he remembered why. And that reality also reminded him that he was little more than a morsel for the pets of these masters as far as they were concerned.

The animal moved almost invisibly between the hustlers and bustlers and vanished into the alley between his intended destination and the next building. Shaking its head, it let him fall from its teeth and smash against the filthy alley floor. It wanted to play with its dinner, he’d seen enough of these things eat his people that he was sure of that. But he also knew as he climbed to his feet, broken bones ripping at his insides, that he didn’t have time for playing.

He dipped his head and flipped forward as the creature’s taloned paw swiped at him, just barely missing his head. Rising out of the roll, he returned to a dead run, the mingling odors of his own sweat, the decay of the alley, and the stench of the hunter behind him burning his nose. He thanked the gods of his youth that these horrific demons didn’t tend to hunt in packs as he rounded the corner back to the left, now back in front of his destination. He’d wanted to touch the building, to reach out and let his hand rest on this artifice that seemed to have its own aura, to give off its own light, but that was a dream lost in the past, a remnant of the nights spent with his beloved peeking out at the city from atop some other distant loft. Now all that mattered was getting inside before the beast caught him again.

Its cry roared in his ears suddenly, a deadly cacophony of anger at prey lost and intent to regain it. He glanced over his shoulder as it pounced at him. He dove wildly, his eyes now welded to the turning of the door in front of him, the revolving metallic bordered panes of glass constantly turning bringing people in on one side, turning them out on the other. He just had to get in between them all in the process. He let out his own yell, this one of determination and desperation as he lowered his head and again rolled forward.

It wasn’t enough.

He felt the claw of the beast dig deep into his back, tearing into his body as easily as it ripped through his coat. As he collapsed out of the whirling dervish of the door into the lobby, he also heard the monster bellow out in shrill pain as the door caught its leg. He fell against the cool tile of the lobby floor, his arms instinctively wrapped around his body. Feeling frantically, he made sure that his cargo was still there, pressed close against his chest, almost a second skin now. He tried to stand and run again, but too many bones were broken and too much blood was lost. His eyes, already foggy with the breath of Death looked back toward the street and saw the beast there, out in front of the building, its leg oddly bent. He nearly allowed himself a smile at this, until he watched two others walk up beside it, different colors, but of the same breed.

Turning away, he desperately searched for the next step. He was in the savior’s lair, but that meant nothing if he could not get to the man himself. He dragged his inevitable corpse across the lobby, navigating people as he had on the street, looking for another dangling cord from above, some miraculous way he was going to ascend to the upper floors where heroes such as he sought surely lived. Just some way to get there.

Then he saw it. Right in front of him, his way in. In tall, ebony letters. He wanted to shout out, to sing the songs his mother had taught of him, songs of praise and rejoicing. But time for such things had long passed. He watched his chance slipping away as the opening into the last step of this journey began to close. With what little strength remained in his body, he jumped, wrapping his fingers around the edge of his ticket up, and forced himself up and over. He pitched forward, trying to throw himself through, when he felt something heavy close on him, slamming into his back, crushing him against the metallic wall he was pressed against. He was dying, but he had to get in. He had to get to Doc Daye.


“I have to get to Doc Daye!”

“Sir,” the uniformed security guard, by name Frank Yemen, held his right hand up, palm out, for the third time. Cautionary gesture, he thought, remembering his training. ‘Do what you can to dissuade and warn,’ Doc had told him and all the others he’d gone through new hire orientation with, ,because, remember, most people really do need help, even when they are aggressive and agitated.’ “Sir,” he said again, this time in a softer, less assertive voice, “I understand. Really I do. But-”

“How in the name of Hades Hildebrand can you understand?” the blow and bluster of the man’s cavernous voice, the stuff of stories throughout the city, was less than Yemen expected it to be, but the spittle the speaker spread all over his face and anyone within a foot of him more than made up for it. August Rothguard was most likely one of the three wealthiest men in Sovereign City, which would put him at least in the top ten of that list for the entire world. He was a large man and did everything in the same way. Large. But today, he seemed so much smaller, the guard noted that, even though he’d only seen Rothguard’s face in the newspaper or on the billboards touting his company, Rothguard Manufacturing, under the standard, “Trust in Rothguard’s.” As he watched this captain of industry fluster and bluster like an unhappy child, though, Frank Yemen felt anything but trust.

“Mr. Rothguard, if you’d-”

“To bollocks with this!” Rothguard threw his thick tree trunk like arms up in the air, his thick sausage fingers curling into fists. “You tell Tempus Daye that he will see me now or I will make sure everything with the name Daye on it in this city has my name on it by year’s end! I don’t come here because I want to, you young fool!” Rothguard surged forward suddenly, carried it appeared by the ferocious urgency of his own words. “I am about to die and Doc Daye has to stop it!”

“Mr Rothguard.” Frank Yemen held up his right hand, palm out for the fourth time, but this time he pressed it hard against the millionaire businessman’s chest. He recalled this part of his training, too, from Thomas Pariah. ‘Even if they need help, aggressive and agitated can quickly escalate into pushy and combative. So, yeah, handle with gloves of kid, but don’t be afraid to apply pressure of force when called for.’ Narrowing his eyes, Yemen said, “I assure you that word is already on its way to Doctor Daye’s office and his man for handling things, Mr. Pariah will be here as soon as-”

“Please,” the words that escaped from behind the ashen gray walrus mustache Rothguard was famous for no longer echoed and thundered. They came from trembling lips and his voice was that of a man interminably gripped by fear. “I…I have to see him. Please. You… You don’t understand. They’re…going to kill me…like the others…please.”

“No one is going to-” Yemen started this sentence to assure Rothguard that now that he had made it to Daye Tower, he was as safe as if in his own mother’s arms. Those words hung in his throat, though, as he felt something on his hand, the one pressed against Rothguard’s chest. At first, it was like a shudder, a slight tremor traveling through the big man’s body. Yemen ignored that, sure it was nothing but an instinctive reaction to being touched. But what stopped him in mid sentence was the sensation of something warm on his hand. Something spreading. Something wet.

August Rothguard opened his mouth to say something else, but nothing came out except blood, tumbling out of his mouth like a crimson waterfall. His body lurched and then his chest collapsed, Frank Yemen’s already bloody hand falling into the gaping cavity, his fingers now coated in the mangled mess that seconds before had been Rothguard’s heart.