The dark-cowled figures communed amongst themselves as they looked over the runes. The inky darkness surrounding them seeming to grow oddly darker in the light from the single black candle burning between them.
There was no misreading this message, especially since it was the same as the previous two nights'. The ritual had been performed with the precision of long familiarity.
Without a word spoken all turned towards the eldest. Though not formerly their leader - there were no leaders amongst such as these - no action would be taken without his approval. After a moment, he nodded once. Action was to be taken then, not that there had been any other choice. The message too clear. The danger too real. Two of the hooded figures bowed and moved off immediately to perform the task. The rest watched them go, lingering a moment, before they too withdrew - each moving in their own direction as if to deny all knowledge of what they had found.
The next morning, as a light rain descended on the streets of London, Constable Rotherby found the woman lying dead in the alley. The tablods were abuzz later that day with tales of the zodiac wheel carved into her naked back, and the collection of small oddly shaped black stones smeared in dried blood and clinging clustered to the symbol for twins, the Gemini.
Halfway across Europe, the wind rattled the heavy wooden shutters on the side of the little abbey like they were made from little more than tissue paper.
Eidrich just shook his head resignedly as placed the ladder against the wall and prepred to climb up it in the afternoo chill. The abbot was a decent man, and Eidrich had always appriciated his kindness in letting him stay here after the death of his wife in the fire. Some days though, he could be a test to the patience of any man. Edrich started his slow descent up the ladder.
Today for example, any fool could see that it was a miserable day to be out and about. The cool wind coming down off the mountain peaks had brought with it more than just cold, but an unseasnonable dampness that worked its way through the clothes no matter how many layers you added. The abbot's insistance that this shutter be fixed today when it had been banging loose for almost a month seemed more motivated by spite than necessity. Eidrich chuckled to himself. He had asked why someone else, one of the young boys who were in training for example, could not be sent out in the cold instead of him. After all, he was approaching old age himself these days. The abbot clearly was maintaining a grudge for Eidrich's drunken comment last night though and quoted some dribble about a man needing to bend his hand to labour himself to discover his inner peace. To be fair, Eidrich could have picked a better time to reopen the age old disagreement than when he had 'liberated' the wine reserved for services.
Few would accuse a man of god of such a earthly failing as spite too... unless one had come to know the abbot over as many years as Eidrich had. He remember when he was just a boy and had caught the abbot engaging in an entirely different earthly sin with one of the local townswomen. It was from this very window too, since it looked across the courtyard directly towards the abbots bedroom. Eidrich grinned at the memory and glanced across there now as he absently reached out to grab the shutter and stop it's merry clatter. Sure enough, there was the abbot now, moving around his bedroom. No doubt preparing for his afternoon absolutions.
As Eidrich looked on, the darkness in the corner of the room seemed to coalese behind the abbot. Out of the blackness stepped two hooded figures. Before Eidrich could call out, one stepped up behind the abbot grabbed the aged man by the scruff of his neck, lifting him off his feet - an impressive task given the abbot's somewhat portly nature.
Eidrich watched as the cowled head moved close to the abbot's ear over his shoulder. Whatever words were softly exchanged, the abbots face changed from one of fear to one of calm. The sort of calm resignment one has in the face of something they can not, or will not, change.
Eidrich watched as the abbot said something but he was too far to have any hope of hearing it. The hooded figures looked at each other and then the second stepped up and seemed to produce some sort of flaming sword from within the confines of its robes. In one smooth stroke, unencumbered by any hesitation, the figure severed the abbot's body in two. The lower half fell to the floor, to be joined in a moment by the torso as the first dark demon released its grip.
Eidrich looked on in shock and releaxed his grip on the shutter. Free once again, it proceeded to crack back against the side of building. The two hooded figures looked up at the noise and Eidrich's blood ran cold. He knew he had to get down and tell the rest of the brothers about what he'd witnessed. He felt frozen in place as he watched one of the hooded figures turn and disappear back into the shadows in the room.
He felt the waft of warm air from the shadows of the window behind him a moment later, and knew that someone else would fix the shutter after all and benefit from the inner peace in the doing of it.
For Eidrich felt no inner peace in the last moment of his life.
Twenty seven. To some, it would have been just another number. A figure of speech used to indicate that something tangible existed in a given quantity. To some, it may have represented the amount of money their new sweater cost them or the amount of minutes that must pass before they could leave work. To Squire, it represented his life.
Squire was, by all accounts, a handsome young man in his early twenties. He was of average height and build for a male his age. Dark hair, just long enough to be pulled back and bound with the burgundy silk cord, was made distinctive by the single streak of grey running along the left side. A legacy of the fire and a permanent reminder of the cost of failure. The hair combined with the dark glasses, black skin-tight leather gloves, goatee and dark trench coat created an impression of someone who wanted to be left alone. It was, in fact, perfectly designed to create that impression.
The number twenty seven had occupied Squire's mind a lot of late. That number was what separated him from the people he passed on the street.
“Oops!” exclaimed a woman in her mid thirties who accidentally bumped into him. She was a plump woman but had a cheerful face. Her newly styled hairdo telling the tale of her afternoon at the mall. “I'm sorry”, she apologized.
But the words were lost as Squire kept on walking without acknowledging her. After a momentary glance at his retreating back, she continued on her way as well.
It wasn't that Squire didn't take notice of her, she just wasn't important. Squire had learned to notice everything and dismiss what he couldn't make use of. A series of lessons learned the hard way. He had had to learn a lot over the short span of his life. Much of it he would gladly trade away in exchange for a new life. Unfortunately, he was stuck with this one and those lessons were the only thing keeping him alive at this point.
He walked purposefully though the crowd, keeping his eyes fixed on the figure walking on the upper level of the mall. It was the only thing that was important right now. It hadn't noticed him yet as far as he knew. He risked a glance ahead and saw an escalator going up. He looked back up to see the figure looking down at him. He watched it, looking for any sign of what it was going to do next. Frozen in place, the two dark figures considered each other from a distance. Then Squire's quarry nodded at him. He couldn't believe it! He was here to destroy it, and it nodded to him as one would to a stranger who gave you the time of day. Without any further delay, the figure turned and continued the same way it had been going, moving quickly through the crowd now.
Squire chased after it, moving as quickly as he could through the throng of Sunday afternoon shoppers. Damn it! It was moving away faster than him. The crowd of people seemed to open up and let it though while he had to struggle past every overweight, slow moving, overage... aaragh! He let out an internal scream of frustration as it slipped out of his sight. At last he reached the escalator and raced up it, shoving his way past the people in his way to their aggravation.
He raced down the direction he had seen it go last and saw it enter a ship just up ahead. When he got there he raced in afterward to discover he was in a girl's clothing store. He slowed when he saw it disappear into the corridor that led to the change rooms. It was trapped.
“Can I help you?”, chimed a blonde girl in a typical valley girl accent as she moved in front of him. She couldn't have been more than fourteen, but was wearing clothes and makeup in a teenage girls version of a twenty year old.
“Yes. I'm looking for my wife. I'm sure she's in the back. I'll just go check, ” he said brushing on by her.
“Sir! You can't go back there like this. Sir,” she said trying to catch up to him. Her skintight leather skirt didn't allow her to run though and she quickly fell behind.
“What do you think you're doing!” she cried. Obviously her training had encompassed strange men refusing to listen to her.
“Oh honey,” Squire called mockingly as he entered the corridor, “I'm home!”
There were four doors in all. The first was open and a typical compact change room lay beyond. The second he opened without thought to discover a pudgy teenage girl trying to cram into a dress that was clearly two sizes too small for her. She looked up seeing him with her arms stuck above her head in the dress and did what any girl would do. Screamed.
“I'm calling security if you don't leave here right now!” The store clerk had caught up to him finally and was clearly upset.
Squire didn't care. They were unimportant.
Before he could open the third door, another girl, alerted by the scream, poked her head out to see what was wrong. That left the fourth door. This one was painted a different colour than the others and designed to blend into the wall better. Squire, ignoring the ongoing screams of the chubby girl and the threats of the clerk yanked the door open. Beyond lay a hallway. Shit! He should have thought of this sooner, it was the service tunnels that ran behind the stores. He sped though the door and looked both ways down the tunnel. Which way? In a moment he took off down the left hand fork, that had been the direction it had been going before, it stood to reason that it would continue. Sure enough as he passed the first fork, a movement caught his eye down to his right. He backed up and saw the figure go through a door. He raced down after it, drawing his power to him. The hairs on the back of his neck began to tingle. Not long now. He ran full out down the hallway, turned though the door and paused.
The room was painted white and had no other exits. Bins along one wall suggested that the stores brought their paper and cardboard here so it could be recycled. Squire took all this in, in a heartbeat. But it was unimportant. What was before him had his full attention.
There, in front of him, were not one, but three tall figures in dark robes.
The door slammed shut behind him.
Of course, how could he have been so blind? It was a trap.
“I'll get it Enna,” Siane said.
“Oh would you? This back of mine is killing me today,” the older woman said.
Siane looked around the stationary store she worked in. It wasn't as big as some of the chains, but everything in it gave off a feel of home. The cards along one wall were being looked at by a couple of customers and a mother and her small girl were playing with one of the stuffed animal displays near the front.
“Are you sure you'll be okay?” Siane asked.
“Oh go on child, I ran this store for thirteen years before I hired you, I'm sure I can manage for five minutes. Now get that stuff out of here.” Enna smiled at Siane.
She had been like a second mother to Siane and Siane suspected that she was like the daughter Enna had never had time to have.
Siane picked up the pile of flattened shipping boxes the new cards had come in and pushed open the door to the maintenance tunnels. As she carried the boxes she thought again of the store. This would be her last year at collage and Enna had made it clear that she would be willing to hire Siane on full-time. In a way, Siane was blessed. She could come out of collage and slowly take over the store Enna had built. Enna was getting old and wanted to spend more time with her sister's family up north. If Siane proved competent, Enna would probably offer her a fair price for the store in another few years. Siane would be set with a healthy business and steady clientele. Still she wanted to see the world. The lack of a family of Enna's own was testimony to the hours one had to put in, in order to have a successful store. She might never have the chance to travel or explore the many other wonderful things the world had to offer if she took Enna's place.
Giving up for the moment on such depressing thoughts, Siane pushed her way into the recycling room to discover four men dressed in black. She wanted to turn and leave right then, but she had already entered the room and the door was closing already. With her hands full of cardboard boxes, she couldn't readily catch it. Giving a mental sigh, she turned back to the room and took at look at the men.
At first she was concerned that they were from some gang. All but one dressed in black and the odd one out dressed in a black trench coat. Then she realized that the three in robes were spread in a rough semi-circle around the other man. She realized that some sort of mischief was afoot and that she'd rather have no part in it. The path to the cardboard bin was clear though so she sought to break the mood in the room.
“You boys should really be back here you know,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone as she walked to the bin. “Some of the store owners can get really upset about people wandering back here. What with all the shipments and all.”
She heaved the cardboard into the bin and turned around. The three cloaked heads were all looking at her. The man in the middle was standing with his hands hanging at his sides. He was curling and uncurling his fingers like some duel-anticipating cowboy in a western movie.
“You'd better just get out of here miss.”
She looked trying to identify where the voice had come from.
“I can handle one on a good day, two if I'm lucky but it's likely to get a little messy in here with three,” he said in a calm voice.
She now knew it was the man in the middle who had spoken. His voice was calm but the movement of his hand and her instincts screamed that he was very nervous. She realized with stark certainty that it could very well be something much worse than a fight she had walked into.
“He went that way officer,” a high-pitched girls voice could be heard out in the hallway.
“It sounds like someone is on their way to see you,” Siane said, still maintaining a casual tone of voice like one would use amongst friends. “You might want to get moving and carry on your party later. I've met Sam and believe me; he loves getting people to fill out all kinds of paperwork. His security goons aren't exactly fun to deal with either. I don't think he hires them for their looks or their brains, if you get my drift.”
Drifting was exactly what Siane was doing, trying to extradite herself from this situation before it got worse. She was started back to the door and no one else had moved yet.
“Well, if you hurry, you could probably get in on some of those free samples the ice cream store was giving away today. I've been dying to go myself all day but all I can do is stare at it from my counter.”
Siane kept up the endless stream of chatter while she moved across the floor. About halfway now, she'd get out of here and then send Sam and his goons in to deal with these guys. She saw one of the hoods, the one in the middle facing the strange man, nod at the one closest to her. He started towards her just as the door opened and in walked Sam with two of his security crew and a girl wearing way too much makeup and a tight skirt.
“He's the one officer,” the girl said pointing at the man in the trench coat.
“Well now, it seems that there is a party and no one though to invite me,” Sam's barritone voice boomed in the little room. “Hello Siane,” he said taking notice of her for the first time, “do you know any of these gentlemen?” he asked.
“No Sam,” she replied. She felt the tension should have lessened but the four men continued to face off in the centre of the room. “I was just dropping off the boxes for the day for Enna. These gentlemen were keeping me company while I did so, but since they were here first I was just about to leave.”
“I see,” said Sam. “Well, best you be off now. I think I'm going to have these boys come down to my office to chat a little. Guys, gather them up.”
The two goons that acted as Sam's watchdogs, started forward to the four dark figures. Siane sighed and started to the door, glad to be getting out of here. That was when hell broke loose.
Squire had been listening to the non-stop babble by the girl and the guards orders, but his attention had remained fixed on the robed figures. They were all that mattered. Them and figuring a way out of this mess.
How could he have been so stupid? He should never have been able to catch up to the one he'd been chasing. It had purposefully slowed down to let him catch up. And he, the gullible fool, had played right into its hands. Entering the trap unaware. Idiot.
He looked at the three hooded figures and took stock. They were all dressed in black robes, giving them the look of Death triplets. In a way that wasn't so far off the truth. If he let his guard slip, even for a second, he'd be dead. Always before when he'd faced one, they had been alone and he'd caught them by surprise. Hardly a picture of a noble knight doing battle with his foe, but Squire understood what was at risk. Understood what hesitating meant. He had killed three of them to date. The last had sensed him a moment to soon and avoided the deathblow. What had ensued was a battle that left a burning warehouse in its wake, baffling fire investigators. But he had triumphed. Encouraged by that win, he had set off, confident in the foolish way only youth can be, to find and destroy the rest. He should have known that word would spread. Should have known that they wouldn't sit by idly while he killed them. Now he stood facing three. And it wasn't by surprise. They were ready for him.
He had almost moved to intercept the one when it headed for the girl. Foolish. It would have left him open to attack from the other two. Let her and her run away mouth get it. He couldn't be responsible for every person who was too dumb to realize when they were in over their head. Then that clerk had arrived bringing the mall security with her. Dumb people. As if the uniforms on the dime-a-dozen security guys proved anything. Their training probably amounted to a one-hour video with a multiple-choice test at the end. They had no idea of the strength of those they faced. And as he heard the head rent-a-cop give the order, he knew they would pay for that ignorance.
As the goons started forward, the lead hooded figure raised his arms and signalled the other two who turned to face the goons. The goons just grinned anticipating a chance for a good brawl. They were tall, taller even than the six-foot hooded figures and built like walls. It didn't help them.
The leader of hooded figures brought his hands straight up in front of him, palms up and hands closed in fists. Then he opened them. Squire, knowing a little of what to expect was already on the move by then.
The figure opened his hands and a bolt of lightening arched between them. From its midpoint a bolt flew out and straight into the chest of the closest goon, sending him flying into the wall. The second security guard barely had time to let the surprise show on his face before the hooded figure closest to him turned and stabbed him in the chest. The figures fingers had lengthened by about 3 inches and looked like glowing daggers. The guard fell back as the hooded figure, using both hands now, stabbed repeatedly at his torso. Sam drew his gun as the third hooded figure lifted his arm. It never got the chance to complete its action as Squire slammed into it from the side. A ball of light flew upward and hit the ceiling, showering bits of paint and plaster down around everyone. The clerk, momentarily shocked, recovered her voice and began screaming. Sam, taking aim at the leader began to fire his gun.
Siane didn't know what to do. She stood frozen against the wall, unable to run. She watched in horrified fascination as the leader of the hooded things seemingly dodged the bullets fired at him and then, seemed to fire back, though she could see no gun. On the ground near her, the man in the trench coat and a hooded figure rolled back and forth, locked in combat. Then the man in the coat broke free of the others hold and jammed his into the opening of the hood on either side of the head. There was a muffled explosion and light shone out of the robes openings. As the man in the trench coat drew his hands out, she was sure she saw the robe collapse, as it it were a balloon someone had just let the air out of. The man in the coat looked up at her briefly. Her breath caught in her throat. His glasses had been knocked askew and she could see his eyes staring at her. He seemed to look right through her, but more incredibly, his eyes were golden.
“Hide yourself in the bin!” he yelled, pointing to the metal recycling bin she had tossed the cardboard into.
He looked as though he would say more when a bolt of energy hit him in the shoulder flinging him off the robe.
That was all the incentive she needed. She bolted for the bin and dove inside. It was reasonably large and she had no trouble fitting tucked down below the rim. She could still hear screaming and shots from a gun. Dust from exploded paint and plaster filled the air and flashes of light kept brightening the room. She pulled some cardboard over her, recognizing the ineffectiveness of this shield, but feeling better nonetheless. She covered her ears trying to drown out the noise and closed her eyes to the light. Suddenly, her whole body convulsed in pain. One of the lightening bolts must have hit the metal of the bin. Energy surged through her body, her muscles spasm against the assault. She thought her brain would burst free from her skull as the bolts of electricity arched from the wall of the bin to her. After what seemed like an eternity, it didn't hurt anymore. By then, nothing hurt anymore. Her world had gone black.
“You can come out now.”
Siane stirred and tried to roll over, and felt pain. She warily opened her eyes and discovered it dark. Where was she? Then with frightening certainty she remembered. The strange men, the security officers, the bizarre and terrifying fight. Could it have all been real?
She could barely make out the walls of the bin she had dived into. The only light appeared to come from out in the hallway. She glanced up and discovered that the lights on the ceiling had been shattered in the pandemonium. She gingerly lifted herself into a sitting position and peeked above the rim. Broken plaster and bodies littered the floor. Black marks on the wall betrayed the existence of the energy let loose in the battle. She didn't see any sign of movement. She began to extradite her self from the bin, brushing at the piles of ash and charred cardboard which covered her. As she stands up and goes to climb out a hand reaches out to help her. The sudden movement startles her and she loses her grip, falling back into the bin.
“You should be more careful,” a voice cautions.
Siane spins around, her hand holding what will surely be a decent bump on her head after colliding with the bin. She finally notices the man in the trench coat standing just to the left of the bin. Her forgotten fear comes flooding back and she shies away from the outstretched hand.
“Fine. Have it your way,” he says withdrawing the hand. “Damn modern day females, won't let you hold a door open for them, but get upset if you don't remember the birthday of their pet dog.”
Siane stared at him a moment longer trying to assess how much of a threat he posed. He stood there calmly looking at her through those dark glasses. She hesitated a second longer then she climbed out of the bin.
“I suppose this is the way you spend your typical Sunday afternoons,” she said to him. “I suppose those were your gang friends, huh?”
The man in the trench coat just stood there looking at her. Motionless, almost like a statue, no one would notice him in the dim light unless they were looking right at him.
“I'm going to get going now,” she says, hoping to get back to Enna and the store. Back out of this nightmare to something that resembled normal. She was even beginning to doubt most of what she'd seen. After all, people didn't shoot lightening bolts from their hands or have eyes of gold.
“If you know what is good for you, you'll beat it out of here before the cops show up.”
“You should be careful,” he said advancing a step. “The Zar do not like to have word of them spread. They may seek to quiet you.”
“Yeah, right. A bunch of crazy men in black cloaks have nothing better to do than chase a cashier in a stationary store,” she retorted edging away from him. He may not have done anything to her, but she still didn't trust him.
“You don't understand,” he said, still advancing toward her.
She began to reply when her heel caught on something and she began to tumble backward. Giving a quick cry of alarm she windmilled her arms trying to catch her balance. The man in the trench coat took two quick steps and reached out and steadied her. She regained her balance and quickly jerked her arm away.
“Keep your hands off of me. I don't know who you are but I don't want to have anything to do with you,” she said.
She smoothed out her dress and looked down at the ground to see what she had tripped over. Something lay on the ground just behind her and as she bent to take a closer look she felt bile rising in her throat. It was the decapitated head of the store clerk who had arrived with Sam.
“I guess she won't be making that annoying high-pitched scream
Siane spun back to face him.
“You inconsiderate bastard! How can you say such a thing!” she screamed at him.
“She wasn't important,” he replies in a calm voice, “only they were important and two of them got away.”
“Who the hell are you talking about!” she cried. She was still upset, but was finding that taking it out on him helped. “This girl had a family and friends. Even Sam's goons deserved better than this. Who the hell are you to decide who is “important” and who isn't?”
The man in the coat stood looking at her, his hands clasped in front of him and legs slightly spread. He looked like a military man standing at ease. Which is to say that he looked like he was ready to spring to life at any minute. She thought he looked like he would stay there forever. Well, that was fine with her. She shook her head and shouldered her way past him. His voice stopped her.
“They are the end of the world,” he said, “and I am all that stands between them and the destruction of every child and person who you ever knew.”
She paused looking back at him.
“They are the Zar Mortei and they don't care about you or any other person they lay eyes on,” he continued, turning around. He reached up and took his glasses off as he approached her. “They have been around for a very long time and are responsible for more atrocities than you can imagine. I am the only person they fear, and if I don't stop them, no one will. That is why I don't cry when one teenage girl dies or a couple of over built thugs finally lose a fight. I can't waste my time on them. The Zar are the only ones who matter.”
She was almost ready to believe him. But as he drew close to her, the light from the hallway caught his face. She saw his eyes. They weren't gold. They were brown. Her disbelief came back. Of course he didn't have gold eyes, he was just another punk from some gang who had been in a fight. It must have been the shock causing her to see things. She couldn't really trust anything that she had seen. They were probably one of those new high-tech gangs using some sort of high-powered stun guns or stolen military weapons. She'd read about them in the papers. What they'd be doing in the little town of Smithsville she didn't know. Maybe it was a drug deal gone bad. Regardless, she'd had enough of this creep.
“Look buster, I don't know what kind of games you're playing, but I'm done. I'm getting out of here and reporting what I know to the cops. If you're smart you'll do the same.”
He wiped the dust off his glasses and put them back on.
“You don't understand. This isn't some gang thing. The Zar aren't like you or me,” he said.
“Okay. I get it. Well, look here buddy, I've seen enough vampire flicks in my time too. A male Buffy! What will they think of next? So when do these boogie men come out. What are you going to do? Splash some holy water on them?” she said.
He grabbed her wrist tightly and drew her close to him. She could see herself and the sudden fear in her eyes she had at his unexpected outburst in the reflection of his dark glasses.
“This is no game,” he whispered. “These things are not some writer's ticket to fame in the next Hollywood horror film. They won't come after you slowly and wait until you scream before they rip out your throat. They won't entertain you with their master scheme before they kill you. And if they shoot at you, one bullet is all they'll need.”
He gazed into her eyes at the dawning terror there. Then, with a flash of her eyes he saw her look return to one of self righteous indignation. Why did he even try.
“Let go of me,” she said twisting out of his grasp. “What kind of freak are you? That kind of stuff might work on little children and feeble minded fools, but not me! What gives you the right to... ”
He tuned out the rest of what she was saying. It surely wasn't important. Why did he always try to save them? It hadn't worked when he'd tried to warn Jodi. She had dismissed it at first as a practical joke. When he had persisted she had become angry with him telling him to seek medical help for his delusions. “And flights of angels kept watch” hardly seemed like an appropriate epitaph for the girl who had taught him about the imitate side of adolescence, yet that was all he had to speak of her now. He still remembered the day he had stood in the rain gazing at the piece of granite that marked her final resting place. He had left town that same day, there was after all, nothing to hold him there anymore.
in the shoulder.
It was still
but he had
of the blast.
and the split
all he had
it had been
been for this
girl he would
to warn her
to hide. It
and for what?
So he could
get a lecture
of gangs and
at the girl
to rant at
cute. If he
he would have
time to try
and know her.
Suddenly he felt a disturbance behind him. Working more on instinct and reflex than on conscious decision he spun around, his power coming to life in a heartbeat.
His one hand moved to intercept the bullet that was aimed at the girl's head while the other reached out and fired what looked like a crystal ball full of fire at the grate over the air duct. The grate exploded in a burst of smoke and blackened plaster. He knew it was already too late though.
The girl had stopped talking and was standing staring with wide eyes at him.
The tingling on the back of his neck eased a bit and he knew that they were gone for good now. Damn! Now he'd have to track them down again.
He turned back to the girl and held up his hand. He opened it in front of her face to show the cooling metal it held.
“One bullet,” he said.
She seemed incapable of saying anything as she slowly exhaled her breath. Well at least that was a small blessing. He turned though as he heard a noise from the hall. Voices. Sounded like the local police had finally showed up on the scene. Typical. Twenty minutes after anything happened, they were just in time to be there before the reporters showed up. They could make a big show of bagging things and offering no comment to the press and still be back in the coffee shop by three. He turned looking for another way out of the room he'd missed. The last thing he wanted was to try and explain this to a bunch of overweight cops.
“Here. Follow me,” the girl's voice broke his train of thought.
She led him out of the room. He looked after her for a second then followed, picking up the black robe on his way from the spot on the floor where it lay. He risked a look down the hall and realized that the cops were still up around the corner. Down the hall he could see the bloody remains of Sam. He stepped over the body of the guard which had landed against the door. Gun still clutched in his hand, though it lay several feet from the rest of his body. She led him the opposite direction from where he'd come originally. Around another bend, just as he could hear the voices of the cops rounding the corner behind them.
She pushed her way through a set of double doors and into a loading bay. She quickly crossed the room and pushed open the door to the outside, holding it open for him.
“Through here,” she said.
He went though without question, then turned to look back at her.
“I have to go make a statement now, not to mention I've got to get back to Enna. She'll be worried sick,” she said, “You better get out of here. The cops will be wanting to know everything about what happened and I don't intend to lie to them.”
With that, she ducked back inside and the door fell shut.
for a minute
Something was still nagging at him. He couldn't think of why the Zar had taken off so easy. Sure, he was getting better at using his skills, but surely the two left were a match for him. The guard who'd been flung against the door had brought out his gun and started shooting almost immediately. Sam had been shooting from the door. All of which had created the diversion Squire had needed to get a couple of good shots at the Zar. He had hit one in the leg while dodging the lightening bolts from the leader. He really should try and learn how make lightening himself. He was sure he could do it if he only knew how. The one he'd hit in the leg had used his blades to lop the head off of that girl and then gone after the cop lying near the door. Sam had continued to shoot until his gun ran out of ammunition, and looking at the carnage going on the room had taken off down the hall screaming into his radio. The nearest Zar had followed him out of the room. The other had moved near the door and fired at the bin the girl had gone into. As he lined up for another shot, Squire took aim at him. At the last second, the Zar turned and fired at him. Squire ducked and prepared to return fire but that Zar too had fled though the open door. Squire had fired a few shots after them and then had settled down watching the door. Ready to blast them as they returned to finish him. They never came.
He hadn't gone far when he turned back at the sound of a shout.
“Hey!” she said with her head stuck out the door. “Uh...
thanks for saving
my life. You should get that shoulder looked at, there is
in clinic down the road.
Ask for Dr. Lorson.”
And then she was gone before he could say anything.
He shrugged. Maybe he'd gotten though. Maybe not. He started on his way again as he caught sight of a cop car coming around the end of the mall.
Had he been wrong? It had definitely been a trap, but not for him. The Zar were not perfect, but they were far beyond making the mistake of confronting him where other people might walk in. They would have gone to great lengths to make sure that they were not disturbed. He must have been an upsetting surprise. But if not for him, then for who was the trap set? The security guards? No, if he hadn't been there, the sales clerk wouldn't have called them. The girl? If so, why would it take three Zar Mortei to catch her? He tried to call up the image of her in his mind. She certainly hadn't posed a threat to them during the fight, but then again, why had they tried to kill her later and risk fighting him again? Perhaps, they simply didn't want any witnesses left. But surely they could have seen to her after he was gone.
He was interrupted from his musings by the triage nurse.
“Squire?” she called, looking around the hospital waiting room.
“Here,” he said standing up as she indicated for him to follow her into her office.
He walked in and sat down from her as she set her clipboard on the table.
“Okay...ummm... Squire, is it?” she asked without looking up. “Do you have a last name Squire? You seem to have left a lot of this form blank. What is the nature of your visit?”
She looked up for the first time at him.
“I don't have a last name ma'am,” Squire said, trying his best to sound like a polite young man. “I was raised an orphan and have been traveling looking for my real family for the last few months.”
It was of course, all a lie, but Squire had learned it was best not to leave any record of his real identity. He didn't want the Zar to be able to track him anymore than they wanted him to follow them. He had left his coat and glasses out in the waiting room. He tried to look a couple of years younger than he was.
“I was passing through your town and didn't have a place to stay last night,” he continued.
“Then I saw a little hut with its door open. I know it was wrong, but I just couldn't spend another night outside in a ditch.”
He forced his eyes to begin to tear to add to the effect.
“What was wrong?” the nurse asked. She had a no nonsense manner about her. This was going to be tougher than he thought.
“I knew I should climb the fence, but I didn't want to get rained on and I saw the clouds building and...” he paused and gasped for breath as his tears began to form. “I guess I should have paid attention to the signs but I thought as long as I stayed away from the transformers I'd be okay. But I didn't see the wire across the ground. I guess I must have hit something but it hurt so bad I didn't really pay attention.” He slipped his shoulder out of his shirt, exposing the blistered skin on the top and back of his shoulder.
“Good lord child. What kind of sense do you have? Those fences are up for a reason,” the nurse said leaning in and taking a close look at the wound. “We've got to get this cleaned up right away and get you into see a doctor. We can finish this paper work afterward.”
Squire smiled inside. It had worked.
The nurse worked for a couple of minutes cleaning the wound and applied a cold pack of some sort to it.
“I'll send you in to see Dr. Rigela,” the nurse said,
reaching for the
Squire looked up. “Actually ma'am, I used to have an Aunt in this area, she always spoke well of a doctor named Lorson. Would it be possible for him to see me?”
The nurse looked at him. He looked back with tear filled eyes.
She looked over at her schedule. “Well, Dr. Lorson appears to free as well. I'll send you into him.”
Two minutes later he was being shown into a doctor's office.
He looked around the office, taking stock of it. Well kept and orderly, but the equipment looked pretty run down. He was about to nose through the various jars when the door opened and an older man walked in.
“Good day, Squire,” he said looking down at the clipboard in his hand. “Have a seat for me over there.”
Squire sat on the examining table that had been indicated. Doctor Lorson set the clipboard down on the desk and pushed his glasses up on his nose. He walked across to Squire and had him remove his shirt.
“Nasty burn,” he said. “You say a transformer arched and hit you, eh?”
“Yes sir,” Squire said, flinching as the doctor probed the burn.
“Well, it looks a lot better than it could have been I'm thinking,” the doctor stated, “if I put a poultice on that and give you some clean bandages and cream I think it should heal fine. Just to be safe though, I think I'll prescribe some antibiotics to prevent infection.”
As the doctor was putting the bandages in place Squire inquired about the antiquated look of the machinery.
“We treat a lot of poor people here Squire,” the doctor said. “The clinic is open to those who can't afford to pay two days a week. It's not always possible for us to have the sort of equipment that big private hospitals have.”
The doctors voice betrayed his frustration with the system.
“We get by mostly on private donations,” he continued. “This will sting for a second.”
Squire sucked his breath in as the doctor applies the medication to his burn.
“There that should do it. Now don't forget to change that tonight and keep it clean. It will probably take about two weeks to heal to the point that you don't need the medication any more,” he said.
The doctor gave Squire more instructions as he filled out the prescription for the antibiotics
As the doctor showed Squire to the door he paused with his hand on the door.
“I don't know who you are, or what you told Nellie. She's tough as nails and usually can see though any bluff,” the doctor started. “What I do know is that you didn't get that from any transformer. I treated you as a favour to someone, but I suggest you stay clear of trouble from now on or you won't find as much support next time.”
Squire looked into the doctors face as Dr. Lorson swung the door open. The man was giving him a firm look that implied he knew more than was possible. Squire quickly mumbled his thanks and headed back out to the waiting room. He was gathering up his jacket and the black robe when the nurse caught up to him.
“Not so fast. You still have to fill out these forms before you leave. Treatment isn't free you know,” she said.
The nurse turned around as Dr. Lorson called her.
“Where do you keep the extra gloves?” Dr. Lorson asked.
“You wait here for a minute, I'll be right back,” Nellie said to him in a low voice. “I'll get them, lord knows you'd have everything all over the place before you found them. It would take me a month of Sunday's to put it back in some sort of order again.”
As Nellie went into the supply room to get the gloves, Squire saw Dr. Lorson look at him. When the doctor was sure he was looking he gave a glance at the door signalling Squire to leave. Squire put his jacket on and nodded his appreciation to the doctor and took off to the door before he could be stopped again. He wondered at the doctor's odd manner and why he was so willing to help Squire.
Squire spent the rest of the day searching for some sign of the Zar but couldn't find anything. He returned the youth hostel he'd been staying in for the last couple of days. After checking his locker to be sure everything was still there, and adding the robe to his possessions, he settled down for the night. The next day he was back to looking for some sign of the Zar. His searching consisted mostly of looking in places they would be likely to frequent. Checking for rumours of anything unusual, and most importantly, waiting for that feeling to hit him.
When he had first begun his search years ago he had spent months traveling, hoping for any sign that would point to a Zar. One day he read an article about a man who had been stuck dead by lightening. A rare occurrence, but not initially suspect. The unique part had been that the man had died during a simple rain shower. No thunder clouds had been present. The paper had various experts offering opinions about charged particles and freak weather patterns, but Squire had his own theory. When he arrived in the small town in Kansas, he made some subtle inquiries. He soon discovered a local rumour of a haunted house just outside of town. Nothing real of course, the local had said, just people's superstition building after the house remained unsold after years of vacancy. Squire had decided to check it out anyway. He spent two days casing the house. Every time he got near it, he could feel the wrongness that inhabited it. Usually it was just a feeling of being watched which raised the hairs on his neck. But as he got bolder and ventured nearer the house, he could feel it in his bones. It was like a chill that settled in to you when it was damp. On the third day he had seen the dark figure leave the house, returning several hours later.
Squire had spent the rest of that day formulating a plan. He had waited until evening and then snuck up to the house. Climbing in through a window in the back, he had made his way though the house and up the stairs. He had noticed a faint light in one of the upper windows night after night, probably the source of the locals “ghostly” inhabitants. It was to that room that he had made his way. As he approached the room down the hall, he could see the light spilling out of it though the open door. A cautious peek around the corner had revealed the black robed figure sitting at a desk with its back to the door. he had drawn back into the hallway and drawn the pistol he had acquired with the money from his parents inheritance. He had been about to reach around the corner and fire it when a voice had called his name.
“Come in Squire,” it had said, “I've been expecting you.”
Shocked, he had sat stunned for a minute until the voice called him again. With pistol levelled, he had swung into the doorway of the room. The hooded figure was standing in front of the desk, facing him.
“I'm glad you finally decided to pay me a visit,” the hooded figure had said, “I was beginning to fear that you would stay outside yet another night.”
“I'm here to exact vengeance for my parents,” Squire had said, “you are going to die tonight.”
“I hardly think so Squire,” the figure had said, “why don't you have a seat and we'll talk about this.”
The figure had pushed out the chair from the desk and indicated towards it.
“I'm not here to talk you freak. I want you to die,” Squire had insisted.
“Well, Squire, I have already had the pleasure of that experience and as interesting as it is I don't think I care to go though that today,” the hooded figure had said calmly.
With that, it had casually lifted a finger from which a beam of light had shot forth. The light hit his gun which exploded into metal shards. Surprisingly none had hit Squire. In retrospect, Squire realized that the Zar had been seeking to toy with him and had purposefully seen that no harm came to him before it was ready to kill him.
They had needed to be sure what the limit of his power was. Had they known that he was defenceless at that point, the Zar would have killed him the first day it had known of his presence. Normally a Zar would never have toyed with him so, but he was a special case. He had never seen such an elaborate and drawn out game since... until today. Could it be? He turned back the way he'd been walking and took the first street leading to the mall.
Siane looked up from the counter as Enna called to her.
“Why don't you take a break dear,” she said. “You've
been running yourself ragged today.”
“I don't mind, really,” she proclaimed, “keeping busy helps keep my mind off of yesterday.”
“Oh yes. Terrible. Terrible!” Enna said. “What the world is coming to now-¼a-days. Who would have thought that our little town would be the centre of attention for anything. Now that we have the fame, we wish we didn't.”
Enna was referring to the news cameras and crews that had been plaguing the mall all day.
“The mall hasn't been this busy since Christmas and we have yet to do any real business today,” Enna complained. “Damn big city reporters only want to get their thirty second sound byte. Wander into my shop and harass my honest customers but don't buy anything themselves. And those that aren't reporters are gossipers and sightseers trying to relive the experience. A menace to society, that's what they are. And what about you? How did you finally manage to lose that annoying woman?”
As the only non-combatant survivor and witness to events, news cameras had hounded her every move when she opened the store in the morning. She normally didn't work Mondays, having classes, but the term was winding down and the professor had booked the next two lectures off, offering the time to the students to work on essays for bonus marks. Siane didn't need to increase her already impressive marks so had elected to make a few extra dollars working. By ten o'clock she had almost come to regret that decision as a reporter from the local big network affiliate had followed her around constantly.
“I let it be known that the next reporter to ask me a question during the next two days would find themselves cut out of my exclusive story and I would give full co-operation to their primary rival,” Siane answered Enna.
“Ah! Smart going girl. That should hold them for a bit,” Enna replied. “Maybe by the time they figure out a way around that war will have erupted somewhere and they'll rush off to cover it. Preferably right into the centre of it.” Enna said with an evil glint in her eye.
“Now Enna,” Siane chided, “be nice. They're only
trying to do their job. Same as you.”
“They can do their job outside of my store. I don't see why they are all so fascinated anyway,” Enna said, “I would think it would be the sort of thing people would have learned to have respect for. Poor Sam's family can hardly grieve in peace.”
“The public demands to know,” Siane quipped.
“That's what is wrong with society,” Enna said. “First the public complains that the children are exposed to too much violence on T.V. and in the movies. They demand shows be rated, and pushed into times so late only people already insane can watch them. Then they turn around and run documentaries on terrorist bombings and news stories on car accidents and shootings on the six o'clock news. And they wonder why they aren't having a positive effect on the youth of the world. Hypocrites, all of them.”
Siane just rolled her eyes. When Enna got started on one of her rants, it was a waste of breath to try and interfere.
“I see you rolling your eyes at me young lady,” Enna said, “don't you be running to me when your children are being hauled into jail for making pipe bombs just like they learned to on the evening news.”
Siane was about to respond when she saw a dark figure sitting in the food court looking at her.
The man in the dark trench coat nodded ever so briefly at her then looked away.
“On second thought Enna,” Siane said, “I think I will have that break after all. The ice cream parlour had some new flavours yesterday that I never did get around to trying. Did you want me to get you anything?”
“No, I'm fine. I've got to watch my girlish figure you know,” Enna replied smiling. At sixty, Enna was the image of a plump Mrs. Claus and long beyond the point when she worried about a few extra calories.
“Alright then Siane. Take ten, I can manage the sort of riffraff we have
in the mall today by myself for that long,” Enna
Siane thanked Enna and took off her store smock and headed across the concourse to the food court.
“I didn't expect to see you here today,” she said as she neared the table he was sitting at.
“I though I'd come back and see what it was like when I wasn't being shot at by lightening bolts and fleeing the law,” he replied.
“How did you find me?” she asked.
“I remembered you complaining about having to watch people eat ice cream all day,” he said nodding to the ice cream parlour behind him in the food court, “yours is the only stationary store nearby. I just had to wait until you started for the day.”
“I see. Well I hope you didn't bring any of your friends back,” she said nodding to a pair of policemen that were walking down the concourse. “They've had this place armed to the teeth since yesterday. I heard earlier from a reporter that the forensic team are still sifting through the rubble in the room for clues.”
“They won't find any,” he said.
“How can you be so sure?” she countered.
“I've lived though it before,” he said simply.
She thought on that for a moment as she looked at him.
“I was just about to get some ice cream,” she said, “Want some?”
“Sure,” he answered, “I'll come with you.”
They walked over to the ice cream vendor and each got a single scoop of Double Chocolate Chunk Cookie Dough before returning to the table.
“Geez,” he said, “if they make the name of the ice cream any longer it isn't going to be worth the calories to buy them. You'll burn them all up just ordering!”
“So,” she said, swallowing another big spoonful of cookie dough landed ice cream “lets cut to the chase. I don't suppose that you just happened to wander back to the mall today, nor do I think you were just desperate for company to eat ice cream with. Why are you here and what do you want with me?”
He sat back, surprised by her boldness. He decided to roll with it.
“So what did you tell the cops?” he asked.
“Just that I walked in on some sort of drug deal or gang and then when the security guys got there, they got edgy and started shooting.” she replied
“And they believed that?”
She shrugged. “They didn't know what to believe, but that seemed the most plausible idea they'd heard yet.”
“Did you tell them about me?”
“I didn't have to. Some other girl said that you busted into her change room. Said you wanted to rape her. I didn't realize you went for the underage, pudgy type,” she said smirking.
“Very funny. I was looking for the Zar. I thought they had gone into one of the change rooms. I didn't realize there would be a back door in the store.”
“You thought she was pudgy? You didn't see her mom. I can't believe you didn't realize there was a back way into the store. Did you think we'd have all our storage in the front? Didn't you ever have a job in a mall?”
“Never. I've been chasing the Zar since I was a kid.”
“How do you eat? Are you rich or something?”
“I've learned some tricks to get by. And when nothing else does, I've discovered that I can make a decent amount busking.”
“Where are you from?”
“I was born in Utah and grew up on an old farm.”
“I meant where do you live now?”
“In youth hostels mostly. Or wherever else I can. I follow the trail of the Zar wherever they go. I seldom stay more than a week or two in any place.”
“It must be awful not to have a place to call home.”
“Sometimes. But I've grown to like it. I mean, it's cool to be able to wake up in the morning and know that you don't have a bed to make. No job that you have to go to by eight o'clock in the morning and nothing tying you down. I like being able to see some place new every day. Of course they are times I wish I could stay longer in a place, but I can't stop. I guess I just get used to it.”
Siane looked over his shoulder and began to get up.
“Oh oh. Enna needs me. I gotta go.”
“Wait,” he said. Siane paused halfway out of her chair. “Do you think I could see you after work?”
“I don't know.”
“Just to go for a burger or something. I mean, I don't get a lot of chance to get out with people and have fun. I guess you could say, my childhood went by kind of fast. You could pick the place.”
She finished standing and looked down at him.
“Okay. Meet me outside the store at eight tonight.” she said. Then without further conversation, she jogged across to the store where Enna was arguing with a camera crew.
What had made him say that? He should be out trying to pick up leads on the Zar. She was nice enough, but he didn't sense anything special. Maybe he was wrong after all. Oh well, there were worse fates. He looked at his watch. Three o'clock. Well no time like present to get started. He picked up his trash form the ice cream place and tossed it in the garbage as he headed for the outside.
He met her outside the stationary store as she was locking up the sliding doors that separated it from the concourse at night.
“Need a hand?” he asked.
“Nope,” she said, “I've done this a million times.”
He waited patiently as she slid the doors into place and locked them, slipping the key into her pocket.
“I hope you don't think that this means I trust you yet,” she said, turning to him “and I still think you're an insensitive pig.”
“Well, with a start like that, I'm looking forward to the evening already,” he replied to the barb.
“Well, my dad always said I'm a little crazy,” she said with a smile, “so maybe I'm just indulging the wild side in me a bit.”
“Do you mind waiting here for a minute?” she asked.
“No. Do you have something to do?”
“I just want to get rid of my bag,” she said indicating a cloth ag on the floor which had her work apron stuffed in the top. Guessing from the bulges in it he assumes the rest was books or some such thing. “I'll be back in a sec.”
“I'll be here,” he replied.
He watched as she picked up the bag and jogged down the concourse of the mall. There weren't many people here now. Mostly clerks from the various stores going home as they locked up for the night. Then down the mall he saw Dr. Lorson. He watched as Siane walked up to him and gave him her bag. Then she gave him a quick hug and kiss before she started back.
“I didn't realize that you knew Dr. Lorson that well,” he said, “should I be jealous?”
“Sorry,” she said, “I leave the kinky sex practices up to you. I doubt you have to be jealous of my dad.”
“Yeah. Don't act so shocked. You helped me out, so I gave a call when I got through with the police. To be honest I was surprised you listened to me. I was beginning to wonder if you had any common sense at all. How is your shoulder? My dad didn't give you a rough time did he?”
“Uh... it feels fine. Your dad was okay, but he freaked me out. I thought he'd bought the lie I'd told the nurse but he saw right through it. I was surprised he didn't say anything. What did you tell him that made him help me.”
“I just told him that I have been attacked and this stranger had tried to defend me and got hurt in the process,” she said with a grin. “He freaks a lot of people out but he's a good doctor. He grew up in Canada and hates the American medical system. He says health should be something everyone has, regardless of how much money they have.”
“Sounds like a good idea. I was in Canada once. I was on the trail of a Zar, but it lead south again after a day, so I didn't get to see much.”
“I was born there, but my dad moved to the States when I was only five,
so I don't remember
much either. Though we go up to there every couple of years to visit
He stood looking at her, still trying to decide if it was her whom the Zar had been after the day before.
“So where do you want to go?” she asked.
“Hey that's your job,” he said. “Remember, you pick the place. I'll pick up the tab.”
“Alright,” she responded, “sound fair. I know this great burger place. The guy runs it like something out of the fifties. Makes great burgers though.”
“Sounds good,” he said, “how do we get there?”
“It's not too far,” she said, “we can just walk. If you don't mind?”
She started across the food court to the doors on the other side which led to the street. He followed behind her. Just as he was leaving he looked back up the concourse and saw Dr. Lorson watching him.
“Don't drag your feet,” she said standing outside looking back at him. “I'm starving.”
“Yep,” he said, “I'm coming.”
Squire took one more look back into the mall, but Dr. Lorson was nowhere in sight. He shrugged and quickened his step to catch up to Siane.
“You know, I don't think I've heard your name yet. Should I call you Miss Lorson?”
“Eww. Blech. I would go nuts. My grandmother does that, and pinches my cheek every time. I think she still thinks I'm a kid. Call me Siane.”
“Okay Siane. My name is Squire.”
“Squire? That seems like a funny name. Why did your parents call you that?”
“They didn't,” he replied, “it's the name I've used ever since they died.”
“Oh,” Siane said with a worried look on her face, “I didn't realize...”
“Don't sweat it. My parents died when I was seven. It has been a long time.”
“And you've been on your own ever since? Didn't you have family who'd take you in?”
“I have an Uncle up in New York,” Squire said, “but it's not his fault for not taking me in.”
“Not his fault?” Siane said outraged, “you were just a child, how could he turn his back on you?”
“He didn't know I was alive,” Squire said. “He does now. I stopped in on him when I turned sixteen. I think I nearly stopped the old geezer's heart when I finally convinced him who I was.
He didn't think anyone could have survived the fire.”
“A fire? Is that how your parents died?” Siane asked, then with a look of concern reached across the table and touched his arm. “I mean, if you don't mind talking about it. Does this bother you?”
Squire looked down at the hand on his arm and the concerned look on the face across from him. “If only..” he thought, but that life wasn't for him. He had been chosen for a different path. He gently lifted her hand off his arm and set it on the table.
“Uh... no. It's okay,” Squire said. Why did he feel so uncomfortable around this girl. It was like a cloud had descended over his mind and he couldn't keep focused. “Like I said it was a long time ago. It's not a great story though, are you sure you want to hear?”
“Sure,” she said, “I want to let my dinner settle a bit before we take off. Besides, we still have an hour to kill before the movie and the theatre is just down the street.”
“Well, like I said, I was about seven,” Squire began, “and I was living in a farmhouse with my parents outside of Salt Lake City in Utah. One day I was just getting dressed in the morning when I heard my parents yelling downstairs. I finished getting dressed and headed to the top of the stair case. I could hear both my parents yelling, but they weren't yelling at each other. They were arguing with someone else. I couldn't make out the third voice because it was really low and didn't carry. I snuck down the stairs and headed down the hallway to the kitchen in a crouch. The kitchen was where the entrance way to the house was,” he explained.
Squire paused to take a drink from his Coke. He hadn't thought about this much in the last year. Not while he was awake anyway. Siane waited patiently for him to continue. After another sip of Coke he did so.
“I could see my dad standing at the end of the kitchen table yelling at someone. He was telling them to leave before he called the cops. I couldn't see my mom, but I was pretty sure she was just around the corner. She never was too far from my dad. Even after ten years of marriage they still acted like teenagers in love.
“Just as I was getting close to the kitchen my dad turned and looked down the hallway at me. In his eyes was something I'd never seen in my dad. Though the time one of the hired hands came home drunk and looking to fight, through the tornado that had come though two years earlier, though everything I had never seen this look in my dad's eyes. It was the look of someone who was afraid. Yet he was strangely calm too. The only other time I ever saw this look when we'd been to see my grandmother in the hospital. She'd been suffering from cancer for a long time, and the doctors had told us the end was near. She'd looked up at us one day and her voice was calm as she told us she loved us, but her eyes were full of the same sort of fear I saw in my dad's the day of the fire. She'd died an hour later. The look, was the look of someone who knows that the end is near, that they are going to die and there isn't a goddamn thing they can do about it.
“I froze in the hallway. Looking at my dad as he looked at me. I saw him mouth the words “We Love You” then he looked back towards whoever else was in that room. He told them to get out now, that he'd had enough of their questions. He told my mother to stand behind him as he started around the table. I was now close enough that I could make out the third voice clearly. It has a raspy sound, like two pieces of old paper rubbing together. It didn't seem like more than a whisper, though it had to be louder in order to carry to where I sat. It said to my dad that if he felt the time for questions was over it wouldn't argue. Suddenly I heard my mother scream and my dad cried out her name in alarm. Then he swore at the people in the room and charged across the room and out of my sight. It was the last I saw of my father. The kitchen lit up, shining down the hallway, even brighter than the early morning sun which was pouring in the window of the front door behind me. That door was hardly ever used, but we'd always called it the front door. I guess in some previous time, when our farm had been run by early settlers it probably was used more. But since we put the garage on off the kitchen, it remained largely forgotten.”
Squire paused, looking out the window of the restaurant. Siane sat back waiting quietly. She studied this young man in front of her. His dark appearance and melancholy attitude. She'd hardly known him for mare than a couple of hours yet she felt as though she could already trust him. No she corrected herself remembering the deadly face off with the hooded men. Trust was too strong a word for someone that seemed to attract death to him. But when she looked at him, she didn't feel any fear, in spite of having seen what he was capable of. Which was what? She had seen him stop a bullet with his bare hands but what else could he do. Squire turned back from the window and looked ready to continue. She returned her attention to him.
“By the time me eyes readjusted, I could see that the curtains around the windows in the kitchen were on fire. I stood up and backed down the hallway. My parents loved books. They were always reading at nights. As a result, there were bookshelves everywhere. The fire quickly spread across the wallpapered old walls to the books. In a matter of seconds, the kitchen was ablaze and the fire was reaching down the hallway towards me. I was about to turn and run when my mother appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. She was looking down the hallway at me with a vacant look in her eyes. I took a half step towards her before I noticed the hooks stuck out of her. Like the tines on a fork, four metal hooks were stuck out of her chest. Her blood seeping into the apron she always wore in the kitchen. Four more were jutting from her neck. I couldn't move. I just looked into my mothers vacant eyes. Then the hooks uncurled a bit and my mother slid off them to lie in a crumpled heap on the floor. Behind here stood a tall figure in a black hooded robe. The fingers on its hand were slowly melting from the long hooks they had been a second ago into long wizened fingers. Though I could see no face, no eyes, under the hood, I knew it was looking at me. I did then, what any rational human would have done. I turned and ran. Over my shoulder I could hear the crackle of electricity arching, even above the roar of the fire. I had almost reached the door when I tripped over a toy I had left in the hallway. As I was falling I saw a flash of light and felt something hit me on the head. I don't remember anything else for a while.
“When I awoke, only a matter minutes could have gone by. I was lying in the T.V. room. The entrance to it was right off the hallway, near the bottom of the stairs. I must have been knocked in there by what hit me on the head. All around me, the house and furniture were on fire. My pyjamas were beginning to smoulder and everything I touched was searing hot. I got up, knowing that I had to get out of the house fast. But I couldn't make my body respond. It was like I was in a bad dream, watching though someone else’s eyes. I started to the hallway and felt my foot kick something. I looked down to see the toy I had tripped over. It was a little stuffed horse with a knight stitched to his back. My parents had given it to me the Christmas before. I realized that somehow, my leaving out by chance had probably saved my life. I ran out in the hall and turned towards the door. It was hanging half off its hinges. The beautiful stained glass that had been in the top half lay in shards on the ground around it. Everything was alive with flame. I looked back down the hall for another way out and saw my mother's body lying there. With tears in my eyes and my hair singed, I ran out through the door and into the night.”
Squire paused again. Siane was about to say something when he leaned over towards her and took his glasses off. His eyes seemed to pin her in place.
“I read in the paper the next day that the police had investigated a fire. They said that it had burned so hot, fire crews had been able to do nothing. Crews were sifting through the ashes looking for remains, but it was assumed that everyone in the house had died. I decided not to enlighten them. I took the name Squire as a joke at first. My little toy knight had protected me, so I would become his squire.
“It wasn't until much later that I learned that the hooded things that had destroyed my life were known as the Zar Mortei. It was even longer until I found out that what had killed my father had been a blast of lightening from the hands of one. The same kind of lightening that gave me this reminder,” he said as he touched the grey hair that ran down the side of his head.
“That is why,” he continued, “I am here now. To track them down and stop them from ever being able to do this again.”
Squire says the words, but in his mind he knows the truth. He is here to get revenge for the murder of his parents and for the destruction of his life.
“So what did you think of the movie?” Siane asked Squire.
“I don't know what to say,” he replied with a grin on his face.
“I thought something light-hearted and fun was called for,” she said grinning back.
“Yeah, and I agreed. Still I didn't expect to be the oldest person in the theatre.”
“You enjoyed it though, admit it!”
“Yeah. I used to love watching the Muppets,” Squire said, then the smile slipped off his face, “when I was a kid.”
Siane recovered quickly. “What did you think of that midget in the front row?”
Squire looked back at her, the smile returning.
“You mean the one who kept singing along with Kermit. I thought he did a good job. He even managed to sound like Kermit,” Squire said jokingly, “the record labels will be scooping him up in no time.”
They continued laughing as they wandered away from the theatre.
“So where to now,” Squire asked.
“Uh... I really should be going home. I work tomorrow morning,” Siane said.
“Oh,” Squire said sounding disappointed.
Siane turned to him. She didn't want to hurt his feelings, but she didn't want to give him the wrong impression either. After all, she hadn't known him that long. As much as she was willing to indulge her wild side, staying out all night with a man who could shoot fireballs from his hand was a bit much.
“I had a good time tonight Squire,” she said. “Maybe we can do something else another night, but I really can't be late for work. Enna would kill me if I came in sleepy eyed and tried to do anything.”
He looked at her and then smiled.
“Sure. I'll walk you home though,” Squire said.
Siane gave a mental prayer of thanks that she hadn't botched it.
“That would be great. I live down Truman St.. It's about a twenty minute walk.”
“Let's go!” Squire said.
As Siane moved off down the street Squire took a couple of glances around. He'd been feeling something weird since he met Siane at the mall. Like a tingling that wouldn't seem to go away. It was like when he could sense he was near the Zar, but it didn't have the same urgency. He was worried that they were fallowing him... or Siane. He looked around one last time, searching for anything unusual before he ran and caught up to Siane.
They continued talking about the movie and various other things as they continued to walk though a quiet residential neighbourhood. Squire kept up the idle chatter easily enough, a small miracle on his part he thought considering how little use his social skills had received in the last several years. He kept an eye out around them, but he also continued to study Siane. He'd decided that there was something about her that was different. Though he'd initially thought it was just his male hormones kicking in, he'd decided it was something beyond that. He just couldn't put his finger on it. More to the point, he couldn't figure out why the Zar Mortei would be interested. Normally they could be found quietly pulling the strings behind politicians or businessmen, not hiding in ambush for sales clerks. He broke of the train of thought as they neared her house.
They approached Siane's house from the back, cutting up a laneway between streets. Her house was a modest two story house, situated in a good neighbourhood. A small oak tree stood near the house, and several well kept flowerbeds dotted the lawn.
Siane paused before they reached the house and turned to him. She was about to say something when the porch light flicked on and the door opened.
“Good evening Siane,” her dad said, “don't you think it's a little late to be out when you work tomorrow?”
“Oh daddy, it's hardly past my bedtime. I'm not a child anymore,” Siane said with an exasperated tone of voice. Obviously this was an old argument. “I was out to a movie with Squire.”
“Ah yes... Squire. How is the shoulder?” the doctor turned his attention to Squire.
“Uh... feeling much better sir,” Squire said. Though the doctors words were civil, Squire didn't miss the concealed disapproval.
“It was a fun time,” Siane said to Squire as she moved toward the door, “I'd give you a kiss goodnight but I wouldn't want to embarrass my dad.”
She turned her head to her dad and stuck out her tongue.
“Perhaps I didn't make myself clear young man,” Dr. Lorson stated, “but I thought I told you to stay away from trouble. Maybe I should make myself clearer.”
“Oh daddy, I'm not that mush trouble really,” Siane said, “you're such a tease.”
Squire realized she was trying to smooth things over and appreciated it, but he felt he should take his cue and leave for the night. The doctor hadn’t taken his gaze off Squire and he was beginning to feel it's pressure.
“It was a pleasure Siane,” he said, “and it was nice to see you again Dr. Lorson. Maybe I'll see you again.”
“Yeah. Goodbye Squire,” Siane said over her shoulder as she pushed her dad back inside.
Squire quickly turned his back to the house and walked back down the street. He went about a block and then stopped. It was still early in the night for him and he leaned against a mailbox a couple of blocks from Siane's house considering where else he could go tonight. He needed to find some cash soon. Usually he could just pick up a day job raking leaves or shovelling snow to get by on. Living in hostels and being a non-existent person had its advantages for the pocketbook. Still one had to eat.
He was still mulling over the events of the night when he got the same buzzing feeling again. This time though there was a sense of urgency. He looks up, letting his gaze roam along the poorly lit street. He steps off the sidewalk into the shadows beneath a tree on someone's lawn.
At first he sees nothing, but just as he is turning to go, a small bit of movement near a garage catches his eye. He heads back the way he'd come and, seeing the lights off in the house, decides to have a closer look.
He walks up the driveway and peeks around the end of the garage. After a few seconds, seeing nothing move, he walks along the side of the garage. He calls his power then, draw the night a bit closer. It is a trick he learned in his last battle with the Zar before he came to this town. It doesn't make him invisible to eyes, but it helps muffle the sense of his power to the Zar. He was getting better at it, but still wasn't perfect. It was how he'd been able to track the Zar in the mall so well, until it had seen him that is. He'd probably dropped his control for a second.
Walking as quietly as he could, Squire peeked out around the back of the garage. The moon slips behind a cloud and he waits patiently for some sign of movement. He is about to slip into the back yard when the moon slides out from behind its cover. Face pressed against the cool siding of the garage Squire watches. Two yards down he catches a brief flash of movement, then it is gone. Is it just a cat? No, his senses wouldn't be so alive for no reason. He looks down the aisle of backyards created by the houses. In the distance he can see the crossing street. Siane's street.
He is off like a flash, racing back to the sidewalk and down toward Siane's house. He slows to a walk after a minute and considers. Why is he rushing to save some girl. Because he likes her? He can't afford that. He has another, more important goal. Maybe he can surprise the Zar. Nail another one. More to the point, if the Zar want this girl than shouldn't he stop them? After all, if he can foil them doesn't that count as a victory?
Having rationalized it, he slips quietly into the shadows and moves towards Siane's house.
Squire sits crouched in the shadow of a hedge across the street from Siane's backyard. The sense of the Zar is everywhere now, though he can't see them with his eyes. He watches.
In the dim light from the streetlights he sees them come. Two tall dark figures coming out of the shadows and crossing Siane's lawn to the porch. Squire moves out from his hiding place and moves across the road gathering his power as he goes. He keeps his attention on the two dark figures ahead of him as he raises his hand. With no warning, the two Zar split, one dives to the left, one to the right. Squire's concealing power let him down again. But Squire has no time to consider this. He is already on the move as two blasts of lightening rip though the spot he had been. He hits the ground and flings his hand in the direction of the first Zar. A shower of yellow sparks fly toward the Zar only to pass though empty space as the Zar leaps out of the way.
Siane wakes to the flash of lightening and the sound of thunder. She rolls over covering her head with her pillow. She hated going to work after it had rained. The dampness would linger on all the people as they sought shelter in the mall. The weather forecasters had called for sunshine tomorrow. But what did they know?
She rolls back over puts the pillow back in place, and pauses. She strains her ears but can hear no patter of raindrops on the window. Her eyes shoot open. Now fully awake, Siane sits up in bed and looks out the dry window. The outside world is lit up in an eerie reddish light. She gets out of bed and rushes to the window and lets out a gasp. The oak tree in the back yard is on fire, looking like a giant torch. But that holds Siane attention only for a minute. Her eyes are drawn downward to the figure in the dark trench coat standing in the middle of her lawn. The back of both his hands look like they have small glowing discs attached to them. It is with these that he is blocking the bolts of energy that the other two figures, cloaked in hooded robes, are flinging at him. Siane watched for only a moment before turning and heading to the stairs downward. That moment is enough to tell her that Squire is tiring and that the Zar are slowly spreading out around him. Soon he will be flanked and it will merely be a matter of time until the Zar get lucky. Siane doesn't know what she is going to do as she heads downstairs, only that she must do something. As she heads to the back door, she can see the fight though the window next to the doorway. The nearest Zar is firing what looks like lasers from his finger tips. The far one is shooting small lightening bolts from the palms of his hands. In the middle, Squire is dancing. At least that it what it looks like, though she knows it must me some form of martial art. She can see the tiredness in his eyes though and she knows that he is fighting a defensive battle right now because that is all he has left until the end comes.
Without thinking Siane runs out the door into the yard.
Squire was doing well at first, but fighting two of them without any assistance was more than he had ever done before. Perhaps it had been overconfidence that had led him to believe he could do this. Perhaps it had been a false sense of safety behind his shield to hide his presence. Regardless, as the Zar moved out to surround him, he could sense that the end was near. He'd loose.
He had saw Siane in the upper window and directed a blast at the Zar nearest her. It had to block his shot and thus couldn't send a lightening bolt in Siane's window. He'd also seen her dad up there a minute later. The window was clear now. Squire hoped Siane's dad had taken her and fled out the front. He had taken two years to master the style of kung-fu he used now. While he still had a way to go to be considered a master, he was far beyond what most would expect after a mere two years of study. He had learned over the years that his power could be used to come up with shortcuts to a surprisingly wide array of problems. He used every trick he knew now to stay alive. He deflected another beam of light into a nearby shrub and saw it burst into a cloud of burning twigs. Then the porch door opened.
“Get out of here!” he yelled.
What was she thinking? She
would be destroyed in a minute.
He could do little besides watch as the Zar near the road
began to lay
down a constant
Siane had come out and almost immediately drawn the fire of the Zar nearest her. She had been on the move though and flung herself off the edge of the porch, disappearing behind it.
She came out from around the porch as the nearest Zar began to run towards her.
Squire moved. Blocking a bolt of lightening he fired sparks from both his hands at a wide area near the distant Zar. It had no choice but to duck behind the fence between the Lorson's yard and their neighbours. Squire turned his attention back to Siane. The Zar was lifting his hand and light was beginning to coalesce on the ends of his fingers. Squire ran across the yard flinging himself between Siane and her attacker, flinging up his shields as he did so. Siane had changed the angle she had been running and started back towards the house from the side. She looked back to see Squire caught in a flash as a giant beam of light caught him in mid-air. The force of the impact stopped his momentum and he fell to the ground where he was. The Zar advanced on him, Siane forgotten for the moment, now that the opportunity to finish Squire had been presented to it.
Squire, lying on the ground could feel his muscles twitching as he lay there. He knew he should get up, but he couldn't make his body respond. He choked down his despair as he remembered the last time he had been unable to move in the face of danger. He saw Siane standing off near the side of the house looking at him. He also saw the Zar advancing towards him. The image of a hooded figure bringing death to him. The Grim Reaper.
throw the burning
Siane saw her dad come out on the balcony. In his left hand he held a propane torch. In his right, a bottle of alcohol he used for sterilizing with a piece of gauze stuffed in the top. In one fluid motion he had lit it and thrown it towards the Zar advancing on Squire. The Zar leapt in the air, landing a good twenty feet away, as the fire spread where he had been. Stopping just short of Squire. It didn't spread far in the lush green grass, but it had been enough of a distraction to interrupt the Zar. The doctor is lighting another homemade bomb when it calmly raises its hand and points at the propane torch the doctor holds.
Siane screams as she watches the beam of light speed across the distance between the Zar and her father. The light hits the propane canister her father holds and explodes in a huge fireball, sending her father flying back into the porch door. Siane races across back of the house and up onto the porch which was covered in fire. She didn't take any notice of it. Her father was her only concern. She crouched down next to his beaten and blackened body quickly patting at the small fires on his shirt. Then she reached to the side of his neck. Her heart leapt to her throat as she felt a weak pulse and could also feel his slow, though irregular, breathing. He was alive. She spun however at the sound of a whispery, raspy voice behind her.
“He doesn't have to die.”
Siane spun around. The Zar stood at the base of the steps to the porch watching her.
“What the hell do you want!” she screamed at it.
“He doesn't have to die,” it repeated, “all we want is you.”
Siane turned and looked back down at her father. He was cut and bleeding where fragments of the propane canister had hit him. He had done his best to raise her after her mother had died. She could feel the tears running down her cheeks.
“Why?” she said quietly.
“Because we have a use for you,” the answer came.
Siane looked down at her father. His face almost peaceful amidst the pandemonium. She remembered the good times she'd had with him. The trips to the amusement parks and his almost inhuman patience as she'd gone through high school. His kind understanding and shyness as she'd undergone the change from a girl to a young woman. Odd in a doctor maybe, but not in a father.
Siane looked back at the Zar standing watching her. She made her decision. She remembered the young store clerk. She remembered Sam and his guards. She remembered the bullet coming for her that Squire stopped. She remembered the pain that the Zar had caused.
“Go to hell,” she said evenly to the Zar.
Her father would have been proud.
“Not today, I think,” said the Zar as he lifted his hand and pointed at Siane, “but I'll be happy to send you.”
felt no pain
On the lawn in front of the porch two figures were fighting with moves so fast they seemed to blur.
Squire had moved in close to the Zar. Neither of them was firing light or fire at each other. Instead, the Zar's fingers had lengthened out into long needles which he used to poke and stab at Squire. Squire had the glowing shields on the back of his hands still, but where his fingers ended, red beams of light extended as long again as his fingers themselves were. He was using these to claw at the Zar. Siane watched for a minute and realized that the Zar was fighting an increasingly defensive, and losing, battle.
She watched in horrified fascination as the two black shapes danced back and forth across the lawn in front of her porch. Their movements were almost beautiful in their own way, the deadliness of it lost.
She jumped in shock and pulled her hand in close to her. The fire had begun to spread to this part of the porch. She looked back at her father. She had to move him. She tried to move him, but his dead weight was too much for her. She stomped at the fire as it crept towards her across the wooden boards. It died for a second then flared up again. She put her arms under her dads and tried to drag him. Strength born of desperation aided her and she began to move him an inch at a time down the steps of the porch.
Squire and the Zar continued their war, oblivious to the rest of the world as she tried to ease the weight of her father down the stair without causing farther harm to him. Siane managed to get her dad as far as the corner of the porch farthest from the fire and propped him against it. She kneeled next to him as her attention was drawn back the fight. The Zar was obviously tiring as its movements had slowed down considerably. The right arm of its robe hung in tatters, sliced to ribbons by Squires strange red claws. Squire too is slowing down. Blood runs down his face from a gouge above his eye and he seems to be favouring his right side. As they twist and dodge she can see clean slice in his jacket on the left, just above his waist, that speaks of his injury.
As the Zar stabbed at Squire he spun away from the blow. The Zar anticipating this is already stabbing to where Squire is moving. Then Squire stops in mid-spin and rolls back the other way bringing him between the arms of the Zar. Squire plunges both hands into the hood of the Zar and Siane sees the flash of light from inside the robe, consuming the Zar. Squire stands there for a moment longer before he lowers his hands and allows the now limp robe to fall to the ground.
That had been close. Squire felt the ache in his side and knew that he had a decent cut there, but he couldn't afford to relax. He scanned the yard.
“Squire,” Siane called, “my dad is hurt. Can you help him?”
“He's not important,” he tells her without actually looking at her.
Squire fells a part of him rebel at hurting her, but he forces it down. Her dad isn't important. Even she isn't important. All that is important is staying focused. He had lost his focus once already tonight trying to save her. It had nearly cost him everything. Laying helpless at the Zar came for him. Seeing the flames rising in front of him. It was like being trapped in that burning house, from so many years ago, again. The flames had finally given him the strength to get up. He was going on pure adrenaline now. The anger he had over the death of his parents was bubbling up inside of him. It was what kept him going. It was his driving force. His strength. He clung to it as he watched the shadows.
“How can you say that!” she cried at his back.
He ignored her.
“I thought you actually cared,” she said, “now I see you are no different than them. You'll gladly see everyone die just so you can have your revenge. Your parents are lucky to be dead so they don't have to see what you've become.”
He spun on her.
“You don't know the first thing about my parents,” he said, his face red with anger, “or me. I am doing what I have to, to save lives.”
She was sitting there looking at him with tears of sadness running down her face. But her eyes were full of anger and her jaw was thrust out.
“By watching them die?” she countered. “Or is that just how you justify it to yourself at night. Obviously I was wrong,” she spat at him, “I mistook you for a man. I should have seen through the disguise to the hurt little lost child beneath.”
He opened his mouth to speak and felt his sense of warning go wild. He scarcely had time to turn and call his protective power to him before the second Zar tackled him and they when down in a whirl of energy and black fabric.
Squire gathers his power and fires balls of light from his hand. Though they do no damage to the Zar, they succeed in flinging him off Squire. He leapt to his feet just in time to meet the next onslaught as the Zar punches and stabs at him.
They continue for several minutes, but Squire knows he can not hold out much longer. He is having trouble seeing through the red haze of blood on his face and he can feel the dampness of his blood soaked shirt on his side. The Zar jabs at Squire and he moves to block only to discover it was a fake. The Zar ducks low and uses its legs to sweep Squires out from under him.
The fall knocks the breath out of him. As he is lying there on his back, he looks up to see the Zar standing above him. It is looking down at him as lifts both hands, palms down and facing him, above Squire's head.
A gunshot rang out.
Squire watched with heightened senses as the Zar was hit by round of buckshot in the chest, flinging it through the air.
Squire sat up and looked in the direction of the blast. Siane was standing on the still burning porch holding a shotgun in her trembling hands. Squire looked towards the still heap of the robe and then stood up. Siane was still standing with the gun levelled in her hands as he approached her. Her eyes seemed to be focused beyond him, watching something he couldn't see. The tears which had dried, began flow again as he gently took the gun from her hands. He can't figure out how the shot actually hit it. The Zar were able to keep aware of their surroundings most of the time, she shouldn't have been able to get that close to it with the gun. Moreover, hitting the Zar with the buckshot should have been like trying to shoot a wasp out of the air with a peashooter from a distance. It would have seen the shot coming and moved out of the way before the bullets even reached it. He looks at Siane as she clutches his arm. Her eyes are wide as she points toward the back of the yard.
Squire looks just in time to see the Zar running hunched over around the end of a bush and down the street into the dark. His first instinct is to chase after it, but Siane is holding him tightly and won't let go. He reluctantly lets it make it's escape knowing that it will be gone without a trace in a minute.
“How can it still be alive?” she asks him.
He doesn't know how to answer when he still doesn't know how she managed to hit it in the first place.
“The Zar aren't really human,” he says at last in partial answer to her question. “Where did you get the gun?” he asks, focusing her attention elsewhere.
“It came from Canada with us,” she says, “I found it in a closet with all the other hunting gear my dad used to...”
She pauses as she remembers her dad.
Squire looks over to where her father lies propped against the unlit end of the porch. He walks with her over to her dad.
“He hates guns since we moved to the States,” she continues numbly, leaning on him for support, “all the violence and gunshot wounds he sees in the clinic turned him off of them. I found it once in a closet while I was looking for my old desk lamp. It hadn't been touched since we moved, I think. I never thought I'd have a reason to use it.”
Squire bends down next to the doctor and feels for a pulse. It's still there, though weak. He has to give the old man credit, he must be a lot tougher than he looks. They move him away from the porch. The side of the house is catching on fire now, but neither of them seem to care. In the distance they can hear the sound of sirens.
In the light of the burning oak tree, they settle down next to the doctor to wait..
Two merges need to be done. One from electronic edit 2005-03-01, the other from paper edit 2007-06-22.
Still more notes...
Also need to decide if I'm content to let the content sit like this or if I want it embedded inside a flash tool for safekeeping..
In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Duis porttitor. Sed vulputate elementum nisl. Vivamus et mi at arcu mattis iaculis. Nullam posuere tristique tortor.
Chapter titles should follow a consisten theme:
- Standard Bearer
Also, realize that publishing on the web allows for things a traditional publication wouldn't, sych as hyperlinks, to other sections or the reference guide which could be neat.
Of course you can also include graphics or quotes like the one below:
A box without thines, key or lid, Yet a golden treasure inside is hid.
Which could be fun for plot elements, though I think I'll want to cut down the font size..
Alive without breath, As cold as death; Never thirsty, ever drinking, All in mail never clinking.
So smarty, what is the solution to the above riddle?.