039 – Trial by Phlegethon

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Every sign was pointing to me to call it a night. The sun had about five more hours before it was up, so I was working against the clock. I had the cops biting at my heels with every step, and having to take on an Italian mob without so much as a draft of a plan…

To change gears and go home, regroup, start over, it started to seem like the better of every option.

Except, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t.

I only had information on where D’Angelo would be tonight, and, did I really want to try my hand at this when the body count might have potentially doubled?

I think not.

The truck continued rolling, taking another street. Sounds of sirens filled the air, alongside incoming, consecutive slices of wind.

A tarp, here. I lifted it, and slipped under, using it for cover.

The wind-sound got louder, peaking as it passed overhead. Then, it grew distant.

I sighed.

Helicopters.

As if things weren’t hard enough.

Shit, Solace managed to get everyone in a frenzy.

And that was what I hated about this from the beginning. Who was at the bottom of this Solace thing?

Solace was hardly a concrete thing, an enemy made of air, I would reach out and just get nothing. I couldn’t even attribute a gender. And yet, Solace was capable of so much that it baffled me. How could I ever stack up against… it? Was there even a way to get ahead?

I sat in thought – and in wait – scratching my arm, and thumbing out shards of glass that littered my arms, shoulders, and neck. Some even got stuck in my hair. The wounds closed as soon as they were completely free of foreign objects, as though my body knew when to do so. It’d never stop freaking me out, watching the cuts treat themselves, the skin moving, the flesh touching back together, mending with a strange warmth, the red line thinning, then disappearing.

Quite the trip, it was.

But, holes in fabric didn’t heal. My shirt was left in tatters, ripped and torn on the sleeves and back. And blood already out of my body didn’t go back in. Small, messy stripes of red streaked across the skin on my forearms, smearing also onto my sleeves.

Might as well have painted a target on my back.

I took my mask off, again. I did appreciate Thomas’s gesture in giving me this gas mask, but it was proving to be a bit of a hassle, having to work the straps and making sure everything fit before I could make a move. I wouldn’t deny it being an improvement from my old mask in entire measures, but this night had proved that there were some flaws in its function as part of my superhero identity.

Mainly, it was hard to drink blood with this thing on.

And fuck, did I need it.

My body was already going through some of the symptoms, and I shook just thinking about them. The aches, the fever, the paranoia. I wasn’t me when it started to get bad, and it was like there was something else, trying to get out. It had to be caged by blood.

I wouldn’t last if I didn’t address this tonight. I had to find a way to squeeze it in my schedule, among everything else that needed to be done.

The mask fell into my lap as I got it off. I did my hair one more time, and pulled at my temples, where the mask had kept rubbing until I was nearing a headache.

The loud sounds didn’t help, either.

The activity outside the tarp hadn’t lessened since I hid inside. Blaring sirens, people shouting, cars speeding and horns honking. It went without saying, I was hesitant to stick my head out.

I got this far without another incident, was I in the clear? Wished I knew for sure.

I opened my backpack.

I had packed for this night as if I was going on a field trip. Water bottles, cash, an extra shirt, a hat. I was originally planning on changing after I was through with tonight, but everything ended up out of my control.

Under the tarp, I changed into the extra shirt, while forgoing the hat. Some time passed since I landed in here, I should be well out of the area the cops originally blocked off. Now, it’d be a crapshoot as to my current whereabouts.

Use that to my benefit.

Brakes squeaking, I heard the truck come to a stop. And so did my heart. A light? No other sound clued me into a police car that might have stopped us. But it wouldn’t take much longer to be found, here. Police would extend their search once they’ve exhausted all their options on the block they… blocked off, and they were on high alert.

Had to move, evade. Yet, had to exercise caution, too.

Gradually, I lifted the tarp, pulling it over my head, wary of another helicopter, or even a wandering eye. Neither, but I was still on edge. I shot a glance upward, and the buildings loomed. The truck had taken me deeper into the city.

I was in the Eye, now. Uncharted territory.

I had never spent a substantial amount of time in the area. There was never a reason to, anything my mom and I needed was a drive elsewhere, like a nearby supermarket, or an outlet mall. We had no business spending time in the inner city.

But, it couldn’t that bad, right?

It has a nickname, I told myself, Of course it’s gonna be that bad.

Dammit.

I peeked ahead. Some amount of cars were ahead of me, but the truck was stopped at a light. Red and blue lights hadn’t tinged the scenery here, so I was free of any pursuers. For now.

I crawled out of the tarp, slowly, carefully. My mask had gone back into my backpack, my parka still stuffed in there. Cash and phone in my pockets. I stayed low, crouching, waiting to see if an opportune time would come, so I could make a move.

The truck started, and I had to place my hands down to keep my balance. I shuffled back, stepping over the tarp, and I lifted my head to steal another peek to the sidewalk.

Buildings gave way to a metal fence, with paths and greenery behind it. Tall trees. The fence then turned into a gate, wide open. It was a park. But not just any park, I actually knew of this place.

The Peace Phoenix Plaza.

That might work.

I moved fast. I hopped over the wall of the trailer and touched ground, onto the street. A brisk walk took me through the gates, entering the park.

Head down, don’t look at anybody.

Orange lights illuminated the cement walkway. Civilians were here, too, of course. Some out for a late night jog, others here for a leisurely stroll. How many were on the run?

Not me, I’m just a regular girl.

I passed a fountain, the design traditional, yet impressive. I passed a statue and a number of modern art installments I didn’t quite get. It would’ve been a nice walk, barring circumstances.

I picked up the pace.

A police car zoomed down the next street I arrived at, after I crossed the park. A motorcycle followed. I never wanted to see either kind of vehicle again, for the rest of my life.

Here, though, was a line of taxis, waiting for anyone who’d take them. Being such a popular park, plenty of buses and taxis would stop by. I approached the first one I saw.

Casting my head down, I opened the door, and slid into the back row.

“Where to?” the driver asked. A woman.

I didn’t answer her right away. I propped my back against the door on the other side, leaning down, my legs resting across the seat. Hiding my face.

“Panorama,” I said, “The club downtown.”

“I know where it is.”

The taxi moved, getting back onto the street.

“Actually, I don’t plan on being there for too long. Would you mind waiting for me, somewhere? I can pay extra.”

“Sure, no problem,” she said back, casually. But she had no idea this was biggest problem anybody would ever have.

The taxi had stopped four minutes ago. The radio blared a pop tune, but it was already noise to me, now.

I hadn’t moved.

“We’re here,” the lady said, a touch annoyed, but keeping her patience. “A street over from the club, like you asked.”

I still hadn’t moved, but I was clutching my backpack tighter.

“Do you want me to stay right here?” she asked, “I can keep the blinkers on.”

“No,” I said, “No. Do you mind… waiting somewhere else? Out of sight?”

She gave me a look. “You want me to hide? I won’t front, but this is starting to sound like some shady shit.”

I clenched my jaw. Could I just tell her never mind?

“If this is too weird or too uncomfortable for you, I…”

“Honey, I’ve been at this for eight years now, my job is to take who sits in the back anywhere they need to go. Ask ten drivers, eight of them will tell you they’ve taken someonesomewhere, to do something. The other two are still new.”

I was at a loss on how to respond. I wasn’t like those guys she was probably talking about. Not exactly. But I couldn’t articulate that without sounding like I was in denial. I had my reasons, my justifications.

Or, was this city just that fucked up?

She then waved me off, like she was shooing me away. “Go, do your thing, I’ll be over in the space between the liquor store and the health clinic, about another block down.”

I looked down the direction she was talking about. That couldn’t be too hard to find.

“Okay,” was all I had to say.

Not another word was said. I got out of the taxi, and we went off in different directions. The taxi went down the street, I crossed it, finding my way to the club, the thumping music swelling in volume as I closed in.

Panorama.

The club wasn’t what I expected it to look like in my head. Sleek and black, unlike the brick that constituted the buildings beside it. Multiple stories, the tallest structure here. Pointed at the top, resembling something like an obelisk. Neon spotlights danced across the surface of the glass, lighting up the logo and name of the club. I felt the music pulse through me with every beat, even from across the street.

A line of people stretched from the door to the end of the street, turning the corner. Bouncers at the door, their arms crossed. The line wasn’t moving, and I saw people still walking to get in line.

How am I supposed to get in?

I wasn’t twenty-one, I didn’t even look eighteen. No one in their right mind would let me walk through the front door as I was. Backpack on, sweaty, and I wasn’t quite dressed for clubbing. Getting in line wasn’t a viable option, especially since I was pressed for time.

I had the whole taxi ride to think of a way to get in, but I wasn’t able to come up with anything. And after taking a look at the actual building, my options seemed to be even more limited.

Had to think on my feet. I walked while continuing to think of something.

Could I sneak in? Unlikely. I probably wouldn’t be able to get far before I was seen, and I didn’t know the layout inside enough to successfully find D’Angelo without getting caught. I still didn’t know his face, so waiting for him outside for an ambush wasn’t the smartest idea, too.

Dammit, nothing I do will be a good idea.

A direct approach? A way to smoke him out?

Possibly, but with the police still on the lookout for me, it would be like I was asking to be caught up with them again, and there was no guarantee that I’d make a ‘successful’ escape, this time. High risk, for a potentially little reward.

Decisions, decisions.

I found myself heading towards the line, anyways. So many people, clumped into their own groups, chatting among one another. Some were smoking, several already had drinks in their hands.

I ended up wandering towards the back of the line. I couldn’t help it, but I was having trouble coming up with a plan ahead of time. Usually, I could play it by ear pretty well, but in this case, I was also playing with fire. Take too many risks, and I was bound to mess up somewhere.

Perhaps it was just a matter of making the mess ups manageable. Like a controlled flame.

Nothing came to me. No spark of inspiration.

A group of girls beat me to where the line stopped, though I didn’t really have any intention of getting in line. Skimpily-clad, heavy makeup, smelling of perfume and other substances. I was envious.

They were talking about something, one of them pulling out a pack of cigarettes, a lighter following as a single stick was put to rest in between her lips.

Something flashed before my eyes. Something burned within me. Something terrible.

That anger, again. That frustration.

I held my breath.

I turned as I walked passed her, like I was reacting to my name being called from behind. My backpack hit her elbow.

“Oh!”

Everything fell, the contents of her box spilling out onto the sidewalk, including her lighter.

“I am so sorry,” I said, in an attempt to mean it.

She shot me a glance before she smacked her lips. “Watch where you’re going, okay?”

She crouched to pick her stuff up. I crouched, too, though faster. I closed my eyes, briefly, bracing myself.

My head knocked into hers.

“Ah!”

She gasped, confused, but distracted. I quickly opened my eyes, my hand moving faster.

“Oh my gosh,” I said, getting up, “I didn’t mean that, I’m so sorry.”

Her friends went to consult the girl I knocked into. She was slower to get back on her feet, massaging her forehead as she was helped up.

“I said ‘watch it,’ bitch,” she said, obviously irritated.

I raised my hands, palms open, facing them. “And I said I’m sorry. I thought I heard my name, and… I’ll just be on my way.”

“Yeah, go,” one of her friends said.

I nodded, and did as I told. I left, having to walk by more people, as the line had already gotten longer since that minor altercation.

My hands were in my pocket. It was hard to keep a neutral expression, but I had to keep my smug satisfaction to myself. There were other things to deal with, and I needed to be focused.

I reached what was now the end of the line, but I wasn’t planning on loitering around, anymore. I dipped into yet another alley.

A look back to make sure no one was watching, then I ducked behind a dumpster, changing once again into my costume.

One of the benefits of having a costume that went over my clothes as supposed to under. It was easy to get in and out of them.

There. I was all set. I walked under where metal stairs spiraled up the side of the building, and I hopped up. I checked over everything on my person again as I went up, and up.

I guess we’re doing it like this, then.

I broke into a run as soon as I reached the roof, but it wasn’t as smooth as I would’ve liked. The rooftops downtown were more cluttered than ones I had begun to be used to, with more stuff in my way. Vents, air conditioning units, metal railings. It made for a stilted path, having to go up and down more frequently, climbing over things more than I was jumping over them. Awkward and slow. I would have taken to the edge, but I’d chance a plunge back to the street below, and being seen more easily. Better to be hidden for the moment.

The music got louder again as I was approaching the club. I climbed over the last ventilation shaft before making it to the end of my run. The club was the next building over.

Panorama had a glass ceiling, and it wasn’t tinted. Dimly lit, but lights flashed enough for me to get a decent look. One big room, with two other floors or levels that overlooked the dance floor. People were partying at the very bottom, drinking and having a good time. Neon strobe lights. Multiple girls, multiple guys, grinding on one another. That was barely dancing.

I was suddenly aware of how below me those people were.

And I could see where the club got its name.

Along the farthest wall from the front door was a large, curved screen, made of many small light bulbs. Graphics of silhouetted girls dancing, the images tall enough to reach the second level. The wall was large, panoramic. A DJ was performing right in front of it. If this place had a main stage, that was it.

There wasn’t as many people as I anticipated, at least, it wasn’t as packed. I had heard of a tactic like that being used in trendy clubs, controlling the flow of people coming inside so it would appear more busy to those outside. But, the amount of people inside was still significant, still a considerable challenge.

No obvious signs of any Italian mobsters. Though, it wasn’t like I knew what to look for.

I decided to trace the side of the building, walking along the edge. The club was big enough to warrant having to take a look around, first.

The back half of the building was a more private, loft-like area. Open air, no windows. I had mistaken it for its own establishment at first, but upon a second look, I could tell they were connected. A set of double doors in the wall between the two area linked them together. A pool, a bar, people lounging about rather than raving. More girls than guys, there, and a big difference in dress, too. The girls were wearing bathing suits, most of the men standing around were in suits. That looked more promising.

I took another look, and noticed a particular table by the pool. Two men sat across each other, a brief case between them. It was hard to discern due to the distance, but I was positive one of them was Asian. The other… had to be white. They looked important enough that I could make an educated enough guess as to who one of them were.

It would have been nice to have binoculars, but that’d be another thing to store in my backpack. All I could do at this distance was guess.

A movement. A man leaned over to the Asian man sitting at the table, then movements.

The Asian man bursted out of his chair, pointing at the other male. His mouth went wide as he spoke. Yelling? The other men on his side of the table assumed positions as well. Firm, on guard. Some had their hands around their hips.

That doesn’t look good.

If a shootout happened here, it would ruin everything. My chances of getting more information, my chances of finding Thomas. I needed to diffuse the situation, somehow.

How, though? Could I just drop into the loft? Then the man I had guessed as D’Angelo would be surrounded by guards. Even the Asian man’s entourage would be included in that, by proxy of wanting to protect themselves and their boss. And they’d all be targeting me. I couldn’t run fast enough to swoop past all of them and take D’Angelo someplace else. I wasn’t faster than their collective trigger fingers.

Some of the girls in the pool had noticed what was about to go down, too, and tore out of the pool, running through the double doors, despite their being out of dress code. Only one way out of the loft?

Something roundabout, then.

I ran back toward my earlier position, where I was overlooking the main dance floor. Appalling, awful, downright stupid.

But what else could I come up with in little to no time?

Had to play it by ear.

I took a moment to steel myself. It was a necessity.

I closed my eyes, breathing in, then out.

I took to the air. High as my legs would allow.

Up, then down.

Please break easily please break easily please break easily

The soles of my feet collided with the glass. It wasn’t easy, but it did break.

I fell through the glass panel, shards scattering around me. The sound of shattering glass and bass-heavy music filled my ears.

The fall wasn’t too bad, I only aimed for the third level, where there was the least amount of people. Not too bad, but the landing was nothing graceful.

My legs took the brunt of the impact, and I folded like a chair when I crashed. More fractures peppered my feet, legs, and hip.

Again, no time to wallow in the pain. I fought through it like an insane person.

The bones mended as I found my way onto my feet. My costume was heavy-duty enough to prevent glass from getting into my skin this time.

People around, but no one else was hurt. They were just staring, some already running. Good. Keep… moving.

My first steps were of me waddling to the edge of the floor, overlooking the dance floor. The music kept playing, people kept dancing. I clutched the railing, and had to take another deep breath.

Again.

I dropped down the next two levels.

I hit the dance floor. I wasn’t feeling my most festive.

Bones healed again as I pushed my way through the crowd, most getting out of the way on their own once they realized who I was. I pushed until I reached the bar, and I hopped over.

More partygoers here than security, I noticed. Or were they all on that loft.

Time to bring them all down here.

I grabbed bottles in both hands, and tossed them toward the stage, hitting the huge screen. The DJ ran away, abandoning his equipment. The music still continued.

The bottles broke, emptying its contents onto the screen’s bulbs and stage. The display went black where the bulbs had been broken.

The bartender tried to stop me. I brought him down with a gentle push of my foot. To his chest.

More bottles, more broken bulbs. I threw hard and fast.

Another bottle down, and I figured that was enough. My hand went into my pocket. I held the lighter that I stole from that girl.

I tossed it onto the stage.

Sparks flew. A fire rose. The blaze grew.

That got people moving.

I’m most definitely going to Hell for this.

I didn’t want to think too much about it, or psychoanalyze what fucked up part of my brain though this was the best idea. I probably wouldn’t like the answer.

The flames bounced across the stage, the screen catchingfire where the liquor had soaked it, growing from there. It was spreading faster than I would have liked, tongues of heat were already licking the second level.

Not exactly a controlled fire.

I stepped back onto the dance floor, nearly slipping. The sprinklers had turned on, but they weren’t strong enough. The fire was likely to continue unless firefighters came onto the scene.

Firefighters, and cops.

People were evacuating, taking stairs alongside the walls, connecting the different levels. Also good. The fire was relatively fast, but they would have to be faster. I couldn’t help them, there. Hopefully, there were fire exits here that I didn’t know about, and they were being used.

But there was only one way down, from the loft.

I jumped back up to the third level.

I mounted myself over the railing, and I saw that the flames were starting to reach here, too. Women were shrill as they ran past me. Men in suits followed, and I blocked their path.

I saw the Asian man, and his other partner at the table. I had smoked them out.

They all charged. And so did I.

If they had guns, they wouldn’t be firing them, not here, not now, not anymore. Dark plumes of smoke started to pollute the upper levels, too, limiting visibility. All this, I could use to my advantage.

The first guy was easy to fight off. I flipped him over my head, tossing him away, towards the stairs. I wasn’t here to incapacitate. I had my knife with me, but I couldn’t use something that would impede anyone’s progress out of here.

The next guy went just as easily. I ducked, getting under his swing, then performed the same move.

I hoped they had the presence of mind to run away instead of coming back to fight me. Flight, instead of fight.

A force on my backpack, and I was sent down. A kick from behind.

I threw my hands out in front of me, stopping myself from a bad fall. I caught myself, then used that momentum to propel myself forward, creating distance. I turned to face my new attacker.

A woman, this time, also in a suit. Like the ones with the Asian man. Her features were similar.

She had a bottle in her hand. There were standing tables scattered throughout the club. People had abandoned their beer and wine bottles.

She ran, ready to strike. I was ready to defend myself, and protect her.

The smoke was getting worse, it was like stepping into a fog when I moved to dodge. I was standing beside her. A chop to her back, and that was it for her.

There were still some left, but most finally wised up. They were running.

Including the man I was sure was D’Angelo.

I moved to his shape, taking him by the collar. I twisted my hand around, and he was complied, the fight leaving his body.

The heat was more than overwhelming, the smoke dizzying. I had a gas mask on, but it mostly served a visual purpose. I wondered if my healing applied to my lungs.

I took the both of us over to a table first, and I grabbed a bottle, turning real quick to throw it down onto the pit, to the dance floor. The music had cut out, and the sounds of deafening, crackling destruction took over instead, as the fire continued to eat the Panorama.

I coughed, heavy.

Everyone would be abandoning the building by now. I had to let the Asian man go, he wasn’t who I needed.

I maneuvered us back the way they came, through the double doors, opening automatically. We were on the loft. The air got a little clearer as we got outside, but smoke was following us out the door.

I fumbled with him until he was in front of me. I shoved him into the ground, but I dropped with him. I had him pinned, straddled.

Had to shout, if I wanted to be heard over the flames, the crumbling building. “D’Angelo!”

With one word, I knew I was right. “You,” he said back. “The deal was going well, before the Japanese caught wind of your attack on my men. Suddenly got scared that they were next. Guess they were right.”

“Benny asked your cop, Jeffery Robinson, to do a job for Solace. Where did he take Thomas Thompson?”

D’Angelo somehow found it within himself to grin. “Oh, that? I have to say, you are a lot warmer than I expected you to be.”

I growled.

I took a hand off him, just one, and patted my leg for a pocket. I flipped out a knife out of my thigh, and it went right into his.

This time, I meant it. This was no accident.

I made him scream.

Bloodcurdling, yet I felt nothing. Shouldn’t I? Like, remorse?

No, another thing. Fuel.

“God damn you,” I yelled, “Give me an answer!” I pulled the knife out of him. Blood trailed between the knife and his leg.

He continued his screaming, “Aaagh can damn me all you want! I’m not saying a fucking thing!”

“Where next, huh?” I roared, “You’re not going anywhere until you give me something!”

“The…” he breathed, “Same spot. Still itches, there.”

I growled, again. I angled the knife differently, but I hit the same general area. It formed a ‘V.’

Screaming.

“Where did he take Thomas? Who is Solace?”

A long pause, D’Angelo tearing up from his wounds. “As if I know, and as if I’d tell you if I did know. Benny wanted to borrow him for however long she wanted, as long as he’s back in one piece. For… now, he’s leased out, out of my hands.”

“What does Benny have to do with this? Who is Solace?”

He heaved in between some words. “Does it truly matter to you? It… sounds like you don’t want justice, you want revenge, just like her… probably. You’re not stopping petty crimes anymore, getting into our business. You’ve made it personal, you’re… hunting us, trying to get payback. That’s straight out of our playbook, Blank Face, you’re a natural at this.”

I took the knife out again, and he winced. “No!”

Over the noise, the fire and collapse, sirens blared, and wind chopped. A helicopter soared into view, putting us both in a harsh light.

Blank Face, step away from the man! I repeat, step away from the man!

Blank Face?

“Looks like your time is up,” D’Angelo said, shaking his head, almost laughing. “You may have extraordinary powers, but that’s not real power. And you want to know who Solace is? I’ll… give you that. It’s Edgar Brown, Linda… Day. Thomas… Thompson.”

The fire swelled behind me, and within me, and I felt the heat. I had to stand, and put a foot on his leg. He screamed, again.

“Tell Mister I’ll be coming for him, too.”

D’Angelo breathed, exasperated. “That’ll… be fun.”

I put more weight onto his leg. His pain amplified.

Everyone needs to stop fucking with me.

I then faced the helicopter. I saw more of the light than the chopper itself. It was so bright.

Blank Face, step away from the man!

I backed up a step. I noticed that they didn’t threaten to fire.

How was I supposed to get out of this one? I had a few thoughts, but they weren’t exactly clean getaways. That was impossible, by this point.

I was surrounded, forces had time to gather and mobilize, from police, SWAT, even firefighters. No getting lucky this go-around.

I thought some more.

Run to the helicopter, take it over? Crash it somewhere and escape in the confusion?

What was I thinking?

How many more people needed to be hurt before this was over?

Was this what superheroes do? Abducting and assaulting police officers, committing arson, among God knows what else? They called me a terrorist, but I had another word for myself…

Say it, become it.

Fuck me.

Is this what Alexis would do?

The man in the helicopter ordered me again.

Blank Face! This is a message from Chief of Police James Gomez!

I straightened my neck. What?

You are to go to the warehouse on Irving Street! I repeat, the warehouse on Irving Street!

The warehouse on Irving Street. That was where I first took on El Carruaje. Where it all began.

And where it all would end.

Do you understand?

I put my knife away, then I raised my hands above my head, as if I was to surrender. But not now.

I turned, and ran back into the fire.

Hot hot hot.

My costume was flame retardant, but not fireproof. I’d go up in smoke if I was in here for too long.

Everything was falling apart. The fire had consumed the entire building. Only blotches of flooring were untouched by now. I played the most messed up game of hopscotch, ever.

Every breath, I inhaled smoke, black scorched lungs. I felt like I was melting. Meeeeelting.

Something caught my attention.

Someone was still in here, downed.

The woman from before, in the suit. She was face down, a bottle near her outstretched hand. If it ignited now…

Leaving her behind was out of the question.

I ran to her, smacking my arms were the fire brushed against them.

Holy shit, holy shit.

I grabbed her, carrying her. One arm under her legs, the other supporting her back. I kept a move on.

Didn’t bother with the stairs. I went over the railing, descending into the flames.

Back on the bottom floor. Firefighters hadn’t gotten in here, yet, but the floor wasn’t entirely taken over by fire.

I took the worst of it, and she just rolled out of my arms. Might as well have fallen on a bed.

Shit, shit.

Bones felt like they were taking longer to come together.

Don’t think… Don’t think about that now.

I worked without thinking. She might already have burns I wasn’t seeing, or was aware of. She probably had trouble breathing, too.

I took this costume off for the last time. Mask, parka, backpack. The mask and parka was for her. The backpack met its fate in the fire. Knife and cash and phone stayed in my pockets. Gloves were stuffed in there, too.

My eyes immediately started to water. It really was hot in here. Was the woman even alive, still?

She was limp, I had to move her myself in order to get her in the gear. I slipped her arms into the sleeves, zipped up the front. Fitting and tightening the mask turned into a pretty sloppy job, but it just had to do. The sprinklers were still on, water splashing into the inside of the jacket, flushing the mask.

My breathing got worse the longer I stayed in here, the fumes getting… to my head. No mask, no filter, every little bit had helped. Now, no more.

I… heard…

I heard more noise just as I was finishing up. She was the spitting image of me…

Well, Blank Face.

The woman wasn’t that much taller than me, her build was similar. This might have worked out, after all.

I was certain they didn’t get a good look at me during the apartment escape, but if this would help in throwing them off, I’d be willing to give it a shot. Some time, bought back.

I stood and fled for the front doors right as the firefighters came in. Mist flew into my face. I fell into one of their arms. I wanted to scream, but nothing came out. The sound of powerful hoses hummed in turn as I was being carried out.

The last of my reserves. The last of everything I was.

I was brought out onto the street. Some people put their hands on me as I was set down. Paramedics. I was put among a group of those who were inside, now being tended to.

“Is that the last of them? Are you injured?”

What question was I supposed to answer?

“Everyone’s accounted for,” someone answered. “Only one left in there is… her.”

“No way. Miss, are you injured?”

A call for me, I had to get that. I shook my head.

“Thirsty,” I said, faint.

Plastic was put into my hands. A water bottle. Something heavy was put on top of my shoulders. A blanket.

“Take this, and take a seat on the sidewalk across the street. Someone else will be with you and make sure you’re all good and all clear. If not, we can take you to a hospital.”

Slow, not really understanding, I nodded. Dizzy.

One step at a time, I walked. I was rendered unable to do two things at once. When I went where I was told, I took a sip of my water.

A little bit of strength returned, but not a lot. My head was still clouded.

Had to get out of here.

Like my body moved on its own.

I lumbered through a crowd of people. Women huddled together, shaking. Men sitting, heads in their hands.

The crowd was big, I noticed, as I walked. Divided by survivors, and the onlookers. Divided by a line of yellow tape.

I crouched under the yellow tape, dropping the blanket. I pushed past legs and knees to get out of mass of bodies.

Soon, I was free. I continued, drinking water. All of the effort and energy I had left went to walking straight, not drawing attention as I navigated my way back to a space between a liquor store and a health clinic.

People didn’t give a crap about those they passed on a sidewalk, I supposed.

I collapsed into the back row of a taxi.

“Whoa, welcome back,” a lady said. “Where to, now?”

My mouth was so, so dry. I forced out a single word.

“Drive.”

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Interlude – Styx

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The music was loud. Loud enough that he didn’t hear the chair collide with the wall, tools scattering into the air, then banging onto the floor.

Styx roared.

It was a sort of rage that was utterly recreational. A push, and that was all that was needed for him to go off. Like his moods lived on a swing. All it took was a simple push.

Recreational, yet fulfilling. He needed this. Craved it. The freedom to do, the freedom to be. Addicting, and he was his own supplier.

And here? He also had the freedom to destroy.

Everything in the garage was his. The sports cars, the vintage motorcycles, the guns. Organized according to manufacturers, then year. Everything in the condominium was his. To be precise, he owned the whole building. The crown fruit of his decades of hard labor. Building an empire wasn’t easy, but it certainly was rewarding.

The vehicles were clean, the walls white, the area well-lit. A complicated sound system blasted the music throughout the garage, a deep bass rumbling mirrors and windows. Guns rattled where they were situated on a wall, but they wouldn’t fall. The cleanliness didn’t necessarily fit Styx’s nature, but it didn’t have to. He had the means to afford it, and the means to indulge himself in it.

However, despite the otherwise well-kept status of the garage, there was one third of the space that he allowed to be dirty. The innermost section of the garage. His workstation, where he kept his projects and other endeavors. Here, was where he was most free. Tools and knives and guns were strewn about, dirt marks were streaked across the floor and walls. Dark splotches of paint and blood touched the ceilings. Various tables with various tools and gadgets, randomly placed, unlike how his cars and motorcycles were lined up. He liked the contrast, how things didn’t necessarily go from one to the other.

He liked the chaos.

Again, Styx roared. It strained.

As he let himself come down from his fit, he grabbed a towel off of a table, wiping sweat off of his body. He was shirtless, wearing only black skinny jeans and black boots. Tattoos of different images were sketched across his chest, torso, and arms. Pagan, tarot, Lovecraftian.

Styx bent down where the chair had landed. He picked up a wrench, gripping it tight in his hand. He turned, then stopped.

Acknowledgement.

He went to another metal table, where other tools laid, available. A remote was there, too. Without having to lift it, he pressed a finger on a button. The music was immediately cut.

“Victor,” Styx said, but he didn’t hear himself. A high ringing had replaced the noisy, industrial instrumental.

‘Victor’ answered with a lift of his chin.

His clothes were simple, but it was all he had time to procure. Things were moving, quickly, and Victor had little in the way of leisure time. A white shirt, tucked into blue denim jeans. Light brown boots. Round, large sunglasses adorned his face.

He ran his fingers through his hair, despite the bandages wrapped around his palm. Though, there wasn’t much there, thanks to his buzz cut.

“I’m surprised you haven’t blown out your ears yet,” Victor said, having to raise his voice for Styx to hear. The proper security measures were set up across the building, even though it wasn’t necessary. Anyone who knew, knew to stay away.

After one of Styx’s men escorted the two back to the condo, and after the two spent some time catching up, Styx had told Victor the different words and numbers necessary to let himself in. Told. Styx trusted he wouldn’t write it down, and was confident in Victor’s ability to memorize a few letters and digits.

Victor had taken the wooden stairs down to the garage, the glass door behind him. A large, brown paper bag sat at his feet.

“You were okay with being out in the open?” Styx asked instead, as if Victor’s concern wasn’t worth addressing. “No issues?”

“None. I know how to keep my head down.”

“Don’t want to spoil your arrival to the Feds?”

“Oh yeah, I prefer being the uninvited guest. Makes things interesting. Especially if I bring gifts.”

Styx nodded. His brow was still furrowed, his eyes wild, like he was still maintaining a hold on the anger that gripped him not too long ago. He creeped over to the middle of the garage, towards his bike, to actually get some work done on it.

“It’s just a few scratches, Styx, I don’t see why you need to tune up the whole-”

Styx cut him off.

“They fucked up King of Pentacles!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs, referring to his bike. “I’ll whip the bitch who did it!”

King of Pentacles. The motorcycle was a mechanical embodiment of Styx’s career in the underground. Originally a used bike he stole almost thirty years ago, he’d built upon it, adding where it was needed, stripping away where it was least efficient. Now, it was a bike that perfectly represented his status in the city. Not how he viewed himself, necessarily, but how others should view him.

An all-black custom chopper. Sleek, elegant, but with a edge to it that made people steer clear of it, turning another way if they simply saw it parked, somewhere. Styx preferred functionality over aesthetics, but it worked, here. The large engine at the bottom resembled something of a ribcage, and the headlight was encased in a plating that resembled Cthulhu. Asymmetric slits allowed light to bleed through, with tentacles reaching forward to hold the front tire. It had a form, but nothing definite, concrete. It left things to the imagination, and most didn’t want to be around to ponder over it.

And Styx saw where scratches defiled the bike, where dents fucked up his handiwork. Though few, and negligible, it make his blood boil.

Angrily, Styx went back to finishing the final touches on his bike. If anyone could work the nuts and bolts of a motorcycle with anger, it was Styx.

“We’re not even taking King of Pentacles to the meeting,” Victor said. “You can fix it later.”

“This is my bike,” Styx replied, in a much more reserved manner. “You know that.”

“And you know I know that, I’m just telling you that it can wait. The meeting’s in an hour, and you’re the only one with clearance to take me.”

Styx twisted with the wrench, making more adjustments. “I don’t give a fuck. Everyone can wait. You, Mister, and those fucks. My shit takes precedence over their shit.” He yelled, as though to verbally form an exclamation point. It rang throughout the garage. That, he heard.

“Then I have no choice but to wait.” Styx heard Victor walk through the workstation, picking up the chair that Styx had thrown, and sat in it.

“Man, this city hasn’t really changed much since I left,” Victor said. “More of the same. Except, there’s actually more. More gangs, more drugs, more shit. I commend you for keeping things together.”

“It’s easy,” Styx said, keeping it short.

“I’ll say. You’re living lavish. I’d comment and suggest that the wealth has made you soft, but it clearly hasn’t.”

Styx didn’t respond, focusing too much on King of Pentacles.

From behind him, Victor murmured, or spoke at a normal enough volume that Styx couldn’t pick it up. The ringing was only now starting to subside.

“Yeah?” Styx questioned.

“Right, the music. I was talking… there’s one new player in all this, huh?”

Styx knew exactly what he was talking about. Who, to be precise.

“Yeah.”

“‘The Bluemoon.’ Or, didn’t you mention another name?”

“Yeah, Blueballs?”

“Your humor is still on point, Styx. No, I mean an actual name.”

“Last night, when I got a call from a police station that I’m good with. John told us everything. Told us it went by ‘Blank Face.’”

“That was it. If it went by another name, couldn’t it just be another super… thing?”

“That’s a whole different question. All I know is, that’s the same one that came by the yard. The physical description matched up. It was a good thing I kept watch, in the distance.”

“Blank Face, huh.”

Then, Victor laughed, without warning. Styx kept working.

“The hell? I’m not impressed at all!” Victor exclaimed. “I was thinking it’d be some terrifying figure, but all I saw was some clown with a limp arm. What kind of hero can I just kick out the back of a truck, and you come in to break their arms. What a little bitch.”

Styx giggled to himself. It was manic, uneven in pitch. “Heh, lil’ bitch.”

“That’s why I had to ask if that really was The Bluemoon I’ve seen on TV. It shouldn’t have been that easy.”

“That was our Blueballs for sure, but does it really matter? The meeting is still happening, they still want to talk about this.”

Victor sighed, letting out another chuckle. “Hah, I get it, though. There’s more to it than that, and that’s what they’re pissing themselves over. We’ll all go over it then. But, I’m not going to say it didn’t take the wind out of my sails, even just a bit. I sit for thirty-six hours in the back of a truck, smelling like shit, only for it to be almost unbelievable easy to take the hero out. Do you see what I’m getting at?”

“Yes.”

“Maybe being a ‘hero’ isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.”

Styx pulled away the wrench, and patted the leather seat of the bike. He stood, facing Victor. “Don’t get ahead of yourself. If taking out Blueballs was all he needed you to do, Mister wouldn’t have asked for you. And what you perceive to be a minor threat is still a threat. You don’t get to where I am by underestimating bitches.”

Victor lifted his hands, placating. “I know, I know. I’ve got work to do.” He groaned.

Victor casted a glance at Styx. “What about you? You scared of this, thing? It escaped, went after your guys, last night.”

Styx answered plainly, truthfully. “Me? Nah. If anything, I’m curious.”

“Nice.”

Victor stared at Styx, and he stared back. Blankly.

Victor dropped his shoulders, grumbling, and lazily pointed to a corner of Styx’s workstation. “Um, I was trying to find a way to bring this to your attention, but… Aren’t you going to introduce me?”

Styx looked, and remembered that the man tied to a chair was there.

He was blindfolded, with no clothes, save for his underwear. Twitching, shaking. His mouth shuddered, but no sound came forth.

He dripped of blood and sweat and tears, his blindfold most dark where his eyes should be. His chair was placed on top of multiple mats, placed into a large square. Normally used for dogs, the mats caught the blood and urine that slid down the chair’s legs.

Styx shrugged.

“My payment for agreeing to see through you crossing the border. You might recognize him, you sat by him for thirty-six hours.”

Victor frowned. “This is why society agreed to put value into things like green paper.”

“So?”

Victor shifted in his seat. Not because he was alarmed, Styx knew, but because he went to reach for his phone. Styx took that as a chance to check his, too.

“Bored?” Victor asked, looking at his phone.

“Stress reliever,” Styx replied, while looking at his, “And practice for when I get that bitch who fucked King of Pentacles.”

“The more things change, the more they stay the same, then.”

“Aye aye.”

The man was becoming audible, now, but no one paid heed to him. The man whimpered while Styx checked his phone.

Victor put his phone away. “So, you almost finished, here? I’ll leave a better impression if I show up early. You know, like an actual professional.”

“Eh.” Styx put his phone in his pants pocket. “Let me get my stuff, then.”

Victor griped again, as he got out of the chair. “Styx, if you’re so bored being here, in this city, why haven’t you left, yet? You could’ve visited me.”

“That again?”

“Yes, again. Nothing’s honestly tying you down, you could leave anytime you want, let the city burn behind you while you see the world.”

“Like what you did?”

“Yes.”

Styx looked to Victor, his chin tilted up some to make up for the height difference. He had no expression. “That’s what makes us different. You wanted to see the world, I wanted to make my own.”

Victor smiled. “And that’s the only difference?”

Styx’s lack of expression stayed.

Victor then nodded, as if taking it all in. “I suppose that still makes me Remus, and you Romulus,” he said.

“Careful, I haven’t killed you yet.”

“If it ever comes to that, you’ll die, too,” Victor said. “Of boredom.”

Styx actually cracked something of a smile to that, though twisted, unhinged.

Before Styx could let the moment get the better of him, he turned, retrieving his leather jacket, putting it on over his bare torso. He didn’t bother to bring a gun. His presence would be enough. Victor followed, taking the paper bag he brought in with him.

“You can pick which car we take,” Styx said.

Styx took to a corner of the room. Fitting, to how much of a role he played in this. A willing, listening participant, but not necessarily an active one.

Others began filing in, sitting around a round table. Some were in more casual wear, but most elected to wear suits. Mostly men, but two women were in attendance, already waiting.

Styx rested his tongue on his upper lip.

Victor sat next to him, watching as the rest came into the high-rise restaurant. The room was dimly lit, sensual, if Styx wanted to be poetic, which he sometimes liked to be. A light jazz tune wafted about the area, almost as if the room had housed the essence of this music, and the building, the floor, the room, was built in accommodation to it.

Poetic.

Styx looked at them all, uncaring. They weren’t even a third of the gangs that had a hold on the city.

He listed the names of the different mobsters. Arthur, Brian, Cassius, D’Angelo, Edward, Forest, Gary, Hayden, Inez.

All separate, yet connected by a single thread…

And they were completely oblivious.

“Is Mister gonna make it, Styx?” It was D’Angelo, calling from across the room. Leader of one of the Italian mobs.

“No,” Styx replied, at half the volume. “He’s sitting it out. I can fill him in, if he wants.”

D’Angelo motioned to the whole room, as everyone took their seats. “This isn’t enough for him to show? This isn’t important enough to appear in person, for once?”

“It may look that way to stupider eyes, but I am not his keeper. If he found a more pressing matter to deal with instead, that’s on him.”

“He called the meeting!”

“Calm down, D’Angelo,” Inez said, ushering him to sit. “We can still have a discussion and act without him. So let’s try to be punctual.”

D’Angelo sat, and Inez looked pleased with herself. The leader of a cartel on the south side. A real cougar with the power to dominate. So badly, Styx wanted to fuck that grin right off of her face.

He tried to keep still.

“Let’s getting started then, brother,” Forest said, pointing to Victor. “Man of the hour.”

Victor took that cue, leaving his seat to approach the circle. He brought his bag with him.

“That’s what I am. ‘Kay, I’ll make the introduction short. Most of you, we go way back, and it’s nice to see you all again.” He gestured with a small bow to the table.

“The rest of you who are not familiar, I’m probably the reason why you’re​ at this table, today, and absolutely the reason why Mister can afford to miss such a meeting. To be cocky, I produce results.”

Some of the mobsters exchanged glances. The ones who didn’t know him.  The naïve ones.

“To all you new folk, don’t waste the energy trying to decide whether or not I’m the real deal. I am. Let’s all just accept that, and we’ll all be a lot richer for it, in the end.”

Victor set the paper bag down on the table, next to Arthur. Arthur pointed to it, and Victor motioned, letting him take a peek inside.

Styx leered to himself when he saw Arthur’s reaction.

“Are you mad? What are you thinking, bringing-”

“Now, now,” Victor interrupted. “Let’s not get so irritable so soon. You’ll find that it may come in handy, one day.”

Arthur grumbled, and passed the bag down for Brian to look inside. His reaction was more understated, Styx saw, but he couldn’t quite hide the fear. Brian passed the bag down, and the bag made its round trip. The ones who already had a rapport with Victor masked their trepidation well. The others did not.

Styx knew Victor was making a show of things, but it was only because he had to confidence to do so. The repertoire.

“Let’s start with the obvious, yeah? Why are we all here, today, having a meeting over a light breakfast?”

The mobsters looked amongst each other.

“Tough crowd,” Victor said. “Then, I won’t tiptoe around it anymore. The Bluemoon. Or ‘Blank Face,’ from what I’ve heard on the streets.” Victor put his hands into air quotes when he said ‘Blank Face.’ “A very indecisive individual, this one.”

Victor started snapping his fingers, looking expectant.

“What do we want to call this individual? Bluemoon, Blank Face, hero, vigilante, monster…”

“Lil’ bitch,” Styx yelled out.

“Thanks for that, Styx, but I’ll just go ahead and use ‘Blank Face.’ If that’s what they want to be called, then I’ll respect their wishes.”

Hayden, the other female mob boss, leaned in with her elbows on the table, her chin resting on her hands. “Are you going to at least pretend that you’re taking this seriously?”

Styx squinted. One of the naïve ones.

“Oh, I am. Wouldn’t want to waste a perfectly good sightseeing opportunity. Yes, this Blank Face has been causing some trouble for the lot of you. Even its very existence raises some issues. Coupled with the fact that the National Guard might sweep the streets to find the vigilante, and not to mention all the media coverage placed on the city because of it, that’s a lot of eyes on things we don’t want to be looked at, no?”

Hayden fell back into her seat. Styx couldn’t see it from his view, but he read that she crossed her legs.

Victor kept going. “This may be unprecedented, but we’re not blind and in the dark. There are some things we do know about Blank Face. I’m sure all of you have heard by now, but Blank Face decided to pay me a visit, last night.”

A few had worried expression. Styx knew what that would imply, that he was incapable, or vulnerable, to an assault by Blank Face or another party. That he somehow slipped up, able to be taken advantage of. He hated that implication. He could have pushed, and killed any one of them for thinking that, if he wanted to.

He didn’t.

Styx had an outlet for his frustrations at home.

A feeling stirred within Styx.

Arthur spoke. “Is that why you’re trying to act so nonchalant about this? To save face after seeing the devil?”

Several laughed.

Victor was motionless, not responding to that comment.

“We were close to capturing it,” Victor said, fixing his sunglasses, “Maybe even closer to killing it, last night. I was able to subdue it and distract it enough for Styx to do his thing. Two broken arms, strangulation, at least. Who knows what we managed internally. Blank Face managed to walk away from that.”

Suddenly, there was no room for levity. The table was dead quiet.

“How, how are you so sure?” It was Cassius who had to balls to say something.

Styx spoke. Everyone turned their heads. “Our transport of Blank Face was interrupted, and it got away. My men told me afterwards that Blank Face was soon active, moving like nothing ever happened.”

Victor gave Styx a thumbs up. “Which brings me to my next point. Bla-”

“You’re fucking telling us that thing can’t die!”

The voice was too on edge, too shrill, to point to a source. Panic was rushing into the hearts of the mobsters, at the revelation. Styx took a glance at his phone.

“Everyone, please, settle yourselves!” Victor had to raise his voice to be heard above the uproar. “You’re going to scare our hard working servers!”

Some turned, Styx did, too. A small team of young waiters stood, flustered at what to do. One had a platter of crepes and omelets. Another had his hands around an intricately designed cart, with pancakes and cups of coffee on it. But he was still.

Styx silently judged as the mobsters started to right themselves, straightening their backs. Victor gave the servers the okay to approach.

“To address the table’s concerns,” Victor said, “It appears that Blank Face has some sort of improved healing. But, do not let that scare you. Blank Face can be taken down, and it may be easy for it to get back up, that point remains. We just need to hit back, hard. Harder.”

“And how do you propose to do that?” someone asked. Styx couldn’t tell.

Victor, now, had started walking around the table. Styx only saw the back of his head, but he knew what his expression would be. He mouthed it in time with Victor.

“I’m working on it.”

“You’re… working on it?” Forest.

“Yes, my man, working on it. I’ll give you the proper pitch when I have it more developed, probably by later tonight, so I’m hoping I’ll have your… support.”

“We’ll see if it’s good enough for that.”

“Thank you very much. I don’t want to spoil what I have right now, but I’m thinking something theatrical? We have people in masks, now, performing magic and tricks. I suggest we play into that a bit.”

“Wait, people?” Inez questioned, stressing that second word.

“Oh, I almost forgot! Everyone was losing it a moment ago…” Victor scratched his throat, before saying, “Blank Face isn’t working alone.”

Styx could feel it in the room, the panic coming back, but no one wanted to fall into it. Not anymore. Styx remained calm.

“You’re joking.”

“‘Fraid not. One of Styx’s Ferrymen were interrupted by Blank Face, earlier in the night, before it came to us. A van came to get him. A man in a bird mask accompanies Blank Face.”

The two women went pale. Styx, instead, seethed at the mention of the van. “There’s… there’s more of them?”

Victor shook his head. “That’s one of the things we don’t know. I’m inclined to say yes, just to be careful.”

Murmurs among the mobsters, unsure of what to make of the possibility of at least two superhumans working against them. Styx couldn’t help but think of ways to rip them apart, instead. And if they could recover from that, then more fun for him.

“What more do we know of this man in the bird mask?” Inez asked.

“Not much, but they were probably in constant communication with each other.”

Styx had realized that Victor never mentioned how they got interrupted by the van, how it crashed into King of Pentacles. At this meeting, too many details were coming out that were frightening the mobsters. It wouldn’t do to have them completely chicken out and not want to hear Victor’s plans. Or was it better that he play into that, getting more support?

Or, was Victor trying to protect Styx’s rep? As if he needed it, but, if so, Styx appreciated the effort.

D’Angelo cut into his pancake, then ate, chewing slowly. After washing it down with coffee he asked, “And you think you can take them on, not knowing what you don’t know?”

“Oh, I can. The battle isn’t as uphill as you’re insinuating it be. The whole world is even more fearful of Blank Face. By the by, I love the riot idea. I say we do more of that, while we’re at it.”

The different members of the table nodded. Styx loved the idea, too.

“If we play our cards right, this might turn out to be a problem that solves itself. Again, more details to come.”

Forest raised his cup, looking around for a waiter. “Ah, man, that’s enough of the Blank Face talk, for now. Getting me sick to my stomach. Brother, we’ll patiently await your pitch.”

Victor had wrapped around the table, his back to Styx. He brought both hands up. Peace signs.

“Super.”

While the others got to their breakfast, Hayden asked, “Is there anything else we want to bring up?”

Arthur set down his fork. “There’s one thing.”

Victor leaned close. “Hmm?”

“Thomas Thompson.”

“Don’t know the name, sorry.”

“He’s a lawyer. Pain in the ass, with the potential of becoming a bigger one.”

“I’m listening.”

“Elections for the next DA are coming up, and it looks like he’s going to take it. We had our guy, John Cruz, but the public adores Thompson. He’s squeaky clean, going on a platform of ‘hope’ and ‘courage’ in the face of adversity. ‘Wander no more,’ he says. It’s bullshit, but they’re eating it up.”

Victor fixed a sleeve. “Squeaky clean does present a problem.”

“Him being in office isn’t going to help us any. Harsher punishments on any alleged corruption in the police force, and he’s advocating for harsher punishments for any possible connection to any gang activity, however minute. He was instrumental in bringing down one of the Cobras. They’re still shaken up about it.”

“Sebastian?”

“Yes.”

“No.” Victor looked legitimately disheartened, hearing that. He brought a finger to his chin, thinking.

“So you understand why I brought it up? If he can do that much without holding an official office…”

Victor snapped his fingers. “Say no more, I can take care of it.”

No one did say more, seemingly satisfied. Everyone continued eating. A minute with only small talk, then Victor walked back to Styx, bringing his bag with him.

“Doing okay?” Victor asked.

Styx grunted, non-committal.

“Hey, I’ll need your help in this, in all of this.”

“As long as you keep it entertaining.”

“I’ll plan around it.”

They both smiled, Styx’s much more menacing. Victor was a man of his word, and he was looking forward to it as much as he was.

Styx was ready to push.

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