BY AL BRUNO III
Saturday November 16th 1996
“Do you still do…” Angie paused, searching for the right words, “…oracle stuff?”
Roxanne waved her hand, “Thank God no.”
“Has your family ever tried to find you?”
“I think most of them are gone now.” Roxanne said, “The Monarchs decided the world would be better off not knowing its future.”
Sig cast a sour glance towards Magwier, “Why spoil the surprise eh?”
Bodivar asked, “Your brother- is he still alive?”
Roxanne woman shrugged, “I don’t even know if I would recognize him anymore.”
“And that’s enough for one night,” Sig stood. “If Magwier says anything useful let me know.”
Angie took his arm, “See you guys in the morning… well late afternoon maybe.”
A smattering of goodbyes ushered them out of the room. They all they all talked amongst themselves for a few moments more before Jack stretched, revealing abs that looked to Isobel like something out of a comic book; he said, “Well you know what this means.”
Hao groaned, “Oh no.”
“Cigars,” Jack said, “I’ll be right back.”
Isobel asked Galen, “Cigars at 3 A.M.?”
“Sig can’t stand the smell of them,” Roxanne said. “Sensitive nose.”
“Do you smoke?” Bodivar asked.
“No.” Isobel said, “I don’t and neither does my brother.”
“Speak for yourself,” Warren shot back. “I picked up all kinds of bad habits once I stopped playing Dungeons & Dragons on a regular basis.”
“You rebel you,” Hao said.
“Damn skippy,” Warren said. “I think I’m getting my second wind. Maybe I’ll have another glass.”
“Drink water,” Hao offered him the clear pitcher. “I don't need you projectile vomiting all over the place.”
There was a chorus of laughter and groans as Jack returned and started passing out thick, expensive looking cigars. All the men, and Roxanne, bit the ends off and lit up using the nearest candelabra. Warren drew in smoke experientially and then nodded, “Good stuff.”
Man. I missed out on so much with him.
“Want one?” Galen asked her.
“I don’t smoke,” Isobel said.
“A kindred spirit.” Hao said, “I never understood that habit.”
“It’s like eating the seeds of an apple,” Roxanne explained. “Tasting death makes life a little more sweet.”
Bodivar scowled, “Not for my tastes, Life is what makes life sweet.”
“Agreed. Besides maybe it’s just that they taste good,” Jason Magwier leaned back and put his slippered feet on the table. “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
Zeth puffed out a perfect smoke ring, “What is it with you and Sig anyway? You really got his hackles up.”
“Ah,” Magwier tapped ashes into his wine glass, “Well I helped him out once not too long ago but he thinks I knew more than I was telling and that I didn’t play fair with him.”
“Is it true?” Galen asked.
“I did my best,” Magwier paused thoughtfully, “at least I think I did but this a war after all.”
“A war?” Isobel's brother asked.
“A hidden war. Where the most terrible of battles are conducted in secret for the sake of unseen territories.”
“War's over,” Galen said expelling smoke, “we're in occupied territory.”
“Which makes us the resistance,” Zeth smiled at that.
Roxanne ran her hands through Jack's hair, “Speak for yourself.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“This isn’t our war,” Bodivar said, “people like us stood against the dark gods and the Vjestitiza and the Council wars. We’ve had enough.”
Isobel said, “That’s quite an attitude.”
“Let the world of cell phones, satellites and machine guns make its stand,” Bodivar turned back to the fire, “some of us have lost enough.”
“What...” Warren looked unconformable, “...what did you lose? I mean you don't have to talk about it...”
“We've all lost something,” Bodivar's expression was emotionless, “why else would we be here?”
“I thought this was the house that love built,” Isobel said.
“Even love costs you something.”
Wisps of thick cigar smoke began to mingle and crowd above the table, something about the odor made Isobel think of old men and barber shops but she had littler experience with either. Roxanne was chomping at the end of her cigar, while Jack just seemed to toy with his; Magwier and Zeth were engaged in a game of dueling smoke rings.
Warren asked “Well what is there to protect us normal folks from the Monarchs then? No wait... I didn't mean it like...”
Hao elbowed him gently
“No I meant like, isn't there magic-”
“Been tried,” Roxanne said.
Zeth laughed out loud, “The government?”
“What about God?”
Hao shook her head, “No such thing.”
Now it was Isobel's turn to laugh, “You mean to tell me, that in a world with magic and people that live for centuries and who knows what else- there's no God?”
Jack frowned as he nodded, “No God, no afterlife just this.”
That took Isobel back. The thought of death really being the end made her skin go cold- and wouldn't these people be the ones to know for sure? Isobel considered of all the lives she had seen pass her by; her grandparents, her aunt, a dozen or so pets and, of course, Cheryl. She would never see them again- they were gone, lost to memory. It made their deaths sting all over again. All those lives- the famous and the anonymous, the old farts that made it to a hundred and the babies that died in their cribs. What was waiting for them? Nothing. It didn't seem fair.
Cheryl's gone forever and I'll never even to tell her I'm sorry. I'll never get to tell her anything.
“I've never once seen the passing of a single soul,” Magwier tapped out more ashes, “not in any of my lifetimes.”
Zeth rolled his eyes, “Now you're being cryptic for the sake of it.”
Galen leaned close to Isobel, “Well I guess that makes me your guardian angel.”
“You're drunk,” she smiled.
“Angels,” Magwier said, “you don't want to put your trust in angels.”
Warren took a drink of water and grimaced, “I thought you said there was no God.”
“No God. Just a few broken angels.”
“How do you know this?”
Magwier watched his smoke rings congeal and dissipate, “I’ve seen a few. Not close up but close enough.”