In The Shadow Of His Nemesis
Chapter Forty Four
BY AL BRUNO III
He had come here with a gun, a handful of black rubies and orders not to return empty handed. Typical of the way the Kuen-Yuin treated their middlemen, it was all threats and contempt until you'd proven your value a dozen times over and if you weren't Chinese-born you were still going to get passed over in favor of half wits with the right pedigree. His boss Jack Diamond had warned him about this before he brought him in but Mich had been young and eager and he'd paid it no mind. Now he was pushing fifty and all he had to show for it was a bad liver and a nice car.
Of course there were memories too, memories of pleasures that would have had the guys from the old neighborhood turning away in either disgust or jealousy. Mich was sure that if he just stuck it out just a little but longer he'd be the one with giving orders from the deck of a ten million dollar yacht.
So here he was, waiting in the woods, in the dark to try and cut a deal with a man that had made treason a lifestyle. At least it was a nice night for it, the warmest November in years some said.
A good sign maybe?
He could hear the sound of cars passing up and down the Northway but he was too far from the roadside to see their headlights or for any of the drivers to see him. It was a stupid place for a meeting, there were a dozen places they could have used instead- places lost to human history and otherworldly notice, places where the air was thick with ghosts or bustling with magic. You didn't need to go to Laurel House or The Gardens of Anzon to conceal yourself from the Powers That Be. This was just paranoia as far as Mich was concerned, or a trap. Either way he'd been a fool to wear his best suit.
Not that he could have brought himself to wear anything other than his best suit, after all he was meeting with royalty wasn't he?
Mich smiled a little at that, then realized he wasn't alone. He waited for the shape to resolve itself out of the shadows of the treeline before he spoke, “Galen Delaworg?”
“What's that sound?”
“I'm Michlyund Cross. We spoke on the phone.”
His voice became dangerous with panic, “I said what was that sound?”
At first Mich tried to decide if one of them had been followed or if Galen was crazy as well as being a coward. Then he realized what the man was talking about. Mich said, “You mean this?”
“That’s me.” Mich tried to sound soothing, “I have dentures and I suck at them until they pop. It's a bad habit, if it bugs you I'll stop.”
After a long pause the other man drew closer, “I'm Galen. What did the Kuen-Yuin have to say?”
“Your offer surprised them.”
“But can they help?” Galen’s posture became more and more meek as the conversation continued.
“Sure they can,” Mich resisted the urge to click his dentures again, partly out of habit and partly to see if he could make the High Born Vlodek jump out of his skin. “But right now they’re still thinking about cost versus benefits. Helping you is trouble.”
“I think we could help each other out.”
Mich paused, now came the kicker. “How many Torweig can you give us?”
“One. The offer was one.”
“But there’s more than that. The higher ups in the think there’s gotta be twelve left, maybe more.”
“I said,” Galen’s voice became icy, “they’d have one.”
“That’s not much, considering how dangerous it would be to protect you.”
“I don’t even know if you can protect me so why would I give you everything?” He ran his hands through his hair.
“Oh we can protect you and you can trust us. You’ll be like family.” Mich offered a smile that was as charming as it was ghoulish.
“Family…” Galen sneered, “I don’t think that’s the best way-”
Footsteps approached from out of the dark, their gait casual and confident. Each man shot the other an accusatory glare.
“Evening boys.” A feminine voice said, “Nice night isn’t it?”
“Please don’t try to run again Galen.” A male voice said, “Let’s be adults about this.
Mich’s hand snaked into his pocket. He’d heard about these two, Sauno and Ginnmett, the Monarchs eyes and ears and worse. It looked like he was going home empty handed, if he was going home at all.
Sauno spoke, “And I must say I’m very disappointed that your people would get involved in this mess. We aren’t some law enforcement agency the Kuen-Yuin can thumb their noses at, we allow you to exist.”
“Hey partner,” Ginnmett said, “I think someone is going to- ”
Galen Delaworg ran, making his way for the roadside.
“Must have a car waiting nearby,” a loop of silver dropped from Sauno’s hand. “You take care of this one.”
“Will do,” She watched Sauno tear off after their quarry, then she turned her attention to Mich, “Wow huh?”
“I don’t want any trouble.” He started to back away. How fast could one of these things run? He didn’t know.
“Wow,” she grinned. “Are you in the wrong line of work.”
The sound of a struggle erupted from the treeline, Galen screamed and shouted something. Sauno said something back, hie sounded bored.
Ginnmett jerked a thumb in their direction, “Doesn’t know when to quit does he? I think you’re smarter than that.”
“This is all a misunderstanding.” Mitch, kept backing up, his hand clasping the gun. They said these things had a weak spot somewhere. Everything had to have a weak spot didn’t it?
“I’ll be honest with you,” she began to keep pace with them. “I’m not into confrontations. Now Peirs, he craves them. He’s very visceral.”
More screaming from the woods and the sound of something being dragged, what were they doing to him? He almost felt sorry for Galen.
“Now you know what I think?” Ginnmett said, “I think misunderstandings like this could be avoided if we had someone in the Kuen-Yuin. This might be your big chance for advancement Michlyund.”
“Like Hell,” he said. “I know what you do to people.”
“It sounds to me like you don't know anything at all,” her voice was full of pity. “Make no mistake that if you cross the Monarchs you pay to consequences but were not into cruelty for cruelty's sake.”
More screams and a sound like a tree shattering.
“Well maybe Peirs,” she shrugged. “But you, we have no quarrel with you. You're just doing your job, just following orders, just like me. Does it really matter who you take orders from in the long run?”
Mich backed up into a tree, she was too close now, he leveled the gun at her “You eat people.”
“No,” she said. “We repurpose them. Nothing is wasted, not even a single thought.”
“Do you think I was always what you see now? The Monarchs gave me all this. They made me important,” The gun was right in her face but she barely seemed to notice, “You don't have to be afraid. You're all so afraid of entropy, you try to hold it back with your prayers and spells. Do you think if we just up and vanished one day that the world wouldn't end? That all wouldn't end?”
Mitch shook his head, she was making a crazy kind of sense. He closed his eyes and tried to remember all the horror stories he'd heard on the street about the Monarchs. “Shut up,” he said. “Shut up.”
“We're all going to die Michlyund but you you can be so happy until the end. We can all be so merry,” She held out her hand.
It seemed to Mitch like the entire forest had gone silent; there was something so sweet about her smiles and promises. This was what it all came down to he realized. The Monarchs or oblivion. He decided on the safer option and put the pistol to the side of his head.
Helen Ginnmett didn't even flinch at the gunshot, she just watched the body slump against the tree. When she did speak her voice was full of exasperation, “Cheese and crackers...”