In The Midnight Of His Heart
By AL BRUNO III
May 13, 1993
“I personally find that moments like this are best dealt with through a liberal ingestion of hot cocoa.”
Zombie-like John had allowed August to lead him into the Troy Diner. Tom was overjoyed at the sight of him. He immediately began to pester John with questions about where he'd been and if he was all right. John mumbled something about aggravating an old injury and Tom nodded understandingly. He glanced inquisitively at August.
“No.” August said.
Tom looked confused, “What?”
“You were wondering if I'm his son or possibly his grandson.” he smiled, Cheshire-like, “I'm neither.”
“Are you a mind reader?”
“No, it’s just that people are very predictable.”
All John could do was stare at August as Tom led them to a booth near the back. He remembered his last sight of the man- eyes wide with fear, his mouth drooling blood. John didn't know whether to feel angry, impressed or terrified.
Truth was he was a little of each and more.
After ordering them a pair of hot cocoas and some breakfast menus August watched Tom leave. “How have you been doing?” he asked.
John looked out the window, “Can't complain.”
“Interesting answer.” he followed John’s gaze, “What are you looking for?”
“The sun's coming up.”
“Ah.” he nodded and leaned back in his seat.
Outside the murky horizon was turning purple. Somewhere out there the woman he loved was dozing blissfully in the arms of another man. Somewhere out there the ordinary citizens of the ordinary world were just waking up and going on about their daily routines, sweetly ignorant of the secret crusades and the secret races that fought them. John felt a twinge of envy.
Tom arrived with their steaming hot chocolates. The dark-eyed man’s face lit up, “Oh good! You have the kind with the marshmallows.”
“Will there be anything else?” Tom asked.
“Not yet, but come by in about, oh, fifteen minutes.”
John waited until he had left, “You should be dead.”
August began to stir his cocoa the spoon clinking off the insides of the cup, “I love to watch the marshmallows swirl in the cocoa, it’s so soothing.”
Still smiling he picked up John's spoon and gave his drink a quick swirl, “See? Watch.”
In spite of himself he looked down at his cup, “I don't feel soothed.”
“Keep watching. We're a lot like those marshmallows John, caught in a tempest that we never made. But who's doing the stirring? That’s the question isn’t it?”
“Why aren’t you answering me?”
“I was in a roundabout way.” he gave an apologetic shrug, and sipped from his cup, “It was the best analogy I could come up with.”
Still watching his marshmallows John wondered if his senses were failing him, “August I-”
“Actually I’m called Jason these days. Jason Magwier.”
“You changed your name again?”
“Got to stay ahead of my creditors somehow.”
“Listen you should be dead.”
“I haven’t aged a day either. I get that a lot.” He tapped John's cup, “Have some, its good.”
He had a sip before continuing, it was quite good, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m in town on business.”
“Is it about Victor?”
“Victor’s dead isn’t he?”
“As dead as you.”
“Oh. Well. Bless my buttons. Trust the Monarchs to muddy the waters.”
“We left him worse than dead, imprisoned in his own body. He'd have hated that.” John shook his head, “Why am I telling you this?”
“Are you sure nobody from the Project knows where he is?”
“They think he's dead.”
“Why didn't you kill him?”
“Death would only free him. His flesh was a cocoon.”
“Maybe that’s what he wanted you to think.”
“How’s everyone else?”
“Phil is doing okay... I think he’d have a heart attack if he saw me talking to you.”
He shook his head, “No, he’d just curse and throw things.”
“Zara is doing okay, she and Phil are together.” John couldn’t believe that he was having this conversation, that he was sitting here chattering away with a man he’d killed like they were at a church social!
“That’s good. I always thought they would have made a nice couple.” he paused, “Did Zara have the baby?”
“She... she got rid of it? But it might have been Phil’s, she couldn’t be sure.” He stared into his cocoa, a sad faraway look in his eyes, “She asked me for advice. Me of all people.”
“Phalen’s bones! It was almost forty years ago Aug- Magwier.”
He tried to smile, “I just wish things had gone better for you all.”
“I know you’re cursed John.”
“How do you always know so much?”
Shaking his head John took another sip from his cocoa, a lone marshmallow slipped down his throat. He never was one to give a straight answer, maybe that was why Victor was always a little afraid of him. “You're right.” John shook slightly at the memory, “He took away all I had.”
“I wouldn't say that. You had- have your friends and your life.”
“You think so?” he shifted in his seat, his gaze drifting back to the window, “You try living out the rest of your days as a cripple.”
“You're not a-”
“I most certainly am.”
He drained his cup thoughtfully, “You know what happened to your people?”
“I heard the fools tried to go to war with the Monarchs.”
“It was something of the sort.”
“I heard I may be one of the last.”
“It's not as bad as that.” he shook his head, “But they have hit the royal family very hard. All of them are dead save for the two princes.”
John wasn't sure how he should feel. After it had all gone down with Victor he'd gone off in search of his people. In search of a heritage he barely knew hoping that his kin might have a way for him to recover what he had so recently lost. He also wanted to understand who and what he was. Back then he’d still hoped to find a place where he could feel like he belonged.
What he'd found was a society in decline- a ruling class and a peasant class whose paths rarely crossed, great ceremonies that had become nothing more than excuses for drink and debauchery, and a disdain for the other races they lived beside. It was nothing like he’d imagined. He'd petitioned the High-borns for possession of his ancestors' bones. John remembered standing in one of the Great Houses trying to be heard over angry shouts. His activities with Victor and Project Pharos had made him many enemies within his own race. Some said he wouldn’t leave the mountains alive. Their leader Titus DelaWorg had silenced them all and then addressed John in a voice thick with pity. He’d called him a brave, if misguided warrior and gave him his ancestors’ bones on the condition that he first undertake the Common-Borns’ rites of passage. After completing the rites of passage he had never seen his people again.
“Let's see, what else is going on? Ah yes, the Monarchs are putting strict population limitations on the other races. Everyone seems to be obeying but I've been hearing things about involuntary abortions and sterilizations. And... hmmm.... there was something else...” his face brightened, “Ah yes, that's right. You remember Pallonius? The one that dropped a building on you? Well, he got kicked out of the Greater Eastern Council, he's living in the City of Bones now. I hear he's not happy.”
“Could you help me?”
“Help you with what?”
John took a deep breath, if he didn't say it now he never would, “The Metastasis. I want it back. I need it back. If I don't feel it again... I don’t know what I’ll do.”
“Don't give me that you can't! Not after what you’ve come back from the dead.”
Tom walked up to them, his pen and pad in hand, “Well, what can I get for you?”
Jason Magwier asked, “Anyone up for waffles?”
“Tom,” John spoke through gritted teeth, “Go away.”
“I said go away!” the old man's shout filled the nearly empty restaurant.
Magwier watched Tom retreat, “That may cost you your senior citizen's discount.”
John pounded the table, he felt close to tears, again “Stop toying with me! What do I have to do to get you to help me?”
“Calm down and listen to me.” he caught John's fist in his hands and held it firmly, “First of all I did not come back from the dead. Secondly your condition isn't some simple incantation I can undo with a little razzmatazz and a wave of The Shard. Victor damned you with his blood, with his soul. That's powerful stuff John.”
“How do you know what he did? You were-”
“What other kind of magic could hold the Metastasis hostage for so long?”
“Help me. Please.”
“Look,” he released John’s hand, “I'll try. I'll call in a few favors but I can't promise you anything. The Cause has depleted the resources I have at my disposal.”
“I know and I hear you... it's just that I haven't had much hope in my life lately.”
“I understand.” he nodded, “But I do need you to return the favor.”
“Of course.” There was always a but, always a stipulation.
“Can you get me one of Victor's old journals?”