The Cold Inside (a serial novel) Chapter Forty-Three part one
The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Thursday January 26, 1995
Staring out through the collapsed walls of the Imperial Hotel the boy had watched Enlightenment and Persuasion get mowed down with great amusement. As the Drones swarmed out of concealment and surrounded the assassin the boy had taken a moment to ponder if all those warriors were really there to protect him or for something else?
The Monarchs couldn’t be trusted, it was in their nature and the boy had to wonder if they in their segmented omniscience even understood how vulnerable their hungers made them. How could they not see the assassin’s bullets for the distractions they were?
The Red Offering would arrive soon, but there was still time for amusements. The boy crossed to the corner, there was an old oil lamp sitting atop a bloodied bedsheet. He fiddled with it until it sputtered to life, filling the topmost floor with fitful illumination. A lifetime ago he would have filled the empty moments with conversations- one sided conversations for Sig, tutelage for Philip Adorskil or clever lies for Lionel Wight, Margaret Chesboro, Kerwin Bell and all the rest.
“The door was open. I hope you don’t mind I let myself in.”
The boy smiled at the sight of August Zabladowski, the Hanged Man. He had his hair cut short and was wearing a battered leather jacket with a T-shirt that read ‘NOT INSANE’. The boy said, “You appear extraordinarily animated for someone I had killed thirty-five years ago.”
The dark-eyed man’s grin had just a touch of lunacy to it, he ran a knuckle along the cracked walls, tapping out a beat, “I could say the same thing about you Victor but let’s be honest you’re not the man you were.”
“Perhaps.” The boy watched him, “I believe your assassin may be dead.”
“Zeth will be fine...” The Hanged Man frowned briefly, “...probably.”
“Am I correct in assuming your prescience has forsaken you? It invariably did in regions like this.” The boy clasped his hands behind his back and approached his visitor.
“You know why I’m here Victor.” The Hanged Man said, “I want you to stop this. Please just walk away.”
“Are you joking or mad?”
“You’ve had your revenge, you’ve got a new body and if anything you’re stronger than you were in 1958.” The Hanged Man gave a conspiratorial whisper, “You could go anywhere, be anyone. You don’t owe the Monarchs a damn thing.”
The boy snorted derisively, “You believe I would turn away now?”
The Hanged Man shook his fists, “What’s the point of being the overlord of a dying world? Why are you settling for being the strongest slave?”
“If I were not in this place, in this moment then someone else would be. Perhaps even you Hierophant-to-be. Such things are inevitable.”
“You leave me no choice then.”
“You of all people should know better than to accept the concept of free will.”
They glared at each other for a few moments. The light in the room seemed to bend around them, their stances became defensive. The Hanged Man’s fingertips began to smolder with a cerulean light, he mumbled alien syllables under his breath. The boy wondered to himself how many futures his adversary was snuffing out with this incantation.
The Hanged Man released an arc of smoldering energy from his hands. The shadows of the Imperial’s upper level seemed to bend and twist in protest. The boy blocked the incantation with a curse. A shudder swept through the upper level of the building. A second incantation pushed the boy back into the lantern.
The boy drew upon the resources he’d stolen, exhaling a whorl of force the color of a rainstorm and the consistency of smoke. It surged from his mouth, an impossible torrent. The building shuddered again as though it had begun to shake loose from its foundations. The blackish purple vapor surrounded the Hanged Man, burning him wherever it touched.
“Oh how you have practiced and planned but all for naught.” More dark vapor flowered from the boy’s hands and found his adversary. “There will be no errors this time, no chances for last minute disloyalty or valor. Not humanity, not the Monarchs, not even you. Nothing has been left to chance. I will not be thwarted again.”