The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)
Al Bruno III
Night had fallen in Olathoe, the city of bones. Olathoe was a teeming metropolis of nightmares and impossibilities, a place where magic and monsters hid away from the ordinary world. In Olathoe every fable is a prophesy and every legend is a promise...
Constable Rhoden Lunt led his squad of Sentries along Thorn Park and then turned off onto Route d'abbaye. He stopped them in front of a slouching Victorian tenement and ordered them to break down the door.
The Sentries’ heads were shaven and their faces were intricately tattooed. The dull metal armor they wore contrasted with the automatic weapons slung over their shoulders. Constable Lunt's expression was sour, he didn't want to be here.
This particular barrio had an unpleasant reputation and in a city where cannibalism was legal, so long as you had the proper permits, that was no small feat.
Rhoden's uniform was standard issue for a Constable made with a fabric so dark blue that is was nearly black. Medals and awards were prominently displayed. The helmets were conical and elaborate. Rhoden’s gloved hands were clasped behind his back and he stood perfectly still. He wanted to move around, to pace and grumble under his breath but that wasn’t something Constables did. They were supposed to be men and women whose perfect poise and posture was an outward sign of their perfect minds. He’d seen entire careers derailed by a thoughtless scratching of the nose.
After what seemed like an eternity the door to 209 Route d'abbaye. splintered and the Sentries charged inside. Rhoden waited for the all clear. There was graffiti on the wall to his right, a snarled yellow sigil.
He’d seen many streets purged during his career, entire neighborhoods cleared out. Why not this one? Why did the Regent suffer it to exist?
Still he supposed it might happen soon, especially if their tip was correct and they captured Jason Magwier. Constable Rhoden Lunt smiled at the thought of bringing him in, that certainly would be a feather in his already feathery cap.
And wouldn’t his dear cousin Jack be jealous?
A shriek startled him from his thoughts. One of the Sentries stumbled back out of the building. Blood was drizzling from the gaps in his armor. The Sentries' face was a mass of gleaming red sinew. Somehow he had been skinned while still wearing his armor but Rhoden saw it was more than this, even the Sentries’ muscles were falling away from the bone, fraying like worn strings to reveal ugly glimpses of what lay beneath.
Training overrode Constable Lunt’s instinct to run. He drew his sidearm and spat an incantation.
A wave of mystical force slammed against and through the doorway of the old house. The boards across the first floor windows snapped. Constable Lunt heard things crashing and shattering. He waited a moment more and then stepped inside.
“Prostrate yourself!” Rhoden cried, “In the name of the Regent I order you!”
Something moved to his left, something low to the ground. The Constable whirled and fired two shots before he realized it was the second Sentry.
The second Sentry had been just as horribly mutilated as the first. The Sentry quivered and crawled, the shape of his body was all wrong.
How could Jason Magwier have done this? It didn’t fit his modus operandi at all. He was a subversive and an anarchist but not a sadist.
“Just as well,” a voice said from the far side of the room, “he would have died soon enough.”
Constable Rhoden Lunt spun back around again. He stared down the sights of his revolver to see a tall man wearing an inverness coat. He had a thick mane of white blond hair and octagon rimmed glasses. In his right hand he held the skin of one Sentry, in the his left he held the spine of the other; both where perfectly preserved and bloodless.
Rhoden knew who this man was. “Dr. Flesh?” the name was ridiculous but his voice trembled when he said it.
“Indeed,” the man with the white blonde hair dropped his grisly trophies and took a step forward, “I think you know what this means.”
“Whoever’s paying you... whatever they’re paying you... my family...”
“I’m sure they could but we both know better,” Dr. Flesh moved slowly, like a man trying to charm a skittish animal.
“Stay away!” Rhoden shook his revolver for emphasis, “I’ll shoot.”
“This can be painless,” Dr. Flesh said, “it can be like drifting off to sleep.”
“I said stay back!”
“If you shoot me I’ll make the parts of your face come together. Then I’ll leave your every nerve ending screaming with pain. Not a pleasant way to go.”
Dr. Flesh reached for the Constable. The Constable fired.
The bullet’s impact knocked the assassin back half a step but the wound was bloodless and began to close. Then Dr. Flesh was on him.
Dr. Flesh’s hands were pale and slender, almost feminine. When they settled on Rhoden’s throat they sank through the skin as though it was nothing but water.
For Rhoden there was a moment of revulsion and then he felt as though he was aflame. The pain sent him crashing to the floor, he began to fill the air with animalistic blubbering. The agony robbed him of his strength and then went to work on his mind.
With another brush of his hand Dr. Flesh fused melded Rhoden’s lips and eyelids closed, melting them like wax leaving nothing of his face save for the nose.
That done he fished a dog-eared paperback copy of Atlas Shrugged from his coat, sat down on the floor beside the first of tonight’s targets and started to read. He wondered idly how long the Constable would last, how long until his heart burst in his chest from terror.
Dr. Flesh guessed he had until chapter eight, chapter nine at the most.