“You’re Jack Cayce, aren’t you?” but it wasn’t a question – more a statement of fact – while Camuss’s eyes watched. He smirked at the robed man before him, noting the detailed trim of wreathing flowers that flowed along the garment.
Cayce was old now – age lines creasing his forehead, laugh lines folding his face. One good eye roved beneath the black hood, the other milky white against the darkness the hood made. The poet’s hair frayed out and about, peeking from beneath the hood like reluctant snakes. Camuss lowered his gun, pulling the hammer down. Cayce watched with a curious eye, a small grin beginning to split his lips. Camuss dropped the gun into his pocket, the long white coat trailed around him as a strong gust howled through the city. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it in defiance to the cold, snowy city around them.
“You’re the Dark Man’s right hand – or so you figure – doing his bidding like the ferris monkeys the Vanderer’s kept.” Camuss pulled on the cigarette, drawing in the smoke and then blowing it out, “So far all I’ve gotten from you is a terrifically bad smell – it reminds me of…”
Cayce’s soft, authoritative voice interrupted.
“I’m sure you’ve had your very own share of shit to deal with…”
Camuss finished his sentence fluidly, “it reminds me of the Vandross.”
He cast a mean, baleful eye at the one-eyed poet.
“Interrupt me again, you one-eyed bag of crap, and I’ll pull your tongue into a knot.” No euphemisms, nothing sardonic in those words could hide his meaning.
Cayce watched the man in front of him, noting the crazed glaze over his pupils, and the gaunt cheeks that spoke of malnutrition.
Camuss was thinner now than he had ever been – even as a child – looking like a straw scarecrow haloed by the snows’ white, smoky haze. Billows of heated air from beneath the city trailed his coat about like a great bird’s wings – adding to his vulpine posture in a disturbing way. His hair had grown down to the point of his chin and swept against the hollows of his cheeks like the blackness from which the rift monsters came. With his grungy, unkempt skin and dirty clothing, the man looked like less of a warrior and more of a beggar. Those eyes though, if Cayce had ever seen such eyes in his life, it could only have been in some drug’s embrace.
Camuss pitched forward towards his kill and crammed the vrabbif into his canvas sack. The hot blood from the animal steamed on the snow, soaking through the layers towards the buried ground. Camuss wiped some off of his hand onto a sleeve that hung out the side of an old car that had crashed into the brick around the old mall area. He cast a glance towards Cayce with those hauntingly green -blue – and crazily clear – eyes.
“Don’t think that your celebrity has been forgotten,” He readjusted the sack on his shoulder. “And don’t think it will save you.”
Jack put his hands up and backed away while bowing his head. His blind eye glowed like a pearl on black velvet looking at Camuss. He bowed low to the floor in defense, sweeping the snowy concrete with a hand in a gesture of supplication.
“Sure, sure…no problem.” Cayce smirked, “Hope I didn’t interrupt you?”
Camuss regarded Cayce with a look. He felt a strange chill race along his legs – as if a door had been opened at crotch height – while the poet watched patiently. Camuss ran his hand back along his skull – matting his hair down. The poet remained prostrated, waiting for some signal.
One of those boisterous howls bit into the air causing Camuss to start like the vrabbif he had slaughtered. He waited for Cayce to do the same and was horrified when the man just looked at the sky contentedly.
Another howl issued from the city, followed by another and another, until there was a veritable chorus of them cutting through the wind. As if brought on by the remnants of those people, snowfall began floating down around the dying city – causing the capital to take on a white grin as it faced its own slowing breath.
There was nothing but caved-in houses for miles and one or two buses with the dead milling from them like ants. Camuss dragged Cayce along with him, grasping the man’s arm with a fierce grip that crunched the fabric into rivulets. The snow tangled in their hair froze to snowflakes from the sky, making Cayce’s already wild hair stick up even under his hood. The blood on Camuss’s fingers burned – a welcome reminder of warmth in the frozen day. The poet’s one good eye rolled back and forth – sweeping the street with a practiced ease – that made even the ex-Agent uncomfortable. They walked in stubborn silence, with a very slow and methodical gait, across streets that had been full of bustling people; through convenience stores raided to bare shelves, and around gas pumps slick with melted snow and lathered in ice.
The sky slowly turned to a crimson–cream color that melted away the clouds. Cayce suddenly pulled at Camuss’s grip and dug his bare heels into the snow. His bulk surprised Camuss briefly, but then the surprise was gone. He dragged Cayce forward like a lion, his eyes mean. Cayce resisted for a moment, then found himself propelled forward into the man’s waiting arms.
With a dull – almost bored – expression passing across his face, Camuss slapped him in the mouth.
“You talk; you say anything I don’t like, this is what will happen.”
He raised his hand above the poet’s head, watching the one-eyed man’s face carefully, eyes looking – almost daring – that familiar smirk. Cayce’s eye registered nothing really – not even a hint of emotion – but it was milky: like lucid glass.
It was a long while in the cold city before they reached Camuss’s current home. He had dragged Cayce across long bridges frozen over with ice and crowded with battered vehicles, through ravaged tunnels still stinking of the dead, and around destroyed sewer mains that jutted from the snow like steel icicles. They walked in relative silence – their padding footfalls bouncing off the soft snow.
It wasn’t just cold, but a saddening chill – one that could halt your heart with its feelings of snuggling , relentless winter. The snowfall had stopped currently, but the clouds lining the night sky promised more. It allowed Camuss a glimpse of the street.
An old fire hydrant lay on its side while a thin stream of ice rose from its base like a sharpened flagpole. Somebody had beaten the thing apart with a pipe or wrench, but for what reason was beyond the two men. Its icy innards glistened softly in the last rays of day while its shell hung awkwardly to the side.
Cayce’s good eyes soaked in the environs, noting two fences, a cage, and a steel circle in the middle. The cage was empty and yet made the poet’s spine curl backwards at its sight. Cayce smirked,
“Well…That hasn’t happened for a while.”
Camuss made an annoyed sound and turned to the poet.
The poet quickly nodded assent.
Camuss moved cautiously away from Cayce, melting into the dark against the alley wall. The one-eyed writer remained stock still with a slow shadow playing across his face. In the deep shadow, about two inches away, he could hear Camuss’s light, methodic breathing. The air slowly pulsed with firelight, perhaps cast from the sky, and a strange echoing noise cracked in and out of existence for a few seconds. The poet remained rooted, his dark hood and cloak making him into some kind of surreal boogie man. The ex-Agent lingered in the shadows, watching, waiting – but for what?- Cayce pondered. And then, just a suddenly as the previous noise, came one of those stunningly mournful cries. It ended swiftly – choking out of existence somewhat violently – which seemed to impregnate the air with a light – almost fluffy – weight.
For a long time there was nothing to do but wait: and wait they did. Camuss calmly stood flat against the wall, while Cayce stood like a shadow in the dying day.
“ I smell your blood Agent, and I’m coming to take it from you!”
The voice – which seemed incredibly human and benevolent – was accompanied by a quick but padded sound – someone running – and the voice was quite familiar. Camuss sucked his breath in as Vanderkien had taught, crouching low against the sewer cover and under the shade of an arching banner strung across the towering buildings above. He stuck one hand out of the shadow, motioning for Cayce to hide. The poet dashed into the clearing, eyeing the cage, and opted to through himself into the snow bank instead. The wind died suddenly – as if the forces about to collide were gods of legend – and the footfalls sounded heavy in the silence.
“I come for the Dark One, Agent…his emissary to you; your blood is needed to reform That Which Went Away…we need you to die so we can rebirth the God of Truth!”
A face peered into the alley then, peeking around the side like in a childhood game. Eyes glistened madly in the dying day, teeth –what weren’t missing – gleaming with the color of moonlight turned crimson. The face was snarled to one side – maybe by fire, maybe by nature – which leant it a quality of human pity that offset the circumstances. Arms dangled like whips on either side – mutated by rift travel into semi-tentacle arms – while chitinous folds overlaid parts that should have been flesh.
Camuss was reminded of a movie he had watched once with Devon: laughing together at the absurdity of the premise, before spending a night in the joys of flesh. The men and women in that film had been consumed and transformed by a creature with pincers, that then created zombie-like servants…
The idea seemed far less absurd now.
The man-beast, whatever you wish to call it, moved down the alley like a predator from the jungles up north. It fixed its gaze on the shadows momentarily, peering into them with eyes that mirrored that inkiness, before fixating on the steaming canvas bag.
“No one hides from the Man of Truth! Your blood and marrow shall make the altar for the Way of Truth to pass into history!”
Camuss dropped prone then, on the ground behind where it had passed, hands splayed out above his head. He prepared his mind, watching his own movements and predicting the other’s moves as best he could. A hard task that – for he had never encountered a creature such as this in any capacity, and therefore was unaware of its capabilities. Bemusedly; he compared it to sparring with Vanderkien, and that seemed to click in his mind.
After a few more playthroughs, he slowly rose from the ground, hands shaking slightly in anticipation.
This man, you see, lived for the fight – for the blood and battle, the clash of sinew against his fist – the feel of flesh on his blade. Camuss was trained to kill, and few were more excellent at it than he. His brain moved like a train in the heat of battle – one car after the other – unloading terrible wrath against his foes. The sweeping – almost martial – way of moving flowed from him like steam from a kettle…
As natural as a babbling brook in the woods.
Fingers crooked in a claw, he started towards the creature ahead. Each step was placed as carefully as a pen draws a line – for this was his art. He could see the ribbons of cloth over the bug-like skin welled into a knot at the shoulder. His eyes sought the weakest parts like a computer. The spine was uncovered – still very much human – and a perfect target to rip and maim. He began to move like a hungry wraith targeting a particularly plump soul.
Cayce’s voice resounded in the air before he could move. The one-eyed poet moved from the snow with a lean that spoke to innate power. On his tongue were words that meant nothing to this world, but seemed to have sway over this monster. The creature bent backwards with a snarl that sounded like no human ever could. Cayce moved forward, hands to his heart, speaking the foreign words. He cast a glance into the shadows at Camuss – who heard a voice through his mind.
This one is mine, Agent. See the power invested in my prophet, see him bring the forces of fate to my will. Bear witness to the majesty that the Truth bestows, and the grace which grants death to the unbespoken.
Cayce cast his hand out again, breathlessly whispering, and the creature’s spine snapped in a way that no device of writing can describe. Cayce cast his hand to the side, and the bottom part of the thing’s spinal column ripped through muscle and splattered into the brick wall shattering and spewing marrow sideways. The creature screamed into the air – crying for its Father – as its upper torso crashed like a steel weight into its lower abdomen, crushing all things that rested there. Its legs gave out quickly, while its organs dragged into its ankle bones. The creature sputtered its own intestine from its throat, biting down in agony and spilling foul smelling stains to the ground.
Cayce looked up from the kill, his good eye watching the sky contentedly. Camuss moved over to the gurgling mass, which still managed to croak his name in a defiant gasp. He reached down and pulled the intestine until it popped like an inflated balloon, watching the glimmer of life fade into the thing’s skull. His eyes cast towards Cayce, and there, in those pools Camuss felt a terror that he couldn’t quell. Cayce looked at him then, that familiar smirk lining his tired face.
“Well Camuss, What do you think of that? Seems I do have some power after all!”
The ex-Agent’s spine retreated into itself. Cayce stood there with bloodless hands and robes – while the monster lay dead at his feet in the snow. Camuss shook inwardly – and then a voice spoke to his mind once more. He was sure now that Cayce wasn’t the speaker.
How do you prefer this to go, Agent? Now listen to my every fucking word….