Eyes in the dark. Seven moons gleamed. One moon circled.
Well, fuck. Haven’t seen you in a while. Thought you’d gone silent on me for good.
“Do you remember your mother?”
What? What the fuck? You don’t say a damn thing for like ten years and the first thing you do is ask me some weird shit like that when you show up?
“It’s been a while.”
“How have you been?”
… a’ite, fuck this. It ain’t workin’. Lets do it your way.
“As you wish. Do you remember your mother?”
Naw. She died when I was lil.
“Yet you carry a lock of her hair in your boot.”
Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Least it’s not an ear or somethin’
“That would be unpleasant.”
And… I mean… I gotta keep something, y’know?
“I know. It’s important to remember. Even the things we never really knew to begin with.”
… yeah, whatever the fuck that means.
“You know what it means. Why else would you keep that hair around?”
Hey, lay off, a’ite? I don’t go pokin’ around in your head and start in on all your habits. </i>
The second moon shimmered and faded. The eyes blinked. A laugh echoed through the night.
“That you do not. But then, I don’t have a head anymore, do I?”
… where the fuck you been, anyway? You ain’t talked ta me like this since I was lil.
“You haven’t needed me to, since you were little.”
And I need ya to now, huh?
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
I fuckin’ got ya trapped in my head. You’re always here.
The eyes rose into merry crescents, then grew to their proper shape again.
“Tell me about your friends.”
I ain’t got none.
“Not your gang?”
… they… naw, not really. I mean, they’re a good bunch, but… I dunno. They ain’t friend friends, y’know? Not like… not like the old Pack…
“What happened to the old Pack?”
Dead… all of ‘um. They… they got caught… y’know, on Cleaning Season?
“There is nothing I can do to help you without knowing where you stand.”
I ain’t fuckin’ asked for your help, asshole. What makes you think I even need it?
“I am here. You are here. Clearly, you need someone.”
Gray mist washes through the darkness and suddenly the world is light again. A world. The world. The same world he’s always known, but ten years too early to be tomorrow. Gray sky above, gray world bellow. A young boy stood on the dank walls of the Boil, his face and features hidden in a deep hood. Bodies shoved and pressed him against the rampart, like a tide battering a stone against the shore. A cheering, screaming crowd thronged around him. Today, the people in the Boil were in a state that no festival could awaken in them. They had come to see blood. The young boy gritted his teeth. As if they didn’t see enough every day.
The Boy’s Field awaited far bellow, a shadow on the ground where no tree grew to cast it. The gallows were empty, at the moment. The nooses twisting in the wind, their hollow rings flashing in and out of perspective like some great twenty-eyed monster giving the boy on the wall a knowing wink.
Don’t worry, they told him. We won’t tell anyone. You’ll come to us in time. You all end up keeping us company, eventually.
Already the garrison was cajoling the line into place. Cleaning Season had been particularly through this year. A string of a hundred or more boys and girls, their hands and eyes bound tight. The garrison. A sickened bile rose in the boy’s throat as he watched them. Dressed so nicely in their squeaky white uniforms, polished and pressed like they were on parade as they used foul words and heavy fists to beat the first twenty children onto the platform.
The soldiers tore the shirts and blouses from the children on the gallows to expose the tattoos and scars that marked the gang they claimed alliance to. The boy couldn’t see them clearly enough to know if they were his own. No one on the wall could, but they shouted belligerently at them just the same.
What if they’re the Pack? His bitter, stinging eyes demanded as he looked around at the faceless wall of hatred. What if they’re Silver Queens or Roses? What if they’re the ones who stopped to help you up when you fell or spent their nights hunting the alleys to make sure no one worse was out making trouble?
But he didn’t ask. Asking would have only made him suspect and he had lived through Cleaning Season by being as quite as he could. Now he was safe on the wall. Safe to go back to the House after this was over. Safe, while the thirteen boys and girls who had raised him or grown up side him were about to have their necks broken for the pleasure of a frothing group of degenerates.
The soldiers were reading out the charges, but not the names or the allegiances. They weren’t even going to give him the satisfaction of knowing when. One gang was the same as the next. One punk as worthless as any other. Nameless, faceless trash.
They could play their game, but like hell he was going to watch it. Like hell… like hell…
He was already pressing back through the crowd when it suddenly fell to silence. He couldn’t stop himself. He willed his ears to tightened, his sense to sharpen, his mind focusing for once crystal clear moment on the sound of twenty wooden panels opening at once, twenty ropes snapping down, twenty necks breaking.
The crowd exploded into a frenzy. They were cheering. They were laughing. One of the punks hadn’t died right away and people near the boy were taking bets on how long she’d kick and choke on the end of the rope before she died. His small hand lashed out and crushed into the crotch of one of the men taking bets. Then, he ran. He didn’t look back to see if the sudden flare of shouting was at him, didn’t look ahead to see where he was going. Fire was in his eyes, burning and stinging like a handful of salt had been thrown in his face. Stinging. Damp. Cold…
Two moons began to slide down the darkness, glistening like raindrops against a pane of glass. Darkness again, as if the gray world had never been. The eyes were somber.
“But you survived. The gallows did not claim you.”
… not yet, naw. Sarah hid me. She was sweet on me then, too.
Sarah. Sweet Sarah O'Reilly. They called her that even then, before it came to mean something else entirely. Her girlish giggle echoed in the darkness.
He looked up from the sugar-cake he had broken in half to share with her, only then seeing how close she was. Heat rose in his face. He bit too much off the cake and couldn’t swallow enough to speak. He could only sit there and blush as her freckled face moved closer.
“Wanna hear a rainy-day secret?”
Rainy-day secrets were the best kind. The sort of thing gossiping old bitties held out on each other until the rain was too heavy to let them chat with their neighbors down the street. He looked out from under the tattered canopy they had set up outside the Pleasure House at the pale sunlight shinning down, then he nodded.
“Marco on Gold Banner Street said he likes me…” she whispered, leaning closer. She put her hand on his. For balance? Somehow, it just made him feel even warmer. “Y’know Marco, right? D’ya think he’d be good for me?”
Marco. He tried to think about what he knew about Marco. Swarthy kid from the South. Nice guy, but kinda greasy, like a lot of those southerners were. He didn’t like the idea of Sarah and Marco, but there were worse guys she could be with, so he nodded in approval.
“But you know what?” she pressed on and pressed closer, the weight of her soft hand pushing onto his, the tips of her fingers curling a little over his hand.
With great effort, he finally swallowed. “W-what?”
“… I like you!” her lips pressed against his cheek before he knew what she was about and her laughter filled the streets as she took off running before he could even blink, her blond hair spilling through the air behind.
The seven moons rose from the golden river of her hair, floating in the air around her as she looked back, smiling radiantly. Her eyes were turning blue though. Pure blue. Moon blue and her face fell away into darkness.
“She was a good match for you.”
Kinda… never had the heart ta tell her that I didn’t, y’know, really feel like that for her… but we were friends first anyway, so figured it would be sooner or later before someone who was really tryin’ ta win her got her attention and she’d stop wantin’ ta fuck me for free.
“And you rebuilt your little Empire.”
Yeah… well… someone had ta and I was the only one left. There was alotta kids on the streets after that Cleaning. Lots a dumb-fuck kids with only half an idea on how shit works and being too fuckin’ loud for their own good.
“You saved them from themselves?”
Guess so. Just didn’t wanna see the dumbfucks get hung. They were better with me, anyway. Made the Pack the kings of the Red-Lanterns.
“You did well.”
Naw, I fucked up then, too. Tried ta get too many of those punks on my side, tried ta march them across the city, put down the rest of the gangs that made it through. There was alotta trouble, right then, cause most of who made it didn’t give a fuck about how things were supposed ta work. They wanted ta smoke and fuck and break shit. Streets were worse after Cleaning Season, that time, cause the scumbag garrison killed all the good ones, the ones who didn’t fuckin’ hide cause they thought they didn’t need ta.
“Their bravery is commendable and their loss tragic.”
Yeah, fuckin’ tragic. They had more balls than sense… all of ‘um… buncha stupid bastards…
Faces peered out of the darkness. Young faces. Smiling faces. Some pale with death, their eyes picked empty by the crows who flocked to the Boys Field after the hangings. Others who he had never found in the pile, still warm and alive, laughing and grinning.
… you stupid shits…told ya ta hide…
“But you never unified the city?”
… naw. Someone didn’t want me to… dunno who. Mighta been that fucker Barr. But, someone wanted ta make damn sure it didn’t happen…
Blood welled up in the darkness. It spurted from the hazy vision. His belly was burning under his palms, as if hands were on fire. And there was fire. Vivid and red around him, the warehouse blazing from a lamp that had fallen in the tussle. Fire and blood, painting the walls. But not all of it his. Jumbled bodies lay on the floor, their limbs and heads twisted into unnatural angles. Their dead eyes were still opened wide in shock, as if even after it had happened, they didn’t believe it possible. They looked damn stupid, but they made him shudder and stumble away.
Shouting. More shouting. He wondered if his whole life wasn’t anything more than a series of yells. You scream in pain. You scream in defiance. You scream in pleasure. He was screaming as he threw himself through the warehouse window and tumbled two stories to the snowy ground bellow, but he stopped when his body struck the paving stone beneath the dirty white. Something cracked inside him and moved in a way it shouldn’t have. He groaned. Fuck he sounded so pathetic.
Someone else laughed.
“Well shit, boys. Guess Heaven just opened right up and dropped our perpetrator right to us.”
He opened his eyes. The world had become a glare of washed out whites and blood reds. If it wasn’t blinding, then it burned. All save the face that was grinning above him. A face he could never forget. Unshaven and handsome, like a hero from a storytellers fable. But that face had a devils grin on it.
“What do you say, kid?” the face. Man. Soldier. It all same into perspective as he leaned down and prodded the wounded boy with his sword. The blade slipped through cloth and skin, slid slowly and easily into the meat of his chest. Had he not already been numb, the pain would have made him howl. “Just admit you did it now and they probably won’t kill you slowly.”
It took every ounce of strength he had to cough, hawk, and spit right in the soldiers eye. The grin that broke on his face hurt in the cold, but it was worth it to see the man reel back and clutch at his eye.
There had been more. The soldier cursing and stabbing him again. The other soldiers; where had they come from? Out of the snow like boogie men, hauling him to his feet. He had tried to push past them and run, but they threw him back against the wall. They were going to make him pay, he remembered being told. Fuck him over so bad, his whore of a mother would never recognize him if she saw him.
But anything else didn’t matter from that point on, because that was when the dog had appeared at the end of the street, the only thing that seemed to have focus in his blurry vision. That was when the woman had spoke into his mind. That was when… he was Chosen.
Heh, I fucked ‘um up. Fucked ‘um all up and left the bastards naked in the snow while I ran off ta hunt that dog down…
“And eat it’s heart?”
… hey, I we already talked about this, a’ite? I don’t fuckin’ berate you for your habits.
“I was not berating you.”
… fine, yeah, I ate it’s heart… didn’t really wanna… I mean, the dog kinda saved my life in a way, y’know? But… I just… had to…
“An animal urge.”
“And I know what happened next. That I was there for.”
Yeah… the old crazy showed up…
“I can help you, help you, help you help yourself. To anything. To everything! Everything is ours to take! We took it all once, but they took it back, but we can make them give it back, back, back!”
… shit. He was just as bad back then… coulda sworn he’d been getting crazier lately.
“Vendetti has been mad for a very long time.”
… who the fuck is Vendetti?
“The Raven King. The Father of Crows.”
Yeah? I’ll be damned. Didn’t know the coot even had a name.
“Had, yes. He gave it up when he became the creature you know now.”
Aw that’s too bad. Woulda given me somethin’ else to call the crazy fucker other than “Hey you crazy fucker.”
“So, we know where you’ve been. Where are you now?”
Sleepin’ on the grass somewhere in Whiteshield, last I checked. Dunno. Maybe the Angel moved me while I was asleep again… still wonderin’ how the fuck she did that…
Dark Angel. Selina. Morianne. Whatever…
Black wings and pale skin. Just like the Father. But nothing like the father in the shape they take. He was wrinkled and spotted. She was smooth and creamy. Firm and warm in his hands, despite how cold her skin looked. Hot around him. Arms and legs and pussy, all wrapped so tightly around him it felt like she was trying to squeeze him in half, all throbbing with heat. She was good. Not as good as Sarah, but a damn sight better than a lot of girls. She knew how to move with him. How to touch. Where to kiss. To nibble and bite. And the occasional brush of her wings against his arms was just enough to remind him in his forgetful lust just how fragile and exotic she was. Her teeth nipped his ear, then suddenly her breath was filling his senses with a blistering moan and her nails digging needfully into his flesh again.
… fuck me, but I forgot how nice that had been… was only a few days ago, too… think we can stop the conversation for a bit? I wanna see if she’s still up.
“How did you get there?”
Man. Woman. Small room. Y’know, shit happens that way.
“Where you are now? How did you come to be with this ‘Dark Angel?’”
You always want me to think about the shitty stuff, don’t ya?
“WHERE THE FUCK IS SHE?!”</i> he had the old bastard by the throat. It was the first time he had ever touched the old man, the first time he had ever tried to assault him, and his grip only lasted a moment before the Father of Crows casually threw him side.
“Gone, gone, gone gone away. Far away, yesssss…” Father of Crows bobbed his head while he hobbled back and forth excitedly. “Stolen! Thieves, damn thieves, like shadows. Never trust your shadow! Your shadow seeks to steals your bones through your feet! To steal your bones and make them walk without you! <i>WITHOUT YOU! Gone far away without you. With shadow and bones and a head that was on fire. Fire…”
He balled his fists and tried not to leap on the old man again. Once. Once was enough to convince him that it would only end poorly for him. Whatever his rage, even if it was enough to overcome the little creep, he needed Father of Crows now. Badly. “Gone where? With who? Who took Sarah?”
“Fire!” the scruffy old man leapt up and down, the mantle of soiled feathers at his neck rustling and swaying. “Fire on her head and fire between her legs. Fire like candy. Sweet, sweet, sweet…” Bone fingers claw through the air. “So sweet, my love… always so sweet….”
Suddenly, he knew and the knowledge brought him little peace. “It was her. That red-haired bitch who came with the other deaders. She fucking took Sarah? Took her with all those other girls?! The FUCK didn’t you stop them?!”
But Father of Crows was lost in the twisted maze of his own mind already. He stumbled around the room, snatching at the air and beating at his chest, trying not to step on his shadow.
“Bad enough you let these fuckers take over the first time, now you went and let them take Sarah too.” He rose slowly, dusting cobs webs off his jacket. “Fuck this. I’m going after her.”
“After?” the old man’s head snapped to him. There was a light in the old man’s eyes that he didn’t quite like. “Yes. The moon chases the sun! The sun follows the moon! After! After! Like the shinning sun, my love. Bring her back! Bring them all back, back, back! The sun and the moon shall be together forever! I will show her the way!”
He didn’t have time for this. Every second meant that Sarah and that red-haired bitch were getting further away. He walked away from the old man’s rambling, hands in his pockets. “Yeah, whatever. I’ll bring her back. All the girls.”
“ALL OF THEM! The Queen too! Hair like fire and flames between her legs. Put them out before they burn her up again! I will put them out, out, out, out…”
Weren’t till later I even realized he expected me to bring the red-haired bitch back too. Crazy old fuck…
“And will you?”
Hell no! I’ll kill the bitch if I can. The Father and the Angel both want her alive, ain’t no reason to let her live, after what she did.
“That would probably be for the best.”
“But are you sure you can?”
… wha? Oh, hey, HEY! Those fuckin’ thing snuck up on me, a’ite? It ain’t gonna happen again. Never.
“You should let your hound help you more. He sacrificed himself for you.”
I don’t need no fuckin’ dog ta help me anymore. I ain’t some carved up kid laying in an alley.
“Were you not, now?”
“I know you’ve never liked to acknowledge what is there within you.”
“As you wish…”
The moons began to wink out one by one, vanishing into the darkness, leaving him alone and without light.
“I merely ask you to think about things more careful. Consider them more careful. As contrary to your nature as that may be.”
Hey… hey, wait… where the fuck ya goin’? I thought ya were gonna help me!
“Perhaps when you want to be helped… perhaps when you admit that you really need it…”
Hey! Wait! I need it, a’ite! I need help! Please!
But the eyes had already closed, one at a time, leaving him standing in emptiness and night. Alone in the cold. Alone with only himself. Just the way he liked it.