Tag Archives: melville project

Melville – Objection

Have you ever tried to tie a tie in a car? Let me tell you, it’s not easy.
Something else that’s not easy is trying to work your way through court precedings with less than a Bachelor’s degree, pre-law. But hey, I figured I knew enough from TV to fake it… for long enough, at least. Ishmael had been arraigned the day before and, thanks to a bunch of anti-Mythic legislation the AE had paid to ram through Congress, he was being tried that next morning, no bail, as a threat to national security or some such shit. We didn’t have much time, but we had enough.
“Objection!” I shouted as loudly as I could as I blew past two guards and into the courtroom. I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this, and it all seemed a bit too cheesy to be real. My Mom and Xandra had done a good job distracting the folks at the entrance, and Brigitte was posing as one of the guards at the door to let me in. She… may or may not have pinched my ass as I went by, which probably made my shout even louder.
I walked into a court that was barely populated. These Mythic trials seldom are, as families realized pretty early on that showing up to help plead a relative’s case was a one-way ticket into jail themselves. The judge, a bored lifer in the position, glanced up at me with tired eyes as my voice’s echo faded from the concrete walls.
“Excuse me?”
“John Noble, your honor,” I said with gusto, slamming a briefcase full of nothing down on the table next to Ishmael, “representation for the defense.”
“I was not made aware of any representation,” the judge sighed. He glanced over at the prosecutor, an AE goon, who gave a smug smirk and nodded.
“I’ll allow it… I suppose.”
“Thank you, your honor. Now, if I may be given a few minutes to confer with my charge?”
“Of course.”
“Thank you, your honor.”
I hadn’t looked at Ishmael since I walked in, trying to keep tunnel vision to keep up the charade. I knew that once I did, I’d absolutely wilt under his gaze.
I was right.
“What.”
He didn’t even ask it as a question. He didn’t even say any more words. He just said that. “What.” I slapped on my best lawyerly smile and opened my briefcase, which contained about fifteen issues of Kyle Rayner’s initial run.
“Just shut up and let me do this for you, moron.”
“I don’t need anyone to do anything-”
“Hey!” I hissed at him, surprised at my boldness, “You’re not going to get the last word on this, all right?”
His eyes, piercing and blue, softened a little. Every fiber in me wanted to just reach out and give him a hug and promise everything would be all right… but that wouldn’t be very lawyerly.
“Are you ready to proceed,” the judge asked before sarcastically adding, “Defense?”
“Yes we are, your honor,” I slammed down the briefcase with more insane bravado, “I believe my client has already entered a plea, if the nonstop radio coverage in my car is to be believed?”
“Yes,” the judge replied with no shortage of condescension, “he pleaded guilty.”
“Excellent!” I responded too quickly and too loudly, “Just as I had instructed him to do. Traffic was terrible this morning. Belmont. Terrible. Had to leave a message.”
“If the defense would please finish his traffic report,” the judge groaned, “the prosecution was making their case.”
This was a kangaroo court, and everyone knew it. The judge sure did. No Mythic ever got off, especially not in Philly with the AE looking over our shoulders. The idea was simple: make the case, convict, move on to the next one.
“Your honor,” the prosecution goon began, “We have numerous instances of civilians, public officials and law enforcement all confirming that the accused has waged a campaign of terror and murderous violence from one end of this country to the other. He is clearly a terrorist threat to our well-being as a country and must be dealt with as harshly as possible. If it please the court, we would like to read just a few of the collected statements regarding the man referred to by the MCI as ‘Black Jacket,’ the subject of investigation for years.”
MCI. Mythic Criminal Investigation. Good thing the phone company went belly up or they’d have to find some other stupid acronym.
“The first confirmed report comes from a youth matching Black Jacket’s description in a supper club in rural Minnesota. An MCI agent received a tip of an undocumented Mythic washing dishes. Upon approaching the youth, he was struck in the face with a coffee mug: the agent survived, but had to undergo surgery to mend a broken jaw.”
Ishmael scoffed next to me.
“It was my first one,” he said, a little too loudly, “and for the record, it was five coffee mugs, not one. I wrapped them around my fingers like brass knuckles. Shame I only broke his jaw.”
The goon prosecutor swallowed hard through a pencil neck, adjusted his thinning hair, and continued.
“Uhhh… April 8, the following year, Clark County, Wisconsin. A youth matching Black Jacket’s description was said to be hiding in an abandoned barn. Upon entering the barn, Black Jacket locked the door and burned it to the ground… with the agents inside.”
“I lost my favorite hat in that fire,” Ishmael quipped, “Twins, the old logo. Remember, the big “M” one? Kirby Puckett?”
I gave him a glare, all the while wondering why this was the most chipper I’ve ever seen him. Xandra’s words kept ringing in my ears… maybe this is like Disneyland to a normal person?
“Uhhh…” the goon cleared his throat, as if to ask if he should proceed. The judge wasn’t paying attention, so he went on.
“December of that year, Toledo, Ohio…”
“We’re going to be here all day if you go through all of them,” Ishmael said, louder than almost anything I’ve heard him say before. It seemed to tax his voice, and I could hear his throat tighten up as he fought back the urge to cough. He returned to his raspy whisper and choked out a few more words.
“Why don’t we just skip to the end?”
Clearly shitting his pants, the goon prosecutor obeyed the defendant.
“All…” his voice broke, but he continued, “All told, the MCI reports that Black Jacket is responsible, both directly and indirectly, for the deaths of…”
He had to swallow again. I glanced over and realized that he had probably been fed this info by the AE, and this was the first time he’d ever seen it. His voice sunk to a whisper as he continued, his eyes goggling.
“fourteen thousand, two hundred and eighty f-five people, mostly thr– through very… intimate means.”
That’s the way a person sounds when they just found out they’re in a room with a mass murder… and a magical one at that.
“Fucking beancounters,” Ishmael sneered, “Your honor?”
“Uh, yes?”
Jesus, Judge… when did you stop caring?
“I’d like the record to show fourteen thousand, two hundred and eighty four deaths, please.”
“Can you validate this, uh, evidence?”
“Give me my guns back and I’ll show you.”
The courtroom grew deathly silent. I fiddled with the latches on my Naugahyde briefcase I won at  school carnival in 8th grade, trying to find something to say, but thankfully I didn’t have to wait long. The doors to the courtroom flew open, and in stepped a man flanked by shock troops, wearing an impeccably tailored suit, silk tie with matching silk scarf, and what must have been glasses that cost more than my Mom’s house.
It was about this time I wondered again just how my life got to be this ridiculous.
“Objection, your honor!”
Hey, that’s my line.
“Sustained,” the judge said, actually seeming to be happy about something for once in his life. I guess with Kennedy Pyre presiding over the proceedings, the weight was off his back, and he’d still get paid. Pyre was just like I’d seen him a million times before on TV: slick, managed, Teflon. He probably would have been considered handsome if it wasn’t for that ever-present smirk constantly breaking up the perfectly manicured stubble.
“Thank you, your honor.  Would it please the court if I were to observe the proceedings? We’ve been looking for this one for a long time, and it was… quite a surprise that he just turned up on our doorstep.”
His voice was a deep baritone that made your blood vibrate, the sort of voice that made you blush… even if you didn’t know why.
“Absolutely, Mr. Pyre,” the judge replied, and Pyre sat near the back of the gallery, flanked by body armor and semi-automatics.
“Well…” the judge cleared his throat, “If there are no further interruptions… does the prosecution rest?”
The AE goon looked like his knees were about to buckle. He looked over at Pyre in the gallery who simply smiled and nodded.
“The prosecution r-rests, your honor.”
So, we’re just going to bend Lady Justice over the bench a little further huh?
“And the defense?”
“Uh… yes,” I stammered, opening my briefcase and looking at nothing again in a desperate effort to stall.
“Defense?” the judge kept pressing.
“If your honor would like to grant me–”
“I would not.”
“Can I at least confirm with my client?”
“He doesn’t look like he wants to.”
Ishmael hadn’t moved since Pyre walked in. His eyes were back to that impossibly clear blue, focused right on him with the most murderous intent… it was primal. I saw his fingers digging into the table, his skills being able to find each and every weak point until his hand crushed the wood into sawdust.
“Oh look,” Pyre mused, “another Mythic upset at me. Wonder why.”
A low growl was beginning in the back of Ishmael’s throat. He stood up from the chair and stood to face Pyre, his back to the judge.
“If the defendant would please remain seated and face the bench–”
Ishmael let out a scream like the roar of all Hell’s engines. He easily snapped the wooden railing behind me into a makeshift javelin and hurled it a hairsbreadth from Pyre’s face… and straight into the face of the soldier seated next to him. The man died hard, gurgling.
“There,” Ishmael gagged on blood from his ravaged throat, “Now it’s eighty-five.”
“And I think that’s enough.”
Pyre sighed and stood up, almost annoyed at what had taken place.
“Your honor, it can clearly be seen that this man is a threat. I move that we go ahead with a guilty conviction. Agreed?”
The judge, looking a little green around the gills, banged his gavel.
“Agreed.”
I flew up from my seat and approached the bench, all the while thinking holy crap, I’m actually approaching the bench!
“Now wait just a minute here!” I started talking like an idiot, “Are we seriously going to go ahead with this?”
“The court will please strike those last comments from the record,” the judge said to no one in particular, “we’re done here. Bailiff, restrain the convicted, please.”
Apparently, this judge hadn’t done his homework, because Ishmael tore through the handcuffs like tissue paper. The Bailiff just stood there, dumbfounded, as Ishmael hurled himself over what was left of the railing and straight at Pyre. He vaulted about three rows of chairs and ran into a line of assault rifles.
“That’s about as far as you go, Evaluator,” Pyre said, somehow smirking even harder, “I’m fairly certain even you can’t dodge all these bullets.”
He parted the ranks of his soldiers and came within feet of Ishmael, who was nearly frozen in impotent rage.  I scrambled as best as I could to Ishmael’s side, trying desperately to stall for just a few more seconds.
“I am going to enjoy destroying you,” Pyre gloated, “almost as much as I’ll enjoy extracting your essence.”
“Hey, at least buy him a drink first!” I made a fool of myself once again, but it at least managed to get Pyre’s attention. Just a few more seconds, I thought, just a few more.
“Ah yes. You are the unexpected one here.”
Pyre sized me up in a way that made me feel just plain dirty before lightly waving his hand in front of my face. A cloud of sparkling blue mist filled my vision, only to quickly dissipate back to Pyre’s smirking face. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my first run in with Mythic magic.
“Although maybe not that unexpected. I’m on a roll with killing fathers today…”
My feet felt like they sunk into the floor. I stood there, dumbstruck.
“You… killed my father?”
“Oh, I’ve killed many fathers,” Pyre sighed, “why should yours be special? I was bored, he was poor, you know how these things go.”
I knew I was supposed to feel that same righteous, white-hot rage well up inside me like it did with Ishmael, but instead I felt hollowed out, compromised, incomplete. I felt like I might collapse, but at that moment the courtroom went dark, much to everyone’s surprise but my own. I was immediately jolted back to the mission at hand at chaos broke out. The soldiers closed ranks around Pyre in the dim emergency light, while the judge wailed impotently from the bench.
“What is this? What on earth is going on?”
Reverting to the only thing he knew, he began to pound his gavel furiously.
“Order! Order, I will have order in this court!”
The doors to the courtroom flew open as an Olds Alero, heavily modified into a mini-tank, scattered chairs and soldiers in all directions. On either side of the gallery, shapes swung in through the windows, sending leaded glass fragments everywhere. One of Pyre’s high-ranking soldiers tried to radio for help, but the radio sent out a pulse of electricity that flattened him instantly. In the span of one clean minute, Ishmael and I found ourselves flanked by our own small army to match Pyre’s, all while Rat blared the bridge section to John Denver’s I Want To Live over a hacked PA system.
I knew I’d never get another chance to look this cool, so I turned to the judge, despite it all or maybe because of it, and said:
“Objection, your honor.”
At my left shoulder, I heard a familiar, rodent-like voice call out “Sustained!” and at the push of a button the entire wall of the courtroom crumbled like tissue paper, revealing Aonghus’ larger tank with the mad dwarf himself at the wheel. Xandra leapt out of the Alero and grabbed me, tossing me into the mini-tank, while Ishmael was carried off by literally everyone else, my mother included. As soon as he realized we made to escape, he began to writhe and snarl in the grasp of many arms, constantly trying to reach Pyre as his soldiers quickly ushered him out of the rubble. Even as the last bit of his scarf disappeared down the hall, I saw Ishmael’s thin, white fingers reach out for Pyre like the claws of a falcon, searing the image into my mind before Xandra slammed shut the door and motored out through the hole in the wall, following Aonghus back to the Southside and to freedom, however temporary it might be.
“Nice job,” Xandra grunted as we swerved the machine through unsuspecting traffic, “I’d kiss you, if I thought you’d enjoy it.”
“Let’s take a raincheck on that,” I said numbly. I looked out of what little window there was at the other urban tank, currently blasting its way through a grassy median. My eyes squinted almost automatically, trying to see if I could still see those talon-like fingers from the windows of our other vehicle, and my mind swam with a thousand questions. Somehow, out of all of that, I managed to get out:
“Man, I hope he’s all right.”

Melville – Something

It’s strange, and a little bit funny, how different people deal with grief.
After Father Ken disappeared (I don’t want to say “died” because, honestly, I can’t tell you whether or not he actually did), I decided to give everyone a little time to cope. Seeing as how I’m the leader now, as far as Ishmael is concerned, I figured I might as well start putting things together. Before this, we all just sort of did our own thing, and whenever Ishmael would come in an announce something we would drop what we were doing and go do that. The entire process was a complete headache, and I heard more than one person complaining about the boss’ unpredictability, so to speak. As I sat down to chart it all out, I was well aware of the irony that forming a ragtag group of rebels to take out an oppressive conglomeration wasn’t all that different from a business itself. Maybe I could have gotten a tax write-off.
So, I got to work. It always helps to take my mind off things when they get unbearable. For the others, well… Aonghus and Dr. Bill just disappeared but, due to both of their advanced age, it seemed to be an old fashioned way of dealing with it. “Never let them see you cry, old sport” and all that. My Mom did much the same, and our communal dinners at night just weren’t the same as she silently doled out Mexican casseroles and boiled dinner. I checked on them from time to time, but each of them was nearly impenetrable.

The same could not be said for the younger members of our team.

Rat threw himself into his work, too… but his sort of work isn’t always what I would deem “constructive.” At one point he burst into the kitchen at about 3am looking like the Unabomber on shore leave. I was halfway through a “can’t sleep” cup of chamomile and watching old episodes of Freakazoid on cable as I saw him tear into the cabinets, grab about four packets of ramen noodles, tear the first one open and  gnaw on it like it was a jawbreaker. And then, he was gone. About seven hours later, the news blew up  that parts of Philly, including the AE, had just experienced a rather nasty blackout caused by an unknown source. This caused untold expense in generators and, most importantly, showed that they were vulnerable. I tried to ask Rat about it later that day and he, still without sleep, muttered something about “practice” and “gas lines being next.” I made a mental note to sit down and hash things out, but the next time I turned around he was face down on the couch, snoring, a half-chewed block of ramen still in his hand.
I talked to Brigitte more and more as the days passed. At first it was strictly to make sure she was recovering, but after a short while our relationship became distinctly less professional. The first time it happened, she tried to make herself look different… more like Xandra… and I had to put a stop to that right away. Being with a shapeshifter can have its… unexpected moments. Most of the time, though, we just watched a lot of old Charlie Chaplin movies and drank way too much Champ Cherry. I have to admit, I was an idiot at first and figured she would be inconsolable after Father Ken, but she quickly read me the riot act and told a few choice stories from her childhood that made it easy to see that, although her skin may be able to change, it would always be diamond-hard.
Xandra was a different story, as was to be expected. She’d taken her job as counselor very seriously, making sure to talk to everyone in the wake of Father Ken’s disappearance, and when she came around to talk to me she reported back as much as she thought was prudent.
“I talked to Rat,” she told me as we sat down over coffee at the kitchen table, “he’s obviously upset… but I think I managed to calm him down. Brigitte, well…”
She stole a glance at me that made my ears burn.
“I think she’s looking for someone else to talk to right now.”
“How about everyone else?” I asked quickly, trying to change the subject.
“Dr. Bill could handle just about anything, I’d wager. He was sad when we talked, but his sadness always seems so… eternal. I get the feeling this isn’t the first time he’s seen a comrade-in-arms go. Aonghus, well… he’s a pretty tough nut to crack, but if the noises from his workshop are any indication, it looks like he’s working on his frustrations with a hammer.”
“Ah,” I nodded, feeling the warmth of the coffee through the cup in my hands, “so, are you going to suggest any, like, therapy or… stuff? Y’know, put ’em on the couch?”
“I can’t see where it would do any good,” Xandra replied with a sigh, “different people just deal with things differently and, trust me, I know when a buttoned-down person is about to cause some damage.”
“Hm?”
“Think about it, Noble. You know who my Dad is, right?”
“Huh,” I scoffed, “Half of the stuff in this house has his name on it in one way or another.”
“Exactly. And you don’t get that rich and powerful by falling apart at the seams. My Dad… well, I learned a lot about how people hide things from him… from both my parents, actually. When there’s so much expected of you, they can’t see you sweat.”
“Is that how you keep your cool?” I asked, blowing on my coffee.
“Ha! No,” she smiled a smile engineered by the finest orthodontists, “I just got all of my sweating done before I was eighteen. Now, I just don’t give a shit.”
“I wish I knew how to do that.”
I surprised myself with the amount of honesty in my voice. Xandra finished her cup and set it down, looking square into my soul.
“You wouldn’t be you if you did, you know that… and I like you like this. We all do.”
My mind flashed to a picture of Brigitte again, and my ears lit up once more.
“You see, humans… we’ve got it all wrong. We’ve drawn this line in the sand, right, and we say that everything on this side is good and everything on this side is bad. If you actually sit down and look at it, and if you can get over your human sense to please, you’ll notice that in reality there is no line in the sand. The sand… it’s fuckin’ everywhere.”
She got up and shuffled over to the sink on bright blue slippers, dropping her cup in the sink. She sidled over to me, and it was only when she was standing next to me, her hip at my cheek, that I finally clocked she was wearing pajama pants, a cotton cami… and not much else.
“There’s no one way for everyone. Happiness isn’t always good and anger isn’t always bad. Sometimes you meet people who are only happy when they ARE angry. Sometimes you meet people that are sad when they’re happy. But humans, we have this nasty habit of living for other people, sometimes for people we’ll never even meet, and living by their rules, not ours. What we really should be doing is just doing whatever satisfies us.”
She bent double at the waist and descended on me, planting her lips on mine with a gentle intensity that was aided by gravity… as were two other things I felt brush my shoulder. As wonderful as the experience was, I couldn’t help thinking of Brigitte,  and the time we’d spent together as of late, and… more than anything, the laughter. She always had this one laugh when she really let fly, her entire body would shake and her breath would come in gasps, her face screwed up tightly, on the verge of tears. Most importantly, though, is that I would see the size of her head fluctuate just slightly when she was having such a good laugh, and for a moment she wouldn’t be worried about how she looked.
“What was that for?” I blurted the minute she came up for air. She gave me a coy smile and sighed.
“Because it satisfied me,” she said with no shortage of personal pleasure, “and it told me everything I needed to know.”
“And what was that?”
“That you liked it…”  her smile grew devilish, “but your mind was elsewhere.”
She took a few more soft steps out of the kitchen, and paused at the doorway, looking back.
“I’m a little jealous, I think… sad I didn’t get to you earlier, but oh, well… just promise me you’ll keep the door open if anyone wants to share, all right?”
I couldn’t speak, and she knew it, and she also knew what my answer would have been. I sat there and finished my coffee, thinking about what she had said, particularly in regard to Ishmael. For him, was being happy a bad thing? After all he’d been through, after all he’d seen… maybe he thought it wasn’t right for him to be happy? Perhaps being happy made him feel like he wasn’t doing what he needed to do, like he was trying to ignore something…
Something. That word seemed to come up a lot when talking to him. He always wanted to be doing “something,” because everyone should care about “something” and be willing to die for “something” even if they didn’t know what it was. I suppose each of us had a different “something” we were fighting for, and all of those “somethings” seemed to fit together underneath Ishmael’s one big “something…” and this recent episode with Father Ken and Queen Mab had him doubting himself. And when Ishmael doubted himself, he decided he had to do, yes, “something.”
So, one night on the six o’clock news, we heard it.

“Authorities have arrested a young Mythic man they believe is responsible for a campaign of terror and violence that has stretched over several years.”

We all craned our necks, quickly and painfully, to see ugly footage of Ishmael being lead, in handcuffs. It was unmistakably him, holding his head high and proud. Gone was his usual broad-brimmed hat, showing instead close cropped, dark hair and distinctively pointed ears framing the hard face and piercing eyes. For a brief second before he was placed in the police car, he stared right down the barrel of the camera, into every house and, more importantly, into every one of us. We all suffered a collective shiver as the newscast continued, a shellacked man in a dark suit using the most serious voice he could muster:

“Police are not releasing his name at present, but sources say the Mythic was arrested after a violent altercation with security officers at a South Side warehouse.”

“Strange that he didn’t use any of those magic powers to fight back, isn’t it Jim?” asked the hairsprayed lady at his left.

“Well, Tiffany… maybe he just didn’t have the juice.”

They gave an insincere chuckle and then went back to reporting about a local tax referendum. We all sat at the table, stunned, our homemade pizza growing cold on our plates. Then, all at once, our brains kicked into action. Without needing to say a word, we all went to our stations: Rat was on the web, Aonghus went to prep the vehicles with Dr. Bill, Xandra and Brigitte started drawing up plans and checking  local maps, and my mother got her scoped rifle out of the linen closet and headed upstairs as lookout.  I felt a little silly, standing in a suddenly empty kitchen with my thumb squarely up my butt, but as I heard the various sounds of mobilizing I start to realize that, honestly, I had already done my job… except for one thing.

I walked over to the double-barrel Bunn-o-matic my Mom had purchased at a consignment store and set both pots on full blast. It was going to be a long night.

Melville – Rop tú mo baile

Her insane laughter seemed to come from everywhere; her hair now seemed to be twice as long, floating like the arms of some horrible red octopus on a background that was no longer the humble quarters of the Warrior Priest, but some swirling, cosmic nightmare of chaos. Her eyes had seemed to blacken around the edges, her was mouth unnaturally wide open, her ears pointed and her teeth viciously spiked. She threw out a hand, and rat was seized by the throat by some unseen force. He began to gag as he slowly raised from the floor, all the while Mab’s face seemed thrilled.
“This little vermin,” she cackled, “I should have known he would be quicker than the others. He’s like those computers he loves so much. Tell me, rodent, what good are those computers now?”
Rat couldn’t answer. He was choking.
“Stop this!” I shouted again. Apparently, it was all my mind could think of at the moment. I started to curse myself inwardly for my inaction, but what could I do? Guns had no effect, and she’d managed to shut down Dr. Bill and his mysterious powers before he could even start. Rat had tried something that she seemed to fear, but that ancient book was now a pile of cinders. What could some kid from South Philly do against all this? And where the hell was Ishmael in all of this?
I got my answer in a hail of gunfire coming down the stairs. Somewhere in the middle of all that was Ishmael, who seemed to be shooting several guns at once. Mab laughed them off as usual, but she seemed to be spending a little bit more of her energy deflecting hundreds of bullets as opposed to the twenty Xandra got off. It was an amazing, but ultimately futile display: he was everywhere at once, leaping off shelves of my mother’s home-canned pickled beets, rolling across the floor, turning a backflip without disturbing any of Rat’s massive computer setup, all while still firing, reloading, and firing again. I caught a glimpse of his face once or twice, and it was such a white picture of silent hatred that it was almost beautiful, like something carved from marble. I’d seen him rage, I’d seen him murder, but this time… this face… something about this was personal. I remembered how he’d brought Titania in without any announcement, how it had been his choice, on his own… now he was facing up to his mistakes. That made me wonder, in those few hectic seconds, whether or not that purest hatred was reserved for her… or for him.
“My, my… you ARE angry, aren’t you?” Mab muttered, yet her voice still carried like a microphone, “It is understandable, knowing what I know about you, knowing like I know all the others. I fooled you, and it was so easy. And why is that, Athelstan? Why was I able to make such a fool of you, a bigger fool than anyone has ever done?”
One of Ishmael’s pistols finally ran dry and, without any more ammo, he threw the weapon at her with a snarl. It bounced off some sort of force field Mab had created as she continued to chuckle.
“Your weakness is showing, dear. Really, is this the best you mortals have to offer? I don’t even know why I played this game with you, Athelstan. I thought you were different. But, as it turns out, you’re no better than the rest of these insects.”
Something about this didn’t make sense, I thought to myself. I’d never seen Ishmael so powerless, so wild and ineffective. He was now completely out of ammunition, hurling his empty firearms at her with wild abandon. With his gifts, I thought, he could cut through the defenses of nearly anything… what was going on?
“Oh, I had forgotten about you,” Mab said in an off-handed manner, reading my thoughts, “Such a weak little human, and more stupid than I thought. You wonder why he cannot see my weaknesses? It’s the same reason he could not see that he was being fooled; I am not of your world, mortals, I am not of your existence. To you, I am like a goddess: perfect, flawless, without weakness or imperfection, and—”
“I don’t know if I’d go that far.”
Both Ishmael and I stopped what we were doing to turn in the direction of that quiet, yet unwavering little voice. Father Kenneth Peter Joseph Mulcahey, Junior had struggled to his feet: there was blood coming from a badly cut lip, and it ran down his chin and onto his neck, staining his priest’s simple collar. He did his best to straighten his vestments as Mab met his comments with a laugh.
“Oh? You can still stand? I would have thought after everything… everything we’ve shared, you’d be feeling a little weak in the knees.”
That made my eyes pop a bit, but Father Mulcahey was cool as always. He began a prayer, softly to himself in a language I could not understand. This seemed to annoy Queen Mab, rather than please her as the other attempts had done.
“Don’t think any of your ridiculous incantations can affect me! I do not fear your God, little man!”
She continued her boasting, talking about how powerful she was, and how weak we all were, as Father Ken slowly walked back into his own room, which was now a swirling maelstrom, coming face to face with the woman demon. As soon as he got close enough, Mab made to swipe at his face with her talon-like fingers. Father Mulcahey, without ever once stopping his prayer or dipping in his calm expression, caught her hand with his, staring directly into her blackened eyes.
“I never said the incantations were for you, my dear.”
He held out his other hand, his right hand, then, and a blinding light seemed to come from his palm. Mab shrieked in real pain and she tried to drive herself backward and away from the light, but the Warrior priest held her firm. Little by little, like a mud puddle on a sunny day, she began to dry up and fall away from the light, until she was gone. The room went back to being its humble dormitory, the basement became immediately and eerily quiet, and the rest of our compatriots started to come to their senses.
And in the midst of it all stood Father Mulcahey, his shoulders slumped, his breath coming in ragged gasps.
“Oh my…”
I couldn’t bring myself to say it. I rushed to his side as he seemed ready to collapse.
“You did it, Father! You really…”
My voice trailed off as he turned to look at me. His face was hollow and ashen, like a corpse, and it was immediately clear that something was very wrong.
“I did nothing, lad. My Lord says that… when a piece of your body offends the Almighty… you are to cut it off and cast it away.”
He blinked slowly, as a sooty tear ran down his gray cheek.
“But what are we to do when that piece is our heart?”
We all gathered around him, then, except for Ishmael.
“What can we do, Father? Is there anything…?” again, my words failed me when I needed them the most.
“No, lad. Be not afraid. I’ve made my piece with the Lord… but I sold my soul for the power to seal away the evil I uncovered. I have said my Penance, and now I must take punishment for my grievous sins.”
He looked around to all of us, and gave a weak smile.
And then, well… there was not other way to say it.
He gave up his spirit.
And then he was gone.

A few hours later, after everything had been cleaned up as best it could, I found Ishmael in his room upstairs. He had left almost immediately after Mab was defeated, and hadn’t spoken to anyone since. The entire time cleaning up, the group could feel my anger and my frustration growing.
“I should give him a piece of my mind.”
“It won’t do any good,” Xandra cautioned, sweeping up some broken glass, “You know it won’t.”
“But maybe it will do ME some good, Xandra. Maybe it’s time I start doing things for myself, and not just because someone like him tells me to.”
I found the door locked, but I had remembered these rooms from my childhood. It wasn’t a very strong door, and it gave way with a kick. Ishmael must have known it was me, because I wasn’t staring down the barrel of a gun when I entered. Instead, he was laying prone on the simple cot he always slept on, propped up slightly, staring with unfocused eyes at the wall.
“You wanna tell me why you’re hiding up here?” I seethed. I didn’t get an answer, so I decided to get loud.
“Is this how you react when you come across something that’s too much for you?! Huh?! Do you always run away if you can’t solve the problem with your guns or you fancy voodoo powers? You’re not a ‘shoot first, ask questions later,’ kinda guy… you’re a ‘shoot first, and run away’ kinda guy, aren’t you?”
I still couldn’t get a response. I could tell he was trying to ignore me. I threw a punch into a nearby wall that opened up a hole in the drywall.
“What the hell are you doing up here? There’s a whole group of people that need you down there right now. They need their leader, damn it, and you need to go down there and lead them! God damn you… you will listen to me!”
In a feat of strength that surprised me, I hauled the tall, wiry faerie up off the floor by the lapels of his duster, making him stand and face me. I spat my words into his face. I didn’t care.
“To think I admired you. To think you were my hero. Now I realize that everything you do is just to keep people away, just to keep yourself safe in this little character archetype you’ve set up for yourself, and no one can compromise it. If they do, if they even try… you run away. You make me sick. Some leader you turned out to be.”
I threw him back down on the cot, and only as I turned to leave did he finally speak.
“I never said I was a leader.”
“Well, you’re the one making all the plans and bossing people around, jackass,” I didn’t turn around, I let him talk to my back, “What does that usually make you?”
“A leader is more than someone who plans attacks. A leader is someone who can keep the group together when all seems lost.”
“And you’re not even going to try?!” I rounded on him, my voice going unnaturally high. Ishmael came right back at me with a raspy shout of his own.
They know I can’t! It’s only you who think I can!”
We stood there, eyeing each other for a moment, before he continued.
“We all know how good of a judge of character I am,” he muttered, “I allowed myself to be fooled by that monster… just like everyone else. Thankfully Kenneth was able to expose her, she was probably the reason our raids were being corrupted.”
“Who cares if you make mistakes,” I shot back, “That doesn’t mean you give up entirely.”
“But I can’t, Mr. Noble.”
His voice was pleading now. It felt exceedingly odd. He was looking at me now with blue eyes that pleaded for understanding and, despite how furious I was at his conduct, I felt myself start to melt.
“I can’t be what you are, or what Xandra is. I can’t be a Lover… and I can’t be a Leader. I killed those parts of myself long ago, and I don’t even risk planting the seedlings for fear of the bitter fruit they might yield. I have made myself a murderer, and I must continue murdering until the job is done. If I give up now, if I try to live like the others… I’ll never accomplish my goals.”
“Well, you won’t accomplish anything with a broken team downstairs. We just lost our spiritual center, you’ve got to step in–”
“All I’ve got to do is stay the hell away until the situation is resolved,” he replied quickly, “Remember the prophecy: Xandra is the Lover, she will take care of broken hearts. You are the Son, and you will be our leader. I made the mistake of thinking I was the leader only once, when I found… that woman. I thought I had found our User, but in reality… I was only looking for someone to hide the truth from me.”
“Which is?”
“I… am the User. I use people. Places. Animals. Spirits. Souls. I use them all to accomplish what I need done, and you have to believe me when I say I do not care, I cannot care that one of our own is gone. He served well, and he erased my hubris at a terrible price… but the fight goes on, and I will continue to use all I can until the AE is destroyed. I can’t heal. I can’t help. I can only use.”
What he said made some sense… but I still thought he was full of it. I tried only one more time to get him to come downstairs, but this time he did pull a gun on me, silently, sadly. I went back down to the basement and asked the group to circle up.
“Is everyone okay?”
God, that sounded stupid. I tried again.
“Is everyone… going to be okay?”
There were half-hearted nods all around. I heaved a sigh and gave it my best.
“We’re going to get through this. I think we all know that Father Ken wouldn’t want us to give up now. Xandra?”
“Yes?” it was obvious she had been crying, but her reddened eyes seemed dry… for now.
“Will you be open for any counseling our group might need?”
“Ab… Absolutely.”
The industrial princess seemed to almost glow, then, satisfied to have such a burden placed upon her.
“Good. I’ll get in touch with Aonghus to repair any structural damage. I’ll also… break the news to my mother when she gets home. Brigitte?”
“Yes?” the heavily bandaged form was leaning just as heavily on a broom.
“Do what you can, but make sure you get well. We need you now more than ever.”
She cracked a crooked smile and nodded.
“Dr. Bill?”
“Yes, sir?”
“Make sure everyone’s in good shape medically. And don’t call me sir, it’s weird.”
“Aye…” I could tell he wanted to say “sir” but he just awkwardly saluted and gave me another “aye.” I thought for a moment about just how many armies he may have been a part of, but Rat interrupted my train of thought.
“Hey, skipper… what about me?”
It was the saddest I’ve ever seen him. He usually only gets sad when the Flyers lose.
“Rat… clean up.”
I could see his shoulders slump in disappointment… then it came to me.
“Also! See if you can find out what that prayer was Father Ken used. It might come in handy.”
“Sure thing.”
“Oh, and Rat?”
“Yeah?”
“What was that book you were trying to read from… before it burnt up?”
“Ah…” he gave me his crooked-toothed grin, “It was an old Mummer’s Play. Gotta be ready for the parade, y’know.”
“Somehow, I’m not surprised,” I replied, smiling. As I looked around, I noticed a lot of people were smiling.
“I’m not sure why we are,” Xandra responded when I asked during cleanup, “Maybe we just like having something to do after all… that. Purpose, meaning out of meaninglessness. But I am feeling a lot of good energy in the room right now, if you believe in that sort of bullshit… maybe it’s Father Ken’s last little bit of magic.

A few days later, Rat got me the incantation. It was in Gaelic:

A Dhia,
deonaigh dom an suaimhneas
chun glacadh le rudaí
nach féidir liom a athrú,

misneach chun rudaí a athrú nuair is féidir,
agus gaois
chun an difríocht a aithint.

“It’s called the Serenity Prayer,” Rat explained, “I found it on a plaque in Father Ken’s room. My Gramma used to go on and on about it.”
We’d turned the room into a memorial and meditation chapel, the same as it had been before and always.
“Turns out it’s used by Alcoholics Anonymous in Ireland… maybe there was more to the Good Father than we knew, eh?”
“Yeah,” I mumbled, looking down at the simple, carved wood plaque, “I think it’s safe to say that there was a lot there we didn’t know about.”

Melville – Issues

We continued to have bad luck over the next several missions. Maddock, North Dakota; Magruder Mountain, Nevada; Shawtown, Maine; all of them started off well, but something always fell apart in the end. The alarm would sound, or one of us would get spotted being somewhere they shouldn’t… even one time the guards noticed an unusual movement in the local squirrel population, and that put the drop on us.
And every time, like clockwork, Ishmael would be there to save us.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget what I saw in the half darkness, somewhere between nowhere and absolutely fucking nowhere, when the fairy with a shotgun and a score to settle finally let it all out. He never liked to talk, and his voice was always so harsh, but it was when he was really in the shit, right in the middle, that his voice came through clear, and cold, and hard.
And he was screaming. Always screaming.
It’s not like we didn’t have a reason to be quiet on the escape from each of these missions, with more than a few of us bleeding and bruised and another stinging half-victory keeping our mouths shut and our spirits less than jubilant… but the screaming. We all heard it. You couldn’t not hear it.  We didn’t know what to do about it, or if we should even talk about it. We just sat in our car, silent and afraid. Over in the other car, as I learned afterwards, Xandra wasn’t afraid to talk, and wasn’t afraid to take Ishmael to task.
“I told him to knock it off on the next mission,” she said over breakfast the morning after Shawtown. The two of us had suffered the least amount of injury, just cuts and bruises, so we were up first while the rest of them slept it off.
“Yeah, he mentioned the voice,” she said, jabbing sadly at a frozen waffle. We had decided to let Mom sleep in, too; she’d been up most of the night patching wounds.
“So…” I looked down at my own waffle, “Why the screaming?”
“He says he likes it,” Xandra replied, “He said it makes him feel good.”
“What, like therapy?”
“Not exactly. You see, he breathed in some pretty nasty stuff when his family’s house burned down. That special skill he has… he was able to find the safest place and survive, but his throat was ruined… that’s why the voice.”
“But when he screams…” I began, but she cut me off with a wave of her fork.
“When Ishmael screams,” her eyes adopted a far away look, somewhere past my shoulder and over the cupboard with all the cups, “It causes bleeding in his throat. And the bleeding… it sort of lubricates things for him. I’m no doctor, and I certainly don’t know how a Mythic body works… but if he screams enough, he can have a regular voice again.
He says it makes him happy, because that was the voice his parents always wanted to hear, a voice they never got to hear, a voice that the Altse Erce ruined. So, he’s here to remind them.”
“Wow.”
It felt incredibly lame, but it was the only word I could get out at that point.
“Yeah… wow,” Xandra speared some breakfast with her fork, “And it’s the strangest thing: I haven’t known one… one millionth of all the problems he’s had. He’s told me stories, horrible stories about being hunted… he was washing dishes once, in a pub in Minnesota, and one of the bounty hunters came for him. He was barely fifteen, but he was already prepared. He had five or six coffee cups in the sink, and he wrapped them around his fist. The guy spent the rest of his short life eating through a tube. And yet…”
She had a sudden shudder, despite my mother keeping the house ridiculously warm.
“I felt like… I could feel it. Everything he was feeling. And it made me mad, and it made me want to do what he does. It made me want to scream, too.”
“Yeah, he has that effect on people,” was all I could manage before I felt my face get a little red and I once again focused intensely on my waffle.
“Anyway, I told him to knock it off,” Xandra said after a pause, picking up her plate and rinsing it off in the sink.
“Can you… just say that to him?”
“I have my ways…”
“I…really don’t think I want to know.”
It was actually upsetting me a lot more than I thought it would. I mean, what should I care what two adults are doing in their private lives, anyway?
“Oh, no… it wasn’t that,” she gave a husky little laugh, “Well, it sort of is. I told him if he didn’t stop scaring the shit out of us I was going to go ahead and start sleeping with you instead.”
And then she left. She did shit like that a lot. I was left to wander through an empty house with a basement full of sleeping Mythics and warriors, all recovering from a particularly nasty, uh… quest-type thing. I always wondered as a kid what happened after the heroes did their thing in the movies or comic books. Like, did Superman just go home and have a drink or something? What was that first day like after they beat Sauron, anyway? I bet they could finally take a decent trip to the bathroom once it was all over.
I took a mental tally as I splayed out on the couch, turning on some terrible local TV and immediately putting it on mute. Aonghus was in his workshop nursing a nasty swelling on his elbow, and Dr. Bill never wanted to be disturbed after a raid. Something about fighting brought out the primal in him, and he usually would take some time in his study before he stepped out again, collected as usual. Rat was, unsurprisingly, locked up with his computers, and Father Mulcahey was spending more and more time with Titania these days.
Brigitte was nursing the worst injuries of the lot, but that was almost a given. Being a Changeling, she was often the first to throw herself in the line of fire. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the hail of gunfire she took in Maddock, slumping to the ground in front of me. I did my best to care for her, but she smiled (she actually smiled!) at me and said in her cute little accent “do not wah-ree, I moved everything that is important,” and it was only then I noticed that she wasn’t bleeding from any of the twenty or so bullet holes in her torso. Still, it all hurt like hell, or so I could only assume, and so I made sure to remind myself to check on, maybe with a bit of Ovaltine. She loves Ovaltine.
I had just finished stirring her up a glass when I heard a rather loud bump from the basement. Now, with the company I kept, weird noises were usually par for the course, but as long as heading that way to see Brigitte I might as well keep an eye out. I was at the top of the stairs when I heard another bump, accompanied by the sound of a door straining on its hinges. Dr. Bill was known to have certain “episodes” after an operation, so I shrugged and headed downstairs, only to have the Ovaltine go sailing out of my hand as one of the extra-dimensional doors in the basement went flying off its hinges, shattering into toothpicks against the far stone wall. I forced myself to look away from the now shattered glass and milk splatter, half expecting I’d half to curse out a team member for rough-housing, and so soon after an operation. Instead, I turned around to see Father Kenneth splayed out on the floor, blood streaming from a wound across his forehead, and directly in front of him was a visual unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
The door was gone, but in its place was something that looked like a Mac screensaver if you’d just dropped acid. Among this swirling hell of clashing colors and shrieking, otherwordly laughter, Titania Wallace seemed to be suspended in mid-air, her long red hair flowing out in all directions, her usually modest peasant attire in various states of eye-catching undress. Her skin was even paler than normal, and it seemed as if someone had injected ink into her veins as she was marked all over with black spidery patterns. Most disturbing of all, however, were her eyes: once kind, gentle and green, they had turned almost completely black, with only a tiny, mad white pupil that seemed to be focused directly on me.
Dammit.
“What the hell…”
Any question I could have was immediately cut off by Titania’s piercing, shrieking laughter that seemed to come from everywhere in a voice that certainly was not her own.  It was about this time that other doors in the basement were flying open, and Dr. Bill was the first on the scene, his hair and eyes still wild and dangerous.
“You!” his voice tore out of his throat like a striking tiger, “But it can’t be!”
Titania gave a wave of her hand, and the shocked old professor was knocked senseless, flying across the room to land in a heap next to the priest. I knelt down beside both of them to do the best I could to help them. Again, Titania’s laughter cut through me.
“Oh, they’re not dead, I assure you,” her voice had a mocking tone, even though it sounded like six or seven people talking at one, “At least, they’re not dead yet! I haven’t fully had my fun.”
I looked down and noticed that, yes, both seemed to be breathing , and Father Kenneth seemed to be showing signs of coming around.
“…Why?”
It was the only word I could think of, a word that ricocheted around my head over and over until it jumped out of my mouth.
“Why are you doing this, Titania?”
“Ahahaha… you still call me by that name, how cute. As if you think I’ll go back to being that sweet and gentle little bit of nothing… I bet you’d like that, wouldn’t you, little boy? You always do like your women uncomplicated.”
“Well then, you know how I hate competition.”
I turned to see Xandra swiftly emerging from her room, shouldering an assault rifle.
“Cause you don’t get any less complicated that being a straight-up bitch.”
She let loose with a barrage of fire, which Titania deflected easily with a wave of her hand, still shrieking with laughter. She pointed sharply at Xandra, and the gun fairly exploded in her hand, sending her to the ground in a heap.
“Stop doing this, Titania!” I cried over her near-constant laughter. She rounded on me with a face like all Hell.
“Do not refer to me by that name again, you insignificant little insect! Don’t you realize who I am? I am the wife of Chaos, the bride of Discord! I take pleasure in what causes pain, I delight in the absolute bedlam of broken lives! It was I who caused all the pain and suffering for this group, and it was so very easy. I was able to fool you all, manipulate your minds, make you believe… even the strongest of you fell to my power… and the most virtuous.”
She looked down pityingly at the priest, who was trying to struggle to his feet. I helped prop him up as she laughed again.
“Ah-ha! Another sacrifice approaches!”
Rat tore out of his room brandishing what looked to be a dictionary and muttering in an unintelligible language.
“Oh, no,” Titania giggled, and with a wave the book was engulfed in flame, “we won’t be having any of that old skullduggery.”
Rat let go of the book with a shout and turned to us, as if to say “well, I tried. Now what?”
“Rat!” I shouted over the laughter, “What the hell is going on here? What’s happened to Titania?”
“Christ, man!” Rat shouted back, pulling a revolver from his waistband and cocking it hard, “Didn’t you read any of the shit I sent you?”
“What?!” At this point I was bellowing over the cacophonous laughter.
“That’s not Titania, and it never was! It’s fucking Queen Mab!”

Melville – SNAFU

He gave us all of 24 hours before he began planning for the next raid.
“Maddock, North Dakota” he announced over breakfast, “Extraction center. Our ETD is next Tuesday.”
“Um…” I put down the pancakes on my fork, “Good morning to you, too.”
Ishmael said nothing, but it was amazing how me managed to look cool even while eating my Mom’s buttermilk flapjacks.
“I don’t mean to be the Negative Nancy,” I conitnued, looking around the table at several uncomfortable faces, “but if I remember correctly, we just very nearly avoided getting our butts barbecued on the last run yesterday.”
Ishmael glared me down, still chewing.
“Something went wrong. We really should find out what happened so we don’t, you know, massacre ourselves this time out.”
“Next Tuesday.”
Ishmael finished his breakfast and left the room. I groaned into my apple juice.
“Ugh… as always, Mr. Shoot First, Ask Questions Later.”
“I think it is more like Shoot First and Shoot Later,” Brigitte grumbled from the other side of the table.
“So is anyone going to ask the questions?” I asked to the entire table, annoyed. Even the warrior priest cast an uneasy eye at the woodgrain. I threw up a massive, huffy sigh and dove back into my pancakes.
“Priest, honey…” my mother asked, confusing the ACTUAL priest at the table, “You’ll get a stomach ache.”
“Good!” I grunted around a mouthful, “I’ll need to be sore and pissed off when I go and talk to him.”
“You’re going to…?” Octavia asked, her bright blue eyes wide open in shock.
“I have to, don’t I?”
Again, uneasy looks all around.
“That’s what I thought.”
It still took me about three hours to work up the courage to find him. He was nowhere to be found, which was pretty normal, but I got it on a tip from Aonghus that he was out at his workshop.
“Do you mind if I go out there? I mean, I’ll probably be right in the thick of all your… stuff.”
“Ye’ll be fine, laddie,” Aonghus chuckled, “There’s not much in my place you could turn into something dangerous.”
He thought for a moment, and his smile faded slightly.
“Just don’t go in the fridge.”
I wasn’t planning on it… but now I want to know.
“If I know him, he’ll be out in the scrapyard.”
“What would he want in a scrapyard?” I asked, my mind still in the fridge. Aonghus’ smile returned as he obviously knew something I didn’t.
“Practice, Laddie.”
I spent the whole, long, underground trip to Aonghus’ workshop wondering what he could possibly mean by practice. About two-thirds of the way there, I started to hear what sounded like explosions above me, and it did little to put my fears to rest over what exactly that faerie was up to. I finally opened the door into Aonghus’ basement and heard another noise, much louder now than before. Now that I was out of the tunnel, I could distinctly hear that awful, raucous screeching sound you get when metal hits metal. Oh boy, I thought, this ought to be fun. And unstable winged man in a junkyard hurling metal objects about loud enough to be heard ten feet underground. Why did I decide to do this again? Right, because everyone else are pussies. Also, and I am man enough to admit it… I was worried about him.
I hadn’t gotten a chance to see the rest of Aonghus’ house, and I was not surprised by what I saw. There were mechanical parts piled everywhere throughout the kitchen and what I assume had once been the little post-war ranch dining room, but as I headed out the back of the small one-floor house I caught a glimpse of what was quite possibly the coziest looking living room I’d ever seen. One well-loved and overstuffed armchair sat in front of an old cabinet television with nothing but warm, thick carpeting and pine paneling between them. On an opposite wall, there seemed to be technical manuals for everything ever created on a massive bookshelf (probably homemade as well) all stacked neatly and probably alphabetized. I wanted to keep looking, but another rending noise called out from the backyard, so I slid open a well worn patio door and entered into what would charitably be called a backyard and not charitably be called a scrapyard the size of a football field.
I could see why Aonghus lived where he did: anywhere else in the larger Philly area and they would have shut him down for having a yard like this, but… well, the recession caused a lot of industrial areas to empty out, and the cops weren’t exactly going to come out here and answer a call from no one about a place where no one lived. I followed the noises as best I could around piles of car… things and mechanical… stuff, whatever the hell they were until I could start to make out what sounded like faint talking… but it wasn’t the voice I expected to hear. I started walking a little slower and a little more carefully as the voices got a little bit louder.
“You don’t have to push yourself like this, you know.”
I know that voice. Immediately my mind was drawn to blonde hair, dark roots… and a couple of other things.
“Yes I do,” came a familiar growl, followed immediately by another shriek of metal. I chanced a peek around a pile of stuff to see Ishmael currently pulling his right hand out of what looked like part of a car.
“So, what’s that?” Xandra asked, unimpressed.
“Oil filter.”
“What does it do?”
“…Filters oil.”
He did not sound happy. He tossed the oil filter at Xandra, who neatly ducked as it sailed over her head.
“Y’know, you don’t always have to do all this ‘Lone Wolf’ bullshit,” Xandra drawled out, as if bored, “You’ve got a miniature army at your back, now, it doesn’t exactly fit anymore.”
“I’ve been alone since I was eight,” Ishmael said bitterly, arms akimbo as he glared at the ruined Mazda in front of him. With two deft punches, he seemed to penetrate the very steel of the car with his bare hands, tossing other little parts here and there. He was Evaluating: seeing at the tiniest of levels the weaknesses of every structure and how to destroy them. There were no bruises on his hands, no blood. The grimace on his face was there by choice.
“I’ve been running from the AE ever since. I’ve known thousands of people in hundreds of cities, and I’ve seen more die than I’ve killed… and I’ve killed a lot.”
Xandra scoffed, obviously trying to play it cool.
“There was one agent, he found me in Minnesota. I was fourteen, washing dishes at a supper club. I felt the room go a little dark as he walked up behind me, but I was always prepared. I always kept five coffee mugs in the sink at all times, just for a guy like him. When he tried to take me, I gave him a fist full of ceramic; he was dead before he hit the ground. They didn’t think a kid could do what I could, see where to kill, how to kill… and they didn’t think that I’d know why to kill. To survive. To escape. To get revenge.”
“Y’know, I wasn’t really allowed off the family compound as a kid,” Xandra sighed, “So I watched a lot of movies. And from what I saw, revenge was never a good thing.”
“Hh,” it was Ishmael’s turn to scoff as he drove his foot perfectly through a headlight. With a twitch of his wiry thigh, the front quarter of the car exploded into shrapnel and dust… and none of it went where he didn’t want it to. Xandra sat firm on top of an old empty chemical barrel, knowing he wouldn’t hurt her. I got the feeling she’d done this before.
“Your parents were millionaires, Xandra,” he said, facing away from the both of us, his fists clenched at his side, “my parents were murdered.”
My parents were murdered,” Xandra shot back in a tone that mocked his gravely voice, “Do you have to talk like that all the time? Just you and me here.”
Not exactly. Ishmael did the closest thing I’d ever heard him do to a laugh, a low, rasping hiss, brittle but mocking.
“It was my birthday when they came for me. For my family,” he said, still facing away, “They got us when we were cutting my damn cake. I was about to blow out the candles, and I saw, in the reflection of my mother’s glasses… the petrol bomb.”
There was a silence there when nothing could be heard but the wind.
“I saw it first… and I ducked. I got down under the table, but my family… they weren’t so lucky. Near as I could figure, they were all too busy watching me blow out the candles. I hid under that table as they all burned to death: I heard their screams, I heard my mother called out for me to get out, but I couldn’t… I was too scared. Within minutes, the whole house was in flames. It was a hit: half the community was  to teach those Mythics a lesson. And as I crouched under that table, too scared to move, breathing in the fumes of the plastic cups and the plastic plates and the plastic tablecloth, all of them burning… I got this voice. So yes, Xandra…”
He turned around again with a face like death itself.
“I do have to talk like this.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Xandra actually sounded taken aback, “I’m… I’m sorry. I thought you were just trying to be, y’know, manly… every night, afterwards, I thought you were just trying to be cool.”
“This is cool…  Hh.”
Wait a minute… afterwards WHAT?
“And I told myself,” Ishmael looked back to what was left of the car, his voice seething, “I told myself I’d never be a coward, like I was that day, ever again. I would be the one fighting, always fighting, until the day I died… because I failed my family that night. I have to make it up to them. If I don’t spend every day fighting everything I can, I am not doing them justice. My mother, father, my family… all of them. I have to fight. I have to do this!”
He thrust his fist forward once more, and the rest of the car vanished into dust. It was then I really understood: he wasn’t thinking he had to send us to North Dakota as soon as possible because WE failed… it was because HE failed. I couldn’t help it, but a sigh shook itself loose from me from the very bottom, and it dislodged a few pieces of scrap that clattered to the ground and caught his attention.
“Aw, piss!”
“John, is that you?”
I shuffled out from behind the junkpile like a kid caught napping in class.
“Yeah… yeah, it’s me.”
“Well, come on and join us,” Xandra said with sarcastic joy, “We’re all airing our dirty laundry out here. I’m about to tell Ish here how money killed my family… except the bastards are still here.”
Ishmael said nothing, he merely scouted the area for more junk to “practice” on.
“Well,” I shrugged, trying to pretend like I hadn’t just been spying on them, “Not much to tell. Dad died before I was born. I broke my collarbone once going over my handlebars. Uh…”
“Still a virgin?” she asked quickly with a too obvious wink.
“If you must know… no.”
“Ohh,” her wink traveled down and became a grin, “Maybe you could teach me something…”
I felt my face go beet red, but it was quickly drained of color as a piece of sheet metal off a truck came whizzing past between us, embedding itself in the ground. I turned to see Ishmael, unapologetic, staring me down. Um, point taken, I suppose.
“What are you doing here.”
He didn’t say it as a question, more like an annoyance.
“Well,” I took in a deep breath, chancing a glance at Xandra who goaded me on with a nod, “No one agrees that we should be on the road so soon. There’s a feeling around the group that we need to evaluate…”
I winced as I used the word. Stupid idea.
“We need to… look and see what went wrong.”
Ishmael didn’t even wait a second.
“I’m in charge here, and do the evaluating. Any of you are welcome to leave at any time, if you disagree. We will arrive in Maddock next Tuesday.”
“Come on!” I heard myself whining, “aren’t we a team? Shouldn’t we talk about this?”
“As you were eavesdropping,” he shot back, peeved, “You’ll know that I don’t consider this a team. This is my fight, and you’re helping me.”
“Do you have to be so damn stubborn?!”
“Yes.”
Xandra snorted a bit at that one. I looked over to her and she had a knowing smile.
“Trust me, John. Once he sets his mind on something…”
“I’m not sure I want to know anymore, please.”
She chuckled a low, tenor chuckle as my face went red again. Ishmael, as usual, rained directly on the parade.
“I have spoken to the Empath, and we are in agreement: you all have too much fear of what could happen. As soon as you purge your fear, like I have, then you can make decisions.”
I wanted to say “Jackass” or “Prick” or any number of things, but I couldn’t.
“Now, leave me alone… both of you. I need to work.”
Xandra just solemnly nodded, and we made our way back through the house and into the tunnel.
“Don’t worry,” she said casually, “He’s always like this after he gets off, too.”
“Aaagh! I didn’t need to know that!”
She chuckled again, and we kept on walking until a question bubbled to the surface.
“What did he mean by an Empath, anyway?”
“Oh, you didn’t notice?” Xandra replied, a little amused, “Octavia. She can see our feelings, our emotions. That’s why she’s the User. She probably knows what you’re thinking better than you do.”
“Oh, great. A mind reader AND a shapeshifter.”
“And never the two shall meet,” Xandra shot back dryly, “Those two are gonna bitch-fight it out soon, trust me.”
“Such a great team we have… oh WAIT, we aren’t a team, right?”
“Don’t let him get to you,” Xandra patted my shoulder, “As you heard, he’s got a lotta shit on his plate.”
“He’s got a whole frickin’ buffet,” I grumbled as we entered back into my mother’s basement. Xandra headed over to her door, pausing a bit with her hand on the knob.
“Hey, John… I know YOU’RE not an Empath, but can you tell what I’M thinking?”
I’m a pretty dense guy, but even I could pick it up. She was braced against the door, one leg up, her head tilted downward but her eyes glancing up like a begging puppy. I told myself I couldn’t, I shouldn’t… because that guy in the big black coat might just impale me on a crankshaft or whatever he just pulled out of a damn Volvo or something if I even touched her. That’s what I told myself, but in all honesty it was the first time I found myself in that… y’know, situation… and found myself completely unattracted to what should have been a very attractive woman. All I could think of was Ishmael, and that was something that confused me even more.

Melville – FUBAR

We pulled off into a rest stop right across the Alabama border for one last meeting before going in. I took the opportunity after my briefing (which basically amounted to “drive fast and don’t die”) to ask a few questions.
“Hey, Aonghus,” I asked the dwarf as he was gently buffing out a scratch on the fender of his heavy vehicle, “Why did you choose that ugly thing for your heavy?”
“My dear boy,” he grinned, “This is a 2001 Pontiac Aztek.”
“Yeah, I know,” I waved him off, not wanting another lecture on cars, “It’s ass-ugly.”
“Aye, laddie,” Aonghus wiggled his bushy eyebrows at me, “And y’know, I bet no one’ll notice that I’ve reinforced her out the arse to be a bloody tank, will they?”
He had a point. With all the body cladding and odd styling, it was almost impossible to tell that the entire thing had been kitting out for war.
“My father worked for GM as a designer,” Aonghus patted the fender of the Pontiac fondly, “Those Nancies in the front office, they’re only out for th’ money: make a car that’ll die in ten years so you buy another. Buy my father, he knew how to make a car that could last, and he taught me how to do it.”
“So that’s why we all drive twenty year old heaps?”
“Aye.”
“That, and they don’t draw too much attention.”
Xandra threw in that last bit as she approached us, handing us both a Coke from the vending machine.
“Although, with what Ishmael’s driving, I think that’s going out the window.”
Indeed, the muscular, low-slung Corvette didn’t seem to fit the profile of the others.
“It was designed to his request, Lassie,” Aonghus shrugged, opening his Coke, “It’s what he wanted.”
“Figures,” she sniffed, “there’s hardly any room in the backseat.”
My mouth went a little dry then, although I wanted to ask her just exactly what she meant. Instead, I dove into my Coca-Cola until we were given the order to move out. It was a simple plan: get inside, detonate, and get out. The Olds carried the ordnance, so once it was dumped I’d be able to motor out of there quick enough, following that ugly Aztek if any walls needed busting. As for Ishmael in his Vette, well…
“I know what I’m doing.”
Quiet as always. We pulled up to the church camp that was the front for the extraction center and were immediately pulled over by severe looking guards.
“Who are you all supposed to be?”
It was then I went into high gear. Dramatic Society, don’t let me down!
“Well glory be, brother! We’re the entertainment for this weekend’s’ camp.”
“Band?” the sour-faced man shot back.
“You bet! We’re called Justified, and we rock out for our Lord!”
I could almost hear Brigitte rolling her eyes in the seat behind me. The guard heaved a sigh and shook his head.
“And all these cars are with you?”
“Well, the car behind us has all the band gear.”
“And the Corvette?”
“Oh, you know those high-profile preacher types.”
The guard snorted at that, but he seemed to buy it.
“And your car?”
“Oh! Well that’s the band, you see.”
“You’re riding pretty low. Hauling anything?”
“Oh, yes! Er…”
I panicked. My brain locked up and I couldn’t think of anything. Thankfully, Father Mulcahey was able to lean over into my seat and make the save.
“Packed full of Bibles, my friend. Would you care for one?”
“Uh, no thanks.”
The guard pulled a sour face and waved us all in. I blew out a massive breath as we wound our way up a country road. My part of the plan had gone off all right.
“Good thing we have you,” I heard Brigitte snicker from the back seat, “No one else is lame enough to pull off that story.”
“Ah, shut up.”
Octavia was quick to jump in with some flattery.
“I think you did wonderfully, John.”
I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I heard Brigitte repeating those lines in a mocking tone quietly under her breath. There really was something going on there, I suppose. I didn’t have much time to think about it, though, as the Corvette suddenly surged ahead of the other two cars and disappeared into the night: lights off, nothing reflective, only the rumble of the engine betrayed its existence among the blackness.
“Well,” I muttered, gripping the wheel tight, “I guess we’re here.”
It was almost too easy. I suppose, with their tight control of national security, government, and pretty much everything else, the AE hadn’t thought anyone would be crazy or suicidal to try something like this. But there was something about Ishmael: his focus, his determination… it made all of us come along for this almost without question, ready for whatever might happen because, in all of our hearts, or souls, or whatever… we knew that as long as he was here, there was a chance it would work out. Maybe it was that prophecy about his special powers, or maybe it was something more visceral, more…primal. I popped in a wireless earpiece and heard Rat’s endless chatter on the other end about infrared and images and checkpoints, but it was all white noise at this point. I was in a daze.
“Here.”
Something cold and awkward was pressed into my hand by the warrior priest after we got out of the minivan. I looked down and noticed it was a handgun.
“…what?”
“You might need it, friend.”
“I hadn’t really thought of that,” I replied, stunned.
“Don’t worry bout it,” Rat’s voice cut through, “It’s a simple point-and-click sort of interface.”
“Yes,” Father Ken nodded before reaching forward, “just make sure the safety’s off, John.”
“Oh, yeah,” I felt myself blush despite the cool night air, “right…”
We laid the bombs at several strategic points, all laid out over the earpiece by Rat, always wary of the prying eyes of guards. At least once, I saw Kenneth or Brigitte or even Aonghus sneak off into the shadows, only to hear Rat confirm a “neutralization” with glee.
“Ooooh, nasty!”
“Ooop! That got him.”
“He ain’t pretty no more!”
At one point, Dr. Bill excused himself politely, and made it all the way back to the group before anyone thought to ask Rat what happened.
“I got no fuckin’ clue,” came his shaken reply.
We all turned to look at Bill, who gave us a chillingly empty look and simply put one knobbly finger to his lips. Finally, we had the last bomb planted, and we were headed back to our transport when, well… when everything went to Hell. A piercing alarm suddenly shot through the air, and floodlights went on all over the place. In an instant, we were lit up bright as day, stranded in an island of harsh, white light among the darkness.
“Shit, SHIT!” for a while, it seemed to be the only word Rat knew. Brigitte took the initiative as we all drew our guns and prepared to fight.
“Rat, what the Hell is going on?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know!!!!” his voice was panicked, more shrill than usual, “Everything’s fine, I mean… everything SHOULD be fine, but it’s all fucked… aw, Christ, it’s all fucked!”
The first rumbled from security could be heard, and almost immediately our group laid down I guess what they would call suppressing fire. Brigitte had two oversized magazines in her pistols, but she was sparing with her bullets, letting Cola do most of the work as the monster-dog was leaping ten feet in the air to drag AE soldiers down off catwalks by the ankle. Aonghus, sporting a massive homemade combination of shotgun and some sort of grenade launcher, was less stingy, trying his best to blow out any light he could and take any AE with it. Dr. Bill was lining up perfect shots with his old M1, and I was just trying to make sure I didn’t get shot. I tried a few here and there, but it always seemed to be off; how do those guys make it look so easy in the movies?
Father Mulcahey pressed another odd piece of metal into my free hand as he needed a firm grasp on the automatic rifle he was firing. I look down with horror to see that it was the detonator. He didn’t have to say anything, I knew it already: if anything went south, we had one course of action and one only: blow the dome. Of course, doing that would probably kill us in the explosion, or at the very least render us unable to fight back enough to avoid either being captured or committing suicide. This is basically everything we didn’t want to do, and it was sitting in the palm of my hand.
God Damn It.
“Aw shit, shit!” Rat’s voice was constantly wailing over the earpiece, “You got thirty more coming on your ten spot, guys! Get outta there, get the fuck…huh?!”
“Now is not the time to get tongue-tied, Rat!” Brigitte screamed.
“I just…” his voice was showing absolute awe.
“What is it, Rat?” I shouted desperately over the melee.
“Guys,” he said almost too quietly to be heard, “I think the cavalry just arrived.”
“What?” several of us cried in unison.
“Those thirty bio-sigs I had… they’re gone. One came in… they’re all gone. Just… fuckin, BLIP, man! Ishmael’s in the house!”
I wanted to yell “Where?” but I realized I didn’t have to. The fire on us had stopped almost completely and then one by one, each of the searchlights went out directly after a bloodcurdling scream. I heard something hit the ground not too far away from me, but I just pretended it was a sack of potatoes… that went crunch. Two other bright lights came on abruptly, and the Corvette roared onto the scene in the middle of us. Xandra popped her head out of the window to shout.
“There’s more coming, guys. We’ve gotta move!”
She didn’t wait for a reply, but instead powered the Corvette off into the darkness. We managed to hustle back to the cars where Xandra was waiting, laying down some fire with her own M4 as we piled into the cars.
“Get outta there, guys, and blow your load!” Rat hollered over the comm.
“Not yet!” I screamed back, surprisingly harsh, “Where’s Ishmael?”
“Don’t worry about him, just go!”
“Bullshit! I’m not leaving without him! Without him, we–”
There was a colossal thud, and a black angel of death landed on my hood, staring directly into my soul with those piercing blue eyes. He mouthed a single word.
“Go.”
Before leaping over to his Corvette. The three cars sped off with the Aztek at the head, its heavily armored nose smashing through roadblocks and AE alike, as soon as we cleared the main gate (I took extra care to look for the guard we’d seen on the way in and give him the finger) I smashed down the button and it was the 4th of July all over again in the middle of nowhere as the entire facility went up in flames. I didn’t stop driving, and I didn’t start breathing, until I was ordered to stop by Ishmael’s terse voice over the comm.
“We stop here.”
I really shouldn’t have, of course, because the minute I took a shaky step out of the car Ishmael had my gimpy elbow in a death grip, bringing me to the ground in a matter of nanoseconds and snarling in my face.
“You broke protocol.”
“Aaaagh!”
“You were supposed to blow it when everything went wrong.”
“God! Please! My arm!”
“Stop complaining!” he hissed over me, “I know exactly how far I can push it before it breaks.”
I forced myself to stop screaming then, biting a hole in my lip and crying buckets down my face as Ishmael continued to lambaste me. To be honest, part of me was happy he was talking this much, as messed up as the circumstances were.
“Why didn’t you follow my orders.”
“Because…”
“Why?!”
“Because…”
WHY?”
“Because we need you!”
He let go then, and I staggered to my feet, trying my best to stare down his blue eyes with my bloodshot and crying ones.
“We need you. I need you. There’s no way we’re going to blow the payload with you still in there and try to bail. We’d be dead in a week if you weren’t here, and you know it. This is your group: you put us together, you, aagh… you keep us together. We’d all be dead right now if I’d done what you told me to do, but now we live to fight another day. So, sir… I say fuck your protocols, because I was right.”
He was silent there for a while as I continued gasping, trying to make my arm feel a little bit better. Damn, I thought it had fully healed… and finally, Ishmael spoke.
“You’re going to want to ice that.”
And that was it. We got back on the road and made it back to Philly without an issue. The main topic of conversation on the ride back (besides the virtue of Krystal hamburgers) was exactly what had happened to trigger the alarm. With Rat in our ears the whole way swearing up and down nothing had gone wrong in the technical sense, it weighed heavily on all of our minds. Something had gone wrong, and none of us seemed to know what… no even Ishmael.
Hopefully, it wouldn’t happen again.

Melville – First Raid

Thanks to Aonghus, I’d managed to get my old NES up and working again… and in HD, too. Dr. Bill and I were in the middle of a particularly epic battle of Dr. Mario when Ishmael entered, like he usually did, completely out of nowhere and seeming to blot out the sun with his giant black coat. He stood there for a bit until we felt sufficiently uncomfortable enough to turn to him.
“It’s time.”
That’s all he said. Within minutes, we were grouped around the kitchen table planning out our first operation. My mother passed out mugs of hot cocoa as Ishmael laid out the objective.
“Red Bay, Alabama.”
“Always such a way with words,” I muttered under my breath. I think Brigitte overheard me, though, because she gave me that tight-lipped smile of hers.
“Why Red Bay?” Xandra asked, almost repulsed, “Why Alabama?”
“Low-income, low-intellignce, non-union shops, and more guns that flaccid dicks” Rat shot back bitterly, “Perfect place to run an extraction center.”
“What’s an extraction center?” I had to ask.
“The AE siphons the magical ability out of Mythics in order to fund their technological and mechanical advancements,” the Irish priest spoke up from the far end of the table, “They usually pick fairly empty areas to operate: I remember the one they had in Connaught… they were hiding it as some sort of rehab center.”
“Had?” I asked.
“Had.”
The priest looked back at me with such hard resolve that I didn’t need to ask anymore. He really was a warrior. Ishmael started talking again.
“The Altse Erce has hidden the area deep within a forested area north of the city, near Goose Pond Slough,” It was very odd hearing something so folksy said in his tough, raspy voice, “They’re masquerading as some sort of Bible getaway camp.”
“Figures!” Rat snorted.
“And what is that supposed to mean?” Father Mulcahey turned his steel-eyed stare to him now.
“Just that it’s really easy to fool people when you put God around it.”
“Regardless,” Dr. Bill tried to bring the emotion down, “That’s where we are heading. Mr. Amladh has been hard at work outfitting us with the means to make the trip. Mrs. Noble and Mr. Ratcliffe will remain here and monitor the situation. I will go with Mr. Amladh in the heavy vehicle. Mr. Kilpatrick, you will take Father Mulcahey, Ms. Wallace, and Ms. Godwinn in the support and rescue vehicle.”
“I’m doing what now?”
“I will take Ms. Concorde with me in my vehicle,” Ishmael managed to shut me up quite expertly, “The trip will be roughly 1000 miles. It will take 14 hours. We will communicate via radio if there need to be any stops.”
I couldn’t help but snicker.
“Do you have an issue, Mr. Noble?” I never did find out why he always called me “Mr. Noble.” Probably because it sounded so cool when he said it: NNNNobllle.
“I’m sorry,” I tried to stop laughing, “It’s just like we’re scheduling potty breaks on a family trip.”
I must have said something right, because almost everyone else at the table cracked a smile, too. Maybe there was just so much tension: after all, some of us could die or be seriously hurt, staging an attack on one of these things… maybe we all needed that laugh. I know I did, because about a half hour later I followed Aonghus down his tunnels and found out what a “support” vehicle was.
“A minivan?!”
“Not just any minivan, lad,” Aonghus said proudly, patting the fender, “This is a 1996 Oldsmobile Silhouette, equipped with the 305 small-block V8 engine, turbocharged and fitted with the proper underpinnings and Dwarven-forged bone structure to use it properly.”
“Meaning what, exactly?”
“It means it will not break,” Brigitte said, throwing open one of the sliding doors, “And it will go fast. It will have to: if anything goes wrong, they will need us.”
“Okay,” I went to throw my bag in the back, but saw very little room outside of medkits, ammunition, and other mechanical parts. Brigitte grabbed my bag and sat it on her lap in one of the two second row seats, smiling.
“And I’m supposed to drive this thing?”
“You scored better than us in the driving tests” Octavia said as she climbed in next to Brigitte, “I don’t even have my license.”
“And I’m not really used to driving on the right side of the road,” Father Mulcahey said, hopping into the passenger seat up front, “although I do still love sitting up here.”
“Well, glad I’m here for something,” I mumbled, crawling into the driver’s seat.
“Do you need more leg room?” Brigitte asked. I turned around to see her using her Changeling powers to, yes, remove her legs entirely.
“Gah!” I flopped back into the driver’s seat, facing straight ahead, “No! I’m good! Put your… legs back on!”
“If I had a nickel,” she shot back flatly from the other seat behind me.
“Hey!” I turned around again, noting with relief that Brigitte’s legs had returned, “I will turn this car around right now!” Not long after that, Cola hopped up into the back between the captain’s chairs, nuzzling under Brigitte’s arm, begging for a scratch. She obliged, but Octavia seemed more than a little put off. Still, I had a feeling we were going to be the fun car on this trip. We stopped somewhere in the Carolinas to stop and have a little lunch (brown bags courtesy of Mom, natch), and Octavia sat down next to me on one of the old picnic tables.
“You’re handling that car quite well, John.”
“Uh… thanks.”
“I know Brigitte is rather taken with you.”
“Really? You think so?”
“I know so,” she gave me a sly look, “but you really need to be careful. Especially now.”
“Why now?”
“Things could get very dangerous very soon. Be careful.”
“What? Why?”
“I’d just hate it if something happened to you.” She smiled then, a big, toothy smile, her face full of freckles and light. Needless to say, as we pulled into Alabama a few hours later, I was more than a little confused.

Melville – Girl Talk

“So how come you’re the one who always goes out and scouts the girls for our little clubhouse, here?”
I was currently flipping through channels as Ishmael was cleaning his guns. It was a fairly normal happening for a Thursday morning.
“Those situations required different skills and approaches.”
“Oh, I bet they did.”
I heard him snap shut one of his pistols, and when I noticed he hadn’t moved on to another one, I figured it was because he was trying to get my attention. I turned to look, and thankfully he wasn’t pointing a gun at me. Instead, his blue eyes were focused on me, always so intense, but this wasn’t his usual half-angry half-so-not-funny look. His eyebrows were actually up, and they are never up, and such a small change made him look entirely different. For the first time, I bought all those stories he would tell us at the drop of a hat: about how his family was killed in front of him, about how he was a migrant for several years to keep the AE from finding him, about how he once took out an AE agent with a fistful of coffee mugs he was washing in Columbus, and that was the first time he’d killed someone… right there, when those thin, dark eyebrows went up and those eyes got just a little bit wider, he looked like the young man he really was, a worried, hurt, lonely young man.
“I’m not doing anything inappropriate.”
He said it, and because HE said it, it sounded so… weird. I mean, he was going full Bill Clinton here. It was more uncomfortable watching him try to approach the subject matter than the actual subject matter was.
“Uh… yeah,” I said after a bit of a pause, “Yeah, I know. I mean, it’s you. I don’t even know if you know how to do inappropriate things. Well, not when it comes to killing people, I’ve seen you do that all the time, but inappropriate lady things… with ladies… and…”
He went back to cleaning his guns, so I assume some part of my rambling put him at ease… or at least as close to “at ease” Ishmael gets.
‘Well, there’s nothing on,” I tried to sound inconspicuous, “Mom wanted me to put the dishes away, anyway, so… yeah…”
He didn’t say anything (not that that was something out of the ordinary) but I took it as a sign that I could escape the uncomfortable situation. Upon entering the kitchen two rooms away, however, I saw Titania in the process of putting a few of the plates back.
“Oh!” I said, genuinely shocked, “I was, uh… I was supposed to do that.”
“I had a spare moment,” she said, beaming as she closed the cupboard.
“Well, thanks…”
“I suppose you’ve got a moment to spare now, then?”
“Uh, yeah.”
She suddenly walked over to me silently as always, but with a surprising amount of speed I hadn’t seen her use before. She was close enough to be considered too close, dropping her voice to a lilting whisper.
“You’d best be careful around that new girl.”
“Who, Brigitte?” I whispered back.
“Yes. You can’t trust her very far. Changelings are by their very nature very untrustworthy. They can and will be anything for anyone at any time… be careful.”
Before I had a chance to confront her on this, she quickly made her way past me and out the back door. Within a minute, Brigitte walked into the room, causing my heart to lurch suddenly in my chest due to the information I’ve just been given.
“Hello, John,” she said in a friendly manner, reaching into the refrigerator for the Brita pitcher.
“Uh… hi.”
She got the pitcher out and set it on the counter along with a glass, but before she poured anything she turned to me, causing my chest to constrict again.
“Is everything all right?”
“Yeah! Yeah, sure, everything’s cool.”
I saw her eyes flip quickly to the window over the sink, looking out into the backyard, and then back to me.
“I do not need her abilities to know what you are feeling,” she remarked, filling up a glass of water, “I can read you like a book.”
“Really?”
“Yes, really,” she replied after taking a drink, “It is very human of you.”
Gee, thanks.
“Also, I take it that Ms. Wallace had a few words about me and my kind?”
How did she know?
“How did you know?”
She smiled that tight-lipped smile again and put the pitcher away.
“My kind have not been well looked upon for centuries. There are… striations within the Mythic culture much like your own human world. I am not saying that we Changelings did not do horrible things in the past, and some will continue to do horrible things, but–”
“But not all of you are like that,” I finished her sentence.
“Indeed. Also, there is the small issue of Titania’s… charms not working on one of my kind.”
“Her charms?”
“She is a User, like the legend says,” Brigitte continued, looking out the window again, “She can manipulate, she can quite literally change your mind. She may be able to make you believe all sorts of things if your mind is not strong enough. That is one of the reasons why I am here to train you and the others. In the future, be sure to guard your thoughts around her, OK?”
As I thought about it, it made a lot of sense. Why was I suddenly so worried when she came into the kitchen? Why was I so ready to believe Titania? Was it just because she was pretty? It wouldn’t be the first time I’d let a woman lead me around like that, much to my chagrin… but she really did have me believing her… of course, now I’m believing Brigitte, a creature that by her nature is built around changing to fit any situation, and…
Damn. This is going to suck.
I walked back into the living room, where Rat had taken my spot on the couch and was watching some atrocious infomercial.
“Hey! Just in time, Goober. They’re about to show the ‘bad example’ part where the person doesn’t know how to make a goddamn pancake.”
I sat down next to him, my mind still spinning. For a bit there was only the blare from the television and the slick, hard metal of Ishmael cleaning his guns.
“So,” I said suddenly, feeling like I’d violated some kind of monastic experience, “What’s your thoughts on the girls, Rat?”
“Which one?” he said idly, flipping channels now that the pancake demo had passed, “Hooters, Changer, or the Firecrotch?”
Hm. Probably not the best person to be having this conversation with. Ishmael had already proved nearly catatonic on the subject, so I quietly excused myself and went looking for a better conversation partner. Dr. Bill merely gave me that old man chuckle thing and shook his head as if to say “Ah, kids,” before shutting the door to his study on me. Aonghus mentioned something along the lines of appreciating the lines on a Cadillac more than the lines of a woman, so I knew he wouldn’t be much use, so it was in desperation I finally turned to Father Kenneth as a last resort… because I’ll be damned if I’m going to talk to my mother about this halfway through my twenties.
“Ah,” he sighed, leaning back in his chair in the sparse little room he’d made downstairs, “They are quite a trio, aren’t they? It will be interesting to see how they benefit the group once our mission gets underway.”
I’d almost forgotten about all of that. With everyone here, it was only a matter of time, I suppose.
“I find them all very interesting, as they represent many different facets of being. Xandra could be seen as youth: full of ideals and causes, ready to take on the world, even if inexperienced or frankly unprepared. Titania is emerging adulthood, full of power and ambition. I see so much in her, there is so much potential, and yet I worry her skills are not being used correctly. Brigitte, however, speaks of the later life: things have been seen, lives experienced, good and bad and all things inbetween, giving her the most rational, if cold, approach to any and all things. It is my thought that, between the three of them we have found very, very powerful allies.”
I should have known better than to talk to a priest about this. But still, his words made a lot of sense and, for the time being, I’m going to consider it safe to trust Brigitte, and to trust Titania. With the powers they possess, it’s not like I have much of a choice, and until they do wrong by me, I’ve got nothing to worry about.
I hope.

Melville – The Worker

Little Miss Wallace made an almost immediate impact on the general attitude of the house. There was something about her friendly nature, constant goodwill and infinite patience that seemed to cause the house to glow just a little bit brighter every day. Every other day she followed the tunnel to Aonghus’ workshop to help him design this or that, amassing a stockpile that would no doubt become very important once we started fully engaging the AE. She helped my Mom with the dishes, she sat in rapt attention for all of Dr. Bill’s lectures and lessons on warfare, tactics, and espionage, and she even helped Xandra and I touch up things around the house. We cleaned and fixed the gutters outside, put in a new bathroom in the basement, and even touched up the paint around the house, leading to the ginger lady looking like she had suddenly sprouted new, multicolored freckles. She even got along with Rat. I can’t lie: she was a stunning woman, willowy and probably close to six feet tall, always dressed in flowing garments that only exacerbated her appearance, yet never seemed to impede her movements or agility. She walked around the house in skirts so long I tripped over them more than she did, but it was probably because I couldn’t stop staring. She was one of those women: supermodel looks, a curious accent, and the very personification of sweetness and light… she was so nice to be around it was almost hard to believe (or maybe easy to ignore) that she appeared an empath and, quite frankly, a manipulator of emotions.
“She’s got you all wrapped around her dainty damn fingers,” Xandra sighed one day as Titania went off to help Aonghus, “But it is pretty damn impressive.” “I’m just glad she’s on our side,” I mused, hefting a few paint cans, “You wanna grab those two? I’m heading down to the basement.”
“Looking to catch one more glimpse of the goddess, Johnny?”
“No!” I lied, feeling my face flush, “These cans just need to go downstairs.”
“Uh huh,” the sarcasm was heavy in her voice. We headed into the basement and stacked the cans of paint on a homemade shelf I’d help Mom put together back when I was in high school… which is to say a rickety one.
“Well,” Xandra gave a grunt as she reached to put some Bella Luna on the top shelf, “At least she doesn’t have everything on me.”
“You shouldn’t treat it like a contest,” I replied, stretching myself to put away the Dark Pine.
“Oh, I don’t,” she stretched a bit and popped her neck loudly, “Doesn’t feel right to beat up on her. Not her fault she’s flat as a board.”
She stretched again, and I got the very distinct feeling she was stretching on purpose, if you know what I mean.
“Uh…” I tried to look away, “Do you need any more cans?”
“No thanks,” she shot me a coy look, “I’ve got plenty of my own.”
“I didn’t mean it like that!” I fumbled for a response.
“I think I did!” Rat called out from his ever-present computer chair on the other side of the basement.
“Shut up, Rat,” I shouted back weakly.
“Not in a million years, bro.”
“Well then, Rat, I guess you won’t ever get a chance at this, then.”
She quickly lifted up her t shirt and flashed me. Then, without a word, but with one hell of a smile, she headed back upstairs. I managed to stagger over to Rat, who was still peering at his multiple computer monitors.
“She show you the goods?” he asked.
“Uhhh…”
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes,’ then,” Rat pursed his thin lips as he scrutinized one monitor.
“Damn,” he remarked softly to himself, “She must know exactly where my cameras are.”
“You have cameras in my mother’s house?”
” ‘Shmael’s orders,” Rat replied, stuffing his face with Red Vines, “don’ worry, kid. You’re not the one I’m lookin’ at.”
Unfortunately, I would find out a few days later that there WOULD be someone in the house who was looking at me… though not in the way I thought. Titania was doing her usual flitting around the house, wide-eyed and gorgeous, when suddenly it seemed like the very air in the house stopped moving. For a moment I thought she was about to call me out for passing gas while I was watching The Price is Right, but instead she stood completely still, like a deer on alert, and suddenly pointed to the front door. The doorbell rang, and I nearly jumped out of my skin… and I may have passed gas again.
“What the hell?” I murmured as I made my way for the door, “This place is off the grid, no one comes here. No one even thinks to come here.”
I turned around quickly before opening the door to see that Titania had vanished, which did not improve my mood. I thought this house was supposed to be enchanted, or cursed or something so people wouldn’t be able to stumble onto our operation… what gives?
The doorbell rang again.
“Just a minute,” I looked around again nervously for some help, but nothing seemed to be coming. The doorbell rang again and I started to panic. I knew the priest was in the house, and Rat, and between them they could probably handle whatever came in, and besides, if it was a threat Rat probably saw it on his camera, right? Right? So maybe it’s just someone who busted through the perception barrier, maybe some innocent little Girl Scout selling Tagalongs or something. Hell, maybe I’d even buy a few, I love those coconut ones… what are they called again?
The doorbell rang for a fourth time. Damn persistent for a Girl Scout. I heaved one last breath, making sure that if it was my last one, it’d be a good one, and opened the door. Standing on the stoop was a rather plain looking woman, dressed business casual with one of those short, young professional haircuts that are supposed to be easily maintained and have less split ends or whatever. She had on thick-rimmed glasses and one of those slightly New-Agey looking pendants hanging around her neck, but other than that she looked completely and perfectly normal… almost surprisingly so. I’m sorry, but when you break bread with dwarves and fairies every night, a regular girl can be a little… weird. And, if my still-stunted adolescent mind says so, not unwelcome. All in all, I’d say she was “cute.”
“Good morning, sir,” she spoke in a clear, broad, Midwestern dialect that lacked all the, um, bluntness of those of us out East. I’d known a few at Pitt, very “Minnesota Nice.”
“Could I trouble you for a moment?” She kept on talking, but I noticed someone was breathing heavy, but it wasn’t me. I was still holding what I thought was my last breath, so I glanced down to see a friendly looking Black Labrador Retriever at the lady’s side: no leash, no collar, but perfectly obedient. One of those dogs I’d always wished I had as a kid, instead of the fifteen or so stray cats I tried to befriend with cans of tuna fish.
“Uh, sure,” I said finally, remembering to breathe, “No trouble here.”
“Well, my name’s Carla Rose and I’m taking signatures on this petition…”
Ah, my  brain immediately derailed, she’s one of those.
“We’re trying to get signatures all across the city to support the crackdown on dog-fighting operations. As you might know, a local sports player was recently indicted…”
I hadn’t, actually. We don’t really watch the local news around here, because Rat usually gets about five minutes in before he complains about this or that conspiracy. And besides, I’ve got enough to worry about. Oops, she’s still talking.
“–even this dog right here was until recently forced into the horrific situation of being a fighter.”
“Aw, he looks more like a lover than anything,” I cooed, reaching down with one hand to offer the dog a pet or a scratch.
“I wouldn’t do that, sir…” Carla cautioned, “He was a fighting dog after all.”
Something went wild in that dog’s eyes as I got closed, and I quickly pulled my hand back before a jaw three times the size of that dog’s head flew open and tried to make me an amputee. I only got a glance (as I was too busy backpedaling and falling squarely on my ass) but there was no way all those teeth in that massive mouth could have belonged to one dog. By the time I was thinking clearly again, the girl and the dog had made their way into the house, the beast suddenly growing in size, going from being at the girl’s thigh to halfway between her waist and her shoulder. The massive beast pounced on me, its breath hot and cloying, suddenly resembling less of a dog than a big, black, monster of a thing.
“I can’t believe it,” I heard the lady say as I was pinned down, “You actually let me in. Either you’re an idiot, or I’m just damn good.”
She stood over me and snapped her fingers once, and immediately the dog-beast’s demeanor changed. Sure, it still was a four-foot tall wolf-bear-dog-thing, but it closed its gigantic maw and its eyes once again turned back into those dozy, lovable brown Labrador eyes. In a split second, it was like I had gone from certain death at the hands of a monster to being the plaything of a puppy the size of a Volkswagen. It licked at my face with a huge tongue and whined and nuzzled me incessantly until I reached up and scratched between its towering, upright ears. The creature immediately closed its eyes in bliss and sank down on top of me, unaware that its size was causing me to lose all ability to breathe.
“Nice… doggy…” I gasped and wheezed, looking up pleadingly at the woman. Was this her way of killing me? Death by dogpile? She gave a little chuckle and smiled.
“Cola!” she commanded, “Up!”
The dog whined again and got to its feet, setting four paws the size of manholes on the carpet. This allowed me to scramble out from under it, facing down my attacker.
“Um,” I could feel my hair was sticking up oddly from Cola drool, but I tried to compose myself “So, what’s all this?”
“A test, Mr. Kilpatrick,” the woman replied flatly, “And you failed pretty bad.”
“Well, you make a terrible girl scout,” I shot back petulantly.
“Oh, really?” Carla asked, one eye shooting up over her glasses. Then, abruptly, it was like her very body began to melt and shift like silly putty until she resembled, perfectly, a little Girl Scout, complete with the sash and buttons.
‘Would you wike to buy some cookies, Mister?” a young, squeaky voice came out of her, and my head started to swim like that one time I accidentally walked into a “Burnt Popcorn Party” at college. The little girl smiled like no little girl should (think predatory) and immediately she was an adult again, a little shorter than I. This time she was in a plain white t shirt and denim shorts, barefoot, but still wearing those glasses. Her hair was even shorter now, shorter than mine, but it seemed to have one of those weird bumps in the back like a 1960s hairdo. She spoke again, but this time her voice was sharply accented by a strong bit of middle European: German, Swiss, Austrian… one of those, you know?
“This one is easier to manage,” she said casually as the dog-thing padded over for her to pet, “I hope you do not mind.”
“Uhhhh…” I found myself saying that a lot, recently.
“My name is Brigitte Godwinn. Ishmael sent me here to test you like this. I’m part of the group.”
“Okay…”
“I see you are confused,” she noted, looking me up and down, “He told me you would be. Apparently, you need more training, so it is good that I am here.”
I noticed she seemed to not use contractions, which is weird when you hear it. She held out a hand for a handshake, but I was a little wary of taking it.
“Don’t worry,” she said the word worry almost like wah-ree, “I will not do anything with it.”
I cocked my head to the side and shook her hand. What else could I do? She did keep her promise though, but she had forgotten to pet the dog-thing for at least five seconds, so he got bored and came over to me, thrusting his massive black nose under my elbow and sending my hand flying into the air until it landed back down on his neck.
“It’s already there,” his soft, brown eyes seemed to say, looking up at me, “You might as well scratch.”
I continued to scratch idly as Brigitte kept talking.
“I am your Worker,” she said plainly, reaching back to shut the front door… from about twenty feet away with an arm that stretched like a rubber band, “I am here to fill the need of the… subterfuge and fooling.”
My first thought was “Well, I can see why,” but I thought it would be a little offensive, so instead my brain came up with this gem.
“What are you?”
Smooth.
“Isn’t it obvious?” She smiled gently, with closed lips, “I’m a Changeling. My mother a troll, my father an elf. I was born in Canterbury, but my parents placed me in the bassinet of a German politician when his son fared poorly at birth.”
“So you can…”
“Change, yes. Into almost anything, if I put my mind to it.”
“And you said you replaced a… son?”
“Yes. I lived the first thirteen years of my life as a boy.”
“Uh,” I asked dumbly, my eyes moving on their own to scan her up and down, “Are you a boy?”
It was a legitimate question. If this was her most, well, normal form, it was a little androgynous.
“No, no,” she shook her head and laughed, “I am a girl… but I can be a boy.”
“That’s… going to take some getting used to, I think.”
“Not as much as the other things I can be,” she replied with that predatory smile again.
“What do you mean?” I asked automatically, even though my brain immediately screamed for me to stop.
“Well, to be honest, I have been a part of the group not long after you arrived. I have been around the house since before you found Mr. Rat; Ishmael found me out and brought me here from Leipzig.”
For some reason, the only thing that jumped into my mind at that moment was “Why does he always go alone to recruit the girls?”
“I have been around the house for a while, observing, finding out how best to work all of you. I am here to train you as well as to fool the enemy. You must all be ready for anything.”
“How have you been observing?”
“Sometimes I am a book on that table,” she gestured behind me, “and sometimes I am a lamp in a room. I was a poster on your wall for a week last month.”
“My wall?!” I sputtered, suddenly terrified, “then you saw… me! Me as….. me!”
“Do not worry,” she said it again, “You are above average.”
I had never before felt so embarrassed I wanted to barf.
“Well thank you, creepy-German-stalker-lady… but I’d rather you let me know before you go peeking in on my room again.”
“Okay,” she said plainly, shuffling a little closer and smiling again in that close-lipped way, “I will.”
She was a little too close to comfort, but thankfully the giant dog-thing started begging her for pets to. What a glutton. Thankfully, though, it gave me an out.
“So, uh,” I took a small step back, letting the dog-thing between us, “Who’s this, then?”
“That is Cola,” she put the emphasis on the -la part, “He is my friend.”
“Does he change, too?” I asked, remembering his appearance outside.
“I can change him,” Brigitte replied, “We have Anschluss.”
“Is he another Changeling?”
“No, no,” she shook her head, “He is what you call a Barghest.”
“I’ll have to look that one up later,” I mumbled, having no idea what it meant, “And he’s safe?”
“As long as I tell him to be.”
Well, that’s a terrible thought.
“Hm. Well, I guess I’d welcome you here, but it seems like you’ve already been here.”
“Yes, yes,” she nodded, “There is a room downstairs waiting for me?”
“Oh, ja…” I said unconsciously. Her accent was contagious. She chuckled at that: it wasn’t the high-pitched giggle like Titania or the boisterous gouts of laughter from Xandra… it was squarely in the middle.
“Sorry.”
“No, it is okay,” Brigitte waved me off, “But your accent is terrible. Perhaps I will teach you.”
“Sure, why not? I only had two years of German in high school.”
I quickly glanced behind her, noticing no luggage for someone moving in.
“Do you have, like, bags or anything? Or are they already in here, disguised as dust mites or something?”
“No, no,” she replied, “I am a light traveler. My clothing is constructed by my Changeling abilities.”
“How does that work, then?”
“You notice my head-bump?” she said it like bahmp, “It is my Changeling brain. It has larger sections to create and manipulate my tissues. It is like tumors, only not bad.”
“I’m a little sorry I asked.”
“Ha ha!” she laughed out loud this time, and it was bright and brassy, “You take well to all of this. I think that is why I like you.”
“You like me?”
“You seem very nice, even when you think no one is watching,” she responded with a smile, “So I like you.”
“Oh, okay…”
“I will go to my room now and get it ready. Can you get a bucket of water for Cola?”
“Uh, sure,” I nodded, still scratching the beast’s head, “Does he need any food?”
“No, he will hunt for what he needs.”
Cola’s mouth was hanging open in a blissful pant, and I saw again that massive mouth and all those teeth. Brigitte, I don’t doubt it.
“You can come and see me later, if you like,” Brigitte said in a way that made me tingle in a terrible way, “I will be downstairs.”
“Ummm, yes. Good. Well,” I collected my thoughts enough to give her the standard speech I gave all the newcomers, “Lunch will be a little late today, around 1:30. Chicken sandwiches, and tacos tonight, 6:30 sharp. New bathroom downstairs, laundry room on the first floor, and… oh, what the hell am I saying? You probably know this already.”
“I do,” she chuckled again, “But you are nice to tell me.”
She gave me that lippy smile again and headed off for the basement. As she walked, I couldn’t help but notice her denim shorts and t shirt seemed to cling oddly in parts as she moved. Then, it hit me.
“Hey, wait!”
“Yes?” She stopped and looked back over her shoulder at me like a petite German Betty Grable.
“If you use your Changeling brain to make all that… does that mean you’re naked all the time?”
She popped that eyebrow above her glasses again and suddenly part of the back of her shirt seemed to dissolve into bare skin.
“Yes.”
She then threw open the door to the basement, and yelled down to Rat.
“I know all about your secret files!”
Then headed downstairs. I guess when it comes to him, a preemptive strike is best. I felt that bump to my elbow again, and looked down to see this hellbeast Barghest looking up at me like a pouting little boy.
“Okay, Cola,” I knelt down and scratched him under that dangerous chin, “let’s get you some water… and maybe a cold shower for me.”

Melville – Maker and User

I’m naturally a pretty curious guy. For instance, when someone tells me to come in a room, I do it, particularly when it’s in some sort of pocket parallel dimension world created by an ancient Mythic professor in my Mom’s basement. The only problem with being so curious is that sometimes you barge in on a beautiful woman in her underwear… and that’s usually the best part of the spectrum. Sometimes, your curiosity can get you hurt, or fired, or sometimes… it can get you involved with a shotgun-toting fairy on his quest for revenge from a tyrannical corporate overlord… thing.
“Get in the car.”
“Why….?” I asked with rightful hesitation. It always seems like someone dies when I get in the car with Ishmael, and I can only assume that eventually that someone might be me.
“We’re going somewhere.”
“New contact?”
“Yes.”
“And you actually want me to come along this time?”
“Yes.”
“So I suppose this time we’re not dropping into a hot chick’s bedroom?”
“… no.”
He hesitated. That was weird. It would prove, however, that my assumption couldn’t be more correct. On the other side of Philly, we pulled the Olds into a tumbledown garage in a part of town that looked like it hadn’t seen any rehab in about a century.  Again, my “I think I might die” sense went off: if you were going to kill someone and have no one ever hear, see, or know about it… this might be a good part of town to do it in. Instead, the old wooden garage door swung upwards, and I took a moment to think: when was the last time I saw a garage door that swung open like that? All in one part? Not the segmented doors like we have today, like the old, solid wood doors… why don’t we have those anymore? I was about to move on to the lack of enameled metal cabinets in kitchens, too, but then I saw the dwarf and decided it could wait.
He looked like you thought he would look: short, stocky, thick as a phone book and sporting big, orange bushy hair on top of a big, orange bushy beard that hid nearly all his features except for a big nose. At the risk of being offensive… why are the features so big if they’re so… y’know… not? He defied tradition and stereotype, however, by wearing your usual one-piece mechanic jumpsuit and steel-toed boots, and was in the process of wiping some sort of oil or grease or coolant or whatever the hell off his hands as we pulled into the garage and he shut the door behind us. Again, perfect time for a murder. Ishmael got out of the car and, I shit you not, the dawrf lumbered over and hugged him.
Hugged HIM.
It was weird.
“My boy, great to see ya! How’ve ye been?”
“I’m well,” Ishmael replied, stonefaced as ever, straightening out the folds in his long coat that had been wrinkled from the hug, “Do you have my order?”
“Aye, laddie,” the dwarf smiled, causing his beard to arch upwards, “It’s downstairs.”
Ishmael left like a shadow through a door into the dilapidated house, leaving me alone with the dwarf. He fairly yanked me out of the passenger seat and tried to obliterate my spine with a hug.
“He’s not much for introductions, is he?” the dwarf grinned.
“I’ve gotten used to it,” I said, having to rearrange my own clothes just like Ishmael did, “I’m John Noble, by the way.”
I extended my hand and he took it, pumping it up and down like a Mojave water pump.
“Yew must be th’ one he’s told me so much about.”
“Really?” I took my mind off my smarting hand to raise a sarcastic eyebrow.
“Well… no, not really,” the dwarf immediately knew he’d been caught, “but any friend o’ Ish is a friend o’ mine. Aonghus Amhladh, nice ta meet ye, Johnny.”
Apparently, he had a thing for nicknames. We went into his house (possibly to find out if Ishmael had set anything on fire yet) and it was most certainly the sort of house a bachelor mechanic would live in. There was what looked like a car engine on the kitchen counter, and that’s all I’ll say.
“I don’t usually have guests, y’see” Aonghus said with a shrug, “An’ it’s not usually th’ kind o’ guests who might worry about th’ cleanliness.”
We quickly turned away from the messy kitchen and headed down a staircase into the basement. It was much like everything else, with gears and machines and all sorts of stuff I couldn’t understand on the shelves and the floors and, probably, the ceiling. I didn’t check. Ishmael was in the far corner inspecting a small piece of machinery about the size of a cantaloupe.
“Oi, Ish!” Aonghus hollered as he made his way across the stone floor, “I see y’ took no time gettin’ to it. What do ye think? That ought ta do what ye need t’that wee little four-banger y’got outside!”
“I trust you,” Ishmael replied, lifting the device easily and handing it to me. I nearly dropped the damn thing when I took it.
“Jesus!” I hefted the thing back up, trying to see if I tore anything in my shoulder, “How can this thing be this heavy?”
“I take it ye’ve got no experience with Mythic engineering,” Aonghus said proudly, arms akimbo, “You’ll outrun anything those scabs at the AE can bring to ye with this little wonder.”
“So this is where he gets his wonderful toys,” I muttered, casting a sideways glance at Ishmael, who was currently looking over a few other things on the workbench.
“I make everything he’ll need to take on those bastards,” Aonghus continued, “Special bullets for his guns, special parts for th’ car… he’s even wearing special shoes right now; Dwarven construction allows for greater distribution of shock when falling.”
That explains his antic in the parking garage, then.
“How does he pay for all this?”
“I don’t ask how, laddie,” Aonghus shook his head, lowering his bushy eyebrows to talk seriously for a moment, “Only that I can help him bring down that awful lot.”
“Doesn’t the AE have dwarves working for them?”
“No, lad!” his eyebrows shot back up again, “It’d be an insult for any one of us to caught helping out that scum! We dwarves are a secretive lot, y’know, and we usually keep to our caves and our tunnels.”
“What brings you to Philadelphia, then?”
“I’m what ye might call an ‘odd duck’ of my kind,” Aonghus said with a sigh, “They raided our home in Ben Nevis some years ago, killed a few of my kin. I followed them here and have spent the time since building and looking for anyone willing to help me take ’em down. That’s when I met him.”
He jerked a stubby, muscular thumb in Ishmael’s direction. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much had been going on in the world without me knowing it. I had really checked out during my college years and hadn’t paid one bit of attention to the world around me… and now I suppose I was paying the price.
“Are you afraid they might find you here?”
“Laddie,” Aonghus gave me a look out from under all that bushy hair, two kind, blue eyes shining from deep inside the orange, “It’s safe to say that they knew I was here the moment I moved in.”
“But why…”
“They’re not idiots, that’s why!” he answered my question before I could even say it, “No group, not even one as powerful as the AE, would dare try to attack a Dwarven stronghold. I’ve got enough security measures around this little heap to render this whole city uninhabitable if they tried anything.”
“So they let you go?” I put down the cantaloupe car part, hearing the table groan under its weight.
“They watch me like a hawk,” Aonghus replied, scratching at his beard, “they’re biding their time, waiting me out. They think I’ll get soft, but that only proves they don’t truly know a dwarf. I’ve got 400 years under my belt, laddie, an’ you can bet I’ve got enough ways to escape down here, tunnels on top of tunnels… they’d never find me again.”
“I don’t get it.”
“It’s all very simple, Mr. Noble.”
Ishmael walked up behind both of us, and I turned around to see his hands full of new ordnance. He nodded at Aonghus, who nodded in return. Ishmael glanced quickly to me, then to the car part, and began heading for the stairs back up.
“Your mind is still far too tied to notions of a world that doesn’t exist,” Ishmael continued, “There is no totality here, no perfect logic. We are fighting a war of attrition, and the Altse Erce believes it can starve us out first.”
“Aye,” Aonghus offered, “It’s willing to let me blow up a few hundred of its people at a time to exchange not having me turn the whole city into a crater. They can always find new workers, poor souls who’re desperate for work in these times. You think too much like a human, Johnny: you worry about each individual person, their homes, their families, their lives. You need to think like they do: people are commodities, people are stock and trade. They made their very seat of power by robbing the Mythics of their souls, taking our powers and using them to assert their own. They don’t care about the little things, like who’s got a child or who’s gotten sick… they care about their success, and their continued triumph.”
“You’re right,” I said as I tried to haul that horribly heavy part up the stairs, “I don’t get it.”
My legs were burning by the time we installed the new device, and all I wanted to do was to sink into the passenger’s seat and go home. Unfortunately, Ishmael locked the doors on me.
“You’ll have to walk home,” he said plainly, easily.
Excuse me?”
“Aonghus will show you the way. I have other business to attend to.”
He rolled up the window then before burning out of the driveway and speeding away at what must have been close to 100mph in a matter of seconds.
“Ah ha!” Aonghus clapped his thick hands together proudly, “Workin’ like a charm! Now, Johnny-boy… I’ll be showing you home.”
He wasn’t kidding about the tunnels. The Dwarves had become so good at carving out the ground that they seemed to be able to find straight shots to almost anywhere… or at least it felt that way. What had been a 45 minute drive was only a 30 minute walk and, although my legs were practically Jell-O by the time I got home, it was impressive to have walked there so fast. We entered through another one of those doors in the basement, and were greeted by Rat as only Rat can greet one.
“Ah! Got a dwarf now, huh? Ain’t this a fuckin’ Rainbow Coalition.”
“Ech,” Aonghus said as we walked by Rat, saying our own hellos, “Computers.”
He said the word with such bile that Rat naturally took offense.
“At least I don’t spend all day in the dirt, shortcake.”
“Aye,” Aonghus shot back, “but my kind weren’t expelled from Old Caledonia for their Impish ways!”
“Who the fuck wants to live in Scotland, anyway? Woo, THISTLES.”
The two glared each other down for a moment, then shared a nod. I guess that meant something was okay now, because Aonghus then followed me upstairs to meet the rest. Later that night, at dinner, I figured it was as good a time as any to ask Aonghus about what he’d said before.
“What did you mean when you said Mythics had powers?”
“Ahahaha…” he laughed proudly to himself, “I wonder when you’d be askin’ me that.”
He put down his knife and fork and knitted his freshly scrubbed fingers together before setting them on the table in front of him.
“If you’ve got any Mythic blood in you, son, you’ve got the power. Mythics possess an organelle in the brain that makes this possible, and if you’ve remained purebred, you can bend the very world to your will. Fire, water, the rocks and the trees and the very air.”
“So… magic?”
“Aye, lad. That’s what they used to call it.”
“So how come no one around this table is throwing fireballs?”
“Wait for chili night,” Rat guffawed. Dr. Bill silenced him with a look and picked up where Aonghus left off.
“It’s been bred out, over the centuries, but a memory remains. Our new friend here can work the earth to his will, as you noticed in your trip back to the house, and our Impish friend has the centuries old knack to tinker and tamper, for both good or ill.”
“Mostly ill,” Aonghus shot back, encouraging Rat to pull a face in return. Bill continued, a little bemused.
“And our friend the good father has some lingering aspects of his Elven heritage in not only a mind for the ages, but is aided by superhuman agility and speed.”
“Please,” the priest looked down at his plate, embarrassed, “I’m just a humble servant. No more, no less.”
“What about you, then, Dr. Kent?” my mother spoke up from the side counter, where she had moved herself to eat as the table became more and more full, “What sort of powers do you have?”
“Plenty, my dear,” he shot back with a kind smile that made my mother the uncomfortable one, now… as well as me. As dapper as this guy was, I’m not sure if I liked him possibly hitting on my mom.
“Sadly,” Xandra injected herself into the conversation, “My family’s a bunch of committed rascists, so I’m nothing but 100% human.”
“Ah, but you shouldn’t speak so ill of homo sapiens, Miss Concorde,” Dr. Kent cautioned her, “they are the weakest of Creation, but have been endowed with such a sense of compassion and empathy that speaks to the ages.”
“They have a funny way of showing it,” Xandra shot back, stabbing angrily at her dinner, “ever been to Auschwitz?”
“An’ the Mythic world is not without its own horrors, lassie,” Aonghus spoke up, “There was an evil queen once, a queen of the fair folk, who lead us into such ruin and degradation from which we never recovered. It is part of the reason we sealed ourselves away.”
“What was this queen’s name, Aongh—”
My question was cut short as Ishmael once again entered into the room, this time with a tall, willowy redhead, her hair falling in massive curls halfway down her back and into her face, obscuring piercing green eyes and an ivory face bespotted with freckles. She looked like a refugee from a Renaissance faire, dressed in one of those billowy blouses (which hid the fact that she was flat as a board… just sayin) and a long floral print skirt that seemed to scream ‘Earth Mother.” When she walked into the kitchen, sitting at Ishmaels customary spot, she seemed to float over the linoleum and make zero noise, just like when Ishmael moved around. I took it on pretty good standing that she was probably a fairy, or an elf, or one of those guys.
“Titania Wallace. The User.” Ishmael introduced her bluntly before quickly hanging up his coat and joining my mother at the other end of the side counter.
“That seems a bit harsh,” I asked out loud, remembering the Prophecy’s rhyme, “calling her something like that.”
“I’m afraid he’s all too right,” she spoke out from the end of the table, her voice like a wind chime in the spring after a cold rain. Sorry, but she sort of had that effect on you. If you looked at her, if you heard her voice, you started to think like a Shakespearean sonnet or something… and that’s when I started figuring out what it meant by “The User.”
“Ah!” a voice picked up from the other end of the table, “Well, if it isn’t another of Eire’s children.”
Father Mulcahey was looking up from his dinner now, obvious taken with the picture of Irish beauty not five feet away.
“With that accent, I’d have to guess County Cork.”
“You’d be right, Father,” Titania replied, flashing a dazzling smile.
“A remnant of the French Norman Vikings, if I’m not mistaken,” Dr. Bill offered his two cents.
“Goodness!” She replied, her eyes growing wide, “all of this fuss, and I’ve only just sat down. Please, please, return to your meals… and if it’s not too much trouble, I wouldn’t mind a bite. I haven’t had a chance to eat since Ishmael picked me up.”
She said Ishmael in an amazing way, with stress on the second syllable. It was like every word she spoke was spellbinding.
“Of course, dearie,” my Mother was suddenly a flurry of activity, filling her a place which she set about demolishing rather quickly for her thin frame.
“Picked you up?” I asked, curiously, “From Ireland?”
“Heavens, no!” she replied with a slight giggle, “Moncton,New Brunswick.”
“Y0u lived in Jersey?”
“No!” the giggle was a full out laugh, now, “Canada, you silly American!”
I swung my glance over to Ishmael, who was managing to eat noodles without looking awkward.
“You drove all the way to Canada?” I confronted him.
“Yes.”
“In one afternoon?”
“Yes.”
“That’s, like, a 24 hour round trip.”
“For you.”
“Haha!” the dwarf cried out in happiness, “Nice to know my handiwork’s in full effect! Er… I wouldn’t mind a second helping, either, marm” Aonghus asked, and my Mom was only too happy to oblige, “What do you call this, anyway?”
“Spaghetti Pie,” my mother replied, “Cheaper than lasagna and less of the fuss. And it’s not ‘marm,’ Mr. Amladh… it’s Aideen.”
“Aye, Aideen… and this is delicious, too,” Aonghus grinned, “Is that beef in it, then?”
“Aye,” my mother replied, “Oh! Now I’m starting to sound like you!”
“There’s no shame in sounding like a dwarf, my lovely.”
Great, now HE’S hitting on Mom, too.
“It’s been so long since I et a cow,” Aonghus murmured to himself, almost wistful, and once again I got to thinking: I could go down the street and get a burger whenever… but I bet he couldn’t. All of these people suffering, all of this happening and I never even noticed. I heard that otherworldly voice speak out again, and I looked over to see she was still eating, which meant the voice was… inside my head.
“Don’t worry, Priest,” Titania said, “It’ll all be over, soon.”
She looked up from a plate of spaghetti and winked at me. I don’t want to tell you how that made me feel.

Melville – The Lover’s Story

“Priest, dear?” my mother called from the kitchen while I was watching Wheel in Fortune in the living room, “Could you go downstairs and let everyone know it’s time for dinner?”
Damn. Couldn’t be during a commercial, could it?
“Yeah, Ma. I got it.”
The basement had become some sort of weird Mole-Man condo in the past couple of weeks, thanks to whatever the hell it was Dr. Bill did. Each room seemed to be part of a whole different world for each person: Rat had moved all his computer stuff into something out of the Matrix, Father Mulcahey had a clean and simple room with lots of wood accents, and the good doctor seemed to have created a portal back to his old office at Cambridge. I thought about asking him if it really was some sort of shoebox through space and time… but I thought against asking too much of this man. And then… there was another door.
It was a new door, no doubt added sometime between when I passed out in front of an episode of MASH and when I woke up to cornmeal pancakes. There seemed to be some kind of singing or humming coming from the door, so I knocked politely.
“Come in.”
It was a woman’s voice… I think. It was very low, so it was sort of hard to tell. It wasn’t quite as hard to tell when I opened the door to a simple, motel-style room and saw very much a woman who looked to be half in and half out of her clothing. I slammed the door quickly, my heart hammering against me ribs.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t… wait, you told me to come in!”
“Yeah, come on in.”
“But you’re…”
“It’s just underwear, and I don’t buy stuff like this for it not to be seen.”
“I think I’d rather stay out here and tell you dinner will be ready in a bit. We all meet upstairs in the dining room, and seeing as how you have a room here now, we’ll see you up there… whoever you are.”
The door opened again, and thankfully she was clothed this time. She was tall, maybe even taller than me, and it was pretty obvious she either had an amazing plastic surgeon, an amazing physical trainer, a lucky break from the Almighty, or all three.
“I’m Xandra,” she said, holding out her surprisingly large hand.
“John,” I replied, shaking a hand that dwarfed my own. She was dressed in one of those pre-stressed shirts that wanted really bad to look like something a biker had been wearing, along with tight blue jeans and knee high leather boots. It was all a little too clean, a little too perfectly disheveled. Even her blonde hair, tied up in a ponytail, was showing dark roots a little too brazenly, as if she wanted someone to think she’d paid $500 for it to look like bad dye job. In a word, she was rich.
“Nice to meet you, John,” she let go of my hand with a satisfied half-smile, “What’s for dinner?”
“Barbecues.”
“Awesome!” she very nearly rubbed her hands together with glee, “I haven’t had ribs in forever!”
“No, sorry,” I shook my head, “It’s what my Mom calls Sloppy Joes.”
“Really? That’s weird.”
“If that’s the weirdest thing you see tonight at the dinner table… I’ll be surprised.”
And so we all sat down for loosemeats on buns with my Mom’s patented compliments: pickles, wedges of sharp cheddar cheese, potato chips, baked beans and coleslaw. There was the Warrior, and the Liar, the Mother, the Son, and the Wanderer in Time. Who would this new addition prove to be?
“Sit right here, dearie,” my Mom motioned to the chair nearest hers, “and tell me all about yourself.”
“Eh, there’s not much to tell,” Xandra said as she sat her leggy self down.
“Bullshit.”
Rat was already halfway through his first sandwich when he chimed in. Xandra gave him a look that could kill.
“There’s plenty to tell there,” he continued, still eating, “that’s Alexandra Concorde, daughter of a guy that owns most of the goddamn eastern seaboard… when he’s not kissing the AE’s alabaster ass.”
My body immediately went tense. Is she a spy? Does she have connections to the AE? How did she get here, anyway?
“So, how did a princess with such close ties to the AE get invited to our little clubhouse, anyway?”
“She’s clean.”
All of us turned to the entryway as Ishmael entered, saying only those two words before removing his hat and coat and sitting down to eat.
“Well now,” Rat chortled around yet another mouthful, “This story I would love to hear.”
All eyes turned back to Xandra, as if we all silently understood that we wouldn’t get anything more out of Ishmael on the subject. The young lady heaved a sigh and started talking.
“Yes, my Dad is Francis Concorde Duvet. He runs the Concorde Group, and yes, he has very close ties to the Altse Erce. I’ve looked down Kennedy Pyre across the dinner table several times, and… unfortunately he has looked me up and down a few times as well.”
She said that last phrase with such revulsion that her intent became clear.
“My father is not a good man, but he made a vow to himself long ago that he would never be as poor as he was when he was a child, no matter the cost. I cannot abide by my father’s actions, and so I am adding my considerable finances and connections to aid in your resistance group.”
“If I may interject,” Dr. Bill asked suddenly from the other side of my mother, “what physically brought you into the fold of our merry little band?”
“Hunh,” Rat guffawed around a second sandwich, “Why don’t you just read her mind to find out, Dragon-man.”
Bill shot him a look to kill, and this time, Rat froze in his tracks. The sandwich dropped with a sad little plop back into his plate.
“Thank you, mister…”
“Doctor, actually,” the old man said whimsically, “But you don’t need to bother with all that. Call me Bill.”
“Well, thank you, Bill. I’d been on the underground circuit for a while now, unbeknownst to my father, looking for a way to strike back. I’d been hearing a lot about our friend in black over there.”
She gestured at Ishmael, still sitting with perfect posture, his dinner not yet touched.
“But I didn’t know how to make contact. You all are very good at keeping yourselves hidden. Instead… he found me.”
“I suppose while I was in England, huh?” I turned to Ishmael to ask. He merely nodded. Figures: I go to pay a visit to crazy Auntie Jane, and he gets to court the bombshell.
“He entered my bedroom two nights ago, remarking about the poor quality of my bodyguards. I replied that if they weren’t of such a quality, I wouldn’t be able to escape when I needed to. We talked for a while, and I agreed to join you.”
“Woah, woah, woah!” Rat had found his voice again, picking up his now soggy sandwich, “Did you just ‘yadda-yadda-yadda’ through the good parts?”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” Xandra replied in a kind voice that had a poison edge, the kind of voice reserved for expertly fired barbs at society events, a skill she no doubt learned early on in childhood.
“This guy…” Rat gestured to Ishmael, “This pale, dark, brooding Adonis shows up in your bedroom at night, and all you do is ‘talk?’ I’m not buyin’ it.”
“Oh my,” Father Mulcahey patted at his mouth with a napkin, “I don’t know if this sort of conversation is appropriate for the dinner table, eh?”
“In a second, father,” Xandra reassured the priest, “but if you really must know, my advances upon this rather handsome man were… rebuked.”
Again, all eyes turned to Ishmael, who merely grumbled quietly and finally began eating. Dr. Bill gave a muffled little chuckle into his napkin, Father Mulcahey crossed himself and began to eat, and Rat just went back to laughing and eating at the same time, somehow without choking. My mother immediately struck up a conversation with Xandra about those sort of things women like to talk about, while I turned to Ishmael as he ate. It was obvious he didn’t want to talk, but it was a different sort of not-wanting-to-talk than his usual sort. That’s when it started to occur to me: the lacy black ensemble, her “free spirit,” her actions toward Ishmael himself…
She’s the Lover.
Later, after dinner, I was trying to vegetate on the couch and watch some TV after a hectic few days. From England back to Philly in the blink of an eye, and now this arrival… I needed some Simpsons to help me relax.
“Y’know,” Rat said from the far side of the couch, “I worked for your Dad a couple of times.”
“I’m sure that must have been great fun,” Xandra shot back sarcastically from the other far end of the couch. Somehow, I got stuck in the middle.
“Your Dad’s a real cheapskate, y’know, but all those rich guys are. He’ll always take the low-ball contract on anything, so I took the opportunity of underbidding everyone else and did a little software work for him.”
“And why would you do that?” Xandra replied, bored.
“Because my Mom worked for 25 years to put food on our plate after Dad split, and your Daddy’s group came in one day and started gutting the fuckin’ place. My Mom was out on the street at damn near sixty years old, so I made sure all of the software I programmed for Concorde investments kicked a little bit back at a time so she had a… proper retirement.”
He was obviously very pleased with himself, but Xandra was disinterested as usual. I was always impressed by his skill with a computer; the best thing I ever did was stick a wireless card on my old desktop job.
“That wasn’t even my favorite, though,” Rat continued, “I did some of the HR software, too. Because, you know, those bloated, suit wearing chowderheads can’t be bothered to actually look at a goddamn paper resume anymore, because they’re so busy sitting precisely on their fists and rhythmically jamming their thumbs up their asses. So every once in a while, just to fuck with ’em, I like to send in an online resume form with a very special first name. Know what’s special about this first name?”
“What?” I found myself asking reflexively, even though I know Xandra probably hated me for it.
“It’s a seemingly random sequence of characters that makes one of those weird names, you know, like all the dumb shit parents are naming their kids these days. But this random sequence is a backdoor I programmed in to completely shut down the software. Boom. Easy as that. And I do it every once in a while to make sure those HR thumbfuckers actually have to work for their daily bread once in a while.”
“And no one has noticed this?” I asked, again cursing myself for even doing so.
“That’s the best part!” Rat replied, almost giddy, “It’s a big fuck-off corporation, right? So they send in an error report every time in happens, and it goes into a file or whatever, and no one looks at it. Wanna know why? Because it happens so infrequently that it isn’t losing the company money yet. Because that’s all that matters.
It’s da money, Lewbowski! As long as I don’t do it so much that it slows down the actual business for the honchos up top, they could really give one lemon-scented shit about all of it. So if I just do it every once in a while, all it means is that those HR Puf-n-fucks have to spend a few days working their asses off gathering everything up the old fashioned way!”
“Or, you know…” Xandra suddenly shot back, “They could just dump all the resumes lost and forget it ever happened. It’s not like my Dad’s companies don’t get thousands of offers to work for them every day. In essence, you could be screwing regular, hardworking people out of jobs instead of making life Hell for the HR.”
She turned to him, then, burning a hole right through me in the process.
“Never underestimate the power of a corporation to completely dehumanize a person. You assume the people in HR  might care that they’ll lose a star employee; they don’t. Another will come along, or they’ll apply again. It’s just a number, a metric, it ceases to be a human being and just becomes a part of the money-making machine. So you think about it before you go and try to do that again, Rat-Boy.”
She turned back and settled into the couch with a sigh.
“Oh,” she said to me as Rat got up and left, “Is this the Prohibition episode?”
It occurred to me then that she wasn’t just a Lover in the way I thought she was. Her love for humanity might just go deeper than all the rest.

Melville – The Wanderer

I was honestly surprised how easy it was to get into the Cambridge of Professor Emeritus William Boyle Kent. I spent the afternoon at Auntie Jane’s house doing as much research as I could on him, because Mr. BlackPants decided to shove me onto an airplane without even time to Google the guy. A lot of people are calling him a modern-day Tolkien: a British specialist in ancient languages on a scale that was frankly shocking. He was a master of languages I’d never even heard of. I asked Auntie Jane about them, an actual British person, and she didn’t even know languages that actually turned out were ancient English languages. Apparently the guy is a walking encyclopedia of the way people have spoken and written since, well, when people started speaking and writing things down. So, I naturally thought one thing: Mythic.
Strangely, no. Everything I found had him listed as a human. He’s even listed as one officially on documents, which is something I didn’t even think about before. If you see an official document (like a driver’s license or a passport) labeling someone as human, dwarf, elf, whatever… it meant that they had been cataloged and listed by the AE. Everything about this Professor Kent said he was a human, born in Shirebrook, never married, and then usually a listing of all his awards and accomplishments. It had been a way of life for me growing up to just realize that, like male or female, you were listed as what you were as a Mythic or not. As I sat in an office full of dark, polished wood and leather-bound books, I couldn’t help but think that I, through sheer ignorance, had been part of the problem. Also, I started to wonder if Rat wasn’t quite as crazy as he seemed.
“So sorry to have kept you waiting, Mr. Kilpatrick.”
The voice was rough, gravely, but quintessentially British and surprisingly warm. I stood up from my chair to shake hands with the man, he was a few inches shorter than me, around five-nine, and thin enough to make the wool suit he wore hang off his frame in a way that seemed to scream “absent-minded professor.” On top of that, the waistcoat and scarf might as well have come with a neon sign that blinked out “so very British,” and I have expected his blood to be somewhere around 67% breakfast tea.
“That’s all right, Professor.”
“Oh, please,” he said as he shook hands, smiling warmly in that way only old men can seem to do without being creepy, “Call me Bill.”
“All right… Bill. Do you know why I’m here?”
“Oh yes, I do,” he replied, walking around to the other end of the desk and sitting down in his own chair. He bid me to do the same, insisting as only he could do, “In fact, as time goes by you’ll understanding that I know a lot of things.”
“Well, speaking of time,” I drummed my fingers nervously on the arms of the chair, not really wanting to sit too long after the incident at the airport, “I suppose you might be the one to ask… is it a Wanderer ‘in Time’ or ‘in Kind?'”
He laughed a surprisingly boisterous laugh, throwing himself back into his overstuffed chair with a speed and vigor that spat in the face of his advanced years.
“Haha! I was unaware there was any controversy.”
Man, I love the way the English say certain words.
“Well, it’s the official lyrics of the song… prophecy… thing… and it’s Ishmael’s interpretation.”
“Ishmael?” the professor cocked a gray eyebrow up over hands clasped in front of his face, “Ishmael who?”
“It’s the name he likes to go by,” I rolled my eyes a little, “His real name is Athelstan.”
“Ah, a fine old English name,” Bill said with a sigh, “and Ishmael is a suitable nom de guerre, or at least suitable enough.”
“I’m sure he’s thrilled you approve,” I couldn’t help the sarcasm from escaping in my voice, “So what kind of Wanderer are you, Professor Kent, if you are indeed the one we’ve been looking for?”
“I am the Wanderer you seek.”
He said it back to me so plainly, but when he brought his hands down away from his face, it was obvious he had said it with heavy implications. I was struck by his eyes: so old, so impossibly old, surrounded by those dignified bags and wrinkles, each one of them telling a story, and every story a sad one. His face was scarred by them, it seemed; scarred by age and sheer experience. This is a man who had seen something… a lot of somethings.
“I knew this day would come and, to be honest, after the first few hundred years I had a feeling it would be me.”
“Hundred?”
“Oh, yes, my boy,” he reached up to brush at an itch on his cheek, or possibly to dispel a tear, “I’ve seen fourteen centuries come and go, all told.”
“But your bio says you’re seventy-three…”
He leaned forward in a way that either looked like he was going to offer me a Werther’s, or ever-so-gently murder me in my sleep.
“My dear boy, if I don’t want those fellows in Philadelphia knowing something about me… they won’t.”
His voice was almost a whisper now; ancient sounding, haggard. He perked up almost immediately, though, leaning back in his chair and again steepling his fingers.
“I’ve been idle for too long… indolent, really. Trying to forget, trying to escape… but I know somehow this day would come. Cylferth, our time has come.”
I didn’t feel right asking who this “Cylferth” was, so I just sat there like a good little boy when Grampa is telling one of his rambling stories. After being seemingly lost in thousands of years of memories, he finally came back, once again chipper and so damned British.
“Well! No time like the present, I suppose. We’ll have to get back to your base of operations. When can we leave?”
“As soon as you can,” I jerked my head to the left, where my duffel bag sat on the floor, “I don’t have a ticket to get back, though, so I might need your help on that.”
“Oh, I can certainly help you with that,” the professor said, standing up from the chair and rounding the desk. I tried to stand up, but he shoved me back down into the chair with a strength that was surprising, and a grip that could crush a diamond.
“You just stay right there, my boy,” he said, smiling down at me. I didn’t get the awkward feeling I got from Psycho Granny on the plane when I saw him smile, and I told myself it was just natural instincts telling me to trust him. In a flash, everything went dark, and before I could ask what happened my mother’s living room warped back into being around me, and I was back home. Of course, I didn’t have a chair anymore, so my butt decided to immediately embrace the floor. Professor Bill scooped down and picked me up before my coccyx had an opportunity to make contact with an area rug (which is not a suitable crash pad, as I learned often in my youth) and easily set me back on my feet. Now, I know at this point, in this world of grenade launching Grandmas and shotgun-toting fairies, I should be getting used to weird shit happening, but I think one of my main flaws as a human among these Mythics was that I just couldn’t process this shit… and neither could my stomach, or my blood pressure.
“What the hell? How… what… are we actually…?”
“We are where we need to be,” the professor said plainly, happily tossing my duffel at me, “And it’s been so long since I’ve been in the states. Tell me, where can I get a good cheeseburger around here?”
“You’re in Philly, Lord Autumn-bottom,” I shot back, “So you’ll be wanting a cheesesteak. And I’ll tell you all about Pat’s… right after you tell me what the hell just happened.”
“Priest, honey?” my mother called from the kitchen in disbelief, “is that you?!”
“Your mother sounds lovely,” the professor said with a smile, giving me what some might call a “shit-eating grin.”
“I never said she was my mother,” I replied through rapidly clenching teeth.
“Ah, but she called you honey, and that voice was certainly of an older woman,” the professor said as he brushed by me, patting me on the shoulder, “it wouldn’t take a Mythic to figure that out. And as for the transportation, my boy… that’s the old magic.”
Later that night, while my Mom was in an excited conversation with Auntie June about what had happened, I decided to head downstairs and find out if Rat had any information on our new acquisition. I’d remembered the old basement as your usual stone affair that my Mom had tried to humanize with the beat-up old couch from the living room, some cheap tables and an ancient television. Now, it practically glowed blue from all of the computer equipment Rat had running. I didn’t realize he was able to fit so much in that one small case he’d brought along.
“Can’t you turn on a light down here?” I asked as I came off the last step.
“I make my own light,” he replied, gesturing to his screens, “of course, all that may change pretty soon.”
“Why?”
“Our new friend did some renovation down here,” he replied, gesturing to what had originally been a blank stone wall of the basement, but now held a series of wall to wall wooden doors crammed so close together as to not be possibly viable.
“What are those for?” I asked, “I don’t think the rest of our group will be happy sleeping in closets.”
“They’re not closets,” Rat said, peering at his screen and typing a few commands. He pulled up a screen that showed what looked like a three dimensional blueprint of the basement, but anywhere beyond those doors was shrouded in mysterious blackness.
“Near as I can figure, he’s created pocket dimensions or something for each of us to live in,” Rat continued, “I can’t pick it up on any of my scans, and I’ve got better stuff than the AE does. This fuckin’ guy… he’s somethin’ else.”
“Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” I said, sitting down next to him on an old butter box, “I couldn’t find anything on the guy that didn’t say he was just a normal human. What do you got?”
“What, you mean about the dragon?”
“The what?!”
Rat leaned back in his chair and rubbed at constantly weary and watery eyes.
“Everyone’s got a thought about him. Some say he’s a kind of ancient high elf, some say he’s some kind of completely different Mythic species that died off centuries ago. Some people even think he’s a reincarnated spirit or god or angel or whatever the fuck. I say he’s a dragon in disguise, but one thing’s for sure… he doesn’t want anyone to know exactly who he is or what he can do, and ain’t nobody gonna find out until he’s damn good and ready.”

Melville – In Time

“So,” I said that night, as all five of us crowded around a kitchen table only meant for four, “We’ve got ourselves a Warrior,”
I gestured to Father Mulcahey, who nodded humbly.
“and a Liar.”
Rat grinned proudly inbetween massive bites of homemade cottage pie.
“And, I assume, the Mother and her Son.”
“I always knew you were a smart boy,” my mother said with the kind of flustering sweetness that only mothers can have, “now make sure you eat your broccoli.”
“Enh,” I jabbed at the green stuff with my fork, “fuckin’ fart-weeds.”
“What was that?”
“Nothing, Ma.”
“Well, Mr. Noble?” Ishmael said bluntly as he speared some of his own dinner, “Were you starting on something?”
“Yes, I was,” I was glad to take my mind off the broccoli for a bit, “Who’s the next person we’re going to pressgang into our little group? And, more importantly, where are we going to fit him? We’re running out of rooms.”
“In all honesty,” Kenneth the priest said with a smile, “you don’t have to give me one of the upstairs rooms. I’ll be fine on the couch. I’ve slept on worse in all my days.”
“Dude, you’re, like, thirty,” I gestured at him with my empty fork, “And I’m not going to make you sleep on the couch. You’re a priest, for crying out loud… and one of the good ones, from the looks of your file.”
“Well, thank you.”
“Besides,” I shoved the fork back into the bed of mashed potatoes, “My Mom would probably kill me if I made you crash down here.”
“Yes, I would, sweetheart. Now eat your broccoli.”
“Fuck!”
And that was how the nights normally went. A lot of people said that when you were dealing with my family, especially if any of my cousins ever came over, it was kinda like a warzone: lots of yelling, lots of emotion, and usually lots of booze. Minus the booze, there was enough rapid fire dialogue for me to feel like the Kilpatricks had stopped by for the night. Hard to believe I never figured out they were mostly Irish mafia hitmen and whatnot… but that’s probably why you don’t hear about us as much.
“If I may bring things back…”
Ishmael’s harsh, gravely voice brought me back to attention, as those icy eyes bored into me for the fiftieth time today.
“Our next operative is professor emeritus in Linguistics as King’s College, Cambridge.”
“Wait, wait, wait!” I cut him off, which garnered me another stare, “Cambridge?”
“Yes.”
“As in… England?”
“Yes.”
“We’re going to England?!”
“Actually, Mr. Noble,” Ishmael blinked slowly, which was my only real clue that he actually was alive, “You are.”
I almost choked on my broccoli. Damned broccoli.
“Excuse me?! ME?! You’re going to send me… ME… to England… ALONE… to pick up someone that the AE probably has in their sights?”
“Yes.”
“Could you stop just saying ‘yes’ like that all the damned time?” I hollered, gripping my fork so tightly I thought it would explode.
“No.”
“Agh!” I sat back down in a heap, letting my fork clatter onto the table, “I give up. You’re just damn crazy. And I’m not going to finish my broccoli.”
“If you don’t like it, Mr. Noble, I’ll give you the option right now: leave.”
Those eyes. Those damn eyes. I can’t tell if I just was too scared to say no to them, or if there was something else in those blue daggers. Maybe, in fact, he was always evaluating me. Maybe he already had, maybe he could see inside my brain and he knew I wouldn’t say no. He knew I wouldn’t leave, and that’s why he was confident giving that ultimatum.
“Well, Mr. Noble?”
“…”
“Priest, honey… it’s not polite to leave him hanging.”
“I know, Mom…” I grumbled, drumming my fingers angrily on the table, “I guess… I guess it’ll be nice to see England.”
Kenneth nodded, Rat continued stuffing his face, and my mother was nearly glowing.
“Wonderful! I’ll set you up with one of your Aunts over there, he’ll get you a place to stay, show you the best places to eat, everything! It’ll be just like home!”
“I don’t want it to be exactly like home…” I muttered under my breath, turning back to Ishmael, “And what exactly are all of you going to do while I’m on hollyday?”
“I have another operative to examine,” he replied quickly, automatically, “And Mr. Ratcliffe will continue to find the others mentioned in accordance with the prophecy. We will do our best to rescue and recruit them while you are away.”
“And how is some guy living in Europe going to help us with our space situation here in Philly?”
“If he is who we think he is,” Ishmael replied with even more purpose than when he usually spoke, “It shouldn’t be a problem.”
“So where does he fit into the Rocky Mountain High Prophecy?”
“There are many rumors about him, many legends in the Mythic world,” he replied, ignoring my joke, “We believe he may be the Wanderer in Time.”
“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask about that,” I raised a hand in protest, “Everything I’ve found online say the lyrics are ‘Wanderer in Kind,’ so what’s the deal with that?”
“It’s mostly believed to be either a mistranslation, or a deliberate misdirection by the Elven songwriter.”
“And if you happen to be wrong?”
“I’m never wrong.”
That period couldn’t have come more bluntly. Then again, we are talking about a guy who can see everything about everyone… so maybe it is smart to take him at his word.
“Well,” I said finally, leaning back in my chair, “All you guys have fun without me. I’ll bring you back some Bangers ‘n’ Mash or something. Good luck with your people… hunting.”
“Not me,” Rat said finally, defiantly, “I ain’t leaving this house. Not now. Cameras everywhere, man.”
“I suppose that leaves it up to me to find this faerie’s conscience,” Kenneth sighed, putting down his water class, “or just to be it.”
Ishmael didn’t say anything to that and, soon after, he declared he was done with dinner and asked to be excused. By the next day, I was on a one way flight to Heathrow. I tried my best to keep a level-head about this.
“One way?” I hissed in a whisper through a phone Rat had secured, “Are you serious?!”
“By the time you get there,” Ishmael’s voice came, calmly as ever, through the receiver, “They will already have a bead on you. It’s best not to give them a way to track your return.”
“Well, here’s hoping I don’t get stranded in a foreign country, you ass.”
“You won’t. Find Professor Kent. He will help you home.”
“You’re so sure, aren’t you? It must be just so darn peachy to be you, knowing everything.”
“You’d be surprised, Mr. Noble. Good-bye.”
I spent the rest of the flight as a nervous wreck. At about the time my peanuts went flying everywhere from a bag opening gone horribly wrong, an old lady with a lovely old British accent laid her hand on mine from the next seat over and smiled.
“There there, dearie. These rattly buzzards always make me nervous, too. That’s why I bring a little of this with me when I fly.”
She put a few drops of something into my airline Coke, and almost immediately I could smell nothing but alcohol. I looked at her, horrified, but soon she was dead asleep (and yes I checked to make sure she was still breathing) and I was too worried to drink any of it. The plane touched down and, as my Mom had planned, Auntie Jane Kilpatrick was there to meet me at the airport.
“Johnny! Darling! I haven’t seen you for ages, you look lovely all grown up!”
Now, my mother is not what you would call a petite woman, but she’s not necessarily what I’d call “big” either. Auntie Jane… she was big. Like, six feet tall and shoulders like a linebacker big. And, of course, she wouldn’t be a Kilpatrick without blazing red hair… although I think at her advanced age, Auntie Jane has started dying it. It’s a little too Lucille Ball… if Lucille Ball was about the size of Chuck Bednarik.
“Are you hungry? I bet you’re hungry. We won’t go eating any of this dodgy airport food, I’ve got a whole meal ready for you at home!”
How did she move so deftly, and in a floral print, tea length dress, no less? I figured I’d have a lot of questions for Ishmael about my family when I got back… maybe he could try to Evaluate ol’ Auntie… wouldn’t that be a sight.
“Thanks much, Auntie Jane, but I’m not exactly here to relax.”
“Oh, I know, sweetie,” she said as we heading to a parking lot, “In fact, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Tell me, did you sit next to a sweet looking old biddy on the plane?”
“Yes, actually.”
“Did she offer to give you a drink?”
“She did, but I was too scared of what the hell it was to drink it.”
“Oh-hohohoho!” she hooted with laughter and gave me a much too hearty clap on the back, “Surely that’s the Kilpatrick instincts coming to the surface.”
“Why?” I asked, trying to look around the lot, “Was it drugged?”
“Indubitably, my dear boy,” Auntie said, her voice still high pitched and chipper, “In fact, she’s following us right now. One of AE UK’s top assassins.”
“But she looks so old!”
“That she is. Incredibly old. And ugly. A right old hag.”
“Oh, shut up, you Irish bitch!”
I turned my head, stupidly, to see who had just yelled such an unkind thing at my Auntie. Jane grabbed me by my collar and hurled me out of the way as a hail of bullets slammed into the car door I had just been standing in front of. I looked up to see the old woman from the plane, AR-15 in hand, blasting away. Auntie Jane, still amazingly light on her feet, leapt and rolled to safety next to where I lay like a useless lump.
“Johnny, darling,” she smiled sweetly as bullets sprayed overhead, “Could you reach under my car and get something for Auntie Jane?”
“Under your car?” I blinked curiously, reaching under her little hatchback until my hand felt something. With a little tug, it gave way and I handed a compact grenade launcher to her, my eyes almost boggling out of my head.
“Now you know why us old folks drive so carefully,” she said, still smiling. The bullets stopped for a moment as I heard the biddy swear and move to reload, and that was all the time Auntie Jane needed to stand up, fire, and immolate the old woman and the car she had been standing next to. Then, pleasantly as you please, we hopped into the cramped Skoda and made our way out of the parking lot. The attendant, who had a suspiciously heavy Irish accent, gave Ms. Kilpatrick a wink as we headed out.
“Noice wark there, Janie!”
As we drove into the afternoon sun that was trying very hard to peek through England’s persistent clouds, I saw Janie give a little sigh and start humming a happy tune in her head, tapping gloved fingers on the steering wheel.
“Have you ever had a Jaffa cake, Johnny?”
“Not for years, Auntie.”
“Did you like them?”
“I remember I did.”
“Oh, that’s lovely. I’ve got a whole scad of them lined up for tea.”
She then politely turned into and our of a roundabout, apologized profusely to a motorists she nearly cut off, apologized for me because she doesn’t get to drive much… and we continued on our way, Jane still humming happily to herself, seemingly oblivious to what she had done not ten minutes before.  I suppose in England, everything really is a little more polite and proper.

Melville – The Warrior’s Story

I always liked Boston.
So much history in each of those stones, so many stories… I always dreamed some day I’d be able to finally get through law school and maybe open up a practice here, with such a great tradition. I’d even do pro bono stuff, try to help out the little guy, you know? Any thoughts of little guys immediately went out the window, however, when we pulled up to the massive Prudential Center next to a sign reading GUCCI.
“What are we doing here?” I asked as we parked, “You need a new handbag?”
“There’s a Chapel inside the center,” Ishmael replied quickly. I went to step out of my door, but he grabbed my arm like a vice until I shut myself back in. I locked eyes with him, those chilling, intense blue eyes, and once he was sure he had my attention he pointed right past my head. I craned my neck around to see a traffic camera, then turned back to see him put a slim, pale finger to his lips.
“They might be watching.”
“Okay,” I said, and he finally let go of my arm, “So we’re safe in here?”
“I’ve proofed it,” he replied flatly, slowly undoing the seatbelt, “We’re heading to St. Francis Chapel. I’ll need you to keep an eye out while I found who we’re looking for. Don’t let anyone follow me.”
“Okay,” I nodded. Sounded simple enough. We got out of the car and headed inside and, let me tell you, it’s pretty damn posh. It had a bunch of stores I’d never even heard of before, and a couple that I thought went out of business when men stopped wearing fedoras and gray flannel suits. I honestly didn’t know Saks was still a thing… but then again I was a kid who wore Kmart specials every day for twenty-two years… and I made it look good!
We walked past something called lululemon and a Dunkin Donuts (which seemed like an odd pair because one of them sold yoga pants) and wound up at an odd little place that seemed to clash horribly with the “buy buy buy” aesthetic of the area we’d just left.
“Huh,” I said, marveling, “There really is a chapel in here with all this crap.”
“Along with a post office, a fitness center, and a car rental,” Ishmael said as he opened the glass doors to the chapel, then added, “You humans are strange things.”
I found it weird that he, more than I, liked to make the distinction that he was a different race. And it wasn’t necessarily like he was proud or angry about it… he just liked to call attention to it. It’s true, there were times when I really could tell he hated the AE and probably a lot of other humans, but then I also saw him around my Mom. Growing up the way I did, I never noticed much of a difference between the kids in my neighborhood who were Mythics and who weren’t (except that one Dwarven kid who had a beard in fifth grade, and all the rest of us were jealous) but Ishmael seemed determined to always make the difference be there. He liked that distance, but I didn’t. I mean, I was putting my life in his hands in several different situations, now… it’s not crazy to want to feel a little bit of connection with the guy, is it?
There wasn’t a service going on at the time, so the place was nearly deserted. The old guy who had been sitting in a pew when we entered left quickly at the sight of the tall, black figure strolling into the chapel.
“I’m going to find him. You stay out here. Keep watch.”
“I know, I know…”
Ishmael reached into his jacket and handed me a small pistol. It was one I hadn’t seen before, which lead me to ask…
“How many you got stowed away in there?”
“Enough.”
And then he was gone through a door past the altar. I was left to try to conceal the gun inside my windbreaker as well as possible… in the middle of a freakin’ CHURCH. Thankfully, there wasn’t much to watch out for in the deserted little chapel. I started to look around: the chapel was sterile in that way that only comes from a committee deciding how to build it. The colors had no doubt been fussed over, the grain of the wood had been revised at least thrice, the recessed lighting was completely soulless. Basically, it was one of those sort of null places: it lacked the punch and scope of the old architecture, but it also went without any sort of modern brashness to taunt you with its difference. To be honest, I can’t stand buildings like this, and when it’s a church, it’s even worse. Churches should all look like Notre Dame or something: if it’s going to show the glory of God, then dammit I want to have my breath taken away by something when I walk inside there and it should feel like even cutting the cheese in this holiest of spaces would somehow transmute into Handel’s Messiah as a result of the sheer awesome power of the Holy Spirit. This place looked like a freaking waiting room.
“Appreciatin’ the decor, are you?”
I jumped at the sudden voice, even though it was a very gentle, friendly voice. I had no idea that someone else was in the chapel with me as I had been looking around, and even as I saw the robed figure shuffle toward me from the opposite side of the room, I swear to God (appropriate in the setting) that I couldn’t hear him make a sound.
“Uh, yeah,” I fumbled with the gun, trying to keep it hidden. I never realized how heavy the damn things were.
“Well, go on then and admire,” he continued, “although confidentially, I don’t much care for it.”
“Oh?”
“No, son,” he called me that despite not looking ten years older than me, “Where I come from, a church isn’t like this at all.”
“Ireland?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“A little,” I said with a little chuckle, “I do watch a lot of movies, though.”
“Better than a Lucky Charms commercial, I suppose,” he laughed a little himself as he silently floated around the chapel, “Have you come here to worship?”
“Er, not really, uh… Father? Brother?”
“Father, thank you,” he replied, flashing a wide smile, “Father Kenneth Peter Joseph Mulcahey… Junior.”
“That’s quite a mouthful.”
“I know. The state of it, right?”
We shared a little laugh that echoed hollowly around the nouveau chapel. Father… all of that checked the holy water repository and spoke again.
“So why are you here, then? Come in for the stimulating conversation?”
“Actually, my friend came here. He’s, uh… working. In the back?”
“Oh? Is he now?” the priest moved over until he was close to me, unbelievably close, “And would that have anything to do with the Beretta in your jumper?”
I made a bad show of trying to play it off. The priest just chuckled.
“You don’t go where I’ve gone and not see a few of those, son. However…”
Quick as a flash, he had me in a chokehold with a knife pointed directly at my right eye. I struggled to breathe as the blade hovered like a lazy bumblebee in front of my face, and the priest’s voice came from behind me. I’d never heard the jovial Irish accent sound so deadly.
“if you’re one of those AE bastards, I’ll have no choice but to incapacitate you.”
I managed to choke out enough of the words “I’m not!” before he let me go. I gulped in huge breaths and staggered forward, dropping my gun on the floor as sunk to my knees.
“No way you’re AE with work like that,” he said offhandedly, helping me to my feet, “but if you’re not AE, just what are you doin’ here?”
“I’m with… I’m with…”
I struggled to breathe, and managed a loud belch instead. Father Mulcahey politely waved a hand in front of his face.
“Bless you.”
“Thanks,” I looked down at the floor sheepishly, “Anyway, I’m with–”
Ishmael re-entered the chapel like a black bird swooping down. He looked over at us quickly with those terrifying eyes, but comically all he wound up saying was….
“Ah.”
“‘Ah?!’ What do you mean, ‘Ah?!'”
“That’s our man,” he continued, walking over and standing near the altar, “Father Mulcahey, we’re here to talk to you.”
“With guns? Not much good has come out of talking with guns.”
“They’re not for you,” Ishmael said, pulling two Desert Eagles out from under his coat, “They’re for those who are coming after you.”
“What have you heard?” the priest said after a short pause.
“It’s only a matter of time,” Ishmael continued, “You’ve been causing quite a stir with your activism, Gideon.”
“What,” I rolled my eyes, “He’s got another name?”
“An alias,” Mulcahey explained, “online, underground, here and there.”
“And your brand of Catholicism isn’t what the AE wants to hear about.”
“It isn’t what they want to hear, son,” he replied to Ishmael, nodding his head slightly, “but it’s what the Bible says. And loving your neighbor doesn’t involve genocide.”
“I think the Canaanites would agree with you,” I said quickly, without thinking. The priest fixed me with a hard stare that quickly melted into a gentle smile, as if a cloud had passed in front of the sun and had gone.
“We’ll have plenty to talk about, you and me,” Mulcahey smiled, “but for now, I suppose we’ll have to be going?”
“Quickly,” Ishmael said, casting a few looks about, “I wasn’t able to get to the operative inside the chapel quickly enough. They are coming.”
It occurred to me, just for a moment, that there must have been an “operative” back there. And he must be dead. In a church.
“They’re already here.”
We all turned to see a large black man in an immaculate white suit, a six-shot pistol held in the hand of his outstretched arm.
“You would not believe the price on your head, fairy-boy,” the man said, cocking back the hammer, “As soon as the AE said it was you, every contractor in the city was crawling over themselves to get here. Looks like I’m the first.”
“And you won’t be the last,” Ishmael replied coldly, holding both his guns at the assassin, who only laughed.
“Desert Eagles? You compensating for something, fairy-boy? Now me, I only need this little .38 special to do what I do. Those fuckin’ cannons are so heavy, your skinny ass couldn’t hit me if you tried.”
“Apparently, you don’t know much about Mythic physiology.”
He fired two shots, lightning fast, and the man lost most of his head. The rest of him crumpled to the floor between the pews as I fought the urge to be sick.
“Sir,” Father Mulcahey’s voice cut through the smell of gunpowder and blood, “I can’t say as I approve of your actions. One does not kill; particularly in the house of God.”
“Father,” Ishmael quickly inspected his gun before holstering it, “I will spit in the eye of your God and curse him for the rest of my life if he stands in the way of what I’m here to do.”
The priest seemed a little taken aback by this.
“I’ve got to say, I find your lack of faith a little disturbing.”
“Prepare to be disturbed, Father,” Ishmael countered, “Here they come.”
Suddenly, there were men coming out of every nook and cranny, and Ishmael, it seemed, had a bullet for every one of them. Father Mulcahey shoved me back against a wall and, gripping the knife loosely in his hand, flung it at the nearest hitman, impaling him neatly through the hand he was firing with. I looked over at him, surprised.
“The book says not to kill,” the Father said through gritted teeth, “It didn’t say you couldn’t fight.”
Another hitman jumped in to the place of the one who had been knifed, drawing a bead on the both of us. The priest quickly ducked and rolled out of the way, picking up my discarded Beretta and firing three shots into the man’s firing arm. The hitman fell to the ground in a groaning heap, while Father Mulcahey grabbed me by the wrist and fairly flung me out of a side door, into a maintenance hallway. Ishmael followed soon after.
“How do we get out of here,” he grunted, quickly reloading his guns then, deciding better, holstering those two and pulling out two uzis from somewhere else in that coat of his.
“Service exit,” Mulcahey said with a jerk of his neck, “this way.”
We scuttled through the cramped, barren concrete hallway, with Ishmael laying down fire behind us once or twice as the hitmen followed. We exited to the parking garage, but a good two floors above where we had originally parked.
“Don’t suppose you lads parked up here, then?”
“Not a problem” Ishmael grunted, narrowing his almond-shaped eyes at the concrete structure all around us.
“What’s he doing?” the priest asked me, “Is he all right?”
“He’s, uh, Evaluating,” I offered lamely, shrugging my shoulders.
“Is he really?” he replied, eyebrows aloft. A clamor from the other side of the door brought us back to reality.
“I need a diversion,” Ishmael said gruffly, still scanning the area, “something to keep them away.”
“I think I can manage that,” Mulcahey said proudly, scouting a few of the nearby cars. In less than a minute, he had one of them hotwired and ready to go, ramming it against the door to make good our escape.
“You’re not the kind of priest I knew growing up,” I commented as he exited the car and rejoined us.
“You probably didn’t grow up in Boston, son.”
“There.”
Ishmael said it like he’d just solved an equation. He had us all stand about twenty yards away, facing the blocked door.
“We’ve got to do this fast,” he said, “If they see us coming for the car, they’ll swarm it.”
“And how do you suggest we get there fast?” I asked, feeling my heart rise past my throat and somewhere into my sinuses. Ishmael whipped off his coat and shirt, exposing a pale, muscled torso dotted with as many gun holsters and belts as it was with scars and burn marks. He made a motion that looked like he was rolling his shoulders, but the shotgun strapped to his back made an undeniable clicking sound.
“Unstrap me.”
“Did you just cock the shotgun with your wing…knobs?”
“Unstrap me!”
His voice got harsher, and I quickly did as I was told, removing the harness that held the shotgun snugly between his wings. He holstered the two uzis at his waist and pulled out the Desert Eagles from shoulder holsters, aiming them at different spots in the floor. He fired, repositioned, and fired again. By the time he was lining up for a third shot, I started to put it together.
“Wait a minute… are you…?”
“Well, if the legends are true,” Mulcahey said sagely, “He ought to be able to–”
With two last simultaneous shots, the floor gave way. Ishmael held us both close and stuck out his damaged wings, which caught the afternoon sunlight and shone like two dewy pieces of crystal, keeping all three of us aloft enough to avoid the massive piece of concrete slamming into the one below it, and the one below that, giving us a quick route to the Alero. Once the slabs had all fallen, Ishmael tucked his wings back in and we dropped a good ten feet quickly, coming out right next to the car. As we were falling, I could have sworn I saw the good priest’s hair fly up from over his covered ears, and I could have thought I saw that they were, in fact, pointed.
“So it’s true,” Mulcahey said as he landed, “You are the one!”
“No time,” Ishmael said. He’d managed to hit the keyless entry when we were still in midair, and we all piled into the car and began to speed away, a crowd of bounty hunters hot on our heels. About the time we hit the nearest block, with Ishmael’s usual disregard for standard traffic laws, an explosion ruptured out from the Prudential center, showing glass an masonry into the street.
“You didn’t have to do that, son,” Mulcahey called from the backseat, none too pleased.
“Do what?” I asked.
“He put a bullet in the gas tank of that car at the door. He knew exactly when it was going to go off. The Evaluator always knows.”
“It covered our escape,” Ishmael shot back, almost petulantly.
“You shouldn’t have to kill people.”
“I disagree.”
We carried on in stony silence, and I didn’t feel safe to breathe again until we were well out of the city. I don’t think my blood pressure has been normal ever since I met this guy. Trying to make things a little less contentious, I threw a question into the backseat.
“So, Father.”
“Yes?”
“Did I see something as we fell? Something about your… ears?”
“I’m an elf, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“And you’re… a priest?”
“Not sure I follow, son.”
“Well,” I felt a little embarrassed, windmilling my arms around in an attempt to find the right words, “Aren’t you elves supposed to have, you know, all the answers? All mystical and whatnot?”
“Mr…”
“Fitzpatrick, John Noble, formerly Priest, actually.”
“That’s not usually something someone can be formally,” Mulcahey remarked with a small smile, “Well, Mr. Noble Priest, this ignoble priest can tell you that even the ageless wisdom of the elves can’t quite explain everything.”
“And that’s why you’re willing to defy the AE?”
“More or less, yeah.”
We kept driving for a while as I thought about all that. He sure was different than the other elves I’d known.
“Father,” I said finally, almost an hour later, “one day I hope to believe in something, anything, as strongly as you do.”

Melville – Alero

My mother was upset with us for only a few days after we skipped her lunch for Rat’s suggestion. We ate leftovers for a few days, but it didn’t seem to bother our new boarder who set up shop in the tiny, 1930s stone basement. He kept all sorts of weird hours, and noticed more than once how a certain morsel I’d had my eyes on for lunch on Wednesday would be gone sometime overnight from Tuesday. Every once in a while, he’d emerge to confer with Ishmael about this person or that lead or this bit of information, and Ishmael would respond in one of two ways:
“Keep going”

or

“No.”
That was it. I never heard him actually give an affirmative. Now, I don’t pretend to know what goes on inside his Mythic mind with all of those special powers… so I spent the rest of the week helping out my Mom. Gardening, doing some touch up painting, putting a new floor down in the upstairs bathroom… you get the idea. In fact, it turns out it was smart for me to do that, because I wouldn’t be able to help my Mom for some time, because one day Rat came upstairs with his 50th dossier file and this time Ishmael said, after scanning his eyes over it impossibly fast:

“That’s it. Let’s go.”

He walked over to me, covering the living room with a surprising speed and almost no noise, until he was hovering over me like the Angel of Death… and all I was trying to do was enjoy a PB&J.
“We’re going.”
“What? Me?” I said around a mouthful of peanut butter, “Why me? And where are we going?”
“Boston. Are you packed?”
“What?! No!”
“You should pack.”
And then he was gone up the stairs, to his room, which used to be my room. I sprinted up the stairs to what used to be a spare room and shoved a few days of clothing into my duffel bag. Before I could even do up the zipper, he was in the door again.
“Are you ready?”
“GAHHH!”
I nearly tripped back onto the old bed.
“Jesus, man. Don’t do things like that!”
“Are you ready?” he repeated, holding a bag of his own. I didn’t even know he changed clothes… or sweat. Maybe it was full of toothbrushes or something… aw hell, who am I kidding? It’s bullets.
“I want to grab a toothbrush…”
“Here.”
He threw my own toothbrush at me, as he’d passed the bathroom on his way to my room.
“Uh, thanks…” I murmured, jamming it in my bag, “How did you walk on the floor? No one’s supposed to, yet.”
“My wings are injured,” he replied, flexing his shoulders, “the bullet from a few days ago was one thing, but my wings haven’t worked correctly since my family was attacked.”
I remembered that story he told me. The idea of a petrol bomb scalding whatever tissue it was that made up those dragonfly-like wings… I couldn’t even imagine what it felt like.
“I can, for lack of a better word, hop for a while.”
“Well then, thanks for hopping for my toothbrush,” I said with a shrug, “I guess I’m ready to go. Is Rat ready downstairs?”
“He’s not coming.”
“What,” I felt my face go flat from forehead to lips, “the guy who has all the information on the person we’re looking for, the guy who put this all together, and knows what’s going on… you’re not taking him?”
“He’ll be staying here, studying other markers,” Ishmael said, moving out of my doorway and over to the stairs. I followed him to the stop of the stairs where I almost ran into the black leather of his back, stopping just before hitting… whatever it was that poked out from his back and held his wings. He stood there for a while at the top of the stairs, looking like a phantom all in black, a horrible clash with the yellow flowered wallpaper that my Mom had put up back when I was a kid.
“I need you.”
He said it very plainly, but it shocked me to my core. This guy, this hell-on-wheels killing machine that is literally something from my dreams, says he needs me? Bullshit.
“Bullshit you need me.”
“Call it the Human Element,” Ishmael said as he headed down the stairs. He turned to stare at me with those piercing eyes before disappearing downstairs. I followed quickly after, wondering exactly what he meant by the “Human Element.” I have fair reason to believe he doesn’t mean “Bullet Sponge.”
“Have a good trip, boys!” my mother shouted as we were ushered out the door, “it’s five hours to Boston, so I’m packing you some sandwiches.”
She handed a brown paper bag to Ishmael who, almost embarrassed, took it.
“Rat!” his voice got as loud as I think his raspy tones would allow, “I want the next three marks ready for my review when we get back.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah” a voice shouted from the basement, then dissolved into grumbling whispers about a “slavedriver.”
We made our way out to the garage and loaded the car. As we pulled out onto the street, I saw Ishmael do something that absolutely shocked me: he lit up a cigarette.
“Are you freaking serious about this?” I asked, staring at him in disbelief.
“It helps me calm down.”
“Oh, yeah,” I rolled my eyes, “I can tell you look 500% less stonefaced than you did two minutes ago. It’s uncanny.”
He turned to glare at me with those eyes again at a red light, but this time I had a trump card up my sleeve.
“Besides,” I said triumphantly, “I know for a fact that my mother would never let a smoker in her car.”
That did it. He angrily flicked the butt out the window and we continued on. Come to think of it, I had noticed something vaguely smoky about him whenever I was nearby: a smell, that telltale smell… I can’t believe I hadn’t put it together yet, but then again I’d been to enough wretched band shows in smoky clubs to often come home smelling like an ashtray. About the time we hit the Interstate I heard him give a little noise.
“Hh.”
“We should have conversations like this more often,” I said with a scowl, resorting to sarcasm in my fear and discomfort.
“No, I’ve just been thinking.”
This cannot be good. Any time this guy starts thinking, someone usually winds up dead.
“The smoking thing,” he continued, eyes on the road, “You don’t have the slightest idea of Mythic physiology. For all you know, that cigarette could have sustained one of my vital organs.”
“I had a few Mythic friends when I was a kid,” I shot back, “I don’t remember any of them lighting up.”
“Fair enough,” came the reply, “I was unaware you had any dealings with Mythics. You seem so very unprepared for it.”
“Well, you see, I didn’t think of them like a damn Science experiment. I thought of them like people, just like anyone else, even just like you. And that’s why I told you to put out that cigarette. Because people, and I mean…”
I made a spastic movement with my arms to try to signify “all” people, Mythic or otherwise.
“ALL people… would do better if you didn’t smoke around ’em. Make sense?”
“Hh,” he said again, “There it is.”
“There what is?”
“The Human Element.”
I honestly felt a little bit like I was being used in the whole thing. I mean, sure, I trust my Mom with anything, but all the information of the past week or so has just been way too nuts. I feel like my feet are going a hundred miles an hour and my brain’s still back in bed. And yet, here I am, speeding down the highway in a black Oldsmobile next to a bloodthirsty fairy, on the way to recruit God knows who. So, why am I doing this? Why am I following this guy? What the hell am I doing here, anyway? God, if you really are up there… what’s all this about, anyway?
Little did I know that God would certainly be on the docket once we reached Boston.

Melville – The Liar’s Story

“His name is Edward Ratcliffe,” my mother said, tossing a dossier file on the kitchen table. The laminated pages nearly blinded me in the early morning light.
“He goes by ‘Eddie’ in his personal life,” she continued, “works at a South Philly library, part time. Makes diddly squat, but still rents a shabby little apartment nearby. No way his job pays for it, and with no family or kin to speak of, it’s safe to say that Eddie Ratcliffe is, in cyberspace, the ingenious hacktivist and online bee in the Altse Erce’s bonnet.”
“He has been shutting down AE servers and online operations for three years now, off and on, making headlines on the underground as one of the few people able to make some lasting effect on the practices of the AE,” Ishmael took over from my Mom, before I could tell her that no one really uses the term “cyberspace” anymore.
“He goes by a thousand names on a million different servers, and to this day no one has come close to catching him. He is everyone and no one, he is legion and smoke on the breeze. He could be standing behind you the next time you go to get a donut, and you’ll never know. And he, Mr. Noble, is our Liar.”
“Wow,” I said, looking up from my Apple Jacks, “That was quite a presentation. Did you two work on it?”
“A little,” my mom said, smiling. Ishmael’s scowl grew.
“So how do you know it’s this guy?”
“I have my ways,” Ishmael said quickly, dismissively.
“And I’m just supposed to buy that?”
“You’re going to have to,” he replied, “because that’s all there is. I’m the Evaluator, and I can see things that others cannot.”
“Well, bully for you,” I said, rolling my eyes, “Sure is handy he’s in our backyard, though. Almost right down the street.”
“Not a coincidence,” Ishmael glared me into silence, “From the information I’ve gathered, Ratcliffe moved here in order to more closely track the movements of the AE. His family history suggests he’s nearly a full-blooded Imp, which explains his rabid anti-establishment approach.”
“Sounds like your kinda guy. So, when do we head out?”
“Now.”
“You boys be careful!” my mother called as we left the kitchen, “I’ll have lunch for you when you get home!”
We ditched Crawford’s Cadillac, so we had to use my mother’s car. I couldn’t believe my eyes when we opened up the garage.
“She’s still driving THIS?”
The 2000 Olds Alero my mother had bought when I was a kid was still in remarkable shape. Then again, she barely left the house for anything more than a run to the store. I always figured she was making money from home, or on Welfare or something… but now that I think about it I bet her Irish Mafia family had her on a pretty good stipend.
“I don’t see a bit of rust on the old girl. She’s got to be close to 200,000 miles. I mean… this is what I drove in high school, and I put that thing through Hell.”
“I know some people,” Ishmael said as he climbed into the driver’s seat.
“Somehow, I figured,” I said, wondering just what I had gotten myself into with all of this cloak and dagger.
“Get in.”
For a little sedan with a four cylinder, let me tell you, that thing could really fly. I guess being the Evaluator also means you can sense where the cops are hiding with their radar, because Ishmael drove like a maniac. Not one of those “oh God oh God I fear for my life” kind of maniacs, but one of the “this isn’t Daytona, you know” kind of maniacs. I honestly couldn’t tell how long it took for us to get over to the library neighborhood, because I haven’t found a reliable way yet of telling time via bitten off fingernails. We parked in the library lot and headed across the street to an old brick building. I made a mental note to go into the library and browse around later, just so we didn’t get a parking ticket or something. Oddly enough, there was a mailbox listed for “Ratcliffe” at one of the buildings, and we tried buzzing up but there was no answer. As I tried the intercom, a man walked up behind us, chuckling.
“Good luck with that one,” he sighed, “I’ve been trying to get in touch with him for weeks. He’s behind on payments.”
Ishmael responded by quickly knocking the man to the ground with three rapid punches to the chest.
“Dude!” I shouted, “It’s broad daylight, what the hell are you doing?”
“He’s AE,” he replied, putting a booted foot on the man’s neck as he lay there, already gasping for air, “looks like they might be onto Mr. Ratcliffe. Good thing we came when we did.”
“Yeah, okay, I guess we’ll have to–”
My train of thought was immediately derailed when Ishmael stopped down hard, crushing the man’s windpipe in one shot. He flopped around for a bit, like a dead fish before he went still.
Holy shit! JESUSman!”
I said a few more colorful things as Ishmael neatly deposited the body behind a bank of shrubs outside the building. He turned to look at me with those dead eyes, challenging me, daring me.
“We don’t have much time. We’ve got to get Mr. Ratcliffe as soon as possible.”
“I gotta admit,” a voice came suddenly out of the intercom, “not just anyone can or would take out an AE agent like that. I’ll buzz you in.”
The door buzzed, and we went upstairs, meeting Eddie Ratcliffe at his apartment. It was a dark, dank affair with all curtains drawn, the only light coming from a frankly embarrassing array of computer monitors that took up about one entire wall of the tiny studio. By the time we enterted, he was already packing a suitcase. He was dressed in what looked like his “work clothes” from the library: a yellow checked shirt and some wrinkled khakis that matched his thin, straight, sandy hair. He wore thick glasses and, unfortunately for someone of his name, his face did indeed resemble that of a rat. Much to the same effect, he spent the entire time scuttling from this end of the apartment to the other, always checking, always readying, always securing.
“That’s some nice work you did on him, boys. I usually hack into the traffic cameras to tell me who’s outside. I noticed that guys been ringin’ my bell for a few days now, it would have only been a little while longer til they came for me. To be honest, I don’t know what I’d do.”
“Get a gun?” I suggested, thinking back to the small arsenal Ishmael carried in his coat.
“Hah! You kiddin me?” he replied, agitatedly wiping at his nose with his sleeve, “The minute I tried to pick one of those up, I’d wind up on so many databases that I’d be in more trouble than when I started. AE’s everywhere, man. They’ve got the whole country around their finger: FBI, NSA, CIA, ICE, all of it. Pretty soon they’ll know what you’re doing before you even do it.”
“Really?” I asked incredulously, casting a sideways glance at Ishmael. His face, as usual, was unreadable.
“I mean, this is AE we’re talking about. They’re probably one of the biggest and most profitable companies in the country… but can THEY even have that much power?”
He turned to look at me with pale, watery blue eyes, adjusting his glasses as he squinting, looking me up and down.
“Let me guess: just outta college?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but yes.”
“Figures.”
And then he went back to his scurrying. I turned to Ishmael quickly and whispered.
“Are you sure this is the guy?”
“I heard that!” Rat shouted from across the room, pointing to his own ears, “Bluetooth hooked up to enough mics around this room to record a new Frank Sinatra album all the way from the Pearly Gates, you get me?”
“I don’t think I wanna ‘get you,’ but I think you think everyone’s out to.”
“Paranoia’s a beautiful thing, kid,” he said, throwing an overstuffed suitcase that smelled heavily of unwashed clothes into my arms.
“I’m 24,” I replied lamely. He gave me a sarcastic smile before scurrying away.
“That’s adorable.”
He leapt into an easy chair in front of his wall of monitors, typing away at a keyboard that was about the size of my Mom’s front door.
“So, Johnny Cash,” he snapped his fingers, pointing at the unmoving Ishmael, “I bet you’re the guy I’m hearing some buzz about on the underground. Some kinda super-mythic the AE wants for its collection. From the legends I’ve read, I bet you could solve pretty much any problem they’re having with the metahuman extraction process.”
“The what?!” I asked, setting down the smelly suitcase.
“Get with the program, kid!” Rat shouted, leaping up and peering at us from over the back of the easy chair, “AE rounds up the Mythics, rips out their special organs, and harvests the magical energy: fire, water, lightning, wind, earth powers, all that good shit. Using those powers they can make a boiler that doesn’t require nuclear fuel that can heat endless, clean water, or maybe they could just conjure up electricity out of fuckin’ nowhere! I dunno yet, but I’m getting close. One day I’m gonna get inside that big old Doom Fortress they got over in Manayunk… and then I’m gonna get wild.”
He slumped back into the chair and slammed a few buttons. Suddenly each of the screens was adorned with a Death’s Head extending a middle boney finger, with the phrase “YOU CAN’T STOP ME” written underneath it in bold, white text. He leapt up again and grabbed another, heavy-duty suitcase.
“There! Whole thing’s wiped. Got my mobile lab here,” he patted the heavy suitcase, “so I can relocate. They won’t get a thing out of my setup when they get here… which is probably going to be in a few minutes.”
I about choked on my own spit when he said that.
“A few minutes?! HERE?!”
“Yeah, so I suggest we split.”
I looked at Ishmael for a bit of guidance, but his attention seemed focused on a bare wall on the other side of the room.
“Too late,” he said, “they’re here.”
In a flash, he pulled out the sawed-off shotgun from under his coat and, with a free hand, tossed a pistol each to Rat and myself.
“Awwwww, yeah!” the Rat cried with glee, “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”
Ishmael set to immediately blowing holes in the far wall with the shotgun, and out of one of the holes I saw a spray of red and a scream of anguish. I tried not to think about it as my fumbling hands felt for the trigger. I glanced over at Rat, firing indiscriminately wherever he saw movement, and I assumed it must have been a simple point and click interface.
Ha. Point and click. I’ll have to remember that one for later. I fired off a few shots, but didn’t get a chance to get into the thick of it before Ishmael turned and busted out one of the large, thin old windows in the building with the butt of his shotgun. Before I knew it we were clamoring down a rickety, rusty fire escape from what looked like the Precambrian Era, until a few of the bolts gave way and I stumbled the last few steps into the street. We hoofed it down the alley and out into the street, where three cop cars were blocking the way over to the library parking lot.
“I bet you’re parked over there!” Rat shouted above the din of sirens, “So how about using some of the magic you got on these crooked cops?”
“How do you know they’re crooked?” I shouted back.
“How do you think they got here so damn quick?”
I didn’t have time to say “touche,” because Ishmael had ripped the pistol out of my hand and given me the shotgun. His quiet, rasping voice seemed to carry even over the cacophony.
“Lay down some fire. Just shoot, and not at me. I’ll take care of the rest.”
And with that, he leaped out into the street and engaged the AE-sponsored policemen head on. I made to go after him and shout “No!” but Rat stopped me, clapping a hand over my mouth. Maybe it was the sunlight, but his eyes seemed clearer and much less irrational.
“Just hold on, man. You’re about to watch the master work.”
I swear, it was like slow motion. Ishmael was everywhere at once, with a pistol in one hand and brass knuckles in the other. He dodged bullets, he dodged punches, he ducked nightsticks and stun-guns and anything else they could throw at him. He brought the knuckles down on one shotgun barrel and, scout’s honor, it buckled shut and misfired, blinding the man holding it. It was the first time I’d ever see Ishmael use his Evaluation powers on the fly, and it was then I saw just how powerful he could be. No one could touch him, not even twenty thug cops. It was over almost too quickly, and he was calmly pulling the Alero up next to us, just out of reach of a fire he’d started in one of the squad cars. We all piled in and sped off, with Rat immediately opening up his case in the backseat.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked, ducking my head down for fear of stray gunfire, “Tweeting?!”
“Man, fuck Twitter,” Rat replied with a sneer, “I still use ICQ.”
He tapped out a rapid sequence on the keyboard, clicked his fingers and then shut the case back up tight.
“There,” he said proudly, “We’re in the clear. Hacked the cops, fire, city hall, the news networks, everything. For all they know, this was a gang fight over a drug deal gone wrong. Thankfully our boy here didn’t leave any survivors to talk about it.”
I turned to Ishmael, who was still rock-jawed in piloting the car back home.
“You… killed all of them?” I asked, a little shocked.
“They are AE,” his voice came back cold, “they don’t deserve to live. I consider each one of their lives worth a fraction of my family’s, and I’m still making up the difference.
We rounded a corner and I almost kissed the window.
“We got us a lover’s spat going on up there?” Rat asked in a mocking tone. His voice was high-pitched, nasal, and very grating.
“Shut up,” I shot back lamely, my mind still on the bodies he’d left behind. I couldn’t remember the last time I killed a spider… why was I even here?
“Easy now, Edna,” Rat shot back in mock terror, then turned to the driver.
“Well, I suppose you probably already know, but I’m Rat. You guys can call me Rat.”
“What if I want to call you Eddie?” I asked with a sneer of my own.
“Then I could cripple your entire financial future and have your sweet Momma thrown out on the street.”
“How do you know about my mother?”
He blinked in surprise.
“I didn’t… it was just a joke,” he said with a smile, “Why, is she hot?”
“I’ll tell her you said that,” I shot back, “and when you meet her she’ll break your arm.”
“Mmm, sounds hot.”
“I’m John, by the way,” I said, extending my hand into the backseat, “John Kilpatrick.”
“And what about this tall, drink of water up here?”
“Call me Ishmael.”
“Ohhh, that is so fuckin’ cheesy!” Rat said, throwing his skinny frame back against the seat, then almost immediately changing topics and moods, “Hey! Speakin’ of cheesy, you guys ever had a South Philly Love Child? Chicken cutlet with broccoli rabe from Tony Luke’s stuffed between two slices from Lorenzo’s. C’mon, let’s go, I’m starvin, my treat.”
And that was how I met Rat Ratcliffe, and heard every last one of his conspiracy theories, between bites of pizza and chicken not an hour after I’d seen twenty men gunned down in broad daylight by the man who was barely eating next to me. Something told me this wouldn’t be the strangest situation I’d see in my travels with this guy called Ishmael.

Melville – The Prophecy

“For the worker and the warrior,
The lover and the liar,
For the native and the wanderer in time.
For the maker and the user,
The mother and her son.”

 

“That sounds familiar,” I said, digging into a bowl of homemade beef barley soup, “I swear I’ve heard it before.”
“You have,” my mother replied, pushing a bowl of it toward Ishmael, who had respectfully removed his hat at the table, “I still have it on cassette here, somewhere. It was an old John Denver song.”
“And you’re telling me,” I turned to Ishmael in disbelief, “that that song is somehow some kind of prophecy?”
“In the ancient Mythic tradition, prophecies and stories are passed down orally from generation to generation.”
“So you had John Denver working for you?”
“Of course not,” Ishmael countered immediately, stirring his soup, “John Denver is one of us.”
“Oh, really,” I rolled my eyes, “Then I suppose no one bothered to tell you that brother John died several years ago?”
“What a shame,” my mother said softly, dabbing at the corners of her eyes.
“Quite the contrary, Mr. Noble,” Ishmael fired back again, sprinkling a little salt on his soup, much to my mother’s chagrin, “No one bothered to tell you humans that he just came home.”
“Home? Home to where?”
“Krobidah.”
He said the word with a soft sort of reverence. He took a sip of broth and then continued.
“The ancient land of the Mythic peoples. A parallel dimension, a strata of creatures beyond your wildest imagination. Dwarves,gnomes, imps, orgres and those of the water all happily tucked away below,  Elves, changelings, and the wild creatures of legend living in the middle, and high above them all soared the dominion of flight.”
“And that’s where your people were,” I guessed.
“Not only the Fair Folk,” Ishmael continued, “but Griffins, Pixies,  and Wills o’ the Wisp living high above, free to soar.”
“Sounds like a pretty fantastic place,” I asked my Mom for another bowl, who was only too happy to oblige, “So why would anyone want to come to this dump… especially Philly?”
“As I mentioned,” Ishmael replied, pushing away a half finished bowl, “some of our kind live nearly forever. There cannot be enough room for all. Luckily, we have found that your kind like to kill themselves off with frightening regularity, and so we allow ourselves to try and benefit you… as best we can.”
“And look how we repaid the favor,” I grumbled, thinking back to Ishmael’s stories of the Purge.
“We do not judge all humans by the acts of a few,” he crossed his hands in front of him, “but when we ask for the help of man, we expect every one of them to do their duty.”
“Well, I’ll do whatever I can,” I said with a shrug, pointing my spoon high into the air. My mother gave me a slight crack on the back of the head for my appalling table manners. I can’t help it, I picked them up in college.
“You really have no choice, Mr. Noble,” Ishmael continued, “As you are part of the prophecy.”
I nearly spit soup all over the table, and my mother gave me a few hearty whacks to the back to get every last bit of barley out of my lungs.
“Excuse me?!”
“We call for a mother and a son,” he continued, nodding to my mother and myself, “Your mother had taken me in and helped me thrive, and her family contributions will be invaluable.”
“Plus, I’m still a pretty good shot,” she said with a wink.
“And you, Mr. Noble, just finished college.”
“About a month ago, yeah,” I said, now jabbing at the soup half-heartedly, “Livin’ the dream here.”
“You have come back to live with your mother. You have been reunited after a long time apart. There can be no mistake, the prophecy is beginning to unfold. It is the ten of us mentioned in the song that will be able to defeat Pyre and the AE.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m still hung up on that,” I said, shaking my head, “A John Denver song? Really?”
“Many of the advancements and triumphs of your race can be traced in part or whole to a Mythic’s interference or development,” Ishmael replied, “Without the influence of Impish descendants, you would not see the most famous challengers of authority: Elvis Presley, Karl Marx, even Martin Luther can claim Imp cross-breeds in their personal histories. Elves, in contrast, use the existing rules and structure to improve culture at large. Everyone from Bach to Lincoln are Elvish, and so on.”
“So how many fairy Presidents have we had?” I asked with no lack of sarcasm.
“None,” his answer was immediate, “the faerie population has a much harder time integrating into human society.”
“I’ll bet,” I noticed he said the word “faerie” differently than when I said it. It had a lilt to it, a sort of reverence. But then again, I don’t say “human” like it’s anything special…
“So, boys,” my mother said after cleaning up the late dinner, “I think it’s getting close to both of your bedtimes. You can get started on things tomorrow, but first…”
She glanced quickly into the living room, then leaned forward with a heavy whisper.
“You’ll have to take out the garbage.”
In all the excitement and barrage of new information… and really, really good soup, I’d forgotten about the crippled bounty hunter in the other room.
“Oh, shit!” I exclaimed, “what are we going to do with that guy. If he’s there any longer, he might wake up… or worse.”
“He will not be waking up,” Ishmael said calmly, rising from his chair and replacing the hat on his head, “I made sure of that.”
“What?” I exploded too loud for almost 10pm, “He’s… he’s dead?!”
“I would not have left him otherwise,” he replied, his voice cold and hard, “He suffered cardiac arrest not long after we went in for dinner. We’ll have to dispose of both the body and Mr. Crawford’s car tonight. I suggest you wear something warm… and gloves.”
I’d completely forgotten, again, about the events of this afternoon, and of Ishmael’s rising body count. It was still too new, too fresh to really affect me. Unfortunately, as we loaded all 300-odd pounds of the bounty hunter into Crawford’s Cadillac… it stopped being so new.
“Gross,” I said, crawling into the passenger seat.
“That’s the best you can do?” Ishmael replied as we pulled out and down the street, “A dead body is ‘gross?’ ”
“Can you tell me it’s not?”
“I’ve seen too many to think that,” he kept his eyes on the road, “I’ve made too many to think that.”
It would have sounded ridiculous coming from anyone else, but here I didn’t really mind. There was something about this guy: he was cold, unfeeling, murderous and blunt… but he still seemed so cool. I felt myself being unrelentingly jealous of him as we drove the short way to Essington, dumping the car and body in the Delaware River.
“You sure we won’t get caught for this?”
“My prints won’t show up, and you’re wearing gloves,” Ishmael said plainly, “I’ve found this spot to be very effective as a disposal.
Once again, I felt my stomach lurch a little. Does he do this often? As we caught a bus for the way back (and I paid), I wondered if I’d ever get used to this. But, as we pulled into South Philly, I realized that I didn’t have much of a choice. I’d HAVE to get used to it: for my Mom, for my Dad… hell, even for Ishmael’s family, poor folks.
Ishmael, I thought, Ishmael… I’d already forgotten his real name. It made more sense to think of him as some literary character, larger than life… maybe then I wouldn’t feel so damn inadequate around the guy. He was a couple of years younger than me, for Christ’s sake, and all he’d seen, all he’d done… I started to think that going to college was a mistake. Once again, I’d done it for my mother. Then again, if I hadn’t, what would I have done? I never was a “handy” person, and I almost failed shop class… all I’ve got now is a useless Pre-law degree and almost ten years experience flipping burgers. And here I was helping a fairy with a shotgun take on one of the richest men in the world with a supposedly magical army at his beck and call.
Hey, I thought as we walked back up the steps in my Mom’s house, I knew other graduates who had it worse.

The truth about Priest’s family

“Well honey,” my Mom say back in her chair and smiled, “I wasn’t sure how long I was going to keep this from you…”
“Keep what? What’s going on?” I asked.
“Priest, your father…” my Mom paused before going on, “he didn’t just run a store…”
“What?”
“My family… the Kilpatrick family, are what you might call the Irish mafia.”
“Huh?” I was absolutely dumbfounded.
“We called them Clans of course, the old Gaelic word clann for family. The Clan Kilpatrick practically ran most of this country during the 20th century. Don’t let those Italians fool you, we Irish were doing more than they ever dreamed of.
My family was home to the Athair, or father, basically the leader of the entire organization. The Kilpatrick family ran several other families and firms beneath it, always with generosity when earned and stren reprimands when needed.”
My mother’s voice began to take on a distinct Irish brogue as she continued, almost as if she had been traveling back.
I had two brothers, Danny and Bobby, both were set to take on the Athair if my father were to die back in Ireland. So of course those two silly asses went and got themselves shot to pieces in a streetfight with a rival British gang.”
I couldn’t believe my mother was being so casual about the death of two brothers, let alone two brothers… two uncles… that I had never even heard of. She saw my surprised face and smiled, trying her best to mend the increasingly worrisome situation.
“Oh, don’t think that the hatred between the Celts and the English is over, we’re long from it. In fact for almost one hundred years now we’ve been aligned with the Maxwell family in Scotland to take on the British gangs. The Italians stayed out of it of course, choosing to romanticize their history with books and movies. We kept things real. We were the ones who carried on the traditions of the Five Points in New York: dull and gritty and bloody and tough. Those pansy Italians couldn’t hold a candle to the hearts of the Gaelic peoples.”
I decided, even though my hands were shaking, that I might as well roll with it. Hell, there was still an unconscious humonculous of a man with a shredded knee behind the couch we were currently sitting on. Things had officially gotten weird.
“So,” I asked, “What does this have to do with Dad? He’s not from your family?”
“Aye, he isn’t.” My Mom smiled, “what a brave man he was though, after Danny and Bobby died, he went to my Father and asked to serve as an interim Athair. My family was in an uproar the first time they heard this. They were horribly opposed to having a hated Englishman, John Noble, serving as Athair. But my John won their hearts and pledged his service to them, a pledge that eventually resulted in his death. You see Priest, the young lad that shot your father wasn’t just some random store jumping punk. It was a hit put out by the English gangs. A gang who bears a name you might know…”
“Pyre.” Ishmael’s teeth were gritted.
“Pyre? As in the guy that runs the AE?”
“The very same,” my mother replied, “how do you think he got the money for all his little excavations?”
“Pyre killed my father?” I said, eyes growing wide.
“Oh no, Priest. Pyre was a babe at that point, he’s not much older than you. It was a professional hitman, one of the Pyre’s favorites.”
“Also the one who killed my parents,” Ishmael seethed in the corner.
“His name’s Bill Stone–” my mother began.
“–And he’s mine,” Ishmael snarled, his craggy voice rising to a hiss.
“Um, excuse me,” I surprised myself with the strength I came back at him with, “It just so happens I just found out who murdered my father before I was even born, so if I think I might want to take a shot at the rat bastard who did it, I might be allowed a piece.”
“Oh my,” my mother grinned in a way I had never seen her grin before, like a cat that’s just caught a bird, “I’ve never heard such fire from you, son. That must be the Kilpatrick in you, and no mistake… and now I believe you have found a reason to fight alongside this gentleman here.”
Ishmael moved from the corner of the room over to where I was sitting, and extended his hand.
“My name is Athelstan,” he said simply, “But I will continue to go by Ishmael. This should protect those that have known me, like your mother.”
I glanced sideways at my mother, who merely shrugged and smiled. Knowing what I now know about her life, it surprises me how much she is able to smile. I extended my hand as well.
“I don’t really know how much help I’ll be, but I can’t let my Mom go unprotected… and my father go un…avenged? Is that a word?”
“Yes it is,” Ishmael replied coldly. The guy didn’t have much of a sense of humor. He reached out and took my hand in his cold, thin hand, shaking it firmly once with a grip that probably could have brought me to my knees.
“My name is Priest Johnathan Noble” I looked at my Mom, her red hair shining with pride, “But I will go by John Kilpatrick.”
And so, it was done.

more Ishmael

Like lightning Ishmael hit the ground, rolling behind the couch. He managed to drag me with him with a bit of ease, which shocked me. They guy was tall, thin, kinda wiry, but he tossed me around like a rag doll. Whoa.
I remembered now. A couple of years back my Mom put a skylight in the living room. She always said the room was too dark and she didn’t want to keep lamps on all the time. Now it seemed that this was a perfect camp-out point for our would be dispatcher.
I peeked over the couch and saw my Mom in the kitchen, inching over to the pantry. She removed a false wall and brought out a double barrelled shotgun, loading it expertly and quickly. Whoa, I thought, I never knew that was there. She then set up against the kitchen wall and waited for the assailant to enter.
Then Ishmael did something very strange. He too saw my Mother and motioned for her to stand down. My mother, though distraught for her surrogate son, did as she was bidden.
After about four shots emptied themselves uselessly into the floor and walls, we heard the gun smash against the skylight, shattering it. Then there was a quick swish and a large thud as the assassin entered the room.
A LARGE thud.
Ishmael whispered to me quickly as large boots thudded around the room.
“He’s got a Glock .45, he’s only got two shots left.”
“And one in the chamber!” I reminded him.
“…right,” he muttered.
I felt kind of stupid correcting like, like an impudent schoolboy or something.
Then I heard a massive hand drag the mantel clock off the fireplace, and heard it crash to the floor. The man spoke with an oddly nasal voice, probably from Minnesota or something.
“Come out, come out, Evaluator…” he fired a warning shot into the air.
Two left, I thought.
“Are you behind the couch?” the voice asked.
then he fired, and a bullet whizzed through the couch and buried itself into the floor not an inch from where my hand lay. I could no longer breathe.
“You know what?” the arrogant voice scoffed, “I’m gonna leave this last bullet, so I can finish you off with it. Now come out and fight me like a man!”
I inched forward as I heard the gun hit the ground, and saw the man.
He was MASSIVE, wearing a black swat vest and black jeans. He was well over six foot, maybe six four or six five, and he had to be pushing three hundred pounds of solid muscle. I could see a large skull tattoo on one of his shoulders, and above that I saw a thick neck and a large head, complete with a close cropped blonde buzzcut. His face was very youthful, childlike. I think this guy might have been younger than me. If he had, then I bet he spent every day of his life in a weight room. His blue eyes twinkled with malice and he smiled.
“See? I’ll even take off my bulletproof vest,” and the vest clunked to the floor. My God, this kid had more muscles than I knew existed. And on his back was this full tattoo, scary as hell, which danced as he flexed, enjoying the look of his own body.
Suddenly, Ishmael stood up.
“What the fuck are you doing? You’re gonna get killed!” I hissed.
He gave me a look, one look, and I shut up like a tomb.
“Ah, there you are. So you’re the Evaluator. I would have expected something… bigger, or stronger… something more like me,” he chuckled and rolled his massive shoulders, making his muscles bounce, “so… are you going to fight me like a man?”
Ishmael calmly picked up his coat and put it back on, the same with his hat.
“Well, that would be a bit tough now, wouldn’t it, because I’m not one.”
“That’s right, you’re a little fairy boy, this’ll be easier than I thought!” the large man sniggered.
“That’s right, I’m just a faerie, and you’re a man. A big, strong man. Lots of muscle and sinew and strength. I bet you work out every day, to have a body like that. But wait…”
I slowly peeked over the couch as I saw Ishmael stare at the guy, looking him up and down ritualisticly.
“Ah yes…” he pulled a wry smile. “You have a bad knee, don’t you?”
It was then that I saw the smile on the man’s face drop to the floor. It was complete disbelief.
“Yes, you do, I thought so. Sometimes it’s stiff and sore in the morning, isn’t it, and you have to rub it and stretch it, sometimes even ice it, right? Right. You’ve never told anyone, have you? Not even a doctor, because you’re afraid of being weak. Ha ha…” he began to chuckle in a terrible manner, “Forgive me but I find this rather humorous.”
The brute then lunged at Ishmael out of fury. Ishmael caught his fist in mid air and stopped it.
“Don’t,” he snapped contemptuously, twisting the man’s wrist and bringing him down on one knee, his good knee. His face then turned to a look of annoyed disappointment. The guy had ruined Ishmael’s good time. Suddenly Ishmael aimed a brutal kick to the side of the man’s remaining knee. The man’s eyes bulged, and he emitted a cry like a wounded animal. Falling to the ground, tears filling his eyes, he moaned pitifully. Ishmael paced around the fallen foe.
“It’s a sad story,” he said, stepping on the wounded knee every time he made the circular journey, making the man cry out more and more, “you spend all that time building yourself up, and building yourself up, but then you forget to build up your legs as much as your arms or your torso. You work your legs, but you’re more impressed with your bulging biceps and rippling pecs. The result is like a watermelon on top of an ice cream cone…” he stepped on the man’s knee again, walking over him, “crunch.”
“It’s only a minor inconvenience to you now, only once in a while a little stiffness in the morning, nothing to be too worried about. It’ll hit when you’re forty five or so, when you’re well out of the hitman business, happily with your family in your wheelchair after your surgery. No one notices it now, except for me. I saw it. I saw what you were afraid someone was going to find out…” he stepped again, and the man bawled again, “…and I found out. I knew exactly where to hit to make it hurt the worst, and I know exactly what to do to break it.”
He continued. “It only takes eight pounds of pressure to break a knee, and in your state I bet it would take even less than that now wouldn’t it?” He kneeled down to face his enemy, looking him ice blue eye to tear filled blue eye. “Shall we give it a try?”
“Please…please don’t… I’m only twenty five! Pyre just hired me, this is my first job. I won’t do it any more I promise, just don’t hurt me any more!” The man moaned, looking for all the world like a baby, rocking in the fetal position and clutching his knee.
“So Pyre himself hired you?” Ishmael stood up, “That means you must have shown promise. Pyre would probably be able to heal you if I left you like this, and I can’t have a top prospect coming back to get me…”
“Please…please!” the man moaned.
“You said for me not to hurt you, didn’t you?” Ishmael’s eyes burned with a flame of hate. “And what exactly did you plan to do to me?” he whipped off his jacket and stuck his injured wing in the man’s face.
“What was this supposed to be? Were you planning on adding to this? Are you that bad of a shot, or did you think you could take me because I was just a ‘fairy?’ You wanted to fight me one on one, you wanted to inflict pain on me, yet you beg for my mercy in the same situation?” Ishmael’s slammed three brutal kicks into the man’s midsection on those last three syllables. He stood up and put his jacket back on, standing over the hitman like it was garbage at his feet.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t grant you anything more than you would have granted me!”
He stepped on the man’s thigh, gripped his shins, and yanked up with an amount of strength uncommon for someone his size. The man emitted a horrible shriek and there was the sound of popping and rending and tearing as Ishmael tore his knee to bits. The screams seemed to last forever as I watched his leg flop around horribly, uselessly. It was very clean, all internal and no blood, but yet so horrible to see this man in the epitome of pain.
And the man that inflicted the pain was now looking at me.
Note to self, I thought, if Ishmael ever turns on me, place a gun in my mouth and pull the trigger, because it’s got to be better than what he would do to me at any other time. And then I found myself wondering, almost immediately after, why would I think he would?
He looked at me for a bit more, judging my reaction (which was shit-my-pants disturbed, by the way) and then turned to my Mother.
“I apologize for the skylight, Aideen, and the scene I made.”
“Think nothing of it, hon,” Mom smiled, “I’ve seen worse.”
“You have?” I gaped.
My Mom twirled her hair nervously. Ishmael let the cat out of the bag.
“It looks like your Mother also has some stories to tell you, Mr. Noble…”
“Whuh? Hah?” I managed another couple of monosyllabic grunts before my Mom spoke up.
“Sit down, Priest honey, I’ll get you reheat some of that coffee.” She looked down at the broken knee man, who had passed out from the pain, “we’ll take care of Spanky here later.”
Then, calmly, Ishmael slid the couch over to hide the body, sat down, and bid me sit beside him. He tossed his hat onto the hall tree (a perfect ringer, worthy of James Bond) put his hands behind his head and closed his eyes, simply relaxing.
I sat down next to him and watched him in his meditative state. All that torture must have put him at some kind of peace.
What kind of man… faerie… whatever… was this?

Yay! I think it’s pretty good!

“My mother?” I gasped, “how do you know my mother?”
Ishmael kept his eyes on the road, but kept speaking.
“Your mother and I have met before.” he replied curtly, then added, almost as an afterthought, “we’re here.”
Of course we’re here, I thought. You think I wouldn’t know where I grew up.
It was once on the outskirts of Philly, a quaint little house full of memories. Now it seemed out of place next to the sprawling developments and condos around it. Those condo fucks probably would have called it a cottage, but to me that little gray house with the blue trim had more character in one of its floorboards than all those cookie cutter pieces of shit.
I remember those floorboards well, sturdy and strong, able to withstand my pounding feet for all those years. My Grandfather had built that house with his own two hands when he came to America, right after World War Two. He settled in to the area and ran the grocery store, which my father then inherited. My Dad was a great man, honorable and just, so naturally some little punk bastard had to gun him down for not giving him the money in the till. Oh but don’t worry, my Dad went out fighting. As I sat at home in my bassinet, my Dad grabbed that little shit over the counter, pulled his shotgun from beneath the counter, and redecorated the ceiling with that kid’s brains. The stains are still there. The doctors said Dad mighta lived if he hadn’t strained to grab the kid, if he had just slumped down and let the kid run away.
But that wasn’t my Dad.
That wasn’t my Mom either.
Aideen Kilpatrick was born in Dublin, 1966. When she was 19, she moved to America to try her luck as a singer. God my Mom has a nice voice. However, those plans were shot after she met old John Noble one day outside Philadelphia. They were married in 1985 and I was born in 1986. It was in ’86 that my Dad was shot at the age of 22. My Mom had to basically raise me my whole life, but the memory of my father was strong. As I entered the door, I caught his portrait right straight ahead above the entranceway. Oh yeah, Dad was still watching over the place. His dark hair, like mine, a sharp contrast to my Mom’s fiery Irish side, with deep blue eyes, like mine. An Englishman and an Irish woman, how did those two every get together?
Not that my Mom needed to be watched over. She’s still a better shot with a rifle than I am, and she’s got a lot of fire for being 53. I could smell cookies baking and coffee brewing as I walked inside, and I heard my Mom’s usual bustling about in the kitchen. Oh yeah, not much had changed.
Even when she was temping, or as a waitress, or singing in local gigs, my Mom still managed to have a home cooked meal on the table every night at six sharp. And God help me if I were to miss it.
I was an only child, so my Mom made every step to make sure I was safe. She still let me out on my own, but only to a certain extent. She worried about me, maybe sometimes a little too much, but I would have preferred that to not enough.
It was like I had stepped through a time machine when I walked through the door. It was like I was in sixth grade again, carrying home my books and obscene amounts of Math homework. My mom would be waiting, or there would be a note on the table telling me what chores she wanted done before dinner. Afterwards, we worked out my homework and we watched TV. Wheel of Fortune every night at 6:30 like clockwork. And my Mom always knew the answers. My Mom was so smart.
“Priest honey, is that you?”
Suddenly the past melted away, and I was myself. Twenty seven, freelance writer and part time cook at Donnie’s. Making ends meet, but not living like a king. Still working on that great opus that would set me and Ma up for the rest of our lives.
Little did I know, at the end of today, we never needed to be set up at all.
My mother was a ball of energy as she took our coats and lead us into the dining room. We sat on the couch, I in my old college sweats and Ishmael in all black. He really queered up the whole warm environment, his cold black and white clashing with the warm yellows and reddish browns in the room. His pointed ears stood out like beacons, proclaiming his inhumanity to all. I have never felt more awkward in my life.
Mom came back out with fresh cookies and a pot of coffee, with three cups of course. She had been chattering non stop since we arrived. About the snooty neighbors, about me not calling enough, about how stupid the people were on Wheel of Fortune, and various other things. It was only until she sat down opposite us in a big fluffy armchair, green eyes blazing beneath a mop of graying red hair, that she became silent. She had a sip of coffee, and then began again.
“Priest, I see you met our friend,” she beamed.
“Uh, yeah…” I said, casting a wary eye at Ishmael, remembering how he had made it rain brains earlier this morning. She called him “friend.” Man my Mom was tough.
“So Ma… who is this guy?”
“I don’t know if I’m the one who should tell you,” my mother continued to smile as she bit into a cookie, “It’s his story to tell.”
For the first time, I saw Ishmael become uncomfortable. He fidgeted in his seat for Christ’s sake. He cast an unwary eye around the room, afraid to make contact with my Mom.
“Come on, now, Priest needs to know.”
“So, yeah…” I tried to appear casual, “what’s your story?”
“You don’t want to hear it,” he replied.
“Now, young man!” my mother replied sternly, “if Priest is going to help you have to tell him.”
“Very well,” Ishmael said, rather agitatedly.
I sat back in the couch, not quite expecting what to hear next.
He looked in physical pain, like the words were coming out his throat sideways.
“My mother and father were killed. During the Purge.” His words tumbled out,
“I have a score to settle with the AE.”
His ice blue eyes lit up with a fire and a passion so intense that I half expected something to burst into flames.
I sat there, not knowing what to do. His pale face looked more drawn than usual, he looked ready to faint. I looked at Mom.
“He’s not good at talking about his past,” she said, eyes forward.
“I… I’m sorry,” I fumbled. I knew what it was like to miss a parent.
But instead of answering me, Ishmael started to laugh. It was a horrible laugh, cynical and bitter, and it spread through the house like plague.
“Sorry? Ha. Sorry. I always love that. ‘I’m sorry.’ Like it makes any difference. Like sorry makes my parents come back, like sorry can just make me forget it all, forget their screams as I heard them burn to death. You are sorry, huh.” he spat, “you try living my life, Mr. Noble, and then tell me if saying ‘I’m sorry,’ is going to do a damn bit of good.
I couldn’t speak. I felt nothing but a horrible sadness for this man. To this day I can’t think of any word to describe my feeling at that moment. It was cavernous, horrible, like death. It was like I died.
My mother stood up and walked over to the couch. She placed a comforting arm around his shoulder, “Priest was only trying to help, you know.”
“He doesn’t know. He didn’t have to see and hear his father die. He has the innocence of a child to bail him out. It’s not the same when you’re fourteen, and you can remember everything…” My mother stood there and comforted him a bit more. Then, she raised his head, looked into tearless eyes and said,
“He needs to know the whole story. He needs to understand.”
Instantly it was like Ishmael shut the door. He became his usual self, curt, and emotionless. He then began to relate his tale to me with lightning quick speed, like a formal report.
“It was September 9, 2013. I had just turned fourteen. My family and I were living in a suburb of Boston. My father was a successful businessman, my mother a lawyer. We were one of those affluent Mythic families that the moronic human masses despised. Humans hate having anyone be better than them, especially someone different. When the Purge first started, it was quiet, silent, and deadly. It started with bosses laying off Mythic workers here and there, with the urge of the AE. After that, no one else could give them a job, and they became homeless wretches. At that point, no one noticed when the AE van picked them up and took them off to be exterminated.
However, the upper class Mythics, like my mother and father, they could not be so easily set aside. My family had come from the Mythic world during the 80s, one of the few full blooded families allowed to enter the human realm. They had worked hard, had children, contributed to society. It would be nigh impossible for the AE to make them simply disappear. So it was decided that the propaganda would begin. Suddenly, the Mythics were to blame for everything. The news channels told the stories: we were taking jobs, stealing food, running back to our Mythic mud huts with all the money we’d made, hiding it all from the humans. Within weeks Mythics were being brought out into the street and beaten, or other horrible senseless acts. My family, being high on the social ladder, were safe until the night the decided to finally act against all. My birthday, 2013.”
“Your…birthday?” I mumbled.
“Yes, Mr. Noble. There is a prophecy in the Mythic world, one dealing with the attainment of magic. All mythics have an inate ability, as you know, but there is one that is above all others. It is known as the Evaluator. The Evaluator is born on the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninety ninth year. The last one was born on September ninth, 999 AD, and so on. Pyre knew this, from stories and books he stole from the Mythics, and he wanted to make that magic his. He decided to strike on that night, thinking that an Evaluator would be preoccupied with festivities to ward off an attack, and-”
“Woah Woah Woah! Wait! Did you say that Ken Pyre wanted to make the magic his? Like taking it from Mythics?”
“Indeed, Mr. Noble.”
“Ken Pyre owns a series of power plants up and down the eastern seaboard. He’s almost single-handedly credited with solving the energy crisis. Now you mean to tell me…”
“Pyre understood the importance of magic, and he knew that if he could draw it from the Mythics, it would make him a god among men. And so he has become, nearly. He and his organization practically run the world, for they possess magic. They can create energy, they can manipulate matter to their whim, and they can destroy any who oppose them. But he is not a God yet; there is one form of magic Pyre desperately wants: mine. He wants me. He wants the Evaluator.”
“Why?”
“Because… I can see everything. I can see people’s strengths, weaknesses, I can see everything within everything. With my skill, if Pyre could draw it out of me, he could quite literally take the world apart and put it back together to his liking. You see, fire can burn, and water can drown, and light can shine and wind can blow… but I can cut through each and every one of them.”
“I also find that hard to believe.”
He narrowed his already narrow eyes and looked me up and down. I started feeling  like I should have done laundry yesterday.
“You broke your leg, seven years ago, by some sort of large concussive impact, didn’t you Mr. Noble?”
I was dumbfounded. “Skiing,” I mumbled.
“Exactly. And so, on my fourteenth birthday, the AE incited mass riots and sought to destroy all Mythics, and to bring me to Pyre. As Pyre had suspected, my family and I were having festivities. I had been an odd birth, late in life for my parents, after nineteen years of marriage. All the more reason that I was a special child. All of my siblings were grown up, and as a result I ended up growing up with them at an early age. They were all there: My mother and father, my sister, my two brothers, and the family dog. All there to celebrate my birthday. My family was always close like that. I remember seeing my Mother cutting my birthday cake, german chocolate, and then I sensed it. Something was coming. I knew it before my family did, because I saw it. In a flash I was under the table as a bomb made of little more than a sock, a glass bottle, and oil came crashing into our house. In a trice the sticky flames engulfed everything in sight. I hid under the table cowering and listening to my family burn. I could hear my family screaming, my dog howling. Then suddenly, with her last effort, I heard my mother call to me, shouting for me to run. And I did, faster than I had every run before. I flew out the backdoor of our house and vanished into the countryside. Over the next five years I roamed as far west as Minnesota, doing odd jobs and scraping out a living, always going by other names. I grew my hair long, to hide my ears. I always wore baggy clothes, to hide my wings. Bounty hunters were constantly after me, wanting to catch Pyre’s most sought prize. It wasn’t until last year, after barely escaping a pack of hunters, I collapsed on your mother’s doorstep. I told myself that, even if I was about to die, I’d do so by coming back to the AE and destroying it.”
“He was soaked to the bone and looked half dead,” my mother shook her head, taking the coffee and cookies into the kitchen.
“Do you remember when I told you I had taken in a impoverished youth as part of a community outreach adoption program?” She shouted from the kitchen. She took my stunned silence as a yes, and continued, “Yep, that was this here. I fed him, taught him, and basically brought him up right.” She smiled at Ishmael, who responded by not scowling.
My brain had gone to the consistency of marshmallow fluff, I couldn’t think anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was drooling a little bit. I just sat there, trying to let this all sink it.
For the last year my mother has been taking care of a renegade Mythic with a bounty on his head and enough taste for vengeance to burn this city to the ground. I looked at my Mom, not knowing what to think.
“If you would visit more often you would know these things, honey,” she smiled.
Something out of the corner of my eye twitched, and I turned to Ishmael. His back seemed to have a large lump that was twitching. The wings, of course! How could I have forgotten!
It was then I felt an icy claw grip my heart and I knew he was watching me watching him. I shuddered and looked at his face.
“Do my wings disturb you, Mr. Noble?” he grated at me.
“No! no, no no no… it’s just… I’ve never seen wings on a human before…”
“And you never will, because I am not a human.” he snapped.
“Sorry! Sorry! I mean, a faerie. I thought faeries were smaller, like Tinkerbell…”
“Those would be Pixies. Think of us as elves with wings, because that it what we are. Long ago a group of elves gave up their long lives for the gift of flight.”
“How long do elves live?”
“Thousands of years,” Ishmael said, examining the tabletop, “Almost forever. I, on the other hand, will live as long as you, Mr. Noble. I simply do not have enough time in my life, and while I am still young and strong I must destroy the Altse Erce.”
“Understood,” I murmured, still enamored at the idea of wings, “So, are they, like, feathers?”
“No,” I could see he was getting irritated with all the attention, “that would be an angel, wouldn’t it?”
“Oh yeah, my bad…” I noticed they were twitching again, “are you having problems with them…?”
“I’ve had them pulled back most of the day,” he said shortly, “I need to stretch them out.”
Then he stood up, stretched his arms, and then through holes in the back of his turtleneck, unfurled his wings. I have never seen anything so beautiful. Like iridescent gossamer sheets. A man with dragonfly wings extending from his back, light but powerful, thin
but strong. He looked magnificent, like something out of a dream.
And it was a rather rude awakening when a bullet whizzed into our window and sliced through part of his left wing.