Breaking and Entering

From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: Escape Route by Seraphic Flame (Wednesday, July 11, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Old Friends.... by Astra Kyne Murdock (Wednesday, July 11, 2007)

(posted Wednesday, July 11, 2007)

Auribus teneo lupum "I hold a wolf by the ears"

"'Ey! Dere he is!" Paulie the Piston pointed after the injured Thorn Wielder. He and Johnny had tracked the bastard all the way from Nerva, and it hadn't been easy. As for what was so important about one lousy necromancer, it wasn't what he was, it was what he had said, when the two of them had plowed into a Circle Soul-Separating Ceremony.

"Stall them! I must warn Garvey!" For the past few days, John and Paulie had been working their way through Nerva, with plans to move west through the Isles once they had finished there. Causing trouble at random, they'd done their best to be noticeable, but not so much so that they'd have to deal with Arachnos. Just enough to get word around, get their descriptions spread through all of the dirty little information brokering networks.

Hitting the Circle, and finding the chump that had spilled Garvey's name so easily, had been a godsend. They'd followed him over open ground, down into cave systems, through the alleys and streets of the slums, and along the ferry and helicopter lines. It looked like they'd finally run him to ground here in Cap; he was slowing down. Paulie had busted the mage's arm up pretty good before the coward had sounded the alarm for his compatriots to protect his fleeing ass, so that was no doubt contributing. But it looked like he was also getting close to wherever he had wanted to run to.

John was driven, using his limited telempathy to track the fleeing sorcerer whenever the physical trail went cold. His mind was racing about everything that he would do once they found their target, what he would say, how he would prepare. It was maddening, but it was the most alive he had felt in months.

Paulie was driven as well, the thrill of the chase pumping through his system like jet fuel. It felt like he could've chased the Thorn Wielder around the equator if it'd been necessary. His comrade, however, was not the same sort of machine that The Piston was, and a look of concern crossed over Paulie's face. John didn't look right. It occurred to Paulie that he hadn't seen the man eat recently.

This thought quickly subsided, however, as he saw the necromancer stop at the entrance of an abandoned-looking building and began to pound on it wildly. Instinctively, Paulie ducked behind a crate, concealing him from view but still allowing him to observe the Circle mage. John did the same, hiding around the corner of a building on the opposite side of the street.

The necromancer shouted something about opening up, but all that was important to Paulie was that he yelled Garvey's name again. This must be the place, he thought, smiling to himself as he slid up to spy over the top of the crate, just as someone clad in a dark-blue armor opened the door. Glancing over at John, Paulie smiled. The look on the Commissar's face was like a starving man sitting down to a big juicy steak. Pay dirt.

And right about then was when the necromancer exploded.

Paulie jumped. John immediately unslung his rifle from his back, holding it at a low-ready position behind the wall. Ducking back behind his crate, The Piston crossed himself and quietly recited the Lord's Prayer. He'd seen a lot since he'd come into the Isles, but nothing quite like that.

A dancing skeleton wreathed in blackness appeared where the Thorn Wielder had been.

"Peekaboo! I see you! What's up, Doc?" The apparition cackled madly. Garvey scrambled backwards through the entrance of his sanctum, and the malicious spirit followed, still laughing.

It would seem that John and Paulie were not the only ones hunting this Garvey character. Glancing nervously over to John, Paulie began rubbing his knuckles. John raised a gloved hand from the pistol grip of his rifle, indicating for Paulie to sit tight. Nodding, Paulie stayed at the ready, waiting for the green light to move. Now that they had found their target, John was in command. Paulie was a brawler, and damned good at it, if he might say so himself. But tactics and the like were John's forte.

John extended two fingers and motioned for Paulie to pull back. Keeping low, the Piston slid away from his hiding spot and back further from view. Moments later, he was joined by the Commissar, both hunkering low behind a shipping container. John had triggered whatever gizmo that made him invisible, allowing him to safely cross the street undetected. The faint scent of burnt ozone lingered after he turned it off.

"That'll make ya old," Paulie muttered, shaking his head.

"That was the Grim Gambol. I have no damned clue what he's doin' 'ere, but I don't like it one bit. Not a goddammned bit. Y'know where we are, right now?"

The Italian pulled out a crusty-looking PDA. It looked to have been fashioned sometime during the 1950s, and had sat at the bottom of the ocean for some time. The fact that it worked astounded most people, Paulie included. Turning the device on, it hummed and crackled like a Geiger counter in the middle of Terra Volta. The screen slowly illuminated, showing a GPS readout of their current location. "Can't say I know for certain," Paulie said, shrugging as he saved the location onto the machine. "But I can get us back here."

"Alright." John slung his rifle, being careful to stay behind the crate. "Let's get back to yer pad and figure out our next move. Y'ready to go?"

"Sure thing, Johnny," the Piston said, looking at the device for a long moment before pointing towards a cove in the distance. "We can circle around that way."

A short time later, they were back in Paulie's hideout. John had laid out some of his equipment on a rickety table, one of the legs propped up by a water-soaked phonebook. C4, det cord, blasting caps, PVS-14 nightvision goggles, loaded magazines for his rifle, and other sundry bits of gear littered the weathered surface of the wooden table.

"We've got the location down. That's been the biggest hurdle for this entire shin-dig. Now all we gotta do is make ourselves welcome. I can get in more than likely. But I need ya t'do me a favor above an' beyond what y'already have, Paulie." John leaned against the table, his eyes steady and glittering in the lamp-light of the room.

Paulie slowly stirred the pot of pasta he had cooking on the hot plate at his feet. If his mother were to see him eating the boxed macaroni and cheese he was preparing, he'd get a beating. Looking up, the Piston nodded thoughtfully. "Ya know I'se good for it, Johnny," he said, looking back down at the food for a moment before turning his attentions back to the Commissar. "Whatcha need me ta do?"

"I've gotta friend back in Paragon that I needja to meet with. His name is Sean, but he'll look just like me. I need ya to tell him what our status is, and what I'm 'bout to do. He can arrange for ya t'get safe passage through to home, Paulie. I need t'take care of this next bit on my own."

Paulie's brow furrowed. "Like hell," he said, pulling the pot up and setting it on the table. "I ain't gonna let you storm th' castle on yer own." Unceremoniously, he began to dish the yellowish, lumpy pasta into two separate bowls. "I ain't got a clue on what this guy's place is like, but I know he's good at hidin', an' he's got some allies. Y'might be able t'get through most of it arrite, but y'still gonna need some help." The pot quickly emptied, and the Italian shoved one of the bowls towards John. "Mangia," he said, the look in his eyes allowing for no quarter. "You gotta eat if you gonna fight."

"I'll eat, but after we're done, I still need ya to see my pal in Paragon. If I have to, I'll knock yer ass out and ship ya via Fed-Ex, Paulie. This isn't somethin' I can negotiate on. Sean, and the folks that I'm connected with, need to be told what's goin' on." John started shoveling the food into his mouth, eating through what seemed to be mechanical reflex rather than hunger. He didn't take his eyes off of Paulie. It occurred to Paulie then what it was that was so very "off" about Johm Murdock.

His eyes were empty, bleak. Not cold, not as such. But eyes that looked out at a world that held nothing in it that he wanted. Nothing good, at least.

In a blur of fork and yellow, the bowl that sat before Paulie became suddenly very empty. He ate, too, out of a mechanical need, choking down the wretched excuse for Italian cooking with the speed of a bullet train. Having cleaned the bowl, the Piston looked over at the Commissar, a disappointed sigh slipping from him. "Okay, look, Johnny," Paulie said flatly, "I'll go an' contact yer boy for yas, but you stay here 'til I get back, right?"

John grinned, shaking his head. "No, Paulie. I'm takin' care of this. Don't worry. I know what I'm doin', and I intend to be able to walk away after I'm done with it." John's words rang hollow, though; Paulie already knew that John didn't expect to---or maybe didn't want to---live past the conclusion of this vendetta. "You're a good friend, Paulie. Remind me t'buy ya a drink when we're both back in the Row. Right now, though, I need ya to just nod yer head up and down and do as I ask ya. I'd hate to have to shoot ya to change your mind; I'm gonna need the ammunition." John leaned across the table, mock-punching Paulie in the shoulder. John set down his fork and bowl, standing up from the table. It wasn't a dismissal, but it was clear that the discussion was over. The Kheldian-hero turned to examine the equipment he had laid out, checking over detonators and rifle magazines.

With a snort, Paulie stood, frowning. "Fine," he muttered, turning towards the door. Perhaps if he made it fast, he could manage to get back before John took off...