CHAPTER 1: MY GREATEST SIN
Angry. The word was an understatement of how I felt that morning. Even words such as heated, crossed and even infuriated, wholly and utterly failed to define my mood in those moments. Pissed is a good word, a very good word. But even that couldn’t begin to describe the level of rage I felt at that moment, at that time, on that day, as I limped down the early morning streets of Glasgow, Scotland towards my destination.
The click-clack, click-clack of my boot heels meeting granite resonated like a discordant symphony in my bruised and bleeding ears. My body was still having trouble adjusting to Earth’s gravity. Since setting foot on the Mother Realm, I’d found myself tripping over my own two feet more often than I care to mention. My recent injuries coupled with the added weight of my pistol and dual swords didn’t help my coordination much either.
My attire, which consisted of black boots and a simple, black and red custodian’s uniform, were stained with dirt, grass and blood, some of which was mine. Stitched over the uniform’s right breast pocket was an insignia of a red Viking ship complete with oars and sails. Written on the side of the ship in bold black letters were the words, “Red Viking Industries.” My would-be destination.
Fresh, sticky blood decorated the black waistcoat my dual swords were currently wrapped in. Not the most discreet of disguises but with so few options available to me I had to make do. I prayed the blood stained bundle appeared as nothing more than a pile of sticks, or anything nonthreatening. I did my best not to worry, but thanks to everything that was going on, it had turned into an exercise in futility.
The other weapon I had was just a bit worse.
The 9mm pistol, tucked in my belt, reeked of gun powder and heated metal; effortlessly contaminating the air around me. Thankfully there were precious few pedestrians on the streets that morning and all of them were a good distance away. I had no doubt in my mind that anyone standing within three feet of my person would easily be able to smell my recently fired pistol as plainly as the stench of a pipe-dreamer emerging from an opium den.
For a brief moment my right boot caught on something and I stumbled forward, barely catching myself to keep from falling. I leaned on a nearby fence and chuckled in spite of my pain. It was almost embarrassing. I’ve killed and helped kill Guild Masters, amongst others, on several different planets and here it was the Mother Realm’s own gravity giving me the most trouble. I considered slowing my pace, giving my body a few precious extra seconds of healing. I considered it, but my grim thoughts only goaded me into increasing my pace.
Half a dozen airships, two large class-B’s and the rest, not-as-large class-C’s, buzzed overhead; their numerous propellers whipping the air in their wake. I looked up at the orange-red sky as the assortment of dirigibles sailed overhead; steadily making their way over the near-empty streets of Glasgow’s Industrial District. Plumes of ghost-white steam erupted from the vessels’ various vents before swiftly evanescing into the air as if they never were. It wasn’t just any kind of steam but exhaust from the hydro-p fuel they all no doubt ran on. Hydrogen-peroxide; the quote-unquote ‘miracle fuel’ that dominated damn near every economic and trade market in the 500 Realms since the early twentieth century.
The Industrial District was as business oriented as they came. There wasn’t a single private residence for at least a mile in all directions. Not even the poorest of tenements could be found within the district’s borders.
Instead there were warehouses and factories. So many in fact, that I was hard pressed to give a proper estimate, except to say that from what I could see the number was definitely greater than fifty. Due to their obvious lack of commercialism, most of the factories looked very much the same, even down to the same shade of concrete-gray they all seemed to share. Each city block was owned by a different business and the properties they sat on had at least three buildings; one office building for conducting business while the remaining buildings housed the assembly lines which put together whatever product they happened to churn out. Not all, but most of the assembly buildings possessed tall smokestacks. Black smog spewed from some, while hydro-produced-steam billowed from the rest. Whatever the color of their gaseous waste product, every single smokestack in the district was in use.
As I drew closer to my destination, whistles and cat calls from scantily clad women lining the narrow alleyways between the factories, begged for my business. It didn’t matter to them that I was a woman. As far as they were concerned, the currency they assumed I had on me worked just as well as any man’s. Gender equality at its best. While I was used to men hitting on me and treated it with boredom at least half the time, receiving offers from ladies of the evening made me just a bit curious. Then again, stars are often fascinating, but it doesn’t mean I want to touch one with my bare hands.
When a particularly desperate hooker started to harass me, refusing to take no for an answer, I removed my pistol from my belt and held it high. High enough for her to get a very good look at it in the dim morning light along with my bruised and equally stoic face.
I couldn’t care less how reckless my actions may have appeared. I was too angry and in far too much pain to care. I was in no mood to be bothered.
In the end my actions yielded the desired result. The woman turned around and trotted away as fast as her ridiculous high heels could carry her. The others must have seen the pistol as well because the whistles and cat calls abruptly ceased. Once again it was down to just me, my weapons and my fatigued mind, drowning in a stormy sea of ill thoughts.
I tucked the pistol back into my belt and continued on.
I hobbled past three factories and two traffic lights before arriving just across the street from my destination; The Red Viking Glasgow Industrial complex. The red and black insignia printed on my borrowed uniform was painted on every building within the complex along with more than a few airships, cars and steam-suits.
The Red Viking complex, to its credit, was by far the most interesting piece of property in the district. Nine separate edifices stood proudly within its high-security fences. Four large hangers, all of them large enough to fit at least one class-A airship, and two identical office buildings stood on the south side while three factory buildings populated the north. On the east side was a parking lot reserved for company airships and cars belonging to Viking employees; on the west end, made obvious by the wide open black gates, stood the main entrance.
Beyond the entrance was a plaza which held a long wooden stage, erected at the very center. Employees clad in red and black uniforms moved purposefully around the stage, setting up video-cameras, microphones, chairs and speakers while others cleaned up the area as much as possible. With each passing second, more and more formally dressed non-employees arrived, positioning themselves as close to the wooden rostrum as possible.
It wasn’t until I saw the crew putting up large posters if a man wearing a highly technological suit of armor that I immediately remembered what all preparation was for. Viking was going to show off their brand new steam-suit model to potential investors as well as future customers.
Just east of the stage, at the very heart of the complex was Viking’s main office building, the misleadingly named Viking Tower. Standing a meager six stories, it was easily the tallest building in the district. It too carried a concrete-gray color but unlike the other office buildings in the district, and was by far the cleanest. The other businesses didn’t bother with the expense of consistent clean up, leaving both their property and people covered in soot. Viking Industries employed a round-the-clock cleaning staff, dedicated solely to keeping all the buildings, as well as the areas in between, as unsoiled as possible.
I should know. I was disguised as one of them.
I casually walked through the factory’s main gates, trying my best to not to limp, trip or draw any form of attention to myself whatsoever. Thanks to my uniform, no one, not the factory workers, the formally dressed business employees nor the handful of armed guards patrolling near the entrance, gave me so much as a second look. I kept my sword-bundle close to my chest, but with all the excitement around the plaza escalating, my actions didn’t seem to matter all too much.
In fact, most of the people I saw inside the complex, employee or not, were far too preoccupied with their travel-phones to even notice me. Most of them wore headsets, leaving their hands free to do other useful things like twirl their canes or check their pocket watches. One man even had a headset built right into his black top hat, complete with a foot long antenna jutting straight up. These Phone-tops, as they were known, were certainly becoming fashionable. This was the tenth one I had seen in four days on two different Realms.
Those who didn’t have a travel-phone, phone-top or not, used the computer kiosks near the entrance. For a few pounds, users had the option of making picture-calls or sending Electronic Information Network messages to any on-Realm network. For a few pounds more they could even send a message off-Realm. The price depended on the Realm.
Despite the technological distractions, I played it safe and kept my distance from the gathering crowd. I made my way northeast, just behind Viking Tower to the company’s three story Research and Development building. I avoided the main entrance, along with two more Viking employees, one chattering on her travel-phone, before ending up at the same side entrance which, in many ways, led to the situation I was in. I pulled on the handle and to my surprise, the door was already unlocked. I took a quick look around, ignoring the strain in my neck and slipped inside, shutting the door behind me.
Orange, electric light filled a narrow hallway that ended at an intersection containing a stairwell. Lying unconscious on the floor of that same hall were four, low-level, Viking security guards. They were blindfolded, their hands and feet bound, their weapons missing, and all four of them sported fresh bruises and rips on their uniforms. I checked the pulses of each of the guards and from what I could tell they were going to be out for a while.
I tapped into mea-vis, my power, and immediately channeled the flow to my head before redirecting the energy to my ears. The hallway’s air conditioner, which a moment ago was a low hum, had become as loud as a running dirigible engine positioned a few feet away. Aside from the guards’ low breathing, there was nothing else to be heard. I released mea-vis and immediately my muscles began to relax.
Once again I drew the pistol, tip-toed around the injured guards and cautiously made my way to the stairwell.
Like an apparition, a young man dashed from the stairwell, his pistol already aimed at my head, well before I had a chance to raise mine. I froze, cursing at my own stupidity. The guards had distracted me a little too well. I should have known better.
Had he been an enemy, I surely would have been dead.
The young man, recognizing my face, holstered his weapon, ran to me and gave me a hug. I returned the embrace, ignoring the pain in my freshly bruised body.
“Wendy,” he said, giving me a half smile.
“I was ambushed,” I replied, feeling the pain in my throat. It hurt to speak. “I barely managed to get away. What happened, Chris?”
“I’m not sure. After subduing the guards, Robert and Rosalia went upstairs to engage the target. They told me to stay here to keep watch.”
“Just you? Where’s Burian and Susan? Weren’t they supposed to meet us here?”
“They never showed up. So far I haven’t—”
The sound of gunshots stopped Chris in midsentence. We looked at each other and immediately began rushing up the stairs. Pain exploded through my muscles and I almost fell twice during my ascent. Halfway toward our destination, the sudden gunfire came to a halt and silence once again reigned over the building.
When Chris and I reached the top floor, we slowly emerged from the stairwell, guns drawn and entered the office area, making certain to keep our backs to the wall. What I saw there was definitely worse than what I had seen on the first floor.
The stench of fresh blood and the dry tang of gunpowder hung thick in the air, contaminating everything in the room; the cracked walls and ceiling, the broken furniture and machines, the living and especially the dead, turning the once quiet office building into an even quieter abattoir.
The only two people in the room who weren’t dead were my friends, although one of them was doing a great impression. He was barely breathing at all.
“Robert? Rosalia? What happened?” I replied. Rosalia’s hand moved so fast that I barely noticed her gun until she had it pointed straight at me. For the second time that day a friend had a loaded pistol pointed at me.
I gasped but not because of the firearm, not entirely. By then I was already used to having the business end of God-knows how many weapons pointed at me. What I was really reacting to was far more frightening. Rosalia’s free hand lay atop Robert’s chest, caked with his blood and fighting to keep as much of it from leaking out of the bullet holes as possible. He wasn’t moving.
Rosalia looked at me. Her ocean blue eyes held the ghost of tears. Yet she refused to shed a single one. When she saw that only Chris and I stood before her, she lowered her weapon, but kept it well within reach.
Robert’s breaths sounded low and labored, but he still lived. Locks of his sweaty, red-brown hair stuck to his even sweatier forehead and his skin color had lost much of his pigment. Conversely, other parts of his body were actually redder thanks to his blood rushing to repair his injuries. Robert’s nidor, the unique odor that all Validus gave off when summoning in-vis, the power, was even more potent than the stench of the firefight which filled the room. It was unmistakable for it carried a distinct repulsive smell similar to rotting oranges.
Robert’s body, not Robert himself, was summoning in-vis and pooling it around his injuries, restricting his blood loss, and closing his wounds while simultaneously dulling his pain. Judging from the nidor’s potency, in-vis was the only thing keeping him alive and conscious.
“Our cover’s blown,” said Rosalia. “We need to get Robert someplace safe to treat his injuries.”
“What about Burian and Susan?” I asked.
“If they’re not here by now chances are they never will be. If they’re alive, they’ll meet us at the rendezvous. First we need to get ourselves to safety.”
I knelt next to Robert and his ocean-blue eyes darted toward me. I could tell he wanted to speak, but his injuries kept him from doing so. I summoned only a touch of mea-vis and channeled the energy-flow to my hands with much of my power congregated at my fingertips. I ran my hands up and down his torso with my fingers less than an inch from his body. Had I been Cӕcus-born, that is to say a human who lacked the ability to summon in-vis, the most my fingers would be able to feel would be the heat coming from his body.
But I am not Cӕcus-born. Thanks to mea-vis my fingers were easily able to detect the concentrated pools of electric energy flowing around him, especially near his injuries. It felt, strange, and yet at the same time familiar. It was like two magnets with similar charges repelling each other only far more subtle. Robert’s vis-flow, reacted to my own and it was through those channels of concentrated resistance that I was able to detect where his power was flowing to as well as guess which injuries were the greatest depending on where it was most concentrated.
I summoned more of mea-vis and channeled the flow to a particularly nasty wound just above his heart. Robert’s power resisted me at first; it was only natural. Rather than waste precious seconds waiting for his flows to accept my own, I simply strengthened my flow, sending his power to other parts of his body.
I could only do so much. Healing wounds, especially gunshot wounds, wasn’t my specialty. Not to mention I had used much of mea-vis earlier to heal my own injuries. When I finished, or gave up rather, my power faded. I was only able to stop the bleeding and dull the pain. His injuries were more severe than I had originally thought, which meant they needed much more time to heal.
“I’ll carry Robert,” said Chris.
Chris triggered suus-vis, his power, channeling the energy-flow to his muscles. He carefully picked up Robert as if he was as light as a pillow, turned to the stairs and dashed from the room, leaving only a blur in his wake.
Rosalia and I got to our feet, holstered our pistols and began making our way back down the staircase.
Waiting for us on the first floor stood a small army of well-armed, very conscious, Viking Industry guardsmen (two dozen by my count), standing amongst the still unconscious guards and employees my family had subdued earlier.
The moment they spotted us, they aimed their pistols and began shouting orders in thick Scottish accents.
“Get down on the ground now!”
“Drop your weapons!”
“Show me your hands!”
The guards shouted the orders over and over again. Their commands becoming a collection of nearly incomprehensible babble.
I tossed my sword bundle on the ground in front of me before slowly dropping to my knees. However, I kept my hands to my sides.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and reached deep inside myself before summoning the final reserves of mea-vis. My power filled me inside and out, wrapping my body in a soothing cloud of warm, flowing energy. Energy that was completely undetectable to any of the guards’ five normal Cӕcus senses.
That time I didn’t concentrate mea-vis to any particular part of my body.Instead I let the energy flow where my body thought it needed it most. Most of my power pooled near my injuries speeding the healing process and numbing the pain. As for the rest of me, it distributed itself evenly with a slightly higher concentration around my head. It made sense considering my head was where my eyes, ears, nose, mouth and brain were. Slightly higher concentration meant slightly higher protection.
I opened my eyes.
The world and everything in it came into crystal clear focus, appearing infinitely more vivid than it had moments before. The stink of sweat coupled with at least seven different brands of cheap cologne filled my nostrils. I heard the guards’ collected breaths and heartbeats along with their orders for me to raise my hands above my head; orders which I still ignored. I felt the weight of my hair as well as the clothes on my skin from both my over and undergarments. I could literally taste the gunpowder in the air.
Thanks to mea-vis, the guards moved slowly, as if the very air around them had the consistency of quicksand; an illusion of perception. The world had not gotten slower; I, both mind and body, had gotten faster.
I reached for my pistol.
Before the guards could as much as blink, I drew and fired. Dispatching one after another, as fast as my arm could move. I managed to hit eight of them, leaving the ones I missed diving for cover.
Rosalia triggered her power, before drawing her own pistols. The guards I missed, she hit. Gunshots and death screams echoed in the hallway and in less than two minutes, all of them lay dead. Out of the two dozen, only four or five had managed to return fire.
Then it happened.
The most defining moments of my life are always determined by the smallest of things beyond my control paired by a poor choice in judgment.
It could be assumed that anyone outside the room would’ve heard the multiple gunshots and kept their distance, but the doors were made of thick metal and the walls were reinforced for security purposes reducing sound to a bare minimum. Dire facts I didn’t learn until much later. Plus all the noise and fanfare from the presentation outside didn’t help much either.
With mea-vis still flowing in and around me, I reacted off instinct more than anything. The moment I saw the door open, I turned. I aimed. I pulled the trigger; twice.
To my everlasting shame, I didn’t miss. Both bullets found their targets; two little girls coming in from the festivities. Whether they were just playing or looking for the lavatory I’ll never know. In the end the ‘why’ didn’t matter. I had taken many lives both before and on that day, but that one mistake still stands as my greatest sin. A sin that would haunt and define the rest of my life.
My name is Wendy Magdalena Braca. I was born into a world of wealth and privilege, only to end up in a world of violence and secrets.
CHAPTER 2: A LONG TIME AGO…
Before I met Robert and long before I was trained as an assassin, I was a child, born and raised in Jupiter City on the David Gerrold Inland Realm of the American Territories.
My neighborhood was beautiful, ugly and isolated. The Amethyst District, named for the amethyst trees whose pale purple flowers blooming all year round, populated not just the region but many parts of the realm itself. Amethysts, as they were more commonly known, lined every avenue in the district, covering much of the streets and sidewalks in a sweet smelling aroma as well as countless small piles of recently departed flower pedals.
Standing just a few yards away, isolated and segregated from the rest of the district were the picturesque, and equally overpriced, multi-bedroom estates that made up the district. Every house that stood within the region had either a wall or a wrought-iron fence standing at least ten feet high, if not higher. Beyond those lofty barriers were at least twenty additional feet of open space comprising of either a courtyard or a simple walkway and occasionally a garden. None of the residents spent much time there of course. If anything, their hosts of servants spent more time on the property than the inhabitants themselves. And the moments they were there, they spent much of that time hiding. They weren’t just hiding behind their high walls and silent servants but behind their big mansions, fancy cars, fancier airships, shiny gadgets and above all, their money.
I slowly walked through the neighborhood, somewhat dragging my feet, as I made my way back to my house. The sidewalk was still a few shades darker thanks to the rain. I did my best not to step on any of the amethyst pedals, believing, as children my age tend to believe, that stepping on one of them was bad luck. Had I known what awaited me I probably would’ve taken greater care to avoid them.
The rain had stopped moments ago and the sweet scent of the amethyst flowers filled my nostrils with every breath. The neighborhood was quiet, as it always was. Only I was walking the street. Everyone else drove. And those who did were either heading home to hide or leaving the district to escape. The neighbors were as neighborly as society required them to be, however, socializing was avoided to such a degree it was practically a sin.
By the time I reached my house I already knew something was wrong. The first sign being, the gate was still open. Unless someone was arriving or leaving, the gate was never open. Not just in my house but for every house in the neighborhood. An open gate with no one there to use it was akin to a woman opening her legs anywhere else outside a lavatory or the bedchamber. It simply wasn’t done.
I looked down both sides of my streets looking for anything that may be out of place. I saw nothing except more houses, more mounds of amethyst pedals and an absence of cars and pedestrians.
I closed the gate and made my way up the stone walkway toward the front door of my house. At first I thought (or hoped) that the gate was where the incongruity ended. It wasn’t. The front door was closed but unlocked. Regardless of who was in the house or not, the front door should have always been locked.
Were we robbed? I thought to myself.
From what I could see, none of the windows were broken and neither the door, nor its locks seemed to be tampered with in anyway.
Perhaps mom forgot to lock it. I gave a nervous chuckle. Chances are she’s naked and passed out on her bed, dead-tired from hours of coitus and drinking her weight in red wine… again. It had happened before. So many times in fact it had become as much of a routine as eating and sleeping. Yet, during each one of those times, the door was always locked. Always.
I swallowed hard, pushed open the door and entered, praying that the uneasiness I felt in the pit of my stomach was in reality in the inner most recesses of my young, twelve-year-old mind.
When I saw what lay at the center of the foyer, I screamed.
It was my mother. And she was dead. Not just dead, murdered.
I ran to her but already knew it was too late. Far, far too late. It was obvious, even to someone as young as me that she was gone. She wasn’t breathing. Her chest, as well as the rest of her, lay perfectly still. Her almond eyes whose hue matched my own, stared blankly at the high ceiling. And the knife used to kill her was still protruding from her gut.
Even in death my mother’s beauty was still a sight to behold. Her cyan silk robe, which could almost be considered sheer, was her only article of clothing. It too was covered in fresh blood staining the foyer’s parquet floor. Tears blurred my vision as well as covered my face. The shock was so severe that it took every ounce of mental strength to force myself to move.
I pulled the knife from her gut and dropped it immediately when more blood began to seep from the exposed wound. The blade clattered on the floor, the noises echoing throughout the entrance hall as well as the rest of the house.
Phone, I thought. Police! Those thoughts were the only way my stressed mind could articulate them.
I wiped away my tears, staining my face with fresh blood in the process and ran to the downstairs phone-closet to call the police.
The mansion’s phone-closet was a tiny room that held two cushioned chairs as well as an E.I.N. accessible video-phone hanging from the wall. When not in use, the video-phone presented itself as nothing more than a large circular mirror with a gilded frame. The camera, which was cleverly concealed as a simple black jewel near the apex, projected everything it captured on the phone’s screen giving the device the illusion of being nothing more than a simple hanging mirror.
The video-phone, detecting my presence, flashed the words: What is your command?
“Call police,” I ordered.
My mirror image vanished. In its place were the words: Calling Jupiter City Police Department…
Two and a half rings later the image changed again. Instead of just words, a gray haired woman dressed in semi formal attire appeared on screen. She was behind a desk, seated right next to other emergency dispatchers who were answering emergency calls of their own. The captions on the bottom of the image read: Judith Hellman – Jupiter City Dispatcher
“Jupiter City Emergency Services,” said the woman automatically. “What is your emergency?”
I composed myself as best I could and told her everything.
“Wendy, listen to me,” said Judith, with genuine concern in her voice. “First I want you to lock the door to the phone-closet. Can you do that for me?”
I gave a short nod before shutting the door and locking it.
“Good. I’ve dispatched local officers to your location. I want you to stay in the closet and not leave for any reason. Do you understand?”
Again I nodded.
“I’m going to stay on the line until the police arrive. You do not open the door or unlock the door until I tell you. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to leave so you can let the officers in.”
I nodded, not knowing how else to respond.
Five minutes later several police cars arrived, sirens blaring. After Judith confirmed that it was indeed them, I left the phone-closet and rushed to the front door. Standing behind it were two uniformed officers with several more entering through the wide open front gate. The officers took one look at the foyer and immediately began waving the others to come and join them.
One of the uniformed officers escorted me back to the phone-closet where Judith was still on the line. After confirming that I was in safe custody with the officers, she hung up and I was made to wait with officer Brooks, while the other policemen patrolled the perimeter to see if the suspect was still in the house.
It took ten minutes for the officers to search the house as well as the surrounding grounds. Even though their searches turned up nothing, many still patrolled, and took notes making certain not to leave anything to chance. Every light was turned on, and every room door was opened. My house, which only moments ago was grave-silent had become as noisy as a carnival. More officers arrived and began collecting evidence as well as marking off the foyer where my mother still lay. It was a crime scene now, and I was no longer allowed in.
And what’s a carnival without animals?
One of the last uniformed officers to arrive came with a long leash attached to what looked like a cross between a skunk and a badger with electric-blue fur and black and green stripes. The creature had no eyes. Instead it had a long, drooping, bright pink nose almost resembling an elephant’s trunk. Almost.
“Is that a yalquill?” I asked the officer, standing guard over me.
“Yup. You’ve never seen one?” replied the officer, looking at me out the corner of his eye.
“Not up close. What’s it doing here?”
“Sniffing for clues of course. Their sense of smell is even better than most bloodhounds. Their nose is so sharp they can pick up a suspect’s trail on another Realm two months after they jumped there. They even helped catch that Donovan fugitive a few years back. And that was in the Outlands! Since then, every law enforcement and military agency in the Inland Realms had to have one. If the bastard who hurt your mom is still around, Casey will catch him. Guaranteed. She’s our best.”
The officer gave me a confident smirk. I smiled right back. His words and confidence gave me some comfort.
After the carnival began, two new officers, a man and a woman in plain clothes, entered. Their brass badges pinned to their coats was all the identification they needed. They were police detectives.
The female detective was very attractive, for a cop. She had short black hair, cropped just above her shoulders, hazel eyes, lightly tanned skin and exotic features which suggested mixed ancestry.
The male detective was far more banal. He had balding blond hair, blue eyes and a protruding gut which spilled over his pants and covered his belt buckle. The handgun he kept holstered, partly visible under his coat, and the camera in his hands, were the only remarkable things about him.
“Casey!” yelled the yalquill-officer.
I looked up just in time to see the electric-blue creature run straight to the female detective and began rubbing itself against her legs like some sort of weird, alien cat. Its tiny mouth made a strange, adorable noise that wasn’t quite purring and to be honest, it wasn’t quite adorable either.
Almost every cop in the foyer stopped what they were doing and watched as the yalquill-officer grabbed the creature’s leash to regain control of her.
“Stop it girl! Stop it! What’s gotten into you?” The officer pulled the creature away, put her on her side and began rubbing her stomach to calm her down. The female detective smiled, knelt down next to the creature and began to affectionately pet her as well. The yalquill continued to make that adorable/not-adorable sound.
“What’s wrong Casey?” said the female detective, rubbing the yalquill’s belly. “You miss me?”
“I’m so sorry Helen,” said the uniformed officer. “She’s usually not like this. I should’ve never lent her to those narcotics guys last week. Must’ve smelled something she didn’t like.”
“Have you taken her around the house yet?” asked the male detective.
“Do that then. Maybe some fresh air will get Helen’s overpriced perfume out of its snout.”
“Yes sir. Come on Casey.”
The officer pulled Casey to her feet and quickly led her out of the room toward the kitchen.
The female detective stood up and surveyed the area where my mother still lay.
“‘Overpriced perfume?’” said the female detective. “It wasn’t overpriced when I bought some for your wife last Christmas.”
“Yeah it was,” replied the male detective. “What the hell were you thinking Helen? Valkyrie’s Secret No 1! Thanks to you, it’s all my wife and daughters wanna wear. They’ve gone through five bottles since last Christmas. Five! And guess who fits the bill for each one!”
“My uncanny powers of detection say you Ryan.”
“I warned you. I’m no good at shopping for other women.”
“No. You’re too good at shopping for other women. Do me a favor. In the future try not to be so generous.”
“I love your family, Ryan. So I’m promising nothing.”
Just when the male detective was about to retort, the female detective fixed him with a smile that was deadly-gorgeous. It was friendly and sensual at the same time. A smile that was easy to misinterpret. Detective Ryan cleared his throat and immediately broke eye contact.
“So what do we know?” he replied, hoping to change the subject.
“If you read the brief you’d know.”
“Very well,” she said with an annoyed sigh. “Here lies Mrs. Maria Mercedes Braca,” she replied, with genuine remorse in her voice. “A widow. Her husband, the late Mr. Felipe Braca, died of pneumonia a few years back. Felipe was born in Barcelona to a wealthy Spanish family. Maria, also born in Barcelona, married into wealth. The family business nearly went bust when Felipe inherited it from his father. After his death, Maria sold her share of the company to Felipe’s more business savvy cousins.”
“Not sure. A few million at least. More than enough for Mrs. Braca to not work or worry about money for the rest of her life. That and support her young daughter.” Helen pulled out a small notepad from her coat pocket. “Wendy Magdalena Braca. 12 years old. Felipe and Maria’s one and only child, born and raised here in Jupiter City. She made the call.”
“First generation,” said the male detective. “Where is she?” Muttering and the sound footsteps answered the detective’s query. “I wasn’t asking myself a rhetorical question,” he replied, his voice filling the room. The uniformed officers once again stopped and turned their attention to him. “Wendy Braca, our victim’s daughter and possibly only witness. Where is she?”
Almost every officer in the room turned to the phone-closet where I still sat. The uniformed officer guarding the door tried to step out of the way but Helen’s eyes were already locked on him. The look on her face was unmistakable. She was obviously very upset.
“What the hell is this?” she asked in a hard voice.
“W-We needed to keep her out of the way ma’am,” stammered the officer.
“Then you take her to the station or at least to another room,” she said through gritted teeth. “You don’t leave her in a goddam broom closet in perfect view of her mother’s recently murdered body still lying on the fucking floor!”
“M-ma’am. I-I’m sorry.” The uniformed officer was ghost white. His mouth twitched wordlessly not certain what to say or not say.
The male detective gave a disappointed shake of his head.
“Wendy?” said the female cop, addressing me. I looked up and was surprised to see a wide smile on her face. A friendly smile. A smile that told me she was genuinely happy to see me.
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied, not knowing how to address her.
“I’m Detective Helen Louis, Jupiter City Police,” she said, pointing to herself. “But you may call me Helen. This is my partner, Detective Ryan Phillips.”
“Ryan’s just fine,” said the detective.
“Now I need you to do me a favor Wendy. I need you to go with officer Brooks to the rear grounds. He’s going to wait with you until Detective Ryan, myself, or another officer comes to get you. Ok?”
I replied with a short nod.
“Good. Go. Don’t worry. Someone will be there shortly.”
“Come on Wendy,” said officer Brooks.
I nodded slightly before following the officer to the main hallway that led to the rear grounds as well as a few adjacent rooms.
Our mansion’s interior boasted excess and wastefulness instead of practicality or fervor. Whoever built the house had constructed it in classic Victorian fashion, the most popular style and, for many, the only style throughout Jupiter City and most of the Inland Realms. Thankfully, God blessed my late father with at least some taste. During his years as master of the manor, he had added just enough medieval-gothic elegance in the doors, paintings and windows to keep it remotely interesting.
My mother however, detested my father’s taste, and had threatened on countless occasions to sell or burn his prized possessions and restore the house to its former glory, whatever that may have been. Despite all of her numerous threats, after my father passed, she kept his things around to honor his memory.
If there was a single Victorian piece that I honestly loved above all others, it would have to be the hallway mirror. It stood six feet tall; surrounding it was a beautifully decorated black, wooden frame. My parents loved it for reasons I cannot be sure about. Yet I loved it because it turned anything and everything within its borders into a work of art. My father, my mother and I would spend much of our free time gazing at our reflections and admiring what we saw.
I can say, without shame, that I came into this world a beautiful child. Not that I saw myself as flawless. Flaws I have aplenty. However, over the years, I’ve had more than enough boys compliment me on my looks for me to accept my beauty as simple truth. As for the girls, well… their envious gazes were compliment enough for me.
From my father, I inherited my long, chocolate-colored hair which is often mistaken for black. My almond eyes and alabaster-olive skin color were gifts from my mother. In fact, all of the women from my mother’s side had that unique skin tone.
As for the rest of me, at age twelve, I was still quite lanky and awkward. Adolescence had not yet found my flat breasts and non-existent hips. The only clues to the beauty I would one day possess when I reached full adulthood were my face, and my mother’s own voluptuous figure.
That night, as I stood, gazing at my reflection, I couldn’t help notice my mother’s blood stains on my hands and on my dress. I rubbed my fingers and felt the dried crimson peeling from my skin.
“Wendy,” said officer Brooks. “Is everything alright?”
I snapped out of my trance.
I’m fine,” I said, still staring in the mirror.
With a grimace, I turned from my reflection and followed the officer out the backdoor.
After reaching the rear patio, I took a seat on the swinging, black and metal Victorian bench. As for officer Brooks, he stood in the doorway and casually leaned against the wooden frame. I glanced over, just as he gave a sigh of relief. Detective Helen must’ve really frightened him. I didn’t blame him. As beautiful as she was, she was quite intimidating.
I turned away from the officer and began to rock back and forth, with my feet swaying just a few inches above the wooden floor, a stray tear occasionally rolling down my cheek. The creak-creak of the bench swinging beneath my weight contrasted greatly with the earlier sounds of my footsteps.
The realm sun had set and night had fallen since the police arrived and the carnival started.
I looked at the moons. All three of them hung full and high in the night sky. In the distance, downtown Jupiter City was all lit up; the twinkling, artificial lights of the city rivaling the thousands of stars floating far above it. Airships, large and small, fat and skinny, buzzed over the metropolis like great ugly bees. The night looked beautiful and clear. Strangely enough, it looked very similar to the night my father died.
As I sat, swinging on my metal bench, trying not to think about my mother’s frozen, dead body on the floor inside; I reflected on the day of my father’s funeral. That day the sky was cloudy and gray, as if the entire world had turned into a well-aged sepia photograph.
I cried on the night he died. I cried at his funeral. And I cried for weeks after that. My mother tried her best to comfort me, but I refused her consolation. I often yelled at her and slammed doors in her face.
My mother mourned in her own way. Not even a month after my father’s funeral, parades of men and occasionally women began to visit our house. At first, she kept things discreet by sending me away to spend time with my nanny, Mildred.
All attempts at discretion stopped the day I came home from my lessons early. I walked in on her and Victor, our fifteen-year-old gardener, in the main hall. Victor lay on his back with my mother straddled on top of him.
My mother flashed me an annoyed look as if I had just walked in on her in the bath. The whites of her eyes were red with liquor and five or six empty bottles decorated the hall floor, along with puddles of red wine.
I stood there, frozen in disbelief and rage, for God knows how long, before my mother yelled at me to get out. She threw everything within reach to keep me moving. I ran up the stairs, all the way to my room and locked the door, hoping to forget everything I had just seen. I didn’t forget. The memory refused to fade.
My mother fired Victor a month later, and Mildred two months after that, telling her that I had grown too independent for a nanny. From thereon, she proceeded to hire and fire gardener after gardener, none of whom did any actual gardening. And, when manual laborers no longer tickled her fancy, she brought home lawyers, business men, merchants, doctors, politicians, police officers and more than a few members of the city’s wealthy elite. My mother made no attempt to hide these people from me. In fact, she usually took great delight in introducing them. Married, single, widow or widower, status or no status, men, women, young, old it didn’t matter to her.
Whilst I loved my mother, I also hated her. I hated her actions, and worse, I hated what grief had turned her into. Yet, while I sat there that night, swinging on that heavy metal bench, I missed her terribly. I was angry and scared. And above all, I was alone.
It felt as though I was on a beach, looking out towards an endless ocean and trying to see beyond the horizon. Unfortunately, the horizon’s too far and I’m stuck right where I am, unable to escape. I know my future lies beyond the shifting waves and soapy surf, but I am lost and frightened. My luck comes and goes just like the tide and nearly as unpredictable. My options are limited, but I know that somehow, someway I need to see what’s beyond the horizon.
Being born into wealth and privilege my future had been all but certain. But without my parents and with no one to look after me, all I could see was that endless ocean and nothing to rescue me from that merciless beach.
I held up my hands and looked at them again in the tri-moonlight. Dried blood covered them; her blood. More tears ran down my face. I did my best to wipe them away but the more I tried, the more tears followed to replace them.
I bit my lip and kept swinging, thinking, sobbing and waiting for something to happen, or someone to come along and release me from my grief, or at the very least, distract me from it.
Soon I heard the rear door to the house swing open behind me, followed by heavy footsteps.
CHAPTER 3: ROBERT KING
I stopped swinging and furiously wiped the tears from my face before turning toward to my visitor. I expected to see Helen standing there but to my surprise, my latest guest was a tall, attractive gentleman. If my mother had met him, she would’ve no doubt turned him into one of her regulars, or at least tried to.
His age, I guessed, lay somewhere around his mid to late thirties. He had short, reddish-brown hair and his face was hard yet warm at the same time. His well-defined jaw and chin were not obscured by any facial hair. His ocean blue eyes appeared kind and all-knowing, as if the very secrets of the universe lay hidden within them. He stood erect with wide shoulders and a sturdy frame; his persona boasted an inner confidence as well as obvious authority. To my surprise, his attire didn’t appear nearly as fascinating as the man wearing it. A simple, black work suit and tie. Even without the brass badge hanging from his dark trench coat or the pistol at his waist, I still would have recognized him as a cop. His suit and hair cut were just as much a uniform as his badge and gun.
“Hello, Wendy,” he said to me. “I’m Detective Robert King, Jupiter City Police.” He offered his hand and I took it, accepting his greeting. “May I sit down?”
I nodded vigorously and slid over to make room for him. Robert took a seat. The swing groaned under his added weight.
“Your badge is different from the others,” I said, looking into his eyes.
“How observant of you,” he replied. “It’s different because I’m a Captain.” Robert unclipped his badge and handed it to me. The silvery moonlight shimmering from the three moons overhead allowed me to read his full name.
Captain Robert Octavius Antonius Simon King
JUPITER CITY POLICE DETECTIVE
“You have a very long name.”
He chuckled at my simple observation.
“Almost everyone says the same thing. Though, I must admit; you are by far the youngest to say it.”
“I like it,” I said, handing him back his badge.
“Why thank you, Wendy. You are one of the rare few. You see my parents had a great sense of humor. They figured with that many names I would grow up to be someone famous or important like Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart.”
“But you’re a police captain,” I replied. “That seems like a really great job.”
Robert shrugged his shoulders and leaned back causing the bench to creak some more. “My job makes me happy and that suits me just fine.”
“Why did you choose to work as a police officer?”
“Honestly, I have no idea. If I had to choose one answer, I guess you can say that I wanted to help people. A cliché answer I know but still, it’s the truth.”
Robert and I sat there for a while, swinging gently on the patio bench. He told me some jokes as well as a few funny stories about his job and his family. As it turned out, he had a sister, a wife and a baby daughter. I laughed and smiled at all the appropriate moments and asked all the appropriate questions. Regardless of our conversation, I couldn’t forget why he had come to my house to begin with. But at least I had stopped crying.
“So, Wendy,” said Robert finally, giving me a sidelong glance. “I know this may seem a bit hard for you right now, but can you tell me what happened today?” He could not quite meet my eyes as he spoke.
I looked down at my feet and gave a short sigh, trying my best not to look at the bloodstains on my dress.
“Take your time,” he continued in a soft voice. “Just tell me what you know.”
I gave another sigh. Everything felt so surreal, like living in a waking dream. Although the tragedy had happened only a few hours prior, it felt like it had happened years ago, lifetimes ago. From the corner of my eye, I saw Robert take out a notepad from his jacket pocket and waited patiently for me to start. So I did.
“I love the rain,” I began, gazing out towards downtown. “I really love reading while it’s raining. This morning I wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed next to my stuffed animals and read the biggest, thickest book I could find.” I looked down at my feet and wiggled my toes. I swallowed hard, trying to find the strength to continue.
“Take your time, Wendy,” he told me.
After a short pause, I went on. “Unfortunately, my mother loved the rain as well. It gave her an excuse to stay indoors and entertain ‘guests’.”
“You mean like friends or family?”
“No,” I responded, flatly. “Not friends and definitely not family. She had special guests. You know, the social kind. The kind that helped my mom ‘grieve’ after my father died.”
Robert nodded, showing no expression in his face.
“Alright, so who was today’s guest? Do you remember his name?”
“Dr. Peter Sullivan; my French tutor.”
That time his face did show a reaction. The captain sympathetically shook his head and leaned further back on the bench. Then, he asked, “Did you see him come into the house?”
“So how do you know who came over today? You have a very big house.”
“Not big enough,” I said through gritted teeth. I sat up straighter and folded my arms. “I recognized Dr. Sullivan’s voice.”
“It could have—”
“I heard him. I heard them… yelling things. Dirty things. Nasty things! I heard the bed squeak as if the damn legs would collapse at any moment.”
A long silence fell between us. My anger had burned off most of my sorrow. “I read one line of my book over and over again until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I threw my book against the wall, put on my clothes, grabbed my umbrella and left.”
The police captain looked at me intently as he waited for me to continue my story. The bench creaked as I leaned back and turned my attention to the other houses in the neighborhood. We passed an uncomfortable series of minutes that way. He looked as if he wanted to say something, but did not. I guess he didn’t want to push me.
I continued my story. “I tried so hard to forget what I had heard but, it just kept coming back over and over again. So, the more I remembered it, the more I walked. I wanted to get as far away from the house as possible.”
“Did you go anywhere particular?” he asked, folding his hands on his lap. “Did you go to a friend’s house or to school or the local library? Any place where someone can vouch for your whereabouts?”
“No. Not really. I didn’t really have a destination. I just wanted to get away for a few hours.” I replied, honestly. “First, I walked to the park. I did not stay long because of the rain. So, then I went to the library but got there too late; it had already closed. For some reason, I just kept walking.”
“You didn’t head anywhere else? You just kept walking?”
I gave a quick nod. My sorrow rushed back. I swallowed hard, trying to keep my grief inside. A fight I knew I would eventually lose.
“I walked for a few more hours,” I said, tucking a stray hair behind my right ear. “I don’t know exactly how long I walked, but I know at least two hours went by, as I saw a clock in one of the shop windows I passed. When I reached downtown, I knew I’d traveled too far. So I turned around and walked home. By the time I returned, the rain had stopped. I didn’t hear anything unusual when I came up the front walkway; but I did notice the door was unlocked.”
“Did that seem unusual?” he asked.
“We always make sure the front door is locked. Always. I would have stayed out much longer if I hadn’t felt so hungry and cold,” I explained, building myself up for the next part of my story. I took a deep breath and continued, “When I entered the house, she was lying on the floor. Her blood was just… everywhere. There were so many cuts… all over her body.”
Tidal waves of many different emotions flooded over me; sorrow, anger, fear and confusion to name but a few. Images of my mother’s frozen body flashed in my mind’s eye and couldn’t shut them out. I simply couldn’t hold it in any longer. I placed my head in my hands and the tears just started coming again, only much harder than before.
“Even the knife was still inside her!” I sobbed.
“Yes, I saw the knife too,” said Robert, folding his arms. “Did you remove it?” I gave a whimpering nod. Robert made a quick memo in his notepad.
“Your name is inscribed on the blade.”
“The family name is inscribed on the blade!” I exclaimed. “Not mine! The family’s! My mother came up with the idea. She wanted all of our dinnerware to carry the family name.”
“So what did you do next?”
“I ran to the phone-closet and called the police. Then you came.”
“Thank you, Wendy,” he said, giving me a sidelong glance. “Thank you very much for sharing your story with me. I appreciate it.”
The sound of quick footsteps, followed by the creak of the rear door opening, grabbed our attention. We both turned to face Detective Phillips as he strode onto the patio.
“Yes, Ryan?” replied Robert.
“Everyone has arrived sir.”
“Terrific. Come Wendy. Let’s go.”