Noire and Linger are hired to locate a mysterious drifter but this target has a secret.
|“Who was the guy you killed in Russia? Remember?” Linger talked around a mouthful of chips.
Noire, seated beside him in the lemur’s ’69 Mustang, didn’t respond. He’s steely eyes stared forward into the dark, nearly vacant parking lot they occupied. The ground was still wet from the recent rain. One lone streetlight burned at the far side, casting shadows into the blackness around them.
“The really thin guy. He had that weird voice… Igor? Was it Igor? Or was Igor the short, creepy dude?”
The two had been sitting in the car for nearly an hour, waiting for one of Linger’s contacts to arrive. He was late. Noire abhorred tardiness.
“Nooo, Igor was the creepy dude, remember? The skinny guy was…” Linger paused, chomped a second mouthful of chips, “Damn it, what was his name. This is going to bug me now. Ivan? Have you killed an Ivan? It’s I-something…”
A car turned into the parking lot, Noire coiled slightly a moment before it did; anticipating. The car pulled forward and parked near the streetlight. After a brief moment, a woman emerged, several children in tow. The assassin relaxed a small measure. No one would be able to tell but he was on edge. People are never late for positive reasons. If someone is late it means something went wrong. Noire’s solution to things ‘going wrong’ was pretty straight forward and lethal.
Linger had a cornucopia of contacts in the black market but most of them ended up being a problem in some form or fashion. Linger usually knew the sketchiest.
“Evan. I think it was Evan. Does that sound right? He had that big Saint Bernard doggo and the parrot. Was it parrot? Yeah, I think it was.
Noire needed a hacker to breach the firewall in the Pakistani war department. It was a personal matter regarding a lack of payment on the government’s part. Linger had sworn that he knew the best in the business. Now here they were, waiting.
Silence for a few minutes broken only by Linger’s snacking.
“Where is your hacker?” The assassin asked, strained.
“He’ll be here, dude. We just gotta wait. He does his own thing. You’ll like him.” He wiped his hands off on his jeans, eyed his friend, “Actually you probably won’t.”
“He needs to hurry up.” Noire’s monotone had a bit of an edge to it.
“Eric… I think Eric was his name!”
“His name was Joseph.” Noire growled, “Joseph Petrov.”
“Ooooh, yeah. Huh, you’re right.”
Linger crumbled up his chip bag and tossed it into the backseat.
“Well, what about him?”
“Huh? Oh, nothing. Just couldn’t think of his name.”
Noire turned and stared at the lemur; his cold, grey eyes boring a hole through him; Linger flinched. Not many could meet that reptilian gaze.
“If he doesn’t get here soon...”
“Omg dude. Just chill out, ok? We’re just waiting, is all. Not everyone operates on ‘Noire Time’.” He mimed the air quotes.
A second car pulled into the parking lot, creeping along. Noire’s eyes snapped to it in an instant. The car circled once, then twice before parking about thirty feet away from them; closer to the brick wall of the nearby building. Linger cocked his head to one side, then squinted but couldn’t see much. The headlights were pointed straight at them.
“Is that him?”
Linger shrugged, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen this guy in like four years.”
“You’re kidding me…”
“Dude, it’s fine. He’s legit, the best you are going to be able to find… probably.”
Noire growled. He projected his psychic sense outward, towards the car. He could sense five minds inside, delved into their thoughts. He coiled himself instinctively.
“We have trouble. Get out.” The assassin flung his door open and vanished into the blackness of the night with all the noise of a heavy fog. Linger didn’t even have a chance to respond. He would have been talking to the wind.
“Dude. Dafuq?” The lemur yelled as he emerged from his car, looking for his friend. No sign of the killer anywhere. Linger held his hands up in a gesture of aggravation. “Dude. What are you doing…?”
The two back doors of the arrived car opened. Two men slinked out, armed with shotguns. They took two steps towards the sorcerer and stopped, their weapons pointed down. A few seconds later the passenger door opened. A tall, well dressed anthro stepped out. He was a feline; a lynx. Stark white fur with eyes almost as blue as Linger’s own.
“Linger. How have you been?” The cat oozed charisma and charm. He glanced around, “And Noire?”
“D-Dagger!” Linger was shocked. “H-hey, buddy! Uh… what are you doing here?”
The lynx smirked. He was the co-owner of the biggest ‘transportation’ business west of the Mississippi. His twin brother, Cloak, was the other. The two were more than just legitimate businessmen; they ran huge swaths of the black market all over the mid-west and west-coast. They were nearly always together; seeing one without the other was rare.
“Linger, Linger, Linger.” Dagger kept his distance though his manner was friendly. “Of all people, you should know better than to try to hire one of our employees for yourself. We frown on freelancing. You understand, right?”
“Oh totally, dude! But uh… what?”
Dagger snapped his fingers. One of the shotguns reached into the backseat. The sound of minor scuffling and a low yelp. He dragged out a scrawny, frightened man. He was short with almost comically thick glasses. The cliché nerd.
“Ooooh.” Linger’s eyes got big when he saw him. “Flix, dude. When did you start working for the big dogs? I mean... you know what I mean.”
“Really, Linger?” Dagger laughed, “He’s been working for us since you ran out on him four years ago and left him to our mercy. Remember?”
“Ooooh. Well see, it was a good deal, dude! Glad to see you making it and stuff!” Linger gave him a thumbs up. Flix smiled back uncomfortably.
Dagger walked closer to Linger, casually; friendly. “Linger, I’ve always liked you. We’re friends, right?”
They weren’t. Cloak nor Dagger had any friends. They were ruthless and cunning. Alpha predators.
“So if you need something of ours.” He indicated Flix, “You come and ask us, right? Like a friend?”
“I had, like, no clue he worked for you. Legit, dude.”
“It’s no problem at all. Anything for a friend. The price, of course, will have to change. Unfortunately.”
“Uh, you mean like a best friend discount?” Linger smirked.
“Of sorts. Let’s say you can keep your money and do us a favor.” He paused and glanced around, eyes slightly narrowed. “Although I’d rather speak to your friend about that. If he’s so inclined to join the conversation.” He said it loud enough to be heard through most of the parking lot.
The relaxed, calm demeanor; the guards standing at ease, it was all for the sake of caution. The Twins were not the type to be this generous and diplomatic. Noire was a lethal, ruthless killer. A phantom known throughout the underworld. You could fill a lake with the amount of blood on his hands. Dagger knew him from using his services in the past; if you got aggressive with him, you’d end up dead long before you thought it likely.
No more then twenty seconds later, a black, shadowy figure stirred forward from a shadowy enclave of the brick building that owned the parking lot. The assassin emerged not ten feet from one of the shotguns, both of his silver-plated .45’s were trained on Dagger. This was why he hated relying on Linger’s contacts. He moved forward three steps and stopped before the thug even realized he was there. He startled; stumbled back. Flix squeaked in fear; Dagger spun, his eyes went a bit wide as his fear leaked through his posh mask of arrogance for a moment.
“Wow, be chill, dude. The guns and stuff freak people out.” Linger chided
“Noire.” The lynx raised his hands slightly. “Good to see you again.”
The assassin didn’t respond, his face half hidden behind his long, black and amber bangs. The tension wasn’t as high as one might imagine. Dagger knew that if Noire wanted to kill him, he would have done it the moment the feline had stepped out of the car. And probably the three who were with him as well.
Finally, “What do you want?” Noire asked, his voice as monotone as ever.
There was only one kind of favor you asked of Noire.
“A shapeshifter in Germany. I need him alive.”
“I don’t do alive.”
“That’s why it’s a favor.”
Dagger turned to Linger with a questioning look.
“Uh, when he says no, dude. He means it. No use trying to argue with him.”
“Is that so?” Dagger considered for a moment. “Perhaps, a favor for a favor?” The cat arched an eyebrow as he looked at the assassin. Something stirred behind Noire’s dead eyes. A favor from one of the most powerful crime lords in the world was not something to be shrugged away without some serious thought; even for someone like Noire. Both Cloak and Dagger had resources that were beyond anything The Ice Prince had access to. Their reputation for standing by their agreements and wagers made the offer even more enticing.
Noire didn’t need money. He had more of that than he could possibly spend in his lifetime; with his spartan tastes. The Rubicon Manor where he lived was a gross indulgence of obscene wealth, but it had been built by his ancestors. He hadn’t spent a dime on it or its gaudy contents. If not for Robert, his trusted handyman, he would have let the place collapse from neglect in all but the habitated parts. He got no joy out of material possessions. His fee for murders was so high simply to weed out the poor of society. At his core, he was still an elitist.
The Twins controlled judges, police and politicians all over the globe. They had access to cutting edge equipment and weaponry. They had contacts and their own cabal of sorcerers – though none of the same discipline as the lemur. In fact, Linger’s powers seemed to be a mystery to all other magic users that Noire had seen him interact with. A favor could get him any of the above, should he need it. There were just some things that money couldn’t buy. That kind of favor was one of them.
“Well, still not keen on kidnapping?” The feline nearly purred. He was a businessman; he knew when he had landed a sale.
Noire didn’t respond right away. He stood there like a statue until everyone started to wonder just how long the assassin could keep his guns up and aimed. The muscles in his arms had to be screaming or near it by now.
Finally, “Is alive the only stipulation?” It sounded like a menacing question.
“Alive and not permanently damaged. That is all I ask.”
“And I still require the use of your hacker.”
“Of course; he’s part of the deal.”
A few more seconds. Noire lowered his weapons, tucking them back into the holsters at the small of his back, “Agreed.”
Berlin. The powerhouse city of the powerhouse of Europe. A history of conflict, enlightenment, bloodshed and science. Linger and Noire had been there for four days before the lemur managed to get a lead on their target. Even with his thaumaturgic skills, finding the shapeshifter was difficult. Though Noire suspected it took so long because the lemur was dividing his time up between work and play. There was a lot of fun to get into in a city like Berlin. His suspicions weren’t completely wrong. Linger assured him that his spells should have been more effective and cautioned that the target may have some form of mystical protection. That would certainly explain why Dagger had been so hellbent on recruiting the two of them for this job.
Turned out, locating the shifter was the easy part; well locating his trail was, keeping up with him was another story. He moved around the country quickly and often with seemingly no rhyme or reason and Linger could only track him by picking up his trail in Berlin and following it step for step like a hound dog. Munich, Hamburg, Nuremberg and a dozen other cities and he had a big head start on them. He seemed to possess the uncanny knowledge of when to hit the road lest some unwelcomed adventure catch up and have him. Another week saw the two-turned-bounty-hunters still being evaded by their prey. The assassin’s mood grew blacker by the day while Linger seemed to be having a great time. A brush with the law at the end of the first week had Noire nearly to the point of strangling the sorcerer in his sleep.
They began to gain ground, missing him in Dresden by only a matter of hours. Then the shapeshifter started heading due east. Moving faster.
Noire had a hunch that he had figured out he was being hunted. He rode with Linger as the lemur raced down the autobahn in his Mustang until the sun set. Then he took wing soaring above the region, combing the area mile after mile from a bird’s eye view; extending his psychic abilities to their limits with the skill of a surgeon under the cover of night. Linger sent cantrips and hexes out to try to hamstring or slow their quarry down but it was difficult without knowing where he was. In truth, they didn’t even know who he – or she possibly – was. Dagger had given them all the information he had on the shifter and it turned out not to be much. They called him a ‘he’ because he seemed to usually be male in whatever form took. The problem was that he could change into just about anything he could think of and, according to eye-witness accounts, do it in the near blink of an eye. There was no mundane way to track such a person.
Their supernatural skills were proving little better. Only Linger had any kind of lock on him and that trail was getting harder and harder to follow; proving his theory that the shapeshifter possessed some type of arcane protection. The two crossed the border into Poland; Noire nearly forty-five minutes before Linger. And Linger lost the trail. It was just gone. Linger launched a magical jab, an unseen arc that pulsed outward for miles, befuddling any enchanted item for a few seconds. The tracking spell was still active, there just wasn’t anything there. Then, sudden as death, there was. His pony came to a screeching halt, swerving to the side of the road. His door opened and he staggered out of the car, holding his head with one hand. He winced, gritting his teeth. A growl rumbled in his throat. His mind was reeling, spinning and shaking. It was as if a storm of madness and fear was beating down on him with black lightning and poisoned rain. Something was attacking him. He fought it. His fingers contorting into rigid gestures as he reinforced his normal protections and unleashed his impressive magical arsenal. Energy flared around him so strongly that tiny sparks split the air like miniature fireworks. The punishing force relented rather than face that.
The same instant, Noire felt something menacing moving towards him at the edge of his telepathy. It manifested quickly; a swell of darkness and dread that grew into a hurricane in a matter of seconds. He braced, snapped his wings closed and did a dive straight at the ground. He had to get out of the air before it hit him. A mere ten feet from impact those huge, leathery sails snapped open. He strained, teeth clinched as he pulled out of his dive with only his tail scrapping the dirt. He kicked forward and rolled, landing on his feet. The incoming darkness touched the channels of his mind, found them closed for business. Whatever this was, it was not psionic. He could sense the thing, but it didn’t seem capable of harming him. It wasn’t physical either. The night was calm.
He instantly went on the offensive. He lashed out with his powers, He coiled his thoughts around the unseen force and melded with it. Half a heartbeat later Noire was tracing the attack back to its source. He trembled with the effort, his breath sounding more like a pant.
Without any warning, it was over. The anomaly dissipated away into nothing.
“No!” The assassin raged. He hadn’t been able to find the source before it disappeared. He extended his telepathy as far as he could, but his energy was nearly drained. Still he strained. He was going to end this one way or another. Tonight.
He slinked along through a wooded lot then into and across a large field. He found a road, focused. Nothing. Not even a guess as to which way to go. He leapt into the air, taking flight once more and following the road back to where he thought Linger might be. He found the lemur, unexpectedly, on the side of the road. He seemed a bit disoriented. From the smell of the car inside, clearly the lemur had recently medicated himself. He was shaken. He didn’t speak at all as he drove once they got on the road. It was only a few minutes after they set off again that Noire realized they were driving back towards Germany.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m out, dude.”
Noire stared at his friend.
“I mean it, dude. I’m out with this. Whatever that thing is, I’m not fucking with it.”
“You’re fine. You fought it off. Don’t be a coward.”
“Bro, you don’t know, ok? No, I’m done. If you don’t want to go back to Deutschland, get out.”
“We have a job to do.”
“Noooo, you have a job to do. And you’d be stupid af if you follow through with it. That ain’t no ordinary shapeshifter.”
Something was wrong here. Linger really was scared; right down to his bones. Noire had never seen him afraid before. The assassin agreed that whoever they were chasing wasn’t just a run of the mill drifter. He could understand being startled but running away…?
“Explain.” He’d get the truth out of the lemur.
“I’m telling you, dude. I know what I felt… MOVE YOUR ASS!!!” Linger screamed at the person in front of him, not going fast enough for the lemur’s taste. “Whatever that was, it comes from a bad place. A baaaaad place. The kind of… OH MY GOD! Will. You. Just. Fucking. Go!” Linger jerked the wheel to the right hard enough to squall the tires, slammed on the accelerator and shifted, roaring by the person at nearly a hundred and twenty before moving back over into the left lane.
“Fuckwit!” Then to Noire, “The kind of place where you don’t want to be poking and messing.”
“Dude, you want me to spell it out for you? D-A-N-G-E…”
“I mean explain what you mean by a ‘bad place’.”
“Dude…” Linger ran his fingers through his spiky hair and shook his head, “This world is a lot older then most people realize. History only tells what got written down, ya know? Great powers existed back then; they still exist today. Ancient shit is what I am talking about. Like way, way, way old.”
“Spare me the vagueness. Why are you so scared of this thing?”
“Look, Noire. Magic is a wild thing and it comes in all different shapes and flavors and sources. That attack – whatever it was. It came from The Painted Nether. At least the energy fueling it did”
Noire looked skeptical. That sounded a tad bit too close to religion to be real.
“Painted as in… Van Gough?” Noire asked in a rare display of humor.
“It is home to an artist of sorts but not one that you’d want to meet.”
They passed back into Germany, with the lemur still being vague. Noire knew he was hiding something he just didn’t know what or why he was hiding it. He began to suspect though. If it was anyone else, he simply would have just read his friend’s mind but Linger’s shielding protected him from such abilities. For the most part. Who knows how bad the attack would have been had the lemur’s defenses been down.
Noire was silent for a few miles. He was trying to make sense of the near gibberish his friend was talking. He wasn’t going to be able to do this without Linger. He needed to convince him to finish this so the job could be over with. Noire never canceled a contract. Ever. However, the assassin was not very good at being diplomatic. He preferred to convince people with assault and battery.
“We still have to go back. We got blindsided; now we know to be more cautious.”
Linger grunted, “I don’t know exactly what we are chasing here but if it is what I think it is, then the only thing worse then getting killed by it is turning it over to those two fuckwits.”
Fuckwit was one of Linger’s favorite words.
“A living statue? Is that what you are telling me?” Noire sat across from his friend in an upscale restaurant specializing in discretion
“Dude, no. It’s not living. I mean it is but not like you and I. And its not really a statue. It’s a golem. Of some kind.”
“Of some kind?”
“Yeeeaah, technically it shouldn’t have any powers. This is some next level stuff here.”
“And yet this one does.”
Linger nodded, “Which it shouldn’t. Hey!” He caught the waiters attention, “Can we get some more of those cheese roll thingies with the weird green stuff on top?”
The human nearly snarled at the lemur’s so casual manner and language, “Of course, sir.” The last word was forced. This was an upscale place, frequented by Germany’s elite class.
“My man.” Then back to Noire, “Cloak and Dagger are gonna get killed trying to control it. We’ll probably get killed trying to catch it. Lots of killed to go around with this shit, dude, I’m telling you.”
“Suppose we kill it first.”
“Can you kill a rock, dude? What’s what big ass statue in Italy? The naked dude that we poised with that one time?”
“Michelangelo’s David.” Noire rolled his eyes. They hadn’t poised with it; Linger had and had done so in the most inappropriate way imaginable. That whole trip was the reason both of them had been banned forever from the city of Florence
“Yeah, that. Can you kill that? Cause that’s what we are dealing with here. Golems powered by sinister magic.”
Noire wasn’t serious about killing his target anyway; he had agreed to bring it in alive and that was what he was going to do. He was merely testing Linger, searching for a falsehood or contradiction in the story.
Then something struck him funny, “How do you know all of this?”
“It’s sorcerer stuff, dude. You wouldn’t understand it.”
“Humor me.” The locked eyes with his friend. Linger looked away.
“Just stuff I picked up here and there. How I know isn’t important.”
The waiter arrived with Linger’s order. He began munching on them the moment the plate touched the table. Noire abstained. He rarely ate at all. Several minutes passed with the lemur pausing in his noms only to try to drive home the fact that this whole business was a bad idea and they should just return to The Rubicon. He didn’t entirely fail to convince his friend.
Linger was willing to give it one shot. That was it, if something went wrong, he was gone and Noire could finish it alone if he wanted to. He was damn nervous though. More so than he should have been. Linger always found trouble, most of the time going looking for it, and he always managed to overcome it with confidence and skill. The attack must have really shaken him.
Nightfall. The Ice Prince was in the air, only this time he wasn’t just combing the night, he was focusing his psionic power outward like a pulsing net of awareness. It took his entire focus to stay aloft while being in contact with such a large area. And the net was expanding. He was looking for the slightest hint of the power that had been so useless against him. They were three hours into Poland when something tickled the outer edge of Noire’s power. It was fleeting, miles away.
He banked instantly, bearing towards it as fast as he could fly. It was little more then a lighter strike; a flicker of something.
Linger was parked in front of a grocery store in Wroclaw, keeping himself well-medicated on his seemingly endless stash of marijuana. Metallica blared on Christine’s speakers. He had doubled his personal protections and had a carefully chosen quiver of spells ready in an instant. Linger wasn’t the type to kill someone; despite his potential to do so. He shuddered at the idea just as much as your average person but tonight, tonight he wasn’t taking any chances. Some of those spells were designed only to destroy, utterly and forever.
Something entered his head. He jumped, yelped and shot off a bolt of energy, striking through the windshield and onto the car parked in front of him; tearing a gash along its hood.
A very clear and detailed series of images overrode all his other thoughts. Images of the earth from a thousand feet up. Images of the sky; a path being taken. It was Noire. The images he was sending seemed focused on prominent landmarks and constellations in the sky.
The Mustang’s windshield ‘healed’ itself slowly.
“Shit.” He fired the pony up and squalled back and out of the parking lot. He headed north to try and intercept either their target or his friend. He found Noire first, or rather, Noire found him. Ten miles out, the assassin came flying over the car from half a hundred feet up, took the lead while Linger tracked him from below.
The hunt went on, mile after mile but nothing resembling their quarry presented itself. Linger was skeptical that there was anything out here but Noire knew what he had felt. It was a mere speck on a white wall but it was there. He wasn’t going to give up. This was going to end here.
There it was! Every coil and thread in his net concentrated in a single instant to a single point. It was evasive. He lost it, found it, lost it again. It was moving; ahead of them, maybe three or four miles out.
There was a moderate city, Noire could see it’s lights clearly enough. He looked to the sky, no sign of dawn. They probably had a few hours to strike if they pushed.
He reached out to Linger with his telepathy which sounds a lot gentler than it really was. His thoughts invaded the lemur’s mind, conveying images and ideas. The two of them were polar opposites but they worked well together. Linger gunned it and Noire broke off, banking towards the city. The road looped around which was going to cost the lemur time. He was determined to make up as much of it as he could. Christine’s engine roared to life, fueled but the sorcerer’s very own arcane tune ups. He moved between gears with a steady hand that misspoke his anxiety. There was very little traffic on the road at this time of night. Just a little after 3 a.m. according to the Mustang’s clock.
There was a Catholic church in the city; old one with a large belfry. It was the tallest thing in the area where that last set of flickers had been. Noire was there. He stayed in the shadows, watching. The entire place was layered by his power. The shapeshifter had to be using some kind of mystical source to stay hidden from him. His powers were vicious and absolute on the unshielded. That did worry him a bit. He didn’t believe much of what Linger had told him. He’d heard ghost stories and prayers his whole life in one form or another. Whatever they were chasing was real; corporal. If it was corporal then he could catch it; or kill it. With Linger’s help; if he ever got here.
Where was he?
Three minutes out, Linger flashed through the night, maxing out his speedometer. He knew where his friend was and a little bit about the area he was going into. As he entered the city proper, he slowed way down, not wanting to attract too much attention. He prepared a hex… a thought occurred to him.
He came to a stop at a traffic light. Tapped his thumbs on the wheel.
He was forming a new plan; one that deviated from what Noire wanted him to do. But… if he was right, than it wouldn’t matter. So long as Noire was ready. And Noire was always ready. As Linger would so often tell people at great lengths to emphasize what he has to deal with all the time. The assassin himself wouldn’t be pleased but a win is a win, right? Carpe kahunas.
The moment the light turned green, Linger flicked his blinker on and turned right. He figured his friend would know of the deviation at some point but wasn’t too worried. The lemur knew what he was doing. He hoped. He followed the road, turned left. He moved towards a more central area before finding a dark, quiet alley. He killed the engine, stepped out. He took a few seconds to make sure he was alone, quietly shut the door. He reached into his left jean pocket and pulled out a half smoked joint. He lit it with a conjured flame. He wasn’t going to do this sober.
He took a few hits; had a small coughing fit, recovered.
“Wooo, ok. Here we go.” He said to himself, “You got this.”
His stance stiffened, feet apart, knees slightly bent. He held up his hands. The spell was one he couldn’t recall clearly that was used on magical constructs. He’d picked it up in India from a tigress he had more than one passing acquaintance with. It wasn’t going to work the way it was intended, he’d forgotten half the gestures and some of the words but he knew enough to cast a blanket spell with the fragments that could target golems and their like. If the shifter was a construct…
He hoped his plan would be worth this.
He spun the spell into being and set it loose. It drifted across the city like an unseen fog without even causing a breeze.
The lemur braced himself. His finger’s danced in complex gestures while flecks of violet light arced around them.
Something hit his barrier, it was like having a heavy blanket of pressure pressing down on you. There was the fear again but nothing more then background noise. And that flavor; the Painted Nether. It was like sweetened poison. A madness that was hypnotic; the longer you stared into it, the more you wanted to. It wasn’t anything more then that and gone in a shorter time then it takes to tell.
Once it stopped, Linger hit back with the same spell, this time with a bit more ‘umf’ behind it. He sent it out, an invisible wave of magic that washed through the streets.
Braced himself again. It felt like a thousand pound hammer slammed against his shielding. The impact pushed him back a foot. Terror rose up in his stomach; a mind-numbing dread seemed to fill him. He fought back, trying to wrest control of the magic away from its owner and turn it back on them. It lasted half a minute longer than the milder one. But it was long enough for Linger to figure out that these weren’t attacks. No one was controlling them. It was his own spells – their energy – being tainted and reflected back at him in one large blast. He grinned. It was most likely an enchanted item the shifter carried. That must have been what Noire was picking up; it didn’t attack him because it wasn’t aimed at him. He was overhearing it’s conversation with the sorcerer.
His grin turned into a cocky smirk. To the night, “Hey fuckwit; you just gave away your location. Twice. Not a good idea when…”
Something big and dark passed overhead at a breakneck speed.
The Ice Prince demanded a lot of the world. One of the things he demanded was punctuality. Why could people not just be on time? It was a simple request.
Still no Linger.
He growled low in his throat. A canine issuing a warning. He sent a serpent of thought snaking out to find the lemur. Before he could get a lead, there was a flash in his mind. Like a flare, flooding the area with that strange energy. The assassin was in the sky again, he locked onto it, tracked it. Then it was gone again. But he was certain of it’s location. He altered his course only to pass over Linger once he found him. He was halfway there when a thunderstorm of magic erupted in his mind. It was strong; strong enough for him to meld with. He caught a glimpse of a golden necklace on black cloth. A twin-headed raven made of perhaps onyx hung from it.
Maybe a hundred meters away. He banked once coming in low over the alley where his friend had wondered off to in the middle of the mission. He stabbed him with a thought needle, giving him the location of the target. Then he honed in; everything he had, he brought to bear. His wings were aching; his back muscles were on fire but he pushed through the pain. Agony was a part of life. Pain only meant that you were still alive. If he was still alive then he wouldn’t stop.
There was another flare off to his left. There weren’t many people on the street at such an unholy hour. It was easy to spot the fleeing man a football field length away from the assassin. Noire drifted to the side, arched up and snapped his wings closed, diving squarely at the human. In less time than it takes to tell it, the assassin lashed out with a fist to the jaw just as he made contact with his target. The moment his boots hit the sidewalk, he followed it with a low, swinging kick at his legs, knocking the man onto his back. He turned on his heel, recovered and slammed a boot down on the man’s throat, holding him prone.
He managed it so quickly and quietly that even the man’s yelp of surprise went unnoticed by the sleeping city.
“You are a shapeshifter, correct?” The assassin snarled down at this prey.
The man looked at him, panicked; trying to force his words past Noire’s boot and out of his mouth. What little success he enjoyed was in Polish. Noire didn’t speak the language.
No matter, thought was a universal language and the Ice Prince was fluent in it. He raided his target’s mind with his draining power. Or at least he tried. There was nothing there except a chaotic jumble of incoherent thoughts and memories. If a normal mind was a carefully controlled computer, this was more like a pile of papers and information thrown loosely into a dryer and set on high by comparison. There was nothing to grab onto to use.
“Answer me.” He leaned forward, pressing his paw down harder; strangling his victim with his weight. The man tried to fight back; resistance only brought more weight.
A gleam on the man’s chest, laying on his shirt. An old looking trinket on a chain. It was the same one he had seen when he melded with the energy earlier. Noire growled. Stepped off and in one smooth motion, lifted the man up by his shirt collar and slammed him against the wall of one of the shops that bordered the sidewalk. The razor-like blade of one of his combat dagger’s pricked the soft skin under the human’s chin.
An engine roared; tires squealed. Linger in his pony came skidding around the corner, breaking hard right beside the excitement. The lemur popped out.
“This the guy, dude?” He asked, a bit unimpressed with the night’s catch.
The man was still gargling gibberish and trying, in vain, to overpower his attacker. Noire punched him in the face a second time. Then Linger stepped into his line of view.
The struggles stopped, the man looked as if he was seeing the face of god for the first time. He was visibly shaken by the lanky sorcerer.
“The Anomaly!” The man gave the creepiest smile either of the friends had ever seen. It wasn’t just the smile that was eerie; it was the voice. His voice had changed from a rusty bass to an almost golden, feminine tenor. It was the voice of something gentle and yet it dripped with a craven eagerness to serve. “Father will be pleased. He said you would come find me. And you did!” He directed his gaze at Noire, still smiling, “He did!”
Noire hit him again. This time there was no reaction other than what physics demands. He turned his gaze back on Linger, still grinning.
“Um… ok. I think I’m gonna get back in the car now…” Linger wasn’t into this level of creepy.
“The necklace.” Noire looped the chain around the blade of his dagger and lifted the talisman off. “It’s what protects him. “
Linger didn’t move. He was looking at the man. Really looking at him; as if there was something more uncanny than the behavior in play here. It was if he saw something that wasn’t quite what it seemed. But this guy was a shapeshifter; that would to be expected, right?
“What are you doing!? Bind him so we can get the hell out of here.”
“Something… Shit! Watch out!” Linger shouted.
The man took hold of Noire’s wrists suddenly; still looking at Noire with that sinister grin, “Tell me, Bringer of the Anomaly. What do you fear most?”
Noire tensed up; he felt the sensation of someone almost shifting through his memories. He fought it but it was useless. It was like fighting the shadow of a dragon. It was so foreign and surgical that he had no real idea how to stop it. He drew back his fist.
Suddenly, Noire wasn’t holding some random stranger against the wall. It was someone he knew; someone he knew very well. Zack. The only person he had ever loved. The one person who managed to always find a warm spot in his frozen heart. Dead for nearly six years now. But here he was, perfect down to the very last detail. Those big, brown eyes looked up at him in the same way they had every day for the year they had been together. Eyes that held only love. Eyes that adored him.
“My love.” The voice was just how Noire remembered it. Lofty, smooth.
The reaction was instant, Noire leapt back half a dozen feet. He was wide-eyed; stunned completely; a flash of horror and pain crossed his stony veneer.
His lover perfect in every detail… after death. His skin was pale. His chest still bore the cavity where his heart had been carved out by Noire’s own cousin as revenge for his father’s death. Blood soaked his front all the way down to his knees.
“I’m so cold. Noire, please warm me up. Please.” Zack pleaded, nearly on the verge of tears.
“Ooooh, shit. Dude, That’s not… it’s not a golem either!” Linger was shocked but could see it for what it was. This wasn’t a living person; this was a created being. The way it moved, the sense of tainted life that hung about it; barely there but there none the less. He had seen multiple golems before, but this was an exceptional example of its kind. Far beyond what normal magic would be capable of. It could damn near pass for a real person. But there was no mistaking the fell and twisted enchantments it took to create false life.
Noire’s hands trembled, “S-stop it.” He forced himself to look away. He could not bear it! The only true and good thing is his life, snuffed out because of his wicked deeds. When he did, the shifter struck.
Something like a scrawny, half-wild anthro fossa was on him before he could regain his focus. Damn, that thing could move fast! It brandished no weapon greater than its own, formidable claws.
Something like a sheet of crystalized air smashed against it with the force of a semi-truck, sending it tumbling ass over appetite a dozen feet. The shifter groaned and sprung back up. Linger hit it with another one with the same results.
“Not so badass without your toys, huh bro?” Linger mocked.
He made a throwing gesture with one hand; a faint glow appeared around the cat-like creature. Still, it got up, shed the spell with some difficulty. Linger hurled a third crystal blast. His target sprang up and over the magic. It landed right in front of him; lashing out with both fists. They encountered his shielding but gods, was it strong for such a scrawny looking thing. The impacts knocked Linger off balance but did him no real harm. He staggered back, unleashed the spell he had used so Noire could target the golem. While effective, it was wasted. The assassin was back in the fight. He was on the shapeshifter before anyone knew it. The thing spun around just in time for the ten-inch blade of Noire’s dagger to find its way up under its chin and straight up.
Deal or no deal, he was ending this. This is why he didn’t do alive.
He drove the blade clear up to the hilt in one, powerful thrust; a few centimeters of blade protruded from the top of its skull. The shapeshifter flailed backwards, trying to scream. The blade had wedged its mouth shut. It fell over backwards, kicking and clawing at the weapon.
“Yeeeah, not sure we can actually kill that thing.” Linger said in response to Noire’s confused look. He took the chance to bind their victim the best that he could with his magics. But they were dealing with something beyond what he knew.
“We need to get it in the car and get out of here.” He reached down and grabbed the now motionless shifter with one and hauled him up. He didn’t pretend to be gentle about it. He drug hit to the Mustang, crammed it into the backseat and got in up front.
A few bystanders were looking out from windows or from street corners. As Linger peeled out, sirens could be heard; getting closer.
Christine was the perfect meld of magic and muscle car. Enchantments that forced a person’s attention to drift past the car helped them evade the worst of it. The lemur’s driving skills made up for the rest of it. He didn’t slow down until they were well away from town. The thing in the backseat was rigid but alive; the spells containing him left it with less freedom of movement than most statues had.
“What is that thing? Why did it call you an anomaly?” Noire broke the miles long silence.
“It’s… artificial life, dude. We’re talking, like, magic beyond the… like frikkin big stuff.” The lemur was clearly not a fan of the turn of events.
“Artificial? How so?” The assassin glanced at the backseat, “Because that thing looks pretty real to me. Only it’s mind… it was just chaos when I touched it.”
“Yeah cause it doesn’t have a brain. Also why it’s not all dead and stuff.” He paused long enough to pass a lone motorist, “What the fuck would Cloak and Dagger want with something like this?”
“It is a shapeshifter.”
“Dude, they can’t control it. No one but the person who created it can. And I’m telling you now dude; whoever created that thing isn’t minor league. I’ve never anything like it before. Golems don’t have powers, dude. At least not like this thing has.”
“Why did it call you The Anomaly?”
“Dafuq should I know? That thing is bat-shit crazy.”
Noire could read a lie. That might not have been an outright one but Linger knew something. He said so.
“Dude, I just said I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It has no reason to know me.”
“And yet It does.”
“Noooo, it called me a weird ass name and talked about its daddy. It wasn’t all like ‘Hey, Linger. What’s up!? Yadadadada’. Ok, so chill.”
The sorcerer reached down to his belt and pulled out a joint tucked between it and the denim of his jeans. He wasted no time in lighting it and taking a few tokes.
“Its behavior changed when it saw you. You know something, tell me.”
“We need to destroy it.”
“What?” That was out of left field.
“We can’t do it here and now; it will need someone pretty powerful to disenchant it but we can’t give it over to the Twins.”
“That’s the job.”
“Fuck the job. Dude, I can feel that thing straining the bounds I put on it. Ain’t no golem ever made that is this strong. They are just enchanted objects. They shouldn’t be able to shapeshift or do… whatever it was it did to you. We take this thing to Chicago and a lot of bad shit is going to happen.”
“We are going to complete this.” That was the end of it for Noire. He never failed to fulfill a contract. Ever. He wanted this shit over with already. At this point he wasn’t even angry at the Pakistanis anymore. He’d take his favor and be done.
Linger shook his head. He knew more than he was telling about what was going on. He wasn’t an expert but he knew enough to know that thing in the backseat was something that could get a lot of people killed. The felineish form seemed to be it’s true manifestation. Or maybe Noire’s blade was impeding its ability to shift. It did seem like it had been sculpted; carved to be a perfect blend of beauty and dread; too uncanny to be seduced by but sensual enough to appeal to the senses. It gave you that odd, tight, unnerving feeling between the shoulder blades just to look at it.
What an odd coincidence that the not-golem should be the form of a fossa. Outside the evolved world, a natural predator of lemurs. Perhaps too odd.
They rode for nearly an hour in silence, heading back to Berlin. A private jet would be waiting on them as soon as the assassin made the call.
Linger was simmering, his earbuds in and blaring. Noire simply stared straight forward; ever the unyielding sentinel. But his thoughts were elsewhere. To see him; his actions and his job, it would be fair to assume he hadn’t much of a conscious. And that was true. But he wasn’t a robot. He didn’t lack emotion; he just kept it torturously constrained. He was weighing things out, considering his choices and his next action. He had made a deal; this had little to do with his payment. This was about pride and repute. In the world the assassin lived in – worked in – there was no room for a bad reputation. That was a death sentence.
Cloak and Dagger were ruthless. They would not forgive a slight done to them. He and Linger both would become prisoners in the Rubicon until someone of sufficient kill and power could overcome the manor’s defenses and slay them both. Linger was taking the high road – a rarity – in thinking what their actions or inaction might lead to.
Truth be told, Noire wasn’t concerned about innocent people dying. No one was truly innocent. Every person, human and anthro, had darkness within them that they had let seep out into the world. His lack of empathy made him an excellent killer but it made it impossible for him to examine things from a moral point of view. Was Linger overreacting? Was this thing really the magical equivalent of a nuclear weapon? Or was he just spooked by the thing. The lemur was known for his drama when he got riled up. When news of an attack on a homeless man in Florida by a degenerate on bath salts broke a few years ago, he had been convinced that a zombie apocalypse was well on the way.
Was this another one of those times? Or did he really know what he was talking about? Perhaps the sorcerer’s most irksome trait was his seemingly unaware ability to fog and confound people with his reasoning. You just never knew with him.
“I’ll drop you and that thing at the airport.” Linger said suddenly in a volume a bit too loud for the car. His music was on ear-bleed. “I’m not going to be a part of this.”
“Fine.” His friend responded even though he knew speaking was in vain. He’d call the lemur’s bluff. Linger never walked away from the setup he had. Hell, he lived in a mansion with a seemingly endless supply of food, weed and alcohol. And all he ever had to do to pull his weight was tag along on difficult missions and sling around some magic to help make Noire’s life easier. Not a gig a former drifter like him would kick to the curb. Linger adored luxury.
Silence for another numberless miles. Noire glanced at his friend. The lemur’s shields were closed to him now. Whatever was going on in his mind was a mystery. Noire reached up and yanked the ear buds out.
“Ouch, hey! What the hell!?”
Bewildered, Linger eased over onto the shoulder, slowed and stopped. He stomped the e-break but didn’t kill the engine.
“We need to do this together. You knew what you signed on for when you moved in. If you are truly intent on not seeing this through, you can gather your things at the Rubicon and leave.” Noire stared him dead in the eyes. The stare of a man who had spent his life putting value on life.
Linger tried to meet it, failed. Those silver pools were like staring into the grave itself.
“You serious about that, dude? Cause once I’m gone…”
“Yes. This is serious. This is not a game, Linger. I tolerate your eccentric lifestyle only because…”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Eccentric? Are you fucking with me right now? Dude, I’m normal…ish. I’m regular people, dude. You’re the fucking eccentric.” He changed his voice to a fair mimic of Noire’s bass monotone. “Hi, I’m Noire. In my spare time I like training for hours on end every day and traveling the world to kill people on a regular basis.”
“Are you done?”
“Why can’t you just trust me on this? Seriously, dude. I’m telling you that something is not right here.”
“I won’t trust you on it because you aren’t telling me the whole story.”
Linger glared, his fingers clinched on the steering wheel.
“This is going to happen, Linger. I will deliver it, with you or without you. Are you really going to sacrifice everything and not even make a difference?”
“You are a real asshole. Did you know that?”