Monday, April 18

Manifest Tales #11 "Into the Den"

…a tale of Blood and Agony 
 
i
The crowd jostled and flowed to the noise blaring from the stage at the Dead Zone. Agony thought for sure his ears must be bleeding. Whatever music it was, it was not his style. Still, he stayed. Slo had been able to gather some intel and came up with a name: Tric. Word was he was peddling some new drug to the norms in the area. Scarce word since most wouldn’t talk about it. A big bull’s-eye that had Vendot written all over it. Agony scanned the crowd looking for the dirty tweaker depicted in Slo’s file footage. According to his sources, this was where he hung out most nights, but then who didn’t? It seemed to Agony that all roads led back to the Dead Zone at one point or another. 

He spotted Tric sitting with a group in the concession area, gaze glancing them briefly as he continued to the bar nonchalantly. Recon wasn’t really his thing, but looking natural and blending in was. An impressive task when you considered the size of the man, but he managed. He ordered a beer and took up a stool at the bar that, when turned, put Tric and his entourage directly between Agony and the stage. From this vantage point he could watch the group while seeming to be watching the show, though looking like he was enjoying it was a challenge. 

Sitting with Tric were four other men. Directly to his left was what Agony could only describe as a reject from a bad mob movie. Not the old classics when the mob had style, but the more modern variety of grease ball. Next to him was a different kind of grease ball, one with actual grease. The small man looked like he’d just crawled from underneath a car and had the stains on his cover-all to prove it. His eyes twitched this way and that and Agony got the impression he was not happy to be at the table. His eyes seemed to be caught in a tug of war of looking at the two men on the other side of Tric and trying not to look at them. Agony could see why. 

The two men on the right of Tric oozed pure menace. Not at anyone in particular, but more of a broad generalization of hate to most everyone around them. The smaller of the two looked fresh from a neo-Nazi rally whereas the other looked like he should be outside bench pressing pick-up trucks. It was rare that Agony came across guys bigger than him, but there he was, chair straining to hold him. Of all of them it was the skinhead that seemed to have more than two brain cells to rub together. His eyes pierced through the crowed with a deadly awareness. It was he that first noticed Agony at the bar. He could see from his peripherals that he was watching him and it was an effort not to break cover and meet that icy glare. 

He nudged the mountain of muscle next to him, knocking him out of what appeared to be a sulking session, but the big guy only looked briefly, before shrugging and returning to his own thoughts. Not surprising to Agony it was the goodfella wanna-be who rose to the bait first. Agony couldn’t hear the conversation, but he could imagine how it was going: “He ain’t so big. I could take em.” “Yea sure you could.” “Watch, I’ll put that fucker on his ass.” Perfect, Agony thought. He downed his beer, set it on the bar and headed off toward the bathrooms. Sure enough, the goombah got up to follow. 

As they reached the bathroom area, he tried to make his move, swinging to hit Agony in the back, but, of course, he was ready. With a quick motion he spun and trapped his arm, turning the man and twisting the arm back at a painful angle. Agony said nothing as he struggled, muffled cries of pain escaping his shocked expression. Instead he simply pushed the man toward the emergency exit, opened the door and pushed him out into the alley, closing him out in the cold all by himself. 

With the determination of the best of bar room brawlers Agony made a bee-line for Tric’s table. Ignoring the other men he set his sights on the cold stare of the one he decided was the ring leader. Placing his large hands on the table he leaned in and he said with his own brand of menace, “You wanna try that shit yourself?” 

The muscle-bound sulker stood to confront Agony, but a hand from the other stopped him in mid motion. With a sly smile that attempted to be harmless but failed, he responded, “I’m afraid Greco’s a bit of a hot head. I do apologize. Let me buy you a beer to make up for it.” He signaled to the bar and nodded for Agony to sit. Feigning contemplation for a moment, Agony roughly pulled out an empty chair and sat. “I’m Rand,” he stated, then slapped the tweaker on his back, “this is Tric. And this is Broc.” The behemoth just growled at the mention of his name. “You’ll have to forgive him. He was bitch-slapped by a knight in shining armor earlier. It’s put him in a foul mood.” Agony was acutely aware that Rand had purposefully left the mechanic out of the introductions, and though he was curious he resisted inquiring about him. 

Agony’s beer arrived and the two fell quickly into their performances. It would be hard to tell from an outside perspective who was playing who; Rand with his diatribe on the inferiority of norms or Agony nodding and agreeing at the right moments. In the end it was Agony who got what he came for. After several more drinks and a disappearance from Tric and his un-named companion, Rand reached into his pocket and pulled out a small card. “Listen, we got get out of here, but if you’re looking for some side work, I may have an opportunity for you.” He slid the card to Agony despite the look of disgust on Broc’s face. “Be at this address tomorrow night and we’ll talk more.” Rand gestured to Broc and the two got up and left. 

Once he was alone Agony looked at the card. On one side was an address as Rand promised, and on the other was two ‘V’s, one inverted over the other; the symbol of a Vendot initiate. 

ii 

The address on the card was located somewhere in the middle of a warehouse complex southwest of the Las Vegas Strip. As Agony got closer to his destination, he noticed the streets around him were strangely desolate. Even being at night, there should have been some signs of life, but it was like driving through a ghost town. When he made one of his final turns he was shocked to see a solitary police car blocking his path. The lights on the car came on as he approached and an officer stepped out. Agony slowed his truck to a stop just shy of the cop car and rolled down his window. The officer leaned in, flashlight shinning into Agony’s face, “Invitation?” He could tell that the officer was a norm, but the blank stare he gave let Agony know that he wasn’t exactly acting on his own. He showed the be-spelled officer the card Rand had given him and was promptly waved through. 

As he crossed the point where the cop car was parked a strange sensation went through him. The shadows increased and for a moment it was pitch black. When he emerged from the inky shroud, the world before him had gone to hell. The buildings surrounding him were much as they were on the other side, but the scene played out around them was not. Where before an empty street was now alive with activity. Fires burned in trashcans or demolished cars, all surrounded by leather clad thugs and biker types; all laughing and drinking. Some fighting. Most of the throng were adepts, but intermingled were a few norms, though these appeared to be in some sort of servitude; dressed in rags, eyes downcast, jumping to commands. 

The path in front of him was so blocked with debris and revelry that it was impossible to drive through it, so he parked his truck and continued on foot. Agony could feel the eyes on him as he made his way to the address on the card, still a block or so away, but none tried to impede him. As he got deeper into the den, the horrors increased. He heard screams from darkened alleys and saw brutality played out on the norm slaves in the hollowed out warehouses. Though it was hard to place, he often thought he saw demonic faces forming in the dark corners of the street, but only through his peripherals. If he tried to look directly, they disappeared. 

When he finally reached the address, he found that it wasn’t a building, but an open lot. The area was covered in dead grass punctuated by more of the villains he’d encountered previously. Here and there were more burning trashcans, adding to the hellish motif. The crowd meandered around as if they were waiting for a concert or some other show to begin, and sure enough, on the far end of the lot was a dais. Agony would be hard-pressed to call it a stage. It was closer to a large alter; a raised platform with a stone slab acting as table of some sort in the middle. Torches flickered light across blood and darker fluids stained on the giant stone. 

Rand’s voice caught his attention. “Agony,” he called as he made his way through the crowd smiling like a kid at Christmas. “You made it!” Rand clapped an arm on his shoulder, “And just in time.” He led him through the throng, up to the front of the dais. Rand left him there and ascended to the stage. As soon as he did the crowd quieted, attention turned to Rand. “Vendot, the shadows welcome you!” A dark cheer rose from the adepts surrounding Agony. Rand raised his arms, quieting them once again. “We’ve gathered here tonight for a very special unveiling. Many of you here have heard of what we’ve come to see; the power of Stardust. And many of you were skeptical of that power.” Rand paced like a preacher addressing his flock, his power demanding attention and a small amount of worship. “Even as some of you have witnessed already the willingness to please of our subjects, some still doubt. I invite you now to step forward and doubt no more!” The crowd cheered again, though Agony thought most weren’t really sure why. It dawned on him then that most of the adepts around him were of a low lineage, barely powerful enough to even count as adepts. The cheering grew louder, drawing his attention back to the dais. 

A middle-aged man was led out onto the stage. He looked normal enough and was in fact a norm. He was wearing a standard issue white color uniform; a dark brown suit of the off the rack variety. The man was escorted to one side of the stone table, confusion and fear playing on his face. “This is Mr. Brennon,” Rand explained. “Mr. Brennon here has been using Stardust for, how long now?” 

“2 days,” he responded weakly. 

“2 days!” exclaimed Rand. “And how long since your last fix?” 

“3 hours.” 

“3 hours,” Rand repeated again. “Would you like more, Mr. Brennon?” 

The man’s expression changed, joy taking over, “Yes, yes please!” 

“And what would you be willing to do for that fix, Mr. Brennon?” 

The man hesitated for only a moment, biting his lower lip in thought, “Anything, anything you want.” 

“Anything?” Rand asked in a dark whisper that still managed to carry, sending a shiver down Agony’s spine. 

“Yes sir, anything.” 

Rand smiled that devious smile, “Let’s test that, shall we.” As if on command, Broc appeared on the other side of the dais. In front of him he led a small girl, no older than 12 or 13. Her hands were tied behind her and there was a blindfold over her eyes. “Mr. Brennon,” Rand continued, “who is this girl?” 

Mr. Brennon froze, eye’s wide. “My…my daughter,” he finally managed to get out. 

Rand moved behind the man so he was speaking into his ear, softly, intimately, “And what is your daughter’s name?” 

“Cecilia, her name is Cecilia.” 

“And is she precious to you?” 

“Yes, of course. She’s my angel.” A sarcastic ‘awe’ went through the crowd followed by the cackle of evil. 

From behind Mr. Brennon, Rand raised one hand to silence the group again, “And what would you allow Broc here to do to your daughter for another hit of Stardust, Mr. Brennon?” 

Mr. Brennon’s eyes went wide again, dark thoughts streaming through his mind. Agony could see the struggle, but in the end, the man lost. “Anything,” the man whispered. 

Rand smiled widely. “Anything!” he exclaimed followed by renewed cheers from his congregation. The chill down Agony’s spine turned to ice. He had an idea of what was coming. He tried to swallow his fear and despair. He couldn’t stop it. There were too many of them. If he tried they would all die and he knew it. He could only watch. 

As if he’d read Agony’s mind, Rand whispered to Mr. Brennon, this time so softly only those in the very front could hear, “I want you to watch Mr. Brennon. I want you to stand and watch and make no move from this spot. Understood?” The man just nodded. Rand signaled to Broc, and the real show began. 

Broc gave his own smile, though not sly at all. It was pure venom. He removed the blindfold, bent low and whispered something into her ear. Whatever it was, the girl’s eyes went wide, her face paling. She screamed and called for her daddy, but Mr. Brennon didn’t move, didn’t say ‘everything will be alright.’ He just stood and watched like he was told. Broc lifted the girl and set her down hard on her back atop the stone alter. Agony took a half step forward despite himself. He fought down the urge to rush the stage, to do something. But he knew that would only get him killed, and the girl would be no better off. All he could do was hope no one had noticed his slip. 

When he looked back to the alter he saw Broc bent over the girl, again whispering something into her ear as she cried, but his eyes were watching Agony. He noticed, shit. As their eyes locked Agony cursed himself, knowing now that whatever happened would probably be worse because of him. Agony felt his entire being ice over. The look he gave Broc would have given the grim reaper pause, but Broc just laughed and licked the girl’s face. He was too stupid to understand. Too stupid to know that whatever happened next, he was dead. Agony would see to it. That realization allowed him to stand steady. Agony knew he couldn’t save her, but he’d repay Broc in kind. Assuming of course he made it through the night alive. If Broc told Rand what he saw he might not, but Agony was pretty sure he was too stupid for that too. 

Broc made an abrupt movement, standing straight. Agony heard more than saw the girl’s jeans and underwear being ripped away. She screamed again and again, calling for her father to save her, but still he just stood there, the need for the drug overpowering the need to protect his child. Another tear and the girl’s shirt was gone. Agony wanted to look away, but he couldn’t. Not out of any kind of sick fascination, but simply because if she had to endure it the least he could do was not turn away. Not run from the horror he couldn’t save her from. Not try to spare him the scar. No, he had to watch. Had to let the images burn him so deep that his fury would be a thing of mass; palpable, living. A thing the Vendot would regret letting loose. 

Realizing her father couldn’t or wouldn’t help her, the girl tried to fight back, but with her hands still tied she couldn’t accomplish much. She kicked and writhed trying to delay the inevitable. Broc just laughed. He wrapped his large hands around her neck and began choking her and soon all her fighting transferred from not being raped to trying to breathe. When her legs stopped kicking, he released her neck. The girl gasped for breath and he entered her. The scream she would have given was stolen by her still gasping. All she could do was cry silently as Broc’s girth tore in and out of her. When she could breathe again, if only partly through the pain of the penetration, she tried to fight again, but this time Broc just hit her; a backhand across the face that came away with blood and teeth. Then she gave up. Cecilia ceased to be a person in that moment. Agony could see it in her eyes. See the light of hope leave as she resigned herself to the torture. She stopped crying, stopped struggling. Then she just stopped. He must have ripped something vital because blood flowed freely where Broc had violated her. In mere moments, she was gone. 

Agony felt sorrow like a wave crash into him but the crowd roared with excitement, surging forward, pressing bodies together. Agony went limp, using the crowd to keep from falling. When he looked over at Mr. Brennon, he was standing expressionless. He hadn’t moved, hadn’t even shed a tear. Hadn’t done anything at all until Rand handed the small packet of Stardust to him. Then he brightened and thanked Rand for his generosity. 

End

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