“Come on, Elyk…” he heard through his headset, “our window of opportunity isn’t that great here. You’ve gotta get out of there!”
As he fled down the hall towards his exit, the young man- no older than his late twenties- turned the corner to a packed lobby. “Shit!” he thought aloud.
“No time,” he replied, cutting off his partner mid-sentence, “how long before the backup generators re-arm the alarm system?”
“Under two minutes.”
Ducking back around the corner, Elyk quickly glanced around for his options. Dropping to his knees, he slid underneath a small table and pulled a knife from one of the many pockets on his cargo pants. He shot a quick glance back towards the hall leading into the lobby, then flicked the blade open and shoved it between the metal vent cover and the wall, prying the grate free.
Moments later as he squeezed into the narrow shaft, and slid the ventilation grate back into place, the lights from the hallway flickered.
“Power’s been restored, man…” his partner continued, “I see lights, the lifts in the lobby will be coming back on-line any minute now. You’ve only got a few seconds before that alarm sounds. Where you at?!”
“I’m…” His voice was cut off by the ear-splitting screech of the alarm system.
Across the street from the building, in another structure currently under construction, Roland “Deuce” Greaves snatched his headset off as the siren echoed through his ear-piece, and slammed it to the ground. “Dammit!” Scooping up the small binoculars from the dusty floor, he scanned back and forth, checking for any place where his partner could emerge from the building. “Where’d you go, man?”
Scuttling through the tight ventilation duct, Elyk emerged in a small maintenance room. “Perfect!” he thought aloud, as he proceeded towards a narrow ladder in the corner. He quickly made his way up to the roof, kicking out a grate as he came to the building’s central air conditioner. As he slipped down from the vent to the steel framework below, he looked down through the building’s glass-paned roof. “Deuce, you still there, brother?”
Making his way across the steel beam, he glanced over at the building where his partner was stationed. He continued across the rooftop beam, picking up his pace until he was at a full sprint, at which point he leapt across the alley to the fire-escape of the adjacent building.
He continued up the steel stairs, and scurried across the rooftop of this building to a steel cable connecting his building to the one directly across the street. Never fails to have a plan B… he thought to himself, as he clipped onto the zip-line, and dove from the ledge before whizzing across the busy street far below.
Deuce finally scooped up the headset and called to his partner, “Where are you, you crazy son-of-a-bitch?!”
“Is that really necessary?” he heard from behind, as he instinctively reached for his pistol and turned around to face his young partner.
“Dammit E, you sneaky bastard… you’d make a ghost nervous! We gotta run man, the Guardsmen will be here any minute now.” Elyk turned back towards the opposite side of the building, as his partner hoisted up his black duffel bag, and trotted along behind trying to catch up.
Stepping between two steel beams, out to the ledge of the building, Elyk grabbed hold of the side rails of the ladder hanging from the concrete wall, and quickly slid about forty feet down the side of the building until his feet touched down on the asphalt of the parking lot below. By the time Deuce caught up to him, Elyk was already waiting on his motorcycle. “Getting slow in your old age, huh?” he teased with a chuckle.
“Screw you, Elyk.” Deuce retorted as he jumped onto his bike, and the two rocketed off towards the sun setting on the horizon.
“I take it all went according to plan?” The raspy voice echoed in the corridor, as Elyk and Deuce trailed behind.
“Well… not exact-”
“Yes, Mister Banecrist,” Deuce interrupted, cutting his eyes at his young partner. “We’ve acquired the documents you requested.”
“Very well, Mister Greaves,” the older man replied as he entered a large office, and made his way to a small wet bar in the corner. “Please gentlemen, join me for a drink?”
“No thank you,” Deuce answered, “I don’t drink.”
As Morgan Banecrist poured himself a small glass of scotch whiskey, he turned back to the two, “Don’t drink, eh? I knew another shooter once who wouldn’t drink… said it made his hands shake- which in your business is a bit of an impediment, no?”
Deuce shrugged, “I suppose so. I’m actually recovering… Been sober for the last three years.”
“I’m not,” Elyk chimed in, “I’ll take his share if you don’t mind.”
The old man chuckled, as he poured another drink. “Are we not all recovering from something, Mister Greaves?”
Banecrist handed the drink to Elyk as he moved around the corner of the large desk, and dropped down into the plush leather chair. Elyk followed his lead and moved towards the desk, taking a seat directly across from the crime lord. Deuce dropped a large envelope on the desk and slid it across to the boss before taking his place beside his partner.
“Thank you, gentlemen. Don’t suppose you’d be interested in another job, eh?”
Elyk spoke up first, “Could always use the money…”
“What kind of job?” Deuce asked.
The old man spun around slowly in his chair, and gazed out the large windows to the city below. “I need a mark taken down.”
Elyk took a sip from his glass, turned to his partner. “That’s your area of expertise.”
“It will take both of you.” Banecrist interjected. “I’ve got others I could hire if it was a simple assassination.”
“The target?” Deuce replied.
“Shit…” Elyk thought aloud.
Banecrist turned back towards the two men, his long black hair drooping down into his face. “Vyk Carrlsen.”
Deuce glanced over to his partner, his own worries reflected in Elyk’s face. “The Warlok leader?”
Nodding, Banecrist answered. “His clan are the last remaining separatist faction. With him out of the picture, his people would surely turn to the New Agean Empire- and the King for leadership.”
“Or start a war… There’s a reason they’re still not a part of the Empire. And, since when did you care about politics?” Deuce protested.
“It is a mutually beneficial offer, Mister Greaves. If you’re not interested…”
“No.” Deuce replied, “Didn’t say I wasn’t. Just goin’ over our options.”
Banecrist let out a snide chuckle, “What other option do you have? You take the job, you get paid. Don’t get caught, and no one even knows you were involved. Not too bad a deal if you ask me.”
Elyk finally chimed in, “Who ordered the hit?”
“Not your concern Mister Ramsey,” Banecrist replied, matter-of-factually. “You know the deal… The less you know, the less of a liability you become when folks start askin’ questions.”
Glancing back over to his friend, Elyk asked. “What ya think, D?”
“What kind of money are we talking about?”
“That’s what I like to hear!” Banecrist replied excitedly pounding his fist on the desk, “Five hundred thousand. Hell, I’ll even throw in an extra quarter out of my own pocket… Like I said, it’s mutually beneficial.”
Elyk grinned from ear to ear, “Three quarters of a million, Deuce…” he chuckled. “You can’t afford to let that kinda cash slip though your fingers.”
His partner replied with only a grim stare. Sensing the concern from his long-time friend, Elyk cocked his head, and leaned towards him. “You alright, man?”
“I dunno, its just… You’ve heard the stories of the Old World clans. These guys are the last of their kind, they’re some damn fierce warriors- like I said, there’s a reason the Empire hasn’t taken them yet. Besides, they’re the last practitioners of the dark arts. I’d rather not deal with that kinda shit.”
Banecrist leaned across the mahogany desk, almost growling. “You’ll deal with whatever shit I pay you to deal with, Mister Greaves. You’d do well to remember that.”
Deuce slumped back in his chair, as Elyk leaned forward and spoke up. “What’s our time-frame? Any other specifics… or you just want the job done?”
The crime lord sat up straight, “The usual… just make it happen, sooner rather than later. And make sure it can’t be traced back to our organization.”
Elyk, turned to his partner and spoke quietly, “Seven hundred and fifty thousand.”
“Make it an even million,” Deuce replied, “and you’ve got a deal.”
“I expected as much… this will be no easy task.” Banecrist reached down into one of the drawers of the massive desk and pulled out a small, brown envelope. As he stood up from his chair, he tossed the package to Deuce. “Ten percent, per our arrangement…”
Deuce handed the envelope to Elyk, who quickly broke the seal and thumbed through the stack of bills inside. Elyk smiled and nodded to his partner.
Banecrist glared across the desk towards the two men. “This needs to be perfect. There’s already more at stake than I care for. I can’t be bothered with trying to sort out any mess the two of you get yourselves into.”
Deuce bit his tongue as he rose to his feet, and turned to exit the room. Elyk jumped up and marched alongside his partner towards the door.
“I’m serious fellas…” Banecrist growled after them. “Don’t fuck this up.”
The Year 2104
“Think I may be able to help you out, partner…” The young man peered over from the corner of his eye, to the shady outlander seated on the barstool to his left.
“Yeah?” Elyk snapped back, “How so?”
“My apologies, wasn’t tryin’ to eavesdrop or nothing. Just heard that you was lookin’ for work.” The man was filthy, as though he’d just stepped out of the mines of Anglaea. His dark hair was matted down, his beard messy and untrimmed. The man reeked of cheap cigarettes, and even cheaper cologne, and wore a dusty black overcoat.
“Not sure I’m interested in whatever it is you’re tryin’ to sell, Mister.” Elyk slurped down the last of his drink, then motioned to the bartender for another.
“It’s a simple gig, easy enough for a strong, young man such as yourself. Name’s Cael…”
Disregarding his response, the man continued. “It’ll get you out of this dump… job’s in Belta Kdar.”
Elyk cocked his head and glared at the man, then waved to the bartender again, and shoved a handful of bills into an empty tin cup nearby. “Never mind Markus, I’m heading out.” Raising up from the barstool, Elyk made his way towards the front door while the man, Cael, weaved through the crowd, following behind him.
The cool, dry air of Trovus welcomed him as he exited the bar, the sky hazy and red from the sunlight creeping over the horizon. Elyk blinked several times, as his eyes adjusted to the light, then glanced both ways before trotting across the empty street. As he reached the adjacent street corner, he tugged the collar of his coat up to block the gritty gusts, then turned to head south, the opposite direction of the workhouse he was ashamed to call home.
Several blocks later, he came to a stop and sighed as he stared up at the worn building that housed the province’s hospital and mortuary. The early morning sunlight disappeared momentarily as a large airship swooped by overhead, stirring up even more dust.
Another long sigh and deep breath later, and Elyk shoved the heavy revolving glass doors, as he entered into the building. The hospital’s gleaming, polished interior contrasted heavily with the crumbling concrete exterior. The Empire had constructed the facility as an eastern outpost and field hospital during the Espyan Conflict, but all but abandoned the region shortly after the war
Proceeding to the glass-encased elevator, Elyk stepped inside and reached out to the metallic panel, which lit up as his hand neared. Flicking his fingers on the holographic touchpad directed the lift to his destination on the sixth floor, and the door swished closed behind him.
A few short moments afterwards, he stepped out into the critical care ward, making his way down the hall, to the far corner of the floor. Distracted, he’d not even noticed that the man from the bar stepped out from the other elevator on this level, only seconds after Elyk had departed.
Approaching the last cordoned-off room on the floor, he hesitated for a moment, then reached out to a small window in the door, and thumbed a switch to open the blinds. Peering into the room, he found his dying daughter strapped to an over-sized bed, connected to all manner of machinery- some pumping blood out, then back into her body, others filling her lungs with air, and her bloodstream with various serums. Periodically, her tiny, frail body would succumb to severe spasms and a cloudy white foam would ooze forth from around the plastic piping in her mouth.
Before the first tear had fully grazed his cheek, a short woman in a white uniform called out to him. His heart sank to his feet, as the head nurse stepped closer and placed a calming hand on his shoulder, offering her condolences. “Mister Ramsey, she’s such a sweet little girl…” A nod, the only reply he could muster. “But, I uh, I received a call from the Director last evening.” She took a deep breath, as if the brief pause helped him in any way. “Says we’re going to have to let her go….”
Elyk cut his eyes at the woman, his face instantly red, the anger and sadness inside him choking any words from his mouth.
“I’m sorry, but he says that the hospital can’t afford to keep her on life support any longer, not in the condition she’s in… and on our own financing.”
“You just gonna let her die?!” Elyk snapped back in response. “I’ve sold everything I had that was worth anything… moved into a shit-hole in the slums, and nearly killed myself working every shift I could for the last three years just to pay your bills. I miss a couple payments, and now you’re… You can’t do this! She’s just a child!”
The woman’s tone shifted from sympathetic to serious. “Seven months is hardly a couple of payments, Mister Ramsey. And it’s not like she’s getting any better. You’ve got to remember, we’re no longer funded by the Empire. We have our own costs too that we’ve got to consider…”
He cut her off before she could say any more, throwing his hands in the air in disgust, and growling under his breath, “I can’t believe this! You get rid of that damned director, and his salary alone would cover her bills for another year!”
Raising her voice, she reiterated their stance, and continued. “Mister Ramsey, you’re drunk… I’m going to have to ask you to leave the premises, now. You’ve got til the end of the month to get current with your payments.”
Clenching his fist, he glared down at the woman before being interrupted by his own thoughts, as a glimpse of the man from the bar finally caught his attention, standing further down the hall. He shrugged past the woman, and stormed down the hall towards the man. “What the fuck are you doing here?!”
“Just my job, mate,” the man replied. “Now you wanna take me up on that offer, or you gonna let yourself get hauled off to the gulags for your debts, while they pull the plug on your daughter?”
The tears swelled up in Elyk’s eyes, and he motioned for the man to head around the corner. “In the elevator, let’s talk.”
Cael nodded, “Sorry to hear…”
“Just shut up.” The doors to the elevator swished open, and Cael stepped on board, as Elyk turned back to the small nursing station where the older woman now stood, watching the two men. She’d grown to know him well over the last several years, and she was all too aware of his temper. The silent exchange was all she needed to know that he would be back, and that she’d need more than a hospital security guard to keep him from her.
The next few moments were a blur. Elyk vaguely recalled getting into the elevator with the stranger, and the doors closing behind them. He watched as the man before him retracted his left hand from the digital panel, and slowly began to turn towards him. “So…” Cael began.
Before he could turn to face him, Elyk grabbed the stranger by his coat, shoving him against the back wall of the elevator, as he forced the cerated blade of a knife against the skin of the man’s throat. “Who sent you?!”
Beads of sweat formed on Cael’s brow, as the cold steel pinched against his neck. Staring into his attacker’s eyes, he wondered if either of them would make it off the lift alive. “Look, I can see that your day has turned to shit, lets not make it any messier than it already is.” A light clicking sound drew Elyk’s attention down to the readied pistol in the stranger’s right hand. “Told you before, I’m just doing my job. Now, back off!”
Elyk huffed, then slowly withdrew the blade, and holstered it on his belt.
“Knew you weren’t stupid.” Lowering the pistol, and releasing his finger from the trigger, Cael continued. “I work for a man named Cyrus Krieger, an underboss for the Angel Makers.”
Elyk realized he was quickly losing control of the situation. “What do you want from me?”
“Told ya,” Cael began, “He’s got a job that he needs some help with. We’re aware of your talents, Mister Ramsey. We could put them to good use. Pay is good, and like I said before… it’ll get you away from this dead-end town.”
“What are you talking about?” Elyk replied, “What talents?”