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|Cloak and Dagger|
Book 1: The Republic
Previously on Gods of War
Fenn left Otto in jail when the two of them were caught in an illegal street fighting rink, and the airbender bet all their money away.
Tariq was trying to better his reputation among the Council.
The Republic was receiving frequenting attacks from demons.
Fenn and Colette went on an expedition to the Green where Fenn discovered a supernatural building filled with demons. The trip was called off early because of reports of a demon heading for the Republic.
Chapter Five: Cloak and Dagger
|"With a world now removed of its demons, we can live happier, more relaxed lives, and as your President I'll do everything in my power to keep it that way"|
|— Newly appointed President Tariq to his Republic citizens|
The demon was taller than the metal wall that surrounded the Republic. It was a sickly green colour, with red and orange specks floating inside its viscous body. Fenn's forehead heated up. The hot blood inside his heart coursed painfully through his veins, and the crippling heart pounded against his ribs. The curse stung. Colette looked at him. She could see he was distraught, and knew that the demon before them was causing him great stress.
"Can we speed this thing up?" Colette said to the driver in reference to the truck. They continued through the wall and into the Republic, hastily making their way to the Beyond tower, driving past factions of Clandestines led by a grim-faced Leroux.
"Colette, you take another faction and attack from behind," Tariq instructed once her and Fenn arrived in his office. "I want you to slow this thing down as much as possible." Colette nodded gravely, fear whistling across her skin like a sickly-soft wind. She looked at Fenn, who turned to look at her. She lent in and kissed him quickly on the lips before exiting. She must've been scared, a gesture like that was not normal in these circumstances.
"Fenn, you go to the front line with Leroux," Tariq continued, a little irked by the kiss his daughter gave. "He's on Omashu Road, halfway down." Fenn nodded. Tariq's words excited him. He wanted nothing more than to get out onto the streets and beat up some demons. As per usual, and right on time, his marked stung and his limbs began to painfully throb. He caught the elevator down alone and made to the streets alone too. He needed to be by himself. The anger, hot and bitter-tasting, had to be kept at bay and simmer away from others so that it would not spit at them. His knuckles were white and clenched; like craters on the surface of the moon. His nostrils flared as he ran.
Once he got to Omashu Street and laid eyes on the beast his heart contorted, a knot of boiling blood and gnarled muscle. He screamed out. Some of what he screamed was from the pain that paralysed him – the mark's curse had acted up again, this time at full throttle. But mostly what came from his lungs was anger. It tore up the lining of his throat and came out in a shrill burst, popping into the air like a gunshot. Fenn felt the emotion wring him dry and his shoulders collapsed. He fell to the floor, fists scratched on the hot pavement. The tears that overcame him stung his eyes and sizzled on his skin. Comforting hands came over his back and held him still. The body came from behind, the heart beat calming and the warm breath of the man satisfied Fenn like a coffee does on a cold winter's day.
"You're alright," Leroux's voice told him. "It's alright." The man must have caught him crying. Leroux pulled Fenn into his chest and stroked his hair. His hands were heavy but gentle. Fenn rubbed his eyes. He was not alright. Not at all. The demons that seemed to always be a part of his life plagued his soul. They were a reminder of his killing of his mother and the abandonment of his father – it was demons that shattered his family into pieces. And it was demons that made him feel anger almost all the time. He hated feeling vindictive. But there was nothing that could change his emotions. These demons had come into his life, took their spot in a tight niche and ate away at it from the inside. Behind every corner, under every blink, and on each breath; they'd be with him forever. Fenn was not alright. He needed them out of his life. He needed justice, repayment – life had become unfair, and he was sick of losing all the time.
"I'm fine," Fenn sniffed, the tears now sloppy in his saliva. He went to get back up but Leroux pulled him back down.
"Fenn. Just take a breather," he said. "You're only young-"
"-I'm fine!" insisted Fenn, struggling to brush away Leroux's grip. He squirmed and got up, and ran down Omashu Street closer to the demon – closer to his compensation.
Fenn's boots – the ones given to him from Tariq – clattered on the cement. The furiously focused boy did a hop, skip and jump then unleashed fire from his feet. The boots absorbed the bending energy and the Pheonite expelled it. Fenn rocketed from the ground up into the sky and began hurtling down the road over Clandestine tanks and soldiers. The immense globular demon grew in size as Fenn neared it, firing fast spears of flames at the groaning monster. As the fire made contact with the demon's oozing, slimy body part of it hissed away; leaving a chunk missing from the rest. Bullets from the soldiers' guns and chunks of stone from others' attacks came to the thing at full speed but halted; they became engulfed by the viscous body, losing all velocity and doing no harm whatsoever. Waterbending attacks and firebending attacks, too, did not do much. As much as the Clandestines tried, the demon did not tire and continued to march to the inner city, leaving everything it touched in a thick layer of foul-smelling slime. The demon was seemingly indestructible.
Tariq entered the elevator. His brow was furrowed with a quiet solemnity. He punched many buttons on the elevators – third floor, fifteenth, basement, his floor, tenth, ninth, twentieth then the second. Above the panel of buttons a sheet of metal opened up to reveal a hole in the wall. Tariq put his hand in and a glowing came from inside, while a small, shrill beep echoed from the speakers.
Tariq Yamamoto identified. Access granted a computerized voice said. The lift began to hum and it went upward, past the top level. The doors opened once the elevator halted and Tariq entered a small room. The walls were dark green with wires running along the edges of the room, up and down the walls. He sat down on the only chair and a holographic screen emerged from a small projector on the desk. Tariq placed his hand on the screen and the system recognised him again, allowing him access to whatever the machine was. He slid a finger up the screen and his chair started rising up to the ceiling, of which was now opening. The walls began to hiss and creak as they folded into each other and new parts came out. From the outside, the spire of the Beyond tower started reshaping itself too. Strapped to the seat Tariq emerged from the spire, a chunky piece of machinery folding in front of him. The thing looked like a giant satellite dish. Tariq took hold of the handles, another beep of recognition, and the machine turned on. An eye piece appeared on the flat face in front of Tariq and, swiveling the handles, he aimed the laser at them demon. This was his most prized masterpiece.
The stench clutched onto the inside of Fenn's nose, causing tears to well up. He sniffed the odor in, trying hard to keep his focus. Flames, massive and raging, continued to pour from Fenn's hands as he flew up the face of the sluggish beast. Hisses of the boiling body scratched the air, overpowering the sounds of gunfire and bending. The demon gurgled. Fenn got to eye-level with the thing and screamed at it.
"What do you want?" With no response Fenn punched out a furious plume of amber fire. It covered the demon's shoulder and melted it away. The thing let out a prolonged moan, like a cry of a whale.
"Go away!" Fenn screamed. The boy flew closer. And stared at the demon's eyes. They were murky brown in colour, with milky edges. The inclination of the brow, or whatever one could call it, made the demon seem upset. It looked at Fenn like a dying old dog, or a broken horse looking down the face of shotgun. Fenn had to stop. He took in some deep breaths. His body was convulsing. Hot blood pumped painfully though his veins and punched at his brain. He could see himself, his reflection, in the thing's eyes. His hands were alight with frightening crimson peaks and his face was contoured like a hungry wolf. Fenn blinked. And suddenly he saw it. Where his face was, the smiling mask had replaced it. They looked at each other for what felt like hours. The entire world began to shatter and collapse and a rumbling sound filled the chaos. The fire on Fenn's knuckles spurted more viciously. He wanted to fire them. He could have. But something was stopping him. It was fear. It had ensnared him in its fingers, like a child does with a moth, and Fenn was flapping inside uselessly, trying to find the light. The thunderous rumble became louder and louder and Fenn craned his neck to see a thick, blue line of light come hurtling to him. He instantly arched his back, kicking out his legs so that his rocket boots would help him move. The beam just missed him. An inch away from death. Fenn turned back in a second to look at what the beam would hit. Sure enough, it was aimed at the demon. The sad-looking monster swallowed the beam and its entire, watery body lit up magnificently.
Silence then followed. The rumble that pounded everyone's eardrums had lessened, and sounded now like distant thunder. The demon groaned a little, as if it had a stomach ache, and then made eye contact with Fenn.
Why. The word was whispered into Fenn's ear. Before Fenn could look around for the person that spoke to him the glowing demon suddenly exploded into a million, glittering pieces. The dust rained down on the stunned Clandestines, with no further aftermath. The demon was gone. There was one less demon in the world. Fenn smiled contently.
Akira rose from her sleeping bag gasping. There was nobody in her tent. No sounds from outside. But something bad had happened. Somewhere in the world there was rain, but not the watery kind.
Confetti rained down over the stage. Roars of cheering citizens, a din of amour and admiration, echoed among the celebrating crowds. Tariq stood centre stage wearing a white suit gilded with shimmering lace. Posing heroically by the podium, he smiled at the flashing cameras, the Council Representatives bowing down to him. Fenn stood offstage, as a guard, eyeing the uproarious scene from afar. What exuberance.
"I present to you," the Earth Councilman began, stepping forward to Tariq with a medal, "the president of the Republic, slayer of demons, Mr. Tariq Yamamoto!" The silver medal was pinned to Tariq's suit and the crowd roared once more, applauding endlessly. Tariq bent down to the microphone, appearing humbled.
"Thank you, people of the Republic. As President I promise to do my duty to keep you safe. With a world now removed of its demons, we can live happier, more relaxed lives, and I'll do everything in my power to keep it that way," he smiled. "The Republic!" The crowds gave off one last cheer before the newly-made President was escorted backstage and away from his adoring fans. They really believed it, Fenn thought to himself, speechless. The people of the Republic believed anything Tariq told them, and the fact that there were no more demons left in the world was totally, undeniably, untrue – it wasn't a fact at all! Fenn was not going to let this down, it was his duty as a Clandestine to protect his city, and by not saying anything he would break his oath.
Sharp rays of sunlight burst through the thin rectangular windows into the cafeteria. Men and women, slouched tired from their work, sat together at their tables, eager for some high calorie food. Fenn sat at a table, people sitting one body length either side of him. Perhaps he had a reputation, of what he'd never know, but he wasn't upset that people avoided him. He had lived his entire life practically on his own, and people never seemed to get him – for him, solace was found in his own company. He began at the protein-enriched meal before Leroux came swooping into a seat next to him.
"Hey Fenn!" he said warmly, shifting the position of his glasses. He popped open a bottle of juice and took a gulp.
"Hey." Fenn nodded and turned back to his meal, feeling Leroux's lingering stare against his cheek. In his peripherals he could see the Colonel's smile turn into a frown.
"Fenn, I'm a bit worried," said the man. "Are you alright?" Fenn shuffled in his seat, and checked his collar to be certain it was covering his curse. Maybe Colette had mentioned it to him.
"I'm fine," Fenn replied, laughing in a way he hoped appeared nonchalant. "Why would I not be fine?"
"Well," Leroux began. Suddenly a horde of young Clandestines, spirited youths, bawled past chasing the leader for the last chocolate pudding. Leroux leant back, his eyes flashing behind his spectacles and screamed, "Hey! Stop running or I'll put you on clean up duty!" The men stopped immediately, like puppies being disciplined, and shuffled somewhere out of sight.
"Sorry," he continued, reverting again to a solemn face. "I just want to know if something's up. During the demon attack last week, when you collapsed to the floor, what was that all about? Because it sure didn't seem like anything fine to me." Fenn bit the inside of his lip. He liked Leroux, he looked out for him and was fun to be around, but could he be trusted? Fenn had to stop pushing people away. If he was to become even close to successful he had to be more talkative, Tariq's success was in his contacts – Fenn would have to be more inclusive.
"Well," he sighed. "I was just taken back." The truth, he was shocked, but that was not what caused his fall.
"You looked like you were hit by a bus!" Leroux added, his eyes wide from exaggeration, smiling dorkishly. Fenn laughed, and decided upon divulging more.
"Tariq's now the President," Fenn started.
"Which has made relationships with the Domains much better and trade more efficient. Our military protection has been expanded globally too. The whole world can experience safety from our hands."
"And that's it. The world isn't safe," replied Fenn matter-of-factly. Leroux leaned in to listen, as if a girl salivating over some juicy gossip. His furrowed brow cast a shadow over his eyes and down the crook of his nose. Fenn continued.
"When I was on Colette's expedition to the Green, I – well – I," he didn't know how to put it. "I saw more demons. Millions. They're all living in this golden building." Fenn stopped, expecting Leroux to burst out in laughter, or accuse him of being crazy. Leroux looked deeply into Fenn's eyes; trying hard to push aside the boy's other thoughts and uncover the truth. He scratched his chin and exhaled a long breath.
"Are you sure?" Fenn nodded instantly. Leroux stopped to think again.
"But Tariq is President of the Republic because he killed the last demon." Fenn shook his head.
"There are plenty more. Even bigger than the one from last week."
"And?" Fenn repeated. "We're not safe; we're putting people into the wrong mindset. When another attack comes, it'll be devastating." Leroux's glasses flashed.
"How do you know there'll be another attack?" he asked brazenly.
"Well...I don't. I need more information, but I don't know how." Fenn looked away from Leroux and to his meal, pushing aside a lump of mashed potato with his fork. Leroux took something from the inner pocket of his blazer and put it on the table for Fenn to see. It was his ID card, a small portrait of the man smiled up at Fenn.
"I'll tell you what," Leroux began, smiling cheekily again as usual. "Only because the safety of the Republic is in my best interest I'll let you have my ID card. Take it to floor B1. That floor is for officials only – me, Tariq, covert workers and detectives. You can access a database – like the internet but better – on all types of things. Maybe there you'll find the information you need. If you find anything report back to me and I'll decide if we pass it on to Tariq." Leroux handed the card to Fenn, concealing it quickly and awkwardly into the boy's palm.
"Is this legal?" Fenn said as he was pushed upstanding. Leroux's eyes twinkled playfully as a thin smile smeared acutely across his prickly chin.
"No one has to know."
"Sometimes to do good, one has to commit bad, right?"
"Where'd you hear that?" Leroux asked. Fenn shrugged, grinning, as he made his way to the foyer and to the elevator. He punched the B1 button and waved Leroux's ID card in front of the scanner. The lift hummed softly as the belts began to move – a calming noise. It came to a halt almost seconds later and the doors opened to reveal a large, dark room. Small green lights glowed around the rim and in the centre was a plushy seat, its leather obviously worn from use, and a keyboard. Fenn tiptoed through the room. His metallic shoes echoed clicks into the darkness like a bat searching for a stray bug. An eerie silence came upon him and the air he breathed in was cold and stabbed at his lungs. Something felt wrong, he was disobeying order. The exhilaration was immense. He came to the seat and sat down, the smell of Tariq – cologne and cigarettes – thickly embedded in the upholstery. He waved the ID card over the keyboard and it glowed and powered on. A holographic blue screen appeared before him, addressing him as Leroux, a search bar in its centre. Fenn sat, mouth flopped open. Each day he was amazed by the technology Beyond had crafted.
He tapped on the light keys and typed in the word 'demon.' The system loaded and Fenn waited, anxiously taking second and third looks at the elevator doors if anyone were to come and discover him. The screen tinged, meaning successful results were found, and Fenn turned his attention to the tabs. He clicked one and started reading. Nothing he read was of much interest, nor presented any new information. It was mostly folk tales of demons eating children, or newspaper articles or videos of demon attacks. The one useful tidbit Fenn got was the sentence: it is unknown whether demons have the capacity to work together, though they are seen to congregate in the one place, usually a shrine or natural landscape. He read the sentence over and over. The building he visited that night in the Green; that was their place of congregation. And it was there that they were planning something, he knew it. He could feel it in his scar, even when he was at the building something sinister wafted through the air.
Fenn got up, after hours of scouring each article, and returned to the lift and to the ground floor. He found Leroux and gave him back his ID card, thanking him for his help. He didn't tell the man anything, there wasn't much to tell. Instead he returned to his apartment, where he could indulge himself in his marble bath or relax on his comfy lounge and gaze at the cityscape. There was enough luxury in his new apartment, that anything – even a painting – could put him at ease.
Fenn walks down a long corridor, there are portraits of his family on the walls. He stops and examines one. He touches his smiling face and slime begins to ooze from the paper through the paint. Suddenly the slime bursts from every painting and starts filling up the corridor. He tries to move through the sludge to the door but it's too thick. He falls down and his face is engulfed by the slimy fluid. From it comes his nemesis, the smiling-mask demon. It grins at him manically and points at him. Fenn's scar burns furiously and suddenly the slime catches on fire. The flames ignite the portraits and turn them to ashes as he and the demon burn alive.</p>
Fenn's eyes fill white as he screams ferociously out at the demon.</p>
"Fenn!" Suddenly Fenn was sucked from his nightmare, forehead drenched and chest heaving. He studied the figure that held his shoulders. It was the smiling-mask demon. He clenched his fists and tackled the demon off his bed onto the floor.
"Get off!" the demon cried. It kicked him in the gut as he wrestled with it and then slapped him across the face. His vision tweaked, blotted with bright flashes and then the boy realised it was actually Colette he was wrestling. He scrambled off her and backwards across the floor, frightened, more so, at what he had done than at the demon that was just before him.
"I'm so sorry!" he whispered, his voice breaking with delirious fright.
"What the hell? What's wrong with you?" Colette yelled, getting up off the floor and patting her nightdress of its crinkles. Fenn was still breathing greatly.
"I'm sorry. I thought you were-" he stopped in his tracks, swallowed, then continued more timidly. "I thought you were the smiling-mask demon." Colette wiped strands of onyx hair from her face and sat on the bed, tired and exhausted at Fenn's constant ramblings about demons. She sighed and then gave him a little smile. Fenn blushed. He could not resist her smile. They had, just that night, joined as one under the bed sheets. Bound at the flesh together they gave each other something nobody else could give and they had both reached adulthood as one. Fenn loved her. When her eyes locked with his, the world stopped and when she touched him his entire body tingled and his heart ceased to pump blood. And she felt the same. She looked at him with utmost adoration.
Colette picked up Fenn's trousers from the floor and threw them to him. The boy proceeded to put them on over his underwear.
"I'm sorry," Fenn repeated, hoping he could appease her almost invisible anger. She may not have been mad at all. The girl crossed her hands and opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Just an extended, aquatic gurgle.
"I don't know what to say," she said finally. Fenn's brow creased with confusion.
"What's there to say?"
"You thought I was a demon." She looked at him, and felt a ton of cold water splash on top of her shoulders. She had never been afraid of him before.
"I said I was sorry."
"You're spending a lot of time invested in things that don't exist anymore." Fenn shook his head, frustrated at his girlfriend's ignorance.
"They do exist. In the building. The one in the Green," he assured her.
"Yeah. Okay," Colette scoffed. She bounced on the bed to find a better position, keeping her arms crossed to assert her dominance.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"No. I'm not being rude," Colette replied, high-pitched and arms outstretched. "I agree with you. There a demons still in this world, and they live in a golden building in a forest. And little fairies prance around our vegetable patches, and sea serpents slumber at the depths of the ocean, listening to the lull of mermaids and drunken sailors! Listen to yourself, Fenn! You sound like a little child!"
"I'm not making this up!"
"You attacked me believing I was a demon!" Colette interjected angrily. "You're not right in the head!" Fenn couldn't speak. Not an utterance came from his tightly pursed lips. His skin boiled. Colette, the one girl he felt normal around, was judging him – thinking outlandish things about him.
"I'm not a lunatic. My eyes do not lie to me," he said to her, putting emphasis on each syllable sternly.
"And my ears don't lie to me. And I don't like what I hear from you," Colette replied. She stood up and stared down at her lover. "Fenn, I don't know what is going on with you. Whatever it is, I'm just worried." She walked over to him and started stroking his hair. Fenn started to blush again. He could not resist her. But he had to keep strong. He could not let her womanly ways get the better of her.
"I just want what's best for you," Colette continued, sitting him down on the bed and taking something from the bedside table. "I arranged this only because I love you." Fenn looked at the card Colette gave him, it was for a psychiatrist. He huffed and tried turning away but the girl held his shoulders.
"You're obsessed with demons, Fenn. It's not healthy. If you don't want to do it for you, then would you do it for me?" Fenn looked at Colette and stared into her brown eyes. They emanated a kindness, a warmth. Her thin pink lips curved up amiably.
"Fine," he sighed.
The sessions he took with the psychiatrist were a waste of Fenn's time. He didn't allow the psychiatrist to get into him, and only told the doctor what he wanted to hear. 'Maybe it's has something to do with my father' and 'it could be because I've lived alone so long'. When he met up with Colette and she asked how the sessions were doing, he only humored her – even though it made him feel poisonous inside. He told her they should properly celebrate Tariq's killing of the last demon, and told her he slept better – that he hadn't thought of demons for weeks. It was tiresome, lying, but it was the only way to keep her happy.
The air was still. Moans echoed down the dank hallway as lights flickered – continuous, nauseating flashes. The boy's heart pounded softly in his chest, like a worn traveler knocking on a villager's door. The boy was defeated. He had been in the same cell for months. Wore the same clothes, spoke with the same criminals, and felt loneliness all the while. There was never a word of when they'd leave, or if they'd be killed and put out of their misery.
Otto looked up. A daring affair, for men in the past that made eye contact to others were flogged and spat on. Every second Otto felt the suffocating grasp of fear choke him. It sliced slowly at the back of his head and his blood would ooze slowly out of the open wound all day and all night.
Suddenly a bleeping noise came from the speakers.
"An anonymous person has paid for the freedom of persons in cells 1," the door to cell 1 slid open.
"2," the door to cell 2 slid open and the criminals inside rejoiced with the each other. Otto looked up at the speaker. His heart scratched at his ribcage, like a feverish circus lion yearning for return to the wild. His gritty hands held tight onto the rusty bars. Panic shook him to his core as more and more cells opened and happy men walked free.
"7, 9, 10 and," the seconds turned to hours until suddenly his cell door slid open, hissing like a snake. "12." Otto got up onto his feeble legs; he wasn't too used to standing, and stumbled out to the street.
Someone had given these gang members their salvation. But for what reason?
"Should I keep the window open? It's a hot night," Colette asked Fenn, fluffing up her satin pillow.
Fenn locked the lounge room window shut. Tariq was working late so Colette invited Fenn to sleep the night at the Yamamoto manor.
"Yeah, okay," he replied, shouting so she'd hear her. He went off and continued securing the place. Colette was a valued individual among the Republic, perhaps the entire world. She was a figure for the people. Her safety was vital to keep their spirits alive. Fenn pulled down a window and bolted it shut. He looked through the glass at the neon glades of the streets ahead. Thick crowds, shoulder by shoulder, hurried past each other; drunken youths, couples linked in the arms – eating hot skewers, and businessmen and their colleagues.
Fenn sighed. The fog smeared the window. He wondered if there were any demons out among the people. Perhaps they were small and hidden, like the demon he met in the Green at the lake, or maybe they were transformed as a human. He squinted as his brain relayed the known information – if it could be called – over in his head. He would do this every hour. Just to make sure the idea would become cemented in his mind. Again, the boy let out a tired sigh. His head had been buzzing and swirling for days now, of the same stuff. It had not had time to rest. But he had to keep prevalent, and not lie down and let it blow away. Focus was what he needed. If he was to continue to slink around and lie to Colette, and Tariq, he'd have to be alert and watch his tongue. And that took a painful amount of focus.
A scream sliced through the warm air. It scratched at the wood and, like a dagger, cut up Fenn's veins. He swung around and ran towards Colette's room. Her shrill cry rang in his ears. Colette was on the bed, alive, thankfully; her eyes widened with childlike fear. The window was open; curtains flapping in the wind, and Fenn ran to it and leered out over the sill. A figure, shadowy from the moon's dim light, scampered into the bushes out of sight. Fenn watched, gazing out for the presence of a demon – a sign. Once he was sure the area was safe he bolted the window and went to Colette. He took her shoulders and pulled them into his chest, hugging her. Suddenly, as if a strange force had overcome her, Colette broke into tears. Gurgling sobs came from her as she sunk her face into Fenn's body. Fenn, too, felt overwhelmed. He could have lost her. Forever. Colette was what made his days bright, and his face smile. She understood him, and accepted him. If she were to die, he would be lost. Fenn sniffed up a tear and continued to hug his lover.
"Who do you think it was?" the girl said, lifting her tear-stained face from Fenn and wiping away messy strands of hair. Fenn blinked.
"I have no idea," he replied. Of course, he was sure it was a demon, but mentioning demons at that moment would not have been good. Besides, he had to convince Colette he was over them.
"A demon?" said Colette to Fenn's surprise. He tried to hide a smile.
"Maybe." Fenn got up off the bed and to the wall. A dagger, thrown from the window, was halfway into the wall. It was made of a blue metal with maroon and yellow inlaid in the handle. The blade was sharp, it would have easily sliced open Colette's supple skin.
"What should I do with it?" Fenn asked, turning to face Colette. The girl shrugged.
"I'll report it to dad tomorrow, and he can start a search," Colette replied, getting under the covers and gesturing for Fenn to join her. He did so and snuggled up to her. As warm and comfy as he was, Fenn couldn't get to sleep, though. Thoughts of Colette's assassin flashed across the black of his vision – sinister faces of sweaty men, bloodied teeth of ravenous monsters. Somewhere in the Republic, someone was out to get Colette, and Fenn felt incapable to stop it.
The next day Fenn went to his last session with the psychiatrist. As usual he humored the man, telling him how much he wanted to aid the Republic in its endeavors, and how proud he was of Tariq defeated the demons once and for all. The doctor signed him off and Fenn exited, fuming at the lies he had just told himself. As much as he was annoyed to play the charade, he had to take demons off his mind. There was a more crucial task at hand; finding out the thing responsible for Colette's attempted assassination. Fenn started down the street, ambling slowly in thoughts. Two men were ahead of him, bulky men with arms like Christmas hams. They were discussing something, and Fenn casually listened in.
"Do you think he'll go through with it?" one asked. Fenn held his breath. Could it be?
"I don't know. It's a pretty tough thing to execute," replied the other. The men looked back nervously at Fenn, and then turned back and picked up their pace. That was when Fenn noticed something. The two of them were wearing similar jackets. On their collars, a cross was stitched. If Fenn remembered correctly what Leroux told him once, it was that people with crosses stitched to their collars were part of a gang. Fenn had seen it all the time when he was with Otto amid the street fighting. That felt like decades ago. On the men's' sleeves fists were stitched, the insignia of a certain gang. Fenn continued following them. He stayed a few paces back, to avoid looking obvious, but kept some proximity to hear them.
"If he does, it'll change the entire mechanics of the Republic."
"The President wouldn't know what hit him." Fenn gasped. The facts were laid out in front of him. He could not believe it. An entire gang was plotting to assassinate Colette, and by the sounds of it, something else big was planned. The men stopped and turned around, frowns covering their dirty chins. Apparently Fenn gasped a little too loudly. One man pulled a gun from his inside his jacket while the other hurled a slab of the footpath at Fenn with his earthbending. Fenn jumped backwards, heart kicking up its speed. His eyes were shut tight to stop dust from entering, and he heard a gunshot. He ducked in hope of avoiding it, opened his eyes and focused his chi to his feet. His cursed scar boiled beneath the skin as fire burst from his boots and he shot up. The men continued firing but Fenn rocketed off to safety, still heaving from exhilaration.
A thousand thoughts whizzed through his head, whirling about like tempestuous waves. Fenn had to stop at a bench so that he could get over his dizziness and avoid a crash. Those gang members, more so that gang was planning on assassinating Colette as a way of getting to Tariq. They said it was something big. Fenn's grip tightened on the bench. The peeling paint crumbled into his tense palms. The curse sizzled from his recent exertion and beads of sweat trickled down his forehead. Keep it together Fenn said to himself. He ran his fingers through his dark brown hair, undoing the knots. Like the demons, he needed more information. Something to solidify his fears, something conclusive. Fenn didn't know where to start, though. A blank smacked the back of his head. For minutes he sat on that bench, ogling at the ground for some inspiration.
And then Otto sprang to mind. He was directly involved with gangs. Fenn had no clue if the boy was out of jail yet, but checking out his dingy apartment wouldn't hurt. Instantly he jumped up to the sky, scar searing invigoratingly, and made for downtown Republic.
Otto's apartment block was the same as Fenn remembered it; grime on every edge and faded walls. Dead, dry bushes rimmed the front yard, mirroring the fate of the poor souls inside. It was no place for a human. Even Otto didn't deserve such a dissolute life, Fenn thought. And he'd have to put aside his feelings of betrayal and anger aside if he wanted to get enough information out of the airbender.
Fenn climbed the stairs, bottles and bags pushed to the walls to make an appropriate path upwards. He kept his extremities close to keep them clean. He was not one to be pedantic about cleanliness, but even a slob would want to make as little contact as possible with the flat's surfaces. He got to Otto's flat and knocked on the door.
"Hello?" he said as he knocked. The worn door slowly swung open, unlocked, and Fenn peered in. As he had seen in movies, entering a creepy room that was unlocked always led to trouble. And Otto's room was more than creepy. The curtains were drawn and a shattered light globe swayed from the ceiling. Dim rays of light swaggered in through the cracks in the drapes, like angered men ready to get their knuckles dirty. Fenn stepped over a mound of unwashed clothes; the stench was unbearable. A mixture of piss and dirty blood, with undertones of old water. It ebbed up his nose like a slow glutton, relishing the fact it caused Fenn discomfort. A buzz, long and droning, came from the smashed TV.
The tiptoes of Fenn's feet pattered across the room like stifled knocks upon a coffin, heartbeats echoing their final thuds. Suddenly Otto appeared from behind the couch. He screamed out; face shiny with grime and grey eyes wide with manic ferocity. The airbender tackled Fenn to the ground and started thrashing onto Fenn's chest.
"Get off!" shouted Fenn, trying hard to hold back Otto's fists. The boy continued punching, shouting incomprehensible words. Fenn lifted his knees, raising Otto from the ground, then thrust them out, causing Otto to skid across the floor. Fenn leapt to his feet before the crazy boy could do any more.
"Otto, it's me Fenn!" he yelled. Otto took a moment to breathe, and realised that the person standing before him was, in fact, his friend from once ago. Happiness tingled the insides of his cheeks, like biting in on a sour lolly.
"Fenn? Wh-what are you doing here?" Otto replied, nervously hiding his joy, scrambling to his feet and brushing off his shirt to appear more formal. He studied Fenn's Clandestine uniform. It was pristine and marvelously deep in blue and gold.
"How's being a Clandestine, then?" Otto muttered, scratching an itchy eyelid, and then rubbing the back of his head quickly. Fen shuffled on the spot. He didn't want to talk too much on casual topics. Like ripping a bandaid off, he wanted this to be over quickly.
"It's pretty good. I've got a new apartment." Fenn stopped abruptly. He could see talking about his excellent life was making Otto feel bad and worthless, and decided to change the subject.
"What happened, Otto? I mean, this place was never tidy, but this is a new low," Fenn said as he moved to the window. "And let some light in."
"No!" Otto jumped onto Fenn to stop him pulling apart the curtains. "You have to keep them shut. Or else they'll know I'm here."
"Otto, what's going on?" Fenn sighed, brushing the boy off his shoulders. Otto scampered to the other side of the room to hide his face in the darkness.
"Nothing! Okay! Just drop it!" Otto shouted, his eyes glistening with feverish rage. "What'd you come here for? To check up on me? I don't need you to be my parents!"
"Otto!" Fenn replied. "What's going on!" Otto looked at Fenn, then at a cushion on the couch, then back at Fenn, all the while shuddering nervously. Then he cracked, and with it everything poured out.
"Fenn, I'm in so much trouble. The triads are tracking everyone down that owes debts to them," Otto explained, brow furrowed with fright. "I still haven't paid them back for our loss in the rink! They're gonna kill me!" Fenn went to his friend and patted him on the back. The poor guy always seemed to be in a rut. Like Fenn, Otto was cursed; doomed to always owe someone something, always cheating one person to give to another.
"Look," Fenn started, already regretting starting the sentence. "I'll pay off some of the debt, if you could just help me with something I'm having trouble with." Otto looked up from the ground to Fenn. His grey eyes were now milky from the onset of tears. His dilated pupils shimmered underneath and a relieved smile stretched over his face.
"Fenn, you really are a great person," Otto replied. "But I'm afraid that's not going to help much." Otto trudged over to the couch, took the pillow and unzipped it. From it poured many small capsules; Fenn knew it wasn't medicine. And at this point he was fuming. Otto could see the Clandestine shaking like a broken kettle at the boil.
"I know, I know! I'm stupid!" Otto said, trying to appease a speechless Fenn. "It's their new drug Adrenalin. It's like nothing I've ever had. It-"
"-That's why you attacked me?" Fenn screamed. "Because you were off you face on drugs? I can't believe this! Why do you do this to yourself, Otto? You're such an idiot! Let me guess, you were probably on it when you stole it?"
"It was incredible! I was so strong, and everything was so-"
"-Otto!" Fenn whined angrily.
"I know! I'm sorry! But I can't return it!" Otto dropped to his knees to avoid Fenn's fist. "If they find out it was me that stole it, they'd kill me! And I have to pay back a friend!"
"God dammit!" Fenn kicked the couch, almost making a hole in the upholstery. His knuckles were white and cheeks crimson.
"Could you maybe find him?" Otto added, twiddling his fingers, blushing from knowing the futility of his question.
"What? Who?" Fenn's anger was suddenly snapped like a branch, as confusion rushed in to his head. "What are you talking about?"
"The guy I owe. He's been missing for a while, and he's a really nice guy." Otto took a photo from his pocket, a casual man with spectacles dressed in a business suit and tie. How Otto became friends with him, Fenn didn't want to know.
"I think there is something more important than this guy," Fenn replied, monotone; fed up with Otto's continuous shady antics. "Like maybe the money you owe the triads. Or their drugs, for example!" Otto huffed out a meek laugh.
"I know, man. But this guy has been gone for ages. I'm pretty worried," replied Otto. "If you can find him and tell me he's safe, I'll get on with all this triad stuff and it can be over and done with forever." Something told Fenn that would never be true. He stared at Otto, unimpressed, who smiled back nervously. Fenn sighed and rolled his eyes.
"Fine," he whined. Perhaps looking for this guy would help him uncover some information.
"Oh thank you. Thank you so much," Otto giggled happily, bowing every now and then. "Here take some of these." Otto handed Fenn the photo and three capsules of Adrenalin.
"No. I can't. I-"
"Come on. It's the least I can do," Otto said, pushing Fenn out the door. The airbender smiled, looked down the hallway cautiously, smiled once more, then shut the door. Fenn stood still for a moment, looking down at the drugs. He sighed. Visiting Otto was the stupidest thing he could ever had done. He pocketed the Adrenalin and left as soon as he could, craving a hot bath.
"Fenn, you really like to take initiative," Tariq said, scribbling something down on a form. Fenn stood still at Tariq's desk.
"I really do think the triads are up to something," Fenn continued. Tariq looked up at the Clandestine.
"Excuse me, sir?" Fenn coughed.
"What proof do you have? I don't want to get caught up in matters I don't need to be concerned about," Tariq affirmed. He tapped his pen on his desk, Fenn could feel the man's annoyance radiate onto his body.
"Well. Um. I heard these to gang members talking," Fenn started. "And they said-"
"-So I should base this all on Chinese whispers?" Tariq interrupted. Obviously he was not amused.
"It could have something to do with Colette," Fenn added. Then something clicked inside Tariq.
"I'll look into it then. But I am certain you...we, have nothing to worry about."
Nothing to worry about. Those were words Fenn wasn't used to hearing.
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