Hyperion is a soldier with a dark secret and a deadly mission. His target is the Swine, the corrupt mayor of a secluded village by the Dark Forest. The Swine is a Night Wraith only another Wraith can defeat, but his young wife, Ligia, derails Hyperion’s focus. Their weakness for each other has drawn attention at the bar, and the Village Bully threatened to expose them. This scene depicts the moment Hyperion uses the Bully to get close his main target, the Swine. There’s a twist as mysteries lift, and action breaks loose.
The Village Bully sits unconscious in a barn, hands tied behind his back and the rest of his chair. Head down, hair clinging to his stubbly cheeks and small Neanderthal forehead. I’m considering changing his pet name to Big Cheetah.
The Loon stands guard at the entrance, hunched and leaning on his cane like a psycho monk from the Dark Ages. The mere hint of his frame in the night should drive away nosy hags, who represent the only threat of discovery so close to this part of the woods. Still, the bully takes too much time in drunken slumber. I assess him up and down again. He’s robust, which means the rickety chair might give in any second. I decide to give it a helping kick, and the putrid wood shatters beneath him.
“What the . . .” but he doesn’t get to the f-word fast enough. I’m already above him, foot on his chest. He struggles like a worm and tries to lift those heavy legs to throw me down, but I’m too far from them. I bend close to his face, one knee on the floor beside him, the other foot keeping firm on his chest. I push off my hood, allowing him a good look at my face.
The bully squints, still confused. A hangover must’ve replaced the drunkenness. I’m sure the orange light from the oil lamp helps him make out my features though.
“Welcome back, Badass.”
“Prince Charming,” he says in recognition, more puzzled than defiant, as I’m sure he means to sound.
“We left off at Romeo. And best friends.”
“What the hell happened?” He looks around as much as the position allows.
“You showed off your loyalties, that’s what happened.”
He looks at me again, pretending calm. A moment later he begins that ridiculous ballet of the legs again, which is just as useless, but I let him waste his energy. As soon as he desists, barely able to heave between my boot and the hay-and-manure floor, I let the blade shoot out from the holster strapped to my forearm and push the tip through his pants right to his jewels. The metal tears through fabric, I can feel it resist for a second before it gives in. The bully’s growl instantly turns into a pitchy whine as the blade reaches his skin.
“Be still, and I’ll stop right there.”
“People heard me, they’ve heard me, they’ll find . . .”
“You’re removed from the village by miles, we’re at the mad widow’s,” I strike down his last thread of hope. “She’s off with her toothless friends on some deranged mission she calls midnight witchcraft, so not even her aged ears will catch your screams.”
“What do you want?” he stammers, pitch even higher as I make my point with the tip of the blade.
A short pause, more fear in his eyes. “What kind of help?”
“I need to get close to him.”
He shakes his head hysterically. “I can’t do that.”
The blade pushes just slightly deeper into his jewels. He winces, then stiffens, eyes pressing shut, sweat covering him, tears crawling down the ugly mask his face turns into. “You don’t know what you’re asking, that’s impossible.”
“I know you’re kissing his ass. That must’ve earned you at least a bit of his trust.”
“He’d never let someone like you anywhere around him.”
I glance over my shoulder at the Loon. His eerie mummy eyes are on us, his ears perked at every word.
“Does this persuade you?” I slur.
The Loon doesn’t answer. I return to my new pet. “Care to elaborate on ‘someone like you’? My friend here needs to hear it.”
The Bully looks me up and down, his chin shaking. “Young and new to these parts. You’re lucky the Mayor hasn’t noticed your presence, I don’t know by what miracle. Otherwise it would be you under a boot right now, giving answers, not me.”
A grin stretches my lips of its own accord. “Precisely the scenario you’re going to help me avoid.”
Flashing the blade at the Bully’s throat, I turn slightly to the Loon. I tell him my plan in short and effective words. I’m pretty sure the Bully registers it too despite his fit of anguish.
The Old Loon stares at me for a few moments, and hope that he stands persuaded catches seed in my chest. It dies soon, though.
“I can’t relinquish your years, Hyperion,” he says in that ghostly rasping voice of his that carries the burden of too many like me. “I can’t relinquish control, no matter how much I want to, the Employer strictly forbids it.”
I sink my head, burning with frustration and glaring down at the Bully’s wide-eyed face. He can feel the rage boiling in my veins now, and I can tell it robs him of his words. His lips quiver, foamy from saliva and fear.
“But I can make sure betrayal doesn’t even cross your new friend’s mind,” the Loon whispers when I expect it least.
His dry hand strokes over the Bully’s cheek and settles on his jaw with what might pass as gentleness before his fingers claw around his face and dig into his flesh. I freeze when I understand what he’s doing.
The Bully howls like a dying dog as half his face crumples, merging with the mummy’s skin, eyes rolling back to reveal the whites. The pain must be excruciating, but words can’t express how I envy him for it. Half of the teeth in his mouth darken as if burned, and the hair on half his head goes grey, then white and frizzy, all in an instant. His howl turns into the lament of overused vocal cords, and his chest wheezes in between. Much more slowly, he returns to his original appearance and stares upward, stunned, breathing hard. My foot moves up and down with his chest.
“You’ll do exactly as told,” the Old Loon tells him. He sounds exhausted. “Should your mouth seek disclosure or your actions raise suspicion, may the ages crumble and smother you beneath them.”
He has difficulty rising to his feet. That same skeletal, dry hand that had caused the bully so much pain rests harmless and tired on my shoulder.
“If the mad widow only knew what she missed,” I jeer. I’m still sour and envious of the stupid bully. The Old Loon ignores my bitterness.
“I understand much, Hyperion,” he says. “But not why you want to take my place in the village. The Swine never liked me, so my place won’t grant you much advantage.”
“I’ve observed the Swine enough to know he’s never unencumbered other than in front of the altar. He wants to be the first, the lead, and it’s the one place he exposes himself.”
“You’ll play on his vanity?”
I nod. The Loon pats my shoulder lightly and hobbles away.
The next day at noon I cross the Swine’s threshold. He stands to greet me, silk robe open to reveal his big stomach, double chin under a lecherous grin. He’s surrounded by a squad of peasants, some of them Wraiths. I strain to shield my own so they don’t sense me as I do them.
Ligia sits by his side at the overly filled table, her golden locks free for the pleasure of his eyes. Her own snap wide as they fall on me, now standing before her in a priest’s robe, a cross hanging from my neck.
“Mr. Mayor, as announced, I present you Father Jacob,” the bully introduces with a bow. “He’s Father Norman’s temporary replacement.”
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