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Day 67

Lanternon2 May 13th, 2016 964 Never
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  1. Day 67
  2.  
  3. “Thanks for coming out with me.”
  4.  
  5. Rodrick is, for all that I'd otherwise mock the overly casual clothes of the guard, managing to make it seem rather impressive.  He still carries himself as though marching in paladin school, and it has the effect of giving a certain weightiness to his appearance.  Perhaps it's just that he alone seems to value the importance of his station.  
  6. “Anytime.  I've got nothing to do until we leave.  Better to get out for a while than practice my forms for the umpteenth time.”
  7. “At this point do you even get anything out of practicing them again?”
  8. “Stress relief,” I only half-joke.
  9.  
  10. We march down the marble streets of the city, and the people give us space to do so.  It's funny to me that other, smaller cities are already considering replacing their streets to allow for personal cars, but not here.  This city is a place of tradition, after all.  People have always walked these streets, and I hope that that is how it will always be.  
  11. “I think it's up here,” Rodrick says, ending my musing.
  12. “It better not be like the last one.”  We spent a half an hour wandering around a trio of buildings, only to find the one apartment sitting in a triangular clearing between them.
  13. “It won't be; I can see the address.”
  14.  
  15. The two of us make our way upstairs, up the flight of stairs littered with the scattered remnants of a few cheap, cardboard-bound meals, to the third floor and down an open walkway.  We stop in front of the door, and Rodrick gives me a meaningful glance as we both note the trio of fliers and promotions that have been nestled into the knocker or taped to the front of the apartment door.  He's the one to knock on it.  For ten seconds we wait, with all our attention honed on the door and any sounds that might come from within.  Again, he knocks, and this time calls out with his most guard-like bellow, “Mister Adrastus, this is the city guard.  We wish to verify your presence and safety.”  Again, no sound comes from within.
  16.  
  17. With that, Rodrick pulls the necklace from around his neck and holds the platinum key at its center.  He places its tip to the door and proclaims “I must enter for the safety of my charge.”  There's a swift pair of metallic clicks, and the door creaks open a few inches.  We open it the rest of the way as we enter, pushing aside a small pile of letters sitting at the entryway.  He flips the lights on and heads into what looks like the kitchen and living room.  I split off, down a hallway that leads, I presume, to the bedroom.
  18.  
  19. “Moldy sandwich on the table,” he calls out as I open the door to a ruined scattering of cloth.  The bedroom is an almost uniform, foot-deep pile of shredded cloth with patches of down and clothing, and with bits of shattered wood near the far wall.  
  20. “That's not our biggest clue,” I call back.  
  21. A few seconds later he follows me to the doorway and lets out a small, quiet “Damn.”
  22. I draw my sword and carefully flip over a bit of torn denim.  On the other side sits part of the outline of a pants pocket.  “Call it in.”
  23.  
  24. The radio clicks into life.  “Rodrick; Adrastus is believed taken, over.”
  25. A tinny voice answers back with a tinny “Beginning search.  Well done, over.”
  26.  
  27. He leaves silently, and I follow, locking the door on the way out.  He stays that way even as we get to the road.  “It's good weather for rounds” is the opening when he finally speaks again.
  28. I don't care to keep up the silence.  “How many is that?”
  29. “What, mispers?”
  30. “What else would I be talking about?”
  31. He doesn't have an answer for that.  For a quarter of a block it's like he doesn't have any answers at all.  He checks his list for a long time before looking back to the road and answering “Seven.”
  32. “How many've been found?”  I don't care as much about the answer, just the reason for his reticence in giving it.
  33. “Six.”  I smile, pleased with the cleanliness and efficiency of the servicemen of Megalos.  “Five of them were kidnapped.”  His speech is slower now, and the pauses between thoughts is still ponderous.  “The sixth was this fourteen-year-old.  He was so small.”  That explains it.  I wouldn't want to talk about that either.  My stomach turns at the idea of some monster attacking someone so young.  Fear and helplessness – those are the only reasons to attack someone so young.  
  34. “He chose to stay with her.  She was this thirty-something cow that'd come to town not a day earlier.”
  35.  
  36. We walk in silence for the rest of the block, and I spend it all in thought.  “They're suited for each other,” I finally conclude.  He slows as he turns, giving me a confused, searching look.
  37. “Are you all right, man?  We can stop for water,” he starts to offer.
  38. “I'm fine.  I just thought about what they both did.  Yeah, the monster was attacking a child – and yet the things say that it's out of love, not hunger.  My ass it's love; what kind of conversations could you have?  What life experiences would you share?  I don't think I have anything in common with the average teenager, and I'm not twice their ages, let alone a monstrous sex demon.”  I trace my train of thought to the point it was derailed, “But the child didn't do anything better.”
  39.  
  40. “Think about his family,” I start.  “What do you think they went through?  His parents probably wanted to raise a child when they had him.  They probably had aspirations for the kid, or at least wanted to help him find and achieve his own.  If he had siblings, didn't he want to see them grow up?  Didn't they want to have their brother, for simple love if not for guidance or help?  And what of family obligation?  Is he going to support them when he's old?  How?”  I give a brief, angry snort of air.  “Little bastard wants to run off, abandon everyone who cares about him so that he can satisfy his pubescent urges then fine.  Let the monster go live with his monster.  We're better off without scum like him.”
  41.  
  42. He keeps walking, glancing back to me a few times before finally asking “Feel better?”
  43. “I do, in fact.  The rants help.  You should try it sometime.”
  44. “Nah, man.  I prefer to hit things.”
  45. “Huh,” I start, pausing for effect.  “That's weird; when we sparred you always seemed frustrated, and yet you never hit me.”
  46. He grunts in mock pain.  “Man, why do you have to keep reminding me?”
  47. “Hey, you walked right into that one.”
  48.  
  49. ---
  50.  
  51. The door creaks inward, and a bearded, wary face looks out at the two of us.  His eyes alight on Rodrick's uniform.  “Can I help you, sir?”
  52. My companion seems almost the exact opposite of the figure; tall, proud, and clean shaven.  His uniform gleams in even the faintest light.  “No sir, we're just looking into possible missing persons.  Is everything all right?”
  53. He glances away for the briefest moment, then looks back.  “Yes sir, everything's fine.”
  54. “Very well then.  A good day to you, sir.”
  55. “And you, sirs,” he more quietly answers as we start to move away and he closes his door.
  56.  
  57. I follow Rodrick as we begin crossing the street to the last address.  I think he could tell the moment we saw the man that I'd be asking him a question, and says “We aren't here to fix anyone's lives or pry into personal affairs, just to make sure that no one's been taken.”
  58. “Fair enough.”
  59. It isn't until we start climbing the stairs before he adds “I worry about them too, sometimes.”
  60.  
  61. The last door, as many others, has a number of random papers posted around eye level.  One of them, I see, is a bold-lettered piece informing the owner that his neighbors have complained of foul smells.  Indeed, I notice that there's a sort of unpleasant sweetness in the air, like the scent of vanilla mixed with overripe bananas.  Rodrick does his usual bellowing and waiting, but no one comes.  He uses the amulet given to him for the rounds, but this time the door doesn't open.  He furrows his brow as he plants his hand on it and leans in, putting his considerable weight to the door before it opens, pushing back what sounds like massive piles of plastic.
  62.  
  63. And then the smell wafts out.  Rodrick winces as though struck, and half-retches without losing his posture.  I steel through it, though the scent of rotten garbage is almost painfully intense.  Somewhere between the syrupy sweetness and fruity overtones of rotten food, though, there's the smell of sweat and body odor.  We try to flip on the light, but it doesn't come on.  “Bastard,” Rodrick begins before another retch interrupts him, “bastard must've let his power bill,” he half-finishes.  He knows that I know what he meant, and thus doesn't bother finishing.  I pity him for his weaker stomach, even as I finish pushing the door open and begin the miserable task of walking down the dim, garbage-encrusted hallway.  
  64.  
  65. The sound of movement causes us both to freeze up, only to realize that it's coming from a sealed, full garbage bag.  Some rat or roach must be moving around inside, aware of the movement and yet helpless to get away from it.  Neither one of us comments on this, most likely to keep our already unsettled stomachs from being given a clear outlet to empty themselves.  The most intense of the smells comes from the kitchen, and I'm all but entirely certain that Rodrick now laments deciding that he'd take the public areas while I checked bedrooms.  
  66.  
  67. I push open the door, and feel the same way.  Laying in a pile of filth is a dirty, overweight figure covered in dozens of tiny, scurrying insects.  For a few seconds I feel naught but numbness as I realize that I might be looking upon the final resting place of some miserable soul, forgotten to family and society both.  Then he turns to me, eyes open, and opens parched lips to wheeze something unintelligible.  His arm lifts off of the sticky bedding with apparent difficulty, and it reaches out to me, trembling and dripping with something unknown.
  68. And then Rodrick cries out in alarm.
  69.  
  70. My feet take me back out as quickly as I'm able, and I spot movement in what looks to've once been either a living room or the unfortunate resting place for a dozen collections of computer parts.  In the center of all of this are easily ten figures, each reflecting what little light makes its way from the front door.  As I step foot on the wooden floor, they move again, and then stop as the light reflects off of two dozen wide brown eyes.  “Vic,” I hear Rodrick say from somewhere in the center, and then the eyes all wink out of the light, and the pile moves again as he calls out “Ah, don't!”
  71.  
  72. I take two steps forward and reach into the pile of bodies, grabbing hair and yanking back even as the other hand draws my sword.  Something stiff presses against my wrist, but I don't have time to consider it.  I take my deepest breath and bellow out “Don't touch him” as I pull back and slam the petite frame into my chest, placing the edge of my blade against its neck.  The pile stops, and once again the eyes are all staring at me.  This time, though, in the dark I can piece together the bits of monstrous anatomy that mark these things.  A pair of antennae are stock still on the head I hold, but are furiously moving back and forth on all the creatures in front of me.  Brown carapace reflects some small bit of light from the doorway behind me, and horrid, insectile limbs reach from their human-like parts of their bodies to the ground.  Devil bugs, I remember, and suddenly I'm even more disgusted by the man we came here to find.
  73.  
  74. But one of them moves again, even as I see Rodrick sprawled on the ground and staring at me.  It moves slowly, cautiously forward, staring in shock at the one I'm holding hostage.  “Ah,” it states, as though speaking.  “Aah-ah.”  It reaches down and picks up something mushy from the ground and, holding it in both hands, presents it to me.  Judging from the smell, I think it might've been ground beef once.  It moves its hands forward and up, gesturing toward my sword.  As though it were offering a trade.  And then the rest of them are all moving, circling around me only to prostrate themselves with their own offerings of once-food.  Each one staring at me, and the thing I hold, all with such fearful expressions.  “Ah, aah-ah,” the first one repeats, as a tear runs down its cheek.
  75.  
  76. Rodrick lifts himself, grabbing his sword from amidst the detritus, and moves cautiously around the monsters.  They note his presence, but don't seem to care.  “Are you all right,” I ask.
  77. “Yeah.”  His voice is slightly deeper than usual.  “They just caught me off guard.”  He looks at me as I keep focusing on the monsters.  “Vic, let h- it go, all right?”
  78. After a moment's pause, I do.  It glances up at me, and I can see how small, how young it must've been.  Was it a child?  There's a wet plop as the first thing to approach me drops its offering to the ground and embraces it.  I step back, and then step back again as the others move forward, only to slowly place their offerings at my feet.  
  79.  
  80. “What in the hells,” I hear Rodrick ask shakily.
  81. “I think they thought that it was a trade.”
  82. “You mean, like, hostage negotiations?”
  83. “I don't know.”  The last one crawls slowly backward, moving away from me.  They all slink back and away toward the walls, and seem to almost vanish from sight.  “Let's just get our guy out of here and torch this place to the ground.”
  84. “Agreed.”  He clicks on his radio, “Rodrick here, we'll need a wagon for thirty-nine, over.”
  85. “It'll be there in ten, over,” the woman's voice responds.
  86.  
  87. The bedroom isn't how I left it.  The man is still there, just barely, beneath a pile of the things.  They all stare at us, all but unmoving.  Rodrick is the first to recover from this, stepping forward and proclaiming “We're taking him with us,” to naught but the slightest twitch of movement.  It's as though he'd declared a stare-off, rather than spoken.
  88. “They can't understand us.  We need to communicate in their language.”  I lift my arm, pointing my blade toward the man and growl “He's mine.”  They all draw inward, covering him more fully after that.  All but one of them.
  89.  
  90. The one from before – the mother, perhaps – moves forward toward me.  It stops at the end of my sword, and shakes its head, mouthing “Uh, ah.”  It shakes its head again, and then slowly, carefully, reaches up and grips the blade, pointing it toward its own neck.  “Ah.”  
  91.  
  92. The room is completely silent.  It's staring at me, even as I stare at it.  The others are all watching the two of us even as they cover the man with their bodies.  The only person to speak is Rodrick.  “I think,” he starts hesitantly.  “I think that they think you're going to hurt him.”
  93. I grit my teeth as the absurdity of it finally strikes me, and my gut twists itself into knots.  They want to play hero, do they?  They think they're protecting him, and I'm the one seeking to hurt someone, even though they're the rapists and I'm his guardian.  The twisted, unnatural little insectile minds around me are all that sick that they can't see what's happening here, or else they're so animalistically cunning as to think that this will work.  
  94.  
  95. I lift my sword back, twist it in my hand, and ready to strike it with the broad of my sword.
  96. “Is it worth it,” a pleasant, if cold, and feminine voice asks.  The voice from my dream.
  97. I glance back.  Only Rodrick stands there, uncertain, watching me to see what I do.  “Did you hear that,” I ask.  
  98. He shakes he head slowly.  “Hear what?”
  99. I look back to the creature, but it doesn't seem to know what's happening anymore than I do.  
  100.  
  101. I don't know what I'm doing, but an idea comes to me for what I could do.  I move around the room, feeling the walls for something other than just stickiness.  I find glass, and immediately shatter it.  The sound makes the creatures shriek, and so I do it again, watching as bits of aluminum foil tear themselves from the disintegrating window.  Light streams in, and with it the things scatter around the room, running in random directions, trying to escape the light.  All that remains is the last man on our list, lying plastered to a soaked bed by translucent slime.
  102.  
  103. “Water,” he croaks.
  104. “Yeah.”  I pause for a moment.  I look back to Rodrick.  
  105.  
  106. “I'm done.”
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