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Authors: Jonathan Moeller

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban, #Science Fiction, #Alternate History, #Alternative History

A Knight of the Sacred Blade (21 page)

BOOK: A Knight of the Sacred Blade
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Allard went rock-still. His heart sounded like a drumbeat.

“Come!” said Marugon, his voice ringing. The thing that had been Colebrook shuddered and followed him. 

Allard turned and crept towards the truck door. He slid it open a few feet and jumped out into the compound. Somehow he managed to make it to the front gate, check out with the guard, and walk into the night without breaking into hysterics. 

Allard strode past his car without stopping, his hands shoved into his suit pockets. He had to tell someone. He had to warn them about the cigarettes. His walk broke into a run. He had to warn them about the great and popular Senator Thomas Wycliffe. He had to tell them…

His panting twisted into hysterical laughter. Who would believe him? He staggered to a trio of trash bins alongside a wall and sat down besides them. The concrete felt icy cold. Wycliffe would find out if he told. 

What if Wycliffe sent the winged monsters to find him?

“What am I going to do?” whispered Allard.  

He sat alone in the darkness for a long time. 

Something clicked against the dirty concrete. 

Allard looked up. A hollow-faced man leaned against the nearby wall, the streetlight casting planes of shadow across his face. He wore scuffed boots, torn blue jeans, and a ragged army camouflage jacket. His hair and beard were a tangled, greasy mess of gray and brown hair. He leaned upon a steel-handled cane in his left hand. 

“Son,” said the man. 

“Leave me the hell alone,” said Allard, trying to sound tough and failing. “I don’t have any money.” He did not want to get mugged, though getting killed would solve his problems. 

The man stepped closer, his cane tapping against the sidewalk. “I don’t want money.”

Allard scowled. “Then what the hell do you want, man…” His voice trailed off. “Dude. What the hell happened to you? You look…you look…”

“Like I got stuck up shit creek without a paddle?” said the man.

“I was thinking like something chewed you up and spit you out, but, yeah, that works,” said Allard. The man looked like a homeless Vietnam vet Allard had seen once; scarred, battered, and forever haunted. 

The man cackled. “Yeah. That’s about right.” The beard hid the worst of the scars on his jaw and neck. 

“What the hell happened to you anyway?” said Allard, curious despite his terror.

The man coughed. “Wycliffe.”

Allard scrambled to his feet. “What? You don’t work for him, do you?” Had Wycliffe found out already?

“No,” said the scarred man. “Wycliffe happened to me.” He titled his head to the side. “You’ve caused me a lot of problems, handing out those damned cigarettes.”

“I…I didn’t know, oh, God, I didn’t know what they were,” said Allard. The horror threatened to overwhelm him. “Wait…how do you know?”

“I’ve been watching Wycliffe,” said the man. He tapped his cane between Allard’s feet. “And I’ve been watching you, Kyle Allard. I know all about it, even if you don’t.” He rubbed his chin. “You’ve seen it, haven’t you?” 

“Seen what?” said Allard.

“What Wycliffe’s really like,” said the man. “What all his pet thugs are really like. What he’s got locked up in his secret warehouse. Enough guns and bombs to turn Chicago to a crater. And the man in the black robes.” Allard shuddered. “Yeah. You’ve seen him, haven’t you?”

“Who are you?” said Allard.

The man hesitated. “Wycliffe ruined me. So I’ve been watching him ever since. Someday I’m going to find a way to ruin that bastard.” He smirked. “It’s not the entire truth, but close enough. But what are you going to do?”

“What do you mean?” said Allard. 

The man poked Allard in the chest. “You know the truth. About him. What are you going to do? You can’t go back to work. Wycliffe will know. He’ll kill you. Or you’ll wish he had killed you, before he’s done. And you can’t run. He’ll know. He’ll send the winged things to find you.” 

The possibility filled Allard with dread. “I don’t know. But…but…I…” He looked at the ground. “I have to do something. It’s my fault. Mine. I handed out all those cigarettes. Oh, God.” He scrubbed his hands across his eyes. “I don’t know. Just something. I have do something.”

The man stared at him in silence for a long minute. “Maybe I can help.”

“How?” said Allard.

The man pointed his cane at a battered gray van parked near the curb. “Come with me.” He limped towards the van, Allard following.

“Who the hell are you, anyway?” said Allard. 

The man stopped before the van’s back doors and dug a ring of keys from his pocket. “A name?” He fumbled with the keys, picked one, and thrust it into the lock. “Regent will work.”

“Regent? Okay, Mr. Regent,” said Allard. “Let me guess. You’re with the FBI? Or the CIA, right?”

Regent snorted. “The CIA,” he said, throwing the van doors open wide, “couldn’t find shit in a shithouse.”

“Goddamn,” whispered Allard. 

Two racks of gleaming assault weapons hung from the van’s walls. Other racks held machine pistols, gun parts, and a variety of electronic equipment. A rack on the floor held six black metal rods that looked like spiked spears with batteries and wires attached.

“Those…those are guns,” said Allard. “How did you…”  

“Shut up. I have a lot to tell you. First lesson, Allard,” said Regent. “Forewarned is forearmed.” He patted one of the assault rifles and grinned. “And the more heavily forearmed, the better. Now let’s get you out of the city. You and I are going to have to disappear for a while, I’m afraid.” He turned, dark eyes glittering beneath bushy brows. “You with me, son?”

Allard swallowed. He didn’t want to get into that van with this well-armed madman. But what choice did he have? “Okay. Just…just don’t point those things at me.” 

Regent snickered and shoved a pistol into a shoulder holster.  

Chapter 16 - A Chance Meeting

Anno Domini 2012

Wycliffe sat in his office and plotted strategy with Markham.

It was a pleasant diversion from thinking about Marugon and his damned nuclear bomb. 

“I think the next speaking tour should go through California, Oregon, the other west coast states,” said Markham, flipping through a sheaf of papers. 

“Understandable,” said Wycliffe. “After all, Senator Jones and I are both from Illinois. We must try to build national appeal. But why California?”

“California has the most electoral votes,” said Markham. He tucked the paper away in his briefcase and retrieved another. “Our research shows that the anti-corporate plank would go over well in Los Angeles and San Francisco, particularly. And we’re going to lose Texas, most likely, since it has traditionally voted Republican. Texas has a lot of electoral votes, and we’ll need California to counter them. Combined with Illinois, which we’re certainly going to take, it might decide the election…” Markham yawned. “Ah. Pardon me, Senator.”

Wycliffe grinned and sipped at his water. “Don’t burn out on me, Markham. The election’s not for another six months yet.”

Markham laughed. “It’s all uphill from here, though. I just need some coffee.”

“I think we’ll send Senator Jones through the Plains states,” said Wycliffe. “Rural areas, mostly. Kansas and Nebraska, and perhaps the Dakotas.”

Markham frowned. “The rural states won’t carry much of an impact come election day.”

“Quite true,” said Wycliffe. “But we have an advantage. I can speak in the cities. Senator Jones can speak in the rural areas. The urban vote might be decisive, but the rural vote should not be ignored. Better to have both.” Besides, Wycliffe had the Voice. He could influence huge crowds in the cities, and Senator Jones could speak some dirt-grubbing farmers. 

Markham made a note. “And that leaves us with…ah, your speaking engagement tonight.” He frowned. “It’s a fine gesture, but is it really the best use of your time?”

Wycliffe smiled. “Publicity, publicity. Speaking to a bunch of honors students makes for excellent publicity. Besides, those honor students can vote. And they’re young and idealistic. We might snare ourselves a few new campaign workers.” His trip to the University of Wisconsin a few weeks ago had caught hundreds of new volunteers. 

Young people were impressionable, and the Voice did wonders on the impressionable.

“Very good,” said Markham. “Well, I’d better get back to…”

The office door opened. Wycliffe scowled. “I said I was not to be disturbed…”

Then he saw who was at the door, and he forced aside his irritation.

Marugon strode into the office. He had exchanged his black robes for a black double-breasted Armani suit. It made him look like a ruthless CEO or an experienced assassin. 

“Mr. Marugon, sir,” said Markham.

“Go,” said Marugon, his words crackling with the Voice. “You have carried out your duties well and faithfully.” Markham rose and left. Marugon sat in the chair he had vacated.

“You know,” said Wycliffe, restraining a scowl. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t use the Voice on my workers. I need their minds clear.” 

“They do not matter,” said Marugon. “The nuclear device. Have your agents made any progress?” 

Wycliffe bit his lip. “Some. There…ah…was a setback.”

Marugon’s eyes flashed. “Explain.”

“The bomb is in Vladivostok,” said Wycliffe. “A port on the Pacific coast of Russia, as you will…”

“I am well aware of the geography of your world,” said Marugon. “The bomb is in Vladivostok. Why is it not here?”

“There was a problem. Kurkov contracted a freighter captain to smuggle the bomb to Los Angeles. But the freighter hit a storm in the Sea of Japan and sunk, and the captain and most of the crew drowned. So, we have no ship to carry the bomb. Kurkov is looking into other means of transportation.” 

Marugon stood and began to pace, head titled, as if listening to a voice only he could hear. “You will instruct your agents to obtain the nuclear device as soon as possible. I must have it, Senator Wycliffe.”

Wycliffe’s temper slipped. “Yes. You’ve told me that. Many times. But why do you need a nuclear bomb? Your enemies are all destroyed. Are some renegade peasants armed with pitchforks proving too much for your soldiers?”

Marugon turned, his gaze sending chills down Wycliffe’s spine. “They are all gone. My enemies are defeated, Senator Wycliffe.”

“Is that it?” said Wycliffe. Marugon had been acting erratically since his arrival. He would sit and read for days at a time. Or he would pace, staring out the windows and muttering to himself. “There are no enemies left to fight?”

Marugon snorted. “Hardly. There are always enemies. New ones rise up. But that is not my concern. I want that bomb.”

Wycliffe leaned forward. “And you will have it. But these things take time.” Marugon scowled. “Yes, I know I’ve told you all this before, but it’s the truth. Shipping a nuclear bomb is not easy. Bribes must be paid. If my involvement in this came out…why, it could ruin everything. I must be careful. But the bomb will arrive. And if all else fails, after I win the election, I will have the means to provide you with as many bombs as you might wish.”

Marugon nodded. “Very well. I must be patient.” He smirked. “I have waited so long already. What are a few more months, no?” He paced to the window and stared out into the compound. “You are giving a speech tonight.”

Wycliffe turned his chair to watch Marugon. “Yes.”

“I shall accompany you.”

Wycliffe frowned. “Why?” 

Marugon turned his head and lifted an eyebrow. “Why not?” 

“It…seems unusual, that’s all,” said Wycliffe. Marugon had never shown more than a polite interest in Wycliffe’s political activities. 

“I have not seen much of your world, Senator Wycliffe,” said Marugon. “Indeed, I have not even seen very much of your city. Now that my enemies are overthrown, as you have reminded me, I can take the time to indulge my curiosity. Besides, Goth-Mar-Dan tells me you have found an interesting use for the Voice, using it to raise emotion in a gathered crowd. I wish to see this application.”

Wycliffe smothered a grimace. How much else had Goth shared with Marugon? “It’s hardly impressive, at least to one of your skills. Will…you desire bodyguards?”

Marugon raised his eyebrows. “I hardly require bodyguards, no? But why?”

Wycliffe licked his lips. “Goth and his kin have been less troublesome than usual since you arrived. But they are still difficult.” He had stopped taking Goth along on his campaign stops. The winged demon simply inspired too much fear in onlookers. “I would prefer not to have them cause any trouble tonight.”

“They may remain,” said Marugon. “You are right. They are difficult to manage. Their appetites are very powerful. Perhaps I shall take them back with me to my world, once I have the bomb. My world is conquered, the peasants of the High Kingdoms under firm control. They may ravage as they wish through my world without causing undue problems.” 

For some reason, Wycliffe thought Marugon had lied. “We shall depart at six, if that is acceptable.”

Marugon’s smile turned wolfish. “Very well.” 

###

Thunder boomed. Ally almost jumped out of her seat, the seat belt jerking against her neck. 

The radio crackled, and Simon scowled. “Could you change the channel?”

Katrina grunted and reached for the dial, her skirt rustling against the seat. “Station, Simon. It’s a radio station.” Lightning flashed on the horizon, illuminating the dusk sky. “I hope somebody remembered to bring an umbrella.”

Lithon looked up from his magazine. “I brought an umbrella.” 

“Smart boy,” said Katrina. “This seems clear…”

“In other news,” said a newscaster’s calm voice, “Presidential candidate Senator William Jones is scheduled to make a speech to the Chicago Humanitarians’ Club. Jones and his outspoken running mate, Senator Thomas Wycliffe, are embarking for a campaign trip through the West Coast next week.”

“Goddamn,” mumbled Katrina. 

“The Gracchan Party remains the frontrunner in the presidential race,” said the radio. “If Jones wins the election, he would be the first third party president since the formation of the two-party system. In the past two weeks, fourteen men and seven women have announced their candidacy for the House of Representatives as Gracchans. More are expected…”

“Turn that off,” said Simon.

“You sure don’t like this Wycliffe guy,” said Ally. 

Simon snorted. “Yeah. Yeah, you could definitely say that. We don’t like him.”

“Why not?” said Ally. 

Katrina and Simon shared a look. They seemed to do that a lot, lately. 

“He’s a crook,” said Simon at last.

Ally frowned. “So all those stories about him are true?”

Simon snorted. “We just don’t think he’d make a very good president.”

“Vice president,” said Ally.

Katrina sighed. “He’d become president, trust me. And he’d make a terrible one.”

“Wow,” said Lithon, leaning forward. “You must be right.”

“Oh? How come?” said Katrina.

“You and Dad never agree on anything like that,” said Lithon.  

Simon rolled his eyes. “We do too agree on some things.” 

“Yeah,” said Lithon, returning his attention to his magazine, “that this guy would make a bad president.”

Simon glanced at Katrina. “From the mouths of babes.”

Lithon made an aggravated sound. “Why does everyone always say that when I say something?”

Ally laughed. “Because you’re usually right, that’s why.” 

“Ah. Here we are,” said Simon. The conference center’s parking lot loomed ahead. “What do you know? They’ve got adequate parking. In Chicago! Indeed a rarity.” Simon pulled into a parking spot and turned off the engine. Ally looked out the window. There might indeed be adequate parking, but they still had a long walk to the conference center. Ally wished she hadn’t worn high heels. “Everyone out. Lithon, better take that umbrella.” 

Ally got out. A mosquito buzzed past her ear. She reached up and squished it, wishing she had worn a dress with sleeves, or that she had stayed home with Mary. This honors dinner did not mean very much to her. Yet it was important to her parents, especially Simon. And Bill would be here. They had stayed in touch over Facebook, but she had not seen him since the night of his party. 

Simon set off across the parking lot, Lithon following. 

Katrina touched Ally’s arm. “You okay?” 

“Yes,” said Ally. She shrugged. “I…was just thinking, that’s all.”

“Don’t think too much,” said Katrina. “You seem to brood a lot lately.” They started towards the conference center, following Simon and Lithon.

“You sound like Mary,” said Ally. 

“Sometimes she’s right,” said Katrina.

Ally scowled. “What should I do then? Stop thinking?” She did a mocking giggle and tossed her head. “Dye my hair blond?”

Katrina rolled her eyes. “No. We worry about you, Simon and me. You’re a special kid, Ally. You seem to sit and think a lot lately. I know I’ve preached against parties and booze and boys for as long as you can remember, but maybe you do need to get out more.” 

“Europe,” said Ally. “That’s about as far out as you can get.”

They walked in silence for a moment.

“You want to talk about it?” said Katrina.

Ally shook her head. “No.” She did not want to discuss the dreams with anyone. 

“Sure?” said Katrina.

“Yeah,” said Ally. “I can’t talk about it, because I don’t know what it is.”  

“Okay,” said Katrina. “Just don’t do anything stupid.”

Ally laughed. “I promise.” They caught up with Simon and Lithon and walked into the conference center. A long blue-carpeted hallway stretched the length of the building, potted plants standing in lighted alcoves. The dull rumble of conversation filled the building. They walked through a pair of double doors and into a huge hall filled with hundreds of round dining tables. 

“Must be something like three thousand people here,” said Simon. “I think your school’s over this way.”

“All the honor students from the entire school district’s graduating class,” said Ally. “I see Dr. Burton.” She grimaced. She also saw Mr. Paulsen. The judge had refused to post bail for Nathan Jameson, but Paulsen offered to pay it anyway, and had even testified in Nathan’s defense at the trial, calling Mary a promiscuous slut.

“Wonder how they found the money to pay for all of this,” said Simon, pushing his way through the crowd. “I know they didn’t do this last year.”

Ally shrugged. “I guess they had some rich donor.” 

“Ah! Ally Wester!” Dr. Burton rose, resplendent in a black tuxedo. Paulsen glanced Ally’s way, scowled, and looked away again. “Welcome.” He shook Katrina and Simon’s hand and turned to Ally. “Miss Wester. I hear you’ve had an interesting summer so far.” 

Ally looked away. “It’s…not the sort of interesting I would have chosen.”

Dr. Burton grunted. “I can understand. I found myself in a similar situation some years ago.” He looked her in the eye. “You showed remarkable bravery, doing what you did.”

Ally didn’t look up from the carpet. “Thank you.” 

Dr. Burton turned to Simon. “You have a talented daughter. Watch her. I expect her to do great things. Ah…your table’s over this way, across from the Ryans.”

Ally grinned. She saw Mr. Ryan and his wife sitting at one of the tables, both wearing dark suits, both talking into iPhones. Bill sat besides his father, fiddling with his fork. He looked very bored.

Ally walked over and dropped into the chair besides him. “Pay attention.”

Bill grunted. “I am paying attention…” He blinked, looked at Ally, and did a double take. “Ally!”

“None other,” said Ally. Katrina and Simon and Lithon took their seats at the next table. “How have you been?”

Bill grinned ear to ear. “Ally. Wow. You look…like…like…” He thought for a moment. “Wow.”

“Bill,” said Ally. “Stop staring.”

Bill shook his head. “Right. Sorry. It’s just…I haven’t seen you since the night of…oh, sorry.”

“It’s okay,” said Ally.

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