“Oh shit, Kenji! You killed her! We gotta get outta here. Drive, muthafucka!” Alpha shouted. But something was wrong. Alpha’s throat was a ragged hole, and his eyes were empty sockets. Kenji stared at the rotting mess in the passenger seat of the stolen vehicle. The thing that was so much like spoiled meat used to be the leader of his gang, and one of his closest friends.
Understanding dawned that he was trapped in That dream again. Kenji tried to yank his hands from the faux-fur covered steering wheel and free himself from the horrifying grip of the nightmare, but could not loosen his frozen fingers. He started to sweat and shake, and called out, futilely, for help.
“Ronin! Ronin, help me!” The only answer was a wet slurping sound from the direction of the back seat. The bespectacled teen shuddered and, to his horror, began to cry. Huge, gulping sobs escaped his mouth. He closed his eyes as the car sped forward, hurtling through the moonless night toward a yawning tunnel the color of rust…
Omari jerked awake with a scream frozen in his throat and hot tears threatening to run down his face like lava from an erupting volcano. Twitching and panting, he slapped at his waist, reaching for a weapon that had not hung there in years; he was off the couch and halfway across the room, searching for an enemy combatant to slice or shoot before he realized two things simultaneously: that he was alone in his apartment, and that the gang war in which he had lost his closest friends had been over for more than fifteen years.
To call it something as simple as a gang war was a gross understatement, Omari chided himself. What it was was a catastrophe of epic proportions. He and his crew had battled against an unseen, unknown, unheard of enemy. Every single one of Omari’s friends and comrades died; each death was more bizarre than its predecessor. The entire grotesque parade began its procession after a single event. An event that taunted Omari in his dreams at least once a week and drove him to drink his body weight in fiery, liquid spirit.
He could still hear the squeal of the tires and the sound of the crunch. Worse, he could clearly see the look of shock on the girl’s face as Omari drove the car into her small body, lifting her off her feet, and sending her smashing into the hard ground.
Omari was not completely heartless. He went back to that neighborhood and asked around about the accident. Interestingly, no one knew anything. No one had reported any deaths or injuries. There was no blood at the scene, either, though there were several suspicious markings craved into the ground of the empty lot. When he asked about those, the locals claimed, nonchalantly, that they had always been there. Omari had walked away feeling cheerful, if a bit uneasy, and kept that upbeat attitude for months. Exactly one year later, down to the minute, his friends began to die.
He shuddered and wrapped his arms around his midsection. Weary, he stumbled to his modified kitchen to pour himself a strong drink.
Omari’s only concession to cooking was a microwave oven; therefore, when Parista! told him that part of his contract was to take rooms for living in her building, he had the kitchen gutted and rebuilt as a full wet bar. More and more since coming to work for his idol, his diet was heavy on the liquid side. Between his hectic schedule as the secretary of Parista! and his nightmares and memories, Omari often consumed only coffee with a generous splash of brandy.
He reached for a mug and cursed as he spied the time flashing across his ridiculously large telescreen. The blue numbers informed him that the appointed hour was drawing near. He still needed to change his suit, and after that disgusting dream, he felt the need for a shower as well. Slamming a fist on the mahogany counter top, Omari turned on his leather slipper-clad heel and shuffled to his bedroom to dress for dinner.
Patton was plenty of things. She was talented. She was pretty. She was generous. She was also headstrong, impatient, and terrified of the deity sitting in her living room. She peeked out from beneath her lashes at the tall, imposing figure, hoping that her earlier insolence would be forgiven without comment or punishment.
She flinched as the goddess deposited the fragile, empty tea cup onto the table with an audible clink. She rose to a crouch and scooted forward to refill the drained cup, but was waved off by those impossibly long digits that protruded from The Lady’s hand. Patton dipped her head in acknowledgement and returned to her place at her visitor’s feet.
The Lady sighed, sending tendrils of fear and excitement down Patton’s spine. “What would you have me do?” the goddess asked her devotee.
“Renew the bindings, and complete my vengeance,” Patton whispered.
“Have you prepared yourself?”
“There is no longer any return from this.”
“I understand and consent, Lady,” Patton said, rising to one knee. She groped for The Lady’s hand; finding it, she lifted it and pressed it against her forehead. “I called upon you that day to bind Kissenah to me. I need it to be complete.”
“Will she agree?”
“She will,” Patton answered confidently. “I will make sure of it.”
“And him?” the goddess questioned.
“He deserves no mercy, Lady. He killed me!” Patton twitched with anger. “He left me to die.”
“He was a child.”
“He is a murderer! I would never have known had his mother not come forward with the news.”
“Does he know of her betrayal?”
“Why are you so concerned with him, Lady/” Patton whined. Forgetting her fear, she tilted her face upward to gaze into The Lady’s eyes. The burning emotion she saw in those rust-colored orbs chilled her, and she dropped the goddess’s hand as if she had been burned. “My Lady?”
“I am not only yours, Patton. You would do well to remember this.” The Lady lifted her hand, and used her fingertips to trace Patton’s face. Her touch lingered on human woman’s lips. “This mouth,” the goddess murmured, “has spoken many lies.”
“I have never lied,” Patton denied. She winced as the pressure on her mouth increased, and squirmed underneath the steel gaze of her goddess.
“You also have not told the truth to the one you claim to wish to protect. Were you to lose this tongue, would your lovers still crave your song, I wonder?” The Lady withdrew, and Patton, though relieved, mourned the loss of the touch. “Hmm,” the goddess hummed as she settled back into the chair.
“Yes, Lady?” Patton inquired apprehensively. She sat frozen in a half-crouch, reluctant to move without instruction. Her instincts told her to run away, but experience told her to watch and wait.
“Prepare the circle. She is here.”