2.10: Night Light

I’ve made dumber decisions to end up on bed rest.

     Bookkeeping is not Reddic’s favorite thing, and even less to watch. Being hunched over a desk to count and read such boring descriptions is his kind of torture. Well, the kind of torture that would be effective on him. As he enters his target’s office, he suspects what he has planned will work but if push comes to shove, he’s willing to improvise.

     He finds the owner of Fine Iron Recycle in a corner office without a door. The nametag confirms for Reddic that the man tending to the sales account is Mr. Warchus. Then again, one look at his brawny build, salt and pepper beard, and thinning hair, and he was already confident.

     To call his entering an infiltration is a stretch, even if he does so while invisible to the naked eye. His partner, however, gets into position to strike without a sound. Mr. Warchus records the day’s sales in his official tax binder. Any transactions with a signed and confirmed receipt by the customer, he logs into the binder. However, any transactions lacking those things, he neglects to report. Reddic rolls his eyes as the owner laughs to himself.

     While undetectable to Warchus, Reddic knows Auriel will be able to see him next to a light source, so he puts a thumbs up next to the desk lamp. The next second, Mr. Warchus’s chair is severed at the pole connecting it to the wheels. He falls over with the top half, hitting his knee against one of the wheels.

     “What the hell? I just bought this damned thing! Sturdy as- huh?”

     Mr. Warchus sees the clean forty-five-degree cut. Reddic adds panic to his confusion, undoing his invisibility from his feet first. He relishes the moment when Mr. Warchus notices, that nearly imperceptible flinch betraying fear. To the owner’s credit, he stands and throws a punch anyway. Reddic catches ahold of his wrist and holds onto it firmly, even as Mr. Warchus tries to free himself. The muscles in his arm are transformed to allow for greater grip strength.

     “As you can tell, Mr. Warchus, your strength is of no consequence to me. Make this as easy as possible and answer my questions to the best of your ability.”

     “Fuck you!” Mr. Warchus shouts, aiming with his other fist next. He nearly loses his balance when Auriel grabs that wrist, locking him between two dangers. “What the hell is this? Let me go!”

     “You may only be a middle-man but surely even you recognize you have no power here,” Auriel says. She tilts her head to give him a clear view of her serrated executioner’s blade.

     “Middle-man? What are you- aagh!”

     Reddic breaks his thumb delicately as if it were as brittle as a stick.

     Mr. Warchus groans and seethes as he writhes in their grasp.

     “To the best of your ability means quickly and without any games. Now, I’m sure you know about the death of Mr. Banad and his family since you had a hand in it. The cops tested the metal they were crucified with and have no access to an expert to properly identify it. I do. The residue used to treat the metal comes from this plant. Who did you supply the barbed wire to?”

     “I didn’t supply nobody! It was stolen! I didn’t report it because I didn’t want cops sniffing around my business!”

     Reddic slides his hand up Warchus’s arm and spreads his palms and fingers. He sharpens a singular nail, digs it into the base of Warchus’s index fingernail, and then scrapes it off. Warchus writhes and groans more intensely this time, spittle launching from his quivering lips. Reddic and Auriel release him and he sinks to his knees, clutching his wounded hand.

     There comes another nearly imperceptible flinch when Fanger makes his presence known with a growl. The leopard maintains his upper body visibility long enough for Warchus to understand he’s not an illusion.

     “Now that you can understand escape is futile…” Reddic lifts the broken chair and slams the sliced pole into the floor. “Take a seat.”

     Warchus takes the seat slowly.

     “Now, I’d believe you about the theft if not for your plebeian laundering tactics.” Reddic bounces the account binder on the desk. “I’m willing to bet the barbed wire is another of your low-brow amendments. Am I correct?”

     Mr. Warchus remains silent.

     “Ah, so it’s to be like that, is it? Well, I guess we can pack it up.” Reddic shrugs and marches toward the doorway.

     “Are you serious? We’ve barely questioned him.”

     “Yes, and it’ll look like he spilled his guys with so little done to him. Whoever acquired the barbed wire may feel more secure after using some on him. Better a dead end than a loose one, if you ask me. And I’m sure his wife, son, and two daughters will join him. Let’s go. We’re wasting our time.”

     “Wait!” Warchus cries.

     Reddic stops at the office entrance and looks over his shoulder. “Will you make this worth my while?”

     “Only if you agree to get my family to safety! They can’t pay for my mistakes! Like you said, I have three kids! I only launder money so I can take care of them! I was sloppy and others discovered my scam and blackmailed me! My wife doesn’t even know! Please!”

     The fear in Warchus’s green eyes is one Reddic understands intimately.

     “That was the plan all along, Mr. Warchus. We have your family outside. Tell us what you know and we’ll take you all to safety.”

     The owner nods vehemently. “Ask me anything!”

     Reddic turns all the way around, keeping his expression rigid but smiling regardless. “Are the people who blackmailed you the same who took the barbed wire?”

     “All in the same night that they killed Mr. Banad…and his family.”

     So, they’re quick and efficient. If these same people are working with Victa and Liamria, that’s a problem.

     “I know they sprung this on you but with your laundering being the cornerstone of your fatherhood, surely you learned how to keep your ear to the ground?”

     “I did but only as much as I could without getting on their radar like Banad. He swallows hard. “The people who came wore masks but one of ‘em spoke properly. He definitely wasn’t from the Slums, and even though he hung back, I could tell he was in charge. The other three kept looking at him before they asked me anything.”

     “What can you tell me about that man in charge? Any details at all will help.”

     “Not much. He didn’t speak a lot during the meeting. Oh…he, um, he had scars on his face!”

     Reddic immediately locks eyes with Auriel. The last time he saw Victa, he gave him a nasty set of scars. He turns back to Warchus.

     “Could you tell me how many scars were on his face?”

     “I only saw two but like I said, I didn’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention, so I made it a point not to stare too long.”

     “Is that all you remember?”

     “Just that he had white hair. When some of it spilled out, he was quick to hide it again,” Warchus explains. “Do you know this man?”

     “I do,” Reddic says, holding out his hand. “And shortly after relocating you and yours, I will end him. You have my word.”

     Warchus relaxes then, his fear replaced with hope. He accepts Reddic’s help to stand but did not expect his help to fall back down, clutching his gushing throat. Reddic stares down at him dying with grim satisfaction, admiring his reflection in the growing blood puddle.

     Auriel asks brusquely, “Was that necessary, Reddic? He was helpful to us.”

     “I intended to spare him until he tried to divine my motives. He was going to rat us out to Victa, and the element of surprise is our sole advantage.”

     “Won’t his death alert Victa, too?” she counters, the slight rage in her voice grating to hear. He told her from the jump to leave her prickly soldier code at home if she was going to join him.

     “Not if we rob his safe.” Reddic kicks the black safe beneath the desk. “It’ll look like he was tortured for the combination.”

     “Grave robbing, Reddic? Are you that depraved?”

     “We. We’re that depraved. Who do you think is breaking into the safe?”

     Even as she stands still glaring at him, the safe door splits from the rest and clangs onto the floor. “What are we going to tell his family?”

     Reddic scoops up the vigit and centu sheets. “The same lie. The mother won’t risk the life of her kids by going back home since they’re already packed.”

     “What makes you so sure about her over Warchus?”

     “The fact she’s a mother with no criminal history. She’ll put her children’s lives first. Her way to do that is to leave. Warchus’s way was with crime. Outing us to Victa would be the only play he would stick to.”

     “And you know how mothers think?”

     “Mothers.” He flashes Auriel a cheeky grin. “Foster or otherwise.”

     “Finish up here. I’ll make the call.” Auriel steps away.

     Fanger unveils his upper body and tail, nudging Reddic’s arm, yowling softly.

     “It’s okay, bud. I didn’t invite her along to make her like me. That ship has sailed. I invited her so she can see the world through my perspective; to understand why I play the role I play.”

     Reddic rises and looks down at Warchus’s corpse. His earlier sympathy is no more.

     He jumped on a board so large he couldn’t see the edge. One way or another, the lifestyle he entertained was going to get him where he is today, by my hand or another’s. And my hands are necessary evils. People like Neth, Auriel, and Kirby, can be the merciful ones. But somebody has to swing the sword.


     “And you’re positive that information is correct?” Stark asks into her phone. “I can’t bite on the word of a dead man.” She waits and listens for a few minutes. “It’s not my jurisdiction, so the ruling over the murder investigation is- Of course, it bothers me! What do you want me to do, arrest Reddic?” She listens some more. “Look, you can try and get me to hate Reddic but it’s not going to work. His methods are extreme; I’m not denying that, nor do I agree with them…but we cannot afford to not have Reddic on our team. He- What do you mean “What do I mean by that?”.”

     A door to Stark’s rear opens up and Tameri gives her a pressuring look.

     “Look, just deal with it for now. Or don’t. Nobody’s forcing you to work with us. I gotta go.”

     Stark terminates the call and terminates down the city hall corridor.

     “Bad news?” Tameri mouths.

     “The worst,” she mouths back.

     “Well, this should help lighten the load.”

     Tameri guides the officer into a small, dark viewing room. They join Jojen and Sheriff Will, two of Tameri’s long-term confidants in Vanis Town, at a long window. Inside the room they jointly survey is Aven, seated at a plain white table, filling out a pair of forms. His scythe leans against the wall to his left.

     “Apologies. I had to take that call. Where are we?”

     “He’s already passed the legal and physical exams. Right now, he’s completing the certification forms. After that, we’ll conduct the psyche exam,” Sheriff Will explains.

     “How well did he do on the first two?”

     “Excellent! The kid knows all the laws verbatim and his Bond Of The Blade control is well-refined.” The sheriff’s smoke-colored eyes exude awe. He removes the baselard from the harness at his waist, twirling it flashily. “He blocked every one of my attacks correctly without ever nicking me. His instincts are sharp. I’m seriously thinking of offering him a job here.”

     “I concur. This one’s got an attitude but he’s always been sharp. Even back when the dojo was bombed, he held it together and held his own for a time,” Jojen says.

     “Oh, if you two are impressed with that, then I should tell you that Headmaster Neth is only alive because of him. During the War of FHA, he single-handedly took on the assassin sent to kill Neth and prevailed.” Tameri’s pride shines through as she watches the young man inspect his scythe. “I don’t condone him taking life but he had no choice. And that’s the reason I’m fine giving him his open carry license.”

     “I don’t get it,” Will admits.

     “Go and perform the psyche exam. You’ll learn,” Tameri says.

     “Are we sticking with the abridged exam?” Will asks, and all eyes turn to Stark.

     She has no problem personally since she isn’t able to honor his original request. And with Neth feeling indebted, he’s also willing to look the other way. But it doesn’t stop the professional side of her from cracking. The death of Banad following her promise to do better by Jupiter City, learning how much she has to compromise her ideals to work with Reddic, and now bending the law to put a young man, fresh off her birthday, directly in harm’s way; her soul feels like weeping.

     “Go ahead,” Stark says.

     “Very well. Excuse me.”

     Sheriff Will moves into the room with Aven. Stark takes his place in front of the two-way glass.

     “Have you finished the form, Aven?”

     “Yeah. Here you go.” Aven turns over the papers.

     Will narrows his eyes at the second page, then quickly inspects the scythe. “You do know your certification masterwork can be whatever you want. It doesn’t have to be minimal.”

     Aven shrugs. “Function is all I want and that blade design will help me fight against a larger variety of weapons.”

     “As long as you understand, that’s fine.”

     The certification masterwork is a perk for Ohaida when they earn their open carry license. They are allowed to alter their weapon one time in any way they wish. The only caveat is that it has to stay the same weapon. A sword cannot be made into a hammer or vice versa. The practice is becoming rarer as more extravagant base designs flood armories worldwide.

     “Did you change yours, Tameri?”

     “Just my guard.” She holds up her spadroon and shows off the chalky color. “It used to be the same color as blood.”

     “Yeah, that doesn’t sound like you at all.”

     “My doctors were heavy-handed with the metaphor they wanted for me.”

     “I like the one you chose better.”

     “Me, too.”

     “Okay, so let’s start the psyche exam. Take a seat, Aven.”

     “All right.”

     Once Aven sits, Will takes the one on the opposite side of the table. Even though the dark-clad and dark-haired young man is in the hot seat, he looks serene.

     “I only have three questions to ask you. First- why do you want your open carry license?”

     “Protection, basically.”

     “Expound, please.”

     “There are no shortage of idiots coming for my neck and they’re only getting bolder. Now, they’re after my friends, too. I trust Tameri and Stark with our lives, I do. I wouldn’t have returned if I didn’t. But I’m not blind to the risks and neither are they. After the War of FHA, the people after our heads won’t attack head-on again. They’ll try to strike when they aren’t around. I plan to be around anytime they aren’t. Having my open carry license increases my ability to protect myself and my friends.”

     “Noted. Second question- do you believe having your OCL exempts you from other laws, such as assault?”

     “Of course, not. Picking fights is not my objective here. Ending threats is. And yes, I’ll expound. The Pure are a loathsome, cowardly lot! Only by eliminating them root and stem will they stop! Thankfully, when it comes to me and them, I don’t ever have to wait long! They’ll attack again! And I will put a stop to them!”

     Will quickly glances to the side to signal Stark and the others but it’s not necessary. The red flag is not lost on the officer.

     “Okay, one final question. If granted your OCL and made a true Ohaida to the world around you, how will you conduct yourself? What impression do you want to give to citizens who pass you on the street?”

     “That I’m not to be fucked with!” Aven declares confidently.

     Tameri beats on the glass. “Language,” she shouts.

     “Sorry, professor,” he says. “Don’t want to sugarcoat anything.

     “No, that’s good. Transparency during this interview is welcomed. Wait here a moment longer and I’ll be back with a decision.”

     “Take your time.”

     Will rejoins the waiting room group. “Well, I’ll just give my assessment now. The kid’s got a grudge; the second biggest I’ve ever seen. It’s alarming.”

     “Who has the biggest?” Stark asks.

     “No offense, Officer Stark, but that goes to your mother. She’s attacked our small town and started a war to wound you.”

     “Add attacking a mall, the Winding Hills, and Springspell to that count.”

     Will whistles, blown away by the news.

     “So, you’re saying his grudge is deeper than the one I had for my doctors?” Tameri asks.

     “I think the biggest factor differentiating you two is that you didn’t bond with the rest of us until after we escaped the compound. This kid’s hatred for The Pure has grown while he’s made friends he’d kill for. They’ve conflated in his mind.”

     “It is true that he grew closer to his peers after the bombing.”

     “What do you think, Tameri?”

     “His attitude is extreme but he made it clear he will not start trouble. I believe he won’t. His defenses are up right now because of the lab explosion. For a time, this year, I witnessed him actually have fun the way a child should. I’d love for him to have more of that but he’s ready for manhood. I will not stop him from making the leap. I’m fine granting him the OCL.”

     “Aye, me too,” Jojen says.

     “It’s two-to-one, then. Stark, which way are you leaning?”

     Stark steps closer to the window. Already this year, she’s had to recall Aven’s rage. She’s never seen it when The Pure wasn’t involved. But she knows rage can be hidden, thinking of Reddic immediately. He is eternally positive and absolutely ruthless. She imagines at one point that he may have been just like Aven.

     Without guidance, Aven could turn out like him. A light so bright that the shadow within can stay secret until the light goes out. I can’t tell if Reddic’s has but I won’t let Aven’s, that’s for damn sure!

“Let’s make it official.”

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