The Cyneweard

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Part III - All That's Left is Blood :: 71

Vice Chairman Schroder stared out of the window of his fore parlor, a sickeningly pink room decorated by his wife Adelind. Her taste was frilly, soft, and expensive. He took a sip from a short glass filled near to the brim with a strong, aged whiskey.

Outside, a short walk from the window, were the smoldering remains of Vice Chairman Berger’s home. Both he and Pfieffer had perished in the blaze, as well as at least eight guards. That fact seemed odd to him. Had all of them been asleep? Even the guards? Deep enough in their sleep to not have noticed the roaring fire around them?

He doubted it.

“Victor, you’re not still staring out that window, are you?” called his wife from behind him.

Schroder sighed and turned, giving his wife a weak smile. “I suspect news will be reaching Chairman Parton soon.”

Adelind was wearing a white silk night gown with frills at the sleeve cuffs and collar. She looked absolutely ridiculous, but he’d never tell her that. She had supported him and his many movements and machinations far too long for him to hold any of her tastes against her, tacky as they may have been.

“You worry too much,” she told him, gliding to him and placing one of her small hands on his chest. She looked up at him, eyes weary but bright with life.

“It’s hard not to worry, my dear,” he told her, placing the glass on the window sill behind him. “This is not the paradise it once was, of course I’ll worry. We are prisoners in our own home, unable to walk the streets or enjoy the fruits of our labors because people want me dead. Want the entire Machine dead.”

“That seems so silly,” she said, stepping back and letting out a yawn. “The Machine makes all of this possible.”

Schroder nodded. “Every advancement, every new piece of interesting invention, every great stride in our culture is coming from the Machine. And there are people looking to take it away from us.”

“Stupid,” his wife said, yawning again.

“I think,” he said, putting a hand on her shoulder, “that you need to get to bed. It’s late.”

Adelind nodded and gave him a warm smile. “Will you be long?”

With a sigh, Schroder gave her a hug, stroking the small of her back as their cheeks pressed against each other. “I will try to be there soon. I have a lot on my mind.”

She squeezed his middle, urging him to reconsider.

He laughed. “I’ll come as soon as I can. I promise.”

Adelind shook her head, pushed away from him, and gave him a wink. She stretched and sauntered over to the small, plush love seat in the center of the room, positioned just in front of a large marble fireplace.

“I’m waiting up then. I’ll sit right here until you decide to come to bed.”

She had always been stubborn. He smiled, shook his head, and grabbed his drink. He joined her on the love seat. She put a hand on his knee.

“Tell me,” she said, all joviality gone from her voice. “What’s really worrying you?”

Schroder took a long pull from the glass and set it on the end table next to the seat. “I’m worried that soon, there will be no Machinist Group. There will be only chaos. And death.”

Adelind tilted her head. “What makes you think that’s coming?”

He shrugged. “We have all of the advantages one would need to quell any backlash. A long peace has been held since the Purge. But this feels different to me. There’s something perverse out there. Something rotten, breathing down society’s neck. I can’t quite place it.”

“That sounds pleasant,” she replied, rolling her eyes. “Do you really believe there is no hope?”

He looked at her and smiled. “There’s always hope, my dear.”

Schroder leaned in and kissed his wife. She returned the gesture in kind, perhaps with more passion than he had expected. Warmth started to spread from his face to his navel. Adelind had always been his weakness.

“Ready to go to bed yet?” she asked as they pulled away from one another.

Slightly buzzed, he managed a nod.

Adelind grinned. Then the door to their parlor was thrown from its hinges.

Both Schroder and his wife jumped. The Vice Chairman turned, placing his arm across the back of the love seat and craned his neck to see what the commotion was about. He had wanted to rise to his feet, but a silhouette in the doorway froze him in place.

“Sir,” called the person that had thrown the door off its track. “We need to get you two out of here.”

The owner of the voice was Chima, one of the few Animas foreman. The male feline was tall, broad, and stern. He was also loyal and strong in times of crises. He had served Schroder well during numerous skirmishes during the rebellion.

“Chima,” Schroder said. “What’s going on?”

“We have to move. Need to go now. Please get-”

A red flower bloomed at the center of Chima’s tawny fur-covered forehead. His eyes rolled up and crossed, trying to find the new addition to his face. Then they rolled all the way up and the guard’s body crumpled to the floor useless.

Adelind screamed. Schroder started to stand. He felt something punch his chest hard just before he heard the bang. His head felt light. His chest heaved. Something was bubbling somewhere. He heard it but couldn’t see it. Every breath brought metal flakes to the back of his throat. The world started to swim. He tried to turn to see his wife. She was screaming, started to rush towards him with her arms outstretched. Why was she screaming? He tried to ask her but only hot, sticky liquid came out. Pain started to overcome his confusion. The lights were dimming.

He fell. Adelind continued to scream, but she was farther away now. Schroder looked up.

A man stood over him. Adelind’s soft chin was somewhere near his left eyes. She too was looking up at the man. Screaming. Lots of screaming.

The man’s face was a sea of nothing. There was no anger there. No madness. No vitriol. Not even determination. Simple resignation to the job at hand. A job. Schroder realized he was a job now. That’s all he was to this man. A job.

More hot liquid came from his mouth as he tried to speak to the man. Adelind was screaming something. A slug thrower rose from the man’s side. The attacker’s face contorted for just a moment, Schroder heard a crack, and then...

He couldn’t hear Adelind anymore. He couldn’t see her. His head would no longer stay upright. The man’s shadow was gone.

Schroder’s head lolled to the right. Adelind’s bright green eyes met his, but his wife was no longer behind them.

A rose had bloomed just above her left eye.

The beautiful flower was crying.

Its tears were red.

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