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Chapter 9

After about an hour of walking, Janice and Derek arrived at the hospital. They’d mostly walked in silence, a cold friction still between them. Derek had noticed for the first time, however, that Jane’s hair had a dark blue streak near the left side. She must’ve hidden it underneath the white hair when she tied it back. Her clothing was also still completely undamaged, as was Derek’s, which was strange given all the material had been through. Derek finally understood what Rust had said when he mentioned the package had contained armour as well as clothing.

As they drew closer to the old school building, Derek frowned.

“Wait…” He called and Jane rolled her eyes before stopping and turning.
“What is it this time?” She snapped. “Are your ickle feetsies sore?”
“No…” Derek shook his head. He felt strong. Magically strong. Far too strong than he should be in this part of town. “Something’s not right.” He looked up at her and together, they jogged the rest of the way to the hospital. The closer they got, the more powerful Derek felt until they pushed the doors open and took the step through the hospital’s façade. They both stopped dead and their mouths opened.

There was blood everywhere. It was splattered on the walls and the trails of wiped blood led to corpses which were mangled, dismembered and torn apart. There were internal organs coating the floor and there was even a small patch of the wall which had the skin of human faces nailed onto it. Derek’s stomach turned the more he looked at the mess but he managed to keep it down.

“What happened here?” He asked carefully and quietly.
“Jester happened.” Janice replied sombrely and began picking her way through the mess on the floor. “He’s always been eccentric, never right in the head, but…” She looked as if she was going to throw up, herself. “This isn’t his usual MO. This many people? It’s just not like him.”
“You think he managed to get Rust?”
“I hope not. Ordinarily, Rust would slaughter him. But now…” She cleared her throat and just shook her head.

They continued to pick their way through the gore on the floor, passing a few disturbingly gruesome things as they passed. A group of people positioned around a table to look as if they were eating from the tops of their heads, a body completely stripped of its skin, there was even a corpse which had all its limbs and head stitched in completely different places than normal. And still, organs littered the floor and blood painted the walls. Derek did his best not to look down or into most of the rooms but every now and then, his curiosity got the better of him. He saw two people, a man and a woman, with holes in their chests and human hearts resting in the holes. He saw a woman with no eyeballs and with her lower jaw removed. He saw a man who looked like a pair of hooks had been forced deep into his nostrils and dragged upwards.

All the while, his magic hummed inside him, stronger than ever. The shadows he passed swirled and reached out to him, almost yearning to be used. He looked forward and stared at the back of Janice’s head. His eyes travelled lower, to the left side of her back. Her heart. It would be so easy… The entire time he’d known her, she’s ridiculed him, insulted him, and made him feel worthless… Just a single flick of the wrist, a simple slice and he could prove her wrong. Could she stand against him now? If he decided to kill her, there was absolutely nothing she could do. It was so temping… Even the shadows were urging him on, creeping towards her and forming sharp spikes. Derek clenched his fist and prepared to command the shadows to his will...

Then he stopped. He blinked and unclenched his fist. The shadows retreated, softening back to their transparent form. He’d been about to kill her. Him, Derek Monroe, the guy who’d rather be beaten up than swing a punch, had been about to kill the closest thing he’d had to a friend. It made his stomach turn more than it already was and it was more than he could handle. He stopped and turned, putting a hand against the wall and doubling over, a mouthful of vomit leaving his mouth and splattering on the floor.

Jane whirled around, her fists up for a fight but lowered them when she saw what the source of the noise was.

“Pathetic.” She said in a disgusting tone. Derek just threw up a second time, closing his eyes to keep the sight of entrails out of his mind.

“I’m good…” He said after a few seconds and spat a few times, trying to empty his mouth of the taste of vomit. He wiped his mouth and stood up straight again. He opened his eyes and nodded to Janice, who turned and continued on her way with Derek following. This time, he kept his eyes glued to Jane’s hair, not letting himself look in any of the rooms or down at the floor.

“Doctor Cutthroat!” Jane suddenly said and rushed into a room. Derek followed and instantly felt the urge to throw up again.

The room wasn’t as messy as it had been outside but the centrepiece more than made up for it. Doctor Cutthroat was strapped to the surgery table in the middle of the room. His stomach and chest had been cut open and his flesh and skin peeled back to expose all his internal organs. His face had its skin completely removed and his eyes had been taken out, too. Derek would have just looked away if that were it, and he did look away, but what happened next made it even harder to resist throwing up again.

“J… Jane…” The doctor croaked. Derek looked back at the doctor and his mouth opened slightly. Janice’s hands covered her mouth. “J… Jes… Jester… H… Hedge…”
“Save your breath!” She said hurriedly. “We’ll get you help, we can… We can…” She trailed off.
“They took… Rust…” Cutthroat continued. His voice was barely a whisper and Derek had to step closer to hear him. “Broadford… Works…”
“Just hang in there!” Jane pleaded. It took Derek almost by surprise, the way she treated this doctor like a friend. “We’ll come back and we’ll fix you up, don’t worry!”
“Don’t… b… bother…” Cutthroat replied and seemed to smile.
“Don’t even try and tell me to kill you!” Jane growled and dug a phone out of her pocket. She dialled a number and began speaking. “I need your best medical personnel at Death’s Door Hospital.” She snapped urgently. “I’ve got one survivor here, Doctor Cutthroat. Rust has been captured by Jared Hedge and Jester… I don’t care, send someone over right now!” She hung up after that and looked down at Cutthroat. “They’ll be here in fifteen minutes. If you dare die on me, I’ll slap you when I join you.” She growled and looked up at Derek. “Let’s go. We’ve got to get to that factory before sunrise.” Without waiting for a response, she stormed right past him and walked down the hospital corridor. Derek hesitated before following her.

“Hang on!” Derek stopped and Janice turned to face him. They were nearly at the old factory and the rain was still hammering hard against the pavement and the both of them. Just a couple more corners and they’d be at the factory.
“What is it, Cockroach?” Jane snarled. “Unless it’s something important, shut your stupid face!”
“What exactly are we going to do?” He asked. “Just charge in, guns blazing?”
“That’s exactly what I’m going to do.” She replied curtly. “If you’re too scared of getting hit any more, then go back to your ponies and kittens!”
“And what if we’re ridiculously outnumbered?” Derek countered. “Say they’ve got a small army holed up in there? I think it’s obvious by now that they know you’re his partner, so you’ll go to get him back, right? What better way to kill both of you than using one as bait?”

As much as she hated to think it, Jane knew the Cockroach was right. Janice had spent her whole magic life charging in blindly, not thinking beforehand and relying on her instincts and skill to get her out alive. That could all change, though.

“So what’s your plan?” She muttered.
“There’s an area at the back of the factory, it’s between two houses and the only thing stopping people from getting in is a fence and some plants.” He replied. “If it is an ambush, they’ll be expecting us to climb over the main wall, which is where most of the kids go these days. We might be able to find Rust and get him out before they know what happened.”
“Fine, we’ll do it your way.” Jane replied. “If someone sees us, though, I’m going to slaughter everyone there.”

“That’s fine by me. Don’t blame me if you get your liver torn out, though.” Derek resumed walking before Janice could raise a hand to punch him. He took a different turn than they were going and rounded the back of the derelict factory, remembering the route from his childhood, where he spent a long time sneaking in the factory to spend time alone. Of course, he’d moved to the other side of town and hadn’t set foot in the factory’s ground since. The vegetation had grown a lot since he’d last been here and it crawled up the sides of the houses flanking the very narrow pathway to the back gate.

The plants themselves were mainly just stalks with large leaves with a few thorny vines here and there. Derek and Jane easily picked through them and stayed crouched low. From where they were, the factory looked as empty as ever. A lot of glass shards were littered on the ground, from halved panes of glass to small, dust-like shards. They made sure not to make too much noise as they walked over the glass. Janice, like a cat, not making a sound. Derek, with the glass crunching quietly under his boots.

Thankfully, it seemed like there was nobody here after all.

They drew nearer to the main building, a set of double wooden doors that peeked out over the wall onto the street below and which usually had a plank of wood nailed across them diagonally. Today, there was no plank of wood and the doors were wide open. Derek and Janice quietly crept through the doorway and into the room. The ceiling, which had original been just a big slanted window, was now open and the glass lay shattered amidst splintered wood and random tufts of grass and leaves. The room itself had nothing else except an upturned office chair, the legs of which had long since been taken by rust.

“Well.” Jane suddenly said out loud, making Derek jump. “It looks like there’s nobody here to ambush us. Let’s just look for Rust and get out.”

Derek sighed. “I guess you’re right. Still, better safe than sorry.” He said and they made their way back to the open door. Right as they reached it, however, it slammed shut and they each got a door to the back, sending them over the small platform’s railing and towards the ground. They both yelped when the doors hit them and Janice only just managed to whip her arm out and hook it around the top of the wall. Her body swung around and slammed into the wall itself, sending the air out of her lungs. Meanwhile, Derek had only just managed to manoeuvre himself so he landed on his back. He felt shards of glass, brick and wood dug into his back but thankfully, the coat stopped them from causing any major harm.

What is this stuff made of? He thought to himself as he carefully pushed himself up. Janice landed beside him and dusted herself off.

“Ballerinas worldwide are crying at your finesse.” She sneered sarcastically before jogging towards the smaller buildings. Derek just sighed and followed her.

They drew nearer to what looked like a delivery depot before Janice stopped and pressed a finger to her lips. Derek strained his ears and heard what sounded like hysterical laughter. He frowned.

“Jester.” Jane whispered and ran her hand across the wall of the building, drawing an axe from the stonework. Derek just hung back, useless. He was powerless right now, on account that nobody had died here in a long time. He clenched his fists and got ready to punch anything he could, even though he’d likely end up breaking his knuckles on the wall or something.

“If you’d bothered to at least tell me how to punch something, I’d probably be of more use to you.” Derek muttered.
“What the hell are you spouting about now!?” She whisper angrily back.
“There’s no death here, is there? I’m useless!”
“Then punch the crazy guy!”
“I don’t know how to fight!”
Jane rolled her eyes. “Squeeze your fingers against your palm and move your fist towards his face!”
“What if he dodges it?”
“Try again!”
“And if he hits me?”
“I’ll try to use that to my advantage.”
“Will you really? Or will you just play injured and hope he kills me?”
“Don’t be stupid! Oh wait, I forgot, you have to be!”
“So what if you can’t stop him from killing me?”
“Possess him.”
Derek blinked. “I can actually do that?”
“Of course not, you dumb twit!” She muttered before flattening herself against the wall beside the door. The laughing inside had stopped and been replaced with some faint muttering, interrupted with high pitched giggles from time to time.

“Oh, little rosebush!” The voice suddenly called and Jane froze. “Prickly, thorny, poisonous at times! Come join daddy at work, he’s been waiting for his little girl to rescue him from boredom!” Another maniacal laugh and Jane suddenly disappeared, turning the corner and running straight into the room. Derek rushed after her and stopped at the doorway, where he saw Jane running directly at a man wearing a ridiculous jester costume.

“The thornbush comes alive and tries to prick me with its thorns!” Jester giggled and leapt high into the air when Jane reached him, doing a flip and turning mid-air to land gracefully, facing Jane. “Shall I get the shears, dear? Perhaps I should present you to your boyfriend!”

Jane growled and dashed again, swinging the axe at Jester and missing again. This time, he planted a foot on her back and kicked off her, sending her sprawling onto the floor and himself higher up into the rafters, where he crouched.

“Come down here and fight, you senseless coward!” Janice snarled up at him. Jester gasped and put a hand to the grinning mouth of his mask, which instantly seemed to melt and reform as a very sad face.

“But you can’t mean that! My little feelings, oh, the pain! The insanity!” He then fell backwards, the back of his left hand on his forehead as he mock fainted off the rafter. He twisted in the middle of the air again, however, and landed with more grace than a ballerina.

Derek looked at Jane, then Jester, then to the chair at the far end of the room. He saw Rust sitting in it, his hands chained behind his back and his hat and coat still on. Keeping his eyes on the other two who were trading attacks—well, Janice was doing the attacking while Jester avoided and goaded her—Derek began to quietly and quickly make his way along the edge of the room to Rust.

“She loves me…” Suddenly, Jester got a knife from somewhere and sliced a deep cut in Jane’s cheek. She grunted but continued swinging, her axe hitting nothing but air.

“… She loves me not!” Another slice across her bicep. “She loves me… She loves me not…” Two more nicks, each on the right forearm. Janice was starting to tire. Her arms were growing heavier and she was breathing heavier. She began to back away, her eyes flicking to Derek for a split second before darting back to Jester, who was again circling her. She narrowed her eyes and planted her feet, slowing her breathing and relaxing slightly, listening for her cue.

“She love-” Jester began but his words quickly turned into a screech, an inhuman shriek. Jane dropped the axe and her hands clamped over her ears. Derek did the same, kneeling down and closing his eyes as he tried to stop the ear-splitting sound.

After nearly a minute, the shriek stopped and Jester stumbled back. The knife was on the floor, right beside his severed and still-twitching hand. His mask melted again and this time turned into a face of rage.

“YOU CUT OFF MY HAND!” He shrieked. “YOU CUT IT OFF, RIGHT THROUGH THE MUSCLE AND SINEW AND BONE AND YOU COST ME FIVE FINGERS AND A PALM!” Suddenly, he laughed, a very pained laugh but still enough to make him out of breath. “WHEN A THORN PIERCES THE SKIN, BURN THE ROSE! BURN THE THORN, BURN THE PETALS, BURN THE STALK, BURN THE ENTIRE BUSH!” With that, Jester took a match from his waistband and flicked it against his hat, sparking a small flame which he instantly dropped onto the very dry wood and debris he was standing on. “BURN FOR MY HA-HA-HAND! BURN AND FEEL MY PAIN FOR ETERNITY!” With that, he leapt up and dove through the roof, sending more debris raining down to feed the fast-growing fire. The hole was instantly sealed up by what looked like a car.

“Janice!” Derek yelled, his ears still ringing.
“What!?” She yelled back.
“Get Rust!” He pointed at Rust, still shackled to the chair. Jane looked at the chair and began making her way via Derek, who was already at the chair. Smoke was quickly filling the room and they had to stay low. Rust was unconscious, so Derek got under one of his arms while Jane broke the shackles and took his other one. Together, they began to move Rust’s unconscious body to the edge of the room. The main exit was already blocked off by the fire, which had covered most of the room. Jane looked around for a second before kicking the wall behind them a few times, easily breaking through the weak brickwork.

“Jump on three!” She said loudly, ears still painful. Derek nodded to her. “One… Two… Three!”

Together, they jumped down and landed heavily, Rust crumpling beneath them. Derek stumbled back and leaned against the wall. He was breathing heavily and coughing even heavier, mainly due to the smoke which was billowing out of the factory behind them.

“Is Rust… Is Rust okay?” He croaked, trying to stop the coughing.

Janice just stayed silent, her shoulder rising and falling as she breathed heavily from exertion. She stood up and kicked Rust in the head, knocking it clean off.

“Jane!” Derek shouted and rushed forward, grabbing her shoulder and roughly pulling her aside to look down at…

… A mannequin. A shop window dummy with Rust’s coat and hat, which was collecting rain a few feet away. The head of the mannequin had rolled away and the chest of it had what used to be a smiley face drawn onto it, however the rain was causing it to run and cover the dummy’s chest in black water.

Gradually, in the distance and with his hearing returning, Derek heard the wail of sirens getting nearer.

“Jane, come on, we have to go.” He said and put his hand on her shoulder again, softer this time. She was just looking at the mannequin, a disgusted look on her face. She didn’t move or respond.

“Jane, come on!” He said and shook her slightly. “We have to go, the fire department is going to be here soon! We can't stay here!” This time, she blinked and looked at him. She didn’t say a word, just kept staring at the dummy. Eventually, Derek let out a sigh and grabbed her arm, dragging her away from the factory. She didn’t resist. They rounded the corner just as the first fire truck arrived.

Jeremy Sarper had let them in without any questions when Derek had explained what had happened and got both of them towels and hot cocoa. Derek had explained everything in detail when they were comfortable and Jeremy had gone upstairs to make a few phone calls while Derek stayed on the couch beside the still silent Janice. For the longest time, neither of them said a word.

“Is it really that bad?” Derek finally broke the silence. “Usually by now, you’d be blaming me, making me feel like crap, using me as the meat shield for the blame. What’s wrong with you?” Still Jane didn’t respond so he just sighed and smoothed his still wet hair back.

“He’s the closest thing I had to a father.” She finally said. Her voice was quiet and sounded so different from her usual voice that Derek thought there was someone else. It wasn’t until she spoke again that he realised it was her that was talking. “After he killed that vampire, I followed him and he was annoyed by me at first. I didn’t even go back to my parents, I didn’t want to be around them when they found out Tom was dead.” She clutched the cooling mug of cocoa in both hands with the towel around her shoulders. “My dad had never liked me, anyways. He’d always wanted another son to carry on the barbershop when he died. He thought I’d be useless. When Rust got used to having me around, he taught me how to fight. He told me about magic, took me here and taught me how to refine it. He’s saved my life so many times.”

Derek wasn’t sure what to say. He fully expected her to just stay silent for the rest of her life… He didn’t know what to do.

“After a while, I think he began to see me as his friend.” She continued. “He didn’t talk like I was a child anymore. We even celebrated my birthday once.” The corners of her mouth twitched ever so slightly. “It was in nineteen forty three. We went to London. He even got me a cake. It was a small one and it was a slice of someone else’s but…” She smiled slightly. “He still put the candle in it. It was the first time I’d had cake.”
“So… What happened?” Derek asked carefully. “When did you stop caring?”
“It was some time in the sixties.” She replied quietly, the smile disappearing. “We were tracking down some vampire who thought he was a lord or something, trying to take over the world. He wasn’t a threat. When we found him, he had a little girl by the throat. He had one of his claws to her forehead and said that if we backed away, he’d let the girl go but he’d escape. If we tried to capture him, he’d kill the girl.”
“What did you do?”
“We stepped back. Gave him a clear path to the door. He-” Her voice caught in her throat slightly. “He ran past us and smashed the girl’s head against the doorframe as he passed. She didn’t even have time to scream. If I’d killed him before he ran, the girl would’ve had a quick death. Instead, she saw it coming.”

Derek stayed silent. He wasn’t sure what to do as he listened to her story. He’d never been in a conversation like this before, he had no idea what to do. Slowly and hesitantly, he raised his arm and carefully put it over the towel on Jane’s shoulders. When he relaxed his arm, she very slowly leaned to the side, resting her head on his shoulder. He gulped and blushed slightly.

“W-we’ll find Rust.” He mumbled. “He’s still alive.”
“We don’t know where he is.” She replied. “He could be on a plane to American for all we know.”
“Then we’ll go to America.” He replied. “Rust wouldn’t leave you behind, would he? We’re not going to let him down.”
“Thanks…” Jane mumbled. “And I’m sorry.”
“What for?”
“For being mean.”
He couldn’t help but chuckle. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. Besides, you’d better toughen up.”
Jane frowned and pulled away from him. “Why?” She asked. “Do you like it when I treat you like a spoiled child?”
“Of course I don’t!” He replied. “But it does remind me that the farthest I’ll get with you is being friends.”
“Right… Friends…” She said and looked down at the cocoa in her hands.
“Plus it’ll help keep my ego in check.” He continued. “I’m an nerd who’s become an extremely powerful sorcerer, there are plenty of people I’d like to teach a lesson to. Just make sure you don’t let my head get too big and I’ll try not to pinch you awake again. Deal?”

For the first time ever, Derek saw Jane actually smile. “Deal.” She replied. “Also… Believe it or not, I don’t have any friends, either.”
“To be honest, I’m not that surprised.” He admitted. “You don’t really come across as the friendly type.”
“I know. I suppose I just didn’t want myself to get close to anyone, knowing they’ll end up dying…” She sighed and leaned back.

At that moment, Jeremy walked back in.

“I’ve got some good news.” The old man said as he sat on his armchair. “A drunk man in fancy dress was seen yesterday loading a large crate into the back of a truck. Of course, nobody paid any attention but a friend of mine confirmed it to be Jester. I can only guess that the crate contains Rust.”
“How do we know it’s him, though?” Derek asked. “What if it’s another trap?”
“Don’t worry, I called in a favour.” Jeremy replied. “The truck went out of the city and that’s the last I heard of it. If any police officers go missing or are found dead, we’ll know it’s Rust. Otherwise whoever’s behind all this wouldn’t kill a civilian just to transport a mannequin.”
“So until then, there’s not much we can do?” Jane asked. Her voice was sharp and strong again and her face had gone back to its annoyed scowl. Jeremy shook his head.

“Then why don’t I take you out for a coffee?” Derek asked, almost casually. Jane turned her head and glared at him.

“If you let me pour the boiling coffee down your throat, sure.” She sneered and he couldn’t help but smile.

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