Waking Other Lives

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The Humans

Dantes’s POV

I was walking among the narrow dirty alleys of Chicago, looking exactly like a mugger, or better still, a murderer, my clothes dirty, and torn, my shirt tucked out, my eyes unfocused with a glaze of insanity. I blinked a few times to focus, an attempt that failed as I tumbled over the litter. I stayed down, not feeling anything, devoid of any feeling. What had I done, things were blurred, I was having difficulty in remembering. I had done what needed to be done, but had it been enough? I closed my eyes, I would not be getting up, not like this, not tonight. I deserved to lie in here, among all the pile of garbage, the scent of piss, and poop penetrating sharply through my nostrils to my brain. Where are you Elvan, I cried out. The silence of the night did nothing to appease me. I dozed on and off.

I swung my arms against something unseen, an uncanny feeling settling in my stomach. I looked around me frantically, the moon’s thin beams not showing much. Yet, I felt a presence, dark and consuming, I could hear the hiss of his breathing. The air was pierced by the meow of an alley cat which brushed across my legs. I exhaled slowly, it was nothing but a cat. I had to get up, I had to get rolling.

“I’ve been looking for you, Dante,” the voice said.

“Why?” I asked, restraining myself from lashing out at her.

“I think you are ready.”

“Ready for what?” I snapped.

“To join us. But you stink,” the voice said, and unexpected rain poured over my head gush after gush. I swiped a wet arm across my face, trying to breathe. I got up in a hurry, shaking my hair, running to find a reclusive corner to get away from the rain, but there was no reprieve, it was as if a cloud of rain was hovering above my head.

“Can you stop this?” I shouted, my words mumbled from the water rushing into my mouth.

“I see you are finally awake, and much cleaner,” she laughed. And, the rain stopped, just like that. “Are you ready to go, this alley is not really my favorite place,” Abby said.

“Where?” I asked.

“I think you can be useful for us. And, now that you cut off your ties with your fellow kinsman, we are your best chance of survival,” she said. “Though, I’m not happy to know that you may have created an alternative universe. I sure hope not. That boy is pretty much untouchable. Believe me, my sister has seen to that.”

“I may be getting the madness. My mate is dead. I don’t feel so good,” I said, walking like a drunk. It was true, I wasn’t feeling good, was I getting the madness? That would mean...no, I wouldn’t accept that.

“Dante, you are in good hands now. I take care of those who are loyal to me. You will be fine. But, now we need to go. C’mon big man,” she pushed me, I tried very hard not to flinch from her touch, but I had pushed myself to this point, there was no turning back. She led me to a black SUV parked right outside the alley. I sat next to her at the back, I was soaking wet from the rain shower Abby had bestowed on me so generously. The car took off immediately, the tires screeching as he put the driving gear into reverse position and made an illegal U-turn.

“Rocco,” Abby warned him.

“Sorry,” he laughed, like a lunatic.

I was looking at the lovely company who would be my friends, comrades in arms in the looming days ahead. I shivered in distaste. I’d get used to it, I had to. I had thrown myself into the ocean, sinking my boat, and I would now learn how to swim.

We took the highway, Rocco driving in utter silence afterwards for half an hour until he took the next exit. This was a small little town, quiet and still, just like its sleeping inhabitants. He took a sharp turn at a small street on the left, swerving the driving wheel at the last moment, waking up Abby who had been sleeping. Did witches even sleep, there was so much I didn’t know.

We drove on a steep street for another hour or two, passing along trees on both sides, and soon the isolated farmhouses, and houses scattered here and there left their place to a bumpy, dirt road and a natural habitat. We were constantly climbing, swerving right and left on a narrow path which now harbored a cliff on the right. We ended up in front of a building so similar to Abby’s safe house in Rawonia. There was nothing miles away, it stood in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but, rocks, hills, and wild bushes, away from the knowledge and eyes of all. There was no sound except of for the distant call of the birds, everything around us was lulled into a false sense of peace. An insane rage burned bright in my chest where my tattoo lay, I was having difficulty holding on to my human self. I forced my legs to move, as if walking could take the edge off. I paced this way and that way, like somebody was pulling my tethers.

“Calm down, Dante.”

“I can’t. The madness is claiming me. You have to kill me. I’ll be no good,” I said, feeling the words.

She laughed, the sound of it rang in my ears, I tried hard not to cover my ears.

“You will be fine. You are not getting the madness! You will not get it. I’ll help you.” She sounded so sure of herself.

“How? She is dead, damn you! She is dead,” I yelled, holding my temples which were throbbing with the memories I had pushed down deep in my brain. Elvan was dead, and what had I done to Seth, exactly?

“Get a good night sleep and then we’ll take you for a tour tomorrow, introduce you to everyone. We’ll talk, and all will be fine”.

Rocco showed me to a shabby looking bedroom, I didn’t mind. I didn’t take a shower, just lay on the floor, feeling the hard floor beneath my body which felt good, real, reminding me of things, keeping things in perspective.

I slept, my sleep disturbed with images of Elvan, her figure always fleeting, getting away from my grasp. I savored the morning sun which put an end to the torture.

I left the room, my feet dragging me to a room where a few neutralizers sat down chatting, a cup of tea in their hands. “Where is Abby?” I asked. They looked at me, with a callous expression, and turned their heads away. “She will find you when she wants to. By the way, you stink,” one said.

I shrugged, I didn’t care. I moved around them and placed my stinking body in between them on the sofa. They cringed, and got up, one pinching her nose, and left. I took one of the half-finished cups of tea on the table, still very much steaming, and sipped it, eating the cookies left on the large plate.

“I see you scared my army away,” Abby said, walking in the room with her own cup of coffee. I looked at her cup, sniffing the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, and said, “Too bad I can’t scare you away to grab your cup of coffee,” I commented.

She laughed heartily. “There is fresh coffee in the kitchen, all free of charge to our residents. We are going to get amiably well, you and I,” she said. “I can feel it.” Then she added,” I see the rain shower has not done you any good, you still stink. I believe you have not used our bathroom facilities yet.”

“I don’t smell anything, and I don’t care about anything.”

“I see incentives are in order here,” she said. And, she took the cup of tea in my hand and swirled her finger around it. The water moved, murky with the tea leaves, but it soon took the shape of Elvan, on her knees inside a closed hole, her cute butt sticking out, her hands constantly moving. There were no other details visible to the eye, all in all, it was like a snapshot from a movie scene. I couldn’t even see her face, as the view was from behind, but I immediately recognized the color and texture of her blonde hair, the shape of her beautiful slender legs. Yes, that was my girl, all right and she was alive.

“How?” I asked, my voice shaking, laden with emotion.

“Damn it, what is she doing?” the witch blurted out, as though she was not expecting such a scene. She was so agitated that she lost her focus and the scene she pulled by magic dissipated, leaving in place just a cold looking tea. She tried a few more times, but she could not conjure up the image again. She cursed profusely, trying over and over again before she gave up. She threw the cup over the floor, and the china broke into many pieces, the tea spilling all over the floor.

“Hey,” I said, trying to grasp her attention. “You should know the answer to that. Where is my mate, and how do I get her back?” I asked. This was it, the moment where we made the exchange, she had me at the palm of her hand, and I would have to be careful not to show any further weakness.

But, she had lost her concentration, her mind rattled with something else. “I need more light,” she said. “Come with me, it’s time you learn how we do things in here.”

“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s going on in here, where Elvan is,” I stomped my foot.

She looked at me, as if waking up from a haze. “Elvan is with me, safe and protected, for the time being. You will have her, don’t worry. Thewhen of itdepends on you. Are you willing to do whatever is necessary to make that come true?” she asked.

Did she even have to ask? I nodded. “Good, then stop asking too many questions, and follow me. I’ll show you how things work in here and what we expect you to do for us.”

I followed her to the basement, which was empty. I looked at her with a stupid expression. She went to the wall, and lifted a lever on the wall, and the decorative looking door on the wall swung inward surprisingly easily on its hinges, with none of the creaking and groaning I’d expect from that old looking thing. What I saw inside took my breath away, it was a like a slave market, with people dumped in cages in groups of ten, or twenty, squeezed on top of one another in the narrow space. Their shouts echoed off inside the damp dark room as they heard the door open. “Get us out, get us out of here,” they screamed, their voices rising in harmony, as though in one loud voice.

“My god, what is this?” I asked. My eyes were glued around the humans, holding the cage bars, trying to shake them, to no avail.

“We take them cage by cage for the process.”

“Process?”

“The neutralization process. We’ll do a big one tonight. It’s time. I need the light, asap.”

My eyes latched on the one person I didn’t expect to see among all these strangers. She was behind the bars, sitting down in a feral position, with a look of defeat on her face. It was Sierra’s close friend, Mina. She was far too gone even to recognize me, her eyes lost, lifeless. How had Baran allowed this? They knew each other, too, she’d been a fan of his. Probably, he’d thought being changed without your own free will was justified when the end result was becoming a neutralizer. He might have even thought of this as a big favor. This was so twisted.

“I’ll need your help tonight with the ritual. And, also we have a few Drakons on our side, as you must have noticed. Rocco has been loyal to me, always. There are more. You’ll meet them soon enough. Rocco told me yesterday that you could fly. You can help the others shift. If you prove yourself to me, you can have all you want in this world.”

Clever, so they knew I could shift. I had not planned on Rocco seeing me fly away from the meeting place. That had been unexpected, and unfortunate.” I’ll help in any way I can,” I assured her.

“Good,” she said. I’ll ask Rocco to introduce you to others. “Come with me.”

As I was following her, yet again, I heard his voice. Finally!

I felt a surge of relief. I hadn’t been sure, I’d been worried. The scene had looked too real for my comfort.

“Where have you been?” I roared silently.

“Why? Don’t tell me you’ve been worried” Seth joked. “I have to admit though that Cayman’s work was a true piece of art. He’d have me fooled.”

“Dumb ass, of course I was worried,” I said. Though I knew his life sources had been intact, I’d still been worried.

“Did they suspect anything?” Seth asked.

“They think I’ve created an alternative universe.”

“I shudder to think about that. Anyway, I’m fine,” he said. “Just doing splendid looking at Baran’s ugly face.”

I tried hard not to laugh. Abby was way too clever.

“This would have been a lot easier if we had him talk,” I said.

“I don’t trust that scumbag! He has alternative agendas. And, we have what we wanted. They trust you completely now.”

Well, it was too late for complaints anyway. “Yes, I’m with them. They have cages of humans trapped for the recruitment process. The change will take place at night,” I said.

“Give us the location, and we’ll be there.”

“Not yet, she knows where Elvan is. I saw her, she is alive,” I said. “Can’t risk it. I have to handle this on my own.”

“It’s too dangerous,” he protested.

“I don’t have a choice.”

“Dante, this is an order, tell me where you are,” he said,

I cut off the connection.

“Here are your Drakon friends”, the witch said just in time, opening the door in front of us. “One of your job responsibilities will require you to recruit more.” She entered inside, and said. “Rocco, please introduce Dante to some of our old recruits. I’m sure they’ll recognize the Prince, and show him due respect,” she smiled. “If you’ll excuse me now, I have things to do,” she said and closed the door behind her.

The first Drakon I saw sitting down, flirting so ostentatiously with another, was the last person I’d expect to see here. I guess some things never changed, no matter the universe. “Hi, Nicole,” I greeted her. “Where can I get some good coffee around here?”

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