Eight Months Ago
It was a bleak morning when Arawn got a call from Hera and Dike. It was a rarity that they reached out to him for help, since Arawn was still very much unpredictable, and he did try to kill Hera a couple of times. Albeit that was when he was under The Order of the Black Rose command, but he never quite bounced back completely from it. So, when Arawn got that call, especially hearing it from Dike, he knew that they must truly be desperate to call him for help.
“Arawn, it’s me, Dike. I’m here with Hera.”
“Dike, why are you there with her?” Arawn wondered.
“We’re down at the Assembly, and we need you.”
“Need me for what?” Arawn asked, exasperated. He wasn’t the type to do the dirty work for the gods that never left their high tower. “I told you, I don’t think I can be a vigilante for you.”
“You don’t need to do that, Arawn. Come down to the office as soon as you can, there’s something really important we need you for. Give us a chance and hear us out, okay?”
“Fine, but if it’s bullshit, I’m going home.”
Dike told Arawn that was a fair offer, knowing completely that it wasn’t bullshit at all. Dike knew that Arawn didn’t want to be involved in anything with the gods anymore, but this was a bit different.
Arawn slid on his coat and exited his apartment, taking the elevator down to the garage where he found his motorcycle. He climbed on and started the engine with a swift kick of his foot, putting his helmet on over his head, his shoulder-length brown hair poking out from underneath. It wasn’t long before he parked his motorcycle at the base of the skyscraper that housed the Assembly, and he immediately received sly glances from the security guards at the door.
He approached the building and met Dike at the front doors, secretly dying to escape the watchful eyes of the public.
“Dike, can you make this quick? I want to go home.”
“But you just got here!”
“I said what I said, Dike!”
“Well, I’m hoping this meeting will be over quickly too, but the whole thing is a bit more complicated than that.”
“Okay, well, I’m recording America’s Next Top Model anyway.” Arawn retaliated, “Knowing you with all things, this could take 70 years to complete.”
Dike took Arawn up to the conference room where Hera and Dike had already settled down. Arawn was invited to sit at the opposite side of the table, facing the three, when he was handed a manila file folder. Without even opening it, Arawn had no desire to work it.
“No, guys, whatever this is, I’m not doing it.”
“Ari, you said you’d give us a chance.” Dike retaliated. “You haven’t even opened the file, and you should.”
Arawn flipped the folder open to reveal the picture and all the information regarding the Order of the Black Rose’s last captive.
“I don’t want to be involved with The Order of the Black Rose anymore. I don’t know what it is with you guys, but you better find somebody else for this because it literally couldn’t be me.” Arawn exclaimed, slapping the folder shut and standing up from the table. “This was a huge waste of time.”
“Ari. Sit.” Dike spoke, deeply serious. Arawn sat back down.
“Arawn, we need you to go back to this Order of the Black Rose facility on a recon mission. There’s only one person you’ve got to save, and it’s her. We’re not asking you to kill or do anything of the sort. You’d be going in to rescue this girl who is deeply in trouble.” Hera explained.
“Do you genuinely think I can go back there?! After what they have done to me?! You must be out of your goddamn minds if you think it’s a good idea to send back in The Order of the Black Rose’s most infamous captive that just so happened to escape- to go get more captives to escape.”
The Order of the Black Rose was notorious for kidnapping individuals that showed signs of god-like powers, or gods themselves, to see how they varied from humans. They performed genetic testing, unethical psychological experiments, and torture. Their leader, Conrad Laing, a demigod born between a god and a human, had the dream of becoming the most powerful fully-fledged god that ever walked the earth. He created The Order of the Black Rose to do just that, and Conrad succeeded when he kidnapped Arawn.
“You know that place, you are the one that will be able to get in there more easily than us. You can save those people. We did it for you, so you should be more than happy to save others from the torture you went through.” Hera continued.
“What are you planning to do with these people once they’re out? Where are you going to put them? Do you even know if they’re dangerous?!”
“Arawn, there’s only one person you need to save. She isn’t dangerous, and once she’s been rescued and stabilized under our care she’ll be staying with you.”
“The hell she isn’t! If she’s not dangerous then why would The Order of the Black Rose spend their time on her? They make killing machines and would have killed her already if she didn’t serve their purpose.”
“Read the goddamn file, Arawn. She needs your help. She’s the last of the experiments. She’s the goddess of death, which means she’s the Order of the Black Rose’s last hope. But she has no idea that she’s even a goddess, she just knows that she’s being tortured. If Conrad figures out how he can control death, he too will be immortal and take us on when he’s strong enough. You have to save her and prevent The Order of the Black Rose from hurting anyone else. When you save her, The Order of the Black Rose is over, Arawn. If there’s anyone who stands a chance at stopping The Order of the Black Rose, it’s you.”
“Why are we doing this? What’s the point?”
“Because we did it for you,” Dike spoke, looking Arawn directly in the eye. It was an irrefutable point, and Arawn was under the impression that “no” wasn’t going to be an acceptable answer, for any of them.
The next thing he knew, Arawn was on the Jet with Dike, Hera, and an arsenal of backup. Arawn would be going in on his own, but he had an infantry to cover him around the area when he had infiltrated the facility. Everyone had been briefed with the plan, but Arawn was trying to keep far away from everyone and to himself for the duration of the operation and the flight to their destination. He took apart his rifle, cleaned it and adjusted his scope, but he ran his hands over the weapon and was reminded of all the times he used it to hurt and not to help. They tried, Hera and Dike really, really tried to change Arawn’s perspective and help him after they had rescued him, but they knew The Order of the Black Rose would be a part of him forever. There was no removing his traumatic memories of his killings and the torture he endured. The Order of the Black Rose had wiped his memory more times than he could count, but some things stayed forever. His damage was permanent, and he found it hard to convince himself he was helping anyone.
Hera was standing aside and talking to Dike out of the range of anyone to hear.
“Are you sure Arawn can do this on his own? The infantry can follow him, we can easily make him their commanding officer. We can do this the right way or his way.”
“I’m one hundred percent confident he’s got this. He does best on his own. You assigned him this case, so we’re going to do it his way. He knows this better than we do.”
Hera, hesitantly, agreed to Dike’s confidence in Arawn, and then Dike walked over to him.
“Arawn, are you ready?” Dike asked, snapping Arawn back to reality.
“Yeah, um, I guess,” Arawn responded, standing up and facing Dike.
“I’ve got your back, Arawn. You lead the way, whenever you’re ready.”
With that, Arawn took a deep breath and swallowed his emotions. He pulled his mask up over his nose and mouth and his feet crunched in the snow. He picked up speed as he approached the same place where he was held and tortured, and his rage took over his body. His blood turned to venom, and he had emptied an entire clip before he even reached the front door. He was full of vengeance and he had shot down every guard that stood in his way. His empty magazine dropped to the snow and he shoved in a full one, right after the other.
He approached the entrance and immediately recognized the reinforced steel doors. They were four inches thick, designed to lock away prisoners and steal their hope of ever escaping. Arawn was going to blow that place to bits and make sure no one else would get their life ripped from them there. Arawn stuck three bombs on the hinges and ran backward, ducking when the explosion occurred. The door blew off its hinges most of the way, and with one strong kick, he had gained entry completely.
“What’s her name again?”
“Savannah. If she doesn’t know who she is, try Red Angel as a last resort. Don’t throw that name around with her unless you really have to.”
“Is there an explanation for that?”
“You don’t want to know, Ari.”
With that, Arawn ran into a group of The Order of the Black Rose agents and security who were swarming him. He was outnumbered, but he pulled a grenade from his belt and pulled the pin. Within seconds, there was a cloud of dust and a clear path for Arawn. Red lights and sirens were blaring, the noise bouncing off the concrete walls. He couldn’t even hear the team over his earpiece, so he knew what he had to do.
“Hera, I’m going dark,” Arawn spoke before he ripped his earpiece out. He knew how to navigate to the central control panel for the whole facility, and he had to do it completely alone. The team would never approve of what he was going to do, so he decided he just wouldn’t tell them.
He pried the prison bar doors apart so he could make it through, and he made it to central control. The alarm would only go off with an override code, or if every backup generator and connection line stopped working simultaneously. He needed to trick the high-tech system into thinking there was no threat, and he only had one chance. With one strong yank, he cut off the lights first, then he dropped another grenade down through the trap door in the floor that led to the room with the backup generators that could keep everything up and running. The explosion shook the floor, but he had no time to be shaken too. With a dangerous, borderline-haphazard technique, he began to cut wires left and right. Savannah was being held in his cell block, and he opened every door from the control center to her cell before cutting every power connection there. He knew he had more Order of the Black Rose agents coming his way, but he was running out of time. He knew that he had to open and close this operation soon because time was not unlimited.
He checked his magazine before running up the stairs to his old cell block to meet Savannah. With one hand on his gun, he used his other hand to throw the agents that came running down at him further down the stairs, too far behind him for them to ever catch up to him. He saw an agent fighting with a young girl and he knew that The Order of the Black Rose was trying to kidnap her before Arawn could save her. After everything he had been through, he was not going to let that happen. Risking injuring Savannah, he got a running start to his tackle that took all three of them to the ground, removing her from the agent’s grip. Arawn leaned his weight into the fight, repeatedly punching the agent in the face until he stopped fighting back.
He turned to Savannah, her eyes wild and scared. His were like daggers, and he understood how it would be incredibly difficult for her to distinguish the good guys from the bad. But Savannah knew who he was in an instant. He approached her with a hand outstretched, aiming to help her up but she slid backward on the floor. Eventually, she met a wall and she crawled up to face him.
“I know you,” Savannah began, her voice and body shaking. “You’re no good, get away from me!”
“I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here to rescue you!” Arawn protested, pulling down his mask so she could read his face, and not just his eyes, behind his long brown hair.
“They told me about you! You’re Arawn, you’re The Order of the Black Rose’s lab rat, all you do is kill. You’re not here to save me, it’s a trap!”
Arawn raised his hands in surrender, and she took the chance to swipe a gun off his belt and point it at him with a shaking hand. She was weak. The Order of the Black Rose had broken her down to her barest, most raw point physically and brought her to a panicked, unstable mental state. Her eyes were sunken in, her bones were poking out from her dirty clothes and her hair was greasy. The dirt underneath her fingernails and bloody knuckles told Arawn she was fighting to get out- for a long time.
“You’re a fighter, I can tell. But I can also see you don’t have much fight left in you. You’re strong, but not strong enough to get out of here on your own. Go ahead and kill me, but you’re barely standing and I’m your best bet right now. This isn’t a trap, but you’ll just have to trust me. So, are you with me or against me?” Arawn spoke rapidly. The walls were beginning to come down, plaster dust and cement chunks falling around them. The alarm he had shut off had been resurrected, signaling to him they weren’t alone in the building and more trouble was on its way.
Savannah lowered Arawn’s gun but held on to it anyway. She nodded and Arawn picked up her skeleton covered in bruised, translucent paper skin. She tossed her arms around her neck and locked her fingers, her head resting right over his heart. He had Dike’s shield slung across his arm and it covered her body. His hands were cold against her skin, but his body was warm and for a second she believed he was good.
Maybe, if one person thought she was worth saving, she was worth something.
Bullets ricocheted off the shield and Arawn’s body armor. They were being assaulted, no doubt, but Arawn ran straight towards it since it was their only way out. She suddenly felt pressure- but no pain- on her calf and thigh, indicating she was shot where Arawn couldn’t protect her. Arawn was able to get some shots in as well, attempting to take down the last of the Order of the Black Rose agents on his way out. He popped his earpiece back in only to hear frantic direction and angry screaming from Hera.
“We’re on our way out, get the jet ready. Take the girl, I’ve got one more thing to do.”
Arawn could barely listen to the commotion over his earpiece, for Nick and Phil were in a horrible fit of rage over what Arawn had done. The last thing they wanted was for him to go rogue once he handed over Savannah. But the infantry got her safely on to the jet. Arawn knew he only had a few moments to do what he had to do before the jet left, but he only needed one moment.
He ran to the records room, found every single file about him that was left from after he was saved, and he burned it all. He made a Molotov cocktail and started an enormous fire that would take over the whole building and would burn it down so that nobody could ever tell that it ever existed in the first place.
Arawn saw that the jet was taking off and with one powerful leap he grabbed onto the skids and pulled himself up into the cabin. He released the magazine from his gun, tossed the shield back to Dike, pulled down his mask and took a seat, leaning his head back and taking in every reprimand from Hera. He didn’t say a word to them, but he didn’t have to, for Dike said everything they needed to hear with just a few simple words.
“I told you he could do it on his own,” Dike muttered, and Hera then turned to Savannah.
“Savannah, my name is Hera. That’s Dike. He helped coordinate this rescue. I know this sounds like a lot right now, but we’re here to help you and take care of you. This is Arawn, he saved you and he will be protecting you. You were captured by The Order of the Black Rose, an organization devoted to unethical experimentation on gods, goddesses, and demigods.” Hera began in a soft tone, sitting down next to Savannah. They were in a debrief meeting with the reconnaissance crew, and that included Savannah.
Savannah was still in shock and she hadn’t said a word, but everyone knew that Arawn would be able to take care of her after she was in the care of the gods to recuperate from her extremely traumatic event. Plus, none of the gods knew if Savannah knew of her own status in the Assembly. She was the goddess of death, and she didn’t know it. But it didn’t seem like there would ever be an appropriate time to indoctrinate her into the Assembly due to her trauma.
“You’re hurt!” Arawn noticed. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
“It’s not that bad, I’m fine,” Savannah whispered.
“You’re bleeding everywhere. That doesn’t look fine to me!”
With that, Arawn grabbed a towel and tied the rectangular strips around her wounds to staunch the blood flow. Arawn was astounded- maybe she had been through so much that the pain of bullet wounds couldn’t compare to The Order of the Black Rose’s wrath.
“Arawn, do you have this under control?” Hera asked.
“Yes, ma’am, I do. Leave it up to me.”
Arawn carried her up to the Assembly common room and groaned at the sight of all the blood on his hands despite his makeshift tourniquets. He sat her down on the couch and propped her injured leg up on the coffee table. The whole time, Savannah had a definite hold on Arawn’s gun. She put the safety on and separated the clip from the rest of the piece, but her hand rested on top of both entities. This sent the message to him that she felt safe enough to be near him but if he made the wrong move she could act. She didn’t know how to feel about Arawn yet. He was incredibly dangerous when he had to be, but she just had to trust the word of strangers who told her that he was the safest option.
She really didn’t want to shoot him. She hated guns, but after a year of torture, she was skeptical around everyone and everything. She just hoped it didn’t have to come to violence.
“Okay, let’s see what’s going on here.” Arawn began, untying the tourniquets around her wounds. He tossed the bloody rags to the floor. “I can see the bullets; I can take those out. How much pain are you in?”
“None.” She reiterated.
“Okay, I’m going to wash my hands, grab a suture kit and take care of you. Let’s get that metal out of there.”
“I do want to know where you learned to suture, just before you tie knots with needles around my skin.”
“The Army medics taught me everything I know. I also had a lot of time on my hands, so I took some classes. Am I qualified enough?”
“Enough.” She responded.
“Oh, shit. I don’t think I even have anything to numb you up and I’m not sure I can stitch around your jeans.”
“It’s okay, I can’t feel pain,” Savannah revealed as she stood up and unzipped her baggy jeans, taking them off so Arawn could properly remove the bullets and help her.
“You... what?” He asked, confused as to what was going on.
“Can’t feel pain. Yeah, I could before The Order of the Black Rose. They fucked with my brain and I know what I’m supposed to feel, but I don’t actually feel it anymore. That helped when they were torturing me because I couldn’t feel it, but they just kept doing it because it was fun for them. Then, they tortured me in ways that didn’t involve physical pain.”
Arawn washed his hands and put gloves on before opening the suture kit, taking out the needle with polypropylene suture thread as well as the forceps and scissors. He paused before beginning, looking up at her skeptically.
“I don’t quite believe that you can’t feel pain.”
Savannah proved it to him by rolling her eyes, grabbing his hand and jabbing his finger in her bullet wound, keeping steady and unfazed eye contact with him.
“Okay, let’s get to stitching.”
Arawn was focused immensely on making sure he did the best job he could. Once the stitches were in place, he dressed them in gauze. He passed the roll around her leg and tossed it between his hands once he got it started. He was fine wrapping her calf, but he was more concerned with the wound on her thigh. It was bigger and he was taking the cautious route- especially because they were strangers and she was in her underwear.
“Sorry about this.” He whispered as he nudged her knee to the side a touch more, giving him more space to wrap. He moved in a few inches closer to her, ending up between her legs. The length of his arm matched her leg, brushing up against it.
Arawn blew his hair out of the way, the strands tickling his cheeks and blocking his vision. He held the forceps and thread in his mouth momentarily as he tied his hair back, and he turned to look up at her and he met a set of eyes that pierced him. Her expression was unchanging, full of fear and she was still shaking, but he continued to dress her wound.
He ripped a piece of medical tape off with his teeth and pressed it smoothly at the end of the gauze, securing it in place.
“You’re all patched up, Savannah. How do you feel? What do you need?”
“Honestly, I don’t know how I feel or what I need.”
“Maybe just sleep?” He asked quietly. She nodded.
He reached his hand out to her and helped her off the couch so she wouldn’t pop her stitches. Arawn hadn’t lived in the Gods Tower for quite some time, but he still kept his apartment clean and ready. They got in the elevator and ascended to his floor together.
Arawn had a one-bedroom apartment and it was in decent shape, but it was the Ritz-Carlton compared to what Savannah had been living in. Arawn walked with her to his bedroom, but without words, she insisted that he led the way. She was not going to wander around a stranger’s apartment with them behind her because she couldn’t see what he was doing. He helped establish her trust by walking in front of her but slightly sideways so she could always see his face.
“I know it’s not much, but they told me in advance that I’d be having a guest, so I did my best to get some things together for you.” Arawn prefaced as he opened the door to his bedroom for her. He flicked on the light to reveal a bed made with fresh sheets, a set of towels sitting on the chair, and a few articles of clothing set at the end of the bed. He did his best to go through his things and find clothes that were clean, in good condition, weren’t full of bullet holes or covered in blood, and things that might fit her.
“Um, this is great and all, but I don’t really sleep,” Savannah spoke, her voice barely rising above a whisper.
“That’s alright. I don’t really sleep either. The whole room is yours, so go ahead and make yourself comfortable.”
“Arawn, I want you to stay.” She said, surprising him.
“I don’t know you; I don’t trust you and I’m terrified. I’m afraid you’re going to stab me in my sleep, but then again if someone tries to break in and you’re here, you could stab them first. So, stay. I haven’t slept a full night since before The Order of the Black Rose.”
“I’ll stay, Savannah. I’ll sit right in this chair in the corner and watch you sleep if that’s what you want. I’m going to order a pizza in the meantime, and you are more than welcome to have some too.”
Later in the evening, after the two of them had put away a large pizza and a couple of beers, Savannah had settled in to try and get some sleep. She tossed and turned when she had found a moment’s worth of sleep, but she immediately woke back up as if she had been pushed, jostled awake, or intentionally frightened. Maybe her nightmares crossed over with her reality too much that it was difficult for her to know what happened when she was awake and asleep.
Though it was just the first night, Arawn had more questions about her than he was able to find answers for in her file. He called up Dike, who met Arawn in the living room of his apartment.
“Thanks for coming, Dike.”
“How’s she doing so far?”
“I cleaned up her wounds, we shared a pizza and she’s asleep right now. I don’t know for how long she will be though, because she’s scared to death. Is there anything else I should know about her? I just want to know as much about her as possible.”
“We don’t know anything about her before The Order of the Black Rose. We’ve tried. We only found out who she was because we were watching The Order of the Black Rose like a hawk before and after you. Savannah, she lived a normal life. She went to college and graduated, and we have records of that, but there is a complete gap between then and the beginning of The Order of the Black Rose’s experiments with her. We don’t know how she got there or even exactly what they did to her. Nobody knows why they took her to be experimented on in the first place. But, the good news is that her memory was never erased, and she will be able to tell us what happened if and when she’s ever ready to do so.”
“Dike, what’s the plan? We rescued her, I get that, but she’s got these powers and I don’t know what to do with her. She can stay with me for however long you need, that’s not a problem, but did Nick want to save her for a reason other than to get her out of The Order of the Black Rose’s grasp? I don’t know if she’ll be able to return to her normal life and get a job with her college degree. She hasn’t slept a full night since they took her. It might take a while for her to recover, and that might not ever happen either. I mean hell, I’m still waking up screaming with nightmares and dealing with the repercussions of my actions last century, Dike. Seriously, do you have a plan? Do you figure she should just join the Gods?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t. But the world might not have a place for her and that’s a sad reality. But we have to give her a reason to trust us. Saving her was a step in the right direction, but it’s just the beginning of this journey with her. We’re going to figure it out.” Dike affirmed. With that, he walked out of Arawn’s apartment and Arawn went back into his room, sitting under the dim lamp with the file folder.
Savannah wasn’t asleep and she had her forearm resting over her eyes.
“By the way, you’re being haunted.” She casually spoke, startling him a touch. He was under the impression she was asleep. He wondered if she heard any part of his conversation with Dike.
“I knew it!” Arawn muttered to himself. “But how do you know?”
“Because Mrs. Robinson is over by the window talking up a storm with Teddy. She likes you, Arawn. Don’t worry about it, she’s kind.”
With that, Arawn knew exactly why The Order of the Black Rose had experimented on her. She told him about a spirit that had been lingering for years with details only he knew. Mrs. Robinson was the old woman who lived in his regular apartment before him; she had a cat named Teddy and she died peacefully sitting in her favorite chair by the window.
“She says that you almost have her snickerdoodle recipe perfected, but you need to add a little bit of nutmeg in with the cinnamon.”
When Arawn moved in, he found an old cookbook with a recipe card sticking out of the book, for her snickerdoodles. He had spent an almost embarrassing amount of time trying to make the cookies, but the card had been so used and damaged that he couldn’t read out all the ingredients. Arawn quietly snapped in realization, of course, he needed a little bit of nutmeg!
“I don’t feel as if I need to ask, but Savannah, can you talk to the dead?” He approached the subject cautiously.
Arawn’s question was of no use because she was asleep for the moment after he asked that. Savannah had drifted in and out of sleep for her body didn’t know how to sleep regularly, and with all the voices of the spirits reaching out to her it was difficult to establish a strong sleep pattern.
But now, Arawn knew not only why The Order of the Black Rose had taken her, but he found out why she seemed like such a hollow shell of a person. She had not only been tortured and brought down to her weakest point, but she was being haunted at all times. Of course, she looked hollow and empty and distraught- it was because she was not Savannah and hadn’t been for a long time. Her body had been taken over by spirits and the wishes and commands of The Order of the Black Rose.
So, who was Savannah? Who was the real girl behind the shroud of the dead?
Arawn was going to find out.