Chapter 2: Interrogation
Chapter 2 Interrogation
I suppose it is fitting that we start with a parallel. Joshua and Kael were looking for someone and so was I, and we both found the wrong person. They almost killed someone. I did, regrettably.
Joshua Rasgard never enjoyed carrying bodies around-- living or dead. The thing was: they were heavy.
And so it was that he and his brother Kael heaved the downgraded Person in Black from the back of the pickup truck and shifted him between them. With an awkward grunt and tremendous weight between their arms, the two boys awkwardly shuffled him towards the house.
They passed the broken tractor-crane with its long arm and circular drill at the end. The only reason they were able to find work here was because that machine was broken. As they made it to the steps leading up the porch, they could once again hear the little girl’s screaming.
“Do you think she started again when she saw us bringing in this guy, or was she doing that the entire time?” Joshua asked.
Kael shrugged. With the boy’s feet in his hands, this amounted little more than turtling his neck downwards to give the appearance of his shoulders rising. “You did not help the situation, talking about her dad. Just once, for my sake, can you not drive a child to tears?”
“I--” Joshua took a strained breath. “The whole reason we’re here is to find her dad, and I’m not supposed to ask about him?”
“Not like that!”
As they made it up to the porch, the door burst open and the old farmer stormed out to meet them. His mouth opened but words failed to make sounds as he looked down on the Person in Black.
“Found the guy you’ve been talking about,” Kael said.
“Not as impressive up close, huh?” Joshua said with a prick of judgment in his voice.
“What? What happened to him?” The farmer finally got out.
“I hit him with your old truck,” Joshua said.
“Why were you driving my truck?” the farmer said in a stupor, moving aside as the boys brought their quarry in and propped him up in a chair.
“To. Hit. Him.” Joshua rolled his eyes. “I swear you aren’t paying attention.”
The farmer fumbled in his pocket before bringing out his cellphone. “I’m calling the police and an ambulance.”
In a clean motion, Kael snagged the device out of his hand before the man could press a button. “Not until we figure out what’s going on here.” The screaming suddenly ceased as the girl poked her head around the corner. Kael gave her a wink and beckoned her over. He bent down and whispered, “Can you get me some snow? The coldest you can find.” She nodded and dashed outside.
“So?” Kael demanded. “Is this the guy you’ve been seeing around?” He wagged the poor farmer’s cellphone at the unconscious man in the chair.
The farmer shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. He doesn’t look like much.”
Joshua circled the boy unconscious and bleeding in the chair but still alive, like a swarm of scavenging egree. Although he did lack their silvery glow. As Joshua examined that comparison in his head, there was an uncountable number of animals he could draw that comparison. Who didn’t like a free meal? Joshua sure did.
Little foot pats clambered up the steps, and Kael held his hand out to receive a clump of dirty brown snow. He walked over to the boy drooping deathly still in the chair and ripped the ski mask off revealing a disheveled and bloody kid. He took the snow and wiped some on his face and let the rest slide down the kid’s neck.
With a slow start, the boy sluggishly jerked to life and gazed around the room glassy-eyed. His next instinct was to stand, but he wasn’t halfway up before Joshua had a firm grasp on his shoulder and shoved him back into the seat.
“Talk,” Kael growled. The boy threw up his shaking hands, anticipating a blow from the tone alone.“Start with who you are.”
“My name? My name is. . . It’s Peter.” The boy’s voice shook as he spoke. “The police will find out about this. My dad will see to it.”
“Why were you traipsing around on a horse dressed like that?” Joshua pulled up a chair and stared him down. “You could see why we want to know what’s going on?” Looking him up and down, Joshua felt a tinge of guilt for putting him in this condition. True, he couldn’t have known that “Man in Black” was some kid, but he could have killed just about anyone running them over like that.
Peter thought for a moment slack-jawed and then jolted at those words. “Is the horse okay?”
“The horse is dead. Focus.”
“My dad is a lawyer, he’ll sue you for that.”
Kael chuckled and Joshua sighed. “Only rich kids have horses, that’s hardly surprising,” Joshua said. “But what I need you to tell me right now, is why you were going around dressed like that and scaring the farmer.”
“Why do you care?” Peter screamed at them, winced back in pain, feeling the broken rib bones screaming against his lungs. “It’s the family horse; I’m allowed to ride it.”
Joshua gave a look to his brother who nodded back in turn. Sighing, Joshua dug his hand into his pockets and brought out a single ratty sheet of yellowed paper folded over clumsily and bearing all the lines and creases of countless times being crumpled. Joshua unfolded the paper and handed it to Peter. “You see that name at the bottom? We’re looking for that man. And last we heard, he was being chased, through this town, by people dressed in black robes. So when the farmer says he’s been seeing people who fit that description, we need to find out what’s going on.”
Peter squinted and looked down at the paper combing over crossed off name and crossed off name until arriving at the very bottom. “I don’t know any Timothy Bartholomew.”
As these words sat in the air, the farmer gasped and the little girl squeaked. Joshua and Kael looked wildly between them. “You know him?!?” They asked in unison.
“Look here--” the farmer started.
“He’s my dad!” the girl squeaked.
The farmer glared at her, angry and with a hint of fear in the corner of his eyes.
Kael backed away and crossed his arms to think.
Joshua glanced again between the two putting things together. “So her dad, Bartholomew, was being chased. Worried about his daughter, he dropped her off with you to keep her safe. Family friend, I presume? The “why” doesn’t matter at this time. In any case, you became worried when you saw this twit,” Joshua jerked his thumb back to Peter, “dressed up like that.” Joshua took a deep breath and looked the old farmer squarely in the eyes. “Well?”
“It doesn’t matter,” the farmer cried, almost tiredly. “Stop this. You want to be paid for the week? I’ll pay you now.”
“We do not care about your money. Where was going?” Kael rounded on the man, pushing him back.
“No. He was frazzled and afraid. I assume the worst at this point. And how about you two boys. Who were the men after my friend?”
“No idea,” Joshua said. “We’ve been tracking him down cross-country and only hearing rumors of these people in black. It’s not our business frankly.”
“Then why are you after him?” The farmer moved, closing Peter completely off from the conversation now.
“We’re on a treasure hunt,” Kael said, flat, matter of fact. “Bartholomew once worked for the Taerose Empire.” Kael lingered, gauging the farmer’s reaction, seeing if this was new information. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but their King, Emperor, or whatever he’s calling himself nowadays has a fascination with the old and bizarre.”
Joshua held up his yellow and cracked paper. “Everyone who worked for the King is on this list, and they’re all dead except your friend. How does that extrapolation fit into your cooperation?” Joshua paused and stuck out his bottom lip. “Bit wordy.”
The farmer stared, placid and dumbfounded.
Joshua ran his hand through his hair flaked with bits of mud and dried dirt, realizing he was asking the man to take in quite a bit at once. A new tactic then. Complete, stupid honesty. “We’re looking for an old artifact. A treasure hunt if you will. Your friend can help us find it. He might be the only one who can.”
Joshua was able to see the look of confusion on the farmer’s face. Even if Joshua was good at that sort of thing, anyone could see the reaction by how openly he wore it. They were five turns in from what this sleepy old man was able to process in a day.
“If your friend is in danger,” Kael said, “then help us. We need him alive and it can only help his chances.”
“Well if we find what we’re looking for, then it won’t really matter that he--” Joshua gasped in pain midway through his sentence as Kael elbowed him in the gut.
What followed was one of those chance happenstance moments where everyone just naturally stops talking at once. They stood there in unrhythmed silence waiting to see what would happen next.
“Can I please go?” Peter spoke up faintly from behind. “I’m realizing I’m in way over my head here. I really do. I was only playing a prank on the farmer. I only dressed like that because he’s been telling crazy stories. I figured it’d drive him mad.”
Everyone turned to Peter slowly, a slow understanding creeping over the group.
“So you’re saying, you aren’t the man I saw originally?” the farmer asked.
As the group stood around in stunned silence contemplating the meaning of it all, a car’s headlights flashed around the bend and flickered through the windows. Kael stared at the front door expectantly and then back to the farmer. “Were you expecting anyone?”
Joshua bounced on his heels and looked around the room. “Okay take the girl and hide in the back. Peter, you go with them.” As his words faded, the click of a car door opening and closing echoed in from outside.
The old farmer was already ushering Peter further back into the house with one hand with the little girl’s hand daintily held in his other. “I’ll be back with my shotgun.”
“No,” Joshua yelled, “we’ve got this.” Joshua ran back further into the house, leaving Kael alone, contemplating the door, orange sparks dancing between his fingers.
Kael closed his eyes and erased all sensations of reality. There was no hearing, there was no touch, no taste, smelling, or sight. There was just the flow. The energy that penetrated his mind, gave him feeling where others had nothing. He ignored what lay behind and stretched out to feel what lay beyond the house. To the stranger outside.
Kael’s eyes opened in shock. All life had a feeling to it, but not all life felt like that. What visited them now was no normal human but a Syche-- a Syche like Kael.
Kael’s hand twitched, partly in anticipation, partly in nervousness. Had the person outside done the same? Did they know what Kael was?
It didn’t matter.
“Distance, material, amount,” Kael mumbled to himself. Distance, material, amount. The three properties that affected his powers. There were four types of Syches, but they all abided by those rules.
Footsteps up the wooden steps now.
Kael looked around. Wood, nothing but wood in the entire house. Good.
The doorknob twisted and Kael threw himself on the floor his palm slamming onto the floorboards. As the door cracked open and the first sight of outside seeped into the room, Kael forced the energy from his mind and through the planks towards the door. Into the door frame, a stream of orange energy sparking to life along the path.
As the door fully opened, Kael saw eye to eye with a man in head to toe black robes, the real Man in Black. Tall. Strong. Dangerous.
Above all else, this stranger was surprised. Kael watched the surprise in the stranger’s eyes in that split second as the door frame glowed a neon orange glow. Too late.
The door frame exploded sending the Man in Black torpedoing like a cannonball into the front yard.
Wood, as it happened for Kael, was a great material. An easy conductor and decent explosive agent for a Combustion Syche.
Kael stepped through the smoke and out into the twilight. His heart fluttered as he reached out and felt the Man in Black’s energy still. He was still alive! He doubled back in shock as the man rose from the ground in swirls of smoke-- not a cinder glowing on him, not a thread out of place. A red-ish haze hung around him momentarily but disappeared, settling into his robes.
Blood. So that’s what you are, Kael thought. Easy enough. He stepped forward, taking a deep breath and opening his palms. This fight will be--
Two beams of light flashed on Kael’s face blinding him and the Man in Black. His mind went blank as a nearby roar shook the air.
And then the light faded and Kael watched in dumb, blank stupor as the Man in Black crashed across the hood of the farm’s old pickup. He spun into the air and fell back into the mud in a twist of limbs.
The truck skidded to a stop, leaving tire marks imprinted into the steaming mud. Joshua got out beaming and held his hand up. “Two and O’ baby.”
Joshua chewed at his fingernails as the true Man in Black started to life as a muddy snow mixture ran down his chest. With his mask and hood off, this was no child like before. No. This was a man. He blinked again and again trying to get his surroundings and then tried to move. Joshua looked up as the Man in Black struggled in his restraints, the ropes tightening against his flexing muscles. He wouldn’t have to feel guilty about running this guy over.
Spread around the room was everyone but the little girl: Joshua, Kael, the farmer, and even Peter (Joshua’s former victim). They all stared at him questioningly. The Man in Black’s eyes gazed doubly at the farmer, his old shotgun pointing its double barrels squarely at his chest. The general atmosphere of curiosity was so great that Joshua and Kael hadn’t even been required to talk the farmer or Peter out of calling the police.
“Now that you’re awake,” Joshua started, “I know what you are inclined to do, but that’s how you die in this situation.” Joshua leaned in close so that the others couldn’t hear. “No powers,” he said with a wink. In the background, silhouetted against the hole in the house where the door used to stand, Kael gave the man a curt nod.
“So what do you want,” the man said smoothly, calmly, not the merest hint that he wasn’t in control.
That. . . . That actually disturbed Joshua. He wasn’t ready for it and the words fumbled around in his mind tripping over themselves as he tried to come up with anything to say.
“Answers. Obviously,” Kael growled in his stead.
“I’m not going to tell you anything. I’m just going to wait,” the man said.
“Aha!” Joshua just about jumped into the air. “But see you have already told us something. If waiting will solve your dilemma, that means others will come for you.” The man in the chair grimaced. “And circumstances lead me to another conclusion. You are here for the girl.”
The man grinned and nodded. “So you already know quite a bit. Is there any need to carry this prattle on then?”
“We still have a question that needs answering,” Kael said.
“I have two questions actually,” Joshua added. “Let’s start with the one Kael probably won’t ask: who are you with? No one just goes around dressed like. . . that.”
The captive slowly rolled his head and stared Joshua down. Silently. Why was that so effective. Joshua’s heart fluttered a second time. Were they in control?
“I want answers too,” the farmer said through a raspy, shaky voice. “And I’m the one armed.”
“If you want to threaten me, have that guy do it.” The Man in Black nodded his head towards Kael. He leaned in closer to Joshua and continued in a whisper. “I’m going to kill you first.”
Joshua scratched his chin, perplexed. He genuinely had no idea what to do when someone wasn’t afraid of being shot at point-blank range with a shotgun. What else was there to threaten him with? The death threats were take it or leave it. He’d been threatened a thousand times before. It was the absolute confidence that was new. New and terrifying.
“You want me to threaten you?” Kael said. “Fine. Old man, pull the trigger.” The man in the pulled back and looked Kael over, studying him. “Put the barrel next to one ear and pull the trigger. We can write our questions down. Shouldn’t be a problem.”
Joshua chuckled nervously. “It’s a bit much but I suppose we can try it.”
A low growl rumbled in the captive’s throat but then subsided. “The Dark Element.”
“You asked who I was with and I told you.” He looked to Kael. “What was your question?”
“Where is Doctor Bartholomew?”
The captive licked his lips and shook his head. For all his affectation so far, this was the question to perturb him. “Never heard that name in my life.”
“You’re here for his daughter,” Joshua reminded the captive, “don’t play dumb. We know your men chased him through this town. Whatever the Dark Element is, they are chasing him, have him, or killed him.”
“I have a question for you kid,” the man from the Dark Element said, locking eyes with Kael. “If I didn’t get sucker-punched by that car, who do you think would have won?”
“Me,” Kael said. Behind him, Joshua bobbed his head up and down as if that was the most obvious answer in the world.
“Well, let’s put that to the test?” The man in the chair gave a half-cocked smile.
“No,” Kael said. “Once again, Joshua nodded in agreement. Instead, Kael held up three fingers. Then two. . . . One. As he slowly lowered his final finger. . . .
“North!” the man in the chair spat. “He went north.”
Kael made to get close to the man but thought better of it before stepping back. “We are north.”
“Tyré.” The boys looked to the farmer. “The island just north of here is Tyré. It’s not far honestly. Although I wouldn’t want to go any further north with winter not even reaching its peak yet.
“Okay.” Joshua clapped his hands together with pep. “We have a heading. The only question is if a boat or plane is faster. And we’re also going to need--”
Bang! The shotgun recoiled and acrid smoke filled the air.
Joshua whipped around to see the prisoner slumped over with a pattern of holes in his chest like a cheese grater. Across the floor, a strange pattern of blood slunk its way to Joshua. Kael looked over to the old farmer with a question in his eye.
The farmer stumbled for words as Peter sprinted out of the front door and into the night. “Something, something, something, weird was happening,” the farmer fumbled. “There was a thing heading for you, just slinking in the air there.”
Joshua looked down once again to the strange splash pattern of blood on the floor. Even tied up, as long as he had his body with him he was never unarmed. He should have followed Kael’s caution when dealing with the man, but Joshua sometimes forgot caution.
“Thanks,” Joshua said. “Probably saved my life.”
“What was that?” the farmer asked frantically, placing the shotgun down gently against the wall, not sure he had done a sensible thing.
Kael quit his inspection of the body slumped in the chair to join the conversation. “Syche. He controls Blood. Normally we keep this sort of thing secret, but you’re in it now.”
“And who is we? My kitchen just a meeting place for secret societies today?”
“Chill old dude,” Joshua said. “No major conspiracy on our side of the aisle. Some people can just do things. Our family was just born with it-- at least most of us-- and we keep it secret. You might find the occasional rando out in the world,” Joshua thumbed back to the body in the chair, “but they haven’t ruined the secret yet either.
“More importantly,” Kael said clearing his throat, “we’re taking the girl and heading for Tyrė,”
“You can’t take the girl. Her father left her with me. She’s my responsibility.”
“She’ll be better with me,” Kael said. “This Dark Element he was with will come, and when they do you shouldn’t be here.”
“I was born in this house.”
“That’s unsanitary,” Joshua commented, absentmindedly, always finding a place to say something. Anything.
“The point is,” the old farmer said with growing frustration in his voice, “that I ain’t leaving. If someone does come back for me or the girl, I’ve got my shotgun, and I’ll let the local police know to look for people dressed,” he paused and pointed at the dead man, “like that.”
“Hold on,” Kael said. “Reload that shotgun.”
“What!?” Joshua said, “looking out into the dark of night, expecting to see a whole host of Men in Black stomping through the fields.
“I didn’t bother to check given the circumstances, but that man is still alive. I can feel him.”
As Joshua, Kael, and the farmer, slowly looked to the man in the chair, he rocked on his heels to his feet, standing up like the living dead. As he moved, the blood stopped dripping from his body and instead moved in the reverse, pooling back inside of him. The ropes, cut with clean fray-less lines, fell to the floor. His left arm was covered, or perhaps transformed, into a giant crystalline red blade that swung lightly despite its tremendous size.
Joshua took a step back, his first instinct to find the keys to the truck, instead his fingers crossed over the box of shells to the shotgun.
Kael’s instincts carried him forward, however. He moved into the swinging blade as he grabbed a chair and infused it with as much Sychakenetic energy as he could muster. Joshua sucked in air as he narrowly avoided the first swing of the blood-crystalline blade. As the Man in Black reeled back on the follow-through, Kael slammed the energy infused chair into the man’s gut, willing it to release its energy right at that moment.
Joshua ducked behind the kitchen counter, pulling the farmer with him. A cacophonic boom shook the house, and as the dust stung his eyes and smoke filled his nose, Joshua rose from his hidey-hole to see a hole in the wall and the vague shape of the Man in Black pulling himself up in the parlor.
This was unbelievable. By every definition of the word. This was insane. Joshua knew that Blood Syches were durable. He knew that they could lose blood and survive off wounds that would kill a normal human, or Syche, but he had never seen it.
“Kael,” Joshua screamed, lunging for the box of shells. “Try this,” he said throwing them, sending them every which way around Kael’s feet.
Kael gritted his teeth and looked back to Joshua angrily. “Just get Emily and get the keys. I want to go as soon as I’m done with this.”
“Emily the girl?”
“Yes. Obviously.” Kael barely finished the worlds before the Blood Syche came stumbling through the hole in the wall, a newly formed shield protecting his right arm, paired nicely with the gigantic sword.
That was all Joshua needed to see. He ran to the other end of the kitchen, grabbed the keys, and then nearly tripped over himself rounding the corner to go find Emily. One room and then the next. He actually didn’t know the layout of the house outside of an occasional bathroom trip. He and Kael had been sleeping at a cheap hotel in town.
The house rocked as an explosion sounded off back from where he came, but Joshua trudged ahead. The truth was: Kael could handle himself.
Joshua opened a door and found a bland white bedroom. The inoffensive, boring kind of design you normally use for a guest room. And it did look like it had a guest. The sheets were a mess. There were small clothes strewn about the floor. No doubt about it, this was the little girl’s-- Emily’s-- room. Which also made the next bit quite obvious. Joshua got down on all fours and looked under the bed. Sure enough, her scared face looked back at him horrified.
“Hey thereeeeee,” Joshua said, trying his best to sound friendly. “We’re going to go find your dad. Ready to go?”
She shook her head no.
“You want to see your dad right?” Joshua said and winced as another explosion rent the house.
She shook her head yes.
“Great let’s go.” And so he stuck out his hand. And believe it or not, she took it! Who’s bad with kids now? He imagined lording this over Kael as he picked Emily up.
“What’s all that noise she said in a squeak?”
“Oh don’t worry about that. My brother is just fighting the bad guys.”
“Will he win?”
“Of course,” Joshua said. He wasn’t just saying it either to calm her. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind what the outcome would be. “We’ve done this sort of thing loads of time. Kael will kill him. No doubt about it.”
And then she started crying again, and Joshua had no idea why. He worked his way out the back door desperately replaying his words and trying to figure out what he did wrong but couldn’t see the problem. Didn’t she want Kael to win? Nevertheless, they made their way in a crooked semicircle around the house as occasional flashes of light brightened the windows into they made it to the truck.
As Joshua buckled her into the back seat, an eerie quiet settled over the farmland, and Joshua turned to see Kael sauntering out of the house-- smoking and sooty. He held up the outside of his hand for a fist bump, and Joshua happily complied.
“Finally got the fight you wanted?” Joshua asked.
“It was alright. I let it carry on a bit longer than I should have.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll get some more exciting in Tyré. It won’t be easy keeping Emily’s dad alive.”
And then she started crying. Again.