Dark Omega

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Chapter 52 REUNION

“It wasn’t easy,” Cal said to the assembled dragonsworn. “But I was able to make it happen.”

Her librarian’s robes were pristine once more, and just as scandalously cut as before. She’d put on makeup, quite a bit, to conceal the last traces of her facial injuries. She’d even found time for dermal regeneration of the ruined lips. She smiled at Marcus to show off a new row of perfectly white and even teeth. The only thing that hinted at yesterday evening’s violence was her hairstyle—off-center, expertly covering her imperfectly repaired ear. Efficient lady. Too bad things turned out the way they did. We could have been a great team. Or maybe not. Legates and nulls don’t mix well.

“Took your time,” Balack grunted. He’d dozed off, sitting on the couch next to his sleeping wife, and had gotten up on the proverbial wrong side.

Cal ignored him, directing her attention to Marcus, who was standing by the panoramic windows, watching the sunrise over the floating city. Traces of ancient contaminants colored the morning sky every hue of green there was, in addition to the more ordinary reds and pinks.

“We’ve waited all night for this to be arranged,” Marcus said. His voice was neutral, stating a fact, without a hint of anger or impatience.

“Getting hold of everybody was hard, seeing as how most of them had gone to bed. But never mind that. The Maiden is being escorted here even as we speak. Ten minutes, fifteen at the most, and she’ll be here,” Cal assured him.

“Kwame?” Marcus said to the younger security officer. He was sitting at Calpurnia’s desk, using the power of the Dark Omega to access the Pentacle’s internal surveillance cameras. At some point during the night, he’d taken a shower and cleaned his uniform as best he could.

“It checks out. I see them on the Fourth Tier now. The Maiden is chained hand and foot. Explosive collar. Bag over her head. Eight gold-cloaks. Four of them armed with pistols.”

“We carry guns indoors now. Never thought I’d see the day,” Balack said to no one in particular.

“I was finally able to persuade the board of the Pentacle to allow you to see her without all the guards in the room. They will wait in the hall outside. But Balack and Kwame are required to be in the room. Or there is no deal.”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Marcus replied.

“She’s to be restrained and collared at all times.”

“Inconvenient, but acceptable.”

“And it’s a limited-time deal. No one set a deadline, but sooner or later, word will get out, and someone will real power will lean on the board, and they will shut you down, Marcus.”

“I’m the best at what I do, dear Cal. A day, two at the utmost, and I’ll have what I came for—and you’ll get what you deserve.” He put emphasis on the last word.

Cal froze. Her eyes widened. “Are you going back on our deal?

Marcus started laughing. “You should have seen your face,” he said after bringing himself under control. The rest of the dragonsworn chuckled along. Only Cal didn’t look amused.

“Oh come on, Cal,” Marcus said. “I’m not backstabbing you,” he lied without breaking stride. “That’s your thing. But I’m not going to let you forget this. Ever. So suck it up.” Marcus saw her anger evaporate, replaced with the certainty that she would get her due, as long as she held up her end of the bargain. I don’t need telepathy to play you, lady. All humans are the same; inside and outside are wired the same.

It wasn’t far from the truth. For most of his life, Marcus had known what people he met were both thinking and feeling. As a result, he knew better than anyone what this or that reaction really meant. He’d seen it all, thousands of times before. Reading people was like doing an exam with the answer key available. The only thing he couldn’t do in Cal’s case was to verify his answers. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to score full house.

“Why don’t you carry your wife into the bedroom, Balack? Let her rest a while longer. You don’t mind, Cal?” Marcus reached out with his mind, making sure Imogen would not wake for many hours.

The Chief Librarian of the Fifth and the Ninth looked like she did mind, but said nothing.

“Sure thing, boss,” Balack replied and tried to suppress a big yawn.

“And for the love of the Gods, Balack, lie down next to her and have a nap. I need you sharp and alert later.” When he seemed like he might object, Marcus gave him a mental nudge, and the former policeman’s resolve collapsed.

“Thanks, boss, I’m done for.” He gently lifted his wife and went through the sliding door to the bedroom.

“No worries. Cal here will take your place as the second watcher in the room. Acceptable?” he said, turning to look at the librarian.

“Yes,” Cal replied without hesitation. To Marcus, it pretty much confirmed that the librarian lady was more than willing to bend whatever rules the board had made.

“Good, stay at least a couple of meters away from me. Or you might interfere with my abilities. Kwame?”

“Yes, boss.”

“She touches me: shoot her in the head.”

“Yes, boss.”

Cal rolled her eyes. “You sure know how to motivate your crew, Marcus.”

“Get some perspective,” he snapped, pretending to be impatient, on edge. “You’re the only person to have tried to kill me that I didn’t burn with witchfire. That’s how much I like you. Now shut up and go sit on the couch.”

She did as she was told, shimmying over to the couch on high heels. Marcus made a point of not quite looking away. Cal could not avoid noticing his lewd eyes. Too much? Not with this one. The way she sat down and arranged her legs confirmed his assessment.

They waited in silence for a few minutes, watching the procession of guards creep closer and closer on the monitor.

“They are right outside,” Marcus said. “Would you get the door?”

Kwame got up, Blood Eagle in hand, and went over to the door. Earlier, Balack had rigged the mechanism so it could only be opened manually from the inside. Kwame hit the button, and the door slid to the side and into the wall.

“That’s far enough,” Kwame called through the door. “Just hand her over and take up positions.”

“We’ve orders to hand her to Chief Pisonis,” the lead gold-cloak replied. “I’ll need her to sign off on various transfer protocols.” He came fully into view, seven more guards at his back. The Maiden’s black-bagged head was barely visible between all the gold.

Marcus took a step forward and called the fire. It filled the doorway, a sheet of roaring flame and darkness. The Cerberi stopped dead in their tracks as if the door was a pit of venomous snakes. “You’re welcome in if you dare cross the Fires of the Dragon.” The barrier was nothing of the sort, but the guards had no way of knowing that. “If you are pure, you will pass through unharmed. If not, your souls will burn, and you’ll never reach Hades. I hope you appreciate this security measure. Not so long ago, four people, dressed as guards and librarians, tried to kill me. Two more ran away—those I killed also.”

“It’s all good, Captain Cervis,” Cal called out. “Push her through the fire—she won’t come to harm—and take up a position in the hall. We have things in hand here, the Quaestor and me. And whatever you do: don’t come in, unless called. Is that understood?”

“Yes, mam,” the guard officer called, voice betraying his relief. “You heard the Chief. Hand her over. Push her through the fire. Then assume positions. Go, go, go!”

The Maiden was pushed towards the fire, bound and blinded. The flames did not touch her. She stumbled, but Kwame caught her and steadied her, then hit the door button again. It slid shut, shutting out the outside world.

“Release her,” Marcus ordered as walked forward.

“The conditions,” Cal protested.

Marcus stopped. Turned his head towards the librarian. “I’m not telling, are you?”

“No.” Another confirmation that rules did not concern Calpurnia Pisonis as long as she could get away with it.

The security man removed the hood from the Maiden’s head. Messy chestnut hair, smooth skin, perfect emerald eyes, soft lips that promised secrets and pleasure both. Marcus took two steps and kissed the prisoner. She kissed him back, passionately.

“What took you so long?” she said.

“Family quarrel,” Marcus explained. “The black sheep of the family.”

Kwame kept working, getting first her arms restraints off, then her leg irons. “I don’t have access to the collar. I don’t want to mess with it. It contains ten grams of HY-X. If...”

“Don’t worry,” Marcus said and put his hand against the metal collar. “It’s not functional. Remove it.”

Kwame looked at Marcus, dumbfounded.

“I’m a legate,” Marcus explained. “I can read and control minds, make witchfire do my bidding, send my soul forth between the stars, see the future, and a thousand other things besides. You don’t think I can make a bomb stop working?”

“Those collars are proofed against psychic tempering. How?”

“Proofed against casual psychics, sure. But were they Marcus-proofed? Not so much.”

The adoration in Kwame’s eyes was so overwhelming it became almost painful to witness. Like the look Nik had given Haides as the boy stabbed it in the heart.

“If you’d come with me, Lizzie?” Marcus said and took her hand in his. “We have much to do and little time.” He led her over to Cal’s office chair. It had been cleaned, but there were still some faint stains where the upholstery had absorbed the blood. “Please, have a seat,” he said.

The Maiden sat down, and Marcus kneeled in front of her, holding both her hands now. “Ready for another session?”

“With you?” she said. “Always.”


Marcus was standing in the circle of light, all alone. The desk was there, and the antique, but exceedingly comfortable chairs. There were glasses and a decanter of pale blue wine sitting on the silver tray. But there was no Haides. Where is he?

Marcus walked around to where Haides usually sat. There was a folded piece of paper lying on the desktop. He picked it up and opened it. ‘BRB. Have a glass,’ it said. BRB? Be right back?

Marcus walked around the desk to where the wine bottle stood and filled his glass. On a whim, he also filled Haides’s glass. The legate picked up the glass and sat down. He had a sip. It was a kind of white wine, but there were subtle flavors he’d never tasted before.

Haides stepped out of the darkness, not long after. He looked exactly the same as the first time they met. The short, fair hair and beard, the cold blue eyes. The suit of nano-weave body armor, the garish red cloak with the religious symbols, the guns, and the blade.

“What wine is this?” Marcus said. “It’s delicious.”

“It’s a Venetian summer wine. Pretty much a Neo-Chardonnay. The blue tint comes from compounds in the Venetian soil. From before the bombs fell and made the planet an irradiated hellhole, of course.”

“You’re not that old, Haides.”

Haides didn’t sit down but remained standing by the desk. He picked up his own glass, had a sip. “I got hold of a single case. Kept in stasis by a devoted wine collector.”

“Must have cost a fortune.”

Haides can Marcus an unreadable look. “It cost the collector dearly, yes. His life. Blade to the jugular. Had my first bottle as I watched him bleed out.”

Marcus put his glass down. “I find I’m not in the mood.”

“He was a traitor. The killing was sanctioned. Incision to the Second Degree.”

“Who else?”

“His family. A handful of acquaintances. Some business associates.”


“Seventeen, all told. Six females, eleven males.”

“What did he do to deserve this?”

“Didn’t ask. Not my place. I was the weapon, not the hand that wielded it. But enough of this. It’s in the distant past,” Haides said. “The Maiden was moved. Why? And where are we now?”

“How did you know? There isn’t supposed to be any interaction between you. You told me so yourself.”

“I also told you that static security measures can always be overcome by a determined intruder.”

“So that’s why you were gone? You were trying to look through her eyes?”

“An oversimplification, but yes, I can perceive her surroundings if I make an effort.”

“And the note? And the wine?”

“In case you arrived while I was away. It would be impolite not to. I’m the host. And waiting is thirsty work. Cheers,” Haides said and lifted his glass.

“Please, have a seat,” Marcus said. “I don’t toast with a man that’s standing while I’m seated.”

Haides smiled. It reminded Marcus of a predator making ready to rip out his throat. “My manners,” Haides said and sat down. “To the Dragon everlasting,” he said when he raised his glass again.

“Draco vult,” Marcus replied.

“You didn’t answer my questions.”

“I was attacked last evening as I was leaving the interrogation chamber.”

“Attacked? By who? How?”

“The watchers turned out to be assassins. Dragonsworn the lot of them. Working for the Cabal. You know the Cabal?” It was a long shot, but the Cabal had existed for centuries, if not longer. Maybe it had been a thing in Haides’s day and ago.

“I know the Cabal,” Haides confirmed. “A shadowy group within the Order, with connections all the way to top. Roots that go back to the Great Betrayal and the Titanomachy. Sloppy of you to let them get to you.”

“I was betrayed. They were already here before I arrived. And they had inside help. Double agent, high-ranking librarian—and a null.”


“I had to kill them in self-defense. Eight reapers, all told.”

“Eight? Now that is impressive.”

Haides’s approval. Marcus was flattered—and nauseated at the same time. “They were sloppy. Let me dictate the rules of engagement. And they didn’t account for the possibility that I might have agents of my own.”

Haides smiled faintly and tilted his head. Marcus was tempted to call it a genuine display of approval.

“So, I had them move the Maiden to a less secure location.”

“Less secure?”

“Yes. We’re breaking her out of the Pentacle. It’s not safe to remain here. Having her moved to an above-ground suite with direct outside access is a solid first step.”

“Go on,” Haides urged.

“The double agent. She’s highly placed. Once properly motivated, she was able to make it happen. We’re currently in her suite. With my three deputies.”

“You swore them in? And they did it willingly.”

“Willingly, yes. Although outside factors meant they had no real choice.”

“Even better,” Haides replied. “So, what’s the plan?”

“Can you do more than look through her eyes? Can you speak to her? Or let me talk to her telepathically? When I touch her mind, all I get is you.”

“I can relay a message, yes,” Haides confirmed.

“And I’m right in assuming the Maiden can change her appearance?”

Haides was silent for a second. “You are pretty clever, aren’t you? Yes, she can change her appearance. Not completely, but she can make herself look like someone else. How did you know?”

“Her adaptive outer shell; the way a crack became lips. When I give the signal, the Maiden has to assume the appearance of Chief Librarian Pisonis. And she has to act in character for a little while.”

“I’ll tell her. And the real librarian?”

“She deserves death, but she’ll serve us better going into eternal stasis. I promised her eternal youth—I intend to deliver.”

Haides laughed. Real, heartfelt laughter, for the first time. “And here I had you in the ‘overconfident’ category, Marcus. Seems there is more to you than meets the eye. But how do you trick the guards? They are warded.”

“Against telepathy, yes. But they’ll see Maiden with their own eyes. I’ll call her likeness from the realm of ideas and drape it over Pisonis’s body. Who will be in no condition to raise the alarm.”

“How? You said she’s a null.”

“Nulls are not really nulls, but inversely attuned psychics. It’s an academic distinction at the best of times, but in this case, it matters: they are not immune to torpor injections.”

Haides clapped his hands in exaggerated applause. “Color me impressed, Marcus.”

Marcus inclined his head.

“And then? Safehouse?”

Marcus shook his head. “I don’t trust any of the prearranged sites. I know how the assassins got into the Pentacle, but I don’t know how they made it here before me. This goes beyond Cal’s betrayal. I’ve made other arrangements.”

“I’m sure you have. But you’re still stuck in an overcrowded city floating above a world cloaked in poison. You need to get away from here.”

“I’ll take care of it once we’re outside,” Marcus replied confidently. “I’m not without resources. Arranging for a ship should not be overly complicated—this system is heavily trafficked.”

“Let me know if you need help.” Haides had a sip of wine and looked intently at the black nothingness behind Marcus’ head. It was clear that he had something more to say but wanted Marcus to ask.

“The great Haides Guillaume suddenly acting coy? If you have something to say, out with it.”

“I’m here to protect the Maiden’s secrets, to test your worthiness. I’m not allowed to aid you directly, Marcus. You may, however, ask me questions. I can reply to those. I’m also allowed to explain to you how things work. Which I’m doing now.”

Marcus was a little bit surprised at the turn of events. But when he considered Haides’s statement more carefully, he found that the Gatekeeper had indeed never actually helped him, only answered or explained. On the other hand, Haides had claimed that he wanted nothing more than to help Marcus. Hidden meanings? Or just full of shit?

“Point taken. After breaking the Maiden out, I need to find a way off this planet. Given the circumstances, it could be a risky proposition. I’m thinking of contacting my superior, but I don’t know if that end is compromised. Is there anything in these archives that could help me?”

“Yes. The Maiden of Amalfi. She’ll take you if she’s still here and operational.”

“The Maiden will help the Maiden get to safety? You’re not making any sense, Haides.”

“Not the chimaera, dolt. The starship. The sprint trader Maiden of Amalfi.”

“You mean the Starwalker ship? The one Janus served aboard.”

“That one, yes. It became Jan’s ship. The Patriarch adopted him, and when he died, Janus inherited.”

Marcus raised his eyebrows. “And how did the Patriarch die?” he said, but he already knew the answer.

Haides did the predatory grin again. “You’ve guessed it: I killed him.”

“Let me guess: blade to the jugular?”

Something flashed across Haides’ face. A shudder? Bad memories?

“Nothing so elegant. I cut off his limbs, but the old captain refused to die, so stuck a grenade in his mouth. That helped.”

“Bad day at work?”

“Like you wouldn’t believe. If you want the details, you have to wait until we get to that point in my story. No more spoilers.”

“And the ship is here? It’s sat here for what, a couple of centuries? Waiting for this day? You expect me to believe that?”

“We’re on Nuovo Venezia—New Venice—right? Then the ship should still be here. But don’t flatter yourself—we didn’t park her there just for you to find.”

“Too much of a coincidence, Haides. Explain.”

Haides emptied his glass, put it down on the desk, folded his armored hands. “This is where it all began, Marcus. This is where Samael had his hideout before he fled. This is where Vern made the Maiden. Then as now, this world was an important starport and transshipment point. Countless ships call here every day—and more pass through the system. Between Earth and Solomon, this is one of the most heavily traveled star systems. That’s why I also operated out of the Vault for a time. And why the Maiden was hidden here.”

“The Vault?”

“An old fallout shelter, down on the surface. Built for the rich, but never used—when war came, there was no warning, no time to hide. The rich burned alongside the poor.”

“How do I find the ship?”

“Get hold of a lander that’s certified for surface landings. Then I’ll direct you to Vault. When you’re there, I’ll help you locate the ship.”

“Why not tell me now?”

“If you’re taken, I don’t want the ship’s location compromised.”

“That won’t be a problem, but I see your point.”

“So you say. But are you sure there aren’t more assassins? Maybe a director? Another cell? Hired mercs? They could have contingencies. If you survived one attack, it will only make them try harder next time. That’s how these things work.”

“I’ll handle it,” Marcus said. He has a point. There could still be one or two alive, and they could have additional assets on-site or could hire auxiliaries.

“Let’s go then,” Haides replied.

“We have to wait until the end of the day. Otherwise, it will look odd that I forced the Pentacle to release the Maiden, only to immediately walk away.”

“Fair. Let’s continue with my tale then, shall we?”

“My thoughts exactly,” Marcus replied, emptied his glass, and stepped back in time and across space.

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