Rich, crimson rivers slid down the side of the porcelain tub as a figure croaked through a song;
“Who led you to this hiding place? These lightning thread-spun silver tunnels. The red bells beckon you to ride, a handprint on the driver's side. It looks a lot like engine oil; and tastes like being poor and small; and popsicles in summer.”
A clawed finger traced over the Roman eagle that had been branded onto the arm of the man in the tub long ago.
“Deeeeep red bells; deep as I have been done. Deeeeeep red bells; deep as I have been done.”
The black talons dug into the wan skin surrounding the legion eagle, making the white flesh seeperupt with red liquid.
The man’s lips burst with cherry red as he garbled in pain and the figure kept singing; “It always has to come to this; The red bells ring this tragic dun; We've lost sight of the overpass; The daylight won't remember that; No speckled fawns raise ‘round your bones; Who took the time to fold your clothes; And shook the valley of the shadow?”
It slipped its claws under the scarlet crack, beginning to peel the eagle away. “Deeeep red bells; deep as I have been done. Deeeeep red bells; deep as I have been done.”
The figure’s musical croaks mixed with the man’s gurgles of agony in a grotesque harmony.
“Where does this mean world cast its cold eye? Who’s left so suffer long about-”
The figure jolted at the sound of its name, turning to face one of its partners.
“Marena says it’s time to go.”
Ku pouted, rising from the bathroom’s slick tile.
It twisted around to smile at the man in the tub, wriggling its fingers, flicking droplets of blood onto the man’s body.
“Have a great night, Mr. Straxton.”
The man in the tub attempted a wail as he was left in his once-pristine bathroom, the sound of the creature’s song echoing as it left his home;
“Does your soul cast about like an old paper baaaag; past empty lots and early graves? Of those like you who lost their way; murdered on the interstate, while the red bells rang like thunder? Oohhh deeeeep red bells; deeeeep as I have been done. Deeeeep red bells, deeeeep as I have been done.”
His vision swam, swirling with red and white until it faded entirely.
"Daddy, are you home?"
"Sam? Where are you?"
Friday, August 13, 2202 - 10:37
Director Goodson stood in the door to his nephew’s bathroom, frozen.
Sam was stripped down to his boxers, sprawled out in his tub. His head was lolled back, his mouth hanging open, revealing a missing tongue. Sam’s blood has been used to scrawl something in a Cyrillic language above his body.
Something in the pit of Director Goodson’s stomach told him that he knew who did this as he whirled around and barked, “Someone get me Jane Carter.”
“Tell me what you know.”
Jane folded her hands in her lap as the car began to roll forward, “The Lore team consists of eighteen total agents, nine are active and nine are reserve. The active team is led by Captain Wynne Jeilani, formerly named Zafira Majok. The reserved team is led by Major Keron Batiste. Both Jeilani and Batiste are the youngest team leads in the Black Order,”
Director Goodson quirked a brow, gesturing for Jane to continue as he rolled up a darkened window after tossing a piece of gum out of the car.
“The rest of the active team includes three prodigium, Garret Breault, Jinn Bhatt, and Allen Larson; Tsarevna Yekaterina Koneva of the Russian Empire, Major Teddi Steinbeck, a former helicopter pilot for the US Marines, Lieutenant Leevi Koskinen, a former Finnish sniper with more kills than Simo Hayha, Sergeant Christian Goodson, your---um---a former Palhomian youth representative, and Lieutenant Clark DeLeon, the only surviving member of the DeLeon clan.”
“So the active team is composed of freaks and deviants,” Director Goodson crossed his arms, examining Jane as she opened her mouth to protest, “My nephew included. He’s a complete failure.”
Jane picked at the clear polish on her nails, “I’d venture to agree.”
“Based on your observations, do you think any of them would be capable of what was done to Sam Straxton?”
“Um,” Jane rubbed her palms together, “I’d say yes. The entire team has military training and it’s safe to say some are more… uncontrolled than others.”
“That’s what I thought. Here’s how I think we should proceed…”
Friday, August 13, 2202 - 12:03
Director Goodson raked his hands through his hair as he stared at his desk.
He’d grilled eight of nine of Lore’s members and he had nothing.
All of them had alibis. Every. Single. One.
His nephew was distraught; Steinbeck, DeLeon, Koskinen, and Bhatt were at least polite enough to offer their condolences; Koneva offered a translation of the writing; the rest of the team didn’t seem to care.
Jeilani had to know something. She had to.
He looked up as Jane knocked on the doorframe, “Captain Jelani is here to see you, sir.”
She shuffled out of the way as Captain Jeilani stepped into the office, her presence making the room’s temperature drop.
Her gilded eyes swept the room, finally landing on him, making him straighten. As intimidating as she was, it was odd seeing her in anything other than a Black Order uniform, the hoodie-jogger combination she wore hardly suited her scarred skin and stony look.
He sucked in a breath, forcing himself to speak as she slid into an ivory leather chair, “Captain, thank you for making time to come see me. My apologies for it being so short notice, I understand you’re on leave?”
Wynne narrowed her eyes at the Director’s pleasant demeanor, eyeing Jane who had placed a recording device on the edge of the table.
She neatly folded her hands in her lap, “Yes, sir, I am.”
“Now, why is that?”
“I’m starting college in a week or so, so I wanted to take time to move in and get accustomed to my class schedule and workload before returning to the team,”
“Well congratulations. Where are you going? NYU, Plaza?”
He picked up on her insulted scoff before she replied, “Columbia.”
Director Goodson went quiet for a moment before nodding, “Impressive. Do you know why I called you here?”
“No, I don’t.”
“This morning Samuel Straxton was found murdered in his apartment.”
Wynne blinked, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?”
“Someone cut out his tongue, peeled off his Palhomian marking and left him to bleed out. His wife and children found him when he didn’t come in for breakfast.”
Director Goodson reached for a tablet, handing it to Wynne so she could mull over the images of the scene.
After taking a moment to grimace at the series of photos, she looked up, placing the tablet on the desk, “Damn shame, do you have any leads?”
“Well that’s what I wanted to see you about,” Director Goodson laced his fingers together, as Jane picked up the tablet,“I understand you know some folks who may have a vendetta against Sam or his associates, has anyone mentioned anything to you?”
“I’m sorry,” Wynne spread her hands, “I’m estranged from my family for that exact reason.”
“I understand,” Director Goodson sighed, “Now, I’m interested in your team’s assistance in solving this case.”
Wynne paused, her brow furrowing, “I’m sorry, sir, but we can’t assist you unless there’s unquestionable evidence that this occurence is a form of terrorism. They need to be widespread and clearly politically based. However, I can recommend forensics and psychology experts if you need them.”
“I appreciate that, Captain. Now, tell me, what constitutes a terroristic threat?”
Wynne didn’t allow her expression to give away anything, but she had to bite her tongue for an instant before reciting her usual spiel; “According to policy in the United States, a terroristic threat is a threat of committing a crime that forces the evacuation of a building. For example, a bomb threat. My team also manages investigation into human trafficking allegations and hate crimes. So, again, these crimes will need to become serial and clearly racially or politically motivated before we can get involved.”
“Three or more consecutive murders with the same or similar modus operandi. If there are any elements of the crime scene that stick out to you, such as the symbol or the writing, have the team on the case now make note of them, although, frankly, I find this to be beneath the concern of the Order at this time.”
“With all due respect,” Director Goodson leaned back in his chair, “That’s not your call to make.”
“I’m well aware,” her eyes flashed with irritation as her grip on the arms of the chair tightened, “I was simply stating my opinion. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an apartment I need to move into. If you are in need of anything else, you know how to reach me.”
With that, she rose from the seat, turned on her heel and stalked out of the office.