We turned, as one, in the direction of the noise, eyes questing to see past the heavy red curtains that blocked off the lobby. I could hear the tinkling of glass on the carpet.
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"That will be the front door," said Cross. "A shame, too. It'll cost a bundle to repair."
Morphine swiveled around and locked eyes with him. "Cross," she said, evenly. "What the Hell is going on?"
Cross laced his hands together and cracked his knuckles. "I'm afraid, my dear, that we are being invaded. The miscreants Renton described have come to carry out their duties, it would seem. I'd been expecting them ever since your report, but I had hoped for more time. As it is, we'll have to improvise."
Morphine's eyes widened. "You were EXPECTING this?" she said.
"Of course," said Cross. "You didn't think I was running around playing these games for fun, did you?"
"You could have told us-"
"I DID say, if you recall, that we should be prepared for something like this. But nevermind. We don't have the time to argue." Cross turned to the four of us. "The time has come for us to test this pact we have made. The time has come to show those who would hunt us that we are not the prey they expected, that we are, in fact, the predators. We are more than the sum of our parts, we five, and it is high time we showed our power to the world. Are you all prepared to do this?"
I nodded. Out of the corners of my eyes, saw the others nod as well. To us, there was no bickering, no worries about safety or secrecy, no reason to back away or hide. Jeremiah and Christy were actually smiling as they nodded, and I saw the battle-lust in their eyes. Morphine was smiling as well, but hers the smile of an executioner. Not for the first time, I found myself afraid of Morphine; of what- or who- she represented, and of what I was becoming, as the long nights passed and things grew strange. But there was no time.
"Very well," said Cross. "Listen up: Jeremiah, Christy, I want you both to Change before you go. Once you're in wolf-form, keep yourself out of direct sight- they may have guns- and run about, making the most horrible noises you can come up with. DO NOT attack until I give the signal. Morphine, Renton, I want you to go around the building and flank them. There's a door in the back you should be able to find fairly easily. I will orchestrate everything from a hidden place. Do you all understand?"
Again, we nodded.
"Very well. Go!"
Morphine turned on her heel and pounded down the aisle toward the stage. As I hurried to catch up with her, I heard the sound behind me, as Jeremiah and Christy became...whatever it was they became. I heard a noise somewhere between a roar and a laugh, and suddenly I found the speed to catch up with Morphine.
I dove through the curtain a half-second after her, and was met by the complete blackness of the backstage area. As the curtain swung closed behind us, a light flashed on somewhere above, throwing the architecture of the room into harsh yellow relief. I saw the door- an unlit neon sign above it read 'EXIT'- and bolted toward it, only to be yanked violently backward by a hand on my shirt-collar.
I swung around to face Morphine. She waved a hand at me- no time to explain.
"This way," she hissed, and headed for a narrow set of steps to the left. I followed somewhat reluctantly, abandoning my better judgement for curiousity...and a little faith.
The stairway led to a tiny hall, which led to yet another stairway- this one unlit- that creaked and crackled under our feet. At the top, Morphine kicked open a rotted brown door and burst into an abandoned apartment, vaulting the moth-eaten sofa and darting through the far doorway. I followed just in time to see her legs disappearing up and out of the far window.
"What the Hell are you doing?" I muttered, but swung myself out, grasping onto the sill above to keep from falling two stories into the trash bin below. We were out over the back-end of the Royal Theater, climbing like insane mountaineers up the sheer precipice of the building's side. Above me, Morphine slid atop the roof with deceptive ease, her shapely white feet stark against the dirty brown of the shingles. I made to follow her, and grabbed at the rain-gutter above me, which promptly came loose and slewed out into space, leaving me hanging, one-handed, over the parking lot below. I cursed.
Morphine reappeared, head-first this time, and thrust an arm down at me. She was holding her shirt in her teeth,to keep the voluminous sleeves clear of her hand, and from where I hung, she looked ravenous and deranged. I grasped her hand.
"'Old 'on 'ite," she said, and yanked me upward with such force that I actually flew through the air before coming down on the shingled roof of the building. Vertigo swam across my vision, and I would have fallen again, had she not grabbed me in time. The feeling passed, and I got to my feet, throwing Morphine what I hoped looked like a curious glance.
"Where now?" I said.
She grinned maniacally, and poined across the roof, out into space.
"Oh yes," she said. "You forget what you are, my pet. You forget what you can do. Take my hand."
"There's no time for argument, pet. We've wasted enough as it is. Now do as I say and take my hand!"
Reluctantly, I reached out and took hold of her cold, cold hand.
"Now," she said. "Together."
Hand in hand, we raced across the rooftop. Hand in hand, we reached the point where the building ended and the sky began. Hand in hand, we leapt into the abyss.
The world fell back around me. It was exactly like I had imagined it would be: Every nightmare of falling, brought to life and REAL. Time stopped, and the world held its breath, as we leapt into the air...and fell.
The ground took such a long, long time to meet us. I had time to look down at the street below. I had time to examine the trees around the courthouse; the leaves of which already carpeting the grass, as fall drew nigh. I saw the top of Nick's van, growing slowly larger as I accelerated toward it. Nick.
And the rage was there: That cold, almost pleasurable numbness that comes before battle. I hit the ground, rolled, and leapt to my feet, unhurt. A light thump behind me was all I heard of Morphine's landing. I turned to her.
The cold, joyful numbness was in her eyes as well.
We did not speak- for we did not need to- but instead turned as one toward the front of the Royal Theater. We smiled twin executioner's smiles.
We were ready.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.