Chapter 2: The flames underneath the night sky

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 22
Comments: 1

"What do you mean, there is an entire organization of artifactors?"Julian Gromel took a deep breath of fresh air. There was no difference between the air on either side; He just found a blue sky more enjoyable than a blood-red one. Julian dodged a couple of people who hurried along, hoping to reach a bar before the bells hit midnight. Luckily, the clouds hid the moonlight, and no one noticed the dark smears of blood on his face. Carmilla had pulled the hood of her jacket past her face, hiding her bleak features in the shadows.

"Shh, not so loud!" The purple-haired woman whispered through her teeth. "We can't have anyone knowing about that other side." The young man nodded. That seemed logical; If people knew there was an entire side with a bloody red sky instead of a deep blue one, they'd freak out. To say nothing about the powers active on the other side.

"Still, it surprises me there were other people besides me who could use Artifacts. I always thought I was the only one." Julian wasn't lying. When he started his mission, he was the only one. Whenever he encountered anyone on the other side, it was in a flurry of drugs and flying debris. After which they ended up dead.

"Of course not. There is a whole group who can use them. You've seen the news, right? Those disappearances are not natural, no matter what anyone says." Julian bit his lip. He wisely left the fact he was indirectly responsible for some of those incidents in the shadows as he just hummed and nodded. However, he wasn't stupid; People disappeared left and right and yet, he had only killed about twelve people in the five years he'd been visiting that other side. And there had been hundreds of cases in that time.

"I… still don't see the link." They waited at a crossing. While there weren't any cars out at this time of night, they still had to adhere to the rules. If the police camera's caught them, they'd have to pay a hefty fine. Julian kicked the can of a fizzy drink towards a nearby trash can while Carmilla leaned against the streetlight.

"Everything will become clear in due time. The walls have ears, you know." When the streetlight bathed the two in an unnaturally bright green hue, they swiftly crossed the street. After they had walked for a few minutes, Carmilla suddenly pulled Julian into a dark alley. It took all of his efforts not to scream out in pain as he used his injured arm to keep himself from falling face-first into a bunch of trash bags.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Julian straightened his back and glared at the female next to him. Carmilla looked past his shoulder with worry before she relaxed and moved deeper into the darkness of the unlit alley. The blue-eyed man rolled his eyes and followed her, his shoes making a squishing sound whenever they encountered filth that hadn't completely dried yet. As they waded through the stench, Julian inspected his left arm.

While nothing seemed broken, it still stung whenever he used those muscles. If he wasn't careful, it'd get infected, and then his troubles would start for real.

"We'll take care of your shoulder when we get there." Carmilla glanced over her shoulder and saw how Julian plucked the remains of his shirt from the wound. The blood had already clotted, with only a couple of spots still leaking fresh liquid. The pain had already subsided into a dull ache. They continued to wade through the filth-covered alley until they hit upon a wall. Julian let out a deep sigh.

"…You sure we came through the right alley?" Carmilla didn't react. She grabbed her gun and started tapping against the flakey white paint. Ignoring the filth at her feet, she stepped back and forth and listened closely. Julian shivered as he sat upon a nearby trashcan. An idea he quickly stepped away from when he felt how fatty and slippery the thing felt.

"Ah, it's here… I swear, they don't need to change the thing every time…" Carmilla rubbed the dust of a peculiar brick. Julian didn't see anything different from it, except that it had lost more of the white lead paint than the rest. Carmilla grabbed the back of her gun and rammed it against the stone. Instead of hitting back, the brick sunk into the wall. Julian didn't have time to ask anything.

Accompanied by a low rumble, the walls slid backwards before splitting upon in a  zig-zagging pattern. It swung open like a door and revealed a steel staircase leading down. Old, flickering lights chased away the darkness, yet Julian felt like they could pop at any minute.

"After you." Carmilla took a quick step backwards and ushered her male companion through the door. Julian tried to discern where this new path might lead, but he couldn't see the end. He took a deep breath and clutched the railing with his functioning arm. The staircase's steepness and the cold, slippery feeling of the cold steel against his palms didn't ease his bubbling anxiety. He carefully made his way down, making sure his steps stuck before taking another.

How long until I hit the bottom of this thing? Those were Julian's only thoughts. The methods to get down got increasingly more and more drastic in his angsty mind. Luckily for him, he soon felt solid concrete underneath his soles. Carmilla chuckled and passed him, fishing a small plastic card from her pockets. A little white plastic cube, attached to a set of rusted steel doors, beeped when she swiped it with the plastic.

"Come on, time to get you up to speed and get your shoulder looked at." Carmilla walked through the steel doors, her heels clicking on the hard concrete. Julian gulped and shuffled after her. The doors swung shut with a loud creak before a mechanic voice rung through the long hallway.

"Doors sealed. Welcome back, Carmilla." The voice knew who she was. The purple-haired woman only smirked and walked down the hallway. She took the first path left, then the second right before taking another left. After that, Julian stopped paying attention. It was a wonder no one managed to get lost here… Wherever here was. He'd never heard of a complex like this underneath the city. Not even the sewer system was this advanced.

"Where… are we?" Carmilla didn't answer, and Julian didn't ask anything else. He was way too busy inspecting his surroundings. Walls of bedrock towered high above him with electrical cables running from LED-light to LED-light. Julian was surprised to find the two of them weren't the only one here. Some carried large stacks of paper, all neatly folded into dark brown binders. Others carried guns, swords and other weaponry. Some looked like nurses while others were cleanly put into a form-fitting tuxedo. Julian felt somewhat out of place with his short and short-sleeved shirt.

What a weird melting pot of people, Julian thought.

When they rounded a corner for the umpteenth time, Carmilla smiled and reached out for the nearest door. With a swipe of the plastic card, the automatic locks retracted and gave way to a clinically clean room. Several beds lined the walls, three on each side. A glass cabinet, filled with vials containing liquids of various colours, stood at the back of the room. The LED-lights bathed the entire room in a creamy white light. Julian had to admit it was more soothing than the cold glow at the staircase.

"Sit down on a bed. I'll be right there with some antiseptics and bandages." Julian flopped down on the nearest bed. He had expected a stone-hard mattress with thin sheets. Yet the young man sunk deep into the cotton sheets as the feather in the mattress gave way. While he clawed his way out of the pillowy embrace, Carmilla returned with a small orange chest. She clicked it open and grabbed some bandages, a bottle of rubbing alcohol, a pair of scissors and some cotton balls.

"I never knew you could do first-aid." Carmilla scoffed at that.  "I didn't want to learn it. My superiors forced me when I joined the organization," was the reply. She put some alcohol on a cotton ball and pressed it against Julian's wound. Julian bit his lip to prevent any noise from his mouth as the liquid seeped down through the clotted blood.

"Yes, yes, it stings. You are free to scream if you want." Carmilla's eyes were solely focused on the wound. She hated this side of the job; Seeing blood always made her feel squeezy inside. It took all of her control not to vomit when she saw how deep the wound was. When she was done, she grabbed the bandages and rolled it over Julian's shoulder. Each time her cold fingers touched him, Julian shivered. He couldn't remember the last time someone touched him like this. Only one person had ever touched him in the past ten years, and that was because he'd broken his leg.

"And there!" Carmilla looked unusually proud of herself. Julian always knew her as a cold, calculating yet empathic boss. Seeing her this happy about something so benign was something new. The relief fell from Carmilla's face when she noticed Julian looking at her face.  She grabbed the dirty cotton balls and threw them into the trashcan near the door.

"Right. Now that your wound has been taken care off, we better get going. Otherwise…," Carmilla's voice shuddered. "The nurse will come." Julian frowned. What could be so bad about a nurse coming back to a hospital room? However, he wasn't about to ask any questions. Right now, he didn't want to get lost in this mammoth maze. The young man followed Carmilla outside. Luckily, the trek this time didn't take as long. Five minutes later, they arrived at another steel door.

"In here. Then we can talk." Carmilla opened the door with a simple swipe of her plastic card and walked through it. Julian noticed a small metal plaque drilled into the bedrock. 'Squad 13', it said. As Julian walked into the room, Carmilla fell down into a leather chair.

This room contrasted the cold, uncaring hallways from earlier in every way possible. It was small yet cosy with a door leading to another compartment. Julian faintly saw the word 'bedroom' on the door. On the left, a dartboard hung from a simple steel nail which was mirrored by a billiard table on the other side. A soft fluffy rug covered most of the floor, only leaving the corners naked.

"Fancy room…" Julian mumbled and grabbed the nearest chair before flopping down. He crossed his legs and watched the purple-haired woman put her vest on a nearby coat rack. Carmilla preferred the leather-lined sofa. A soft sigh escaped her lips as she fell down into its soft embrace, tapping her heels twice against the compartment underneath her seat.  A small refrigerator rolled out with only two bottles inside. Carmilla grabbed a large wine glass and filled it halfway with a clear liquid. Julian barely managed to catch the name 'Vermouth' on the side of the bottle before she put it away.

"Would you like some?" Julian shook his head. Alcohol and his head didn't mix well. Whenever he tried it, he'd get pulsating headaches the day after. Even if he only drank a little bit! Carmilla shrugged and mumbled a 'Suit yourself' as she wetted her lips.

"Now that we're here let's answer those questions of yours. Fire away." Carmilla sunk further into the sofa as the alcohol surged through her veins. Julian had never seen his boss this relaxed. She was known to be loose on the rules sometimes back at Cybersecurity headquarters, but not this open.

"First things first, what organization are you a part of. ?" Julian decided that part would be a good enough place to start. Carmilla took another gulp of her Vermouth before she straightened her back.

"Right. We are an organization that handles anything and everything concerning that other side. Going from disappearances to murders to smuggling. We aren't limited to one country either; We have branches in every neighbouring state from the Elves to the Merfolk. Only the demon Empire didn't want us." Julian nodded. While he didn't know exactly what was going on in other countries, it seemed logical that the other side continued there as well.

"Right and you… what? Arrest the culprits?" Julian found that idea hard to believe. How can you convict someone who has committed a crime in a place that theoretically didn't exist to the general public? Carmilla chuckled and shook her head.

"Not exactly. There are two options. Or they come quietly with us and face life imprisonment, or they get wiped off the map. You can imagine how many times they'd rather choose the latter option." Julian gulped. Those weren't the answers he had hoped for. He was one of those people, and neither option positively spoke to him.

"However," Carmilla suddenly raised her voice as she studied Julian's expression. A smirk appeared on her lips. "There have been exceptions. Not all of us are scouted through official means. In fact, there are more than a few of us who've been former criminals or people who stumbled upon the other side at the wrong time." She took another swig of her glass.

"So what do you say, Julian? Fancy a job with us? It pays well, and you get to live here." Julian knew he had no choice. If he refused, he could kiss his free life goodbye. Besides… This could be the opportunity he had been waiting for these 10 long years…

"Very well. Sign me up! Don't expect me to live here underground, though. I may be a nerd, but I don't want to live like a mole." Carmilla shrugged. She finished her glass and walked towards the door. The purple-haired woman stopped, one hand resting on the doorknob. In her other hand, she held her smartphone.

"Wait here, I'll ask the boss for your paperwork." A second later, she disappeared behind the steel door. Julian sighed and rubbed his temples. What did he agree to? He agreed to save his own skin, but he had no idea how he would turn this into an advantage. Not yet, at least. He first needs more information to work with.

"Right, right, I'll tell him." The door slowly opened again with Carmilla's voice creeping through the small opening. The purple-haired woman swatted a couple of bangs out of her sight as she put her phone away.

"Right… The boss wasn't so happy I called her out of bed, but she agreed to have you aboard. Only after a trial run, though. And you'll be serving under my jurisdiction during your trial. So you better pull your weight." Julian nodded. They couldn't let just anyone who could enter the other side join.

"Anyway," She looked at the classic watch on her right wrist. "If you still want to have a meaningful sleep back home, I suggest we take off right now. I'll come to get you at 9 sharp." Julian groaned. Getting out of bed early was not his forte, certainly not when it was because of something he had to do.

After leaving the underground network of hallways behind and resurfacing by staircase once more, the two made their way to the city's suburbs. They exchanged only silence. The walk to Julian's house wasn't that long; It only took them a couple of minutes to reach the right street.

"Right. I'll leave you here. I still have some paperwork to take care of to prepare for your arrival tomorrow." Julian could've sworn he heard a disgruntled groan coming from his boss. The boy shrugged and waved as he took a couple of steps down the street.

BANG! A loud explosion echoed through the long street as a plume of smoke and flames billowed out to the sky. Debris cascaded into the road, dousing several nearby parked cars in their scorching heat. Remains of windows, walls and furniture danced in the explosion's wake before they rained down onto the concrete.

"Fuck!" Colour drained from Julian's face. He dashed off with Carmilla on his heels. She reached behind her back, grabbing the handle of her gun while her eyes scanned the surrounding roofs. As they arrived at the blaze, Julian cursed. Between house number 34 and 38 gaped a wide hole. Only a small part of the back wall remained, teetering on a small, cracked piece of the foundation. Sirens echoed from further in the city. The explosion must've been visible from all over town.

"Tsk." The flames danced in Julian's eyes as he saw his home burning right in front of him. He bit his lip and tasted his own blood. As the fire engines roared up to the scene, Carmilla tugged him to the side into the shadows between two houses. She looked him straight into the eyes but couldn't find the right words to say. While streams of pressured water rained down on the inferno, several secondary explosion occurred. Mushroom-shaped clouds of fire roared to the sky, charring everything that came in touch with them.

"All right you lot. Get back!" Several firemen pushed the gathered spectators away from the raging fire. They didn't think of looking in the shadows or between the houses, luckily. Julian rubbed his temples and glanced at the purple-haired woman in front of him.

"So… Think I could sleep on that fluffy rug of yours?" Julian slowly turned to face his purple-haired companion.

Carmilla shook her head and chewed on her lip as she thought of a solution. In the end, she didn't find anything better than to offer him a place on her leather sofa.

"I don't have a second bed installed yet," was her reasoning. Julian couldn't argue with that. It had only been a few hours since she knew he was an Artifactor. So the black-haired man simply nodded and followed her out of the small alleyway. Just as he turned his back on his house's remains, a car stopped in front of the blaze with screeching tires. It had small copies of the country's flag resting on the bonnet.

A blonde woman stepped out. Dressed immaculately in a tight black one-piece with a plaided skirt that hugged her curves tightly, she raced towards the fire on a pair of stiletto heels. Small teardrop-shaped earrings, set with a couple of azure-coloured gemstones on each side swung from her little ears. Her long hair, styled in an eloquent cornucopia of elegant curls, flocked after her. Her rosy lips curled into a fearing grimace when she saw the destruction ahead of her. A couple of firemen saw her racing towards the flames and grabbed her.

"Let me go! He's somewhere inside that fire! I need to get him out! Please, let me—" One of the firemen managed to reach above the woman's incoherent screaming.

"Ma'am, I am sorry. No one can escape such flames. My condolences." The man repeated those words, even when the woman scratched his face with long gel-infused nails. Tears drew paths in her eyeliners over her smooth skin as she continued pushing against the two men who did everything they could to prevent even more casualties.

"Julian! Julian, I know you're alive! Please! Answer me!" She screamed, her voice hoarse with desperation. Carmilla glanced over her shoulder at an unresponsive Julian. The young man simply looked at the scene unfolding in front of him, seemingly lost in thought.

"Hey, lady! He—" Julian rapidly lashed out and tugged Carmilla back into the shadows. The purple-haired woman's words got stuck in her throat as she stumbled backwards into the shadows. The nearest onlookers looked around, but no one else seemed to have heard the purple-haired woman's voice above the roaring fire.

"What are you doing?!" Carmilla grunted and shook her hand from Julian's grip. "That's your foster mother, isn't she? I saw her at a cybersecurity conference with you once." Julian slowly nodded as he took a deep breath.

"You saw those secondary explosions earlier, right? After the fire had eaten through most of the house?" His voice was cold. Uncaring even. It was like Julian hadn't attached any sort of emotional band with his own home. Which was the way he liked to operate.

"Yes," Carmilla slowly nodded. "It sounded like gas bottles. Not surprising considering most of the people here work with gas." She frowned; What was he going on about?  Julian smirked and shook his head.

"See, that's the thing…" Julian took a tentative step towards his purple-haired companion, his calculating gaze staring straight into her eyes. "I never used nor bought or stored any gas bottles. I hated the smell as it burned, so I changed to electric appliances about four years ago." Clarissa's eyes went wide as she suspiciously eyed the shadows around them.

"You think…" She didn't have to finish the sentence. Julian nodded as he walked out of the alley and gazed down the street, looking at nothing in particular.

"Yes. Someone had it out for me, and they definitely wanted to put me six foot under." Julian clicked his tongue before turning his back on the dying flames. The concrete underneath his feet made a distinct crackling noise while the police and fire engines' sirens slowly died out. Carmilla quickly joined him, saying nothing.

Underneath the cloudy night sky, Julian's mind went into overdrive. If they knew where he lived, they presumably knew who he was. Judging by the time of the explosion, he reached the conclusion he somehow wasn't alone when he killed those two men earlier tonight. Or…

"Is there something wrong with my face?" Julian shook his head and looked away, leaving Carmilla frowning and confused. The young man excluded the purple-haired woman from his calculations; If she wanted to kill him, she had ample opportunities to do so. And yet, nothing happened. Then only one possibility remained: something or someone saw him earlier this evening on the other side. Julian sighed deeply.

"This just got a whole lot more complicated…" Julian looked at his own shadow, following his steps like it was supposed to. He smirked at himself, and while he wasn't in that other world, he swore his shadow smiled back.

Submitted: January 20, 2021

© Copyright 2021 ChaosCaller. All rights reserved.


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Jonathon Asur-Robinson

This is amazing. I am truly gripped now and I must know more.
Great writing and a superb build up hats off to you

Wed, January 20th, 2021 6:33pm

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