The Immortal Guns of Talon Konstantine: Blue Moon
It is two AM. Jynx and Kaine slip out of the room at the Seven Seas Hotel in Steelrain. Kumiko is sleeping soundly and doesn't hear them leave. Iai doesn't go after them. He knows where they're going. They won't need him there.
Angel City isn't far from Steelrain. They reach the outside walls within the hour. They stand at the gateway and stare into the ruins. In the black sky above them, the bigger of the two western moons is eclipsing the smaller one and has turned blue. The light makes the ruins even more disturbing. They can see human skulls and other bones.
Ready? Jynx asks.
Let's go, Kaine says.
They step into Angel City and draw their guns.
"Damn it," Jacob Seraphim mutters. He stops just short of the entrance to Angel City. The stubborn bastard he's been chasing for four days now has just run to the last place Jacob wants to follow him. He hates to admit that the rumors about Angel City bother him, but he doesn't like the idea of walking into a city and not coming back. He waits a while, hoping that the guy will come back out, but he doesn't. Jacob doesn't see the man anywhere.
He wonders how someone could have disappeared so quickly and completely. He had the man in his line of sight right up until he crossed the line into the city. There are plenty of places to hide. The collapsed buildings offer large piles of stone, glass and metal to hide behind. There could be a few places that are open enough to get inside, and Angel City isn't small.
Shinohara Shinji is a dangerous criminal. He started as a bank robber when he was a teenager, and then he got greedy. He murdered the rest of his gang so he could keep the whole take for himself. Once he got a taste of killing, he didn't want to stop. He kept robbing banks and soon added jewelry stores and any other place that sold merchandise he could turn into cash. He's killed police officers, other criminals, innocent by-standers and bounty hunters. He's worth five hundred billion stars.
Jacob has never seen a bounty that high, much less had a chance to collect on it. With that kind of money, he could stop worrying about the hospital bills. He could stop worrying about a lot of things. He could buy a big house outside of Atlanta and send his boys to a better school. Gloria could start a day care like she's been talking about. It's an awful lot of money, and Shinji needs to be caught.
Ever since the tracks broke and Angel City was destroyed and the man in black said the war was over, no one's gone into the city and come back. They say that the city is haunted and that the ghosts kill everyone who enters. It's been years since anyone's set foot in the city, though. So how do they know no one comes back? It's just a rumor. The city isn't haunted. There's no such thing as ghosts. The only danger is the ruins themselves, and that's easy enough to avoid.
Still. Jacob can't shake the feeling that there is something in there besides rubble. He takes a deep breath. It would be easier if it weren't dark already. He steps into Angel City and feels like a steel door slams shut behind him. The hair on the back of his neck bristles. He looks around. Just stone, steel and glass. Right? No, he wouldn't be shaking if that were all it was.
He can't turn back. Shinji can't be allowed to go free because Jacob got creeped out. So Jacob takes another deep breath, draws his guns and starts looking for Shinji.
As soon as they cross into Angel City, the twins feel as if they've been sealed inside. If they ran for the gateway, they'd be unable to pass through it, despite the fact that nothing bars the way, but they don't intend to turn back.
They pick their way around the crumbled buildings. Rats squeak and scurry out of their way. The empty eye sockets of the skulls follow them. Overhead, the fat blue moon continues to move across the face of the smaller yellow moon. At the edge of the eclipse, something writhes. Sand and dust coil around a cool wind. They make it to the broken street and look around.
Faint white shapes drift around the ruins. Kaine watches them and looks for faces. He can't quite make out human forms in the wisps, but he can feel their anger.
Jynx coughs up feathers and listens to the voices of thousands of angry ghosts. He can't understand most of the words, but he knows the tone. They're pissed, he says.
Very pissed, Kaine says.
The only building left untouched in the destruction of Angel City is the Cathedral of Three Stars. It's a huge church with a facade covered in ornate window casings and dark eaves. Stone gargoyles perch on the corners. Thin spires reach high into the black night. It looks like a clawed hand waiting to pluck the moon from the sky.
The ghosts move towards the cathedral. The twins follow.
"Shinji!" Jacob shouts. His voice echoes off the steel walls that surround the city. "Come on out, Shinji. You can't hide from me forever. Come out and let's get the fuck outta here."
Shinji doesn't answer. Jacob hears him running. He tries to follow the sound, but the way sounds bounce off the walls makes it hard to pinpoint anything. Shinji could be only a few feet in front of him, but it sounds as if he could be on the other side of the city. The only other sounds are the chittering of rats and the shifting of the debris.
Jacob keeps his guns up. Chills skitter up his arms and down his spine. His heart is racing. He's not sure what he's afraid of. He hasn't seen anything or heard anything strange, but some small part of his brain must know something isn't right. He wants to get out of the city. Forget Shinji; forget the stars. He shouldn't be in Angel City. He turns back towards the gate. A dark shape scuttles by in front of him. His heart leaps into the back of his mouth. A rat scrambles to the top of a pile of human bones and squeaks. He fights the urge to shoot the rat for scaring him. "Fucking rodent," he mutters. His heart settles back into a steady gallop, and his hands shake even more.
He won't get back out of the city. He knows that. Even if he just walks away and leaves Shinji to whatever fate he might find. There's no way back out. Angel City keeps its visitors. He wishes he'd never set foot in the place. It's too late now. He's there. He'll be there forever.
He hears a shout from somewhere near the center of the city. He hesitates then heads towards the sound. He hears rubble shifting and the sound of footsteps scrambling along the pavement. "Shinji! Come on out! I won't hurt you," he says. "Come on, Shinji. We don't need to be here. Let's go."
Shinji isn't going to come out. If he's caught, he knows he'll be convicted of his crimes, and he knows he'll be put to death. For him, it's almost better to let the city have him. Jacob curses under his breath and keeps heading towards the sound of Shinji's shout.
The Cathedral of Three Stars looms up out of the ruins. Jacob stops and stares at it. He wonders why it's the only building in the whole city that wasn't damaged. Maybe the man in black had something against destroying holy places. It seems unlikely, though. Anyone with that little regard for human life probably doesn't care about a church.
There are lights in the windows of the cathedral. The doors are open. A tall man with stooped shoulders steps out. In the moonlight, the man's pallid skin seems to glow. Jacob gets only a brief glimpse of the man's face, and then he darts behind a pile of rubble. His heart hammers. He feels short of breath. He has just looked upon Death.
He closes his eyes and tries to shake the image from his head. The man's skin is withered and pulled tight against his skull. His lips barely cover his gleaming teeth, and his dark eyes hold something terrible that even in that momentary glimpse makes Jacob feel like a two-year-old cowering from shadows that make no sense. He takes deep breaths and murmurs a prayer. "Please, God," he whispers. He can't get the rest of his thoughts in order. "Please, God. Please, God. Please." He rests his forehead on his arms and waits.
There are lights in the lower level windows of the cathedral. The twins crouch behind the wreckage of a building and watch as the ghosts float inside. There are irregular dark stains on the concrete steps. The stained glass windows cast a bloody light on the ground. Inside, an organ huffs out a hymn.
Jynx runs his fingers through the gritty sand and dust at their feet. He uncovers a small silver cross on a broken chain. He recognizes the cross. Dad was here, he says.
Kaine looks at the cross lying in Jynx's palm. He can't find anything to say. He folds his hand around Jynx's and closes his eyes. He doesn't expect to find any visions there, but they come in sharp flashes. The horrid face of the man in black, the cloying sensation of terror, the sound of a man screaming. He feels warm tears glide down his cheeks. He's always known what happened, but he's never seen it. He doesn't want to see it. Even those small bits of it are almost too much to handle.
Jynx suppresses a cough and pushes feathers out of his mouth. He rubs at his eyes with the back of his right hand. He used to think it was a neat trick that he could sometimes see Kaine's visions when they were touching. Now he wishes they had never figured that out. He doesn't like what he sees. At least with the voices, he can relate word for word what he hears, and if what he hears frightens him, he can share that. Kaine's visions are things of loneliness. Kaine can describe what he sees, but the images are his alone. Jynx wishes he could change that, but it's part of what Shaman has always been.
What is that thing? Jynx asks.
I don't know, Kaine says. But it killed Mom and Dad.
And everyone else who comes here.
Not any more.
With one final deep breath, Jacob peeks around the edge of the collapsed building. The man in black descends the stairs slowly. His hands are grotesquely long, and his black fingernails are sharp. With his left hand, he clutches the cross on a rosary around his neck. In the scant moonlight, Jacob can't tell what the beads are made of. He can see that they are carved into misshapen skulls.
The man in black moves out of sight. Jacob slinks to another pile a little closer. The stained glass windows on either side of the door cast a disquieting red light. His nerves still feel raw and jangled. He has a feeling he's about to see things he'd rather not. He glances towards the gateway again. The toppled wreckage of the city obscures it. He thinks of Gloria and Jynx and Kaine waiting for him back at the Seven Seas Hotel.
Shinji screams. Jacob shudders and forces himself to look. The man in black is standing over Shinji. Shinji's right leg is bent at an impossible angle, and he's tugging at it, trying to drag it along behind him as he heads back for the gateway.
"No more struggling, my son," the man in black says. His voice sounds the way his face looks, withered and peeled back from his mouth.
Shinji shrieks and struggles with his broken leg.
The man in black bends his knees and stoops down in front of Shinji. He puts his hands on Shinji's shoulders. "There is no need to run," he says. "You can find peace here. I will be your guide. Just let me show you the Way."
"Get offa me you freak!" Shinji yells. He tries to push himself away but can't get out of the man's grasp. He reaches for his gun only to have it flung out of his hand.
Jacob flinches. The man's hands never left Shinji's shoulders, yet Shinji's gun is now twenty feet away. The man must be psychic. There's no other way he could have done that. For a brief moment, Jacob wonders if the man in black is the third star angel. He can't be though. Jynx and Kaine would have been begging to follow Jacob into Angel City had they felt the errant star angel that close to them. No, this guy is something else. This guy is more dangerous.
"The Way does not call for violence, my son," the man in black says.
"Fuck you!" Shinji screams. He reaches for a rusty iron rod and swings at the man in black.
The man in black catches Shinji's wrist and twists it. Howling, Shinji drops the rod. Shinji's wrist snaps. Blood sprays from his severed veins. Fine splinters of bone fall to the ground. Shinji folds over. His back heaves, but he can no longer cry out. Jacob swallows hard. He ought to do something, but he hasn't figured out enough of what the man in black can do. Telekinesis can be a bitch if the user knows what he's doing, and Jacob thinks the man in black has a pretty good idea.
The man in black stands up and drags Shinji by the wrist up the steps of the cathedral.
The organ puffs and clicks out the last notes of the hymn, and there is silence inside the Cathedral of Three Stars. Jynx and Kaine creep closer. Pages rustle. Wood creaks.
"Dearly beloved," a cracking voice begins.
There's a long pause. Kaine moves to the left side of the doors. Jynx crouches on the right.
"Dearly beloved. My sons, my daughters. My friends. It has been four years since the vision granted to me by God showed me the face of the false angel, the one who would come into our holy home and try to prove to you, my true believers, that he is Shaman and I am not. It was four years ago this night, and this is the night he is to come. But do not be tempted by his words! He is a deceiver sent from the depths of Hell. Do not be awed by his show of power! His talents are great, no doubt, but they are not of holy origin. There is only one Shaman, and he stands before you now. I, Reverend Moon, am the one chosen to have the power of the Shaman. There can be no other. The deceiver comes this night to destroy me and take your souls. You have worked so hard to gain the salvation I offered. Do not let him take it! Rise up against the false angel! Destroy him!"
There is no response from the ghostly congregation inside.
Kaine, are you a fake? Jynx asks.
Gee, all those heart attacks for nothing, Kaine says.
What're you gonna do with the souls you steal?
Put 'em back where they belong.
To be continued...