The walls of City Hall were a pale yellow and stained with blood. And the smell of the building was a combination of bad coffee and death.
Shay and I were making our way down the hall slowly, Shay having her desert eagles at the ready, while I had my knuckles slipped onto my hand. While we were walking, we passed a few corpses. Some had had their necks snapped, others were impaled and some Smog had just turned into a pile of body parts.
“We should have stopped this,” I grunted.
“The people who were massacred outside are dead because we did try to stop this,” Shay replied. She was keeping a stern tone, but with the sights and smells around us, she was just as freaked out as I was. I could hear it in her voice. “All that matters is dealing with Smog once and for all.”
Killing him was still a long shot. Especially with the exhaustion we had following the fight with Salaran. Oh, I wanted him dead. I wanted him dead bad for what he did to Erica. Still, he was out of our league.
But with the info I managed to get from that vamp, plus what we already knew about him, and a few choice things the others had brought up in discussions, I could maybe resolve this conflict Carter-style: With words.
Of course, there was one thing sticking out amongst everything else. And I wanted answers about it.
“Tt,” I grit my teeth.
“You good?” she asked. “I know you got it a lot worse in the last fight than I did.”
No kidding, I thought. My own fault though. I was the one who volunteered to take her on first. It worked out in the end, but I need a healer bad. Not that there’s any time.
“I’ll be fine.” “Fine” being a relative term of course.
We reached an octagonal room which had exists in several directions. To the left was another hallway which led to side-exit. To the right were some offices, which, as of now, were filled with corpses. And in front of us were two staircases, one leading upstairs, the other downstairs.
“The basement,” I said. “We go down that staircase, and we’re gonna find him. We’re really about to do this.”
Not speaking at first, Shay walked over to the staircase, putting one foot down on the first step. She turned her head around and said, “Damn straight we are.” The smile she was showing…it was the kind of smile I’m sure she’d given Carter throughout their lives. One that said that everything was going to be OK.
But I wasn’t a child. And she was my girlfriend, not my older sibling. I may have been reciting every little fact Carter, Raina and I had ever learned about Smog in the back of my brain but there was still no way I was going into this encounter without a pessimistic attitude.
I joined Shay at the stairs, and with haste, we descended down them.
It wasn’t a large staircase, and it was just a matter of seconds before we reached the bottom. Smog wasn’t immediately visible, but I already could tell where he was. All that was behind us were two bathrooms. There were no doors in the hallway in front of us, just a water fountain and two more dead bodies, and at the end of the hallway was what appeared to be a large, open room.
“Remember, we agreed earlier that we can’t beat him head on. After what happened with Salaran, I’ve got some ideas worked out in my head. Don’t make a move unless my plan goes south, alright?”
Shay did a swift nod. “Alright,” she said. “Lets show him what heroes look like.”
She dashed ahead, and I followed her. We blitzed our way down the small hall and right before we crossed the threshhold, I whispered five words to myself.
“I don’t want to die.”
And there he was. Usually upon entering a room, I took note of my surroundings. But I couldn’t here. All of my attention was on him, standing casually in the center of the long rectangular room.
The first time we’d met, he’d been dressed like a Roman emperor. When Raina and the Troupe fought him, he’d been dressed like a nazi. And on the videotape he’d sent us, he was dressed as a soldier from feudal Japan. He hadn’t been playing dress up when we were at the docks, but he was back at it again now.
This time he’d taken on the appearance of a viking, not only wearing identifiable clothes, including a cape, but even the iconic, though I didn’t think historically accurate, horned helmet, and having grown a large blue bushy beard.
And of course, he looked just as smug as always.
“Malcolm. Shay,” he greeted us. “You really didn’t bring Carter?”
As he spoke, I moved my hand over to my stump. It was a sign of fear and weakness, but I couldn’t help it.
“My brother didn’t need to come,” Shay said, having aimed her guns at Smog the instant she saw him. “After all, I do believe I told you I’d be the one to kill you.”
“And, just like when you said that, I’m very much looking forward to see what you’ll try.” Rather than the slimy, over-confident tone I was used to hearing from him, his voice had a higher pitch. He sounded frustrated. “But really,” his neck twitched. “No Carter?” his voice cracked.
I’d repeatedly told myself that I didn’t have the Myers’ gift of gab. But I’d been doing pretty well lately. Maybe I can do this, I thought, taking a deep breath.
“Lis..” I choked on the first syllable. Just start over. “Listen,” I said, taking a few steps forward. “This whole game of yours? Its gotten boring. I’m bored now.”
“That so?” he asked. “Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that since Carter decided to waste my time by not showing up, the game you’re so bored of is going to continue.” Did that mean everyone’s lives weren’t at stake anymore?! If that were true, this wasn’t bad news at all. “The good news though is that you won’t have to continue playing the game. Because your part in it ends today.”
One way or another he was right. Still, I was feeling just a tinge more hope than before. He was still standing in place, not moving from it, but his face had been moving around. Licking and biting his lips, twirling his finger in his beard…add on his declaration that Carter not being here meant he was wasting his time…Maybe he isn’t just focused on Carter. Was he maybe obsessed?
“So this is all about Carter, huh? I asked. “You know, Shay here thought this was about her. Ain’t that right, babe?”
“I’m not wrong often, but I admit when I am,” she said, playing along. Fighting him was our last resort, but Shay, while following me, moving in a circular motion, was still keeping her guns aimed at Smog.
A look of bemusement squeezed itself onto Smog’s face among the frustration. He was intrigued where I was going with this.
“The day we first met you, you told Carter that you had a connection to the Guardianship. But with you not being human and all and all of the things we’ve learned these past few months about Heaven, Hell and magic, I’m gonna take a shot and say you were full of crap. You just said that because you knew it would get him riled up.”
“I’d been watching all three of you for quite some time,” he said. “I knew exactly what buttons to push for each of you. Why do you think I crushed your gun?”
He knows you’re trying to get inside his head. Don’t let him into yours. Ignore him.
Before continuing to speak, I finally took the time to quickly observe my surroundings. It looked to be between 50 and 60 feet long and 30 and 40 feet wide. The walls were painted the same shade of yellow as the walls, blood stains running across them. On the north and south sides of the room, there were bookshelves resting against the walls and on the east and west sides there were navy blue sofas. This must have been so kind of lounge area.
“Yeah, you were watching all three of us, weren’t you? So if this was all about Carter, I had to wonder why you’d even care about Raina and I,” I continued, noticing that at this point, Shay’s face was basically unchanging, simply giving Smog an interminable death stare. “Thinking about it for a second, your reasoning for Raina was obvious. She’s Adam’s daughter.”
“That was part of it, yes,” he replied, scratching his chin. “Seeing that self-righteous, God worshipping fool’s face once she’s dead? It’ll be priceless.” He lowered his arm. “What exactly are you trying to accomplish right now, Malcolm?”
Ignore him, I thought once more. Don’t let him question you.
“Adam is a monster,” I said. “We both know that. Don’t know if it’s why you hate him considering you’re…you, but the point is, we’re both out to stop him.”
“Oh,” he muttered. “Oh.” he said a little louder. “OH!” he exclaimed. “OH HO HO!,” he laughed. “Is this why you’re here? For real? You didn’t bring Carter because you thought you could make a truce with me? Seriously?!”
Turning my head to Shay, I had a nervous look on my face. One reassuring nod from her later, I tried to regain my composure.
“The enemy of my enemy is my…person I can tolerate slightly more,” I spoke. “Far as we know, you don’t have anything cooking on the same scale as Adam.” Alright, here comes a big shot. “Plus, we learned some very interesting things from Salaran before we killed her.”
Smog donned a look of pure rage in response to my lie, his arms morphing into blades.
“You did what you stinking mor!..” Just as I thought he would, he stopped and put himself back together, retuning his arms to their normal form. “No matter. Just a servant.”
“Smog,” I said, actually smiling with newfound confidence. “She’s not actually dead.” He reacted again, as expected, brushing that off with a hand gesture. But it was too late. I’d already seen his real reaction. “But the part about learning things from her? That was actually true.”
For the first time since we’d arrived, Smog took a step forward.
“Whatever it is you’ve been building up to, I recommend you get to the point before I get bored and make good on my process by cutting you both to pieces.”
“Don’t change your plan,” Shay whispered. “I’ve got us covered if he tries anything. Just keep going.”
She was definitely optimistic about what her guns could do. Anti-Demigod metal had been proven to be able to hurt him, but only if he didn’t see it coming. Maybe she had some trick up her sleeve I didn’t know about.
“She said that you cared about humanity,” I said, sweating some. “That while you are horrid and she doesn’t understand why you feel the way you do, you do care. And that makes a little sense what with you being in opposition to Adam and his plan to wipe us all out. Throw in the fact that you apparently saved Gordon and Salaran from horrible fates and”…Oh boy… “I don’t think you actually are monster you’ve been acting like.”
“What?” both Shay and Smog replied, although in very different tones. Shay sounded shocked, while Smog just sounded annoyed.
“Think about it,” I said, turning my head to Shay, but keeping an eye on Smog. “All this time, he’s been acting like some over-the-top evil cartoonish super villain. The type you’d find in a comic book. But with everything we’ve learned about him, that doesn’t make much sense.” At this point, Smog was full on scowling. “So why would you act like that then? Why, to get under the skin of the superhero fanboy who you’re so obsessed with, of course.”
“Silence,” he hissed.
“Sorry, not done yet!” I shouted, speeding up the rate at which I was speaking. This had to work. Otherwise we were dead. “So then there’s the big question of: Why? Why Carter of all people? Best I can figure is its got something to do with his unique power. Magic maybe? Who knows. Well, you do!”
“I said, silence,” he repeated, taking a few more steps toward me.
In response, I picked up the pace even more.
“You know a lot of things after all! Everything there is to know about us! Everything about Adam! Heaven! Hell! Magic! All the crazy shit that I’ve been wrapped up in these past few months, you’re the expert on it all, right? So what are you? We know you’re not human, and we know you’re not an angel or a demon. And you act like this big scary villain, one who’s done monstrous things, but you also have contradictions in your actions and motives! So what then? Who and what the Hell are you?!”
There was one more thing I had to say. Whether or not I’d get the chance to say it though depended on what happened next. I was panting and the next move was all Smog’s.
I wasn’t sure what I’d said that really set him off, but looking into his eyes right now was like looking into an abyss. Just cold nothingness.
Even Shay looked a little worried. She’d be all gung-ho again the second the fighting actually started, if it did, but in this moment of silence, we were both terrified. We’d faced death together before, but there was no guarantee this would go like the previous times.
“Malcolm,” he said in an almost entirely new voice with a strong accent that I couldn’t place. “I remember what I slipped.” The white color of his skin started bleeding off like a liquid, dripping down and turning into steam as the drops hit the floor. “I know what you really want to ask me,” he said as Shay and I backed up. His previous skin tone gone, he now looked like he was from the Middle East. “So instead of dancing around the point, you should really just get to it.” His beard turned into smoke, and he absorbed it into his chin. “And after you do, I might just give you an answer before I torture your lover to death before your eyes.” Shay fired a few bullets through Smog’s head, but of course, they just passed through. The gunshots were unexpected, but I’d fired off my sisters enough for it to still not bother me at all. From the neck down, Smog turned his entire body, clothes included, into smoke, and changed his outfit to just a black tank top and black jeans. Before I could realize what was happening, Smog had blitzed me, picking me up by the throat, Shay tripping backward in shock onto the sofa. “So ask.”
He’d only been strangling me for a few seconds, but his grip was so tight, I was already starting to fade out from a lack of oxygen. He saw through me. No choice but to ask.
“You know who I was, right? Before I lost my memory,” I gasped. “Back at the docks, you started calling me…calling me something. Who am I?”
My eyes turned to Shay. She was pissed, but right now there was nothing she could do.
He stood there for a few seconds, continuing to strangle me in complete silence.
“I could tell you,” he said, turning two of his fingers on his right hand into what looked like two black icicles. Oh no. No, no, no! “But I think I’d rather show you.”
In one swift motion, he raised his arm up and stuck the two icicles into my eyes.
I thought I might have heard Shay call out my name or swear at Smog, but I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t hear anything over my own screams of agony.