“And there we go,” Gordon said. “Third patrol coming home.”
I raised my head up to watch as two men in black coats made their way down the street. One had a bag slung over one shoulder, the other had a gun on either side of his hip, and a knife in his tall boots. Both seemed to be roughly the same age, both were of similar builds, and both had their hair cut short beneath brimmed hats. If it weren’t for the one having a gun and the other having the bag, I would have considered them interchangeable.
Everything about their demeanor suggested a military background, or ex-military. Mauer’s sort, if not his brothers in arms.
Gordon and I ducked our heads back behind cover as the pair looked around, searching for trouble. We’d chosen to hunker down behind a short fence surrounding a pen. It had once served as a home for an animal, very possibly a stitched creature, considering the lack of mess. Our choice had essentially been ‘warm, dry, out of the rain, choose one.’ We had a little roof, but the water was doing its best to puddle beneath us, and it wasn’t very warm either.
It was just us three boys, four if we counted the mutt. Lillian was with the hired help.
Jamie looked up from his watch. “Twenty minutes from the last patrol, fifteen minutes from the time they left.”
“It’s not a regular pattern,” Gordon said.
Jamie shook his head. “Semi-regular. They alternate when they leave and the route they cover, but if three data points are enough to go by, the next group steps outside in five minutes, and they’ll be out and about for thirty minutes. We’ve seen three different pairs, nobody else has entered or left the building, so we know there are at least four people inside right now.”
“Likely to be more,” Gordon said. “It’s hard to focus on your work if you’re having to stop and go on patrol or get updated on other people’s patrols on the regular.”
The building was one of the sturdier ones in Lugh. The city was mostly populated with ramshackle constructions, many of which weren’t even set into the rocky ground but poised atop it, leaning as the weight settled. Here and there, however, there were buildings made of proper stone. This was one of them. Two stories high, solidly built, with doors that looked like they were more metal bracing than they were solid wood.
I had the impression Lugh tried to revitalize an area and failed, only to forget the idea and wait a few years to a decade before trying again. Ridgewell was a neighborhood that had seen more recent attention. The building constructions weren’t great, but they hadn’t decayed or fallen to pieces in the same way that other houses throughout the city had. Details and embellishments remained, from trim to decorative wood panels, untouched by rough handling from the weather. Here and there, though, even in the nicest part of the city we’d seen yet, some pieces of wood trim had come undone at one end, and in the strong wind, they knocked a steady rapport against the stones or the other pieces of wood. Windows rattled, and a change in the direction of wind made shutters slam open or closed, where they hadn’t been fastened into place.
Making our job harder, much as Gordon and Jamie had noted, this particular building had a standing guard within and patrols leaving and returning on the regular. The windows on the first and second floor were painted over.
We couldn’t see in, and we couldn’t get in without running into the soldiers.
“Was really hoping for a skylight,” I mused aloud. “Or a good window to peek in.”
“Yeah,” Gordon said. “These guys were professional once. Something more than your standard soldier. I haven’t seen a hint of sloppiness. The touch with the windows struck me as inspired. They know what they’re doing, keeping things here as contained as they are. Have to admire that.”
I gave Gordon a curious look.
“What?” Gordon looked confused.
“Nothing,” I said.
“No, seriously, what?”
“I dunno,” I said. “You’re weird.”
“How am I weird?”
“Guys,” Jamie said. “It’s cold, it’s miserable, we’re frustrated, we’re getting the equivalent of cabin fever what with you having a hard time sitting still, and you having a bum tick-”
“You pick weird things to focus on, is all,” I said. “Shipman was one, didn’t see what you saw in her at all, but ok, she did good work, fine. Mary I get. Rah rah, I’ve cheered you two on from the beginning. But then you have a note of admiration in your voice when you talk about these guys, and… that’s why you’re weird.”
Gordon stared at me, uncomprehending.
I refused to take the bait. I shrugged, leaned the back of my head against the little fence in our one-animal paddock, and closed my eyes. My boots were rigid enough that I could prop them up diagonally with toes on the ground and heels against the fence surrounding the little one-animal paddock we were lurking in, resting my rear end on the back of my heels. It wasn’t too painful for a long period of sitting, but my toes were in a shallow puddle and the cold was creeping in. Before too long, I’d have to move. For now, I could manage a weird, gargoyle-like pose and manage something approximating comfort.
“Sy,” Gordon said.
“I don’t even know where to begin.”
“Mm,” I responded, eyes still closed.
“So many things about you suddenly make so much sense,” Gordon remarked.
My eyes popped open. I shot him another curious look.
“Oh boy,” Jamie said, under his breath, drawing my attention. He raised his hands defensively. “I’m staying out of this.”
I shook my head. “This is about you being queer, Gordon, and having weird standards for admiring others. You’re one for three so far.”
“You do realize, Sy, that most people differentiate between respecting someone, admiring someone, and liking someone? There’s a whole spectrum of feeling there.”
“Nuance and details,” I said. “Yeah.”
“Yeah,” Gordon said. He didn’t sound convinced as he said, “Okay. You’ve been weirdly focused about some of the targets we’ve gone after, so I’ve wondered. What you said just now, it made me wonder more.”
I rolled my eyes and shook my head.
I caught Jamie studying me. Which was weird, and it was uncomfortable, considering my last conversation with Jamie. When I turned his way, he threw up his hands again in that ‘not getting involved’ way.
I felt strangely on the spot, the both sneaking glances, very clearly trying to figure something out.
At the building, the door opened. Two men stepped out, a different pair than the last, this pairing with a dog in tow.
Hubris perked up as the other dog woofed out a response to something its master said. It barked once before starting to trot alongside them.
Right on schedule, I thought. The schedule is a weakness, but they probably acknowledged it as such. Better to have patrols go out with a semi-regular schedule than to lose track of when you send them out?
I settled back down, and realized that the others were still giving me funny looks.
“Look,” I said, exasperated. “Fray is pretty, but she’s old, so she’s out. Mauer isn’t a girl, and I like girls, and he’s old, and… yeah. Don’t look at me and pretend I’m going to slobber all over his face or something.”
“I really hope you’re not slobbering all over Lillian’s face,” Gordon said.
“Ha ha,” I said, “You’re supposed to be cleverer than that. I was using exaggeration for effect.”
I could see that first bit about being dumb nettling him. I grinned, which only seemed to nettle him more.
Jamie, who’d resolved to stay out of this, got into it. “In a hypothetical scenario, where Mauer was a girl, and she was around our age, and everything else was the same, would you be interested?”
“Um,” I said.
“Nevermind,” he said, looking away. “Sorry.”
His eyes went to his little notebook, so different from Jamie’s tomes. For a moment, all the same, I saw old Jamie, and in the wake of that moment, I missed the old Jamie badly. I wanted to know how this conversation would unfold if he was part of it. If I’d feel more comfortable, having my best friend here with me.
I shook my head, my gaze boring holes into my knees.
Old Jamie would have been more straightforward. He’d known me better than anyone, and when he gave me insights into myself, it was clear. Not this muddled behavior and the weird prying questions that I got from Gordon and Jamie here.
Focus on the task at hand, I told myself. It took some doing. We can’t see the situation because they’ve got the windows painted over. We can’t step inside without facing down however many armed people inside. Can’t act too blindly, because there might be an experiment in there we really don’t want to free. Gotta crack the egg lightly, without disturbing the yolks.
How much of this was engineered by Mauer? Lugh was probably the central base of operations for this particular enterprise. Other areas were possible, but they wouldn’t have nearly the same number of resources, the freedom from the Academy, nor the able bodies.
He wanted to spark a reaction. One he could use. He was putting the Academy in checkmate, forcing a move, so he could act and react while knowing exactly what they would do.
Mauer was a factor I had to answer, to get what Lillian wanted, a resolution to this problem that didn’t see Lugh and the innocents within cleansed by plague and fire. I’d made her a promise in this. I could imagine myself sitting across a table from him. Both sides making moves, silent, even though he could do so much with that voice.
The thought of Lillian and the thought of Mauer touched together, spurred by Gordon’s remarks and Jamie’s question. I saw Mauer as a girl, roughly our age. Coppery red hair, a little firebrand, attractive, but despite the sharp nose and fine features. She’d have to have the arm. Her voice would be younger, but she’d still have the skill with it, the rhetoric and the vocal range, the ability to address a proper crowd–
“You’re actually thinking about it,” Gordon said, in disbelief. “As if it’s actually a consideration.”
“What? Huh? No,” I lied, ineffectually. He’d been watching me, and something in my expression must have tipped him off.
“You’re bent in the head,” he said. “The smallest push, and you go right there to fantasizing-”
“I was not fantasizing, stitched-dick.”
“Mauer wanted to shoot Helen, he wanted to hurt us, but nooo, switch around a few variables, leave the personality intact, you’d actually think about it. You’ve got your wires crossed in your head, and you enjoy a challenge enough that you can’t even distinguish between the people who challenge you and the people you enjoy being around. Hating him, disliking him, it doesn’t even cross your mind?”
And here we were. Gordon in attack mode. He was grumpy, he’d latched on to this, and he was giving no signs of letting up.
For years, I’d lived with Gordon. I knew how stubborn he could be. This wasn’t an argument I’d win.
“I dunno,” I said. “Is this really such an issue? We all approach things from different ways.”
“For the record,” Gordon said, without missing a beat. “You started this by picking on my tastes.”
Yep, not going to win.
“Okay,” I said. “Fine. Okay. You win. I surrender, and I sincerely beg your pardon. Far be it from me to judge.”
“Alright,” he said. He relaxed.
“Thank you. I appreciate you being a gracious winner,” I said.
“Victory comes at a cost, though,” he said, smiling like he was enjoying himself too much. “I’m going to get the most unpleasant mental pictures the next time I see you making goo-goo eyes at the mastermind of the-”
I reached out and shoved him a little. He didn’t budge.
He returned the push, toppling me from my position, pressing against the short fence. My hand went out to catch me and went straight through a paper-thin layer of ice and into freezing cold water. When I pulled it out, it was black from the mud and grit at the bottom of the puddle.
Gordon laughed without making noise, far, far too hard. Red in the face from repressing the laughter, he leaned forward. Jamie was smirking.
“Stop,” Gordon managed. He resumed his silent laughter.
“Not that funny,” I said.
“So funny,” he said, still laughing. “My heart. You’re literally going to kill me. Supposed to be on stakeout, if they hear-”
Jamie proffered a handkerchief, which I took, wiping at my hand.
“Sorry,” he said, again. “My fault.”
“It really is,” I said.
“We understand you a little better, maybe, which is nice,” he said, with a note of hope.
“I dunno about that,” I said.
“For some people, trust is really important to how they define friendships and romantic attachment. It’s not so weird if respect is for you, to a big, big degree.”
Talking about who I like and picking apart why is weird, I thought. Especially with you.
He nodded, and for a second, I thought he’d done what Gordon had, almost reading my mind, by virtue of knowing me as well as he did. Then he broke that illusion saying, “I wonder if Lillian would be flattered or upset, knowing.”
“Both,” I said. “But what she feels isn’t so important.”
Jamie raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t it?”
“Nah,” I said. “Its important, but… it’s more about where she is, in relation to me. If I’m pushing her away too much, the direction she’s moving, and… I have this sense of it in abstracts, and I’m doing a bad job of explaining it.”
Jamie shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I understand.”
Again, that flicker of old Jamie. Uncomfortable, so familiar, yet making me feel so lonely.
I poked my head out from our cover, hoping for a distraction.
“Lillian’s here,” I said.
Gordon did his best to sober up.
Lillian was with the adults of the group I’d recruited and a gang of kids. Two of the adults were pulling a wooden cart, one with two wheels and long prongs sticking out in front. Some of the smaller kids sat in the cart. Lillian walked alongside.
Lillian looked for us and didn’t see us. I raised my head up, moving my arm to get her attention, and then gestured as soon as I had it.
She fidgeted, looking about as conspicuous as was possible without dancing on the spot. One of the adults asked her something and she responded.
Let’s play a game of second guessing, I thought. Assume the soldiers in the building have eyes on the street. Someone’s periodically looking through a gap in the paint they slapped on the window, to keep an eye out for trouble. Maybe two someones, and they’re playing cards or something.
They didn’t come out and tell the group of people with the wagon to move along. But if I tell Lillian to come and they’re watching, waiting to see what she does, we give away our location and give everything else away along with it. It’s just too suspicious.
But if we wait, then they stay put longer, there’s more definite risk of being seen, and more suspicion.
Jamie was gesturing to Lillian, who responded.
“They bought the alcohol, she has rope and chain, she has sandbags. No doorstops or old fashioned nails,” Jamie said.
“Not that it matters,” Gordon said. “The way things are laid out, we can’t burn them out without risking freeing the primordial.”
It had been an attempt to go back to the early days, when we’d been more afraid of direct confrontation. Chain the doors shut, stick wedges in the jamb and at the windows to lock them shut, leave the target with few exits, and then start a fire.
There weren’t many problems in the world that fire couldn’t do away with.
We’d moved away from that methodology when the Lambs had added Jamie and Hayle had started wanting more proof and evidence of what our adversaries were doing. I’d hoped to revisit it.
“I was thinking, if we take out the ones on patrol…”
“We’ll get shot trying,” Gordon said. “Sorry to say, but you three suck when it comes to proper combat, they’re more trained and disciplined than the Fishmonger’s people were, and I’m not sure I’m in any shape to have your back.”
“If we didn’t get shot,” I said. ” Let’s say we took out the pair of people on patrol. How do they respond?”
“Looking at what they’re doing right now?” Gordon asked. “They batten down the hatches and triple down on security. Going by the numbers Cecil suggested, they have buddies. If the patrols aren’t contacting the buddies they have in reserve with each circuit they’re doing around the neighborhood-”
“-which they probably are,” I commented.
“Then they might have another means of signaling. One way or another, the reserve force comes stomping in as a proper military unit at an unspecified point in time. Leaves us with a squadron of soldiers and a nigh-uncrackable egg to deal with.”
I studied the building, only my eyes peering over our cover.
I signaled Lillian. Group. Play. Noise. Cart. Move.
“What are you thinking?” Jamie asked.
“Painting a picture,” I said. “Isolated incident, it draws suspicion. But if we lead into it…”
Lillian was talking to the kids. They hopped off the cart. The cart set into motion, leaving very concerned parents to glance back, issuing warnings or instructions.
The kids fit into Lugh. They were dressed a little sparse for the weather, but they did have jackets, long sleeves, long pants, and tights under dresses. Lillian had pointed them at some detritus at the base of a building, and they busied themselves kicking a can around, Lillian more a referee than anything, positioning herself so she could watch them and me both.
The can made a racket, rolling over streets of cobblestone and branches.
It established a scene in sound. Sight too, if the soldiers peered out the windows, which they probably would.
You. Kids. Run. You. Join. Me. Signal.
Yes, was her response.
She and the kids were to run at my signal. She would loop around and rejoin us.
After a pause, she gestured again. The gesture was a catch-all one for brown, dirt, mess…
Question. I signaled back.
Hand, she clarified.
I looked down. My hand was still several shades darker from the fine silt and muck at the base of the puddle.
I raised my head up enough that my chin rested on the top of the little fence. I let a slow grin spread across my face.
She flushed red, gesturing, Gross. You.
“Lillian runs at my signal. Gordon, you up to brief exercise?”
“Depends. What exercise?”
“Put a rock through a window. Or a can, if you’re up to it.”
“Their window?” Jamie asked.
“Bunch of kids playing, accidents happen. But a broken window, especially one that’s inconvenient to reach and board up, is a window that’s going to stay broken.”
“They’re going to be alert,” Gordon said. “even if they think it’s an accident, they’re clearly paranoid enough and disciplined enough about being paranoid that the window is going to bother them. They’ll keep an eye on it.”
“And I’m going to be careful. All we need is a glimpse.”
Gordon nodded. He shifted position, getting ready to stand, and I could see the effort it took. He almost failed to stand altogether, before he paused, shifting his grip to the fence.
I winced. “If you’re not up to this-”
“Shut up, sit down, and fantasize about Mauer,” he said. A bit more biting than the situation warranted. Then, without the biting tone, he said, “Let me do this.”
“Alright,” I said. I made brief eye contact with Jamie.
We both knew what Gordon wasn’t telling us. That he was in more pain than he was letting on, or he was more stressed. The laughter had been the other side of that same coin.
Gordon packed grit into a can, to give it more heft. He shifted position, staying where people at the window wouldn’t readily see him. The kids would be drawing attention, too.
My mind turned to escape routes and options, just in case, while Gordon weighed the can in his hand.
One hundred and fifty feet or so, from here to the window. The windows aren’t large either.
Gordon wound up, and I signaled Lillian before the can was even thrown.
She and the kids bolted. The can shattered glass.
I saw the front door fly open in the moment it took me to duck back behind cover. I didn’t stay up long enough to see the people step outside.
It was awkward, to crouch low enough to peer through the slats in the fence. Four soldiers with rifles were already standing outside the door. They didn’t aim their weapons at the fleeing kids.
Shooting would have drawn more negative attention than it promised to take off them. At times, it was nice to have enemies as dedicated to something as these guys were to keeping others’ noses out of their business.
One ventured out, weapon still at the ready. He walked a ways out, in the direction of Lillian’s group, before stopping halfway between the front door and where the kids had been playing.
He searched the area, weapon constantly at the ready. I took it as him looking for evidence or something odd, before I saw him turn around, looking at the window from the outside.
It wasn’t just him looking for evidence. He’d been covering his own back, making sure that nothing waited in a dark corner, and that no ambush would get him in the time he turned his back on everything else and focused on the problem at hand.
Then he backtracked, heading back to his fellows, who stood at the ready. I could hear murmurs, voices from inside.
They found the can. They saw the kids. Nothing too suspicious. All clear to let your guards down.
Come on, come on.
Of the four, three went back inside. The one who’d ventured out to survey the scene stayed at the door, weapon in hand, on watch. The window was about three feet to his left and ten feet over his head.
Come on! You bastard!
“Nice try,” Gordon murmured, under his breath.
Hubris nudged him. He gave the dog a pat.
I shook my head.
“Patience,” Jamie said.
“Yeah,” I said. I gestured, and he showed me the watch.
Five minutes and thirty-three seconds later, and I knew the time because Jamie had handed me the watch after the twentieth time I’d pestered him for a look, Lillian turned up, ducking low.
I held finger to my lips.
“Almost got lost,” she whispered.
She settled into a crouch between Gordon and I, her shoulder and arm rubbing mine. In her efforts to keep from getting wet, and in the inches of height she had over me, she had her head poking up a bit too much. Her attention was on Gordon, as she gestured to him, pointing at his heart. Gordon gestured back.
I tugged her down.
I spotted the back of her skirt dipping toward the puddle, and reached out to grab it and hold it against the back of her thighs, before it was too late. I saw her eyes go wide, before she realized what I was doing.
“Thank you,” she whispered. Her hands went down, taking over the duties of holding her dress up and away from the damp on the ground.
“Cart is parked around the corner. Kids are with the parents. I told the parents to stay close, the older children can go get food if they’re hungry.”
“Good,” I said. “Next part is me climbing that wall to get an eye on what’s going on inside. Either looking inside, or going in and seeing what I can find out, depending on layout, intervening obstacles, yadda yadda. From there, we form a plan and clean up.”
“I’ll come too,” Jamie said.
I had to stop myself before I jumped to a conclusion that was no longer true. Jamie’s not supposed to be capable of something like that, is he?
“Can you climb a wall?” I asked.
“We’ll see,” he said. “If I can, I can look inside and remember what’s where better than you can. It might be useful.”
“If you’d rather I didn’t-”
I shook my head a little. “We’ll try it. Worst case scenario, I jump down, you make sure I don’t crack my head open as I touch ground, and then we run like figged horses.”
“Don’t suppose you have anything we could put in a blowdart that could knock a guy out before he could sound the alarm?” I asked Lillian.
“You won’t find anything like that outside Jamie’s books,” she said.
“S’true,” Jamie said. “Hero of a book I just read had those.”
“Drugs take time to work,” Lillian said. “Unless you’re the Wry Man.”
“We wait,” Jamie said.
It was, fortunately, only a short wait. Five more minutes passed, with the group engaging in only light discussion, me watching the little clock, before the patrol returned.
I turned myself around and watched through the slats as the returning patrol talked with the man on guard. They talked for a good minute. I could only see one half of any given face at a time, given the narrow vertical gap between boards, but they looked intent, serious about what they were doing. Whatever they were talking about was work to them, business.
As a trio, they all stepped inside.
The door shut, and I was gone, vaulting over the short fence and sprinting almost noiselessly across the street, toward the house. Jamie was right behind me.
The exterior wall was rough-hewn stone, fit together like a jigsaw and mortared into place where wood hadn’t been grown to knit the stones together. Larger blocks of stone toward the bottom, smaller ones up top, like a castle might have been built. The stone was dark and sharp-edged, the same sort Lugh had been situated on top of.
Weather had eaten at the mortar, so I favored the areas where there was more mortar than wood. I wedged fingers into gaps more than I gripped anything, and the footholds I found were often a fifth of an inch, if that.
I scaled the building quickly, starting at the corner, where I could better situate my center of gravity, then heading more diagonally up and over, as I made my way to the window. Once I had a grip on the windowsill, not yet raising my head up, I stopped, suppressing my breathing.
A glance down below suggested Jamie was only starting the climb. Slower going. He was heavier than I, though his frame was slight, he had several inches on me. He wasn’t as nimble, either, nor was he as daring.
He had good technique, though, doing the same thing I’d been doing to wedge my fingers in, choosing similar footholds. He made good use of his reach.
I remained where I was, listening to the faint, muffled murmur of conversation, and deeper, guttural grunts that might have been human or animal. Every sound was a cue that could suggest someone standing in a room just inside the window.
Jamie’s boot missed a foothold and scuffed the stone.
I froze, tense, waiting, listening. If someone poked their head out, could I grab them and pull them out? I’d have to reach up with one hand, leverage my weight, go down with them…
Nothing came of it. There was no alert, no gunman appeared.
Shifting my hold on the windowsill to something more blatant, I hauled myself up, finding footholds so I could peek my head over, slow and careful, so as not to draw attention.
On the upside, it was largely an open concept laboratory. I could see everything, from the people inside to the experiment and the ongoing work.
Eight soldiers were within, gathered in one corner, talking as a group. A wood fireplace glowed, with a kettle standing atop it, steam billowing from the spout. Mostly forgotten. As Ratface had suggested, the equipment throughout the lab was all top quality. It looked new, not secondhand, all in good repair, everything chosen for a singular purpose and nothing left to go to waste.
All placed and built to accommodate the experiment. Even the structure of the building had been turned to the purpose. Chains were set into the stone, run around the iron-reinforced pillars that supported the roof, and converged near the center of the room. The primordial was similar in some ways to the one I’d seen before, in being piecemeal, not quite defined, with too many extraneous growths.
That said, my uneducated eye knew at a glance that this thing was further along.
The growths were more uniform. The colors fit together more, as did the textures. The shape of the thing was more streamlined, a solid build, not unlike a leopard or another great cat, quadrupedal, with a distinct head instead of a lump. It looked more sleek than clumsy. The design was more apparent.
Chains to bind it, to the point it might look ludicrous. Explosive charges were set near it. Panels of what looked to be treated glass surrounded it, with stairs built so handlers could walk up and access a point over the box, which lacked a top.
Weapons, equipment, gas masks, and other munitions lay on nearby shelves and tables, waiting for an excuse to be used, but the creature didn’t seem to be putting up a fight, it didn’t struggle against its bonds.
Soldiers who might have specialized in dealing with the worst monsters and biological weapons, now turned toward creating one.
Jamie reached the window, and I made room for him to survey the scene.
We didn’t have a lot of time.
Shifting my grip to a one-handed hold on the windowsill, I gestured. Patrol.
Jamie wasn’t quite brave enough to let go to gesture back, so he nodded.
By the soldier’s schedule, the next patrol would be leaving soon. We couldn’t be dangling a little ways over above their heads, especially if they were paying extra attention to the window. Gordon had talked about their wariness.
Jamie and I edged over, climbing not down, but around the corner.
Fingers freezing, we waited there. Five minutes before the patrol left?
I didn’t have a watch, but it was definitely more than five minutes that passed, with nobody exiting the building.
I couldn’t hear the words that were spoken, but I could hear the tone.
Intent, yet again.
They had to be taking drugs, to be this insanely focused on things.
Something is going on, I thought, in the same moment I started to peer around the corner of the building and saw just what that something was.
Emily and Drake had told us about the man. Short black hair, black skin, and a black army coat, long, with guns at the hips and a rifle held casually in one hand, the folds of the long coat helping to hide it from plain view.
He wasn’t alone. He had another complement of soldiers with him. Loyal, each one less uniform and more individual, a luxury afforded more to the higher-ups of an organization. Lieutenants and bodyguards at the same time.
The man they were protecting was walking at the center of the group, armed, but with no weapon held at the ready. He had coppery red hair, and wore a heavier coat, one meant to conceal his overlarge, mutated arm.
Mauer being here meant something. The plan I’d expected, to draw fire for the creation of the primordials, it didn’t make sense if the man was here, in the midst of the city as it was cleansed.
All of the possibilities that did spring to mind were far, far worse than a city erased with plague and fire.