We parked the cars a block away, to avoid being noticed immediately.
As Thermo and I got out and approached the building, the others stayed behind and waited, listening over the comlink to what we would do.
I started with examining the main entrance from a distance; it looked like a standard bullet proof glass office door, electronically locked and monitored by a single surveillance camera. The lock would be no problem, but the camera would. Luckily it was attached to the outside wall of the building, at a height of approximately eight feet, which meant that I would have to climb up the wall a bit to reach it. The camera seemed simple enough, but it was undoubtedly linked to a sophisticated alarm system, which was why I wouldn’t be able to simply turn it off, or shoot it to pieces. Still, I myself had earned a living installing alarm systems like this, so I should be able to deal with it.
Thermo seemed slightly annoyed as he looked at me. ‘So, what’s your plan?’
‘Could you distract the camera while I climb up the wall to disable it?’
‘I don’t have much choice, do I?’
He walked over to the entrance, and as the camera turned to follow him, I started climbing up the wall. It was a brick wall, much easier to climb than concrete. I could almost reach the camera, when I heard a splashing sound. I turned my head to look what was going on, and saw Thermo who had zipped open his trousers and was urinating against the wall of the building.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ I said.
‘There’s someone watching that camera.’ He answered. ‘I can’t just stand here being stupid, I have to do something.’
‘And this is the best you could think of?’
‘This is a very natural act.’
I shook my head. ‘No comment.’
‘You better not.’ He grumbled.
I got hold of the camera and examined the controls. It was linked to a standard E25HP alarm system, the type with a built in security relay, which checked the whole system for malfunctions every minute. If I disabled it, the alarm would go off, but if I simply turned it off, we would have exactly one minute to get inside before the camera would be turned on again.
‘Would you get a move on?’ Thermo said. ‘I’ve almost finished.’
‘Do you have a timer on your watch?’ I asked.
‘Set it for fifty-nine seconds, right now.’
I jumped down from the wall and rushed to the door to get working on the lock. As I got out my electronic lockpicks, Thermo zipped up his trousers and said:
‘You’ve got thirty-five seconds left.’
‘Thanks.’ The lock was giving me some difficulties.
I cursed as the lockpicks malfunctioned and I had to start over again.
I growled and made sure it went right this time.
The lock was giving way, only a little longer.
‘You’re getting on my nerves.’
‘Do you want to know how much time you’ve got or not?’
I sighed and continued.
The door opened and I pulled Thermo inside.
We were now in a long hallway that went left and right deeper into the building, with several doors on each side. One of the doors on the left was open, letting a streak of light and the strong smell of coffee and cigarettes into the hallway. The door led to a small office, occupied by a short, stocky man in his late thirties, sitting at a desk covered in junkfood, overlooking several black and white screens, showing the images from the different surveillance cameras. The man had a cigarette in his mouth, was dressed in a dirty dark green overall, and looked and smelled like he hadn’t washed himself for a week. He hadn’t noticed us yet.
‘Plan B.’ I mumbled.
‘What is plan B?’ Thermo asked.
‘You stay here.’
I zipped open my jacket to reveal just a small top and reassured myself that I had everything I needed with me. Then I took a deep breath, put on my nicest smile and walked into the office.
‘And whose birthday is it today?’
The way he turned around and looked at me, showed that he was interested, but surveillance guards were not the smartest types, and he looked at me suspiciously. Arenz was expecting an attack tonight; to convince him I would have to put on the full act. I was lucky to notice the nametag on his overall: Thomas Wildman.
‘You’re Tommy, right?’
He looked at me, slightly puzzled. ‘Yes.’
‘Well, then it’s your birthday.’
He shook his head. ‘No it isn’t.’
I sighed and leaned against the wall. ‘Oh, I hate it when this h…’ I shook my head. ‘Look, can’t we just pretend it’s your birthday?’
‘What’s going on?’ He said. ‘Who are you?’
I moaned and tried to sound annoyed. ‘I was supposed to be your birthday present.’
I heard a gasp behind me in the hallway, and hoped Thermo wouldn’t interfere with my act. Tommy still looked troubled.
‘Who sent you?’
‘My boss.’ I approached him, to make sure he wouldn’t look into the hallway and see Thermo. ‘My boss sent me to be your birthday present from your colleagues’
‘My colleagues? Which ones?’
I came even closer and put my arms around him. ‘They don’t tell me their names, and I wouldn’t be able to remember them anyway. Now can we get to the point?’
‘Well… I uh…’ Tommy still wasn’t very certain about all this.
I turned him with his back to the door, and gave him a kiss, to distract him while I got out some sedative. But the syringe got stuck in my pocket, and I was going to need some more time, so I prolonged the kiss.
Suddenly there was the dull sound of a silenced shot, Tommy jerked and then hung limp in my arms. Horrified, I let go of him, and saw the hole in the back of his head as he fell to the ground. I looked at Thermo, who was putting his gun away.
‘What did you do that for?’
‘Why? Were you enjoying it?’ He looked at me sharply.
I got angry. ‘No, but this wasn’t necessary.’
‘He was reaching for the alarm button.’
‘No, he wasn’t, I had everything under control.’
‘Anyway, we don’t have time for this.’ Thermo walked over tot the control panel, disabled the door lock and the camera and called for the others.
I made sure that I hadn’t left any fingerprints on the body, and mumbled:
‘It still wasn’t necessary.’
‘Oh, shut up already.’
The others joined us quickly enough, and unnoticed, for now. We met in the surveillance guard’s office, to look over the map of the building and discuss the rest of the plan. Of course, they had to criticise my way of getting in first.
‘That was a pretty convincing act you put on there, Saris.’ Doc said.
‘Was the B in plan B for Blond?’
‘I thought it was B for Bimbo.’ Hathor grinned.
I sighed. ‘You couldn't have done it, jerks.’
‘Saris…’ Butch said. ‘No swear words. Teamwork, remember?’
‘Yeah right.’ I growled.
Red looked at me. ‘Hey Saris, what about Thermo? When he eh… you know, against the wall, did you get to see his…?’
Thermo flushed and looked away.
I shrugged. ‘Pfff.’
Thermo got angry and yelled. ‘Hey, you didn’t even see anything!’
‘That’s probably because there wasn’t much to see.’ I said.
Red, Hathor and Butch burst out laughing, Mizander grinned and Doc shook his head.
‘Now, Saris, that’s enough. He can’t help it, can he?’
‘And you believe her?’ Thermo yelled. ‘Why there’s…’
Mizander put his hand on his mouth. ‘We don’t want to attract any unnecessary attention. Let’s get back to the map, shall we?’
We had some trouble calming Thermo down before we could get back to our plan, but then we decided to split up into two groups: the first was to go look for Cathleen and Matrem Morti, while the second would stay near the entrance to make sure we would all be able to get away, and as they would have to hold off the enemies for quite a while, this group would have to bigger then the first one. The first group consisted of Butch, Hathor and me; the others would stay here.
As we left, I turned around to tell the others:
‘Now I don’t want any unnecessary noise, don’t draw any attention, just lay low until we get back.’
‘Yes, mommy.’ Doc grinned as he lighted a cigarette.
I scowled at him, but didn’t feel like wasting my breath.
Hathor, Butch and I followed the map deeper into the building. The halls we were walking through were all painted in al dull grey colour, and the doors were of a slightly darker grey. There were white tiles on the floor, which made it difficult for us to walk through the hallways without making noise, and each door had a small sign on it, written in a language that none of us could read.
After a minute or two, we arrived at a large security door, guarded by two armed men, dressed in identical dark green uniforms.
Butch was just in time to grab Hathor before he would do something to attract the guards’ attention. I looked at Butch, and as he got out his crossbow, I got out my magnum and aimed for one of the guards as well. We shot them both down at the same time, and then got over to the door. I tried to open it, while Hathor went through the guards’ pockets.
Butch stood behind me. ‘Need a hand with the door?’
‘No, I can handle it.’
I had just cracked the security code and the door gave a soft hiss as it slid open.
‘How would you be able to help open a door anyway?’ I asked.
Butch showed me his backpack. ‘Always got a blast with me, in case of…’
I shook my head. ‘Butch, explosives make noise, and we’re trying not to attract attention; that just doesn’t match.’
He wanted to protest, but I turned over to Hathor, who had the map.
‘Which way now?’
‘There’s an intersection down the hall, one red blotch’s straight on, the other to the right.’
‘Lets go straight on first.’
I went up front, and went straight on at the intersection. As we walked down this hallway, which looked exactly the same as the other one, we examined the doors on each side. They all looked the same, we didn’t know where to start looking.
Hathor put his hands to his head and closed his eyes.
‘I can sense Cathleen, but she’s not respondin’.’ He opened his eyes and pointed to a door on the left. ‘She’s in there.’
To my surprise, the door was unlocked, and the room was a simple office. Cathleen was sitting in a desk chair, not moving, and with a blank, placid look on her face. She didn’t react when we came in, nor when Butch examined her.
‘She’s alive, and nothing’s physically wrong with her, but… well…’
He cleared his throat. I shivered, I had never liked magic.
‘Can you do anything about it?’ I asked Hathor.
‘Of course I can!’ He walked over to her and examined her as well, after which he hesitated for a moment. ‘Uh… maybe I can’t…’
‘Why not?’ Butch asked.
‘Hey, it’s not like I dunno this kinda spell or somethin’…’
I crossed my arms. ‘Oh no?’
‘No… but…’ He looked at Cathleen and seemed to think. ‘But… if I try to release her, she might get hurt and stuff.’
‘Could leave her here and go look for Matrem Morti.’ Butch said.
That sounded reasonable; we could pick her up on the way back. We went back to the intersection and turned right, towards the other area Gio had marked in red.
The hallway looked just like all the others, apart from the fact that there was only one door here. A large armoured metal door, guarded by three armed men.
Hathor grinned and spoke a strange word, after which a glowing red ball appeared in his hands, which he threw at the guards. As the ball exploded, two guards were hit and lay senseless on the floor, but the third one was unhurt and now tried to sound the alarm. I was just in time to draw my magnum and shoot him, before he got to the control panel next to the door.
As I put my gun away, I swore and said to Hathor:
‘Would you warn us next time before you do something stupid?’
‘No.’ He smirked. ‘That spoils all the fun.’
I sighed angrily; it was just like old times again.
Butch patted me on the shoulder.
‘I know.’ I muttered. ‘Teamwork.’
I went over to the door and examined it, discovering soon enough that it would certainly not be easily opened. I sighed, got out all the tools I was going to need.
‘This is going to take a while, honeys.’
Hathor and Butch watched the hallway, while I tended to the door. The door had a complicated combination lock, which would immediately set off the alarm if anyone entered a false code. I couldn’t guess what would happen if I short-circuited the lock, whether it would never open again, or whether it would set off the alarm anyway. Or both, which was even worse. I spent another five minutes on trying to find a way to bypass the alarm, but without success. Then I got up.
‘It’s no use, guys. I can’t open it.’
Butch looked at me. ‘What do you m…’
Suddenly there was strange noise down the hallway, like a gust of wind, and it was gone again as instantly as it had been there.
‘There’s definitely somethin’ magic over there.’ Hathor was pointing to where the hallway made a turn to the left.
I followed him there with my magnum ready to shoot whatever had made that sound. We approached the corner in complete silence, I could only hear my own breath and heartbeat. I wasn’t even sure that was my heartbeat, it could have been a sound coming from around that corner. Even Hathor seemed a bit nervous and hesitated. We looked at each other, and then jumped around the corner to attack whatever was stalking us.
‘Nothin’.’ Hathor sounded a bit disappointed. ‘But I wuz sure I’d sensed somethin’.’
I sighed with relief and put my gun away again.
A loud blast came from behind us, instantly followed by the unbearably loud sound of the alarm and a metallic voice shouting something I couldn’t understand, but which undoubtedly meant: ‘intruder alert’.
As I turned around to look, I saw that there was now a large hole where first the large armoured door had been. Furiously I ran over to Butch.
‘What were you thinking?’
‘You said you couldn’t open it. Well, I can. See?’
‘But not without setting off the alarm!’
‘Shut your trap!’ I yelled. ‘You had to go around again and ruin everything!’
‘Now, Saris, remember, t…’
‘The hell with your stupid team work! How can we ever do anything right, if you guys keep on messing everything up?’
‘Look,’ Butch said, stepping backwards. ‘I go get Cathleen, you two get Matrem Morti, see you back at the entrance.’
He turned around and started running. I growled, but turned around as well and entered the room through the hole in the door, which was still smoking a bit.
There was a strange glowing sphere hanging around the open suitcase containing the black cube, and Hathor went over to it an knelt down.
‘This is gonna take a while, Sar.’
I sighed and crossed my arms. ‘Well, hurry up.’
He scowled at me. ‘Hey, have a little respect, will ya? You don’t know howda do this kinda stuff and it’s awready hard enough da concentrate in this noise, awright?’
‘Alright, alright.’ I walked into the hallway, drawing my magnum to reload it.
I looked down the hallway at the intersection and wondered why there wasn’t anyone coming yet. Not that I really wanted them to, but I was expecting at least a few soldiers coming over here to check out what had exploded.
I turned around and looked straight into a pale face with fierce eyes.
My heart skipped a beat and I dropped my gun. I took a step backwards, which put me with my back against the wall. I would have liked to scream, but I never could in situations like this, which made me shudder all over. I stared at Duke in terror.
‘Don’t be afraid.’ He said and approached me. ‘I only wish to…’
‘No… please…’ I whispered, because I was choked with fear, and I cringed in anguish.
‘I’m only a weak coward, and you have the power to do anything you want to me, so I'll simply I beg you to please have mercy.’
‘Tell me this: which one of us is weak when I give in to my instincts, while you are in control of yourself?’ His voice sounded calm, almost soothing. ‘Which one of us is a coward when I hide from reality, while you look it straight in the eye and admit how frightened and helpless you feel?’
My fear slowly made way for astonishment. ‘What?’
‘You are everything but weak, Saris, and more brave than many. You have earned my respect.’
‘What?’ I looked up at him. ‘What are you saying?’
He looked down the hallway, where a group of six Arenz soldiers marched by without seeing us. ‘I was blind, as they are. I did not want to see that which I knew deep in my heart.’ He looked at me again. ‘But you opened my eyes.’
I slowly got up, staring at him, not knowing what to say.
‘I was wrong,’ He continued. ‘You were right, and I should be begging you, not for mercy, but forgiveness, for I have wronged you.’ He offered me his hand. ‘Would you forgive me?’
I still stared at him. His face was just as pale as ever, but the expression on it was one of remorse and his fierce eyes looked sincere; there was a friendly look in them I had never seen before.
'Shouldn't you talk to Mizander first?' I asked hesitantly.
'He knows how I feel.' Was the calm answer.
Magic users never ceased to amaze me. I smiled and took his hand.
He helped me to get up and smiled as well. ‘You are very generous.’
I looked down the hallway. ‘It’s alright. You can stop making me compliments now.’
‘Why would you say such a thing?’
‘Well…’ I looked at the ground. ‘The only one who ever says nice things about me is… well, me.’
‘And my friend Mizander.’ He added.
I raised my head to look at him. ‘You’ve noticed, huh?’
‘Yes, I have.’ He nodded.
I closed my eyes and smiled in silence.
‘Saris, I got it! I got it!’ Hathor came running through the hole in the door. ‘Let’s get outta here! I got Matrem M…’ Then he saw Duke. ‘What the heck’s he doin’ here?’
‘I am here to aid you in your quest.’ Duke said calmly.
Hathor frowned. ‘What?’
‘He’s here to help us.’ I explained.
‘Oh, okay.’ He wanted to go on running, but then seemed to be thinking.
‘Waida second…’ Hathor stood right in front of me and started waving his arms.
‘Saris are ya in there?’
I smiled at him. ‘Yes, Hathor, I am.’
‘Are ya sure?’ He asked.
‘Yes.’ I nodded. ‘Quite sure.’
He approached and whispered to me: ‘And ya remember that he’s…’
He looked at Duke and then at me again. ‘… an ampirevay?’
I took a deep breath. ‘Yes, I do.’
Duke came between us. ‘I assure you, Hathor, I mean you no harm.’
‘Yeah, right!’ Hathor said slowly. ‘You ain’t foolin’ me. Who daya take me for? I ain’t no easy-to-influence-chick, ya know.’
I crossed my arms. ‘Excuse me?’
Suddenly the comlink switched on, and through the sound of gunfire we heard Doc:
‘I hope you guys are having fun out there, I know we are. Would you mind coming this way, so that we could all maybe get out of here alive?’
Hathor and I stared at each other for a moment.
The sound of a large explosion made the small device tremble in my ear and Red yelled:
‘Move your asses! Now!’
I quickly picked up my magnum from the ground and started running.
When I didn’t hear Hathor coming after me, I just shouted:
‘Hathor, do you want to stay there with him?’ That got him moving.
We soon reached the hallway that led to the entrance, and found our friends caught in a crossfire. They had taken refuge behind the bullet proof glass doors of the entrance when a group of guards had come to attack them. This group had split up and was firing at then from either side of the entrance. Between us and the others were about seven guards, and they hadn’t noticed us yet. Hathor immediately got out his glowing red ball and as he knocked out three guards, he yelled: 'Steerike!'
As they turned around to aim at us, I fired at another one, who was hit in the neck and fell over. Then I noticed Duke standing beside me. He smiled, made a strange gesture, as if he was crushing something in his hand, and then pointed at one of the guards. The guard suddenly grasped at his chest and collapsed.
I gave Hathor a little nudge. ‘He’s with us now, you see?’
‘Yeah right!’ the tiny guy grumbled.
There was a shot that seemed louder to me than all the others, followed by a horrible pain in my right arm. My gun fell to the ground, and I bent down at once to pick it up with my left hand and to make myself a smaller target.
The next shot hit Duke right in the chest, but strangely enough he didn’t even move. He only looked at the hole in the shirt of his dark suit, then looked at the guard who had fired at him, and made the same crushing gesture to get rid of him.
Thermo jumped out from behind the bullet proof doors to fire his shotgun, killing the last man standing in our way to the entrance. As Hathor started running, I saw a guard on the other side of the doors aiming at him. I fired at him, but missed horribly because my aim was very bad with my left hand. The guard beside him was hit and fell on top of the guard I had aimed at.
When I had reached the street the ambulance and Mizander’s car were waiting for us, the engines already running.
Red, Hathor and Thermo quickly got in with Mizander, while Duke and I climbed into the ambulance, where Butch had put down Cathleen on the stretcher.
I saw how Duke and Mizander exchanged an understanding look, and how Red smiled at Duke; everything would be alright now.
Well, if we were able to get away from our pursuers, that is.
As we drove off, three cars turned up to follow us; a military van and two black limousines. Over the comlink Mizander’s voice said:
‘I Suggest we split up.’
‘Agreed.’ Doc nodded. ‘We’ll see you in the wastelands to the East.’
Hathor waved at us as the six-wheeled car sped up and raced off. One of the limousines overtook us and, as I had feared, seemed to lift off as it accelerated to go after the others.
By this time the ambulance’s engine was making a horrible noise, because we had reached its maximum speed, and the metallic female voice sounded from the dashboard again:
‘You are exceeding the speed limit for no apparent reason.’
‘Oh, sometimes I’d wish…’ Doc didn’t finish his sentence.
‘Saris,’ He said. ‘Remind me to get the ambulance to the garage to get it tuned.’
‘Can’t we loose them in the traffic?’ I asked.
‘Where are we going to find heavy traffic?’ Doc said, trying to hold his calm.
‘It’s five o’clock in the morning!’
Butch gave me a nudge and pointed at Duke, who had successfully revived Cathleen and was now helping her up.
‘He’s on our side?’
I nodded. ‘Don’t break your head over it.’
Butch scratched his head as Doc turned the ambulance on the road leading to the wastelands. We suddenly shook as the limousine bumped into us from behind, and at the same time the van overtook us to drive next to us.
I foresaw that something bad was going to happen and tried to ignore the pain in my right arm as I picked up my barret.
Doc cursed as the limousine gave us another push.
The van’s side door flew open to reveal a big soldier pointing a semi-automatic rifle at us. I opened the side window groaned in pain as I aimed for him. To my surprise, and especially to his own, an invisible force suddenly lifted him up into the air.
I looked over my shoulder, and was glad to see Cathleen with her arm stretched out towards him. The sudden shock had made him drop his rifle and Cathleen’s invisible hand dropped him by the side of the road.
We were reaching the outer limits of the city, and I knew we would have to get rid of the van soon, to be able to handle the limousine. I braced myself one more time as I lifted my arm to aim for one of the van’s tires.
As the wheel flew to pieces, the vehicle got out of control and crashed into us. After one long, screeching, shaking moment Doc was able to throw them off us and into a large mud pool on the side of the road with one mighty swing of the steering wheel. Then he gave an angry roar.
‘Saris, remind me to get a new ambulance.’
I ignored him, put my barret away, sat down and held my wounded arm, whishing for this pain to go away.
Butch looked at the limousine and grinned. ‘Time to take care of the other one.’
He kicked the ambulance’s back door open and pushed the stretcher on top of the limousine. Then someone in a dark green uniform leaned out of one of the side windows to push the stretcher away and show us the barrel of a gatling gun. Duke made a strange gesture at him, blowing over the tips of his fingers and our enemy got an unpleasant surprise as his weapon was blown to dust.
Butch, who seemed to be looking for something, now turned to Doc.
‘Hathor’s got my bazooka again.’
Doc nodded. ‘I always keep a machinegun under the driver’s chair, you can use that.’
Butch picked it up and immediately fired at the limousine. The bullets made a metallic, tinking sound as they glazed off the windscreen.
‘It’s bullet proof. Prefer my bazooka.’ He put down the gun. ‘Any other bright ideas?’
Cathleen and Duke looked at each other and then joined hands.
The ambulance shook as the limousine bumped into us again.
Doc quickly looked over his shoulder. ‘Hurry up, the engine is overheating.’
I pointed at Cathleen and Duke. ‘You can’t hurry magic.’
He turned back to the steering wheel. ‘Well, it had better be good.’
I nervously looked out the window and saw that we had arrived in the wastelands; the bare, grey lands stretched for as far as I could see, the only thing on the horizon, was the city behind us. A strange noise came from the limousine. I turned around to look and saw that it was slowly lifting off into the air.
‘Trouble.’ Butch mumbled.
I panicked. ‘Doc, they’ve lifted off, I think they’re going to ram us!’
Doc bit his lip. ‘That’s not funny, Saris.’
Cathleen started humming a strange incantation. I got more and more worried as I watched the limousine go further up into the air, until it flew higher than any hovering vehicle was capable of. A small whirlwind became visible underneath it.
‘Thank god!’ I looked at Cathleen and Duke. ‘You guys are great!’
The whirlwind grew bigger and eventually threw the limousine up into the air, to make it land with an enormous dull thud upside down on the ground.
Butch grinned. ‘Just a bunch of wind bags.’
Doc sighed with relief and slowed down a bit. We drove on deeper into the wasteland to find the others. Cathleen knelt down beside me and healed my wounded arm with a strange glow emanating from her hand.
Doc looked at Duke in his rear view mirror. ‘We’re in your debt.’
‘No, doctor.’ Duke smiled and looked at me. ‘We are even.’
As I looked out the window again, I saw that the sky was slowly becoming lighter in the East, above the empty wasteland.
‘Look.’ Butch pointed at the burnt out, dented and smoking wreck of a limousine lying next to the road. ‘The others.’
We found Mizander’s car standing in the middle of the road facing us, and the large black skid marks on the asphalt suggested that they hadn’t turned around slowly.
Mizander was examining the back of his car, mumbling that he would have to get it waxed again. Thermo was cleaning out his rifle, while Red muttered swear words as she tried to fix her broken rocket launcher.
As Doc pulled up the ambulance, the autopilot said:
‘Thank you. I trust this has been a safe journey.’
Doc turned around to us and pointed to the dashboard. ‘Isn’t she sweet?’
As we got out Hathor came up to Butch to give back the bazooka.
‘We made good use of it.’ He smiled. ‘And it’s still in one piece.’
‘Good for you.’ Butch answered.
Duke greeted Mizander with an embrace. ‘My friend.’
Mizander smiled. ‘Glad to see you’re back, old man.’
They let go of each other and Duke looked at the sky in the East. I quickly got back into the ambulance to get the suitcase and held it out to him.
‘Do you still want it?’
Behind me, Cathleen gasped.
Duke shook his head. ‘It is of no use to me anymore.’
I nodded and as I put it back on the front seat of the ambulance, Red said to Duke:
‘It’s almost dawn.’
‘I know that.’ He nodded.
Butch turned to him as well. ‘Thought vampires and sunlight don’t mix.’
Duke nodded again but said nothing.
‘I’ve still got a teleport spell left.’ Mizander said quickly. ‘Let me send you…’
Duke held up his hand. ‘I wish to stay here and watch the sun rise.’
We all stared at him. In this sudden moment we could hear the silence of the wasteland; no sound, no vehicles or machines, no living creatures, only the cold breeze playing with the dust on the ground. Duke gazed at the purple and red horizon in the East.
‘I have already lived longer than any of you ever will…’
‘Don’t count on it.’ Hathor mumbled.
Butch gave him a nudge. ‘Shut up.’
‘…and I have had all the things I had ever wished for.’ Duke continued. ‘It has been a good… so-called life.’
Mizander suddenly turned away. ‘I won’t listen to this!’
‘Mizander?’ Duke looked at him.
Mizander shook his head. 'I can’t believe you are actually saying this.’
I frowned and looked at him, but he turned around to face Duke.
‘I can’t believe you don’t hear it yourself.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘You’re not yourself…’ He looked at the ground and waved his hands in frustration. ‘You haven’t been yourself at all lately… And you’re not yourself now!’
I put my hand on his shoulder. ‘Mizander…’
He pulled himself loose and looked straight at Duke.
‘You’re loosing it, Duke, can’t you see?’
Duke nodded slowly. ‘I can see it, my friend.’
‘What?’ Mizander’s mouth fell open.
Duke turned away to watch the coming dawn.
‘And that is merely another reason to end this now.’
I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.
‘I had noticed my lingering madness for some time now…’ Duke did not look at us.
‘And in a sane moment I made this decision.’
Mizander shook his head in astonishment and as Duke walked over to him to embrace him one last time, I saw the sun coming up over the horizon.
‘Thank you, my friend.’ Duke said calmly, as small flames appeared on his skin to burn it until it turned red and then black.
The flames grew bigger until they consumed his whole body and reduced him to a small pile of ash and red hot cinders.
I couldn’t help myself and started to cry, and soon I felt Red’s arm around my shoulder. Mizander knelt down and stirred the ashes with his hand. With a trembling voice he started to recite a poem:
‘Fear no more the heat of the sun
Nor the furious winter’s rages
Thou thy worldly task hast done
Home art gone and taken thy wages
Golden lads and girls all must
As chimney sweepers come to dust.’
Butch bowed his head, Hathor and Thermo turned away and Doc took a deep breath.
‘Let’s all take a moment.’ He said, folding his hands.