Mafic rode a tiger- a goddamn tiger!- made of steel cords and bands, and wore his suit of twisted metal armor. His metal tiger, a massive beast fashioned like one of the enormous Siberian tigers, padded out of the drainage pipe, metal paws clanging against the pipe. I understood the design of his armor now- he looked like a knight that had been blasted with fire, leaving his armor blackened and scarred, with jagged edges and spikes jutting from his joints. The metal armor moved fluidly, though, almost as if it were alive, or an extension of his body.
He reached out a hand and I felt the powered armor I wore twitch. “Hm. Must be partially ceramic,” he mused, having confirmed that I had the armor. “But not quite enough.” He gave it a harder tug to make his point and I stumbled, correcting myself with my power. “What I said earlier about crushing you still holds, if you try to break the deal again. Follow me.”
I followed him silently back into the pipe. It was large enough to walk down comfortably, but the rounded floor was awkward to walk on. We walked down the pipe for some time when we came to a junction- an airtight hatch welded into the side of the pipe. I reached out to Jamisson to get an idea of our location. He was distant, but I estimated that we were still under the docks somewhere.
“Watch this,” Mafic said, and reached out towards the door. It rattled for a moment, then opened inwards. Hanging off the wheel on the other side was another of Mafic’s constructs, a monkey of some kind. “Can’t open it from this side,” Mafic explained. “Especially when it’s flooded. This pipe goes all the way out to the river.”
We ducked through the hatch into some kind of dim maintenance tunnel.
“What are we doing out here?” I asked. “At the docks, I mean.”
“There are tunnels like this all throughout the city. The old subway system, mostly, some parts of the sewer system, some weird old monk tunnels,” he shrugged. “That’s one of the easiest entrances, when it’s not flooded, and the least risky for you to know about.”
“Reasonable.” I’d heard rumors about the tunnels, urban legends mostly, but I had no idea they were this extensive. Monk tunnels? What?
After some time in the run-down maintenance tunnel, we emerged into one of the old subway tunnels. That makes no sense. Why does that tunnel even exist?
We stood on the edge of what was once a subway platform, the entrances bricked over. After a few minutes, I felt a rush of warm, unpleasant air go past, accompanied by a distant rattling. I gagged at the rank, cloying smell and split the gust around me.
Mafic sniffed and said, “Train’s here.”
No way, I thought. Out loud, I said, “It still runs?”
“In a way. You’ll see.” Mafic pointed down the tracks.
I followed his finger to the source of the screeching noise- a single subway car, with no visible means of propulsion, ground to an unsteady halt before us. The grungy doors rattled open and Mafic gestured inside.
“After you,” he said.
“This can’t possibly be safe,” I said, but begrudgingly stepped inside. The car rocked with the weight of myself and the powered armor, and then again as Mafic entered, with his own armor.
“Heavy boys,” said a weathered old voice. I turned to see its source, to see only the back of a newspaper. The car’s only other occupant held a stained and ragged newspaper in front of him as if he was reading it, in such a way as to block the view of his entire torso and head.
“Evening,” Mafic said.
“Got your ticket?” replied the voice from behind the newspaper.
“Right here.” Mafic flipped something shiny over the newspaper, where it vanished without a sound.
“Have a seat, boys. No standing room,” instructed the… what was I assumed an old man.
Mafic leaned over to me. “Don’t sit down,” he whispered under his breath. His tiger latched onto the floor and he clung to it as the car started to move. I bent my knees slightly and let the armor’s gyroscopes handle the motion.
“How’s the weather been up top?” asked the person with the newspaper.
“Getting colder,” grunted Mafic from where he clung to his metal mount.
“Seems like every winter’s a little colder,” said the person. “The ache sets in these old bones of mine a little deeper.”
“You’re getting old.”
“I’m already old. Getting older.”
The car rattled and shook, almost hard enough to knock me off my feet, gyroscopes or no. I could see now why Mafic clung to his construct so tightly. The lights flickered and when they came on again, the man with the newspaper had moved to the far end of the car. I stiffened with surprise and unconsciously started to push the air in the car around to map it out.
“Next st-sto-stop, n-n-never stop. W-watch your st-st-step,” stuttered a frightened voice over the remains of the intercom system.
“We’re the stop after this one,” Mafic said to me quietly, eyes on the man with the newspaper as the subway car ground to a halt, screeching and shaking.
The doors opened, and a woman got in. I couldn’t make out her face at first, as it was covered in some kind of veil. There was a rustling as the man turned the page of his newspaper.
“Ticket?” asked the man with the newspaper.
“Here,” the new passenger said sweetly and tossed a small, clear bottle through the air towards him. Are those teeth? I thought, but the bottle vanished over the edge of the newspaper before I could be sure.
“Mafic,” she said. “Fancy meeting you here.”
I recognized her voice immediately.
“Maeve?” I asked her quietly as the car began to move again. Mafic gripped his mount tighter against the motion.
“The same.” She looked me over. “You’ve grown.”
“Young lady, I don’t suppose you might indulge me a question?” interjected the voice I had come to think of as the conductor.
“You might, but that depends on the question,” Maeve answered cautiously.
“Excellent. How’s your mother?” continued the voice, heedless of her vague answer.
“Fine,” Maeve said brusquely.
“She was a pretty little thing, in her day. Made the men swoon at her feet. Very charming.”
“They just don’t make them like they used to. No sense of style.”
Maeve started to retort, but the car jerked again, and Maeve stumbled. Mafic leaned out and caught her by the waist with a metal hook.
“Now you owe me,” Mafic hissed at her before pulling himself back onto the tiger. She nodded behind her veil, her hands bloodless and shaking.
“N-n-next stop, never stop,” Said the voice on the intercom again. It sounded young, and absolutely terrified. “Mind y-you-y… your step.”
“Mr. Tall and dark, I have a question for you,” said the conductor from behind his newspaper.
Mafic and Maeve looked at me.
“Uh, okay,” I said nervously.
“Which of you is real?” Maeve and Mafic looked curious.
After a moment of hesitation, I said, “Both.”
“I think more like neither,” snapped the voice. “You’re two halves, neither worth even half the whole.”
“I do what I have to,” I said. Is he talking about the divide between myself as Will and myself as Shadow? “Maybe eventually-”
The car rocked violently, catching me off guard, but the armor wasn’t so unaware. The servos whined and the gyroscopes protested, but it managed to keep me upright.
The car rumbled to a halt again, and the doors groaned open, catching on dirt and grime that had built up over years. Mafic pushed himself up and directed the tiger through the doors, and I followed close behind. Mafic let out a deep breath of relief as soon as we were out and the subway car rattled away.
“What the hell was that?” I asked, unease coloring my voice.
“Fuck, I hate doing that. Gives me the creeps. Remind me to hit Felsic for suggesting that. When you asked Maeve her name I thought he’d…” He turned to me. “I shoulda told you the rules first. As a favor if you ever have to do that again, remember,” he thought for a moment, then started to list off rules. “No sitting down; no asking questions; you can’t refuse to answer a question, but you can give incomplete or indirect answers; don’t look at his face; don’t get off until your stop; and always have a ticket- something that was once a part of someone, metaphorically or physically, doesn’t matter. Guests ride free.”
“What the hell was that?” I repeated, staring dumbly down the tracks in the direction the single subway car had departed.
“An urban legend,” he said. “Some say he’s a ghost. Me, I think he’s just a crazy with a useful power.”
He rode off towards the stairs of this station, another of the many abandoned subway stations. The city once had a subway system, one of the first, built deep below the city due to the quality of the bedrock. When the Rose of Thorns hit, though, the subway was totally destroyed as the wheels of every train sheared through the tracks simultaneously, killing maybe a hundred people. Since then, the tunnels were abandoned, deemed too dangerous for public use. Construction of the new hypertube system started a year or so later, then stalled as the costs started to climb unexpectedly. There were still a few above-ground trains, like the station adjacent to Collswell University, but for the most part people took busses, or biked, or walked.
We emerged into what I knew was Blackwell’s hideout. I wouldn’t have known even the roughest location, having come through the tunnels, if it weren’t for the mark I could feel on Jamisson’s shoulder. The base felt lush, and luxurious, with soft carpets and richly colored walls, heavy oak furniture and cloth hangings. These guys have money to spare.
“Leave the armor here,” he said as we stepped into what looked like a lab of some kind. It was immaculately clean, but cluttered with half-completed experiments, much like Dr. Mind’s lab.
Lumen or Opiate’s lab? I teleported the hook pick between my teeth and used it to shift out through the open faceplate. I’ll let them figure out how to get it open themselves.
Now outside the armor, I was finally able to get a good look at it. It was taller than I’d thought it was- I’d noticed my increased height when I was inside it, but I hadn’t thought it would tower a full two heads over me. It was garish in the bright lab lighting- it appeared to be made of solid gold, shining impossibly bright. On the armor’s chest were a pair of square windows with a white glow behind them, and another set on the faceplate under the eyes. The floodlights. On the shoulders, gaps in the armor lead into some mechanism on the back. The loudspeakers? It was big, and bulky, and incredibly intimidating. They did their job well when they made this thing.
“Come on, you wanted to see Charity,” Mafic said. “This way.” He led me out of the room.
As we walked through the lair, I started moving air around, trying to map out the lair. I got a rough idea of the layout from the halls, but I had no idea what lay behind any of the doors. My fingers twitched anxiously.
“This one.” Mafic said as we came to a door unlike the others. Banded with metal, it was much heavier than the other doors, and was guarded by a pair of Blackwell thugs. Mafic produced a key from somewhere on his person and opened the door.
Inside, Charity was chained to the center of the floor, metal chains hooked to a spike driven into the floor. It looked like the room had once served another purpose, but it had been emptied out and the inside surface had been coated with metal. I stepped in and Mafic closed the door behind me.
“I’m here to help,” I said quietly, approaching Charity. “I’m going to get you out of here.”
“Really?” Charity asked skeptically, looking up at me from where she stood.
I am so, so sorry.
“No,” I said coldly, and backhanded her across the face. She fell back, a smear of shadow across her cheek. “You almost blew my cover the other day, you bitch,” I shouted. “You know what kind of hoops I had to jump through to get Director Jamisson to send you after Blackwell to get you out of the way?”
She’ll buy it, I knew. I’m just confirming what she already suspects. She was suspicious of me and Underhand from the beginning. And now she can confirm to Blackwell that I was actually working for Underhand.
“Fuck, I’d been feeding them false information for weeks when you showed up and ruined the party.”
“You son of a bitch,” said Charity. “I knew you were-”
I teleported across the room to the mark on her face and shoved her back to the floor.
“You don’t get to talk!” I hissed. “That’s not how this works. I get to see you powerless. I get to see you defeated.” Instant power complex, just add acting. “You lost. Because of me.” Charity’s face hardened. I’m getting too far into character. Going too far. “And now you get to rot.”
I watched her for a moment as she glared at me. I really got to her. That’s going to be fun to work out later. My vision blurred for a moment. What was that? I crossed the room and rapped on the cell door, knees weak.
“I’m done here,” I said. At least I have her marked now.
Mafic let me out of the cell and I stumbled out into the hall.
“You need a ticket for the ride back?” he asked.
“No, I got this.” My speech slurred. What the hell is going on?”
Just before my vision went completely black, I reached out to Jamisson and pulled myself through.