Comic 33 - Chapter 5 - 4

5th Feb 2021, 8:44 AM in Chapter 5: Then fall together

An angry wind was blowing along the street, picking up discarded wrappers only to throw them at the gray sky. There was no-one in sight, apart from the few people stumbling dazedly out of the huge building behind Anton, a Brutalist design that could have been anything from a hotel to a research institute. He didn't know where he was, but mountains covered the sky in one direction, while in the other he could hear the siren of a train. It was obvious which way to go.

He failed to notice the Reaper until almost bumping into him. The dark one looked bigger and meaner than usual, eyes glowing red under the hood while his duster billowed in the wind. For once he also carried a scythe, a huge one with polished handle and gleaming blade.

"Caretaker! Where have you been?"

"Looking for you. What's that you're wearing?"

Anton examined himself in surprise. These weren't his clothes! Straight olive pants and an itchy shirt in the same color, with epaulets and pockets on each breast... the New Order uniform.

He tore off his shirt in disgust, buttons popping every which way. Underneath he had a black tank top he didn't recognize either. The artwork on the front was burning him, but didn't stay put for him to see clearly.

"Never mind that. How did you find me?"

"Those children you helped escape pointed us this way." His mentor sounded proud.

"So they got away! ... Wait. Anne! Did you find her?"

"I'm right here." The girl patted Anton on the shoulder hard enough to make him stagger. She had a leather jacket on, along with steel-toed boots and a ring on each finger. Two steps away, Y. had a cape over her dress, and had also exchanged her purse for a scythe, except hers was slender and made of tightly coiled black vines. Her eyes, too, were glowing red under the veil.

"Wait, what about Mrs. Varga? And W.?"

"Later," said Y. "We have to get out of here."

But the street was no longer empty.

An entire company of New Order guards was in their way, headed by a man as colorful as they were monotonous. He was bald, with a bushy beard and wearing a kaftan. The gaze of his blue eyes was unsettling.

"Provost," spat the Caretaker. "Not hiding behind your lackeys today?"

"They're busy," answered the man arrogantly, "fixing what you broke."

"Don't you mean breaking what we fixed?" asked Anton. The man scared him, but he wasn't about to show it... or back down.

"Oh-ho-ho. Kid, you have real power. How'd you end up doing his dirty work?" Provost indicated the Caretaker with a disdainful flick of his chin.

"What. Do you mean."

"He never told you why he has it in for me?"

"I can see for myself! I can see what you're doing!"

"No. It's personal."

The wind picked up, small dust devils racing each other along the street, stinging Anton's eyes. To his left, the Caretaker was still like a statue. To his right, Anne was a taut spring, only held back by Y.'s calm hand.

"Well," he answered darkly, "you made it personal for me too." He pointed his finger at the discarded uniform shirt, right before it was blown away.

Provost's grin melted away. "Then fall together. Take them!" He motioned to his men, who advanced like one.

Then the two Reapers swung their scythes through the air, Y. pinning the guards in place with gusts of wind while the Caretaker peltered them with lightning bolts. They broke formation, and a few of them came directly at Anton. He shot his own weak lightning in return, and most of the attackers backed down. A couple kept advancing, though, snickering at the boy's efforts. It only made him more determined... and less efficient. A particularly burly guard came close enough to grab his arm.

Anne hit him in the face like a runaway train, and the man fell.

"Don't hurt them!" protested Anton as they all retreated to the other side of the street. "They're just brainwashed!"

"Well, they're trying to to hurt us," she pointed out.

More people were coming out of the massive building, hesitant at first but growing more daring by the minute. It drove Provost mad.

"Get them all back in!" he shouted. "Find anyone who got away!" He faced the Reapers again while his troops scattered. "Looks like I have to deal with you personally."

"You're one against four," Anton said drily.

A gate opened in the fence behind them and swallowed them whole.

"Ah, but you're on my turf," came the triumphant reply.

It was a packed earth courtyard, surrounded on three sides by brick walls in the unmistakable style of a Victorian factory building. Through the broken windows one could see all the way to the other side, where the towers of a concrete mixing station stood next to the misshapen skeleton of a new construction which dwarfed the one across the street.

"Behold!" roared Provost. "The future!"

The wind was growing stronger all the time, and the sky darker. The boy's voice could barely be heard anymore.

"What future? You're destroying the Afterlife!"

"Ungrateful brat! I'm giving the Afterlife a purpose!"

But Anton was already airborne, rushing towards his enemy with arms outstretched. They collided with a thunderclap, and Provost tumbled to the ground. A lightning bolt struck him from the sky, then another, while dark birds flew out of Y.'s cape, shrieking as they descended upon the prone man with beaks and talons.

Then Provost was on his feet again, laughing maniacally. He slammed his foot down, making the ground fall away under their feet. Anton thought for sure that Anne was going to fall, but she jumped and balanced her way across the holes, raising her arm to strike...

The man grabbed her wrist with ease and twisted her arm, then picked her up and threw her at Anton. It was all he could do to keep them both from plunging into the exposed abyss, from which ancient rusted machinery grinned up at them with toothless gears. The two Reapers ran past them, scythes raised, only to be engulfed in a firestorm when Provost opened his mouth as wide as his head and breathed flame. They rolled on the ground and stayed down while smoke filled the yard.

"Did you really think you could beat me?" bellowed the victor. "I've been dead before you were born!"

Then he gazed in horror at the black cloud rolling in from beyond the ruins, turning the day into night and making the air hard to breathe. A cloud with Mrs. Varga's face, lit from inside by flashes of light, which chided him with a booming voice.

Provost ran towards the gate, tripping on his own kaftan. But someone was there already. W. stood tall, dressed in a resplendent three-piece suit, with a gold chain adorning the double-breasted vest, a Homburg covering his head. An ebony cane completed the outfit, reinforced with steel rings and with the pommel shaped like a dragon head; its long, pointed beak could probably crack skulls.

Even the wind stopped when W. planted his cane in the ground.

"Titus L. Provost, in the name of the Ultimate Balance, you are under arrest for interfering in the affairs of the living, depriving the dead of their memories, and forcing your will on the Afterlife."

"And who's going to take me in," asked Provost in a low, dangerous tone, "you?"

But panic could be heard in his voice, and he backed down, then started towards the inside of the ruin. He never got there. Shadows were shambling out of the hollow arches, one after another, converging towards the center of the yard. Anton cringed, but they ignored him and Anne, then the Reapers, as they went straight for Provost. He roared again, this time in anger, enveloping the creatures in flame. But they kept coming obliviously, and his roar became pained as the wretched things grasped at him with skeletal hands burning with his own fire. He dragged his feet for a few more steps, then collapsed in a burning pile, while more shades added themselves to the pyre.

It was very dark, and it was raining, but they didn't dare move for fear of falling into the gaping holes. Time passed, and slowly the battlefield faded away. Only silence remained.

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