The Drawing of Three

Chapter One - Part 3

The Trial

Kelraji parks his bike where Barrow Street meets Washington Place, the bustle of the West Village drowning him in soothing anonymity. The Manhattan summer night is humid, the air alive with the smells of mixed drinks and expensive steaks. A bead of sweat escapes from beneath his armored vest to trickle down his back.

Subconsciously, his fingers find the leather case bungeed to the back of his motorcycle, tracing soft leather and bronze clasps. The urge to pop the locks and examine the implement within had grown stronger with each passing day, and tonight the needing within him had reached a crescendo, the aching, mindless want of a BTL addict in the depths of a chip binge. What harm could be had in just one look, just one touch?

Now familiar with the insistent call of the case, Kelraji knows he must center himself, focus on his work, and block out this temptation. The very Boddhisatvas he worships are the embodiments of emptiness and the overcoming of envy and greed. Surely, through their examples, he can leave the case untouched for just one more day, one more week. Perhaps this temptation was placed here to remind him. Why hadn’t they gotten in touch? Why did he, of all the disciples, still have the weapon? Surely there were more qualified, and certainly wiser, members of the temple.

ENOUGH. He must focus on his work. But what work? He’d been out of work for two weeks, and the mudras and chants could only bear so much repetition in the heart of such an alive city. His hands needed work to set his mind at ease. His strength never was his will. He had to do something, soon, or he would give in. Worst of all, he knew it.

His sweat continued to drip, the worry of a man who can see his own faults, and can do nothing to arrest their urges.

Kelraji casts about in vain, searching for some purpose to fill his idle mind and put purpose to restless hands. As if in answer to his prayers, he locks eyes with a small Indian child a few yards down the street. The boy gazes back at him with great doe eyes, and as they watch each other recognition trickles to the forefront of Kelraji’s mind. The child seemed to be the spitting image of his one and only childhood friend, Govinda.

No, it couldn’t be. The monk’s eyes narrow, then widen in outright surprise. The child was Govinda, down to the little grey scar on his cheek, the innocent roundness of his face. It was impossible, yet unmistakably so.

The little brown boy gives Kelraji a plaintive look, a look of fear and outright vulnerability, then scampers noiselessly into a bodega on the corner of Barrow and West 4th.

Unused to seeing such a sight in this city, children who go out alone rarely come back, he is a bit taken aback.

He believes in reincarnation and the cyclical wheel of time, but this would seem to be a much faster scale than he had been told to expect, and much more literal.

Either way, he is curious, another of his vices, tempered somewhat in his youth by his yogis, but with no oversight, and no pressing matters to attend to, he hops off his bike, loads the case into his backpack, utterly unwilling, and perhaps unable, to let it leave his sight, and walks towards the bodega. After all, he was getting a bit hungry, and they had the most delicious red curry flavored soya ‘soup’.

The monk steps into the corner bodega and is immediately confronted with the familiar smells of red curry and masala. He scans the small convenience store, searching for his little friend: a counter to his left stacked with the usual displays of cigarettes, chips, and candy, manned by a stern-faced elderly Indian man; two rows of shelves standing closely together form three tight aisles packed with synthcaf and instant noodles, buttressed by freezers of beer and sodas; and finally a stand of self-service machines along the right wall—a slushy dispenser churning slowly, two coffee pots, a greasy hotdog contraption, and two steam pots bubbling away with red curry soup and chickpea masala. A tiny security rotodrone buzzes angrily in at his face, menacing him with its taser pods before humming away along its randomized patrol route.

But no Govinda. In fact, other than the shopkeep, the only other person in the store is a pale ork man in a cheap suit inspecting a rack of calendars to Kelraji’s right. The sunglassed ork picks up a calendar with puppies on it, flipping through it with great seriousness.

Something about the man strikes an odd note in Kelraji’s trained mind. Was he just being paranoid, or. . . ? No, this man’s presence and demeanor were off, he was certain. In affirmation of his suspicions, the ork’s sleeve slips down, revealing a wrist tattoo of a five-pointed lotus done in black and crimson.

Adrenaline floods Kelraji’s system. They’ve found him, after all this time. Who knows how many more were outside, triangulating him even now.

The ork turns to meet Kelraji’s gaze and reaches out to put the calendar back, barely noticing when he misses the rack and sends it flopping to the floor.

Knowing that he’s been found, Kelraji has to quickly consider his options. If he runs outside, he’ll be cut down, and if he makes it to the bike, he’ll be even worse off. He’ll have to circle back around for it later.

With the rack down, Kelraji does his best to act surprised, and yelps, “watch it, corpse!” in Hindi, as he jumps towards the counter, and just far enough away from the ork that he’s out of grab distance. As he does so, he scans the ork for weapons, and looks for signs of communication with the outside. Perhaps there is still time to contain this newest threat and disappear once more. Thankfully, most everything he owns is on his person.

Arcane energies flow through Kelraji, his adept’s gifts enhancing his natural-born speed as he prepares himself for conflict.

He utters a slur in Hindi, but the ork’s face responds only in dull confusion, not insult. This does not mean much, however—Sivahara’s former employer Wuxing is a multi-national entity, a triple-A corp with huge operations throughout Asia and beyond. If the object were truly as valuable as he thought, it came as no surprise that Wuxing was throwing more resources into its recovery than the Jaipur branch had to offer.

The monk’s practiced eyes play across the corp agent, easily spotting what he suspects is there—a coiled wire running from the ork’s collar to an earbud in his left ear, paired with a subvocal mic taped to his adam’s apple. Kelraji can also make out the tell-tale outline of a concealed holster against the man’s left breast, its straps standing out like a bra-line through the sari of a pretty girl.

All this Kelraji sees and considers in his high-paced state of being, even as the ork reaches for his sidearm and begins to whisper into his microphone, the agent’s actions a slow molasses crawl through the monk’s eyes.

He hasn’t let them in on his secret yet, and there’s still a chance to escape, but Kelraji is too paranoid to let this intrusion into his space stand.

He calculates, fazing out, falling into his inner self, and exhales slowly, priming himself for what is to come. The ork’s lapel is crisp, erect, but low. The mic is halfway up, connected by a small wire to the comm unit likely taped to his back just below his neck.

Kelraji cannot help but chuckle at his internal dialogue. “As Chhinnamasta before, this man will serve as a point of worship.”

Of course, the humor comes from the exclusion of this man from the joke. He has no idea that Kelraji is no negotiator. He’s not even running scared, he’s just biding time, trying to stay out of trouble. and yet, here he is, about to draw a gun on a man who worships the beheaded goddess, who worships with his body, with his actions, and who was given the name “pure destroyer” by his yogis.

Making the mudra of fearlessness with his left hand, [this is part of my signature trait, he makes mudras all the time, even when he really should not be, they are a reflection of his thoughts, and he can barely, if at all, control them.] Kelraji detaches the vajra with his right.

The decapitated Goddess was about to receive an apt tribute.

Saying, once more in Hindi, “your death is the world’s rebirth,” Kelraji whips the razor-thin cord, weighed at the tip by the etched bronze thunderbolt that detaches from the end of the idol, singing across to the man’s neck. No wires, no call goes out. No call goes out, Kelraji may not even have to abandon his bike.

The vajra’s weighted tip flashes out in an arc toward the ork’s exposed neck, bringing the monofilament wire singing behind it like a flyfisher’s cast, only ephemerally visible as the store’s florescent lights catches the monowire in flight. The hapless man flinches instinctively at Kelraji’s slashing movement, recoiling back and bringing his right arm up to protect his face, unaware of the type of weapon being used against him.

The monowire catches the agent’s armored sleeve, redirecting the momentum of the tip to encircle his wrist several times over, eating up the remaining length of the whip before coming to rest. Kelraji frowns to himself, upset that he has been denied his decapitation, and gives the handle an impatient tug. The coiled filaments slide easily through the ork’s armor-plated sleeve, flesh, and bone.

The agent’s entire forearm separates from his elbow like a sausage being tied off, falling to the floor with a wet thud. Kelraji draws his arm back and over his head, twisting his wrist to gather the two-meter monowire above his head for another strike. He can feel the vajra’s spirit rejoicing in the slaughter, anxious to cleave again.

Blood shoots from the ork’s stump in an obscene fountain, illustrating the rhythm of his heart in crimson spurts. He grips its base with his remaining hand, screaming in terror. Sivahara can hear the shopkeep praying rapidly in Hindi behind him, doing his best to recite the entire pantheon of gods in the hopes that one would save his life. The monk is pleased to hear Shiva’s name among them.

The Wuxing agent may not be calling in help by radio anytime soon, but his cries of agony would be sure to draw attention of the more pedestrian variety, and with it fresh enemies.

A frown covers Kelraji’s face, though he is unaware of it. He knows his skills had worsened since he had left the temple, but he hadn’t suspected they were this far off. To not hit a target as big as an ork’s neck? His hand flowed through mudras as his thoughts filtered. Fearlessness turns to charity. Then, as Kelraji’s frown fades, to the control of evil, a two handed motion that starts the whip circling to the side. Finishing the circuit, Kelraji knows that he must end this quickly, and go, before anyone else sees. The ork must die. The decapitated goddess was one to appease, not disappoint.

Kelraji’s launches the weighted tip of the whip out of its patient circle, making a direct line for the agent’s neck. In his haze of shock and blood loss, the ork only notices the incoming piece of bronze at the last moment, ducking drunkenly to avoid its deadly path.

The monk dips his wrist every so slightly, sending a ripple down the outstretched wire which corrects for the man’s half-hearted dodge. Kelraji puts all his weight into the cut, watching with satisfaction as the monowire passes through the meat of the ork’s neck and the body of the subvocal microphone with equal ease. He follows through his swing, then gives his wrist a short flick, jerking the monowire coiling back to his side inside the cramped corner shop.

Kelraji glances to his side, spotting the drone buzzing motionless above the central isle, its small orb-shaped body yawing back and forth in place as its primitive logic motivator vacillates over which man poses the greater threat to the bodega’s security perimeter.

The ork’s head separates slowly from the top of his body, tipping back as his torso lists forward. Kelraji sends the whip circling once over his head as he sizes up the diminutive robot. The vajra sings its pleasure as a new geyser of blood sprays from the man’s gaping neck hole, arcing across the room like some depraved lawn-sprinkler as the freshly-slain man collapses.

As pleased as the whip is, Kelraji is more so. It has been a long time since he has killed with such grace. He is rusty, sure, but he has not forgotten the whole process.

Enraged and amused, Kelraji whips the bronze thunderbold in a tight spin before loosing it at the security drone, unwilling to give up the initiative, and frankly, enjoying the weight and the glide of the wire as it sings through the tight space.

The monowire keens out once more, making contact at the head of the drone where its dual rotor blades protrude from a slotted recess. There is a terrible shearing noise as each individual rotor blade meets the monofilament line, sending razor-edged slices of alloyed steel knifing throughout the shop, drawing sparks and cracking glass. The robot hangs in the air for a breath, caught in the moment before lift ends and gravity begins, entangled thoroughly in the monowire.

Kelraji rips the whip free, cleaving the drone’s body in half and sending both pieces spinning like a child’s top. The air crackles with the static release of the battery cells being cut in two, and one half of the broken shell begins to emit an oily smoke as it comes to rest amongst bags of chips and cheesy puffs.

Turning to regard the shopkeeper, Kelraji speaks in Hindi.

“Chhinnamasta has no need for you life. But one who prays to Shiva among the many should not fear or shy from death. You know as well as I that it is as necessary and holy as birth and life. Now, this secret must be kept for three days. You may make this guarantee to me by fleeing, and staying away for that long or longer. Or I can make the guarantee to you that you will never speak of it, one way or another. What is your decision?”

Slowly retracting the wire, Kelraji leaves just a foot out, with the thunderbolt slowly circling by his waist, his upper arm down, forearm out. His left hand makes the mudra of a holy offering.

The shopkeep’s face is splattered with arterial gore, which slowly drips from his face onto his well-worn shirt. He eyes the spinning monowire with trepidation for a moment, then seems to remember the adept has spoken to him, and looks up nervously, responding in Hindi. “Yes, I. . . Of course sir, of course. I will not tell a soul, I will not tell, on my word. Please, I only beg you spare my life.”

The balding Indian man looks down at his feet, unable to meet Kelraji’s gaze as he continues. “I will. . . I will flee the country, I will! I will return to Bangalore with my entire family, and we will start our lives again. The UCAS is not such a great place to raise a family after all. Yes, it is best for everyone.” The monk can see sweat begin to bead on the forehead and upper lip. His yogic training may not have made him the most intimidating man on earth, but his deep tantric meditations had taught to recognize well when a man was not being true to himself.

The shopkeeper is lying, clearly convinced you are a psychopath who will be locked up by Lonestar long before you could exact your vengeance on him. What was he supposed to tell the police about the headless ork which had coated his tiny bodega in a generous coat of his own blood? It was clearly too much for the poor man to swallow. Kelraji can feel his ire rising at the man’s obvious deception.

Kelraji, unimpressed by the sweating man, makes the mudra of intellectual discussion, holding the hand close to the chest, and forming the Wheel with his thumb and index finger, palm facing out. He slowly stalks towards the man.

“You should not be so fearful of the Wheel. Embrace the cycle, and you will understand, as I do, that death is not to be feared for the self, nor to be avoided for selfish reasons. Understand, as I do, that my life, my mission, simply is more important than yours. Understand, as I do, the truth of the Wheel, and pass through death into life, as you have passed through before. Sing Shiva’s praises, and he will speed you along. Surely, if you are a good man, Brahma will see you reborn in glory.”

Finishing his speech, Kelraji shifts his mudra to that of a blessing, and fearlessness, opening the wheel, leaving the palm out. Truly, this day, this man will understand the Wheel.

Kelraji casually raises his arm and sends the deadly wire looping across the counter with a roll of his wrist. It passes cleanly through the shopkeeper’s neck, leaving only the trace of a line upon his neck to mark its passing. The Indian man looks surprised and begins to say something, but only a gurgle reaches his lips. Blood wells from his mouth, then begins to seep from the cut bisecting his neck, trickling down to his shoulders. His body slumps forward onto the glass counter, sending his head rolling forward onto the floor. Kelraji quickly steps to one side to avoid the spray of blood which gushes forth from the innocent man’s torso.

The monk appraises his surroundings. Red coats nearly every surface of the bodega, its coppery scent overpowering. Bits of packaging and magazine float through the air, freed from their previous lives by the errant back-swings of a monofilament whip in combat. One corner of the room is slowly filling with the oily smoke which continues to pour forth from one half of the security drone. Kelraji can hear commotion outside, people rushing away from the store’s front stoop with screams and gasps as they take sight of the vajra’s craft. If anyone is coming to get him, they will be here soon.

Smiling, pleased with his returning proficiency, Kelraji’s mind clears. This is a familiar situation, comfortingly familiar for the monk. Wuxing had zeroed in. The net was tightening. Even if they didn’t know it was him, the agent had recognized him, had seen him. His apartment would be compromised soon, if it wasn’t already. Thankfully, most everything he owned he had on his back. He’d lose half his clothes, and a few krill protein bars, but that was a small price to pay. Time to disappear once more.

Kelraji walks to the door, and surveys the outside, looking for anyone who’s obviously a threat, and also to see if his bike has been tampered with.

Kelraji leans out from the door-frame, peering discretely up and down Barrow and West 4th. As far as he can tell, there is no one coming for him—no more Wuxing agents in black armored business suits, nor Lonestar in their navy blues. His Contrail leans on its kickstand, apparently unmolested, the old racing cycle too pedestrian to attract any attention in this flashy part of town.

The monk can see, however, that the bodega has quickly become the most interesting thing on the block. A crowd has formed across the street, murmuring with the excitement of amateur rubbernecking. Someone points emphatically as his head emerges into plain sight.

Wuxing thugs or not, the noose was tightening. Aztechnology wasn’t any dumber, and they would know within hours if a Wuxing agent went down in such a brutal manner. They’d be here the next day, and Wuxing wouldn’t even wait for the dawn.

Needing a distraction and a clear road, Kelraji knows he’ll have to confuse and frighten his audience enough to make them docile while he escapes.

Swaggering to his bike, he declares in English, “that is what happens when Wuxing crosses Aztechnology! Let this be a lesson, and remind Wuxing who owns these streets!”

Hopefully, the assembled masses don’t know enough about the megacorps to call his bluff.

If he can make it to the bike, Kelraji simply sits on it, starts it, and begins to drive away at a normal traffic pace for a few blocks, before picking up speed.

The West Village wasn’t safe, and he knew that. Hopefully Central Park could provide a dark corner for the night.

Tomorrow would be a whole new day, full of the mundane tasks of the assassin and spy. He’d have to buy new clothes, rent a new place, pretend he’d recently arrived, and make all new friends. For the fifth time this year, too.

Kelraji crosses West 4th, creating even more of a spectacle for the assembled onlookers. He starts down the small section of Barrow street which lies between West 4th and Washington Place on his way back to his bike parked on the corner ahead. Almost immediately, he spots them through the small trees and shrubs which populate the triangular garden to his left—two more agents, a dwarf and a human, both dressed in identical black suits, bearing earbud comms and unimaginative haircuts. Even as the monk appraises them, the human grabs his associate’s lapel and points through the garden, straight at Kelraji.

The guards stand some 70 odd feet from his bike, almost equidistant with Kelraji. They start off at a run to intercept him, reaching into their jackets as they move.

Grinning wickedly, Kelraji’s mind forms a plan. The oldest plan, but it might just work.

Kelraji walks towards the men and his bike, briskly. As he closes, he shifts his expression to one of deep concern. he draws his combat knife, strapped to his back, making sure he wipes the blade along his clothes, enough to pick up a bit of blood. It had to look realistic.

“Wuxing, finally! Take me in, I need to talk to Mr. Singh-Chopra immediately. We have to go before Aztechnology gets here, or this will all be for nothing. Your man inside is wounded, but the Aztechnology assassin is dead.”

The men regard Kelraji suspiciously, exchanging hesitant glances. The human speaks up. “Aztech? What are the fucking wetbacks doing out here? We weren’t briefed on their presence.” He looks to the dwarf, who merely shrugs. “Fine, their involvement is irrelevant. We’ve been sent to bring you in. Mori, call in the pickup.”

The Wuxing agents take their hands away from their sidearms, relief on their faces. The dwarf presses a finger to his ear and begins mouthing words, his huge brown beard working soundlessly. The human looks at Kelraji hopefully. “Did you bring the case, Mr. Sivahara? Intel indicates you usually carry it on your person.”

The men do not yet know the truth, which is good for Kelraji.

Dropping the knife, Kelraji responds.

“Yes, yes I have it with me, here, you take it. It is nothing but trouble and death for its holder.”

He smiles at his own joke as he moves his hands down, slipping his backpack off and setting it down, while carefully palming the vajra once more as his hand glides past his waist with the pack.

Handing the case over to the human, Kelraji ensures the man has a firm grip on the case before he makes his move.

Thunderbolt loosed, the whip seeks new necks, new mic cords to cut.

Perhaps the human has no mic, but the dwarf does, and they must not escape.

The human takes the briefcase with greedy eyes, already spending the massive bonus recovering so valuable an artifact will bring him. The dwarf continues to mumble to himself, his eyes wandering aimlessly as he listens for new orders. Neither notices Kelraji slip the vajra from his belt.

The thunderbolt rockets out, quickly closing the distance between the monk and his target. Moments before the monowire makes contact with the dwarf’s neck Kelraji flicks his wrist against the momentum of the swing, neutralizing its forward movement, changing the profile of the attack from slice to entangle. He lets the wire wrap twice around the agent’s neck before pulling it loose, severing flesh, spine, and beard with ease.

The dwarf’s head flies spinning from his shoulders, sending gore spiraling out like the arms of a galaxy in motion. The bottom half of his beard drifts lazily to his feet.

Kelraji watches the human’s expression shift from pleasure to dumbfound horror, his reflexes too slow to do anything but watch as death comes for him.

Greed was a terrible motivator, as Kelraji knew. As a child, greed would get you beaten, would get you whipped for stealing, would get you robbed for hoarding.

The way out was the cessation of greed, to act and be as one with the Wheel. Charity to all forms of the divine in the way they most require it. Food to the hungry, shelter to the cold.

And now, death to the foolish and irreversibly misguided.

Kelraji stands up straight, and extends his left hand as he speaks, slowly spinning the thunderbolt by his shins as he talks. The mudra of teaching and gifting flash in his hand.

“The blade is cursed, and brings only death to those around the holder. All who see it die violent deaths. This blade must not be returned. Do you even know what they were planning to use it for?”

The vajra cries out on his hand, begging Kelraji to spill the man’s blood, to send it shooting in great crimson streams. However, the mudras seem to do their work, and the monk quiets the voice, pushing it to the back of his mind.

The man takes a step back and draws his pistol with his free hand, leveling it at Kelraji’s chest. “Jesus, you psycho motherfucker. Cut Mori’s head off like it was fucking nothing. HR said you were unhinged, but Jesus.” He thumbs the safety of his sidearm. “Know what they want the priceless artifact for? Do I look like fucking Wu Lung Wei? How about this: you put away the fucking monowire, turn around and walk away, and forget about the fucking knife, and I won’t blow your fucking face off.”

Kelraji smiles. The Wheel turns.

“Some prophecies come true faster than others.”

The whip gets its way. The dagger calls to him, it must be his, he deserves it, he has earned it. Strangely, that does not seem at odds with his religion at this particular moment. Perhaps he forgets himself in battle. Perhaps his beliefs are not as strong as he thinks. Either way, he knows it must be his, and this man has no right to it.

As he strikes for the man, he whispers in Hindi, “The wheel turns.”

The monowire lashes out once again, a brutal downward slash aimed at the man’s right-hand shoulder. He does his best to duck out of the way of the oncoming whip, but his unaugmented reflexes are no match for the speed at which Kelraji moves. The whip catches the agent at the bicep, cleaving through his upper arm before connecting with his ribcage. The whip penetrates to his abdomen before it begins to slow, hampered by the man’s inner mass and the kevlar wrapped thickly around it. Kelraji twists at the waist and brings his arm down to his side, adding enough force to complete the cut.

The monowire pulls free of the man’s torso with a sudden explosion, and Kelraji realizes with horror that it is heading for the briefcase still held in the agent’s left hand. The whip twines twice around the case before the monk can act, but by then it has already sunken deeply into the briefcase’s scuffed leather exterior.

The case does not fall in half, however; it appears as if something within has resisted the vajra’s all-cutting touch. People on the street cry out at the show of gore, scattering away from him in all directions. Cars screech to a halt and crunch into one another in their haste to get away from him.

Grinning widely, too widely, Kelraji knows now that the case is done. That he has earned the blade, that it is his. Without fear he pulls the wire back to him, securing the thunderbolt. Running to the blade, he pauses to scoop up the combat knife he used as a prop before shredding what remains of the battered case.

The blade springs free, covered in blood. No, not covered, etched. The blade itself appears permanently stained, while rubies and pristine silver compose the handle. A sheath, unexpected, is enclosed as well. Silver, like the handle of the blade, with two small rings at the top, and diamond shaped inlays of some sort of deep blue stone.

The blade calls to Kelraji, flooding him with emotions and sentiments. It seems to say: “Do not let this rabble see my glory. I am for the worthy alone, and you, Kelraji, are worthy.”

Snapping out of his daze, Kelraji realizes the trouble he is in. He had killed four men, wrecked a shop, and there is an entire crowd of onlookers. He had to go.

But before he does, he quickly draws the bear symbol of Aztechnology on the case, in the blood of his latest kill. They’ll never believe it for long, but it might buy him a few minutes, even an hour. And for someone as skilled at disappearing, in a city of so many millions, an hour might be all the time he needs.

Finished with his gruesome doodle, Kelraji mounts the bike, dagger in pack, and heads North, up Manhattan, final destination yet to be determined.

Kelraji swerves around a crawling taxi on the main avenue Northbound, trying to put distance between himself and the crime scene. He comes to a sudden stop at a traffic light, and does his best to sit casually astride his Thundercloud. He finds himself enraptured by two young women, his head tracking sideways to see both sides of them.

When he swings his head back around, it is already happening. A long rectangle of the cement before him begins to slide upward, revealing a simple mahogany door, its hinges and handle wrought in dark bronze, complimented by a handsome green frame. A bronze nameplate tacked to the headjam reads simply: “THE SHADOW

The door slides smoothly to a halt, obstructing his motorbike head on.

Spooky as it is, Kelraji knows he’s a wanted man. If this was some sort of elaborate scheme by Wuxing, he’d be amazed. If they knew where he was, why not just kill him? Anyone with the power to pinpoint him that precisely surely had the muscle to bring him down or in.

Getting off the street has never been easier.

Kelraji dismounts his bike, and attempts to walk it through the door, unwilling to let the most expensive piece of equipment he owns be left on a street corner in a seedy part of town.

Kelraji passes through the door, which miraculously accomodates his Contrail. He emerges into a darkened park, and looks around quickly to get his bearings, wary of a trap.

He quickly realizes that he has been to this place before. He is standing inside the large fountain which sits at the center of Washington Square Park. The rim of the fountain was dirty concrete, raised around the edge to provide a place to sit. A handful of steps led down to the center of the fountain, which was dry now, with a raised circle in the center where the water might have jetted out on a hot summer day. All around him were paved paths dotted with lamp-posts and trees engulfed in shadow. To his right stood a large arch, made of white stone and droplit with lights along its base.

And there were other men in the circle, other men with doors behind them. Directly across from him he could make out a tall man standing in front of a faded white door with a blue frame. This door’s nameplate read only “DEATH”. The man was wearing old jeans tucked into pointed boots, a faded armored jacket and a wide-brimmed cowboy hat with mirrored aviator sunglasses beneath. His fingers, long and nimble, hovered cautiously above a pair of heavy-duty revolvers slung low at his waist on a pistolier’s double-holstered belt, which was lined with shells across the front. The man’s poised stance suggested he knew how to use them.

To his left Kelraji could see another door with another man. This door was made of polished steel with an orange frame. The nameplate ready simply, “THE LIGHT”. In front stood a tall man with wavy blond hair cut close, his modest features framed by a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. He wore a large white laboratory coat scorched here and there with blackened marks, over a polo and blue slacks. His upright stature and the incline of his head suggested a man of higher education.

Just then Kelraji notices that there is a third man standing at the exact center of the fountain, equidistant between them on the raised circle from which water might spray out. This man wears a tattered brown three-piece suit, and leans heavily on a cane. He gestures to each of them in turn and calls out, “Ah, finally, you have all arrived. Come closer, so we may talk.”



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