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When I started writing this, I had planned to finish by Christmas. LOL! That obviously didn’t happen. It ended up longer than I expected, and well, other stuff came up. I’ll still continue to post regularly until it’s finished even though that will probably be sometime in February. Hope you enjoy. Please don’t forget to vote, and I’d love to hear what you think. –J. Chapter Nine
Kim glanced up at the sky and quickened his pace. It was the eve of the solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the stars were already starting to come out. It would be a clear, bitterly cold night. The temperature was negative ten Celsius and dropping, and a stiff breeze added its bite to the chill.
Kim clutched his bag of groceries more tightly to his chest. He usually tried to avoid going to the grocery store after work in the winter, or if he did go, he went to the one close to his house in Zonei. But Raeden’s appetite had picked up, and since he had partially morfed a few days earlier, he’d been ravenous. Kim wanted to make sure he had enough to eat. Fuel to help him heal, he told himself. But he couldn’t afford to buy the quantity and type of food he needed from the store in Zonei.
He had, however, hired Carlos and Pablo to escort him to the edge of Zonem. Now he was on his own, trying to turn the fifteen-minutes from the border of Zonei to his building into ten minutes.
He was only eight blocks from home when he saw the men. First he noticed one, standing very still in a shadowed doorway. He would have focused all of his attention on him, but something—perhaps a noise—caused him to glance to the other side of the street. There was a man there too, also standing in the shadows, almost opposite the first man. It was clearly an ambush, but whether they were waiting for someone in particular or just for the next available victim was unclear.
Kim had to make an immediate decision. Go between them and hope they didn’t accost him or turn around, back the other direction, away from home. He turned around and headed for the nearest cross-street, keeping his pace fast and even, straining to hear if they were following him.
Hearing nothing, he risked a quick glance back. One of the men was following at a distance, his pace matched with Kim’s. The other was nowhere in sight.
If he’s still following me after I turn the corner, I’ll ditch the groceries and run, Kim told himself, trying to keep a rein on the stark terror that was building in his chest. He reached the corner quickly and turned onto the side street—it was narrower than the street he’d been on, but not quite an alley. He hadn’t gotten very far when he saw someone enter the street at the far end.
Okay, an ambush for sure. He dropped his groceries then and ran toward the cross street he had just come from. He’d only taken a few steps when the man who was following him turned the corner, blocking his path. He was joined immediately by another man.
Shit! Kim got a look at their faces in the fading light. They were young—teens probably—and hungry. Quents! They were hungry for more than food, Kim guessed. Quents fed off violence and destruction.
Kim whirled and ran the other direction, trying to judge the size and swiftness of the youth who was blocking the exit at the other end of the street. He couldn’t allow himself to think about the last time he’d become a victim of quents—his brain would seize up entirely. He had to focus on escape.
His heart was pounding in his ears as his eyes swept up and down the street, looking for a way out. The quents had planned their strategy well. There were no alleyways off this street, only doorways. The businesses had all closed. Everything would be locked.
The quents behind and the one in front of him were not running to catch him. They were confident that they already had him trapped. The one in front stopped and waited for him, his teeth catching the light as he broke into a broad gin.
Then suddenly there was movement to Kim’s left. Another quent materialized from behind a garbage bin, not more than thirty feet away.
A whimper of terror came out of Kim’s mouth. On his right a short distance away was a set of grated metal stairs, leading up to an iron door. On instinct, Kim headed for them. The door would undoubtedly be locked, but perhaps he could use the height to his advantage somehow.
He was on the sixth or seventh step, about halfway up, when he was pulled to a halt by the large youth behind him. Kim tried to twist away, but the quent had a tight grip on his jacket. Without thought, Kim unzipped his jacket and, narrowing his shoulders and straightening his arms, he dove forward. His jacket slipped off and the youth fell backwards down the stairs, letting out a sharp cry.
Kim had lost his balance too, but managed to regain it with a few quick steps to the top of the stairs. He desperately casino şirketleri tried the metal door, but it was locked, of course. Looking back down, he saw that the quent who had grabbed him was lying at the bottom of the stairs, rubbing his elbow and glaring up at him.
“You’re going to be so fucking sorry you did that,” he snarled.
Kim ignored his comment. His brain was too occupied with saving himself. It was at that moment that he realized the area under the stairs could be a sanctuary of sorts. It was enclosed by a sturdy newsteel fence with a gate that was padlocked. Whatever it had been protecting had long since been removed; the enclosed space held nothing but bit of debris. The risers on the stairs were open. Kim wasn’t sure he’d be able squeeze through them, but he was sure going to give it a try.
He knew he’d have to act fast. The other quents were reaching the bottom of the stairs now and the first one was climbing to his feet. As soon as they realized what he was attempting, they’d be upon him. Without hesitation he sat down on the second to the top step and slipped his feet through the opening. Flipping over to his stomach, he slid backward until his butt came in contact with the risers. Grunting, he used his hands to push, and shimmied his hips frantically.
“Hey!” One of the quents had noticed his escape attempt.
At that moment, his hips wiggled free. He blew all the air out of his lungs as he struggled to fit his shoulders through the narrow opening. Luckily he was thin. He turned his head sideways, and it was a tight fit. His ear caught on the metal grating and his wool hat came off as he pulled his head through. He let go with his hands just in time. One of the quents had made it up the stairs to grab him. His fingers brushed Kim’s arm as they slipped out of his reach.
He felt himself falling and braced for the landing. He lost his footing on the uneven pavement and fell, managing to protect his head with his arms as he crashed to the ground. He sat up, shaken but unharmed, then pulled himself to his feet and positioned himself against the brick wall, away from the fence but mindful that he wasn’t too close to the stairway. The quent who had almost grabbed him was now sitting on the stairs glaring down at him through the risers.
“You fucking little shit! You can’t get away you know. We’ll get to you.”
Kim knew he was right. His tactic had worked, but it would probably mainly serve to piss them off. It was only a matter of time before they figured out how to reach him.
Just then a fierce gust of wind whipped down the street, blowing snow crystals into Kim’s face. He shuddered violently. Or I freeze to death, which might happen first.
He folded his arms tightly over his chest and continued to shiver while he observed the quents quietly. They were gathered on the other side of the fence, discussing what to do. Even though the youngest of his attackers appeared to be no more than sixteen, all five of them were bigger than he was. They’d never be able to fit between the steps as Kim had.
He took a deep breath and tried to calm his frantic heart, but when he saw one of the quents pull some tools out of his pocket and start working on the padlock, his fear ratcheted back up. It probably wouldn’t take him long to pick the lock.
One of the quents had grabbed his bag of groceries, and now they all stood munching on his apples and cheese and jeering at him. They called him a cunt and a bitch and a faggot. The oldest quent, likely the leader spoke. “You know we’re gonna get to you, and you know what we’re gonna do then? We’re gonna fuck you up.”
“Fuck you up your ass!” one of the other boys crowed.
Hearing their words, terror swamped Kim. He closed his eyes and tried to shut down his thoughts entirely. Shortly, he opened his eyes again. He needed to pay attention so he didn’t miss an opportunity for escape. Good luck with that, a cynical voice in his mind said, but he wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
The quent that had been on the stairs had climbed off and wandered down the alley. Now he came back with a few stones. These he threw at Kim, one by one. Luckily, it’s difficult to throw a stone between the holes in a chain link fence. Most of them bounced off of it. A few did make it through, but Kim managed to dodge them.
With a curse, the youth took off again. The one working on the padlock was getting frustrated, cussing and finally kicking the gate in a fit of fury. The older quent pulled the tools out of his hands and slapped him hard in the face. “Didn’t I learn you nothin’?” He set to work on the padlock himself.
Kim shivered more violently. He was suddenly aware that warm blood had been running down the side of this face and now it was congealing in the cold air. I must have cut my ear when I pulled my head between the risers. He didn’t want to remove his gloves to investigate his injury. His fingers already ached with the cold. He danced a bit, back and forth casino firmaları on his feet, in a futile effort to keep warm.
The quent who had taken off down the alley now came back with a battered broom. He poked it through the fence at Kim, who shrank back against the cold brick wall. The broom was too short to reach him and the youth soon gave up.
“When we get to you, I’m gonna ram this up your girly ass,” he threatened.
Kim tried very hard not to imagine that scene.
Another gust of bitter wind howled around him, tearing the last vestiges of warmth from Kim’s body. He couldn’t help the whimper that came out of his mouth. He was colder than he’d ever been and absolutely miserable.
“It’s colder than a fucking polar bear’s prick out here. He’s gonna freeze to death soon with no coat,” one of the youth observed.
The leader paused in his efforts with the padlock and called out to Kim. “Why don’t you crawl on out of there and we’ll give you your coat back.”
Kim had absolutely no intention of leaving his sanctuary before the quents were gone. Maybe not even then, because they’ll likely just be hiding, waiting for me to try to escape. I’ll probably freeze to death right here. He wondered briefly what Raeden would think when he didn’t come home and what Raeden would do without him. But he couldn’t figure out how to get out of his current predicament. He was so cold he felt like his brain was starting to get sluggish, his thought processes slowly grinding to a halt.
“I know!” the youth who had tried to get to him with the broomstick suddenly spoke up. “Digger, come with me, I’ll need some help.”
The two of them dashed off down the alley, chatting and laughing.
Kim knew he should be worried about what they were planning, but his mind seemed to be fully occupied with the torment brought on by the biting cold. He bit his bottom lip to keep the whimpers from coming out of his mouth, but he could not stop his violent shivering. He sat down, pulled his knees to his chest, and buried his face in them. He had escaped the quents for now, but he couldn’t escape the penetrating cold.
“Fuck, son of a bitch!” the oldest quent yelled. He dropped the tool he was using to try to pick the padlock and started kicking the gate, making a horrible racket.
Kim barely glanced up. His shivers were starting to subside and he felt almost sleepy. Then he heard voices down the alley and realized that the other two quents were returning. He roused himself to look around. Hearing one of them climbing the steps, he uncurled himself and climbed to his feet, looking up warily.
Suddenly he was drenched in ice water. He let out an earsplitting scream. The water was so cold it felt scalding. His scream died down to whimpers, and then the other youth was also pouring a bucket of water on him. He staggered away, trying to get out of the path of the frigid deluge.
He careened into the fence and felt fingers clutching for him, but managed to dive back away before they were able to get a grip. He ended up with his back against the wall again. His hair and clothes were now soaked. He dropped to the ground and curled into a ball, not even trying to stop the pitiful noises that were coming out of his mouth.
He was vaguely aware of the quents on the other side of the fence, still discussing the best way to get to him. He was so miserably cold he wanted to die. As his mind slowly drifted toward oblivion, he realized he was likely to get his wish.
Raeden was frantic. Kim needed his help out there and he was stuck in the unit, unable to walk.
The trouble had come upon him suddenly. He’d been aware that Kim was getting closer, on his way home, and then abruptly Kim was terrified. The fear had been constant for at least ten minutes now. He didn’t think Kim was in pain, at least not much pain.
Part of his mind pondered how he could possibly have a mind link with a mundane, but he didn’t question it. He knew without a doubt that Kim was in serious trouble.
In spite of his mutilated feet, which were more painful now than they’d been since the night when they’d first thawed, he knew he had to do something. His body felt alive and vibrant. His skin tingled as it often did just before he morfed, and he felt his bones stretching and growing a bit. He shrugged into his coat, noticing that his chest was too broad for him to button it. He found his tattered boots in the bin by the futon, but looking between them and his mutilated feet, he realized he wouldn’t be able to get them on. Even if he took his bandages off, which he was loath to do, his feet were to swollen to stuff into the boots.
Rummaging deeper in the bin, he pulled out his hat and a couple of Kim’s sweaters. Grabbing the duct tape out of one of the credenza drawers, he set about making himself makeshift foot coverings with Kim’s sweaters and lots of tape. It would have to do.
He pulled his cap on and stood up gingerly, sucking in güvenilir casino a sharp breath as his feet screamed in pain. He could still feel Kim’s terror, though and that spurred him on. He hobbled unsteadily to the door, cursing himself for not taking better care of himself—for allowing his hands and feet to get frostbitten.
That thought brought back a sharp memory of Lyzel and how she always scolded him when he did something dumb that could have gotten him hurt or into trouble. The horrible gaping wound in his soul ripped wide open again. He gasped in pain, but soldiered on to the front door. He had a mission now. He could grieve again later.
Once at the door, he realized that it would lock behind him as soon as he stepped out. Cursing under his breath, he staggered back for the duct tape. Then he carefully taped the latch down so that it wouldn’t be able to slip into the hole. He’d be leaving the unit unlocked, but he thought the odds that someone would even try the door were slim to none. Even if someone got in, Kim had little to steal. His PowMon was the only thing he owned of value.
Once he had closed the door behind him, he made his slow way to the stairs. He went down the stairs on his butt, bumping down each stair one by one, putting weight only on the heels of his feet, which were painful but not as bad as his toes.
His fingers, miraculously, seemed to have mostly healed. He had full use of his hands now, even though a few of his fingertips were still discolored and sore. For that he was immensely grateful.
It seemed to take forever for him to bump down four flights of stairs. At the bottom, he crawled rather than walked down the long hall to the front door. Once there he hesitated. He couldn’t duct tape the front door open; it had a more complicated locking mechanism. If he went outside, he wouldn’t be able to get back in without Kim’s retinal scan.
Kim’s level of terror had stabilized. Raeden was pretty sure he was not being hurt, but he was certainly still afraid and unhappy. He knew which general direction Kim was in, and he was pretty sure he was stationary. He tried to judge the distance he would need to go to get to Kim, but was unable to pinpoint him exactly. His bond with Kim was not nearly as strong as the one he’d shared with Lyzel. He sighed in frustration.
So be it. I need to try anyway.
Steeling himself against the pain, he staggered to his feet. He was just about to venture out when he heard Kim screaming in his mind. Without hesitation, he slammed open the door to the anteroom and crossed it in three steps. Then he flung open the front door and stepped outside into the bitter cold and howling wind.
If he couldn’t find Kim, or Kim was beyond help when he found him, he didn’t want to get back inside anyway, he told himself. He would just finish what he’d tried to do before and let himself freeze to death on the street.
Kim was no longer screaming in his mind. He had settled down some. He also didn’t seem terrified anymore, which surprised Raeden. But Kim was still unhappy and in pain. Raeden hobbled as fast as he could on unsteady feet toward Kim. Or at least toward where he thought Kim might be. He didn’t have anything to go on except his odd psychic connection.
He was in a state of partial morf. That mean he was bigger than usual, the pain in his feet bothered him less, and his senses were heightened. He glanced at his hands and saw that his scales had not yet hardened; they were still just patterns, although they were darker than usual.
As he staggered down the dark street, he became aware that his connection with Kim was fading. That means he’s probably losing consciousness, he realized. “Stay with me, Kim!” he commanded with as much mental force as he could gather. Although he got no response, he kept talking to Kim over his imagined mental link, urging Kim to be strong and brave and to stay awake. As he felt himself drawing closer to him, he also felt Kim slipping away.
And then there was nothing.
He wanted to scream in frustration and call out Kim’s name, but he knew the young man wouldn’t be able to hear him. He continued on in the direction he had been going, but now at each cross road, he stretched his senses down the side streets, listening, peering into the darkness, and scenting the air, trying to find some trace of Kim.
At the second cross street he came to after losing contact with Kim, he saw a group of thugs gathered down the street. They were surely up to no good and he advanced to investigate. He hadn’t taken more than a few steps into the alley when a gust of wind brought Kim’s scent to his nostrils.
He howled in rage and felt his body growing still more. Picking up his pace he headed toward the small band of men. They had obviously been frightened by his unearthly howl. After taking a look at him, they all started running for the far end of the street.
Raeden let them go. His focus was on the small figure he could see on the other side of a chain link fence. It was Kim, curled up on the ground, unmoving. Raeden let out a roar, grabbed the bottom of the fence with his hands, and heaved it upward with all his might. With a hideous groan, the metal twisted and warped, creating a large opening.
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