After fighting their way through the cramped streets, Urban spotted the docks. The fires had finally faltered, smothered out by the constant barrage of rain. He called his men over, taking shelter in a smoked-out husk of a building. Two stood away from the rest, watching the street.
He coughed back the charred stench. Pulling the crudely drawn map out of a pack, he used a lighter to trace their route. “Now this is along the far wall where it’s darkest. You’ve all heard rumors about the broken lights being Na Creidmhigh’s deal? There’s a grain of truth in it.” He pointed out a missing section of the wall on the plans. “There’s a passage that leads directly into the Syndicate. It’s how the Family smuggled most of their goods.” The familiar terms felt odd, especially in the presence of outsiders. “We’ve got to break in, there’s got to be others that are trapped in there.”
He watched their eyes burning, distinguished few nods.
“What’s wrong with the map?” someone asked.
Urban turned, not seeing it at first. He ran a finger against the lines, smudging them, then they melted away. He turned the paper, crumpled the map as he tried to memorize the precise location of the tunnel. He tried to study every last detail, but the ink lifted off the page like so many bits of ash.
Letting out a frustrated shout, he tossed the blank sheet away. His men watched him, though he couldn’t see their faces. His thoughts tripped over themselves as he tried to figure out how far this could stretch. So much for Na Creidmhigh’s records. His thoughts flashed forward, wondering if it was just ink or all text. On one hand, this could be a great opportunity to rebuild, to wipe all that debt away. But, on the other . . . He stood without addressing his men, then left the safety of the structure. The water licked at him, drenching his clothes, pressing down on him. Dutiful footsteps followed, a reminder he had men to lead.
Hell, they followed him knowing full well what he’d been through.
And they were headed into the heart of the beast.
Though he couldn’t see it amidst the curling smoke, he knew Na Creidmhigh would be staring down on the whole city, judging their actions, biding its time. And, at the end of all this, he’d get the brunt of its justice.
He passed the lip that led down to the docks, acutely aware of the devastation. The wires had tangled together, the pipes burst, spraying directly into the harbor. Little resembled the city he’d grown up in anymore, even the lighthouse had faltered, a smoldering stump that used to shed light, but now harbored darkness.
They worked through the labyrinth of holes, busted containers, the few stations that still stood. Most of the machinery had been claimed, but the seawall stood vigilant against the chaos.
“Sir,” Sern stood at the edge of a large swath of darkness.
“What is it?”
“The passage — it’s open.”
Urban joined him in front of the entrance. He watched the shadows, making sure none of them shifted and came after his men. Unmoving, relentless, the darkness stretched on into the infinite. He cleared his throat. “Let’s go.”
Urban led the men through the underground passage, stopping at several boxes to check the records. All blank. He let the folders fall to floor, fanning out from there as he left them to be trampled. After so many years of diligent recordkeeping, it had all disappeared in a freak accident. He couldn’t even explain what had happened, just that the words had simply disappeared from the page.
His men were restless, but he was having to deal with the fact that his best friend was dead, that Carrick had killed most of his friends. Now, he was a one man army with blood on his hands and . . . his men were civilians and Family flunkies. If — and that was a big if — they survived this, he’d have the ability to reshape the Family into something worthwhile.
The idea played in the base of his thoughts, but mourning would have to wait.
He heard the crash of a door and pulled up his rifle. The darkness seemed to close in on them as he pressed forward, every sound another indicator of how close he was to death. Sweat collected at the base of his neck and he rubbed it away then realized that all their eyes would be on him and he lowered his hand, straightened and waved them forward.
As they approached the stairs, Urban heard another loud banging sound, then a screech and rapid footsteps moving away. He sprinted forward, taking the steps two at a time. He slipped through the hole and stopped. The place reeked of fire and blood and guts and shit. All the odors of his imprisonment were here, all along this stairwell.
His grip tightened, then he looked up and saw the bodies. Dozens, hanging from each flight of steps at different elevations. He didn’t scream, just lowered his head and pressed forward, heading into the heart of the temple.
He heard shouts, but they were muffled against the groaning metal. He fought against the urge to retreat — this was his house and he would kill Carrick if it was the last thing he did. Blood coated the walls, as if a great battle had happened here and they were just minutes behind its conclusion. He turned down hallways, following the same old paths, all tinged by the red light from the veins that had been changed, possibly by chemical attack, but Urban figured that it was related to the writing disappearing. None of it made any sense, but he pressed forward.
A door burst somewhere down the hallway and screams filled the enclosed space. One, three, five people scrambled out of the room, blood coating their arms, faces missing chunks of flesh. Scraps of clothing hanging off their bodies. At first he thought they were fleeing, but then they turned on him, screeched, and darted down the hallway in his direction. As they neared, he recognized them as his brothers, but their eyes had gone crazed and uncomprehending.
He raised his rifle, releasing three bursts, crumpling the first two, but the rest didn’t pause as they trampled the bodies. Urban heard shouts from his men, but he stepped forward, released another quick bit of bursts. Then gunfire joined him and the rest of the crazed men and women collapsed to the ground, blood pooling around them.
“What the fuck was that?” Sern asked.
“Chemical attack,” Urban whispered. He moved forward in the hollow silence to inspect the bodies, then he heard the same movements he’d heard on the other side of the stairs. The unearthly screams, like something primal taken over, reached a fevered pitch and the hall erupted in a deluge of bodies thrown against doors. The wood shuddered and creaked as the disparate weights tried to get through to the loud sounds.
Someone placed a hand on Urban’s shoulder. Urban spun around, gun up and ready.
Sern, already pale, did not move. Instead, he said, “We’ve got to go.”
Urban looked back once, at the insanity unfurling in front of him. He turned, walking from it briskly, but refusing to run. With his grip tight on the rifle, he headed to Oki’s church.