Dag led me back to the surface. I had not realized how deep we’d gone until I was limping back in the black. My mind was burning.
Welcome to the jungle.
We used a flashlight to spot a door on the tunnel’s side. The steel stairs beyond led up to an observatory. Gloom filtered through the dusty glass on the far wall of the room, looking down on a derelict factory floor.
By the window in a foldout metal chair sat a man.
What had to be a guy nearly seven feet tall was folded over in his seat, staring at us under his brow. I got a good look at his lean face and the firemark which marred it as he sat up and expanded.
“You messed up,” he said.
Dag was surprised to see him. “…We shouldn’t all be here like this.”
“No, we shouldn’t. Too late now, isn’t it though?”
“Take a seat, Frode.”
I obliged. I was happy to. Dead tired, only the surreal horror of this day was keeping me on my feet.
The cat in my shirt meowed as I sat. I tiredly wiggled my eyebrows in response to the strange look the emaciated man gave me. He was unimpressed. They were all so serious and I was still just dying.
Tired yet bursting. One thought on my mind. I have what I wanted.
I had to suppress a laughing fit.
“I don’t think so, McCrea,” Dag told him.
“You just take him down to have a chat with the demon bound in the basement and you don’t think you fucked up?” McCrea swept a strand of long white hair out of his face which had fallen loose.
Percy had come up from the steps. “I told you, Kid.”
“Hashing blame,” I laughed. These two guys had to both be in their sixties. It was such a funny sight, them admonishing us.
Dag tried to shush me. “It worked, he’s got valuable info. It cost nothing.”
“It all has a cost!” Percy shouted, angered.
McCrea grit his teeth. “There’s protocol. We operate smart.”
“Can I just ask-” I cut in.
“No,” Dag stopped me. “And no, there’s not protocol. You brought me on because I could help and I was willing. I was hateful enough. Frode has skills we can use. He saw the freak leading their operations. I’ve been looking for years. We finally have a bone.”
“We all have been waiting,” he grimaced. “Us a lot longer than you, Dag. Or did you just forget this was a long game?”
I couldn’t contain myself any longer. “His name is Bundus. He’s a monster. A literal under-the-bed boogeyman monster.”
That got their attention.
“The Demon showed you?” The skinny old man asked.
I nervously laughed. “I can find him.” There it was. Already tingling in the back of my mind was a goddamn plan. “I know his tricks.” My eyes ached. But they were open for the first time.
“Because a Demon showed you.”
“A defunct robot decrypted a cat for me,” I said, rubbing at my temples. I had to think about that for a minute. “Yeah…”
McCrea leaned in. “A Being a hundred times smarter than any of us. One whose kind nuked the world into ash just did you a favor, eh? With no ulterior motive?”
There was a knot in my chest. I shook my head. “I can find him. That’s what matters.”
Dag gestured, “I agree. Better to ask forgiveness in this case, McCrea.”
“You can’t go along with this,” Percy said.
“What do you want me to do, ole Percy? Kill them?” McCrea pulled a pistol from his jacket, waved it around. “Seems wasteful.”
I’d be lying to say I had an ounce of chill. I was ready to jump out of my skin. “I hate this city. Fuck do I hate it,” I told him, staring at the piece. “I’ll do anything to change it. I’m terrified. But I know what I’m saying.”
“Well?” McCrea let the thought hang, eyeing Percy? The two old men were deadlocked for what seemed like an eternity.
“We put him through the paces, then. Protocol.”
“You sure?” He loaded a round into the chamber. The barrel lazily drifted my way. Dag tensed. “It’s been decades in this waste. We were never supposed to get even this far, truthfully. Maybe we finally put a lid on it?”
Nobody could think of what to say. Percy was indifferent.
McCrea chuckled. His gravel voice dropped lower. “Or maybe we show you how deep and dark this rabbit hole really gets? Frode, is it? You feel like it?
“Then you’ll need this.” He turned the gun around in his grip and outstretched his hand. The look in his eyes paralyzed me. “You said anything. If I have my way, I’m going to make you regret that… Because I do.”
“I won’t.” I was certain. I wanted blood.
“Then take it. Go home and be ready.”
I looked to Dag but he was stoic. This was my choice.
I took the gun. It was heavy in my palm. I had a plan.
This was just the beginning.