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Dusk in Kalevia: Chapter 7

A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #013 back issue.

Toivo paced the cell, working out the last aches and pains from the interrogation. It was no longer his body that bothered him, however. His bout with Solas–what was his cover name? Demyan?–had thoroughly disrupted his thoughts.

Solas incited his emotions in a way he hadn’t experienced in this life. Anger, fear, and something else he couldn’t quite name still stirred inside him. It was as though the hunger that filled the dark angel’s soul had somehow leaked over into his own–a vague, dissatisfied craving, an itch that he could not quite scratch.

Solas wanted him as a double agent. Toivo was relieved he’d had the strength to fight back.

He thought momentarily of cool breath whispering in his ear, and he held his head, fighting the mess inside.

No, that demon’s just trying to manipulate me, he thought. As soon as I’ve served my purpose, he’ll kill me and that will be the end of any good Toivo Valonen can do. He hoped the next time he died, he wouldn’t be dragged back down to Earth for a while…

There it was again–that faint hint of panic. It was a sense of terrible loss, blurred by the haze of a long period of insubstantial existence. Whatever frightening memory he’d forgotten, Demyan’s presence seemed to draw it to the edges of his mind.

No matter, he thought. Whatever had happened back then, he wouldn’t let it happen again.

He needed to get out of that cell, but how? There were no windows, and only the single door to which his jailors held the key. With no other options, he walked over and tried the handle.

It opened.

**

The air of the maintenance closet was foul with smells from the jugs of cleaning chemicals lining its shelves. Toivo stifled a cough as the caustic miasma invaded his lungs.

It wasn’t the most comfortable hiding place, but he needed a place to lay low and collect himself as he planned the next phase of his escape. He crouched among the mops and buckets, wrestling himself into the stained coverall he had found hanging on a nail. He wrinkled his nose as he slid the reeking garment on over his bloody clothes, and then sat back on an upturned pail to contemplate his options.

Getting out of the State Security building was going to be one of the biggest challenges of his power he had ever attempted. He was already exhausted, his power dwindling from keeping up the chameleon act in hostile territory. After navigating the emotional gauntlet of the prison wing, he had found his way into a stairwell, where the only unlocked doors told him nothing of his location within the building. He had eventually wound up here, wondering how long his protective cloak could possibly hold out.

Why had he been allowed to escape the cell in the first place? Was it possible that Solas had forgotten to lock the door on his way out? Impossible. He wouldn’t make such a careless mistake. This was clearly a message: “Trust me.”

He heard the click of heels on the linoleum. He cracked the door open to watch as two women approached, their arms laden with cardboard boxes. One of them set her burden down by the elevator and stretched.

“But really, do you know what’s going on?” she asked her companion. “It’s been madness around here for the past hour, and while the Commander’s out, too…”

“It’s something the police radioed in–that’s all I know. It’s gotta be something big.”

“No kidding! Minister Kuoppala called me directly for all these reports–that never happens.”

“I’ve never been up to his office.”

“Lucky you. I have,” she giggled, then glanced over her shoulder nervously. “Oh, oh. I shouldn’t have said that. Don’t tell anyone I said that.”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll denounce you right away, as soon as we deliver these boxes.” They shared a chuckle over this, then the taller one leaned over to her friend. “You should be made of sterner stuff, working in the office of Commander Demyan Chernyshev.” She wiggled her fingers in a spooky gesture.

Inside the closet, Toivo’s ears pricked up at the name. Demyan?

“Oh, stop it. He’s not that bad. Especially in the looks department.”

“Except that you’ll be walking along and then suddenly he’s there behind you, with that soft voice of his. Comes out of nowhere.”

“Okay, shh, that’s enough, Anja.” She hefted her armful of documents as the elevator opened with a soft chime. “We must be crazy, to talk of them this way. We’ll never make it anywhere in life.”

“Well, do your duty by these boxes, and maybe someday you’ll make it to Head Clerk.”

Toivo was torn. On one hand, he wanted to make it out of this blasted building with all possible haste, but on the other, he was tempted to do something rash. If Demyan’s office was indeed close by, he could find out the truth. Demyan had implied some great threat was looming, and it sounded like something had already begun. Toivo’s current plight notwithstanding, wasn’t it more important to save as many people in Kalevia as he could, regardless of their allegiance?

Affecting his strongest aura of inconspicuousness, he slowly opened the door and slipped out into the hall, staying just out of their view. When he was nearly an arm’s length away from the women, he cleared his throat. They both started violently.

“Excuse me, but you two work in Commander Chernyshev’s office, correct?”

A panic-stricken look passed between them, and they stuttered out an affirmative. Toivo peered into their faces, assuring them with his manner that he was a friendly custodian who had heard nothing of their disloyal gossip.

“Is the office open? I’ve been sent up for some maintenance work, and I need to…”

“Oh, is that all? Here.” One of them handed him a key on a small leather fob, smiling too broadly with relief. “Just return this when you’re finished.”

“Thanks.” Toivo took the key from them with a casual smile, his confidence directing their attention away from the bloodstains on his collar.

The women vanished into the elevator with a titter of laughter, barely giving him a second glance. He marveled at how easily the human mind responded to misdirection, selectively ignoring all that it perceived as familiar. To them, he had simply become part of the environment–background noise, someone they trusted completely to be there.

Toivo walked down that hall and the next, made bold by his disguise, checking every nameplate until he found Demyan Chernyshev’s. He congratulated himself on his resourcefulness, but his pride was short-lived. As he turned the key in the lock, he heard hurried footsteps approaching and felt an ominous presence–one he’d last experienced before its owner broke his ribs.

Toivo flattened himself against the wall in a panic, putting every ounce of effort into maintaining invisibility. Please don’t see me, he begged, gripping his broom until his knuckles turned white.

He held his breath as the interrogator breezed by him, taking no notice of the hardworking custodian sweeping the floors.

As soon the man was around the corner, Toivo dashed into the office. He ran through the empty room where the typists usually cranked out their coded memos, fumbled with the lock, then wrenched open the second door and dove to the carpet behind Demyan’s desk.

He had very nearly been caught, and he knew he was in terrible danger every second he remained. The place was probably crawling with enforcers. Perhaps they had already discovered his escape and were actively searching for him at that very moment.

He closed his eyes, feeling around for the markers of human souls, but it seemed that his immediate vicinity was deserted. Something had called them all away from their desks; a tension hung in the air, as if the daily grind had been interrupted by the shrill of a firebell. When nothing broke the eerie silence, he brought himself to peer over the edge of the desk. The coast was, for the time being, clear.

He told himself he would stay a short time, just enough for a little peek at the contents of Demyan’s files. He gingerly lifted folders from the blotter, taking great care to preserve their original order and positioning. They were mostly reports or profiles of a few non-compliant citizens–nothing much of interest until he chose a folder with a yellow tag marked “urgent” and found his own name on the label.

There he was in the photo, taken just a few days prior, beside a wealth of physical and behavioral data. He pored over the profile, fascinated with the amount of detail they had been able to obtain from a single entry interview. Do I really blink my eyes that much? Toivo wondered. And do I tend to smile more on the right side when I’m nervous?

As he read on, a folded paper clipped inside the edge came loose and fell to the floor. After Toivo picked it up and examined it, he discovered it to be some kind of star map. He was baffled–not only by the seeming irrelevance of astronomical charts to covert operatives, but the fact that this one had notes scrawled all over it in a tight, crisp hand. Toivo saw names he didn’t recognize, and words and observations that seemed chosen at random. One name, Vesa, stood out to him and he remembered the Chairman’s doomed son, target of the Forest Clan’s plot.

Perhaps this is some sort of code, thought Toivo. How much does he know? A pair of stars near the bottom of the chart drew his eye. One was labeled Solas in pencil, the other Zophiel, and between them, a single word: Together?

Toivo felt a tingle in his hands as he held the map, the corners of the paper fluttering with a barely perceptible tremor.

What was this?

At that moment, the closet door flew open.

The map slipped from his fingers as the peace of the locked room was invaded by the harsh cries of ravens and the clamor of the city outside. His mind rebelled at the sight of pavement outside a room supposedly over a dozen stories in the air, before he realized he was looking at a portal, and that the dark figure slumped against the frame was Demyan.

Toivo tensed, ready to run. Such a fool, he thought. Such a goddamn fool…

“Wait…”

Demyan held out his hand, the rasping whisper of his voice halting Toivo in his tracks.

Now that Toivo looked at him, there seemed to be something terribly wrong with his shadow. Demyan looked pale, diminished from the strong force that had threatened Toivo in the darkness, his black coat soaked through with something even blacker than itself. The way he sank against the door as it closed, panting and holding his chest together…

“Did you get…?” asked Toivo, his heart quickening.

“Shot? Oh, can you tell?” Demyan’s sardonic tone was lost to a wet, rolling cough that threatened to double him over. He recovered and began to stagger toward Toivo, scattered drops of red from his palm marking his erratic progress across the carpet.

“The Chairman’s son’s been kidnapped.”

Toivo had lost track of time and everything else in that prison cell; the Forest Clan’s conspiracy suddenly flooded back to his mind. Today was the day, he realized. Today they kidnapped Vesa Uusitalo.

In a way, he was impressed. The Forest Clan had actually managed to execute the first part of their scheme, and, in so doing, had hobbled the very symbol of the opposition.

Toivo noticed that symbol staring at him, and realized that he had not been adequately discreet with his emotions.

“You knew this was going to happen?” Demyan asked, exasperation creeping into his hoarse voice.

Toivo opened his mouth and then shut it again.

“No, don’t explain. It doesn’t even matter.” Demyan shook his head. “We might still have time to fix this.”

“What are you talking about?”

“If that boy dies…” Demyan began, then stopped, dropping his gaze to the floor. “That map you’re standing on? I’ve read the stars–it’s all there.”

He was speaking low and hurriedly now, as though trying to say his piece before he faded. Toivo returned his fevered stare, alarmed by the desperation he found there.

“Escalation, invasion, nuclear strikes–who knows what, just that if Vesa Uusitalo dies, this little rebellion will spread beyond our reach and neither of us will walk away from it.”

Toivo began to slowly back away toward the door. “Why should I believe you?”

“You still don’t trust me?”

A jolt of pure panic flew through Toivo as Demyan’s hand dipped into his coat and came out with a pistol. This is it, he thought, and prepared himself for the wrench of pain that preceded the loss of his body.

He was still paralyzed when Demyan placed it gently in his hand, closing his fingers over the damp, sticky grip.

Before Toivo could react, Demyan’s strength seemed to fail him. As he sank to the carpet, his shaking hands caught at the rough fabric of Toivo’s coverall, leaving new stains across the blue fabric. He clutched the leg of Toivo’s trousers as he huddled on his knees, coughing violently.

“I’m giving you a choice,” he mumbled, his words thickened by the blood on his tongue.

DuskInKalevia_Chap7_Illus

Toivo ran his thumb over the grooves in the grip of Demyan’s Makarov, staring down at his once-strong enemy, brought low by the bullets of his allies. Even now, in this weakened state, a faint hint of despair radiated off of Demyan, reminding Toivo of the danger he posed. Assailed by indecision, emotions racing helter-skelter inside him, Toivo grappled with the ramifications of the shadow’s surrender. Nothing had prepared him for this.

Finally, Toivo crouched by the prostrate body of the dark angel, setting the gun beside him, and extended a steady hand.

“Let’s get you out of here.”

Proceed to Chapter 7, page 2–>