He Who Cries Wolf

"Have you ever heard of the Dogs of the War? They're creatures of violence and pain, enslaved by the military to do and die for the country that created them. If we want to win this revolution, however, we don't just need the Dogs - we need their leader, their conqueror, their most powerful. We need their Wolf."


2. Act Two - Streets of Gold


“When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you

without flinching -- they are your family. ” 

- Jim Butcher



"You're sure he's dead, then?" the man asked, pausing to speak before raising a glass of champagne to his lips. Bennie's fingers tightened around her own drink, cool anger flickering in her eyes at his arrogance and self-entitlement. 


"I even have the head to prove it, Mr Salinez," she replied coolly, flashing the man a thin smile that twisted the scar on her cheek into something shapeless and ugly. The man nodded, his sunken, piggish eyes narrow with satisfaction as he picked up a knife and fork, poking his food almost critically. Bennie could tell from just a glance that this man was the sort of person she inherently disliked - spoiled, privileged and corrupt, caring only about himself and willing to sacrifice as many strawmen as it took to to save his own skin. It was a good thing he was also filthy rich, head of one of the most powerful syndicates in the city and about to give her a considerable amount of money, or she might just have been tempted to teach him a lesson concerning poverty. 


Nyx caught her eye from across the table, shadows from the candlelight twisting his already angular face into something almost skeletal, shadows catching tastelessly on the faded scars marring his skin. Although the look was swift his meaning was obvious; don't mess up now. Bennie curled her lip at him but dutifully swallowed her irritation, turning back to Mr Salinez with a contemptuous smile. 


"Are you not going to eat, Abena?" Salinez asked through a mouthful of steak, a globule of gravy running down the corner of his mouth. Bennie fought the urge to grimace, instead taking another long sip from her glass of whiskey and glancing despairingly at Nyx. 


"You'll have to forgive me but I don't have much of an appetite, Mr Salinez. And if you could, I'd prefer just Bennie," she said, her voice terribly, dangerously smooth. Nyx flinched from across the table and drew out a cigarette, lighting it with a stray candle and taking a long, weary pull on it. Salinez paused, his fork inches from his mouth, before shrugging and taking a bite, smiling greasily at her. 


"Sure thing, kid. Different strokes for different folks, I guess," he laughed, chewing noisily and dabbing at his mouth with a black silk napkin. Bennie glanced at Nyx once more for affirmation and let out a quiet sigh of relief when he finally gave a nod. Salinez was her least favourite customer by far and she couldn't wait to be done with him. 


Leaning forward slightly, Bennie laced her fingers together and placed her glass carefully on the table, twisting her face into the sweetest smile she could muster. 


"Now, Mr Salinez, I don't mean to hurry you, but my partner and I are... eager for payment. I was wondering if we could discuss it," Bennie smiled, her eyes crinkling and her mouth folding upwards into a smile practically dripping with venom. Salinez set his cutlery down slowly and sighed, leaning his paunchy body back in his chair as he regarded Bennie with a look that quite contrasted her initial impression of him. 


"Let's not get too hasty now, Missus," he warned, tapping his fingers rhythmically against the plush leather arm rests of his seat. Through the window Bennie could see two plainly dressed men either side of the glass, bland and nondescript apart from the bulge of their pistols underneath their clothes. She wondered absently how many men she could fight unarmed if things turned sour with Salinez. 


"Of course, sir, but we have places to be, people to see, as they say. We'd really rather accept our payment and be gone before the military guard move in to enforce curfew. It's a bitch to be caught out at night, if you'll excuse the language." 


The three sat in a pregnant, uncomfortable silence for a few moments as Salinez considered Bennie's words, humming tunelessly to a forgotten song in a foreign tongue. Finally, however, he grunted and waved one of his men over, muttering quickly in a language Bennie wasn't familiar with before turning back to her with a grim smile. 


"It's a shame you two couldn't stay longer - it really is a hell of a place here, after all - but I know your kind. I've dealt with bounty hunters before, and they're all the same - money first, pleasantries never. At least you got the free booze, right?" Salinez chuckled, picking up his glass and downing the last dregs of champagne in one loud gulp. Bennie smiled tightly at him, allowing herself to relax now that money was guaranteed, and pulled out a cigarette of her own before the inevitable headache started to set in. 


It was after a couple of minutes of uneasy silence and slow, almost methodical smoking that the man Salinez had previously spoke to returned, this time with a dark canvass bag in his calloused hands. Bennie stood immediately at the sight of him, shrugging defensively when Nyx sent her a heated glare and Salinez coughed pointedly. 


"Thank you for your hospitality, Mr Salinez, but we really must be leaving," Bennie said with a simpering grin, impatience gnawing at her stomach as she stubbed out her cigarette and flicked it into a silver ashtray at the centre of the table. Nyx bowed his head dutifully to Salinez and grabbed the bag, slinging it over one sloping shoulder and eyeing the doorway with a considerable amount of desperation. 


"Well, I won't keep you kids if you're that eager to bounce, but I expect I'll be seeing you two soon enough. A man can make a surprisingly large amount of enemies in such a small city," Salinez laughed, raising his empty glass in a strange kind of toast. Bennie managed another tight-lipped smile while Nyx saluted, half-arrogant and half-self-assured. Salinez's man walked them across the lavish dining room and showed them to the door, seemingly unaware of Bennie's annoyance at having what she would consider a monitor shadowing them. 


"Jesus, I thought we'd never get out of there," Bennie muttered sourly as they stepped out of the softly-lit dining quarters and into a vast hallway adorned with opulent - if a little tacky - decor, ducking under a garnished golden arch and heading swiftly towards the exit. 


"Don't even think about grabbing anything, you jammy bastard. The last thing we need is Piggy on our backs for a stolen candelabra," Nyx hissed, smacking Bennie's hand away from an elaborate silver candlestick set. She grunted a reply, rolling her eyes and shoving her hands pointedly into the pockets of her cargo pants as she trailed behind Nyx, who was apparently in a foul mood for whatever cryptic reason he had now. 


"If we hurry we can be back with ten minutes to spare before curfew," Bennie sighed, eyeing Nyx reproachfully as they slipped out of Salinez's lair and onto the deserted, winter-cold streets. Nyx scoffed but offered up a crooked, begrudging smile, huffing a breath and watching as it fogged out before him like the cigarette smoke he seemed to live on. 


"Since when have you ever cared about curfew, B? If my memory is correct you had us on a stakeout hours after the guard moved in just a few nights ago," Nyx grinned, cracking his knuckles and starting down a cobbled pavement, swinging the bag of money slightly as he walked. 


"Yeah, well, we weren't carrying a bag stuffed to the seams with money then, were we?" Bennie retorted, glancing up at the dusky pink sky already glittering with a handful of scattered stars. The city seemed abandoned this late at night, with every citizen who possessed an ounce of common sense locked up safe in their homes where the soldiers couldn't get to them. The usual cacophony and organised chaos that made Bennie feel protected was long gone, giving it the deserted air of a ghost town. It made her feel vulnerable and exposed, as if someone would leap out of the shadows and attack her at any moment. Her fingers had been itching for the feel of her machete in her palms ever since they left Salinez's place.  


"I seem to remember spending our evening doing something like this," Nyx sighed, his eyes tracing the path of the rain-heavy clouds hanging like leaden balloons on the horizon. When Bennie frowned her confusion at him he offered her yet another cigarette and gestured nonchalantly up at the strip of sky they could see poking through the tops of the apartments lining the streets before opening his mouth with an afterthought of sorts. "I've never gotten 'round to asking you this, but why do you love the sky so much, you weird kid?" 


Bennie shrugged, tipping her head back and squinting her eyes until she saw the sun, just a fiery amber dot millions of miles above her. "Honestly, I'm not great with all this sentimentality bull-crap, but it makes me kind of nostalgic, I guess. For what, I have no clue - you know as well as I do that I can't remember jack - but it makes me wonder how many times I've looked up at the sunset right at this exact moment before, and how many times I haven't." 


Nyx paused mid-step, his troubled gaze seeking out Bennie's on instinct. She didn't look upset like he'd expected - if anything she seemed relieved. He wondered how many times she had shared something of substance with someone she cared about. 


They journeyed the rest of the way in relative silence, only speaking or trying to make conversation when it was necessary. Soon the night had rolled in with all its mystery and grandeur, forcing them to light a flame and squint just to see the pavement below their feet. It was with a significant degree of relief and weariness when they turned onto their street, skipping easily over the gaping cracks in the cement as if they'd been doing it all their life. 


Their house was near the end of the row of apartments and homes, louder and more alive than any of the other buildings ever would be. It was considerably larger too, spanning almost three lots in all its crumbling, ramshackle glory, bursting at the edges with all sorts of people from all corners of the Empire. Truthfully, it wasn't technically theirs - it belonged to the Mercado family, one of the only non-syndicates with influence and power in New Victoria, but everyone knew that was only a front for the private assassination business that was run practically out of the door there. Everyone who worked for Mercado took on the last name by default anyway, so it didn't make much difference to anyone who valued themselves and their worth in the city. 


Lights were still switched on in nearly every room, fragmented conversations and vintage punk music floating out of open windows. Nyx blew out his flame and twisted his face into that infamous crooked smirk of his, waving to a pair of dark-skinned girls drinking vodka on the porch out front. One of them blew him a kiss while the other raised the bottle of alcohol high above her head, the liquid sloshing dangerously around and almost spilling over her frizzy black hair as she laughed easily, the sound echoing into the streets of the sleeping city. The entire place practically bled with familiarity and hospitality and in that moment underneath the dark, rolling expanse of indigo-blue sky, surrounded by the hum of life in its very prime, Bennie realised that even if her past was still a mystery, her life in the present was pretty damn good. 

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