Title: Stirred
Featuring: Mark Carlton
Date: Various
Location: Various
Show: Northern Crown 2018



[NOTE - THIS IS PART 2 OF A MULTI-PART STORY. READ THE OMEGA STORY "THE RAID" FIRST!]

November 1st, 2018 - Edmonton, AB, Canada

 

‘Yeah, yeah yeah, yeah, yeaah…’ sang Mace as we walked backstage.

 

‘So can we talk about what just happened?’ I asked Jaiden.

 

‘You mean the fact that the Entourage returned in fine form with a decisive win over a veteran tag team?’ asked Jaiden, smirking.

 

‘No, I meanthe fact that said veteran tag team was beaten to a pulp and literally deposited at our feet.’

 

‘In the club with my homies, tryna get a little VIP but keep it down on the low-key…’

 

Jaiden smirked again. ‘I don’t see what you’re worried about, Carlton.’

 

’Cos you know how it is…

 

‘Can we also discuss how I requested that I get the pin unless I’m incapacitated?’

 

‘We never agreed on any such thing,’ said Jaiden, ‘and besides - could you really take that sort of happiness away from him?’

 

He jerked his head at Mace, who was still singing. ‘She was sayin’ “come get me”, so I got up and followed her to the floor, she said “baby let’s go,” when I told her I said - ’

 

He pointed to me and Jaiden, seeming to expect us to join the chorus. When we didn’t, he pouted. ‘Please, Mark, for old times’ sake?’

 

‘Sorry, Mace.’ 

 

‘… I’ll be in the locker room,’ he said, slouching off. 

 

‘You upset him,’ said Jaiden, still smirking. ‘Would it have killed you to sing along?’

 

‘A little, yes.’

 

‘A man who’s tired of Usher is tired of life, Carlton,’ said Jaiden. 

 

And then he left, smirking. I shook my head. 

 

It was strange to be back in CWF after such a long absence (punctuated, of course, by my single appearance, losing to the Lost Boys). But it had felt good to be back in the ring.

 

The battles in the ring were simpler than those I faced outside it.

 

November 3rd, 2018 - London

‘So that, Mr. Carlton, is all you need to do,’ said Lord Urquhart. He was seated in a comfortable chair behind a fairly magnificent mahogany desk. I was sat across from him, feeling, as I often did, like an errant schoolboy standing in front of the headmaster. 

 

I took a deep breath. ‘Yes. Nice and simple. Break into the second-most-secure Institute facility on the planet and extract their most valuable prisoner, with only Jaiden Rishel for backup.’

 

‘I thought you wanted to make more substantial contributions to the Order, Carlton,’ said Vice Admiral Spencer, who lurked behind Urquhart’s desk. ‘And I know full well that this mission is within your capacity, since I have personally deployed you on several that were considerably more dangerous.’ 

 

‘It is,’ I said, ‘and I do. But I don’t understand. I thought our intention was to destroy the Institute? What good does rescuing Henry Benson do?’

 

‘You question our - ’ began Benson, but Urquhart raised a hand. 

 

‘You are correct, Mr. Carlton, that our original intention was to utterly destroy the Institute. But our goals have… changed. That is all you need to know for now.’ 

 

His tone indicated that no further questions were welcome. 

 

‘Very well, my lord; Vice Admiral,’ I said, with a stiff and curt bow to each man. I exited the room and headed for the elevator. 

 

When I left the Navy the first time, all those years ago, I had thought that at least an upside of doing so would be that I wouldn’t have to risk my life in the service of my country anymore. I had been honoured to do so, of course… but there was no small relief in the idea that I’d never have to have bullets flying at me again. 

 

Then that all changed in the spring of 2010, at the height of my wrestling career. My father had come to me and told me of a mission, a black operationthat required… well, me. An experienced commander who was no longer associated with the Royal Navy. Skilled, but deniable; and most importantly, expendable. It had been successful, but at a considerable cost. 

 

Although I had subsequently renounced all involvement with the Navy, it had re-opened communications between my father and me. CWF had folded, and then returned, and I had gotten a job working, much to my chagrin, for Dan Highlander. That had been a surprising success, and eventually I had been able to re-establish myself as a legitimately skilled political staffer

 

Then, as with most things in my life, everything had gone tits-up, and I had ended up right back at the bottom of the pile. 

 

Piece by piece I had gotten myself back somewhere vaguely respectable, slowly climbing the totem pole. But the Conservative Party was now hostile to my brand of conservatism; in my heart, I had to admit that I wasn’t going anywhere. 

 

And then came the Order.

 

A chance, a final chance, to truly redeem myself in the eyes of all those for whom I had disgraced myself.  Succeed here, help the Order realize its goals, they had told me, and all that I had lost would be returned unto me. I could return to the Navy with a command of my own; or I could return to politics, perhaps even running for office myself. Or I could fulfill some other ambition, anything my heart desired; such was the power of the Order - or at least it would be, if their ancient enemy were destroyed and the full measure of the Order’s power restored. 

 

For that chance… it was worth risking my life. 

 

As I walked out of the building, I passed Elijah and Omega. Only stiff nods were exchanged between us; in all these years, I was fairly confident that I had never, in fact, spoken with Elijah directly. My contact with Omega, meanwhile, had been limited to a couple of matches… and one rap battle

 

It still took me aback that Elijah and Omega would be willing to work with the Order; they openly despised it and all that it stood for. And while I knew that they had personal as well as ideological stakes in the destruction of the Institute, they had never been the sort to cooperate with one evil to destroy another. They were insurgents, through and through. 

 

They must reallyhate the Institute. 

 

November 8th, 2018 - Los Angeles, CA

 

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I had spent most of the week in Los Angeles, evaluating the House of the Will - the one remaining “respectable” bastion of the Spirit Science Research Institute. Its respectability was an utter façade, its denunciation of the Moonchild and his actions in Pierreia pusillanimous and equivocal. But Hollywood had bought it; no doubt due to a few well-disguised Institute members controlling select publications, the sort that influenced the influential. As for the law… the Institute had firm control of law enforcement in California. They would not dare to target the House of the Will. And so the House of the Will sat, stories higher than the surrounding buildings; unmolested, as though the Institute were not committing atrocities on the other side of the world.

 

And it was my job to break into it. 

 

This was not the sort of thing I was used to doing. I was extensively trained in black ops, but my training had been for warzones and remote locations; not the middle of crowded American cities unaccustomed to war. Nevertheless, I had been confident that I could break into the House; it was just a matter of how. 

 

But as the week wore on, my confidence waned. The Institute appeared to be well aware of its natural defenses, and supplemented them perfectly; outside of a night-time airdrop onto the roof, fighting our way through the entire House, I was coming up short. 

 

I persisted, if only because I hated the idea of facing Spencer and giving him the satisfaction that the task had beaten me. And even so, I knew that Benson needed to be extracted at a specific time; the Order had other plans to enact. 

 

‘You know,’ said Jaiden, sitting across from me and idly plucking a French fry from my plate, ‘the building isn’t going to magically open up just from you staring at it.’

 

I scowled and took another bite of my burger. I gagged somewhat at the taste. We were sitting in a diner across the street from the House of the Will; the food was about as nice as the view. I had been scrutinizing the entrance.

 

‘Maybe if we caused some sort of a distraction?’ I said, not so much to Jaiden as to the universe at large. ‘The guards seem pretty vigilant, but if there were a disturbance…’

 

‘There’s more inside, and they don’t move,’ said Jaiden. ‘Remember, Marsh managed to get in by pretending to be a potential recruit?’

 

I sighed. ‘I hate to call it… but I’m calling it. Only thing that can get Benson out is an all-out assault. And since that’s not going to happen…’ 

 

Jaiden smirked. I scowled at him. Schadenfreude was one thing, but the Order actually was affected by this mission. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘guess you’d better call Urquhart.’

 

I sighed. Much as I thought Rishel was being a prick, he wasn’t wrong. But just as I reached into my pocket, both of our phones sounded. It was a message… from Urquhart. Hm. Odd. 

 

‘Carlton, Rishel:

 

Belay plans to break into the House of the Will. May have new intelligence.’

 

‘Well then,’ I said, smirking at Jaiden, who now bore a scowl, ‘guess we wait.’ 

 

November 11th, 2018

 

James Bond movies were always something I regarded with some degree of… well, of contempt.

 

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I knew that it was escapist fun… but it rubbed me the wrong way. People thought that that was what being an intelligence agent was actuallylike; having dashing adventures involving ski chases, beautiful women and ordering weak martinis and being snooty about it. In reality, it was long spells of boredom punctuated by short bursts of absolute terror. I had lived that reality.

 

Which was why I felt no small amount of irony as I put on a tuxedo in preparation for my upcoming mission.  

 

There was a good reason for it. Urquhart’s “new intelligence” had turned out to be quite substantial indeed; it completely resolved the problem of how to get inside the building. In addition, the Order’s insider had managed to procure a couple of card keys that would open virtually any door in the House of the Will.

 

Whoever this mole was… they were high in the ranks of the Institute.  

 

Once we wereinside, it was another question. But we knew where the prison blocks beneath the Institute were; one of the senior members of the Order employed an agent who had seen it up close. And moving undetected through a building, without the prying eyes of a hundred and fifty thousand would-be socialites generating risk of detection… thatwas something I could do. Doing so with no gun was relatively new to me; but at the least I knew that the OSA guards in the bowels of the House of the Will would not be armed. The Institute, we knew, preferred to destroy rather than kill; murder was messy, traceable. Better to drive someone they wanted dead to suicide, having seen their whole world crumble. 

 

Not that I wanted to bank on that, of course; but I was decently confident in my hand-to-hand skills, even against an armed opponent. 

 

I was currently sitting in my hotel room, having donned my tuxedo some thirty minutes previously. There was to be a gala at the House of the Will this evening; Urquhart’s source of “new intelligence” had procured invitations for Jaiden and me (under pseudonyms, of course). The gala, it seemed, was password-protected, and the password changed every fifteen minutes. Jaiden and I were in a hotel ten minutes away from the House, ready to set off in a waiting limousine as soon as we were directed to.

 

We had been waiting for some time.

 

As the clock ticked to 8pm, my phone rang. I sprang up and answered. ‘Carlton.’

 

‘Oh hi Mark!’ I groaned. Mace. ‘Hey man. So, the card for Northern Crown is up; we’ve got Hostile Takeover, which is one of the tougher draws for the first round - I mean, we could have been put against Maya Jensen! Wouldn’t that have been fun?’

 

I didn’t know who Maya Jensen was; nor did I care. ‘Mace…’

 

‘Oh, yeah,’ he said, ‘so it occurs to me that you’ve been out for a while and might not know who Hostile Takeover is. Basically it’s this group from this federation called Hostility, and they -’

 

‘Mace…’

 

‘They’ve kind of been carving a swath through the roster lately, so we should probably discuss how we’re going to take them and-’

 

‘MACE!’ I yelled. I knew what was coming next; he was going to ask for a strategic discussion, and it was going to turn into him whining about Hollywood ephemera. I didn’t have time for that under the best of circumstances, and these were arguably the worst of circumstances.

 

 He was silent on the other end, and I realized that I needed to make an excuse. Suddenly inspiration struck. ‘Do you know what bloody time it is?’ I demanded

 

‘7pm?’

 

‘No! It’s three o’clock in the bloody morning! Learn what bloody time zones are!’ And I hung up, particularly satisfied with myself.

 

It was then that Jaiden knocked on my door. ‘It’s go time.’

 

I sprang to my feet. ‘They were meant to call me!’

 

‘Your line was engaged. Urquhart was delighted by thatlittle fact,’ he said, smirking. 

 

‘Mace,’ I said. ‘You know how he is.’

 

Jaiden grinned. ‘Well. Let’s get to it.’

 

We descended in the elevator, both in tuxedos. Jaiden started humming the James Bond theme, possibly because he knew it would annoy me. We strode out to the driveway, unintentionally in step. As we approached our car, I heard a yell. ‘SO THAT’S HOW IT IS?’

 

I wheeled about to see a scowling Colton Mace, dressed in a tuxedo. 

 

‘Carlton…’ said Jaiden, a note of considerable urgency in his voice. 

 

‘Mace…’ I said.

 

‘I knew you were here, Mark,’ said Mace. ‘I saw you walk in earlier, carrying two tuxedos.’

 

‘Why were you even here?’ I said.

 

‘Does that matter?!’ he said. ‘You don’t care about the Entourage, you don’t - ’

 

‘Mace, believe me when I say that - ’

 

‘Save it!’ yelled Mace. ‘You clearly have some place to be. Go on then!’ 

 

And he dramatically turned on his heel and walked away. I shook my head and jumped into the limo. Jaiden, to his credit, did not give me the shit that I expected him to. Perhaps he was too focused himself. 

 

We pulled up to the House of the Will. Two grey-clad porters opened our door, and we presented our invitations to the guards at the door. The bigger of the two looked at us expectantly. Jaiden said, ‘Jormungandr.’ The guard nodded, and led us into a magnificently-appointed entrance hall. The opulence of the place was somewhat undone by the “OUT OF ORDER” sign over the door of one of the elevators; it looked like it had been there for a while.

 

The guard led us into a ballroom, where hundreds of people in semi-formal attire stood around conversing; in the center of the room was a dancefloor. The music seemed to stand in stark contrast with the setting - they seemed to be a new wave rock band. A glance at the drum kit indicated that the band was called Jonty and the Keyring Dildos. I didn’t quite know what to make of that. 

 

‘How long do you think we stay in here?’ asked Jaiden. 

 

‘They’ll be keeping tabs on us for at least the first half hour or so,’ I said. ‘So make some conversation, get a drink. We need to be able to slip off unobtrusively.’

 

Jaiden nodded and made his way over to someone I vaguely recognized as an American football player. I made my way over to the bar. The rather attractive woman behind the bar smiled at me. ‘What can I get you, sir?’ 

 

‘A martini,’ I said, thinking for a moment. I sighed. ‘Shaken, not stirred.’

 

She raised an eyebrow at me. 

 

‘Oh, like nobody else has asked for that,’ I said, forcing myself to grin. I wanted the drink not because of preference, but specifically because it would be watered down. The bartender laughed, and busied herself with my drink. I drummed my fingers on the bar, thinking of topics of idle conversation. ‘So this band…’

 

‘They’re a group out of Yorkshire,’ she said. ‘This is a reunion show; the band split sometime last year due to bad blood, but their issues were resolved by… well, by a duel to first blood between the bassist and the tambourine player.’

 

‘Why would a person have that information at their disposal?’

 

‘I booked the band,’ she said with a smirk, and handed me over a drink. ‘Can’t resist a British accent.’

 

The Mark Carlton of ten years ago, I reflected as I sipped my weak martini, would probably have abandoned his mission in order to get inside the bartender’s pants. But the thought that she was flirting with me hadn’t even crossed my mind until I was most of the way across the room. 

 

As the band announced a break, I saw a tremendously-relieved Jaiden give a perfunctory bow to the middle-aged woman with whom he had been dancing. He scurried over to me. ‘Now?’ 

 

I glanced around. We were no longer being conspicuously watched. I nodded, and we made our way out of the ballroom. People were coming and going, so that wasn’t in itself suspicious; nor was it overly suspicious when we sauntered into a corridor off the main hall. What might have caught the eye of a particularly vigilant guard, had there been one present, would have been when we ducked into a room off said corridor, labeled simply as “314”. The door looked like any other door in the long, homogeneous corridor; but we knew that behind it lay the elevator to the lower levels of the House of the Will. 

 

‘Well,’ said Jaiden as we got into the elevator, ‘that was relatively painless.’ 

 

I groaned. ‘Rishel, are you familiar with Murphy’s Law?’

 

The elevator dinged and the doors opened. Two burly OSA agents spun on their heels. One of them went for his wrist mic. ‘This is Riley; we have - urgh!’ I grabbed him around the throat in a sleeper hold. Jaiden followed suit with the other, and before long both were unconscious. I heard, just barely, a voice. I gesticulated wildly at Jaiden, pointing to the OSA agent I had subdued. ‘Earpiece!’ I mouthed. Jaiden picked it up. 

 

‘Uh… this is Riley. No, no, there’s no need to - I just, uh… saw a dog.’

 

I facepalmed. 

 

‘No, no, it was a friendly dog, it - hello?’ He turned to me. ‘I think we’re gonna have company.’ 

 

‘Shit bloody fucking arse shitty Trumping…’ I grumbled, pulling out my phone and calling Spencer. Meanwhile, Jaiden rifled over the fallen OSA agents, looking for weapons and key cards. 

 

‘Am I to assume,’ he said silkily, ‘given that it is at least twenty minutes ahead of the estimated mission completion time, that you’ve cocked this up?’

 

‘It was Rishel!’ I said. ‘We’ve reached the cell block but we’ve been made. What are your orders?’

 

‘Complete the mission,’ he said, ‘and stand by for my call.’ 

 

I looked at Jaiden, who looked surprisingly ashen-faced. He held up a pistol, apparently pulled from the OSA agent. ‘I thought the Institute didn’t use guns?’

 

‘Guess things have changed with the Moonchild in charge,’ I said. ‘But it doesn’t change our mission. Give me the gun and let’s go.’

 

We jogged down the featureless, grey corridors. We knew that Benson, who the Institute now called the Usurper, would be in the very deepest cell. There were a few corridors leading off; we knew enough about the layout of this place to know that we needed to keep going straight. Finally we reached it; the very end of the nearly mile-long corridor. A thick glass door, with an intercom and a thumbprint scanner. And behind it…

 

I had never met Henry Benson. But I had seen pictures and videos; the man slouched against the wall on the other side of the glass door was almost unrecognizable as the man I had seen. Benson had been slightly plump, and his eyes flashed with fire when he spoke. Now, he was an emaciated husk of a man, his eye sockets sunken-in. By his feet I saw a metal tray; on it was what appeared to be dog food. 

 

I signaled Jaiden to back up and aimed my gun at the glass door. Benson’s eyes widened with fear as he scrambled to put the thin piece of foam that seemed to constitute a bedroll between him and the door. A few quick shots, and splinters appeared in the glass - a Superkick, and the glass was shattered. 

 

‘Who…’ said Benson.

 

‘No time,’ I said tersely. ‘Let’s just say, we represent an interested party.’

 

Jaiden reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a couple of protein gel packs. We had figured that Benson might be malnourished; a small amount of food would hardly cure that, but it might give him enough of a burst to get out of the House of the Will at speed. 

 

‘Where now?’ asked Jaiden.

 

‘We need to get to the roof,’ I said. ‘Spencer is sending a helicopter - it’s not exactly unusual in Hollywood, and the Institute wouldn’t dare shoot it down. But it can’t linger, so he’s going to call us when we need to get moving.’ 

 

We moved down the corridors as swiftly as Benson’s emaciated muscles would allow. Eventually he held up a hand. ‘Please… need… rest…’

 

‘We’re nearly at the elevator, we don’t have time for - ahhhh!’ said Jaiden. I grabbed both of them and pulled them into one of the corridors leading off the main way. Jaiden had been shot in the shoulder - the bullet appeared to have grazed him rather than actually lodging, but he was in bad shape. I peeked around the corner - five OSA agents had taken up defensive positions around the elevator. I swore loudly. The gun I was holding had a magazine of six; I had already used two. So even if I took out an agent with every shot, there would still be one left - and nearly a hundred metres between me and him. There was no way I was surviving that. 

 

‘Alright,’ I said. ‘New plan. We -’

 

I felt my phone vibrating. I grabbed it and answered. ‘Yes?’

 

‘So, I’ve been thinking about it, and what upset me earlier wasn’t so much that you made plans without me, it’s that you felt the need to lie to me about them. Like… we’ve been a tag team for nearly a decade, Mark, if you don’t want to hang out outside of work you could at least tell me, and -’

 

‘MACE, THIS IS NOT THE TIME!’ I furiously hung up. 

 

‘So what’s the plan?’ asked Jaiden, wincing. 

 

‘We need to lure them away from the elevator and sneak back,’ I said, peeking around the corner, more for the sake of letting them know I was still there than seeing their position. ‘If they need to split up and search the corridors, we might be able to lie low long enough to get back and overpower the remaining guards before-’

 

‘Won’t work,’ said a harsh voice. Benson. ‘More will come down to search. Those five will remain.’

 

‘So what do you suggest?’ I said.

 

‘Another way,’ he said. It looked like even the act of talking was exhausting him. ‘Another way… secret way…’ 

 

‘Can you get us there?’ I asked. 

 

He nodded. Then he pointed down the corridor - across the line of fire. I winced. ‘No other way?’

 

He shook his head. 

 

‘Alright then. Rishel - can you move?’

 

Jaiden nodded, wincing in pain.

 

‘Alright then… on three. One… two…’ I leapt out and fired three shots indiscriminately at the OSA agents, who ducked behind cover. ‘THREE!’ 

 

Jaiden and Benson darted across the corridor. The OSA agents poked their heads out of cover. I fired my remaining shot and scarpered. Benson led us around another corner, and pointed to a duct. I nodded and pulled the grille off. ‘Go, go, go!’ Benson went first, followed by Jaiden. I went last, pulling the grille behind me and hoping that the OSA agents wouldn’t notice it if they pursued us.

 

It felt like forever that we crawled through the ducts. Benson was moving slowly, and Jaiden wasn’t moving much faster; his shoulder was clearly causing him agony. I had no idea where we were going… and Spencer still hadn’t called. That was worrying. He had no way to know that we were held up; if it had been this long, something was wrong on his end too. 

 

I pushed that out of my mind. Benson eventually stopped, mustering all of his strength to push another grille out, giving us an exit. As I exited, I semi-voluntarily stretched - the pipes were extremely tight, and I had made the journey through them in a goddamned tuxedo. 

 

The room we had entered into was dim. There was light, but it was unclear what the source of the light was. What light there was told me that this room was big. Cavernous, even. 

 

Wait a minute…

 

‘Is this… the Pit?’

 

Benson nodded. I said nothing further, but I was distinctly worried. I knew this place as the innermost sanctum of the House of the Will. Any entrance would have to be heavily guarded. I wondered whether Benson had any sort of plan, or whether the man’s mind had decayed along with his body. 

 

But I was not left wondering long - being in this room actually seemed to invigorate Benson. He strode to the edge of the Pit itself - as we reached it, I saw the torches that lit the chamber. The last time I had seen (video of) the Pit, it had been filled with weapons, designed to be the playground of the Moonchild. They were gone now; Elisha must have taken them with him to the Epicentre. I saw what they had previously obscured on the floor - a circle of black marble, with the atom-in-ouroboros, the sigil of the Institute, embossed on it in silver. 

 

Benson slid down the sloped walls of the pit, almost falling but somehow keeping up. Jaiden, his arm throwing him off balance, was not so nimble, and faceplanted onto the floor. Benson scurried over to the marble circle, and got onto his hands and knees by the head of the snake in the ouroboros symbol. 

 

‘What is he…?’ said a wincing Jaiden. Benson merely urged us over.

 

‘Onto the circle!’ he said. We obeyed, not having any better options. Once we were on, he nodded weakly and looked back at the snake. ‘My name is Henry Reginald Benson. And my enemies have breached this place.’ 

 

There was a deep rumbling. The floor shook, and Jaiden nearly lost his balance. ‘What the - ’ he said. My sentiments exactly. 

 

And then the Pit began to lower.

 

No, wait!

 

We were… rising. 

 

Benson’s expression was inscrutable. The platform we were on continued to rise up, heading for the ceiling. I yelled in alarm as it came within two meters - but a hole opened in the ceiling and we continued to rise.

 

‘It is one of my personal philosophies,’ said Benson. ‘Always have an escape plan, especially from the safest place you know.’

 

‘Where are we going?’ I asked.

 

‘The roof,’ he said simply.

 

‘But… how?’

 

‘I knew this day might come,’ he said. ‘And so I built a secret lift, known only to me.’

 

‘You built it?’

 

‘Well, actually a group of illegal immigrants built it,’ he said. ‘And then I had the OSA kill them before they could tell anyone what they had built.’ 

 

Even by the standards of the Institute, that’s harsh, I thought. Benson either did not register or did not acknowledge my discomfort. ‘In this House there is an elevator,’ he said, ‘that has been “out of order” for twenty years. The shaft is empty… well, except now,’ he said with a smirk. 

 

‘How did Elisha not notice this?’ said Jaiden. 

 

‘The Moonchild does not trouble himself with the trivialities of the building,’ he said, ‘and he did not consider the elevator mechanic, who has been secretly loyal to me for decades, worth exterminating.’ 

 

That made sense. Or at least it made enough sense to satisfy me.

 

We reached the roof and - there was no helicopter! 

 

‘God damn it!’ I said, calling Spencer.

 

‘I’m sorry, Carlton,’ he said, and he actually sounded like he meant it. ‘The Institute detected our pilot. LAPD forced the helicopter to divert. You’re going to have to find another way.’ 

 

‘Fuck!’ I yelled. 

 

‘Not good news, I take it?’ asked Jaiden, his expression pained. 

 

‘Very not good,’ I said. I turned to Benson. ‘Don’t suppose you have a secret helicopter?’

 

He shook his head. I paced. Well, if nothing else… the OSA didn’t seem to know we were up here. That was the one advantage we had. But I didn’t know what to do with it.

 

I was snapped out of my strategizing by my phone ringing. ‘Yes,’ I said, answering it. 

 

‘I just… I don’t know why you hate me when I show you nothing but love,’ said Mace. I rolled my eyes ‘All that I wanted to ask was whether you wanted to go to this party at the House of the Will with me, and -’

 

I nearly swallowed a lung. ‘THE HOUSE OF THE WILL?!’ 

 

‘I was an Eternal, Mark, the Institute never misses any chance to woo me back. I’ve been on the invite list to their galas for a year and a half!’

 

‘Right. Yes. I want to go with you,’ I said. Jaiden threw his hands up questioningly. Benson just remained silent - if I didn’t know better, I would have sworn he was praying. 

 

‘Oh, just like that?’ scoffed Mace down the line. ‘Forget it, Mark, that was an exploding offer.’

 

‘No, look, I… I’m sorry, Mace. It was wrong of me to treat you the way I did. You deserve better,’ I said desperately. Jaiden looked at me incredulously. 

 

‘Well… I suppose that’s what friends are for,’ said Mace. ‘Alright. I’ll call my limo and collect you from… where are you?’

 

‘I have a better idea,’ I said. ‘You’re Colton Mace - you can do better than some shitty limo. I think you should make… a grander entrance.’ 

 

As I explained to Mace just what that entrance should constitute, Jaiden’s jaw slowly dropped. Eventually the call ended. 

 

‘Alright,’ I said, ‘now we wait.’ 

 

About twenty minutes past. Jaiden had sat down, leaning against an air-conditioning unit and breathing heavily, his wound having stopped bleeding but he having lost a lot of blood. Slowly, a light became visible, approaching us. 

 

A helicopter. 

 

It made straight for the roof of the House of the Will and, just as it began to land, deployed a large speaker and two spotlights. 

 

‘PEACE UP, A-TOWN DOWN!’

 

Yeah!by Usher began to blare as the helicopter landed. The entire first verse went by before the door opened and a staircase descended, with a red carpet rolling out. Colton Mace strutted down, wearing a tuxedo, a fur coat, and aviator sunglasses. 

 

‘Yeah baby! The Entourage is back!’ he yelled, looking around. ‘Wait… where’s the paparazzi?’ 

 

‘They’re downstairs,’ I said.

 

Mace pouted. ‘You told me there’d be paparazzi for my grand entrance!’ 

 

‘We’ll make another,’ I said desperately. ‘In the meantime…’ I chivvied Jaiden and Benson into Mace’s helicopter. ‘Get him to the rendezvous point!’

 

‘What about you?’ said Jaiden.

 

‘I,’ I said, ‘have a party to go to.’

 

‘Carlton…’ he said. 

 

I nodded. ‘You don’t have to say it.’

 

He smirked. ‘Fuck you.’ 

 

And with that he and Benson were speeding off into the night. 

 

Mace and I headed for the elevators. He clapped me on the shoulder. ‘This is how it’s meant to be, Mark. You and me, on top of the world, destined to be the Tag Team Champions… let’s get lit!’ 

 

I had no idea what “lit” meant. 

 

‘Oh,’ he said, ‘one last thing.’ He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a second pair of aviators, handing them to me. I was too tired to protest. ‘And…’ he said, pulling the fur coat off himself to reveal that he was, in fact, wearing two. He put his outer coat on me. A quick glance in the mirror confirmed that I looked ridiculous. But I was happy to be alive. 

 

The doors dinged open and, to my surprise, there actually were paparazzi. They must have gotten wind of the helicopter arrival. I was amazed that the party was still going, but apparently the debacle in the basement would not cause the Institute to stop their fundraising. Mace and I strutted along the red carpet to the ballroom, and I beelined straight for the bar as Mace beelined straight for the dancefloor.

 

Jonty and the Keyring Dildos were playing a song that I couldn’t fully understand, but that appeared to be a rap song about eating ducks that had eaten worms. I leaned heavily on the counter, and the same bartender as before smirked at me. 

 

‘Been keeping busy?’ she asked. 

 

‘You could say that,’ I said. 

 

‘Same again?’

 

I thought for a moment. ‘You know… I think I’m going to go with “stirred, not shaken.” Closer to my current mood.’ 

 

She chuckled. ‘One non-weak martini coming up.’

 

I breathed heavily as she turned around to fetch the vermouth. It had been a longnight. 

 

Suddenly my phone buzzed again. I very nearly ignored it, but duty compelled me to read the message I had received. My eyes widened as I saw the sender. 

 

STARCHILD.

 

I hastily opened the message. 

 

‘We have a problem. They’ve taken him.’



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