|24 | IN THE BEGINNING IS THE END|
Apollo looked through the purple glow bathing every inch of Club Nefas with keen eyes. The non-spectral light beaming from the stage seemed to deepen the natural shadows near the corners and underneath tables. There were no overhead lights behind the bar counter as if last call had come and gone, but they were still serving beverages to the few remaining occupants. Said occupants conversed in whispered tones yet with noticeable urgency—business deals, arbitrations, and the ever-expansive grapevine flourished in this kind of environment.
At its heart, the shadowy den was a retreat from the world beyond its shabby double doorway, offering booze to distract the mind and women in provocative ensembles to excite fantasies destined to remain as such . . . unless the right price was offered. Apollo paid them no mind, but his brunet counterpart found it more and more difficult as his glass’ elixir took effect. In fact, Aeneas hadn’t made eye contact with his compatriot since they entered.
Apollo’s next words, however, managed to break his hypnosis.
“Where’s your brother at?” he asked.
Aeneas turned to him, tightening his lips to a thin line. “He’s safe.”
“Yes,” Aeneas affirmed. “I got to a scryer right after we left, he said he’s fine.” He took the last sip of his translucent liquor and gave an exhausted huff. “I don’t think he knows he’s being followed. And I don’t know if it’s ‘cause he’s an idiot or if they’re not really keeping him on a tight leash.”
“They are,” Apollo asserted, downing his last swig as well. “And he needs to know.” The brunet was silent, but his unresponsiveness spoke volumes nonetheless. “If he up and leaves on his own, it might look a way.”
Aeneas sighed through his nostrils. “I know, but I don’t want him to—”
“I know . . . but it’s time.”
Apollo was aware that his partner kept any hint of his ignominious activities well out of earshot from his only sibling. It was meant to be for the good of them both, but more so for Aeneas to remain the man Anchises believed him to be. Still in his formative years, the kid was pure as driven snow and idolized his older brother. To the predators in his midst, though, he was a babe in the woods. Apollo was right. That would have to change.
The brunet looked at Apollo with surprise and admiration. Who would’ve thought this grumpy old bastard gave a damn about his “friends”, Aeneas thought. Apollo cringed slightly at his wry, pearly-white smile, and signaled their scantily-clad waitress to bring them another round.
“I’ll let him know,” Aeneas sighed. “I need to get rid of that painting first, though.”
Apollo turned to him, mid-sip. “What painting?”
“I went back last night and jacked one of those fancy paintings of his.” His partner gave him an incredulous look that slowly turned sour, but Aeneas countered, “We gotta come up with the money somehow, A.P. He’s got enough money, he can spare one little masterpiece.”
“The twenty-kay is on me,” Apollo corrected, stirring his dark drink. “It ain’t on you. It ain’t your problem, A. Y’all need to find somewhere to—”
“Somewhere to what? Hide?” Aeneas’ voice peeked a bit, drawing a few cursory glances. “Where the hell do you think we’re gonna hide, A.P.? There isn’t a crevice on Araevis we can hide in for too long before they find us. You don’t plan on running from this shit forever and neither do I.” He leaned in closer, eyes narrowed. “And don’t give me that bullshit about it not being our problem. They might be after you, but that old wrinkled fuck had the nerve to bring Chi into this. I’m not letting that shit stand.”
“Relax,” Apollo told him, throwing back his drink, then adding, “And don’t sell that painting, either.” Before Aeneas could protest, he explained, “He’s gonna find whoever it is you sell that shit to and, if he don’t kill them, they’re gonna come after us thinkin’ we set them up.” The brunet frowned, then parted his lips to rebut, but finally gave up. Apollo gave Aeneas an intent look of his own. “Get rid of that shit, A.”
Running a hand through his immaculately combed hair, Aeneas gave an explosive sigh. “Fine. As a matter of fact, I might give it back to ‘em.”
“Is that right?”
Aeneas shrugged, leering at no one. “Might not be in the same condition. Might be in a thousand fuckin’ pieces, but he’ll get the shit back.” On the blank wall, he saw the old grey eyes of the man looming over him and his family. His dubious green eyes rolled to Apollo. “You know . . . I still have the deed to that acre my dad gave me. You remember the one, right?”
It took a moment to pick up what he was putting down. The gunsmith’s heavy brow furrowed. “No,” Apollo replied, flatly.
“They’ll never find ‘em . . .”
“It’s my name on the line, A,” Apollo said. “My word. He ain't the only one watchin' us.”
The brunet shook his head, and looked thoughtfully on the dancer on stage. “You gave Azaris your word, too, didn’t you?” Apollo said nothing. Aeneas decided not to press any further, but still added, “I’m just saying, A.P. . . . sometimes, your pride’s not worth betting your life on.”
A long moment of silence passed. The only sounds echoing through the narrow space was the bartender tossing empty bottles into bins, scattered chatter from the thinning crowd, and the band playing sultry tunes as the next vixen broke through the stage curtains. Apollo immediately sat up in his seat, squinting on her long red hair and upturned eyes.
He could just barely tell they were green. It wasn’t her.
Apollo looked at his drink, slid it away from him, and asked the waitress for a glass of water. He needed to sober up. His cagey disposition made him feel uneasy when he wasn’t completely on his toes. Apollo didn’t normally dabble in alcohol or drugs like his acquaintances typically did. Liquor was something Oriana had introduced him to. With no regard to her skills in the Occultus arts, there was a certain hypnotic charm about her that swayed Apollo to her tune.
That was a long time ago, though.
Just then, a realization suddenly hit him: Astylos didn’t mention her. He definitely would have if she were on his radar. She was an elusive catch. In the six months since opening up shop in Terminus, Oriana hadn’t visited the store once. Apollo doubted she was unaware of his movements. He wouldn’t admit he was waiting for the day she showed up to his little hovel, but this wasn’t the first time a long-haired red head made him look twice.
Since his release from the Arx, Apollo hadn’t kept up with her. Maybe that was his mistake, he thought.
Then, as if literally following his train of thought, Aeneas said, “Speaking of what’s-his-face, that just might be the way.” Apollo hummed in acknowledgment. “Well, maybe not him, but there were a few names on the board the last time I saw that could really close the gap. Might even be able to pocket some of it.”
The gunsmith glanced over his shoulder. “Who?”
“Remember the guys who pulled that shit on Nocte Nils? They’re still out there.” Apollo slowly turned to him with a wrinkled expression. Aeneas ignored it. “Fifteen-grand for the guy who organized the shit.” There, Apollo’s cast turned neutral, and the brunet grinned. He reached into his vest pocket and retrieved a folded parchment. “The trail’s a little cold, but there’s another one that might be able to lead us to him. He actually used to work for the Commercium, apparently.”
Apollo sighed. “Same ones that broke out?”
Aeneas had to admit the group accomplishing such a feat wasn’t the type to be trifled with. Still, he pressed the issue, giving Apollo the parchment. Apollo unfolded it, pouring over the details scribbled down on the poster. “The guy’s a demvir. No information on the head honcho but, if this one used to work for the Commercium, there’s gonna be plenty of info on him. I’ve got his description already. Just gotta follow up on some leads.”
Apollo stared at the paper for a moment, then returned to his drink. Aeneas huffed and did the same. The two found their eyes looming over the woman on stage and her acrobatic display. Another long silence passed as they watched. One of the two was focused on her panty line every time her legs went their separate ways. The other was contemplating the words of his dearly-departed colleague and his forewarnings of the wave of change spurred by the radical group.
He had no interest in making an enemy of a party like that or taking them head-on. That kind of firepower was on a different level. Politely asking him to come along quietly wasn’t an option. Anything more aggressive than that was suicide. But what other option was there?
“Can I at least have my paper back?”
“No,” Apollo replied, flatly.
Aeneas raised an eyebrow and a smile. “Does that mean . . . ?”
Apollo kept his eyes forward.
“I’ll let you know . . .”