Umbra, Episode 4 – Masters of the Night, Part II

Art by Syd “Vetyr” Mills

Before meeting with Vera, Fulvio had learnt from Donatella that the leader of the Saxi was a certain Tanna, a lady whose real appearance, according to the information given by Scandalo, was shrouded in mystery.

Some portrayed her as dark-haired and olive-skinned, shapely and voluptuous, the ideal woman according to Florese culture; others affirmed she had a glistening black skin and curled hair like the stunning women from Lapewati, while others said she was a red-haired, pale and freckled sylph, usually people intrigued by the beauty of distant west-Empirians. Even her age was different depending on who described her, but all those who saw her certainly agreed she was the most gorgeous lady they’d ever seen in their entire life.

Fulvio didn’t know if he was about to meet Tanna in that facility, but those clues gave him a clear idea about her true nature, a theory Donatella supported as well. To his knowledge he had never met a Dryas before, hence he wondered how she would appear to him. At that moment, however, getting rid of the Saxi along his path and saving their potential new victim from a horrible fate was more important than any conjecture.

The warehouse was divided into two levels, one above ground and one under. As expected, the ground floor was filled with gigantic shelves bordered by white lights and containing packed hardware and goods ready to be shipped. Fulvio counted at least ten immense rows, but there could easily have been more given the semidarkness he found himself immersed in when he entered, after having silently neutralised the Saxi guarding outside.

He noticed at least fifty men guarding that part of the building, their eyes augmented and gleaming with orange lit irises. There seemed to be nothing worthwhile in there, but he heard loud music coming from the cloistered space just beyond the main area, through an energetic field that appeared matte black from the outside. It was probably where the offices were located, accessible through a solid metal door, sealed by a biometric lock with a blue holographic scanner.

Although muffled, the music’s elevated volume gave Fulvio a disturbing feeling; he had to access the offices and do so quickly.

Silent and stealthy, Fulvio jumped and used the hanging robotic arms and the deactivated ceiling-mounted conveyors to come down from his position. He hopped from place to place until he reached the top of a row of shelves, on which he managed to run on tiptoe and observe his enemies more closely.

The easiest route was guarded by three men. At first, Fulvio considered sitting near the two logistic automatons lying in that corridor and waiting for the best moment to get up and assassinate his targets, but if he tried they’d certainly spot him with their cybernetic eyes. Therefore, the best way to overcome that obstacle was a quick and silent offensive.

Among the weapons that were not part of his augmentations, Fulvio possessed a set of six throwing knives contained in the sheath wrapping his left thigh. They were one of the first weapons he had learnt to use during his training and were one of Aspasia’s favourites when she was Usignolo. They were small, with an iridescent pointed blade, adequately light-weighted to flip in the air and resistant enough to pierce through a target’s flesh and kill them instantly, given Fulvio’s enhanced strength.

One of the Saxi ended up with a blade stuck in his skull and collapsed on the floor before his nearest companion could realise what was happening; the latter’s neck was soon wrapped by an unknown arm and his throat pierced by a thin stiletto blade that entered in his windpipe with a forceful upward stab under his right clavicle. He probably tried to scream, but his throat filled up with blood and made him release a sickening gurgle.

Alerted by the muffled sounds she heard, the third member of the gang turned suddenly in their direction; when she did, however, her left eye and her throat were pierced by two stiletti wielded by the last figure she saw before falling into death’s embrace. She saw a hooded man, the mask of a deadly shadow who greeted her with a quirky smirk on his black-painted lips.

He moved stealthily towards a corner and peeked around it to study the area and decide his next steps. The door to the offices was relatively close, but its surroundings were heavily guarded.

A sabotage bomb’s electromagnetic pulse sounded like a great idea to temporarily blind his enemies, but also the fastest way to alert them all. Besides, he hadn’t found a way to open the door yet. While thinking about how to succeed in his task, he realised once again he missed Cesco’s violation skills terribly. The only way to advance further was assassinating as many Saxi as he could, or at least that’s what he believed.

Unexpectedly, someone touched his shoulder to grab his attention. Fulvio turned, startled alert, a stiletto kept in a reverse grip and promptly pointed horizontally at the throat of someone he grabbed by the coat’s lapels and slammed against the shelves. He tilted his head and raised a side of his closed lips when he spotted Vera’s haughty glance. Their partially masked faces were exceptionally close, yet she looked unmoved.

“How did you get down from that building so quickly?” he whispered with a grin.

Vera sighed, her eyelids trembling stultified. “If you’re the best vigilante in this city, crime will win,” she paraphrased him in a low voice. She signalled to Fulvio’s left with a movement of her head, indicating the Custodi who were hiding along the shelves with plasma guns in their hands.

Fulvio let Vera go and went back to his previous position, looking at the door which suddenly opened. A woman crossed it, her figure clothed in a black velvet coat with hanging sleeves and her face hidden by a detailed full‑face mask, modelled as if made of stone, a large hood covering her head. At her passage, the Saxi greeted her and referred to her as Regina. Tanna, the queen of the Saxi, ignored them and quickened her pace to reach the elevator leading to the underground floor.

“Remember our deal, my dear Vera,” Fulvio whispered, “Go after that lady, she’s the leader. I’ll take care of the rest.”

“Wait, did you know already she’s the—”

In the blink of an eye, Fulvio was already gone before Vera could finish her sentence. She huffed nervously, a Terra murmured in frustration.

******

The facility’s offices were more spacious than they first seemed, illuminated by bright blue lights and furnished with the essential. Six rows of paired desks were arranged against the wall, on which the holographic company logo was projected repeatedly in the space between every couple of desks. Each desk had a terminal with four holographic screens, a neuroconnector carefully placed in its sterilizing case and a branded nervinia-making machine with a supply of capsules. The upholstered leather swivelling chairs were all in order, except for one which was placed in the empty aisle that functioned as a corridor, delimited by artificial potted plants, mostly fake oleanders.

A corpse was tied to the chair, two medical trolleys full of bloodied surgical equipment at his sides. His eyelids were still held apart by a rusty blepharostat and his eyes had been stabbed out, his nose and tongue cut off, his chest ripped open. He had been evirated, and finally left to die in a pool of blood and vomit. The Saxi did all of this unmercifully, with the sole aim of earning floreti through an innocent’s death.

A muscular bald man covered in blood was standing in front of that poor victim, wearing cabled equipment. He was a cyborg, and his arms were tattooed as per Donatella’s description.

The content of virtual reality chips was recorded through complex gear known in all of Taenand as Dreammaker, consisting of a headset with a neuroconnector and a holographic visor, connected to a terminal, and a pair of wired gloves. The headset, working as a camera and main functioning unit, was capable of capturing images and digitalising the wearer’s surroundings so the end-user could turn their head and observe the environment as they pleased. The neuroconnector could also capture the operator’s hearing, sense of smell and feelings, which could be disabled at the user’s will. The linked gloves, instead, registered an accurate tactile feel that most users enabled without thinking twice, especially in the case of adult-content chips. The most recent chips were recorded with gear that included a wired genital sheath, an accessory the member of the Saxi in charge of recording that illegal material, luckily clothed, didn’t wear on that particular occasion.

“Carlo, shut the door,” a woman with a blond pixie haircut shouted over the loud electronic music, sitting at one of the desks and tapping on the terminal’s monitors.

The fourth gang member present in the room, a scrawny young man with a septum piercing and a small scar on his upper lip, sniffed and cleared his throat before obeying without complaint.

As the door closed, the woman was startled once she noticed her monitors had been deactivated and all the terminals in the room had been shut down. All of a sudden, the torturer’s throat had been slit, another blade stuck through his ribs and his lung; Carlo reacted first, pulling a gun from his shoulder holster, but didn’t find the time to shoot. A quick shadow approached him with an incredibly fast and graceful twirl, after which a stiletto’s blade pierced his head from under his chin to the top of his head.

The woman screamed and squirmed on her chair. No one seemed to hear her, though, despite the music having now been turned off.

She got up and staggered backwards, stumbling and ending up sitting on the floor as Fulvio jumped up on the desk, slowly getting up, spreading his Icarus wings. “What are you?” she yelled. She tried laboriously to get up, but she screamed again, this time in pain due to the throwing knife in the calf she wound up with.

“So, what’s the name?” he asked, staring at her. His grin was menacing and full of excruciating anger.

The woman cried, her open hands shaking uncontrollably over the blade stuck in her flesh. She was visibly panicking, but she raised her augmented eyes towards Fulvio to reply. “G-Giada,” she stuttered in a broken voice.

Fulvio chuckled bitterly. “I’m usually happy to meet new people, but in this case, I don’t give a damn about your name,” he affirmed, crouching down to look at her more attentively. “I meant the victim. What’s his name?”

Giada was open-mouthed, her round face quivering in horror. “I don’t know,” she sobbed, slowly shaking her head and looking down, “I have no idea who the victims are. We kidnap them in Bassoborgo, but it’s an accidental choice. I don’t even take them, I’m just a violator, I swear!”

Fulvio tilted his head to the left, then to the right. His movements were unsettling, terrifying that woman with his spread wings. “You saw this man die horribly and didn’t bat an eye,” Fulvio pointed out, “I mean, you look like a murderer to me. Do you also edit the recordings? Do you save them unedited to rewatch them later, when you feel like it? I bet you also keep all the sensations enabled, don’t you?”

“Please, stop,” Giada begged him, bursting into tears.

Fulvio smiled at her. “Are you quoting that poor man?” he kept asking, “I’m sure he said it often while your friend tortured him. Is the recording already in the Hyperuranion?”

Giada shook her head. “You turned off the terminal before I could upload it. It’s lost.”

“That’s a good thing,” Fulvio commented, folding his wings and making them disappear in his back. “I suppose you want to live,” he said. Giada nodded frantically.

Fulvio jumped down from the desk and approached her, as she started shaking and breathing heavily. He observed her from his standing position, in a silence that was more intimidating than any spoken threat. She screamed when he bent down abruptly to study her.

“It’s a nice hideout, this warehouse,” he said, “very roomy and comfortable. You’re not just passing by, are you? I’m sure your leader, the Dryas, made a deal with someone. Who’s the rich bastard? Franceschelli himself, perhaps?”

Giada swallowed nervously. “Regina Tanna received help from a patrono, Massimiliano Rubino,” she answered, stopping for a moment to moan in pain, “He’s the one who made deals to grant us new hideouts where we can carry out this business. There’s a map of these places on our database. I can show you, if you wish.”

“No way I’ll let you connect to a terminal or use a hologlove,” Fulvio stated, “This information is enough. Are other people dying around the city at this moment?”

Giada shook her head again. “We make a recording once a week. It’s not our main business, this scum is irrelevant to us,” she declared, “People die daily anyway. We have other shit to worry about.”

“Funnily enough, I consider myself part of this scum,” Fulvio said, “and this scum says fuck you,” he added before pulling out his stiletto and stabbing her in the throat.

He moved away while Giada choked on her own blood. Her hoodie was lying on her chair’s backrest, and he picked it up and used it to cover at least part of the victim’s battered body. That man’s torturers were dead, but soon all those whose murder had been sold as a horrific show would get their deserved revenge.

******

That night, a mass arrest of forty people occurred at the Franceschelli Elektronica’s warehouse in Ferreocastro. Signora Noctis Vera Crissalli lead the capture of Tanna, leader of the Saxi and a Dryas whose real goat-like appearance, visible once she got sedated, caused shock and confusion among the officers taking part in the operation.

Vera was wise enough to order her Custodi to take Tanna to Palazzo Aulicus in absolute secrecy, away from the journalists’ prying eyes, so she could interrogate her without causing scoops. Signore Noctis Ludovico Maniscalchi intervened and succeeded in taking some of the credit for Vera’s success, an annoyance she was used to; only she and her Custodi knew who her real partner in that victory was, a shadow who vanished after having left the warehouse’s ground floor littered with corpses.

It was almost dawn when Vera left Palazzo Aulicus and finally ended her shift. She decided to go home by paying an oarsman to reach Callelungo aboard a rowing boat. The pale orange sky was darkened by the purple and blue clouds hovering over the city, dangerous and filled with corruption, yet magnificent and nonpareil. People like Vera and Fulvio knew too well the evils that lurked in Florydia’s darkest corners; still, that city, with its faults and troubles, owned their heart completely.

Once home, Vera kissed her barely awake husband, checked on her sleeping child and went to the beautiful panoramic terrace of her apartment where she regularly observed the dawn alone for a few hours. She sat in one of the wicker chairs, a glass of absinthe in her hand, waiting for someone to come say goodbye. Someone who eventually arrived.

“You’re finally unmasked,” she heard as she took a sip. She had taken off her mask and her coat, collecting her hair into a small, messy bun, and her torso was clothed in the black low-cut satin shirt previously hidden by her uniform’s top. “It’s a shame to cover that beautiful face.”

Vera looked at her left, where Fulvio appeared sitting on the nearest chair. He lit a cigarette and raised his legs on the small table at the centre of the terrace to cross his ankles.

“Now I get why you prefer flying over running,” Vera commented, “You should augment your lungs, sooner or later.”

Fulvio’s chuckle made Vera smile in return. She had a beautiful face, her nose, somewhat aquiline, was small and in proportion to the rest of her sophisticated features.

“At least you’re not telling me to quit,” he responded. His eyes were half-closed, sleepy and pensive at the same time. “So you did it, my dear Vera. You solved the case.”

“I wasn’t alone in this,” she argued, “I give all the credit to those who deserve it. I’m not Maniscalchi.”

“You really can’t stand him,” Fulvio noticed. He giggled and took a puff, his eyes wandering to the spectacular city view. He was trying to maintain his carefree aura but struggled to hide his sorrow. He was still thinking about the victim he couldn’t save, something for which he’d never forgive himself. “When I got to the offices I, let’s say, interrogated one of the Saxi. Their leader’s capture is a big deal, but it’s not over yet. I have a lovely friend, a kind and sweet puero. He’s a fantastic violator, the best in my opinion. Not that I know many violators, but he’s good, I can tell.”

Vera furrowed her brow and blinked confused. “Go on,” she said after a sip of absinthe.

Fulvio blew a cloud of smoke and made a cunning smile. “First of all, I have a name,” he explained, “Massimiliano Rubino. Do what you want with this information. Second, the member of the Saxi mentioned a map of their hideouts stored in their database. According to my friend, it was easy to violate. I might have a chip for you.”

Vera goggled and put the glass on the table. “What are you waiting for, then? Give me that chip!”

Fulvio waved his finger as to say no. “Not so fast, beautiful Vera,” he said with an alluring look, “I want to know what happened with the leader. Were you able to ask her some questions?”

Vera took a deep breath, after which she let out a long sigh. “I’ve always pictured Dryass as magical creatures who are unfairly hunted, but meeting such a ruthless criminal was disheartening. Apparently, she spent the last hundred years in the city. She was dragged into corruption and became part of it once she realised the potential of her powers and now she’s consumed by greed like any ordinary human. The Decim and the Inquisitori already know about her and she’ll be sentenced to death secretly to not outrage the Ostara, as usual. I would’ve loved to spare her from this fate, but she didn’t deserve mercy.”

“How did you see her? What was her appearance to you?”

“Blonde, slim, grey eyes. She looked a lot like my mother. How did you see her?”

Fulvio raised a soft smile and sighed melancholic. “Black hair, curvy, dark brown eyes. Like my mother.”

Vera smiled at him. “That’s sweet, I’m surprised. I expected something on the line of she’d have big boobs and a firm butt.”

“Why?” Fulvio exclaimed with an expressive offended look on his face, “Do I look like a sex maniac or something? I think a lot about sex, but I’m not that obsessed!”

“I don’t really think anything, I don’t know you enough,” Vera said, raising her hands with a smirk for which Fulvio chuckled softly, “Thank you for your help, anyway. You’re annoying, but I can’t blame Aspasia for caring about you so much.”

That last sentence warmed Fulvio’s heart and filled him with bliss, a compelling and shimmering joy comparable to the morning light that was slowly imposing itself. The night was officially over, and Umbra had to make room for Fulvio Donati; therefore, it was truly time to say goodbye.

“Here’s your chip,” he said, throwing his cigarette down from the terrace’s parapet. He pulled the chip out from one of his trousers’ pockets and handed it to Vera. She tried to take it, but Fulvio withdrew his hand. “Promise you won’t ask Aspasia for my help again.”

“I told you,” she huffed, “I keep my promises,” she affirmed, a gentle smile on her lips.

All Fulvio could do was smile back. He hadn’t lied when he stated he had always had a thing for her.

Bona fortuna, Vera,” he said, finally putting the chip into her hand. He held it for some seconds, barely stroking it, and, although seemingly uncertain, Vera didn’t object. She held his hand as tightly as he did until that contact reached its end.

Fulvio got up and hurried to jump, spreading his wings to fly away. Once he’d left, Vera lowered her eyes with a wide smile, an unintended reaction she didn’t even notice. She stared at the chip, poring over it in her hand. It didn’t take long before she saw one of her rings was missing. “Terra,” she muttered to herself, “what a prick.”

©2022 FREDDIE A. CLARK. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Freddie A. Clark with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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