This story is a bit of an experiment for me, based in a small part upon 'The Hyperion Cantos', by Dan Simmons. Fair warning for those more squeamish readers --it contains content which traverses some rather dark spaces. I hope this will not discourage you from reading, however, as I believe journeying into these dark places can help us both understand them better, and attain a greater appreciation for the light. As always, thanks to my proof readers, Guri, Cetacea, and Six.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Part 2 - The Mascot
Til Death Do Us Part
Wind streamed across my muzzle, whistling past my ears and making me look like an idiot as my tongue flopped out of my mouth to taste the flavors floating by. My nostrils quivered, taking in the thousands of scents of the outside world. There was something about travelling like this that made me feel a little bit more... alive.
“Hey, Jay-dee, how come the pooch always gets the front and we get stuck in the back?”
“Why you think, dude?” my partner, Jay-dee, retorted. “Cuz that’s the order of things. Alpha males in the front, everyone else in the back.”
Laughter all around, and it brought a grin to my muzzle as well. I looked over at Jay-dee and gave him an approving bark. He gave me a thumbs-up and a friendly pat, one beringed hand on the steering wheel, guiding our hurtling SUV down the freeway.
“See? Jax knows his place! Now, shut-up back there, I’m tryin’ to focus!” Jay-dee gave the volume knob on the stereo a sharp twist, cranking the tunes. Bass shivered down my spine, adding to the adrenaline already jacking up my system.
“-haters suppose to oppose and face me, so I drop bombs all over this break beat!”
I wasn’t a huge fan of RagTag, but hey, his new single was pretty damn catchy. Besides, with the guys, that sort of thing didn’t matter, because they all loved it, and that made it cool.
“-cuz you only got one chance to stand up, so you better man up and do it, do it, do it!”
From the back, three voices sang along, “Do it! Do it! Do it!”
I watched Jay-dee drive, admiring the fresh ink he’d just had done. A complicated pattern of flaming vines on his bicep, thorns curling around our gang’s symbol -a pair of dice with a dragon on one of the faces. I wore the same symbol in gold on my collar, a gift from Jay-dee after a particularly successful job.
“Holla at your laydeez! Heeeey hooooo!”
I tilted my head back and let loose a low howl, joining in on the chorus. The responding roar of general approval brought a swell of pride to my chest. Several hands ruffled through my fur, which I allowed for now. It wasn’t like we were out in public or anything, so my rep was safe here.
There was nothing quite like being one of the guys.
Moments later, we were turning off the freeway, and began driving through a large industrial park. I stuck my head back out the window, closing my eyes and drawing in the scents. Diesel, sawdust, heat. Sweat and grease from a mechanic’s, the heavy stench of loam and manure from a landscaping place, along with hundreds of others not even my nose could pick out.
“That’s the place up there, ain’t it?” Benny, one of the guys in the back, asked.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Jay-dee said, turning the music down almost to silent. Everyone knew what that meant.
We cruised slowly towards the indicated warehouse. I pulled my head back inside, seated myself squarely and began to look the place over for signs of movement. From the back, I could hear Benny, Luis and Franz prepping up, the metallic ch-chunk of pistol slides popping, and the rustling of fabric as they grabbed the two duffel bags from under the seats.
Jay-dee brought the car around to the back of the warehouse, pulling to a stop at the curb. He looked back, all the humor gone from him as he received silent confirmation from the guys. He glanced over at me. I gave a soft bark.
“Atta boy,” he muttered under his breath, knowing that I, at least, could hear. He knew that I’d have his back, just as he’d have mine. That’s what partners were for.
Jay-dee popped his door as softly as he could, though it still sounded absurdly loud to my ears, especially with the back doors opening at the same time. For humans, the guys were actually pretty stealthy, but I put them all to shame the moment they got my door open to let me jump out. I stalked over to my place at Jay-dee’s side, pacing him as we advanced on the warehouse, aiming for one of its side doors. The others followed close behind, weapons ready.
Jay-dee hadn’t drawn his weapon yet, but I noticed he kept his hand on it as we walked up to the door. He seemed a bit more on edge than usual. Weird. So far as I knew, this was like any other exchange. He grabbed the door handle, then paused, glancing around furtively, even though he should’ve known that I’d bark if anyone else was here.
“When we’re done here, I’m gonna hook us both up with some bitches. Sound good?” he whispered.
I perked up, and nodded vigorously. Not like I‘d say no to the promise of bitches at any time, but Jay-dee had been frustratingly lax in allowing me the chance for them lately.
Jay-dee tried the latch, and it gave a satisfying click, allowing him to slip the door open. I bounded in immediately, scouting ahead, all my senses on high alert. My fur bristled out, fangs bared in full intimidation mode. A low growl rumbled in my throat, ready to be turned up into a ferocious roar. I’d make sure anyone I caught hiding would crap their pants!
Inside was dark, save for a few patches of brightness given by flickering fluorescent night lights. They barely illuminated the vast space of the warehouse, however, and only gave me the vague outlines of huge rows of shelves, stacked with crates. I raised my muzzle in the air, sniffing. Dust, raw wood, a hint of mold. The only sound of life was the faint breathing from the four outside.
I poked my head back out, giving a short bark, and getting a “Good boy, Jax!” in return. The four humans followed me in, and once more, Jay-dee and I took the point, padding slowly down one of the dim aisles between shelves. He kept one hand on my collar, the other on his gun. Every so often, his fingers would twitch, tugging lightly on my bling.
Was it my imagination, or was he actually getting jittery on me? For the first time today, I took a deep whiff of my partner’s scent, examining it.
He’d taken a hit before we’d left the hangout? What the hell was going on? Jay-dee never got high before a job. What hadn’t he told me?
Suddenly, my ears quivered, picking up the faintest scrape of a human footstep. Not one of ours. I halted, standing rigid and letting a low growl rumble in my throat. Jay-dee got the message, stopping and holding up a closed fist.
“The pooch is earning his keep,” murmured Luis from behind. Jay-dee silenced him with a sharp wave of his hand, then dropped to a crouch, drawing his weapon. From there, it was an even more cautious advance, the four humans moving at a slugma’s pace, while I slunk along slightly ahead, ears perked.
Hope this ain’t gonna turn into a smash’n’grab. I hated those. All I could really do to help was run alongside the guys and bark encouragement, maybe toss a Dark Pulse or two at any pursuers. Being on the run was the worst part though.
Out of nowhere, a human voice rang out in the stillness, amplified and distorted. “Come on out, Jay-dee. We know you’re there. No need for this cloak and dagger shit.” I jumped, startled, and the others let out various curses as the lights overhead flicked on in a flare of brilliance.
“Maldita sea,” Jay-dee spat. “They beat us here.” He stood, shoving his pistol into his waistband and holding up his hands, beginning to walk forward. After a moment, the guys followed his lead, myself included. Mentally, I snarled at myself for not picking up on the unknown presence earlier. But, we’d been perfectly stealthy, even by my standards. How the hell had they known?
We emerged into a large open space, clear save for a few crates, pallets, and a forklift, all on the far side from where our group stood. A set of metal stairs attached to the wall on the left led up to a single door. Two armed men stood watching us from the stairs, menacing looking rifles across their chests. Two others lounged seemingly at their ease near the large bay doors along the far wall.
And in the center, a fifth human holding a megaphone leaned on the shoulder of an extremely smug looking arcanine. My eyes immediately met the other canine’s, locking into a stare-off. So, he was the reason they’d known we were here, was he? Well, I’d show this son-of-a-bitch that there was a new alpha in town!
The air between us seemed to sizzle, his green eyes boring into mine. His posture practically dripped with typical arcanine arrogance, from the forepaws placed primly together, to the haughty, self-important expression of I’m-so-much-better-than-you. My hackles rose, my lips skinning back as a growl rolled in my throat. Arcanines seemed to think that just because they could pull off shit like Extremespeed, were larger than other canines by almost twice as much, and had humans fawning sickeningly over their ‘adorable fluffiness’ all the time, that they were the alpha of everything, and had the right to be huge dicks instead of just having them. I’d be damned if I was going to back down from a dominance contest!
A soft chuckle broke the expectant hush. “Good to see your puppy dog getting along so well with Brutus here,” said the man holding the megaphone, reaching up to scratch behind the arcanine’s ears. My growl rose in volume, more so as the arcanine’s regal expression melted into a mocking smirk. Who was he calling ‘pup’? Didn’t these bastards know who they were dealing with?
Jay-dee’s fingers hooked on my collar, giving a sharp yank that cut my growl short. It also broke my eye-contact with the fire-type.
“Easy, buddy,” he muttered as I shot him a reproachful look. Raising his voice, he addressed the clown with the arcanine. “What’s the deal here, Reggie? You got your guys all set up like you plannin’ some shifty shit.”
The man -Reggie- spread his arms wide, adopting a show of wounded dignity. “Come now, Jay, you know how it is. It’s just a precaution. Can’t have my suppliers thinking I’m going soft, and get the notion that they might pull a fast one on me, now can I?”
I didn’t like his smile, and judging by the way Jay-dee’s hand tightened on my collar, neither did he. Stifling the urge to growl as best as I could, I shifted my paws to a wider stance, my fur beginning to bristle. I also kept my eye on the arcanine, who remained apparently at his ease for now, though I wasn’t going to be fooled by that dopey grin.
“-no need for that, we’re here for business, not for pickin’ fights,” Jay-dee was saying.
Jay-dee waved, signalling Benny and Franz forward with their bags. He and I joined them as we walked towards Reggie and ‘Brutus’ -such a dumb name- until we were stopped by a slashing gesture from Reggie that made Jay-dee’s hand twitch towards his gun.
“That’s close enough for the other two. I think you can take it from here, Jay.”
Muttering a curse under his breath, Jay-dee took the bags from the other two. As they exchanged the burdens, he whispered, “Heads up, boys.” Both gave grim nods, before retreating slowly back to where Luis stood. I remained at my partner’s heels, shooting a defiant glare at Reggie and his mutt. Let them try and get me to leave!
Neither voiced any objections as the two of us joined them beside the forklift, Jay-dee dropping the two bags at Reggie’s feet. Now that we were closer, I had the chance to size up the other canine a bit better, once more meeting his eyes with a steady stare, red vs. green. I could feel the heat radiating from him, even from several feet away. Much as I hated to admit it, the smug shit was probably faster than I was, and stronger too. I would need to outsmart him in a fight. Maybe if I surprised him with a Sucker Punch I could drop him quick...
From the corner of my eye, I saw Reggie squat down, opening the bags and beginning to rifle through them, prodding packages filled with powder, every so often opening one and giving it a sniff. Did the fucker really think we’d drop our end of the deal? Was he expecting sugar mixed in or something?
The bass rumble of the arcanine’s voice caught me off guard, drawing a snarl to my muzzle. “You smell afraid, runt. Stay that way. It’s better for you.” The mocking smirk was back on his face, that ridiculous tail twitching with amusement. I choked down the impulse to leap at him right then and there.
“Think you’ve had your nose crammed up your master’s ass too long, runt,” I shot back. “Truth is, I’m kinda hoping you assholes are plannin’ a double-cross, cuz I’d love the chance to beat the fluffy shit out of you.”
He chuckled, studying one of his forepaws in supposed boredom. “Ooh, scary tough guy. Has it been awhile since you had a bitch for your pleasure? Then again, maybe you prefer things the other way around.” He yawned, showing off his fangs. “I took one of your species this morning, in fact. Maybe later, I’ll teach you how to howl my name too.”
“Looks good enough,” Reggie said, breaking into our exchange as I opened my mouth to fire back. “You live up to your reputation, Jay-dee.” Standing, he moved to forklift, dropped the megaphone inside, summoning a squawk of protest from the speaker. Then, he reached in and withdrew a briefcase, tossing it to Jay-dee. “Here. Well-earned. Pleasure doing business with you.” He waved, as if shooing away an insect. I bared my fangs.
Jay-dee didn’t move, instead popping open the lid of the briefcase to inspect the contents. I backed up a step, shifting myself between my partner and the arcanine. I stole a glance up at Jay-dee, tensing as I waited for his verdict. Were we okay? Or were things about to go to hell? His lips moved, counting silently. His brow furrowed, a frown creasing his face.
“You shittin’ me, Reggie? This ain’t what we agreed on.”
The arcanine was on his paws now, moving protectively in front of his master. Jay-dee snapped the briefcase shut with a click that sounded much like a clip being slid into a gun. My partner glared daggers at Reggie.
"Hell, this ain't half what we agreed. We give you the best quality dope, an' you pull this shit?! You think I'm some sorta pushover?!"
Over my rumbling growl, my ears perked to the metallic clicks of weapon safeties being removed from all around. Glancing to the sides, I saw the men on the stairs and along the far wall raising their guns. Not good. Full auto rifles against handguns. Much as it bit, and despite my posturing to the arcanine, this was not a fight we wanted.
"I would suggest," Reggie said, his tone icy, "That you take a moment to examine your situation, and advise your men to put away those peashooters before they hurt themselves."
Jay-dee shook with rage, the briefcase dropping forgotten from his hands. "You think we're scared of you, dickhead? You think this shit'll stop here? You double cross us, you better start runnin', cuz your name's gonna be shit, and everyone who runs dope'll put a target on your prick face."
Reggie raised an eyebrow, idly scratching behind one of Brutus' ears as the big dog stood guard on him. "Think so? Because I figure your 'friends' will be far too busy trying to cut themselves a piece of your pie to care. I'm all set to change the scene here in Kanto, so probably best that you Unova boys learn the new rules real quick. Now, how about taking what you got and getting the hell out of my sight?"
Despite every fiber of my being wanting to take a shot at wiping the shit-eating smirk off the arcanine's muzzle, I moved in front of Jay-dee and tugged on his sleeve. I knew the look on his face, and he wasn't thinking straight. He was only feeling bulletproof. I barked, trying to break through the haze of anger and drugs affecting my partner.
C'mon, don't look at him, look at me. Look at me. At me, dammit! You ain’t no superman!
"Fuck you, Reggie." Jay-dee went for his gun.
Snarling, I whirled, facing down Brutus, who was crouching to spring. Adrenaline spiked through me, and without thought, I unleashed a ferocious Sucker Punch. Hot air whooshed from the arcanine’s maw as the dark power surged up and caught him in his unprotected belly. From the corner of my eye, I saw Reggie diving for cover behind the forklift, and my ears rang with the thunder of gunfire from every side. Jay-dee’s pistol went off, the bullet whizzing by me, followed by the sharp ping of the ricochet. A split second later, even as I seized the opportunity to leap at Brutus, I heard Jay-dee yell, followed by the heavy thud of a body hitting the ground.
I put everything I had into that Bite attack. All of my fury, all of my ability, all of my desire to put the other canine in his place. My jaws snapped shut with every ounce of my strength... And clasped impotently around his thick mane. I growled, scrabbling with my claws, trying to dig in deeper and reach the fire dog’s throat. Bullets and shouting human voices sliced the air all around, but I had only one focus.
“Stupid pup,” I heard him say. An instant later, I was being spun about, clinging grimly by my jaws. At least, until I slammed into the unforgiving metal of the forklift. My grip loosened reflexively, my senses momentarily scrambled from the blow as I dropped heavily to the cold concrete.
Shaking my head to clear it, I ducked barely in time to avoid the swipe of a massive paw.
“Se ha ido al infierno. Benny, let’s go!”
Move move move!
I rolled, finding my paws again and sparing a glance over my shoulder. Jay-dee was down, but he was moving, keeping low and reaching for his dropped weapon. A red smear trailed behind him, the iron scent of blood tickling my nose. He looked up, catching my eye. A flicker of what may have been pride crossed his face, overriding the pained twist to his lips. That was all I needed to see.
A savage roar coupled with the scent of char. I leaped, feeling the heat of the jet of flames warm my hindquarters, and hit the ground running. The arcanine was spinning, smouldering fangs bared as he readied another blast. He may have been faster than me in a stretch, but I could run circles around him in close quarters! I let loose with a Dark Pulse, midnight energy meeting hellish flames. The burning darkness exploded in the arcanine’s face, a deafening roar that temporarily consumed all sound.
You’re mine, asshole. I tensed, poised to spring.
Something struck my side with the force of a falling star. Dimly, I heard my own yelp of pain as I crashed down, my left side on fire. I tried to rise, get back into the fight, but my shoulder wouldn’t cooperate, my foreleg buckling under me. I could see the arcanine stalking closer, taking his time now, his fangs bared in a wicked grin. More gunfire. Someone grunted in pain.
Shot. Gotta move. C’mon, Jay, help a brother out here.
I let out a snarl, trying to charge another Dark Pulse as the fire type loomed over me. I was not going to lose to this bastard! I-
“Brutus, finish them both off.”
Mighty jaws fastened on my neck, choking off my defiant rumblings. I tried to swat him with a paw, tried to struggle, tried to do anything but dangle there like a chew toy. Saliva trickled through my fur. Those fangs tightened, drawing rivulets of blood. I could feel the bones of my neck creaking under the strain.
Huh. Guess this is it.
My eyes flicked around, searching for Jay-dee. There, face down on the floor, still reaching for his gun. The smear of red had become a puddle surrounding him. What were our guys doing? They should be helping me protect our leader.
“Both of them, Brutus. Make an example.”
A savage jerk of the arcanine’s head, and I was airborne, paws flailing. The all-too-familiar unforgiving metal of the forklift stopped me with a sickening crunch. I barely felt myself hitting the ground. Every part of my body was agony. I whimpered, attempting to drag myself towards Jay-dee, but nothing seemed to work the way it should. The smell of blood overwhelmed all else. My muzzle was lying in a pool of it, partially Jay-dee’s, partially mine.
A distant voice in my head snarled, Least we gave the bastards a fight! No-one double-crosses us!
Jay-dee’s eyelids fluttered. Our gazes met, his eyes focusing for a brief second. His mouth twitched upwards at the corners. I could barely make out the mumbled words.
“Good job, bud.”
A shadow loomed over my prone partner. Jay-dee’s eyes closed, shutting out the orange and black wall of fur and muscle. My lips skinned back, baring my fangs, a weak growl rattling in my throat. That asshole had better get away from my partner, or I’d-
Razor sharp fangs snapped closed. The arcanine’s head gave a brutal twist, a strip of meat tearing free in his maw. A wet gurgling noise. My field of vision was narrowing. I barely saw the red fountain pouring from the remains of Jay-dee’s throat. Damn, but that tattoo looked good.
“Should we go after the other three, boss?”
“No need. Let them spread the word to their buddies. That is, if they aren’t hightailing it for Johto right about now. The way they ran, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re already hiding in Goldenrod.”
Laughter. Distantly, the wail of sirens. The arcanine barked. I wondered if he was going to finish me off or not. Not like it mattered. I was going to stay right here by Jay-dee’s side no matter what.
“Good boy. We’re done here. Leave the trash. Hell, this practically looks like they offed each-other.” Footsteps. The sound of a briefcase closing.
Hot breath on my face. A deep, rumbling voice. “Should’ve stayed scared, runt.”