The past two hours had passed slowly, and both of them were concerned. Aleksei wondered what could be so dark in Evan’s past that made the man’s face seem so dead when he set out. Doubtless he had lost someone dear to him, but how was that involved with his ability?
“I’m back.” Evan said blandly as he emerged from an alley.
Aleksei nearly jumped out of his skin in surprise. “Don’t sneak up like that!”
Evan backed away raising his hands defensively. “Sorry, sorry.”
Mashka exited the car, having heard his approach well before he arrived. She stood beside her brother, her smile tainted by uncertainty.
Evan stared at the two siblings. Every now and then he would have a stray thought that the three of them almost seemed like a family, but now, for the first time, he actually wished that they were.
“Something funny?” Aleksei asked curiously.
“No, not really. The Apparition let me know what we are doing next.” Evan walked around and got into the driver’s seat, prompting the other two into the vehicle. “I’ll tell you on the way.”
“So this is your ‘network’?” Mashka muttered examining the suspicious neon lights and the old green paint of the outside of MacDougal’s Public House. Her nose crinkled at the stench of spilled alcohol, cigarettes, and sweat drifting out from within.
“It’s actually more reliable than you think, both the clients and bartenders are careful to listen for gossip for the sake of people like us.”
“There is no ‘us’ here. This is your reputation we are talking about.” Mashka’s scrutinising glare causing Evan’s spine to tingle. Aleksei smiled nervously, maintaining a careful distance from the two of them.
“Well, yes there is ‘us’ because you are coming with me.” Evan replied, returning an anxious but stern gaze.
“Why? Do you realise how much that place stinks?!” Mashka protested. “I have a sensitive nose!”
“Mashka…” Evan’s voice fell deeper. “I really need you. The proprietor would be much more talkative if you are there to encourage him.”
After a momentary stare-down, Mashka relented, glancing at a mirror to examine her eyes. Other than being closer to a green colour than their normal blue, they looked good enough to pass scrutiny in a poorly lit pub. The two left Aleksei out in the car and entered the establishment.
Evan sat down casually at the bar eliciting a facial twitch from Mashka. There was not a chance she was going to sit in the empty seat next to him. She took her place standing a pace behind him. Her eyes swept the bar, unpleasant scents and even less pleasant conversations catching her ears and nose, not to mention noticing more than a few distasteful once-overs. Ever since she had mutilated her wild dark hair into its current wavy blonde she had received far more looks than what she was used to, or perhaps it was just that Scottish men were a lot more forward than their St. Petersburg counterparts.
However, her less than enjoyable vigilance paid off. She heard someone walk in the door behind him. Judging by the positioning of his feet and the angle of his breathing, a man, a little less than two metres tall and probably ninety kilos, was staring right at Evan. His clothing shifted, informing Mashka that he had stiffened in recognition of her partner. The man began to make a cautious beeline towards Evan. Mashka walked just barely fast enough to take the seat next to her friend and still seem as if she had not noticed the figure approaching from behind.
She heard a rustle. The man was wearing a jacket and was now retrieving something from his pocket. There was a metallic click. His clothing shifted again, signalling her that he was extending his hand towards Evan, however she had not had time to note which hand held the metallic object. Just before the man’s hand would have entered her peripheral vision Mashka’s hand shot up blindly, guessing by the distance of the sounds where the man’s hand would be. She smiled when she felt her hand grasp the man’s wide wrist and felt the blood veins under the skin skip a beat in surprise. Within the next second Mashka rose from her seat and the man found his wrist twisted painfully behind his neck and his face pressed against the counter. He yelped in surprise.
Mashka glared down at the man. He had dark, neatly trimmed hair and crisp side burns accenting the corner of his jaw. She looked at the counter below and spotted the former occupant of the man’s hand, a well-used metal lighter whose margins had long worn away the finish.
She blinked. “Oh…” she said awkwardly, releasing him. Judging by the tomblike silence, she did not even have to look to know that every set of bleary eyes was focused on her, and this time for an all-together difference reason.
The man rose painfully and Evan’s eyes widened in surprise. “Jack!?”
“Rather possessive girlfriend you got there Evan.” The young twenty-ish man stated sorely.
Evan grabbed Jack’s shoulder joyfully. “How have you been my boy!? And why on earth are you back in this little town? I thought you went to Cambridge!”
“Hehe, well, what can I say, ran out of funds.” Jack laughed, his blushing cheeks dimpled a little causing Mashka to make the indifferent observation that the chap was extremely handsome. “So I came back here as a paramedic to save up for the rest of med school.”
Growing tired of being left in the dark Mashka surmised. “Old friends?”
Both men looked at her, Jack stared off to the left and Evan sighed. “Well, I should hope I’d know my own son.”
Outdoors Aleksei stared at the dark velvet sky. “Never thought I would feel left out by not going into a bar.” he muttered while attempting to get a glimpse of any starlight.
On a whim he looked to his left, knowing the street was quiet, but looking nonetheless as bored individuals are bound to do. A fleeting image caught his eye. He could not identify what it had been, but it was something familiar, like fur coats on Russian nights, or frost on the window pane next to his bed.
He looked back at the bar entrance for a moment. “Well, if I hurry…” Cantering down the street he looked around the corner where he thought the strange familiarity might have gone. Again just down the street he saw something like an after image, as if someone had just been there. Naturally on a dark night in the middle of a city, a person would be nervous about traipsing about alone, but Aleksei felt that the presence was so warm and familiar. He sprinted down the street and to the next corner. He looked both ways, and something to his left caught his attention. What was that? Aleksei wondered. Finally growing frustrated he attracted the water vapour from the air and slammed his hand into the brick wall beside him. The vapour followed suite and when he spread out his fingers the thin white clouds sprayed out like a spider’s web, climbing over the walls towards the other side of the block. More mist webbing appeared in front of him, covering the sidewalk and twisting around the corner. He was not going to lose track of whoever it was, since at this moment he was certain that it was a person who had caught his eye.
As he ran forward, he smiled when some of his misty tendrils came in contact with a single moving form. He could not explain it, but an illogical elation burned in his chest. He twisted around the corner just in time to see a foot disappear behind the corner of a building into an alleyway. He hurried towards the spot but came to a dead halt when a disturbingly familiar, icy voice caught his ear.
“So, you have the disc I asked for?”
“Yes Miss Aho. His current location is unknown but he is supposed to be back from vacation very shortly.”
“Miss Aho?” Aleksei muttered under his breath. “Where have I heard that name before?”
“Oh please call me Anya.”
Aleksei’s chest thumped painfully. 'The Association is here? In Scotland?! And it’s that woman!'
He heard the sound of bills being counted out.
“A pleasure doing business with you, I hope you will be a repeat customer perhaps?”
“I think you should probably return to working with more reputable customers, if you want to live any length of time,” She cautioned him.
The man chuckled nervously as he departed. “Well, a pleasure anyways.”
Aleksei scrambled to hide in the closest doorway as the man approached. To his relief, the swarthy, rotund informant hurried straight across to the opposite side of the street and seamlessly switched acts to that of a somewhat drunk bystander making his staggering way home.
Judging by the muted noise of Anya’s steps, she was making her way further down the alley.
I should go back now, Mashka and Evan need to know about this… Aleksei kept ordering himself to move, but every other drive wanted him to follow Anya, especially when there was the barely audible sound of steps falling in beside her. She was not alone. Again a strange, calming familiarity overcame Aleksei, as if the invisible person was someone he knew, he couldn’t turn back without knowing who it was.
He crept forward, barely visible tendrils of vapour spread out before him and slithered down the alley. When he could tell their backs were turned to him he slipped into the dark space, keeping close to the wall and any other cover possible. He could now see that there was a male figure walking beside Anya.
The further Aleksei followed the two, the more concerned he became. They were walking too slow. 'They know I’m back here!'
When Aleksei felt the male’s foot begin to twist he ducked behind some stacked cardboard that still offered him some visibility between gaps. In a lightning fast motion the man spun, reaching into his jacket and flung out his hands. In a brief moment, a stray ray of light reflected onto the man’s face. Something small and hot sliced through the air above Aleksei, followed by three simultaneous thuds behind him. The scent of simmering flesh and the rattling of last breaths choked the air.
Aleksei looked behind him to see three men, each sporting holes that went clean through their necks. After a few brief moments their bodies fell to the ground, fingers and legs still twitching involuntarily. He had not even felt their presence, he was so focused on what was before him.
Anya flipped open her phone. “We were being trailed.” She paused as she listened to the reply. “It’s too dangerous to have an informant fall into enemy hands. Kill him.” Her tone was weighted with exasperation.
Aleksei looked back as the two walked towards him. His heart twisted in a mix of joy and terror as he looked upon the face of the man. It was like looking into a mirror. “Vladimir…” he gasped. Then covered his mouth, pulling himself further into the shadows.
Vlad unknowingly passed by less than a metre from his brother. His face was cold, with a hint of irritation as he stuck his hands into the pockets of his unbuttoned black jacket.
“You know Vladdy," Anya crooned, "I’m impressed that you’ve improved your less than perfect aim, but super-heating the knives is only going to ruin their aerodynamics.”
“Be quiet, at least my way they don’t make any loud gurgling noises.” Vlad replied defensively as he stepped over the bodies, not even noticing the raunchy stench of incinerated flesh that filled the alleyway.
Anya sighed, “Will we have to deal with these Sentinel dogs everywhere?”
As the two departed from view, it was as if time returned to the silent space and Aleksei shakily stood up. 'It’s been over six years… and this is how I see my brother?' He stared down blankly at the corpses as memories flooded through his head: The time he had broken his ankle and his brother carried him home; the picnic on the Baltic coast where they played frisbee for hours; the long nights they would lie awake and just talk. Wrestling matches in the living room; attending each other’s performances at school; arguing over who would get which chores that month; the silent moments when they said a million words a minute with no voice; and painful nights alone after the divorce. All that heartfelt history flooded back to Aleksei as he struggled to see the twin he knew in who he had just seen.
He grit his teeth in determination and raised his hand to the side. Three streams of vapour twisted upwards to his palm. What started as a gentle slither turned into a rushing breeze and Aleksei began to gather vapour from all sides. He was not thinking, he did not know what he would do, but he was not going to let his brother beloved just walk away.
He began to swing his arm forward to launch the stream of fog in pursuit of his brother when a firm grip snatched his wrist and a hiss tickled his ear.
“I don’t think you are being very wise now.” A nightmarish raspy voice slithered up Aleksei’s neck.
Aleksei twisted around to face the dark clothed, hooded figure which held his wrist in a vice-like grip.
The young man’s eyes widened in terror at the sight of the Messenger’s bent forward, twisted figure. A single cold drop of water hit Aleksei’s nose, and even in the midst of his fear, his mouth twitched upward.
Noticing the brief expression the Messenger also felt a raindrop hit its back. “tch.” it hissed in irritation as the clouds burst.