Where in the world is Antonio Rodriguez?
Dingy motels, abandoned parking lots, abandoned buildings, falling apart and or haunted, just a few of the all-inclusive 5 star resorts you get to stay in when you’re on the run from secret elite organizations. Either they kill me first or my back does. Place your bets.
It’s been what now? A couple of months since I hit the road, went dark, cut coms with everyone I know and love. Some people think I killed myself and honestly I probably have, just with extra steps.
The idea is to keep moving until all of this blows over. I don’t know how long I can keep this up, though. Scan a few debit cards. Pull out cash. Skip town. Rinse, repeat.
My car is well warded.
Cops don’t really pay me much mind when I just cruise by them. The warding really acts like a shroud, and perhaps works too well. There were all but ten cars in a parking lot once and it still took me fifteen minutes to find mine.
I’d never in my stupid dumb life think I’d be in a situation like this. This isn’t raiding a few ATMs or getting in free to Disneyland on an expired pass. This is... I’m so fucked.
What we took.... what we have... isn’t something we can exactly give back.
This isn’t some goblet or trinket or magic orb. This isn’t access to the federal reserve on a whim, which is exactly what we wanted in the first place, by the way.
That’s how it all started.
We wanted to create a kind of private account with direct access to the federal reserve, what we stumbled upon instead was ... so much better. We were looking for a decryption key, to access bank accounts essentially.
What was found was.... a file labeled simply, [Key.]
It wasn’t anything at all what we were looking for, but it was still interesting. We didn’t really know what we were reading; we knew it was a cipher. It was like the simple Atbash cipher, but they replaced every third character with the number of the letter and every third line.
The characters were Cyrillic. Truth be told, it was a simple document and probably untouched since the 70s.
We decoded it.
I think the feat was just finding it or thinking to even click on the folder, not the decipherment. I don’t have the document or the original text. Upon finishing reading it, we knew we had to delete, destroy it ... I was this close to smashing in my computer.
What we found was, in fact, a key... the key. You could say it was an encryption key, but not to some bank accounts.
There is no physical key. It’s not an object. What we read was the knowledge on how to forge one. And that knowledge, by physical law, is a secret- until recently a secret that was typed up in a cipher hidden away on an old and supposedly secure server. As described in the document, this is a secret.
Once this secret is learned by one person or group of persons, it is forgotten or lost to the people that had previously kept it. It is a secret that can actually be stolen.
And the only way to give it back is to forgive it unto another or have it be forgotten from you... or die, in which case the memory of the secret is restored to the previous keeper.
I guess this to be the solution certain parties have opted for in the past.
The document described a material, a kind of metal or substance... liquid and black forged into existence by essentially what I can only describe as the force of two black holes pulling at one another.
The sheer density is light bending. The darkest matter. The substance of actual oblivion. It described how one comes about creating this substance and then forging it into a key.
It is something that cannot be known once the name of this device has been spoken or read.
So when we muttered the sound ourselves, it was thus forgotten by the previous keepers of the key and burdened unto ourselves until it is spoken again- either to be given to another, shared or to be summoned/ created.
The document described an ancient race of beings called the Sentinel that polices reality. They seem to have been the developers of this lost tech. That’s all that’s really said about them.
There isn’t some vault or storehouse, this isn’t that kind of key.
Think of it as a kind of cheat engine to reality. Something that plugs into the mechanism, lines up the hex code, all the 1’s and 0’s And with a turn, enacts the will of the one turning it, or rather, slips them through the door to their desired exit or possibility.
You might think: Tony, you dumb piece of shit, why don’t you just use it to Thanos snap all your little problems away, the order, your credit card debt, that a liberal arts degree means jack shit, why then, am I running away and haven’t eaten since 10 am yesterday?
Because. I don’t know how to fucking use the damn thing.
You make a key. You forge it. Crackling light, fire, reality pulling into you.
It forms right there in your fucking arm and burns like absolute hell, slides right up into your grasp- talk about carpal tunnel.... you hold there, blistering fingers and all and then... and then ... it just fucking explodes.
I don’t know what the lock is. Where it is, it’s supposed to be some kind of gate, but I don’t understand. And these people are going to kill me.
So now I’m just waiting.
I’ve lost contact with the others. There were two other people there with me - on a fucking Skype call, no less, reading this shit with me. I dare not even think their names for their own sake. We all booked it.
The knowledge of how to make this thing burned in my mind, aching at the lining in my skull. It seems it must be written.... so it wasn’t a week before I created a new document of my own.
The eerie thing is it might actually be word for fucking word from the original. This thing... this secret... I don’t know, it might actually be alive.
Sometimes, when things are old enough, they get to kind of be aware of themselves. Information that’s alive and sentient... not such a strange concept in the circles I run in... ran in.
The document is ciphered. Hidden. On a 7g flash drive from Target. Warded, hex-to-touch, And with a spitfire little servitor that will bite the shit out your hand if you reach for it without my permission. And I’ve hidden it i-
A Blade slides through the roof of my 2003 Mitsubishi Galant, and aptly disappears into black smoke.
Just as aptly does another pierce through, closer and digging into my shoulder.
I scream. This hurts so fucking much. It disappears into smoke again. I slap the pentagram on my dashboard and a banishing circle erupts, bouncing fuck all off of my car and away from me.
They found me. Swords, really? Fucking swords.
I look over to my shoulder. I’m bleeding badly. How do you stab someone through their car while they're driving at 80mph? I look in my rear-view mirror. I’d have noticed it if they had followed me. The highway has been empty for miles. Are these fuckers flying? How did they find me?
There’s a shimmer in my rear-view mirror.
I take a nail from the cup holder and steady the mirror with my other hand, and I jam the nail into it, creating a small spiderweb crack in it. There is a black car behind me that must have been following me for miles, just glamoured up to be invisible.
And so they do.
Suddenly the body of my car hits the asphalt and I’m driving on rims. They must have taken out my tires. I swerve and my car grinds and sparks off-road.
Fuck that guardrail. Fuck that cactus. Fuck those bushes. Fuck that dead possum. Fuck this.
My car finally slides to a stop, but I can’t afford to. I get out of the car.
Every fiber of my being is telling me not to leave the car. I’ve watched every stupid movie where every stupid fuck leaves the car.
I leave the stupid car.
I’m running. It’s now or never. I whisper the words.
I call upon the forces that be. Two bloody black holes converge into my arm, pulling something fierce into my flesh. The rod runs up my arm into my hand and I grasp it.
My hand trembles to maintain grip. I stick the key out I front of me, pretending the air before me was some kind of door and I turn the key.... nothing.
I turn the key again. I can’t hold it any longer but I try.... it’s like trying to hold the kickback of a gun in your hand for more than the second it existed. It explodes.
I yell out in agony. My hand is certainly broken. I hold it up to my face to see. I no longer own a left index finger.
Before I know it, I find myself in a small abandoned business complex and I’m kicking down a door to hide inside a building. Trying not to bleed out. Hands always bleed the worst.
I can’t catch my breath. I am not stealthy. I’m cramping, but I’m too tired and scared to worry about that now.
I’m in a closet with a disgusting mop bucket. It’s only disgusting because I just puked in it.
I hear the broken door swing open. My breath finally halts. Foot falls. Heavy boots. Stupid creaky floor.
A blade of awful black smoke appears through the door and shish kabobs my shoulder into the wall. The same fucking shoulder. I let out a yelp. I sound like a bitch.
“There you are.” The voice is soft, but a man’s voice.
The blade evaporates again, and the door from which it came through swings open.
I can make out a boyish face in the shadow. The light from outside is to his back. All I can see is his cruel smile. He grabs the chest of my shirt and pulls me out of the closet, tossing me to the floor.
“Nice to finally meet you, Tony.”
I think I’m smiling. He’s smiling so maybe I am. I don’t know.
“You were hard to find, I’ll give you that. Your wardings on that car were really well made. The charms, the sigils, all good stuff.”
He walks across the floor, pacing before me, like my older brother did when he was telling me off or listing off the cruel punishments my parents were going to submit me to when they find out I painted the dog.
“But Magic has a certain smell to it, especially when mixed with burning rubber. I’ve tracked you down through six states, I’ve even tried another realm or two. I love a good game of cat and mouse, but my employers were getting impatient so.... I brought the dogs in.”
Suddenly I hear growling, snarls, barking.
A rush of paws hit the ground, and my arms are pinned down by heavy jaws. Blood gushes from bite marks I never saw made.
I’m held there. I’m in pain. I’m scared. I’m going to die.
“Listen, Tony, the people I work for are very dangerous, well, because I work for them.” He laughs, “But you’re in luck! I want to cut a deal with you and undercut the old guys. What say you? Give me the document, or tell me where it is, and I’ll let you live.”
I just stare at him. I really should tell him where it is. I want to live. I hate this.
He stomps on my ribs. The dogs sink their teeth deeper into my arms. This guy is an asshole.
I clear my throat, and speak up, “Eat... shit.”
He gives me an exaggerated frown. “That isn’t part of the negotiation.”
Black smoke hisses in the air and sword manifests over my good should and plunges down deep into it. This one stays and doesn’t smoke away.
“Let’s start over, shall we? I don’t believe I introduced myself. Starting over will grace us with the opportunity!” His eyes beam down at me, and his grin widens revealing perfect teeth. “Hello, my name is Simon, it’s a pleasure.” He stomps down on my knee closest to him. “So. Simon says, give me the key, or die.”
“Tony says get fucked.”
He frowns again, his eyes search mine for any sign of compromise. I wish I wasn’t so stubborn, too.
“You realize those were your last words, right?”
“No, they weren’t.”
A sword manifests and plunges into my chest.
The weight of it is immense. I’ve felt nothing like this before. But it’s so fucking heavy. It’s like a boulder just fell on top of me. I can’t breathe. I can’t see. But I can still feel the dogs ripping into my throat....
To be continued...