Criminal Empire

 

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Criminal Empire

Novel 1 of the Entering Oblivion Trilogy

  • *     *     * = Passage of Time
  • *  = Meanwhile
  • Page break = Vision/ Past Events/ other
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Prologue

Alex stood perched at the edge of a cliff, surveying the scene below, hoping to get a lead from the Newford Remains. What once was a bustling city, Newford had been reduced to ashes and a slightly dense smoke hung in the air, obscuring his vision. From what he could make out, most buildings were destroyed, but those intact were painted over in black, displaying a symbol of a sort. Old paper floated by the constant light wind that occupied the land, cursed to never stop moving. And even the sky remained pale, despite the fact that it was the middle of summer.

Climbing down the cliffs, the fog lessened revealing the sheer amount of damage the city had taken. Bodies scorched and lined with scars, littered the pathways and roads. Beams of wood, many with their edges blackened, were strewn along the walkways. Closer to the centre of the wreckage were massive, gaping holes in the ground, some of them adorned with splatters of blood and body parts. All of them leading to a dark, unseen, rocky abyss below.

Evidence that a true tragedy had befallen this city.

As he approached a temple, he noticed five encircling pillars intricately engraved with the repeating pattern of dragons and cats. Whilst the pillars were unharmed, the temple itself was in pieces. The marble dome, cracked and crumbling with age, was half broken; the other half surrounding the temple in large chunks. The door that obstructed the entrance was also covered in a repeated black symbol, exact replicas to those painted over the crimson tinted windows.

Alex entered, finding himself in a small atrium with two more painted over doors, one at the front, one at the side. The one to his side had more of the strange black marks, so he looked there first, hoping to find some sort of clue. But at the slightest of touches, it turned to dust, instantly displaying an empty room beyond. When he went to open the front door, the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He took a deep breath and tried to ignore the tingling sensation that something strange was on the other side.

Cautiously, the guardian stepped in.

The room was tidy and appeared untouched. Despite lacking in furniture, there was a stone altar at the other end of the cavernous room, upon which lay a figure, fully draped in a red robe. It was on impulse, that Alex drifted closer to the figure and peeled the cloth to the side, imparting the head of a bald man.

The markings on his head showed him to be a monk.

Alex removed more of the robe and found a hole where the heart should have been. Reaching towards it, he blacked out.

 

The bald man was running through a cluster of trees with rosary beads in his hand, glancing around nervously and muttering strange words. The vision changed and Alex was on top of the temple overlooking the burning city. People ran around without order, screaming so loud they could be heard from a mile away. Things lurked in the shadows, lying in wait for any prey they saw trying to escape.

The vision changed once more and this time he saw the bald man standing still, paralysed with fear at what stood before him. A horrendous, lithe creature, covered in blue scales and hunched on his knees, stared at the man’s eyes. With one vein-riddled arm, it reached towards the man’s heart and ripped it out with a single grab. The monster ate it slowly, relishing the sweet bloody taste of the still beating heart.

Strangely, the monk could still move. He looked away at the cliffs and there, stretched as far as the eye could see, was an army on horseback. He then turned to the other side, just in time to see the island fortress disappear as the moon vanished behind some clouds. The bald man turned again, slower this time, to face his killer. Sweat streamed down his face. The beads dropped from his hands. As the last of his blood ran out, he fell backwards to the floor, eyes staring unseeingly at the dark, smoke-filled sky.

 

Alex came out of oblivion and stumbled backwards. Not wanting any more to do with the man, he left the temple and made his way back towards the cliffs. But just as he left the ring of pillars, a flash of silver caught his eye. There was no chance to turn around to see what it was. Huge talons grabbed him from behind and last thing he saw was the underbelly of a great dragon.

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Chapter 1

THUMP!

Valeroy found himself on the red carpet in his room. He groaned as he got up, feeling his sore muscles while he walked over to the balcony, all the while thinking about the dreams he had been receiving for the past few months. Although each of his dreams had been different, Alex had, unusually enough, been in all of them.

When he had seen the first dream, he had thought nothing of it. But as the days wore on, the dreams became more vivid and focused, almost as if Valeroy was a ghostly entity, watching the life of this man named Alex. He had tried everything to stop the plaguing nightmares, even sleeping pills but their effect only lasted for so long; there was still a dream every few days. Valeroy cursed and punched the balcony railing. If he didn’t get help soon, he would probably go crazy.

So he set off for Spade’s Central Plaza, for that was where he would most likely find Amir. It was an open ground, housing the statue of Galvin, the Ace’s predecessor, and the famous Heart Hills Restaurant, where Amir would most likely be having his breakfast.

And there he was, sitting alone outside the restaurant sipping a cup of coffee on a table for two. When Valeroy sat opposite him, Amir’s sea green eyes lifted from his mug and lit up with amusement. In that moment he didn’t look anything like his usual strong self. His tanned face grinned in such a way that he reminded one of a young child. But his physical appearance was imposing and intimidating nonetheless. It was easily noticed how he wore his Kevlar vest that showed beneath his unbuttoned black jacket. Moreover, the fact that his gun was strapped to his back loosely and that his knife rested on his lap, unsheathed, wasn’t doing anything to help people relax around him.

“My, my, look at what the cat dragged in. Or should I say, Galvin brought in. I knew you’d come one day or another. I just knew it. So, did you come to try out their Breakfast Heart Special? After all, I did tell you about it…an entire year ago,” Amir said smiling devilishly while passing his hand through his messy sandy-coloured hair.

“Actually I’m not here for food, I’m here for advice.” Valeroy replied, sending Amir’s smile down the drain.

“Okay, but at least order something to eat while we talk.”

“It’s too expensive here.”

Too expensive? How can anything here be too expensive? You live in Criminal City. You have a lovely five bedroom house and a luxury sedan.”

“I know, but…I’m not hungry anyway.”

“Of course you’re hungry,” Amir said. “You cheeks are slowly sinking in. It’s pretty noticeable.”

“Amir, let me ask you a question. Where does the money go from this restaurant?” Valeroy asked, his eyebrow raised.

“Ah. I see now. Even after all this time you still loathe The Ace, don’t you?” Amir looked into his cup and found it almost empty.

“He killed Chev.”

“No. He didn’t kill your brother and you know it.”

“It was a fool’s errand to send us there in the first place,” Valeroy insisted.

 “Look, we can go on about this for hours on end, but I have an important job to get to. So what is it you want to talk about?” Amir asked, inwardly vowing to get his friend to eat something the next time they were there. After some time and a bit of looking around, Valeroy answered.

 “It’s those dreams again with Alex in them,” he whispered, so no one would overhear.

“Again with this dream thing!” Amir groaned. “Alright. Look around you. What do you see?”

“What?”

“What do you see?” Amir repeated. Valeroy could see he was becoming impatient, which was very unlike Amir, and that meant something was wrong. But for the time being, he decided to humour him.

“Alright. I see the Ace Edifice, the Golden Club Hotel, Statue o-”

“People! You see people! And what are they doing? Getting on with everyday life. That’s the only advice I can give you. Ignore the dreams and get on with your life or if it’s really that bad, then go see a specialist,” Amir said, his voice steadily rising in pitch. People were beginning to look in their direction.

Valeroy cleared his throat and raised a knowing eyebrow at Amir. He waited for the curious looks to turn away before asking. “OK, what’s going on with the squads, Amir?”

The Diamond held his mug and twirled the liquid remnants inside it before looking up at Valeroy and sighing. “Yeah, I’m sorry, Val. It’s just I’ve been having some hard times with them lately. So much, you wouldn’t believe it,” Amir said.

 “Nah, it’s fine. I know it’s hard to work as a Diamond, especially with all the new rules and guidelines and whatnot,” Valeroy replied. An awkward silence ensued thereafter as the two men lulled over the conversation.

“Hey look at the time, it’s almost ten,” Amir said looking at his watch. “Well, I better be off then. Have a nice day, Val.” With that he was off, leaving Valeroy sitting at the table alone, wishing he could help. But Amir was a Diamond, and Diamond business stayed with the Diamonds.

Bored, he leaned back in his chair and looked around himself, thinking of whether he should just go to the gym and drop the dream matter for now, or if he should actually see a specialist, when his eye caught the attention of a man sitting on the table next to his, dressed completely in green tweed and staring at Valeroy with a pig-like face.

“Drunk already and it’s only ten,” Valeroy muttered to himself as he got up to walk to the gym.

“Hold on a sec’. Ah wanna talk to yer,” the drunken man said. Valeroy pretended like he had heard nothing and continued walking. But the drunkard ran to catch up to him nonetheless.

“Hey! Lissen to me, man,” the drunkard panted, his hand catching Valeroy’s arm tugging at it. Immediately, Valeroy stopped and yanked his arm free of the man’s grasp.

Valeroy gave him an icy look. “I’m listening,” he said, not wanting to gain any more attention than he had already received. It would be better that he ended the matter as soon as possible, than have Marek chase after him.

“Thank yer. Name’s Marek. Ah couldn’t but,” Marek paused to take a breath, “over’ear your conversation with that Diamond. He di’nt give yer proper advice, did he? So ah just wanted to tell yer…that ah can give yer proper…advice.”

“Really?” asked Valeroy, unsure if the stranger could really help. He looked like a right idiot.

“Yeah. But ah can’t give it to yer now. It’s too confidential to tell yer in public. Aces’ spies’re everywhere yer see. So ah’ll tell yer what. Meet me at Twisty Speedway Arena ‘round half-nine. That’s when the race starts. Ah’ll meet yer there in the lounge. How ’bout it?” Marek put his hand out. It looked mushy and his nails were long.

“Yeah, I’ll meet you there, but won’t there be people in the lounge?”

“Uh-uh, everyone will be out to see the race live.” Marek’s hand was still out.

“Alright then, I’ll be there,” Valeroy said. He clamped his hand round Marek’s, squeezed tightly as a warning for no funny business, and carried on with his journey north. Once he was sure the guy in green tweed, who claimed he could help Valeroy, was no longer behind him, he wiped his hands against his thighs.

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