The Escape From Hell's Kitchen
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Chapter 5: The Escape From Hell's Kitchen

A fire burned inside their chests. It was the only thing keeping them warm, as their sweat-slicked bodies and cool night air chilled their arms and faces. The dark and narrow streets of Hell’s Kitchen had twisted into some inescapable maze. The beat of metallic wings loomed far above their heads. Cedar and Ben dove into a cheap hole-in-the-wall bar, just barely avoiding five GOC foot soldiers.

The bar was empty besides one lone bartender that was glued to a live broadcast of what the news anchors believed was an active terrorist attack happening in Hell’s Kitchen. He didn't notice Cedar and Ben walk in. Clutching the chronicle under their jacket, Cedar sat down in a booth at the far corner of the room. Ben watched the broadcast for a moment, "Shit, should we evacuate?"

The bartender jumped, "Christ! Ya spooked me. I dunno. I'm just lying low until shit starts to hit the fan around here."

"Yeah," Ben replied. "Us too. You don't mind?"

"Huh? No. Not all. Just let me know if you need anything." He turned back to the TV and Ben sat in the booth with Cedar.

“The patrol’s probably passed by now.”

“No,” Cedar said, staring out the window. “There’ll be another one. Just gotta wait a minute. Besides, I need to catch my breath.”

Ben nodded and leaned back in the booth. He ran a hand through his ginger hair. They sat in silence for a moment, listening to the ambient music of the bar and the worried tones of the news anchors. Ben thought about this person in front of them. It didn’t entirely make sense to him, why did Kane need them? He and Kane likely could have found The Original on their own. Even if this was just to prove that he could operate on his own, why have them tag along? They had worked for an enemy before. Perhaps they were not an enemy themself, but still, why? Why work for such an institution? Why take such gifts from the world and turn them into profit? And a profit from death at that.

“Why Prometheus?” Ben asked, letting his thoughts escape.

Cedar was shocked by the sudden question, “You sure now is the time for that?”

“There’s a good chance we’ll both die tonight,” Ben explained. “Might as well ask what’s been on my mind since I met you.”

Cedar rested their chin in their palm and looked down at the table as they thought of how best to explain themself, “I won’t lie and tell you that I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew my research would be used to make weapons to be sold to these private wars. My folks are both really smart kinda people. They got me interested in parahistory and archeology.”

“Your parents are still alive?” Ben interrupted.

“Yeah, why? Did you think every Wanderer was an orphan or something?” Cedar gave a smile before going back to their story. “But I was obsessed with that kinda stuff all my life. So, when I found a way to make a career out of it, hell, I would have executed a family of three for that chance. I do regret it, but hey, better Prometheus than The Foundation, right?”

Ben just looked at them. He wasn’t sure if he agreed. Cedar continued.

“My parents were real disappointed with me. You’d like them. ‘Child, you could have used your talents for anything, and you used them to help killers.’” Cedar was more melancholic now. There was a distant sadness in their eyes. “I’m glad I found the Library. Now I can research all the history I want without arming private militaries.” Cedar took a deep breath and shook a memory out of their head. “What about you? Why the Hand?”

“Because they’re correct, morally,” Ben answered bluntly.

“Ah, we should all be so lucky to get it right on the first try. C’mon, how’d you find them?”

Ben debated indulging Cedar for a moment before deciding that it was only fair, “They found me. I got a little too careless with my gift and the Jailors found me. They had me imprisoned for about five years. It wasn’t too bad at first, other than having my freedom taken away. Then they started making me blow up things so big that the after-effect put me into a coma. God, I really felt like my head was going to explode sometimes,” Ben rubbed his temples as if the memory alone carried the migraine. “Then there were the surgeries, trying to figure out what in my brain could do that.” He twisted his neck and pulled back some hair, showing Cedar a long scar on the side of his head.


“Yeah. Hand busted me out in a raid. Showed me the magic that the Jailors and Bookburners kept from the world. I wanted to help.”

“Honorable,” Cedar said, nodding. “Hand gets their talons in quick, huh?”

Ben shot up, “What?”

“Look, I ain’t saying that you’re on the wrong side of the fight or anything, but it sort of sounds like you joined a cult. You were in a bad situation and left vulnerable to your saviors. You call your ability a ‘gift’ and say shit like ‘Jailors’ and ‘Bookburners.’ That’s dogma, my friend,” Cedar was about to lean back, satisfied with their assessment when another thought came to their mind. “Hell, I’m not sure you can make your own decisions. Really, no offense, but think about it: You’re only here because Kane told you to be.”

“I’m on a mission,” Ben interrupted sharply.

“Sure, but you’re on it with me, and you hate me. Maybe not as much as you did, but how hard did you fight him on that?”

“Kane has his reasons,” Ben’s faith was waning.

“Sure, doesn’t mean you have to do what he says. By the Hand’s own omission, they don’t have leaders. So why is Kane bossing you around?”

“He’s my mentor. Leaders or not we still need to be trained. After I’ve proven myself Kane and I will be equals,” He was a little more confident now, remembering what he had been told.

“And how does the Hand function after that, once you’re all equals?”

“We work together to achieve our common goals.”

Cedar smiled, “I like that. Vague. Only works if you’ve all bought into ideology hard enough.”

Ben was beginning to grow annoyed, “Is there a point you’re trying to make?”

“Other than that you’re in a cult?” Cedar thought for a moment. ”Yeah: You’re in a cult that won’t last long. It’s a pyramid scheme that doesn’t know it’s a pyramid scheme and all it’ll take is someone figuring out how to use it for their own benefit for it to come crashing down.”

“Are you done?”

“Sure,” Cedar looked through the window and saw a black van park outside of the bar. “Looks like I don’t have a choice anyway.”

Ben followed their eye line in time to see a GOC squad get out of the van and prepare to enter the bar, “Shit, my gun’s still empty.”

“Take one of theirs, then,” Cedar said, getting up from the booth. “Stay here, I’m going to the other side of the bar. When the shooting starts they’ll be disoriented long enough for you to grab one of their weapons.”

“Wait,” Ben grabbed Cedar by the wrist before they could walk away. “What about the bartender?”

“Well, I didn’t plan on shooting at him. We’ll have to hope he's smart enough to duck,” Cedar broke from Ben’s grip and walked to the opposite end of the bar. There was a good chance the bartender would catch a stray, but Cedar couldn’t think about that. It was an addition to the equation that would only lead to them hesitating and getting both themself and Ben shot. They took a seat at the far end of the room and waited.

There were four of them. Four who entered the bar, at least. Cedar never saw anyone get out from the driver’s side, so one must’ve been waiting.

“Everyone hands up!” One of the soldiers shouted. “Be ready to show your ID.”

A soldier shoved the bartender against the wall and started patting him down. Another spotted Cedar and started approaching them. They could feel their gun under their jacket. It was as if it was pulsating, writhing. Like the gun itself knew it was time. Time again. Time to kill.

“ID,” the soldier commanded.

“Yeah, yeah,” Cedar murmured while unzipping their jacket. They had taken on the role of a drunk and moved with exaggerated clumsiness. “What the- hic what the hell’s goin’ on ou’ ‘ere?” Not giving him time to answer, Cedar drew their gun and shot the soldier point blank in the thigh.

It happened in less than three seconds. The sound of the gunshot bounced off all four walls of the room, causing no one to be sure exactly where it came from. The bartender dove behind the bar. The GOC troops whirled their sights around the room, struggling to coordinate. Ben leaped from his seat, booked it to the nearest soldier facing away from him, and went for their holstered sidearm. Cedar put the screaming soldier into a chokehold and turned him to his comrades, he’d be an effective shield. Ben yanked the pistol from its holster then shoved it under the soldier’s visor and squeezed the trigger, painting the inside of his helmet red.

There were two left in the fight now. Nice and even odds. Spinning around the room, one of them spotted Ben and raised their rifle. The other soldier set their sights on Cedar and pulled their trigger.

A volley of bullets went into the chest plate of Cedar’s human shield. When it ended, Cedar shoved the shield into the shooter. Ben kicked over a table and dove behind it just in time to avoid catching a bullet. Cedar unloaded their pistol into the soldier. One shot hit him in the neck and sent him sputtering to the ground. Ben whipped his gun around the table and fired into the last soldier’s shin. He hit the ground and Ben saw the whites of his eyes fill with terror before he shot him twice through the visor.

The room was deathly silent for a moment before Cedar pulled the wounded soldier to his feet and shoved him towards the door. He stumbled on his injured leg.

“Be cool! Be cool! Everyone be cool!” Cedar shouted as they tore the soldier’s helmet off.

“You fuckers,” The soldier grunted. “You’re gonna die for this!”

“Shut the hell up!” Cedar pushed their gun into the back of his head, smooshing it against the door.

Ben picked up a rifle lying next to a body. He looked back at the cowering bartender, “Hey, you hit?”

“C’mon, man. The driver had to have heard that. We gotta move,” Cedar yelled back at Ben.

“One second. Are you hit, man?” The bartender didn't answer, he only peeked out from the bar and scanned the room in shock.

“He thinks we’re terrorists, now let’s fucking go!”

Ben looked at the bartender for another moment before joining Cedar at the door and reading his rifle.

“Ok, we’re taking the van,” Cedar explained. “You keep the rifle on it and Johnny Reb here will be our bargaining chip.”

Ben nodded before Cedar pulled the door open and shoved the soldier outside, keeping the gun pressed against the back of his head. Ben followed closely behind, keeping his gun trained on the driver’s side. Cedar made their demands, “Driver! Step out of the van and put your hands behind your head, or else your friend here will lose his!”

The street was silent. No movement came from the van. Cedar continued, “I hope you realize that I’m not doing this out of desperation, I’m just a little tired of killing tonight. But we’ll gladly kill the both of you if we have to.”

“Don’t do it, Tom! Get the hell out of here!” The soldier yelled.

Cedar responded quickly, “Woah, Tommy! Got a real disciple of the cause out here! You’ve probably called for backup by now, so I reckon that we’ve got about five seconds for you to make up your mind! Five… Four… Three…”

The van’s driver’s side door opened and a short, stocky soldier stepped out of it with his hands raised, “Alright, alright, don’t kill him!”

“Goddamnit, Tom!” The soldier screamed.

“Good call, Tom. Now get over here,” Cedar told him. Tom followed orders and walked towards Cedar and Ben. As he did, Cedar took a pair of flex cuffs from their hostage's belt and restrained his hands behind his back. When Tom came closer, Ben took a pair of flex cuffs from his belt and did the same. They shoved both soldiers to the ground and ran to the van.

The inside of the van had been reinforced, leaving the exterior unassuming. The back of it had been outfitted with a bench on either side for the troops. Cedar climbed into the driver’s seat and hit the ignition. Just as Ben shut the passenger door behind him, two more black vans pulled into the street in front of them. Cedar pulled the gear shift into reverse and looked over their shoulder only to see three black vans driving up their rear. Ben scanned the dark corners of the street.

There’s always a way out, Kane’s voice echoed in his mind. Hope is our one resource that cannot be depleted. It does not matter how deeply you are cornered. Have hope, and the way will reveal itself.

The vans screeched to a halt. Their doors burst open and more troops poored out of them. The first ones to exit the vans got on one knee and leveled their rifles at the lone van, while the second ones to get out stood behind them and did the same.

Ben’s eyes landed on a narrow gap between two buildings. It could barely be considered an alley, but by his judgment, it was just wide enough for the van to fit through.

“There!” he pointed.

The van clunked into first gear and Cedar flattened the gas against the floor. The tires screamed as Cedar whipped the wheel into a razor-sharp left. The GOC opened fire, putting nothing more than little dents into the sides of their armored van. Cedar and Ben felt the van’s weight shift as it turned and nearly tipped over. It leveled out though, leaving the gap right in front of them. Despite its size, the van gained velocity at a surprising rate, Cedar wondered if they suped-up the engine too. They threaded the needle and drove the van through the gap, tearing off the side mirrors on the walls of the alley

The sides of the van scraped against the alley walls, an awful metallic screeching that continued until it crashed through a chainlink fence and into the next street. The van didn’t stop. It flew across the street until it drove through the window of a bodega.


“What the hell? You could have braked!” Ben yelled after nearly hitting his head on the dashboard.

“I grew up in Three Ports, man! Cars aren’t exactly common there!” Cedar defensively yelled back.

“Then why did you drive?” Ben’s astoundment grew.

“I don’t know!” Cedar grabbed the rifle from Ben and climbed into the back of the van. “You do it!”

Ben jumped into the driver’s seat, put the van in reverse, and started backing out of the bodega. The GOC was starting to poor out of the alley. Cedar threw one of the van’s rear doors open and fired the rifle wildly into them, forcing them back into the alley. Cedar didn’t give them a chance to return fire. Their eyes caught something under one of the benches, a crate. They knocked the lock of it off with the butt of the rifle and lifted the top. Grenades. Perfect.

They grabbed one of the grenades and pulled the pin out with their teeth. Cedar never liked baseball, but they thanked their dad for insisting that they played catch before hurling the grenade into the alley.


It broke armor and skin and bone and scattered what was left of the GOC forces long enough for Ben to get the van out of the bodega and turn down the street, “All of New York probably heard that.”

“We are well past discretion,” Cedar replied. “Let’s just get out of this neighborhood and find somewhere to lie low.” They looked down at their burnt shoes that were falling apart with each step, “And get me a new pair of shoes.”

“Easier said than done. The roads are probably still blocked off,” Ben said, taking a right turn.

“Right,” Cedar walked to the front of the van, took the chronicle out of their jacket, and handed it to Ben. “Here. Find somewhere to hide the van. I’ll scout ahead, see if I can find a way out.”

“Alone? You sure?” Ben asked.

“It’s less likely I get caught if I’m alone. Besides, it’ll give you time to see if you can find anything in the chronicle,” Cedar answered as they climbed into the passenger’s seat.

Ben found a small, dark, parking lot and pulled the van into it, “That kind of thing isn’t really my area of expertise.”

“You can read, can’t you?” Cedar got out of the can and put the rifle’s strap around their shoulder before walking off.

Cedar couldn’t remember the last time they experienced natural night. It was easy to lose time in The Library. Cedar often found themselves staying awake for days on end, enamored with the beauty and vastness of the shelves. But they had forgotten the beauty that mundane nights had in their own right. It was one of those warm nights that you could practically drink as you sucked in its air, even with the thick pulse of anxiety that beat through it. A breeze cooled Cedar’s skin as they walked through darkened streets.

They heard something in the distance. Voices, an idle engine. They ducked behind a building. There was a fire escape above them. Cedar found a dumpster and pushed it under the escape’s ladder. After double-checking to make sure no one was turning the corner, Cedar climbed on top of the dumpster and jumped for the ladder. They missed.


The sound echoed off of the building. Cedar winced. They stayed silent, waiting for someone to come and investigate the sound, but the voices in the distance continued. Cedar got back on their feet and took another jump, swinging their arms back to gain more momentum before doing so. Their hands clapped onto the bottom rung of the ladder and they pulled themself onto the fire escape.

The building wasn’t terribly tall, but its roof gave a good view of a few blocks. Cedar lay flat on their stomach and looked in the direction of the voices. Just as they thought, a GOC roadblock. There was a van and four or five men outside of it. They’d have to find another way.

Cedar started to push themself back to the fire escape before stopping. What was that? Something creaking and shifting. It was coming from the fire escape, something was on the fire escape, what the hell was on the-

Cedar knew the answer. The growing ball of fear in their chest told them the answer. They put the sights of the rifle onto the top of the fire escape and held their breath, Here it comes.

The horns of the thing came up first, then the six yellow eyes, well, five eyes now. Cedar felt of tinge of pride at seeing the damage they had done. It was short-lived though. This time was different, there was no smugness in the demon’s eyes, only white-hot hatred. It recognized Cedar.

Cedar pulled the trigger and sent lead flying toward the demon’s face, but it didn’t forget their strategy. The demon covered its eyes with its huge forearm and launched itself into the air. Cedar saw its silhouette against the moon and had only a split second to roll out of the way before it came crashing down onto the roof, and not just onto it, but through it.


The hole left behind was only inches away from Cedar’s face. They peered into it, the demon had fallen through the next floor and the one after that. Suddenly, the voices in the distance stopped and the engine roared to life. They were coming. Cedar raced to the fire escape and jumped entire flights of stairs as they flew down it. They hit the fourth story down and the demon came hurtling through the window right next to them. The demon hit with so much force that it ripped the entire fire escape off the side of the building as it collided with Cedar.

They didn’t remember the fall, only the landing. The fire escape broke most of Cedar’s fall, they could feel bruises forming, but nothing felt broken. Their arms were pinned to their sides and they could just barely move their legs. Above them, the broken fire escape had formed some kind of cage between them and the demon. It stuck its arms through the gaps in the metal in a desperate attempt to reach Cedar, but they remained just out of arm’s reach.

The rifle. Where’s the rifle? Cedar tried their best to be as still as possible, an inch closer and it could hook a claw into them. They saw the rifle, it was about four feet above the demon in the pile of metal they were both trapped in. Fuck.

Cedar shifted their eyes to a gap in the pile, it was wide enough for them to squeeze through, but getting to it would mean risking putting themself within reach of the demon. Fuck it.

Cedar found a foothold and pushed hard, giving them just enough room to shimmy their shoulders. The demon snarled and beat against the metal. Cedar could feel the entire pile shake, but they ignored it. They wrapped their hand around a steel bar and gave another hard push. Their head was only a foot or two from the gap now. One more shove and they’d be home free. They could taste the night air pouring in, Almost there. Almost-

A huge arm shot through the metal and grabbed Cedar by the collar. It pulled them against the metal, scraping their cheek against a jagged edge. They could feel the demon’s hot breath through the scrap. Their arms were still pinned and they couldn’t find anything for their feet to kick off of. The demon slammed them against the metal again, then it pushed itself as close to the metal as possible and stuck its long tongue through a gap. Cedar felt its grotesque lizard-like tongue lick the blood off of their cheek. It sent a shiver of horror through them. They wanted to scream, but it was caught in their throat. They started kicking as hard as they could and twisting their shoulders, praying that they could wiggle out of the thing’s grip.

The sound of tires screeching against the pavement pierced Cedar’s eardrums, followed by doors slamming and guns cocking. The demon whirled its head around and let out an earth-shaking roar before the GOC lit it up. The pile shook again as the demon released Cedar and tore itself out of the rusted debris. Cedar wasted no time and kicked again. Their arm was free now. They heard the soldiers scream as the demon seized one of them by the leg and slammed them into the alley wall so hard that his head burst.

Almost there. Almost there, Cedar shoved their arm through the gap and pulled themself out of the hole. The demon and the GOC were on the other side of the alley. The road’s open now, just need to get back to Ben.

Cedar sprinted down the backstreet, putting gunfire and screams behind them, Which way did I come from again? It was a left, then a straight, then… Dead end. No, it was the other way, right, then left, then past the shop, then… then… Where the hell am I?

Cedar ran through Hell’s Kitchen until they were out of breath. They doubled over in the middle of the street. A cathedral towered over them, its size only made them feel more cornered. A feeling that only worsened when Cedar heard an all too familiar growl come from behind them. They reached into their jacket for the 1911 but it was too late, the demon was on top of them. Its knees were digging into their back, its rear claws scratched their calves, and its massive hand was on the back of their head, pushing it into the pavement.

It moved in close to Cedar and took a deep breath in. It was smelling them. This wouldn’t be like the soldiers, it was going to be slow, drawn out, and personal. Cedar tried desperately to fish their gun out from under them, but it was to no avail. The demon raised its free arm. Where would it start? The ear.

Cedar screamed as the beast on top of them brought down its claw and sliced off part of their ear. They writhed under the thing but it was of no use. It made a sound akin to laughing and brought the claw back up. It remembered a human saying, ‘An eye for an eye.’

It put its claw close to Cedar’s eye long enough for them to realize what was about to happen. They swore as they tried to twist their body. The demon pushed the claw closer to the eye until the tip of it was on the lid. Just an ounce more pressure and the claw would pierce into Cedar’s pupil. The demon smiled.

A blaring horn stopped the monster. It looked up and was met by blinding high beams. It covered its eyes and stumbled, letting Cedar escape. They saw Ben’s ginger curls whiz by them as the van collided with the demon.

It screamed as it clung to the hood of the van. The demon threw its arm back, winding up a blow to shatter the windshield. It swung but never got anywhere near its target. Ben slammed on the brakes with both feet and launched the demon off of the hood. It flew threw the air, its bright red skin shining in the streetlights. It spun in midair from the force of its swing and went crashing through the large mahogany doors of the cathedral.

There was an awful, inhuman screaming from inside the church. It sounded like some cross between a strangled cat and a broken furnace. Suddenly, the screaming stopped and a plum of smoke blew out of the church’s doors.

Cedar silently walked to the van and climbed into the passenger’s seat. They touched their bleeding ear and tried not to sound like they just thought they were going to die, “Thanks.”

Ben didn’t notice them for a moment. He was hyperventilating as his adrenaline rush ended, “Y-yeah. Yeah. Don’t mention it. Find a way out?”

“Yeah, road’s clear. Just go past that shop and take a right.”

Cedar shoved the shoe box from their brand-new sneakers into a backpack they found in a dumpster. It took them two hours to panhandle enough cash to buy the pair of running shoes. They were certainly more comfortable than Cedar’s previous pair, but not exactly what they would consider stylish.

“You’re keeping the shoe box?” Ben asked as they walked. They’d abandoned the van, fearing that it’d make them too obvious.

“Yeah, I always keep the shoe boxes,” Cedar answered. “They make for good storage.”

It was early in the morning and the city was just coming to life. The two slipped into a crowded cafe and ordered coffee to keep them running. They found a lone table in the corner of the cafe and laid out the chronicle. Cedar bit down on a thumbnail and stared at the closed book in front of them, “Did you read any of it?”

“No,” Ben gulped down coffee and fought off sleep. “I was about to, but then I heard all of the fun you were having.”

Cedar slowly flipped the cover of the book open. The spine cracked, threatening to snap if they weren’t careful. They flipped through a couple more pages, hoping to find some kind of table of contents. They didn’t.

“Can you find it?” Ben asked, in a tone more impatient than he had intended it to be.

“The Daeva weren’t great at keeping physical records,” Cedar answered tonelessly as they were completely focused on the chronicle. “And this is a second-hand account. The best I’m hoping for is that it lists a location where they did a lot of animal experimentation, but even then, I doubt it’ll say exactly where it is. I’m looking for a needle in a haystack the size of the ocean.”

“So you’re saying there’s a chance this has all been for nothing,” Ben grimaced.

“There’s a chance everything’s for nothing. And we at least kept this out of the Bookburner’s hands, so you’ve bought what the Hand always buys: time.”

“Fuck you,” Ben said, too tired to argue.

“Fuck you too,” Cedar replied quickly. “Couldn’t have made it this far without you.”

Cedar thumbed through the pages and stopped suddenly, realizing they had landed on a biography section. It detailed a handful of important figures in Daevite society. They frantically skimmed through paragraphs, Slaver… Ruler… Alchemist! They found the article on the life of Omotana. They read aloud, “‘In 7452 Omotana was appointed as the royal alchemist of the Daevite Empire. Her studies were revolutionary Daeva military practices and it is believed that if it were not for her potions of endurance, the empire would have never claimed the Emtopom.’”

“Emtopom?” Ben interrupted.

“Basically what the Daeva called Nepal. But in most texts, it refers to the Himalayas. It depends on when the text was written. Emtopom was just the mountain range at first but became both the mountains and the surrounding territory much later.”

“So what is it here?”

Cedar answered by continuing to read, “‘Omotana considered the conquer of the Emtopom her greatest achievement and would later build her laboratory in its mountains.’”

“You think our cat’s in this lab?” Ben asked.

“I think it’s very likely,” Cedar explained. “We know The Original died a little after the Daeva took Nepal. And with the kinds of experiments done on it, it makes sense for it to have been Omotana’s guinea pig. Brutal shit. Kind of stuff I’d expect from a royal alchemist.”

“Ok, so we’re looking in the Himalayas. Does it narrow it down from there?”

“The base of its eye,” The voice came from behind them. Familiar. French. They turned around and saw him, trenchcoat draped across the back of the chair he was sitting in, fedora laying on the table. Bright green eyes peered over a cup of coffee as he took a sip from it. Cedar’s hand crept into their jacket. “Are you sure that is wise?”

They removed their hand and gripped their thigh, “Who are you?”

“My name, if you must know, is Beau,” the man answered. “And, assuming that your next question is ‘what do you want,’ I think you can take a guess.” He nodded at the chronicle.

“Alright,” Cedar said, tensing. “You don’t want a fight. So, how are you gonna take it?”

Beau took another sip of coffee and rubbed his hands together, “We have two options here: One, I buy it off of you. Name your price. Marshal, Carter, & Dark would be more than happy to oblige.” Cedar shook their head. Even if the currency was of any use to them, they’d come too far to have this adventure end here. “Really? Hm. Well, the second option is we work together. Temporarily. We help each other discover the location of The Original, which I’m guessing you believe is in this laboratory, and then it doesn’t matter who has the chronicle.”

“Why would we do either of those?” Ben interrogated.

“There is a third option,” Beau explained. “But it involves a GOC hit squad coming in here and executing you. I don’t believe any of us want that.”

Cedar looked around at the crowded cafe, “Here?”

“They’re getting desperate, but my employers wish to avoid spilling blood, especially after what happened last night.”

“Wait,” Cedar interrupted. “Sounds like the GOC and MD&C are working together. So why did they just raid an auction?”

Beau put his elbows on the table and clasped his hands together. He thought for a moment, “To put it simply, half of MD&C is working with the GOC.”

Cedar was silent as the true complexity of their situation dawned on them. If they tried to escape, the best-case scenario is another chase through the city, “The Daevites thought the eye was the spiritual center of the body.”

“What the hell are you doing?” Ben stopped them.

“Getting out of here alive. At least this way the odds will be even,” Cedar answered without breaking eye contact with Beau.

“They have an army.”

“Then we’ll get there first,” Cedar said confidently, so much so that they surprised themself. “The eyes are one of the first things you notice about someone, and they’re what allows you to witness the world. So if I had to guess, the eye of the Emtopem would be-”

“Everest,” Beau finished for them. Cedar nodded. He smiled and stood up from his table, tossing a few dollars on it, “Thank you. Now, in my professional opinion, you both should go home. But you two seem much too determined for that. See you there, then.” Beau tossed his coat over his shoulder and put his hat on. He pulled a phone out of his pocket as he walked out of the cafe.

Cedar slammed the chronicle shut, tucked it under their arm, and stomped out of the cafe. Ben followed quickly behind, “Why the hell would you do that?”

“Might be an unpopular opinion today, but I rather like living,” Cedar answered.

“We’ve escaped the Bookbuners before, we could do it again.”

“Yeah, I get the feeling we’d risk our luck running out though,” Cedar said with a bit of disingenuousness in their voice.

“I don’t think you believe that,” Ben accused. “You’ve taken nothing but risks since we met. What’s so different about this?”

“Maybe I’m learning my lesson.”

Ben grabbed Cedar by the jacket and spun them around, “Don’t you fucking bullshit me. This is something else. This is…” Ben looked into Cedar’s eyes and saw the answer. There was some kind of manic look in them. “You enjoy this, don’t you? The danger.”

Cedar broke out of Ben’s grip and turned away, “We should get to the airport.”

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