Of All the Stupid Things
He shivered despite the heat that boiled through the building, staring blankly at the wall while his mind tried to make sense of the charts that were scattered over it. If what he was seeing was true; the blueprints, the sketches, the list of ideas. Then the Garleans had a lot more to answer for than just attacking Lucian soil.
Reaching out, he carefully ripped a piece of paper from where it was pinned to the wall. It was a sketch of what looked to be a child, no bigger than a toddler with augmented metal pieces attached to their limbs. There were blueprints for tubes, for pieces of metal that would one day be attached to these children. There were detailed maps of the inner workings of the Magitek Troopers he’d spent most of his life killing.
He pulled the rest of the papers from the wall and folded them, shoving them into his pocket before going to the next room.
Regis, his King and one of the few people he would claim as a friend, had sent him here to get answers. Had sent him here to kill the man that had made mass producing MTs possible. He’d failed in that aspect, Verstael Besithia had not been there. He’d opted for destroying one of the production plants instead and was nearly finished until he’d stumbled across this room.
The door to the next room was jammed. He frowned at it, listening to the sound of the fire roaring behind him, to the fall of metal. Under all that noise, he heard it. Distant and weak. A cry.
Something similar to dread crawled up the root of his tongue and stuck to the back of his throat. Smoke was filling the entire building, the fire was roaring closer and he was sure there was more than one explosion going off somewhere distant, but his mind latched onto that soft, distant cry. With a snarl, he shoved his shoulder into the door, tried to force it open only to bounce back. Again, he tried. Then again, until it finally gave enough for him to squeeze through. Ignoring the way his coat got caught on the edge of the door, ripping off several of the buttons, he hurried inside. The room was tossed and badly damaged from an explosion that had happened somewhere else. Part of a metal beam had fallen through a wall, crushing several computers, glass structures and what looked to be giant metal tubes.
The crying was coming from the corner, lost in a snarling metal cage of what had once been part of the ceiling. He didn’t have much time, not with more explosions going off and the fire eating the distance between him and safety.
But he wasn’t leaving. Not until he put to rest one last fear. Not until he saw it with his own eyes.
‘It’ was trapped behind that metal, and he bent to the task of pushing pieces of it aside, ignoring the heat as it seared through his gloves and blistered his fingers, ignoring that voice in the back of his head that told him to just leave.
He had a lot of ghosts that followed him already. He couldn’t let this tiny voice become one too.
He stared, as the last of the metal fell back from what was left of one of the tubes. Curled in a ball in the center, no older than maybe two if he was being generous, was a child.
Blond hair like a mop sat on the top of its head, blue nearly violet eyes brimmed with tears stared at him with such fear he froze. And then tiny, chubby arms reached up towards him, begging. He didn’t move, not until another explosion went off that startled a shrieking wail from the child and he had to use his own back to protect the boy from a falling chunk of ceiling.
Cor sat upright in the bed, breathing in deep and staring at the wall hard. He blinked until the production facility faded from his vision and turned back into his borrowed room, then buried his face into his hands and waited for his mind to finish its mental gymnastics. Everything about the past three months was fucked. From him traveling to Garlea on the King’s behest, what he’d found there, and the situation he was now in upon stepping back onto Lucian soil.
Beside him, not even remotely perturbed by the sudden movement of the bed, laid the child he’d found while destroying the facility. He stared down at the boy, swallowed hard and tried to figure out what the fuck he was doing for the hundredth time.
And he still had to call Regis.
Liquor was the only answer, he decided as he carefully removed himself from the bed and walked to the door. A whole lot of liquor and a cigarette.
He had to squint when he walked out, shielding his eyes a bit from the light of the setting sun where it shined through the wide-open door of the garage. Below, someone murmured something and he heard the clang of metal on metal before footsteps started in his direction. He carefully grabbed the metal railing around the catwalk, leaning over to look down as a young girl, no older than five, started towards him.
Blue-eyed with a head full of blonde hair, no one would ever deny the little thing would grow up to be beautiful one day. She had a smile that could win the heart of anyone that made their way to the garage.
“Uncle Cor!” that happy voice called, looking up at him. “Did you sleep okay? Is the baby still asleep?”
Cor sighed but gave the child a small smile. “He is. Will you sit with him for a bit?” The girl gave a happy squeal and rushed past him, though she went through the door gently, tip-toeing into the room so as not to wake the sleeping toddler. Once she was inside, Cor carefully made his way down the metal stairs, his attention on the glare of orange and yellow light that streaked the sky outside. He’d slept for a full day it seemed. The sun had just barely been a hint of light on the horizon when he’d arrived at Hammerhead.
“Was beginnin’ to wonder if you were gonna to wake up,” a rough voice called to him. Turning, Cor looked over at the owner of it, who was buried shoulder deep in the engine of a beat up, light blue car.
Cor snorted and walked closer until he could see the beginnings of dark brown hair streaked with grey poking from around the hood. “I’m honestly still trying to figure out of I’m dreaming.” Everything still felt surreal. Like he hadn’t quite woken up yet.
“That’s called shock, boy. Yer almost home and all the shit is hitting the fan at once.” The man stepped back, slammed the hood down on the car and turned his bright hazel eyes on Cor. “You ain’t called Reggie yet either.”
Cor stared at him because there was only one way Cid would know that particular information. “You called him,” he stated bluntly, shocked. “I thought you said you were never going to be the one to call him after everything.”
“Yeah well,” Cid huffed and turned his back on him to lower the car back to the floor of the garage. “Reggie practically raised you, and the rest of us helped. When you’ve gotten yerself into a pickle, we’re supposed to help.”
He fell silent because honestly, he was probably the only human alive on Eos that could claim he had four father figures in his life, no matter how much or how little he appreciated it. “What did he have to say?”
“Didn’t tell him about the brat,” Cid huffed, puffing on his cigarette before offering one to Cor. “Figured you’d wanna handle that. I jus’ told him you were here, you were safe and sleeping like a lump of coal in my bed. He wants ya ta call him though.”
“I imagine so.”
He’d been gone for three months. A month to travel across Lucis then barter for a secret ride over into Tenebrae. A week to get through Tenebrae without anyone knowing he was there then sneaking into Niflheim proper before infiltrating Garlea to learn where the production facilities were. That had taken him the longest, but finding the facilities afterward had been easier. He’d visited the one Besithia had most recently visited, hoping the researcher would still be there. He hadn’t, but Cor had been able to bring down the facility. It would, if nothing else, slow down the production of the MTs.
He hoped anyway.
He still had to debrief the King on what had happened while he’d been in enemy territory. Had to explain why he’d come back with a small child bundled up in blankets instead of going to the next facility.
“What happened over there, Cor?” Cid asked him, staring at him quietly. “I know you. Whatever ya saw, it rattled ya.”
Cor took a deep breath, felt the lie slide across his tongue towards his lips but it stopped. Locked behind his teeth, it folded and slid back down his throat. “I’m going to need to be drunk to explain this. Very, very drunk."
“Kids,” Cid murmured, staring down into his whiskey glass. “You’re sure?”
Cor pulled the paperwork out of his pocket, unfolding it onto the table so Cid could see, and said nothing when the older man released a string of curses that should have curled his toes. Cid was an old soldier, he’d seen a lot of shit in his life. Cor had too if he was telling the truth. Ghosts piled at his back, waiting in a queue for a chance to haunt his dreams when he finally closed his eyes at night. He knew with certainty that if he’d left that crying child behind, however, that he would have been at the front of that line. That small boy’s voice would have haunted him the most. Even more than Mors’ did.
“It looks almost like they are… growing them. I don’t know,” he murmured and choked back the remaining whiskey in his glass before pouring himself more. “There were a lot of villages that were just ghost towns, completely void of life when I was traveling through. I’m guessing they stole a lot of them from families. Maybe they ran out? That’s what some of the notes there made it seem like.” He rubbed his face, not willing to look at the drawings again and waited for Cid to fold them back up before stuffing them in his coat pocket.
Cid was quiet for a moment, pouring himself more liquor before he lit a new cigarette. “How long do you think they’ve been doing this?”
“Cor. We’ve killed MTs before. We still do,” Cid pointed out, a haunted look crossing his face. “Don’t tell me we’ve been…”
Cor chose not to say anything at all.
“Things are, complicated, Regis.”
”What do you mean by ‘complicated’? Cor, what’s going on?” Regis didn’t sound angry, just annoyed with the whole situation. ”I can send someone to get you if that’s what you need. Clarus or someone else, whatever you need.”
Cor chewed on his lower lip. Clarus would ask too many questions. “Do you have anyone else that can come? Someone you trust with secrets?”
Regis fell silent, thinking things over. ”Do you remember Lieutenant Ulric?”
He did, he’d been looking over the man’s personnel file before he’d left for Niflheim. Cor had quietly been planning on shuffling some paperwork around to see if he couldn’t slide Ulric from the Kingsglaives over into the Crownsguard. The man had been in the military since he’d turned sixteen, first in Galahd fighting the war there, then after the refugees had migrated to Insomnia seeking asylum. He’d worked his way through the ranks of the Kingsglaive like a man on a mission, and Cor was loathed to let Titus Drautos, the commander of the Glaives have someone that dedicated.
Regis had also taken a shine to the man since part of Drautos’ ‘punishments’ for his more uppity soldiers was to put them on what they called ‘King Duty’.
Ulric was mouthy, sarcastic, and had a penchant for talking when he wasn’t supposed to. Regis had immediately been enamored with the Galahdian.
”I can send him?” It was a question, not something Cor had been expecting. Regis was feeling his way along whatever emotional minefield Cor was sitting in the center of right now. Clarus would ask too many personal questions, about how he felt about what he’d seen. Clarus also wore his heart on his sleeve and would take Cor’s new trauma personally. Ulric would not.
“That’s fine, send him.” He breathed out a low sigh and closed his eyes. “And Regis?”
“You’re not going to like this. Any of it.”
There was a long silence on the other end of the phone before the King cleared his throat. ”Cid didn’t tell me much. But you showing up at his garage like that scared him enough to break a half-decade long silence. I don’t suspect I’m going to like a lot of things in the near future. Get some rest, Cor.”
Cor snorted softly. “Yes, sir.”