Drake had handed Pyro into the Enforcerer’s Department, coming away with a small wad of cash for his trouble, enough to keep him going for a good few days anyway. He’d spent the rest of the night holed up just outside the City, a few miles north of the reservoir that supplied Devilsgate with all of its water, under the wings of Falkor, as he had done every night since he had rescued him from the clutches of the dwarves.
At nine o’clock in the morning, Falkor had dropped him just outside the City walls and had disappeared into the thick cloud cover that strangled Devilsgate like a noose. Drake had continued on foot to the warehouse that was home to the orphans, or the Lost Souls as they were now known. The old orphanage, Drake’s home for six years before he had fled its walls, was now a burnt out shell, just another victim in the wars between humans and Faeries. Not that Drake was sorry to hear of its demise; it held too many painful memories which he’d hidden at the back of his mind, locked up so tight that he wouldn’t be able to unlock them again. Or so he hoped.
The warehouse was a relic from the human era, a four-storied Victorian red-bricked building which was rumoured to have once housed mental patients. Most of the windows were boarded up from the inside; the glass smashed by the bullet fire that rained down on Devilsgate during the Appropriation Riots, the shrapnel still embedded in the holes peppering the front wall. As if those human weapons would have held back the tide!
The air was thick with the smell of congealed blood from the adjacent meat factory where fresh animal carcasses hung from great steel hooks, waiting to be transported around the City, and the clogged up drains that were full of the detritus of life.
Drake didn’t really know why he was here; when he’d got the note from Willow asking him to come to the warehouse to discuss a proposition, he knew instinctively it was a bad idea, but even so, he found himself stood at the front steps of the crumbling building wondering. Wondering how the years had treated her since he had left, whether she was the same person or if she had changed like he had. He really hoped not; she had been the only thing in Devilsgate that had been good in his life.
He meandered through the corridors of the once magnificent warehouse, its walls now covered in graffiti and posters of missing people, the floorboards bare and crumbling. Every corner seemed to be crammed full of kids, battered sofas, mattresses or books and the air sang with the shouts and laughter of the kids that now called this place home.
A small boy with fuzzy blonde hair and an oversized grey t-shirt had reluctantly shown him up to the top floor where Willow hung out. His small blue eyes only moving from the tattoo, the Devil’s Mark, on Drake’s right cheek when Drake had placed a green note in the palm of his hand. Even so, the kid did a runner as soon as he’d shown him upstairs, not wanting to be alone with Drake for any longer than he had to, not even if Drake had offered him another crisp green note.
Drake stood at the doorway. He could hear the rise and fall of voices from inside.
‘What time is it?’ asked a male voice, full of exasperation.
‘Don’t worry Giz, he’ll be here,’ came the reply.
‘Nine-thirty,’ said Drake stepping into the room, ‘just like we’d agreed.’
Willow threw the book she had been reading onto the floor and leapt over to Drake. ‘Drake-‘
‘It’s been a long time, trouble,’ he said, as she flung her arms around him. ‘Wow, there! I need to breathe, you know, it’ll help keep me alive.’
‘Sorry,’ she replied, relinquishing her grip on him, a huge smile lighting up her face, ‘it just seems like it’s been-’
‘Forever,’ finished Drake. He looked at her and his heart felt heavy. She looked exactly the same as when he had left, except that now she was a young woman with several piercings and bright pink hair. For a second he could still see the sadness, the reality of life, etched in her almond-shaped eyes, then it was gone, replaced by a hardness which was unfamiliar.
Willow’s companion rose from his swivel chair. ‘I’m Gizmo,’ he said, offering Drake his hand.
‘Drake,’ said Willow, gesturing at Gizmo, ‘this is Gizmo, Gizmo Chetana.’
‘Nice to meet you,’ replied Drake, taking Gizmo’s hand firmly.
‘And you,’ replied Gizmo smiling, but Drake could tell the guy was tense, almost uncomfortable in his presence and the smile didn’t extend to his amber eyes. Interesting, thought Drake.
‘Why don’t you take a seat,’ asked Willow, pointing to the nearest threadbare sofa, the arms black with dirt.
Drake took the Zephyr from his back and propped it up the side of the sofa, before slumping onto it.
Willow jumped into the seat next to Drake, her eyes drinking in every part of him. ‘It’s been so long, you haven’t changed a bit.’
‘Neither have you,’ replied Drake, knowing that they were both lying to each other. He could feel an invisible wall between them, built by the years of separation.
Drake looked over to him; Gizmo was now back on his chair, three virtual computer screens flashing in front of him. ‘This is some set up you guys have got,’ said Drake, his eyes lingering on Gizmo’s desk which was crammed full of cables, black boxes and circuit boards. ‘So, I’m assuming you didn’t just ask me here so we could go over the good old days,’ he said, turning back to Willow.
‘No,’ she replied, pulling her legs up onto the sofa and curling her arms protectively around them. ‘We’re in trouble Drake, we need your help.’
‘What kind of trouble?’
‘Major league,’ she replied, picking at the frayed sleeve of her black hoodie. ‘I don’t know how much you know about what’s happening in Devilsgate-‘
‘I know Fenrik’s still in charge, so if I were a betting man, I would say things are still the same as when I left.’
‘No, they’re not the same,’ said Gizmo, casually flicking boxes of text on his screens away, back into cyberspace, ‘they’re much worse.’
Drake could hear a trace of bitterness in Gizmo’s voice. ‘Worse how?’ he said, turning back to look at Gizmo, but Gizmo ignored him and continued flicking through the text and images.
‘Drake, the University is planning a purge of humans. They want all of us out of Devilsgate. We’ve got six days left and then we have to pack up and leave.’
‘And go where?’ asked Drake, bouncing around in his seat to face Willow.
‘They don’t care as long as it’s not here. Anyway,’ said Willow, her eyes looking off into the distance, ‘it doesn’t matter what they want because we’re not leaving. This is my home.‘