Graffiti - Chapter 3: Stairway To Heaven/Led Zeppelin
"Wakey Wakey, God forsake thee."
A deep voice dropped itself into the mixing pot that swirled around in Shane's head when he came to. He was still in the alleyway, writhing on the ground as he held on to his aching head. A loud trumpet blasted its horn into the air and it seemed almost as if it were directly by his head when it sounded. Following it, was a smooth jazz selection that filled his ears and eased the pain in his head. He pushed himself up from the dirt-covered pavement and leaned against the alley wall next to a trash can.
When he finally opened his eyes, he jumped in surprise and tried to scurry away from the image in front of him. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. A scruffy looking grey wolf stood directly in his line of sight, its yellow eyes staring deep into Shane's soul. Shane was slightly hyperventalting at the sight, especially when staring into the burn scar on the left half of its face right over its left eye. The image itself had caught him offguard but the sheer absurdity of it was what threw him for a loop. A lone wolf stranded in the big city. It had to have been from the outskirts of the Strays.
"Hey," it muttered in the deep voice he'd heard earlier. "You should calm down before you give yourself a heart attack."
This only spiked his anxiety more. The wolf could speak. Shane closed his eyes and forced himself to calm down. It was only the drug, he thought. It had to be the drug. This couldn't be real. If it was, why was this jazz soundtrack accompanying him while he sat there.
"The music," the wolf said in a smooth relaxing voice. "Its 'Blue In Green' by Miles Davis. From that collection you let get dusty in the Council room. Its my favorite song."
"Who are you?" Shane asked, swallowing hard through the sharp effects of his spiked adrenaline.
As unorthodox as the statement itself sounds, the wolf chuckled. "You know who I am and you knew it the moment you heard my voice and saw the scar on my face. If I know you as well as I do, and I should, I'm pretty sure its the latter."
"No way," Shane said, shaking his head in disbelief. "This can't be real."
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," the wolf said, manuevering its head with a human-like mannerism. "Do you know who I am or not?"
Shane closed his eyes and half expected for the image of the scarred wolf to disappear when he said the name. "Shawn?"
When he opened them again, he was greeted with an even more incredulous image than the wolf itself. It opened its mouth and grinned back at him. The sight sent shivers down his spine.
"This isn't real, right? Its the drugs, its got to be."
The wolf shrugged. "Maybe. I mean you don't see shit like this everyday, so it could be that stuff you're on. But my image alone doesn't match up to the other crazy shit you've been seeing, does it? Its like the random image of your brother in the form of a wolf kind of came out of the blue. But then the music, I mean, what else could it be? People normally wish to have a soundtrack to their lives, but it can never actually happen. Thats the one constant in this hallucination and the ones you were having earlier....Is it alarming to you yet that I'm forming your thoughts for you?"
Shane started to answer but suddenly his body began to shut down and he quickly grew disoriented. In one movement, he leaned over to his side and vomitted right by the trash can, then coughed harshly. Shawn chuckled.
"Gross," he said, shaking his head pathetically. "Pull yourself together. You are not looking very much like a hero right about now."
"What the hell is wrong with me?" Shane asked in a highly fatigued voice as he wiped his mouth and leaned back against the wall.
"Well coupled with the after-effects of the Prayer you ingested and your overall stupidity, I'd say you've got some Black Iris inside you."
"Its that black liquid that Saul injected into you before you took your beauty nap."
"Well what does it do?"
"It kills you."
"It kills me!?" Shane repeated with shock.
"Eventually. Its a poison. Takes about a month to concoct but its pretty effective. Once injected, you have about 24 hours to live before it eventually destroys your body from the inside out."
Shane's eyes darted around the alleyway as he began to panic. "Well, is there some type of antidote or something? I mean, I can't die like this."
"Who says you can't? What, you thought you'd get an insanely epic death like I did? You wish. No, I don't think you have any say on how you can or can't die, little brother. You just end up doing it."
"There's got to be something I can do. Tell me what I should do!"
"Alright, alright, calm down, kid. The antidote is in Saul's blood."
"Saul's blood?" Shane said with confusion.
"One of the main ingredients of Black Iris are human enzymes and proteins that are required to make it a successful concoction. Without a submission of two ounces of blood, Black Iris is as null and void as the person an effective poison kills. In this case, Saul's blood was what was used. You have to ingest Saul's blood directly from his veins in 24 hours or you'll be chilling with me for the rest of eternity."
"So I have to drink his blood in order for the poison's effects to disappear?"
"You really like to repeat what I say and that gets annoying really fast. Yes, that's what you have to do."
"Are you sure this will work?" Shane asked with uncertainty in his voice.
"Not really. I mean, if I'm not real, I'm probably a subconcious manifestation that you've created as a second personality or some shit, so this could all be knowledge you used to know but threw in the back of your head and now its coming back to you in a weird ass way. Or I could be making it all up and this is all your imagination, in which case you're either completely fine or completely fucked. If I am real though, well then I might just know what I'm talking about."
"So you don't know if you're real or not?"
"Oh, I know. I just find it more fun that you don't."
Shane sighed with annoyance but the inner joy he felt at getting the chance to hear his brother's voice again after so many years allowed him to do nothing but smile.
"You always were a sadistic bastard."
"And that's why you love me," the wolf said with a smile. "Oh and before I go, you should know that you need to injest that blood within 21 hours. After the 21st hour mark, any antidote that you take can be fended off by the poison and once 24 hours are up, so's your time drawing breath on this earth."
"All right, I'll get right on that."
"Good deal," the wolf muttered, nodding its head. "Now go save your girl. And try to lay off the drugs, and the drinking, and the smoking. I appointed you to run a gang, not to run a train off of a cliff. Other than that, keep up the good work. I'm out."
Without another word, the Shawn wolf turned and headed to the exit of the alleyway. Before stepping out of view, Shane called out to him.
"Hey Shawn," he said, watching the wolf turn back.
"I missed you, bro."
The wolf simply stared at Shane for a brief moment. "If you even think about coming over here and hugging me, I'll bite your face off."
Shane chuckled and held up his hands casually. "Wouldn't imagine it."
"Good boy," the wolf nodded. He turned back to the exit of the alleyway and disappeared around the corner.
When the wolf was out of sight, Shane struggled to his feet and held himself up with the side of the wall. He followed the wolf's trail to the end of the alleyway and turned the corner to find himself outside the Heroics Club, where each member of the Council stood in front of him in the middle of the corridor-like street that ran along the underground city. Another lapse caused by the drug's effects. Abel stood in front of him with a strained look.
"Dude, are you all right?" he asked with worry, examining his fatigued appearance. "What happened out there?"
Shane was slightly disoriented from his sudden skip but could tell by how he was feeling that the effects of the Prayer were wearing off and he was regaining his composure. With complete assurity in his voice, he addressed his people with confidence.
"I'm fine. But we've got a job to do."
"Mr. Stratis! Mr. Stratis!" Screamed the crowd of reporters that jumped up and down, their notepads in hand as they vied for the attention of the man that stood before them at the podium, surrounded by all of his top men for this brief press conference. The man in question was Victor Jacinto Stratis, a man in his late 70's with light grey hair and a firm face of authority that intimidated even the men that worked closest to him. It was a symbol of power, a representation of his strength and the influence his attitude would have on the people under him. He was dressed in a white tuxedo from head to toe, the only attire he'd ever been seen in when he emerged from his studies into the world he'd created. The men behind him, the representatives that overlooked every department in Stratis Corp, from its rule over the economy, community, entertainment, and everything else that completed their tight-nit civilization, were all dressed in red tuxedoes that contrasted greatly with his. This was an attempt to constantly remind his closest ranked inferiors that their efforts and actions to help better the quality of Stratis Corp and the Stratis community would serve that purpose only. Never would they even come close to obtaining the superior status that Victor himself held, and the contrast in their uniforms was meant to excentuate this on a subconcious level. His role in this new world was unprecedented and everyone was more than aware of it.
Victor pointed to one of the reporters, a general Clark Kent, whose only difference from the rest of them was the pen that was stuck behind his ear resourcefully. When he was called out, he stood up and began to ask his question when he was suddenly cut off by Victor himself.
"First of all, take that pen out from behind your ear," he snapped with attitude. "Its unbecoming."
The reporter's once peaked confidence at his chance to ask his leader a question was quickly swiped away at Victor's remark. "I apologize, sir," he muttered sheepishly, pulling the pen out slowly from behind his ear and holding it in his hand tenderly. From this point forward, his attitude would remain in this weakened and wounded state. "My name is Rhett McCleod from the Madison Inquirer. I just have one question to ask. Sir, what were your intentions for investing in the Etchingham Estate from the umbrella company that you supervised, Harlington Finances?"
"Well, let's set the record straight," Victor said with authority, leaning across the podium. "I didn't invest in the Etchingham Estate, I invested in the Etchingham Report, which resulted in Stratis becoming involved in the building process of the Etchingham Estate. Furthermore, if I hadn't invested in that window to the Estate, the economic downfall we experienced last term wouldn't have recovered as quickly as it did. It was essentially the equivalent of a bail out. Next question."
The reporter who'd asked the question seemed slightly appalled by the abrupt nature of Victor's response but held his tongue and sat down in his seat as the next reporter was called out of the active crowd. He was identical to the last reporter with slight differences in facial features only.
"Hello sir, I'm Stewart Morse from the Magnuson Post. In regards to how you handled the Cartwheel Incident in South Florida, how are you planning to fairly discipline those involved despite the growing controversy over the incident?"
"Well, as you all should know after all of these years, any way Stratis chooses to discipline those that are involved in illegal activities according to Company law, should and will be considered fair by the populace, no matter what the result," Victor said with no hesitation. "I understand the controversy in that several young individuals were caught trespassing in a high security and unauthorized location for the purpose of some type of boyhood rite of passage. Nevertheless, we stand by our decision to charge them with a felony, given the massive nature of their offense, and we also stand by our decision to have them persecuted to the full extent of the law. Also in response, the majority of those in charge of said high security location will have their employment terminated and will also be persecuted to the max for their negligence and recklessness in handling the situation. If anything, this will make the severity of the offense clear to everyone who was not involved and the situation will not be repeated in the future. Next question."
The reporter sat down and another took his place, also wearing the same outfit and attire as the others. "Good evening, Mr. Stratis. My name is Greg Clark from the Harrison Observer. I would just like to start off by thanking you for having me here to ask you this question. I appreciate all that you do for"-
"Please get to the point, Mr. Clark," Victor replied, tapping his finger on the podium impatiently.
"Yes sir," he said softly, looking down at his notepad. "Um, I would like to know if you have any current plans in dealing with the civil unrest and blatant disregard for Stratis Authority in the Poor District of Stratis City and if it involves the possibility of-"
"Let me stop you right there, Mr. Clark," Victor said, holding his hand up to cut him off. "My current plans for dealing with the anarchistic terrorism within the Poor District are strictly on a need-to-know basis, but I want everyone here to know that developments are currently underway to deal with this problem. As you all are already aware, the Stratis Corp Armed Forces were withdrawn from the initial attempt to establish Martial Law in that District due to the massive casualities caused by the other side several years ago. Since then, we've been rigorously formulating a plan of action in dealing with the issue. The truth behind the activity in the Strays is that a terrorist syndicate has been formed as a means of repelling our efforts to establish order and their forces are highly dangerous, as they are being supplied with the equipment and force they need to continue to spread fear and chaos in their wake. We are prepared to use maximum force when necessary, but as part of protocol, we want to give the opposition a chance to consider the option of joining forces with us for the purpose of avoiding violence and establishing harmony between our two factions. Further developments on our efforts to dissolve the chaotic warground of the Poor District will be released sporadically over the coming weeks. No further questions."
Victor stepped away from the podium and walked towards the door where his black suited bodyguards stood to address him. To no obvious avail, the reporters continued to call out to Victor for more responses, but he ignored them, taking the route deeper into the Stratis Headquarters with his bodyguards following closely behind him. As soon as he headed down the corridor, a short, balding man stepped up beside him with a clipboard of documents in his hand. When he spoke, it was rushed and full of anxiety.
"Sir, I just wanted to let you know that there has been little to no activity in the Strays today, with the exception of a confrontation just a few hours ago. I believe there's a possibility that the majority of the Strays' population have fled following their confrontation with the Armed Forces several years ago. That would explain the decline in activity"-
"They haven't fled, they're hiding," Victor said, his eyes darting around the corridor almost suspiciously. "Most likely underground. Thats the reason why we haven't gone back there to crush them. We can't find them. No matter though, we have some of our top experts working on that as we speak."
"Right, but sir. I was talking to some of the Lieutenants in the Armed Forces and they mentioned something about um...Project Apocalypse?"
Victor smirked to himself. "Yes....that's the plan."
"If you don't mind me asking, the plan for what, sir?"
Victor turned to the short man slowly with a look of victory in his eyes. "The plan that'll help us rid the Earth of that scum for good."
"Mr. Stratis," shouted a young James Bond that approached him slowly, as walking to such an important man with haste would cause his bodyguards to react offensively, an example of which had been shown to most much earlier to teach them that gruesome lesson. "Mr. Stratis, Kendall wanted me to contact you. She wants you to travel to her suite immediately."
"Is it an emergency?" Victor asked with worry.
"I don't think so, but she stressed that she needs you there as soon as possible, sir."
Victor picked up the pace in his step and headed for the elevator at the end of the corridor, which led directly up to the Suite where his daughter, Kendall would be located. As soon as he reached her floor, he was met with the sight of a typical hotel walkway and continued down it until he reached a door being supervised by one individual bodyguard. When Victor reached the door to her room, he beckoned the bodyguard aside, knocked on the door with force, and waited anxiously with his own bodyguards behind him. The door eventually swung open and the room was filled with the sound of classical music as a young girl stood at the entrance.
She was approximately eighteen, which meant, in this society, that she was currently on her quest to find the right man to marry and provide for him in the same way every woman in the Stratis Community was taught to, which included bearing his children, cleaning their home, and feeding him by cooking a large feast every night for the rest of her natural born life. Her brown hair was to her shoulders, wet and stringy after being doused with water from the shower. Her body was clothed with only a robe and flip flops.
"Oh come now, Kendall, you couldn't make yourself decent before I got here?" he asked, diverting his eyes from her unoffensive image.
"No father, I called you up here two hours ago," she said, speaking in a voice much deeper than what would be expected from such a sophisticated girl. "I waited long enough for you to get here and got impatient. I didn't know when you'd take the time out of your busy schedule to see me."
"Whats the problem?" he asked, stepping into the room. He turned back to his bodyguards and watched them step back as he closed the door behind him. The room itself was as majestic as any Presidential Suite, only even more magnificent due to the advanced capabilities of Stratis Corp technology. The room was decorated with Victorian-styled architecture and was massive, spanning two floors with one just above them. In the living room, an entire wall was made out of glass that looked out onto the metropolis that spanned the Metro District of "Stratis City.” The classical opera music blasting out of the speakers located in each room greeted Victor as Kendall led him farther into the living room. When she reached the end of the hall, she pointed at a boy sitting on one side of the room, away from the couch and large television screen by the wall.
The boy was wearing a dress shirt, sweater vest, and suspenders just like all little boys his age. He was 12 years old, but his face was more mature in structure than an average boy's. Despite this, his bowl-shaped haircut and boyish appearance did a wonderful job at supressing his ascent to adulthood. He sat on an ottoman that had been pulled away from the sofa in the center of the room and stared at the wall as intently as a human being could. Victor exchanged worried looks with Kendall, who shrugged and pointed him in the boy's direction. Victor responded by walking to the boy's side and kneeling down by him with a hand on his shoulder.
"Son," he said softly but with caution. "How are you?"
"Fine," he said simply, keeping his eyes on the blank wall in front of him.
Victor hesitated as he chose his next words carefully. "What're you doing?"
"Staring at the wall."
Victor swallowed with displeasure. "I can see that, son. Why exactly are you staring at the wall?"
The young boy turned to his father with hollow eyes. "Because thats what life feels like to me."
Victor didn't show any reaction, but internally he was devastated. He blinked several times, nodded at his son with a smile, and stood up, walking towards Kendall, who looked at him with a hopeful expression.
"Well?" she asked, her eyes darting between her father and brother.
Victor closed his eyes and shook his head, walking past her as he headed for the door. Kendall was confused by this reaction and followed behind him.
"Are you going to do anything to help him?"
"I'll have my men take a look at him," Victor said quickly, opening the door and stepping through it.
"Father," Kendall shouted at him. He turned back to her with an impatient look that spoke its own language, complaining that he had too much more on his plate at the moment to deal with this problem. "Maybe YOU should take a look at him....For once."
Victor squinted with obvious frustration and walked out of the room without another word. Kendall looked away and sighed when her father was gone. She walked back to her little brother and leaned down beside him, speaking warmly.
"I'm going to bed now, Vic," she said, rubbing him on the back. "If you want to talk, don't be afraid to come up and let me know, okay?"
Victor Stratis Jr. nodded his head in response but showed no other signs of reaction at her offer. Kendall looked away momentarily then back at him.
"I'll see you tomorrow," she said, and leaned forward, kissing him on the forehead. She turned back and headed for the stairway that led up to her room. "Good night, Vic."
"Good night," Vic replied softly, keeping his eyes on the wall in front of him as he waited for the sound of his sister's door to close. He finally took his eyes off the wall and looked down at his hands as he waited for his signal. Ten minutes passed and the transparent device that sat on the ottoman beside him lit up brightly and vibrated. He grabbed hold of it and answered it, putting it to his ear.
"He's gone," said a deep voice on the other side.
"Okay," Vic responded securely and hung up the phone. He got up from the ottoman and headed directly upstairs, tiptoeing past his sister's room and stepping into his own, where his bags were already stacked by the doorway. He didn't even need to flip the light on to retrieve them. When they were in hand, he brought them downstairs and dropped them by the front door. With a deep breath, he opened it to see the rather large bodyguard in a red and white Scarf Uniform that was assigned to protect him. He smiled warmly at the boy when he opened the door.
"Are you ready?" he said in a deep voice.
Vic nodded confidently and grabbed hold of his bags. With one last look into the Presidential Suite where he'd grown up, he shut the door behind him and followed the large bodyguard down the hallway.
"Are you sure this is what you want?" the bodyguard said cautiously.
"I am," he said with determination. "If anyone asks, lie. Be ignorant to anything involving my disappearance."
"What are you talking about? You can't go into the Strays alone, you don't know what's out there."
"I'll be all right, Pierce," Vic said, turning to him courageously. "Just keep this underwraps for me as best you can."
Pierce nodded and turned to look back down the hallway. Before they reached the empty stairwell, he turned back to Vic. "Can I ask you a question, Mr. Stratis?"
"Why the Strays?"
Vic shrugged and turned to Pierce with a look of desire for a new experience. "I'll find out when I get there."