“How is he?” whispered Aurus, peeping into Giovani’s room.

“Sh!” Cheng hissed at him to quiet. “We still have some of that medicine that we got from Antonio awhile back, so he should be fine. Vi’s taking care of him.”

Violet stood beside Giovani’s bed, dabbing a wet cloth on his fevered forehead, her lips pursed with concentration. Aurus and Cheng stood behind her, watching as Giovani’s unconscious form breathed softly on his bed.

“Have you mentioned the keys to Nero yet?” Cheng asked quietly.

“It’s slipped my mind,” Aurus replied. “Especially after Giovani got sick. Right after Nero showed us the room, too.”

“Imagine something like that happening in little, ol’ Tacita Town.”


“Could you move your conversation elsewhere?” snapped Violet. “I don’t need Gio waking.”

“Sorry!” Aurus apologized. He and Cheng turned, tiptoeing out of the room and into the hallway, shutting the door silently behind them. As they did, Giovani stirred just a little – a reaction to something in his dreams.

* *

There were screams all around him. He wanted to get out, he wanted to silence all the screaming, all the terror. He didn’t know what was going on, but he didn’t like it at all. Mother had run outside to find Father, but Giovani almost certainly heard her screaming join the chorus around him. He walked through the room, his hands over his ears in a desperate attempt to block it all out. Someone raced past in the hall outside, his face and shirt all red.

Giovani came out into the hall, deciding to go the same way as the man with the red all over him. He arrived at the back door of the apartment complex, to the alley between the buildings. He looked out at the street, which was full of people, all fighting each other. Many had deranged looks on their faces, which were becoming distorted, malevolent, nightmarish. Giovani turned away, racing deeper into the alley. Coming to a quieter street, he looked as far as he could. A forest in the distance, beyond the city. They’d never find him there.

* *

Giovani sat in the living room, lost in thought. As he looked around the room, he caught sight of movement. It was Cheng, racing over to him.

“Hey,” she said. “I thought your parents were coming over today.”

Of course! How could he forget? He grimaced with his forgetfulness, but he quickly stood. He should check the front door.

“Hey, darling!” said his mother, beaming at him when he opened the door. His father joined the grin, and Giovani smiled back at them.

He let his parents in, following them as they walked through the facility to the living room. There, they heartily greeted Cheng, who in turn greeted them warmly. Giovani could see them talking, but he wasn’t listening. He went into the kitchen to see if he could find something that his parents might want to eat or drink.

* *

What disaster? The forest tweeted and rustled as though nothing in the world was wrong. The trees whispered peacefully in the breeze, great mothers comforting the little ones below them, singing old lullabies with the birds.

Not that Giovani was stopping to listen. He was wandering through the forest, but his mind was back home, pushing his body as far away as possible. There was a vague growling in his stomach, but he ignored it in his flight.

Night descended and still he walked. The sun rose again, and he went on. The growling increased to a roar, and at last it brought Giovani to pause. But he didn’t know what to do about the matter, so he continued on.

* *

“Giovani has some…special traits.”

That got his attention. He looked up finally at Mrs. Foster, the lady who ran the orphanage, and the man in the dark suit talking to her.

“What do you mean?” Mrs. Foster asked.

“Ma’am, I’m afraid that’s confidential. But be sure, he’ll be safe in our hands.”

“Where are you taking him? Will I be able to visit?”

“We’ll be in Tacita Town, but I’m not sure you will visit. Surely you’ve been listening to the news.”

* *

It was raining again, which was just as well. It fit the mood perfectly. Giovani raced through the street, maneuvering around abandoned cars, avoiding potholes filled with water. Behind him, the screams of his pursuers reached up to high heaven, challenging the distant lightning for their position as “loudest noise.” Giovani briefly glanced behind him, to see one of the necroids clambering over a truck, its mouth wide in hunger.

There. He could see a doorway off to the right – he might be able to duck in there and escape the necroids. Inside, he found a gymnasium, which seemed oddly familiar. He raced across the court, the sounds of his pursuers not far behind him. He opened the double doors on the other side, and stopped.

He stood on a hill in the middle of a wide plain, all covered in dust and dirt and brown grass. He frowned, briefly wondering how he had got there. He turned around to get a better view of his surroundings. There stood a wide building, almost as brown as the dust. He opened the doors to a comfortable lobby. It seemed like some kind of office, or rather something pretending to be an office.

Giovani wandered around. None of the doors were locked, but there was no one in sight – the building was utterly empty. Near the back of the facility, though, he found one that gave a bit of resistance.

“Come on,” he growled.

It clicked open. He pushed it open, to find a small room where, at the far end, stood an enormous silver vault. But rather than the giant wheel, there was just a combination and a little wheel. He touched the combination, spinning it. Eight. Forty. The numbers just felt right. But he couldn’t think of the last number.

As he stood there thinking, he was distracted by a sound – lightning. He turned around. A cathedral.

* *

Giovani blinked open his eyes. He was lying in his bed. He groaned, still feeling terrible. He turned over in bed, so that he could see the door, though only vaguely in the moonlight. He frowned. There were a pair of dark eyes glinting from the doorway. The door opened, revealing Cheng. She held a glass of water and some medicine in her hands.

“Vi told me to give you this when you woke up,” she said, coming over toward him.


He sat up, taking both of them. Returning the glass of water, he stared into her eyes intently, fiercely.

“Tell the others I need to talk to them. We all need to go somewhere.”


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