The machines in the old factory groaned as their gears turned and the vents leaked thick clouds of steam. I kept my head down and my footsteps quick—I wasn’t supposed to be here.
And then I saw them. They were only silhouettes, but I could recognize the pair anywhere. The Fiend, and the lady. They were conducting their deal, but the atmosphere of their negotiation was tense. I could sense her shifting beneath the confines of her coat.
The Fiend grabbed her arm and roughly led her away, to the center of the factory. She was an unwilling participant caught in a cycle she couldn’t control. We all were.
I followed them, and my heart dropped. The Fiend pushed her over the edge, into a vat of something I was yet to discover. Her lithe form vanished over the edge, causing an eruption of white that temporarily took my vision. I staggered from the factory, failing once again.
The door to the bar opened on shrieking hinges. The End of the World, a smoke-filled sanctuary for the high-class and low-lives to congregate. I claimed a barstool and nodded to the barkeeper. He slid me a beer. I drank absentmindedly.
A tall man slid onto a barstool a few seats down from me. The Fiend. Did he know I witnessed the murder? He caught my gaze and stared, his face hidden in shadow. He tipped his head back, downing a shot of whiskey. He slid the bartender some cash, then tipped his hat to me and left as quickly as he had arrived.
The bartender took the cash, but not the slip of paper hidden beneath. Once he was gone, I examined it. It was a photograph. Of her.
I closed my eyes, fighting the memory. The Fiend had taken her from me. She was everything I had, everything I wanted, and one day she was gone. I rewound the memory to the moment I met her. The moment I lost her. I wouldn’t repeat it. To end the Fiend was to end the cycle.
I downed my beer and left the old bar.
Waiting for me in the flickering streetlight was a familiar form—lithe, but hidden beneath a slender overcoat. She glanced back at me. Those eyes…
I chased her like I always did, through nightclubs, down old alleyways. She moved fast, like a ghost.
I lost her in the shipyard. Familiar footfalls allowed my mind to wander. When it all began, I’d been a boy. She’d taken me in, taught me everything I knew. One day she had discovered something. “It’s dangerous,” is all she would say. What was it? Who was it?
I caught sight of her up ahead, rounding a shipping container. I sped up to catch her, but the Fiend’s haggard form stopped me. He led her into the old factory. I refrained from interrupting. I had in the past, and it had caused a bad outcome for many people.
The Fiend stopped her at a machine. He lifted a syringe and plunged it into her arm. She quivered and folded over, struggling to stand. He discarded the needle and pulled her deeper into the factory before she could recover.
I couldn’t stand it. “Stop!” I yelled, revealing myself. The Fiend and the lady paused, both looking at me. She pulled herself from his grasp and fell into my arms. I stared at her face. Her beautiful face. She struggled to whisper in my ear. “Dangerous men die violent deaths; I’ve accepted my fate. I messed up the job, and this is how bad these deals end. Just my luck.”
She straightened up and smiled at me. I’d never held her before, never this close. She stumbled away from me, past the Fiend. She stopped on the edge of the vat, looking at us both. One last beautiful smile, and then she was gone.
She allowed herself to fall backward, vanishing into the vat.
The blinding light of the explosion took my vision once more.
The cycle was initiated once again.
Maybe next time I can stop it.