TO ALL THINGS AN ENDING........

by John Dodd

It's a dead world, this one, the decay and death roams the streets like a living beast. Here in downtown, the world could end in fire and fury, and unless someone stopped the benefit cheques, no one would notice. These are my streets here, this is my time, here I reign supreme, unchallenged by man or beast, I roam the way looking for the lost and the damned.

My name is Garrison, son of Azrael, Son Of War, It has been eight months since the war in the streets that took him from us, and still, the ghost of what he was still haunts us, we still get money from the funds he set up for us, and as I was his most trusted child, so it is to me that the burden of leadership falls.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, some of the other gangs, the more violent ones I might add, took it upon themselves to try and usurp the power and turn It to their own advantage. They would have succeeded had it not been for a contract killer by the name of Pagan, a friend of Azrael's, so he would have us believe. He took over the training and discipline that Azrael left behind, leaving me to try and pick up the pieces of our lives.

Anna took his disappearance the hardest, for days, all she did was stay in his apartment, not speaking, just crying softly, wrapped in his clothing, playing the same music again and again, "Just another Day without you" I think it was one of his favourites. After a week of this, she came out, and rejoined us, she didn't say anything about it, and none of us, not even Pagan, could get her to talk. She's put on weight since those days, and spends much of her time still in his apartment, I can still hear the music late at night as I make the rounds.

The trouble with the other gangs was soon brought to an end, and I turned my attention to all the things that I had been taught how to do. The day to day running of things didn't take much, all I did was countersign all the things that Azrael himself would have signed. Either the people at the other end were incompetant, or they didn't care, as long as someone paid them. Which won't be for too much longer from the looks of the bank statements.

It matters not, all that counts is that his legacy will continue. A few new gangs come to us, not as many as before, without Azrael to attract them with his exploits on the circuit, it's less glamorous to want to help with the project. For my part, I still read the book that he gave me, It's taking me some time to deal with some of the concepts in it. I really could do with his help, but he's not here any more, and the despair of the situation comes down on me like a hammer. I fall asleep at the table in the main hall, the book beneath my head, the quiet of the street all around me.

I am woken by the sound of someone creeping through the shadows of the hallway, I get up silently and sneak over to the edge of the door, drawing my knife from the holster at my side. The person is big, and moves slowly, with little care for silence, and although I must be far smaller and therefore weaker than them, I am sure that the training I have taken will give me at least a fighting chance.

The figure opens the door and slowly moves into the hall. Too big to be anyone I know, I raise my knife in an overhand grip and prepare to make my move. Azrael once taught me that a good battle cry can often even the odds, the shock of coming under attack by some screaming lunatic is often enough to cause a moments hesitation and that hesitation can prove to be fatal.

I scream my battle cry and lunge forwards, I sound more like a rat on alice than anything else, but the person spins around, falling backwards onto the floor with hands raised. I'm halfway into the strike when I realise that it's Anna and desperately throw the knife aside, trying to avoid hurting her. I land squarely on top of her, the impact knocking the breath out of her. We both lay there for a second, me in relief that I haven't hurt her, her still in shock, before I realise that some thing is wrong. Her belly is hard, I raise up off her and she slowly sits up, opening her robe slightly, revealing the huge swelling underneath. She looks up at me with eyes that hold some emotion foreign to me, misting over with tears. "It's his baby Garr." She bursts into tears, laying both her hands on her stomach.

I understand now why she kept it quiet, why she's been staying away from everyone all this time, the men, like me, wouldn't have noticed it, but the women would, and they'd put two and two together.

She sits there on the floor, and tells me every thing that happened on the night before Azrael was taken, how she'd found out weeks later about the child, and couldn't bear to terminate it.

"It's just that I needed something to remember him by." she says softly, still cradling her belly.

"It doesn't matter now" I reply, I'm nor sure what to say about this , it's not something I have any experience of. "I'm sure he'll watch over both of you."

She smiles, and I know that I've said the right thing. We sit there in silence for a few minutes, then I get up and help her to her feet.

"What will you tell everyone?" I ask.

"I don't know" she replies, and I can sense that she is still hurting inside, she wants everyone to know that she's carryiung his baby, she wants the world to know what they shared, but in doing so, she'll only be opening herself to the daily reminder from everyone that he's gone. "I'll pretend to be the dad if you like." I say, realising how stupid an idea it is the second the words leave my mouth, no one would believe it. Anna smiles, it's nice to see her smile like that, it reminds me of how she used to look all that time ago. She reaches out and ruffles my hair

"It's good of you to offer Garr, Adam would be proud of you."
Adam? Who's adam? The confusion must show on my face.
"Azrael" she fills in.
"Ah."

I can't sleep for the rest of that night, I stay awake the whole time, Checking the mail as it arrives, the bank is down to a few hundred credits, not enough to make the payments for the facilities on the buildings, several more demands for protection money from the local rival gangs, despite pagans work, he cannot be everywhere at once, and sooner or later, another war will come about. I absent-mindedly switch the radio on, could life get any worse than this?

"NewsFlash" The radio crackles "Sour Blood given early release from Warworld service, expected back on the contract circuit later today, where he has stated that he will settle a few old scores."

There you go, ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer, of course it could bloody well get worse.

There's an explosion outside, I glance out of the window. One of the local gangs, the Blades, has chosen this moment to make their move, they've been doing their homework, Pagan is out of town for a few days on a New Paris job to bring in some much needed credits. I grab my gun off the side and sound the alarm. Within a minute, we've got a token resistance, within five minutes, we've got a concerted resistance going on.

Given our position, we've got the advantage, we've got the cover of buildings, and the elevated angle with which to strike at them. There at the back of the gang is a large figure, standing in the middle of the road, can't quite make them out. Suddenly the gunfire stops and the figure walks forwards.

My life is just perfect at the moment, the first time in his life that he's early and he's only early because it's my funeral.

Sour Blood.

He walks to the halfway point of the street and stops, raising both hands to the air. None of us have the range to hit him effectively at this range, and so we hold fire.

"Bring out your leader to me!" he roars to the street, I've come to finish him like the dog he is!"

I feel the eyes of my companions on me, with Pagan not here, and Azrael gone, that leaves me. I sigh to myself, a mans fate is a what he makes of it, then softly, at the back of my head, the voice of the man I would have called Dad.

"No Regrets."

I smile, holstering my gun and flashing a quick salute at the rest of my people, then walk out with confidence.

It's almost worth it for the look on Bloods face as he sees me walking towards him.

The look doesn't last, he laughs, a booming forced laugh "Is this a joke?" He looks around, obviously playing to his audience "I seek the dog Azrael, that I may beat him down again, as I did before."

! can feel my face burn red with anger "you say that because he's not here!" I yell at him, my voice sounding to me like that rat that I was imitating earlier "If he was here, he'd send you home with your balls cut off again!"
Bloods face darkens for a second, I've hit a nerve "So then, boy, you presume to speak for him?"
I straighten with pride "I do!" I shout back
"Then it is fitting that I kill you in his stead." he says, advancing towards me.

I raise my hands, as I was taught, all ten fingers extended, then I realise that he's stopped, I look around me, it can't be me scaring him. I notice now that the other children of the street are arranged behind me, and more of them are coming out by the second. They line up behind me, none of them with any fear showing, all of them willing to stand with me to the death. I know now how Azrael felt when he watched the display that we'd made all those months ago. I turn back to face blood and find him still standing there, having nor moved at all from where he was.

"I don't kill children." he says, lowering his hands

"No" comes a voice from above, deep and resonant "There's every chance that they could kill you, and that would look bad wouldn't it?"

A figure detaches itself from the walkway above and drops down to land in between blood and us.

Pagan.

He must have cut the tour short when he heard the news. A wild cheer erupts from behind me as the others recognise him.

Blood scowls and motions for the gang behind him to open fire. Nothing happens, he glances around to see that the gang has fled the scene upon the appearance of Pagan.

"I'll be going then." he mutters, turning to leave
"No." Pagan whispers "you're not leaving here."

Blood turns, a sneer on his face "I can still take you boy, you're no match for me."
Pagan throws his rifle aside, pacing towards blood with the air of a born predator "Try." his voice is the epitome of contempt, garnished with a side salad of amusement at the "mighty" contract killer.

Blood springs to the attack, the move too fast for any of us to follow, Pagan is ahead of it, drawing his sword and slicing his arm off at the shoulder in one swift movement. Blood lands and screams in pain, his other hand moving reflexively to cover the stump. This was the move that Pagan was waiting for and he removes the other arm at the elbow, then reverses his blade and buts a huge gouge in bloods torso, entrails and organs spill out of Bloods torso, splashing to the floor in a blue grey heap.

Blood falls to the floor, mortally wounded, but even in death, he seems strangely triumphant.

"You'll never finish me!" he chokes "They'll always bring me back, better and stronger, and you'll never beat me!"

Pagan seems to consider this for a second, then points down the road at an approaching street cleaner, the built in grinders on it are designed to slowly dissolve all the things that they pick up, leaving nothing behind. Pagan drags the body over to the path of the cleaner, and points down the road at it as Blood's eyes go wide with terror. Pagan dumps the body to the floor, severing the spinal column at the top of the vertebrae as he does so.

Blood begins screaming, an animal cry of terror unbound, as the cleaner gets closer and closer, and suddenly I understand the fear. The cleaner won't kill him instantly, but it will eat away at his head, and then his brain, and by the time that the LAD facility registers that he's dead, most of his brain will have been dissolved, not that there was much in there to begin with.

As the cleaner finishes it's work, Pagan raises his hands to the sky, weapons held aloft.

"JUDGEMMMMMMEEEEENNNNNTTTTT"

I stop for a second, that's not right, that's Azrael's cry. I move towards Pagan as he turns to look at me, behind me, anna steps out from the crowd and walks up behind me.

Pagan removes his helmet and looks down at us, there's a scar on the side of his neck, but the face....

Azrael.

He looks down at me, extending his right hand. I reach out cautiously. The handshake is our secret one, I rush forward in my joy, he picks me up effortlessly in one hand, crushing me to his chest.

"How are you boy?" he asks, grinning like a maniac.

"Fine Sir." I reply "But I think you have someone else you need to see."

Anna is standing there with her hands over her belly, as if protecting it from this person who is masquerading as the one who loved her. Azrael drops me down gently and walks over to her.

She reaches up one hand to his face, tracing the lines of the scar on his neck.

"I saw you die!" she sobs "there ain't no coming back!"
He smiles at her, gently, like he did that night so long ago."It's just another day without you." he whispers to her
Anna's hand flies to her mouth, covering her shock, that's the title of the song that she's been playing to herself all these months. She breaks down in tears and stumbles into his arms. Behind us, the gangs roar with approval as he kisses her gently.

The LAD unit arrives behind us, I can hear muffled parts of the conversation.

"Irreparable Damage...........Can't salvage the brain............No big loss then."

I look at the assembled gangs, then across at the street, then across to the man I could call father, and the woman who he would take as his wife, and in my heart, I know what happiness is.

Finally, It's all over...