Sarkic Heat



Sarkic Heat


rating: +34+x

Moscow, Russia
1 November, 2021

Karcist Varis leaned back in the passenger seat of the armored Vanguard SUV. He turned and looked at the disheveled, middle-aged man driving. Dr. Alto Clef had grungy, semi-long hair under a wide brimmed hat, perpetual five-o’clock shadow, and a stained flannel tucked into jeans. A shotgun was in a vertical rack between the two seats, and Clef had a sidearm at his hip.

“Is this what passes for professional attire, Alto?”

Alto looked at Varis with a sardonic side eye. “Don’t you usually wear robes made of flesh?

“Oh good, the racism starts.” Varis was in fact in a tailored suit, charcoal with very subtle pinstripes, a black collared shirt, and an earthy red tie.

“Racism? What? Do you not wear clothes made out of flesh?”

“This is Tom Baker.” Varis ran a finger under the lapel of his suit.

“Does he make robes?”

Varis chose not to engage on Clef’s level and smiled politely. “I’ll have to check.”

The Vanguard had been operational for the past few months, and it had been rocky. Nations, corporations, and private interest groups lashing out at the “hoaxes perpetrated by the Vanguard.” But a few weeks after the world-wide announcement, scientists previously employed by the Foundation started releasing data on a controlled number of anomalies. One of the early priorities as noted by the ad hoc Board of Directors was to show some big wins, which meant getting the national governments to realize that Vanguard was not only telling the truth about dangerous anomalies, but also offering solutions. Which is how Varis ended up in Russia with the most infamous of the Foundation’s killers, supported by a small army of FSB agents.

“I do not enjoy playing the policeman.” Varis was looking in the side mirror at the FSB troop armored vehicle following them.

“ACAB, amirite?” Clef rolled down the window to smoke.

“Excuse me?”

“All Cops are Bastards? You know, ACAB.”

“Do you not take anything seriously, Alto?”

“Mission objectives.”

Varis looked at Clef. What a strange man.

“I do not want to seem glib, but my people have been held under the jackboot of thugs like the FSB for generations. And it rankles having to step into the role of the storm trooper.”

“Well, if we’re going to get the world to agree to our new world or–”

“The Board has specifically stated we are not calling it that.”

Clef laughed. “You know what I mean. We need to get the powers that be to accept us, just like they did before. And as the whole world knows about the shit now, we need a public win.”

“I’m aware.”

“So, the reason we’re playing policeman, is because your cousins have really upped the stakes in recent months.”


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Vanguard Site-19
30 October, 2021

“What do you know about the The Hunter's Black Lodge?”

“Are you asking me because I’m a Nälkä, Tilda?”

Tilda Moose was a Vanguard Board member but had been Foundation Site-19 Director and before that a Serpent’s Hand cell leader. Her outlook interested Varis; she had a variety of perches from which to observe the anomalous world over the previous twenty years. But her question made his stomach sour and he gripped the chair back to avoid making fists.

They were in Moose’s office at 19, which had been turned into a center for the reclamation and reorganization of the Continental US. Varis had decided not to sit, leaning on the visitors’ chair in front of her desk. He had not been in the area long, as he was constantly moving from Nälkä community to Nälkä community trying to ease their transition and headhunting for volunteers to join the new organization.

“I’m asking because your role has been focused on diplomacy for months, even before the changeover. I’m asking because you’re an expert in the faith, a leader, and you care about the perception of the Nälkä in this new world.”

“My apologies, old hatreds burn brightly. There’s been terrific progress and my people are being welcomed into the organization but there’s still pushback and ignorance.”

“I met far stranger people and things than the Nälkä during my time with the Hand, Varis. I hold no such biases.”

Varis finally sat and took the file she was holding out.

“The Lodge has increased its activities tenfold in the wake of SCP… VNP-6500, and the Russian government has finally started taking our warnings seriously. They always knew the Lodge had something different going on, but our predecessors were never fully clear with them and neither was the GRU-P before the Foundation had much presence in Russia.”

Varis flipped through the file, noting several maps showing Lodge holdings in and around Moscow. He met Moose’s eyes.

“Why are you telling me this, Tilda?”

“Our new Nälkä recruits are assimilating well, but it’s a little early to field them and honestly, we don’t have nearly enough. The Board has authorized a police action against the Lodge, with the permission and assistance of the FSB, in Moscow. I’ll be sending in some MTF personnel to supervise, I’d like you to go with.”

“Why?”

“I won’t assume there’s a chance for this to end diplomatically, but that’s with the organization as a whole. Individuals could see the wisdom in surrendering, especially into the hands of a famous Karcist. Hell, it wouldn’t even be the first time we had recruited from the Lodge. Additionally, you’re probably the best equipped to know what we’re walking into.”

“Why are we doing this now?”

“To get the Russians on board. There’s a lot of other things to tackle in that corner of the world and getting in bed with the Russian Federals means we would have the back up we need to curtail things like 610 and 3930.”

“I have no experience leading MTF agents.”

“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of sending you alone.”


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Moscow, Russia
1 November, 2021

“The Lodge are not my cousins, Alto. They are an organized crime ring that worship at the altar of a fallen god who is supposedly Ion’s follower. If I am related to them, then you are related to every sexist asshole with a rifle in Virginia.”

Clef held his free hand up in surrender, then threw the cigarette out the window. The chill in the air was significant, even for this time of year in this part of the world. Varis sent a mental command to the halkost colony within his body to bring up his body temperature slightly to compensate.

“Fine, fine. They’re not your family, but y’all related ain’t ya? You do know what we’re getting into here, right?”

“A densely populated series of underground passages filled with people who fight and die for Orok’s blessing, and legions of Russian mobsters with automatic weapons.”

“My kind of fun.”

“If at all possible, we are to take prisoners, Alto.”

Clef scoffed and lit another cigarette. “Prisoners? Keep dreaming.”

“I’m in charge of this operation, and the Board agrees with me. We need to maintain a better image than your jackbooted thugs.”

“Hey, don’t take it the wrong way. One of these chuckleheads surrenders, I’ll be pleased as fuck. I just don’t think you read the same file I did.”

Varis looked out the window, thinking of the 2408 assigned agent’s reports of bloodletting, brainwashing, and ritual fights to the death. Not for the first time he wondered what the Grand Karcist would think of how some of his followers had interpreted his message over the centuries.

“So, you’re from here, right?” Clef asked.

Varis nodded, thinking of the Tsarist dungeons and the GRU-P experiments. “I was not born in Russia, but I have spent many years within her borders. It is hard to think of it as home.”

Clef glanced sideways and the grin fell from his face. “Bad times?”

“Stalin was not a pleasant man.”

Clef seemed to chew this over for a minute. “No, I don’t imagine he was.”

“So, returning after many years to add new horrors on top of bad memories… Let’s just say I don’t look forward to this confrontation.”

Varis looked at the GPS on the dash, saw them closing in on their target and pulled the radio from its cache. He tuned it first to the joint FSB and MTF channel. “We will be at our destination in three minutes. Disembark and surround the property as we practiced. Mole Rats, your job is to go down into the sewers and tunnels and seal them off. Psi-13 and FSB forces will follow Dr. Clef and myself into the building itself. Moscow police are cordoning off the streets now.”

Clef held out his hand and Varis handed him the radio. Clef turned the channel to single out Psi-13 and the Mole Rats. “Okay boys and girls, this is an active fire zone the minute we go in. Watch the FSB and police, we are not in friendly territory. Be on your best behavior, but weapons hot if you sense any hostility from any Sark– um, Black Lodge agents.”

He handed Varis back the radio, Varis slotted it into the cache and crossed his arms. Neither said anything for a full minute before Clef cleared his throat. “Look, old habits die hard, okay?”

Varis continued to looked forward, focusing on the details of the passing streets.

“We have to work together at least, right? I’m an old dog and I’m adjusting, this new life is taking some getting used to. Tell me about yourself, your abilities as a Karcist. What can we count on you to do today?”

“I could take over your body and make it an extension of myself, and we would never again have to hear what old man Clef thinks about anything. Would that be useful to you?”

“Come on. Bullshit.”

“You didn’t read my file, then? I assure you, the Foundation had me as its guest for a while… or part of me. In fact, it was in that fashion that I escaped their clutches.”

Clef rigidly held the steering wheel in both hands. “You could actually do that?”

“I could try, we’ve all heard about your vaulted immunity to all things weird and anomalous. Would you like me to try?”

“No.”

“Well, in future, might I suggest a modicum of respect.”

The convoy approached a barrier maintained by police. Clef showed his identification and the convoy was let through. Six armored personnel carriers followed the SUV Clef drove and then split to form a semicircle of parked vehicles in front of a quiet night club.

Varis exited the vehicle and stood back as the various MTF and FSB personnel gathered in the street. He looked up at the sign and smirked. Clef caught the look and shrugged.

“It’s called the Night Feast.”

Clef shuddered exaggeratedly and turned towards the troops.

“Alright, you have your orders! Those of you following me and Karcist Varis, keep your guard up but do not open fire until ordered. Is that clear?” he yelled at the nearly sixty armored personnel. Various nods and affirmations were given in response and Clef nodded in turn to Varis.

The Karcist straightened his suit coat and took the proffered body armor from Clef, who was also donning a vest with the Vanguard sigil on the chest.

Varis extracted a warrant issued from the Russian court and approached the door to the nightclub. He was absolutely certain this would not go well.


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The Night Feast – Moscow, Russia
1 November, 2021
Fifteen minutes later

Things were not going well. Varis had to admit that they were going very badly indeed. He knelt behind a stone sculpture of Orok in a circular subterranean chamber with five passages (including the one they had entered from) radiating out from the center. He was holding up Clef’s head, trying to examine for injuries. He had a sharp cut above his left eye, possibly from shrapnel, but otherwise looked alright. Varis held his palm over the bloody cut and willed the halkost to touch the wound, pulling the flesh back together and knitting the rend shut with biological sutures.

Varis pulled his hand away and looked into Clef’s eyes; they were glassy and unfocused.

“What the fuck … happened?”

“We’ve met resistance, Alto. One of the Lodge’s soldiers lobbed a grenade into the room. Several of the FSB agents took the blast but you fell, and I pulled you behind cover.”

“Gimme a minute.”

Varis risked a glance over the top of the sculpture and received a round from a handgun, just below his left eye. He groaned and held a palm over the leaking hole in his face. This was going very badly.

The nightclub above had been abandoned, which wasn’t too out of the ordinary given the early morning hour. He had carried the warrant with him to the backrooms, followed by Clef and their troops, finding a staircase leading down into the basement, and he assumed, the undercity constructed by the Lodge.

It was clear that many pairs of feet had recently been through the passage they emerged into; muddy footprints and discarded boxes were everywhere. The corridor had clearly been used for storage, but boxes of supplies for the night club were hastily pushed aside to provide egress.

Varis put the warrant back into his pocket, adjusting the armor over his suit coat. It were clearly not meant to be worn over fine clothes. He wouldn’t be admitting this to Clef, but he almost understood the casual attire.

The group had found themselves going down deeper and deeper into the tunnels, until they emerged into the room they now occupied. The large stone sculpture of Orok stood before a circular metal gate in the floor, which was filthy with blood and debris.

“Who are you to invade our Lord’s sanctum?” a voice shouted out in Russian from a nearby corridor.

“We are representatives of the Russian Federal Government and Vanguard, formerly the SCP Foundation. We have a warrant to search the prem–”

Varis had been interrupted by the explosion killing several FSB and knocking Clef to the ground.

His wound closed, Varis reached out and tried to feel the assailants with his host. He could sense several dozen of the hunters, their augmented systems thrumming with halkost, but he could not grasp them to take control. They were resisting him, having been warned against his control. There was no magic or augmentation at play, merely an exercise of will – which explained why they were not sweeping into this chamber to capitalize on the Vanguard forces having taken cover.

Varis looked down at Clef and saw a couple grenades on his belt. “What are those?”

“Uh… flashbangs.”

“And our MTF agents, do they have more?”

“Yeah, should have a few per squad.” Clef clutched at his temples. “Sorry, can’t seem to get my vision to stop swimming.”

“It’s alright, I have a plan,” Varis said, taking the two grenades.

Varis stood and reached out his arms to the squads of MTF and FSB agents waiting in side-passages seeking cover, grasping a few within his mind, letting his halkost flow into them. Suddenly, he was throwing the flashbang into the passage directly in front of his position and several agents he was controlling did the same into the other passages. He closed his eyes as the bright light and earsplitting sound of the grenade went off.

He kept his attention on the bratva thugs, testing their resistance, searching for a gap in the armor. He had the agents throw more flashbangs and clamped down on those Sarkic enhanced bodies he could sense that wavered or shrank away from the explosions. Varis felt another two bullets strike his vest, rocking him on his feet. Clef’s arms wrapped around his legs and waist, holding him upwards. Then Varis’ fangs sank deep, tearing into muscle, mind and halkost until over a dozen Lodge assailants bowed to his will.

He slowly lowered to his knees and took a ragged breath, feeling every blow and wound on those extensions of himself newly crafted from the Lodge’s thugs. He willed his new servants to rip through their former brothers, many going down without even knowing they had been betrayed. He released the agents, tasting their confusion as he left behind their bodies, separate from his own.

Clef seemed to have shaken off the disorientation, as he was staring at Varis with clear eyes.

“How can you do that? Take them against their will like that?”

“The Lodge has enslaved untold thousands over their existence. They do not deserve more consideration from me, who they have tried to kill today.”

“It’s effective, don’t get me wrong. I don’t give a shit about them. But aren’t they your people?”

“How many times must I explain, Alto? These are not my people; they are slave traders who make children fight for sport and kill defenseless men and women in the night to protect their selfish aims. And all in the name of a Klavigar that is almost certainly not here!”

The chamber began to shake, dust falling onto them from above.

“What the fuck now?” Clef said as he stood, leaning on the statue for support.

Varis called the surviving Sarkics to him. Two dozen survivors gathered in front of him, their wounds slowly healing, their clothes torn and blood stained.

“You will all be freed at the end of this day, one way or another. But we are going down, and you will be coming with us.”

Clef got the surviving FSB and MTF agents moving in formation, followed by Varis and his new hive.


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Beneath
An hour later

They had traveled down endless tunnels at this point and were probably half a mile underneath Moscow. Each new cluster of Lodge soldiers had become easier and easier to restrain or neutralize. Most had given up when faced with the overwhelming numbers and their escape routes sealed by the Mole Rats.

Clef finished zip tying one of their wrists together with a metal strap designed to adhere to even biomodified Sarkic flesh. He looked up at Varis and narrowed his eyes.

“I don’t think this,” indicating the several dozen Lodge foot soldiers following Varis, “will fit with our new image. What are people to say when they find out you’re controlling the people we came here to apprehend?”

“You’re right, I’ll let them go.”

“Wait, no… I didn’t say that!”

Varis smiled.

“But…”

“I realize, and it is an unpleasant thing in this new world of public opinion and openness for we, the anomalous. But as the other option was to have them kill each other, I assume they will prefer the inside of a cell to being summarily executed. I will let them go when we are done.”

“Yeah, right into a paddy wagon.”

“Quite.”

Clef approached one of the surrendering bratva soldiers and crouched down next to him. In Russian he said, “Where are your Great Mothers hiding, soldat?”

The bratva just stared at Clef, mouth a tight line across his face.

Varis moved into the man’s sight line and met his gaze. “We want no harm to come to them or any of you, if we can help it. But you have a choice, deal with us or deal with the might of the Russian Federal authorities. As a former guest of your government, I would not suggest it.”

The bratva stared into Varis’ face, then looked away. “They are in secret room.”

“And how do we access the room?”

The bratva looked around at his colleagues, who were staring daggers at him. “You had better bring me along.”

Varis lifted the man to his feet, easily taking his full two hundred kilograms of weight. The man looked surprised at Varis, who was not a large man.

“Not all augmented flesh is so obvious from the outside, my friend,” Varis said to the bratva.

The man bowed his head and whispered, “Karcist.”

“Yes, now show us to the Mothers. They must not see harm.”

The bratva nodded and led them towards the back wall, then opening a hidden door. Varis and Clef followed the Russian gangster down a small corridor and another set of stairs to a small furnished drawing room with reading chairs and bookshelves covering every wall.

The bratva bowed and said, “Let me announce you.”

“I wonder if you wouldn’t be safer out here, Alto.”

“Maybe, but I’m not letting you outta my sight. You bite it, I better go with or Moose will have my head.”

Varis laughed. “She is a formidable woman. Alright then, but take no hostile action unless I do or they attack.”

Clef nodded and then hooked a thumb behind him, indicating the mass of bratvas who were under Varis’ sway. “And them?”

Varis turned around and faced the crowd; he relaxed his control over their bodies enough so they could respond.

“Your brother is introducing us to the Mothers as you no doubt heard. They are vulnerable, as you are now. But there is no need for further bloodshed. I will leave you here; do not let any other pass and you have my word I will protect the Voluntaar. Do we have an agreement?”

The bratvas looked at one another and then one stepped forward, bowing his head. “We do, Karcist. Protect the Mothers and we will forgive this trespass against us.”

Varis turned from them and stood next to Clef again.

“Why do I get the sense something has changed, Varis?”

“Maybe these are my people. Maybe, we should try a different path.”

Clef shook his head. “Well, I’d say it was your funeral, but it’ll probably be mine as well.”

Varis laughed and approached the door on the opposite wall, just as the bratva who had announced them opened it.

“The Mothers will speak with you, Karcist.”


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The chamber beyond had a high arching rock ceiling that almost appeared natural, towering nearly fifty meters above their heads. The chamber was large – enough to fit several hundred – but there only were twelve robed women standing in the semi-circle facing Varis and Clef as they entered. Beyond the women was a large humanoid figure, laying prone on a stone table.

The naked man must have been nearly three meters tall and weighing in over three hundred kilograms. His skin was reddish brown, dappled in gray scales. Bulging muscles overlaid with bone plates rippled as he breathed deeply, apparently asleep. Ridges of bone horns traced his brow, but despite the threatening nature of his presence he had a serene look on his face.

Two of the women stepped forward to meet the Vanguard representatives.

“What are you doing here, brother? And in the company of jailers no less,” the two said in unison.

“Mothers, a great many things have changed in the world in the wake of the Impasse. The Foundation is no more, the cursed O5s have dissolved it. Something new stands in its place. We are representatives of this new force, the Vanguard.”

“We know the Impasse has ceased and the weird flows into the world again, Orok has sensed it so we too know this. But the Foundation is no more, you say? This is good news for us,” the Mother on the right said.

“We know you’ve been busy since the Impasse was resolved, expanding your reach and trying to reestablish your hold on Russia’s criminal networks. But we’re here to put a stop to it,” Clef said in Russian.

“Tell the ukulele that if he speaks again, we will eat his heart.”

Clef’s mouth was agape when the Karcist looked, so he motioned the doctor backwards.

“We are willing to speak to you because it is said you were touched by the Grand Karcist himself.”

Varis nodded. “That is true.”

“Then you must know our master well.”

“I did know him, many years ago. Long before he came to this land. Long before your organization was founded. Until this very moment, I was not sure he still lived.”

I live, Varis. As you can plainly see.

Varis stepped back, surprised by the voice that reverberated off the stone ceiling. The large man had not moved.

“Ah, he speaks!” cried all twelve of the Mothers at once.

What do you want here, Varis?

“Klavigar, my honor. I do not pretend to know your reasons for founding this organization, or if you fully condone their actions, but the time for existing in shadow has come and gone.”

Nonsense. The deep places of the Earth have hid me well, for centuries. I have reclined in this place since before Catherine the Great. What could have changed so much that a Karcist, who knew our blessed Ion, would sully himself with American filth like this man?

“The world knows, Klavigar. We have told them.”

So? The world of men knew before of our power, it did not stop me from doing what I wished.

“The war was long ago, but the Mekhanites have not been idle. Their numbers grow and they have insinuated themselves into places of power with many governments. Moreover, the book burners no longer seek to merely destroy the anomalous in the shadows, but take to public campaigns. We seek to normalize the strange and the wonderful, to allow humanity to accept that which has so long been hidden.”

Again, I ask you: what does this matter to me?

“The governments of the world are no longer willing to sit back and let organizations like the Foundation silence the dark. They are taking an active hand and what they do not understand, they destroy. And they cannot understand us.”

Ah! So you intend to fight! This is good, Varis. I love a war.

“You misunderstand, my Klavigar. We cannot fight the entire world. There are many billions of people, and with their weapons, eventually they would prove dangerous to even you. And certainly your Voluntaar and the Lodge. The Vanguard seeks to bring the anomalous into the light, peacefully if we can.”

And if I do not want to go peacefully?

Orok’s voice boomed within the chamber and Varis steeled his nerve.

“I do not come to threaten you, even though I was forced to kill some of your soldiers.”

Bah, dying is what they were meant to do anyway.

“Be that as it may, they need not die anymore. We are here to find an agreement.”

Clef stepped forward, but Varis put a hand on his chest without looking back and stopped him from taking another step.

“Klavigar, Mothers… I am here to find an armistice. Between the Vanguard and the Lodge, and in so doing, shelter you from the anger of the Russian people and their many bombs.”

Silence reigned in response to his assertion. Varis noticed the Mothers were not quite as confident as before, having huddled together, speaking quietly amongst themselves. Then, finally, Orok spoke.

What are your terms, Varis?

“Cease all peddling of narcotics, cease all human trafficking, sacrifice a few leaders to the Russians’ justice and in return, the Vanguard will guarantee your safety. And the safety of your family. At a later date we can discuss legitimizing your business interests, but the criminal activities must stop. You must give the authorities no reason to think you are a threat. And then we begin the great work.”

What work is that?

“Bringing you into the light. Along with all the Nälkä, as one people. No longer spread amongst a thousand backwater communities and caves, but in the light, spreading Ion’s work amongst the masses.”

And when Ion returns?

“My lord, he has been gone for more than a millennium. I do not doubt the Grand Karcist proved a worthy adversary to Yaldaboath, but I do not believe he will return.”

Have you heard nothing from him?

“No, I think we have to come to terms with his loss.”

I see… With each passing century, I have found myself more convinced I would not hear his voice again. But you were always so close to him, I had hoped…

Varis let the Klavigar's silence deepen for a moment, not wanting to rush him. But finally, he asked the ancient Nälkä another question.

“Orok, with all due respect, why have you let the Lodge do so much damage here?”

If I am honest, I have let the Lodge do as it would in my name. I have no attachment to their current practices. They have developed their own rituals and beliefs over the centuries, and I have not corrected them. This was to be my glorious purpose, my army to call on when Ion returned. But so much time has passed. And I have been so angry, Varis. So very angry with the world. For so very long. As we speak on it, I wonder what Ion would think were he to return now.

“We have all been hunted for centuries. What we have done to survive has not always been palatable… but we did these things to survive. I have grown far too callous in my treatment of the lives around me. But we have an opportunity here. A chance to right the ship and live up to his ideal.”

Great Mothers, what say you?

One of the Mothers stepped forward toward Varis. “If the Karcist speaks true – and we suspect he does – there is little choice. There was always the chance for discovery and ruination at the hands of the mundane world. Now, if we are to survive, perhaps it is time for a new way. We would support you, Klavigar, no matter what your decision.”

You there, book burner.

Clef looked around and then pointed at his chest. “Me?”

Yes. You were once a killer and nothing more, an assassin.

“Well I wouldn–“

You have put down your weapons to join this Vanguard?

Clef looked at Varis, who gestured for Clef to answer.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve put down the weapons entirely. There's a shotgun in my SUV — do you know what an SUV is? Probably not. Point is, there will still be dirty work ahead of us.”

Booming laughter filled the chamber. I like this one, Varis. He’s a rat with teeth.

“But I think there’s a real chance to change the way we’ve been doing things. SCP-6500 – sorry, the Impasse – was a real wake up call. I think, and I’m not alone, that our best chance is one of diplomacy and education.”

Hmmmmm.

“Of course, there’ll always be assholes who need a slapping.”

Orok laughed again. Varis, does your new Vanguard need soldiers or is this a pacifist Karcist before me?

“We are setting out to protect the world, from all the horrible things that will not play nice with the mundane. Yes, we still need soldiers. Unfortunately.”

Then, we can come to an armistice, Karcist Varis.


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Later, having spoken to the head of the FSB and the Russian Prime Minister, Varis reclined in the same SUV that had brought him there. Clef opened the passenger side door and leaned against it, still somehow completely unbothered by the cold.

“Well? What are we doing here?” Clef asked.

“Moose agrees and will take it to the Board. I’ll need to defend it to them myself but then, I’m not the only voice on the Board who will see the wisdom in it. In the meantime, we’re to make a show of detaining a few of the bratvas in leadership positions.”

“What about the Mothers and his Largeness?”

“No, we’ll leave them be. A few of the new Nälkä who have joined the diplomatic core will come, along with some Vanguard specialists, and we’ll work out the best way to move forward. But we don’t need to shatter this agreement so early by turning them over to the Russian authorities.”

“Do you really think these gangsters are really going to turn over a new leaf?”

“Some of them will, some will not. But I suspect all will at least listen when their Lord stands up and addresses them himself. They are a great many things, but they are not disloyal.”

Clef lit a cigarette and took a drag. “Well, fuck me. I really didn’t think you were gonna pull this off.”

Varis snagged the cigarette from Clef’s fingers, and took a drag.

“Honestly? Me either.”


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