Chapter 31

The Beast or the Key

⚞☆⚟

Their return to New Coalport should have been horribly long and boring. Instead it all seemed to happen unbearably fast. One moment Luke closed his eyes after sitting down on a plane, the next Hector woke him, telling him they had to transfer to another one. A short surreal jog through a massive labyrinth of metal and glass, and soon they were onboard another plane.

Luke fell back asleep the moment his head touched the headrest. When he woke, they were still flying. The flight attendant was offering food and drink, which Luke gladly accepted. Hector took his own, but did not touch either. He was staring ahead of himself tiredly, seemingly unable to sleep. Luke considered saying something, but his companion looked so grim that he never gathered the courage. Instead he thanked him when Hector passed him his untouched meal. Luke had not realized how hungry he had been. Their trip across the globe had been so stressful and rushed that he’d hardly had time to remember about food. He tried to offer Hector at least half of the soggy sandwich, but the man politely refused, citing a lack of appetite. Luke didn’t bother him further.

Hector leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. For a moment Luke thought he had fallen asleep, but then the man sighed quietly and opened his eyes again. He looked older somehow. Like he had lost some of the vigor that kept the two of them alive during the perilous trip the other way. Luke felt sorry for him, but mostly relieved the whole thing ended without anyone dying. Or at least he hoped so.

⚞H⚟

Outside the New Coalport airport Hector gave the magical vagrant a roll of banknotes and told him to get a taxi back to the Rat Trap. Then he walked away, ignoring his protests. A limo was waiting for him. And he needed a cigar. He would have smoked on the plane, but the homeless guy had coughed so badly on their flight there, that Hector felt he deserved a break.

The weather outside was frigid, but Hector hardly noticed. He strode towards the car at a leisurely pace as other arriving passengers hurried past. He felt hollow, utterly empty. And vacuum wasn’t great at conducting heat. Perhaps that was why the cold didn’t seem to bother him. He dropped in the backseat and told the driver to take him home. He lit a cigar and filled the hollowness inside with bitter smoke.

Nate, the driver, was quiet. No questions on how it’d gone, no smalltalk. Hector guessed his demeanour spoke for itself. He was gloomy and alone. What more was there to tell?

Despite the cold there was rather little snow outside. The blizzard Hector had left behind had melted, turned to mud and frozen all over again, leaving the city a grimy, icy wasteland. The radio played quietly, almost cautiously. None of the local news was good. A string of murders, dozens of suicides, a few grisly accidents and even several fires. This had to be the worst December in New Coalport’s history.

When they arrived at the villa, his secretary stood at the ready. The Man winced, it was supposed to be a slow week, what could she possibly have to make his day any worse?

“Nina, please, be a doll and have some good news…”

“Your son called.” 

Hector’s heart skipped a beat.

“He is having a great time at the resort.”

“Damn it, Nina. You almost gave me a heart attack.”

“You asked for good news, sir,” the woman said. “The bad news is, your lawyer, Mr. Shaazgai, is dead.”

Hector stared at her in confusion. “Dead how?”

“Shot in the head. So far the police say it looks like a suicide.”

“Huh… A shame.” Hector frowned. “I guess he was under more strain than he showed. He was a good lawyer, may he rest in peace.”

“His nephew, who is currently in law school, has contacted us and offered his services in helping wrap up his uncle’s work. He cannot work for you yet, of course, but he said he would gladly assist whichever lawyer you pick as his uncle’s temporary replacement under the condition that you consider him for the job at a later date.”

Hector’s eyebrows rose. “Well… I guess there is always a Shaazgai.” He shook his head. “Find out if he’s a quarter as good as his uncle, and if he is, tell him he’s in. Anything else?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. For the next two days I don’t want to be disturbed unless something really important happens or my son calls.”

“Yes, sir.”

Hector walked through the villa, feeling tired and alone. The conversation with his secretary had distracted him for a moment, but now the blues were creeping back in. He hated that. There was no use in moping, it was a luxury only wasteful layabouts and carefree youths could afford. He had a city to run. And yet he couldn’t shake the downs off like he normally would.

He had been there before. Rejection. Betrayal. Lies.

He had only truly loved once before. And it had ended much the same way. One day, without warning, his wife let him know that he was a monster, that she was afraid of him, loathed him and couldn’t stand to be with him any longer. And she did it all through a letter that she left in his apartment alongside their six-month-old baby boy that he had never seen until that day. 

The situation with Wyatt was different, but in some ways exactly the same. Once more a person Hector loved could not stomach the darker side of him. Once more he had unwittingly hurt, antagonized and terrified someone dear to him, while that someone had kept it hidden and didn’t even trust him enough to face him before running away. Unlike his wife, at least Wyatt had a valid reason to be afraid for his life and lie in the first place. Hector couldn’t deny him that. But it still hurt like Hell to go through the same breakup a second time. Some scars, it seemed, weren’t meant to heal.

Only Junior had not lied or run when he’d found out the truth about his father. He’d faced Hector like a man even though he’d been only thirteen at the time. It put a dent in their relationship, and the boy moved out to live on his own. But they were still close. Closer than many fathers and sons were.

Or were they? Was Junior also pretending and living in fear? Could he be sure it was not the case? Hector didn’t know. It appeared he had lost his touch on reading people — he had no idea Shaazgai had been struggling, after all a man does not choose to commit suicide overnight, he must have been depressed for a while. And Ocher… he had failed to read him completely.

But even if his son wasn’t pretending or afraid, what choice did the boy have? Hector was the only blood relative Junior had ever known. Would he have left if he had anyone to run to? Was everyone Hector ever loved going to run away from him when they really knew him?

The scraping of paws on the tiled floor returned Hector back to the present. The dobermans ran towards him, their short tails wagging. They only ever wagged their tails at him and Zack. Hector smiled and crouched to pet the dogs. Phobos and Deimos licked his hands and stepped in place with subdued excitement. They were too well-trained to jump at him or try to lick his face, so this was about as emotional as they ever got.

Hector smiled. No matter how everyone else felt about him, at least the dogs loved him the way he was.

⚞⚿⚟

Where was it? Ocher went through the box for the third time but none of these keys was the one he needed. How useless. Why did he even keep these? No matter. Maybe he could do without the key for now. Just trap the beast in a cage with no lock. At least then, it would not steal the key again. Yes, that sounded like a plan. Why had there even been a lock and key in the first place? Something so dangerous and malicious should just be locked away once and for all. The guardian repressed that line of thoughts though. He would not, could not question the competence of his Creators, especially not after failing his duty like this. 

He strolled through the docks at night, searching for a good spot for an ambush. It was cold and the water was touched by ice. Ocher looked above. The stars in the sky were familiar and foreign all at once. He knew that he recognized them only because of how many lives he had spent here on Earth. Otherwise they didn’t mean a thing to him. What part of the universe were they in? How long had it been? Were his Makers even still watching? He assumed they were. He found a nice sandy beach that was easy to describe when giving directions. It was slightly  covered by snow, but it should do. He would use Wyatt as bait. The beast wouldn’t suspect a thing.

And now for the most challenging part. He had the beast’s number. He was going to call it. 

On the phone.

⚞H⚟

“Hector… I-I’m calling to apologize. I wasn’t quite… myself back there. I wasn’t thinking clearly, I panicked. I don’t want it to end like that. Can we meet? Please…”

Hector stayed silent for a long while. He had an ominous feeling about this call, but Wyatt was apologizing… “What more is there to discuss? You can move on with your life. You’re rid of me as you wanted.”

“But what if… what if I don’t?” The silence settled on Wyatt’s end now. “What if I want to be with you? What if I can’t really let you go?”

“You can keep that credit card. And as long as you don’t buy anything ridiculous, I will pay your rent and everyday expenses, until you graduate and get a job. Now, please, leave me be.”

“Please, don’t hang up. I don’t care about the credit card. I’m sorry. I just want to talk. Face to face. Y-you know I’m no good over the phone.”

Hector sighed. He was going to regret this. He knew it. “Fine. Where do you want to meet?”

Wyatt told him.

⚞⚿⚟

The beast came. It was cautious and kept to itself, but it met him in the docks and walked by his side. The guardian praised himself on choosing this location. The beast felt at ease here, the docks were a familiar hunting ground for it. It’s where the shady business involving its little fleas usually went down. The guardian kept the beast busy with smalltalk that seemed to come naturally. He was sorry, really sorry, he’d been caught off-guard by that helicopter, he was scared, so he’d said things that he didn’t mean to say. He missed Hector a lot, and he was glad to see him again. 

The beast seemed tense and didn’t appear fully convinced, but that didn’t matter because it still followed. He led it where he wanted it to go, and then he made it happen.

Sand shot out from under the frost and snow around Hector, connecting above his head, and coalescing into the golden bars of a prison. It must have felt somewhat familiar because the beast recoiled in anger. He had it! He finally had it! Gold glittered in Wyatt’s eyes as he looked at the caged beast in triumph.

And then right in front of the guardian’s wide opened golden eyes the beast turned sideways and stepped out between the bars of the cage, looking at him in outrage and irritation. It muttered a few words of surprise, but did not manage more because a new cage grew around it again, this time with a tighter tangle of bars. The guardian let out a breath, relieved. His human heart was thudding in his chest. What was he thinking? Of course the beast was smaller in this form, so the cage had to be adequately adjusted as well! He felt almost as incompetent as the thief he was in. But the feeling passed as the minor miscalculation had been swiftly vindicated and the beast was… swatting the cage away like a cloud of mosquitoes and strolling away as the cage crumbled back into sand behind it. 

The guardian stared after it in utter loss for a moment. Then he locked the beast in again. And again. Hector kept walking away. The beast turned briefly towards him to issue a warning. 

It didn’t work. The cage could not hold the beast anymore.

⚞H⚟

Hector dusted the sand off of his clothes, off his skin and hair. He was annoyed and disturbed. He should have foreseen Wyatt’s outburst. He’d known it was a bad idea to meet him. But he came anyway, and this was the price he paid for indulging brainless sentiment. At least his ex-boyfriend had not tried to stab him or cast his accusations in front of the police. Though, at this point Hector doubted the cops could take Wyatt’s words as testimony.

Wyatt clearly had a screw loose, and it was all Hector’s fault. And now he had sand in his pockets. Hector swore in frustration and tried to shake at least some of the sand out. He guessed it served him right for pushing Wyatt as far as he apparently did. He should have seen something was wrong before, should have given Wyatt space, maybe then the poor thing would have gathered the courage to talk to him and leave in peace. Now the best remedy Hector could think of was time.

Hector got into his limo and told Nate to take him home. Then he picked up the receiver and called his chief of security. Wyatt Brooks was no longer welcome on the premises. He was to be politely turned down. In the worst case, escorted out and warned that he was trespassing. Perhaps the old fear of police was still alive and well in Wyatt, and that would be enough to make him stay away and regain a level of mental stability.

Hector rubbed his brow in frustration. At least Zack wasn’t around to see this mess.

⚞⚿⚟

Ocher watched the beast flee again. He didn’t follow it. There was no point in doing so when he couldn’t capture it. Clearly the key was needed after all. He couldn’t understand why, but he supposed it was the way his Makers willed it to be, it didn’t have to be logical to him, his senses were marred, tainted with human muck, and even before that he was just dust compared to the Divines anyway. 

But what was he to do now? He shouldn’t have been in this situation. He was never supposed to have lost either the beast or the key he’d been given. But he did. And until he found it, the beast would remain at large. It was only a matter of time until it quit playing and destroyed this world, moving on to the next, and then the next and the next.

To stop it, he had to find the key to the cage. It could be anywhere in this world, or even beyond it. But Ocher knew it was close. He had felt it briefly back there in the desert, growing distant as the beast departed. That meant one thing. The beast took it and hid it away.

And then he understood. Hector had no power over the cage. It would have worked. The problem was, the beast had the key with it. There on the beach too. Knowing that one day the guardian would appear, the beast carried the key with it everywhere it went. This was what negated the cage the moment it was formed, what unlocked it from within.

It made sense now, all kinds of sense. Finally he was sure of the key’s location. He should have known earlier. His first meeting with Hector? He wasn’t fully lucid back then, but he must have had a hunch. And when Wyatt slept, he took his body to the right place, searching for the key. He didn’t find it back then, Wyatt snapped awake, and he was caught too soon. But now Ocher knew it wouldn’t have mattered. The key was not hidden in the mansion. Hector always had it with him. Why then didn’t he remember ever seeing him with the key? It should have come up. He’d seen him undress, he’d… he’d been closer to him than he ever should have. 

Suddenly the guardian felt cold sweat running down his spine. He’d mated with the beast and despite what he had told it in the desert, he had done so willingly. He… he hoped that particular failure had not been recorded by the Divines. But no matter, if need be, it could always be presented as a part of the process of caging the beast.

The beast was expecting him to follow now, so he would not do that. It was afternoon, the sun over the docks was slowly setting. He would go back home and think on paper some more. In a few hours, after nightfall, he should be ready.

* * *

The guards had been warned that Wyatt Brooks might show up. Their boss had told them that regrettably Mr. Brooks had become unhinged and was likely to act unpredictably. They were not to let him in.

When they saw a lonely figure walking towards the gate of the mansion, two guards approached to keep Wyatt out. The other guards at the front of the mansion saw the others flying over the fence, as the closed gate crumbled to dust, and Wyatt Brooks stepped through it onto the private Viteri grounds. He kept going.

In utter confusion, the men aimed their guns at him but dared not shoot. Hector did not give them permission to kill or even hurt Wyatt, but he had not considered Mr. Brooks a threat at the time, while he clearly just became one. One of the guards contacted Hector on the walkie-talkie.

“Boss, Wyatt Brooks broke in and is fighting his way through.”

“With what?”

“I’m not sure, boss, he-”

The security guard went silent as the walkie-talkie fell apart in his hands. Wyatt Brooks waved his hand and all the weapons pointed at him crumbled into sand. Then the wave of sand knocked everyone down, sending them flying to the sides.

“Any more weapons? Any more volunteers? No? Perfect.” The guardian went through the scene and into the house. He didn’t care about these humans. They could not stop him. All this was just a charade. The beast was in a playful mood, finding it amusing to pass for a man, but that would be over in a moment. The key was here, and he was going to find it.

The security inside the house had clearly been given an order to stand down because nobody tried to attack him or even raise their weapons. They withdrew to let him pass, but the guardian still turned their guns into sand for good measure. Then he headed for where he felt the beast would be.

It stood there, waiting in what it called its study. This was the same room where he had been caught on that fateful night. The beast was in front of its desk, with its dogs snarling to its sides. All three stared at him with open hostility, ready to pounce.

He pointed a finger right at the eldritch space horror, ignoring the dobermans.

“Surrender the key, beast, or I will tear this place to the ground and end this charade.” He knew it was an empty threat, knew that the cosmic abomination that named itself Hector was only pretending to care about these walls, these people, and this city, and yet the anger he saw flaring up in its eyes was real enough for him to know that the threat had irked the beast.

“What key? What beast?” The monster winced. “Enough with this deluded nonsense. Leave right now, Wyatt. Don’t make me force you.” 

Why was the beast denying it? What point was there to still pretend? “You are the beast. And you can hide from me no longer. This ends now. Give me the key and submit, or I will find it, and I will cage you by force.”

“You are either on drugs or mentally ill, Wyatt.”

“You have wrought enough havoc. I will ask one last time. Give me the key!”

“Alright, I’ll indulge you, so which key do you want? My car keys? The ones from my home? Or maybe the key from the bedside table drawer you tried to steal the first time you came here? What is it with you and keys, and why is it suddenly such a thorn in my side?”

Ocher frowned. Why did it seem like the beast was speaking in earnest? Why did it not acknowledge him as the guardian and itself as the beast when they stood here face to face, or earlier, when he had tried to cage it? Why did it call itself the Man?

Was it… not pretending? Had it… forgotten? But if the beast did not know where the key was, how could it have had it with it?

And then he knew, and he walked confidently towards the space monstrosity.

It pulled out a gun and pointed it at him, its expression fully hostile now. The dobermans growled.

“Not a step further. I said, stop!”

He reached out towards Hector.

It all happened in a split second. The dogs bounded towards him, but the guardian turned them into sand mid-leap. As the specks of quartz that were once Phobos and Deimos hung in the air, the gun crumbled away in the Man’s hands, and the guardian’s fingers pointed at Hector’s chest. He knew it now — it was not a human heart that beat inside it. The key was right there, below the fabric, below the skin, under the tissue and the muscle, locked inside the cage of bone. His hand did not make it all the way to Hector’s chest and yet, he felt a heartbeat. An overwhelming heartbeat present all around him.

Overtaken by the same primal fear from the desert, Ocher looked up and then, finally, he saw it. 

The all-pervasive cosmic horror, a shifting amalgam of darkness, slit-like shining eyes heavy with dreams, and sharp teeth shaped of the starlit void. The dark specter seemed to grow out of Hector’s figure. It was everywhere around him, it passed through the ceiling and blotted out the sky, it reached towards and beyond the horizon. The rhythm of the city streets was the pulse in its metaphysical veins, the starlight shimmering in its darkness was the glow of the city lights. The skyscrapers rose between the spines on its hide. 

The ground shook under Ocher’s feet as it stirred. How could he have ever thought that the beast was merely Hector? Of course it couldn’t have been. The horror spread across the entire city. The city was the beast. Hector Viteri was just a part of its matter.

But what part was he? In a moment of clarity, the guardian knew the answer to that question. The Man was a living, breathing safe, with the key hidden away inside of him. All that Ocher had to do was to pry him open and take the key out. It was that simple.

One small flick of the guardian’s fingers, and the shirt on Hector’s chest fell to dust, his skin crumbling away into sand. Tendons, fat, muscles, bone and gushing blood all turned into fine golden grains.

“What?! W-why, Wyatt… Ocher…” he heard Hector mutter weakly.

The guardian sensed it coming even before it happened. In a shattered drawn-out moment defying the flow of time, he watched the abomination slowly crack open one enormous eye and peer right at him.

The beast had acted dormant until moments ago, but by hurting Hector he had shaken it out from its slumber. And now Ocher was caught in its timeless gaze like a rabbit in the headlights of a truck, transfixed as he stared at the nebulous galaxies within its eye. The scale of things had shifted. They were no longer in the study. They were not clad in human flesh. They stood in the middle of the cosmic wastes again, and the guardian was just a speck of dust compared to the untold vastness of his prisoner, the caged nightmare that was the beast. The beast watched him from behind the golden bars. In the eye of the nameless horror the guardian saw reflected memories of countless millennia that no one kept track of, and then as he continued to look, the unnumbered years rushed forth and turned into years marked by numbers from various human calendars. With them rushed the past human lives of the guardian, and connected to them, always somewhere out there, a memory of the man called Hector.

Then the memory faded. They were here and now again. The beast still stared right at him, but that was all it did. It did not stir again. It did not intervene. Dispassionately, it watched him destroy Hector Viteri. As if his destruction meant nothing to it. As if Hector, the human part that it carried from lifetime to lifetime, was just a tumour being removed from its gigantic transcendent form.

Something wasn’t right here. With a great effort of will, Ocher tore his eyes from the infinity that was the beast’s gaze and looked into Hector’s own disbelieving, betrayed human eyes. The confusion he saw in them was infectious. It became a nagging, became a doubt, became a needle of uncertainty that pierced the cold, righteous confidence of the guardian. Was Hector really just a container made to host the key, or was he something else, something… more? 

The same way the key was Hector’s heart, Hector seemed to be lodged at the very core of the beast’s being. It did not feel accidental. Perhaps he was not just a tumour, not merely the beast’s hand puppet or the container for the key. Perhaps in some way, he was a crucial part of the beast. Integral to its identity and yet superfluous to its existence, because why else would it passively watch as the guardian destroyed him?

It was a crazy idea, the ravings of a madman but maybe, just maybe, it was inside Hector that the nameless beast had its center, its name and personality. Maybe this was the anchor that bound it to this world. Maybe it was what held it confined to the cycle. What if it wanted the guardian to destroy it?

“Why…? I let you go…”

As the frozen moment began to thaw, Ocher thought he understood how Hector had come to be. How the key could have been at the beginning of it all. A small foreign object trapped in the magnitude of the beast like a thorn, a splinter that pierced the cosmic hide. It had been an intrusion, an irritant, around which slowly, lifetime by lifetime, quite like a pearl growing inside an oyster, formed the humanity that crystallized into the man called Hector.

The giant eye shut closed, and the beast fell back into its slumber, leaving the guardian to his own devices.

A meaningless vessel or a pearl? A vital part of the beast or just an unimportant tumour that it would gladly be rid of? It did not matter anymore, because whatever it was, it was dying. Under his fingers, the guardian could see the dissipating sternum and the shapes of human ribs.

“I loved you, Wyatt…”

He was killing Hector Viteri. A businessman, a crime lord, a philanthropist, a father. 

A violent man, a charming man. The man who said he loved him. 

The man who he was scared he’d grown to love as well.

What? Why would he think that? He was a timeless guardian, a construct devoid of moral dilemmas, incapable of feelings. He had not been made for this. To love, to fear, to feel enjoyment and regret. And yet here he was, torn and wishing he could turn back time and undo his choice, wishing he had never put Hector through such agony. He thought it just a weakness, the effect of his mortal host’s imperfections, but Wyatt and him were really not so different. They both hesitated and failed. They both feared and made up excuses. They were so similar. They… they were the same being. There never had been a dividing line.

He stumbled away, tears streaming down his face, the gold seeping away from his features. Wyatt’s amber eyes gazed upon what he had done. Hector clutched at his chest, blood trickling down through his fingers. His face was ashen, and he looked disoriented. He grimaced in pain and tossed Wyatt a single look of accusation and hurt. Then he stumbled away from the table, through the room and out the door, giving husky orders over the walkie-talkie.

* * *

The guardian sat on the floor motionless and disoriented.

He had spared Hector. But why?

Had he done it because he thought that leaving this aspect of the beast alive would somehow keep the eldritch abomination at bay, safely anchored to this world? Or was it because he was simply too weak to take the key, too afraid to do it because he had grown attached to his own prisoner, or some particle of it, and he valued their grotesque, now broken bond more than his responsibility? What kind of failure of a keeper was he?

He had almost killed Hector. But why?

Had he tried to do what he thought was right? Had he been trying to fulfill his duty, scared that the Makers were watching? 

They could watch him all they wanted! Angry at himself, Wyatt hugged his knees close to his chest. How could he have done it to the man who’d never harmed him, to the man who’d cared about him enough to travel half-way across the globe to find him? Right now it didn’t matter that this man killed others. How could it matter, a few murders here and there, compared to the annihilation that could be wrought by the beast? No, that was insignificant. What mattered was that Hector had liked him and trusted him enough to let him go, and this was how he thanked him for it. In all his existence, the guardian had never been this lost. In all his life, Wyatt had never felt so ashamed.

He didn’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t stopped himself. He didn’t know what was going to happen now that he had.

Nobody came into the room to bother him.

When Hector returned a few hours later, Ocher still hadn’t moved from place. Huddled on the floor, he glanced at the beast who called itself the Man, and hid his face in his knees again. As Hector proceeded to ignore him, Wyatt dared to peek out again, just to assess the damage. Hector was wearing a different set of clothes. There were bandages sticking out from under the collar of his clean shirt. He was still unusually pale, but did not seem to be in agonizing pain or anywhere near dying. He had brought a small floor brush with which he was now collecting the sand that was once Phobos and Deimos into two separate containers, his expression somber.

“These dogs were the only creatures I loved that never turned on me or saw me as a monster,” Hector said when he saw him looking. “And now you killed them. After I let you go with every possible benefit and compensation I could give you. And I’m supposed to be the beast here.”

“I’m sorry.” Tears rolled down Wyatt’s cheeks. “I didn’t want this. I am so so s-sorry.” He hugged his knees and sobbed.

Hector paused his sweeping. Then he sighed and went back to it without saying anything. He finished collecting the sand and carried the containers and brush out of the room. He came back a few minutes later and knelt in front of Ocher.

“Are you no longer of a mind to try to murder me?”

Ocher glanced at him, guilty and crying, and he cast his eyes down, violently shaking his head.

Hector grunted and shifted to sit down next to him. He lifted a hand, as if intending to touch Wyatt, but took it away. “Somehow I trust you. You… weren’t being yourself. I guess the stress really got to you. Or it’s the painkillers messing with my head for a change.”

Wyatt caved in, sobbing uncontrollably, and hiding his face in his hands. He didn’t understand how Hector could be taking it so well when he had broken his trust so horribly and almost killed him.

“I can have someone drive you home, if you can’t stand to be here any longer. Though in your present state…” Hector hesitated. “I would prefer that you stay the night in a guest room instead. It’s up to you.”

Wyatt nodded, trying to wipe the tears from his face, even as new ones kept rolling from his eyes. Of course, even after such a volatile display Hector still wasn’t afraid to have him over. But it was surprising that he didn’t kick him right out. Was he afraid Wyatt was going to try something reckless again? Maybe go kill himself next? “Then I-I’ll stay if you’ll still have me. But are you… a-are you going to be alright after… what I’ve…” His voice breaking, he just nodded at the bandages.

“I’ll be fine.” Hector said grimly, but without anger. “You need to get help for… whatever this was. Thanks for stopping when you did, I guess. I’d hate to leave my son an orphan.”

Ocher broke down into tears again. Zack. All the while he had never even thought about him. He was such a good kid. So what if his father was a cosmic beast, the kid did not deserve to be punished for his father’s crimes. And Ocher apparently did not deserve to be a part of this family.

“Shit, sorry.” Hector grunted softly. “I’m not dying, and not planning to anytime soon. And that’s about enough mourning of Phobos and Deimos, so… enough with the waterworks, m?” Hector patted him on the shoulder gently.

Wyatt took a few deep breaths, bit his lip and nodded, trying to calm himself. As a timeless guardian he failed miserably. But as a human, he was used to this. This entire life was full of failures. And the glimpses of memories that came and went told him that so were his previous lifetimes on Earth. He looked at Hector with a heartbroken, apologetic expression.

Hector watched him sadly for a moment. Then he stood up. “Come, let’s find you a room. I’ll have someone stay outside, if you don’t mind. They’ll get you anything you need. I just don’t want you wandering around unsupervised.”

Ocher felt like he was starting to pull himself together. He got up when asked to. He nodded again. “I understand. And I swear I won’t cause any more trouble, but I don’t expect you to believe that after what I just pulled.” He hung his head, ashamed.

“It’s reassuring to hear, nonetheless,” Hector said. “I’m sorry I drove you to this. I won’t harm you or your loved ones. I’ve done enough harm it seems.”

“No, y-you haven’t. Not to me. And I trust you. And same here.”

Hector arched an eyebrow, but did not comment. 

Wyatt looked at his feet as they started walking. The guardian meekly following the beast to wherever it led him was something that defied all the familiar laws of the cosmos, but at this point, neither Wyatt nor the guardian within him cared.

When they reached a guest room upstairs, Hector wished him goodnight, let him know someone would appear at the door soon, and left Ocher there. As Hector walked down the corridor, Wyatt stared after him with a strange numbing mix of regret and longing. He knew that even though he had spared the beast, he damaged something between them, possibly beyond repair.

* * *

The guardian could not sleep that night. Restless thoughts tumbled through his mind like shooting stars. He still did not know what Hector was exactly, and how aware he was of his own nature. Was he the personification of the beast? Was he the beast’s anchor to the reincarnation cycle? Surely, he was crucial in some way, because it had clearly been his personal unrest that caused the entire city to tremble. But how come did the beast he’d glimpsed all around Hector seem asleep at the same time? It was like that Schrödinger’s cat dilemma. Ocher just couldn’t wrap his head around it.

But even if Hector was the beast’s earthly manifestation, what kind of idiot was he to try to cage him down in the docks? Even if he had managed, what then? Had he intended to sit there and guard the cage with New Coalport’s beloved entrepreneur in it until someone called the police? They were no longer alone, in the middle of the cosmic wastes like in the eons past. There were people here. How could he have forgotten?

Even if he had successfully caged Hector back in the desert, with nobody around, their bodies were mortal, or so it seemed. They would just both eventually die there and be reborn. Elsewhere. Who knows when. What had he been thinking? Clearly he hadn’t been thinking at all. He had disregarded the limitations of the reincarnation cycle and the ramifications of this world. Driven by the forgotten sense of duty, he did not stop to consider any of the factors that mattered. Would taking the key out of Hector’s chest really have changed anything? Maybe. It was of divine make after all. But so was he, before he got stuck in mortal flesh. 

But they were here now, and everything was different. It was… earthly. He was human. At least after a fashion. And at the end of it all, he was swayed by human emotions, leaving the key be. He didn’t know if he was ever going to have another chance to take it. He didn’t know if he ever wanted to. Now he had to deal with the consequences of his choice. 

The guardian felt restless and wanted to deal with them now, but the beast was wounded and he did not want to disturb it further. At least he was in the right place. This entire world was the beast’s current spacious cage, and guarding the beast while it was inside its prison was what he had been made for.

And even though he was now in the cage with it, he was not afraid. Somehow, irrationally, he trusted that Hector would not harm him.

The sleep was not coming, but it was good, perhaps. He had been asleep for too long.


The big events are here! <3 If you’ve been lurking so far, please come out of the shadows now and tell us what you think! We’re excited and hopeful to hear basically anything from anyone :3 If you don’t feel like registering on Disqus, you can drop us an anonymous comment via a tumblr ask here>> or even send us an e-mail at [email protected] Thank you so much if you say something, anything at all, it literally means the world to us to hear from our readers!

And here are some inspiration songs that go with Ocher’s and Hector’s arc of guardian and the beast (these are just some songs, we’ll later post these and more on the story blog https://cityandthebeast.tumblr.com/ as well).

1. Marc Almond – Earthly

You came out of the ether
Like a mythical creature
You came out of the ether
And into my heart

An elemental creation
With a royal carnation
And into the Eden
My life did depart

But as our gods have feet of clay
I just chose to look away

All too earthly, all too real
But you won’t know the way I feel
All too earthly soul of steel
You won’t know the way I feel
All too earthly, thrown to the fire
How can I believe the words of a liar?
All too earthly, heart of stone
Best to walk this world alone

Just as your words set me dreaming
One day I found out that they had no meaning
Celluloid is slowly burning
As the tide of love is turning

But just as some cities are built on sand
All my dreams turn to dust in your hand, yeah

All too earthly, all too real
But you won’t know the way I feel
All too earthly soul of steel
You won’t know the way I feel
All too earthly, thrown to the fire
How can I believe the words of a liar?
All too earthly, heart of stone
Best to walk this world alone without you
Without you

Eros and Icarus, we fall into one
You’re Icarus, flying too near to the sun
Burning up, burning, your wings turn to ash
Falling now, falling, you’re soon to crash
You’re the star I’ve built my life around
Why did you have to go and let me down?
All too earthly
All on fire
Just the downfall of a liar…

2. Woodkid – Conquest of Spaces

Stretched to the core of galaxies
Distorted city grids
By a black hole of vanity
Blossoms the age of greed

Beyond the laws of density
Towers of glass and steel
Temples and fragments of memories
Drifting away from me

I’m ready to start the conquest of spaces
Expanding between you and me
Come with the night the science of fighting
The forces of gravity

After the gates of prophecies
A million light years away from me
Straight for the eye of destiny
Reaching the point of tears

Behind the dreams of mastery
Love dies silently
Torn to the flesh as the fire bleeds
Echoes of history

I’m ready to start the conquest of spaces
Expanding between you and me
Come with the night the science of fighting
The forces of gravity

I’m ready to start the conquest of spaces
Reaching the starlight and silver fields
Come with the night the science of fighting
The forces of gravity

3.Pacific Rim Theme by Ramin Djawadi

(just an instrumental for the beast :D)

4. Blue Oyster Cult – Godzilla

(Hector song ;))

5. Sting – The Night the Pugilist Learned To Dance

(a song that is was very inspiring for the concept of the beast falling in love – which happened twice in this current life of Hector, yes, the beast mellowed out a little on Earth c; )

In the streets around here there was nobody tougher than me,
I was quick with me fists and fast with me footwork as you can plainly see,
But while fighting was useful for getting your way,
Among the toughs of the town where you could hold sway,
There had to be something that was better than this,
I was fifteen years old and I’d never been kissed.
Well of course she’d ignore me, her friends would all sneer,
At me bloody nose dripping and me cauliflower ear,
For it’s hard to convince in a romantic pose,
With a lovely black eye and a broken nose,
Where a girl is attracted to skills more refined,
Than the pugilist’s art, and so I inclined,
To take meself serious as a modern romancer,
And I secretly learnt all the moves of a dancer.
Ye swing to the left, ye swing to the right,
Keep your eyes on your partner, more or less like a fight,
Ye just follow the rhythm, and ye keep to the beat,
The important thing’s never to look at your feet,
Then a miracle happens, your mind’s in a trance,
Though the strategy’s subtle, retreat and advance,
It’s all about attitude, all in your stance,
Attention to detail, leaving nothing to chance,
Which explains how the pugilist finally learned how to dance.
Well, I’d waltz with a broomstick and if I was caught,
I’d pretend I was sweeping or practicing sport,
But I really had eyes for your mother ye see,
Wanting her to acknowledge this new version of me,
But now everyone’s watching, expecting I’ll fail,
But there’s fire in me belly, there’s wind in me sails,
I knew it was risky and I was taking a chance,
I couldn’t retreat now, I had to advance.
So I swing to the left, I swing to the right,
Keep me eyes on me partner, like I would in a fight,
I just keep to the rhythm and follow the beat,
The important thing’s never to look at yer feet,
But a miracle’s happened, and your mind’s in a trance,
They’re all laughing and cheering and looking askance,
On the night that the pugilist finally learned how to dance.
It’s a three-minute round and you’re back in yer corner,
You’re licking yer wounds just like little Jack Horner,
Don’t let your guard down try a jab with your right,
Or you’re losing on points by the end of the night,
Then a miracle happens, and everyone’s screaming,
You’re pinching yourself just in case you’re still dreaming,
You’ve taken the initiative, you’ve taken your chance,
It’s the night when this pugilist finally learned how to dance.
In a bout where the strategist’s bridges were burned,
Where it seemed that his fortune had suddenly turned,
‘Twas the night that this scrapper was suddenly dapper,
And this poor fellow’s heart was still going like the clappers,
The night that the pugilist finally learned how to dance.

6. Пикник – Иероглиф (Piknik – Hieroglyph)

(This one is for Ocher as the guardian, translation by Zlu)

My name is a faded hieroglyph
My clothes were patched by the winds
What I carry in my clasped hands
No one will ask me and I will not answer

And as if before a battle
A great battle
I stop at every crossroads
On the sea of concrete I see my shore
My blue horizon

To all the questions
I will quietly chuckle
To all the questions
There won’t be an answer
For my name is a hieroglyph
My clothes were patched by the winds

And that’s enough for now but we’ll post more music with later chapters, and also go back to the older chapters to add some relevant inspiration songs to those (there’s earlier inspiration music for Ocher and Hector and a lot of inspiration music for other characters as well!) :3