The next day will forever be etched into my mind as the day the world ended. Not literally mind you, just my own personal world. I know I’ve talked of the death of Jared Donovan previously, but this was more of a universal situation. Not so much about me; more about the world in general. The first news story of the day was about Lena. Her small body had finally conceded to the Red Rose Fever. She had passed away quietly in her sleep. The news anchor, the same one from Olivia’s funeral, was in tears throughout the report. She couldn’t finish it without pausing to sob for a moment.. She talked about how hard it must be for Regan Trystix, to lose his wife and beloved daughter so close together. The camera then cut to Trystix seated in his chair in his office at the top of Tryst Tower.
“My friends; I am not myself on this day. I am a father who has lost his only child to a devastating disease. My world is gone. My life is hollow and desolate, empty and cold. I vow this day that I will find the cure for this vile sickness if it is the last thing I shall ever do!” Trystix said, tears running down his cheeks.
He looked almost human. His face was marred by lack of sleep and distress. He attempted to say more, but couldn’t through his tears. He slowly stood and walked away from the camera. Someone off camera said that there would be no public funeral this time around. Fade to black.
His show of emotion wasn’t lost on me; quite the opposite, actually. I too had tears running down my cheeks. My life felt desolate and cold. My thoughts were frozen; I could barely speak. Trystix and I had both shared a separate bond with Lena, and both of us had been shattered by the news of her death. The difference was that I blamed him for it, and he blamed the doctors. She was his responsibility. Yet Trystix himself had the fever, and he would not contribute anything but empty promises to cure it. He was the real killer, not the fever.
The sun’s light creeping through my window seemed a mockery to my niece’s death. The light itself had lost all of it’s luster; my world seemed nothing but black and white. I reached up and pulled down the blinds, returning my room to darkness. I sat on the floor and put my face in my hands. For the last time in my life, I wept. I can’t tell you how much time passed, but it seemed pointless to notice. The last shred of light, the last fragment of compassion, the final piece of humanity inside of me had been taken away. The pain I felt was excruciating. But it was a different kind of pain; it was a dark, cold, focused pain. I felt hopeless; helpless and hopeless. My body was wracked with agony, but my mind stayed fixed on a single thought; justice. My body seized and thrashed, but all I could think of was justice. And only one man had a price to pay. And he would pay dearly.
Raiden left me alone that entire day. No one disturbed my torment; I don’t think anyone dared. I was left to grieve in my own way, in my own time. The desire for food and water, for space and fresh air had been lost in my anguish. I laid on the floor, thinking of nothing but my niece and my need for justice. I shivered, but I wasn’t cold. I was dying. My humanity was leaking out through the tears from my eyes. My soul was being ripped from inside me; tear by tear, thread by thread. My mind was purging my body of any and every form of human weakness. Emotions would be of no more use to me. Justice was the only thing left to live for.
And then it stopped. My tears dried, my shivering halted, and my mind shifted. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The tangled mess inside my head began to straighten itself and flow like a waterfall. My dreams from the drug Raiden gave me weeks before resurfaced, and again I saw the two worlds. Again, I saw King Nothing, standing high above his world of emptiness. He was nothing but a king who had lost all of his pawns. And then I finally understood what my mind had been telling me. I scrambled to my feet and burst through my bedroom doors. Raiden’s staff took one look at me, then took cover. I was a tornado tearing through their respective trailer parks.
It didn’t take me long to reach Raiden’s office. I didn’t even hesitate to knock; I just walked in. Raiden was behind his desk with a few of his advisors seated across from him. They all turned and gawked at the man who had the audacity to enter unannounced. The disdain drained from their faces almost as quickly as their blood. They stared at me wide-eyed.
“All of you. Out. Now.” I said in a calm, albeit strained voice.
“As he said, gentlemen. Please, excuse us a moment. We’ll reconvene soon. Jared has something he’d like to tell me.” Raiden said with a grim smile. His staff filed out quickly. He watched them leave and followed them to the door, locking it behind him. “All right, Jared. Let‘s have it.”
“I’m done playing games with you, Raiden. Everything I was, everything I knew, everything I am now is nothing but a game of chess! I’ve played the pawn, I’ve killed the knights, and my queen has been taken. My sister and my niece were nothing but a means to an end to everyone but me. Trystix used them as political leverage and power over me; you used them as gasoline on the flame of my hatred for Trystix. You used them, hoping to gain advantage on Trystix through my siege on his tower. It probably worked. They’ve become martyrs of your power struggle. Now, they both are gone. They were taken from me, and I will never hold either of them in my arms again. I will never again hear my niece laugh, nor will I ever be able to protect my sister from the things that go bump in the night. Every ounce of humanity inside of me was tied to them. Every ounce! Now, that humanity is buried with them in Chicago! My love for them was used to manipulate me, to control me. I will not be played that way again! I will not be played in that way now! I will never forgive you or Trystix for what you’ve done. I am not your pawn to be used as you see fit! I will find justice or I will die trying! So, listen very carefully; unlock the tracker on my ankle. If you don‘t, I will find a way. And when I do, I will burn this castle to the ground. And you, my king, will be among the ashes.”
Raiden listened intently, nodding at varying points in my tirade. He never broke his glance, nor did he shy away from my anger. He simply listened, hanging on each word. He looked almost as if he had been expecting this. He waited for me to finish, cleared his throat, and then began to chuckle. He started laughing! Needless to say, I was a little thunderstruck.
“Jared, Jared, Jared…It has taken you this long to fit the pieces together. Finally, the wolf feels his leash. And I hope it lights your world aflame that I pulled your strings! I hope you want my head on a platter! Because if you don’t, you don’t truly understand what that tracking device has done for you! I made you a prisoner, an animal, just like Trystix did! I manipulated you, just as he did! I used you in almost the same fashion, but now I also am going to set you free! Please don’t misunderstand my gesture; I don’t expect you to forgive me, Jared. I’m not innocent. I’ve used you, and I know it. But it’s your time, now. Take your leash. Take back everything we’ve done to you! Take back every drop of life this world has taken from you! Light the world on fire! Don’t you see? I don’t want you to be a caged animal anymore! You are better than this!”
He reached in his coat pocket, pulling a long silver chain with a key attached to it. He threw it to me, and I caught it. It was Lena’s chain, but the key was different. It had a skull engraved into the face of the key, with the word “Nemesis” laced around it like ivy.
“It’s time for you to forget about Jared Donovan. The only emotion you’ll ever need is that hate that you feel in your chest right now. And that one emotion keeps you from being an animal; that emotion makes you a weapon. Animals have nothing but instinct; weapons have a defined purpose. Jared Donovan is dead. He died amongst his tears earlier this night. I expect to hear your name on the lips of the entire world for what you do next. Cast off your shackles, my friend. There is a car downstairs waiting for you. It has everything you’ll need, plus Johnny to make sure you arrive safely.”
“Arrive? And where am I going now?” I asked, my rage subdued momentarily. I was blown away that he would own his role in my manipulation. But he’d obviously been expecting this.
“Chicago. Trystix wants to play hero, now that he has the world’s attention. He wants to be the saving grace to this fever. He has the means to do it, too. But I’ve always thought that every hero needs a villain. Every savior needs a nemesis. Good luck, my friend.” He walked to the door, unlocked it, but hesitated before opening it. “I expect you’ll come back to the Emerald City one day. There is still a balance owed between us, I’m sure. Even I am not immune to justice. But know this, Nemesis; every chess player has a few tricks up his sleeve. Go. Find your Black King and take his crown. But as you move against him, remember still that the White King fortifies his kingdom. Good luck.” And he was gone.
I placed the ornate key into the locked shackle around my ankle. It opened without hesitation. I picked it up and put it on Raiden’s desk. No reason to make a mess, I suppose. I hadn’t expected Raiden’s reaction. Somehow, he knew that I’d demand my freedom. He had told me to forsake my emotions, but hoped I would still be fueled by at least one. Trystix was a snake, but now I knew Raiden to be a mongoose. The two were evenly matched, though neither gained ground on each other. Neither could take action, only move their respective pieces. And now, Raiden had put a volatile weapon into play. I was the weapon. But he knew that I would turn on him one day, knew that I’d seek recompense for his part in all of this. He was definitely right on that part. But he wanted me to take Trystix first. I was fine with that. But there was only one resolution to this chess game they’d put me in…