Milo and Bear landed in front of Walter Kemp on the street just outside the apartment.
“Go back in there and tell your friend to come out,” said Kemp. “Surely he doesn’t want to see anything unpleasant happen to his little cat friend.”
Milo growled. He reeled back his arm and then threw a punch right into Kemp’s face. But to Milo’s great surprise, the punch didn’t land. In fact, it went completely through Kemp’s head, which burst into a million black particles, like thick smoke. Milo jumped back in surprise as Kemp’s head and smirking face reformed.
“You really have no idea who you’re messing with, young man.” said Kemp.
“Oh crap,” sighed Milo.
Without warning, Kemp swung his arm in an upwards arc, throwing Milo backwards. Milo twisted his body, backflipping to land on his feet. He reached over his shoulder and grabbed the handle of his umbrella, flourishing like a sword, ready for battle. Bear lunged at Kemp’s arm, but it too exploded into black dust. Bear flew through it and was snatched out of the air by Kemp’s other hand. He threw Bear and watched as he crashed through the window of the abandoned building across the street from Darkmoon Drive.
Milo lunged forward swinging the umbrella wildly. Kemp threw his arm out to his side. Milo watched in both horror and amazement as black sand formed a long, black, bastard sword in his hand. Kemp brought up the sword parrying Milo’s umbrella. Milo stepped back, then swung again. And again. The two traded blows back and forth. Bear flew out of the abandoned building as the mechanisms in the back of his chair rearranged themselves. This time, rather than thrusters, two small missile launchers popped up from the top, and two small missiles shaped like metal corgi faces shot out of them. The missiles careened through the air.
Kemp turned and held his long sword in both hands, the wide side turned out to shield against the missiles as they exploded on impact. Milo rolled out of the way, catching a glimpse of Kemp dissolving into a mound of black sand, only to reconstitute himself, untouched by the explosion.
“Well that’s some bullshit!” yelled Milo, twisting around on the ground and jumping onto his feet. It began to occur to Milo that this man was not like any man he had ever fought. Even with the levels he’d gained on his relic in the week since Charlie had shown up, he simply wasn’t strong enough to beat a man this powerful. He reached up and wiped a drop of blood from his forehead and gripped his umbrella hard, ready to jump back into the fray. Kemp finished reforming and turned to Milo, sword in hand with a vicious grin on his face.
“What are you even fighting for?” he shouted. “A home? There are all kinds of homes. People move all the time. Yes, this place is special, but you can live anywhere. You are strong enough to survive without this place.”
Bear shot off another round of missiles, and there was another explosion of the black sand that was Kemp. But Kemp once again reformed and continued advancing on Milo, without skipping a beat. “So why fight? Why go through all of this just to lose? Just to die?”
Milo felt tears rolling down his cheeks. He threw himself at Kemp. The sword and umbrella clashed. Just as they locked against one another, Kemp head-butted Milo, sending him to the ground, covering his face.
“Tell me why!” shouted Kemp.
Milo struggled to shake off his head spinning and his vision blurring, forcing himself to stand. “I’m not fighting for a building,” he said.
Kemp picked him up from the ground by his shirt collar and stared into his eyes. Milo could see the cold blackness in Kemp’s soul behind his eyes. “Then what?” asked Kemp.
“I’m fighting for the man who built it.” Milo spit into Kemp’s eyes. Kemp flinched, but wiped the spittle away with his spare hand.
“That man is dead,” growled Kemp. “Just like you’re about to be.”
“Then I’m fighting for this grandson,” said Milo, struggling to get free of Kemp’s grip. “Because despite all the reasons I shouldn’t, I like him too.”
Kemp’s face became confused. “What?”
Milo didn’t waste the moment of distraction. He swung his fist and managed to land a punch squarely across Kemp’s jaw. Kemp fell back, dropping Milo to the ground. Milo scurried to stand, grabbing for his umbrella, before taking off towards Kemp. Bear came in for another attack, and Kemp threw a hand out and swatted him away without much effort. The corgi went flying. He then turned on Milo and shot out a hand which formed into black sand. It curled around Milo, lifting him into the air. But to Milo’s great surprise, the sand didn’t go in for the kill, but instead, went for the star-shaped pendant on his collar.
The consequences were almost immediate. Milo’s whole body convulsed. His hands turned to paws and then back to hands and then back to paws again. Fur covered his face. He could feel the struggle of his joints and bones wanting to change and the human side of his body trying to keep it at bay. It was like he was being torn apart from the inside.
Milo let out a yowl as pain ripped through every molecule in his body. Kemp wasn’t going to kill him. He was going to take away his humanity which in many ways was even worse to Milo.
A car ricocheted down the street, flying as if it were as light as a feather. Kemp turned his head to see the car coming just as it crashed lengthwise into him. The pain stopped, and Milo fell to the ground, coughing and gagging, gasping for air as his body tried to right itself. His vision was hazy, but as he looked up he could just make out a figure moving towards him on the street.
“What?” said Oliver casually. He wore a dapper vest and slacks and his thimble glowed on his pinkie. “Hideous coat. Had to kill it.”
“Thank you, Oliver,” coughed Milo.
“Milo!” Juno ran from the building and crouched down beside him. Bear rolled up, looking worse for wear but still standing. “Are you okay?”
“I’ll…live,” he wheezed, grabbing his side in pain. There were others around him as well. Gary Rocolo stood with a large, menacing looking hammer in his hands. Mrs. De La Cruz stood near him, her dominoes floating around her, ready for a fight. Even Demetri was there with his yeast starter propped on his shoulder and holding a fork and knife screaming the lyrics to “WAP.” They’d all come to his rescue and were ready to fight Walter Kemp to the death to protect their home.
“Sorry it took me so long to clear out the lobby so we could all get out here,” said Juno.
“You’re right on time,” said Milo, smiling up at her.
On the ground beside them, black sand started to spiral, like a small black cyclone.
“What is—” started Milo. But he wasn’t able to finish the thought. An explosion of sand threw them all backwards. Some of them went skidding along the pavement. Others, like Milo and Oliver, were thrown into the brick walls of the nearby abandoned building as well as Darkmoon Drive. As the dust settled, the black sand reformed into Walter Kemp who stood in the center of the circle of residents.
“You all seriously think you stand any chance of winning this?” he asked in a booming voice. “You all are just a bunch of silly parlor tricks. I am a member of the Onyx Sun. I hold real true power. We have the ability to change this world. Meanwhile, you’ve all been living on top of the greatest power this world, even this universe, has ever known, and you’re all content playing with your little toys. I am going to murder each and every person who lives in this building, and then I am going to take that power for myself, and not one of you is going to stop me!”
A basic hoe can be used for many things. It can till and turn soil. It can help with the planting of seeds. It can even help to cut away weeds. But in this case, when used as an aimed recipe, it was used to shut Walter Kemp up. A basic hoe came flying in straight into Kemp’s beet-red face.
Kemp went tumbling across the ground. As he shook himself off, he looked up to see the very man he’d come to Darkmoon Drive to see, Charlie Cole, standing before him looking like a mad dog.
“I can,” said Charlie. “I can stop you.”
Kemp grinned. “Oh can you now?”
Charlie held the red backpack out to his side. “You want this so bad? Then leave these people alone and take it from me.”
Walter laughed as his body rose and became a storm of black sand. “With pleasure.” The black sand quickly became a whirlwind. It wrapped itself around Charlie and though Milo, Juno and Bear all ran to reach him, they weren’t fast enough. The sand picked him up and carried him into the sky, tossing and turning him, spinning him until he was sick. They flew over buildings and streets and lights and water and then, quite abruptly, Charlie slammed onto hard cement and everything came to a stop.
He took a moment to catch his breath. He was still alive, and the backpack was still in his hand, held tightly in a fist by one of its straps. He pushed himself up slightly and looked around. He seemed to be in a room of a building that was still under construction. There were holes in the unfinished walls and ceiling. There were even plastic barrels, stacks of wood and bricks and bags full of tools scattered round. As he stood, he turned and gasped as he realized that the floor he was on was at least thirty stories up, if not more. The street below appeared to be far in the distance, and the cars themselves looked like tiny pin pricks of light. And there in the distance, like a beacon reminding him of everything he’d been through, was the Brooklyn Bridge. A cold wind blew in through the open building and Charlie shivered.
“I hope you don’t mind me bringing us to a more secluded location,” said a rumbling voice behind him. He turned to see Walter Kemp reforming out of the black sand, his hands behind his back as he smiled at Charlie. “I thought a more private conversation might help this process. Much easier to hand over the keys to the kingdom as it were without the peasants living in it judging you. No, here it is just you and me. Two people who know how this has to end.”
“And how is that?” asked Charlie.
“You give me the backpack,” said Kemp. “And then you just walk away. This little dream of yours ends and you go back to whatever life you had before. Forget about all of this. No guilt. No judgment. You get to walk out of here, free.”
Charlie let this all sink in. Kemp took a step towards him, but Charlie wasn’t ready to give in just yet. He took a few steps backwards, bringing him ever closer to the open wall. The only thing between him and a fall that would mean certain death was a step, maybe two, and an unfinished wall which opened out to all of New York City.
“And what about the people who live there? What happens to them?” asked Charlie. His voice shaking. It wouldn’t mean much to walk away if people like Juno, Milo and Bear would have to suffer for it.
“Those who go quietly will be unharmed,” said Kemp.
“What about the ones who don’t?”
Kemp sighed. “Mr. Cole. Some people just don’t know when to give up. Therefore it is up to me and people like me to show them how and when. But rest assured, that will not be your problem after tonight.” Kemp reached out his hand. “Now, give me the backpack.”
It was at that moment that Charlie knew what he had to do. He wasn’t sure how he knew it, he just did. It seemed as if fate had been guiding him all along. Because a week ago, he had almost jumped to his death to escape a life which he wanted nothing more than to escape from, and now he found that the only way to protect the lives he’d come to deeply care for was to jump. He realized, quite suddenly that in the end, one way or another, his life was always going to end with a fall. He was only grateful that the universe had given him a chance to experience a life worth having, before taking it away at last.
“Give me the backpack, boy,” said Kemp once again.
Charlie shook his head. “No, Mr. Kemp. I don’t think I’ll be doing that.”
When Arthur died, the backpack hadn’t gone up for grabs, it sat idly by, waiting for a successor, an inheritor. With Charlie’s death, the backpack wouldn’t be able to be passed to Kemp. The people of Darkmoon Drive would be protected. It was a small sacrifice to protect those who had shown him what it meant to want to wake up everyday.
So Charlie Cole did what he’d meant to do a week ago on the very bridge that he could see in the distance. He jumped.
“NOOO!” yelled Kemp.
Charlie plummeted through the air, the ground racing towards him. Suddenly, the backpack unzipped itself and the inside began to glow with a fierce golden light. Before Charlie could even process what was happening he felt a pull, no, a tug. His whole body was being pulled into the backpack. With one final gasp, he disappeared into the golden light.
The backpack landed with a heavy thud on the sidewalk.
CONTINUE TO CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN
Wow! I had forgotten this chapter was so crazy until I went to post it! I just wanted quickly apologize for the inconsistent posts lately. We have been insanely busy with several upcoming projects making getting these posts out on time a bit difficult. Please bare with us!!