[In preparation for August, I present The Order: Special. It's an installment in between parts. So enjoy while waiting for the first Monday of August when The Order returns!]
Fingers wrapped around Mangler’s neck from behind and squeezed. He straightened a little, surprised, then relaxed.
He heard a warm chuckle as the practiced massage continued. “You’re awfully tense for a god,” she said lightly.
“We are not gods,” he replied sternly.
“Not this time. But maybe the next century we’ll do it again. It’ll be fun. We can trade names and swap the heads on the statues when the master’s not looking. Give Murderous a donkey’s head, oh but he’s already got one, doesn’t he.”
Mangler chuffed softly with mild amusement. “Tempting, but I’ll pass. What I do remember of godhood was nothing to be repeated.”
“You don’t remember that part?”
“It was a long time ago.”
“People don’t forget enjoyable experiences.”
Morbid laughed. “Now you’re a god again?”
Mangler scowled. “No. I just…it’s not important.”
He could feel the piece of the Crest in his pocket, one of the sharp corners digging at his thigh. Masuta had still not realized Mangler had lied. The Key was still not found. The war was still waging—worse than before—and it had been a month. Mangler didn’t know what he was waiting for, but something was ready to give way. He just didn’t know what.
Morbid tipped a bottle against his lips and Mangler flinched as the liquid hit him, then he parted his lips and let the wine slide down his throat.
“Wine’s a depressant, you know,” Morbid said, maneuvering to sit beside him, the wine bottle cupped in her hands while she studied the contents blandly.
She was undeniably a beautiful woman, though a sharp-edged one. Her eyes were slanted upwards and dark, her eyebrows thin as a knife point and just as sharply angled. She had skin like bloodstained earth, a description she was rather proud of, and jutting cheekbones. Her dark hair had been shaved off except for a narrow, flat-topped swath that ran from her hairline all the way to the nape of her neck where it turned into a long, fat braid that she often wore around her throat like a noose. These days she wore anything that bared her collarbones, usually decorated in small animal bones. The skulls were her favorite.
“So it is and I thank you,” Mangler said.
“You’re boring,” she said.
“I wasn’t a hundred years ago.”
Her eyes gleamed at that and all at once she straddled his lap and leaned in lips first. She diverted to his cheek at the last moment and laughed at his expression.
“Maybe next century we’ll do it again,” she teased. “Or when you get a new face. I think I’m tired of this one. It holds all the features of a brother and none of anyone more interesting.”
He pushed her off of him. “Whatever you like.”
“How bland,” she remarked. When he didn’t respond, she nudged him with her elbow. “You’re being droll again, Mangler. What could possibly be on your mind to make you so droll?”
“How did he manage it?”
“Murderous be so stupid? Masuta knows.”
“Deathly lose the Key.”
Morbid stiffened and reevaluated Mangler’s mood, then she shrugged. “The human was lucky. He did something…devious, no doubt.”
“Have you never wondered why the keeping of the Key was left to Deathly and not Masuta?”
Morbid’s eyebrows rose and she gave a small headshake, jerking her shoulders again. “I thought it was simply because Deathly never goes out.”
“I don’t know why it is,” Mangler said. “But with what I do know, it doesn’t make much sense. And even if it did, I find it hard to believe that a human could have stolen it from him. Deathly is…a formidable force. I would hard-pressed to take him down if it came to it.”
Morbid lounged against him, airily suggesting, “Perhaps she’s plotting against Masuta and she plans to kill us all.” For all they knew, Deathly didn’t have a gender; they all chose different pronouns for the Immortal and didn't blink at them. Then Morbid added in a deep, dramatic voice, “She plans to kill us all forever.”
Mangler couldn’t help but laugh at the idea of Death betraying Masuta. “Not likely.”
“You do remember laughing,” Morbid said. “I knew you couldn’t completely forget, you grim thing.”
Mangler’s expression soured. Morbid threw her head back and laughed.
“Keep that up and people will start thinking you hate living,” she told him.
“Maybe I do, but I’m cursed to continue living anyway.”
A new voice interjected. “Not for much longer.”
They turned to see Murderous leaning against the doorframe, spinning his gun on one finger. He smirked, glancing at Mangler, then tsked.
“What have you done now, Mangler, ole man? I’ve just been granted permission to kill you.”
Mangler stood in a rush. Masuta knew. He knew about the Crest. Murderous cocked the gun, but didn’t point it at Mangler.
“Shall we make it interesting?” the deranged youth asked.
Morbid laughed. “With you in the fight?”
Mangler though, was stern, his attention fixed on his opponent. “If you come after me, I won’t hold back.”
“I’m counting on it,” Murderous replied, then pointed not his gun, but his finger gun at Mangler. “Bang.”
Mangler jerked out of the way and fled. The wall that had been just behind him was cracked and bleeding black blood. Murderous holstered his gun and took up the chase, cackling gleefully.