"Adamant, the armor of gods, an ancient metal known in song.
Have you ever known its like, or heard tell where it might be found?"
"Know it? Aye, it's known in Ys, where long years my people lived."
"Tell the tale, and I shall listen. Your words will find a willing home."
"You know it, in a half-made truth, as a man might know a bird
though he's only seen the bones. Likewise you have seen the thing:
Diamonds rent from womb of Earth are husks of adamant laid bare.
Nothing of the living stuff that humbled steel, and made proud iron break in shame."

"Are those… children's hands?" Agent Samuels asked, repulsed.

"Oh, those?" Dr. Mann said. "Yes, I got them from the Foundation's orphan supply."

"Orphan supply?" Samuels turned white.

"Yes, yes," Dr. Mann said, waving to the freezer marked biological supply. "The children of Agents or Researchers who die. Their families immediately become Foundation property. Mostly we just take out the useable organs and discard the rest, but occasionally we use them for tests we feel are too horrible for D-Class personnel."

"That's… You're joking!" Samuels's voice was pleading.

Dr. Mann laughed. "Ha, good show! I can't fool you. Yes, I'm just having a little fun."

"Oh, thank goodness." Samuels wiped his brow.

"No, we actually pull them from the general populace with black helicopters."

I stared at Cei's body in shock, and then over to Montraine. Outside, the rain continued to crash down against the windows.

He bent down to pick up my son, keeping both his eyes and his gun on us. "No funny moves and nobody else has to die." He started backing up. My wife squeezed my hand. I had never felt so helpless in my life.

Then I saw the smoke snaking out from Cei's mouth, saw his clothes start to singe and smoulder. Little wisps of flame started to spring from his hair and hands.

Montraine didn't notice. He simply kept backing away with little Ben, all of his attention on us. His face held a tremendous sense of satisfaction.

Cei's clothes began to crackle from the heat. As Montraine looked down, the flames suddenly rose up into the shape of a man. A spear formed in its hand.

"No! Not when I'm this close, damn you!" Montraine fired again, but the bullets passed through the flames without effect. My son wailed as he was dropped onto the floor, and Montraine grasped the doorknob with both hands, twisting it open.

Before he could escape, the spear of fire thrust into his back, and he screamed. Then his body was consumed by flames, and his form collapsed, and there was nothing left but ashes.

The man of fire stepped forward and laid its hands on my son. I cried out, terrified.

My son laughed as he was lifted, unhurt by the flames. "Come now, Henry," Cei's voice chided. "Would I ever harm your child?" He stepped forward, and handed Ben to me.

"Is that really you?" my wife asked. "How?"

"I know many things of old, Mary. And now it's time for me to go." Cei turned away, heading for the door.

"Where are you going?" I asked.

He paused, then gave a sad little laugh. "Where does any man go when he dies?" He stepped out into the rain. There was a hiss, and then nothing.

My name is Charrin Rike, and I am a scoundrel. I am a thief, a murderer, a lech, and an inveterate gambler.

I say this because I am quite straightforward in my malice. It's the closest thing I have to a redeeming feature.

I am not a nice person. As my story goes on, you will probably find you don't like me at all. There are more likable people in the story (including a unicorn,), but understand that you will come to loathe its star. I don't die, either, so no help for you there. I do suffer quite a few indignities, if that makes you feel better.

I say all of this because, as the story progresses, I do things that may at first blush appear altruistic. Please take note of the coercion, greed, revenge, and other base motivations that guide me. This is not a story of redemption, heroism, charity, or any other such saccharine things. This is a story of how I gulled, connived, and fought my way to survival. If I happened to have offered momentary assistance to certain persons, it was either coincidental or in furtherance of my own goals.

It was a quiet Saturday morning when the phone rang. Not the nice Dean Martin ringtone I use, but an actual, loud, insistent ring, like someone taking a jackhammer to a steeple bell. At least, that's how it felt through the hangover. With a groan, I levered myself off the couch and stumbled towards my pants.

I stepped on something soft and squishy on the way, and cursed soundly. I never thought I'd miss cockroaches, but at least they didn't have tentacles. I hopped over to my pants while I scraped cuttlefish off the bottom of my foot. "Hello?"

"Lombardi, you're needed at the station." I recognized the voice of Captain Paradox, my supervisor. "Pick up Yoric on the way. He'll be running by 17th and Lovecraft at 9:43. Have your passenger door open and your engine running." He hung up. I muttered deprecatory things about him, Yoric, and the creator of jagermeister.

I got dressed and headed out. I climbed into the Pinto that's my crap car of the week. I figured it had another couple days before either the suspension gave out or something ate it. It protested as I drove it out of the parking garage under my apartment complex, struggling up the ramp. Finally, it made its way into the gray light that filtered through the buildings and crossways up above. I maneuvered past a nasty looking patch of fog, and got out onto the road.

I made it to 17th and Lovecraft with a couple of minutes to kill. I opened the door, leaned back, and waited, while the engine burned gas.

The clock read 9:46 when Yoric dived into the car and screamed "Drive!" but I'd bet it was the clock that was off, not Captain Paradox.

I gunned the engine, just as a fish-faced guy hurtled out of the crowd. I left him eating our exhaust, his gills fluttering in consternation. "You wanna tell me what that was about?"

"He didn't like me hanging around his sister," said Yoric. He did a double take. "Hey, how'd you know I needed help?"

"Captain sent me to pick you up," I said. "We're needed at the station."

"Fuck," he said, summing up my sentiments perfectly.

Twenty minutes later, we were at the station, standing in front of the Captain’s office, deciding who was going to go in first. “Flip you for it,” said Yoric.

I pulled out a quarter and threw it into the air. It landed, bounced, and stood on edge. We stared at it for a moment, shrugged, and maneuvered through the door at the same time. It does not pay to ignore portents around the Captain.

Captain Paradox looks like a young man. Skinny kind of guy, curly hair. You’d look right past him on the street. However, he’s got nearly twenty years’ experience in law enforcement, half of which has already happened.

He smiled as we clambered in. It is not, in my experience, a good sign when the Captain smiles. It usually means something nasty’s about to happen to someone else. “You’ve got a new case,” he said, as brusquely as ever. “Angelo Dyne was murdered in his apartment last night. Forensics are already on the scene, as is the coroner. They’ll fill you in on what we know so far.”

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