No, no, no, it wasn't like that. We began with the best intentions. That might've gotten lost along the way, but it isn't how we started. We were young, and idealistic. I was in love. We were all eager to save the world from itself. The boss had led us to defeat the great Beast, and we twelve loyal apostles were willing to follow him back out of hell, and start building paradise. I wasn't a monster then, I'm sure of it.
The Beast. I still think of it, from time to time. In the middle of the night, I wake up in a cold sweat, phantom images swimming before my eyes. Some of my fellows, my beloved amongst them, erased the memories from their heads, if only so they could sleep peacefully. I could never bring myself to use the damn things. I always figured every memory was worth having, you know? Even the ones you hated, you learned something from. I still think the Beast is the worst thing we contain, despite our efforts to put it to good use.
I’m sad to say, it was my idea to use the Beast. The engines were still running, the engines were greased. It would have been an insult to those fed to it to have made their sacrifice be in vain. I thought we could control it, use it to thwart our enemies. Heh. How wrong was I?
It helps that in those days we had proper villains, not the conglomerations you get nowadays. Faceless corporations, or trust fund babies who think they can freak people’s minds with far-out art performances. Nothing like what we fought, back in the day! The fights we undertook were in black-and-white, good versus evil, all those trite old tropes. People with power seeking to abuse it, and calling themselves by monikers that explained who and what they were. The Winter Wolf. Grendel. The Trollen Tribe. The Last Ghoul. Each of them unique and interesting, with their own plots and machinations. But at the same time, the majority of them the type of people whom, if you happened to run across in a bar when not on assignment, would buy you a drink, and reminisce about previous encounters. Or at least not shoot you when they recognized you off the clock.
I remember when all that changed for me.
Don’t tell my wife, but it all started at a high class brothel, back in- Was it the thirties? May have been the twenties, or the teens. They all blend together after a while. I know I was promoted out of Senior Staff before the second World War. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. Let’s just say, pretty girls look good no matter what year it is. Don’t look at me like that, I was tracing a lead! A very attractive lead… It was another time, standards were different. Anyways, I was chasing down rumors that the necromancer who called herself Dancer was using the sex slave trade to raise herself her own little army. I was there to shut her down, if I could find her.
I was, ahem, chasing my lead, and If I may say, I was doing a fantastic job of it, when all hell broke loose. Apparently, someone, and I blame that traitorous preacher, had let Dancer know that I was seeking her out. So there I am, courting this dear lady, when the door bursts open, revealing a slavering horde of undead whores, calling my name! Well, it felt like a horde. More like a whored, hey? Heh, sorry, puns ARE the lowest form of comedy, I know, I know. Probably only a dozen or so, but when your pants are around your ankles, and your gun is in a jacket across the room, even three would feel like a horde. I bid the lady a polite good night, and dove for my gear, hoping to outrace the grasping claws. I had just got my hand on my jacket when one of the zombies knocked me through the goddamn wall.
So, picture this: Me, no pants, still in a state of… ahem, activity, blasting through this plasterboard wall, hard enough that I lost all sight of my pants, and I have the good fortune to fall into bed in the next room! A soft landing, because the bed is already occupied! I’m trying to give my excuses to the duo, explaining that I wasn’t trying to make it a trio, when the gentlemen and I finally make eye contact. Even without that damned wolf mask, I recognize his eyes, and it’s clear he recognizes me from the way he’s forming ice claws on his fingers, and starting to snarl. The bloody Winter Wolf himself, in the middle of taking his pleasure. Not an image I can easily forget, I tell you what!
I extricated myself quickly, trying to make excuses, when HIS door bursts open, his own horde of zombies prostitutes calling for his head. A glance is exchanged over the living girl's head, and we both nod at each other. Now, I still had my shirt on, unbuttoned, but the Wolf, he’s completely naked. His body swells as he rises off the bed, grabs a chaise lounge, and begins to beat the undead menace soundly with his improvised melee weapon. So, naked beastman beating undead zombies with furniture, as I’m struggling to pull my hand cannon from the armpit holster I had stupidly removed.
Let me tell you, the guns we had back in the day, they were something else. Filled with blessed rounds, well, not always, but in that situation, because, necromancer, and you could easily slip in whatever ammo might be needed. I always kept a couple of silver bullets on-hand, just in case. Hand-tooled back at the Factory, designed for the agent on the run, large bore, but little-to-no kickback. I found myself trying to shoot past the now-completely iced-over and armored Wolf, zombie heads popping like corn, when what should happen, but the damned ceiling caves in, a whole shit ton of undead dancers falling on top of us.
The Winter Wolf and I wound up back-to-icy-back. I’m getting torn up, cause someone has armed these creatures, knives and the like, but since they don’t feel pain, they just keep coming! My gun runs dry, and I start using it like a club to beat off these girls. Always use a big gun; that way you can hit someone with it if you run out of bullets. And if anyone tells you you’re overcompensating, you can shoot them. I was able to snag a machete off one of the dead girls, but you ever try to chop through dead flesh? Well, all right, the flesh isn’t an issue, but the bone gets in the way something awful. It got to the point where I was just maiming them, and then spinning so the Wolf could finish them. I could feel the beast's armor getting thinner, and heard him getting hit, but I couldn’t afford to turn to look.
It felt like we fought there for hours, but it was probably no more than 15 minutes. When all the bodies had stopped twitching, we finally were able to turn to each other. We both kept our eyes above the waist. He was bleeding, but so was I. And we looked at each other for a long time, as I slipped my coat back on, in hopes of covering myself at least a little bit. I do try my best to always look like a gentleman. I think that’s where my eldest got his affection for pristine suits. The walking cane is all his grandfather. My hand had slipped into the pocket of my coat, palming a single silver bullet.
“Dancer?” he said, although it was more of a growl. In his transformed state, everything he said was more of a growl.
“We were trying to put a stop to her. You?” I didn’t back down from his glare, despite the extra foot of height he had on me. Any display of weakness, and he would have likely gone for my throat.
“Trying to recruit her. Apparently, she prefers to play alone.” He sneered, but with a snout like that, most of his facial expressions looked like sneers.
We stood there for several more minutes, just looking at each other. I clutched the bullet tighter in my hand, and wondered if I was fast enough to load and fire it before he tore my throat out. And then he just nodded at me, I nodded at him, and he scampered out the window, while I borrowed a pair of pants from one of the dead girls, and went to meet my driver outside.
You’d think that was the end of that story, but you’d be wrong.
About three weeks later, my middle boy comes running in, all “Papa papa, there’s a man here to see you!” I ruffled his hair, and went to the door, and could feel the blood drain from my face. The Winter Wolf was at my door. He was dressed, well, rather ordinary a nice suit and tie, a good fedora, but it was hard to forget those eyes. He smiled at me, but it didn’t reach those cold dark orbs. He raised a hand, in which he held a familiar wallet. “You lost this.” That was all he said.
He studied me as I studied him, then he turned his attention to my house, with the children playing in the yard. “You’re not what I expected,” he said, not looking at me. “I didn’t figure one of the Foundation's hired killers-“
“I’m not a killer,” I recalled protesting. The lie hung hollow on my lips, even then. I wasn’t an assassin. I was a researcher, and sometimes agent, when it was needed. It didn’t matter that some people died, I wasn’t sent to kill them it was their own fault they resisted! At least, that’s what I told myself.
“-to be a good family man,” he continued, as if I hadn’t even spoken. “I came here to kill you.” He said it so nonchalantly, as if he had said he was going to pick up a dozen eggs. I didn’t move. None of my guns were close enough to matter. “I was going to kill you, as an object lesson. Well. That is what I told myself. I knew in my heart the real reason was revenge, plain and simple.” He turned those dark, burning eyes on me, and his lip twitched slightly. “Your little Foundation destroyed my pack. My mate, my brothers. All under the excuse of protecting society.”
He turned away from me, his gaze on the cherry tree, blooming in our yard. “You made me a monster.”
“But I can’t do that to some one else’s pack.”
We talked, then. We talked for a good three hours, about why the Hand did what it did, why we did what we did. We forged, if not a friendship, then at least mutual respect. I even gave him the silver bullet I would have used on him. He had it reforged into a ring, for his new mate. She didn’t quite understand why he always referred to it as offering her his life, but I knew what he meant.
We stayed in each other's lives. I made sure I didn't go on any missions that involved him. He directly avoided any contact with the Foundation. I was a groomsman at his wedding. He would play cowboys and Indians with my boys.
My oldest son killed him 30 years later in an altercation with the Serpent's Hand. I never told him the dreaded Winter Wolf was also his kindly uncle Jason. I don’t think he would have cared.
I’m sorry, I’m getting on, and my mind wanders. Our enemies, they have always called us monsters, because they think there has to be another way. That we should be able to contain skips without treating them like objects. That we should be able to use the benign ones, or at least make them comfortable.
The problem will always be knowing which ones are the benign ones. Because it changes, you know?
After all, I was the one who tamed the Beast. I was the one who said that it could be useful, that we didn’t just have to contain, but could also utilize. I made the biggest mistake the Foundation would see for generations.
I decided we should weaponize The Factory.