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Chapter One: Council of Peacocks

Wisdom fell fifty feet and landed face-first on concrete.  His skull bounced off the sidewalk twice. Then he lay still.  He kept his eyes closed.  Each breath brought stabbing pain.  At least three ribs were broken.  Probably more.  Still, it was over: the Djinn was dead.
Nearby, a little girl screamed.
He blinked repeatedly, forcing his eyes to focus.  Misty shapes solidified and he realized he was no longer in the underground fortress of the Council.  Cold mist fell on his face and the air rumbled with the sound of rushing water.  He realized where he was. 
“Niagara Falls?  How the hell…?”
He pushed himself up on weak arms and looked around.  Snow-covered ice blanketed everything.  Spray from the waterfall froze on the faces and jackets of the crowd of tourists gathered around him. They stared at him, repulsed.  Looking down, he saw why.  It was impossible to tell where tattered flesh ended and tattered suit began: both were the same shade of red.  Fortunately, aside from the ribs, nothing seemed to be broken.  It was small consolation.  Everything had gone so wrong. 
Well, not everything.                
“I won,” he said.  The Djinn was dead and the Council defeated. His back muscles spasmed as he forced himself to his feet.  “Any idea what the date is?  Don’t worry I won’t bite.”
A woman with overly-bleached blonde hair took off running before he finished speaking.  Two men in their early twenties stared at him and took a collective step back.
“Jesus, I said I wouldn’t bite.”  Wisdom stretched his arms, groaning as tattered muscles and tendons slipped back into place.  “Now tell me what day it is before I change my mind about the biting thing.”
“Is there a problem here?”
He turned to face a thick-armed police officer with a graying crew cut.
“There won’t be a problem if someone tells me what the bloody date is.”  Wisdom spoke through clenched jaws.  “Did they outlaw common courtesy while I was away?”
“You’ve been away, eh?”  The police officer scratched his jaw and stared openly at Wisdom. Then he exhaled slowly, an internal conversation flashing across his face.  “You’re in pretty rough shape there.  Maybe it would be best if you come with me.”
Wisdom clenched his fists; orange fire flared in his eyes. 
The police officer rose off the ground two feet clutching his throat as if being choked by invisible hands.
“Maybe" Wisdom said, "it would be best if you just answered the damn question.”
“It’s January 15th!”
"Four months," he said.  "We fought for four months? That definitely explains why I'm exhausted. "  Wisdom smiled down at the young girl who shouted the date and relaxed his fists. The police officer dropped, reaching for his gun even as he struggled back to his feet.
“This is tiresome.”  Wisdom waved his hand and the man stopped moving.
Everyone within seven hundred feet stopped moving. 
A hush fell on Queen Victoria Park.  The only sound was the rush of the Niagara River racing over the escarpment to slam against the rocks below. Some things even Wisdom's power couldn't stop.  He walked up wide stone steps toward the nearest hotel.
Something moved at the edge of the temporal distortion.  He turned slowly toward it.  Near the entrance to an alleyway, behind a hot dog stand, a glint of gold flashed.  Just a speck of light.  He tried to focus on whatever was moving in the shadows but the harder he concentrated, the more the image blurred. 
"I'm seeing things," he said.  "Must be more drained than I thought."  He rubbed his eyes and walked away from the mystery.
Each step was painful.  Shoeless, his raw, open flesh and exposed bones left a trail of bloody footprints behind him.  Snow crunched underfoot, the sound echoing back from parked cars and store fronts.  Past the edge of his displaced time, children pulled at parents’ hands, urging them into arcades and haunted houses.
"Hasn't changed much," he said under his breath.  "Haven't been here in years. Still the same flashy lights and gaudy tourist traps. Looks like I’m not the only thing keeping this city stuck in time."
He slipped through the revolving doors of a hotel.  People in winter coats scattered.  Two heavily-muscled men in crisp white security uniforms marched toward him, clubs in hand.  A balding man behind the front desk reached for the phone.
“Put that down.”  The concierge went rigid and did as he was told. 
Then Wisdom turned to the security guards.  “And you two, go home.  Consider this a spa day.”  The stern intimidation on each guard’s face was replaced by vacant numbness.  In unison, they nodded and walked out the front door. 
Wisdom sighed and limped the rest of the way to the front desk. 
“Now.  Please.  Give me the best room for you have.  And I don’t care if it’s occupied.  Just give me the key.  I’ll take care of anyone in the room.  Also, I want clothes.”  Wisdom reached over the counter for a pen and pad of paper.  Blood dripped from his forearms onto a pile of credit card receipts behind the counter.  “These are my measurements.  Charge everything to my room.  And send up food, too.  One of everything on the menu.”
The front desk clerk nodded slowly, the same vacant look on his face.  He programmed a keycard and handed it to Wisdom. 
“Thank you.”  Wisdom bowed his head.  Keycard in hand, he went to the bank of elevators on the other side of the lobby.  People stared at him and talked amongst themselves but no one else approached him.  At the elevators, he pushed the button and waited.  And waited.  He grunted and pushed the button several more times.
“I can kill a Djinn, yet, despite all my power, I’m stuck waiting on elevators.  My life is brimful of subtext.”  While the car descended, he studied his reflection in the mirrored walls finally seeing the extent of his injuries.  He was a large man, nearly seven feet tall, with thick, well developed muscles.  His skin was normally dark brown, the color of wet dirt.  It was impossible to tell in his current state.  Large chunks of his flesh were missing, revealing wet gristle and bone.  His black eyes glowed reddish-orange adding an extra element of menace.  “I look like day-old road kill.”
Eventually, the elevator arrived. Mercifully, the other guests let him ride up alone.  He rode to the 16th floor and found the room listed on the keycard.  It was a two-story presidential suite complete with whirlpool.  Thankfully, it was unoccupied. 
He headed straight for the bathroom.  He pulled off the remnants of his clothes, careful not to pull away flesh.  They fell in wet piles on the tiled floor. 
"I pity the bastard who has to clean this up," he said as he turned on the shower. "Speaking of poor bastards, I wonder what happened to the Anomalies.  Did Elaine get them out?  I should call Echo." He shook the thought away.  Whatever happened to the Anomalies he was in no shape to deal with it now.  He'd been gone for four months. A few more days wouldn't change anything.  All that mattered was Echo, and he felt certain she was fine. She was a survivor.
He stepped under the water, hissing in pain and disgust. Loose pieces of flesh flapped under the spray.  The shower quickly filled with blood.  He thought of biting his lip to brace against screaming but decided against it.  In his current state, it might come off.  He leaned against the shower wall and stayed under the water until it ran cool.  Then he turned the taps off and stood on shaky knees. 
Looking at the pools of blood covering the floor, Wisdom grunted.  To get back he would have step through the mess he'd made.  He waved his hand and the blood disappeared.  Then, so as not to make his actions futile, he cauterized his wounds by will.  The exertion was regrettable.  He fell to his knees for a moment until his strength returned.
"Guess I'd better not attempt to heal myself just yet.  It'll probably take at least a week before I'm back to my old self.  I can't risk heading to one of my offices either, not before I know what I'm heading into.  The Council may be defeated but they have allies."
Pushing himself back to his feet, he walked to the king-sized bed and slipped beneath the covers. He turned on the TV and flipped channels until he found an infomercial about a complex food processor.  Completely engrossed, he watched for several minutes.
"What the hell am I doing?" Embarrassed, he changed the channel. "I haven't cooked my own meals in decades."  He surfed for a few more minutes. Then he landed on CNN.  What he saw made him feel much colder than the snow and ice outside.
Wolfe Blitzer sat on an overly-lit set constructed atop the White Tower in Thessaloniki.  The night sky sporadically exploded in blasts of light and sound.  But it was the man in the chair next to Wolfe that concerned Wisdom.
“I’m here with Propates,” Wolfe said into the camera.  “He's the leader of the Council of Peacocks who, as we speak, continue to challenge the Greek government for sovereignty over the area.  This is the twenty-third day of the occupation.  Casualties have been extremely one-sided.  Hundreds confirmed dead. Despite their best efforts, the Greeks have yet to win a single skirmish.  The U.N. remains uncommitted, with no other country willing to commit.  Earlier today, we were contacted by Propates.  He wants the Greeks to stop fighting a war they cannot win, his words.  Propates, you claim your once-secret organization has found a way to forcibly evolve humans. Some feel statements like this prove you're a little, how shall I say…”
“Nuts?”  Propates smiled at Wolfe and winked at the camera.  He was darkly handsome with an olive complexion and short-cropped black hair.  His eyes were a shade of bluish-green that hinted of the ocean: the color of peacock feathers.  "“I’ll tell you what's nuts, Wolfe.  It's completely insane for people to see what me and the other Council members are capable of doing and continue to delude themselves." 
Wisdom clenched his fists, tearing at the sheets.  His concentration flickered and blood leaked from his wounds. 
Propates turned back to Wolfe.  "There are hundreds of Council members around the world.  Thirteen of us walked into Athens and tore the city apart.  Thirteen.  I believe it was your network that showed the first images.  And then there are my angels, the Edimmu.  You can probably see some of them flying behind us right now.  We have tens of thousands.  This war is already won.  To pretend it's not, that, my friend, is truly insane." 
Wolfe swallowed visibly, his complexion pale despite the heavy makeup.  “We have reports today, as I’m sure you’ve heard, from the Vatican.”
“Oh, yes. I’ve heard.”
“They declared you are Satan and that Last Days are here.”
“I supposed I should be flattered.”  Propates turned to the camera again.  “But I'm not. Whether you call him Argus or Melek Taus, Christians have vilified my God for centuries.  They're right about one thing. These definitely are the last days of the old regime.  Big changes are coming.  If the Pope has anything else to say I'd be more than happy to pop on over to Rome for a private conversation.”
Wisdom shook his head. “Propates, what the hell are you doing?”
"Well, well, well."  On the screen, Propates slowly sat back in his chair and looked fully into the camera.  "Wolfe, I'm afraid I have to leave. I just got a message from an old friend."
With a burst of bright light, the camera flickered and the TV screen filled with static.
Wisdom jumped out of bed. He waved his hand and called up the thin threads of his power.  White sheets leapt off the bed and coiled around his body. They twisted and mutated around from their original form into a blood-red three-piece suit.  Fear threatened to overwhelm him.  He thought of running but shook the thought away.  He couldn't let Propates see how weak he was.
Darkness dripped like syrup down the walls, filling the room like a pool. Within moments the hotel room was flooded with shadow.  He saw the face first.  It surfaced from the murk, eyes and smile bright sparks.  Then Propates stepped forward and he was fully in the hotel room.  Behind him, there were hints of movement in the shadows.  Propates didn't come alone.
“Well, Wisdom, I was beginning to wonder when your father would tire of torturing you.”
Momentary doubt crossed Wisdom’s mind.  He shook it away.  “Your ignorance is tiring.  Once again, you prove how little you know Propates. My father didn't torture me.  He wanted to drag me back to the Kaz.  We fought.  Then, I killed him.”
“Really?  Shame.  Considering the deal we worked out.”
Doubt returned and settled firmly in Wisdom’s mind.
“You see, Wisdom, you're the arrogant one.  That’s not an insult. It’s just the truth.  You think you're so smart but you've never been able to see the 'Big Picture.’  You always focus on the individual pieces, not how they mingled together.  Did you wonder why your father chose now to come get you?  Of course not.  That would require forethought.  Or maybe you just underestimated me.  I'm not the Roman peasant I used to be.  I outplayed you. This is check and mate.  Concede."
“Send all the Edimmu after me you want." Wisdom took a step forward.  He hid how much his knees trembled, but just barely.
Propates sneered and looked over his shoulder.  “I didn't bring Edimmu.  These are your precious Anomalies.  You still don’t get it, do you?  Echo did, in the end.  And I’m afraid I do mean it was the end for her.  You see, unlike you, she was an intellectual threat.  So I tossed her into a volcano.”
Wisdom took another step forward.  This time his knees didn’t tremble in the least.
“Relax, Wisdom.”  The movement from the shadows behind Propates increased.  “I'm not here to fight.  The Council has big plans for this planet.  You could still be part of it.  You and me, working together just like old times.  Don't you see what we've already accomplished?" 
“Spell it out for me.”  Wisdom’s head pounded, his face flush with anger. “After all, I’m too stupid to see the big picture, right?”
Propates walked over to a burgundy chair by the window and, with a quiet chuckle, sat down.  “I really have you to thank.  What you did to me and Echo was the inspiration for the project. We perfected the process of Eyeness.  It took longer than expected but the results are remarkable. Just imagine the forced evolution of the human race, the things we could be capable of.  So much untapped power. We used your Anomalies but I'm afraid you may not recognize them anymore. The process does put the body through a few changes.”
Wisdom held his hand up.  With a grunt, he pushed the shadows away.  They retreated like soiled water flowing down the drain.  The strain opened up several of his old wounds but he felt little of the pain.  He was alone with Propates.
“Congratulations.”  Wisdom wiped blood from his lip.  “You’ve won.  Touché and all that. I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming.  Really, I can’t.  I guess you're right. I did underestimate you. Fortunately for me, you’ve made two mistakes.”
 “Really?  And what would they be?” Propates beamed, the smile on his face showing no trace of fear. 
“First, never make deals with my father.  Djinn can’t be trusted.  You see, if he really wanted you to succeed, he would have let you in on a little secret.  Your second mistake.  Remember the portals I can make?  The ones that let me travel around the world?  The ones I taught you and Echo how to make so long ago?”  Wisdom learned forward and lowered his voice.  Now it was his turn to smile.  “I didn’t teach you everything.”
“What are you getting at, Wisdom?”  Doubt flickered across Propates' face.
“Come now. You pride yourself on how smart you are.  I could give you a hint but, from the look on your face, I think you’ve worked it out.”
Propates was on his feet moving toward Wisdom.
Wisdom’s eyes flashed bright orange.  With a flick of the wrist he sent Propates flying; he crashed through the reinforced windows and fell to the streets below.
“See you soon,” Wisdom said.  Then he opened a portal and traveled back through time.

Continue to Chapter Two

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