Chapter Six: Off the Handle

Giles had only a split second of warning before the fist connected and in that time all he could do was stare at the blur that was Morgavayne's fist with wide eyes. The older man did not take the blow well, literally spinning in place. His legs folded even as they twisted around each other and it was all he could do to grab the bookshelf behind for support. If it hadn't been there he would have simply fallen to the floor and, possibly, into unconsciousness. Granted, he was only conscious in the most classical sense. The blow had left him completely stunned and it seemed to be all he could do to cradle his wounded jaw in one hand while the other gripped the bookcase weakly. Morgavayne watched it all with the frozen eyes of a predator, his anger forcing him to enjoy every second of the weakness displayed by the man who had wronged him. Morgavayne had always had highly varied opinions on emotions, considering them to be liabilities in one scenario and weapons of unmatched potency in the next.

Morgavayne wasn't sure how to classify them in this situation. On the one hand he had fairly ruined his cover by striking back at Giles. Which would force him to abandon any plans he had made, or attempted to make, in anticipation of this situation. All the observations he had made about the cult and the people therein would be rendered useless. He had showed his hand and would now have to play it through. Essentially winging his way through a compound filled with potential enemy combatants. That was the only way Morgavayne could afford to consider them at this point. While he was sure the majority of the cultists didn't have a violent impulse between them he knew they wouldn't take this lightly. He knew that if he chose to kill Giles he would have to kill others. The man's protectors were nothing he'd lose sleep over. Rashid and Orton were hardly what he would call innocent but the others, people like Juanita or Kathy McGee and her young son, didn't deserve this.

On the other hand, however, Morgavayne's anger empowered him. The emotions coursing through his body, hardening his glare and tensing every single fiber of his being, convinced him that he could accomplish just that. They told him, without the faintest hint of doubt, that he could slaughter this people wholesale, as he had done time and again in the past. Despite the advantage in numbers they held or the ambiguity of their crimes, he was assured that if anyone raised a hand against him that he could strike them down. He was reminded of the knife, still concealed within his coat. With a weapon in his hand Morgavayne doubted anyone within the compound could stop him, regardless of superior firepower. Even Rashid, who was undoubtedly aware of the situation and had at least a hundred pounds on Morgavayne, wouldn't stand a chance. Rational thought attempted to break through the killer's blood thirst, trying to remind him of the consequences of his action. But his anger only doubled in response, reminding him of how Giles had simply used his daughter. It told him that he could kill this man and that there was nothing anyone could do to stop him.

All in all, rationale and self-preservation did not seem likely to win the day. Morgavayne slipped a hand into the dark leather of his coat, reaching with his fingertips to peel open the pocket where his blade was concealed. All the while his gaze on Giles' back intensified, so much so that he would have been certain that the cultist would feel it. The killer began to take a step forward as he wrapped his hand around the knife's handle. With a flick of his thumb he undid the clasp that kept the weapon in its sheathe and began to draw the naked blade without so much as a whisper of steel. Despite the silence of his movements, Giles seemed to be aware that Morgavayne was closing in. He shook his head rapidly, attempting to regain his composure but it only caused him to lean harder on the shelf for support. Morgavayne couldn't help but notice just how disgustingly easy this was. His blade was already halfway from its sheathe and Giles had yet to regain the wherewithal needed to defend himself.

That thought was engulf the loud boom of wood slamming against wood. Morgavayne immediately spun around on his heel, releasing the knife as he did and allowing it to fall back into the sheathe. Rashid took up the entire space of the doorway as he glared at Morgavayne, the late afternoon sunlight making him appear as a monstrous, living shadow sent to confront him. Morgavayne only gritted his teeth and balled his fists, which he had lowered back to his sides, until they cracked audibly. There was something wrong about this entire situation, something that just didn't sit right with the killer. It was all playing out too easily, too conveniently, and he knew from experience that such a thing just didn't happen. It didn't need to be part of some grand, occult scheme either. Morgavayne's instincts had been honed through years of use. If they were telling him that killing Giles and, subsequently, fighting his way through the Free Lives compound, was a bad decision, he was inclined to believe him. He wonder if his rationale ever got jealous of his instincts, or if such a thing was possible.

Morgavayne's fragmented thought process was proven correct when Rashid, rather than step forward to lash out with his body, began lifting his shirt to reveal the wooden handle of a revolver. A gun, not the most threatening thing Morgavayne had encountered but definitely capable of getting the job done. There was a good chance that Morgavayne could still disarm the man and take him down with only a knife but that would only work with the two facing each other, weapons in. If Morgavayne had decided to kill Giles, his back would have to the door when he did it and if Rashid chose to step through the door at that time, gun in hand, it would have been the end of Morgavayne's illustrious career. It didn't take a highly trained individual to stab someone in the back. It didn't take a trained marksman to shoot one in the back, either. But that just left Morgavayne face-to-face with a giant of a man currently reaching for a firearm. Morgavayne risked a glance around the room. There wasn't much in the way of cover but the killer took his chances and would have to live with them.

Morgavayne's entire body tensed as Rashid's hand gripped the handle of his revolver.

"Enough!" Giles slurred. Morgavayne turned his head slightly, keeping Rashid in his peripheral vision, to see Giles slowly pushing away from the bookshelf. "Let him go, Rashid." Rashid shot the cult leader a quizzical look before turning his gaze to Morgavayne and then back. "You heard me." Giles said, still cradling his jaw with one hand. Already Morgavayne could see a dark and hideous bruise forming there and couldn't stop the smile it caused from gracing his lips. "I'm sorry to have offended you, Morgan." Giles said, stepping forward with an outstretched hand. "I was merely trying to help you overcome your situation."

"Sure you were." Morgavayne said, anger accenting his words.

"Please, Morgan." Giles said, holding his hand up in a placating gesture. "I can assure you that my intentions are always just but, as a human being; I have no way of knowing how my words will affect others."

"Uh huh." Morgavayne replied, clearly completely uninterested. The sooner he got away from Giles, the better. He wasn't sure he could contain himself much longer. "You might want to get some ice for that." With that Morgavayne turned toward the door, only to find Rashid's bulk still blocking it. "One side, giggles." Morgavayne said, not a trace of humor in his voice.

"Let him go, Rashid." Giles said, sounding more tired and aged than Morgavayne had ever heard.

With a sneer, the massive Arab shouldered past Morgavayne and into the cabin. The killer only shot the larger man a wink, a gesture that did nothing to soften his expression, before stepping out into the slowly fading afternoon sunshine. Morgavayne squinted his eyes as he looked to the sun. He couldn't be sure of what time it was but, at the moment, he didn't rightly care. Sure, he needed the cover of night to leave his room and contact Malone but after that episode he wasn't so intent on getting the job done right as much as he just wanted it done. He didn't care about what Giles' excuses were, he knew the truth. He wanted to find Morgavayne's weaknesses and he just so happened to stumble upon his worst. Sore subject didn't even begin to cover what Morgavayne considered his family to be. Self-loathing didn't begin to cover the manner in which he considered himself when he thought upon it either. Most days, Morgavayne was able to do everything in his power to forget about it but at night, when he had nothing to think about, it always came roaring back to the front of his thoughts.

And, apparently, when faced with cult leaders they attempted to cover their allegedly murderous tendencies behind a curtain of faux-benevolence, they returned to the forefront of his mind as well. Granted, this was his first such run-in with such an individual but Morgavayne could see the potential for a pattern to form. Morgavayne tried to keep his thoughts focused on creating colorful adjectives for various individuals he hated as he made his way through the compound's grounds. He stuffed his hands in his pockets as he walked and couldn't stop himself from staring at the ground. Morgavayne had always considered such behavior to be a form of weakness but, at the moment, he was feeling fairly weak. Punching someone in the face normally made him feel better but this time it only made things worse. Giles deserved more than just a love tap for what he did. Morgavayne had done a lot worse for a lot less. Morgavayne was so distracted with thinking of what he would do to Giles when the time finally came that he hadn't realized he was in the plantation house until a voice shouted at him.

"Morgan!" Juanita said, her voice rising. Apparently she had been trying to speak with him for some time, following him down the second floor hallway. Morgavayne paused enough to give her an even look before he started walking again.

"Hey." He said quietly as he moved.

"What's wrong?" She asked, hustling to keep up with Morgavayne's longer stride.

"Nothing." Morgavayne said. Any other day he would have been content to leave it at that and go on about his merry way. Today, for some odd reason, he felt the need to talk about it. He let out a heavy breath as he came to a stop in the middle of the hall. He didn't speak until he had rubbernecked around enough to be sure no one else was listening in. Juanita stood silently at his side, waiting for him to speak. "Giles and I… Had some harsh words."

"Oh." Juanita said, drawing at the word in a manner that told Morgavayne he explained everything. The killer grinned slightly but it did nothing to alleviate his sorrow apparent on his face. Juanita noticed it and her eyes grew concerned. "What did you talk about?" Morgavayne opened his mouth to speak but only blew out a sigh. It should have been easy to say but Morgavayne couldn't bring himself to do it.

"I," He paused to swallow, "I had a daughter, once. It's something of a sensitive subject for me and Giles felt the need to bring it up so I," He twitched his shoulders, "punched him in the face." Juanita let out a quick choke of a laugh and shook her head. It wasn't the reaction Morgavayne expected but it was pleasant enough.

"That man needs to realize that everybody ain't a pussy." She said, a faint smile on her lips. Morgavayne gave her an odd look, demanding an explanation. "He's used to these kids breaking down when he starts spouting off. Crying and hugging and shit like that. He just couldn't see someone reacting the way you did." Her smile widened slightly as she recalled an old memory. "You should have seen his face when I was done with him that first time we talked."

"Really now?" Morgavayne asked, a bemused grin on his face. Juanita smiled in return, nodding. "So what were the two of you talking about?" He continued to press, instantly wiping the smile from Juanita's face. Morgavayne's followed suite.

"Well," She blew out a long breath, considering her words carefully, "I was pregnant and…" She closed her eyes and leaned her had against the wall. "And now I'm not. I don't want to talk about it."

"We should form a club." Morgavayne idly suggested, earning a humorless laugh from Juanita.

"I'll work on the jackets." Juanita said, slapping Morgavayne lightly in the stomach with the back of her hand. "I'll see you around, Morgan."

"Yeah." Morgavayne said, unmoving as he watched her walk away. He stayed like that for an untold amount of time before he made his way up the stairs and into his room. The killer didn't even bother teasing himself with the thought of sleep; he merely sat on the edge of his bed and waited for night fall.

Morgavayne's thoughts kept him company, inevitably focused on one topic and one alone. Most days, Morgavayne could avoid thinking about his daughter. He could find something, anything, to divert his attention away from that subject and then he would focus every fiber of his being into that one thing until his daughter was just a distant memory that he didn't revisit. But at night, when there weren't any distractions, all Morgavayne could do was lie there and think about her. He'd think of all the time they had shared. Think of what they could have done if they had only had more time. Think about what he should have done to ensure they had more time. It was a vicious cycle of thought and Morgavayne knew it. He knew more about the human mind and its functions than most psychological experts but it was useless to him. Text books can provide an individual with knowledge on an impressive range of topics. But knowledge was limited by logic and logic had no place in Morgavayne's mind.

Almost mechanically, the killer reached into his pocket. His body seemed to move on its accord as he was only aware of the motion when he felt his fingers slide against the glossy plane of the photograph in his pocket. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, silently savoring it as his arm lifted the picture into his field of view. With a sigh of resignation, Morgavayne opened his eyes and looked down at the picture. It was an older photograph, probably aged half a decade. Judging from the sides of the image, a portion of the picture had been violently ripped away. What remained was a man and his little girl. The man proved to be Morgavayne, appearing much the same as he did now though his manner of dress was more professional, his hair was longer and combed, and he was happy. Truly, genuinely, happy. A large, toothy smile dominated his face, making his dark blue eyes light up. Morgavayne couldn't help but be surprised whenever he looked upon the picture. To think that the man looking back at him had once been one and the same was insurmountable.

But that's what his baby girl, his Athena, had done to him. Most parents loved to make the claim that their daughter was the prettiest girl in the world, or that their child could light up a room but Morgavayne doubted they could hold a candle to Athena. To him, that's what parenting had meant: knowing his child was the greatest thing in the universe and being completely uncaring of who knew it. Even now her precious little smile, preserved forever on that otherwise insignificant piece of paper, threatened to melt the ice in his heart. She had been five and three-fourths, as she would have been happy to tell anyone who made the mistake of referring to her as five, when the picture was taken. She was wearing a pink sundress and had her dark, auburn hair, an unfortunate gift from her mother, in pig tails. She had inherited the majority of her features from her mother, except for her eyes. The deep, dark blue pools that rested under her scarlet eyebrows were a mirror image of Morgavayne's. With the exception that, somehow, Athena managed to make them appear warm and inviting rather than soulless and intimidating.

A slight smile began to form on Morgavayne's face, a dim and distant echo of its former self, as he stared down at his daughter. He idly traced a thumb against her face. The picture had been taken in a park by an innocent bystander that the Morgavayne family forced into service to capture their family moment. They had just got done eating ice cream, which was why Morgavayne's white shirt was stained with chocolate. Athena had been more than happy to oblige him with a chorus of giggles while berating him for being so messy. He would argue that it was her fault as he had been feeding her when it fell on his shirt and she would just smile, shake her head, and insist that he was very, very messy. That had been a Sunday. It was the last time Morgavayne's family was together. Not a day went by that Morgavayne didn't consider what he could have done that day, to make it extra special for his little girl. Not a day went by that Morgavayne didn't wonder why he had ever been negligent enough to let her out his sight.

Before that vicious cycle could go any further, Morgavayne tore his eyes away from the picture. He idly noted that night had fallen as he sat there. He let out a long, grateful breath. Now he had a distraction. The killer rose to his feet, shoved the photograph back into his pocket, and moved toward the door. He'd have to be more on his guard tonight. There was an increased likelihood of guards or other such late night activities after what had happened with Ben. Not that Morgavayne needed much. All he intended to do was go downstairs, to the dining room, so he could contact Malone. He needed to let him know what was going on; see what someone on the outside could make of it. He knew there were drugs in the compound, regardless of what Giles said. The cult's own man, Waterston, had confirmed that much. Which wasn't to say Morgavayne didn't already have a very good idea. People didn't become killing machines in five minutes for no reason, he knew that much. People becoming killing machines after an extra bowl of soup wasn't a very common occurrence, either, but Ben didn't seem to know that.

Morgavayne's fist, still tense after its introduction to Giles' face, balled of its own accord as a thought passed through his mind. Children had been eating that soup. Kids no older than Athena had been the last time Morgavayne saw her. If the drugs were in the soup, and Morgavayne had every reason to believe that they were, those same children had been eating the same substance that drove a man to assault an entire room full of innocent people. That thought brought Morgavayne to a literal stop just a step away from the doorway, as the anger he felt before came raging back to him. Both of his fists shook at his sides and it was all the killer could do to keep his breathing level. So far, Giles had proven to be quite capable of digging his own grave. This morning, Morgavayne hadn't even really been sure of the man's guilt but at this point, only a few, long hours later, the killer was thoroughly convinced that something was going on here. Whatever it was, Morgavayne didn't care. At this point all he needed was an excuse, and Free Lives seemed more than willing to give him one.

Morgavayne stood there, glaring holes in the door, for several minutes until he managed to convince himself not to beat the first thing he saw. There would be plenty of time for that later, he told himself. For the time being, however, he had work to do. They had declined to lock his door that night. Which worked out quite well for Morgavayne as he wasn't sure he could have resisted the urge to kick the door down in frustration. It had been a long day. Instead Morgavayne took the knob in a firm grip and slowly twisted it while pressing his shoulder against it. He stopped when the door was open just enough to give him a view of most of the hallway. He stayed there for at least two minutes, listening to silence and standing completely still. Once satisfied that the hallway was clear, Morgavayne opened the door enough for him to slip through and slinked into the hallway. From there Morgavayne began to creep through the darkness of the hall, quickening his pace slightly when he passed by a door with light creeping under it.

As he passed by the clearly occupied room, he faintly heard a familiar woman's voice. It was Mercedes and, oddly enough, she was singing a completely off-key cover of some pop song that Morgavayne had too much dignity to bother knowing. Fighting his urge to break down into a chorus of raucous laughter, Morgavayne continued to tip-toe down the hall. The distraction provided by Mercedes' awful singing caused Morgavayne to hear his shadow's footsteps only when he was a few feet behind him. Morgavayne came to an abrupt stop, directly in front of the stairway leading to the second floor, and listened. He heard a quick, shuffling step that ended prematurely. For several long moments Morgavayne stood there, breathing inaudibly through his nose. He heard his tail take a quick, shaking breath, struggling desperately to be quiet. Morgavayne used the sound to locate the shadow in the dark and immediately attacked, spinning around to face the darkness of the hallway.

Morgavayne lashed out with one fist, throwing a blind punch that connected with what he recognized to be a shoulder. He couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman's, in the dark, it was a bony thing. A gasp sounded in the darkened hall but Morgavayne didn't even hear it. Using his left arm, he seized his shadow by the forearm, which he had found due to his lucky punch to the shoulder. The killer kept the appendage in a firm grip as he levered his tail over his shoulder and onto the ground. The thick carpeting and his adversary's lightweight reduced the sound of impact to a dull thud. Morgavayne immediately straddled his tail, who he was fairly certain was a scrawny man, and pressed his forearm to the man's throat, cutting off his attempt to scream. The dim light leaking into the hallway from Mercedes' room granted Morgavayne his first look at his tail. The man was younger than he, with chalk white skin, and dark hair cut in a very professional style. A pair of rectangular glasses with rounded corners dangled from one of his ears. He had a very youthful, somewhat handsome face, reminding Morgavayne of the high school heart throb. Except for the uncertainty in the young man's brown eyes, they were a bit too wide and knowing for the generalization.

"Who are you?" Morgavayne hissed his voice a whisper. He slacked the pressure on the younger man's neck slightly, allowing him to speak.

"My name is Andrew Kopeck." The young man replied, his voice hoarse and shaking. "I saw what you did earlier, in the dining hall."

"Plenty of people see me do plenty of things." Morgavayne replied, making no attempt to move off of Kopeck. "Why are you following me, Kopeck?"

"I was hoping you could help me." Kopeck took a hesitant breath. "That, maybe, you weren't like the rest of them." Morgavayne eyed him oddly. He was wearing the uniform of the cult but, from the way he was talking, he didn't consider himself to be a part of them.

"Who are you?" Morgavayne asked, easing the pressure on Kopeck's chest without presenting him with an opportunity to escape.

"I'm Special Agent Andrew Kopeck." Kopeck said, hesitance in his tone, as if his next words could sign his death warrant if spoken carelessly. "With the Federal Bureau of Investigation."