1. Seek and Destroy

1531 Words
1Seek and DestroyA split second before Tazia punched each rock out of the way, she saw the face of a different enemy swirl in front of her eyes. Her father’s visage figured prominently. As did that bog demon who’d made her sing Like a Virgin on a tabletop in Rome back in eighty-eight while he’d recorded her on his camcorder. The reward—a tequila—had tasted like nectar, but the guy was still an asshole. Under her fist the rock smashed to pieces obliterating the memory of the rat-like face with its beady eyes and spiky gelled mullet. Tazia grinned. The full-toothy grin of someone who’d cruised past happiness and taken a turn down manic highway. A desperate grin. She’d been climbing up this damn rock face for two hours already, squashed between razor sharp walls of granite, sweat streaming down her face and back, hands cut to ribbons. Far below, the faint wet gleam of bloody hand prints marked her route up from the cave floor. The stink of burned flesh wafted up, too, reminding her of what she’d left behind. But it was worth it. Freedom always was. Working in just the light of a few still-burning embers, Tazia turned again to her task. She ran her hands over the surface of the rocks feeling for hand holds. Finding one, she grabbed it, and levered herself up the next few inches before searching for the next. Up and up she went until her head hit solid boulders again. With her feet wedged either side of the almost vertical tunnel, she swung a punch at the next rock that blocked her exit: that was her CO from North Africa who’d got handsy with her in a bunker in seventy-three. His liberal use of Paco Rabanne to cover his halitosis had left her gagging. Evil bastard! The crunch her knuckles made when they hit the rock momentarily distracted her. Her bones were strong, of course, but even they weren’t holding up well to this treatment. For a moment she felt pathetic, weak… human even. She rotated her fist and, as if her body sought to undermine her further, lightning shot into her shoulder. Every muscle in her arm juddered and spasmed simultaneously. Unable to form a coherent curse word (probably for the first time in her life), she hissed out her pain. Trapped between the rock walls, the sound circled her like an angry snake, round and round, before fading with a sigh. The searing pain settled to a thump beating in time with her heart. Tazia flexed her hand, sniffed loudly, and hunted for the next hand hold. Above her, a rock creaked. She froze. Head down. Eyes closed. Waiting. The rock shifted. She held her breath. Loose chippings cascaded over her, bouncing off her head and shoulders before skittering against the rock face and down into the darkness below. She couldn’t hear them hit the ground. The rock settled. Thank God. Tazia opened her eyes and blinked, a sliver of light now cut into the darkness just a few inches above her head. Particles of dust danced in and out of the dagger-like beam. She let out her breath and relaxed her shoulders. Her smile returned. Maybe, just three feet more? As her excitement grew, the rhythmic pounding in her arm returned, it became faster, almost musical. The tune filtered through the blood rushing in her ears until it sounded so loud and familiar in her mind, she couldn’t resist shouting the lyrics. For the next few minutes, Metallica drove her forward: Seek and—f*****g—Destroy! With each word, she punched, sending rocks flying, getting closer to freedom. When she finally scented sweet fresh air seeping through the gaps between the boulders above, it tugged at her to keep going. Using her knees for leverage, she pushed up further. The blade-like rock ripped her jeans and drilled her flesh, but she didn’t care. Her idiotic grin was back. Not so pathetic after all. Hot blood streamed down her shins until it pooled where the tops of her rough black leather boots met her ankles. Dust and tiny chips of shiny granite clung to the sticky wetness like glitter on glue. Unable to resist the itchiness any longer, Tazia hung with just one hand suspended above the black chasm, and swiped at the mess. Too late she realised her mistake; the movement threw her off balance and she lost both her footing and remaining handhold. Her singing abruptly halted. Oh f**k! She slid a few feet back down into the darkness before ramming her legs home again with a jolt that set every muscle in her body burning. Her body still shaking, Tazia touched her forehead hard to the rocks, and silently begged for their solidarity. Ignoring the tears pricking her eyes, she snarled into the darkness, daring any further rocks to fall, and restarted her climb. This time, no singing, only the regular dull taps of her metal boot studs, clicking against the rock walls like a metronome. Each tick carried her up and away from the place where she’d watched her father’s body get sucked into Hell. Shit! Wasn’t that worth another song? She resisted. Celebrations would have to wait until she was safe, ideally with a bottle of Don Julio in front of her and that nice pile of cash she was owed. In her mind, she heard Billy’s voice: Nearly there, Taz. Keep going, girl! Ten minutes later, Tazia got her first glimpse of the world outside: a sky painted the blue of early spring in a cold climate, pale and fragile. She pushed aside the final boulder and, with her eyes forced shut against the burst of light, she dragged herself up to lay on solid ground. Fresh cool air dried her sweat and soothed her ripped skin. Goosebumps rose. The chill felt amazing! Despite the cold air, Tazia had chosen the worst time of day to emerge. The intense mid-afternoon sun sizzled paths of scarlet blisters over the exposed skin of her arms, legs, and face, forcing her to rise on weak legs and limp to the shade of a rock overhang a few feet away. Once there, she collapsed again to the ground, breathing deeply, remembering her father’s final moments. The death shot had pierced him between the eyes. As his body crumpled, and his gaze turned stone-still, innumerable feet stamped in anticipation of his arrival. The sound forced its way up from under the ground, gaining strength until the surrounding rocks cracked into pieces and swirled beneath him. The suction had pulled half the cave down along with him. As he descended, fire licked at his hair and skin until ashes danced on the air currents in the tunnel. The stink remained clinging to her clothes. She could still taste him burned and gritty on her tongue— Just in time, she rolled over and spewed: blood, sodden dust, and the Dutch-courage breakfast she’d had that morning. As the spasms receded, she groaned, wiped the mess from her mouth with her palm and smeared it on the side of her jeans. Rolling back and staring again at the sky, Tazia’s thoughts switched to her father’s killer. He’d died under the rock fall, too—her eyes flicked to the hole she’d just crawled out of—I f*****g hope! As she lay there, drifting between memories, the sun lowered slightly to reveal shadowed dips and gullies across the Italian landscape. Behind her the Alps stood proud, snow encircling the peaks despite the spring sunshine. The usual array of deciduous trees had started to mix with the pines of the higher altitudes. The more tender perennials merged into the deep green gorse that never changed regardless of the time of year. This landscape was her comforter, a familiar blanket that soothed and protected her. Time to go, Taz. She rose, gave herself an excited hug, before feeling for the silk bag that hung around her neck on a thin leather cord. It contained her father’s fangs. At his urging, she’d removed them a few hours earlier using metal pincers and brute force. As the teeth popped from his jaw, blood spraying her face and neck, her father had smiled and licked it from her. Daddy’s goodbye. Tucking the bag back under her shirt, she assessed the path down from the rocky outcrop. Turin lay on the plateau below her, just a few miles south. The old church spires stretched up tall, squashed between the modern office blocks and apartment complexes that littered the city. The red and yellow tiled roofs stood out against the cream stone walls of the old buildings and the shiny silver windows of the new. The industrial zones spread far into the distance. It would all begin down there. Her life would start over, and this time it would make sense. She heard Billy’s voice again: La dolce vita, baby! With a final glance at the sun’s position, Tazia began the descent down the hill, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. From the tree tops, a few songbirds serenaded her first steps. As she entered the city, they would leave her to continue on alone, but for now she whistled alongside them. She didn’t look back at her father’s resting place. After one hundred and fifty years of devotion and duty, it was time her life began in earnest. It was time to make a deal with a demon.
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