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The Second Sky: Prologue - The Rough Horizon
Posted on Sunday, July 22 2007 @ 04:52:07 Eastern

Disclaimer: Suikoden III is a trademarked property of Konami. I wish I was Konami, but I'm not. And I'm human, not a company. Let's keep it that way. However, I do own the original characters of this Suikoden III fanfic and my word phrasing. At least I hope so. Who knows, I could infringe myself if it was made to sound right.

Notes: And oh yeah, this fanfic (at least the prologue) is written for general audiences, not just Suikoden III fans. Of course, if you are a fan, you'll probably pick up on more, but I'll try to make it accessible for as many as possible.

For thirty-five years, Rusk had ridden the subway from the Twentieth Precinct in which he worked to the suburbs in which he lived; and for the last twenty-five years, he escaped. Beneath the groans of the subway cars screeching along the railroad tracks, he would let his hands cradle his chin, his elbows resting upon his thighs. The slow rolling grinds of the wheels would melt his thoughts until he felt nothing at all.

Rarely did a passenger sit next to him, for fear of disturbing such a man in deep thought. Rusk often sat at the ends of a subway car, in the row of chairs where there were only two seats side by side, both of which were opposite the chairs clearly labeled "Priority Seating." By his appearance alone, most passengers naturally looked elsewhere or stood without complaint holding on to the metal bars beside him. With his steely eyes and hardy complexion, complementing his tailored overcoat, red necktie, collared shirt, and beige dress pants, he had the keen and silent look of a detective who knew the streets better than anyone cared to know. And besides, there's not much leg room sitting next to a man who is six feet four.

The seasoned cop hardly concerned himself over his intimidating stature, though in fact, these spurts of public transportation - which his colleagues were quick to bemoan - offered him the most respite. His often exhausted body would take him into a natural slumber. During days of round-the-clock investigations, he would lightly cross his arms and doze off with his head down, only to awaken with a sudden burst of energy when the train arrived within mere inches of his stop. It is an uncanny skill that many city dwellers have by nature.

Today, however, he did not need a power nap. A rare week of light work allowed him to ponder, whether he wanted to or not. Attentive comfort, for Rusk, was unsettling, a chronic condition that needed daily treatment, for he knew a vacant present meant that the past was not far behind. Left unchecked, memories would rush into his thoughts and swell into a low-hanging haze, cloying with dangling pieces of the past that have already been resolved but still swirled for a moment's view. Wading through it all did not trouble Rusk as much as it irritated him. Questioning his convictions, whether it came from his colleagues or his self-doubt, never favored his health or those around him.

Luckily, an accordion broke his train of thought. Its rustic vibrations bounced off the plastic covering the chairs and the advertisements, bringing the dead underground air into a heightened melody. As the musician glided his fingers over the round silver keys, he sang a Mexican tune, as always. Usually, Rusk did not need to listen. He knew the subway musician well, how the man would step casually at the 34th street stop, sometimes the 26th, and shuffle out a paper cup after his performance to collect any loose change from willing passengers. He did not know the meaning of the song, but he knew many of the words: a village, a woman, a mirror, and a Mexican blossom. Through the many trips, Rusk grew to sympathize with the musician, a bearded fellow well into his forties, but it was his policy never to give money to strangers.

The train soon emerged from the tunnels, letting the setting sun shine through the windows, and leisurely approached the first stop, which stood high upon a bridge. A little Hispanic girl and her stocky mother, who tightly grasped the leash of her perky Shih Tzu, entered through the sliding doors. As the dog panted from the summer heat, the mother scanned up and down the aisle, sighed when she saw the musician playing in the middle of the car, and grabbed the metal pole closest to the detective.

The young girl scooted over to Rusk and, without warning, plopped into the vacant seat next to him, fitting snuggly into the fourteen-inch space between him and the metal wall. Rusk watched her now worried mother lean around his face to peek at her leaning back against the chair and dangling her feet. He quickly held up his right palm to the parent and gave a tight-lipped smile as he closed his legs, giving his new neighbor more space to dawdle. Startled a bit by the gesture - and his smile - the mother let out a short sigh of relief and hastily turned to stare at the passing city landscape.

Rusk did not mind the girl twitting here and there. She turned her head to watch the accordion player. She turned her head further to watch the clouds pass overhead. She played with her fingers. She played with her white dress, hemmed in pink and red. She lifted her feet and watched the poof of the dress fall gently to her side, and the first time she did it, she let out a giggle. She called her dog Snowy, who waddled over to her legs, and she petted him on the head like a doll.

As soon as Rusk realized he was amused by her antics, their stop had arrived, and the girl and the mother left hand-in-hand as quickly as they came. People shuffled in, the doors closed, and Rusk returned to his statuesque posture. But the delightful encounter still lingered in him.

That day, the musician found a generous tip in his cup.

---

"You gave him how much?!"

"Fifty dollars."

Chad couldn't bear to hear it. He pressed his hands into the kitchen table and stood to his full six feet height.

"So you give some crusty-old greybeard fifty dollars, but you can't loan me a twenty?!"

Rusk couldn't bear to hear it as well. As far as he was concerned, Chad Templeton was the hard-working yet incorrigible young-blood at work. Although Chad was in his late twenties, he still had the penchant for asking around for money everywhere he went. Rusk understood that the city wasn't known for paying its finest very well, but acting like a middle-school teenager who never "borrowed" enough quarters grated his patience.

From across the table, Rusk firmly folded his arms. "He deserved it."

"Oh, yeah? And what the hell did he do?!"

"Something that doesn't involve monthly installments." Rusk glared at the rookie with his laser-blue eyes.

Until the past few weeks, the office had become a battlefield between Chad and Cline Woodward, Rusk's long-time friend who was celebrating his recovery from a successful surgery today. Chad owed a personal five-hundred dollar loan he still hadn't paid off. It wasn't until three hours ago that Cline eagerly told Rusk about the monthly payment plan, including principal, interest, and a written contract.

"Oh, come on," Chad complained. "It's not fair for you two to gang up on me like this."

Rusk arrived at Cline's modest brick home at the end of Washington Street four hours before the party started. Mrs. Emily Woodward wanted to learn his signature funnel cake recipe, though it was obvious she needed a hand to tidy up the house for the occasion, especially given her husband's health. Rusk was more than happy to oblige.

Cline's recent promotion to the precinct's police captain was short-lived when he had a stroke three weeks ago, restricting his mobility by more than half. It was a sore sight to see "The Bulldog" limping on a walking cane. Having known Cline since first-grade, Rusk was the first to offer his assistance, if not out of a personal debt.

Cline was the one who scrapped his nickname together in the first place. It was meant to be a joke between his first and last name, "Russell" and "Luske," and though Russell didn't talk to his best friend for a good week and a half, the name stuck. But being that it was a good name for a cop - and for picking up the ladies - this was the least Rusk could do to make Cline's life a little easier.

"For your sake, Chad, I hope you pay on time. Or you aren't getting any cake," Rusk snickered. Right on cue, Cline hobbled through the kitchen archway, lifted his walking cane, and struck Chad on the back of his head.

"Aww!!!" Chad moaned, as he rubbed the growing bump on his head.

"And he won't be getting any sleep, either!" Cline yelled in his gruff, scratchy voice.

Rusk promptly clenched his fists. "Or any medical insurance," Rusk declared.

"Okay, I'm leaving," Chad said in a hurry, as he scampered out of the room, "We'll settle this soon, anyway. Old prunes..."

"What did you call me?!" Cline shouted, as he raised his cane again to strike again but missed Chad's fleeing image. "How dare you talk like this in my condition! Rusk, double his paperwork!"

"Gladly," Rusk smirked.

"Now play nice, children," Emily said slyly, as her knife diced some carrots and celery. "Though, I think you should triple it. He lumped me in as an old prune, too."

Mrs. Woodward, who had been listening the whole time, was preparing vegetables for a hearty beef stew. She was a kind soul that relished in the mothering role, but she didn't take crap from anyone. Despite her plump figure, her words could easily turn into daggers that would slay any beast. Fortunately, for Cline and her two grown children, the hustle and bustle in the house put her in a good mood.

"Very true, very true," her husband replied. "Rusk?"

"Gladly," Rusk smirked again. "And calling me an old prune will cost him, especially if I show up in the ring tomorrow."

"I sure would want to see that one," Cline remarked.

"How much are front row tickets?" Emily said in a delicately serious tone.

Rusk preferred not to have an audience, but he didn't want to deny his friends some entertainment. Through the turmoil of the nine-to-five job and graveyard shifts, training sessions had become a weekly spectacle, not just a way to let off steam. By majority vote, the extra money in the budget last year went into a new boxing ring in the precinct's basement facility. Nearly half the unit allied together to move the treadmills, bench-presses, dead weights, and whatever equipment that was in the way of the squared circle alongside the edges of the room. Rusk was surprised it only took a day to assemble it.

To Rusk's chagrin, though, bets were soon placed on upcoming matches throughout the week. Any grudge fight became a gladiatorial pay-per-view event, which saturated the daily talk in the office with anticipation, heated words, and all-out profanity - all of which Rusk didn't care for.

Rusk was almost never in the audience, let alone the training facility. If he wanted to exercise in a damp, dimly lit, and dungeon-esque atmosphere, he had his own gym. A healthy sum of his spare cash, when it wasn't going into mutual funds in foreign markets or real estate in emerging high-end retirement areas, could be seen in the basement of his home. It housed an Olympic-sized floor-exercise mat, a pommel horse, still rings, an all-in-one weight-training machine, a heavy bag, a speed bag, and a shelf that stretched from one wall to another, stacked with instructional videos in martial arts - and dance. Only a few outside of the Woodwards have been to his basement.

"Perhaps I should teach him the tango instead," Rusk quipped. "Far more frightening."

"Oh, don't kill the young boy," Emily said, rinsing the cutting board in the sink. Then she quickly straightened the board in front of her and grabbed the sirloin. "How much are the tickets, again?"

Cline chuckled. "For you, it's free of charge," he answered, turning to Rusk. "Still, the guys want to see you teach that no-good money-stealin' swine a lesson."

Emily let out a long sigh. Dropping the comedic antics, she uttered, "As much as I want to see that too, dear, he's not young anymore."

"More the reason to ride it out as long as he can," Cline huffed.

Though Rusk had the appearance and fitness of what Emily considered a hale and hearty man in his late thirties, both he and her husband were both fifty-seven, an age at which the sword is meant to be passed down, not measured. All who attended the party knew Rusk would only lose in a boxing match against them if he pulled his punches, but challenging him to one of the weekly matches was more a matter of principle than intelligence. Possibly winning against someone that could be a grandpa, if not already your superior officer, was not worth the trouble.

Unluckily for Chad, a two-time boxing champion back in the day, became aware of Rusk's true age only several days after challenging him out of spite. Rusk refused to lend him money so many times and with such intensity that the young-blood took it personally. Chad insisted on meeting him in the ring, though the veteran told him that time was better spent solving crimes instead of clubbing colleagues. Since Chad discovered that his opponent was more than twice his age, some officers had tentatively asked Rusk not to take him too seriously. He would answer by cracking his fingers, saying he never did, and then turning away while cracking his fingers again. Some, however, wanted a more explicit answer.

"Do this for me, will ya?" Cline implored, leaning forward and directing his hands like a conductor. "Will fifty dollars do the trick?"

Rusk silently squinted at his long-time friend. It was just like Cline to ask two questions with one. It was a technique they both used during interrogations.

But then Rusk opened his eyes while taking a deep breath, the kind of breath Cline was not ready for. Rusk spoke deliberately.

"Yesterday, a musician who needed space to play led a girl and her mother near my seat. The girl sat by me. The mother stood by me. And for the first time, in a long time, I thought of Rena."

The kitchen dulled.

The dust perched near the ceiling light; Emily looked down at her knife settling deep into the marbled beef; Cline leaned back and silently cursed his curiosity; and the air filled with the mumblings of the guests and with the heat of the oven peacefully baking the funnel cake.

The fragrance of the cake, which Emily had learned from Rusk a few hours ago, and which Rusk had learned from Rena, permeated the room like a yellow cloud. It lingered over the table chair next to the wall, the now vacant chair in which Rena sat when she played Hearts and Bridge with them. It hovered into the Woodward's living room, where she once smiled during their baby shower. It met Rusk's chin, cheeks, and hard-bitten lips. And forming a collage of burnt newspaper clippings, it collected pieces of memories, numb and ashen, from the uninvited depths of their minds.

"On September 26th, 1980, at 11:36 pm, Detective Russell Luske returned home after a grueling investigation of the White Sepulcher gang. He opened the door and found his wife, Rena Luske, dead on the floor. He ran toward the victim and kneeled. His hands and his pants became wet with blood. He then heard footsteps from the second-story window to the front yard.

He ran through the open door and saw the murderer, Viren Johnson, fleeing from the scene of the crime. He chased him onto the sidewalk of 201st Street, through the front yard and back yard of the Goodman's, through the back yard and front yard of the Lee's, and onto the sidewalk of 202nd Street. He tackled the killer near the northwestern corner of 202nd Street and 26th Avenue. He disarmed the murderer from the murder weapon, a .45-caliber pistol. He then delivered approximately seventy-eight hand-to-hand blows before knocking the killer unconscious an undetermined time before authorities restrained him.

Detective Russell Luske, 32, sustained three bullets, one to his upper arm, one to his right abdomen, and one to his left thigh. He did not recall when he sustained the injuries. He was found not guilty to charges of homicide on the cases of self-defense and temporary insanity.

Viren Johnson, 38, member of the White Sepulcher, was killed. Due to the quantity of injuries sustained, autopsy reports could not determine the cause of death. Probable cause: severe internal bleeding.

Rena Luske, 29, was killed instantly by a .45-caliber bullet that went from under her jaw, through her right eye to her upper cranium. Autopsy reports revealed that she was seventeen-days pregnant with a girl.

Fourteen days later, Rusk's suspension was lifted. The White Sepulcher gang was eradicated within a week."

The kitchen remained silent for a while, when suddenly, Cline and Emily were snapped out of their trance. The voice they heard was low and piercing, as it always was.

"And yes, fifty dollars would do the trick."

]

 

Within the first minute of the bout, Rusk and the referee understood Chad's prowess in the ring. The old pro, wearing white trunks and blue shoes, suffered two clean blows from a right hook and a left uppercut to learn that his normal fightingsty1e would not work. Aggression served the strength of the young slugger, donned with black trunks and blue shoes, more than he. Still, to the referee's dismay, the two heavyweights could tell from their opponent's conditioning that this was far from over.

Metal folding chairs and a scattering of makeshift boxes surrounded them. The usual training equipment packed the corners of the room, pinning the spectators to the show. As the Saturday night crowd cheered on their bets, the sturdy wooden floor, caked with sweat, rubber, and ammonia, reflected the overhead lights in rough moving patterns. Cline and Emily - especially Emily - hollered in the front row near their friend's corner. Chad's girlfriend, Sasha, was in her usual spot behind her boyfriend, demanding him to club that prune to a pulp.

Chad knew Rusk was smart enough to counter his Sunday punches, expecting him to switch to an out-fighting approach. When he noticed him fluttering away from his advances, the rookie quickly charged forward, closing the gap between him and his fleeing opponent. Just as it was with his past foes, Rusk's eyes widened in amazement.

However, the two-time champion did not anticipate how well the veteran could adapt. Though Rusk's feet appeared unbalanced, sliding and slithering across the canvas, they glided with jazzy precision. His muscles moved with the unpredictability of Capoeira, the fluidity of Tai Chi, and the exuberance of the quickstep. Murmurs in the crowd speculated over his untraditional technique, as Rusk evaded, clinched, and countered with swift jabs and lung-collapsing stomach blows.

This did not mean that Chad threw in the towel. Rusk's face and mouth guard would attest to that. Lunging punches, haymakers, and combinations stunned the warhorse at least twice every round, making Rusk appreciate his force training.

But it soon became clear by the seventh round that Chad's legs were nearly spent, their stamina sapped far more than his adversary's. Sweat trailed off his chin, chest, biceps, and gloves, and his lungs began to heave in between each round. Taking the brunt of Rusk's flurry of low-impact blows had taken its toll. Two minutes into the road, Chad slammed onto the canvas from a hook on his right cheek. Rusk, sporting cuts beneath his left eye and lower lip, paced back into his dusty corner.

The bulk of the crowd, wanting to see more of the joust, either sat on the rims of their rickety chairs or cheered Chad on. Sasha yelled above them all, her shrieking voice belying her petite frame and damaging the ears of her neighbors.

Visibly shaken, the once aggressor leaned his weight on his right hand. His round ears heard the referee's lofty voice in shades of clarity. His knees began to buckle, but gritting his teeth, his feet planted firmly on the floor, ready to fight at the count of six. The gallery clapped heavily, some cupping their mouths with their hands as they hollered. Rusk stole a glance at Emily and Cline, who were also clapping, but he wasn't disheartened. The few that saw his reaction slowed their claps out of confusion. Rusk returned to the fight with closed eyes and a soft smile.

---

Just as the betting crowd expected, Rusk won, but he did so by unanimous decision. With the reputation of "The Argent Wolf" strong-arming criminals and low-ranking officers, Chad was also mystified. It was not until he wobbled into the locker room, after most of the spectators had left with satisfaction written on their faces, that he acted on his suspicions. Rubbing his reddened chin with his right hand and leaning against his well-used locker, he reviewed.

Each round after the seventh, Rusk had sent him to the canvas at least three times, nearly all with counters, yet he was still able to stand every time. With the adrenaline working overtime and the audience growing ever more rowdy each time he rose to his feet, Chad did not have the time to think until now. For the first time he stared across the room at the old hand, who was unraveling the bandages around his hands, with utter bewilderment. Was it possible Rusk had been toying with him, with clinchers that lacked force behind them?

Before he could interrogate the victor, Rusk put the bandages on the heavily taped table on his side, looked down at his fingers, and sauntered over without much stride. Chad's battered eyes peered down at the tiled floor. A hallway light flickered near the doorway next to them. Rusk stopped three inches from him, waiting until the light returned to its normal state.

"Look, Chad," Rusk said with a deep breath. "Look at my hand."

As Chad gazed at the feet of his superior officer, Rusk's hand blocked his view. It was fairly bloodied and bruised around the knuckles, but glittering on his left ring finger was a golden band of unusual detail, ivory engravings that appeared to be runic symbols framed by two vines. Chad observed him pull it off with his right hand, and he looked up at Rusk's face.

"Now open your hand," Rusk continued. "I want you to have this."

Chad quietly complied, revealing the palm of his right hand. Rusk carefully held the ring between his right thumb and index finger, and finally placed it upon Chad's lifeline. The golden band was slightly heavier than the rookie thought.

"What is it? A wedding ring?" the rookie inquired, his eyebrows curved inward.

"It is something you should give to Cline, as payment. He will know what this means," Rusk explained. Chad's eyebrows remained inward at the cryptic message.

"If Sasha means anything to you, don't pawn it." Irritated that he brought up his girlfriend and his past as a jewelry thief, Chad shot a glare.

"If you do," Rusk proclaimed, tapping the side of his forehead, "I'll know about it."

A fiery Latino woman suddenly ran through the doorway.

"What are you doing to my boyfriend?!" Sasha exclaimed. "Haven't you beaten him enough." Her black S-curved hair bounced as she scurried over to her sweetheart. She kissed his sore shoulder and quickly glared at Rusk's face.

"I'm making sure he keeps you," Rusk retorted with a grin.

"As if he wasn't!" she countered. But then she noticed Chad scratching the back of his neck.

"Wait, you aren't going to break up with me, are you?!" Her high-patched voice shrilled in Chad's ear. Thankfully, Rusk was wisely already on the way out of the room.

"No, how could I?" Chad stammered.

"Chad, I know when you're lying to me!"

"But..."

Strolling down the hallway, hearing the two lovebirds bicker, Rusk kept the grin on his face until he laughed it off.

---

Reaching the sidewalk jutting out from the porch of his home, Rusk remained in good spirits. During the late-night subway ride, some of the passengers gave concerned looks over his injured face, but he didn't care to notice them. His mind skipped from moment to moment. Chad and Sasha reminded him of the arguments his young self had with Rena, which almost always passed with a comical air. Walking up the stairs, he realized that it had been far too long since he had been this exhilarated. His right hand sifted through his pockets for his rattling keys, and after feeling its jagged edges, he began to unlock the door.

But then, he touched the copper-plated doorknob, and he suddenly remembered. This was how he felt before Rena was taken from him, before he knew how lifeless a body could be. His right hand began to jostle the loose doorknob around its socket. Tension reached his sapphire eyes and light blond hair. His knees crumbled to the pavement, as he felt a stabbing pain in his chest and his left hand.

The arteries throughout his body constricted. His nerves convulsed, as if lava crawled upon his skin. His right hand lost its grip on the doorknob, but as it slipped, the door began to open slowly. Gasping for breath, his writhing body knocked the potted plants on the stone steps onto the dirt below. The wrenching screams and the shattering clay pots soon reached his neighbors, and windows began to light up all around him. But he could not see them. Several women yelled and hurried to a phone. But he could not hear them.

The capillaries that weaved along his suntanned skin burst into showers of blood. It poured down his white collared shirt and patterned red necktie. It rushed down his comfortable beige dress pants into his rugged Timberland boots. It sprinted down his mouth, his nose, and his ears. It stained all and everything, and especially the wind, which now blew from his bare-red eyes through the door wide open.

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