Post by God Emperor Newman on Jul 26, 2013 2:35:29 GMT
It’s an interesting fact that no two port cities smell the same. At least I think it’s interesting. Nobody else really seems enthusiastic about the subject, so mostly I keep it to myself. Ah, well.
Eshnur’s scent is particularly heady, with faint undertones of piss and blood mingling with the more common potpourri of seagulls, salt water and slime. It’s seen its share of hardship, to be sure. One of the first Samari cities captured by the Dominion, as I hear it, and well-watered even now by the juices of war.
You can learn a lot from a city’s smell.
But alas, I am not here as a connoisseur, but as an emissary. I am here to serve as mouthpiece of the Leaden Flame, humanity’s last bastion and beacon of hope, as Cain calls it. From what I’ve heard around the camps, if this deal pans out we’ll finally start shining for real and stop skulking around the embers of shitty backwater slums. Like an actual flame, we’ll light up the night of whatever and burn out all the archons hiding in their wossnames.
Sorry. Got a little poetical there for a second.
Anyway, me and Toorum and Blacky and Snipe and Widge and Skully and Hoka are supposed to meet with these guys that say they’ve got designs for some really neat bombs. Well, Hoka and Blacky and me are. The others are there to kill the bastards if it turns out to be a trap, which Hartwin says is a “very real possibility which we cannot afford to disregard.” I’m not too worried, honestly. Snipe can shoot a fly off the wall next door and I’ve seen Widge do things with a knife that would make you cringe. Hell, I’d be more worried about the other guys, if they weren’t trying to kill us.
Which they might not be, of course. As of now, it’s just a “very real possibility.” Still, better paranoid then dead, as Cain always says. We'll see soon enough.
Post by God Emperor Newman on Jul 26, 2013 22:52:25 GMT
Our contact met us outside an old building in one of the shabbier parts of town. I guess the house used to be something pretty grand, because the crumbling walls were ornamented with a flowery façade and broken columns stood in a half-circle around the empty doorframe. It smelled like mold and regret.
The contact matched the scenery. Up close, you could see his clothes were probably quite expensive once, but now they were so dirty and torn he could have passed for a beggar in any city you’d care to name. A peculiar scent hung about him like a haze. There was fish, and spices and something else I couldn’t quite place. Judging by looks, he was from Chakazia, but the language he muttered fitfully to himself wasn’t one I’d ever heard.
The street was empty except for him, Blacky, Hoka and me. When he saw us, he gave an odd, exaggerated sort of wave and grinned too broadly as he stared...not at us, exactly, but in our direction. A lunatic, I thought. Wonderful.
“Greetings, sirs and madam,” he said in a courtly voice that didn’t seem to fit his demented appearance. “Please, follow me.” With a jerking bow he skipped through the splintered doorway and into a dusty hall. Broken furniture littered the rotting wooden floor and a dubious staircase led up into darkness. Paying no heed to the complaints of the ancient wood, the crazy man danced up the stairs and disappeared through a door.
“Well?” Blacky asked.
“We’ll hear him out,” I said. “If it gets too crazy or if he gets violent, we’ll take him out, but he could still have information we need.”
“You’re the boss.”
We carefully scaled the creaking staircase and followed him into what appeared to be an old dining room. An intact table filled the center of the room, still set as if for a meal, though covered with decades of dust and cobwebs.
“Lovely place you’ve got here,” I said loudly, taking in the dead mice and bat shit scattered across the table and floor. “Very swish.”
He laughed at that, a high, off-key cackle of frenzied delight. My skin crawled. He indicated three chairs at the head of the table and then pranced over to the other side, where he took a seat. We sat down and waited for him to speak.
I shifted uncomfortably as my patience trickled away. Finally I said “We don’t have all day. Either say something or fetch someone who can.”
In an instant his entire composure shifted. His idiot grin disappeared, his eyes found their focus and he sat up straighter. He fussed with his collar for a moment, then turned his suddenly steely eyes on me. “You represent Maximilien Cain?”
I suppressed my unease and answered “I represent mankind.”
The idiot grin returned. “As do I, my friend, as do I. That’s why I have brought you this.” He patted his right pocket and fished around inside for a moment. His hand quivered slightly and he coughed, then laughed as he began to search his left. Eventually both hands came out. Both empty.
He stared at me without expression.
“Left it in your other jacket, did you?” I asked. He laughed again.
“Oh! Actually, yes. Please, check your inside pocket.”
“Son of a – !” I reached into my jacket and closed my fingers around something soft and malleable. I pulled out a scrap of grubby paper and stared at it as our host smirked behind one hand.
The note was covered in carefully, even painstakingly inscribed runes. I didn’t recognize most of them, but the ones I did were intriguing enough. Hatred. Malice. Spite.
“Well now. This is some interesting reading.” I looked back up to see the crazy man had stopped smiling again.
“What you hold is only part of a greater whole. A secret so dangerous it could break the world’s very bones. A way to kill the beast.”
I slid the paper back into my pocket and clasped my hands politely on top of the table. “You have my attention.”
“You’ve seen it too, haven’t you Trumin?”
He knows my name. I tabled the thought and said “I’ve seen a lot of things.”
He smiled and tears began rolling down his cheeks. “Have you seen her face? Humanity is a festering whore. Quivering underneath their boots. I see it every night. And every night I set fire to her. I make her clean again.”
My anger built throughout this little speech, though whether at him or the world he described I couldn’t say. This time it’s me who doesn’t say anything.
He leaned slowly across the table and said calmly “That’s why I came to you, Trumin. You and the others. You’ve seen it. You know of what I speak.”
I gathered enough control to say through gritted teeth “Maybe.”
His expression sharpened again and he sat back, though his fists remained clenched and his muscles tensed. “That paper is part of a schematic. For a weapon. A weapon that destroys magic and all things touched by magic. Do you see it now, Trumin?”
My eyes widened as I marveled at the implications. “I see.”
“No. You do not. But you will.”
I waved his cryptic nonsense aside and asked “But what did you mean, ‘part of’ something bigger?”
He stared at a grime-blackened window. “I have yet to see if you are dedicated, serious. Sacrificing. What are you willing to lose?” He turned back to me, eyes sliding out of focus and vacuous smile returning.
“I am the Leaden Flame. My devotion to humanity and hatred of the spirits are beyond dispute.”
His face was twisted by some mad emotion and he leapt from his chair. Me and my friends did the same. He hammered the table with his fists and roared “I don’t believe you! Are you ready to die for this cause?” His voice cracked and ran raw as he screamed “ARE YOU?”
I stared at him for a moment, right hand creeping to the gun at my belt. “The Leaden Flame. All of us, every one, is ready to die for humanity.”
He slowly pulled a pistol from his own belt and tossed it onto the table. “Kill one of them,” he said, and sat back down.
Me and Hoka and Blacky just stared at the gun. My hand remained on my own pistol. “To what end?” I asked at last.
"I do not need manpower. I do not need weapons. I do not need resources. I need blood. Hatred. And sacrifice. I will not ask again."
My mind raced. My mouth went dry. I said, as calmly as I could manage “Listen closely, friend. I have no reason to believe a word you’ve said is true. You haven’t shown me a goddamn thing to convince me this piece of paper is worth spit, and if you think it’s so easy to manipulate the Leaden Flame into killing their own, sir, you will be disappointed.” My voice rose. “Now I’m just about out of patience with you, so I’d advise you to think of a really good explanation for all this. Now.”
He stood and said quietly “I said I’d only ask once.”
I slammed the table with the flat of my hand. “There’s a difference between giving your life for a cause that needs it and throwing away a friend’s for no reason!” My throat felt too tight and blood pounded through my skull.
He ignored me and turned to Hoka. “But you. You still have this choice. Are you willing to live with the knowledge you’ve turned away from the only hope for your people? Because you were too frightened? To spend the rest of your days fighting in the wasteland, for nothing, struggling even to make the most insignificant of dents upon inevitability?”
Hoka turned to me and said softly “I’ll take the bullet.”
“No you won’t!” I roared. “This is a trap! He’s trying to get us to lower our advantage from three to two!” The madman turned his tearful eyes to Blacky.
“Our last hope. Don't fail us, son. Don't turn your back on humanity. This is your one chance. You may not understand. It may not make any sense. But when the fire burns, when the people scream, in that void where there is no knowledge, only pain. That is when we are called to make a choice. A sacrifice. Not when we are comfortable, bellies full, hiding in a cave. Kill yourself, my brother. Or it ends.”
I whirled to face Blacky and saw my own emotions roiling behind his eyes. He stared at me, as time stood still, and we both were thinking the same thing.
It must be a trap. Surely. But there was something in those mad, tear-stained eyes that made us hesitate, doubt, even consider the outrageous. I struggled for what felt like hours with my senses of instinct and logic. A single second passed. I determined, finally and with great difficulty that my only real option was to shoot the son of a bitch dead where he stood. Before one of my friends does something stupid.
I had only begun to turn when I heard the shot ring out and felt time spring back into focus. Hoka had shot herself.
“NOOO!” I yelled as I turned my pistol on the lunatic. “I’ll kill you!” Our backup burst into the room, weapons drawn. I fired a round right into our contact’s chest. It was followed by five more from around the room. He didn’t even flinch, but instead walked calmly to Hoka’s body. We had all drawn our blades to end the bastard when suddenly he started screaming.
I don’t know enough words to properly describe that scream. It hit me like a physical thing, dropping me to my knees. I don’t know how long it went on. Too long. He put his hands on Hoka’s bloody head and just wailed like some kind of demon.
It took me a moment after it finally stopped to realize it was over. I raised my head and was struck with another shock. The madman was helping Hoka rise to unsteady feet. As she blearily took in her surroundings, he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
In hindsight, I think my reaction was the only reasonable response.
“WHAT THE FUCK,” I yelled at the top of my lungs. “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT.”
The crazy man grinned at me, showing far too many teeth, and said cheerfully “The beginning.” In an instant the grin vanished, replaced with a look of cold calculation. “Of the end.”
Post by God Emperor Newman on Nov 9, 2013 22:40:02 GMT
Well. This is it. This is the bitter end.
Funny, the things your brain recalls at times like this. Right now, my memory is filled with the scent of fish, of spices, and of something familiar I cannot quite place.
It’s been a long two years since that day. Two long years since a madman reached into my life and tipped the invisible balance between right and wrong. Two years since I left behind the name of Trumin Salles and became Kamlen Kettoeng. Two years spent sleeping in the lion’s den.
I found out later that others were sent here with me. I wasn’t told, of course. It was a shock when Sinen Kellhn was caught. They dragged him away in chains and made a public spectacle of his trial and execution. I thought I was the only one, but of course I wasn’t, I should have realized. I caught his eye as he was being led away to the block, and he recognized me. He smiled.
After that, I kept an eye out for familiar faces, but it wasn’t until they found him sabotaging the armory that I even suspected Hencol Skimkhs. They told me it took four guards to bring him down, and even then only two survived. I shook my head and sighed. Silently, I cheered.
They were both good men. I remember them from around the camp. Brave, selfless, strong. It’s an honor to think I was set the same mission as them. As if I was their equal. It feels…strange that they should have died along the way, and I survived all the way to the end. To the bitter end.
Oh, yes. It is bitter. I’ve made friends with too many of these foes. How could I spend two years undercover and not? I know their names, I know what makes them laugh, makes them cry. I’ve shared meals with them, doubts and fears with them. I’ve offered support and encouragement.
All lies. All lies.
Maybe that’s why I made it and the others didn’t. They were too strong. Too unyielding. Cain always said he’d rather stand tall and break than bend to his knees. But if I had broken, who would be standing here now? Would they have sent a fourth? Or even more? Or am I truly the last man standing, Man’s last frail hope?
What a joke.
Here I am, the reed in the wind, as the old fable goes. I’ve spent the last two years convincing the other reeds I was one of them, swaying lazily in sync with the whims of Hell. At this point, I know I’ve succeeded. They don’t have the faintest suspicion I am anyone other than Kamlen Kettoeng, the compassionate refugee from war-torn Samar. They believe at the root of their being, on a level they don’t even think to question, that I am their friend.
And I’m going to kill them all.
For though I have spent two endless years pretending with every breath to be a blade of grass, my core is still that hard heart of oak planted on a sunny day long ago when the ground was watered with the blood of my parents and little cousin. I have seen the darkest darkness of Hell, and no friendship with its pawns will stop me in my quest. I am the Leaden Flame! I am human! I will do what is right! No matter the cost!
No matter the cost.
I cast a sideways look at Bura Sleipnir standing next to me. For the last several months, I have allowed myself to grow close to her. I’ve filled her ears with fabricated myths of my own past, misinformation about my private thoughts. In the name of deadly theatre, I have convinced her that she loves me. Sometimes, I even convince myself.
She glances at me and offers a small smile. I try to return the gesture as I breathe in her unique scent for the last time. She was so human. They all were. They had dreams, ambitions, fears and woes. They had ridiculous foibles, habits both irritating and endearing. They were people, individuals with their own lives and their own families and friends. People who cared for them.
Past tense. It’s easier that way.
I swallow the lump in my throat. The time has almost come. Have seconds always lasted this long? Is time still moving at normal pace or is it truly stretching into forever? Voices sound the same, actions seem to move at the proper speed, but even so the wait somehow becomes interminable. It feels like those two years have repeated themselves in the minutes I’ve spent standing here.
The moment arrives and my false name is called. I think of all my new friends. My footsteps ring through the echoing hall. I think of all my old. I feel a metal hand clasp my shoulder, bringing with it a smell of oil and rust. In one last, infinite moment, I weigh the entirety of existence, all the good and evil that might be wrought by this one action, this last deadly choice. On one hand, anarchy and ruin, an age of war maybe ending some day with a bloody sunrise shining down upon free men. On the other hand, a peaceful, lingering death by asphyxiation. On one hand, the horror and anger of two dozen people who thought I was their friend. On the other, the shame and disgust of my family, the only one that matters.
At the end of eternity, I come to my decision. I know now there was never any alternative. I am the cleansing fire. Mine is the beacon of hope. I am the last guardian of mankind. I do what I must because I am the only one who can.
For I am the Leaden Flame, and now I raise the storm in Hell.
“Kneel, Kamlen Kettoeng.”
I’m done kneeling. That game is over. I stare into the abyss of his dark eyes. I do not blink. I do not turn. I do not waver.
I stand tall before the Arbiter and say in a voice that echoes through the vaulted chamber “Never again.” I ignite a spark within the device strapped to my chest. Time melts into a single instant. My torso dissolves into burning pain.
The fire rises.