Marmon sat in his little chair, worn and weathered by his and his ancestors buttocks, and watched a meter. Before him, as always, was one of the Great Machines; vast metalworks filled with intertwining, weaving wires that carried various electrical currents about the sprawling countrysides and, as he had been told, one day the entire of the world. He could not understand such a might of human scientific achievement, yet he marveled at the grace and power of the Great Race whenever he sat in its presence. The machine was measuring and data-reading and working in such things Marmon knew not of; but he could read its meter, which jumped and bounced with a randomness that rivaled true Goodly Beauty, the creed of all people, and thanks to a piece of tape one of the Eldar Men had placed on the glass cover of the meter, Marmon was aware of when the level of some sort of gas pressure was getting to high, and to then turn the dial which, according to what he had been taught, was the right thing to do at that moment.
Then the pressure would subside and the meter would drop down once more to an, as the High priest Markmar had called it, "acceptable life sustaining level." The Priests would walk among the others like Marmon, and yes there were many in his caste who like him turned their own dials and pressed buttons and looked forever through camera lenses waiting to see something, and they would press a firm hand upon his or her back, and with a gentle and fatherly voice say "you have done a Good. The Mighty thank you for your life," or something such. But those words filled him, and as he suspected the others as well, with a great pride of fulfillment. Marmon was doing Good. He turned the dial and it was Good; and for that was all he cared.
The work was hard, arduous on the spine and neck, and he was compensated little in the way of currency, just enough to survive. But the Eldars had shown themselves to be a gregarious leadership, bestowing upon this Grand Society all proffers they would muster, and without them and their protectorate, Marmon and his kind would be wiped out. For outside the walled enclosure of the city lived a great and terrible plague upon the land that had transformed it into a wasteland of death. Upon this shivering land there grew a mutant race of Ork men, burned and mutilated by the disease that is the wild nature, dripping greenish black skin like the hide of a serpent, boiled eyes, molted, matted fur on their necks and backs, savage of mind and empty of empathy. Their black and stone like eyes, red as dying coals in a night fire, watched from the tree line of a dark and impassible forest, waiting for a time to strike at the neck. Marmon himself had never seen one for his own eyes, but the Eldars had many books of which they were described in great detail. Though Marmon was not able to read them himself, a noble and living Priest name Peter MacMullian had read him many of the books in the Science library aloud (as a form of penance for sodomizing a neighbors slave girl) and when Peter had left for the month to visit the Holy Temple at the center of the city, of which Marmon's people were not allowed entry, he would sit by a candle in his break time and look at the fantastic, gilded paintings. There were wars and heroes and men like him, and though he knew not the words, he felt that he could understand the stories from the pictures alone. He also knew this was a technical sin, what the high father would all "anomaly," so he kept the understanding to himself and turned his dial with the happiness of knowing he was doing Good and would one day ascend to lower heaven with the rest of the Good of his caste.
At the end of his work week, the tri weekly holy day of Markov, there was a revival. It was the only time Marmon and his people could enter the foyer of the Temple and engage in the daily cleansing ceremony of the Eldar. Only the Good were allowed to join the revival, signified with a badge an armband bestowed by Eldars for Good service, and they flowed in the gates at sundown making makeshift camps and shuffling into the foyer like cattle to attend to the three day service. A little big after the sun descended into darkness and the great torch fires were lit, The Emperor Pope and the high cardinals made their appearance on the stone balustrade and delivered to the people the first of many cleansing prayers. When Emperor Pope Markilov strode from behind a silver and velvet tableau to greet the many, a roar came up from the crowd.
"Deus Voft!" they shouted. "God Wills It."
Then the Speaker of Cardinals stepped to the ancient pulpit and ushered a silence over the crowd with his great pearly white hands, open to the people like he was encompassing them all. The crowd hushed to a silence, albeit a mild tremor of excitement that ran through each of them as they awaited the word of the Emporer. After a moment of silent genuflection, the Speaker spoke, his voice powerful and trembling with the dramatic prose; a perfect man for his job. The words, from the mind of the Emporer himself (for common men could not hear him speak due to his divine position,) washed over each and every of the many, and Marmon could feel the wights and weights of evil being lifted from his soul. The speaker began with an earthly blessing to mark the start of Festivities, delivered in the ancient tongue, and began his oration. He spoke of the many sins of the world, applauding those brave people's who were here in attendance; those people who were the Good, who embodied the Good. He blessed them with many thanks and praises, and delivered a prayer to the living god that was the river and the trees to protect these Good and noble people and to bring them good fortune and prosperity.
"Deus Voft!" they cried in respect and admiration. God wills it.
Then the tenor of his voice turned, and he slunk over and transformed from the high standing, block shouldered lover of all men, to a more menacing and aggressive demeanor. He was going to talk about Them; the unGood. The people who chose to reject the Eldars and their gifts, instead living a life fraught with sin and malice and evil deeds. Marmon hated them who deceived and lied and spun tales of disrepute about the Eldars, and he felt the anger boiling up within him as the Speaker erupted into his gushing torrent like a bull on a straight charge; firey and diabolical he stood like a hooded judge with all the fury of Lucifer, spit coiling and flying from his lips as he systematically shredded all their so called "beliefs" and "rights." A murmur began to rise in the crowd, men began to hoot and cheer out slurs and words of vengeance and annihilation, calling for the unGood to be murdered and burned out an destroyed. The sermon of brimstone smoke continued; and the Speaker now seemed to grow to a unusual hight and power, high above on the pulpit like some old world demon, casting down Divine Imperial Judgement upon the unGood. Marmon let his voice join the chorus as they hooted and hollered and called the mountain down on into the silky black of deepest night. When the Speaker had finished the crowd took up a chant and from the balustrade was brought forth an enormous wooden figure of Saint Marko the Pious and Clean, crowned with the thorns of a burberry bush of some significance, and held it upright for all the crowd to behold. The chant rained down through the cheers of elation; "Deus Voft! Deus Voft! Deus Voft!" and the figure was cast in effigy upon a massive pyre to be burnt and purified and reborn again. Then came a feast and much dancing and drinking of wine and prayer to the Eldar; on into the very first rays of the light, when the haggard and sleepless masses would climb Century Hill, led by the People's Cardinal Patrick Dorrough, and under the rising sun made their prayers to The One Eldar, father of all Homo Superior, who had was yet still the only man Emperor to have ascended into the plains of heaven before his death. He was the immortal sun that gives us all life. Another feast followed, and then another as the second day went on. Marmon made his bed under an apple tree on that night, and slept to dreams of unGood prowlers seeking to destroy all that was Good and holy. Orks and Hobgoblins and Ogre folk racing down the unfruited plains outside the city, hack knives in their teeth, human skin tied to their bodies as clothing, bathed and soaking in blood and viscera and innards. He awoke in a sweat, and prayed for forgiveness for the dream, then slept only on the thoughts of Good and Righteousness. When he arose the next morning, the healing rain of God was falling softly over his head; a blessing for this new day, and it was Good.
The third day was the most somber of the revival, for it was a day of remembrance for the ancestor race that had sacrificed so much for the Good. Each of the many drew forth from the crowd as it waded the wide banks of the river, and cast stones into its depths as an acknowledgement of the dead. For this was where all of them would one day lie, and in fact as he leveled the stone for his mother and father into the murky depths, some iron workers were wading waist deep into the waters with the body of an old man. He was very much dead, at least a month or so in which he had been laid in vigil in his home, and his skin was grey now and decomposing. Each of them wore an expression of grave sorrow, and they cradled and bore him on the water with the utmost care. As they got deeper, they let god take him into the next world with a wail of women going up from the banks. He had been 100 years old, Marmon heard from a raggedy man with golden teeth, the father of his whole family. Marmon said a personal blessing for the Good this man had done, and cast his stone into the swirling waters.
The last feast took place that afternoon and the ceremony was ended with another appearance of The Emperor Pope and his Speaker upon the balustrade, now adorned in his ornate battle gear, the Speaker ushered in the next work cycle with a venomous declaration of war upon the unGood; as was always the case. He called out to the warriors of the faith to rise up and root out this clandestine and deadly group and bring them before this council for judgement. A roar from the crowd, the chant started up again, and sixteen or seventeen (Marmon always had trouble with counting over five,) men and women in burlap tunics with cloven, misshapen, and shaven heads were led, ropes round their necks, out onto a wooden platform bellow the pulpit. They looked shrunken and starved, their eyes hung like wet eggs in their swollen sockets, skinny and heaving they were pushed and prodded into a parallel line with the crowd. The sound of fury was deafening, the many demanded justice. Soldiers now appeared on the platform in their fierce Imperial regalia, and the heckles turned to adoring cheers for these Holy heroes, and they waved in acknowledgement to more cheers and cries. Then came the greatest cheer, for a man clad all in black robes so dark and obsidian that to look into to them too long would cause madness. The executioner was he, a monster of a man standing at eight feet with arms like tree trunks and palms big enough to encompass a normal mans whole head. At his side he wore sheathed in a diamond encrusted scabbard the sword of the king, an ancient and renowned weapon long thought to have been lost to history, but uncovered by the Last Emperor Pope and returned to the city where it was tasked with carrying out Imperial Justice to unGoods. Marmon had been in its presence many times, but the feeling he had when he was a young child and had first glimpsed it in the hands of another executioner, never subsided. Even now, a grown man, the sight of the blade made him giddy like a child with sweets; the power of the Emperor and of God personified. The executioner strode to the center of the platform and, with a flourish, released the blade and held it aloft. Blood was in the air now, the unGood must be punished.
The executioner turned and pointed to the first unGood, a man in his mid twenties with flash blonde hair and green eyes misty with tears. The soldiers pushed him to his knees and the man let out an audible sob. A low chant came over the many; "REPENT! REPENT!" The executioner laid the tip of the blade upon the woodworks before the unGood and spoke.
"Do you repent the deeds of yours which were unGood my child?" The man sobbed out an answer and bowed his head. The executioner turned back to the crowd; "He admits his unGood and is saved!" He brought the blade down with a thunk, and away rolled the unGood's head, where it was kicked into the crowd by one of the soldiers, and held up in the arms of the many as they shouted "Saved! He is saved!" Then came the next and the next on down the line until there was a thick and viscous puddle of blood pooling on the platform and running down to the earth where it had collected into a stone vat. All those who were there upon the platform confessed and was saved from the hell of this world, each one falling to their knees and accepting their unGood and became cleansed in the water of life. Their bodies were then cast into the crowd where they were carried and laid in the river, having been released from their sins and able now to join the rest of the Good in that burial place. Marmon helped four other men carry one such headless corpse to the pristine waters, and laid him carefully with his ancestors. Later, once the saved had been released to the river, the many gathered once more at the balustrade and the Speaker gave a blessing to the blood of the saved and called the processions to their end. With this, the many thanked the Emperor and left the temple, their voices rising and joining in holy song. Marmon went back to his home and laid upon his cot and closed his eyes, thanking God and the Emperor for Good and falling quickly into a deep sleep. He dreamed of Good that night, a woman clad in white who took his member in her hands and stroked until he burst. The mother of men had blessed him, and he awoke stained with his own seamen and sweat; and it was Good.
Marmon turned the dial. And it was Good. The priests told him, he was doing the most Good his tiny mind could be capable of. That made him happy inside. It was the only thing that could be expected of his caste, and that was Good. Marmon watched the meter and he turned the dial and he helped the Good be spread among his brothers and sisters. Peter had told him that, in a moment of weakness, when Marmon questioned his Good, and believed he may have done unGood, Peter had shown him the light. If Marmon didn't turn the dial, Good would not be done, unGood would, and so even if he felt like he wasn't spin enough, he was. Marmon didn't really understand it complete, but as long as it was Good that didn't much matter. He turned the dial and people were saved.
The priests taught them how to do Good, and how to tell when Good was unGood; and that was helpful because Marmon had struggled with it in the past. There was a thin line between them, and it was far to easy to do unGood and think you were doing Good. Peter would explain to him when he felt this way that his questioning of what was Good and unGood was Good but also unGood, and he should stop. Marmon was confused by this, so he decided to keep these thoughts to himself, and he would rake his own skin with a leather whip when they surfaced in his mind. He didn't want to do unGood, but he couldn't always tell what was and what wasn't; that was the curse of he and his people. It was the thing that separated him from the Eldar Men, the Eldar men were incapable of unGood, for all they did was only Good and nothing else, and that made them superior to him, better than him; Good. He often wished he could be one like them, but it was not his place. He was not born an Eldar and therefore was subject to the reign of his inferior becomings; and his wish was sin. But still he wished. At least for him to be as Good as he could possibly be with his shortcomings, would be Good enough, and Peter had told him such; he could never be an Eldar, but he could be almost as Good, if he tried hard. So Marmon took these thoughts that may have been Good or unGood, but he decided they were Good and he was Good and God would know this. He had a personal relationship with God, after all.
That week he got a surprise, and it was in commemoration of his Good. A new leather backed chair sat at his station, a card propped up on the seat which read (as Peter appeared and took the card reading aloud) "For the Good of our Righteous Brother, Marmon." He was full of pride, his chest swelled up in a puff, they had actually used his name! Given by God and Good Men of the Emperor. Marmon thanked Peter and the other priests profusely, then sat carefully in the new chair like it was constructed of some ancient and unworthy material that would break apart at the slightest touch. It was comfortable, more comfortable than his old wooden chair, and he smiled and it was Good. He suddenly felt eyes upon him, and turned. Looking over his shoulder he saw Devan, a man ten years his elder, quickly spinning away and showing his back to Marmon. The air of contempt hung in the air. Devan was muttering to himself. Marmon decided to forgive him, and ignore it, but he could feel Devan's scornful stare upon him wherever he went.
This a was troublesome development; for know Marmon was struck with the thought that by not denouncing and exposing Devans unGood, he was on the path of becoming unGood himself. But he struggled with it; was not it unGood to think Devan was culpable in unGood without proof? Where was the line? He busied himself with the dial and the meter and decided he would have to act soon, unless Devan changed his attitude. Sadly he did not.
One particular day, Devan finally made his contempt known in the mess hall. Sweaty and stinking of wine, he reached out and grabbed the collar of Marmon's robe and shouted at him.
"Why do you deserve a chair?" He gurgled.
"Let go of me brother, this is wrong," Marmon shrieked.
"Shut up you jackass!" Devan shouted, "I been here ten more year than you, and I never got me a new chair!" By now the eyes of the many were upon them.
"Brother please," Marmon pleaded with him, cupping his hands in prayer, "you are misguided by the unGood!"
"Give me that chair boy!" He shouted. Marmon dropped to his knees and began to wail; others joined him.
"Holy Emperor save us from unGood and Satan and bring us to everlasting peace and love..." Marmon did not feel the blow initially, and he crumpled as Devan brought the weight of his Anthology textbook down on Marmon's head a second time, droplets of shimmering red blood poured over his face from a gash the books metal bindings had opened, but he, somehow, stayed upright and continued his prayer. The third blow knocked him to the ground, but it would be the last Devan would levy. Through the blood drenched curtain he realized was his own hair he watched the penitent Good people descend upon Devan all in a rush; scooping him up and violently dragging him head first over the dirty and cobbled stone floor of the mess hall so that his face was bounced and scraped over the stones leaving a trail of red in its wake. Men kicked his head as he was dragged past, and soon it looked less like a human and more like some rotted pumpkin or other garden vegetable, beaten in and sunken, his skull smashed open and his brain spilling out from within. Someone had picked Marmon up and stood shoulder wrapped around him, holding his weight. Blood choked back words and he spit, nearly falling back to the earth, but his unseen companion steadied him and poured water over his face.
"Be still my brother," they spoke, "you have done Good."
Marmon could see better now, and he was being led to a doctor when he saw the crowd that had now gathered lifting Devans corpse, now mutilated far beyond anything resembling a human, and attempting to fix a noose around his neck, which wasn't entirely easy to find. As he was loaded into a wagon, he could see they had given up on the noose and had simply spiked Devan with spears and left his body upon a hastily constructed altar as a sacrifice to Good.
Marmon prayed for Devan still, though he wasn't sure of it being Good, he felt it was the right thing to do then. The doctor was a kindly man and he gave Marmon six white tablets to swallow and a glass of pure water, which was as a nectar of gods to his lips. Soon he remembered nothing, and slipped into unconsciousness. He awoke alone in a hospice cot with a severe pain in his head. His hand traced the warm metal stitches upon the top of his head and he picked off a bit of scab, black dead blood long dried. He wondered how long he had been there, and if it was unGood to not be there to read the meter and turn his dial. And he wondered about Devan, for he was there alone for sometime and the image of the older mans face had been etched into his mind. Why, he pleaded to God, why did he do it? He was a Good man once. He wondered where he went wrong. He wondered if there was any Good there to be found. Was it Good for the many to kill him so? In an act of supreme passion, not a writ of Imperial significance, Devan had been murdered, was that act not unGood? His headache worsened and he thought of it no more. He just closed his eyes and read the meter and turned the dial in his head until he drifted back into a deep sleep.
Marmon was back to work in a week, and it was Good. He sat majestic in his new leather backed chair to marvel at his new found celebrity, and turned his dial. The many now gathered round him at meal times to ask him how he had become so Good; but he humbly dismissed such notions.
"The Eldars are the ones to thank," he would say, "they will lead you to the Good."
Devan had been replaced, a mousey man called Ishmar with wine colored eyes and hair, who looked menacing but as Marmon would find, was a very Good and pious man. They became fast friends and Marmon thanked the Eldars for their continued gifts. He soon had a bit of a following, the many revered him for his Good and sang his Holy praises. The Eldars were pleased with his works, he asked Peter if it was Good or unGood and Peter assured him it was Good.
"You are spreading the Good to all my son," Peter told him, "that is the most Good a man in your predicament can ever hope to bestow. Be thankful, my son, you are doing the Good and Righteous thing, which is all that is expected of you." He nodded in thanks and returned to his dial. Good be praised!
Marmon turned the dial. That was his life, and what a life of Good it was. A few months went by, the doctors removed the metallic staples from his cranium, gave him a clean bill of health and a pocketful of blue and yellow tablets that shone like tiny gems in the sunlight for, as the doctor had said, "the alleviation of stress." Doctor Trogmullain was a Good and trustworthy man, and he was right in part about the tablets, they did take away his pain. But they gave him horrid dreams full of demonic faces and savage blood boiling brutality that he had stealthily tossed the remainder of the pills into the rubbish with his meal trash. Marmon knew disobeying the orders of the Doctor was not Good, perhaps even an unGood, but he decided the dreams were more of an unGood and his continued suffering was Good; righteous and so he banished the thought from his mind. After a while, the pain grew numb and eventually went away complete, and he was left with only a scar underneath the eaves of his hair and the memory. He made an offering to the Eldars of his flesh as penance; scaling a great piece from his upper arm and burning the wound with a heated bar of iron to seal the opening and stop the torrent of blood. He bit down hard on a bit of wood wrapped in a leather glove to silence the scream from the depth his gullet, the blood pooling on the floor before him as he codderized himself. And it was Good, and he felt Good, and released from pain; and after the pain had weakened and he could pull his frame up to his feet, he knew that God was pleased with him. Rays of heaven passed through the cloud layer above the city following the healing rains, whose vaporous smell reeked off the land in a humid fog, a sweet smell of flowers and wetted dirt. God blesses me with this day, he thought to himself, and it is Good and it is love. He shaded his eyes to the bright as the clouds moved from sight; the city coming to life below his window. He watched the people as they went about their daily business and proffered a blessing, the one bestowed upon him in that moment by God, and he could feel the Good flowing through him. Today was another day.
Marmon sat at his dial and watched the meter, and turned the dial, and watched the meter, and was Good. Peter was on sabbatical, and had been relieved by Keirnan O'Corchran of the order of the Holy Smoke and shield, a shrewd man in his mid fifties with lightning white hair and purple skin; but he was Good like his brothers and took a quick liking to Marmon, who by now had grown to be known very well even in the circles and covens of the Eldar. A low born who had done such Good as no low born since the Beatius himself, Soon-to-be-Saint Reginald Vandermeer; such a man was this Marmon they said to each other over cups of wine, could he be the prophet they had waited for all these centuries? Marmon took these workings in stride, as a Good and humble man should, but in his secret place, where the world could not listen and it was only he and God, he could elate himself. In this alone time, as he lay in his cot before sleep each night, he reveled in this popularity ad fame; imagining the day when he could evolve and become an Eldar himself...Suddenly he was frightened, he feared that last thought; it may have been taken as unGood by some. And so he decided, in that very moment, to deceive and mislead his fellows; he would keep these thoughts to himself, yes, that was the right thing to do. He didn't need to weigh down the priests with his questioning, he would do Good penance later and repay God for his misgivings. God would always forgive him; it was His divine way of the righteous path. Marmon busied himself with his meter and dial once more, and soon forgot his moment of sin altogether; and once more he was Good and humble.
During his recovery, Marmon had missed a revival of some apparent entertainment; a raggedy man who sat on the stoop of his building complex told him in the days before the next celebration of Empire.
"Our soldiers, Good bless and keep them, captured a malicious Orkish spy who had been living in the filth with lepers and retards, studying our people and subverting Good wherever it went," the raggedy man told him, "that's the first one I ever did see, disgusting creature, they put him out of his misery and he let up a yelp like the Satan himself!" Marmon cursed himself that he had missed such a sight, and spat in the street.
"I would have liked to see one," Marmon said, and though the raggedy man gave him an apt and concise description, Marmon still wished. He added that sin to his penance and cleared his conscience of those unGood thoughts, thanked the raggedy man and made his way to the mess for breakfast.
"Spread the Good my brother," he heard the raggedy man call after him, and he turned and waved in return, but the man was gone. He felt Good and the excitement of this next revival rose into his chest as he hoped perhaps there would be more Orks captured that he could see. He walked into the Science building, nodding a hello to the Eldar security men who use to laugh and point at him as he passed, but now nodded back in a gregarious gesture. Even the men of war now honored his Good; Marmon smiled, entered the great open work floor, sat at his station and turned his dial. The meter stayed very low that day and he only had to turn the dial six times, a new record. It seemed Good was shining upon him this day!
The next day was the last before the revival, and he was filled with a tangible, almost edible, overwhelming feeling of excitement; the Good was flowing from his very soul and he spread it thick and viscous over all whom he met that day. A shandy woman washing her underskirts in the morning dew, two young boys wrestling over a heel of bread, stray dogs circling round them in anticipation, a man in a tattered day suit and toppemhat reciting verses of some Alursian (2nd Age Royalty) epic in a lurid vocal, traveling salesmen calling out the terms and prices and prestige of their wares, a band of men and women in garish multicolored uniforms from some forgotten kingdom, banging out a famous and well loved folk song "My Love Lies Over The River," soldiers standing vigil at street corners, their spears tied off with ribbons and fresh flowers, young teenage girls giggling in a pack about them, flirtatious and lovely, men in dark coats with curled, black hair, sitting in shop openings debating science and magic, a cat that skittered into his path then disappeared into an alleyway, over the hills and dales the harrowing cries of a cleric singing a mourning prayer, and above them all, the light of heaven pouring down like shimmering links of purest silver from the deep heart of the sun. And it was Good, for these people would soon be saved, as he had. You see, Marmon, in all his low birth and lacked intelligences, had a plan. He would do the Good only a man such as he could bestow; he would save all these people; like the infamous Christ of legend and rumor. He would become a Christ himself.
Marmon rounded a corner onto the wide avenues that led to the proper ministries and their adjoining workshops, and filtering into the large market square at the gates of the Eldar district, he presented his ID card and work visa to the scanning machine flanked by two rather gruff looking soldiers, veterans of one of the last Orkish wars from the looks of it; burnt skin that had rehealed itself in a molted, motley pattern. The machine gave a ring of acceptance and the mechanical gate opened with a woosh, and with a smile and nod to the soldiers, he went through into the Eldar district. Inside the gate was markedly different; while outside in the low caste area was a tumult of raging, sweating bodies and rising, heaving voices surging like mud in the dead of the sun, within the walled and gated district, the streets were empty, quiet, and pristinely scrubbed of any type of blemish or rubbish. Great molds of shining, marble block stone like some Roman palace or Christian altar, columned and mathematically placed to the specifications of some Eldar Builder Wizards secret design, there was a form and formality to the avenue that was a pall comparison to the littered walkways and shabby brick and mortar and wood buildings of Marmon's lot. Everything was there for a purpose, for many purposes even, and in the shadow of these such wonders, Marmon was engulfed with thoughts and thanks and praise to the Great Race; for they were truly Good and they were Good like God. Along the walls and in between the columns were the statuesque visages of former Emperors and Kings and Popes and Men of Science; Eldar legends and hallowed ancestors of the Great Race. Tammerlann, Vercorixix, Demitrius, Fornacaitious, Thelo, Messoderia, Mark; names well known to Marmon, the great men who built and protected the Empire, now sat as silent as Watchers (monks who cut their tongues out as their coranative ceremony,) their faces stern and terrifying, but cold stone and unmoving they sat still. He left a few prayers for these heroes, as he did every morning, and moved on to his work building. How Good he felt!
At the edge of this monarchical causeway was the central square, third district; a chasmous opening in the stone to an oval, parkwayed with marble benches and column ridden, but in that selfsame scientific pattern of regal Eldar mathematic philosophy. Marmon could not even count the number, maybe one hundred or even more, stretching up into the heavens where, adjoining terraces and other smooth and sloping stonework, they fell in a great dome encrusted with jewels and precious metals and painted among the plaster ceiling tiles were depictions of great saints and Eldars and Emperors and Prophets and wars from long ago fought with wooden clubs and rocks and holy revivals and well loved stories from the Book of Faith; the sacred Eldar text that no man else could read, but whose tales had been many times told over the generations until they were as common as spring rain among even the lowest born of the people. Marmon stepped briskly through the chamber to the hall of his building, showed his card once more to another scanning machine (this one without military accompaniment,) and slipped within the steel plated wooden doors.
Marmon turned the dial, but, he thought as the meter dipped at dropped far below the "acceptable limit," wasn't there more he could do? For the Good of course. Couldn't he have some greater purpose? Was it so hard to believe? He kept such thoughts to himself, but he knew, deep in the pit of his stomach, that he was destined for something with far more meaningful applications. "Far more meaningful applications," was a phrase he'd heard Peter use before, and though they had always told him he could by hope to understand such things, he felt now he couldn't help but understand them. He was sure he could do more, he would swear on gods name if it proved anything! He may have been just gods tool, but can a tool not adapt and change with the marching of time? Can't a man do enough Good that the circumstances of his birth were irrelevant? He decided, in his own mind and in his own heart, that it was Good that he wanted to do, and therefore as Eldar logic would have it, it was therefore Good. How could the desire to be Good and do Good be unGood? He had seen men kill and be killed and eviserated and disemboweled and hung from the city gate in the name of Good; people burned at steaks and whipped into unconsciousness, beaten and bruised and raped and destroyed. Was that Good? What was Good, if those such things were not unGood? It couldn't, he decided, be unGood, even if he would still keep it from anyone else.
Another day he turned the dial (fourteen times only,) and smiled his smiles and gave Good and right courtesy, and though excited for the coming bloodletting revival, he could feel himself becoming loth to the work. Why should I turn this dial, he was now thinking, for if I didn't would anything change. But he quickly dismissed this thought as it was an unGood thought, and prepared a Good penance for when he returned home later. A few extra lengths of the sodden leather whip would do, at least, for a man as Good as he.
Anton met him in the mess hall that afternoon, as Marmon craned over his bread and mash, the small and beady eyed man came and sat across from him putting out his hand in a gesture of kindness.
"Anton of block 9," he said with a grin, "Good to meet you oh most pious!" Marmon looked up at the man from his bowl, then back down.
"I am eating," he said, raising the wooden spoon to his mouth, "can't you see that?" Anton seemed taken aback, and he began to fidget nervously in his seat.
"Yes well..." he began, but Marmon cut him off.
"Yes well what," he said angrily, spitting a chunk of stew meat as he snapped his jaws, "you presumed to interrupt me most rudely?"
"I just wanted to..."
"Have you any respect for anyone else?" Marmon was shouting now and the whole of the cafeteria had commenced to watching, "have you?"
"I apologize," Anton muttered, casting a glare at Marmon, "I suppose I believed you to be something else." He picked up his bowl and plate and began to leave when Marmon jumped to his feet.
"What was that?" he quivered. Anton turned. A crowd was gathering.
"I believed you to be something else, Good day sir," Anton hissed. Marmon pointed a bony knuckle and smiled devilish.
"unGood," he said, his temper rising with his elation, "unGood!" Marmon hollered. The many were picking up on this, and they canted in return. Anton gave him a look of sheer hatred and began to make a case back, but it was too little to late for the flailing mob that descended upon him then. They grasped him up in their hands and carried him up above their heads as he screamed forgiveness and of Marmon's lies. But the mob was stung in its feeble heart an it's fires of rage had been rightly stoked. He would not been seen again until the end of the revival. Marmon sat back at his sup, and smiled over his Good deeds.
The revival had rekindled his spirits, like he knew it would, and he neglected his nessicary penance in lieu of becoming late for the opening blessing. Marmon was not alone this time as he strode the high walled walkways of the temple ground, a following had sprung up behind him, men and women of his caste who wished to live his life saving ways and means; they did not chant his name, not yet, but they followed wherever he went. When he sat upon an open space to pray and prepare for the Emperor, they camped around him like some tribal chieftain, all seated pointing inward at Marmon, watching him and feeling his Good. A young girl with opal eyes and dirty, brown skin stared at him and he smiled. She hid behind the skirts of her mother.
"Bless you child," he said suddenly, "bless you with Good." A cheer went up among his followers, and more joined every passing moment. The woman brought her child before Marmon, and he touched her face and gave her his Good.
"Bless you," he said, and as she looked into his eyes he felt a fire in his loins, "you are beautiful." The little girl smiled.
"Thank you kind sir," the mother said.
"Bring her to my chambers later and I shall bestow her with another blessing." A confused look scaled across the mothers face, but subsided, and she smiled.
"Oh course, we would be honored."
The cheer rose again. Marmon smiled, but also smiled secretly. He could nearly taste her flesh.
The revival went on much like it always had, with its feasts and speeches and remembrances of the ancestral race and the Emperors past, but with a markedly different flavor; the Speaker, and thus the Emperor himself, had even called Marmon by name, and praised his Good and noble works to the cause of his and all people. Red blush washed over his cheeks as the Speaker bid him to rise and he was given his own raucous chorus of "Deus Voft!" by the many who had gathered.
"This is what all of you must strive for," the Speaker called out, his voice booming above the din of the crowd, "to be as Good as our Marmon here, regardless of his birth!" Marmon waved a hand to the people and humbly sat back in his place. The many followed this example.
"It is not I who must be thanked or praised," he spoke into the silence that had settled, as if the Speaker meant for Marmon to address his people, "but the Eldar Men, for it is only their example which I follow and do my very best to be Good." The crowd thundered once more, and the revival went on.
As the Speaker became the shade of his demonic procession, he would mention Marmon again; as the victim of two savage attacks by unGood traitors. The crowd asked for blood to be spilt, and they're mesmerizing preacher agreed.
"This Good and pious man has twice now been struck down by another in name of his Good and has yet still carried the torch of Greatly Beauty and Goodness on into the darkness of blackest evil. First by a jealous spy of the Orks, who beat him down with a SACRED TEXT! In the Holy library floor!" The many screamed threats and curses and obscenities. "All the while your Holy brother Marmon was invoking the prayers of Good! As his very head was cloven in by our own religion and theory, by an EVIL man!" More cries, cheers, commits, and curses followed.
"Bastards!" A man quite close to him bellowed, "kill them all!"
"What say you to these," the Speaker was gesturing to a succession of women, children, old men, cousins, brothers in law, daughters, and crones of the families of the two men, "the seed of these evil men, laid bare before us under the sun that is the God and the Emperor! What say you? Shall they be spared. The cry that followed was a definite and deafening "NO!" scattered with various other versions of the word, and more screams of "kill them! Kill them all!" Marmon smiled.
"Then it shall be so," the Speaker turned and the crowd erupted. Out of the archway came the executioner with his cleansing sword. Marmon suddenly stood. A hush fell over the preceding, even the executioner stopped to hear his words.
"I believe this is folly," he spoke softly but clearly, and Everyman could hear him, "these people should not be saved my lord God Emperor, they are the spawn of evil. Why lay them in the river with our esteemed dead when they have done nothing to deserve it. They are not unGood, they are evil. And should be fed to wolves and Orks." The many liked that idea, and shouted their agreement unto their living God. The Speaker rose and spoke with the Emperor for a brief moment, then returned to his pulpit. He raised his massive hand for quiet.
"The Emperor wills it," he said, and with that they were upon them, climbing up the wooden platform and grabbing each one of the evil gathered there up in arms and dragging them out the wide temple avenues toward the city gate. "Deus Voft!" they chanted. Marmon followed with his people at his side; a strong man named Cornellus, built like an Ox and with a brain to match, had made it his personal service to watch over and protect Marmon. He brought with him others as well; cousins and such of his household. Marmon thanked him.
At the gates the procession stopped and awaited the soldiers to open up the sealed hatches in the portcullis walls installed for just this purpose; to dispose of the wicked. After a moment, there was the metal clanking of gears and the hatches began to burst open revealing the wasteland below. The many then went about the process of casting this Salems Lot out into hell, down a shaft and out into a ten to twenty foot drop that nearly all would not survive. They dropped screaming out of sight, but if one had been listening very close, like Marmon was, they would hear the cracking bones and sorrowful moaning that was rising from the wasteland floor. He said a quick prayer to ensure that the souls of these evil seeds would be blocked access to the Heavenly Plane, and smiled for it was Good.
Back upon the temple grounds they feasted, and Marmon's sup was joined with the many of his people, bivouacked around him as they had earlier in the temple. He sat humbly by the apple tree, where one of his people had pitched for him a tent, and met with many of them, blessing them upon their brow with his Good. As the sun sunk below the cloud layer, the mother and young girl came forward and he smiled in secret once more.
"Good woman," he said, extending his hand and brushing tenderly the child's hair from her eyes, "I thank you."
"No we thank you Good one," she replied, and pushed her daughter forward, "please bestow a blessing upon my child, for I have had four little babies in my womb and only she still lives." Marmon nodded.
"I must inspect the child," he said, and ran his bony fingers round her body, "for to see her Good."
"Please," the mother said. Marmon ran his fingers along and looked into the child's eyes. His secret smile was broad now.
"There is something," he began, a look of puzzlement upon his face, "wrong with your child."
"What?!??" the mother said with fear on her words, "what is wrong?" He stood and the crowd parted as if a dire wind had bestruck them backwards.
"She has the touch..." he began, low and dramatic and building, "of the unGood!" he suddenly shouted. A gasp of horror rose from the many.
"How can we save her?" They cried. Marmon put up his hands to beseech them silence. He smiled.
"I must purify the child!" They cheered in such a joyous din that God himself would have awoken, if he did indeed ever need to sleep. The mother fell to her knees sobbing, "save her! Save her!" She wept. Marmon grasped the childs hand, then the mothers, and led then to his tent, the many spilling their years of joy and Good as he went. Cornellus and his brothers formed a wall of bodies at the tents entrance behind. He sat the two down and sat himself, facing them over a fire one of his people had constructed. The smoke spiraled up into a haze above them, as no hole had been made for its escape; the tent was hot and musty and they sweat profusely as he spoke. Marmon told the woman there was only one way left to save them now.
"You told me you'd lost three other children before this one," he said, gesturing at the girl, "that was my first sign of the evil within you. It has been passed through the generations of your family, from whence or whom I cannot say, but I would think your mother also lost many children."
"She did," the mother wept, "my brother and I were the surviving of twelve children." Marmon smiled.
"Then it is so," he said, "you have the seed planted within your very being, and it cannot be erased very easily. You saw what was done to the evil we witnessed just this day at the temple ground, the same will be done to you. Unless you listen very carefully to me," she nodded, "Good." He pointed to the child, "stay there," he muttered. He undrew his robes and stood naked before them; his skin glistening with sweat, his pale member flickering in the fire light. The mother did the same. He was upon her in moments, punching her face and baptizing in her blood. He placed his member were it was designed to fit and penetrated. The child watched in silent horror. The mother wept and praised the Good. He slid himself into where he was not designed to go, and a squeal of pain and puddle of blood followed. He but his lip. It was Good.
When he was done the mother lay soaked in red, whimpering at his feet. He snarled suddenly, and wiped the sweat and blood from his forehead.
"It did not work," he said leaning down over her and running a hand through her hair. Her voice was choked back in tears.
"Why?" She mustered.
"You are too full of the unGood even for me," he picked up a good size rock and palmed it, "you must be cleansed." He move to the child and directed her to lie face down on the dirt floor. The rock came down with a mighty blow and shattered the skull in a swift motion. And then again and again and again until the child was not moving. The mother looked on with wide eyes and a gaping open mouth as Marmon moved to her. She offered little resistance.
When he was done with the cleansing, two bodies lay decimated at his feet, and the blood was running down and out the front of the tent flap. Marmon exited to a large crowd, who exulted at his appearance, smothered in blood and holding the rock aloft.
"The evil has been destroyed!" They roared in approval. He fell into Cornellus' arms, now without an once of energy left, and he was laid down and washed by his people, and they dragged the bodies from his tent and burned them in their midst. He lay there under the apple tree and smiled once more that secret smile that men do hide, and praised the Good in him.
There he slept that night, under the apple tree and the sky and God himself, and in his dreams he was visited by the white goddess, who blessed him and kissed his lips and loved him so.
The dial bored Marmon now; he wanted more than that. He wanted to learn and grow and discuss Good and unGood with other fellow men of intelligence. But there was a very real fear of when and where he should announce this newfound evolution to his betters. Would they allow this transformation in him? Would they say he was unGood? He already was beginning to understand how his betters operated; anything they did that was "wrong" could easily be made Good, with enough speeches and laws, as well as something "right" being made unGood as to so fit their needs. Marmon watched and adapted; when the time was right, he would strike, but until then.
Marmon tried to turn the dial, but it couldn't have joyed him less any longer. That old feeling of purpose had up and deserted him, and now his thoughts drifted and strayed to the topics that really drove him; life and love and Good and unGood. The priests allowed him a small notepad and pencil where he could jot down his notes and calculations in the downtime when the meter was low. They didn't seem to mind it much, and he still excelled at his purpose, so the matter never came up. Marmon turned the dial, and poked and prodded at the questions of life and existence and law.
The followers had done just that, camping in a vast shanty town by his humble abode, they had pushed most of the neighborhood away with reverent rhetoric and violent attacks on non-believers. Cornellus had taken up quarters in what Marmon referred to as his drawing room, a five foot by five foot closet room with just enough space for his bodyguard to sleep; day and night he protected Marmon, and was held with a certain reverence (or fear) in this area for his earlier gang related activities. When Cornellus and his men, called the apostles by the common folk, walked down the avenue, people got out of the way. Marmon blessed them daily with an anointment of myhr and pestle, and of course the idea of a heavenly afterlife for their service.
Marmon was stepping out on his front stair one early morning as the light was just peaking over the horizon line, when his food strode over something decidedly not earthen and much more like a squishy human belly. There was a squeal and then a shout, and Marmon looked down to see he had bestrode upon the raggedy man.
"For the love of Good!" They yelped simultaneously, and the mans rambled to his feet with a hasty apology. Marmon gently placed a hand upon his shoulder.
"No harm my brother," he spoke with a smile, "'twas an accident of course."
"My lord holy Good man," the raggedy man fell to his knees, "please flog me for my unGood ways!" he suddenly wailed. Marmon knelt with him and kissed his forehead.
"You are forgiven," the raggedy mans eyes with wet with tears.
"Thank you," he cried, "thank you og God!" Marmon smiled and began to help him to his feet, when the raggedy man stopped him.
"Sit my lord," he said, "sit here," he motioned to the stair. Marmon sat. The raggedy man, with a wild look in his eye, ran across the street and picked up an empty washbin. Carrying it to the well, he filled the bucket with water and then returned. He placed the bucket at Marmon's feet and directed him to put his feet within the bucket, whereupon he grasped the foot and washed it clean in his hands.
"My son," he said, noting his possible sin, and here reached out a hand but the raggedy man gently brushed it away.
"You have shown me the true path," he said, dipping a foot in the clear, but dirtying waters, "and for that I give you what I can." Marmon queried the man no longer, and took his foot bath with a quiet grace. When the raggedy man had finished the water was black with dirt, and for the first time he could remember, Marmon saw the clean, white grey, and bulbous skin of his own toes. He blessed the man once more, whereupon he burst into more tears, then set out down the avenue toward the meeting place of his followers; an unused rotunda at the edge of the neighborhood where had already gathered the might of his flock.
He was joined Cornellus and three of his brothers immediately, falling in around him in a human wall. Cornellus came to his ear.
"What of him?" he asked, nodding toward the raggedy man who squatted where Marmon had left him agonizing over the washbin and its now Holy contents.
"He has the power of any man," Marmon said, "but he is a special case. I see it in his eyes. Tonight, find where he sleeps and give him a Good reason to hate those who would say against us. But don't kill him." Cornellus nodded and fell back as they waded a now growing crowd of followers emptying their homes to walk with him. They paraded down to the meeting place where Marmon delivered to his people his judgements and verdicts, and explained to them the ways of living in Good and noble profession.
"A man is but a man," he spoke to them, "but a man does not have to be but a man. We choose to be what we are, not the other way around; we choose to do Good or unGood, and we choose to be men, or to be kings of men. No creature is born without the ability to do both, so in doing unGood you are merely fulfilling your purpose for the time being. You are needed to do your unGood, for in doing so, you help to show us all what is the Good and true path; and are removed from said path which will lead us into a glorious future where no man is unGood; for no man will have the capability to do unGood. We shall create this place, this kingdom, this utopia, for the generations next, who will look to us, their ancestors, for guidance." They sat and listened and nodded and agreed. He went on.
"Today I was blessed to meet a man in the middle, a man confused with which path to take, which being Good and which being unGood was unknown to him. I showed this man the path, indeed the very path which I have seen, and he was saved from the path that leads to evil. However he choose this path, he chose to do Good over evil and he was given new life. This man then washed the earth from my feet as repayment. But what can repay such a deed? Nothing I tell you, for I have foreseen the very fate of this man, to be routed out and bloodied by those who wish to undermine and usurp Good at their every turn. This Goodly man will suffer for all of you; and you too will see that the true path is Good and that the Good in your heart and mind will light your way in sudden darkness. No matter where you walk, remember to hold that Good within you at all times, and you will never be alone." They called our in prayer to him and he blessed them. The ruse had worked, even before anything happened to the raggedy man. The many were fueled with anger, and it was only a small matter of time before they began bringing him men and women of their own, disguised as unGood agents, and they would confess to him, and he would save them. He had seen now how the machinery behind the curtain operated, and he intended to use it to its full.
That night Cornellus and his men carried out their assault, beating the raggedy man to within an inch of his life, and leaving a calling card emblazoned with the tri corned mark of Melchior, lord of the underword and Satan. This was the god of his enemies, real and imagined, and thus the folk saw it as the proof of Marmon's profession; he was achieving a high new status within the hearts and minds of his people and more joined him each passing day.
More were visited also by the "night watchmen" of Melchior, as they had come to be known; and the many were held in the grip of fear, wondering which of their number would be next to suffer the punishment of their belief. Marmon used this, oh grand orchestrator, to the very best of his advantage; not only was he professing advance knowledge of these attacks (and quite frequently murders) and offering a way to be spared from the wrath of Satan. Marmon told them death was the only way of escape from life, but it would not bring you kingdom nor plenty. The only way to the kingdom was with him; a brash statement to say the least, but Marmon stood by it. If he only believed in the Goodness of his works and was in process of the act of Good, then it would be so.
Marmon had requested a sabbatical from his duties turning the dial; he brought it before Peter and the old priest read his requisition form and offered him a drink of alcohol. Marmon explained his need for time to work with these people, telling the priest of these so called "Sons of Melchior" and their terror of the lesser many. He told Peter of the beatings and rapes and murders, and of his desire to help his people in this time of dire stress. Peter looked at Marmon through his rimmed spectacles and sighed.
"You must be careful my son," the old man said softly, "these sort of thoughts can lead to dangerous things. You are born of the lesser many Marmon, there is no getting away or changing that fact. I know you wish only to do Good and right acts, so I will give you time this once to get these affairs in order, but let this practice not become habit. There are rules and laws we must follow and obey, certain laws of distinction and birth that are irreversible my son. You were born with the brain and capabilities befitting your caste, and your body and soul reflect that as well. Here, look at this chart," he pulled a screen laminated piece of yellowed paper and a metal tool with long pincers from his desk and approached Marmon, "it will give you a better idea of where and whence you have been constructed, by our lord God. The chart read at the top, though Marmon didn't let on his ability to form the letters; the title was "Eugenical Processes for All Race Castes." Peter read him the document aloud in his lilting, sing songy way.
"This is," he said, pointing to a small picture of a young man on the paper, "a normal man, of your caste, probably about twenty years of age and with no describable racial setbacks other than his birth of course. Note the pronounced forehead and pudgy lips, the low cheek bones and sloping eyes. These are signs of a lower intelligence capability," he stood before Marmon with the metal instrument and gestured, "may I?" Marmon nodded. Peter measured the features of Marmon's face with the instrument, carefully and decisively, making notes in his mind as he did.
"See the shape of your brow and eyes, the fatness of your lips, the sloping of your shoulders, these are all the signs of a man born lesser. Now," he pointed lower on the paper to a second picture, another man, quite obviously an Eldar man, " see this, this is a perfect man; an Eldar man. Note the lack of a sloping brow and squinting, unintelligent eyes. See how his chin is pointed, not rounded, and his hair comes to a perfect peak at exactly 45 degrees. The cheeks are high and strong, as is his jaw, his teeth are straight, not crooked and overused like your own, and the shoulders back high and proud; a strong back and noble frame. These are the features which you, and your lot, lack; therefore making you unable to ever acclaim the heights of the Good and Nobel caste. Do you understand what I'm saying?" Marmon nodded, but within he was a raging holocaust of anger and confusion. Hadn't he done enough to break away?
"This chart does not lie," Peter went on, "it shows us only what science and magic have taught us; it does not mean you have no purpose, or that the purpose you do have is not Good enough for the security and advancement of our Grand Society. But it does mean you are striding a dangerous line here; there are those among our race who would take these new ideas of yours as heresy against the Good. In fact, I have heard talk within the walls of the Obelisk that places you with the hosts of unGood, possibly," he added, noting the look of fear in Marmon's eyes, "they're not saying you ARE unGood, but rather it is a question of what exactly you are. There have been only few like you in our history, and fewer even of them who did not drift unto the path of unGood and were destroyed by it. The law is set in stone, remember that, and remember your place." He patted Marmon on the shoulder. Marmon knew it was frowned upon, but he spoke openly to Peter; seeing it as his last and only chance.
"One of those men was Septir Tyrannus, was he not?" Peter gave him a look grave and grey, and nodded solemnly.
"The Seventh Holy Emperor, yes in fact he was born a lesser man of many," Peter said, leading Marmon to the door of his quarters, "but he took his throne by force."
Israel fell as if from the spindly arms of heavens angels unto the world below; all froth and brimstone smelling like a charred ember of divine and spurious invention. He was alone inside his cottage of wood and thatch. He was lifting a lit cigarette to his lips and pulling. The wind outside, dark and forwarding gloom, beat and battered at the ramshackle display with furious torrent. Israel wondered off handed lay if the whole thing might collapse.
"Storms a might angry tonite" said Ol Jim the halfwit from out of the creeping dark.
"Thinking she'll collapse?" Israel shook his head.
"She ain't yet."
Israel flicked the ash from the glowing end of his smoke, and cast a look at Jim, his bare outline stark against the blackness of night.
"I'm talking ain't I?"
"Go back to sleep Jim" he pulled on the cigarette.
"Why'don you stop telling me what to do?"
Israel sat back in his rocker and looked out through the fogged and dirty glass window at the storm raging beyond.
"You awake then."
Israel made out the dim form of Jim turning over and pulling his weather worn coat around him like a womb.
"I thought you said you was awake?" Jim didn't answer. Israel stared into the darkness and puffed away.
"I said I though you was awake, are you not answering me now?" Jim turned back over.
"And what in the hell do you have to say?" Jim sat up.
"We got to talk about this Jim," he pointed toward the door, "we can't just leave it."
"We had to, there was no other way. Might I remind you we never would have got into all this save for you"
"That's a damn lie"
"Is it now?"
"It's a damn lie and you know it," he shook with anger. Jim was on his feet now.
"It's not a lie you old codger! If it weren't for you an your goddamn magics we'd still be in there, cooling our heels like the rest of em. But no, you just had to be the goddamn magician, you just had to be the goddamn sorcerer, you just couldn't leave well enough alone!"
"This ain't my fault"
"Hell it ain't"
"You better watch that tongue"
"Or else what?"
"Don't test me" they were face to face and Israel could smell the whiskey and cornmeal and plaque on Jim's breath.
"You can't hurt me none Israel, you never could and you never will." He turned and walked back to his coat. "You ain't strong enough."
"You ain't my boss"
"Never said I was"
"And you ain't my leader!"
"An you ain't nothing but a dried up old hasbeen that never was! You're a drunk and a bastard and a mistake on gods grey earth Israel. Old man shoulda kilt you years ago, back before things got so messy. But he didn't."
"Back in Hazelton when we was suppressing them Indian folk, he done said you'd be a problem. He done asked me what I thought, and I told him you was harmless."
"Never done once"
"You're a goddamned liar"
"I saved your sorry ass, and it wasn't the first time neither. Nor the last" Israel, beet red and shaking, stepped forward.
Jim spun with such force Israel never even saw the blow. It landed across his face and knocked him to the ground, overturning his chair, his cigarette burning into his fingers. Blood trickled from his chin. Jim was standing over him, giant and terrible like some gnostic archon wings aspread in a horrifying and medieval way. Israel trembled.
"You ain't worth the spittle" Jim said, receding into darkness. Israel pulled himself up with the overturned chair and slunk against the far wall; slouching in a pose signifying calm but belying the cold, damp, and visceral fear brewing in his gut like churning peat. He spit a leathery tasting hunk of mucus and blood, a single tooth with it, onto the dusty floor of the cabin and stared into the dying fire for a moment.
"You ain't so big yousself," he said, spitting again.
"What you say?"
Israel stared into the fire. He was silent for a moment.
"You gon mute over there?" The dome of Jim's bald head peaked through the murk. Israel waited a moment, studying the laccolith and sloping ridges of Jim's forehead. He was building up courage; strength.
"You ain't so big yousself," Israel stared back into the fire, "you thinks you is, but you ain't."
"Yea really. You're a maggot likes the rest of us."
"Pray tell?" Jim's eyes suddenly shone as they met Israel's; vivid and malicious.
"Sorry. Fancy talk and all, tell me what you mean by that and all...I ain't so big and what you said."
"Yes. Tell me about the maggots," Jim's voice sounded distant. Without body.
"We's all maggots Ol Jim, its true. Each and every of us is born that way, ain't a damn thing to be done about it. We born different. We born evil. It ain't like birds or bees or, even a goddamn wolf is gotta eat, that's why he kills is all. He ain't wrong for the killing, hell, he's right by him and by god. Cause it ain't with intent. You see I met me a spellweaver by name Cloit back before..." He paused, "in you know, in there. Well anyway, he told me about intent and all that. We'd the only ones it did that, you see, we's the only was at kill just for the pleasure."
"Do go on..."
"Well I..." He'd seemed to have lost track of his thought. It was the fear, he was falling under the spell of a captor; a natural phenomena occurring in humans when feeling very deep, very real, emotional stress or fear. He'd gone from degrading to praising and most assuredly soon he'd be begging. Right now he was only preparing for the begging.
Israel was stammering through a ragged explanation. Jim sighed.
"Your story got a point, Israel?"
"I said your story got a damn point? You been going round and round on this and I'm getting a might annoyed at it is all," he rubbed out a moth that had landed on his arm and held up its crumpled body for examination.
"Yea it's got a point."
"Ya, quit asking me that would you"
He flicked away the tiny insect's shattered frame into the volute most of dark and rose. Striding across the hardwood cabin floor, slowly, pained and with a decidedly purposeful step, until he was kneeling before Israel, their faces level, he placed a firm and steady hand on his brother.
"Then get to it."
"I was fixing to-"
"Get to it."
Israel didn't move for a second, then cast away his eyes.
"It's just talk is all"
"a, a bunch of talk is all"
" so you ain't got not point then?" Israel looked at him hard.
"Do I? I wasn't the one with the big sermon." He stood and moved toward the window, turning to chide his brother, "Come on preacher, ain't you the one with the goddamn message?"
"I ain't preaching none"
"Sure sounded like some preaching to me," he was back in the shroud of nocturnal embrace, obscured from Israel's vision. Israel watched the fire.
"And eat your damn sup"
"I ain't want it."
"What? You ain't hungry after all that sermonizing?"
"Yea. I ain't hungry."
"You ain't ate all day is all"
"Ain't your business"
"Right so it is" Israel cast him a glance.
"I'm yet your guardian is all, I'm responsible for you"
"The hell you is," Israel snapped, leaning forward, "don't forget I'm older than you Ol Jim. Ye bastard"
"Don't forget you been declared unfit by them there in that city. Cording to their law, I'm yet your caretaker, brother."
"The hell you is, a rutting bastard like you is my guardian, and plus there ain't now law out here."
"No matter whereun you go, law remains. That's the way of the world."
"Ain't no goddamned law out here"
"There is my brother, there is a law older than any other."
"And what's that?" Israel stared deep into the encompassing dark beyond the dying fire. Jim chuckled.
"It ain't got a name brother"
"How's it not got a name?"
"I done told you is was old"
"It's gotta have a name"
"It does, but I'll spare you from the hearing of it." Israel made a face. "You couldn't understand if you tried Israel." They sat for a moment and Israel waited for Jim to speak. But he didn't.
"So what about it?"
Jim was turning again, agitated and stern his voice erupted from the darkness.
"What about what?"
"Yer law you was on about is all"
"Yeah, law. You was saying that its out here as well?"
"Was I?" Jim yawned.
"Wells I disagree on that." He spit into the fire, "it ain't law out here."
"It's something different out here"
"Hush up and let me doze will ye?"
"It ain't law."
"I ain't looking to has a philosophical discussion with ye Israel, go to sleep. And eat your sup." Israel spat, there was still some blood in it and in shone in the embering coals like brushed and polished steel.
"I ain't eating that no mores is all." Jim was up and Israel could hear him coming cross the floor with each creak and moan of heavy, lumbering feet. But he couldn't see him, not in all that dark.
"No, I ain't...where's you at?"
"Why? Is it too good for you?"
"You know what it is, you tell me"
"I know what it is"
"It's wrong is all. Don't The Lord teach us better?"
"Better than what?"
Israel squinted into the blackness but could see nothing. The murky deep of an inner space, cold and uninviting, in which he searched was like the sanctum of some doom lord yet to rise and ride and christen the land with a ceremony of blood; sanguine like a winter rose upon the nothing of empty space where life once was.
"Where you at?"
"You don't want to eat it cause its her right?"
"Who?" Jim peered from the vast voidal abyss like a shimmering arrow.
"That little girl. The one from before. From yesterday or so."
"She was perty is all."
"I mean before she was dead"
"Ain't like we kilt her"
Jim strode to the window once more. The storm outside had ceased for the time being.
"It ain't us that kilt her. She was kilt in there, by them. Ain't a thing that could be done about it. What they discard us our gain. And we got to survive any means we can"
"I knowd that but still"
"She didn't deserve none of that."
"None of what? She signed the same bargain we all did."
"What bargain, I didn't sign me no bargain"
"Yes you did brother, the eternal bargain. We all live to die, that's the price of this life."
"Ain't no bargain if you ask me"
"No one is." Jim went back to his spot and lie and was quickly asunder. Israel watched as his pale frame disapperated before the falling light of the now dead fire. A crow was calling in the cool summer air, its comrades not far off, returning the shrill tirade with cries and hollers of their own. He inhaled deep the sundering gloom.
"No I guess they ain't."
Israel woke in the morning, proper dewy and shunning in the early rays of sun. The tempest had gave way to an azure and lush grown field of wet grass; sanguine colored in the hazy lights like dipped in the warm, fresh blood of a dying man. Waking through the hutch and across the tiny porch, he entered the world much as he came, and in awe of its vast splendor he waited and watched the rising sun crest over the lonely mountains to the east in an array of impossible red orange light. This is the works of god. It so it must be.
Jim had risen inside the cramped and withered cabin, Israel could hear his heavy steps reverberate from within. Only now when he stood out in the world could he see how broken its frame; how fragile its bounds of life. The roof was shattering, barely there, a mess of thatch and pine beaming with a massive oak branch protruding from its depth like a legendary phallus. The faded wood paneling cracked and pealing with ancient paint, probably lead based and full of venom, scant and shoddy in its builders incapable hands, with leering load poles and indescribable warping until it almost seemed the cabin was a vortex or vacuum, threatening to swallow whole the living world around it.
They had lived there four month now, Israel and Ol Jim. Four month in this shackletoned, bracing fortpost on the edge of the civil society. It was a nightmare, a luciferian dream of emission and rapture and sound and fury; all combatants lined on a spectral essence gearing for some apocalyptian battle for the right of the universe. And Israel was merely a bystander; a picnicker on the side of this iconic power struggle, lying aside his basket as the cannon fire commenced. But he knew this, and was contented.
Jim had other ideas; Jim was a man of action. Not stoic and thirftsure, no miser carefully plotting his next insidious attack or counting his wretched coins in hiding. Jim was cocky and aggressive, always pushing and punching his way in and out of situations with a reckless and virile abandon belying the reverent fear that he held inside his gullet. Jim wanted more from the world than to just live in it. He wanted to rule it, to conquer it wholly under his monogrammed bootheel and be its master and its savior and its grace. He was a man of big aspirations, but as Israel saw it, too simple minded and cruel to ever see them to fruition. He'd be no more than a scavenger and a rake and and an indolent till the rest of his days; like Israel. They were of the same cloth.
They had been from Jameson, originally, born and bred and raised by the old man; some vagrant wretch of a man who lived in a squalid palace of waste and scrap metal by the edge of a tin smelling bogswamp on the slum's edges. Their mama went to the grave over Jim, the baby, an their father not long after over a bottle of gin. Their eldest brother Skinny Pete had run off when that civil war had broken out and they'd never seen of him since. Paul was dead of flu pox during the Wellington riots; he'd been all mangled and sick and bloody with feces when Jim smothered him in his bed. Eased the pain of living this way, Jim said. They ain't had no sister; thank The Lord for that.
Israel had grown up mean in them streets; and so had his brother, but Jim came out the meaner. Jim had come out with a chip on his shoulder, another one. He saw the world, that world, their world, as an abomination and a lie. "There ain't no damn good and no damn unGood! He often said, "there's law and theres chaos and there's good and there's Bad. But in between all that no sense labeling, is the murk of incongruity and conception. It's all in the eyes of the man with the power, nothing else." Jim wanted to go back, wanted to blame Israel for why there were where they was, and Israel didn't give a good goddamn about what Jim thought. He didn't care no more about them and theirs in that city, he didn't care none for their laws and means and gestures of faith; he was more comment, cognizant even, out here in the world; the world they had told them was rife and overrun with orcs and goblins and monstrosities. He felt safe in this place; at peace. There was no damn monsters out here; no, they all lived inside those palisade walls. Orcs and demons only exist in ones mind; they are monsters of perception. We perceive they exist and they come into being. It was all a grand game of chess amongst the cosmic flow and churn of ebbing space time. A lie. A deceiving ploy to frighten and contain. To control.
Out here there were dangerous beasts for sure, wolves and bares and mammoth weasels that could pain or even kill them, but no orcs. No monsters. Just the world as it was in myth and lecture; the world as it had been long go, and still always was. Israel couldn't understand why they feared it so; why they hid it from us, but in the end decided he didn't really care. Or he did and it simply didn't matter one bit what he thought. It was likely of the latter. Jim was calling from inside.
"Israel, come get you some sup" Israel was silent, gazing sleepy eyed into the mists. He was hungry and sore. Jim was still calling him.
"Get ye some sup brother," his voice lilted, "ain't ye hungry? You must be getting hungry by now..." He trailed. Israel looked at the collapsing form of the cabin and sighed. Jim's face appeared in the window.
"Come on now"
"Ain't hungry," he lied, his stomach churning.
"You mustn be starving yousself is all, have some sup. I done finished that little one last night anyhow, ye shouldn't be scared."
"Imma go walking."
"Didn't reckon so," Jim came to the door.
"Ye come back right?"
"I may, I just wanna walk is all" Jim strained a simple grin.
"Sure you don't want some sup for ya walk?"
"I'm sure" Israel stepped away and turned and went down the little pathway toward the old road. He looked back and waved but Jim had disappeared inside. He beat down the path, turned left on the road, and started walking.
The road was a remnant of the time before the cloistered, claustrophobic cities had sprouted up; when people lived out here, built these shoddy homesteads and then apparently abandoned them. It was uneven and muddy, with massive grooves carved by trailers and woodcarts in that long forgotten summer of man; still here and there remained the hooves of horses, cattle, and pigs, as well as the worn boots and leathery soles of the feet of men and woman. But it had been silent now for ages, in all the four month they had been out on that road, they had seen nothing but wolves and wild pigs out in its ware worn thoroughfare; it had been abandoned along with everything else.
The road weaves deeper in the dark and looming forest, the canopy blocking out all but the mightiest rays of sun as they shone down from the midsts of heaven. Under this encompassing gloom he felt suddenly serene; like all weight had lifted from him and he could think clear and act according and be at peaceful repose. He lay down his raggedy cloak, exposing his naked body, by the roots of a sturdy apple tree and sat, his mind absolved from thought. He stayed there a while until his eyes grew heavy and he drifted into a deep sleep. His dreams were pleasant and sublime.
He dreamt of a castle, a tower, high above the sprawling city, a shinning beacon in an earth of dark. It was great and gleaming, a power of mankinds own awakening; a force for all mankind to see and tremble in its shadow. He stared up at it in disbelief, yet in his heart he had realized his dreaming. Pete was next to him, or was it Pete?
"You sleeping brother?"
"Good, its time to wake up. We got work to do. Get ye a spade." Israel had an old shovel in his hand.
"I said get ye a spade not a heefenchlab? What you doing he brother?" In the dream he said some nonsensical word, but Israel heard it as "spade."
"Ain't this a shovel?" He looked down and he was holding a chicken, a live chicken at that, who was pecking away at his fingers. Blood ran down his arms and pooled around his palms.
"That's a duck badger if I'd ever seen one" Pete hooted.
"Get ye a spade, we gotta go get that bear that done ate pappy" he rushed off into the woods, Israel still holding the shovel, which was a shovel again. The scene changed, like a curtain pulled or a screen lowered over the stage, and Israel was deep in the woods. Pete was there, but he looked like Jim. Their father, or a man who resembled what Israel though of his father, lay before them disembowled and half engorged by mighty and knife sharp, bladed teeths. Israel had never seen his father before, so it couldn't be him.
"That's yer pappy, Iz"
"That ain't him, it looks more like Jim than he"
"Say a prayer would ye"
"I ain't no preacher"
"For him, yer pappy"
"I ain't doin it"
"That's yet yer pappy"
"Ain't it?" Israel looked up at Pete, but he wasn't Pete anymore, he was the constable from their slum. The one who had given them so much trouble as kids.
"Ain't it yet yer pappy, boy?" He said.
"He ain't," Israel looked down at the body. It was an old friend, but Israel couldn't place his name.
"Then who is he?" Israel didn't say. He couldn't say.
"Somebody lost I'm sure"
"You do this?"
"Not you? Then who did if you might my asking?"
"A bear." The constable was Pete again, but he looked more n more like Jim.
"Yeah," Israel looked down at his feet.
"What about that?" Pete pointed to the bloody knife in Israel's hand. He looked down at it in shock.
"I didn't-" he stammered.
"Then what's that on your shirt? Blood? Mans blood? And you still got the damn knife in yer hand Israel," he was the constable now, "we done got you red handed"
"It weren't me." They were in a darkened interrogation room. The inspector was Pete, the capo in the corner Jim, the dead mans body laid like a Christ on the table before him.
"You got the knife in your hands still," Pete said, "how can you say it weren't you?" Israel was still covered in blood.
"I never kilt no one."
"You did," said Pete, "but its ok, we all wanted him dead dontcha see? You did us all a favor."
"I never kilt pappy, I never even met him afore"
Awoken only by hunger, he felt his body renter the world with the slow drip of animation, until his eyes had fluttered awake and his dreaming had sufficed. He stood and stretched and wondered at the hour, for he set off up the wandering road back toward the cottage. He arrived to find Jim sitting on the front stoop drinking home brewed whiskey from a ceramic gourd they had found.
"Ye find what you was looking for?" Jim said casually, easing back in his seat with an air of snide.
"Out there. Ye find it?"
"I ain't found nothing," he said as he went inside. Jim followed and stood in the hutch way picking at his yellowed teeth with a dull old knife he had found in the brush.
"Sthat right?" He sat down an the dusty table and lifted the gourd to his lips. "You sure bout that?"
"And whatn you thinking I was looking for? It's just a walk is all."
"Meats still good."
"Don't want none of that." Israel looked down at the plate between them on the table. Jim laughed.
"Can't let you starve now."
"I ain't fixing to"
"Then what you gon eat?"
"I done already. I found me some berries on the road."
"Berries?" He shifted the plate toward himself, lifted a black and charred piece and bit in. "You found some berries, then?" There was a condescending tone in his speaking. Israel stood like steel.
"Yea. Berries. Little red ones, they was good."
"Giving you a stomach eh?" Jim had whiskey running down his chin. "They might be poison."
"I doubt it."
"Sure you do...have some sup."
"I ain't gon"
"Don't make me cross now." He sat forward and his face contorted into a wild expression, "you don't wanna make me cross."
"I'll feed it to you meself, see. I'll shove it down your gullet and ill make you chew each goddamn piece, with my own hand if I has to. You gotta eat."
"I did. I had me some berries."
"Sure you did," he pushed the plate across the table, "eat."
"You thinking you can take me Jim?"
"I'm knowing. You wanna test thr theory?" Israel just stared at the plate and stood there idly.
"It ain't right."
"We done been over this Israel"
"And you ain't changed my mind. I don't wanna eat that no more. It's wrong. I can't do it is all. It tastes all bad to me. I can see there faces is all. Every time. I see their faces."
"You get over that," Jim smiled, "it don't last forever. Eat."
"It ain't right." Jim stood.
"You is trying my patience Israel. Sit and eat. And do it now. Or so help me..."
"Or so help you what," Israel yelped, "what can you do to me that lord almighty ain't already done?" Jim had a look of palpable rage bubbling like a cauldron upon his visage. He moved toward Israel.
"You take that back, you ungrateful slug. Who took you in when no one else would? Who helped you? Carried you? Wasted his hard earned time and money and grace on you? They'd have skinned you alive and left you on the side of the promenade had it not been for me!"
"You didn't do nothing"
"Nothing eh?" He sized Israel in his massive hands and began to squeeze, "NOTHING?" He pushed Israel against the wall.
"I GAVE IT ALL AWAY FOR YOU" he hollered, "I gave away my dreams, my life, for your sorry ass, and you ain't never even had so much as a thank you for me, ye ingrate wastrel!
"Take ye hand off me" Israel warned, but ol Jim only tightened his grips.
"Let me go, we all know who the bastard is here! Ye ain't even my real brother by law! You just pappy's mistake!" Jim slammed Israel against that wall and raged his way, mouth frothing like an ocean of spit. Israel tried to slump out of his grasp without luck.
"What you call me!" Jim steamed.
"Ye a bastard! Pappy done told me too so don't you deny it."
"I ain't a liar, you weren't mummas at all, you was the spawn of some two bit washerwoman pappy thrust hisself in! You ain't even a fit to walk on this earth."
"Well now the old cat showed his claws eh?" Jim gripped him with a ferocious abandon, his eyes wild and darting; his rope was wearing thin. Israel tried once more to push him away, but his brother was thick, strong and broad shouldered; and Israel was loath to refuse him.
"It's the lords truth Jim," Israel said, pleading, "pappy done tolt me."
"You said you ain't never met Pappy"
"He tolt Pete. And Pete tolt me."
"What else that thieving drunk have to say about me? He got any other insights to sling around? Any other insults," Jim voice was rising, "huh? I'm askin you, Israel. You got anything else to say about me?" Israel shook him back and Jim relinquished his hold.
"Get off me, ain't you ever learn to respect yer elder."
"Shut ye goddamn mouth Israel."
"You will or ill shut it for ye."
"You ain't so big."
"So you said."
"Leave me be." Israel made for the door. Jim blocked his path.
"You still ain't ate."
"Leave me be," Israel pushed by him and swept through the hutch way. Jim laughed.
"You gotta eat sometime Israel."
"Leave me be," he called back.
"You can't live on the berries forever brother. You need you some meat." Jim was in the hutch way. He had brought with him the ten penny pistol they kept for bears and bandits and was examining it like some philistine scholar in the haze of humid summer.
"I be fine."
"Sure you will."
"I'm just tired is all."
"Sure you is." Jim smiled at him.
"Why you got that pistol?"
"You accusing me of something?"
"I just askin is all" he started down the path to the road.
"You ain't gonna wait for an answer?" Israel said nothing.
"Turn around." Israel kept walking.
"I said turn around Israel." He kept walking. There was a gunshot. Israel turned around. Jim was striding toward him like some royal vassal assailing; pistol raised.
"You heard me that time eh?"
"Just leave me be Jim." The pistol was leveled at Israel's forehead. Sweat poured from his brow and dripped down his face in a gush.
"Eat. Then I'll leave you be."
"Ain't nothing to be said Israel," he pushed the metal barrel into Israel's skin, gently boring. "Eat. Eat the damn food I got you. I ain't fixing to waste anymore hard time and good energy on getting you fed when you won't even show me the least bit of courtesy. Howm I sposed to just leave you be?"
"I don't want to."
"Eat." Jim walked around Israel until the gun was at his back, and with a steady push, led him back to the cabin. Israel sat at the table and Jim pushed the plate before him and Israel looked up and Jim and Jim gestured with the barrel, and Israel looked back to the carrion feast lain before him.
"Eat." He ate. It was sour on his tongue, harsh and tough to bite through so he had to tear with his teeth like some beast of nature until the tiniest of scraps could be wretched free and consumed. Jim watched him the whole time, pistol trained, a look of victory on his smile. After a while, Israel stopped.
"I'm full alright! I don't want no more."
Israel cast him a glare, but then hovered back over the meat and ate. After all, he was the one with the pistol. If Israel had the pistol things would be different. He'd be the one in charge. The one with the power.
"Eat." Jim said with a smirk. Israel ate. "If you're with me, you gotta eat. Ifn you ain't, then you my enemy. An I don't take kindly to the enemy. I'll put you down Israel," he got close, "I'll put you deep in the damn ground if you ever cross me again. You eat when I tell you to and you'll eat what I bring. Ifn you don't like it, keep it to yerself, otherwise imma put a bullet in you. Understand." Israel nodded.
The pale sun rose over the peaks of the surrounding hills turning them red orange in the early morning mists; a hazy sight line in the distance dancing as if over a flame. Marmon rose from his cot and said a morning prayer as he washed himself from a basin of water prepared by one of his retainers. The water was cool on his skin and he breathed deep its healing power; all water was sacred, for it gave us all our life, but the water from the great river was more than sacred. It was a god in and of itself, revered and respected as the path to the kingdom; and it was where all Good men go. It was sweet, the water from those banks, like touched with sugar, and always smelt fresh and of woodsmoke and natural oils.
The river water was given only to those who had done great Good, and Marmon took it as a great honor to be able to wash in the Holy water to reprieve him of his sins; for they were many. The beatings and murders were one thing, but what he had done to that poor woman and her beautiful child; why had he done that? Their faces seemed to hunt his every move, every thought, every dream, until he was near the point if insanity. He could picture the rock in his hands, the bodies at his feet, the cheers and praise from the crowd and the blood, blood, blood, blood. Why? It was of benefit to him to show his power, but had it really required it to mean their deaths? At his hand? He fell to his knees.
"Oh God!" He cried, "what can I do?" There was no answer. He wiped the tears from his eyes and prayed. "What is Good? When it befits me and advances the cause of all Good, is not an unjust and unGood deed also Good in its own right? The Eldar are allowed such pleasures, such observances, and such rights in lieu of the law of their own making, so why can't, no, why shouldn't I? Am I not a man as well as they?" There was no answer.
"Peter expects me to believe his words, his "eugenics," but I cannot. For I know what I feel; I feel Understanding. I don't need to be explained and I don't require explanation. What they said I cannot know, I know; what they say I cannot feel, I feel. What they want me to forget or forgive...I can't."
The water made him feel a bit better; but he knew better now than to believe it had any real healing qualities. It was simply water; the same found in any other river or lake or stream. There was nothing special to it, other than the slightly jarring thought of bathing himself in the rotting corpses of all his ancestors. Perhaps, he was now thinking, the water wasn't so Good for you; in contrast to what he had been told, he now believed the waters of the sacred river to be quite deadly. It was like a drug or neurotoxin (he couldn't remember where he'd learned that word;) it effected the brain and made people weak and malleable. It also possessed a potent additive that was not only highly noxious but also addictive. He was beginning to see these Eldars for what they truly were; men, just as he.
Thoughts better kept to ones self, he concluded, and went to bed with a heavy head and was all night aroused by thought breeching his slumbered. The thoughts of the unGood, or so they had said; thought itself was unGood and thought such as this a mortal sin. But he had grown content in his ruse; they would never see through the tangled web he had begun weaving through his "betters." He would smile and nod and play his part with serenity and grace. Peter had at least given him one worthy piece of advice; he had enemies within the Eldar's ranks and he meant to root them out and turn them to his side; or destroy them.
His sabbatical was going swimmingly; it was only the third day and already he had seen the numbers at his daily sermons swell to well over two hundred. By the fifth day it was near one thousand. People came from all around to receive his words and be graced by his blessing; all sheep to be slaughtered for the cause of greater Good. Cornellus had a rag tag army of beat boys and street hoodlums who patrolled and policed the neighborhoods searching down and rooting out unGood wherever it may fester; Marmon had explained to his guardsmen that there was no specific declination for vein Good or unGood and they were to use their own judgement in such matters. The night raids also continued and there was a fear spreading through the many of Satan worshipping agents slitting their throats in their sleep; a fear Marmon had himself concocted. There was no neo-Satanic cult trying to undermine his efforts, but the idea of one drove the people to him like moths at a bonfire. He was the only thing, at least in their world, that could protect them.
It was that next morning he found out that the Holy Emperor had died upon his throne. What a glorious summer was to come!
Fortune favors those built to be bolded by the atrocious acts they commit in their rising; the man who spills the most blood often is named the victor and he is chanted throughout the annals and tomes of our histories and myths and legends with reverent voices. The lone man astride an earth of his own burning ground; upon an ocean of dead he sails under blackened curaiss and through blackened days and with blackened heart. The ship nimbly breaks the waves of viscera and slime, cresting wide the banks of this river of Jordan, bone flutes singing their mellow, hollow tune. Upon its deck rides the man, the thing, that is death himself; not with gold scythe but with terrible icy sword. His insides are rotted and melting from his bones; his eyes cold glowing orbs of sickening light piercing from behind his skull drawn, skin flaked visage like some intense blanketing of St Elmo's fire. Gaze awhile into this abyss and be mad.
The hull of this warship lands upon the burning ground of the shore with a mighty creaking; like a scream deceased by choking hands. He steps from its quarter like lofted on the very air itself; descending to the earth and kissing it cold with each of his deliberately placed footholds. Ice and thick decay follow in his prints; as if grown from his walking alone; and alone he strides, from the mountain deep to the valley above. He thirsts.
He spreads his terror in the hearts of weak willed men.
He comes to a city in the middle; a vast towering city with fortress walls and leering granite parapets with archers notches and fabulous Romanesque balustrades containing the open air courtyards of expansive villas and great and wide grown vineyards plump with their seasonal offerings, grasping vines like tentacled beats of chaos climbing the vast stone archways and low lying county walls in a slow and inevitable conquering and tiny ramshackle huts of wood and thatch and cloth, slums full of starving vagrant people's clutching at those their last vestiges of human form like some imprisoned sprit or titanic god suffering in Erebus. He walked among them and was as a ghost.
He takes the main road through this shanty town, seeing its peasants, its lepers, its maimed and sick, its multitudinous dead on mule carts gathering flies and maggots and hungry dogs. He sees them fighting each other, killing each other, raping and stealing and hate and anger and the pain and the frustration and the murder fuels him. He eats it. He devours it.
He walks through the gilded arches of a palisade and down the wide and empty avenues there and sees the uniform and keen kept streets once awash in the bloody sacrifice. The blood has long been cleaned away, but its smell, its essence, its aura remains. You cannot hide it from thee; he is all seeing, all knowing, all encompassing. Your sins, and the sins of your fathers, are never washed from his sight.
He steps over phantom and memory into the great and towering antechamber, here too the stench of murder and hate; he walks among the senate corridors and sees the men of spurious valors, contrite words eschewing, divide the wills of men between themselves like a game of cards where many the peasant is the prize. They sleaze and guise and tell tall tales spun with deceit and false information; they own souls they have no right of ownership, and sell land that belongs only to him. He reckons them with an analyzers eye and sees they are but simple cogs in a cosmic wheel; his presence remains unheeded.
He steps into the senate floor, rife with much the same political meandering and musing; here these mortal demigods of their fashioning have gathered to feast. But they take not only of the flesh but of the soil, the sky, the fire, and the frost. They feast upon the spoils of their war. They feast upon the sorrow of all men.
He finds his way into a sacred hall, bedecked in Tyne and sage and burning incenses. At its end is the throne of mans emperor; a vicious and vile man of death and blood. He sits upon his golden seat of appointment, anointed with exotic lotions and perfumes, a stinking mass of exorbitant flesh. He is the true emperor, a mere trifle of glorious past; a mere shadow of imperial excess. The man that greets the people is a plausible imposter; a propaganda for the unenlightened, shuttered masses, he is only the idea of the emperor that they wish to see. This man, this Titus Tactus Monogris III, he holds the true seat of the power, the true scepter of the god king. But his power is equal to that of any man in the eyes of death; his soft underbelly just as susceptible to the gutting blade.
In this impossible stink lies the very greatest of what mankind had to offer this island in the cosmos; a mound of pale, glittering obese flesh, worn and aged by time, this was mankind's savior? No. Just another man. Just another soft and fragile human.
He wraps his hands round the thick fat of the throat and the emperor begins to choke. His eyes bulge and his tongue turns blue like the dark, deep ocean until it is wine colored and bleeding puss and grime. The priests shriek and drop their icons to rush to his side. The guards call for a medic. The emperor slowly dies, and as he does, his aggressor becomes clearer in his eyes; he sees the lonely face of death and cries out, sound stuck in his belly, shout lost in his throat where the blockage has set; the life drains out from his body and he goes to the eternal sleep. The priests moan in mourning and drop to their knees.
"The holy emperor is dead!"
The high priest is sent for to read the last rites and anoint the god king for his trip to the underkingdom; more incense and tithes and spiral, spiritual blessings and frantic prayers. They are heard not a one; for there is no god, only death. This he knows, for it is he. The Lord of death.
He leaves the papal hallway and strides out into the world once more; now rife with chaos. They cry for their dead emperor in languished tones; screeching and clawing at their eyes in accepted fashion. They are but lowly humans after all. They could never understand the depths of his grand design; the power of his eternal plan. How could they, as mindless forms of imperfect flesh? They knew nothing of the wider world and its wonders. He walks down the parade toward the lofty temple interior through the golden edged wood gates and past the wailing women who had begun their watch at that door; he enters the temple and sees the priests at their conspirators table, where they planed and planted their seeds of insurrection; where below their feet in the under carin they called the king of the dead out from his torrid palace to commit this their foul deed. They scurry and sweat and mince words. "It is done" they say, and smile at one another as each wonders when the man beside will betray him to the wolves. It is done and he who is death as exacted his will and taken his payment; though these bald priest eunuchs know nothing of this eternal bargain etched in imperial blood. The land shall not reap for seven seasons and death shall feast upon them then; on his ground. They will rise five emperors in that time, each more impotent than the last; a line of puppet kings set to serve this priestly nobility by pain of dismemberment. Death will have his payment.
He walks among them and feels the weight of their suffering minds. Only he knows their short life spans, written on their harried brows like a brand. Not a one shall survive the weeks and months to come; the chaos and peril they have unleashed upon themselves will succumb each and Everyman in this twilight kingdom, and death shall remain. He is lord of this land now, until the coin he desires has changed hands. Seven seasons. Seven seasons in the shadow of his minion, the carrion crow and the scavenging dog. Seven seasons in the winter of growing, under the heel of sacrifice. Seven seasons until a spring.
He makes his way through those blood bedecked passageway, the avenue aligned with the vein of the earth current, along its walls icons of emperors past. Here he stops and watches the flashing images of the past; like the pages of some enlightened tome passing through the length and breadth of time, he is taken back to when there was no city but a barren hillside village in the distance of history. He watches it grow, it's people live and seed and die and repeat the process through generations. He sees them war and spill their blood and he sees them love and learn and sweat under the hot sun in its noon zenith. He sees the city bolster and bloom; until it its the seat of some tactical, ancient power. Soon that power is named dynasty, kingdom, empire. The sons of the wealthy and war heroic take what once was a simple agrarian outpost to a glittering jewel of their god given (or taken) crowns. He sees it all in a matter of fleeting moments, like some spectral prophet perched upon the edge of a void in the natural flow; and once seen he cannot unsee. He has marked these wretched creatures for what they truly are. Gibbering mouthed and ape legged beasts, lords only of communication and terror. They build machines, and machines to make machines, and render themselves a worthless host of pale and placid man flesh.
He knows not of love; he cannot know love, he is above such matters. He can only know what he is; a bringer. And there are many like him, but none quite as definite; as uncontrollable, as menacing. Man fears death, and that fear makes him great. Everyman flees from death, but no man escapes. There are many like him, not a one so deliberate; undefined and floating cosmically altered beings abstain the out reaches of space and time and are minuscule in their connection to the island planet. Not so with he. Like some watchman he strides the gates of our mortal existence and the land of decay, bound to the human cycle that has played out since inception. For his inevitability reigns supreme, a suzerain and a sultan. His coming has been marked.
Mr. Blythe was a confession man; and he was good at it. No, better than good, he was the best. The best in the city; the best among men. For that was the world. He had once been but a lowly man of service, a pawn to be sacrificed for the betterment of his king; a scrounging child upon the dirt green of the dry and arid earth, but that was ages ago. He had risen from humble origin to the pinnacle of this grand society in a matter of a few short years, and by this the age of forty years and six he was finally garnishing the results he had so long desired; and the brass was taking notice.
In the last month alone he had extracted 279 confessions at a percentage rate of 100% capture, 100% execution. That was nine times the rate of an average confession man on the beat and well above all in his unit; the illustrious 12-11 B, Special Crime and Propaganda Unit. Mr. Blythe smiled broadly as he flipped through paperwork at his oak desk in the precinct headquarters; promotion season was staring up and he knew directly, through several indirect sources not mentioned here, that the overseer general had named him top of the short list of candidates to receive the high position of "Confessor General Inspector" (High Priest to the troglodytes;) the most sought after and powerful position within the whole of 12-11 B.
Whom else could Mr. Blythe even envy for the job? McHitchins? He was a sorry fool and a drunk. Dorring? In Mr. Blythe's pocket, ready to turn down the job at a moments offering. That went for Landry, Aquainas, Boderly...all close knit and loyal lap dogs bending at Mr. Blythe's every word of command. Anderson? Cranaugh? Sutter? No. None were of Mr. Blythe's supreme character, his startling intellect, his fierce and imposing frame, his political allies and social indebtors; and none came close to the perfection that was his record. 25 years of unbroken, loyal, and Goodly (as the peons say) service. A confession record of 900%. Seven medals of field service and four heart medallions for wounds taken in the line of confession. 10 years a member of 12-11 B's confession unit, six years its squad leader, the last seven its department head. A resume worthy of such a position. He was finally entering the world that he had only often dreamed of; their world. The Great Ones. Gods on earth.
Mr. Blythe had thus prepared accordingly; he had given his board man notice he would be vacating his cramped office apartment in the next few months and began looking for a palatial penthouse in the Rutherford section by the sacred pool and the precinct station. He'd taken his outdated processor to Dr. Min and was fitted for a brand new model, of technological superiority befitting his class. He hadn't the money to purchase it at the ready, but was so sure of his future successions that he applied the 25% down payment and made and appointment for 12 weeks in advance; when he felt he would have arrived at his new status. He had a tangible sense of glee when he walked from the clinic that afternoon, blood sun blending in his eyes. Soon. Soon I will be complete.
Dorring came by around lunch to deliver the morning report. The director of Investigations, a squat, bald man with a certain distaste for Mr. Blythe, had come down with a nasty flu and would be out indefinitely (music to his ears, the man was a problem, a roadblock,) there had been an overbite explosion at the chemical factory in Downtown and the brass suspected terrorism; and McHitchens was in the hospital after falling off a train platform while headfirst in a bottle of gin.
"Terrorism?" He smiled coldly and let his enthusiasm show, "surely a motley peasant revolt."
"Not likely," Dorring was a tall and elegant man, with long spindly fingers he flicked about when talking, creating a mesmerizing effect to those not schooled in confession rearing. "They found more signs of that group, the what's it called?" He sat carelessly on the wooden chair before Mr. Blythe's desk and reached for a lemon sweet in a bowl by the telephone.
"Liberator's of Freedom," Mr. Blythe scoffed, "I mean couldn't they come up with a better name? It doesn't even make sense?"
"They want to Liberate Freedom I suppose."
"Are they not free?"
"I suppose they're not. Or they think they're not," he popped the sweet into his mouth and it clanked against his teeth and he spoke with a fabulously egregious sucking noise, "I don't really care myself, I don't think they're much of a threat."
"You don't," Mr. Blythe replied bluntly.
"That's why I do the thinking, and the deciding Mr. Dorring," he opened the top left drawer of his desk and pulled out his thin and metallic touchsense notepad. "Liberators of Freedom. LOF." The screen shifted and was filled at once with information. Dorring shifted in his seat a sighed.
"Only twelve confessions..." Mr. Blythe murmured, lost amidst the scrolling data, "religious based, follow a hooded preacher known only as "Lifedrinker" and practice a sort of grassroots based, short ranged terror that is confined to mostly shootings and bombings, at large members include..." He trailed off, "last known whereabouts of this "Lifedrinker" are unknown, priority status 20. I'd say theyre more than just a small fish. But this is our ocean they're swimming in now."
"What about him?"
"That's an interesting name isn't it?" Dorring stood and took a handful of sweets into his pocket. Mr. Blythe said nothing.
"Seems they could have come up with a better name than Liberators of Freedom. I mean "Lifedrinker!" Now that's a name you remember."
"I suppose," Mr. Blythe rose and pointed to the door, "work. Now. I need you to find out everything you can about this prophet and his group. It's promotion season you know."
"At your command," Dorring said as he swept out the door.