The old man leaned inward, whispered covertly in her ear and resumed his stance. The woman’s eyes clicked together on the dust-riddled traveler, watching humorlessly as he stripped methodically down to nakedness, his back to them. He was still wearing a velcro strapknife on his calf and a smaller version on the left wrist.
“ You can take those off, Lord Garin, but please don’t turn to face me, I have no desire to see your scars, or more private areas.”
The bath water practically jumped into the heated basin, where a pleasant puff of steam announced its temperature and readiness. The sterling eyes still registered suspicion, but, after a couple fleeting thoughts, they relaxed and his hands went to work on the straps. He climbed over the lip into the old steel basin, shaking with the cold surrounding air until his body at last adjusted. His fevered eyes closed, their glare lapsing into slow reticence.
“ He’s amazing, “ the old women whispered offside to her husband, “ his wounds are too numerous for counts, and most of them look like death blows, what keeps him going?”
Lust, greed, anger, revenge, these are among the first notions that most think keep men and women going. So the old woman figured such. The man knew from his servitude to the ancient order that this was not so with archons. They were a breed apart, sometimes seeming like demons and other times like fallen angels. Not men at all, they were machines; he had trained them as such. In their following, to be ruled by emotion was of poor making, showing little discipline and dishonoring family.
He knew though, through long years of service, that this one was different, fundamentally so. The eyes may have been trained, but the soul reflected an unerring grief. The gold eyes of psychosis paraded around his aura, looking for an opening – however slight it might be. The old man’s view took in the traveler, beaten, battered, torn, but not undone, scars lingered in small forests on his flesh, burns plagued his chest. Sharply, one of the closed eyes snapped open at him, the waxen gaze clutching him with its grip. It closed after a few long seconds. Definitely different, definitely sad. An emotional Archon, that was dangerous, the strict training reigned by the human spirit. Yes, very dangerous. He spoke quietly to his partner.
“We must fear this one.”
Strife, turmoil, flames and moans, Garin looked around in unmistakable horror, his gaze taking in the flaming carcasses and slowly accumulating snowfall. The slow snow, white, but then red, splashed with the death blood of his friends was sublime. Yulain, Timoth and Sanri: Archons all, running from the horror that was suddenly imposed on their world, as the towers fell from their lofty highs, as the forces of their own mistakes indulged their powers. Images of his father and mother, crushed beneath the rubble of the old market slapped him in the face. Images of blood dripping from the once flourishing flags of his family’s demense and pale bodies falling from the sky chased them. He watched the others as they fled, some screaming, some letting loose bullets in anger and hope. Yet others took to the skies through their power, using the wings granted them for their final passage. He saw ghosts leaving those that died, streaming up to the sky like a liquid of brilliance, while the lacerated flesh that sewed around him from above and below tangled with the machines that his kind had used to their own folly. He saw the Great, the traitor of his kind as the gasses hissed and the bodies sputtered blood in gouts almost too red to believe. It was like wine, and it flowed through the twists and curves of the ancient structures he loved. His mother’s face hit him again, a single clawed hand issuing from her mouth, giving him the bird, as her eyes burst in their sockets while still staring at him with hope, before numerous other clawed paws began to erupt from her flesh, contorting her body and making her writhe like a practice dummy.
His mind finally unglued, a certain madness encapsulating his thoughts, he laughed on the horizon of the carnage. He laughed. Had laughed, but was not supposed to. His training and upbringing fled, pursued by the cackling face of a new player, the Great. Madness, the unhinging of him, strode forth in his mind. Yulain and Timoth were gone, souls lifted up to whatever watching gods may be, but Sanri lay in their pooling blood, her own pouring in rivulets down the pristine snowy sand of the beach where they parted. It created dried paths of red mud, tendrils that stretched anew from earlier splatters.
Where did his fate lead them, so he had wondered, then.
Now, he sat in a steel kettle, feeling so much like the wholly drained tea bag. His nethers stretched under the warm water, never to work again. His fresh cuts already forming white covers for themselves, hair straggled and grimy with disregard. He remembered her final gasping croaks; her harsh yet still melodic voice mounting the ocean’s interruptions.
“Destroy thy self, but nevereth seek nightmare.” She gripped him with failing strength then.
“Renew the world… Garin, find the stone!”
She died then, his own strange fate the guiding hand. He broke. His mind splintered. It wheezed with pain. He stumbled to the ground, breaking two fingers with his unbearable weight. The pain was welcome, hurtling him back to surface reality. He felt alien water in his eyes, and loathed himself as it tracked down to his face’s point. He cared, but not much anymore. He released all holds, the tears jumped to the ground in armies. They were gone, all of them. A new feeling arose, fear – sloppy and chilling. They killed Archons. They KILLED them. The tears stopped as his eyes winched shut. His broken fingers were reset with brutal efficiency, his teeth gritted when he popped their bones back into place. Dead Archons. The thought churned behind his brow, DEAD ARCHONS. then the cool feel of detachment, but not the type he had been taught. In the last few minutes on the beach his brain had learned a new thing, it had learned to not care.
Yes, very dangerous indeed.
His boots shifted sand.
Garin shuddered into the waking world. His bullshooter eyes snapped the air greedily. The old couple sat at a nearby blistering table, staring curiously across a battered plate of biscuits, steaming charcoal mugs in hand. His muscles roared in their tubes, a tingling pranced up to his skull. The old man slowly stood up, delicately placing the worn mug down., he walked forward.
The archon jumped at him, water flying around him like a shroud. He hammered the old man to the spoiling wooden floor, his keen gaze searching the room, tracking left, then right, finally settling on the old woman. Her face showed weathered surprise. Her jaw quivering slightly, she stood up. Garin flicked his wrist in a downward motion, once then again. She stared blankly, shaking her head solemnly. The Archon slowly became aware of the labored breath he was forcing the old man to swallow. His rock-like wrist returned from the man’s neck, his reflexes had unknowingly betrayed him. The man was dying. He coughed deeply, a harsh rattling sound which echoed with phlegm. He instantly knew the cause, so did the man. The old twinkling blue eyes shone brightly in the darkness, his breath slower and slower to come.
“Sir,…my Lord, you hath granted thy servant his wish, it is taken grateful and peaceably.”
“Your name, bondsman?”
“I release thee from thy bond, thou art now equal in state……” He was cut short.
“Does it matter, Garin? the time is moving along but I sense you will not. The order is done, but you are not. Now that we are equals I wish to know one thing.”
“ What is it?”
“What drives you, Lord Archon, what keeps you going?”
“I cannot say… I’m not sure.”
Carothl’s failing eyes showed mysteriously in their recesses. Their tired blue shone like stars as he uttered a dying breath.