Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Never Thought I'd See The Day...

...That I Willingly Became A Slave Again.

However, in the field, one must do what they must. Usually not particularly pleasant or ultimately flattering... but survival does tend to be a good thing, especially when surrounded by people who'd sooner pass a blade through your gut than ask your name. Though, admittedly, being around your own people can be a challenge of its own right. My jaw and neck are STILL sore from the right hook that Shooter laid on me during our ever-so-touching reunion. I'm honestly surprised that it didn't spin my head into doing a complete 360. Needless to say, Shooter was more than a little pissed that I had volunteered to stay behind when he called for a retreat. I knew he would be. Which is exactly why I didn't tell him and let him do the head count on his very own fingers and thumbs when they were all good and gone.

Honestly, just thinking of what his expression might have been in that moment makes the sore jaw and neck completely worth it.

Sadly, the cruise was nothing to stay for. I swear I won't be taking another one for as long as I live. Or unlive. Whatever it is I am, I'm not doing it. Not only was I treated like just another head in a herd of endless cattle, but the entertainment aboard was lousy at the best of times. People really don't know how to put on a show, these days. It's a crying shame, if I do say so myself.

But that would be exactly why I stayed behind, now, wouldn't it?

During the first attack, the plan, ultimately, was to let Shooter charge in like the good little battling-ram he is. Take all the fire to allow the rest of us to get in position. And then make enough of a scene to get the Queen away from Legba in order for Shooter to have a little private chat with him. And then, through him, into Redlight. With the fragile hope that it would be Game Over.

We honestly should have figured they'd be outfitted with those blades.

When one side has a tank, it should come fairly obvious that the opposing side would make full-use of anti-tank missiles.

Common sense, really. So it doesn't come as a true surprise that Shooter didn't connect the dots.

I should have, perhaps. But I like to know as little as possible as what state of matter my dearest friend has been reduced to. As much as he claims its an upgrade, I'd really beg to differ. But I don't. I kindly shut up on the matter and leave him be. After all, I'm not even sure what manner of matter /I/ am.

In any case. It was a miracle that none of our main group was killed in that assault.

Same can't be said for our allies, who we wouldn't have gotten there at all without. They became meat-shields.

Not that that particularly bothers anyone.


When I heard the call for retreat, I was already on the ship. To the side, out of view to most. Even as I heard that tell-tale SNAP of the neck I'd wrenched around of one of the local inhabitants, I could see the others blasting their way back to the SS Minnow. My distracted eye nearly earned me a Fetter's Blade driven through my back... not that its specialness would make that situation any worse than it normally would, mind you, but one has to admire the GLEAM of such a blade, no? Being partial to blades myself, it nearly broke my heart to throw it overboard. Along with its wielder.

A warrior must go down with their weapon, after all.

Or something along those lines, anyway...

That would be when there was a blast that threatened my very eardrums. Followed by another. And another. The ship pitched violently back and forth. There was fire and smoke and yelling. Debris flying down. And, amongst that chaos that sunk me down onto my knees to brace myself from FOLLOWING the man I'd thrown overboard... the corpse I shared company with gave me an idea.

He was in sad shape, really. Filthy from head to toe and far thinner than his build would deem healthy. Nails were overgrown and some broken off. Teeth yellowed and rotten. One blue eye and one milky eye staring dead out at the world. Unseeing. His torment was finally over, though he didn't realize its beginning, I don't think. One has to admire Legba's creativity and talent, honestly. For acquiring such easy slaves to do his bidding. Oh, there were Legends told of it. Spook stories elders used to keep children from wandering too far in the dark. But to actually see the result of the work...

They used to all be Norms. Then they were captured and heavily drugged with a special powder. Thrown into the ground and buried. Legba then would have had to go back after a few days... and the people dug out of those graves would be so brain damaged that you could barely call what they had "function" at all. They shamble about. Only understanding the most simple of orders. Dead gazes out into a world that they no longer register. In some aspects, I suppose that's a mercy. That they aren't aware, really. That they don't understand. A small mercy, perhaps, but one I can appreciate from... personal experience...

In many ways, its accurate to call them Zombies.

Even though they die just the same as you or I.

Their hearts beat. Their lungs fill and empty, chest rising and falling with each breath. They bleed. They need to eat and sleep to survive...

They're human. Just a wreck of one.

I'd be curious, really... to try to bring someone BACK from that state. Though insanity would probably be the outcome, I'd think...

In any case, I know an opportunity when I see one.

So, while everyone else was unaware, I dragged my friend out of sight... and we swapped clothes. I kept my gauntlet, of course. Concealing it beneath my helper's floppy, old, leather gloves. The rest of his wear was as tattered and worn out as my own attire. Shirt, jacket, pants... all obviously having been through hell and back. Covered me up nicely.

But my GOD did it stink.

Once satisfied, I took my own things and threw them overboard along with the corpse itself to ensure no one would be any the wiser. After that, it was just a matter of stepping out. Joining in  amongst the other Zombies. Doing as they did. Keeping myself loose. Head down. Dragging the feet along. Took a little of getting used to, but I managed well enough, I'd say, considering I drew not a single alarm from the Queen or Legba himself. Not that Legba was 100% himself anymore. Just one look at him, and you could see the influence coming through. In contrast to attire that spoke of a well-to-do business man on a tropical cruise, a Black Growth had spread across nearly half of Legba's skull - coming up close to his left eye. Bulging the veins across his forehead and cheek in a manner that reminded me of a spider's web. Eyes smoldering with just a hint of amber. He was still alert. Still talking and moving around...

But always in the company of the Black Queen.

She stood a little shorter than Legba by a few inches, but yet seemed to loom over him all the same. Much like she did to anyone else she gave half a glance to. Her robe was black with intricate designs woven into the material, like an olden priestess. Her mask was a silver likeness of her old Master, the Plague Doctor. Fine cut and detailed just as perfectly as her clothes, it was also encrusted with small jewels in just the right places for the best effect. Always had a rose like scent around her. Probably from her beak.

Star is reading over my shoulder, and says it was Damascus Rose. Now you've had your two cents, dear. Kindly buzz off.

I had intended to simple... observe from amongst my "fellow" Zombies. To make sure things didn't go South too fast, before the others could get back to finish the job. To discretely keep an eye on the situation and, if possible, an ear turned to any conversation. As you never know what could become useful to know.

That had been my intention.

However, in what was either a stroke of good luck or bad luck breathing down my neck yet again... the Queen and Legba needed to choose a new Zombie to serve them personally, since the last one was shot to death by a Mime.

They picked me.

At first, I was certain that I'd been called out. That they'd noticed. That there was some... link between Legba's mind and his puppets, and I'd stood out like a sore thumb amongst the rest. Stomach knotting up at just the thought... of being taken again. Thrown onto my knees in front of the Crimson King...

But my worry, hidden behind cloth and my own will, was unneeded. I was used just the same as any of the other puppets. Thankfully, neither the Queen nor Legba expected a Zombie to know how to think for themselves, so anything ordered of me was very simple. In plain sight. I'd work along with the other Zombies, but then I'd be called on to bring them drinks. Or food. Or to take dishes or clean or some such. Sometimes I wasn't even ordered to go back to my duties, so I could literally stand right beside our little friends as they discussed matters of the day. Pretend to be zoned out of my mind, when actually I was listening for every detail.

Was hard not to laugh, really.

Such high powered beings. Both of them, plus Redlight on the side, branching into Legba's mind... all fooled by a few layers of cloth.

Of course, the hard work began when the ship made it to a nearby island. The ship itself was in rough shape, so a temporary fort was constructed near the shore while repairs were being made. It was hard work, but, as they say, hard work is good for the soul. The pirates - norms who made up the majority of the crew - did much of the work, but simple tasks had the Zombies involved. I actually felt good about it. Been a while since actual physical labor was on my contract. And, if I have one thing to say about it, isn't this:

It's honestly amazing how FAST something can get done when you remove Unions from the picture.

Progress came more slowly on the ship. Though that wasn't generally something Zombies were capable of managing, so it was left to the normal crew. While my "kin" shuffled mindlessly around or laid slumped on the ground, I tended to the Queen and Legba as ordered. A majority of the time, they just let me stand in the room, waiting to be called on again. It made for long days. Even longer when having to stifle a yawn or ignore an itch. Needless the say...

I was very relieved when I heard shouting and gunfire.

That was, at least, until The Black Queen ordered the Crew to attack. Zombies and all.

Legba himself was in no shape to give any order at all.

I needed to stay. I had spent all this TIME here in ORDER to be there when everything was set just so... but it wasn't the right time yet to reveal my cards. I was forced to comply. Drawing a Fetter's Blade and joining the rest of the crew outside in what had become a driving rain... and the chaos of battle that was slowly enveloping the entire area. Screaming seemed to CLAW into the very air as bullets peppered everything over top of the sound of rain. I spotted... something I didn't recognize. They were dark and tall with skin unbelievably pale. Dressed in black coats, they reminded me ever so much... of one I used to call Father. Even with the wide-brimmed black hats. But they were nothing like Him, even if  not a bullet nor Fetter's Blade did ANYTHING to them. Not even slowed the bastards down as they slaughtered the crew one by one. Strange, unearthly, perhaps insect-like clicks coming from them. A sound that shivered down my spine and made my skin crawl. Morningstar's crew moving up with them. Fighting their own battles with pirates and Zombies alike in the storm of water and bullets and blades.

I ducked down an alley. Opting for a back way rather than attempt to get past... whatever those things are. The "Pale Men".

Mumbles nearly took my bloody head off.

Luckily, my reaction time is one of my most proud attributes, and I ducked behind a pile of rubble and trash.

Well, more "threw myself" than "ducked", but I'm sure you get the mental picture just fine. I ripped the glove off my gauntlet... and stuck it into the air. Waving it back and forth in attempt to get some iota of message across. The next thing I heard was footsteps... and I nearly attacked that damn Mime when he appeared - prepared to take him out if he tried to do the same to me. But that wasn't the expression I was greeted with. His eyes were wide and startled and apologetic. Waving his hands as thought to explain that he hadn't known it was me.

Would have nearly been ironic if the same mime that had killed Legba's LAST personal servant also got ME as well.

In any case, I acquired an Escort. Since I still bore the look of a Zombie, it made getting where I wanted to go and BACK a lot less harmful to my overall health. I got Mumbles to accompany me to where the drinks were kept... and made my way back as fast as I possibly could. My dearest company didn't like it - I could tell from the unsure frown - but it was the best way I could think of... of getting back in with the Queen and Legba. Of getting in close quarters again. And so, amongst the battle (read: slaughter) still going on... I sent Mumbles to get Morningstar. His part in the performance was nearly upon us at that point... so I took a breath to steady my own breathing and reentered the hut as causally. Limply. As I could. Slowly placing the trace of drinks down on the table as I always did. One for the Queen, one for Legba...

Make or break.

But, just as I thought, the only look I received from The Queen was one of mild annoyance. The kind given to a toy which isn't quite working right anymore. Glitching. Obviously assuming that I had become so used to serving drinks that my shambling mind had allowed me to get sidetracked from her orders. Nevertheless, she reached and took her drink. Not giving a single command to me as she sat and waited. Her own breathing coming in slight wheezes which ended as a tremble in her chest. A rattle. Barely noticeable. But, obviously, a sign that she hadn't escaped the Plague Doctor or the Crumbling Castle as neatly as she might have preferred....

Legba himself was Gone to the World. His drink from before was untouched in front of him. Unblinking eyes burning amber in their centers as beads of sweat formed over dark brown skin. His head swaying a bit on his neck, like a slow motion bobble head. And that "Pimple"... that Black Growth... had spread down the back of his skull to the base of his neck. Pulsing with red veins even as every normal vein in his body bulged out. His heart beating like a jackhammer in his chest. Completely visible even from across the table. Pounding out on his ribcage. I could have sworn that I heard a soft whine. Like a dog in pain. As I'm sure he was. Redlight's hold... is nothing to be taken lightly...

Time was running out.

We had an open door here. A direct link straight to Redlight himself. His mind. His Self. But an Open Door is only useful until the Monster slams it behind him. If the transfer was completed... there wasn't going to be a soul on this whole fucking island that was going to make it out alive. It was now or never.

And The Queen... noticed my stare.

She rose an arm and snapped her fingers in front of my face. Obviously checking for a reaction that would betray my mind as alert... but, luckily, I saw the motion coming. Forcing my stare to remain straight. Pinned on Legba. The Queen seemed satisfied by that. Sinking back in her chair. A smirk playing upon her lips as her gaze turned away from the "Zombie" in the room onto Legba, though her words were directed to my non-understanding ears.

"Do your rotten instincts feel the change in winds, slave?

The Crimson King is nearly here.

And, with Him... comes Hell."

One almost expected a crack of lighting and a cry of thunder. A booming ROAR to signify the Nightmare that was to come.

But it wasn't Hell that burst into that small room.

But rather one named from the Angel trapped there.

Morningstar stormed in. Rushing forward with an eye only on the prize: Legba. A touch was all he needed. Just a touch, and Redlight could be obliterated from the inside out...

But he was driven to a halt not three feet away from his unmoving target. A small gesture from the Queen's hand... and Star's strength all but shriveled before my very eyes. Buckling. Face twisting in agony as The Black Queen quietly rose to her feet... and black liquid, Morningstar's Azoth, began to leak from his very body. Blackness coming from his ears. Nose. Eyes. Bubbling up into his mouth and dripping down his chin. His very skin seeming to SAG as the Queen's hand began to twist a little more...

And I drove my gauntlet into her stomach.

Her breath hissed with pain as her body buckled, but my other arm held her where she stood as I forced my blades in as far as I could manage. Slicing through instines and organs alike. Raw HEAT enveloping my arm nearly feeling scalding in contrast to the rain from earlier... only to freeze as that mask turned to me. And, through the glass over the sockets... I could just barely see those eyes. Sharp and cruel.

She was smiling. Laughing.


Aren't you looking b-better... from last we met..

Must be nice... to be r-rid of all the RATS burrowing through y-your insides, y-yes?

How LUCKY f-for you. To l-leave behind that stifling H-Heat. The bloated, dise--ased flesh..." 

I felt the snarl curl over my lips as I made a grab for her spine. To RIP it the fuck OUT of her... only to be sent flying straight across the room. Hitting a support beam with such force that I swear I heard it crack before slumping to the floor. Groaning. Struggling to get back to my feet...

But Star was doing better by then. Moving. Lifting. Nearly touching...

And then... Legba exploded.

I covered myself the best I could from the heat and flame even as the force drove Star flying backwards in the air. Hitting the wall, much like I had... only he landed on his feet. Whipping around at the Queen collapsed on the floor... holding a small remote in her hand. Smiling. Laughing at him. At us. She began... talking to Shooter, as she held her guts in. Mentioning things. Things way back, deep into his history. Looking for a dig. Wanting to find that soft spot. That reaction. Even bleeding out across the floor at his feet, She Was Smiling. Hoping each word was planted in his mind like a seed...

Star simply crouched down over her.

And watched her bleed.

Watched her die.

I think I may have hazed out a little - sleep deprivation catching up with me, perhaps - for the next thing I remember is Shooter's hand in front of my face. Offering a hand up, which I gratefully - foolishly - took. And that... would be when I experienced the full force of his right hook on my jaw. Not letting the force drive me down, he just as quickly grabbed my shoulders and shoved me back against the wall. Face inches from mine.


So nice to feel loved. Truly.

Still. I maintain that nothing I went through was as bad as the boat ride back with those damn Pale Men aboard. Unnerving, to say the least.

Ultimately, things could have gone a lot better... but I suppose they could have also gone a lot worst. The old glass half full/half empty question again, I guess. In any case, we all made it out alright. No real further forward than we had been, Redlight-Hunt wise, but at least we snipped a few of his strings. From the looks that I keep getting from Star, I can assume he's still annoyed that I took such a risk...

But what can I say?

I'm a Raven that's used to Hunting Solo.

1 comment:

  1. You're starting to get there. This one is certainly long enough.