Beyond The Holders
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[Continued from Jack's Return]
Jack pulled a lump of meat out; it was spongy, possibly a tumour. He decided it used to be a heart, misshapen and undone by Infectos, a name he read from the man-thing's intestines. Tasting of the morsel, he felt the raw strength of the dead thing wash over him; yes, indeed it was a heart.
He picked onward through the body ‘till it was rendered hollow. A portrait of self, almost. He then took notice of something grasped tightly in its hand and stifled his animalistic joy: he hadn't thought this thing had managed to touch Balance, let alone do this. Jack knew of the strength required to rend this loose and he knew the strength he would need to make use of it. Smile wider than ever, he pocketed it and headed over to Balance. Mr. For-the-good-of all-mankind had been too squeamish to watch the feeding.
I am a Seer. I See the Truth.
I have met this man, this husk of a man. Just the bones he was, the minimum. A crown rested upon his head and thirty-one rings upon his fingers.
He rode a pale horse.
Jack stood on top of a Tower. He cut his mind off from the skin he wore and expanded through the cracks between atoms and stretched across the gulf of space. He became emptiness. He became all that wasn’t. He was a god again! He was Ginnungagap, Kaos and Void! He was…
His Name escaped him again. A brief spurt of rage racked through him, and across the cosmos two hundred died for the loss of a name.
He calmed himself. He knew that the name would return in time. All the things the Bitch took returned with time.
He scanned minds, taking stock of his friends and foes. He noted the state of the Objects, any Seekers who might be problematic and through this trail Jack encountered something new: a great darkness, his kindred. Jack focused on this and for a moment did not recognise the power, but then a scream of grief and agony.
Jack decided that something had to be done about this thing. Infectos. A curse on him.
He was too large, too focused; he was not human. Not even a god of humans.
His bones were hell condensed on earth and his breath was death. The end of the world was in his mind and his gut and his pack and he stood like a signal to the Dark. A great unholy lighthouse.
Jack knew he could not fight Infectos, the Sack of Dung, for soon Essum would come and He of The Most Detested Name would hide behind his master.
What infuriated Jack most was how this Infectos easily followed orders, like a dog. The stupid thing never questioned his master. Neither of them truly thought anymore.
Jack’s grin returned. That was how he would murder the rat.
The thing next to him was fake, an illusion concealing a mound of synthetic flesh and plastic.
It changed easily and freely, as though it were fluid. One moment it appeared small and rat-like, scampering after its master, another it dwarfed the skeletal thing it followed.
I don't think it was quite sure who or what it was; it seemed to form its identity around its master's mood.
And the master's moods were dark indeed.
“Boy, have The Thirty-One informed you of the… situation with Dallas?”
“Yes,” said the Specter, eager to please, “I am not to harm or maim the man called ‘Balance’ lest his wrath shine down upon me and, in turn, you.” The Specter paused. “I don’t like it.”
“No one does. We cannot worry about him for now, though, as ‘Infectos’ has risen again and has something I am in desperate need of. You will be helping me get it, boy.”
Specter, although elated, wondered why he was needed.
“Because,” Jack answered the boy’s thoughts, “I doubt you’re edible.”
Thirty-one rings were on his fingers. That is of great importance, although I don’t know why.
Do they represent wealth? Did some minute detail upon them spell our, or his, downfall? Do they showcase a lost kingdom? Or was I wrong and those rings his godly symbol?
I do not know. But remember that number: thirty-one.
Jack ran his fingers across the three blades. Two shook with joy at his touch and the other brooded. It was bored.
“The Boning Knife and The Axe,” said the boy “Two of the Thi-”
“Yes,” said Jack “I know the stories better than anyone; you needn’t tell them again.”
“So what will we be doing to The White King’s Sword? I know The Boning Knife exposes the magic and The Axe is for cutting off from sources but I don’t see how they will be useful now.”
“They are not just for Objects, boy.” Jack removed a silver box from his coat. “They work on all sorts of things.” Jack smiled.
“You will be using The White King’s Sword in the battle; have The Boning Knife and Axe on hand, though. We might need to twist the odds in our favour.”
Edo Infectos? N-no! You can’t make me! I- I…
It is still. A twitch, a gasp, a whisper in its ear and it springs to life. The same way a puppet has life.
It thinks it sees the strings. It thought it pulled the strings, once. Even in its stint as puppeteer it knew not all the ways to make one move. Or all the ways one can move, for that matter.
It is all hate and darkness, vengeance and death. Like a ball of fire and smoke.
The fire rages in three parts: The first is for Legion and kingdoms lost. A battle eons ago but that he believes still rages to this day.
The second is for a woman and a love that is now a curse. He blames the woman but I don’t believe the love was hers. Or anyone’s, for that matter.
The last is toward someone long forgotten and for reasons lost to time.
Balance wound the last of the runes around the gate, sealing it shut for another millennium.
“That the last of them?” asked Devaide, “‘Course it is. Eighteen gates you said we’d close and eighteen it is. But there might be one last one we didn’t account for. Or maybe we lost track.”
“It’s closed. We’re done.” Balance cringed slightly, as though at an unpleasant reminder of past offence. “Or maybe not.”
“I am Balance. I was when we met, I am today and I will be when your bones have been eaten away by the desert sands.”
“A little late for that, Dallas. And, besides, there will one time come a day when you will regret having taken up this position of power and will wish to once again be Dallas. Mark my words, for I swear on the good name Jack that they will come to pass.”
Balance sighed and closed his eyes. “I see for you… that all wounds can be mended, all paths rediscovered and all losses gained. That is what I see for you.” Balance opened his eyes. “Now what do you want?”
“Something in both our interests; Infectos Essun, positively a Beelzebub in training, has recently become a thorn in my side. I am confident in my abilities to kill him but finding him might prove… difficult. I simply ask you to bring me and an ally of mine to his location and I will ensure his untimely death.” Jack smiled. “An excellent deal if you ask me.”
“No,” said Balance, “I don’t know what you’re planning but it won’t be good.”
Jack wore no smile. “Dallas, people often die because they shunned what little help I offer, know this when I swear that if you don’t aid me Infectos will live for another eight years after I take what I need from him.”
Jack looked at Balance for a few moments; he wasn’t sure that this man was the Balance he had known anymore. “Would you consider a deal that would save your friends’ sanity? Grant them both a body? You-”
“No, Yochanan. No.”
As he looked at Balance and Devaide, Jack began to laugh.
"A familiar scene," said Jack through his glee, "obsession makes terrible things of mortal men. Worse things of our kind."
Hope is seldom seen among those who Seek, but I have seen hope.
He stood there bright, like a light, and opposed everything that The Hollow Man stands for.
He stood strong, ready to strike down evil where ever he met it! He was Ra and Apollo! Heracles and Sigurd! The port in the storm for all mankind!
Then he met Jack.
I hear they call him Legion, now.
Jack walked across the plaza. The great space seemed to draw the world towards him, as if it were his kingdom and all the people who were not there lead a great parade with him at the head.
“Hello.” Jack’s voice was false, charming. “I am Mister J. Totenaugen here to see Dr. Wes Trouver.” He smiled, again, a falsity.
The secretary smiled back; Jack could never be attractive but at least he seemed… pleasant. “Yes, Jack, they’ve been ready since you met Balance.”
“Trust the boys upstairs to know where their allies are; that’s the way to Keep Us Better.”
Once Jack was loaded into the elevator his face contorted back into its usual rictus. He liked to make sure he could still remember how to look human.
There was no Dr. Trouver but there was a Wes. He had done the dealings with Jack for over twenty years. You’d be surprised by what they received as payment, even if you had begun to know what work they did.
“Hello, Leg Breaker,” he said; he knew Jack did not enjoy the name but his disgust toward Jack outweighed the danger. He did not know that his death would come immediately upon the start of his retirement, both legs broken and his throat ripped out.
“Worm,” said Jack.
What do I see in The Devourer? The same thing you see when you stare into the night sky, so clouded you could believe for all the world that there never was a universe.
I see the same thing you see when you look into the mouth of a hungry beast.
Jack looked down at the machine’s monitor, if you could call it that. It was a pane of glass carefully and proportionately mapping out the contents of the earth and several other Places. Below that, partially visible through the glass, was something glowing and red, about the size of a human skull.
Jack ran his fingers over the screen. “I think I prefer my knives; they work on a wider variety of things. Besides, they have that homemade feel.”
“Just use the thing and get out,” said Wes. “I don’t like letting you down here longer than necessary.”
Jack placed his hands over the North and South poles and willed the contraption to life. A buzz of electricity filled the air as the light from the Object grew to that of a small sun until it focused on a location in the middle of the Atlantic.
“Either your “friend” is scuba diving or someone got to him before you.” Wes sighed, “Lucky bastard.”
“No. He’s alive.”
Wes would have explained to Jack that the map was flawless, detailing every island of every world, but Jack was already gone.
How do you See these things? That is not a question.
A better question would be, ‘How does the world not See?’
It is not hard; you only need to truly want to. To say, ‘I wonder if that man is really a murderer’ and mean it. Not be satisfied with what you are told the truth is but need to know for yourself.
And then it comes. And then it never goes away; no matter how much you don’t want to anymore, no matter how hard you pray, no matter what pills they put you on, no matter if you tear out your eyes. It won’t go away.
Edo Infectus faced south, where he had felt Jack coming from; his sword was ready, eager to strike Jack down; his power gathered around him like a thick fog. Bloodlust was in the air.
“I see we haven’t caught you at a disadvantage. How sad.”
Edo Infectus spun and tried to find his adversary but found he was alone. Jack was good at hiding.
“Oh, how mighty you stand, wings spread wide, horns shining like a black lacquer… those eyes...” Jack paused briefly. “I shall have to take those from you when we’re done.”
The floor beneath Infectos split like a gutted fish. Dirt, stone, old bones were all churned from the earth in a sudden thrust and a mammoth creature, more ape than man, was at its centre.
It clutched the White King’s Sword.
Edo Infectos made a hacking sound in the back of its throat.
TEhaDt wiOllE dDo yIou nEo gSood agSaiUnst mMe EDO
Jack was suddenly next to The Beast, smile bright like the fires at Auschwitz, “Oh, and yes, that most damned Black King’s Sword, It shall look wonderful in my trophy room! My guest will marvel at it and ask ‘Is it true? Is that the blade that killed Legion?’ and I will say, ‘No, Mr. Filth, the blade that once so easily despatched the White King failed to gut the inebriated swine, Legion,’ and my guest will say, ‘Was the welder flawed? Or the weapon?’ and I will say, ‘Perhaps both.’”
Suddenly The Beast charged Edo Infectus, brandishing The White King’s Sword to cut him in two, but Infectos parried it expertly.
IEs tDhOat thiEngD yIour bEesSt figShter, YoUchaMnan EDI
Jack bashed Edo Infectus in the back of the head with a hammer. “He’s more than a match for you."
“Tell me,” Jack said as he and Specter attacked from two sides, “Did those memories make your skin crawl at what you’ve become? Did they burn you and torture you? No? Then why did you send them away? Did you ever think, even for a moment, that you could have used that spark, that hope, to become more than your master? Because you and I both know you could surpass It, but you need an advantage… a certain Je ne sais pas,” Jack smiled, “Or a knife to the head. That works too.”
I wiEll nDot faOll foEr yoDur tIricks, YocEhanSan! MaSster heUlp mMe ESSUM
And Edo Edi Essum heard his Thrall’s plea and opened a path to the battle.
“And the pieces fall into place,” said Jack with a Cheshire grin.
Edo reared his ugly head, if you could call it that, and was momentarily confused. It sensed (for It could not see) the bland mockeries of life that were Jack and Edo Infectos but there was another life, or life-like thing. Edo Edi Essum tired to drain it as he would any other creature, but when he ‘tasted’ of it he was repulsed. Something about it was… wrong.
“I didn’t think you’d like my friend,” said Jack. “Wouldn't get too close; that bitter taste could ruin your appetite.”
Suddenly Jack was in the hole between the battle and Edo Edi Essum.
“Veni, vidi, edo edi essum?” said Jack. “I think not.”
Jack removed a small silver box from his breast pocket. “Edo Edi Essum, do you know what this is? A single thread from Dallas’s cloak, torn free by Pessum Ire while the boy defended himself using the toga of the gods. By the twisting of my magicks I have accessed the whole of Dallas’s strength; let me tell you, the boy is stronger than he knows. He has the very powers of Creation! But…” Jack cackled with delight, “I doubt he’ll be able to do it twice.”
Jack stuck the box where Edo Edi Essum’s ribs would have been.
“Forgive me, Master.”
Thunder shook the island.
In you I see…
Murder, grime, wailing. I smell the sea.
You are a plaything to the tempest, sea and time, a sailing ship, Pride of Mariah, is not a ship. But you are its plaything, cast from storm to beast and back again.
How are you, Mr. Filth?
No, I believe I’m quite ready to die. Send Jack my regards, for you are his only guest, the only man that can come and go.
But you are still a plaything.
Jack staggered over to where Edo Infectus had collapsed. Specter looked confused and disappointed. “I thought we were going to fight him.”
Jack stifled a laugh, “Even with the better blade he still would have gutted us. Now what are you waiting for? Stab him with the damn Knife then hack at him with the Axe.”
The Boning Knife made a sizzling sound when it cut Edo Infectus. The Axe sounded like an old cough.
Specter shivered, “Those Tools. They made me feel… empty.”
“I do that to people, when they let me in. Come now, we have work to do.” The nail shined brightly in the dying light. “Would you like to nail his hands together, or shall I?”
I think I would have liked to see the stars, one last time. Too late for that though. Tell me, do monsters still look to the sky and think about what could have been?
Jack pulled Infectos to its feet.
“See,” Jack beamed like a man admiring his fine work, “you take away the horns, and the wings, and the eyes and what do get? Something very nearly human.”
A short distance away something stirred.
“Specter, get the boy to his feet. Wait till the Master sees what I could do to his pet in a few short minutes.”
Specter dragged the wretched, naked thing that had once been Edo Infectus to its feet.
Edo Edi Essum heard Jack say ‘Come and see,’ and rose like a great black wave, ready to drown and crush and destroy.
The Thing looked at Jack. Jack smiled.
It moved to Infectos and something not unlike a pair of hands reached from the robe and lifted Infectos away.
If Jack wasn't expecting it, it did not show on his face.
"You'll regret that," he said, his smile more a cruel sneer than ever before.
The gate shut behind the Essum.
"What now?" said Spectre.
Jack smiled. "We wait. He'll come crawling back. They all do."
But in the meantime, in a dark place, Jack would scream. In Hell they would mock him for his error, the first in years unnumbered. And the voices did not stop until the day Jack planted a heel in Infectos's head.
|Last modified on 2012-02-14 21:48:59Viewed 8522 times|