The Assignment

Captain Von Delgo is a man who is lost. He is known as a turncoat, a hero and a mass-murderer. He has no beginning, and as far as he can see he has no end. Which makes him just about the most dangerous man alive. After the completion of his last job Captain is on his way out to receive his payment and rest up. His plans are delayed when a religious sect known as the Ravens pull him in with an offer. Captain faces a dilemma, he has never once failed in his assignments. But accepting this one and succeeding would change the way of the world, change everything that everyone has ever known, plunge it into chaos. But he has also never once turned down a job, and with his life quickly descending into a chaos of its own despair, he can see no reason why not to accept. After all, how hard can it be to kill an immortal?

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12. Chapter 12

Unseen, and unfelt, minutes ticked by. At long last the Captain stopped shaking and unwrapped his arms from around his knees. He hadn’t moved since stepping foot inside the van and seeing what lay on the floor. He hadn’t dared in case he was heard. Quietly, making less noise then was normally capable of a man, the Captain crept forwards and eased open the van door before slipping out. He breathed in deeply; he had been running out of fresh air cooped up in the hole.

After allowing himself a few moments to adjust to the different light, the Captain moved silently forwards, his gun at the ready as he headed towards the opposite side of the parking lot. The memory of what he had seen inside the van ran chills up and down his back. He couldn’t forget what he had seen, nor could he work out a reason for Ravenwood having landed his temple on such a foul island He had seen the bones of a tall skeleton lying curled up in a ball. Apart from a small piece of cloth tied to its waist it was naked, it’s bones covered in ornate, and occasionally spasmodic carvings. Its jaw still hung from its skull, and it retained all its teeth. They had been chipped, but the sharpened points remained.

Trying to be silent, but the deserted store making his footsteps sound like thunder, the Captain walked up an escalator that had long since ceased to function. His eyes had adjusted to the dark, but as he looked around, he wished it would dim. It was nothing he wasn’t used to, but he didn’t feel in the mood for it. Bodies were strewn around the place, broken and trampled into the dirt by ancient rushing feet. None of them were full bodies, a large amount of them were only single bones, but there were enough that you could make a lot of full sets, if you didn't mind them not all looking human.

The escalator ended on a wide-open space. Chairs had been gathered in a circle in the middle of the court. A large table presumably set up as a stage stood in the middle of the ring. Surrounding the courtyard stood empty, broken stores. Glass lay smashed on the floor, counters broken into, and walls torn apart. Massive cracks lined the floors, some so large you could fall into if you weren’t careful. Surprisingly there were still things hanging up for sale in some of the shops. No one had taken them. Why would they? They had been fighting a war, no time to loot when you are trying to run for your life.

Moving over to one of the seats and sitting himself down upon it, the Captain decided that if he ever got out he would accept Ravenwood’s offer and take the job. It would be more worthwhile for him than risking his life out in an unholy city with killers on his tail for nothing.

Sitting beside him on another seat was a body. It was long dead, almost mummified through unknown powers. Virtually untouched by life around it. It still had most of its flesh. Yet the dark played tricks on the Captain’s eyes. He had been around the world too many times to take dead as dead. There were people out there that could raise the dead. He fingered the trigger on his gun gently as he thought about a double tap. If he did it he would only bring attention to himself. True, if he did then the Ravens would most likely hear the shot and come to investigate and get him out, which was what he wanted wasn’t it? But if they weren’t fast enough, they might arrive in time to see the great Captain Von Delgo being torn to pieces. And then they would all be dead.

The two Wizards, the Witch, and the Shape-Shifters might survive if they changed to form Gháulds. Maybe the Ravens would get away if they took to their true form and flew away, but Ravenwood wouldn't abandon his temple. He would try to take it with him and by the time it started to move, the Gháulds would have broken in and then the temple would move the Ravens and the Gháulds to another place and the Gháulds would take over. It would be better if we all died. The Shadows could take on the Gháulds but then they would wipe every other species off this place.

Maybe it was a good idea after all. But the Captain didn’t want to die. He quietly wondered what it would be like to die, and how long the creature beside him had been dead for.

'If you could talk I'd love to hear you,' he muttered out of the corner of his mouth. 'Your story can't be as bad as mine is. At least you're dead and don't have to worry about hating that which you have but not wanting to die to end it.'

Lifting up his feet, the Captain rested them on top of the table. Relaxed, he readied himself for action, his hands gripping his guns tightly with fingers on the triggers. He wanted to get out, but sometimes you just have to sit still and wait. He would wait to see if anything came his way. If it was something he didn’t want to meet, all he had to do was pretend to be like the thing next to him and hope the creatures couldn’t smell fresh meat.

'Doctor Henry Smaglin at your service!' proclaimed a loud voice from behind him. Instinctively the Captain dropped to the floor and rolled onto his back, aiming his pistols up at an undead man. The same that he had just been sitting next to. The Captain stared. How had the man moved without him even noticing?

'No need for those guns, I am dead already.' said the dead Dr Smaglin.

Somehow the Captain didn’t feel assured. He rose slowly to his feet, glancing nervously around in case something else appeared. The man didn’t seem to fear being overheard by the Gháulds.

‘Do you know that I can kill anything?’ the Captain whispered. ‘You should if you know me.’

'I don't know who you are, but how can you kill something that is already dead?' Dr Smaglin asked as he casually wiped dust and cobwebs out of his thin silver beard. He wore dark cream khaki shorts, faded somewhat by age, and a matching shirt. Large white socks protruded out from the tops of large hobnail boots. His skin was tanned brown, stretched tight over his skeleton frame. His eyeholes were empty, but his gaze could be felt.

'I believe,’ the Captain said confidently, ‘that you are only dead when you aren't alive. You, sir, are currently alive because you are.'

'Ah, a simple man I see. What is dead is dead, and what is alive is alive. Very true words, but how can you kill a person that cannot be killed?' Smaglin pulled some of his already thin beard out with a gloved hand and looked surprised at seeing it. 'I don't remember having a beard?' he said quietly. 'How long have I had a beard for?'

The Captain frowned at him. ‘You don’t know?’

'My dear boy, I sat down in that seat over there, clean shaven and ready to explore. The the next thing I know someone, you, is whispering to me about how you would love to hear what I have to say.'

The Captain contemplated this. Somehow, he had brought the man back to life. If he had ever been dead. How he had managed that he had no clue.

'You name is Dr Smaglin?' he asked at last, deciding to move onto something he could understand.

'Call me Henry. And you are?' Dr Smaglin asked as he moved over to a glass pane that somehow was still standing unbroken and peered into it. He exclaimed loudly and gripped his face in his hands. After a while he removed them and turned to face the Captain.

‘I’m dead,’ he said, shocked.

The Captain snorted. ‘If you were dead you wouldn’t be talking to me.’

‘Ah, yes, your simple mind. And just who am I talking to?’

'People call me Captain.’

'Interesting,' Dr Smaglin said, turning to face the window again. 'And what do you call yourself?'

'I call myself me.'

'What a good idea. You are who you are. Who that is I'm sure I don't know and neither do I know if I want to meet him.'

'You have met him,' the Captain replied mystified as he began to chew the inside of his cheek. Each minutes they stayed chatting the more chance there was of being discovered.

'My dear boy, people know you as Captain, and you know yourself as 'me', or 'yourself' in my case of saying it. If people know you by Captain and not by 'me' then there must be two different people. You have introduced yourself as Captain, so that is the person I have met. If you really wanted people to know who you really are you would tell them. As you don't, I know I don't want to meet your real self.' He turned once more from the window to look at the Captain. His empty gaze fixing itself onto the Captain’s face. 'I don't know what you have done to have a good enough reason to have a name that is not your own, but if you have done something so bad that you have had to forget who you were and go by something else then you are as cursed as the poor inhabitants of this island.'

'How do you know I don't know who I really am?'

'I don't.'

'But then how-?'

Dr Smaglin cut the Captain off suddenly by saying, 'Something is coming, and I'm sure that if it is what I came to see then I don't know that I really want to meet them anymore. I don't know what you are doing down here, and I don't know why my body has changed, but if you want to come with me to where I set up my tent you are more than welcome.'

After issuing the invitation, he set off at a brisk walk. The Captain stared after him, his mind swirling with the conversation that had just taken place. He needed a drink, maybe then things would begin to make sense. He was sure he wouldn’t find one in the empty cave, but maybe if he followed the man… He began to run in the direction Dr Smaglin had taken.

He caught up with the man a couple of hundred yards. They walked in silence for a few minutes before the Captain asked, 'If you have been here for years, which you probably have been by your state, then Gháuld’s are sure to have found your tent.’

'I don't think they will have,' he replied confidently. 'You know, if you don't know who you are I might be able to help you find out what you are.'

With a loud thud that, whether just in the Captain’s imagination or it really happened, shook the floor, the Captain landed in a heap on the ground. His foot ached from where he had kicked a large rock, the cause of his fall. He looked up with suspicious eyes at Smaglin who had paused to look down at him in surprise.

‘You would do that, would you?’ the Captain asked apprehensively as he rose to his feet. They were now in the back room of some old shop. It appeared to be a dead end.

'It would be an adventure to find something that no one knows anything about, so yes.'

'I don't know what to say, no one has ever asked to help me find myself before.'

'They probably didn’t know you were looking.'

'That is true, they probably don't. I'm still unsure though on how you found out. How you worked it out if you did at all.'

'I'm sure all the answers one looks for will show themselves when ready. In the meantime, hiding in the dark will not help you.'

In the dark the Captain glared fiercely at Smaglin, even though he didn’t know if the man could see. He didn’t know how the man new these things, but he did know that no one should know things they shouldn’t.

'Don't be surprised by anything I do or say, young man. I was once a Wizard. I sucked terribly at doing magic but I could do very well at reading people. I think of everyone as a secret diary with a lock. Once you have found the key to the lock you can open the diary and start to read,' the doctor explained as he placed a bony hand against the wall and slid it across a crack. There was a small rumble.

'I think it would be better for both of us if you locked me back up and gave me the key,' the Captain told him. 'I don't know what I'd do if you read anymore of me.’ The Captain’s hand dropped to his pocket where he had placed his guns shortly before leaving the courtyard. His fingers traced the outline of one of the weapons before gripping it and hearing the satisfying sound of the safety clicking off.

Doctor Smaglin laughed as he turned to face the Captain. A small, confident laugh that filled in the empty spaces around them in the small room.

'From what I'm going to start guessing at now,' he told the Captain, 'you'd kill me to make sure your secrets stay secret. But you can believe me when I tell you that I have also done things I do not want people to know, things so terrible that I locked them away. Another Wizard like me found out how to unlock me, and he told the world the things I had done. He ruined my life… I would not wish that on another man, not one like you, anyway. Just ask and I'll not read another word of you,’ he promised cheerfully.

'Don't you dare read another word or I will kill you,' the Captain told him loudly, and then bit his tongue as he heard the sudden sound of rushing feet.

 

'I believe you,’ Smaglin whispered, pushing a piece of paper into the Captain’s hand as he turned and walked straight through the wall. The Captain stared at the empty spot where Smaglin’s body had filled, feeling the emptiness. With a slight smile at what he had just seen, the Captain walked forwards into the wall and ended up in another cramped space, but this time a long passage.

'How long have you been here for?' the Captain asked once they had walked far enough away that the sound of running feet had ceased.

'I don't know. I think I have been dead for quite a while, though you insist that if I'm alive then I'm not dead.'

‘Well, how long had you been here before you sat down to rest back there?' the Captain asked with a point of his head even though he wasn’t sure anymore of where ‘there’ was. They had walked up hills and down hills and taken many twists.

'Oh, I think maybe a week,’ Smaglin told him vaguely. ‘This is my second time exploring down here. Can’t have been down here for more than a week.'

'How did you survive that long without being found and eaten by the Gháulds?' the Captain demanded. ‘No one survives more than a day on this island! Maybe even less!’

'I'm sure the answer for that will become clear,' Smaglin replied. Before the Captain could reply, he had stopped at another dead end.

'We are here.’

'Where is here?'

'Not where you are standing,’ Smaglin told him with a grin that he hardly needed to pull. ‘Move a tiny bit forwards.' He took another step as he said so, and once again disappeared. This time the Captain was behind him in mere seconds, stopping to cover his eyes from the blinding sunlight that bore down on them.

'Where are we?' asked the Captain has he blinked rapidly and removed his hand to look around.

;On the other side of the mountains!' Dr Henry Smaglin told him proudly.

'We went through the mountain,' the Captain said. He knew he was pointing out the obvious, but it was something he had never done before.

'Underneath it actually,' Smaglin corrected him.

'But to cross the mountains takes ages,' the Captain argued. They had only been walking for about an hour or two at least.

'That is to cross over them. We went underneath them. And there was nothing in our way to stop us from hurrying. Though you may not have noticed, but I have from the occasional look at my watch,' holding out his hand the Captain saw the watch on the man’s wrist. He frowned and shrugged, the numbers meant nothing to him, he didn’t know what the time had been when they had first started.

Smaglin sighed and dropped his arm to his side. ‘We have been walking for almost four hours.’

‘Yet it’s daytime,’ the Captain spoke slowly. How long had he spent inside the car park? It had been late when he had left the temple, for it to be morning with the sun high up in the sky then he would have had to been hiding for close to eight hours! How had time passed so quickly without him know?

'I am glad to see that the sudden coming into the bright sun hasn't ruined your eyes,' joked Smaglin.

'Do you have a tree house?' the Captain asked suddenly, breaking away from his previous thoughts. 'Because you can't have survived this long by living on the ground. Living in a tree though, that will hide you above the Gháulds.'

'You are quite smart, Captain, you have done this before?'

'I’ve never actually been on this island before,’ the Captain replied.

'You are used to running aren't you?' asked Smaglin.

'I am.'

'Good, because you will need to run. This way.' He set off into the jungle and the Captain watched him go, wondering when they would finally reach safety. If there was actually safety and the man wasn’t leading him into a trap. There was something wrong with the man. It had been starting to leak through the closer they got to nearing outside. After only a moment’s hesitation, the other option being alone out in the jungle, the Captain followed him.

Smaglin wasn’t that far ahead. In fact he had stopped just ahead behind a tree and was waiting for him.

I followed him into the jungle anyway.  He wasn't that far ahead, in fact he had stopped behind a tree and was waiting for me.

'It is up here,' he said raising a finger above his head. 'Home.'

The Captain stared up into the trees, trying to look past the leaves and branches above him. Nothing moved up there besides the breezes moving the trees. Nothing could get that far up. No without difficulty. 'Where?' he asked.

'Exactly,' Smaglin replied with a smug grin. He looked around for a moment, trying to find something. Eventually he decided on a tree and walked over to it. ‘Here it is,’ and a moment later he disappeared.

The Captain grinned as he walked towards the tree. The island seemed riddled with hidden passages and doors.

The inside of the tree was huge, hollowed out to allow you to climb to the top by a ladder that had been carved into the wall. The Captain proceeded to climb. At the top Smaglin was waiting for him, excitedly hopping from one foot to the other. ‘Welcome to my home!’ he proudly proclaimed.

His house was huge, built on at least two trees, and carved out of the insides of part of them. The Captain frowned as he looked around. It was large. Far too large for a man to carve and build in a week and still have time to explore the cities on the other side of the mountain. True it was bare except for a camp chair and mini stove, both covered in a thick layer of dust and cobwebs, but it was still too large.

'You said you'd been here for a week right?' the Captain asked, staring hard at the man.

'Oh yes.'

'This place is too large for you to have made it in a week.’

'Oh, right, yes. I see, my boy, that I may have made a mistake in telling you how long I've been here. You see, you asked me down below the mountain how long had I been here, and I answered that I'd been here a week. Well a week is how long I had been underground. I've been here for about a year. Very near a year. In fact possibly over a year. I didn't lie to you.'

'I see,' the Captain replied stiffly. If he had side-stepped that question down below, for whatever reason, what other things had he said that he also hadn’t told the complete truth for?

'Now, to finding yourself if you still want help?'

'Help would be nice,' the Captain admitted. It was a strange taste in his mouth to say those words. They were not ones he omitted very often, and he didn’t know why.

'Then I shall be back in a minute. For now there is a landing outside that door,’ Smaglin pointed towards a bead curtain. ‘From it you can see your friends with wings through the gap between the mountains. This was the best place to lay the foundations of my house. You can see straight through the mountains.’

After explaining, Smaglin disappeared and the Captain moved past the bead curtain to see what he could see. Smaglin had been correct. It was possible to see through the mountains. In the far distance, a large, black cloud moved and swarmed. The Captain didn’t need his nocular to know that they were birds. Presently the doctor joined him, in his hands he carried a large paper bound book.

‘Well?’ the Captain asked.

'I don't have all of my things here to be able to really help you,’ Smaglin apologised sadly as he flipped through the book. ‘I also don't know enough about you.'

'So,’ the Captain said, his eyes darkening, ‘you can't help me?'

'Oh I can help you!’ Smaglin quickly assured. ‘But I don't know how long it will be before I find something worthwhile. You don't know and therefore nothing else will know. It will take time to track things down.'

'Ah,' the Captain sighed as he took a seat on the floor. 'What do I do while I wait?'

'Go back to your flying friends. By the time you have finished what they want you to do, I may have found something. You know where I am to find me when you are done.'

The Captain forced a laugh. The mere idea of anybody returning to Death Drop Island after their first visit was something unheard of.

'What if I don't succeed in doing what they want me to do?' he asked.

'My dear boy, that depends on how much you want to know what you feel you need to know. If you are like I think you are, then you will survive to make sure you come back to find out. Understand?'

'Yes I do. I'm going to be coming back here. You'd better have something for me when I do.'

'A true explorer will never give up on anything.'

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