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?


14. Chapter 14

A warm wind blew in from the sea, bringing with it a light fog that began to drift over the land. Dusk was quickly setting in; in a few minutes, the land would be under the cover of darkness. The Captain was amazed by how quickly time flew on the island. After leaving the safety of Doctor Smaglin’s treehouse, he had set out back the way they had walked, keeping to all the passages that ran secretly through the dark. Now he had returned to the city of the lost, and the sun had already dripped off the edge of the world and alighted the stars in the sky.

Above the island, they swirled. A gigantic, chaotic mass with no sense to them. Kept alive and burning by means of which the Captain did not know. Magic was probably the most common answer if you asked anyone in a street. But the wizards claimed it was not their magic that kept the world afloat, or theirs that allowed order to flow from the chaos. The other answer contained the word ‘Creator’ in it, but the Captain refused that explanation to take root in his mind. He staunchly refused to believe in that. ‘It just works’ was the only explanation he clang to as to how it all worked, whether it truly worked that way or not.

Around the Captain there was a feeling of absolute emptiness. There was no sound except for the wind whistling through empty windows, and the slight crunch of ground under foot. The Captain stared at the wreckage of the war around him. In places ash still burned brightly under the moons. Corpses lay in heaps or separate, some hung from edges of the buildings above. Not all of them were whole, the Captain was lucky if he found a body with all its appendages, and yet there were no animals, no birds, feasting on the bodies. The land was empty.

Most of the bodies belonged to the Ravens; they wore clothes unlike the bodies of the Gháulds. The body of a Gháuld was rare, but occasionally the Captain would stumble across one, eyes missing and face pecked apart and riddled with arrows.

Deep underneath the city the Captain hadn’t even been aware that there had been a war raging above him. Thinking back on it now it didn’t surprise him. What else did you expect from an island of warring creatures?

It was in a moment as the Captain raised his foot to step over yet another body of a fallen Raven did he begin to wonder who had won. The ratio of Raven bodies to Ghauld’s led him to conclude which one, and he ducked down low and crawled into the empty cab of an upside down pick-up.

Despite his busy morning the Captain didn’t feel tired, and though he knew he should have been, and maybe even broken, after escaping from that Ghauld, but he wasn’t.

The wind that blew ceased, the fog, with nothing to carry or push it, stayed where it had floated. It was waist high, thin enough to wade through without any trouble and to see what you were stepping on. If you fancied to look.

Out in the dark, sounds intensified. With nothing to hide them, even a faint pebble moving sounded like a hurricane. Every sound that the Captain made caused him to grimace and tighten his hold on his pistols. Allowing the heavy weight in his hand to reassure him that he would find a way off the island.

He paused, one foot raised about to take its next step when he heard something that didn’t come from him. It was a heavy gasping, something having trouble breathing. And then something else came. It rocked the Captain’s foundations to the core as the words entered his ears and pounded on the drum, almost deafening the sound of the blood rushing through.

‘Help me.’

The Captain forced himself to calmly swallow, and lower his foot. He checked that the safety on his gun was off, which it was, and glanced around, waiting for the cry of help to come again. Deep down he knew that it wouldn’t be a Gháuld. From what he knew they didn’t act like that. But even so he felt hesitant in seeking it out just in case it was. Closing his eyes to still his troubled breathing, the Captain turned and headed in the opposite direction from where the noise had repeated itself.

Now, everywhere the Captain turned some voice would call out for help. It was never the same voice, and sometimes they all cried out at the same time. There were survivors in the city, and it made the Captain feel sick in the pit of his stomach. Out there in the ruins were Ravens whose only duty was the find the Captain and return him to the Temple, and they had met more than they had signed on for and were now lying in tatters crying for help that would never come.

The help would never come, not because the Captain wouldn’t give it, which he refused, no matter how much it pained him, but because the survivors would never live long enough for it to arrive. The Captain had counted, quietly under his breath, and occasionally, if the call was too close, inside his head. Every time a Raven opened his mouth and made a noise signalling that he was wounded, within ten seconds there would be another noise, the sounds of things suddenly flocking together very quickly, and then the sound of something like flesh being torn into. The Raven would never make another noise again. Not because it had learned not to, but because it had never had a chance to learn.

After counting under his breath once again, and then hearing the familiar sound of dinner served, the Captain closed his eyes and tried to catch his breath. His knees felt weak, his lungs were sore and clogged with dust, his hands and knees scrapped from falling over and crawling through wreckage in a bid to get away. He was trapped in a city with no end, filled to the brim with flesh craving animals that they world had made through a stupid mistake. There was no hiding in the open, they would find him, as they would sooner or later, but if he found a place to hide he would be able to draw it out to later.

Dropping down to his hands and knees again the Captain began to crawl weakly forwards, his hands feeling the ground before him to help him through. When on his knees he was below the fog, it offered a little protection but not enough for him to feel safe.

After what felt like an age, the Captain’s hands felt a dip in the ground. Inching them forwards a little further he felt his hands lose touch of the ground completely and he lurched forwards, dropping to the ground as his support disappeared from under him. On his belly with his hands pointed straight down his felt the ground. It was a small crater in the ground. He looked up suddenly, a faint gleam of hope in his eyes. He found a sheet of metal no more than three feet away, what seemed to be the roof of a car. He pulled it over and sank into the crater, pulling the roof over his head. It didn’t completely cover the hole, but it offered enough protection that anything above ground wouldn’t notice him underneath.

Once safe, curled up in the hole, the Captain began to focus on his breathing, which had become ragged and short. He was sure his ribs still weren’t completely healed, and nothing he had done within the past few days would have helped. His breathing slowly came under control, and he felt his heartbeat and pulse slow. It was something he had once learned on his travels. He had learnt it years ago but the instructions were as fresh in his mind as though they were delivered yesterday.

The world around began to fade until it was just the Captain, the dead, and those in between life and death.

A few Gháulds lay dying not more than five meters away. He could tell by the blue haze that shimmered around them. The ones that were dead, that he had never even noticed that he had climbed over on his way to the crater, were black shapes in the dream light.

The Ravens were slightly different, were covered in green instead of blue. There were a few in this aria, some quite close but too far into death for the Captain to worry about helping.

The Captain looked through the dream haze at the bodies around, marvelling at just how many bodies lay around him that he hadn’t even noticed in the dark. A great feeling of pity, and shame, washed over him as he stared at the Ravens who had given their life to try to retrieve him. At last, the Captain made up his mind. He would help those, but only the ones closest. The ones near the dying Gháulds he would leave for someone else.

The Captain’s eyes flickered open and he pushed at the lid of his hole until it slid away and out he crawled. When his vision was back to normal, he started forwards towards the closest wounded Raven. The pale man looked up in fright as the Captain presented himself. He threw his hand up, a large piece of wood clutched tightly in his hands, his knuckled white from the grip. The Captain noted that the Raven’s other arm was lodged underneath a rock. Besides the Raven lay another body. The Captain looked closely at it, recognising the scar patterns, the tall, thin body, and sharpened teeth. Half its head was caved in, a mix-mass of blood, hair, bone and dirt.

‘Are you all right?’ whispered the Captain as he looked wearily around.

‘I’m alright,’ the Raven replied testily, gritting his teeth as he gazed at his trapped arm. ‘I can’t move.’

The Captain nodded. ‘Warn me if anything starts to come near,’ he said before disappearing around the large rock. It was almost double his weight, and looking around the Captain saw where it had fallen. A ledge of the building just above them. There was no way it could have dislodged by itself.

Grunting loudly, the Captain stiffened and strained to push the thing. The Raven cried out, then bit his hand to stifle the already escaped noise.

‘Sorry,’ he said, as the Captain stopped and looked around at the deserted ruins.

‘Keep an eye out,’ the Captain ordered, then bent to examine the boulder. Bending his knees, the Captain wiggled his fingers underneath the rock as far as they could go and then heaved. It moved. Not much, but further than pushing it had brought. He laid it down again, muttering an apology under his breath as the Raven swore under his. Without taking time to regain his breath, the Captain gripped the rock again and heaved, lifting the rock from the man’s arm and turning hurriedly to dump it somewhere before it slipped from his hands.

‘Can you move your arm?’ he asked, returning quickly to the Raven’s side and examining the broken arm. Even as he asked, he could tell the answer was a no. ‘OK. Tell me what happened instead.’

‘We were all out looking for you,’ the Raven spat, a mixture of blood, dirt, and spittle. ‘Everything was fine, and then those monsters were suddenly everywhere. They crawled out of holes in the ground, ran from every direction as the main swarm hit us. A giant black cloud of them. They just swarmed like ants. They covered everything before we had a chance to notice and take flight,’ he whispered. In the Raven’s eyes, the Captain could see the tale retold. He could see the horrors the man had faced reflected back at him. They were imprinted and would never leave.

‘I don’t know how many of us got away, or how many of us are dead or alive out here.’

‘What about the temple?’ asked the Captain eagerly. If they could reach it they might be safe inside its walls. They might even be able to leave. ‘Do you know if the Gháulds got to that or if they just stayed within the city?’

‘I don’t know,’ the Raven replied sadly, his breathing slow and tired. He sniffed loudly and wiped his noise with his working hand. ‘I’ve been here waiting for death to come to me. I thought you might have been him when you creeped over the ridge.’

The Captain allowed a small smile to cross his face, and he thanked the dark that the Raven missed it. ‘I thought about it,’ he told him. ‘But I’ve made a choice to help you.’

The Raven sighed disappointedly. ‘I don’t know if you can keep that.’

‘Why not?’

‘You said you would help us before. The news spread through the temple after you went to bed that you would. Then the next thing I know, I go from thanking the heaven to being attacked by devils on all corners because I was looking for a runaway. You. You deserted us after you promised your help. Captain Von Delgo is a saviour, I’ve heard the stories, you don’t run from those that need saving.’

The Captain could hear the pity, longing, and disappointment in the Raven’s voice and almost felt compelled to slap him across the face and correct him. Tell him not to put his faith in legends because that’s all they were.

He stood up and checked his pistols once more. ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ he said softly. ‘I’m helping you now. Let that voice my apology.’

‘How do we know you’re not going to change it again?’ the Raven asked. It was the answer question the Captain was expecting Ravenwood to ask him. If he was alive.

‘You don’t, so don’t bother your head about it. Be thankful I wasn’t death to you when I could have been. If you can get to your feet then rise. We’re setting out now, no use waiting around waiting to be ambushed by something. If you can’t walk then I’ll carry you.’ Holding out his hand the Captain waited for the Raven’s reply.

‘I can walk,’ the man replied stiffly. But he grabbed onto the Captain’s hand for support as he hoisted himself to his feet. His wounded arm hung limp by his side. He had no movement in it. The Raven took a step, wobbled and fell into the Captain’s open arms. The Raven shook himself out of them and took another hesitant step. Satisfied when he didn’t fall over, he took another and looked at the Captain. ‘I can walk.’

‘This way then. Don’t forget to keep an eye out,’ the Captain ordered as he turned and stalked away. He knew where other bodies where. He remembered where they had been, it was all a map inside his head. A body five feet to the left, another twenty meters north-west going up the hill, another just around the corner not more than three meters. And on and on. By the time they reached the spot where the temple had landed, they had picked up several other wounded. Only those able to walk, and, if necessary, fight.

The Captain didn’t expect there to be a fight. He had hoped against one, relying on the hope that they would be able to find the temple and disappear before any Gháuld got their scent. However, when they reached where the temple landed, it was gone.

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