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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22. Chapter 22

Darkness moved in the cave. It rose, lifting up to the ceiling before sinking back down to its depths. A form moved within the darkness, it wavered and floated shapeless. It adjusted, expanding until it filled the cave and the millions of little crevices that covered the walls and hid watching eyes. A hand moved, reaching out to touch soft flesh that lay upon the ground. The hand was merely a reflection, an idea, it held no substance; it swept through the cooling body. The shapeless form twitched, it withdrew its hand. It changed tone. Edges became darker; the room seemed to shrink as the blackness expanded. It shook, the walls rumbled, cracks formed and the watching eyes within the walls closed.

The darkness reached out once more to the body. It’s – his – body. Died, allowed to die! It reached out, its hands sweeping once more through the form. It reached out again, trying to grab a hold of that which it could not feel. Silently the darkness screamed in frustration. It – he – would live again. The walls shook again as the darkness began to compress.

It pulled itself within, shaping and forming an empty shape into something that resembled hands, arms, legs, a torso. The head was last to form. It was featureless, just as he also remembered himself, just as everyone knew him by. He reached again for the body. Laying himself down upon it, he allowed his body to shrink into the form. Inside the body, he began to expand again, attaching himself to the cells, the muscles, clinging on for dear life. Once fitted, he released life from the little box he kept hidden, and the body awoke.

The Captain sat up and gasped, huge sucking lungful’s that gurgled and choked with empty air. His eyes bulged, bloodshot, pupils wide. His mouth gapped open and he shut it quickly as he tried to breathe in through his nose. Nothing came and he gasped again, expelling nothing from his already empty lungs. There was nothing to breathe in and he had nothing to breathe out. His heart didn’t even pound, it was dead, a lifeless organ that just sat in his chest attached to vital cords in which blood lay dormant.

The Captain’s legs buckled under him as he tried to stand, they felt weak, disorganised. After a few minutes, he was able to steady himself against the wall without falling over. His whole body felt like jelly, and not breathing was the strangest experience of all. He didn’t need to breathe, and he wasn’t sure whether it was this new development or the lack of oxygen that was giving him a pounding headache.

He tried to think about it. He had had a dream. He was… alive… but not in the sense that he knew it. He hadn’t been human. And now he didn’t need to breathe, and he knew he wasn’t dead.

The lamp that the member of the six, or five, or four, however many there had been, had been carrying lay on the floor. There was still a little oil in the drum and the Captain lit it. Around him lay the dead bodies of the bounty hunters. The Captain rolled the closest onto his back and stared at the grey face, he was truly dead but his body was still warm which meant he hadn’t been dead long. He checked the others and found the same thing. All dead. So why wasn’t he with them in the afterlife?

His weak legs forced him to sit down. Plenty of times in his life, in war, he had thought he had died. But he had pulled through, they were just… close shaves. Nothing as real as this. He knew he wasn’t breathing, he held the flame to his lips and blew. It didn’t quaver. So was he a zombie? The thought disgusted him. He would rather be dead than have to plug himself into an electric socket every night to make sure he was charged.

However, the Captain sat up; there was an advantage to being dead. He knew the tales, the ideas; the ones hunting kill the hunter, or think they have. Then, while their back is turned and they are congratulating themselves, the dead man sneaks up and slits their throats. The Shadows thought that he was dead. It meant they wouldn’t be expecting him anymore. The Captain pushed himself to his feet. Stumbling, he moved around the dead bodies, searching their pockets for anything he might find useful. Scavenging, it was something he had learned on the battlefield. If a man had a better pair of boots than you did, you took them. They would only be buried with him, a waste. He stood a few minutes later, his coat heavier than before, now weighed down with bits and bobs of things he deemed useful. Now to catch up with those Shadows before they disappeared forever.

It occurred to the Captain as he ran that maybe the Shadows had gone back the way they had come, but he threw away that suggestion. It would have been a stupid plan on their part to pick a dead end as a handover point.

The tunnel walls flew by as a stream of blacks and greys, their rough edges blurring into a smooth form. The Captain’s body picked up speed until he wasn’t running, but was instead being propelled and drawn along with the force. His body stretched, folding and fading in and out of reality as unseen forces experimented with his body. A chill ran down his spine as pins and needles erupted up his legs. Before the Captain knew it, his body was freefalling. A bright light filled his vision and he squeezed his eyes shut, but the light still pervaded. Freezing cold water engulfed his body as he landed in a lake. His feet hit the bottom and he waited until he was almost squatting before using the muddy bottom to push off. He broke the surface, spluttering to ride the taste of the water from his mouth. Something had died in it and he could taste it.

The water was cold, but it was becoming colder the longer he stayed. Choosing a direction, he swam to the bank and pulled himself out. As soon as his body hit the outside gravity, all the weight of the exhaustion throughout the day hit him. He collapsed his body falling spreadeagled on the muddy bank. His heart pounded; strangely, it had started working again. Warm air circulated through his lungs and dizzied his brain. His legs ached and it seemed to flow all the way up his body to the stitch in his side. Lights blurred before him nauseatingly, his stomach churned and it was all he could do to roll over before throwing up. It would have been a laugh to Fate for him to get so far only to drown in his vomit.

As the Captain wiped traces of vomit around his lips away, he remembered why he was there shivering on a muddy bank. Lifting his aching body, he pulled out a pair of binoculars. They were crude compared to the nocular that he had lost, and it took him a few minutes to adjust to his sight. Where to start? He wondered. The sun was high in the sky, shining down almost perfectly from the middle height. If there was anything dark and moving, it would show up.

The Captain swivelled where he stood, going over every inch of the countryside in front of him. It was a relief to see rolling hills of blue grass, lone, beautiful trees, and to feel such a sense of openness compared to the boxed in, toxic jungle. But that was all there was to see, bare hills and valleys. The Captain did another full circle, but the same view presented him. He was alone. Wherever the Shadows had gone, they were long gone.

He replaced the binoculars in his hand with the map from Hel-Cohre. After spreading it out on the sweet, soft grass, he began tracing his finger along one of the red lines. The lake sat near the edge of the map, three island away from Hel-Cohre’s house. The Captain was amazed at the distance he had travelled. From his position to the first plain marked in red it would be a day’s walk, it wasn’t bad. The tunnel had helped, and while it hadn’t been planned, the Bounty Hunters had been of use. And even though he didn’t have the Shadows as a guide, he was still on track.

‘Mister, you’ve been lyin’ on the ground starin’ at t’map for quite some time now. Everythin’ all right?’

The Captain jumped at the sudden noise breaking the silence of his thoughts. He looked up, his eyes falling straight away onto a thin old man leaning on a wooden rake.

‘Yes, everything’s all right. I’m just finding my way,’ he told him, folding the map and tucking it away in a pocket as he stood.

‘Heh, yous should be careful, young man, it’s a dangerous place here. Ifs I was yous I’d head back t’ your cave.’

The Captain’s eyebrows rose. ‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘how long have you been here?’

‘Ooooh, ‘bout eighty years com’ t’morrow,’ the man said with a grin. Removing his arm from the rake began raking the fallen leaves from the tree into a large pile.

Laughing, the Captain shook his head. For the first time in a long time, a smile played at his lips. ‘No, no. I mean, how long have you been in this area. Watching me.’

‘Ya should’a said,’ the man said. ‘Since you came out of t’lake,’ he continued, carefully raking the leaves into a nice neat pile on the ground. The leaves were black with brown spots on them; the Captain couldn’t help but notice. They were dead.

‘Good,’ the Captain drew the word out slowly. He licked his lips, a sign he noticed he did when he wanted to proceed carefully. ‘Did you see anything come out of the cave over there before me?’ His hopes were rising; he just needed a direction, any direction. It didn’t have to be the right one, he just needed to be on the move again.

‘I saw nothin’ com’ out of t’caves. Yous were the only one,’ the old man told him, tightly clenching his teeth together. ‘Real person like anyway.’

‘What do you mean?’ the Captain asked earnestly, stepping forwards quickly. ‘I need to know where they went. I know what they were, and I know what you’re thinking of me right now as I ask this. I understand your suspicious, you regret starting up this conversation, but believe me, you’ll only regret it if you keep your mouth shut.’

The old man glared at the Captain, baring his yellowed, cracked teeth. He held the Captain gaze before breaking away, squeezing his eyes shut and clenching his rake so tight that his knuckles turned white.

‘Somethin’ dark came floatin’ out. Headed o’er yonder.’ He pointed a pale finger to where the sun was starting to set.

Something dark, well that was better than nothing. ‘Exactly what shape did it hold?’

‘It ‘ad no shape. It just was.’

To the Captain that was even more promising. He breathed out a sigh of relief. ‘Thank you!’

‘Do not thank me, lad, yous know what your search is for. It’ll bring tears, and maybe they’ll be o’ blood.’

The Captain nodded gravely. ‘I don’t intend the blood to be mine.’

The sun was setting, slowly beyond the islands edge. So far beyond the horizon that if you looked hard you could see a faint line of black running along the edge. Everything comes out at night. You would think islands would be safe because to get to them you have to take boats or ships, and everything coming to the inhabited islands is checked thoroughly. And if what they check does not meet up to their requirements, or is a threat to the island’s society, it is not allowed to set foot off the boat. But things spread. They evolve and come crawling out of the sea to stack claims to the islands. And they hide in the day so that you don’t see them. Coming out at night is the only time they can come out because then you cannot see them. All that is left in the morning is part of you that will tell the island that something kills at night, but not enough of you for them to find clues. Which is why as the suns left the day, and the moons rose to take its place, the Captain almost ran into the Shadows.

They were resting, leaning against giant boulders of rock that spread out across the dark blue, grassy plane. He rounded one of the boulders, not in a run, and there they were. Staring at nothing. They couldn’t really, they didn’t have eyes. They were just the shadows of the boulders, mixed up together so that one part of the shadow of one boulder could actually be part of another. The Captain’s feet almost tangled beneath him as he pulled to a stop and dragged himself back out of sight.

The Shadows wavered around the rocks, fading in and out of each other. The Captain watched them from behind the stone. They made no move towards him and he forced his breathing to still almost to a stop. He could see they hadn’t see him, but he knew it might not be long before they realised he was there.

Stepping as lightly as he could, the Captain withdrew. The high boulders covered him from their view, but sound carried as even his hands touching the rocks for balance made a noise. Each time he began to stumble sweat broke out on his forehead and his heart leaped. If they saw him, they would kill him again just like back in the tunnel.

The Captain froze, his face changing suddenly into a frown. Kill him again? Slowly, the frown switched directions and his lips broadened into a giant grin. They had already killed him. Was he invincible now, then? His heart beat faintly. He didn’t want to test the idea, but it was comforting to think. And, he couldn’t help but add to his thoughts, he was about to step into the lion’s den. It was too late to fear for his life. The moment had been coming ever since he had agreed, it was stupidity to regret the decision now and run away. He had gone too far. He would see it through the end.

Defiantly, the Captain headed back the way he had retreated. He reached the boulder around which the Shadows had congregated and pulled himself up to watch their activities and to listen.

The sun rose quickly, and as it rose, light glimmered, and there it stood before us. The Shadows had constructed the City of Shade on a plane. It was built of pure, white rock. Built so that no matter where the sun was in the sky, the place would be full of shadows. Dark as the night for so full of shadows, but bright as day as though it were bare in the sun. Over the massive walls that surrounded the city, a giant tower rose. It was just possible to see the castle it was attached to. The Captain stared in wonderment at it. It was huge, and beautiful, and he knew that that was where he would find the High Lord.

Before the sun had broken out, something had covered his eyes and memory. Now as he stared at the blinding image, he remembered everything. It was a mystery to all and himself where he had come from, but he knew the place from whence he had started. It was right in the middle of the City of Shade, in a small little market when he had appeared naked and ignorant of all things. Just before the war began and shaped his life. War. It had dictated how his life would be, and here he was a hundred years later still living as a warrior. A strange feeling settled in the Captain’s chest as he gazed upon the sight before him. He was finally home. But for how long?

The giant wooden doors creaked and groaned as wheels spun out of sight, turning, they spun the doors open. With a ground shaking thud, the doors hit against the stone pillars that kept them from opening too far out. Beyond the gate, all that the Captain could see was darkness. The Shadows disappeared through, and as the last Shadow passed the boundaries, the gates began their slow closure. As the gates reached a point where there was only a half a dozen feet before closure, the Captain sprinted forwards from his hiding place. He raced across the ground, skidding through the now suddenly very narrow gap between the gates. With a crash, the gates closed behind him, and the Captain was through.

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