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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23. Chapter 23

The world changed and evolved. For a moment the Captain’s skin prickled and then it ceased, the world around him solidified as cobbled streets beneath his feet became firm; houses grew along the sides of the road, towering, beautiful pieces of architect that marvelled brilliant minds. The air became a crescendo of noise as the Shadows filled the streets, changing from mere black, shapeless forms to people with bodies, arms and legs and faces that could be identified as different from another person’s. They looked like… the Captain paused, stunned as the Shadows moved around him, seemingly unaware that he was even there. They looked like him. Forms of him, not the same, men. They were men.

Between his eyes and his brain it was hard to differentiate between what he knew about Shadows and what he was seeing. He knew they were blood thirsty, he had been one. They were uncompassionate, scheming, racist, and fearless, and he had to remember that even though they looked no different from himself. It was hard to picture something as bloodthirsty when they looked like you did. It was easier to believe someone was a demon when they were formless.

His skin prickled, faintly up his legs and arms, then down low from his tailbone up his spine to neck. His cheeks itched. They felt, taut, stretched over a large space. It was hard to close his eyes; the skin felt like it was tearing every time he blinked. He wasn’t supposed to be where he was, his body was fighting the fact that he was within another world that wasn’t suited to accommodate a three-dimensional man.

The inside of his head itched and it was all he could do to resist the urge to rip away his skin and peck at his brain. His nails bit against the skin of his palms as he fought to control the urge to scream. His skin was flaking, peeling from his body as it became too tight to cover. It broke, cracking and breaking away like paper, but, strangely, no blood flowed. Inside the Captain’s chest, his heart pounded out an irregular rhythm. It was finally beating, but there was no blood for it to pump. As the seconds ticked away, his senses ceased one by one. His sight faded until all he could see was a dark black that covered him in an impenetrable sphere. He hardly felt his heart cease as the bubbles in his ears popped with such force that his brain broke through his skull and splatted itself across the cobbles.

 

~2~

 

For the second time that day, the Captain woke in the blackness. He didn’t feel like his body was broken, in fact, he felt perfect. He felt strong, fearless. His mind churned with the new feelings, it was overtaken with his thrill, but not even that could drown out the nagging voice in the back of his head asking why. He rose to his feet, an effortless movement, he seemed to float, and it was roughly there that he knew the truth.

He was no longer on the street, in fact someone had moved him to a bed in a cramped room. Sunlight streamed through a grimy window on the ceiling, the light coming through was directed down so that the room was devoid of shadows. All, the Captain noticed, but one. He moved, noticing the way the shadow moved with him, in sync with his arms as he moved them side to side, then with his legs as he strode to the door.

His face was a tight mask, his lips pursed, his eyes gleaming, narrow slits as his breath rasped noisily in the quiet room. He made it out the door and down the stairs, each step drawing him further and further into a house he knew he knew. It was his own. Where he used to live before he defected. Someone had brought him back. They had found him, and they had taken him home. And even worse, they knew who he was.

At the foot of the stairs spread out a small living. Bookshelves lined the walls full of dusty, unread novels, a fan on the ceiling spun lazily, clicking each time it completed a full circle. In the middle of the floor stood two coffee tables, bending under the weight of books piled dangerously. The carpet left prints of his feet as the Captain moved further into the room. Behind the cobwebs on the walls, paint peeled exposing rot and mould.

The Captain took it all in as he revolved, casting his eyes over every inch, seeing in his mind what the room used to look like and judging it against what his eyes were telling him it now looked like. A footstep behind him caused him to forget the room as he spun. A little girl with brown hair tied in ponytails was watching him from the doorway of the kitchen.

‘Hullo, there,’ the Captain said peacefully, smiling gently as his fingers twitched towards the holster dangling by his side. ‘I’m looking for Artermous Herm, he used to live here. Is he home?’

The little girl looked blankly up at him, her finger in her mouth.

‘I’m kind of in a hurry,’ the Captain prompted, peering over her head into the gloom of the kitchen. A man called out from within and the girl darted backwards into the darkened room. A moment later a tall man appeared nervously in the doorway. He looked at the Captain, his eyes roaming from the man’s face to the gun strapped at the Captain’s waist. The Captain could see clearly that his guns were recognised as official property of the League of Immortal Shadows, the High Lord’s private officers.

‘I’m looking for Artermous Herm,’ the Captain repeated, his tone low. ‘I know he’s here, or else you’re in trouble for bringing me to this wreck of a building.’

The Shadow licked his lips. It was unusual for a Shadow to show any sign of fear, but this one did. ‘You ask for Artty?’ The Captain nodded. ‘Come,’ the Shadow said, grabbing the Captain by the arm and pulling him into the kitchen.

The room was almost the same as the living room. Paint was peeling, and a dull lightbulb hung from the roof. Trash littered all corners and the air was thick with rot.

‘This way, the man said,’ stepping over the rubbish and heading down a short hallway. They came to another cramped room. A boy sat on a bed playing with a yo-yo. He looked up at the men with eyes wide in horror. At a word from the man, the boy jumped to his feet and ran out of the room.

‘We keep the entrance in here,’ the man said as he pushed the bed away from the wall and lifted up a trap door hiding beneath. He reached into his pocket and produced a torch that he turned on, then he made his way down the steps of the trapdoor.

'I'm sorry that we cannot talk to you now, but things have changed since you were last here as I have no doubt you already know.' The Captain didn't tell him that he didn't know. Instead, he nodded his head and followed him. The steps took a while to ascend and with no talking on the way it seemed to last for longer. At last, they reached the bottom and the man turned the torch off. A pale light shone from underneath a door in front of them. The man walked forwards and knocked gently on it six or seven times. There was the clinking of chains being unlocked and removed and then the door eased open. The Shadow who opened the door was Artty, the one who had raised the Captain.

 

~3~

 

'My Lord,' breathed Artty, amazed, 'it is you.' He stood in the doorway, leaning heavily on a cane that glinted in the pale light. The Captain recognised it, it swam before his eyes, sucking out memories of his past life and absorbing them into the handle.

'Artty,' the Captain murmured, his shocked relief at seeing his old friend giving way to a quick burning anger. 'You brought me here,' he said, motioning upstairs. 'You found me in the streets again, how did you know where to look?'

Artty shook his head. 'I didn't,' he replied. Then he brightened. 'Come!' he called. 'Come inside, quick, let's not stay out here, I don't feel safe in this hall.'

He stepped back, and the Captain lost him from sight. Hurrying forwards he stepped into the room and was met with a bright hazy light. After blinking away the effects he was able to take in the room. It was cleaner than the rest of the house. A bed sat in the corner, next to shelves of books and a desk devoid of paper and quills. A blue carpet covered the floor that was vastly empty. The other half of the room was taken up with a small kitchen.

'You have to explain, Artty,' the Captain pleaded, watching as his friend bustled around, gathering cups and setting a pot of tea onto the stove.

'Yes, yes,' murmured Artty distractedly as he pulled the pot from the stove and poured two steaming cups. He handed one to the Captain before taking the other and sitting himself down on the bed.

'Sit down, please, Captain, there is much to say.' He smiled, his grin creating multiple folds of wrinkles. The smile was warm, comforting, but it ended at his eyes. There was deep sadness there that the Captain couldn't help but see. He recognised the look and it twisted his insides. They were both killers, it was a look they both shared. If one held it, it meant bad news followed.

'I don't think you have been introduced to my cousin, Verence.' The Shadow who had shown the Captain down nodded his head, the Captain copied, confused. As much as he could remember, Artty didn't have a cousin.

He glanced back at Artty. 'What is this?' he asked, his hands digging deep into his pockets. 'What are you doing down here, with a man who I do not know, and I know your family Artty, we spent many a season together. You're hiding, and I want to know why.'

The smile on Artty's face waned for a fraction of a second before it passed. He nodded to Verence who departed from the room, then he placed his cup of tea on his desk. 'Drink the tea, Captain, it'll be good for you. You don't look too well, you know, I think in recent months you've been through a lot, correct?'

The teacup felt warm in the Captain's hand. He stared down at the brown liquid swirling within. He sniffed in the fumes; it was sweet, with a pinch of bitter. He took a sip, then looked up into Artty's eyes. 'What's happened to me?' he asked.

'You're a Shadow. I don't know how. I know you should be dead, my friend, and I know that if my family, who you know very well, sees you they will tear you apart. You are not welcome in this city,' Artty's voice turned bitter, the tone changing threateningly, 'I do not even know how you got in!'

'I don't know, Artty. Somehow I died along the way, and the next thing I know I wake up in your house, as a shadow, and find you hiding in the basement, scared for your life and of me. That's why you're threatening me. But if you're scared of me, why did you bring me here?'

'Because you were a fool to come here! I know about you, what you have been up to in the outside world. I know you killed those two Shadows, and I know about the bounty that sat on your head. The High Lord sent his best man to pick you up and kill you, and I know that he reported back that you had died in a cave. How? I don't know, you always seemed so good at staying alive. But then, what does Verence see as he walks through the market? A ghost? And he does the unlikely thing which is to bring you back here and tell me he thinks he has found the Captain Von Delgo. I dismissed it. Stupid. There is no way in the dark you could enter back into this world. If you someone managed to make the Shadows think you were dead, you should have used it! I am pleased to see you, delighted to know you are not dead, but you had better have a good reason why you have thrown this miraculous gift in to the dirt and returned here.'

Realisation dawned upon the Captain. He sighed. 'You really believe that I killed those two Shadows because I wanted to. I tried to avoid them. Have you forgotten how bloodthirsty you all are? Have you been locked away so long in your basement you don't even remember what your own kind do to anyone that isn't them?' The Captain spat out his disgust into his tea and glared at Artty. 'They came after me because I was trying to take a No One to the sea to escape this pit. I defended him and along the way I did the impossible and killed two Shadows. Now you look upon me as a devil for being a Shadow. Hypocrite!' His chair tumbled back as he rose and threw the cup against the closed door. Hot tea painted the wood as shards of china shattered everywhere.

'Now, why are you down here hiding?’ the Captain demanded as he returned to his seat.

Artty shrugged, unfazed by the Captain’s outburst. 'Well it's not exactly hiding. People know I'm here, just I prefer that they don't.'

'So you hide down here and close the door on people’s faces when they come asking for you?'

'Something like that. You see, I'm not well liked at the moment. We've had a bit of a falling out with the others, others meaning just about everyone, and by 'we' I mean 'me'. We don't agree on the same things anymore. You know how close I was to following in your footsteps after you deserted from the army? But then you was never a Shadow and you could choose which side to be a part of, whereas me, well I'm a Shadow. Have been all my life and like my father before me and his father before him. But I'll admit that maybe we don't always do what is good for the country we live in, so I don't blame you for changing sides. Even though I was angry at you for choosing bloody No Ones over us! I got over it though and shortly after you left, I had thoughts of deserting. However, if I was caught, for my crime, I would be tried and the death sentence would be chosen. If you were caught, well, I've no doubt you would have managed to survive.

You're a big person to be talked about by us in here. You're a legend. I owe, and others owe, you for saving our lives in the war, even though we're ashamed that a deserter like you could save us when we couldn't save ourselves. Now you are probably wondering what this has got to do with me hiding down here, cowering from the outside world because of a little dispute.'

The Captain nodded.

'I've fully changed my mind about you. A few years ago, I began going against the council. My argument was that what you do is right, and what we do is wrong. I tried to plead with them that we needed to learn from what you do to make this nation better. But, those who have any rights to power, and are able to use it, don’t believe so. They believe the best way to rule is to let the barbarians destroy themselves. You can’t save devils from death and destruction as that is what they make and are for. In time, they will completely fall out and become nothing, and that will be the time for us to take over.

I’ve been in and out of prison, they arrest me for crying out in the streets and telling people that we shouldn’t sit back and watch the world destroy itself. We as the rulers need to help the world in becoming a better place. But there is nothing wrong with hosting an opinion, so they release me.

There is, on the other hand, a law against disturbing the peace, which I have been charged with more times than once. However, so many people break the peace here that it doesn’t really matter, they always need rooms in the cells, and so I’m usually one of the first to be kicked out.

 Then when news reached us that you had openly killed two Shadows who had done nothing to you in the first place to be attacked, I fell into hiding. I was broken. A man that I admired as a friend, as saviour, and a hero to those that need one, had killed two of my fellow men, well that destroyed any hope I had of getting others to see what I was saying, and those that did come to believe what I was saying left.'

'I'm sorry for ruining what you most likely worked hard for,' the Captain replied honestly. 'Anyone who is able to get a few Shadows to start thinking that you're wrong in the way you rule must have worked hard.’

‘Yes. Now,’ Artty’s eyes lit up as he focused upon the Captain. ‘You need to explain why you’re here.’

The Captain looked away from the intense gaze. He studied the floor, watching as it remained unchanged as the seconds ticked by. He hadn’t really thought about telling Artty. He had thought about hunting the man out and using the house as a place to hide while he worked out how to enter the castle, but he hadn’t thought beyond that to explaining his reasons.

He finally raised his eyes and met Artty’s. Truth was something that had always been clear between them. It hadn’t stopped them just before as they explained how they came to be in the city, so the Captain saw no reason to lie.

‘I’m here to kill the High Lord.’

'You can't.'

The Captain's ears burned to hear those two simple words. 'I have to,' he said. 'I made a promise. I made a stupid promise, and that's why I'm here.'

'But he's the High Lord! You cannot kill him. He's a Shadow, it's impossible.'

The Captain laughed roughly. 'I think I've already proved that Shadows aren't impossible to kill,' he answered. 'High Lord or not, I'm gonna kill him.'

'That's treachery!'

'You just spoke of you inciting the masses,' snarled the Captain angrily. 'Telling them their way is wrong and to switch to mine!'

'I'm asking them to change their views, not kill their leader and create chaos,' Artty reminded him, rising from his seat as he lost all composure. He started waving his arms around. 'It's treachery for you because he's your High Lord too, and you want to disrupt him from his rule.'

'I don't want to disrupt him,' the Captain commented quietly, 'I want to kill him. It's a job, Artty, and you and I have never agreed on what I do. I see things in different colours from you, and that's because despite the fact that I am somehow standing before you as a Shadow, I am not one. Now I'm not asking for you to agree with me, I'm not even sure that I think myself that I can do this, but I'm being paid to do this, and if I die trying then so much the better for me and you. I do need, however, a map of the castle. I don't know how to get in, but you've been there. Will you help me with that?'

'It's treachery,' murmured Arrty defiantly. 'I can't help with that. I'm in enough trouble as it is.'

'It's too late to back out, Artty, you should have thought about the trouble you would be in before Verence brought me in.'

Artty's eyes flitted to the door, the other side of which Verence was probably listening in. He nodded. 'All right. I agree. I wanted to help you when Verence brought you here, to throw you out and refuse to help your quest would be wrong. I'll do it.'

Artty set about drawing the Captain a rough map of the castle and what may be inside. He had only been in there once, to get his medal for bravery in the war. All he jotted down on the map was all he could remember of having seen while being in there. After the map was drawn, Artty asked Verence to bring down some food. The Captain realized as the meal was brought in that he couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten, but he was so nervous about the job ahead that all he managed was a couple of mouthfuls. Now that it had arrived, it was no longer mere fiction. It was real and soon, if he managed to get inside, he would hold the fate of all the islands in his hand.

When the meal was done, Artty walked the Captain to the front door. He gave him some last minute warnings to be careful about and they shook hands.

'I still don't like what you are going to do. I may not agree with what we do, but I also don't agree with what you are going to do. You must admit that through all our faults in leadership, this place works.'

'Yes, it may work now. But things don't work all the time. Things break, and some things are meant to be broken. In time. And this may be the time.'

'Let's hope this is the right time for what you are going to do.'

The Captain laughed. 'You can hope about that, I'll hope about seeing this through and living.’

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