I remember my death.
As one of the Quick I lived in Tasmania, an island 40 degrees south of the equator, nestled beneath Australia. Things were changing all around me: the government had proposed the damming of the Franklin River, and environmentalists such as Bob Brown gained their notoriety through placing themselves in the path of destruction. I myself was arrested twice for refusing to clear the area when ordered by police, my arms forced behind my back, cold steel closing over my wrists as I was thrown into the back of the van. For the duration of the long drive to the jail I caused trouble the only way I could: I lashed out with my feet, slamming them into the wall behind the driver in a steady rhythm until the ache in my legs grew too much.
After what seemed like an eternity staring at the dull white walls of my cell, my brother Paul arrived and paid my bail.
"Thanks for this, Paul," I smiled sheepishly. Paul was the richer of us two: his choices in life were the better ones, and through diligence and hard work he’d assured his future. I on the other hand, had pursued my own interests through my school years, usually ones that resulted in violence."Ah, don’t fret over it," he grinned. "I’m sure your time will come to set me free…"
It was one in the morning when I got into the fight that killed me. I’d just left the Hope and Anchor pub and was weaving my way up the street when I could make out two figures walking towards me. They seemed friendly enough, right up until they punched me in the stomach and robbed me as I lay in the cold gutter. Trying to get up, the pain bled slowly into me, just as my life was dripping slowly away. My last thought, at least the one I could remember, was feeling the hole in my stomach and seeing the black blood smeared across my fingers and suddenly realizing that I’d been stabbed.
Then, darkness. Then a dream, of light and shadow, eternity crammed into a breath, pain. Things cleared and I lashed out as I realized I was surrounded by masked men, armed with swords, and even managed to take one down with me before I felt the familiar clamp of iron around my wrists. This was different, though – the chill of the metal seeped into my bones, sapping my will. This time, although I wanted so badly to lash out with my feet, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Just relax, I heard a voice say in my head. Don’t fight. It’ll all be over soon.
The men marched me along a road nowhere on earth, a road that wound through a howling dark mist and lead to a city I could only have seen in my nightmares. I was sold for a handful of coins that seemed to weep at my fate.
I spent some years as a faithful slave before my master succumbed to his own darkness, and I returned to to the city of Hobart. I was shocked how much the city had changed in my absence – the buildings I recognized seemed grimy with the weight of time, and new ones stood stark, glittering and utterly alien. I walked through streets full of haggard, drawn faces that stared through me, passed by cars in odd new designs. Soon I came to the place where I had been informed the Citadel was located: in life, the Women’s Prison of South Hobart had been little more than four sandstone walls and a memorial to the horrors of the past, but now in death the building loomed as foreboding and forbidding as the day it was built.
Service in the Grim Legion was pleasant enough for me. I learnt how to make my sword scream as I swung it: I learnt of the horrifying Spectres, the creatures of oblivion that would emerge in the city as harbingers of sorrow and pain. Every week I would receive my Oboli, the coins still weeping for me as I took them. I watched friends fall, enemies rise, all concealed behind masks. Between patrols I would sit and watch my younger brother (now older than I ever was) go about his life, and I would devour his joys and sadness like fruit. Sometimes, when he was alone and drunk, he would whisper my name, bury his face in his hands, and weep. My fingers would not dry his tears, my arms held no comfort.
I wasn’t there the Sunday afternoon he went to Port Arthur, and what if I was? It would have been illegal to intervene, it would have cost me everything. Martin Bryant took a Russian sniper rifle he had trained himself to shoot from the hip with, entered the Broad Arrow Cafe and killed twenty people in as many seconds. My brother, I heard later, had thrown himself in front of a young girl: the bullet had plowed through both their skulls, shattering them like porcelain. Women, children, elderly, my brother. More souls for the Grim Legion. The echoes of the gunshots reached the citadel, and beyond that rose the winds of a storm. My troops went about sealing the Citadel as efficiently as they had been taught.
Holding the position of Regent enabled me to pull certain strings, and I was able to both investigate if my brother had been reaped and by whom, as well as quietly stand aside while enraged victims took their vengeance from beyond the grave on the mind of the man who now sat giggling quietly in a solitary cell. But neither the Empire, nor the local renegades, nor a heretical cult seemed to have claimed my brother as their own. Even more puzzling, after I had spoken to a woman who had not survived the massacre, she claimed to have seen my brother swallowed up by the tempest itself.
Wracked with grief, I retired to my private chamber to try and plead the voice in my head to stop. I wished I could cry real tears, I wished I could bleed. "You were never there for him, you just sat and watched like he was an actor in a play. Well now the show’s over, and guess what? You missed the end…"
The voice stopped abruptly, and it took a moment for me to realize that my aide Steven was in the room.
"Pardon my intrusion sir, but I feel we must talk about something."
"Not now Steven, please. Some other…" I looked into Steven’s eyes and stopped – his eyes seemed to smolder darkly with a force that drove a chill into my spine…
Inside my mind a voice sighed happily.
I leapt out of my chair and drew my soulsteel sword, edging around my desk waiting for the imposter to attack, but it simply cocked it’s head to one side and smiled. Reaching up to it’s face, it molded and shaped it’s features until I could see the true face of the assassin who had come to claim me.
I couldn’t speak.
"You haven’t changed at all since you died." He smiled again, a hollow smile, predatory and jealous. "I came to you because I need your help."
"Peter… you’re a spectre… I have to kill you…" I hefted my blade, ready to strike. "I have to kill you…"
"David…" Peter stepped a little closer. It was him, it was his face, but it was drawn with lines of pain and anguish. He walked bent forward as if there was something eating away at him inside. And his eyes, once the a rich brown like our mothers, were now holes as black as grief that seemed to suck the warmth out of me.
"Please David… you don’t understand how much this hurts. I don’t want to feel anything anymore: I don’t want to care anymore. I want it all to end. I want Oblivion." He walked towards me, gripped my shoulders. I stared helplessly into his eyes, once the color of a summer sky, now black as despair. "I can hear It in my head. I can hear all of Them in my head. It promises to take me if I destroy the Silent Book. You said you’d set me free once, remember?"
I remembered the manacles around my wrists.
A Regent is not questioned. A Regent has access to keys, rooms, equipment. A Regent is not questioned, except by those higher up the chain who are easy enough to avoid. The Silent Book was a vital tome in use by the Castigator of the citadel: He was the last of his philosophy, and he and the book were all that was left. The loss of it would mean no means for spiritual cleansing in the Necropolis.
A Regent is not questioned.
Peter stood facing me, the roaring of the tempest echoing from the black chasm behind him. When I gazed down into the abyss, I almost felt as if there were eyes looking back at me. Peter took the book from me, held it to his chest and began to weep. I held him close to me, feeling the cover of the book squirm between us.
"You said you could hear Oblivion… what does It say?"
He pulled back and smiled at me, one last sad smile. "It said we’d be together soon," and then he threw himself back into the tempest, and I lost him again.
Without the book, darkness looms all around. The Castigator himself was the first to go. The laughter in my head grows stronger every day, and it is now a race to see whether my shadow or my superiors destroy me first. But I have found a solution: I will go to the Nihil and throw myself into the Tempest, and I will sink beneath the screaming winds into the cold embrace of Oblivion.
My brother awaits me there.