Chapter 34: Never Turn Back
At the local pub of The Bacchus House, a feeling of unease had permeated the air. To add to this unease, a lone man sat in the corner. No one knew him, no one looked at him, and it was certain that no one liked the look of him. The only company he kept was a pint of ale that he had refreshed several times over the course of the night. Many locals gossiped and chatted about him, completely oblivious that the hooded figure could hear every word they said. Word had spread that something happened at Epsilon Cathedral. None of it was good.
“I heard a monk killed another one.” One man said.
“I heard a demon came and was trying to steal souls, right there in the church!” An older woman whispered, followed by hemming and hawing.
“That’s fool’s gold! I heard they were trying to summon something, and it turned against them!”
“I heard the man in the corner had something to do with it.” One man said to his group of friends, lowering his voice even more than the others.
“Think about it. We’ve never seen this man before. Everyone’s talking about some dark-clad thing at the church…maybe it was him and they just thought it was some dark creature.”
“I dare you to go talk to him.”
“No way! You go talk to him!”
Right in the middle of their argument, the pub door opened and a hush fell over the room. A man clad in the same garb as the mysterious man stepped in, his face covered as well. The hood glanced about the room, seeming to scan over everything. Everyone huddled a bit closer together, their heads facing one another while watching the figure from the corner of their eyes. While not taller than the man in the corner, the new stranger was equally intimidating.
The hood stopped, and all the pub-goers could see that his gaze fell upon the other man in the corner. His average-sized boots seemed to clunk loudly over the sudden silence of the room, so much that it even seemed to catch the stranger’s ear.
“I see the town cats have got all of your tongues.” The dark-coated man quipped in a husky, Spanish accent, then chuckled to himself. He slowly made his way toward the corner , stopped for a moment by the bartender.
“Anything for ya tonight, sir?” The server squeaked out.
“Nothing for me, thanks.”
The white noise of the pub slowly regained its normalcy as the new man made his way to the corner and sat by who seemed to be his cohort. While talking, the two men never kept their gaze away from the door.
“How did you find me?” The taller man started.
“I think you know. I can’t believe you made me come all the way out here,” the new man whispered in irritation.
“You didn’t have to do anything that you didn’t want to, Sade,” the taller man replied.
“You’re as stubborn as always, old friend. I swear, Zen-“
“Don’t think you should be saying that name. The local yokels have already been talking about me all night.”
“Fine. Look…I thought you should know that Aegis is awake now.”
“Perhaps I can put him back to sleep again.”
“Look, I know his plan wasn’t the best.”
“You think? Using us as bait so he could be the hero and kill the Shade? The priest versus the dark forces of the Shade? Even for me, that’s dramatic.”
“I agree, but he was probably just thinking on his feet. The first thing that came to mind. Acting on instinct.”
“You call throwing the people closest to you to the wolves as instinct? Sounds like a cowardly instinct to me. I killed people in cold blood before , but throwing someone else in front of you to dodge the bullet…that’s beyond me.”
“Look…he’s on our side, okay? He feels really bad about it. So much, he’s going to take us personally on his underground steam train to Krane’s facility. Is that good enough for you?”
“Tell that to Alice.”
“Will you stop being difficult? Please, just come back to the cathedral. We need you there.”
“Need me there? For what? So I can go into emotional shock again? I can’t do this…emotion-thing. I liked it better when I could just do what I wanted…no second-guessing myself, no fear, no pain. When I could actually get things done…”
“Listen to yourself, bro’ere. You have gone through…honestly I can’t even say what you’ve gone through because I don’t really know. But I know it’s been a lot. You were drugged up with some chemical, given abilities that most of us could only dream of. Yet, you lost your humanity in the meantime. If it comes down to your powers or your humanity, I will always pick the latter.”
“What good does it do me if I’m dead, and can’t protect the ones I love?”
“You can, though. The reason I liked you is because I saw there was a human being under that indifferent mask you wore. There is so much you’ve had to process in the last year, even in just the last couple of months. Emotionally, you’ve gone from zero to a hundred in a short amount of time. Alice brought that out of you so quickly, you’ve never had time to truly conquer your emotions. Everything must feel like it’s in overdrive for you.”
“I can’t argue that. And you’re right about everything….as usual.”
“Why did you come here?”
“I thought of leaving…but I couldn’t do it. So I thought on it….then decided to drink on it. Over and over.”
“Why? How could you leave at a time like this?”
“I kept asking myself the same question….but that question is being overshadowed by another question. “
“Where do I even start? While the Shade was invading my mind, I began to fight back. And it talked to me, in my head. There were so many things going back and forth, I got lost in it. One thing that bothered me the most was that it kept referring to me as if I was more than one person.”
“Exactly. It’s not gone….even the Shade heard it and talked to it. When the Shade said it would kill all I held dear, the Voice replied and said something about me only being able to save myself. I don’t know exactly what it meant, but it’s significant somehow. I think it’s saying that deep down, I’m selfish…that I’ll never completely lay down my life for someone else.”
“That’s not true. You fought for us when the Rainmaker attacked us.”
“I also felt like I wasn’t taking a risk, and was sure that I would win. Sacrifice is when you’re ready to put yourself above others, the ultimate sacrifice being your own life. I felt like I wasn’t giving anything up. And look where it got me.”
“Maybe it’s some sort of premonition. It came from the Voice so…maybe it has something to do with those strange phrases you were hearing. What was it again?”
“Um…let me think. I can’t remember it all, it was just bits of phrases. All quite ominous. I remember….’the color red’ was one. Eve of destiny….end of the beginning. Call to arms…that one must be about the oncoming war. ‘Cleanse with fire’ was another one. Mayhem ensures peace…and nightfall. There were others but…I can’t remember.”
“Next time it happens….write it down. The color red seems significant…that was what used to set you off, right? The sight of blood.”
“Yes, I’ve thought of that one. The one about fire is related to Seraphim, obviously. Nightfall…. …that’s referring to the Shade.”
“I’m not sure how I know this but…Shades have also been called The Nightfall in older texts….I…I didn’t know that before. Perhaps when the Shade was trying to take over, I caught a glimpse of their knowledge? This is all so strange.”
“Well, of course it is. You came back from the dead……” Sade trailed and looked up as if thinking hard.
“What is it?”
“You don’t think….when you came back you brought it with you, do you? Aegis did say that they come from some other world.”
“No, no that can’t be it. Although I swear I’ve dreamt about one before….hmm.”
“Yeesh, I may get a drink after all.”
“It’s on me if you do. Say….insight into dream, that’s another phrase.”
“That’s right…I was dreaming when I heard the phrases….it must be only when I’m asleep.”
“Are you sure Krane and NOSRAD haven’t been brainwashing you all this time? I mean….with all that’s happened so far, it wouldn’t be off limits.”
“You won’t hear me laugh about that…I’ve considered it. I can see it though…it’s like the future but…it’s all desolate. Everyone’s in chains and some sort of collars. And I’m standing next to Krane….”
“Really? That sounds like the dream Alice keeps having.”
“There must be something to it, then. Yet, I can’t imagine why I’d be helping Krane in any way, shape or form.”
“There’s still much about you that you don’t even know. How much do you even know about the Seraphim?”
“Only what the priest at NOSRAD told me…I wish I’d have gotten him out of there. He tried to talk to me out of killing myself. I almost wish Alice hadn’t saved me….I feel like I’m more a danger to all of you now.”
“Is it, though? Once again, there’s something inside me and this time it makes me do things in my sleep...this is too much for me, Sade. I’ve helped all that I can at this point, but I feel like it’s only a matter of time before I do something out of my control. If the dream isn’t enough of a clue..…”
“That’s just it, though. It’s only a dream. Even if it is the future, it can be changed. Alice saw the Rainmaker kill her in her vision, but we saw it coming and changed it. The same goes for you.”
“Maybe….maybe so. At any rate….I no longer feel safe with this. Please take it.” Zenapharr unbuckled his sheath and sword, handing it to Sade under the table. “It’s the only way to be sure.”
“Okay, my friend.” With a small amount of reluctance, Sade took the sword and tied it to his belt from underneath his long jacket. Some suspicious men from the pub nudged one another as they noticed the men were passing the sword under the table.
“Promise this, though. If the time comes….will you do what is necessary?” Even with his hood covering his face, Sade felt the pleading eyes of his dear friend.
“Thank you. That is all that I could ever ask of you.”
“Good to see you’re ready to come back. Just know at this point….there’s no turning back. Once we leave to Epsilon, it’s on to Krane’s hideout. Are you ready?”
“More than I ever have been.”
“By the way, how is Alice?”
“She’s still asleep…but there is hope still. The nice thing about Aegis being such an acquirer of treasures and relics is that he doesn’t mind using them. Once he’s moving around, I’m going to help him look for a magical item that might be of use. The only problem is that he’s not sure if he has it, so he doesn’t know where it is if he does.”
“I’ll help you find it.”
“Sounds splendid…I’m ready to get out of here anyway. The Langmeres seem to be especially nosy people.”
“I agree. I’ve felt their eyes on us the whole time, and many of their whisperings. Lucky for them it’s not the old me they’re dealing with. I’d have killed just for looking at me with those….”
“Easy does it, mister assassin. Let’s say we get back?”
“Sure. I’ve drank about all I can here, anyway.”
The two stood up and began shuffling away from their table, not before Zenapharr laid down some coins to pay for his tab. A meek nod from the bartender regarded them as they passed, only followed suit by the stalking eyes of the bar patrons. With a creak of the door, the two left into the humid night air as it was still raining. Their boots clopped and splashed on the cobblestone streets and soon faded from the pub.
An inaudible sigh drifted through the tavern once the men left, and conversation broke out loudly among them all at a feverish pace.
After various discussions among all the patrons, a group of four men stood up and left after paying their own tab. Pulling their coats close to their face, they looked around to find a man with a porkpie hat vicariously leaning against a stone wall. The leader of the group approached the man and said only two words.
The loitering man with the hat shrugged, which was then followed by a coin being thrown from the leader. Without a word, the hatted man caught the coin and stuffed it in his coat pocket. After looking around for a second, the loitering man nodded to the right. The leader of the group clapped one of his men on the arm, and they proceeded down the street indicated by the loiterer…