Friday, August 15, 2014

There at the Beginning, There at the End

Five days had passed since the Scales of Judgement had attacked the Cradle once again.

Five days had passed since the ship had endured that battle, silent and unyielding, as Alexander and his team broke into the darkest regions of the Cradle, beneath the wards, beneath the maintenance slums, and into the Arc itself. Five days since they had set eyes on Anubis, and decided that his life, his power, was too great for this galaxy to witness.

Alexander remembered those words he had spoken to his team. Remembered them like honey dripped into his ear, sweetening his thoughts.

“The Unreal itself crowd around him, aware of its threat. Just seeing him, I can feel his tremendous power, and that is something we cannot release. It is beyond my control. Far beyond it. I come to realize that what Indrafil was saying is true; we’re not the bearers of our own destiny. Or, we weren’t. We were souls thrust into motion by Anubis, by the Scales and their desires. But Indrafil should have won. He should have released the God I’ve worshipped for so long and rained a mighty annihilation upon Drex, that was his animus, the very purpose he was created for, and he failed. If his direction can fail so radically, then we can change ours by hand, define our own fate.

“My purpose has been revitalized. Anubis was never the goal, and this just confirms that fact. We hunt the Archangels, and with renewed vigour. All we need is a sample of each one, the tiniest sliver, that will be enough. 12 fragments. 12 shards. And then…”

Alexander clenched his fist tight. Clothed only in dark trousers, he stood looking at open space, letting its emptiness soothe him. They had fled after that. Fled through the legions of Erratics waiting beyond them, through the security teams and private armies waiting for them on the ground. On that day, Alexander’s intensity had frightened those around him. Worse still, it had frightened him.

With Indrafil’s body draped on his back, he’d made a tomb of that place.

He turns, and looks at the granite slab in the centre of the room. Aside from a tray of tools and unguents, this room was dominated by that slab, and that slab dominated in turn by the battered body of Indrafil, his first General, the traitor who had turned him in for a chance of power, a chance that failed. When they found him in the Arc, he was shocked at how far Indrafil had fallen. He had not only witnessed his God, broken and trapped, but had discovered the reason for his birth, his creation, and his existence.
It had left him broken, too.

Alexander approached the body, and ran one errant finger up Indrafil’s cold arm.

“Air and earth are my horizons. What lies between is what I am.“

Alexander reaches over to the tray of tools, and draws a wicked curved saw, its serrated edge gleaming in the rooms low light. He lowers it to Indrafil’s chest, and with one powerful push, the sound of slicing flesh and snapping ribs echoes through the room.

“O infinite form of being: beast and stone and vegetable; the way a man may stand in his garden or dance by the river while wakes of small boats rock the reeds.“

He continues to saw, deeper and harder, until all of the ribs are broken, speaking loud his prayer. He has no need for cleanliness or care here, and simply reaches into the chest, and pulls out the now-detached ribcage, slivers of skin draping like wires between the body and the piece removed. With a tug, they too snap free, draping Indrafil’s body with blood and strips of flesh. He places it to one side.

“The cities and the people in them, gods who walk in white linen, like women under the blue stone of heaven.”

He places the saw back down, and picks up a small, sharp scalpel. With it, he severs what is left of the skin and muscle around the now-open chest, and then goes to work, peeling away the muscle and fat protecting the organs, tearing off layers and discarding them as if he was peeling an orange.

“I am the priest in a hidden house, guide to inner worlds. I am the idea of myself in my mother's belly, a bright trembling star in the memory of morning, a grain of sand blown east.“

Finally, they were revealed. With the organ sac cut away, Alexander gazed upon the silvery-flesh of Indrafil’s organs. With a larger scalpel in hand, and with considerably more care, he began to cut at the flesh holding the organs in place, cut through the muscle and vein holding them down. He was covered in gore up to his elbows, his shirtly torso splashed in blood.

“I am the husband of Isis: woman, and widow, and witch. To embrace her is to dream of ripening wheat. To sleep in her arms is to dream of honey. “

One by one, he lifted them out of the body, as careful as a midwife with a freshly-born child. The heart. The lungs. The stomach. The liver. Each of them, in turn, he placed to one side, gentle and careful. They were his ward, his children, and his goal.

“With a word she drives the snakes from the river. The boats sail far to its mouth.”

He lifts the chest cavity, and beginning to hurry, places it back over the gap in Indrafils torso. It sits unsteady, with little inside to hold it in place. With the delicate hands of a man well adjusted to such a grisly task, Alexander begins sewing delicate threads around the edge of the wound, repairing what damage had been done. Only now, looking this close and working this carefully, could he see the other scars. There was only a slight variance in each one, each tracing the lines of the other. This had been done before. Many times.

“Air is what I breathe. Earth is where I stand. I have given my face to Amenta. It is white with heat. The world is bright as bronze.”

With Indrafil sealed, Alexander now reached for his last tools. Four canoptic jars sat on the side of the tool tray. Each was a foot high, made of stone and gold, like a glorious curved jar with a very specific lid – each of the lids had a carving, generous with detail and pristine in condition. He lifted the first, the lid of a Crocodile, and placed the stomach inside it. The second, with the lid of a falcon, he placed the liver. The third, with the lid of a cat, he placed the lungs. And finally, with the lid of a jackal, he placed the heart. In each corner of the stone slab sat a small indentation, each just large enough to slot one of these canoptic jars in, to hold steadfast and steady. Each corner held a jar, with Indrafil’s gory body in the centre.

“The dead rise up to see me, breathe the air and look into my face, a yellow disk on the eastern horizon.”

A loud gasp echoes the room.

Indrafil sits up with a start.

He looks around, frantic. He scratches at the blood on his chest, pulls at the slivers of flesh draping from his torso, until they snap free. He rubs his hands over his chest, until he can outline his freshly-sewn wounds, until his eyes lock onto Alexander. Then, he begins to calm.

His breath is deep, panicked, and he struggles to talk. He mutters out a few words, but they are hollow, empty of form and meaning. Alexander simply smiles. He takes a towel from the tool tray, and begins wiping his hands, staining it with viscera.

“Take your time..” Alexander says, calmly. “It’s never easy.”

“You think..” Indrafil gasps. “It would get... easier...”

“How many times now? Ten? Eleven? And still you panic.”

“I didn’t... expect it... to be... so... soon...”

“Well,” Alexander tosses the towel to Indrafil, then turns back to the window. “I need you at your best. The last mission went well, but it’s only a foundation.”

Indrafil dabs at his body and face with the towel. He looks down, only to see the towel so soaked in gore, that it was all but useless to him. He tosses it to one side, begins slowing his breathing, glancing nervously at the canoptic jars.

“I’d hate to have been there the first time you realised you could do this..” he gasps, before swinging his legs round and off the side of the slab, perching on its edge.

“Lets just say it took some figuring out. Trial and error. But we don’t have the time to waste on conversation. We’re pulling near Cendra soon. I want you to take a ship and dispatched shortly after I send LORE and his team down to the surface. You know what you have to do.”

“So everyone here is convinced they know your plans, right? As if they’ve got it figured out?” Indrafil smiles. He had ridiculed Alexander’s plan at the beginning, but everything had come together flawlessly. “Hell, even Ran-Samot and his little coup seems to be working in your favour. They’re so caught up with distrusting Masquerade that they’re ignoring the letters between the lines, huh.”

Alexander clenches one fist tight. He restrains himself from expressing his anger, stops just short of punching something.

“And yet, they still have more Arc-angels than us.”

That response seemed to cow Indrafil, who visibly flinched at its venomous tone. He let a few moments pass in silence, then hopped off the table, and strode towards Alexander.

“Forget it. If we’re lucky, Ran-Samot will figure out where Masquerade is based, and our mole will leak the information and lead us straight to him. Then we’ve got the Arc-angels, the only man who can stop you, and those who turned against you.” He went to pat Alexander on the shoulder, but stopped for a second, then thought better of it.

“I’m afraid we can’t rely on luck. If you fulfil your end of the plan, then we’ll be fine, ‘O Angel of Judgement Day’. Now go. They can’t see you here, and frankly I’m tired of your snivelling..”

Indrafil fell silent, and span on his heels, rushing out of the room as fast as his weary body would take him, leaving Alexander alone.

“So many plans, Alexander..” he mused. “So many plans relying on others. Ran-Samot, LORE, Indrafil, Masquerade. Such a delicate house of cards, we’ve built.” He looks towards the Darkstar in the distance, then smiles wearily. “Oh, but it will be worth it, Master. It will be worth it...”

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