Chapter 5: The Advocate’s Devil
His chest wished to heave with the fire in his lungs. Muscles wished to scream for the pains and aches that marched his veins and tendons like soldiers casting torches in a newly taken town.
The sound beyond was little more than wisps of wind that stirred the dust and left it floating like false beacons of alarm. Each tiny mote a lying klaxon that set his nerves to rise like tendrils bristling from the droceccia’s twisted spine.
His breath felt frozen in his lungs, teetering like worn out shoes on a rounded cliff’s edge.
Silence seemed to bloom eternal. Both a comfort and a black seed of fear that swirled within his stomach like some hungry maelstrom in the churning seas of gray that offered no respite to whose who thought to trespass.
The sudden shift of light pulled his heart into his throat. The peering eye that broke his field of view. The hand reached in and pulled him as he kicked and clawed. Held tightly in that grip, another hand let strike a blade upon the stone walls that echoed through the corridors like the sound of hope escaping – growing thin in its egress.
True klaxons played for a moment after.
Within the chamber he was thrown. Looking at those before him, each upon the cold stone, looks of fear in their eyes. He’d been the last.
Ariat approached with her robes of blue and white slipping over the floor with all the liquid grace of maenads in procession of a queen. Her hand slipped around the back of his neck, gentle and warm as she ushered him to the front of the room. She squeezed in that way that bid him look upon those before him.
Huddled low. Some wore tears upon their faces. Some held jaws clenched tightly. Some kept their eyes cast to the ground or rather above, peering at the vacuous sky in that dire and roofless room.
He pressed his hand to his pocket, felt the little bit of bone that so many years ago had been a finger left dangling from his neck.
Ariat slid the blade from her side and held it casually before him. Terror moved as trembles in his fingers when he took it from her.
“Forward,” she said.
Slowly, figures moved, arranged in rows before him.
“Who fell first?” she whispered in his ear, her breath warm with the scent of tea and spices. “Who cried most?” Her cheek brushed lightly against his own, making him flinch as it did. “Who is the traitor among us?”
“The aim is…” she said.
“Not to fail…” they all replied.
“The treason is not…” she said.
“In failure…” they all replied.
“The treason is…” she said.
“Not aiming…” they all replied.
Gy stood and looked at these – his peers – each and every one fearfully awaiting the end reward for this macabre game. He knew that indecision would only add his woe to theirs.
“Who spoke?” he said.
The figures all shuffled uncomfortably. Many slid back and away. Three remained before him.
“What words were said?” Gy asked of them.
“This one,” Ariat pointed to the first who stood before him.
From the edges came the ones who had found them, pulled them from where they hid. Each and every one wore a left arm marked with the scars of fire that spread from finger to elbow. One of them stepped farther than the others. “This one said, ‘No. Stop. Let me go,'” and then he returned to stand in line with the others.
“And this one,” Ariat pointed at the second who stood before him.
Another of the captors stepped forward, ‘This one said no words, but let a scream escape when taken.”
“And this one,” Ariat pointed at the last who stood before him.
“This one said, ‘I’ll kill you'”
Gy looked over their faces, holding back his own tears, trying not to remember his own wounds, the scars upon his back, the bruises and the broken bones that he’d endured.
But later, when it truly mattered, this would seem a gentle game when faced with what they were to do. When that day came, failure of the wrong sort would bring the circle into a spiral that cycled down and down and down again.
Already the spiral had gone so far. Already the world had been set beneath the flames of oblivion. It was those failures that had seen such a path borne. When the cities raged and the great houses fell. When what little virtue left had been snuffed beneath the well calloused fingertips of avarice and narrow-minded cruelty.
Gy approached the first and said, “When we fail ourselves…”
“We fail each other…” came the reply.
Gy set the blade against the man’s chest, the man brought his own hands up and gripped around Gy’s. Together they pressed in while the man’s glossy eyes mirrored Gy’s own. Red poured and slid over his fingers, and when the blade came free a pulse of blood escaped like the last hope of freedom from feet too weak to run.
As the man staggered and slumped to the ground, Gy walked to the third and said, “When we fail each other…”
“We fail ourselves…” came the reply.
From the edges of the room, two of the captors came and escorted her away.
– – –
As Gy closed the massive door, looking at the ribbons of light that fell down in the sand pits, looking like wounds of light that bled from her body, he did so with a heavy heart. And yet, he understood that those who faltered must see their weakness magnified. That they must linger so with the reflections of those whose failure knew no bounds was the great looking glass. What pity he had left for those within had long since vanished.
Denizens of those who had moved so gently in the great structure of growth, winding like tiny fissures. They were, in so many ways, worse than those that they had served. Worse than the man that speaks was the one behind that whispered. Even now, in their broken state, they festered in their plots. Their kindness a symptom of their own weak corruption – a ribbon they pinned upon their chests to hide the blackened thing that pumped malice beneath.
Behind him, Ariat stood quietly.
“We are named by the words divine. Taken letters from what we are within our soul. You are gifted the letters of Malacoda, yet cannot be his equal. What, then, is your name?”
“Adam,” he said. “Adam Coal”