Day 129: (A Paladin is Pure of Heart)

Jun 14th, 2017
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  1. Day 129: (A Paladin is Pure of Heart)
  3. I find myself walking one of the residential streets headed toward the sunset, and it strikes me just how beautiful this place is. The nip in the air implies that the night'll be a cold one, perhaps the first probing chill of the upcoming winter. I remember disliking the weather when I'd first arrived, thinking that it was even worse than the midsummer heat I'd gotten used to. Now as the wind blows in my face and circles around my neck at the back of my hood I'm tempted to say that I prefer the heat. The sun is less intense though, which is a pleasant change. The midday sun shining off of the white marble of the capital can be almost blinding.
  5. Human nature, we call it. If it's bright, we complain. If it's dark, we complain. If it's cold we reminisce about the summer heat. In the summer we dream of snow. It's this weakness of spirit that lets the monsters tempt us like they do.
  7. Mentally reciting the words of the indoctrinators, I head toward the branch hall.
  9. ---
  11. A pair of men are outside the hall, working on a massive black van parked just outside. A third descends the steps with a pair of canisters in hand, doubtless loading more petrol into the vehicle for the journey ahead. It looks sturdy enough, in the sense that it looks as though the years have more served to test its endurance than to wear it down to scrap.
  13. I head inside, past the desks and offices. Into the back of the building, with the armory and cells. The decorations cease abruptly as I turn to see the rows of bars, thicker than any you'd find in a human gaol. Scott and Thomas are standing in front of the last cell on the row, staring inward, amused by something. Thomas is holding one of the long, thin bowls used for gruel. As I approach, I can't help but notice that they're smiling.
  14. “Men.”
  15. The two turn and, still smiling, offer “Morning, sir,” at just barely the wrong times, so that their voices barely match for a second and then immediately become discordant. “Getting ready to take her out, sir,” Thomas asks.
  16. “I am.” I look into the cell, and see the hellhound clutching the cot so tightly as to've scratched the iron. It looks away from the three of us, a grimace the only part I can see under the hair. The decency gown we give to monsters is bundled up in the corner.
  17. I look back to the two men, smiling.
  18. “Ah. Having some fun, were we?” They glance between each other, still amused.
  20. I smile, myself. “You boys are going to want to come to attention right now, and explain why you felt like breaking regulations and toying with a prisoner.” There's a pause where they both look at me, and then snap into place one after the other so that it's off again. Discordant.
  21. I glance down at the damp spots on the floor from where water sloshed over the rim of the bowl Thomas is holding when his body went rigid. “Sir,” he begins, “The prisoner was thirsty. I was just bringing it water.”
  22. “And you were delayed.”
  23. “Yes sir.”
  24. “You're a good man, Thomas. Dutiful. As far as I've seen, honorable.” His posture straightens ever so slightly, and his expression shifts just subtly enough that it doesn't breech the standards for bearing when one is standing at attention before a superior. “Which is why I'm terribly certain I'm about to hear a very good excuse for what I'm seeing.” I stare at the two, and they hold attention, silently for a moment.
  26. “It's what they'd do to us, sir,” Scott offers, defensively.
  27. “Oh,” I say, raising my eyebrows in feigned surprise. “I see. And they're smarter than we are.” The two men furrow their brows, but resist the urge to glance at each other. “No,” I ask, with all the sincerity I can fake. “Then are they wiser?”
  28. “No sir.”
  29. “More noble, then?”
  30. “No sir,” the pair answer more quickly than before.
  31. I drop the act, “Then why does it matter what they would do?” I grab the bowl from Thomas, set it on the ground and use my foot to slide it between the bars. “We're better than they are. Don't stoop to their level.”
  32. The pair have straightened up by the time I return my attention to them, eyes straight forward, shoulders pulls back, as tall as they can stand. “Yes sir.”
  33. Good. I glance to the hellhound to find it staring back at me. Something about the look is intensely uncomfortable.
  34. Luckily, I don't have to deal with it anymore than I want to. I turn, and I leave the three of them to stew in their respective discomforts.
  36. After all, I didn't relieve two of them from attention.
  38. ---
  40. The drive out of the city is quiet.
  42. The thing stares at me, and I at it, silently watching each other from opposite sides of the van. Massive steel bands wrap around its forearms and link together with heavy chains. We've had too many experiences of monsters breaking free of restraints, but eventually we found a weight of steel sufficient to bind them all. It doesn't seem interested in testing the restraints, though. It doesn't seem interested in doing anything except staring at me.
  43. Fine. If this is nothing more than a couple hours where uneven trails and a hard seat conspire to make my ass sore, then so be it. I'll take that over the alternative.
  45. I can't see the world around us, but I don't really need to. There's something still pleasant about the trip, in spite of the company. Min is a very quiet city, but it's not so still as the woods. The white noise of the van's engine muffled through inches of heavy steel silences what little bird song or insect calls there might be. I lean my head back, and the rocking causes it to slide against the smooth metal, occasionally tilting forward just enough to where the next bump knocks my head gently against it again.
  47. Time passes. I wonder if, without the years of training, I'd not be able to sit through however many long minutes of silence without becoming bored.
  49. “You're more comfortable now.”
  50. “Silence becomes you.”
  51. I was expecting some generic display of strength or aggression, but it simply stares at me still. That uncomfortable stare it seems to've developed over the past few hours. “The further from that city you get, the less stressed you are.” I stare back at it, hoping for a moment that the feeling is mutual. “Why is that,” it asks after the pause.
  52. With luck, it'll decide to talk about something else. With more luck, it'll decide against talking at all.
  54. “Come with me,” it finally states after another minute's silence.
  55. “I'm not going to do that.”
  56. “Why?”
  57. I reopen my eyes and look toward the thing. Again, there's the same stare. “You failed your task. The mages have undone whatever enchantment was on you. Accept the loss and move on.”
  58. “This has nothing to do with that.”
  59. “Then be quiet. We won't be much longer.”
  60. “You don't belong there. In that city.”
  62. It's right. I belong in Megalos proper. “I know where I belong.” I try to infuse the words with that overriding sense of finality that I've seen my superiors do, that forces the conversation to end and usually sends men out of an office. It seems to work. At least, the thing grows silent again.
  64. ---
  66. The drive back is also quiet.
  68. The last I saw of the thing was that same stare, as I closed the doors to the forest where we dropped it off and knocked on the wall separating myself from the driver and told her to get us back to Min. The silence suits me just fine. Rather, being alone suits me just fine. Cities would be fine without all the people and monsters in them.
  69. It's only a single puff of air, but it's the first time I've laughed today. It's the first time I've laughed in a while.
  70. I lean my head back against the wall, and listen to the engine.
  72. We lurch to a stop quickly enough that I bang my head against the front cabin. I lift a hand to massage the spot as I call out “It doesn't feel like we'd be home yet.”
  73. “We're not, sir.” I can hear the engine hum louder, but we don't move. “We're stuck.”
  74. “Great. Stay inside, I'll check it out.”
  75. The sounds of the forest are absent as I open the doors and hop out onto the trail. The reason for our halt is obvious; a line of off-white rope connects the back of the van to one of the larger trees along the path. It connects to the van in a mish-mash of horrid-looking webbing.
  77. I don't manage to finish the angry sigh before I hear the din of bushes and scrub being crashed through behind me.
  78. I turn.
  79. It barrels in front of me, the fur-covered arachne, scrambling to a stop at the last second and collapsing along the dirt as its legs fail to find sufficient hold on the loose dirt. My sword comes out, and I swing.
  81. It very slowly opens one of its main, human-like eyes. It glances down to the blade rested close to its neck. It looks up toward me.
  82. I stare down at it. The seething frustration burns in my chest and through my veins. The warmth pulses through my arms down to my fingers. Tiny pinpricks dot my scalp as the capillaries burst. I hate this thing. I hate it for what they all keep fucking doing.
  83. “Stop making me kill you!”
  84. I didn't plan to say those words. It cringes hard, its teeth bared in a grimace. “I just wanted to talk,” it blurts out.
  86. The lie is the most frustrating thing of all.
  88. I lift my blade high in the air, staring down at the thing.
  89. I bring it down, slowly, pointing back toward town. “There's a building outside the walls. Go there, watch the video, take the test, and get a fucking permit. Then you can talk to every man you clap eyes on.” It opens its many eyes and stares blankly up at me until I ask “Understand?”
  90. It nods quickly. A single spindly leg lifts an inch off the ground and takes a slow step backward, and as I make no move to react, it skitters back away from me. I watch it until it disappears into the forest.
  92. Long seconds pass before I slowly lower the blade. I walk over to the rope of silk, and take the sword by both hands in order to cut it more assuredly. I sheathe it and return to the back of the van. My feet stop there, though, and I turn my head to look around the wilderness surrounding me.
  93. I get back into the van, close the door, and retake my seat.
  95. “Let's go home,” I tell the men up front after banging my fist against the metal separating us.
  97. For a moment I regret the decisions I've made.
  99. Weakness of spirit, I remind myself.
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