Friday, June 22, 2012

Wither The Vain: Wherever The Winds Blows Part 2

Cry Murder

I shaved in an alleyway with a rusty razor blade. It snagged skin, peeling it away like shaving a candle. I bled.

It was an uneven shave, but it would do. I threw the razor in the nearest dumpster. A tiny bit of metal still shined as it arced through the air and landed with a soft clang.

My face itched. The skin was already growing back over the muscle that had been laid bare. As my face became whole, the world lost focus and blurred. A picture taken out of speed.

The cataract was back again. I sighed and stroked the newly born skin. The trade was worth it.

I hated looking old.

Tradition or not, I refused to look like Father Time on crack.

The wall was begging now. Wheedling. Pleading. A mile more and I'd be to its base. The top had been out of sight for nearly a day's walk, even with head tilted all the way back. All the technology in the world and it still came back to a wall.

My hands were raw already, thirsty and bulging. A better meal this time. With a bit of luck, I'd have black hair again. At least for a few days.

The wind died. Ah. Change was already here.

They descended from the sky, hurtling toward the ground like great black stones. They extended their wings. Kites now instead of stones, swooping down the face of the wall. They pulled up slowly and flew over the crumbling apartments that lined the wall.

The squadron of crows soared overhead, a silent black cloud. A single caw. As a unit they wheeled about, turning back to me. They found a perch on the edge of a crumbling two-story apartment.

There were nine of them, instead of the traditional twenty-one. High casualties coming over the wall no doubt. Few ever made it to the top. These Sleepers were impressive.

"Wu told us about you."

"About me? Whyever would I come up? I'm just an old man."

The crow was unfazed, black marble eyes staring me down. The largest of them stood to his right and puffed out its chest, glaring down its beak at me.

"Wu warned us that you would be here. He said that if we found you, that we would fight bravely but we would die."

"Sounds to me like this Wu must've met me before."

"You are nothing but a dried up old corpse. I'll kill you myself."

The larger one this time.

"Quiet Corbin. I will handle this."

"No Seth. We have come too far to be stopped by this old fool. I will split his head like a rotten egg!"

The leader opened his beak to speak but I cut him off.

"Well then hatchling, if you're ready for this tough old bird, come and get me."

There are many brilliant Sleepers in the world. Some people think that because they've turned part beast that they've grown stupid. Couldn't be farther from the truth. Whoever was inhabiting the body got evicted, tossed out, and replaced by one of the them. Animal spirits, familiars, whatever. Assuming that they've just got a simple cruel, cunning does them a disservice. The Somnubi, their leaders, are positively brilliant. And a touch more informed than I like.

But, as is always the case, there's a fool in every army.

Corbin, the largest one, squawked and leapt from his perch. Black feathers and balled fists, he came.

I stood in the middle of the street in the middle of a dead neighborhood in a dying city. An old man, alone, against the things that haunted everyone's dreams.

Ha. Blow me.

I could feel him moving from ten feet away. Picking up speed. I was already moving, shifting my weight. As his fist swung for my head, I spun on my right foot, snaring his wing in my grasp and driving him into the asphalt. I twisted and he shattered.

Bird bones are hollow. They aren't made for war, they're made to fly, to be quick. I shook my head sadly as I drove a steel-toed boot into Corbin's chest with a foul crunch. Poor fool.

"I believe that was the wishbone boys. Any requests?"

Corbin dissolved under my touch as my hands fed. Every vein of every feather slowly turned to ash as my hair burned into purest ebony. Seth was shaking his head as the other seven took flight. He wouldn't be drawn in, even if the others would. He would rather die alone and noble in single combat before giving me the satisfaction.

The others were not so wise.

They were skilled. But more than that, they were proud. After all, they had scaled the wall. Unstoppable. Untouchable. Invicible.


Two from the left, two from the right, while three were circling around behind me.

Right first. Leap and plant a boot in a feathered chest, pushing off, to kick crow approaching from the left. Head caving in under my foot, bone crumbling, feathers stained.

Hit the ground and rolled backwards, missing a clawed foot. Lunge and snare, open hand clenching around the next one's throat. Squawking as his feather's curled up at the edges, blowing away. The fog over my vision lifted. Finally.

The next came from the left and I caught its fist in my hand. Crunching bones, fingers snapping like eggshells underfoot. I spun him, slamming him into two coming from behind. Half-done, I dropped him. There would be time later.

The crow with the stoved in chest charged. Sidestep and a short kick to the side of his knee. His leg bent sideways as the joint shattered. I grabbed the back of his neck and ended him. He fell apart as my eyes brightened. Molten silver poured into their cores.

Three left. The three wise enough to attack from behind.

Two were still scrambling back to their feet. The other darted forward, only to be greeted by my boots. The first shot doubled him over. I grabbed his shoulders and kept kicking. Snap. Crunch. Crack. Scrunch. Grush. Mash. My hands erased him and he dropped to the asphalt as dust. The two were already coming.

My head jerked sideways and vision jittered like a worn out tv. The dent of a fist still in my cheek, I fell. As one moved atop me, I drove my fist into his stomach. Air fled and I stood. Doubling my hands into a fist, I slammed them down into his spine. His vertabrae scattered; beads from a broken necklace. I jerked around, facing down the last crow. We lunged at each other, hands extended and found each others throats. Air disappeared as I dug my thumbs into his throat, squeezing the life out of him. The ashen touch of my hands spread, devouring every last thread of his being. His eyes charred last. Sheer refusal to surrender.

I was pleased. His hands fell away and I found the shattered spine crow and the half-finished crow. I laid hands and watched as they were erased from time. I looked up to Seth and stood, dusting myself off.

"Wu was right. They died bravely."


"The two are often the same these days. I take it then, you await me so you can move on again?"

"The wind isn't blowing just yet. I have time. It won't take long."

It was a sad cackle; the laugh that you squeeze out of the bottom of the tube to smooth over your wounds.

"You are just as he said. Powerful and arrogant. Truly, Wither the Vain."

"My name is Eli."

That cackle was getting on my nerves.

"Whichever way the wind blows, dog of fate, you must go. Garbage collector for destiny. Your vanity is unwarranted."

"We'll see about that."

Seth spread his wings.

The wind was blowing again.

About damn time.

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