Monday, July 9, 2012

Wither The Vain: Scavenger Hunt Part 1

One Broken Mirror

As I shaved, I peeled off the skin beneath the stubble, even though the switchblade was plenty sharp enough to just take the hair.  The old man look would help me in the days upcoming.  Besides, I could handle the damned cataract for a little while.  This was in celebration.  There would be no more nonsense about where we were heading.  That was the good part.  Our path was clearly marked out ahead of us.  No more half-assed guesswork from half a set of hands.

Holly was gone though.

It wasn't that big a loss really.  Christoph and Arturo would probably disagree the most.  Arturo appreciated having someone other than me being vaguely human around him, and Christoph saw in her a rebound from Delilah.  Oh well, such was the life of a horseman.  They already knew that.  I slammed my razor down into the counter next to the sink.

I hadn't.  It pissed me off.  It pissed me off greatly.  Being used was infuriating, particularly when they used the one power you had relied on for so long to do it.  I grabbed the taps and ripped them off of the sink.

We split up less than three hours after Black Shuck let most of us live.  Seth went to the south.  He had information to gather from one of The Scavenger's fanatics.  Everything told me that the target was an ex-fanatic now but still...  in the middle of Judge territory, dealing with a Sleeper that had made a pact with their proverbial devil?  That was the province of War.  Christoph was aimed toward Mayor Morelli's Meddigo Tower.  The Scavenger had taken up residence and forced everyone out.  Morelli, it was said, was infuriated.  However, with everyone fighting their little wars over different districts, no one could spare him a hand to get back in.  Christoph, not being much of a diplomat, was to find a way to begin a siege.  Anything would do, just so long as the Scavenger's little clan started feeling... unwell.  To Arturo went probably the most unpleasant of the tasks.  He was to hunt down Josef Saria, Pox, and strike a bargain.  It only made sense that he be the one to argue with his own creation, but I knew he was less than pleased.  Too damn bad.  That's why I was in charge.  I got to pick the assignments.

Everybody had a place to go.  There was no time for detours.

Then why was I still here carving the skin off of my face?  It certainly wasn't for the pain.  I hated pain.  It hurt.  I looked back up into the mirror, into my eyes, and saw nothing.  People tell me they look into their own eyes to see what they're thinking.  I just see black.  I'm death.  I'm the withered touch.  I only see the void when I look into my eyes.

I stood straight, straightened my jean jacket, and zipped up my gloves.  I had the honor of finding one of the Council's sacrificial lambs and resurrecting him.  It wasn't a direct blow against the Scavenger, but then, it wasn't supposed to be.  This was part of the long term solution.  Jesus, my hands were burning.  It was a welcome feeling, the desire to rip my hands off at the wrists.  At least I knew I was back at full strength.  But there was something still missing.  Something was bothering me.  I wasn't ready to do my job again.

And I knew why.  I suddenly knew why.

I stepped out of the recharging station bathroom and looked around me.  Crow, sparrow, owl.  Gimme something.  I know you're here.  You're always here.

"Can I help you find something sir?"

There was a overweight bejowled pig of a man in greasy overalls standing beside me.  I didn't bother turning my head, I could smell him.


There was the unnerving shuffle of feet and jiggle of fat next to me as I continued to watched the crisp blue sky for the right carrier.

"Well, what are ya lookin' for?"

I finally turned my head, a sneer rippling across my lips.  Pig-boy's name tag.  Ha-Ted.

"Nice name."

"Uh...  Thanks?"

I grabbed him by the throat and threw him into the bathroom.  A driver plugging her car into the terminal glanced at me once then started only at the digital readout.  Good girl.  I stepped into the bathroom and slammed shut the door.  Pig-boy was gasping in the corner as I started unzipping my gloves.

"What are you doin' man?  I'm just an attendant."

"I'm sure.  Did one of your buddies give you those overalls?"


"Your name's really Ha-Ted?  That's a name I have trouble believing belongs on an overweight white kid that smells like fresh dirt.  Particularly when Ha-Ted is a convenient anagram of Death.  Get your ass out of there Thane."

Pig-boy split down the middle and Thane, billowing robes, scythe, ivory bones and all, stepped out.  I didn't mince words.  I lunged for him.  He moved and I collided with the toilet, my shoulder creaking.  He was swinging his scythe.  I ducked and he carved off the top of the toilet's tank.  I grabbed the porcelain bowl, ripped it out of the ground and smashed it into him.  His bones groaned, his fluttering robes dripped with bowl water.

"What the hell's with you Wither?"

I grabbed the knife I'd stuck in the counter and lunged again.  His scythe came down and carved open my cheek.  I grabbed the handle of his scythe and rammed the butt end into his skull.  His bony hand dropped the scythe and I held him up against the wall by his robes.

"How long?  How long have you known?"

"Known what?"

I slammed him hard into the wall, hard enough to leave a body sized dent into the already chipping tiling.

"How long have you known I've been their sap?  Since Candlemas?  Or since they screwed with Arturo's writing of Revelations?  How long?  We've seen Schuck.  I know how much of what I've been doing the last two millenia is bullshit.  How long have you known?"

He was quiet.  There was just the rumble of cars zipping by outside.

"Since the great fire of 1666."

"Only that long?  You sure you weren't ever let in on the punchline before?"

"I swear Eli.  Once I got word that the Council was maneuvering themselves into position for the future, I've been trying to lend you an extra hand.  I don't know anything about Revelations being wrong or what Shuck's doing here."

"Hell doesn't ride with us Thane.  It was a diversion.  Holly never needed to exist."

If he had eyes, he would've blinked.

"Then... where is she?"

"Not existing."


"I'm sorry Eli."

"What are you sorry for Thane?  Sorry she had to go through extra pain and in the end not get a grave?  That she got to go straight back to hell?  Sorry that Arturo wasted months transcribing bullshit to be used in the Council's favor?  Tell me."

"I'm sorry for you.  That this has made you lose face.  I'm sorry for your wounded pride."

I threw his raggedy, bony ass at the mirror.  It splintered into starry shards and snowed over his robes.

"That's better.  I'm going now Thane.  We'll speak after I do this...  old friend."

A skull grinned at me from beneath a hooded cowl.


I kicked open the door and walked out in the sunshine.  I let the gouge in my cheek heal only into a scar, no more, no less.  I liked it.  It added character.

I truly was one vain bastard, wasn't I?

Yes.  Wither the Vain.

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