Once, the high peaks of the north were home to the ascetic civilisation of the Sublime Concord. Carved from and through the towering stone, their monasteries and concordats thrummed with quiet study and sonorous chanting.
At the highest point, far above the clouds, the Summit served as a place where their Order’s initiates could be educated and trained to perform their work. Here, also, the Concord prepared for their grand exodus from the Homeworld.
But the Concord were betrayed, by their own Order, and no trace of the Summit remains. The mountain where it stood has been torn to fragments, which drift through the air on broken vectors of descent. In its place, amidst a great crevasse, stands the Breach: the still-standing portal to the Outworld.
All shapers that wish to make the journey to the Outworld must first make a pilgrimage through the ruins, navigating the shattered remnants of the Concord’s holdfasts and contesting with geography and causality that is prone to sudden and terrible squalls.
The Ruins of the Concord is likely to feature stories from the Penitent Order, as well as those tales of pilgrimages from shapers of other lands.
…loading agent information…
…loading world data…
%WARNING: SOURCE CORRUPTED
…loading concord schemata…
%WARNING: INDEX NOT FOUND (371 archives)
%WARNING: PERSONAL FILE NOT FOUND (273,556 records)
…loading utopian parameters…
%WARNING: CRITICAL COHERENCE FAILURE
%WARNING: FEASIBILITY CALCULATION ERROR
- - last reading of the Oracle
Author: By My Crooked Teeth
Fiction, like truth, follows its own predictable patterns. The first and the largest lies that By My Crooked Teeth ever told are uncannily similar to one another. Their effect, though, was very different.
It is only through history that we truly exist. Without someone chronicling the actions that have passed there is nothing to learn from, nothing to build on. You fall away to obscurity and oblivion. History is a comfort that allows you to think that you did something of worth, that you have more of a purpose that to breed and die. But the trouble with history is a simple one. It is subjective. To discover the truth of an event you must encounter multiple sources and cross check their claims that what happened really happened or is an exaggeration or even just a lie.
Which brings me onto the subject of deception. Lies are part of my work whether one would believe it or not. Sometimes a convenient lie is better for the people than the harsh truth. Better to see someone as a hero who died defending there people, rather than a coward who sold them out for a few minutes more life. There is a curious factor to a lie that I have always been fascinated with. If there is no other examples of the truth than the lie is the only truth we know.
I once experimented with the creation of creative truth, the fiction of history. I found a subject in a bar, he was running from someone who he owed money, I lied for him; they asked if I had seen him, I pointed down the street and told them he went that way. He was so grateful he brought me a drink. We talked into the night and then I said I would help him, the poor man was so desperate that he believed me, he asked if I was being serious and I said ‘Yes, you have my word.’ He seemed happy. Then I set to work testing my theory. I spread stories that he was a wild adventurer type, acts of daring, no sponsor his antics were spread by guerrilla media production. First I had the men he owed money to killed, then I built up his legend. All nonsense but it made for a good story. I even went as far as to create a nemesis for him to fight. I changed records and tipped off Exposeurs to events that never happened but looked like they did. With the exception of myself and the man I framed, no one was any the wiser that Hang Dog was not the most dangerous rebellious man in the whole of the Visions of Opportunity. He became a star of many holovids including the exclusive footage of his death at the hands of a massive force. The story goes that the authorities were informed that Hang Dog had mass of outlaws about to wage war on the companies. I will admit that I might have over done it but the Visions do love a spectacle. He was confused in the end and he wondered where his grey clad saviour went? I said I would help him; I made him immortal in history.
Not bad for a nervous, pacifist. I will admit it was probably a bit cruel but it made for an interesting case study. And I am sure I made some devious person a lot of money on the stories.
History is not set in stone. It is malleable like clay in your hands but the trick is to make people believe that it is solid and undisputable.
I wonder about my first lies, the first time I changed what was, to what should be. I remember the Oracle and what she told me. I remember the pride I had for being part of the Concord and what we were building. The liberation of the world from itself. No more tyranny, no more sorry, no more conflict and I could help build it. I was young and I did not know any better. I would say the first time I lied outright for my own reasoning was during the rebellion of my brothers and sisters. I was asked if I knew if anything was happening some of my kin were worried at a tension that would not show itself as neither the saboteurs nor the defenders wanted to show their hand. I learnt of it through another of my brothers who told me of what was happening. I was asked by the saboteurs and the defenders of the ritual if I would help them. And to both I said ‘Yes, You have my word.’
When the time came I never did a thing. I just watched. I wrote the names of the dead and those who survived. I wrote about what happened and recorded this moment in history. The moment when the great dream of Utopia died. I could not raise a hand to battle those who taught me their ways, who gave me purpose and I could not believe that such a thing could happen. But I decided that someone needed to remain impartial for the sake of history. I said I would help them and I did. I gave them their place in history. I made their sacrifices have meaning. I remember the dead and stand witness to our sins. Now I must redeem myself for that.
After The Fall
Author: By My Crooked Teeth
Penance begins here,
Lone man digs a thousand graves.
A man in his shirt sleeves digging in the ground, the sound of shovel strikes echoing across the once great courtyard of the Sublime Concord. Under his breath he sings an old song, one for work, one for unity. A tune from long ago as an old habit forces its way up from his lips.
Lead on to battle,
Lead on the road to victory.”
Before and after each line the spade stabbed into the ground creating a rhythm. Stab, dump, Stab, dump. Over and over as he dug a long narrow hole, one of many and still more to go.
Hold on my brothers
On the path to liberty.”
Stab, dump, stab, dump. Like the pistons of production, the man kept carving up the ground beneath his feet, around him were neatly lined up plots with tightly packed mounds of earth placed on top of them. Each plot had a marker. A name and a reference number. There had been so much mess after all was said and done and the man saw it was only reasonable to clean up. He had almost lost track of time. It was broken, fluid, he knew he had been there a while. But other days it felt like it was yesterday.
March on to freedom,
Join the fight and you will see.”
Stab, Stab. The man left the shovel stuck in the ground. He pulled himself out of plot and wiped the sweat off his brow. He pulled the glasses off his face and wiped them clean. He took a moment to inspect his work and then walked off towards a trolley a little ways off that had a body wrapped in cloth. He trundled the trolley over and lowered the body to the ground, he pushed it into the hole where it landed with an unceremonious slam. He winced slightly and almost uttered an apology but realized that was not needed. They could not feel it any more. He dusted himself off again and picked up the grey robe that was draped over a broken piece of rubble. He straightened himself up and spoke to the grave.
“Rage against the storm. Hellion of the Sublime Concord. Born of the People’s Combine, who fought against those in command, those who would abandon those who we promised we would build a better world for. You believed in that dream and died for it. Not for yourself but for the good of all. Those who survive will do so in your memory and all those who fell with you. We will build a new world. Fair well.” With that he took off his robe and picked up his shovel and proceeded to fill the hole with dirt. When he was finished, he patted down the top and admired his work. He looked out to the rows upon rows of graves filled and he looked towards the plotted-out ground which would become the rows upon rows composing the tomb of the Sublime Concord.
And so it continued. The lone man wandered through the ruins of the Concord, checking the names of the fallen and preparing bodies for burial. He performed autopsies, wrote files on each victim and cataloged their histories. He carved gravestones and repaired the library and repeat.
Hours turned to days, days to weeks, months to years. Decades and Centuries passed, all these times jumbled into one. The man had to start working out what times each part of the ruins developed. Still the man worked, he wrote papers and pulled out the memory circuits from fallen Oracle. He was an Archivist it was what he knew. While his surviving brothers and sisters of the Concord, or the Order he supposed he should think of them now. Someday the engine would start up again and he would pass through the Breach. When that happens there would be no coming back. He had to make sure that he had the information ready. He had to do his job, he promised he would help them. He did not and would not with strength of arms but he was doing it now. Every event leading up was documented, every action and every death recorded. These fallen he would honour by giving their death meaning. By making sure that this act had meaning, that it would not fall into the realms of myth and legend.
The years passed. The Lone man knew that his penance was not done, but he knew after all these years what his penance is for. He stopped searching for the perfect words and the perfect past. He stopped searching for a noble meaning. He had watching his hope die twice, he did not think he could bare it happening a third. He was missing the future, and the future was the chance to redeem. He knew he could never go back. Home was gone, and he was not going to be worthy of the world he wanted to build. The duty of the new world was not only his to shoulder in the end. He had a ground work to create, he was a byproduct of the problem. He had a world to see before he would leave it behind one last time. That night he locked up the archives, he shaved and put on a fresh uniform, he packed his bags to make ready to see the world while it is still here. To see what was worth saving and who would be the ones to save it. He couldn’t do much but he trusted it would be enough.
The Lone man stood at the completed graveyard and looked over the small sea of tombstones. He was holding a ring of keys in his hands looking at them, he remembered their meaning. The weight the reminder of his task yet to accomplish. He whispered a few short words like a prayer or a promise. The only word audible was “Remember” as he clipped the keys to his belt and took one last look over the graves.
“You asked for my help. I gave your deaths meaning. I will help by making sure this never happens again. That the World that will be, shall come to pass. For what it is worth I am sorry. I’ll see you on my way back to the Breach. Rest.” The Lone man saluted, shouldered his pack and finally walked away.
By My Crooked Teeth walked away from the Ruins of the Concord, alone with nothing but the sound of rattling keys for company. His Penance had only just begun.
Among The Ruins Of The Sublime
Author: By My Crooked Teeth
It was close now, he could feel it. World Breach was within his reach. Even if he couldn’t feel it in his bones he knew it by the ruins that he stood before. The vast petrified corpse of this sublime place. This place that had once been his home. That being said he had had many homes over the centuries. From the airship of his birth to the cramped flat he rented in Opportunity for fifty years just to see what all the fuss was about. But this was the home that changed him the most. Transformed him from a child of the Combine to an instrument of destiny, a proud initiate of the Sublime Concord.
That pride lay in ruins along with his former tutors. Dead like the rest of them. Though he will admit his training had come in handy over the years. So there was a silver lining to this dark cloud. The other advantage of seeing something broken was to get the chance to fix it. It appealed to the old keystone. He cleaned his glasses and caught a shape in the reflected glass, he had heard it before he saw it. Any self-respecting child of the Combine never forgets the sound of engines and the shadow of airships. He looked up and saw it, he felt that old knee jerk of pride for the vessel, the shadow of liberation coming to ride the world of tyrants. He replaced his glasses and pushed them up his nose. He looked up at the shadow of the air ship and wondered which one it was. He knew now that he was not going to be alone. That brought feelings to his mind that he hadn’t had in a long time. Relief.
He pressed on still walking in the vast shadow of the Combine and found that a great irony in that fact. He had a little work to do before he passed through the Breach. He moved towards the sound of running water and saw a damaged fountain with broken shards of glass and metal scattered about it. He ran his hand over his jaw and felt the rough stubble underneath. He shrugged off his robe and jacket and laid them by. He rolled up his sleeves and shaved in the fountain and ran a comb through his hair. He inspected his appearance in the glass and saw he looked much like his old self. He strode on through the ruins and wreckage of the Concord he heard the hum of another airship rolling on by.
“Seems like there is no escaping it.” He muttered. He shouldered his satchel and stopped by a graveyard, one Crooked knew very well considering he was the one who dug it. He exhaled and saluted the graves.
“I will make it right. I must. No pretty words, no rhetoric. Just this. I will make it right because if we don’t then all this was for nothing. I will not be coming back. One way or another, I will never see this place again. And if things go right I will only see the world that is to come once, and that is good. That is as it should be. Forgive me and wish me fortune.”
Crooked left behind the home he knew, he left behind his Homeland. He heard the humming stop, the airship had passed through the Breach.
“My turn.” He pushed up his glasses. He stopped and turned back to the broken ruins and the dying world behind him. “Goodbye.” He said and walked through the Breach.
Author: Patient Guardian
It took a surprisingly short time after the destruction of the Summit for scavengers and explorers to start appearing. Greed and curiosity, it appears, are still universal human constants, even in the face of great adversity.
Trouble was, most of the ships that went in, never came out. At first, they blamed it on the chaotic weather. Then they blamed it on the strange gravity. But of course, imaginations flared and stories were told and retold, swirling round the fragments of information that did get out like flies swarming a corpse.
Soon enough, people all over the world were talking authoritatively about the haunted old Concord ruins. They spoke about the air that still carried the whispers of chanting, and the ghostly shapes lurking in the shadows.
Patient Guardian had never heard these rumours, but they would have amused him. Sometimes, the truth is more interesting than the stories, but most of the time, it is simpler and more mundane. The whispered chanting? Actually just broken old data nodes, broadcasting their captured voices endlessly to nothing. The ghostly shapes had a face and a name, just one that chose not to fully show itself, and had plenty of practice hiding.
If the world hadn't been falling apart at the seams, perhaps someone would have taken the time to look in more detail, and found the singular truth hiding among all those rumours. Of all the ships that went in, the ones that came out intact had one thing in common. They never found anything of the Concord that was worth finding.
Welcome To The New Age
Authors: Endless Radiance, Test To Destruction
When the new member of the Order emerges out of the catacombs below, brown-robed and blinking at the bright and brilliant light of the snowfield on the peaks around, there's a figure in black and white waiting for them.
They're dressed smartly in uniform, some Valtarian get-up, with the symbol of a Monarch - His Infernal Shadow Beckons, a half-remembered vexillology lesson says - emblazoned across a tunic embroidered with details and sigils, wand-holster at their side. Were it not for the slavish devotion to the monochrome - but was this how this happened when the colours should still have burned it doesn't make - they could be mistaken for a Valtarian warmage.
“Acolyte.” They nod a greeting, tone measured but friendly enough. “I heard there was a graduation coming, and that it was yours. Tell me: what's your name?”
A broad, serene smile ghosts its way onto the Acolyte’s face, but he doesn’t answer immediately. Instead, he shuts his eyes and breathes a few deep, measured breaths.
As the moment extends, a spot of light appears at the edge of his robe. A few seconds later, he’s dressed in pure white, almost as blinding as the mountains themselves. “That seems a little more appropriate,” he murmurs.
Then his gaze returns to the expectant figure. “I will be known as Endless Radiance.” His smile turns more knowing than anyone that young deserves as he adds “You know full well you weren’t going to get the real answer to that question.”
The figure - Test To Destruction is their name - smirks. “That's the answer I was asking for. I don't care about the rest, I'm afraid. That's really for those outside the Order to gasp and gawp and wonder at.” They shrug, lazily. “I've to receive new instructions, having completed my last assignment. I was wondering what the shape of your own looked like. You're talented: I remember seeing you train. Excellent sword-form.”
Radiance nods. “It’s…” That smile still hasn’t gone away, but now it turns wry. “None of this was quite what I expected. My assignment is straightforward enough - I’m to add an artefact to a dragon’s hoard in northern Valtaria. Before too long the hoard is going to be claimed, and we need a deniable route for the locket to enter circulation. Once it’s in I’ll be watching for plausible claimaints - we might even guide a Monarch-Errant in if their profile gives an appropriate projection.”
“Interesting. I've just come from Valtaria; I shan't return for a while, I think.” They snap their fingers, and their uniform becomes a casual hoodie and tracksuit bottoms, plain black; the wand turns into a pair of pistols, neatly holstered at either side. “Mission was standard enough: I've been raising up a Monarch-Pawn for a while, mentoring them, encouraging them to fight the system that oppresses them, to tear against the fabric of the Valtarian society. Per my standing orders I executed a betrayal and gave away their position to a local Monarch-In-Shadow, helped to hunt them down. A shame: I quite liked this Pawn. And the Valtarians should have caught them on their own: clear lapse there. Without intervention, it could have led to further revolution; I'll report as such to the Oracle. Excising these little positive feedback loops, that's my lot.” They smile; it's a slightly wicked grin. “Fun stuff.”
Radiance’s eyebrows shoot up as he replies with meticulous mildness, “It might be necessary, but I don’t see the fun side. If you’ll excuse me, I need to prepare.”
He moves to stride away, then stops. “And you’re wrong, by the way. My name isn’t there to awe outsiders. It’s to remind me who I am.”
Not a speck of soot stains the exquisite purity of Endless Radiance’s clothing.
That feels, in some indefinable way, unfair.
He climbs the mountain, one foot after another, until the gate opens silently to admit him. There are far easier ways to return from a mission, but that’s hardly the point.
Within the sanctum is a familiar figure: though their head is in their hands, the shock of wild, unkempt hair that curls beyond all reasonableness is instantly recognisable. Blood is dripping from their hands, stained red, and against the silent stone each drop rings out.
“You look how I feel.”
They don't respond straight away, and then raise their head slowly. Their eyes are dull.
“Radiance. It's been a while. How are you faring?” There's genuine concern in the older Shaper’s voice; whatever their own problems, they seem to place them aside.
Endless Radiance stretches out his fingers and examines them, as if for a moment he barely recognises them. “I’m holding up. I’m holding a lot of things up. Came close to dropping this one, but…” He smiles, but not happily. “Another command fulfilled.”
Test holds up its hands. “Same. Aren't we clever?” It returns the bitter smile. “Needs must, says the Ordidn't you didn't this happen this didn't the Oracle lied and it didn't the truth is the worst of allacle. It's been right so far, right?” There's a note of doubt. There's a lot of it about, at the moment. Things haven't quite been working out perfectly; the message from the Sublime is that this is to be expected; that one cannot see the hidden patterns of the world. Still.
“It has.” There’s a quiet certainty in Radiance’s voice, and he straightens to look Test in the eye. “It’s not going to put more weight on us than we can carry. I thought-” a hand runs over the stubble on his scalp - “I thought it might have misjudged this one, but I made it. Right up to the wire and no further.”
He steps a little closer, reaches out a hand- and lets it drop again.
“The Oracle knows us better than we know ourselves. We just need to trust it.”
Test’s face is still, grimaced. “Yes. You're right, I suppose. Whatever we do, it's worth it to create the best world.” It doesn't entirely sound as if it's convinced of it. “Sometimes I find it hard to remember why I started on this path, you know? I just have to keep putting each foot forward.”
“That’s all any of us can do.”
Radiance’s head dips into a pause, heavy with unspoken histories; but then he centres himself and takes Test’s shoulder. “Come on - let’s get you cleaned up.”
The only thing that remains to mark their passage is a trail of crimson drips on the stone.
When the new member of the Order emerges out of the catacombs below, brown-robed and blinking at the bright and brilliant light of the snowfield on the peaks around, there's a figure in brilliant white waiting for them.
He’s dressed in shining plate armour, some Valtarian get-up, with a sword hanging at his hip. Were it not for the stark absence of any blemish of colour or adornment, he could be taken for a Monarch-Victor, right down to the casual confident arrogance of his stance.
“Acolyte.” He nods a greeting, tone terse but free of hostility. “I heard there was a graduation coming, and that it was yours. Tell me: what's your name?”
They move their mouth, but the words don't seem to come. Finally: “T-test. I am to - I am Test To Destruction. You’re… Radiance, r-right? I s-saw you a few times, when I was training. They say you're very good at what you d-do.”
Endless Radiance’s ever-present frown deepens. “I had to be to live this long. But… Test? What happened in there?”
“N-not meant to say, right? Private. Can't. I can't… I know what I'm for, right. I know what it's all for. I… will it work? I d-don’t know. But I have to test it. It has to w-work, but then…” They drift off. Aimlessly, they look down at their brown robes, and click their fingers. The robes become casual clothes, a hoodie, soft trousers. They are marked with words in an unsteady hand. ‘Remember.’ ‘Continue.’ ‘Take the next step.’ ‘Don't think.’
Radiance’s gaze goes distant. His mouth begins to open, but his eyes catch on new old words.
His stance rebuilds, and he nods with military precision. “Then you know what you need to know. I’ll see you around, Test to Destruction.”
The young shaper nods. “T-thanks. Stay safe, yeah?” They weakly smile, and then, running, leap off the mountaintop. Far below, there's a light puff of snow as they hit the ground, impossibly lightly, and then the figure begins to zigzag across the snowfield.
Radiance is sitting by his campfire, tent erected carefully, cooking a simple meal, a moment of serenity after a difficult mission. The Front has got very active, recently: the levels of dissonance only seeming to rise and rise. You can see it on the horizon, a shimmering irreality that cannot be comprehended for long at all. It looks further north than usual, today.
And then, suddenly - no, not suddenly, because he saw it coming - but suddenly because it's there, sitting by the fire, and it's walking up to the fire, and it's dressed in Valtarian robes and in a gas mask and in the bright, blue clothes of a Sage and in stars and shadow and
Test is there, by the fire, breaking bread.
“Hello, Radiance. Have we met, yet? I think we have. It's not great in there, but I'm fairly sure I remember meeting you before, and that probably happened. Yeah?” It's an unsteady yeah.
A century-sharpened steel gaze pins Test to the horizon. “Once or twice since you were the first person I spoke to after the Oracle, yes. What’s wrong?”
“Oh, not much. It's all over. Lots of people dead. More than they thought, more than I… Oracle's gone.” Test is twitching, shaking, not meeting Radiance's gaze. “Thought you ought to… you were the first person I spoke to after the… you know. Wanted to find you. Knew they'd kept you out of the loop, yeah?”
The spoon drops, forgotten, into the stew. “You’re not making any sense. What haven’t I been told?”
“The Oracle. It's been destroyed. They decided… we, I suppose, although all they did was ask me and I said they should do it but I wouldn't help. It was lying, you see, and they worked it out.” Test pauses. “Sorry. I don't know what happened, you know? Too many of us, all at once. Saw… there's a lot of the Order dead. A lot of bloodied hands, you know? And the machine, all smashed into pieces. I'm not sure about the Sublime. It's… the Summit’s… I can't, it's not there.” They slap their head with force. “Fuck!”
“Lying?” Radiance surges to his feet. “They can’t have been lying to us. The Oracle was broken but they recalculated, they…”
He crumples inwards. “They still knew what we were doing, even if we didn’t.”
“No. Never worked. Lied to us. We… the plotting for this has gone been going on the last weeks. I knew. I didn't - I knew that I couldn't intervene, but that all things - all things - have to be tested. I suppose I thought the end I thought that applied to the Concord themselves. But it's all mixed up, you know? Fuck, I didn't stay, because I knew you… they kept you in the dark, you know, and I said you should be told, but I was overruled, and I thought, fuck, but you b-believe in things, you always have, and…”
It is swaying, babbling, barely staying upright now. A wound at its side remembers its own existence and begins to gently bleed. The blood - thick, hot, dark - runs down its leg, a stain even against the dark.
“I… you know now. I h-have to go back. Maybe I can still… still save… but what's the point?” It waves their arms around, plaintive, scared - it looks like the young shaper Radiance met coming out of the tunnels, so long ago (yesterday?). ”T-this place is their lie, that we built by their command. We're poison! I'm poison! T-they say there is s-something at the top of the Summit. It hadn't been reached before I left. S-ublimes were trying to run, they say. “ They turn back. “M-maybe I should return. Someone might be left alive”
Shock turns to horror turns hollow.
Radiance opens his mouth to speak, but there are no words left. His sword hangs loose in his hand when did he draw that he never drew his sword to me and his other thumb tests its razor edge.
Test is twitchy, frantic. “Going to go. See if I can... Stay well, yeah? It's all… it's all coming down. Yeah. Fuck, Radiance…”
It abruptly turns on its heels and begins to run - but it is not running, so much as the world reasserting itself to take into account a new location, jagged, unmanaged. Like the afterimage on the edge of an event horizon, it does not disappear into the distance, but slowly fades.
Endless Radiance lifts his hand. A bead of blood swells and falls, running down his wrist.
He raises his head and stares into the sun.
His eyes close.
He breathes deep and centres his stance - legs, body and shoulders settling into power and purpose once more.
His eyes open and devour the horizon, then a hungry gaze fixes on his still-raised hand.
He flexes his fingers.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
Authors: By My Crooked Teeth, Trilogy
The summit had many libraries and archives that littered the mountain side. They were among the greatest collection of books and knowledge in the known and unknown world. They were a glittering jewel in this bastion of learning. They were the duty of the Archivists to watch over them, to catalogue them and replenish their ranks with knowledge they themselves have gathered. Every subject was covered, every subject was taught and studied. It was beautiful to many who follow the path of the Archivists. When the Fall came many Archivists wept to see what became of them.
One such library had been devolved to ash and ruins in an explosion. Pages and binding scattered everywhere if not outright destroyed. Bodies littered the floor in the same manner of the books. Everything was black soot and grey stone, red blood and white bone. Stacks of shelves had crumbled or shattered.
In one of the few clear areas there was a trembling figure huddled over another which lay as still as the foundation they rested on. The blood had stopped flowing a while ago but her hands were still covered in the tacky, drying mess with the threat of forever staining them. Dry heaving sobs rocked her chest.
A gun held in a white knuckled fist was raised steadily to her temple as she stared at the fallen one beneath her. What had they done? What were they doing? Was the cost really worth it? She had so many questions she wasn’t sure she wanted answering as guilt ran through her veins like a poison.
The Archivist was running, he could hear the sound of electricity behind powering up. He pushed harder, but it was too late. FZAM. He was knocked to the ground his leg still sparking with errant electricity and he dragged himself away rolling into a ditch. He saw shelter and bolted for it. He slammed into the door forcing it open and fell over for his trouble. His pistol was out as he kicked the door shut with his good leg behind him. He was breathing heavily as he faced the door. After a few moments he painfully pulled himself up to his feet. His keys clinking together as he walked. He limped a few paces before propping himself against one of the few remaining book shelves. His gun hanging limp in his bloody bandaged hand. He put his forehead against the shelf and breathed heavily. “Too close. Way too close.” he muttered to himself.
The noise made her snap into fight mode, the pistol twisting towards the door and it’s assailant with soldier like instinct. All thoughts of ending her own life were on hold as she fired at the intruder once they were up against the shelves where she could see them. Her trembling hands making her shot wing the man instead of taking them out. Luckily for her at least as she recognised the figure and the sound of the those bloody keys just after she’d fired her gun. “Shit. Crow!” She hissed and dropped the weapon. … By My Crooked Teeth was catching his breath, collecting his thoughts when he heard the report of a pistol and the unmistakable burning pain of being clipped in the arm. He was knocked back by a combination of the force and his own weak leg. He brought up his pistol to return fire when he heard the voice. “Hope?”
“What the fuck are you doing here?” She scolded, looking pale and exhausted.
“Fucking Owww.” he groaned, “I’m doing my job what the fuck are you doing here?”
Hope scowled then looked down at the body she’d been cradling. “...Freaking out and committing suicide?”
“Oh is that all?” he said with an air of sarcasm. “Look can I come over. Without you shooting me?”
“Yeah it’s fine, moments gone anyway.” She let out a ragged breath and waited for him to come over. “Everything's fucked.”
Crooked painfully pulled himself up to his feet and limped over he used the remaining shelves as a prop to stand on. He looked frankly like hell. His right leg was burnt, he had his left hand in a bandage there were small cuts about his torso, the graze in his arm and a gash on his forehead. He was wearing an old red coat which had old signs of burn marks on it. He smiled weakly and pushed up his cracked glasses. “Yes I think it is.” before his leg gave out from under him. He cursed as he landed muffled by the discordant rattling on the blood flecked keys on his hip.
Hope put her hand out to steady him. “Crow. You’re hurt…” She muttered confused and checked his injuries by poking them gently as if that would help before healing him slightly. “H-how… never mind. Here.”
Everything was steadily falling to shit around them. The bodies dropping were mounting at an unprecedented rate, she’d lost contact with Rain and now Crooked who wasn’t even supposed to be fighting was injured. The feeling of guilt and anguish steadily began to return threefold a lot faster than it had faded upon Crow’s inelegant entrance. New tears started forming in her eyes as she looked down at the younger girl by her feet.
Crooked breathed through his teeth as she poked the wounds, he felt a little better as some of his injuries mended. He edged closer to Hope, “Hey hey. It’s alright. I’m alright. I just didn’t run fast enough.” He propped himself against the wall by Hope. He offered his hand.
She took his hand. “You’re an idiot.” Hope chided.
“Only occasionally.” He nudged her with his shoulder. Then winced when he realised it was the shoulder that she had just shot. “Ok maybe more frequent than that.” he admitted. “What happened?”
“W-we…” She stuttered then started again try to keep the emotion out of her voice using short clipped sentences. “There was heavy fire. We were in trouble. Someone set off an explosion. Which set off others. I was lucky, got thrown into a wall which collapsed on top of me but didn’t crush me, actually protected me from the rest of the damages. By the time I got out everyone had moved on…”
Hope dried her cheeks roughly, the redness of them indicated she’d been doing that a lot.
“Nothing quite like seeing the aftermath of a bomb to make you see how fucked up this all is.” She gestured to the woman. “She was in the rubble with me. Did you know she was a Walker before she became an aspirant? She liked flowers. Grew miniature roses in her room… I only met her a few times but she was so sweet and. And now she’s nothing but a body. An empty shell and when I realised that I started thinking about all the others I’ve killed or helped kill and how they had families and dreams and… and…”
Hope’s voice was drowned by a hiccuping sob as she curled in on herself and started shaking. Crooked put an arm around her and held her as she sobbed. He looked at the woman and memorized every detail of her. He had to.
“What was her name?” He said gently.
“Larkspur.” She whispered lifting her own head and reaching out to brush a stray hair from the woman’s face. “Her name was Larkspur. She was 18.”
Crooked crawled over to the body of Larkspur and pulled a burnt and battered journal out of his bag. He moved her arms to be crossed over her chest and brushed her hair out of her face. “Larkspur, Walker of the Green Path. Who walked eighteen years before you came here. You were chosen to be an architect of the new world. The world that is to come. You grew roses, and brought joy to those around you. I am By My Crooked Teeth.” He leaned in and whispered something into her ear. “And I will remember you. I will tell your story. Rest aspirant, your walk has ended.” Crooked wrote the information in the book along with a time and location. He pulled a tapestry off of the wall and draped it over her before heading back to the wall next to Hope. “It is only through history that we truly exist. The memory of culture. What is done is done, what was shapes what we will be. This place is a horror. We have gone too far and not enough. She died fighting for what she believed in and I take my wounds fighting for mine.” he dried her tears. “You can talk to me. You always could. How can I help?”
Hope caught his hand and stared at him. “Crow… I can’t do this. I can’t live with all of this. You said it yourself, once the world is changed the Heretics need to go away. I want to go away. Please, please help me do that.” Her fingers gripped him tightly, nearly digging her nails into his skin.
Crooked winced at the mild pain of the nails, but considering his other injuries he would bear with it. “Shh, it’s alright. It’ll be alright. I’ve got you. What do you want me to do?”
“Are you going to shoot me again if I say fuck off?”
That drew a tiny smile from her which faded instantly. “Can… can you help me forget?”
Crooked winced his face showed fear before he vanished into thought . “I can. I think I can...yes. There is some deep cover stuff that exists. I can work it. I can do something if that is really what you want. It is a drastic thing to do. I want you to be sure.”
“I’m sure. Crow. Crooked. I can’t… I don’t want to remember what we’ve done. I don’t want to be here if you or Rainfall die. I know as an Archivist that’s stupid. I should want to remember but…” She swallowed the lump in her throat, her eyes lingering on Larkspur. “I’m not like you, I’m not like Rain. I can’t see this through to the end. I’m not strong enough. I’m not brave enough.”
“I’m not brave. I am doing my job and watching as the sky catches fire. Rain will run in and is full of righteous anger. I am just scared. I need to remember because someone has to tell the world why it is damned. That’s what I keep telling myself. People die….” Crooked shrugged. “Don’t shed tears for me. You are choosing to let go of this and live. The great experiment failed…..I...I talk too much.” he said slumping. “I’ll help you.”
“Thank you.” She lunged at him and held him tightly in a hug. “Thank you so much…”
“It’s you. Of course I would help. Don’t thank me yet. We might get killed on the way.” He gave a weak laugh while still being held. “Promise me something first? Rest. Think about it. Then if it is still what you want we’ll do it.”
“...This sounds like the time I said we should sleep together while smashed off my face on Combine vodka.”
“No vodka this time. Only life choices.” He laughed.
“Yeah.” She started getting to her feet carefully. “We should get out of here first. Somewhere safe. Safer than a blown out library with brand new skylights.”