Cerra Castle: Great Hall
10-26 02:59:00 YC 117
Ryven strolled into the great hall, dressed in all black, with a black cloak billowing slightly from his hurried entrance. He shuddered to stave off the cold and resumed his advance, finding a seat by the same fire that seems to have drawn others into its glow. He pondered how people share that same trait with moths. Thal Vadam had been playing the flute, and apparently Shalee had interrupted him with her arrival. She had just apologized for the interruption.
Thal smiled at her. "Oh you didn't...I was just finishing"
"It was very pretty." Shalee replied, her voice soft. Her blue eyes slanted away and lingered on Ryven.
Ryven sat and removed his gloves, his ring finger still missing from his right hand. He turned his palms out toward the fire, warming them.
Thal and Shalee continued conversing and Ryven overhead bits and pieces, mostly about Shalee's daughter, some about Tigerfish. Ryven's mind was focused on what Justice demanded he must do. Yet, here he was, sitting in the great hall, delaying, postponing. He stared into the fire, it's dance painting murky images, fleeting and never fully formed before they transformed into something new.
He wasn't sure how long he had been lost in thought, dreading the task before him, when Shalee and Thal both left together. He watched them as they left. He glanced around the great empty hall, determining that he was alone. He shrugged to himself and continued trying to pry some sort of solace from the flames. After a while, he found himself humming a tune whose origin he could not remember. He leaned back in his seat and continued humming the simple but solemn tune. The words came back to him and he sang them softly to his audience of stone.
I knew an old man, many years ago.
Stories of faded days by dying fire's glow.
He washed his hands, couldn't wash his soul.
On the cold dark nights, many years before.
He spilt his sins on the cold stone floor.
I held his hand, urged him toward the door
He breathed his last, never to rise again.
He doused the lamps, the lights within.
His ship has gone, I'm alone again.
I hung the lamps, high in the halls.
I walked the path, I held the pall.
Memories fade. All men fall.
Ryven hummed the final measure and then fell silent, the great hall's stillness now palpable. He sat and embraced the stillness, knowing it would be the last such peace he would have this night. He glanced around, seeing he was still alone. He pulled out a cigarette. "Fuck it." He muttered, and lit the cigarette, the sudden rush of nicotine sending a wave of euphoria through him. He felt his tension ease considerably, as though it all drained down through him and into the stone.
Shalee returned only moments later, while Ryven was still smoking the first cigarette. She hesitated briefly before making her way over to him.
"Good talk?" Ryven asked, taking a drag off his cigarette as she approached him.
"Mmmhmm." She smiled sweetly, as if nothing in the world was awkward. "Good...cigarette?"
Ryven removed the cigarette from his mouth and stared at it momentarily, as if trying to decide if it was or not. "About average?"
She gave a little nod of her head, "Ah..." She then took a seat opposite of him and smoothed her hands along her dress. "Quiet night, not that I am complaining."
"You should've been here ten minutes ago. Like a cemetery in here." In more ways than one, he thought.
She glanced about the hall then over to the window, watching the snow falling. "I don't mind. It beats the chaos that has been going on."
"I wish I could say I didn't thrive on the more chaotic times." He sighed heavily.
"What a curious thing to say. We've been under near constant attack last week. Why would you thrive on that?" Her voice was full of curiosity.
Ryven shrugged. "It's in my blood. I don't like that people are dying. But, I'm the type to run toward the sound of gunfire." I always have been, even before I was me.
Shalee nodded. "Good thing you weren't here when it happened, lest you be blooded along with the rest of them."
"That's a fair observation. Although, on the other hand, if I had, then the Blood Raiders might know terror." I terrify me.
Shalee replied with a non-committal, "Perhaps."
"I don't let exsanguination go unpunished."
Shalee nodded. "Many people are looking for them. I believe Thal found some the other night. Perhaps you could join him." She paused. "Next time he goes out, I mean."
"Perhaps. Though, that would only kill those Raiders. I think I'd rather send a message to all Raiders."
"Killing those Raiders is a start." She replied.
"Sure. Though, if you can't find those, perhaps you should consider sending a message to others." Ryven's voice was level, but his mind was still elsewhere, and every moment that passed increased his trepidation.
"And how would you go about doing that?" she asked, equal parts curious and nervous, thinking that bringing more attention to Cerra could be a bad thing.
Ryven had to admit he really didn't know. He hadn't given it much thought. It had just been his first impression. So, he shrugged and gave a similarly impulsive answer. "It would have to be a pretty strong message. I don't have specifics." He looked back at the fire, perhaps to find the answer in the flames. "Just seems like a lot of moping and not a lot of action around here lately. It's fine to nurse your wounds. But, it seems like it would be more effective to either go on the attack or plug the massive holes in the defenses."
His answer clearly upset Shalee. "Yes. So your idea is to do 'something'...." she mimed quotation marks with her hands. "Jeez. Wonder why I hadn't thought of that. You're a brilliant man, Krennel." Her voice dripped with sarcasm. She stood. "Now if you will excuse me." She stormed off into the castle.
Ryven sighed to himself, alone again. "If you don't like the answer, don't ask the question." He said to no one, his voice lost in the air of the great hall. He sat for a moment, steeling himself for what he could no longer postpone.
Ryven spoke then to Justice, who had only just arrived. "You ready?"
Justice replied: I am always ready. You have dallied here long enough. Enough hiding. Do not fear what you are. Be my instrument.
Ryven knew the futility of fighting it. He just nodded and lifted himself wearily from his seat. "If that is what I must do."
He walked solemnly out of the hall, passing through reception like a ghost and out into the night, leaving only the faint remnants of his smoke clouds lingering in the air of the hall.
10-26 YC 117 04:30
The old man shivered uncontrollably, the straps that held him to the old wooden chair straining against him. He looked to be around eighty years old, a baseliner, with wispy white hair wreathing his bald pate. His eyes, brown and bulging, were tinged yellow from a slowly failing liver. His skin was semi-translucent, as though he were wrapped in onion skin. Jaundice was beginning to set in, and he reminded Ryven of old paper, yellowed and dusty from wear. He was a frail old man, but the fire of his spirit had not left him yet, and the journey Ryven was sending him on would offer no return. Worst of all, Ryven had no idea why he was going to kill this man, nor why it was going to be in such a horrifying way. Justice had decreed it. He had to obey.
In addition to being bound to the chair, the old man was also gagged. He had stopped fighting to be heard a while ago, and Ryven admired his acceptance of the inevitable. The time had nearly come.
"I apologize for what I must do." Ryven spoke, his voice soft and, he hoped, soothing. "Justice requires your sacrifice."
The man's trembling increased, the joints of the chair rattling. He removed the man's gag, and he immediately began pleading, in whimpers for Ryven to spare his life. Ryven stood, his face vacant, but inside he was a tempest of conflicting emotions. He did not know this man. He did not know why he had to die. All he knew was that Justice demanded it. The man's pleading finally subsided, and the old man simply asked the question: "Why?"
Ryven's resolve wavered in that instant, but only for the most fleeting of instants. His voice, when he replied, was the cold merciless sound of inevitability. "Because Justice demands it."
Before the old man could respond, Ryven picked up the can of fuel on the floor. He walked around the chair and lifted the can and upended it over the old man's head, pouring fuel that splashed in waves off of his bald pate. It ran down his face, stung his lips, burned his throat. It soaked into his soiled clothes and formed a puddle beneath his feet. The man began whimpering again.
Ryven walked back around the chair, turning to face the man, whose name he did not know. Without a word, he pulled a lighter from his pocket, flicked on the flame, and touched it to the puddle on the floor. The flames leapt up quickly, engulfing the man. The rush of the flames was quickly drowned out by his tortured screams. His flesh bubbled and crackled and slid from his bones. His eyes popped and hissed, the fluid inside having expanded. Then fire finally exhausted the oxygen in his lungs and the screaming stopped. Yet, Ryven still heard it, echoing in his head, a siren. He watched until long after the flames ceased their raucous feast. The man was now a charred black statue of ash. The stench finally overcame Ryven's gag reflex and he rushed to a corner of the room and retched, vomiting profusely until nothing was left to regurgitate. Then he kept retching.
He ran out the door of the room, through the rest of the small home, and out into the night. He ran, but he knew not where, nor for how long. He succumbed to the blackness.