Time stops nights halt kites fall,
Stars fade lights out dark now.
“You ever wonder why they do that?”
“Ya’ mean the lads over there workin’?”
“Well, not them specifically, it’s rude to talk about people when you’re in eyesight range of ‘em. Who I mean are the types of folks that dedicate their lives to bein’ rich and living all lavishly, whole lives wasted trying to get somewhere, ya know?”
“It’s not a waste if they succeed, now is it?”
“I suppose not. But who needs all that. Some company, some smokes, a lot of cans and a place to spend the night during the rainstorms, that’s all we really need ain’t it Railey?”
Railey could hardly argue the point further as he took a drag and a swig.
“Doesn’t pay to be hypocritical.” Railey muttered, and not in a grudging way but a self-berating kind of way.
“Nothin, just thinkin’ about what you said.”
“Wha’d I say?”
“Nevermind, it was better when you left the matter alone.” Railey started getting mad, alcohol had that effect on him when already he was in a somber mood. “That’s your problem, you can’t read a room,” though he gestured to a motley sidewalk, overrun with crowded buildings, weeds, trash and empty cans. The empty cans were his in all fairness. “You got to learn to let things go, if I say let it go then that’s that. No need to make a deal out of it. You’re stupid, your my best friend but sometimes I swear you’re a simpleton.”
“Now come on Railey, don’t get all mad now. I’m sorry.” He felt bad so he finished his own can and set it neatly in a stack with his other empty tins. Railey glared.
“See, why you gotta arrange them like it’s a precious prize! Crunch the damn cans like this and toss ‘em in the street. Ain’t nobody but bums out here this time of the night anywho.”
“Hey Railey, you and me are out here!”
“Because we are bums.” Railey’s anger evaporated as swiftly as it had come. He popped open a new can before finishing his last one. He learned long ago that finishing something meant it was gone. Gone forever and faded from time and memory, culture and nature. The night developed to the point where any who wondered its trash filled streets in the half lit moon did so with melancholy and depression. A sad nostalgia and a hopeless foresight. Memories, whether pleasant or gloomy, carried with them a cool blue banner of heartache, a forlorn atmosphere wrapped around the hippocampus trapped inside the skull encased behind skin and hair and there it sits feeding the body like a tube injecting fresh drugs in a limp comatose patient. A regretful swig followed by a hearty swig followed by a maudlin sip.
Railey stood so as not to fall in the pattern too deeply of old thoughts and rusty dreams.
“Come on,” Railey said with a motion of his hand.
“Where we going?”
“Walkin’ til we stop walkin’.” He said nothing in response and neither did Railey. He knew Railey was in one of his moods and during those times it was best to go along with whatever happened. He had spent enough days with Railey to know at times like these he just needs company and someone to listen.
For an hour the pair walked, in an aimless direction until their legs were too worn to go further. More than a couple cans were left as casualty on the way to randomness. The two went as far as leaving the second, inner city, out of the destitute poverty and into the stately main city.
“Come on Railey, you know as well as I do that if the city watch sees us they’ll give us a beating and throw us out,” He complained.
“We’re fine, no one knows where we’re from unless you tell ‘em.”
“I suppose that’s true. Won’t say a word ‘bout that.”
They came up on a bench and Railey sighed in relief as he let his legs fold into the seating and his back no longer had to ache from his shambling inebriated walk. A moment to gaze in wonder at the beautiful architecture that Garghent flaunted. Like the ghosts of giants frozen in place, only their massive skeletons remaining, did the odd and lovely constructions stand, defying mediocrity and decay. With sharp pointed tips and spiraling pillars and tangled vines and dark green and grey moss and etched stone and steel contoured to fit around convoluted foundations and convexing and concaving walls with flying buttresses connecting one building to another. Like palaces and temples and ziggurats the common structures of Garghent were both extravagant and artful works of masterful engineering, delicately and powerfully combining ancient designs and traditional styles with modern techniques and advanced methods. The entire city planned out to be geometric and ordered, with so many side roads and alleyways connecting the major concentricly circular roads to each other under overhanging balconies and raised arches. The flare of nature completed the neo-goth esthetic, bringing it back to reality and adding earthy greens and browns to the cold greys and reds of stone and brick and silver steel. Brightening the city were flame-lit street lights and various mixed flowers growing in sidewalks and pots hanging on the sides of houses. The skyscrapers were like behemoth castles, the claw of man reaching to the heavens. Though the overall vision was one of antique ecstaticism, one must not overlook the modern appliances and the flare of abused technology. Cars, buses, trucks, hydrants, pipes, power lines, sewage drains, water towers and wells, and all the rest of the convenient human inventions that the modern aged city could not function without.
Railey should know all about the city, he had worked as a construction foreman for decades, expanding the city and restoring all the oldest and most worn districts.
“You see that building there? The tall one with the extended walls on the sides that makes it look like great arms reaching to embrace the whole world? The one standing like a stone god gazing over its domain? Well sure as dawn I built that. Helped design and check every damned screw that went into that thing. Now the,” mockingly,” holy Janiform Amenais lives in that grotesque hunk of stone and steel.” Railey spat.
“What you callin’ it gross for? You just said you built the thing!” It was impressive, over two hundred meters high and a monument to match any of the greatest man-made wonders with. Garghent’s magnum opus as far as architecture concerned itself.
“Once Amenais moved in and made it his official capital building it lost its worth to me. May he rot in hell.” Railey pledged.
“The big man’s not so bad? He gave us that second city as a place to live, otherwise I’d be one of the sewer slickers.” He pulled some grass up from the ground and sniffed, it was nice to smell healthy plants again.
“Oh don’t you go on about that sewer life, you never would have been resigned to that fate!” Railey couldn’t think of a convincing argument to say why, but what did it matter, things were the way they were. No changing that fact. Still, he felt he owed him an explanation as to why life would have worked out just perfect if things had only gone a little different. Nothing came to mind.
“Say Railey, why you hate the big man so much? I always think about that but never had the courage to ask. Matter o’ fact you never talk about your past.”
“Why do I hate Janiform Amenais? It’s a long story so you better open another can there and sit back in this bench. I’ll tell it, I’ll tell the whole damned story. It’s about time someone heard and I think you’ve got the right ears to listen. I’ll warn you, a fair warnin’, your soul’ll turn black and hatred will grow in your heart. Even you who’s too stupid to know the concept of hate.
“Such is my story, the story of Railey Isle, Railey the builder, Railey the father, Railey the soldier, Railey the traitor.”
An unfamiliar tingle of excitement made his bones shiver, finally hearing Railey’s story would be worth a lifetime of cans. He did opened another can, however.
Railey regaled his tale, “Thirty-six years ago I finished my studies at Garghent University, just a standard college with standard teachings for average people to do average work. Nothing dishonest about it. Was probably around your age once I graduated. I joined some motley crew of construction workers trying to do their best. We didn’t do nothin’ wrong and we did an all right job working on bridges and repairing water damage. With ‘em for a few years, doin’ repetitive work ninety hours a week. Just sleep, work, eat, work, and more work. That was life for a few years, earning enough to pay off a small apartment and ya’ know just the cost of livin’. And cans too, not as much as I do now, but a fair share.”
“During that time, under hot sun in humid air with dry lips I felt a curious sensation, almost like I was out of my body but all the way inside it at the same time. Never could quite explain it, but it was the most powerful experience I ever had up to that point. Turns out I did what’s called enlightenment. I was awakenin’ my very own Aspect. Now don’t you look too surprised! You knew somethin’ was different about me. Anyways I can no longer use it so don’t fuss.” Railey gulped down half a can in one go before continuing.
“I know you’re wonderin’ what I had so let me tell you now to get it out the way. My Aspect was Allotheism. Strange gods is what that means. Took me years to figure out what it did but as soon as I found out, well, so did the military. They like to amass all the powers for their wars and such. They had me workin’ in a shifty science and research wing in their fancy labs under the supervision of the most vile bastards that ever did walk this planet. All kinds of tests and inhumane experiments. You know what inhumane means? Well it means they stretch a mans skin and try exchanging it with another, they grow brains from the stem cells of babies, worst of all,” A belch, “worst of all they kidnap average folks and put them through traumatic and drug-induced torture operations, absolutely break apart minds and install their own programming. You see what they are doing is trying to force awaken Aspects. If not in the poor victim, then their kids, growing up with damaged and monitored parents. Makin’ sure they grow up crazy, angry, driven, broken, aimless. Here, Garghent steps down from its high-rise high topped buildings and extends its hand like a hero saving some poor orphans. Trains them and offers an esteemed spot in their holy cause.”
“I hate it all, it sickens me. And now a whole generation of kids is growing up without knowing a damned thing about the world, stuck in a cycle designed to harvest their latent abilities. It’s workin’ too.” Railey needed another half-can swig. Turned out to be insufficient, he opened another can and started sipping, letting his mind work through the events of his life. He purposefully left out the specifics of the torturous experiments, but oh how they seared his brain, those images of gore, mutilation and abuse…
“The number of powers is increasing. Amenais must be writhing in joy that his plans’s going right on track. While this was happenin’ and it still is today mind you, they watched closely how my power functioned, what made it tick and the potential uses. After we figured Allotheism out, you see I bought into the whole agenda, thought I was some special hero who was going to make the world a better place. That’s what they fed me. Once we knew how my power worked, I was sent back to the construction business, only now I was officially employed by both the merchant and military factions, sanctioned to do ‘any work I deem necessary’. So I did the work, built this city up like no other before me. Did a fine damn job I tell you.”
“Ah excuse me, the cans is gettin’ to me, never told you what my Aspect did. I could… whats the word? Enchant, imbue, whatever, these strange gods into different constructions. Make them alive in a way buildings weren’t supposed to be. My mission was to turn Garghent into a living city. Each of my buildings are unique, with their own style and planning and architecture. With my power I could bring out these strange gods and offer them a home in one of my buildings. They don’t live in them like you or I, but they become them, the walls, the floor, the roof, everything. Like a spirit but more material, more intrinsic to the building itself. They became alive I tell you! You’d never be able to notice it.”
“The strange gods weren’t a creation of mine ya know? I merely established a connection to forces beyond our comprehension. Ancient forces forgotten by man and beast, waning in their power and slowly fading out of existence. A savage war stopped my constructions, they needed every power for their losing battles. Allotheism was used for military. I tell you, when giant, impossible beings wreak a primordial havoc, your belief of the world becomes questioned. Nothing is the same after those sights.”
“During that four year war everything changed. Amenais saw just how powerful I could be. Another decade of building my strange architecture and Garghent transformed in my eyes. No longer the great and noble city I was brainwashed into believing. The city under, the sewer slickers as you call ‘em, the kidnappings and tests, the exploitation of its people for wealth and power and imperialism. Garghent is a cold and unforgiving place.
Even knowin’ all that, I thought it was for the greater good, thought that I was improving it. Still I helped plan the second city, our shanty slice of Garghent. Guess I ended up with what I deserved. Nonsense! I never did enough, and I knew too much to make excuses for what I done.” Another emptied can.
“During the time I built that capital tower, the one over there we was talkin’ about just now, when it was under construction Amenais decided to take my son, just a boy at the time, thought he could ‘encourage’ his awakening. He wanted another power like mine, thought it was genetic. Their tests left him dead. Overworked him. They didn’t know he had a heart defect. My poor son.” Railey drunk another can for his lost son who died many years ago. Sitting to his left he was emptying his own can out of respect and staying silent for Railey’s loss.
Clearing his throat Railey continued, “After my son died I know longer could use my power. Lost my center and balance n’ all that. Allotheism was gone and my daunting new tower had no god enchanting it. Amenais did what he does best, sent me to the torture rooms next. They tried gettin’ my power to resurface, but ain’t nothing left in me after Jak died,” Railey’s son, “They kept me for years and years, and then he got more innocent people to torture right in front of me. His theory was that you could awaken another Aspect with access to my strange gods if they were near. Dozens, maybe hundreds, I can’t remember too well, but lots of people died disproving that theory. My power communicated with me, the gods in their weird language and I learned things about the Aspect. Unbelievable things! By heaven the damndest things! I reckon nobody knows as much as me about Aspects, not even Talis Ranis himself!”
“Amenais grew bored of me, he forgot how I fit into his plans and discarded me when some other poor bastard caught his eye, to be used and manipulated. I woke up in a rotten ditch in the second city I built, that woulda’ been about twelve years ago if I recall properly.” Railey paused for a while, taking in the cleaner air and draining another can. They were nearly out of can.
He stayed quiet. Processing the older man’s story. About half of it he didn’t understand and the other half needed more clarification. Gods and tests and wars and torture and living buildings and the Aspect and a dead son…
“Well Railey, I suppose you was right. That did get me feeling some way. You’ve been kind to me and I wish there was somethin’ I can do to help you.”
“Just listening was enough, I needed to get the weight off my shoulders you see?” Railey couldn’t explain his mood, it was like some primal sense of doom and misery overwhelmed his body and mind, suddenly driving him to act in a way he hadn’t felt in over a decade.
That inexplicable sixth sense all humans carry dormant in their vessel, one that is heightened and honed during meditation and awakening, one that despite Railey’s loss of care and purpose in the world had somehow returned, either by drunken belligerence his faded power beckoned to him or by serendipital chance, that worn sixth sense made its return to the grumpy old man with a dozen too many cans down his gullet.
“You listen here,” The sudden intensity made him jump. “You’re a good fella’, good hearted and good natured. If everyone was like you there’d be no problems in the whole world. You know what I’m saying? I failed to save my own son, worthless thing that I am. I want you to promise me that you will fix our corrupted world? Make it your mission to do only good deeds!”
He could hardly speak, Railey pressed on him some great responsibilities that really didn’t make a can of sense.
“I don’t know what’s gotten to me but you have to swear to me, on the memory of my son, and the anguish of your life, on the honor of all the sewer slickers, you’ve got to swear because I’m your friend and we’ve had damn good times over the years with these cans and you’ve got to!” Railey was hysteric, the alcohol in his blood making him lose all the walls he built up. He was more than a little disturbed by Railey’s behavior. But in a similar drunken state he only found himself agreeing to the old man’s ramblings, a fervent zeal sparking a hope in his spirit that he didn’t know existed. A desire to overcome his poor, homeless upbringing, to overturn the city and free all the sewer slickers and poor folks being tortured and end all the wars. Such were the thoughts that he entertained on this odd night of drinking too much and talking for too long…
“Railey Isle. The legend himself. How do you do?” A bit of awe and a twisting grin were the only causes of fluctuation in an otherwise monotone voice. The voice of a newcomer, dressed in all black with a black mask of a blank face save for a wild, overexaggerated sadistic grin. He was neither taller than he was short, nor skinnier than he was bulky. Yet everything about the atmosphere where he walked screamed threat and lethality. His overly long sleeved shirt hid his hands and the black pants went all the way down to his bare feet. The hair on his head sprawled out around his mask like tiny dead tree branches, hanging oddly still. A black belt looped around his waist and there hung a sheathed dagger with ebony hilt.
Those were all the features one could gather from his voice and appearance, nothing else could be determined. This was the world’s deadliest assassin, you were unlucky if you even knew that much.
“Creeper.” Railey’s slurred words called out at once.
“I am honored you know my name.” Though there was nothing indicating that Creeper actually felt this way, he merely spoke it as if he were reading from an uninteresting manuscript.
“What brings you here on this fine night?” Railey asked cautiously, though he knew the answer already.
“Tying up loose ends, Amenais’ orders.” Creeper spoke matter of factly.
“Ah, here I thought he’d forgotten all about me.” Railey had sensed it, sensed something and he knew his time was up. “You mind?” He pulled out a smoke.
Railey lit it. He was too paralyzed to do anything, so he sat frozen. Creeper was a living folk monster, something scary you threaten sneaky orphans with so they don’t steal your cans.
“Promise you won’t kill him? He ain’t hurt a soul in this city.”
“The contract only said you.” Creeper’s voice was ice and that ice was death.
“That’s a relief.” Railey forced a smile to him. As much as he wanted to lash out and fight Creeper, he knew as well as the day is long that he had no shot in hell at beating him. Railey came to terms with his fate, maybe it was the alcohol acting as an aphrodisiac or the lifetime of regret and failure or the wasted years he should have spent making things right…
What did it matter now? Railey was too late.
“I’ll see you soon, Jak.” He closed his eyes and downed the rest of his can as he ashed his last smoke.
Creeper approached him, unsheathed his dagger and placed it deep through Railey’s ribs. Nothing more was said and Creeper left the dying man to have a few minutes of compensation. It was unprecedented that Creeper allowed a target to die slowly, but such was the reputation of Railey Isle that a slow death was deserved. Great men ought to experience that last flash of lucidity and realization, of memory and peace. Lesser men deserved to die all at once, nothing but bleakness and the empty void.
Creeper left the two on the bench, and disappeared into the night.
He immediately rushed to Railey’s side, trying to pressure the wound into closing. Blood gushed and bubbled freely down his stomach and leg and the bench and into the soft green ground.
“Leave it, leave it!” Railey sputtered. “It’s over for me.”
“No, Railey!” He was crying as freely as Railey bled. The tears mixing with the red, alcohol-poisoned life force that was Railey Isle.
“Allotheism.” Railey suddenly said, his dying body finding the path to his Aspect one last time. His eyes became every color in the spectrum of light, an impossible and beautiful visage contrasted by a man whose very life was fading too fast.
“I’m going to imbue you with the strongest and most eldest of the strange gods.” He started giving a weak chuckle, “those bastards never figured out my Aspect, I can use it on people too!” Coughing interrupted him, blood spurting from his mouth as his lungs filled up with the vital fluid.
“Gemma, in you will be the strange god meant for that tower, the one Janiform Amenais lives in. It is the tower meant for Sechther, and now yours by right.” Railey’s grip on Gemma tightened, the last of his strength. “You must become Janiform and and…” There was so much more to say, so many secrets of Garghent and the Aspect and the strange gods. What have I done? Wasted too much time…
Gemma laid the limp body of Railey flat on the bench. He didn’t feel any of the nonsense power that Railey was muttering about, his only emotion was one of utter loss and sorrow. Too drunk to make sense of anything and saying final words of farewell to his friend, Gemma scooped the last can and tipped its contents on the ground by Railey’s head. He had no other gifts to offer his corpse. All Gemma owned was a worn pair of shoes, a tattered shirt and hole-patched pants, a favor from one of the cooks, an oxidized coin and the empty can in his left hand.
And the chief of Railey’s Allotheism strange gods, Sechther, who could finally taste the air through Gemma’s nose, a bittersweet smell, stinging with the rancid scent of human endeavors, but oh so full of life!