Faint

 

Against that positivism which stops before phenomena, saying “there are only facts,” I should say: no, it is precisely facts that do not exist, only interpretations…

Friedrich Nietzsche



Cornered by the merchants districts and some lower castes areas, the Creator’s Tower, where the kings of the past had bent the knee below to the Lord Founder, has remained locked for a thousand years, ever since the Creation Wars. While the monument’s fate remained slightly ironic for surrounded by lowbornes, the Phoenixkings were still being cremated in its sanctuary, sealed behind these doors by the Church. Indeed, emperors – traditionally known as Phoenixkings by the feudalists – had learned through hardships that their prestigious lineage, so symbolic for the Empire’s core ideology, needed to remain untainted. Thus, it explained the absurd drama surrounding the birth and the death of a Phoenixking. Religious zealots believed to this day that a Phoenixking’s death brings forth the rise of a new one, born from the purest nobility. As long as an emperor rules, the Empire’s fire will never die. Even lord Torquaz could lose himself in these thoughts when he stopped paying attention. We never consider how entitled we are, us the Imperials…

Walking in piss’ stank, Torquaz remembered instantly the grit of his world, swearing at the splatter on his cloak.

It stinks, lord Torquaz realized after catching a pig keeper walking his horde of cute creatures besides him. I always loved pigs. Almost fitting, these pigs; surrounded by this everlasting market that never shut down; seemed almost natural with all these lowbornes trading with other workers. Chickens and lambs join the pigs’ walk of shame; gracelessly screaming their distress, for Torquaz heard in their shame the call of a weak creature aware of its helplessness. Like pigs, we attempt to flee the tyranny of evil men, knowing how pointless it is, and awaiting our scheduled slaughter. Looking up to the Tower of the Creator – that unshakable figurehead monument -, Torquaz asked himself if the Lord Founder of the Imperial Order had gained anything from his rise as the unifier when Astannir valenKel did slit his throat. Astannir Kingkiller has forsaken us by slaying our saviour, and yet we worship his two sons’ statues, in dragon’s bay – as folkloric idols. How good is power when the Empire’s founder and the pork in my soup were equally powerless under a butcher’ knife?

Full of life and denied death, the Market below the Tower, was the closest society from the Imperial Order that the man known as Dantena van Torquaz knew of.

Leading a boar on a leach, the pigkeeper cursed Torquaz, calling him: “Westerling turncloak’. Most likely, that fellow had no clue of who he just insulted, probably recognizing the coats-of-arms broad on Torquaz’s black tunic below his cape. Not everyone knew of the House of Torquaz, but all knew the Pegasus of Fulgam, whose silver shone on his sigil.” Spitting on the road before Torquaz, the pig keeper gave him an insulting grin before continuing his road. Why would I torture a sycophant nobleman and appreciate this quarter-witted fool? He sees me for what I am to the core: I am a knight from the Westerlands who once searched for glory in the Empire. A Westerling boasts of his origins, but blames their king when they fail to defend their own heritage. Once, I ate at the table of a king. Lord Torquaz smiled thinking of the fools he once knew, the powerful and the fallen of his era were once both his friends.

After thinking of the Lord Founder’s regicide and this pig keeper, lord Torquaz wondered of the Dark Marquis’ thoughts when he too died like a pig, eaten by wolves as the foolish rebel. Eventually, Torquaz wondered if the idiots they all were, him included, could ever realize their own helplessness, before it is too late? Why do I care about doing the right thing? In this day and age, it is weakness foolishness. So why did I talk to this Borothar lad? Why do I even remember his name?

Knowing of the futility of his fondness for the boy, Torquaz dismissed his image from his thoughts, but not before deciding to sponsor the squire and recommend him to a better master – preferably Norman Daegoln. At least, he shouldn’t serve a mediocre knight like Melrag. Knights are dogs, meat for the battlefield who sold their swords to an established empire. A true knight doesn’t need a paper or a sword on his shoulder to dedicate his life to the sword. Avalan Den was taught by Norman Daegoln himself, so I figure I can arrange it?

Suddenly catching himself smiling, lord Torquaz acknowledged that he too kept his warrior’s spirit. Even though he didn’t fight on a battlefield or in a Gathering, he was crossing powerful foes, not wielding a sword, but an equally fearsome reputation. After all, he was the man known as Dantena van Torquaz.

Hiding in the shadows, he entered the darkness of an alley.



Interrupting his distraction, lord Torquaz stared besides the stone-bridge separating him from the Greyfallow Brewery, where he was heading, having a slayer to catch. Crossing the road, he saw his reflection in the water below and studied his face: How could women once desire my attention? Back then, I would break hearts and ignite passion on a whim. Now, lord Torquaz could barely stand his own image – his pale and flayed skin, scarless but always bloody face, and his pointy ears and his yellow eyes. Unbearable, the pain had to be stopped. That is why lord Torquaz resorted himself to abuse fel and mana potions, barely surviving his day. I should be dead. Mana potions had turned his skin pale and his hair albinos. On the other hand, fel beverages altered his body, making him similar to the elves of fantasy tales and twisting his ebony eyes into these horrific yellow eyes that mirrors turned red. Elves, dwarves and orcs, there is no such thing as old races, every phenomena can be explained with the right words. Magic, science, mythology and religion are one designation. Knowledge binds this reality, Torquaz convinced himself. Magic is dead, this is why men like Baron Greyfallow go unpunished.

Staring at the Brewery, Torquaz added to himself. Men like Greyfallow, and worse even avoid retribution. Men like me. Again, they are no men like me. Reaching his cape, he took a flask, containing the red substance known as fel, and swallowed it. Now, we just have to wait. Burning his throat, the fel went down his chest, relaxing his shoulders and his upper body, removing all the pain. I have a handful of minutes before it kicks in, than, a handful of seconds to strike.

Removing his hood, Torquaz felt his hair snapping under the wind, watching the entrance with an odd confidence. He bore the face of a man awaiting Death, aware that none would help him greet her.

Walking down the bridge, lord Torquaz gazed in the eyes of the two men guarding the wooden door behind the three of them. Typical sellswords, the lowborn wore leather armors and their daggers’ reach didn’t exceed Torquaz’s cane. One had a heavier built than Torquaz’, but nothing truly outrageous, while the other stood shorter and weaker. Having spent decades polishing his swordsmanship, lord Torquaz knew perfectly well that speed wouldn’t matter here.

“Gentlemen’, Torquaz said, raising his right hand in the air, left hand on his cane. “The baron awaits for my arrival.’

‘-Piss off, the shorter man said, exposing his graceless and horned teeth. Always the weak ones talk first and die last. If they were to attack me, this lad falls before his comrade. ‘The baron has no business with a cripple’.

‘-Oh sir, let me interject. I believe baron Greyfallow cares about what the Night Watch of His Majesty inquires of his business. As member of the Watch, I have full authority to search this building at will.”

After hesitating, the taller man said:

“You belong to the Night’s Watch?’

‘-Aye, Torquaz answered, sarcastically bowing. ‘Lord Watcher Dantena van Torquaz at your service.’

‘- Who?’ the larger man added, crossing his arms and his eyebrows frowning. Rookies, damn it.

‘- You are new, aren’t you?’

The shorter man interfered, posting himself in front of his friend. Attempting to control the situation, he said: ‘He’s from the Night Watch, and the bells didn’t ring for night time yet. This guy has no right to search the Baron.” A fool.

‘-Actually, this law lasted from the First Age,’ Torquaz tried to convince them. ‘In our days, it has…’

‘And who says it?’ The sellsword asked, angry this time. ‘You? Do you have a piece of paper to prove it?” So this thug is ready to bet this outcome on a piece of paper? A lawful citizen, he’ll be missed.

Having positioned himself at reach, the poor fellow barely witnessed the blade. Feeling relaxed and precise, Torquaz had drawn his dagger, piercing through the neck in an instant. Fel makes us strong. Blood fell from the man’s mouth, his eyes meeting Torquaz’s. The brace, the contact. The reality of blades. The short man fell on his knees, dropping his corpse an instant later, heads down.

On the other edge of the bridge, the taller man had swiftly reacted, posting himself in Imperial stance, his one-handed broadsword drown, describing a clumsy and tensed flower. Watching it, Torquaz’s eyes reacted quickly thanks to the fel, and he could easily read through the intricate moves. He has a hundred years to catch up with the man I used to be. Now, I have a handful of seconds to kill him. Having lost his dagger to a corpse, Torquaz looked at his options, while sniffing the shit. Death smelled like shit.

Aware of his advantage, the man ran forward, jabbing. On a bridge, Torquaz could probably find a way to turn his lack of reach to his advantage. Fainting to be outmaneuvered, Torquaz stumbled backwards, awaiting the slice. The thug’s blade fell above his head, scratching the bridge as Torquaz dodged by quickly stepping, finding himself behind the bandit. Rising and free, he tensed his hand and chopped the man’s neck with its edge. Disturbed, the man collapsed forwards, letting his sword fall on the floor. Faster thanks to the fel, Torquaz dropped his weight on one leg, reaching the ground before the man could compose himself. Grabbing the pommel of the sword, lord Torquaz directed the blade towards the thug, in denial of his fate: “Please”, he tried, before being stabbed in the heart. Lucky him, I chose the heart. Life faded away, and the corpse dropped backwards in the water, fated to end up in the sewers.

Feeling the emptiness in his chest, lord Torquaz gasped for air. Unless you like it, you never get used to it. Well, it is part of the job.

Spitting – throwing up, Torquaz had to catch the blood, now falling between his fingers, before realizing the fel had stopped acting in his favor. Now, brace yourselves for the side effects. Vomit fell down the bridge, joining the floating corpse. By the time lord Torquaz finished, the tall man had vanished deeper in the water. Plouf, just like that.

Regaining his stamina, Dantena looked at his hand, covered in blood. Why am I still alive? Stumbling to stand straight, he grabbed his cane, and pressed his hand on the door, covering it with his blood. Pushing it, he entered the Brewery.

Sitting in front of him on a desk, a man he never saw before consulted archives. Frozen in frustration, the man had blonde hair – typically from the Ironlands, some might say the Northernlands – whose temples turned grey, like his youth he had turned to ashes by living outside the law. Glasses highlighted his angry eyes, grey and stern, his chins hollowed and his thin lips being trapped in disdain.

Sudden and quick, his gaze fell upon lord Torquaz, and after noticing the blood, the disdainful lips twisted themselves into a crescent – the mocking smile of a killer spotting another.

“Out of all of them, the Red and Black House sends you?” the man asked. “The turncloak of Caelidor, Dantena van Torquaz?’

‘- Have we met before?’ Torquaz asked, containing his suffering, while preparing his dagger, still not being ready to strike before talking.

‘- Of course, I served under you in Shimeh, great battle, I’ve learned enough for a hundred years in one day thanks to your plan. Taking the Holy City within a fortnight, great! Splendid.”

Torquaz wasn’t impressed.

“Many men have tried to move me, sir,’ Torquaz replied. “Better men than thee, from Ithildir the God of the Sword to Richard Frates, Kingkiller. Where are they? Where am I?”

Undisturbed, the man with the glasses pursued, calm and composed:

“What does the Night Watch want from Baron Greyfallow?’

‘- I want a chat with the baron’, Torquaz laughed, ‘we’re old friends.’

“If this is the case, he’ll meet you in his office’, the man with glasses granted him passage with his hand. Raising with an impressive agility, he began to guide lord Torquaz within the Brewery.

Following his lead through the corridors, lord Torquaz heard the screams behind the sealed doors. A brewery? A slaughterhouse, or a brothel? Knowing it would be pointless to ask what hid behind these closed doors, Torquaz kept quiet, when he felt a shadow.

“You’ve became slow’, a voice said.

Turning backwards, a youthful looking lad, dressed in a gentleman’s attire, smiled at him with his long blonde hair falling on his shoulders. As he smiled, his eyes carried all the playfulness and hatred of a mean child. Nothing is more cruel than a child, and no one is colder than the Baron Greyfallow. Staring at the outlaw kingpin, Torquaz looked down at his chest. Greyfallow had his pommel in his hand, the blade of his sword piercing through Torquaz’s chest. A river of blood covered the ground.

Why am I still alive?  A breeze howled within the Brewery, and Torquaz felt cold.


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