“I didn’t know you ran with the Kerrie Cabal these days,” Gallan said coolly.
Reish shook his head. “By now you should know that there are no divisions among those that are marked.”
Gallan did know that. All these warring factions were merely a front. Behind their petty squabbles all the Strained had the same single entity pulling their strings. That entity let them go about their little wars to give the illusion of hope. It would comfort people, make them think that no one was too powerful, that they still had a chance to make something of themselves.
“I thought you would be elsewhere, Reish.”
“And I thought you would.” Speaking was hard for Reish, he only had half of a mouth to operate with, the other side was permanently held in a hateful scowl. “Go!” he hissed between gritted teeth. It was clear that the beast-side was trying to end their conversation, and he had to strain to keep speaking.
“I wish I could, but I still have promises to keep.”
“No. I relinquished you of that obligation long ago.”
“But I have not.”
Reish scowled and turned to the side, facing Gallan’s men. He raised two fingers and they were compressed even tighter against the earth, muffled groans of pain warbling through their compressed throats. Gallan wanted to help them. But Reish’s power could not be denied.
“Are you so insistent on seeing me killed, Gallan?”
“It wouldn’t be like that. I’d find another way.”
“Just like how it won’t be that way for these men?” Reish’s right arm snapped into the air and the men were instantly pounded into the dust, compressed so thin that they became a dark powder that blew away in the wind.
Gallan dropped his head and exhaled heavily. “They understood the risks. As do I.”
“Gallan, so many people want you to live,” Reish reached down and withdrew the metal blade from the burly man’s chest. “Is it so important that you die?”
“If that’s what you want…then yes.”
Gallan hadn’t expected that to strike a chord, but a sudden pang crossed the Reish-side of the face, his eye grew moist and he blinked a tear.
“I don’t get what I want, Gallan. It’s not up to me anymore, don’t you see that? I would like to–” The beast-side of the face hardened, and its stony flatness crept over, muzzling Reish.
“Come home?” Gallan suggested.
The Reish-beast pulled its hand back and drove the metal blade forward. Gallan closed his eyes, preparing for impact.
Instead, though, he felt the hooks catching right beneath his shins.
“No!” he cried out as he was wrenched off his feet and sent flying backwards through the air. Years ago Husk had insisted that Gallan leave a vial of blood back at their base. It was bound to his second-shade, and could be manipulated to recall him if there was ever a moment of insurmountable danger.
As Gallan was pulled through the air by unseen strands he saw Husk swinging down towards Reish, guns blazing. He was followed by an entire squad of elite units. It was a suicide mission, and all to give Gallan time to escape.
“Husk, how could you?” Gallan sobbed, but it was too late. “You promised.”
It was a somber day back at camp, and everyone was weighed down with an overwhelming sense of despair. Not only had Gallan and his team failed to retrieve the vaccines, and not only had they lost a dozen of their best men, but news got around that Reish himself had returned, and seemingly for the express purpose of bringing their little enterprise to an end.
No one criticized Gallan, no one claimed him that he had chosen wrong. But then, no one had said that he made the right call either. They didn’t say anything to him at all, not even to ask what they were supposed to do. They could see in his eyes that right now he felt just as lost as the rest of them.
He hated that they could see that weakness. Their entire community was only able to function because of their confidence in him, their hope that he would always find a way. Well what if this time he couldn’t? What if he didn’t find any answers for their fears?
Dask was probably correct that they would still follow out of loyalty…at least for a while. Eventually the doubts would increase, though, and one-by-one they would start vanishing into the night.
No, he would have to give them something more. What exactly, he didn’t know. It seemed like he had already given his all, but that simply wasn’t enough. He would have to find a way to give them more than himself.
Gallan sighed in his boardroom and shook his head. Was that a paradox? He had solved many problems that others had thought were too difficult. But this one wasn’t just difficult. It was truly impossible.
Because, at it’s root, it was based upon another impossible problem.
Fact #1: Reish and he were tethered together. They each shared the same extra shade, three souls divided between two bodies.
Fact #2: Reish had also given his body to the beast. He was a strange amalgamation of three souls in one body. It tore his heart in terrible ways, but it also gave him power unfathomable.
Fact #3: The community depended on Gallan’s powers to survive in an otherwise untenable world. But that power was corrupted, because it came from the same shade that Reish had access to. Reish had taken their gift and polluted it with the beast. Now every time Gallan called upon those powers he indirectly strengthened the beast as well.
And so the blessing of Gallan’s power was actually his curse. Everything he did for his people only propped up the opposition against them. Gallan knew that his people had hoped that the bigger world would just forget about them, that Gallan would lead them far away while everyone else burned themselves to the ground. He had never made them that promise himself, but he had never explained the folly of it to them either.
Because the beast would never let them be, not so long as Gallan remained tied to the same shade as Reish. While it was already far stronger than Gallan, it too was handicapped by this strange union, and it could only be fully unleashed when all of its ties had been severed. Thus it had always only been a matter of time before the beast came to collect, to finally capture the remnants of Reish’s soul, Gallan’s soul, and the third that they shared.
Gallan had always hoped to find some hidden solution before that time of reckoning came, a secret way out of this problem. But in his heart he had always known that these hopes were in vain. He did not have the power to kill the beast, and so the beast would have to kill him instead. It must know that he would never surrender his own soul to it, so it would have to appease itself with Reish and the third’s. And then Gallan wouldn’t be around to defend his people anymore. All of his promises to them would be broken.
Just like his promise to Reish.
Well, no, he technically hadn’t broken that yet, he simply had not fulfilled it. He had never been able to see any way of doing so, and so once again he had sat back, vainly hoping for a solution to an impossible problem.
It had been years ago, when they were both still youthful and full of hope. The darkness of the world had only just begun to cloud their innocence. Reish had been taken by a caravan of slave-traders and seen horrible things that scarred him. When at last he fought his way to freedom he had burned with a desire to fight these wrongs. He came to Gallan and insisted that the clans responsible for this abominable trade be brought to justice.
At first Gallan had agreed with him, and they had gone on several missions together. But bit-by-bit Gallan realized that Reish’s true motives had less to do with justice, and more to do with vengeance. It wasn’t about protecting the innocent, it was only about punishing the guilty. Reish was fueled by a rage, and it frightened Gallan.
Eventually Gallan told Reish that they two of them would have to part. Gallan would continue fighting for the oppressed, but on his own terms.
The two friends had parted amicably, even sorrowfully. Reish had admitted that there was a darkness in his heart and that he was afraid that he might indeed lose himself to it. But still he had to see this through.
Reish had asked Gallan for a promise.
“Yes, anything,” Gallan had said.
“Watch over me, will you? And if I fall too far, bring me back. Promise me that you’ll do whatever is necessary to reclaim the memory of what I once was.”
It was a very open-ended oath, but Gallan had agreed. Evidently Reish today only saw one way that it could still be fulfilled: for Gallan to put him eternally to rest. To kill him for the sake of the man he once was. It was the only way that Gallan could see, too, though he tried to deny it.
At one point it might have been possible to nurture Reish back to wholeness, but there was no way to coax the beast out of him now. It had rightful claim of Reish, for he had bound himself to it by many other terrible oaths. Those promises had to be maintained too, and the beast was due its soul. It would take Reish, it would kill Gallan, it would take the third soul that bound them together.
That third soul was deeply tainted already, and it had become a conduit by which Gallan felt the corrupting fear from the beast constantly. No wonder he was beginning to despair.
“Do you know what you’re going to do?”
Gallan hadn’t even noticed Dask entering the room. He wasn’t startled, though, he was too weighed down for that.
“Yes,” Gallan said softly. “But I do not know what the outcome of it will be. I do not know that at all.”
Dask nodded. “You’re going to try and kill him?”
Gallan laughed, but without mirth. “No. Perhaps that is what I should have done, but the opportunity for that is long since past. Every day my power is waning, and his grows. I couldn’t harm him now if I tried.”
If at all possible, Dask’s face became even more grim. “So…what is there to do then?”
“I am going to go and talk with him.”
“Talk with him?!” Dask said incredulously. “What good is that going to do?”
“I will make him an offer. I could be wrong…but I think he might accept it.”
“What is it?”
“That is my own matter. Just know that regardless of the outcome, I won’t be here to protect you anymore. So I’m putting you in charge, Dask, and you must do all that you can to bring these people to safety.”
“What?! We won’t stand a chance without you.”
Gallan leveled eyes with Dask and looked a dread earnestness into him.
“No, you won’t. So you had better run, Dask. Take everyone and leave. Get as far from this place as quickly as you can.”
Dask was saying words but Gallan didn’t hear them. Probably some form of protest from the look on his face. It didn’t matter. There was no more discussion to be had. Gallan pushed past him and out into the night. Somewhere in his musings he had decided what he had to do.
There yet remained one fact that seemed an anomaly to him, one sliver that remained in the dark. Today he had spoken with Reish, not the beast. Somehow a part of his friend was still locked up inside of there. That suggested something to him.
But what advantage could be made from exploiting that? He wasn’t sure, quite possibly none. Never mind that.
Gallan pushed through a door and exited the barracks. The pitch blackness of night hid the storm that he felt, an invisible wind and rain that swept him in a flurry of fitful gusts.
He didn’t mind it at all. It felt powerful and invigorating and it fueled his resolutions. When all outcomes were uncertain, all that remained was trying to set right the one thing he could. He would do that, and then the world would have to decide for itself what it wanted to be.
Staring up at the sky, Gallan let the water sting his eyes. Then he gave a mighty leap high into the air and disappeared into the black.
In my last post I spoke at some length about the presence of violence in a story, and how it is often used to represent an underlying conflict. In this section I tried to focus directly on that conflict, and my hope is that it runs deep enough to warrant the violence that preceded it. This story is about a bleak and hopeless situation, and it only stands to reason that this darkness would result in war and death.
Of course in an epic with a happy ending, eventually that conflict would be resolved, and naturally the violence would end as well. And at that point, when there is no more conflict or war, the story ends. Because, as I said last week, all the things an author wants to say in their story, is said within the conflict. Teaching morals in a monotony of peace just isn’t effective.
I do realize, of course, that in this post I utilized a great deal of exposition. Gallan’s knot needed was quite complex and tangled, and I chose to communicate it without dialogue or action. This obviously contradicts the famous literary injunction to show, not tell. Essentially all that I did in this post was “telling.”
On Monday I’d like to examine the reasons for this decision and discuss if, and when, it makes sense to use exposition in a story. After that I will return on Thursday with the final entry in Shade. I’ll see you next week!