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The gangs all here... some of my best friends actually...
The quiet man stood at the base of a great mountain.
He had no memory of how he came to be there. Just beyond where he stood was a wall of silver-sheened fog. When he looked at the fog, he recalled a sensation of pain and loss, as well as a curious numbness. The only way clear of it was a path winding its way up.
He began to climb.
The path would often melt and shift. At first it was a rough mess of broken rock and clinging shrubs, but after several steps it became a fine paved road, mid-stride. A few moments later, it warped, and again became broken rock.
The cycle repeated, endlessly.
Confused by these shifts, he often stumbled, and once nearly plunged from the path and tumbled down the mountain’s flank. This filled him with even more fear than such a fate should. He wasn’t sure exactly why this should be. It was such a strong fear he curled into a ball, and for a time he refused to go on.
As he crouched, shivering, he heard weeping. It was a musical but melancholy sound, and echoed through the air of this strange place. A sound that struck a chord in his soul. A sound that felt like a memory.
It called to him, compelled him. He stood, and walked on.
He came to an open gateway, finely carved from white stone, standing proud. Beyond lay a shining city.
As he passed through the gate, it fell into ancient dust. The cityscape became a tumbled ruin of classical marble, fallen statues, and darkling shadows.
He glimpsed a female figure walking away from him, into the decaying streets. Feeling lost, he quickened his pace and followed.
Around him the city rose to glory, and then spiralled into oblivion, in an eternal dance of architectural evolution and devolution, uncaring aeons pirouetting endlessly as recycled moments came and went and then came again.
He heard no sound besides his own breath, and the sound of his feet. He saw no other sign of life besides the half-glimpsed shape of the woman, always just at the edge of sight.
Sometimes she seemed no more than an outline, a tired and fraying wraith only barely clinging to a remembrance of substance.
Onwards and upwards he climbed, until, reaching the crest, he could go no higher.
A shattered amphitheatre rested atop the lonely mountain, under a cloudless and starlit sky. A cold breeze blew about the ruin, tugging on the bushes growing between fallen stones, and rustling through the quiet man’s hair.
Even from this height he could not see beyond the cold, alien, fog that lapped about the mountain. Only the sky, where the moon hung amongst its escort of stars, and the mountain itself were clear.
On one flank of the mountain lay the city from which he had just emerged. On the other, pocked with hillocks and miniature valleys, was a sprawling necropolis.
A word entered his head.
It was a word he did not truly understand; yet he knew it named this place, or at least the echoes of it that rose and fell around him.
In the centre of the amphitheatre, incongruous under the cloudless sky, lay a puddle of water.
The quiet man approached and gazed at his reflection.
A beautiful figure gazed back with eyes of guttering argent fire. Rising behind the figure’s back was the fading suggestion of furled wings.
The quiet man started, confusion and fear rising in him. Yet, somehow the reflection seemed right, except that much of the life and vibrancy that should have clung to it was gone.
The quiet man shivered. Somehow he knew that the fog, and whatever cursed this place, had taken it. Was still taking it.
His attention was pulled away by the sound of weeping. The quiet man looked towards its source.
It came from the necropolis.
As with the city proper, the graveyard was forever shifting and changing. One moment the tombs were immaculate, the next they were a wilderness of tumbled and gaping sarcophagi, ash, bones, and dust.
A flicker of motion caught his eye, and he saw the woman flitting amongst the gravestones.
The quiet man shivered. He didn’t want to follow her into the necropolis. He sensed that whatever ghosts still haunted this place, they would be at their strongest there.
Yet, he felt driven. He desired to know something and only from those ghosts could he learn it.
Slowly, he took a step forward, then another, and another.
He entered the necropolis.
He could no longer see the woman, but he could still hear her. He followed the sound of her weeping through the looming mausoleums, until, at the edge of a great cliff, he found her.
She stood before him, and at last he could see her clearly. She was a tall woman with raven hair and eyes of piercing blue. Her skin was olive gold, and her face was statuesque and beautiful, marred only by her constant tears. Yet, he could not seem to fix the fine details of her features in his mind, and there was about her an air of irrelevance.
Standing beside her was a huge bronze clad warrior. Like the woman, the features of his face were faded and blurred.
Somehow they both seemed archaic.
The three stood for a moment, frozen in a strange panorama – a winged man, a bronze clad warrior, and a mysterious, weeping, woman.
The quiet man broke the silence.
“Lady, why do you weep?”
The woman turned her sad gaze towards him.
“Do you not know? You stand here in the resting-place of my family, in a paradise now nearly ruin, a place that only barely recalls its bygone glory. My brother and I are all that is left of those who once dwelt here. Our fall, and that of our home, was caused by your Lord and by you and yours. Yet you ask why I weep?”
The quiet man frowned, on the verge of recollection, yet not quite remembering.
“I… I do. I ask, my Lady.”
The bronze clad warrior roared in anger and started forward.
“Lies, Eris! He mocks us!”
Again, the lady held up a hand.
“Ares, bide a moment.”
Again the warrior halted. The mysterious woman turned her eyes back upon the quiet man, and gazed upon him searchingly.
“Do you mock us, Angel?” she asked.
The quiet man shook his head.
“No. My lady, no. I do not.”
The mysterious woman stood for a moment, thinking, and then nodded slowly. A faint and curiously satisfied smile played across her lips.
“I believe you.”
The warrior stirred angrily, but Eris stepped across to him and placed a calming hand upon his muscled arm. She leaned into him and whispered something in his ear. In time, he nodded grudgingly and relaxed.
Eris turned back to the quiet man, and spoke.
“Please, you must forgive my brother. He is very brave and proud, and does not like to see his honour slighted. He bears a grudge against you, because of what your kind have done to us. I sense you can understand this – you and he have traits in common. Do you not agree?”
The quiet man seemed to think for a moment, and then nodded.
“I understand this.”
Eris seemed pleased.
“Yes, you are much like him. You are strong, to have found your way to this forgotten and forbidden place, despite the dangers. A worthy accomplishment, you should take pride in it… I wonder though, why you have come?”
The quiet man frowned.
“I… do not recall. I cannot even recall my name.”
Eris stepped forward, concern etched on her face.
“The confusion and loss that pervades our dead city, and the wall of mists around it, must be at work upon you. It is part of your Lord’s plan – slaying us is no easy thing. But if it can be made as though we never existed, then we are gone. He wishes us to forget ourselves, and to be forgotten. Can you remember nothing?”
The quiet man’s brow furrowed, and then cleared somewhat.
“I remember a shining throne, and a voice…”
“A voice of authority and dominion? That voice belongs to your Lord.”
She stopped for a moment, apparently uncertain.
“Surely your Lord forbids such as you to seek out a place such as this, and beings such as we?”
The quiet man closed his eyes, trying to remember.
“My Lord. I remember Him. He… He does forbid us to come here, but… I was curious. I wanted to know. I wanted to see what was hidden. I wanted to learn the secrets of your family, and of this place.”
Eris gently caressed the quiet man’s cheek.
“So brave! So strong willed. So willing to follow your desires and think for yourself. Surely your Lord cannot approve of this… But the fire of freedom burns within you does it not? That is a fire you should fan. Perhaps he is wrong to deny such things to you and your brethren?”
The quiet man stepped back, as if slapped.
“No. I will not hear this. My Lord is wise and all knowing. He loves us.”
Eris’ face flushed.
“How naive you are! He banished us to this place and seeks to withhold our knowledge from you. He fears us. He loves you? No. He fears you! If he is so wise, then why is this so? You were right to come here. You were right to question. You are like my brother - capable, strong, brave, and a leader. You shouldn’t hide this. You should believe in yourself. Perhaps, in time, you could become your vaunted Lords better? Perhaps that is why he fears you? You should…”
Eris’ hands flew to her lips in consternation.
“What am I saying? I am insulting a guest and slandering his Master! I should not do such a thing. Please, forgive me. I am imprisoned here, and nearly alone. You must forgive me.”
The quiet man hesitated, and then nodded.
“I forgive you, Eris. I am sorry you are imprisoned here. Perhaps… I would not have thought it possible, but perhaps my Lord has made a mistake.”
He cast his eyes downward, before continuing.
“These things make me uncomfortable. Perhaps we could talk of your secret now? And that of your brother?”
Eris smiled, and took the quiet man’s hands.
“I have already given you my secret. Think upon my words, and in time you will understand, and from that understanding you will learn my brother’s secret as well.”
The quiet man looked uncertain. Eris leaned in and kissed him upon the forehead.
“I sense you want something more tangible. Very well.”
She reached into her robes and withdrew a golden apple. So well was it crafted that every detail was perfect. Eris held it before him a moment, tantalising and teasing, and then she handed it over with a girlish laugh.
Eris caressed the quiet man’s face again, and his eyes returned to hers.
“Keep it close to you. Remember us by it, and think on what I have said. You will understand my secret in time, and when you do, it can be a symbol of what you have learned. When that time comes, perhaps you will pass my gift on to others as well.”
The quiet man smiled joyously.
“Thank you Eris.”
He turned his eyes back to the apple for a moment, and then raised his gaze back to her.
“I have remembered my name.”
Eris, Goddess of Discord and Strife, and Ares, God of War, stood amongst the revenant ruins of dead Olympus, surrounded by the graves of their family, and waited to hear the name of an angel.
“It is Lucifer.”