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Chapter 21

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Chapter XXI

Reality Questioned

 

Inside the large cavern of the sanctum, Alan continues to walk across a long bridge lit only by blue lights along the sides of the scarily thin platform. Below is complete blackness, in front is a set of rock stairs that lead onto the stone platform that he had seen from the other side of the ravine.

Alan limps up the marble steps to see a figure limp with glowing red restraints around their wrists, hanging limply between the two pillars. As Alan limps up to recognise the figure is Gerrard. His older brother looked completely battered and bloodied, as if he had been the survivor of some terrible battle. Gerrard looked up at his younger brother in pleading desperation.

“Little brother, free me.” Gerrard said through what looked and sounded like mouthfuls of blood. Alan looked up at his older brother with some trepidation, he had been warned about being tempted, but decided that because the man who had warned him was hanging right in front of him, he would be alright to proceed.

“Gerrard.” Alan said as he continues to walk forward stretching out his hand, it had been so long since he had seen his brother in the flesh, that he wanted this moment to last forever. But something was wrong, he couldn’t tell what, so he slowly began taking his hand back and stopping walking a few feet away from Gerrard.

“Help me, little brother. I have been imprisoned for so long.” Gerrard said getting angry at his younger brother’s hesitation.

“Do you know who did this to you?” Alan asked looking around, but the response was completely different from what his brother had been like in real life, further cementing the fact that something was wrong. As Gerrard laughs cruelly.

“Who do you think brother. Griefful.” Gerrard said, his eyes glowing in the light of the torches that surrounded them. He laughs again and then continues. “What if I could tell you who The Shadows servant and spy is. The one you have been searching for. All this time.” Gerrard finished looking down at his little brother.

“No!” Alan shouted stepping backwards, whoever this was. It wasn’t Gerrard.

“He knows how to achieve what you seek. A peaceful existence for you and your family. All you need to do is accept his word, as I have.” Gerard spoke, almost to the point of chanting now.

“The Shadow and his servants are bound only to the physical plain.” Alan said and whilst he was not running back across the bridge, it was taking all of his strength not too.

“What else is there? Free me and together we can find out. Gain the power that you crave and save you and sons future.” Gerrard replied, cackling madly now.

“No.” Alan said, calmer now, if he gave in now, he would lose everything. He would not trade that for the promises of this apparition. At this however Gerrard starts to become angry.

“You must free me!” Gerrard spoke as he leaned forwards, so that he was within an inch of where Alan was standing, but his younger brother stood his ground in the face of these threats and promises.

“You have nothing to show me, imposter.” Alan said and this person who was imposing as his brother finally dropped the façade.

“Very well.” Gerrard spoke. As suddenly a ring of the same red light surrounds Alan as the figure of Gerrard melts away into the figure of Griefful, who wore a cloak and hood that obscures the top half of his face so that Alan could not make out who it was. The Hooded figure of Griefful begins to laugh.

“Griefful.” Alan said as he began to feel hazy. As he tried to back up away from the figure, he begins to swing around, before losing consciousness.

 

After what seems like a lifetime, Alan snaps back into consciousness to inside of a gunship where Codsworth is giving instructions to his men.

“There's no doubt. The chopper was carrying Lord Boris. We've scanned the area and he's meeting with someone inside the building.” Codsworth spoke, addressing the troopers that had agreed to come on this mission.

“Thanks, Codsworth.” Dmitri said, who was standing right next to Alan who turns around at Dmitri's voice, something wasn’t right, but before he could think on it anymore Dmitri looks to him for instructions. “What are your orders Alan?” Dmitri asked, looking to him curiously, Alan looked like he had no idea what was going on, which was odd considering the facts of the situation.

“Orders?” Alan said looking around at the group surrounding him, everyone looked back at with either looks of confusion or slight alarm that their commander was losing his mind. Which in a way, he was.

“Are you alright Alan?” Dmitri said, he had never seen the man so indecisive and if truth were told, it wasn’t good. They needed his quick thinking if this mission was going to be pulled off. Alan continues to look around in slight confusion.

“Where am I?” Alan asked, he had a vague recollection of a massive cave system, but that couldn’t be right. If that were the case, then why was he here.

“I don't understand.” Dmitri said, putting his hand on Alan’s shoulder, fearing the worst. That he had indeed gone mad.

“Where am I? You must tell me.” Alan said, getting slightly concerned about his sanity, this wasn’t right. He had defiantly been in a cave, before any of this had occurred. Could he have been knocked out and forgotten all about this mission somewhere in between the two events taking place.

“The buisness quarter of the city.” Dmitri said, tilting his head to get a better look at Alan, fearing that his old friend had suffered some form of concussion.

“What is happening here?” Alan asked, going to the next question in his mind, now that the matter of their location was sorted, he now wanted to know why they were here. When he was almost certain that both Dmitri and Codsworth out in the west.

“An unknown plane slipped through the air defences. We suspect Lord Boris to have been on board.” Dmitri said, resting his hand on the gun at his belt.

“And?” Alan said, he was slightly confused as to why he was getting so little information out of the troops, but that question was quickly answered.

“Alan, this is your mission. You called myself and Codsworth back from the front to complete it. Are you sure you’re alright?” Dmitri said. Alan paused at this. His mission. What in the gods name was happening? He was about to object, but the looks on the other faces confirmed what Dmitri had said. So, deciding that this was real, he decided to forget about the cave and just assume that he had forgotten a huge chunk as to what had happened between the sanctum and this mission.

“Tell me who is inside this building.” Alan said, and the people around him looked relieved that their commander seemed to have at least returned to his senses.

“Charlie intercepted a transmission recalling Lord Boris to the capital. We believe he is meeting with his master, the man only known as Griefful.” Dmitri said, taking out the gun as they continued to hurtle along towards their destination, wherever that was.

“Yes, I remember.” Alan said, he did in fact, he remembered how he had discovered the something that required more backup, which was obviously why Dmitri and Codsworth were here.

“Your orders Alan.” Dmitri said, gun in hand, as the others on board also drew their weapons and the gunship, they were in started to slow down.

“We shall capture them. Then bring them to the Mayor.” Alan said as he looks up at Dmitri with a smile on his face. “I believe the time has come to identify this puppet master.” Alan finished as he realised that he was holding his staff in his hand.

“What if they escape?” Dmitri asked.

“They cannot be allowed to escape...” Alan started as the doors of the gunship open to reveal the city passing bellow them at immense speed, as Alan continues. “If it comes to it. Execute them on the spot. Let us end this shall we lads?” there was a cheer of ascent as the gunship hurtles towards a large skyscraper rising from the skyline a few miles away, it’s black outline looking ominously against the sunset backdrop of the imperial city.

 

The gunship lands next to a small helicopter in a dimly lit room. Dmitri, Codsworth and four other imperial soldiers rush forward towards a corridor that leads to another room with Alan limping a few paces behind.

The group reach a narrow corridor where they observe two men; Boris and the hooded figure that Alan assumed was Griefful standing over a stone basin, thick white mist coming out of the bowl. So far, they appeared not to have seen them. Which was good, but for how long come they maintain their advantage of surprise, Alan did not know.

“I've got two confirmed targets, be prepared for additional unfriendlies.” Codsworth said from beside him, which Alan could confirm, although knowing Boris, there was probably more waiting in reserve. The group rush forward with Alan bringing up the rear. He wished they would slow down, he had after all, only one leg. But more importantly he suspected that the mad old fool had laid a trap for them.

 

As the group move into position by the entrance corridor. They can clearly see Boris and Griefful look up from the stone basin to see Dmitri, Codsworth and the four other soldiers standing by the door, guns raised. ‘Well, there goes our element of surprise.’ Alan thought as he limped forward to join the group.

“It appears... We have... Company.” Griefful said as Boris walks forward drawing his staff, the red gem on the end gleaming the same way that Alan’s green gem did, lighting the dimly lit room around them.

“Take them!” Dmitri said as he along with Codsworth and the four imperials start firing. However, Boris began to block their bullets using his staff with ease, before using said staff to launch a jet of fire out the end. Dmitri jumps over the flames, just in time to dodge the heat, although when he landed part of his armour was ablaze. But Codsworth and the four soldiers are not so lucky, getting instantly burnt to a crisp. As Alan walks up looking down at the freshly burnt corpses. He sighs, so passes Ervin Codsworth, one of the greatest commanders ever to work for the imperial army. But now was not the time to mourn, there was still the business at hand. He walks past the corpses and draws his own staff and stares at Griefful.

“We meet at last. Griefful.” Alan spoke, this was the first time he had seen this man and was eager beyond anything to find out, who was responsible for all the death and destruction that had befallen the imperial city for the last quarter of a century.

“You cannot stop, what is to come.” Griefful spoke as he turned and ran for the doorway behind him. Alan wondered why they had not sent men around to block that escape, but he could think on that later, getting hold of Griefful was the most important thing.

Whilst Griefful begins his retreat with Alan giving chase. The duel between Dmitri and Boris ends when Dmitri uses a knife to slice Boris's leg. The old fool collapses to his knees as Dmitri picks up the staff, pointing the gem directly at Boris's heart. The lord of the south looks up in a merciful plead, begging for his life, as Alan turns around and begins to speak.

“Dmitri. No...” Alan said, they could really use the intel that he had, just encase Griefful escaped, but it was too late. Before Alan could finish Dmitri stabs Boris right through the heart using his own gem. Boris collapses to the ground dead, and Alan sighs and shakes his head. Before continuing the pursuit with Dmitri right behind.

 

As Alan and Dmitri pursued the Griefful, Alan found himself wondering about his companion’s decision to execute Boris, sure the man had deserved death, but he had explicitly ordered that the people inside this building were to be captured, not killed. Maybe Dmitri had been angered by the death of Codsworth, but that, whilst likely, was not enough of a reason for the soldier to disobey a direct order.

“He went this way.” Dmitri said and rushed through a set of doors and out onto a balcony area that overlooked much of the city.

Dmitri rushed through the door; his gun raised. Alan realised that Dmitri had left Boris’ staff back in the previous room and wondering whether that fact would cost his friend his life. He rushed outside after Dmitri where he found his comrade already firing at the retreating hooded figure of Griefful.

After a few more minutes of pursuit, Dmitri finally caught up with their assailant on the slopes of a narrow stairway, that snaked up the side of the building, Alan a few paces behind saw Dmitri discard the gun, which he had already used all the bullets in anyway and take out his knife. Griefful also drew with own blade, which was a foot longer that Dmitri’s, but due to his friend’s armour, meant that this advantage was worth little in the grand scheme of things. The only advantage their hooded assailant had was that he was higher up.

The two begin to duel for a few moments before Alan joins the fray, making it two on one, for a time Griefful is able to make his high ground advantage work for him, keeping the two comrades at bay, but eventually it seems like he begins to tire out and begins to continue his retreat back up the stairway. Dmitri runs after him, too late to see the trap that the hooded figure had laid for him. Now able to take on only one attack, Griefful slashes at Dmitri’s leg causing the soldier to fall down the flight of steps and crash through a set of railing, managing to hold onto the edge by his fingertips.

Alan looks back at his friend and then turns to face Griefful alone. He pauses for a moment and then rushes down the steps to try and grab his friend’s hand. Discarding his staff on the ground in order to get a better grip.

“Let him go.” Griefful said from a few paces above the two comrades. “Let him die. His death will come soon enough anyway. What’s the harm in bringing that fact forward by a few months?” Griefful finished. Alan looked back at the hooded figure, who walked down his blade in his hand.

“No.” Alan said and began to haul Dmitri back up. Until pain shot through his body, turning around he saw Griefful his long blade, thrust into Alan’s side. He began to scream in agony. He looked at his own weapon, the long staff was within reach, but he would have to let Dmitri go in order to get it.

“Let him go, and you will be able to stop me.” Griefful said, laughing as he began to twist the blade into Alan’s side. He howled in agony. “I’ll make it easier for you.” Griefful said and ripping the blade out of Alan’s side, he tossed it like a javelin and struck Dmitri in the shoulder. Causing the soldier to gasp, and then to fall down into the darkness.

Alan looked down into the empty blackness in horror. First Codsworth now Dmitri, he wondered how many others would have to die in order to find out this man’s identity. Griefful walked forward, looking at Alan as he picked up his staff and got to his feet, breathing heavily.

“You’re going to pay for that.” Alan said as he looked at the hooded figure.

“Now it is just the pair off us. Come Mr Wolfrick, unmask me, and you shall discover how to stop my plans.” Griefful said, as Alan realised that the hooded figure was talking a big game, but the fact remained that he was now unarmed. So, seizing on that fact he swung the staff around, deciding tin that moment that he didn’t care about this man’s evil plans, he was no longer interested in who he or she was. All that mattered was that they die.

The two continued their dance for some time, how long, Alan wasn’t sure. It could have been days for all he cared. Until he had Griefful on the exact same ledge that Dmitri had fallen off, and more importantly at his mercy.

“Any final words before I send you to join Dmitri.” Alan said as he walked forward, that however was a mistake, as the hooded figure grabbed onto his clothes.

“You’ll join me.” Griefful spoke and pushed back off the stairway, causing both himself and Alan to plummet through the sky. As they fell Griefful continued to speak. “Unmask me and stop my plans.” Over and over again. But in that moment, thinking on all he had lost, he gave up on any desire he had once had, to find out who was behind the hood.

 

As both Alan and Griefful fell, the hooded figure continued to chant the same words about unmasking him. But that didn’t matter anymore. Alan thought to himself as they fell, as they continued the hood eventually slipped due to wind, however rather than giving him answers. It only left him with more questions.

The robes were empty, Alan found himself holding the black robes in his hand, there had been nobody beneath the clothes, all of this. The death and destruction were all for nothing, he sighed. And as he continued to fall, he thought to himself, why. It had never mattered who the man behind the hood was, and his desperation to find out that fact had cost him everything he had. Alan sighed to himself and whilst he continuing to fall. He closed his eyes and finally accepted his fate, and was in a way, welcoming of his own death. He was finally at peace with that fact. He smiled as he continued to fall down and down towards the city streets below.

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