Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 169
Sir Fux watched as the dashing naval officer saluted him before taking a blue folder out of his briefcase. He took two steps forward, one hand outstretched with the document. Why was he being so rude? Didn't he know the basics of etiquette?
Sir Fux humphed unhappily and refused to take the document. He was not going to stand up to take the thing from this blasted man. For him to do that when someone inferior to him was handing him something was unthinkable! The bastard could either come all the way and hand it to him properly, or put it down on the desk! Had he been ordered by that blasted Wenisk to do this? He snorted again and waved for his butler to take the document instead.
Why, he thought, did the man look familiar? He'd definitely seen those dead eyes somewhere before. His mind raced, but he could not come up with a single memory of having met a naval officer like this, or anyone in uniform for that matter.
Wharf instantly knew what his master wanted and stepped up to take the document. The lieutenant handed it over as if nothing had happened. His act truly was impeccable, thought Sir Fux.
The moment Wharf was about to clasp the folder, however, the lieutenant yanked it back, causing the man to reach further instinctively and lose his balance, stumbling forward.
What was the bastard--
The lieutenant's other hand reached up and clasped Wharf's neck firmly, dragging the man closer. His other hand jerked around and came down on the butler's neck from behind, snapping it crisply.
The corpse twitched violently as it realised it was dying.
What on earth--
The corpse's twitches turned to spasms as it hit the floor. The lieutenant's dead eyes darted back up to him.
--was going on?
The thought died in his head. Those eyes told him exactly what was happening. His message was not in the folder, it was his very presence. His message wasn't news, it was death.
His muscles tightened instantly and he felt his body shoot away from his desk, his chair coming into view beneath him. In the same movement his one hand reached for a rope dangling on the wall.
Screaming might have been quicker, but his body had reacted before his head had even finished processing what was happening. As he felt himself wheeling backwards towards the wall, all at an excruciatingly glacial pace, he remembered why he'd practiced this motion so many times. He could yell all he wanted, even if he had the voice of his younger days, no one would have heard it. This study had played host to too many secrets over the years, and it had been built to keep them. A feeble yell from an old man would not break through its thick walls and heavy door.
His fingers just started touching the rope, when he felt a pair of cold hands yank him away from the wall. His eyes darted around. The lieutenant was holding him by the arm. His fingers dug into his arm so much the tips of his nails broke skin. He felt the other hand crawl around his neck, crushing his throat. Then...
He watched with an odd feeling of detached amusement as the skin of his right forearm tore and two white bones burst through, followed a micromoment later by crimson blood. The cold hand let go of his arm and it drifted to his side with that same glacial slowness.
His detachment didn't last much longer, however. He could quite literally see the pain rushing up his arm to his brain for a moment. It danced up his arm like a shockwave, his skin rippling as the muscles beneath spasmed along the pain's path. A moment later it hit his head and the world shattered.
His face contorted like a child's when the whip cracked on their buttocks for the first time and tears quite literally shot out of his eyes. His eyes nearly followed and he could see nothing but a psychedelic display of colours and shapes as his eyeballs malformed under the spasming muscles of his eyes sockets.
The air finally came rushing out of his lungs, through his throat and out of his mouth, but instead of a relieving scream, he heard only a strained wheeze.
"W-w-w-whyy... k-k-ill mee.... w-w-w-who s-s-sent you--" He felt his lips mouth, though his ears only heard hisses and wheezes. "--A-a-at least l-l-l-et me k-know how I d-d-died..."
Somehow, he thought, if that was what what he was doing could really be called -- for his brain had shut down almost completely from the pain and only the tiniest slither of his rationality remained to ensure he bore witness to what happened -- the man had understood him, for a lifeless, venomous smile slithered over that familiar face.
"Actually, Sir Fux, you're lucky. I didn't want to kill you just yet. That would have been an end too good for you. I would have liked for you to live the life I was going to engineer for you for at least a couple years. Because you are going to die tonight, you'll be remembered as a respectable politician, well, by those that don't know you at least. I'd wanted for you to live like you are, trash, a stray dog, for several years before then so you would be remembered for what you truly are. Alas, I've been forced to abandon that plan thanks to two damn do-gooders."
The smile finally shook loose the right memory, and Sir Fux wheezed again.
"Yes, you're right," the lieutenant answered, "I'm Claude. I suppose you can consider your quick death a reward for that little guess of yours. Oh, how I'd planned it all. I was going to rig next year's election so you would lose your position on the council. You have no merits beyond that title, so, without it, everyone would come after your wealth. At that time I would reveal a couple of your juicy little skeletons and your friends and minions would jump ship, leaving you to the wolves. I had much more planned, but I suppose that doesn't matter anymore, does it? You won't see the sunrise tomorrow. You should really be grateful to those two damn do-gooders. Hell waits for you, and I would hate to keep them waiting, let me send you off, shall I?"
Sir Fux watched as Claude's other hand joined his first around his neck, and he felt his airway closing. A soft crack zipped through his throat as his larynx was crushed and his lungs stopped getting air. At first his brain didn't want to process what had just happened, but he had little choice but to know when his lungs started burning a couple moments later.
His face contorted even further and his limbs started flailing. He tried to claw at his murderer's face to get him to let go, but his face only contorted more as pain shot up his arm again the moment he tried to move it. The fire burnt through his lungs and started gnawing at his guts a couple moment later, then he felt his legs scream at him as well. He tried to scream, and the pain in his lungs shot up several times as some muscles obeyed and tried to contract to force out some air for the shout, and others didn't and continued to try and open his lungs as much as possible to suck in air. His mouth made gasping motions and he felt his tears flowing into it and down his throat. The added cough reflex was too much and he felt bile push up from his stomach. It couldn't make it past his killer's hands, however, and he felt it burn his esophagus as it kept trying to get out.
He suddenly realised his vision was swimming with stars. No, they were not stars, but fireflies. Little puffs of light that danced back and forth across his vision like water crickets chasing their mates in spring. He realised the pain in his legs and arms were gone now, instead he felt only a searing numbness where he'd once had limbs. His eyes made up for it however, starting to burn from seconds without blinking, but he had no control over his eyelids, he realised when he tried to blink and nothing happened.
The numbness in his extremities had reached all the way to his hips and shoulders now, and he noticed they'd stopped flailing as much. He couldn't feel their stillness, but that had to be what had happened since the room was no longer shaking. The fireflies were gone too, now. In fact, he realised he couldn't see the his desk anymore. He could make it out at the edge of his vision before, but now there was only darkness.
His mind darted back to his murderer's face, and he hated it. Not because it was the last thing he would see, or because it was the face of the man that had killed him. No, he hated it because there was nothing in it. There was no hatred, no loathing, no demonic satisfaction in his death. There was only a bored indifference to him, like he was a chore taking too long to finish. Like he was an inconvenient fly that had only to be ignored long enough to move on. If at least he could have seen some emotion in that face, if he could know that at least his death had some significance to someone, even if it was only the significance of satisfying his enemy. But even that was being denied him. He was nothing, and his death would be nothing, too.
He felt his jaw drop and drool run down his chin in the moment before he lost feeling there too. He could see only the bastard's face now, his neck vanishing into that swallowing darkness.
Would he be remembered? He thought. Remembered? By whom? Remembered for what? What had he done for his whole life? He tried to remember, but he realised that that part of his brain was gone already. What had he done? Where was this?
Wait, why was this stranger trying to kill him? No, no. No no no no no! What had he done? What had he done to that mask that it wanted him dead? No! He was innocent! He'd not done anything! Who was he even? Some part of his tiny brain shouted back at him that he was someone. That he'd been something once, but he didn't care. His name! What was his name! That's right, he was Sir...
--- --- ---
Claude watched as the last life left his victim's eyes. The body twitched twice more, and it looked like it might struggle some more, but then it relaxed, like heaving a massive sigh, and it didn't move again.
Good, there was no blood. But yuck, did he have to foam so much? How inconsiderate! Claude wiped the spittle on the corpse's shirt.
He heard a sift trickle and looked down. His nose was assaulted by the acrid, acidic stench of urine. Luckily he got off before it had time to soak through the corpse's nightgown into his pants.
He picked up the folder, slipped it back in the briefcase, and closed it. He checked to make sure he hadn't dropped something by which he could be identified, and, satisfied he hadn't, left.
--- --- ---
Cerna stood outside her master's study, nightdreaming. She had the unpleasant job of being that old fogey's chambermaid. Which meant she had to serve all his needs in his bedchamber, including those of the least savoury variety. He was old, however, both a blessing and a curse. It meant he demanded those services of her less often, but it made those infrequent times far less pleasant, if at least quicker.
She had the misfortune, however, of being quite attractive, and the old fogey had long fingers and wandering hands. She found them in the most unhappy places at the worst of times.
She wasn't very happy for the butler to wake him this evening, since that usually meant her master desired such company from her. Instead, however, she'd been told to help wake her master up and get him somewhat presentable to meet an important guest. It was a welcome break, but she still wasn't too happy about it.
The guest, however, made her night more than worth the uncomfortable awakening. He was dashing, and positively dreamy. He oozed every kind of the right manliness and violence of a soldier, while also having the feminine refinement of a young noble. Oh, if she could trade that old fogey in for him. She might just be the one waking him up in the middle of the night, rather than the other way around.
The study's door creaked open, waking her from her fantasies, just as her mind started wandering into the bedroom again, and that very same lieutenant stepped out, on his own.
"That's all for tonight, Sir," the lieutenant said over his shoulder as he closed the door, "You're welcome to send your butler to the viscount if you have any further questions."
He slipped a quick salute through the crack before the door closed.
"Cerna, was it? I'm told you'll see me off."
"I'd love to. Please follow me, Sir," she said, a little too enthusiastically. She scolded herself, and curtsied.
Why did the corridor have to be so short? If only the building had been longer and the gate further away. She did her best to walk slowly, but the lieutenant kept the pace too brisk for her liking. She shouldn't hold him up, she'd decided; he was clearly in a hurry to get back to the base.
What did she know about him? She found herself thinking as they covered the last of the distance. He was named Abraham, about 25 years old, someone with an aristocratic background -- that much was clear from his impeccable bearing. He hadn't mentioned his family name, however. He had an equally impeccable personality, since he was polite even to a lowly chambermaid such as herself. Her opinion was only reinforced when he stepped up to shield her from the wind when they stepped out of the building.
He suggested she see him off there, but she insisted on following all the way to the gate. There she slipped in mention that her master would be absent from town for a while as of the next day as he'd be off to the prefectural capital. She would be oh so bored with nothing to do and would love to show him around town if he liked.
He smiled warmly and thanked her.
"If I'm free I'll send for you. If you show me around well, a good evening and dinner might be in order as well."
The thought made her nightgown wet and she shivered at the sudden inconvenient cold spot.
She saw him off and returned to the study. The door was still closed, however. She was used to such late night meetings, however, so she manned her post by the door diligently, falling asleep not long after.
She slipped and fell to the ground a couple minutes later, waking up as her forehead hit the ground. She got up uneasily and glanced out the window. It was still dark so she couldn't have been asleep for too long. The study's door was still closed, though, and she wondered when they would finish. She sighed and supposed she should do the polite thing and offer them a snack and a warm drink.
She knocked on the door, got no reply, which was usual, however, and entered.
She bowed the moment she stepped inside.
"Would you like some refresh-- Eeaaaaaaaaaagggghhhhh!"