Author's Note: This is part two of the Triangle Trilogy, the first being Death, which can be found at storyid=1468879 (I can't copy and paste the whole thing, so just copy the number into the address bar or go via my author's profile). It is strongly advised that you read that story before attempting this one, because situations in this are directly linked to ones explained in Death and, mainly, directly continued on from.
Author's Note 2: I felt like I needed to be constructive this Invasion Day, so I sat down by the pool and finished most of this first chapter. If any Aussie thinks that Cook wasn't a bastard for coming in and killing off a great proportion of the Aboriginals, then by all means you can call it Australia Day.
"We had to find it out," said Mr Fletcher. "You have to find it out. You have to forget who you were. That's the first step. And stop being frightened of old ghosts. Then you've got room to find out what you are. What you can be."
From Terry Pratchett's Johnny and the Dead
The air. The freedom. The feeling that the thousands of tonnes of Earth above her head had vanished with a thought and the calm soothing moonlight was glinting off her hair, reflecting back its own brilliance.
The courtroom - cold, but slowly being heated by the geothermic pipes under the stone floor. Dry, the air not fresh, but nothing Underground is ever fresh. The faces… the appropriate shades of blank concern that lawyers and politicians and accused alike all manage to develop as protection against the world outside, a separation from the unreal reality that lies within the four walls.
He's behind her. The house is behind her. The life is behind her. The hiding, the terror, the shame is behind her. The future… That is all she can see. And even though it is like peering through a layer of gauze, even though it's misted, and unknown, and unpredictable… that is all she's ever wanted. To not be able to see her future mapped out for her, negative expectations layered upon one another.
That is freedom.
That is all.
Murmurs of laws and accordance, prerequisites and cases of Frost vs. Rex from a thousand years ago. Lawyer's gossip, current cases, political influences… That is what they all talk of. Gnommish has so many words describing the same things, so that a conversation about the weather can last more than the necessary 4 minutes of polite small-talk, when weather Underground has nothing unpredictable about it.
This weather though, the feelings of fore coming storm and upheaval, the smell of thunder and rain… The signs hung in her nostrils and mind, and she wished that she had someone to wish to, or at least something in which direction to send her prayers.
But she's not the type to pray. She never has been.
'Veni, Vidi, Vici' a Mud Man once said. 'I came, I saw, I conquered.'
Some say that freedom comes from quiet defiance and social change. Some say ignorance is freedom, and only with innocence can freedom be present. Politicians say a lot about freedom, as do insurance salesmen.
She'd found hers, her freedom. Spotting it from the distance, and desiring it with all her soul. And then gained it by conquering, by fighting. She'd always known she could…
The magistrate council enters, but the spectators and participants in this mockery of a circus ring didn't stand for them as they would in the Mud Man's world - down here things are different, they are already standing.
After babble and nonsense and the movements and rhythms of the court, the words are said, and they trickle to her brain slowly, as though moving through molasses. "Review… Suspended sentence… Unprecedented events…"
The cynical part of her mind commented that it wasn't an unprecedented event, simply the first one they'd had to take note of.
The rest of her was finally relieved of the tension she had pretended she wasn't feeling.
She smiled with relief, a grin so broad it hurt her cheeks.
The world is changed. He is no longer part of it, he is gone, and nothing can bring him back. But his resonance… The echoes of the patterns of the rhythm of his influence… they are not yet gone. He remains in a way, a mark, the scar tissue of his life and death will never fully vanish from the underbelly of the Earth. Laughing, he remains. Laughing, as he always did.
The press acts like hungry dogs as she is led from the courtroom by her lawyer and her captain. They jump and beg and long rivulets of saliva drip down their jaws. They are hungry for news, for fame, for souls, for the material that is their livelihood. They are Satan's dogs of the Underground, the hellhounds.
She can cope with them. She is far stronger than they are. They may be the hellhounds, but she is at least a high-ranking demon.
She might even be able to cope with her captain hugging her with tears in his eyes.
He leads her back to his office, and nothing has changed. She will wake the next morning and the press will be gone from Jimmy's door, off to investigate and report upon a scandal in the Council.
Nothing ever changes, she thinks. Except when it does.
He ran. But running wasn't enough, because everything had already caught him up, passed him by, and he knew that if he stopped he would sink to the cold hard ground and sob. And that wouldn't be good enough, that would be horrible, he wouldn't know what he was meant to do…
He didn't know what he was meant to do anyway, and hadn't known anything past this point for years.
He received the innocent, young smile graciously, and gave a small, sad one in return. He tried to imitate the innocence, but he knew that anything of the sort was a pain-filled grimace on his own features.
Innocence is ignorance. Ignorance is bliss.
There's a bridge ahead, linking one side of a chasm with the other. A river of soft, slow-moving lava lines the base; it warms the area all around to a suffocating glow. Once a troll had decided to live in a cave just beneath the bridge, and hadn't lasted long, falling in soft delirium to its own death.
Soft delirium… Suffocated innocence living in fear, driving towards death and destruction and falling… And it is all so easy.
Dreams and nightmares and memories and thoughts of future and blissful nothing make him slow to peer over at the red-hot river below.
The molten rock makes patterns on its own surface, red lending to yellow, to white hot. Some crusted, half-hard chunks float on the top, like the crust of the Earth floating across the magma of the mantle…
It comforted him, to think that there were little worlds down there, waiting to be explored.
But he didn't jump. He didn't fall over the edge and fail to fly.
He wondered if it was selfless or selfish to not.
He stumbled once, close to edge, then started to run once more.
Those eyes… those painfully innocent eyes that speak of trust and love and a belief that courage exists in the world around him, when courage is only cowardice pretending to be something it's not.
He's wanted to run away from those eyes before, leave them behind in their delusions.
But he doesn't want to be the one responsible for breaking their gaze, for showing the truth about life and fairies and the Grim Reaper to the child-like mind behind.
It's not courage that makes him stay, it's cowardice. And perhaps love, but he's not sure enough of himself for that.
He wonders once again, when his legs collapse and he sinks to the dirty pavement under a cover of silent weeping, if he is selfish or selfless, because the line has blurred beyond recognition.
He wonders if he was doing it for them, for the family. If it was for himself, because he couldn't have stood up to him one more time, he would have fallen. If it was for his brother – young, innocent, lonely because he couldn't bring friends home to play. If it was for their father, euthanasia, because it was merciful to let him leave…
He wonders if he died and this is a cruel joke of the afterlife.
He wonders if his father's dead.
He wonders if his brother is, and his breath catches in his parched throat.
Another tear hangs from the end of his nose, hair flops over the sides of his face… And a sob, a proper sob, with anguish and loneliness and confusion and fear all wrapped up in a scream rings out.
A woman who had been about to turn down into the alley thought better of it and took another path, afraid of what might lay in wait for her if she took the shortcut.
Later, if he had known, he would have said that if he was her he would have been afraid as well.
A hand that thought itself small wiggled its way into his own, which was far too calloused and incriminated him more than the impossible depth to his eyes.
The hand gave a squeeze, one of hope and comfort and expectation.
'Where are we going?' was asked.
He opened his mouth and closed it again. He turned his head to meet innocent eyes, only just visible beneath the white bandages still wrapped about the young head. He turned back to face the front, the door, what someone might say was freedom.
'Home.' He said. It was the only word that sprung to mind.
Although he knew that the feral pigeons pecking erratically at the remains of some child's fish and chips were called columba livia, he had personally never felt the need to distinguish between them and flying, lice-ridden rats.
And, right now, he was far more interested in sallow-faced, lice-ridden rat that was indistinguishable from a book-cooking accountant.
He left the pigeons to their meager, pathetic attempt at a feast, and focused more intently on the man before him.
There were many things he could do… but what would have the most worth?
There wasn't even a hint of a breeze, nothing that lent atmosphere to the situation within the old church. The lapping of the river Liffey reverberated through 3 am as the tides changed.
A pair of teenagers, out so far past their curfew that it barely mattered anymore, tried to make up excuses to tell their parents with their alcohol-soaked breath.
A scream, cut short by a gag or a hand or a silenced gunshot. Not a scream of terror, one of shock perhaps, a keen listener might say. Or maybe the terror was muted by a lack of understanding.
He pulled an O'Dwyer VLe from its holster, pointing it lazily as the man-pigeon felt a trickle of liquid down his pant leg.
He looked at his own gun for a moment, raising it to his eyelevel as though checking for non-existent faults. The rat did nothing, stifling a whimper because he was too scared and too realistic to try to run.
He pointed it, aim steady, and the pigeon was wondering if he'd feel the pain of the bullet before he died.
A finger twitched.
Inside - a place of sanctity and prayer and false hopes - the fear was secondary to the expectation. The possibilities that lay within a movement or a word or a person who has no reason to feel merciful were all that really mattered to anyone.
The air was heavy with potent possibility.
And knowledge that, though anything might be possible, nothing was going to happen here that wouldn't hurt someone.
And the people who were going to be hurt knew it was them.
He didn't shoot.
He turned away, because it would be better this way.
A displacement of air, and thought, and breath… and not really, because nothing was there.
Nothing sat upon its own unworthiness, and wondered if it dared. Wondered if it was needed, wondered if it was too late already.
Nothing changed the balance, as it moved through unwhispered barriers, and they hurt like nothing had before.
The unexpected happened.
And people still got hurt.