It was not the screams that woke him; nor the pain, or even the smoky stench of
burning oils made from animal fat. What woke him came from within... a sense of
urgency, a thing that knew just how utterly wrong it was. An empty thing, screaming
to be heard.
He opened his eyes and realized he was in some sort of cage. It was barely enough
for him to sit up in. There were many others just like it, and he assumed he looked
much like they were - almost naked, bewildered. Men and women, a few children, all
penned like animals. Their captors were tall, strong men clad in old bronze armor.
"Slavers..." he thought with distaste.
There was something hungry in their gazes. They were methodical, going from row to
row and from cage to cage; opening up each cage and forcing up at bladepoint its
poor contents. Questions were screamed into the prisoner's face, and depending upon
the answer they were either pushed back in or hauled off to gods' knows where. He
leaned back on his own cage, knowing he was unlikely to overpower anyone and
escape when they came for him. Strength seemed gone from his frame.
The slavers pulled out the prisoner to his left, a reedy man in tattered remains of
what had once been opulent robes. "WHO are YOU?!" One of the slavers, tall and
bald and presumably the one in authority, abruptly yelled at him. "Answer!" Spittle
flew into the captive's face.
The poor man was too numb with fright to answer. The other slaver jabbed at him
with the blunt end of a spear; eliciting a doglike yelp of pain. The question was
repeated, and made clear this time failure to answer would be paid in blood.
"Vi-vitellus Parcus, of, of Pergamum?" The answer seemed too long in coming, as if
the man had to literally pull it out from his memories. He still looked unsure.
"What do you, Vitellus of Pergamum?" the slaver master's voice was bored and still
"I am... a scribe? Yes, a scribe." His head lolled to the side and his eyes seemed
empty. "The trade? The taxes, who knows about the taxes? No one must, but... he
told... he told..."
"Pah!" The slaver sneered. "This one is useless. Throw him in with the others."
Vitellus made strange mewling sounds as he was taken away, to a group of people
lashed together. They were only lightly guarded, but somehow he had a feeling they
were as sacrifices. Or food. Or waste. All there seemed in some way physically or
mentally weak. Vitellus felt he should be insulted, but he was too frightened to resist.
What could his spindly little arms do against the brutish power of his captors? All his
life he had never gone wanting for anything, never had to fight or even expend effort
just to get what he wanted.
The slavers turned to the next cage. The prisoner there was hunched over and
defiantly met their eyes. His muscles were coiled for action. This seemed to please
"Ha! Out, you dog!" the slave master snarled, while untying the cage ropes. "Make no
mistake, for it WILL be your last."
The prisoner clenched his fists, and slowly got out of the cage. Rising to his full
height, he was surprised to learn he was taller than his captors. He was tempted to
set blows upon them, but as long as was his reach, those two spears were longer still.
"This one shows promise." said one of the two slaver guards; a man with a full mud-
colored beard. His face had blue lines etched upon it; whorls ending and beginning,
turning it into a face full of primeval watery motion. "Where do you come from, dog?
Did you fail your brutish barbarian gods?"
A flash of red-hot rage suddenly filled him. "I have set many a Gaul to their deaths.
Their gods would do well to fear me."
The other laughed, his voice surprisingly gentle for such a scarred man. He was taller,
but not as stocky as his companion. He had the sinewy build of a hunter rather than
a warrior. Those were claw marks, not blade scars. "Just as I thought. You are far
from the protection of Mars, foolish little Roman. You might yet meet those Gods you
"Who are you?" asked the slave master. He asked it of everyone they captured. He
would not be denied his answer.
The prisoner blinked. Who? "I am..." He stopped, and frowned. His face slowly
descended into panic. He could not remember. There was something there, though -
the memory of a memory... pain, a sense of self that still stood strong. Somehow he
knew that his name was very important to him, a name that was good and worthy of
memory. It was just... gone, as if stolen. What remained? Who remained? "I am..."
There was pain, more pain, anger and hatred and loss... so much of it that he had
endured willingly. "I am..." The name... no, it was not the name that was important,
he realized. What was done to the man bearing that name. That which he gave
himself to. That was still intact. It became himself.
He exhaled, and in letting go felt the stirrings of life returning to his limbs. "I am the
husband of a murdered wife, the father of a murdered son." He stared at the one who
asked, at his own reflection on those cruel eyes. "And I WILL have my vengeance."
He all but dared the slaver to mock his declaration. His fingers twitched, ready to
drive into eyeballs or snatch at throats.
The other man merely smirked. "So was I, so was I. I had my vengeance, nameless
one. And for your sake, I hope you had yours."
That stopped him cold again. Did I? He closed his eyes, and scraped at the walls of
his mind. Yes. Yess... he did. Sand and blood. The roars of a crowd. He died without
fear, justice on his lips.
He died! He opened his eyes wide. "I died..." he breathed. He did so with the
assurance he would be with his family. He could hear her! The feel of wheat across
his palms, of a home that was destroyed, a love that was taken from him. He
staggered back. "But..." He remembered faintly, waking up to the warmth of the sun.
He was walking, his mind empty. Then, he was set upon. He was robbed of the peace
he was experiencing.
It was a dirty camp full of dirty people. The fires at sundown only heightened the
dreary nature of the place. "Is this... Hell?" he asked softly. No, no, it turns out there
was no such thing as justice after all.
Apparently the raw grief on his face was amusing. "Hell is what you make of it. No,
not if you prove yourself strong, fell Roman. The few of you that suffer allowed the
rest of your people to grow fat and useless. Here, only the strong matter. Here, only
the strong can survive..."
"My family." he asked with all urgency. "I must find them."
"Heh. Listen to me, lost Roman. Can you even remember their names? Can you
remember their faces? You have power, nameless one. Power even after death,
power that burned and purified your soul. Look at them!" The slave master pointed at
the huddled, frightened mass. "They cling to their pitiful memories, as if it matters.
Family, riches, oaths, nations!
None of it matters. None of it follows after death. You will not find your family... this
land is vast, and people are dying and are being reborn with every moment. The past
is gone. Leave it there, it is worthless. Follow me, and I will give you comfort even in
death. Cling to your mortality, and I shall give you its rewards."
The prisoner furrowed his brows. The threat was obvious, but it made little sense.
"Am I not already dead?"
"Heh." The slave master turned to his assistant, the scarred one, and nodded briefly.
That slaver picked a cage and brought out a captive; a young man that struggled in
his grip. He waited for a signal. First making sure that he and the nameless prisoner
were both looking at the youth, the master held up his thumb. Without hesitation the
slaver held his spear at mid-shaft and sank its blade into the young man's neck. There
was just a brief gurgle, and that shocked face went slack as his blood poured to the
ground, splattering his sandals. The scarred slaver pulled at his spear, widening the
wound, and let the new corpse drop.
"To be reborn one must die again." he continued. "Serve me and live. Defy me and
lose everything. Make your choice, nameless one."
The prisoner stared down at the fallen youth. Violence was not unknown to him, and
it was hardly the worst sight he had ever seen; that much he was sure of. However,
such senseless waste of life... or afterlife... only removed all doubt from his heart. If
this was what waited for the wife and son he now only dimly remembered yet loved
all the same, then to continue its madness hardly served their memory.
"Who are you..." he asked instead, his voice carefully devoid of all emotion. "Who are
you to decide this is how this place must be?"
A laugh. "I do not know! Is that not hilarious? None of us know who we are. What
does it matter? We are dead! You may call me the Happy Dead. I have enough delight
that I am not consumed by the hollowness inside. I have enough hate, that my
essence does not fracture." He lifted both bare, tattooed arms to the heavens,
illusory they might be. "There are no Gods here, no laws, nothing but what we
ourselves decide. It is only true and natural, that the weak become food for the
strong! The dead are free at last, to be honest with themselves.
Can you not feel it within you? That urge to dominate? We who have no past can
wrestle the future to our own desires."
There was a child-like expectation on the slaver master's face. He truly believed he
was pure. That there would be no limits for someone unbound from physical concerns
was in some way correct, and that was what the prisoner found that most monstrous
"...no." he answered at last. "I will not join you."
Mortus Felix (pronounced in a rasping way), as that was his name, seemed to shrink
into himself. "I see. More and more weaklings die each day, and the few strong souls
have no fear of dying again. I expected as much. Let me refresh your memory instead
of a favored pastime of you Romans." He snapped his fingers, and his aides quickly
held the prisoner still. There was no struggling away from their grip. "Crucify him."
The pain began again. His captors were lavish in their application of it, knowing well
the limits of what his body could endure. He had no idea why being dead he should
still need a body, much less one that could bleed... but it was very much like being
Perhaps it was indeed hell. Demons were not needed to create it; humanity served
well enough. They had him by the entrance to the camp, along with the dessicated
husks of others who were defiant before him. Through the heat of the day and the
night's biting cold he watched as departed souls passed through the palisade's gates.
The newly-departed arrived unconscious, frail as their souls sought expression in a
strange new solid form. Teams of slavers went out in search of these poor souls,
stripping them bare of possessions where they are found, these last remnants of
physical attachments. Behind the walls were the screams and pleas, of beatings and
rapings, and humanity exerting its power over another.
Occasionally covered wagons would arrive. There were horses; beautiful, beautiful
horses. Apparently animals too held souls and identities persisting after death. He
could only guess that these were animals that were among the strongest of their kind
or brought over by humanity's need for companionship, sport or food.
Yess... if apparently the dead could not escape pain; then they could also feel cold
and hunger. That was the worst of it. It made nothing of living. He could have
convinced himself that his death was nothing more than an illusion, were it not for the
growing emptiness inside. He could feel his chest caving in, his blood growing colder
and colder... and for all that, a feeling of invulnerability creeping into his bones. He
was dying again, he could feel it. But he was at the same time being reborn into
something greater, beyond humanity, beyond mortality.
The hunger taught him one thing; that there were perhaps communities out there.
Gangs of slaves were being sent out, and goods entered. The most common use of
slaves were not as personal servants, but as workers for agriculture and then dirty
industry. That was slim hope, that his family mght have been fortunate enough to
escape these beasts and join a more civilized soul society.
As days passed that was replaced with horror. What if out there was simply such
barbarity greater in scale? Slavery was common in Rome, he could remember that at
least. What kind of society would purchase slaves and condone the existence of such
filthy slavers? Living, he had never thought to consider servants as any particular
wrong. Dead, he knew that the power to make a choice was all-important. All should
have been equal in death, rather than man preying upon other men, ad infinitum. Who
encourages such vile acts? He refused to beg, to join that savagery.
Better to die... he wanted to die.
Days, weeks... perhaps even months passed. It all began to blur. Still he kept to his
existence. The hunger became almost all of who he was, but he clung to the memory
of his wife and son. I am a husband and a father. As long as he could keep that in his
mind, it was as if he could exist even outside of himself. The leeching torment
stopped at that barrier. It was as if something else inside fought to preserve his last
reserves of humanity. It was hope. Not hope of rescue, but in himself. The spirit that
believes it cannot be conquered.
It was a time beyond comprehension before he knew the power behind the slavers.
Now and then he would see a figure, cloaked in black and whose face was covered
with a skull-like white mask, amongst the wagons entering the camp. The slavers
were likewise slavish in their attentions to them. It only made sense, buyers were
protected by anonymity. The day came however, that a procession of these figures
arrived at the gates.Their cloaks hung limp on the ground and trailed behind them,
giving them the impression of sliding across the land much as a shadow would as the
day grows dark. Every single one of them turned their heads to look at him as they
passed. Their glance, though hidden behind their bone masks, seemed to dissect his
Murtuufelik, the Happy Dead, was there to meet them. Almost second-dead himself,
he could nonetheless taste the slave master's fear.
"My lords... it honors us greatly that you would grace us with your presence." he
greeted them with a deep bow. "Pray speak and let us serve you to the utmost of our
ability. We offer you our tribute, and our most sincere thanks for your benevolence."
"Cease your mewling, fool." When one spoke, it was as if all of them spoke. Their
voice held an odd echo to it. "There is much to displease us about your tributes... I
wonder why we tolerate your presence this much."
One of the skull-faced figures parted from the group and slid closer to Murtuufelik. It
loomed over him, and the slaver master shook as he fought to remain where he was.
Fear was an acid taste, and the man reeked of it.
"You minnow through your flock and offer us the very dregs among them. This does
not please me. You set aside the strongest to preserve your own band of thugs.
Ahhh..." The figure bent at the waist, and leaned forward as if to peck at him. "The
strength, the fruit of the soul. You debase them. All that you touch. Indeed, you are
detestable to me."
"B-but I... my lord. I mean no disrespect. Please, take your pick among any I have in
this camp." He meant it utterly, even among his most loyal of followers.
The skull-faced figure leaned even closer, seeming to defy the pull of gravity. Its
cloak began to writhe and shrink into itself, tightening into bumps and curves. The
next words were a sibilant hiss. "The proper words are... my lady." There could be no
mistaking it. The black cloth clung to skin, like ebony nakedness.
The slaver master had never been hesitant to partake of the flesh, and it seemed to
pain him just to keep his eyes up from the obvious points of her nipples. The mask
remain the same, however. Oval, white, two black drop-like shapes for eyes and a
grin of sharpened teeth. That was enough; those hollow masks were something
beyond his reach. He would be suicidal to even think of touching anything. The blank
pits where eyes should be examined him to the very core of his being, leaving icy
sting where it passed.
He was overjoyed when she looked away, to the prisoner up on the cross.
She drifted over to him. The prisoner could barely lift his head, but still showed no
fear. "How long has he been up here?" she asked aside. Not even Murtuufelik knew.
She made a mental note to punish his continued inadequacy later. "So long. Oh! So
long. " Her voice was crooning. She touched his chest, playing around the deepening
cavity. Then, she put in one finger. Mask eyepits flashed a deep red, and the prisoner
heaved in pain. Right there where his heart should be pulsed a counter blue glow
around the black-coated digit, pushing it back.
He could feel her smile.
"And still you resist... you could have died, you could have ended it." She jammed her
whole right fist in, up to the wrist, and the hollow in him flared in response. He
screamed. "What else? You can be free of death, of the lie that is life..." She
withdrew; her fist smoking, the black coating bubbling with heat. "And still, you
She paced around him, drinking in his beaten frame. Her eyes still glowed and in her
sight there was still the soul clinging around the growing hollow. "Who are you, that
you must be?" her whiper drifted into his ear.
He wanted to speak, but his the saliva in his mouth had long since caked it shut. In
his mind, he still struggled... ' I am... I am...'
"The husband of a murdered wife, the father of a murdered son. How mundane." she
finished for him. "Do you not understand the treshold upon which you stand?" The
masked woman tilted his chin up. "Look at me." She shook it, forcing him into
awareness. "Look at me."
Her chest, bounteous as it was, started to cave inwards. It hollowed out between her
breasts, into a hole that he could see through. "It will not destroy you. Is that it? Is
that your fear? It is not the second death, far from it!
Let it complete yourself."
It was as if a sound passed between the cavity through her heart and the incomplete
hollow in him; resonating, singing to each other. He could feel the truth in her words.
He would never feel pain ever again. He would not fear being reborn. This, was true
He grimaced. Almost there! He forced himself from the brink, once again. The memory
of the memory of the memory, even it would be lost from him. He also know that he
would cease being human. The hunger knew nothing but itself.
"I... no." he croaked out. "I am... I am..."
She seemed to grow, the folds of her cloak shooting up to bring her truly level to him.
"You were a husband, once. A father, once." She went to his manhood, and drew it
out from the sun-hardened loincloth. He was too tired to feel shame, that even
through it all he could respond. She pressedherself to him, her every curve fitting his
perfectly. "You can be again."
A distance away, Muurtufelik made some sort of strangled sound.
"Perhaps this mask is not to your liking?" It began to flow as liquid, receding to reveal
a face that was heart-shaped, unblemished, her eyes made up with kohl. It was an
unnatural beauty, sharp and perfect.
"We are the Hollows, and the hollows must be filled. You will be great among us,
adding to our strength. I can sense it." She began to grind against him. "The hunger,
let it loose. Let it first devour the useless relics in you. And this post cannon hold you.
This band of slavers, the carrion-feeders among men, cannot stop you. I... and I...
will not resist you. Is it not simple?
Iss it not ssatissfying?"
Her touch was draining, so full of need. There was no heat, even as she writhed in
sensous langour upon him. The Happy Dead gaped at the sight; the other Hollows
seemed uninterested, standing rooted in place.
The prisoner began to shake , his very essence tumbling into chaos. The hollow
woman pulled away, her lower body arching like a plant stem.
"I..." Minutes passed. Hours? It could have been mere seconds or entire lifetimes. He
stopped at last, tired beyond measure. "I..."
He has lost something, something he can never take back. But still...
"You refuse..." she ground out, amazed. "You have no name. You have no idea.
Worthless! Worthless! Even feral Hollows have more than you." She drew close and
licked the hardened blood off his brow; her tounge was rasping and long. Raw scraped
flesh remained where it passed. "Should I name you, then?" She then bit into his neck,
drawing blood. She licked at it, spreading up to his neck and cheek.
"Let be known that I am the Ibwaloh, the Nightwood, and that it is I name you in a
tongue older than man." Her words were meant for him and him alone.
There was no thunder, no dramatic shift in the wind. The prisoner felt as if hammered.
Such a simple thing, already he could feel its consequences growing to vast and
She turned away. "I will return, and the light of your soul will be added to our power.
One way or another." To the Muurtufelik she barked out "Bring our your tribute, you
waste of spiritual essence! The hollow must be filled!"
The slaver leader hastened to comply, and from within a group of slaves were brought
out. They were pushed forward at spearpoint. The gates were shut behind them. Only
Murtuufelik remained outside, as a reminder of what awaited any failure, any rebellion.
The hollows sprang at them, shrieking in mad glee, and thus the slaves realized that
they were not to be sent out as servants.
They were food.
The weak were food for the strong; literally, as the hollows engorged upon their
purest spirit, tearing flesh to let it loose. The prisoner watched, as the black forms
bulged and grew. Colors began to appear, bands of red or purple, decorative and like
the warning bands of deadly snakes.
Ibwaloh went to the huddle and pulled out one of the feeding hollows, easily tossing
aside its bulk. She pulled from the pile one struggling young woman. Her mask was still
off, and the slave felt some hope at being held by someone looking so human, so
beautiful. When the hollow kissed her she offered no struggle. Not even when her skin
began to collapse on itself, her soul-body decaying rapidly. Her identity was absorbed
into the hunger of the Hollow; true souls, like energy, could not be created or
destroyed. They could be changed or exhausted, though.
And his hunger raged to be sated as well. The prisoner hated it, but yearned for it.
The hole in his chest began to pulse in constriction, like a mouth gaping for it.
The hollows roared when they were through feeding. It was ground-level thunder,
breaking the air. Ibwaloh's cry was piercing like a hawk's. Both the prisoner and
Murtuufelik shivered as it pierced to even their bones.
"Let this well serve as a reminder just what power bestrides this land of the dead. I
shall return, my body servant." she told the slaver master. "You should pray that next
time your offerings prove much less of a disappointment."
And then, they were gone.
The sun was still high in the sky, the skies still blue. Everything seemed bleaker yet in
their passing. Activity within the camp was slow to restart, the slavers having lost
their appetite for even the habitual feasting, beating and rapings.
The man who named himself the Happy Dead slowly walked over to the crucified man
who still clung to his decaying ideal of humanity. "She named you? Did she not?" he
asked hoarsely. "What did she say?"
"What did she say?"
The prisoner could feel the name etching into himself; like an adder's poison. Names
had power in the afterlife. It was starting to blacken the edges of his resolve. He
knew instinctively what it meant, however. Knowing also helped him.
For it meant He Who Resists.
Murtuufelik repeated his question. Growing frustrated, he backhanded the nameless
prisoner. "ANSWER ME!"
If he could laugh though, he would have. The slaver's ministrations had too taught
him the limits of his own body. It was a strong blow that snapped his neck. He was
effectively paralyzed. All pain receptors had lost connection. It would heal, he would
live. After all, how could he have survived thus long without a functioning heart? The
ways of the dead were mysterious. Anything that was not immidiately fatal could be
And that was enough, for the moment. That was reason enough to endure.
Time passed. The dead came and went.
The hollow in him did not grow, but it no longer shrank either. Skin around the pit had
risen and hardened to rock-like consistency, etched with blue veins. The hunger was
stronger than ever, but he no longer required food or drink. Despite his and the
slavers' fears, the Hollows did not return. The demand for slaves, for work and for
devouring, did not slacken. It increased, even; which brought speculation. The
harvested dead were an easy food source for the Hollows, of which they paid for in
goods and coin, even things they could bring from the mortal realm. To rely on this
might mean... that the Hollows could no longer hunt so easily.
He garnered this from snatches of conversation. He had been nailed up at the gates
for so long that people have grown to ignore his presence. Even the slaver master no
longer thought of that one corpse that still dares to stand in his presence; even if
upright only by rigor mortis as it may be. The lands of the dead were vast, without
limits some even say. Far beyond, where the Hollows come, things are happening. A
war, some say. There was a power that can match the Hollows, and might even prove
worse than them.
They knew this the night, when for an instant all was bright, and something slashed
the moon. It was as if a great spear reached up to the heavens and bit out a long
wound out of distant luna. The gash could be plainly seen when it is full; it did not
mar the surface much, but everyone knew somehow that the depth and breadth of
that gash would more than carve out a mountain range or two. That was power that
could cleave the world.
The day came when the slavers brought a different prisoner in; a woman, dark and
naked, bound in masses of chains, ropes, and surrounded by guards. She was a
Nubian, comely and proud; and for once Murtuufelik looked upon an unshorn female
form with distaste. It reminded her of that female Hollow; not so much in the color of
her skin but in that untouchable self-confidence.
"Who are you?" he had to ask.
Even under the weight of her bindings she managed to seem rigidly unbowed. "I am
Alebe... " she said through her soul-leeching bands. "Death Guard of Tutorus Primari...
an Anima Veredus... and.. and you.. you!" She struggled. She wanted to spit but
she had been deliberately starved through thr journey. "You are a tool of Invisus
Cavum, the hated Hollows." She snarled at him. "You are a traitor to your kind, and
your punishment will soon be at hand...!"
The slaver master sniffed. "I see the presumption of Roma reaches out even to here."
Many times had he heard such declarations, oaths sworn to Gods that will not answer.
"Rome? I am not from Rome." was her nonplussed reply.
"Then where are you from, hm?" Beside the woman was a sword, chained up almost to
the extent she was. "A soul cutter... so you truly are no mere dead. Where... did you
Alebe turned to the open gate, and the people gathered there. "Hear me, souls who
yearn for freedom! There is a city to the East, a fortress against tyranny, where you
need not fear the touch of Hollows or the leash of slavery." She strained at her
bonds, sending it all jingling to punctuate her speech. "A place where we all can live
in peace, where we may fight for our right to be! It is a true Societas Animus; a soul
society where we can be free!"
Jeers and disgusted shouts met her declaration. It hardly fazed her. The prisoner,
whose sense toward falsehoods had been honed to an exacting degree, drank in her
words. He could feel the hollow crack, just a fraction.
"For hundreds of years, it has stood against the Hollows, for hundreds of years we
have made war. And we are winning! Take heart, for your salvation is at hand! Soon
our armies will push the Hollows from this land and back into their foul dark lairs, along
with their dark pharaoh!"
Murtuufelik slapped her. "Your delusions will not help you, girl. Put her inside! I will
beat this nonsense out personally."
As they wheeled her wagon in, the prisoner felt something pierce the nothingness
where his heart used to be. The poison...! It feeds upon hope! It was seeping into
the cracks in his hollow self. It was pain even beyond anything he had ever felt
before; and for the first time darkness took him and clad his mind in oblivion.
Much later, he awoke, to the sound of someone singing. Or trying to mumble, at least.
Long-unused muscles strained, but he managed to turn his head. In a new crucifix
beside him, was nailed the soul hunter Alebe. She was bloody and bruised all over.
"I still testify to thee, my great, good lord." she whispered. She could barely breathe
through the big mass of mangled flesh that was the left half of her face and most of
her lips. "Your soldier keeps her faith, and awaits your return."
They probably expect her to turn, he thought; an offering to the Hollows. If what she
said was true, then it would be a worthy sacrifice.
"I testify to thee..." she continued.
The prisoner wondered how long it would take, for that to become simply; I. Though
bound in otherwordly flesh through the days and nights he had let his mind wander.
Sometimes he could even believe he was flying, and seeing the endless expanse of the
He blinked. He no longer realized it, but his body could heal at an amazing rate, faster
even than he can get damaged. It didn't strike him as unusual that he could see her
clearly, even though it should have been years since he last opened his eyes.
But he could see... the city she spoke of. It was massive; walls of white, buildings
stacked upon each other, forming towering edifices. It was cut into a mountain, and
behind it was a green sea, very much the dark waters of the Mediterranean. The
pang of such a sight. It was home. Where he was when he was alive did not matter.
That was home. It had everything he ever expected.
Except... the memory of a memory lingered. Two things. Two things he still needed.
".. awaits your return..."
"Who will return?"
It was days later. It surprised them both. Was that really his voice? Sometimes he
believed he could speak with mind alone.
"You... you live?" Alebe breathed out.
"I... die." was his weak reply. "There is nothing left for me."
"Even in death, hope must fight. You are... strong indeed." she said back. She was a
warrior, a swordswoman and veteran of many battles. She almost broke at the
tortures and humilitions theslavers inflicted upon her, but she clung on to the
knowledge that HE will never fail. He will never abandon his soldiers. That a man,
friendless and alone, could be out for so long and still keep himself together was
Then, she saw the gaping hole in his chest, and sucked in her breath. "By the gods..."
she gasped out. "You... you are no man. You are no Hollow. What are you...?"
"I... am." was all he could give.
"You must in terrible pain."
If he could shrug, he would have. "What is pain? What is time? There is nothing;
and... I am."
"Then... I shall call you Thou, for you are who you are." If she could smile, she would
have. The nameless prisoner flinched. A Name. He felt that. Oh, the poison was not
liking that at all.
The Death Guard were the opposite of Hollows, he learned. They were a recent
innovation. There were people gifted with the ability to oppose Hollows, to send forth
the light of their soul to pierce their darkness. For unknown millenia they had fought
piecemeal, each seeking their own path to power, protecting that which they chose
to value in that life past life. In the end most of them were simply overwhelmed in a
For the first time, they had organized, enough to push back the hungering hordes. It
was something glorious, worthy of dedicating her afterlife to, or so she said.
Man must protect man, no one else can.
"... who are you waiting for?" again was asked.
Alebe took some time to answer. Even as she was, she was wary of being overheard.
It was the deep of night, and even the sentries were asleep. "The general. Strategos
Unas." she said. "He was the first among the generals, the finest among the soldiers of
the Societas. The foul Hollows sought to ambush us, but I am confident he has
survived." She looked up. "And if he has survived, then he is sure to seek me out. He
has promised it to all who follow in his tread." She breathed out her words, reverent.
"He will never leave us behind."
The prisoner sighed. "...to be so sure... why?" He closed his eyes, suddenly weary.
"... he could be defeated."
"He is never defeated...!" was her quick reply. "Never!"
Zealotry fatigued the prisoner. He drooped and attempted to go back to sleep. He
tried pulling at the threads of his mind instead of sending it out.
And thus it was that he had no forewarning until once certain dawn. Alebe awoke and
began to shout. "He is here! Hail, that which writes of moonlight! Ave Strategos!" Her
voice cracked, blood forced up her throat, and still she had to make it known.
"FREEDOM! FREEDOM TO THE LOST SOULS! SECOND DEATH TO THOSE WHO BETRAY
The camp rustled awake. Bowmen got back up to the walls. Swords and shields were
brought out. A bleary-eyed and annoyed Murtuufelik stomped out the palisade.
"What in... what are you going on about, woman?!" he growled out.
"He has indeed come, without fail." She was looking at the distance. "There will be no
escape, for our general himself has come to bestow justice upon the weak."
That statement offended him on several levels simultaneously. He slapped Alebe, but
then the warrior-woman merely began laughing at him. Murtuufelik was about to gut
her, when he realized that the prisoner he had so long ignored had his eyes open.
Those eyes, dark as the deepest pits, pinned him in place. He remained there, frozen.
Past the bend and a small rise in the terrain a single figure walked, the sun directly
behind him. His hair seemed on fire. The archers readied their bows, but the light
made aiming difficult; and it was after all but one man. As he approached it was
revealed perhaps not even that. He was still young; still at the most vibrant of his
years, his features sharp but not unkind.
He stopped near the gates. He was clad in a white tunic over scale-mailed bronze
armor, Grecian in style. Slung behind him was a large... sword, if it could even be
called that. It resembled nothing less than a man-sized meat cleaver; a glorified
"This?!" the slaver master scoffed. "This is your great general? This young fool looks
barely able to weild that gigantic mistake that is his weapon." He hefted his own soul
cutter, an elegant straight blade, of what seemed to be gleaming steel. In life,
humanity had yet to pass the bronze age, but in death a soul cutter was not made of
metal. Everything was made of spirit particles.
"Know that your deeds have returned to you, foul Hollow tool." Alebe continued.
"Yes... yes it has."
From within the shadows emerged lithe and black-garbed Ibwaloh and her retinue. The
Nightwood Hollow had her mask on, grimly grinning. "Go ahead, servant. Ask our guest
for his name."
Where the young general stood wreathed in light, the Hollow woman draped darkness
over herself. The slaver master somehow knew he was standing between something
monumental, but he he had to ask. He had to know. "Who.. are you?"
"Does it matter?" the young general asked back.
"Then you may call me Oris Paulum Nova, Tutorus." He shrugged. "No one of any real
"That much is true..." hissed the Nightwood. "Humanitas vivo, humanitas morti. People
live, people die. You, like many others before you, shall die. Know now that your
efforts will be cast into the dust of time. Life is lie, the natural state of man is death!"
She rattled her jaws."In it the Hollow shall endure, the hollow must be filled!"
Oris shook his head sadly. "The hollow is blind and crippled. It seeks immortality and
finds itself chained to base desires. You gave up humanity for bestial urges?" He had
seen even the best of mankind reduced to such a tragic waste. "Immortality is meant
for better things than that! There is the power of humanity!"
"Our power, soul hunter! OURS! Ours alone! We have no need of your tricks, your
pleas to a lesser part. You limit yourself, and for that we shall reign supreme once
more." An engorged tongue flicked between dread bare teeth. "A fine trap, a fine trap
we have laid. You did come here alone, where stand the one being who could equal
you. Our seers are no less capable than yours."
Ibwaloh slid over to the nameless prisoner. "Yuukruniyh..." she hissed. "Get up and
walk. I know you are aware.
You have had the power all along..."
"No!" screamed Alebe. "Get away from him, filthy Hollow! He is better than you! He
does not need your tainted power."
She chuckled darkly, ignoring the powerless death guard. Without her soul cutter, she
was useless. "You.. surprise me, even now you resist. But can you hear it now? His
power. My power. You stand in between. Mine is pure, mine is true.
His enhanced senses proved his downfall. The odd gift of immortality given to him
forced his soul to leak out of him like sieve. Between man and hollow there was only
"Are... are you a god?" he asked the bright apparition. Who will save him?
"There are no gods, not here." was the sad reply.
It pulled from within. His mantra began to falter. "I... i... ah ah aaaaaaggh!" He
screamed, losing the final thread of his mortality. White liquid began to pour from
behind his neck, dripping upwards to cover his face. The hunger howled.
Ibwaloh laughed. She extended her left arm, her fingers sharpening into claws. Her
grasp shot out, lengthening viscous and ink-black; to pierce Murtuufelik's chest. The
Happy Dead jerked back as she extracted his heart. He walked for a few steps,
disbelieving the bloody hole in his chest... toppled, and died.
"Yess... my body servant served me well. Eat, my brother. My lover. My creation."
She whispered, cheek to cheek. The hollow crushed the organ in her palm, and its
blood coalesced into a single dark marble, beating in dim purple glow. "Eat this black
soul and be remade!"
She popped it into his mouth, open in an expression of torment.
Alebe strained in her place. "No..! No! General, no! Please, save him!" He just stood
there. The builder of Soul Society, protector of man... why is he just standing there?
The prisoner screamed until he could scream no more, as the mask covered his face
and began to solify. The crucifix behind him burned, and shadows rose from below to
clothe him. He dropped and writhed there on the sandy road.
Darkness pooled into one spot. The Resisting Hollow slowly rose to his feet, tall and
without peer. His skull mask seemed to have four eyes, all glowing red. He opened his
maw and shrieked. It was an air-splitting sound, sending tree boughs shaking.
Ibwaloh added hers, a counterpoint of triumph.
"Why..." The general... failed. Alebe felt everything leave her. That good man, gone.
The light of his soul, extinguished forever. After all her torments, there was nothing
that served to give it meaning. He had... failed! Without him, then all is lost. Between
her breasts, an abcesss began to form.
Yuukruniyh continued to scream. And scream. And scream. He began to flail around
wildly, his arms like whips, tearing up whatever it touched - soil, rock, walls.
"Stop this! Stop you nee-" the words were lost as a wild swing caught Ibwaloh and
sent her flying.
The new Hollow kneeled and began to beat its face into the ground, in a fierce parody
of prayer. It smashed its face into the grit again and again; until cracks began to form
on the mask; until blood began to seep out from the cracks; and until it broke utterly.
The inky, vile darkness fled.
"No! NO!" She floated back into the clearing, her cloak twisting like vines, trailing
behind her bouyed in a wind unfelt by others. "You stupid, stupid man! You filthy,
filthy MORTAL! You wasted it, all of it! All those years, all those souls fed to the
Dreaming." The female Hollow grew to monstrous proportions. "How dare you! HOW
DARE A WORTHLESS BEING LIKE YOU?!"
"I... am." was his last word.
He made some sort of half-grimace, half-smile; all relief. He let himself be taken by
the darkness of unconsciousness.
"I believed in you..." said the young general, walking closer. He smiled at the sleeping
man, who was once again whole. Even if thewords were unheard, he felt he owed it
to the man for letting him suffer. Even Alebe... oh, the things he now could allow for
the greater good! Sometimes he wondered about himself. But for once in a long time,
he believed again; and did so thoroughly in someone else. It was in much the same
way many others placed their faith upon him. "Navitaserii, that fate-touched child, my
seer, showed me the worst of what could have been; and once more my faith in
humanity has proven itself true."
He turned to the pack of Hollows, his smile gone. "And my hatred of Hollows again
justified!" He unslung his inconveniently massive sword. "Light my way! SCRIPTOR
Ibwaloh screeched. "Not yet, protector! Not yet!" Her cloak broke out into pointed,
grasping branches. "You have not won yet! Convenio sssero! Combine! Give
yourselves to me...!" Her darkness reached out to her attendants, who struggled but
were easily devoured in its depths. The shadows blossomed, from every nook and
cranny. Whatever it touched was consumed; souls in blood and death fed her in one
The screams all mixed together, and blood flowed as a river out from the camp...
slaver and slave, in the end nothing more than just victims.
She lunged for him, her infinite darkness full of barbs. Every shadow, even his own,
was hers. Oris Paulum leapt up, impossibly high to someone in living flesh, to evade a
grasping pit devouring from beneath. It even managed to take his left sandal. He
scowled at the unexpected speed.
He slashed downward, the tip of his blade glowing a bright blue and shooting out in
mid-swing; indeed like moonlight, and speared the Hollow's weaving form.
She roared. She stood gargantuan, with six different masked heads and undulating
bodily shapes in the folds of her cloak. Each mask opened, and shot out red beams of
concentrated fury. "Burn in eternity! Cauldron of pain...!" Ibwaloh said in between
The young general evaded nimbly, blocking the blasts now and then with the flat of
his blade. The hits, though resisted, had enough force to push him back; the last
unavoidable one forced him to his knees and set a rock digging into the flesh of his
heel. He limped out of another wild lunge. The merest touch would flay his skin.
"Your destruction! It is! Written in Moonlight!" he shouted, and against his sword's
attack there could be no defense. For such a big monster, Ibwaloh was surprisingly
nimble. Continuing to battle in such a way could take them hours before either could
do any appreciable damage.
The Hollow remembered she had two left unabsorbed. Could there be enough power
in the failure? She saw that while the mask was gone from the prisoner's face, he still
kept on a night-black cloak.
Perhaps not a total failure after all...
The girl- a living shield! Of more immidiate use. The moment's distraction would cost
her, however... when she reached for Alebe she found the young general already
perched on top of the crucifix, his large curving blade held two-handed over his head.
"I know your power, Hollow." Air was forced out, a whirlwind around those that still
remained in the blasted battleground. The Nubian death guard could not look up fully,
and only saw what seemed to be utter shock in the Grand Hollow's many faces.
"Hide your face, Obscuro Lunae!"
The one who introduced himself as Oris, wanderer, general and founder of the Death
Guard, grinned a skeletal grin; all skin and flesh gone from his head. Bluish fire burned
inside his eye sockets.
"And I do not miss it!" He slashed upwards his blade sparking along the edges with
balefire. "Separate the firmament! Discuro, GLORIA LUNAE!!"
The heavens broke apart.
And there so suddenly it was brightest in the day.
The time of no shadows.
He awoke on an open wagon. The clouds floated past a sky infinitely high and crystal
clear. It seemed all so bright. Enough to blind. A dark shape broke the view, and it
took a second or so for his eyes to adjust back to the reduced light and distance.
"Are thou well?" asked Alebe. "Can thou hear me?"
"Thou..." He blinked and took a deep breath. It felt good to have fully-functional lungs
again. He also felt slightly cold from the breeze, and drew in tighter in his black cloak.
"Me? It would be confusing if you were to continue using that to call me..." He
coughed, still unused to speaking. "who... in a crowd, would be thee?"
"Then... what should I call you?"
"She called me, he who resists... I cannot really pronounce the word. Is there
anything left for me to resist?"
"You are who you are, not as your actions dictate but what your heart reveals." A
voice said from above his head.
"Is a name that important, then? Must it fit this reborn self? How should I be known
"I do not put much stock in names, or in being overly concerned with the opinion of
He was no longer a prisoner. He wiggled his fingers and moved his legs. Wood and
nails did not keep him there. It was his own shackled will. He touched his chest.
There was no longer any hollow there, but... he had a hard time finding the beat of
"Then, let me be called He who Accepts, or at least Accipius Serena."
"A good name, very good. I will have it put on the Dead Book as soon as we arrive."
Accipius closed his eyes. He could still see his rescuer, his youthful face tinged with
confusion, travel and salt-bleached hair shining under the sun. He seemed simply so
young. So hopeful. So curious. He had a face like that. Like a son, out on his own for
the first time. His name meant wanderer, signifying little.
"You were Magnos Aleksandros, were you not, general?" A protector of man. General
beyond measure. Who could inspire such loyalty?
He was dead! He supposed it should not really come as a surprise. As a Roman, he
was raised on the legend of Alexander the Great.
"I... do not recognize... that name." replied the dead Strategos. Accipius saw only
darkness, but had a distinct feeling the younger-looking man was annoyed.
Hoh, gods! It felt good to laugh again.
Perhaps there would be use for him in this Soul Society after all. A husband of a wife
that lives on, a son that lives on. In the purge the souls consumed by Hollows are
finally freed. There was hope yet... this land seemed built upon hope.
He went back to sleep, and awaited what may come.
Yep, I know, it's full of gramatically (and outright) incorrect latin (plus the occasional mispelled english). All I have in a pocket dictionary and I just wanted to convey the overall theme quickly. It's nothing more than a skeleton draft and will likely remain so for some time. I know people who will -stab- me if I stop working on that other fic over there.
Sorry. Anything to remedy this failure of education would be very appreciated.