This started out more depressing than it ended up, particularly considering what I was listening to that partly spawned it.
The drinking never stops because the drink absolves our sins
We sit and grow our roots into the floor
But what are we waiting for?
So give me something to believe
Cause I am living just to breathe
And I need something more
To keep on breathing for
So give me something to believe – Believe, The Bravery
This close to the resolution of the whole mess, and of all the places he could have gone, he had to've come to the Endless Corridor, in all its contradictory glory. Long, winding hallways doubled back on each other in Escheresque tangles, filled with broken, useless scientific equipment and shelves upon shelves of blank-paged books, dingy tiles and rusted metal filled with the broken music of limping clocks, broken music boxes, the slow drizzle of rivers of motor oil, and the hollow voices of lost souls. It was a paradox of the ennui of modern man; a Netherworld of agnostic-atheistic nihilism, an afterlife that didn't believe in itself.
If Keats were to choose, he'd probably prefer the supposed torments of the Hell-realm over an eternity of listening to the soul of mankind erode away in the face of the horrors of oblivion. Demons and accusations of sin and guilt could be fought; slow decay never stopped. He wasn't sure if he'd been drawn to spend time watching the sprawl from an out-of-the-way balcony to reaffirm the reality of what he'd been entangled in and spite the emptiness, or if he was just picking over the scabs and scars of his own unvoiced fears.
"Ah, there you are, Sir Keats."
He'd stopped being surprised anymore when Belgae's voice came out of nowhere behind him; instead, he just looked back over his shoulder, an eyebrow arched to acknowledge the Half-Live that obviously could've easily found him no matter where he was. Instead of a greeting, he just asked "Livane?", posing it as a question of idle curiosity.
"Is well; a few faeries are hardly going to manage to trap her, after all these years." Belgae left the man's weak illusion of apathy intact and uncommented on; Keats turned back to watching over the railing. "There was something I was wondering."
There was that small prickling sense that Keats wasn't going to like this question. "Oh?"
"Livane told me what you said, about mankind." There was the audible pause where the invisible man adjusted his mask. "It seemed like an odd thing to say, for someone whose career revolves around the unseen world."
With his back safely to Belgae, his expression flatlined; that vanished fast, then he turned to face the Half-live, leaning back on the railing and adjusting his glasses further in place. "Livane's dying soon, isn't she?"
There was a brief, uncomfortable silence. "...Yes. Likely."
"Even I'm not that much of a heartless bastard...", Keats half-mumbled.
"Then you don't believe what you said?" Belgae tilted his head.
"Oh, it was the truth." He looked out over the side of the balcony, at the sprawling twists of metal and stone. "Man builds great innovations. We spend our days taking things apart and putting them back together, building and inventing and creating, all for the sake of our own intellect, to make our mark upon the world." He had a lopsided, sarcastic smile.
Keats took off his glasses, examining them thoughtfully. "And then we go home and drown ourselves in drink and distractions. After that, we go to bed and stare at the ceiling at night, kept awake by the fear that the labors of the day are the sum purpose of our existence - too aware of how vast the universe really is, that in a few short decades our names will be forgotten and stripped of all meaning, and everything we've built and gained is a sand-castle about to crumble into empty oblivion." He replaced his glasses, folding his arms and staring unfocused at some point past Belgae, past the wall and floor of the Corridor. "If the image of a hero acting out of honor, faith, kindness, and a sense of justice is posed to most of modern man, it is impossible to picture as anything but a farce – that such a man would have to be a fool or an idiot, blind to the reality of the world around them; yet even while we scorn anything like the old tales or the old heroes, we cling to fictions of such stories as 'escapism' to get away from daily life." He shook his head with a short, half-bitter laugh. "What does it say about the spirit of modern mortal man, that places like Warcadia and this Corridor are growing so quickly while everything else crumbles?"
The next few seconds ticked by with something not quite a staredown, Keats well aware that he was being measured and evaluated. "Why are you here then? Are you unsure that Livane 'did the right thing' as you said?"
Keats shrugged. "After seeing the Netherworlds and what lives here? Not at all. You lot are much more tolerable than that pompous peacock over in the Fae realm – at least you have some respect for mortals and their need to decide their own fates. After all, it's not like changing the outward environment or even the rules of engagement is going to change human nature." He reached out over the balcony idly as he spoke, watching one of the ever-present dribbles of oil run through his fingers like a mockery of a waterfall. "We did it to ourselves, trading one form of self-destruction for another. The spirit will always have weaknesses, and it will always be each person's own responsibility to face them; it's just the details that change." He waved it all off with a sly smirk, shaking the oil off his hand and studying Belgae. "Were you worried about my 'loyalty'?"
"Not as such." It was said with dry annoyance, enough to get across that yes, Belgae had caught the attempt at baiting a reaction, and was well aware of what it was. "Our arrangement has been based on mutual benefit from the beginning; we don't expect you to do anything that would run counter to your interests or agenda. My interests are the protection of Livane and everything we've worked for; I expect you would question me the same if you were unsure or curious of something. Of course," one gloved hand gestured to the reporter, "we wouldn't have approached you with something this grave if you seemed likely to … behave irrationally." There was just enough quiet amusement in his voice to deflate the implied threats and paranoia; the corner of Keats's mouth quirked into something of a smile in return. "I would like to think there is, at this point, some degree of trust that we understand each other's goals and actions and have been speaking honestly – perhaps even enough to mind one another's more individual desires, quirks, and occasional illusions?" There was a pointed weight on the last words, and Belgae paused to make sure the brief jab of awareness of their habitual dance sunk in. "It would also seem that we have enough of an understanding to expect that we all can, in fact, turn our backs on each other and trust we will continue to act in support of each other ..." There was a small, quiet click as Belgae leaned nonchalantly on his cane. "And would that not be what any definition of real 'loyalty' boils down to?"
Keats chuckled. "Touché."