Chapter 5: La Vita Nuova

Skara Brae I

It took Telos a fair amount of time to get to Skara Brae. He spent about five days in the mountains, and another four wandering across the countryside. This part of the continent was inconsistently habitated, and as such did not really constitute anything beyond individual hamlets linked together like an archipelago by small winding roads, dusty things with wispy trees blowing in the wind forgetfully.

The walk home, in the fields of Valeia, was wonderfully relaxing for Telos. Nostalgia was everywhere, like a gentle blanket of snow laid down around midnight the night before. Valeia was the common name for the whole northern area of the continent; essentially, everything between Damascus and the Serra Gaúcha.

When Telos finally arrived in Skara Brae, it was with an overwhelming sense of closure. He had left the town over five years ago; he had felt lost and devoid upon leaving, but now he felt whole and complete. It was with renewed eyes, matured eyes, that he was looking on his homeland. Sadness and relief washed over him. He walked amongst the small houses, down the brick and dirt roads, seeing familiar places for the first time.

Arriving at his house, he knocked and his mother greeted him with shock in her face and a trembling warble in her voice. It was mid-afternoon, and he spent the next few hours describing, in greater or lesser detail, his misadventures across the continent. He kept a lot of the mental breakdown stuff to himself, however; his mother didn’t need to worry he was losing his marbles.

A huge dinner was held in the house for the occasion of his return, and the family’s mirth lasted long into the night.

Skara Brae II

The next few weeks were a blissful blur of reacquainting, as Telos quickly sank into the life he had left behind those years ago. In the morning, he would have a delicious breakfast made by his mother with his younger siblings (he had four in total, although they were almost a full generation younger; his mother had remarried a decade ago). Then until noon, he’d help his mother deliver milk.

After that, he’d grab a sandwich and run down to the nearby river, where he’d relax, eat, and swim. Sometimes his childhood friend Beatrice would come to the river, and they would laugh and play, like they were five again. Every day was refreshing, every day Telos became more and more used to his lifestyle here.

Why had he ever left?

He couldn’t remember, now. This place seemed perfect. But maybe, if you’re born into that perfection, it seems hollow. You have to experience the other side of the tracks to appreciation the perfection, you have to have the contrast to understand what a good life is.

Some nights, while sitting on the second-floor porch of his mother’s house, Telos would look out through the darkness and see the reflection of the town lights on the river. He would think about Damascus, about Cavillace, and all the friends he had barely known, and sadness would start to pool inside of him. He’d remember the Lakota, and the heavenly river that had brought him to them, and he would shake in the memory of the burning sun.

A single tear would fall across his cheek on these nights, a single burning tear would drop from a leaking dam.

Skara Brae III

The longer he stayed in Skara Brae, the longer he felt like he would never leave; the deeper his connection with Beatrice became; the more attached the town became to their lost son. Telos had worried the whole thing would be awkward, he worried he might even have to leave, but instead it was terribly comfortable.

His relationship with Beatrice was especially interesting. She had been fifteen when he had left; a little too young to understand the complexity of a deep friendship between a man and a woman. After he had left, she entered a deep depression, but had not initially connected it to his departure. For a while, it just felt like life was uninteresting. But soon she realized it was because he had left.

She had been making plans to leave Skara Brae in fact, in search of Telos. Her mother had blocked that plan as much as she could, insisting Beatrice had a duty to her family rather than some silly childhood crush. So far, the guilt trip had worked. But when Telos returned, Beatrice’s world was thrown upside down. The boy she had put on a pedestal during his five-year absence was suddenly in front of her, and she had no idea what to do.

So they hung out like normal, like they were innocent kids again. She could tell he was different; she could almost see the mental scars. She didn’t know what had happened to him, but she did know that she wanted to help relieve his pain.

One night, she walked in on him looking at the river and crying. She paused for a second as he tried to cover it up, and then sat down next to him, hugging him forever.

Brief Encounter II

Like any other day, Telos was sitting down by the river, enjoying the calm weather and serene scene of nature. As he sat there, he noticed something funny floating down the river. It kind of looked like a piece of wood, but the texture was all wrong– no, it’s not that. What is it? Oh there’s something else, that bobs out of the water something and then drifts down again.

And look, there are some small things behind it too, that do the weird float up and bob down thing as well. Telos stood up, and walked slowly down the bank, looking at this strange piece of whatever. He decided to find out what it was, and took off his shirt and pants to wade in.

When he grabbed it, he realized in shock that it was a dead body. He was startled at first, his eyebrows frozen in horror. Then he sort of automatically grabbed the body and pulled it out of the water. The face was bloated and blue, and Telos didn’t recognize the man. He flipped him over and pulled out his wallet to check the man’s name: James Connolly. From Damascus.

Telos looked the man over sadly, and walked back to town. How had that man come here? How had he died? He looked so disgusting, so… decomposed. So that’s what death was. Rotting in a river. Nothing else afterwards, just floating downstream while no one cares about you. You’re dead, you’re gone, time to just fucking rot.

Legenda Aurea II

Racks and racks of clothes, fancy clothes, shitty clothes, drab and glorious. Like an orchard, the racks of clothes go on forever in relentless rows of ordinaryism, punishing the psyche with their tedium and bland taste. Escalators tower in the background, like some kind of fake backdrop that was painted by the set designers.

The man put his hand to his mouth to stifle vomiting as he continued to walk through the unstoppable racks of clothes. The lights were pounding into his skull. Like a fucking juggernaut. Like Muhammad Ali is right in front of you, and he’s floating like a butterfly and then oh the right hand lead doesn’t sting like a bee it hits like a ton of bricks, two tons of bricks, eighty goddamn tons of bricks.

Then the strobe light kicked on, and the walls lit up like they were made of diamonds. The clothes started to dance, they started to move in rhythm, like a Broadway musical. The man started hitting them indiscriminately, slamming every piece of clothing he could touch into the ground. They kept dancing though, completely unafraid of his furious actions.

He started ripping them apart, shredding the fabric, pulling the seams out and setting fire to the polyester. The carpet caught on quick and soon the diamond walls were melting as the fire blazed across the whole store. The escalators moaned and whipped around as they were eaten by the flames, then collapsed into the ground, throwing up clouds of clothing ashes. As the store was turned into a brilliant inferno, the man laughed, the flames eating his cheeks out, grabbing him by the legs and snaking up his thighs, scorching through his belly and around his torso, relieving the terrible pain that this place had brought.

Comme Oradour-sur-Glane I

Telos woke up to shouts and gun shots, screaming and yelling, harsh orders to line up against walls. An infantry had moved into the town. They were wearing the colors of the Damascus flag. Telos simply stared out the window as he watched families get rounded up and pushed against walls, their persons searched, stripped of any wealth, stripped of any dignity, thrown into the dirt, the worthless sonsofbitches.

He had to think fast, and he ran through the house. No one was inside. How had he been left behind? And then he ran smack into a soldier, a soldier of the King, of Damascus. They both froze briefly; the soldier couldn’t have been older than him. Telos reacted first, and picked up a bowl, smashing it in the soldier’s face, then bolting out the back door. The youthful soldier, bound by naiveté to not have anyone’s help securing this Braean wretch, followed him blindly, and was met with a crushing blow to the head.

Stumbling down towards the river, Telos’s mind went blank, he pushed out what had just happened. Reflexes, that’s what had happened. Then he stopped, turned around: what about his family? He heard shots going off, and he saw a young boy he didn’t recognize (right? he didn’t recognize that young boy running to him, that’s not one of his little brothers or anything) running in his direction and then a shot rang out and the boy fell to the ground, clutching his chest, blood spilling from his mouth, oh that’s fucking gross.

Telos bolted like a rabbit to the river.

When he got there, he found Beatrice huddled up, crying. He put his arm around her and comforted her. More screams from the village. He tried to impress upon her the importance of hiding, of getting away, fuck, of not dying! She didn’t want to move though. How could she? She had never left Skara Brae. Telos didn’t want to tell her that Skara Brae probably wouldn’t exist much longer.

Comme Oradour-sur-Glane II

At Beatrice’s behest, they hid on the opposite side of the river for a day as the troops made themselves at home in Skara Brae. The first few hours were excruciating: Beatrice didn’t want to do anything, she would just sit and watch the town through the trees. Scattered gun shots could be heard every few minutes, followed by mournful wailing. Beatrice would sit and watch, fixated.

Telos tried to keep himself busy. He tracked down some simple food, berries and nuts lying around the woods. He fashioned some simple weapons out of branches, that could be used to stab someone or hit them with the blunt side. Every attempt to stir Beatrice, to engage her, to take her mind off of what was happening was met with silence.

She eventually did move, and when she did she was yelling as softly as she could at Telos that she wanted to go over there and kill all of them, every soldier, to murder them and make them pay. She had blood in her eyes. Telos calmed her down, because it was a rather poor plan. They would wait until night, when most of the soldiers would be asleep.

When night did fall, there was a lot of shouting coming from the town, and it seemed like everyone was being herded into the townhall. Telos had to hold Beatrice back as the old wood building went up like kindling, the whole place set on fire.

It was all he could do to stop her from running through the river to join her family.

Hotfoot IV

There was nothing left for them in Skara Brae. Memories, sure, but the memories were too painful now. Every building was haunted by memories of smiling faces, laughter, better times, better lives. Telos had expected Beatrice to cry, but instead she was a rock, the only emotion ever expressed across her face was a flash of anger. She would grit her teeth, or bite her fingernails, and Telos would watch her warily, but the anger always passed, defeating itself before allowing her to fully embrace it.

Then they passed like two phantoms, speechless and without urgency, towards the south, towards Damascus. They were drawn to the city; for what purpose they were unsure, but a mix of revenge and hopelessness were to be found at the root of their emotions. Cities are the future of mankind, and their country-side roots were torn out of the ground.

With a complete lack of anywhere else to go, they gravitated towards Damascus and moved drudgingly towards it. If you had looked at the ground after their trek, you would have seen two sets of small trenches, all the way from Skara Brae to Damascus, showing where they had dragged their feet through the mud, like a trail of breadcrumbs to lead back home that would be washed away in the next rain, a relieving rain that would allow them to forget their home and what had happened there.

On Damascus III

Telos had been gone from Damascus for over half a year, and many things had changed since his departure.

Syme had completely disappeared from the public eye as the strong arm of the King; what became of him is not well known, at least to the common person. But with his withdrawal came the internal collapse of the Jinyi Wei. Minos felt the organization was vital to his control over the city so he kept it together, but without Syme the secondary leaders within the Jinyi Wei began to bicker and fight, with factions and splinter cells quickly springing up.

The two most prominent factions had been the Speculatores, headed by James Connolly, and the other was codenamed AIR, which stood for Agentes in Rebus, the cell led by Eoin MacNeill. Both began with the noble goal of maintaining security in the post-Syme era, but AIR quickly developed into its own kind of police force, taking over various criminal organizations while executing anyone who thought maybe they could try and stop AIR’s ascent to power.

Connolly was content to stay in the background, doing what he saw as real policing, but we all know what happened to him: a long swim down the river that ran north towards Skara Brae. The Speculatores were all but disbanded, and MacNeill further secured his hold on the Jinyi Wei.

The coup d’etat happened rather recently: a week prior to Telos and Beatrice arriving, the King had been assassinated and MacNeill took the throne, assuring the gentle public that he was only doing this to make sure the city didn’t descend into chaos and anarchy. He wouldn’t be King for long, he promised. Just until everything was secure for a new, proper King.

Élan in Damascus I

Telos and Beatrice made themselves at home in the city, taking on menial jobs as a waiter and a store clerk, respectively. While Eoin was securing his position as King of Damascus, they were grinding away in dirty workplaces, just barely earning enough to get by. Their clothes got dirtier and more ragged because they couldn’t replace them. Their hair became disheveled, and their faces drawn. Their eyes slowly lost any spark they once had, replaced instead by stone, stone forged in 11-hour workdays, back to back to back to back to back.

Their work routine went on for a few months. The Jinyi Wei took a stranglehold on the city with a presence on every block. Telos would walk home under the brutal stare of the harsh agents. He got beaten a couple of times, because he looked at them funny or they didn’t like the way he smelled. Beatrice was raped a couple times, also.

When it first happened, she came home and didn’t look at Telos for two hours. After she finally told him, he held her for another two hours. The second time, she just had a defeated look in her eyes; she wasn’t sad, she wasn’t angry, she was just tired and surrendering. It was then that Telos knew he loved this wreck of a woman, because he was just as much of a wreck and they could be wrecks together.

He made love to her for the first time that night; while Eoin was much harsher than Minos, he didn’t care about the relations men and women had. Telos took her that night, not to satisfy himself or Beatrice, but to let her know that not everything was wrong in this world.

Élan in Damascus II

Beatrice was surprised how much the budding relationship with Telos warmed her; he was equally surprised by how easy work became. When they got home, they would passionately greet each other, as if it had been a decade since their last meeting. They spent time only with each other now. They never went anywhere except to buy food and go to work. They lived in their own little world.

Then something happened. Maybe it was the passion suddenly in Telos’ life, or maybe it was the fact that he was just done with the whole thing. He got dragged into an alley to be beat, and instead of taking the beating and going home bloody, he grabbed the top of a trashcan and smashed it into the agent’s face. Then he kept smashing, he kept smashing, faster and faster, goddamn you you fucker, goddamn you to Hell, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you fuck you I hate you!!–

When Telos snapped out of it, the man was beyond dead. The blood drained from his face, Telos stood up and walked out of the alley, not even bothering to check to see if there were any police around. He went home and calmly washed off his hands, whistling the whole time.

The city went into an uproar as agents scoured the streets, looking for any sign or clue of the cop-killer. All that was found was the trashcan lid. Telos told Beatrice, and she worshipped him. She had been brainwashed into passivity, into accepting Eoin and the destruction of Skara Brae and her rapes: but Telos… he had fought back. This, this in front of her, this was a real man. This was her man, and he had killed a cop. Beautiful. Amazing. Godlike.

Legenda Aurea III

She’s standing in a river. Not just any river; the Yangtze. The river is moving calmly, gently brushing past her. She is barely disturbed. Her hair, long and curly, a deep brown, is shifting uncertainly in the wind. Her arms are slightly outstretched, palms up, creating wakes in front of her, two small wakes. Her face is tilted slightly towards the river, as if she’s examining her reflection: but she has no eyes.

The water begins to move faster, angrily: it starts to shove forward, trying to push her down, push her under, to take her with it, but she is motionless, she is the strongest rock in this world and she will not move. The Yangtze is furious: it comes in a torrent now, slamming into her back. Water sprays high into the sky around her yet she moves not.

With great concentration, she raises her hands to the sky, and the Yangtze, as much as it hates her, as much as it tries to resist, it cannot, her hands command it, and slowly it rises up, out of the riverbed. At first the angle is not very impressive; a few degrees off the ground. She is the pivot point. If you looked at her feet, you would see the water hit a sharp angle and get directed slightly upwards.

She conducts it higher and higher, willing it up. The angle increases and surely enough, the Yangtze is soon shooting into the sky. Her face remains a cold stare. She is aiming for the moon, it is not yet high enough. Upwards it goes, ever upwards, until the angle is almost ninety degrees, not quite, but enough to be directly firing at the moon. She keeps it this way. She is determined to hit the moon.

And she does. Eventually. The water crashes into the craters on the moon. Now she smiles. The Yangtze groans. She will not let go, though. Sorry Yangtze. You have a new purpose in life.

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