Book 3 - Lucidique “The Avenger”
Zarles Kreiger was human once. An assassin working for the gangster Duarf Cascarellian. Kreiger was a man who would do anything for a price. But there are some tasks that have an unforseen price, and this proved to be one of them. Caught red-handed by the Senator's daughter, the exquisite Lucidique, Kreiger was persuaded that he in his turn had been a victim. The rulers of the city in which they all lived - the vast, degenerate city-state of Primordium - were the truly guilty souls; and until the dynasty was brought down life would continue to be a bloody confusion in which men like Keiger acted like rabid animals and women like Lucidique lost their loved ones.
It had to stop. And Lucidique knew how. She persuaded Kreiger to put himself into the hands of an ancient entity called Agonistes, who would traumatically reconfigure him.
He did as Lucidique suggested, and after eight days and nights out in the desrt, he returned to Primordium as The Scythe-Meister: a powerful engine of destruction, who in a matter of hours brought the Perfetto Dynasty to a close.
Before disappearing into the desert, he had three words for Lucidique, three teasing words:
"...you cannot imagine..."
They called that night - the night the Emperor and his family were murdered - the Great Insurrection. In its wake, a host of minor insurrections took place, as old emnities erupted. Powerful figures who'd used the decadent reign of the Emperor Perfetto as cover for their corruptions - judges, bishops, members of the clergy, guild and union leaders - found themselves unprotected, and face to face with the people they'd exploited.
Even those amongst the criminal classes who had private armies to protect them against this very eventuality were fearful now.
Take, for example, Duarf Cascarellian. He wasn't by any means a stupid man. The fact that his assassin, Zarles Kreiger, had disappeared the night of the Insurrection made him highly suspicious that Kreiger's fate was tied in with the almost supernatural fall of the Emperor. Indeed one of Cascarellian's spies, who had been a guard at the palace the night of the slaughter, had seen the creature everyone called The Scythe-Meister washing his weapon in one of the Palace's many fountains. The informnt had escaped the massacre without harm coming to him, and reported that unlikely as it seemed the semi-mythical figure of The Scythe-Meister bore a subtle but undeniable resemblance to Zarles Kreiger.
Was it possible, Cascarellian wondered, that his missing assassin and The Scythe-Meister were somehow the same person? Had some incomprehensible sea-change been worked upon Kreiger, turning him into this unstoppable avenger? And if so, what part did Lucidique - who had been seen in a brief exchange with The Scythe-Meister - play in the process?
Cascarellian did not sleep well any longer. He had nightmares in which The Scythe-Meister broke down his doors, as it had broken down the doors of the Emperor's Palace, killing his lieutenants, as it had slaughtered the palace guards, and finally come to the foot of the bed - as the killer had come to he Emperor's bed, pulling him from limb to limb.
He decided the best way to protect himself from this unknowable force was through Lucidique. He sent three of his sons out to take had the Senator's daughter captive, ordering them to do as little as possible to arouse her wrath. In his heart (though he would never have admitted this to anyone, not even his priest) he was a little afraid of Lucidique. She needed to be treated with more respect than he was used to proffering women.
Unfortunately, his offspring weren't as smart as he was. Though they'd been told to respect their captive, they took the first opportunity to test the limits of their father's patience. Lucidique was taunted, abused, humiliated. No doubt worse would have come her way had Old Man Cascarellian not returned from his day of business early, interrupting his sons' taunting of the woman.
Lucidique instantly demanded to know why she was being held. If Cascarellian intended to kill her, why the hell didn't he get on with it? She was sick and tired, she told him. Of him, of his sons, of life itself. She'd seen too much blood.
"You were at the palace, weren't you? The Night of the Great Insurrection?"
"Yes. I was there."
"You have something to with this creature: this Scythe-Meister?"
"My business, Cascarellian."
"I could give you to my sons for half an hour. they'd have it out of you!"
"Your sons don't intimidate me. And neither do you."
"I don't wish to make you uncomfortable. You're here under my protection; that's all. Do you know what it's like out there on our streets? Pandemonium! The city is coming apart at the seams!"
"Do you think holding me here is going to protect you from what's coming your way?" Lucidique said.
A look of superstitious fear crossed Cascarellian's face. "What's coming my way?" he said. "You know something about the future?"
"No." Lucidique said wearily. "I'm not a prophet. I don't know what's going to happen to you and frankly I don't care. if the world ends tomorrow, I don't think you'll be judged very kindly, but --" she shrugged."-- why should I care? I won't be there to see you suffer in Hell."
Cascarellian had grown pale and clammy while Lucidique spoke. She only half-knew what she was doing to him, but she took a certain pleasure in it. This was the man who'd orphaned her; why not enjoy his superstitious fear?
"You think I'm a stupid man?" he said.
"To be afraid the way you're afraid now? Yes, I think that's pitiful."
"I don't want your contempt." Cascarellian said, with a strange sincerity.
"I have enough enemies."
"Then don't make one of me," Lucidique said. "Let me go. Let me see the sky!"
"I'll take you out, if that's what you want."
"Yes. We'll go wherever you like."
"I want to go out into the desert. Away from the city."
"I told you. I want to see the sky..."
The next day, a convoy of three cars wound through the chaotic streets of Primordium and headed for the West Gate. In the first car, two of Cascarellian's best men - loyal bodyguards who'd seen him through many attempts upon his life. In the back car, the three borthers, wondering aloud (as they often did these days) if a kind of lunacy had overtaken their father. Why was he indulging this woman Lucidique in her whims? Didn't he understand that she had every reason to hate him, to plot against him?
In the middle car, chauffered by Marius, Cascarellian's driver for three decades, sat the Don himself, accompanied by Lucidique.
"Satisfied?" he said to her, once they were outside the gates, and in sight of the open sky.
"A little further, please..." she said.
"Don't think you can fool me, woman. You may be cleverer than most of your sex, but you won't escape me, if that's your thought!"
They drove in silence for a distance.
"I think we've come far enough. And you've seen enough of the sky for one day!"
"Can't I just get out and walk?"
"Walking now, is it?"
"Please. There's no harm in that surely? look...open ground in every direction."
Cascarelian considered this for a moment. Then he called the convoy to a halt.
A dust storm was on the horizon, slowly approaching the road.
"You'd better be quick!" the Don told her.
Lucidique watched the approaching wall of sand, then glanced round at the men who were getting out of the cars; particularly the brothers. They smiled slyly as they eyed her. One of them flicked his tongue between his lips, the obscene inference plain.
It was the last straw. Lucidique turned her back on him - on them all - and began to walk towards the sand-storm.
A chorus of warnings insantly erupted behind her. "Don't take another step!" one of the brothers said, "Or I'll shoot you!"
She turned to him, her arms opened wide. "So shoot!" she said.
Then she turned and strode on.
"Come back here, woman!" the Don yelled. "There's nothing out there but sand."
The wind from the storm was whipping up Lucidique's hair now. It was like a dark halo around her head.
"Do you hear me?" the Don called after her.
Lucidique looked over her shoulder.
"Come walk with me," she said to him.
The old man drew hard on his cigar, and then went after the woman.
His sons set up a chorus of complaint: what was he doing? Was he out of his mind?
He ignored them. He simply followed in Lucidique's footsteps across the sand.
She glanced over her shoulder at the old man, who wore a curious expression. In some strange way he was happy at that moment; happier than he'd been in many years, with the wind hot against his face, and the beautiful woman calling to him to come with her
Seeing the he was obeying her, she returned her gaze to the sandstorm, which was now no more than a hundred yards off. There was something moving at its heart. She was not surprised. Though she hadn't planned the reunions that lay ahead she had neverthelessknown in her heart that it was coming. Her life since she'd stepped into her father's death-chamber, and seen Kreiger at work, had been like a strange dream, which she was somehow shaping without conscious effort.
She stopped walking. Cascarellian had caught up with her and seized her arm. He had a knife in the other hand. he pressed it to her breast.
"So that's where he is!" said Cascarellian staring at the dark giant in the heart of the storm. "Your Scythe-Meister."
As he spoke, the sandstorm picked up a sudden spurt of speed and came at them
"Don't come any closer!" the Don warned the creatre in the storm. "I'll kill her."
He pressed the knife into Lucidique's skin, just enough to draw blood.
"Tell him to keep his distance," he warned.
"It isn't Kreiger. It's a man called Agonistes. He has God's finger-prints upon him."
The heresy of this made Cascarellian's devoted stomach turn. "Don't talk that way!" he said, and with a sudden spurt of righteousness he drove the knife into her heart. She reached out, and touched the wound, then with her finger bloody grazed his forehead. A death mark.
Cascarellian let the body drop to the ground and ordered a quick retreat to the cars before the storm reached them. This grim busines wasn't finished, just because she was dead. He knew that. It was just the beginning.
He turned the house into a fortress. He had the windows sealed, and blessed with holy water. He bricked up the chimneys. He had guards and dogs patrolling the place night and day.
After a week he began to believe hat perhaps his faith and his gifts of money to the diocese, buying congregations praying for his safety, were having some effect.
He started to relax. Then, on the afternoon of the eighth day, a wind came out of the West: a sandy wind. It hissed at the sealed doors and the windows. It whined beneath the floorboards. the old man took two tranquilizers and a glass of wine, and went to sit in his bath.
A pleasant torpor overcame him as he sat in the warm water. His eyes fluttered closed.
And then her voice. Somehow she'd got in. She'd survived the knife to her heart and she'd got in.
"Look at you," she said. "Naked as a baby."
He grabbed his towel to cover himself, but as he did so she stepped out of the shadows and showed herself to him, in all her terrible glory. She was not the Lucidique he'd known; not remotely. Her whole body was transformed. She'd become a living weapon.
"Oh Jesus help me..." he murmured.
She reached forward and she castrated him with one swipe of her scythe. he clamped his bloody hands to his empty groin and stumbled out to the landing, calling for help. But the house was silent from roof to cellar. He called his sons' names one by one. None came. Only his old dog Malleus answered his call, and when he trotted through from the kitchen he left red paw-marks on the white carpet. He was eating something human.
"All dead." Lucidique said.
Then, very gently, she took hold of the back of Cascarellian's neck, the way a mother-cat catches hold of an errant kitten, and lifted him up, effortlessly. The blood from his vacant groin slapped against the carpet.
She put her blade to his chest and cut out his heart. then she let his body tumble back down the stairs.
Later, when the wind had dropped, and she could see the stars clearly, she went out into the street, leaving the door to the Cascarellian mansion wide open so that the atrocity there would be soon discovered. Then she headed out, through a variety of back streets and alleys, to the West Gate, and thence into the waiting desert.