A soldier has their place. They have a duty and they fulfill it. The same goes for a mother or a farmer or a scavenger. Even the dead have a purpose; rot and decay. Trees turn CO2 into oxygen and provide food and resources. Animals live to reproduce and again provide food and resources in death. Rivers carve into mountains and bring water to new lands.
I have no purpose. I simply exist; no goal, no purpose, no duty. The purpose I was to have is rendered purposeless by the absence of war. War is what I know. It is in my very being. Others in this situation were taught how to function in society, but how can I live in a society where human is normal, Syn is ‘accepted,’ and I am neither?
If I were to somehow integrate into society, I cannot remain long near any one particular person. I cannot prevent myself from listening for months on end. Sooner or later I will learn their deepest, darkest secrets simply by osmosis.
So why am I here? I live in their midst like a house spirit. I’m watching them work. I can do little to help them. Blurring prevents me from carrying objects, but if they need something broken, I can do that.
So am I guarding them? From what? There are no raiders nearby, and there’s a military camp between here and the nearest raider camp. If they were to attack by sea they might fare well, but there is cover aplenty on the beach, and little on boats.
Perhaps I had heard something—like I said, I can’t control it—and that’s why I was there. After the first few weeks, soldiers arrived. They were looking for someone, but they wouldn’t say who; the villagers tried to ask. They were getting rough, but not so rough that I deemed it necessary to intervene. I had no reason to care about these people.
They grabbed a girl and dragged her out to the beaches. The villagers protested, but there’s only so much anyone can do against the military. They still remained silent on their purpose. The one in charge pulled out his pistol and put it to the girl’s head. A man—the girl’s father, I believe—ran forward. He was immediately gunned down by two of the soldiers. The one in charge looked around, not inviting more trouble, but looking for someone still. The girl trembled against the barrel. He pulled the trigger. She was four years old.
I blurred, but remained where I was. I had no reason to care about these people. The entire village was dead silent, and the soldiers marched back the way they’d come.
I had no reason to care about these people, but it didn’t hurt to be curious. I blurred to the military camp. It was much busier than I had ever seen it. The camp general was talking to someone, but there was no one in his office, which means they had communications set up.
“He’s definitely at the village,” he was saying, “But reports are that he didn’t intervene.”
I couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation, nor could I tell who he was talking to.
“Things get done in the night. Things no human could do.”
How did they know about me? I hadn’t thought any that had seen me had lived.
“Why don’t you come check it out? Wouldn’t that be easier than—”
Who was he talking to? Someone looking for me?
The camp general left his office and began organizing the soldiers. They began to dismantle the camp and load it into trucks. In a matter of hours they were moving out; away from the in between of the village and the raiding camp.
Indeed, it only took the raiders a week to realize there was an undefended village close by. I saw their raid coming while it was still a mile off. Even though they had a quarter of the numbers of the village, there would be no viable resistance. The raiders performed war as a profession. The villagers performed war as a last resort.
The raiders swarmed into the village, turning over every nook and cranny for anything valuable. A few of the raiders broke down locked doors while others repelled down the well. Several of them dug up the graves; that was distasteful. They found little, as the village was not affluent by any standard, but they managed to find a few metals left over from the early days of the village, and packed those up along with most of the village’s food.
Of course, being so preoccupied with observing the raiders, I didn’t see the approaching army until they were a mere half a mile away, at which point the raiders noticed them too. There were soldiers on all sides except the shore. It was a trap, but an ineffective one. If the army wanted the raiders dealt with, there would still be a significant force at their camp; they hadn’t sent all of their men.
Regardless, the raiders weren’t going down without a fight, and certainly weren’t going to play clean. They stripped themselves of anything that might distinguish them as raiders and hid throughout town. They threatened the villagers with death if they said anything; it was the best they could do on such short notice.
The soldiers took up position around the village and waited for orders. The camp general gave them the go ahead. “Kill them all,” he said. He was a good actor. He was reluctant. He ordered a massacre.
I blurred as the soldiers opened fire. I had no reason to care about these people, but if the soldiers wanted me to intervene, I would oblige. I blurred down to the front of the village, getting in the way of several bullets in the process. They crumbled against me and burned from my blur. These man made weapons were of little concern to me. The grenade that landed at my feet did little but tickle me.
The camp general tried to communicate that I had finally intervened, but I blurred to him and reached out my hand to stop his life. Then a man appeared in front of me and punched me into the center of the village. Though my shell remained intact, it was the first time any attack had affected me any more than as a breeze.
He disappeared from where he was and reappeared much closer. Somehow this man was able to teleport. The soldiers were perturbed, to be sure, but that didn’t stop them from continuing their extermination.
“Defeat me, and I will end this,” said the man with a thunderous voice.
As you wish. I blurred forward to end it quickly, but as I reached him, he teleported just behind me and knocked me into the ground hard enough to create a small crater.
“But you won’t listen.” He kicked me through one of the houses.
I blurred back to him in an instant, but again he teleported away. I was ready for him to be behind me again, but in the instant that I turned, he reappeared back where he had been and lunched me into the air with an uppercut.
“You won’t use your gifts,” he said as I traveled upwards and he teleported beside me. When I reached the top of my trajectory, he launched me back down again.
“You won’t do your duty.”
I impacted, releasing energy equivalent to four tons of TNT. He then teleported down to me and landed feet first into me, releasing another blast.
“So you can’t defeat me.”
He teleported back a few yards and I got up. My pride was bruised, but I was still unharmed. A nuclear blast had given me life; it would take much more than a few heavy impacts to harm me.
“I listen.” He teleported to one of the cowering raiders and crushed their head like a grape. “I use my gifts.” He teleported to a villager and ripped out their heart. “I do my duty.” He grabbed another raider, threw them to the ground, and crushed their chest with his foot. “And yet I cannot defeat you.”
What duties do we have? Any duty I may have had ended with the war.
“As long as we both live, the war goes on. You and I are the last great projects of the war. Your loyalties still lie only with the Sinners, as mine lie with the Angels.”
These were the words of the enemy for the war’s factions.
“Since you refuse to listen, this war will never end, but the destruction will be eternal. You will live in hell until you listen and repent, Sinner. From now on, every village that burns, every man that dies, and every child who cries is on you.
“And if you refuse to listen, the second apocalypse is on you.”
It only took three years for the world to devolve into a free-for-all. It was family against family, and often husband against wife, father against son, brother against sister. The Angel of Death had manipulated everyone against each other.
But still, he was right. My only allegiance was to the Syn, the last remnants of my side of the war, and every Syn’s master was ordering them to war. The few Syn left were becoming fewer still.
I tried to confront the Angel several times, to end this pointless destruction, but each time it ended the same as the last. I was not willing to listen. I was not willing to learn secrets I should not know. I was not willing to look into someone’s life and see who they really were. I knew if I let myself listen only to defeat the Angel, it would not be ‘only.’
Ten more years, and life dwindled further. The Angel continued his manipulation until almost no one could trust anyone else. Everyone was fighting and sick of fighting, and no one more than I. I began searching for fighting parties and observing them. I tried stopping them at first, getting them to talk, but there was no point. The Angel’s poison had been served. Instead, I watched.
Occasionally, the Angel would come and stand across from me, waiting for me to listen. I never felt that he was proud of his work. I felt that he was simply doing his duty. I felt that he understood what his purpose was. And that feeling was the beginning of the end.
Five more years, and I returned to the village where this started. The houses had since been dismantled. All that was left was the well and the tombstones. The Angel was there, waiting, listening. Finally, after over half a millennium of holding it back, I listened.
I could hear every muscle spasm of the Angel, every thought, every heartbeat. I could hear his past, his extensive training and augmentation, his loving mother. I could hear how his mother mourned the state of the world, how he was created to fight me, how he was meant to end the war.
I blurred to him. He disappeared, but I could hear where he went. I blurred my hand into the space he was to occupy and stopped his cerebral function as he appeared. It was over in an instant. The Angel of Death was dead, and I was listening once more.
I could hear his purpose, how I had to listen to end the war, that this was his way of making me listen. I could hear the others before, the ones who told me to listen, the ones who would have been saved by me listening.
I could hear his mother, crying with a smile on her face, proud of her baby boy and his best friend.