Aegis Omega – Brother in Arms (9)

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Chapter 9: Bros before Blood

It was a Friday evening, and they had just finished dinner. It was roughly nine o’ clock when the doorbell rang, which was something that hadn’t ever really happened before.

“Who’s that?” Aiko asked, curious and concerned, due to the late hour.

Nino’s father furrowed his brow, knowingly, and set off towards the door. Nino followed, of course, chasing the little possibility for a situation that would engage his adrenaline.

His father had only to look through the peephole for his face to contort with utter disgust and offense.

“You son of a bitch,” he voiced, venomously, while taking out his phone. He then noticed Nino, and Aiko at the door of the living room. “I’m calling the police. Get up to your room, Nino.”

“What? Why?” Nino asked, instead of obeying. “Who is it?”

“Get up to your room, Nino!” He looked aside, “yes, police? I want to report a break in, he’s outside my door, and I fear for my life.”

His father raised his voice a bit too much at that point, apparently, because that’s what probably alerted to Rivaldo that there were people at the door already.

He just yelled.

“Nino!”

Nino didn’t even recognize the voice at first, but once he repeated, Nino reflexively opened the door.

“No!”

His father closed it immediately, and violently. Nino caught a glimpse of his friend before the door slammed shut. He looked far more grown up than Nino did, and he looked absolutely relieved and happy to see his friend, for what small instant it really was.

It was the very next moment that both Nino and his father noticed the door hadn’t actually shut the whole way through. A crack remained open, Rivaldo had blocked it with his foot.

“Nino, I need your help!”

Nino opened his eyes in shock.

“No!” His father yelled, punching at the door, trying to close it. “We had a deal! Get the off my fu**ing property, NOW!”

A deal? Nino thought, looking over at his father, whose face was already growing red.

“I can’t tell you why, Nino, I can’t tell you for what, but it’s dangerous. I’m in danger. And people might get hurt.”

Aiko yelped from behind as his father blew off a scream. A roar of rage. He opened the door and made to attack Rivaldo, but he stepped back and reached for the back of his pants, intimidated. He didn’t even grab anything, but it seemed like it didn’t matter. Nino’s father was unfair, not stupid, he promptly pulled back and closed shut the door.

He had just wanted to back Rivaldo away.

“Dad, we should hear him out. He looks like he’s in serious trouble,” Nino pleaded, glancing back and forth between the door and his father.

“Yes, trouble he got himself into, no doubt! How many times do I have to tell you, these cockroaches make their own bed, we’re not responsible for when they finally catch on fire!!”

In the past, Nino had often cowed. But in the present, Nino was a grown man who had killed people. Smiling derisively, scoffing, he faced his father.

“He’s not a cockroach, Dad, he’s my best friend!”

His father’s hand squeezed the phone so hard the screen started flickering.

“If he’s your friend, he’d leave you alone.”

“Why?” Nino reacted, squinting his eyes in curiosity. “What’s this deal you made?”

“Everyone, please calm down,” Aiko pleaded from the side, sadly. “You’re…you’re father and son.”

“Are we?” His father asked, slowly and questioningly. “Doesn’t feel like we are. I do everything for this boy, give him everything I have, and he wants none of it, he’s ready to throw it away.”

“It’s not like that, Dad, I just don’t want my friend to die! Not if I can help.”

“The only help you can really give him is to put him in jail,” his father said. “He will drag you down with him otherwise, you’ll become just another rat, fighting for supremacy of the gutters in this damned country.”

“Dad, geez,” Nino reacted, sneering, “please calm down. I just want to hear him out. I’m a grown man, aren’t I?”

His father flinched, taken aback.

“What?” He asked. The screen on his mobile cracked beneath the pressure of his grip.

Nino found he was no longer afraid of the man. Why had he ever been? He could not beat him in a fight, nor would he try, really. He smiled, trying to keep the situation light.

“I’m past eighteen, you should trust I know what I’m doing. Let me hear him out and don’t call the police, c’mon. I don’t mind discussing it with y–”

“Hear me out first, then,” his father said, or rather demanded. “You leave with him, you take whatever you want from this house with you, because you will never come back.”

Nino lost his smile for a moment there, surprised by the escalation of the situation. His mother cringed from the doorway, bringing a hand to her mouth. Probably because, being someone who actually really socialized with Nino, she knew how headstrong he had gotten in the recent years.

To his credit, his father’s contempt had taken him to tears. He wasn’t crying out of helplessness or sadness, but still, tears were making down his reddened cheeks. Nearly steaming from their heat.

“You change your name,” his father continued, “You forget about me, and you forget about your mother. No matter how much I care about you, son…” his father choked on the word, clearly having a hard time saying what he was saying. “I-I will not abide, protect, or in any way support a criminal like Rivaldo.”

“Dad,” Nino pleaded.

“Like you,” he added, and that really did it.

Nino noticed how his father was looking at him, and finally realized how he was seen. He glanced aside at his mother, who was crying, so very not used to that level of dramatics.

One point of view would be that Rivaldo had caused that household to reach that situation. To break apart in that manner. Another point of view was that Nino was responsible. That was how Nino saw it.

If Rivaldo wasn’t around, if he hadn’t been involved in what he was two years past, and now, then maybe their house wouldn’t have broken down, sure. But Nino would still be Nino, and he cared a lot more about people than he did the law.

That was just the truth in his heart.

Nino cracked a helpless smile.

“I’m sorry, dad. I… will abide, protect, and in every way support the people I care about. That means you guys as well, obviously, but right now, Rivaldo might need me more than you do. That-that’s all.”

His father clenched his eyes and threw the phone at the wall, breaking it, and duly startling Aiko.

“You’re your own man,” he said, poisoned. “It’s your decision.”

At that, his father left the hallway, heading to the stairs.

“Honey, please, we don’t have to–”

He stopped and looked at Aiko, accusingly.

“It’s not your fault,” he said, opposing what his eyes were saying. “However, unless you want to be responsible for your son hurting people…it’s what it is.”

He left at that, walking up the stairs. Aiko lost strength in her legs and sat down on the floor, in disbelief.

Nino sighed, opened the door, told Rivaldo he’d be right out, and then walked back to Aiko, his mother. His smile dropped, her pain was something he couldn’t ignore.

“Mom…I’m sorry about this.”

But at the end of the day, she would still be alive. She would still have her husband, and friends and life. She didn’t need him as much as Rivaldo probably did, coming to his house like that.

The situation had to be deadly serious.

“I just don’t understand,” Aiko complained, weakly, “how did it turn out like this?”

“I dunno,” Nino said sadly. He hugged her as meaningfully as he could, “I wish it hadn’t, if that means anything.”

“How is your father just…allowing you to go…”

“He can’t stop me,” Nino confessed, with a sigh. “It’s…I don’t know, it’s hard to explain, this is something I just need to do. I can’t abandon him, I can’t abandon my friend.”

“But you can abandon your parents?” She said, both angry and sad. Her voice somewhat muffled by the grief.

“I’m not. I would come back if I could but look at you. And did you see dad? Maybe he’s right, maybe it’s for the best, I don’t know. I just…”

He sighed again.

“I just know what I need to do, mom. No matter how much I love you, and how much I’ll miss you,” Nino paused to blink and shed his own tears. It was hard, it was impossibly hard, but going on like he had seemed impossible.

He knew where he had to go. Nino felt it, in the core of his being, what path he wanted to take. That meant turning his back on his father, but more terribly, on his mother. It was hard, but he would do it.

The alternative just felt so much worse.

“I just know what I need to do…”

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These are journal entries from the protagonist of the comic book Aegis Omega. If you’re not familiar with the story, I invite you to change that and read up on it:

http://aegisomega.tumblr.com/post/109010046366

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Aegis Omega – Brother in Arms (9)

Aegis Omega – Keiji’s Journal (11)

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It wasn’t an accident. Enough days have gone by, so not only does she have to know what she’s doing, but I even witnessed it. A friend of hers rolled her eyes and said a mean thing, so Rika scolded her!

It feels…great. I never really thought it would feel so weird, or so good. It does feel good, just to say “hey” and have it said back with a smile, like she’s happy to see me.

I find that hard to believe, she doesn’t even know me, why would she be happy to see me?

Everything else is pretty much the same, but with her in my class, it’s also… much better.

It makes me think…like, the difference that one person can make in other people’s lives just by being kind. We really can’t imagine, or at least, most people can’t imagine the impact kindness can have in people’s lives.

I for one, feel that impact.

I worried, initially, that she would pay the price, and share in my infamy, but that isn’t happening. She’s very pretty, she’s always happy and joyful. I think she’s smart too. I think she’s going to be moving a lot of hearts in that school.

I’m scared she already started with mine.

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These are journal entries from the protagonist of the comic book Aegis Omega. If you’re not familiar with the story, I invite you to change that and read up on it:

http://aegisomega.tumblr.com/post/109010046366

Also consider checking out my Patreon. You can

Aegis Omega – Keiji’s Journal (11)

Aegis Omega – Keiji’s Journal (9)

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Ok so my secret thing. I’m like…basically, it’s an ability I have, and…I sometimes dream of it not being a secret. Of me just…using it to help people!

Like the shows, I could be a super hero of some sort. I have that dream. I have lots of dreams.

I want to be a cop, I think. Though not in Japan, I’d like to be part of some international thing, like be a detective or something. I dunno if that’s a thing, I’ll have to check.

But yeah! That would be cool, taking down bad guys, and I could…I dunno, make my ability useful in some way, and keep it a secret but still make use of it to catch people off-guard.

It’d be so cool. I hope it can happen, I really have to check into it.

Though first, I dunno, maybe I should find a job. Maybe if I relieve Jin of some of the burden, or even if I can live on my own, he’ll get better.

Or maybe without me, he’ll just die in a drunken stupor…I don’t want that to happen…

I mean, he’s basically my father.

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These are journal entries from the protagonist of the comic book Aegis Omega. If you’re not familiar with the story, I invite you to change that and read up on it:

http://aegisomega.tumblr.com/post/109010046366

Also consider checking out my Patreon. You can

Aegis Omega – Keiji’s Journal (9)

Aegis Omega – Brother in Arms (1)

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Chapter 1: The Butterfly

It was a hot day. But then, it’s most always a hot day in Brazil.

The sun shines through whatever measly clouds attempt to defend the people on the ground when they even deem to show up, and on that summer day, none could muster up the courage.

People are braver things, however.

With arms and legs mostly bare, and some even sick enough to wear thin jackets, the residents walked around Liberty Avenue like they were part of a bustling metropolis. Mostly because they were.

Something that was still palpably shocking to Aiko, even after so many years of life in São Paulo, was how motorcycles navigated through people in a way even cyclists would never dare back in her home country of Japan.

It had been an endeavor, getting used to the more chaotic lifestyle of the country, not to say violent. However, at least there was passion.

People screaming, losing their tempers, cursing wildly at all hours of the day. Her parents would say it wasn’t civilized, but in Aiko’s opinion, too much civilization can be dehumanizing.

Aiko appreciated the sincerity, much as it had taken her a long time to get used to the loud voices and learn they didn’t necessarily imply impending violence.

Even though her husband could well afford to hire people to buy groceries, and even cook them, Aiko had always preferred to do it herself. Being the woman of the house and taking care of everything herself was her own bit of traditional tendency that she felt no need to discard. Initially, it had helped her to get acquainted with the language and costumes, but even after she no longer needed that, Aiko still appreciated doing the footwork herself.

Aiko’s first and everlasting impression was that the people of Brazil laughed a lot. They spent most of their time laughing and joking around. She really loved that.

“So I told her neither. Not intelligent women and not beautiful women, I only have eyes for you!” Tércio said, snickering while he packaged a few steaks for her. Aiko laughed along, much less politely than her parents would approve.

“You really like that couch, is that?” Aiko asked, teasing and while taking the plastic bag with her bought meat. The man laughed.

“Damn, it’s way more comfortable, you got no idea!” He joked along, slightly gesturing farewell at her as she stepped aside to let the next person in line step forward.

“Oh, Mr. Capacho!”

“It’s Capaz,” the man commented with a frown.

“I’m capaz, alright. HA!”

Capaz meant capable. Much like with Japanese names, names around there were sometimes straight out of the dictionary, if they weren’t absolutely foreign. It was odd how that happened even with family names.

However, it was a fact that there was a lot of generational and cultural mixture in the city. For many reasons, that was also why Aiko was there in the first place. A lot of Japanese live in Brazil, and they’ve been doing so as far back as three generations, if not more.

Aiko greeted her way out of the supermarket and into the garage. She put the plastic bags full of food and drinks, especially drinks, into the trunk and then got into the driver’s seat. The engine growled satisfactorily, which was good. She had had to deal with a mechanic two years ago, and the experience had been so awful she still worried every time she turned on the engine.

Aiko drove out of the mall, intending to go home.

It was a reasonable expectation. She had gone through that day countless times before. Things were different lately, having a son transformed routines into a lovable kind of chaos and unexpected surprises, but going shopping for food had been the same experience day in and day out for years.

That day, it was different. While waiting on a traffic signal, Aiko witnessed a robbery. It wasn’t uncommon, unfortunately, especially where tourists were concerned.

The ill-dressed man ran up on some pale ogle-eyed European and socked him across the head. In the middle of the dizziness, the burglar grabbed hold of the poor idiot’s Kindle reader and ran off.

He was, of course, brandishing a gun so nobody would try to stop him.

Laws usually worked in Japan, but sometimes it felt like laws in Brazil only really affected people who wouldn’t break them in the first place even if they were unwritten.

This wasn’t the part that affected Aiko’s life, not directly. His escape took him through a crowd of people who had just stopped at a red sign, leading to the walkway she was about to be green-lit to cross, and he nearly ran over a couple of people there.

Among them was Rita.

They all fell, dropping their stuff, yelling and screaming, a minute commotion in a city of constant noise and energy. The people around reacted, including her.

Ignoring the violent honking behind her, Aiko pulled the car to the side a bit–she knew if she left it in the middle of the road, the drivers behind her would just smash through–and quickly got out to be one of the few people who acted to help those who were roughed up.

Rita was a sweaty mess of a thing, with dark circles around her eyes and disheveled graying hair that would otherwise be curly and golden.

Still, she was Brazilian, she greeted the assistance with a laugh.

“There we go,” Aiko said, helping Rita up.

“Son of a bitch foreigner,” Rita complained amidst self-deprecating laughter. Then, once on firm feet, she yelled at him, “can’t just walk around here carrying that kind of crap, you idiot!”

The poor guy didn’t understand Portuguese and was confused by someone who stopped him from chasing the thief. He didn’t understand how his life was being saved.

“Thank you,” Rita said to Aiko, “gringo bitches should learn from each other,” she said, again laughing. “Ah, what a mess, look at my oranges.”

Aiko did so, finding them on the ground all messed up. She started helping Rita pick up what was left.

“I’m Rita, by the way,” Rita said, holding the bag open so Aiko could put some more stuff in it. “Sorry about yelling,” she added.

“No, no problem,” Aiko said, “it looks like all your fruit got ruined. Oh wait, the banan–”

Aiko was interrupted as a biker sped past them, squashing a pack of bananas beneath the wheels. The fruit got spat at Aiko’s face to the sounds of other people yelling at the biker. One couldn’t forget it wasn’t just the two, there was roundabout a dozen people still helping each other.

Aiko looked at Rita who was looking at her in shock.

“I’m so sorry,” Rita said, half laughing. Aiko wasn’t sure if she was apologizing for laughing but it didn’t matter because Aiko started laughing as well.

“My name is Aiko,” she said, unable to not give the woman a little bow, “oh sorry.”

“For what? Helping me? Ah, can you believe this shit?” Rita complained while looking down at what remained of her three shopping bags. “Now I gotta go back. I mean, my kids already eat nothing but shit, I really want them to have some kind’a fruit.”

Aiko smiled, willing to help. She also needed to move since leaving the car unattended for three minutes was already making her feel paranoid. It was even making other people feel paranoid on her behalf.

“Lady, your car,” some stranger called out.

In the end, Aiko gave Rita a ride back to the shopping and then to her place. Aiko was fortunate to live in the richer part of the city. Her house was big, it had a fence and a doorman who checked everyone going in and out. Such was not Rita’s case.

The woman had a life most definitely aligned with how she looked. Aiko had enormous respect for a woman such as her, and as they talked the day away, she gained a strong liking to her as well.

Rita was a strong woman. A single mother of three working several jobs, and even though it was clear Aiko lived a comfortable stay-at-home-wife life, Rita didn’t seem to hold it against her.

“That was my plan too, you know?” Rita explained, joking around, “I wanted to marry some rich dumb guy, too! But the majority of those dogs don’t even care if they get you pregnant, you know? It’s actually just one more reason to get out of there even faster!”

Rita joked about it a lot, in the middle of yelling at her kids to behave. The two became good friends pretty quickly and, pretty soon, Aiko was offering to babysit one of her children, on account of him being the same age as her own son and so that Rita didn’t have to spend money on daycare or babysitting.

Rita was so busy all the time, and not very trusting of her community. For those reasons, having somewhere to drop at least one of her kids was an offer too good to pass up.

They talked about it in a more serious tone, which was one of the events where Aiko was so impressed by Rita.

“It just worried me he’ll think he’s better than his brothers,” Rita explained about her son, “or that his brothers think he’s better than them. Or that he’ll blame me for not having such a nice house.”

“I worry he’s going to steal from me,” Aiko said flatly.

Rita glared at her, and Aiko just smirked back with a suggestive blink that made Rita laugh out loud. That was another thing they liked about each other, they seemed to have the same sense of humor.

“I cannot know what will happen,” Aiko said, after calming down, “maybe our boys don’t even get along all that well. But if they do, all the better. I just want to help you in some way, and since you didn’t even let me pay for your groceries that day we met–”

“Yes, I know, my dad always said I was a hard woman to deal with it. Even to help,” Rita nodded, “I should…yeah, I guess letting Rivaldo stay for a few days. It’ll be better than being around here, I think. I think that’s a good baby step for me.”

“Anything can be good, anything can be bad,” Aiko said, smiling and shrugging, “all we do is try.”

Rita laughed, a bit awkwardly. “What kinda…what kinda shit is that to say?!” She laughed even more. “Why do you do this to me?!”

The butterfly effect is a common concept. A butterfly does a wing flap, and some time later, half-way across the world, a tornado gains momentum. Unforeseen consequences are one thing but what people don’t consider enough is how bad consequences don’t necessarily follow good actions, and how these consequences can sometimes come at a much later time. And at the end of it all, people don’t consider how that one butterfly might have been flying amidst a dozen others, all of them flapping along, considered insignificant by nature and the laws of physics that deal with causality.

How to tell which was the cause?

There were half a dozen people pushed down by that burglar that day, in a random street walk Aiko would not have been on if the line to buy the steaks had a person less, or more. If the cashier had taken another minute doing the math on her change, or if Júlio hadn’t overslept, which put him in the car behind her instead of in her place.

Out of all of those affected, Aiko picked Rita. Or was drawn to Rita.

In a way, that decision would define Nino’s life more than any other.

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These are journal entries from the protagonist of the comic book Aegis Omega. If you’re not familiar with the story, I invite you to change that and read up on it:

http://aegisomega.tumblr.com/post/109010046366

Aegis Omega – Brother in Arms (1)

Aegis Omega – Brother in Arms (0)

Everyone has a past. Everyone is as much part of history as it is part of them. The past shapes the present which influences the future, at every conceivable level of existence, and so there is no decision that is made objectively.

At the same time, there are no two people who would make the same decision in every situation. Despite the influences of the world, and past lives, the individual still exerts their power.

That’s what the boss believes in. He is a liar and a killer who has cheated his way into a position of power over a city’s criminal underworld. Mercilessly.

Despite knowing all of that, Nino Naokiren is unflinchingly loyal to him. He follows this Japanese young man since before he could even communicate properly in Brazil’s mother tongue, and well after finding out how he was, for all intents and purposes, a literal monster.

Why?

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These are journal entries from the protagonist of the comic book Aegis Omega. If you’re not familiar, I invite you to change that and read up on it:

http://aegisomega.tumblr.com/post/109010046366

Aegis Omega – Brother in Arms (0)

When the Beast ignored the Meek

Before the Beast, Pt 1

I peered out into the open with my hands gripping the balcony’s railing. I was overseeing the destruction that was fast approaching in a mighty unstoppable stampede. Of one.

I stood taller than twenty men on top of the last wall standing. The beast, alas, stood higher.

We never had a chance.

The catapults and cannons might as well be firing pebbles. It looked increasingly annoyed by them but in no way deterred, or even slowed. I looked down and ahead at the three levels of walls, each bigger than the farthest and distanced by dozens of yards, to look upon my men: ants. Ants under my command, working hard to defeat a thing that was beyond their efforts.

I knew they would all die that day. Along with me, most likely.

I looked up to aid my mind in filtering out the noise of fear and violence around me so I could remark on the weather in peace. And disappointment.

Despite the death. Despite the doom falling upon us all, the sadness and misery setting into the hearts of all my people who trembled behind me inside the actual city. Despite the war… it wasn’t raining, it was even scarce for clouds. I could see a rainbow in the distance and feel the warmth of the sun shining on my brow, all refreshed by the slightest of breezes that kept on moving. Peacefully.

It was a pretty good day.

It made me feel so insignificant I damn near cried. I had always expected…when I woke up that day, to make my last stand, I expected my end to be worthy of rain and thunder. Of dark clouds, cutting winds and moody lightning.

The day, however, did not care about me. Or my nation.

I clenched my fists, and though my face remained stoic, I allowed stubbornness to spread across my body – to seep into my heart. I bit my inner cheek. I looked forward, focused on the beast again, and forced my resolve to harden.

“I will not die on a beautiful day.”


Before the Beast, Pt 2

You have certainly experienced it.

You are sitting in a tavern or standing in a crowd or walking down a street and, for some inexplicable reason, you sense it. Someone is staring at you.

You look around and happen to look in the right direction right off the bat. And you were right. How we feel this, I do not know, but I put all that I have, all that I am…into doing it to the beast.

Despite us calling it that, the way the beast has set upon our cities and defenses demonstrated intelligence. A reasoned will. My last plan, our last hope, hinged mostly on that being true.

I hoped my stare would bother it.

All other walls had fallen, only mine was left.

“Steady, men,” I said, hoping it could not hear me. “Stand as steel. And ready.”

I saw it pause. It sensed my stare. It looked around, unexpectedly staring in my direction. I hoped it was curious enough to take a closer look.

“Continue bombarding it.” With the pebbles.

I hoped it believed they were the last of our strength.

It stepped forward once and then leaned in to bring me nearer. I had hope it would come close enough.

It wished to focus on me, it wished to catch my eyes and see my stare. It wished, I imagine, to make me blink. To make me wince. It wished to fulfill its ego by taking out the last of the fight in me with just its stare.

No mere beast indeed. As to me, I had a hope its eyes were as fragile as our own. It had two, and even though they were akin to that of a bird of prey, they did not appear to be as rock-solid as its skin.

The monstrous face occupied my entire field of view. One eye was large enough to fit two of me side by side. The smell stemming from its head, mostly all from its breath, almost made me pass out. I had never smelled so much death, I had never felt it so appropriate to add “putrid” as a descriptor to “smell of death.” I could feel it on my skin such was its density.

I hoped my men were still responsive and ready to act; I could not, for the life of me, look to them.

I held its gaze, exuding as much defiance as I could muster. Making use of every last ounce of courage available to me, I lift my hand in a hard breath and stare back.

I had a hope that it did not know what a ballista was.
And if it did, that it did not recognize the two stacks set up behind me.


Before the Beast, Pt 3

Its bellow instantly ruptured ear drums.

A few of my men went deaf in the first instants of its scream. I myself felt my left ear drum burst while the right one whined into a whistling shock. I finally winced looking away, but the Beast did not notice. It had done so first.

It arched back in pained reaction, a dozen of gigantic bolt projectiles sticking out its eyes, needles in comparison, but needles can blind any man.

He tripped over a half-crumbled tower and fell back, violently spreading itself across all the half-destroyed walls and battlements it had left in its wake. Amidst the booming generated by the several points of contact between its body and the things it was landing on, something cracked. Even in my near-deafness, I could recognize a bone snapping. The bone must’ve been the size of a tower and twice as thick.

In reaction, another bellow blew up and hit us in an audible and terrifying gust of wind. Its foot wildly lunged in a spasm, bursting part of my last wall.

It just burst like a massive explosion had taken effect.

I witnessed as half my men were projected back to rain down on their city amidst the debris. Like everyone else who had not been kicked, however, I was too overwhelmed to manage any kind of reaction.

I stood still. Gaping. Eyes wide. Frozen before the enormity of it all.

The sheer scale.

I was a farmer once. There was a moment in the past when my biggest worry had been how to milk a cow properly. When my biggest failure was to have clothes dirtied by muddied rain.

Ten cities. Four castles. Twelve to fifteen thousand lives and the greater majority of the royal family. My left ear. Things I had been responsible for, things I had failed to protect.

An orphan farmer from the kingdom’s most humble of territories.

A beast so big and mighty we thought it a mad god was laying in front of me, its bellow shaking the earth hundreds of feet beneath the wall over which I stood. Its wild kick had effortlessly shattered a third of said wall, of the last wall.

I had climbed through the ranks with all of my ability and sought to glorify my family name and my nation only to now realize I had made myself responsible for so much. For too much. My failures were impossible for me to perceive, let alone fathom.

Much like the beast before me.

In the madness of it all, I noticed clouds were forming. The noise and violence it had produced and was still echoing had upset even the weather. I must have been crazy by then because I felt relief.

Lacking the ability to heal, the beast would forever be blind. That was all I could hope for; that it, at least, would be unable to seek out other nations. Other people. I had a hope that, for all my failures, they would be outweighed by what we accomplished that day.

As for me?

I watched as its foot claw approached like a falling building. The size of one, too.
I noticed the unholy hell that was stuck to its base, an agglomeration of ground, buildings and corpses all pressed together in a muddled mess of despicable visage.

My grave.

The last thing I heard was the sound of thunder.

Of a storm unleashing.


In the Beast’s Shadow, Pt 1

The beast stands taller than mountains. Or at least, any that I’ve ever seen.

Bigger than most all walls and big enough to rip down any that can be built, it roamed the lands at first. It blind, unsure where to go, unaware of what it’s even eating to survive – or maybe I’m wrong, maybe it can tell by taste – the point is it was a threat but no longer as capable as when it had the ability to seek out cities and direct itself.

Thanks to my father.

I was two that day. My older brother succeeded him, being in his twenties, to lead the relocation of our people while the giant sought to take revenge, blindly, on our once mightiest citadel.

He came up with the plans to poison the beast, all of which fell flat. Then he had the idea to lead him to Lake Parish, hoping the beast would be remiss to leave a constant source of water and fruit, and he was right.

We have lived twenty-five years of peace. Scouts have reported daily on the beast’s stationary location for years, themselves stationed on a military post that started out as the greatest sign of nobility and courage that one could demonstrate. The job has since degenerated into the lowest of posts one can take, worst yet than sewage disposal for, at least in that, you still live in a city.

That is my duty. Even with my father’s name and my brother’s say, it was the only one I could get.

I look at the beast and I try to fathom how he did it. Of all the legends and stories I’ve heard, myths and history, the tale of my father’s stare down with the beast rings the most awesome. Because it is true. Most days, I cannot even stand to look in its direction…let alone at its ankle, the foot that crushed him. I have only looked at its blind-staring eyes once, I cannot imagine meeting a full stare. A stare that actually sees me.

My father was born of nothing, an orphan child sold as a slave to farmers. My brother was a bastard born of a barkeep, dad, and some maid. I, on the other hand, was born to royalty, at the time my father held the highest office as he tried to contend with the mighty beast that had surfaced to destroy us all. My mother was a true-born princess fallen in love with the mighty general.

I have never been able to hold a sword correctly. My wrists care not for its weight or form, my feet fumble in any attempt to attain proper balance. Blocking a strike with a shield hurts as much as getting hit with a punch. My heart is weak, both emotionally and physically.

I will be the downfall of my line. The “then” to “his lineage fell through”. I knew it the moment I looked away from its blind gaze and into the bottom of my flask, on my first day at the job.

I am the true-born son of the savior of the world, and for the longest time, I’ve felt as if…I am but a disappointment waiting to be realized. Always have been.

I look out the window as it again goes dark. We camp near the beast, close enough we practically live in the shade it casts when it gets up to walk around, or even when it sits on our side of the lake.

I read the short tale they based off my father every other week. Based on his writings. “Before the beast,” is the title. Epic and foreboding.

I do not even live in my father’s shadow, I realize that day, as I look up at the beast’s back. I live in the beast’s shadow…the thing he defeated.

That would be the title I have earned, and will ever earn, with my life. In the beast’s shadow.

I brush away my long slimy hair I cannot bother to wash or comb anymore and I look at the wall of skin that is its back. And I envy it. As low as the beast has fallen, I am yet lower.

The lowest.


In the Beast’s Shadow, Pt 2

The corner I hid in is now drowned in sounds of sobbing and a slow, rhythmic breathing. The sobbing comes from me, the patience from it.

It waits for me to move. It waits for me to lead it.

If anyone can read this, know that the beast has learned to listen!

It first attacked us during night time. We thought it had been unlucky, we blamed the smell of the excrement we had amassed due to having been lax in handling their disposal. Either way, none of us who survived its attack were brave or courageous, we immediately fled to the nearest city.

It attacked the city the next day. In the effort to evacuate and flee, amidst the destruction, I was left behind buried under the rubble and debris, assumed dead. When I woke up hours later, I found the beast standing just outside the city. It was waiting.

It was the first thing I saw and fear gripped me so tightly I could not move. I did not move. I hardly even managed to breathe.

It waited for long hours, and so did I. Then suddenly, it found purpose and started off. I recognized the direction, it moved towards a village that was a few miles away.

It has learned to discern our footsteps! Or our voices. All that time, it was listening. It did not hear me because I was quiet, as quiet as I could, out of terror. Once it was moving, of course, it would not hear me beneath its thunderous steps.

If it stands still, however! If it stands still, it can do this!

I fled to another city, a further one. Four days later, runaways from the village I had assumed it walked towards arrived. Sure enough and to my dismay, one day later, the Beast arrived. That was when I realized it was following the survivors, it was leaving survivors and then following them to find the next city.

That was when I realized that was the only reason there were any survivors in the first place.

I panicked. There could be none, not this time! What I’ve done…I had to!

Its attack was stronger than it wanted it to be, I think. Few people were left. And me. They all tried to escape, all five of them, but I used the crossbow! I had to, they wouldn’t listen to me, they wanted to run at all costs! I told them, they would just lead it to the next city, I had to!

You must believe me, I had to.

Now, alone, here I lie.

It waits for me to move. It stands still. I am the only survivor, it knows it can’t kill me. I walked out for a few hours, I went around, next to it, came back, and after all that, it still stood like a giant…building. Like a tower. Eyes staring out into the distance, blind to everything.

It was then I stopped. I just stopped. For more than a day have I lain immobile in this bedroom floor, hoping every second that the ground will tremble as a sign that it is leaving…or otherwise doing something beyond my power.

A hope that continues to go unfulfilled.

I don’t know what to do. I want to run away, but I can’t, I will only lead it to others. I wish you were here, brother, you would know what to do. But me? All I can do…I think of running to the next city and attempting to evacuate everyone before the beast arrives, but we all have to go somewhere, we can’t keep walking and even then, it can just be impatient and get us on the move. I guess?

I can grab a mount and just race through everywhere, but on the other hand, it is now currently stuck. Because I am not moving, it is stuck.

No…I have to stay. I have to hope it can’t hear me writing this and I have to stay. If there’s one thing I have to succeed at, it is at dying.

I cannot believe I will die like this. Hungry, thirsty, frail and weak and sobbing…and all, as ever, in its shadow.

Curse my life.

Curse my lack of ideas, curse it all. But above all, curse this shadow.


In the Beast’s Shadow, Pt 3

I stab and I stab for there is nothing else to do.

For days, I stayed still, catatonic, under the shade it cast. For days, there was a glimmer of hope that they would come for me.

My brother, my uncle, my countrymen. Someone would come with a plan, someone would come with a care.

The reality of my life has always been the opposite. No one ever comes. No one ever cares.

So I grabbed a sword and walked to its massive foot. Whatever fear I had ever had was a distant memory. I was hungry. I was tired beyond belief and besides it all, I was hung over. There was nothing else to distract me from my heartbreak. From how low I had fallen. From the perfect knowledge of the human being I had grown to become: such a stark opposite to my father.

I don’t care if I die.

I stabbed it. I stab its foot for what seems hours but it doesn’t react. It doesn’ kill me. I assume it doesn’t know how to hurt me without killing me, that would leave it alone in the city.

It seems pointless but there is nothing else to do. I keep stabbing and it keeps ignoring me. It takes me hours and ten different blades, but eventually, the rock cracks and opens to show flesh and blood.

Because it ignores me, and because I’ve gone crazy, I see what nobody has ever seen: the color of its flesh.

My hands are already pretty hurt, pretty cut up, just from handling the swords.

I know the hour approaches when it gets too hungry. It will eat me then, before trying to make its way back to the oasis. Now, the idea of being eaten is horrifying but I didn’t feel any fear. What scares a man after the horror he’s been forced to familiarize himself with? After days dealing with the sight and the smell of a city of corpses and all their vomit and excrement and blood.

I suddenly, looking at the wound, am overwhelmed. Thirst, the hunger I am so…out of it.

Before I know it, I’m bent down, biting into the flesh of a gigantic killer. So my bites would be akin to that of an ant you couldn’t even feel, I’m not worried about harming it, I’m just hungry.

I gather myself minutes later. I stop and looked at my hands and realize the taste inside my mouth, and I heave.

Why I do not kill myself, I do not, or will ever, know. It is an odd mentality to have, to throw yourself at death and yet refuse to bring it in yourself.

When I open my eyes, in that moment of self-pity and self-hate and just bundle all the negative words in conjunction with self…in that moment, something occurs to me. As I look down at the negligible wound on its foot, I remember a soldier I had seen die from a splinter to the finger.

It had gotten infected. He had gotten sick.

I grin.

I do not know what it was but, with bloody teeth inside a parasitic mouth, I grin. I grin with all the passion of a murderous psychopath, looking up at its patient stoic expression, slimy hair grabbing onto my forehead.

I don’t worry about how I will ever live down doing what I think of doing. I don’t want to think, I just want to do. Whether in the hopes that it will work or that the Beast will kill me for it, I do not know. I do not care.

I snatch cockroaches, bugs, I catch a rat, and I shove them into the wound. I grab a piece of a corpse that was more fly than meat and I scrape the Beast’s bare flesh with it.

For what feels like hours, like a lifetime, I try to infect that very tiny, very negligible wound. I grab hold of a spear and pass it over multiple corpses, across puddles of dried up blood and maggot-filled meat. I infect it as much as possible and then I go back to the stabbing.

I stab until my arms die on me.

And the whole time, I am laughing maniacally. I surrender to the madness. I allow myself to go the lowest a man can go. I betray every shred of honor and dignity I ever had or could ever have and, quite simply, go crazy on that wound.

“You keep me in the shade,” I yell out, “you ignore all that I do, and all that I am,” I scream. “That will be your downfall!” It barely feels me, it hardly cares about what I’m doing or saying, but I’m insane. Incapable to care about what makes sense to say or not. I just say it. I let emotion run my mouth.

“I WILL BE YOUR DOWNFALL!”

I am an ant biting at a Titan. At a god monster destined to slaughter us all but I cannot care, I instead laugh and spiral worse and worse. Just get filthier and filthier as the day goes by. And as much as I laugh that day…it turns out to be nothing. Nothing compared to two days later.

My madness spent with my stamina, I again lie on the ground…having given up. My mood again flatted, my tears again running, my whimpers repeatedly hiccupping.

“No one is coming,” I tell myself, “no one cares to come for me.”

And then I hear it.

As usual, it is thunder, always like thunder, but this time, it’s not intimidating or scary, it’s actually exhilarating.

Maddeningly exhilarating.

It was a cough.

I have lowered myself to such lengths that I have overlapped! And came out on top! I’ve killed the beast!

It’s sick! As I write this, it reaches for me, to eat me! I hope! Hahah!

Because I’ve been coughing blood all day!

It can hear me writing! It can hear so well! I wonder if it understands me?! I will curse it all the way through, all the way until I die!

Finally, it’s ov–

When the Beast ignored the Meek

Freefall Destiny (4/4)

To Part 3

PART 4

“I HAVE NO WORDS!” Keilo grabbed his own head in unrelenting excitement.

Jik laughed, “YOU SEEM TO HAVE A LOT.”

“I HAVE NO SMART WORDS! WOW! JUST…WOW!! HOW DID HE DO THAT?!”

“PURE INSTINCT!” She yelled over the roar of the crowd, as well as the translators around her, “THERE’S HALF A SECOND OF HIM PICTURING THE FLOCKS OF BIRDS. HE…HE JUST FOUND A WAY THROUGH. BUT HE’S DOOMED NOW.”

The roar started to subside while she explained what Keilo was now remembering.

“HE COULDN’T STOP THE DIVE. TO GO THROUGH THE BIRDS, HE STOPPED…he stopped it. He lost a second he couldn’t so now he won’t reach the teleporter.”

“Oh no, don’t say that, that can’t be how it ends!”

“I’m afraid it is…the only diver to survive the birds…was actually killed by the clouds right at the start.”

“Well I guess that’ll be another notch on Rybkin’s belt,” Keilo said, honestly disappointed and disgruntled with the while situation.

But by this time, my melancholy and, I remind you, my disbelief had been expunged. This was no longer just another week, no longer just another event of freefall destiny. This was no longer just a job. The man was a champion and as I meticulously pushed my map skills to their limits, my calculation and vector predictions to the brink of my intelligence to find a solution, the only thing I could hear was the memory that was now flashing before Celár’s eyes.

“I know you’ll come back to me alive, Ocklo.”

“And I know you’ll be here waiting for me.”

“Of course I will,” the female voice of his wife giggled. The only commentary I heard was Keilo whispering “wow, that is harsh. I suppose that’s the last they saw of each other?”

“Seems that way.”

He didn’t have a wife, everyone knew at least that. He had no family members.

Now, it is hard to describe what it was like. What came next.

He had burst through a dragonfly, and survived the birds. I was already as stressed with it all and as involved in a contestant’s fall as I had ever been, so it is hard to explain what happened next.

Whatever going beyond one’s limits of enthusiasm and anxiety feels like, that was how Ocklo made us all feel. And it all started when I noticed he was about to pierce a sea of thundering clouds, beneath which was the massive storm I had initially wanted him to avoid. This storm was generating a massive swirl in the ocean below. The swirl wasn’t simply a normal spiral, it started as one on the surface but then became a tunnel that curved around erratically for a few additional miles, completely carved by the raging winds and crazy tides.

The planet is insane.

More accurately described as an F5-level hurricane, I watched as the case containing the teleporter dove right into it, carried by the wind into these sea tunnels, all the while Celár was crossing the storm-clouds.

“CELÁR!” I yelled as high as I could. I could hardly believe what I was about to suggest, so I could only imagine how someone who was actually there, Celár, would hear it. “YOU BROKE TO EVADE THE BIRDS. THAT WAS AMAZING. BUT YOU LOST TIME!”

He penetrated the storm, his surroundings suddenly grew dark and dangerous with flashing lights that crossed the sky menacingly and powerfully.

“YOU’RE NOT GETTING TO THE CASE ON TIME ANYMORE. BUT THERE’S A MASSIVE SWIRL. THERE IS A CHANCE, CELÁR, THAT THE WINDS WILL KEEP THE CASE OUTSIDE OF THE WATER, SO THAT YOU CAN CATCH IT.” I steeled myself and allowed myself to believe in him. “BUT YOU’RE HEAVIER, YOU NEED TO FLY WITH THE SWIRL!”

I paused because I could not believe I had actually said it. But I wanted him to win, and I was…I believed in him.

I think you can do anything if someone believes in you.

“I WILL TELL YOU WHAT DIRECTION IT TURNS, YOU JUST FOCUS ON TURNING!”

I saw him fall close to the water, and from his point of view…it literally made me swallow the profanities that went unsaid. The swirl was the most intimidating thing I had ever seen, even comparing against the dragonfly’s mouth. Celár looked around, the whole scenery was surrounded by thunder, lightning, and massive tornados. A giant thick mist was advancing on him with a taint of electricity and the swirl itself was made of water that was rampaging into bellowing waves.

“YOU CAN DO IT!”  As I said that, someone else echoed my voice, someone from his past, though the memory was just sound.

“Oh! A visionless memory! We know what that means!”

“Triggered,” Jik pointed out, “Ocklo Celár triggered it, what does he mean he can–no, no way.”

“LADIES!”  Keilo got up so fast he flipped his screen off the table. “AND GENTLEMAAANN!! OCKLO CELÀR IS ABOUT TO NAVIGATE HIS FALL THROUGH THAT RAMPAGING SWIRL!!!”

People didn’t even have time to react. By the time they had processed what Keilo Farkto had reported, the vision feed lost focus and went wild. The only decent and discernible feedback anyone now had were the 3D holographic representations.

“Right turn, spiraling twice,” I said, as a monotonic yell started to rise from the crowd.

“whhhooooo…”

“Once. Twice. Turn.”

He turned left, the vision suddenly showing the switching in trajectory, the whole vision of it getting tunneled due to his speed. And meanwhile, more and more people joined their voices in a near continuously growing monotonic chant.

“Whhhhhooooo…”

“Once. Twice. Thrice. Turn.”

He turned right again, the monotonic chant breaking only momentarily before picking up where it left off, soon as it was clear he had not crashed into the waters.

“Once. Twice.”

“WHOOOOOOO….” Keilo joined in, grabbing hold of his head like he was literally losing his mind, his face contorting in an adrenaline-fueled happiness and consequentially sending the chant up quite a few levels of volume.

As casters do.

“Fourth…Fifth.  Turn.”

Again the chant broke, and when it came back, it was an all out chorus.

WWWHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”

Emperors and kings and the galaxy’s rich were as much at the edge of their seat as everyone else, they were experiencing a very justifiable incapacity to stay composed.

Celár was riding the winds inside an underwater swirl.

“One – crap,” I couldn’t hold it in, “two – tight curve’s coming up – three and turn – it’s too tight – one – Celá – two and turn… I’m sorry…”

The moment must have gone up to my head completely by that point. Because I looked at the trajectories…I looked as the swirl did an S before ending into water. An S with curves too tight for Celár to stay inside, but also tight enough that they were close to each other…the connected tunnels.

I looked at the trajectories, I looked at the speeds, and I had my own memory flashback. One about eyes that were dedicated to be important again; eyes that wanted to live and yet see much more. Eyes that had blinked a grateful farewell to my own as the doors closed over them.

Eyes that were going to see much more.

“Celár,” I called out, “vapor gun’s charged!”

The feed blurred out, transposed with a memory, the last one I would ever see, and it was a mix of two. It showed a kid crying against a mother’s hems. The mother threw a coin at Celár’s cup while trying to comfort the boy.

“Your father was very brave, son,” she said, “he died a hero.”

“But I miss him…”

And an image overlaid to that, of a battered soldier, wounded and bleeding and crying over Celár.

“You saved my life, man! You saved me, I–damn it, my whole family, man. We’ll never be able to thank you enough for this. I’ll get to see them again, thank you so…thank you so much.”

And the feed cleared back into his vision, the vapor gun held high and steaming.

“WHAAAAAAAAAT!!?!” Keilo absolutely lost it, and I swear I shed tears.

He pulled the trigger and two walls of water disintegrated into steam to the echoing sound of the gun doing its thing, a steaming tunnel being made as result. The vision feed, him…as if turned and flipped while it crossed the walls, the second of which closed shut upon him, but he cleared it! And before anyone could really swallow and process what they had witnessed, a dark rectangular object rushed into view almost as fast as the hand that showed up, swift and quick, to slap at it. All happened too fast for anyone to discern in real-time. And when the feed suddenly died, so did all the noise.

Everything went quiet and I imagine everyone looked to Keilo who, sweating heavy breaths with his tie ripped off and his hair all messy and his eyes all glittering, looked up in visible anxiety and impatience…waiting to hear.

“C’mon c’mon,” me and Keilo both whispered and I never felt so scared in my life.

And then…abruptly…Keilo’s face flared, contorted and emitted the happiest scream I have ever heard, and everyone knew what that mean.

A roar that shook the entire blasted station followed. No, you don’t understand, I am not being metaphorical. There are reports of machines coming off their hinges in the aftermath of everyone realizing Celár had done it. The thing he had reached for and grabbed was the teleporter. He had shot off the vapor gun to connect the two underwater swirl-made tunnels so that he could intercept the case mere feet away from the end of said swirl.

I sat down, utterly out of breath. I think everyone did, except for Keilo, of course.

“THIS IS AMAAAAZZIIING! MIROSLAV RYBKIN AND OCKLO CELÁR HAVE DONE THE ABSOLUTE IMPOSSIBLE!!”

“I have to agree,” Jik’hit stated, utterly without words, in a faint whisper that probably only I, within my sound-proof room, managed to hear.

“EVERYONE IS GOING CRAZY HERE! I SWEAR I CAN FEEL THE SHIP MOVING, AND NO WONDER! FOR THIS HAS BEEN THE GREATEST SHOW IN THE UNIVERSE! CELÁR HAS GRABBED HIS DESTINY ALRIGHT! HE HAS DONE SO GLORIOUSLY!!!

“HE IS A CHAMPION!

“AMONG CHAMPIOOOOONNSS!!”

Ocklo proceeded to wipe clean his disobedience of orders, to wipe clean the sentence given to him by the military court, and start as a soldier anew.

I do not know what name he took, no one knows. I do not know where he is now or who he is fighting, but I know who he is saving…

As sure as I live and breathe, I am sure Ocklo Celár is the greatest champion I have ever met. I am certain he is alive, and above all, I know that he is saving countless families from suffering the loss of their mothers and fathers and wives and husbands.

This was the story of Ocklo Celár, once judged the lowest of the low, and considered to have no better value than to be a mild amusement, a five-minute sacrifice to the entertainment industry, for ratings. He was a soldier, a loving father and husband, and he is now a soldier, and a hero to many families.

I learned then, along with nearly an entire galaxy, to never judge someone over their weaknesses, for you never know how overwhelmingly powerful their strengths are.

It’s not anything new but I have to phrase it in that same familiar way that you have heard and read before, because it is the truth of my experience with Ocklo Celár. Because it is the truth.

Never judge someone…until you know them.

Freefall Destiny (4/4)