Sorry about the delay. Busy holiday. Continued from Chapter Four: Part Two
“You wear the trappings of a Holy Assassin,” Digger said. The white man’s cold eyes drew away from Silk and fell on Digger. “Do you go about the Ferryman’s work?”
“I am not a member of his congregation,” the white man said.
“Then what’s your business killing off people in the area, eh?” Digger asked. The white man stared at Digger for a few seconds before replying.
“In the light you are bold,” the man said. Digger sniffed, frowning at the implicit accusation of lacking boldness at darker moments. He made no argument. The white man turned his eyes back to Silk and said, “You do not know me.”
Silk took his cigar out of his mouth. He breathed a wave of smoke out of his nostrils. “I don’t,” he said through the middle of the smoke. “Should I?”
“No,” the white man said. “The outlaws I have confronted recognized me, mistaking me for some rumor they heard I presume. You do not recognize me. You expected me to be who Novoselic, Bartley, Aaltonen, and Burgan mistook me to be.”
“You expected to find someone specific out here?” Digger said to Silk, frowning and annoyed. Silk looked Digger in the face. Digger took it as an affront that Silk had refrained from divulging the information earlier. The sentiment made sense, Digger having been sheriff of Súthende at the time.
“Yes,” Silk said. “I thought I knew who’d been killing your outlaws.”
“Friend of yours, was he?” Digger said, unable to keep the shortness from his voice.
“Well, an occasional business partner, at best,” Silk said.
“Who was he?” Digger said. “Is he still nearby?”
“His name is Younes,” Silk said. “I have no idea where he is.”
“You thought the messages in the murderers’ mouths came from him, eh?” Digger asked.
Silk looked back at the white man on the boulder, wondering. His unnatural, corpse-white skin looked like Younes’s, as did the raven-black of the hair just visible under the hood and the darkness around his eyes and mouth making him look utterly spent. The face, the build, the eyes, his very bearing: everything else about this man was different. Poised, practices, elegant, where Younes would be messy, angry, and forceful.
“What’s your name?” Silk asked him.
“Twig Lithnmark, a soldier in the Zombie Corps,” Twig said.
“You’re very trusting,” Silk said.
“I am in a position of power,” Twig said. “You are Silk Golinvaux. You are wanted dead by the Holy Assassins of the Ferryman.”
“Hmm,” Silk raised his eyebrow. “That’s news.” Although…Silk began to think of what he knew of the Holy Assassins and their recent movements. A handful of them had recently headed north to hunt Younes. To lend him a hand against them provided Silk with a primary motivation for coming north.
“I do not know the name Younes, except as the name of my boot camp,” Twig said.
“You’re hardly missing anything,” Silk said. He slid his sword into its sheath. “Rather the reverse of a charming fellow.” Resting his hands on the horn of his horse’s saddle, Silk considered this Twig. He wore the leather and voluminous black cloak of a Holy Assassin—staring down from the deep hood as if born in it. If he said the Holy Assassins wanted Silk dead then—though this was a logical leap—Twig must have encountered Holy Assassins and put them in a position to give up their clothes. Silk could think of no reason a Holy Assassin would relinquish their hard-earned trappings—and those leathers came at a bloody price—except if the Assassin no longer had breath and heartbeat enough to wear the clothes.
And Holy Assassins never fought a fight unless they meant to fight one. If baited, they would run. They never made mistakes choosing their targets. A fight with them is a fight to the death—usually the death of anyone but them. Clearly not in the case of Twig.
“Did you encounter Holy Assassins?” Silk asked. Twig nodded. Silk, frowning, thinking, flicked his cigar to knock the ash from the end. He put it back in his mouth. The Holy Assassins that had hunted Younes might lie not far away killed by Twig. They would know the difference between Younes and Twig.
Younes had been bringing Silk a weapon: the only weapon that could destroy Engelkind. “Trust me, it ain’t what you think,” Younes had said of it. “It can’t do anything directly. Shall need to be understood and then wielded.” Silk had thought perhaps Younes knew of a book or scroll that would describe the story of Ferryman marking Engelkind in greater detail, perhaps. From such a story Engelkind’s weakness could be divined and applied. Looking into the eyes of Twig Lithnmark, Silk began wondering whether Younes was as nuts as he seemed, and what could be done with a man, even such a strange one as stood on the boulder before them.
“Who are you writing to, then?” Digger asked, holding up one of the messages from the throats of one of the murderers. Twig looked back at Digger.
“It is an old rite. You should know it,” he said.
“I am sending messages to Ferryman. The ghosts of the felled men carry the words in their mouths to the next world. It is an old story.”
Digger’s eyebrows lowered. He seemed confused and somewhat dumbfounded. His hand went involuntarily to rub above his eyes as if he had heard something so utterly illogical he had no idea what to do with it. “That means the body’s own last words, not any words that happen to be there,” he said in the tone of one arguing a scriptural detail. Which it was.
“The story says the words in his mouth are carried to Ferryman,” Twig said flatly. That was also true. It was the literal translation in the story: “the words” without specifying any particular words. Silk knew the story.
“You can’t do that,” Digger said, his voice rising.
“I have done it,” Twig replied. Silk began to chuckle.
Digger shook his head. “That’s ridiculous,” he muttered.
Twig looked down with his face blank. Digger’s face tightened with frustration. He tried to master himself. Silk watched his struggle, his chuckles quiet. “Is something funny?” Digger asked, sniffing and glancing at Silk. Though the situation tickled Silk to no end, he chose not to reply. He looked back up at Twig.
“The boy is right, though. You actually can’t do it,” Silk said. Twig met Silk’s eyes without any curiosity. “Ferryman no longer replies to supplications, you see. Not in this world.”
“It is so,” Digger said, his eyes lowered to the snow at the base of the boulder where Twig stood. “None of the gods can. Not actively. They never show themselves these days. How do you not know this?”
“I have been away for a while,” Twig said. “There are many things in the world that are new. I am removed from my time.”
“What do you mean?” Silk asked.
“The War ought to be in full swing,” Twig said, then hopped off the edge of the boulder. He landed with a whumph in the thick snow on the ground. Digger raised his bow a little higher. “I am told that it has ended.”
“Yes. Many years ago,” Silk said. “You missed the end of it, then?”
“Yes,” Twig said, approaching Silk and Digger. The horses nickered and frisked as he came closer.
“The gods lost,” Silk said. “They were exiled. They went back to their city past the end of the world, forsaking their keeps to razing and ransack,” he smiled, hiding his thoughts while he considered how much to tell about the new god, Kunig, and the control that Engelkind had over one of the greatest cities of the gods. Silk decided to leave that for later. Too much too fast would do no one any good. “The gods are never seen in the world anymore.”
Happy New Year. The narrative shall resume in New Year.