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Half Measures


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Gideon Abernathy


Gideon had always wondered what season would claim him. This seemed the most fitting, as the ground squelched submissively beneath his feet. It was wetter in the Redwood forest, the air cool enough to nip at any bare skin. The branches twisted ominously high above him, weaving a tale of morbid interconnectedness, a constant tangle of lives broken and reformed. They were heavy with the rains of California midwinter, and he felt comforted by the gloom.

Even so, he spent little time outside, venturing out in the evenings to avoid the questions and proddings. The Grove grew restless, he could feel it, but it was no longer in him to care. Every now and then, he would address them, speaking of a need for reflection; it was the most honest he'd ever been with them. Somehow, they drew peace from the words, falling into line readily. It had always been that simple to convince them, and he mused, momentarily, if he was really so awful for taking them with him. But it was a passing thought, gone just as quickly as it had come.

The house was meticulous. He'd always been that way, careful and clean. Perhaps it was borne out of a need to never leave a trace behind. That, in and of itself, was his only real regret; leaving traces of himself behind. In Eiji; in Quinn; in his son. Yet, they were his greatest feats, pieces of a life well-lived.

One might expect him to be sorrowful; he wasn't.

A month had passed since she had left with their son. During that time, he was enveloped in a calm he'd never experienced. The deafening quiet of the house pulsed around him, breathing the memories of his life into his ears, and he reveled in each one, no matter how painful. Every kill, every moment of humanity, they were all remarkable. Going through them the first time, he felt very little; now, staring his death in the face, he was given new eyes.

On the kitchen table, he'd set two glasses and a bottle of Suntory whisky. There, the proverbial olive branch would sit until the arrival of his only friend, acting as a place to set duty and conscience aside, if only for a time.

Gideon welcomed Eiji and what his final visit would entail.
January 31, 2019 08:25 pm

Saito Eiji

"Sir, we're approaching the perimeter."

Eiji looked up from his feet for the first time in hours, finding the eyes of his driver trained upon him expectantly. The vehicle lurched to a stop within an outcropping of broad Redwoods, hidden from the direct sight of anyone that traversed the trail... It had taken some time to find this place, even with the waypoint that had been left for him in the ruins of the Flock. The loamy, fertile soil ate its way up to his shoelaces as he emerged from the transport. The air here was clean, unpolluted by industry... Yet, when he cast his eyes towards the tangle of foliage beside them, he couldn't sense a single kami. A place like this would normally stare back, but the beings that populated this forest must have retreated deeper into the Redwoods, reluctant to be so near to what lied ahead of them.

The others soon joined him, firearms primed and in hand. It would only be a short hike for them from here, before they reached Shepherd's Grove. Eiji didn't need to review their plan of approach, these five that had elected to come to this purge with him had done this before... They were a dozen strong with their last endeavor, but half couldn't cope with Eiji's 'scorched earth' approach. They didn't understand that even the children would grow into something malicious over time, should the perverted seed planted into them by the cult be allowed to bloom.

The community appeared on the horizon just as the Sun began to sink below the treeline, bathing the clearing in a pale tangerine light that normally let the denizens of the Grove know it was time to return home... Still, some lingered. They'd be finishing up their tasks in the fields, splitting their wood, hauling their fodder. Gideon must have had a lot of faith in the placement of this place; there didn't seem to be any guards posted anywhere. He brushed his fingertips across the scar that followed the contour of his cheekbone, and grimaced.

He made this grim business too easy for him.

Eiji waved a hand forward, giving his men leave to advance. It wouldn't be long after that the flicker of muzzleflash and the scent of spent shell casings filled the air. A pair of the agents moved house to house, kicking in doors and tearing the folk from their homes, to be executed by the men that waited outside. The frosted gardens were sure to be fertilized for the coming Spring, as they were soon flush with the remnants of their caretakers.

He split from the group, ambivalent to the pleas and screams surrounding him as he honed in on his destination. It was separated from the rest of the homes by a short jaunt, but otherwise looked no more grand. The lights were on, and the door was unlocked. Eiji couldn't help but pause for a moment as he gripped the doorknob, building his resolve. This was it.

The Suntory on the table like a jab in the gut. He'd gifted Gideon a bottle of his nation's pride as a housewarming gift years back, before he'd grown in ambition. In a way, that bottle would be the last knife Gideon would ever plunge into someone. He sank into the chair next to him, and reached to pour them both a glass of the aromatic spirit.

"Sorry I didn't knock."
February 02, 2019 08:01 pm

Gideon Abernathy

They arrived in a blaze of gunfire.

Gideon lifted his head only slightly, unperturbed. His blackened gaze drifted shut as he reveled in the violence. The screams, silenced as quickly as they were rendered, were music to a soul that craved carnage. Some of these people he'd known since birth; how suitable, then, that they'd travel into death with him.

Something kept him glued to the chair at the kitchen table, and his eyes roved over the bottle at hand before sliding closed once more. As much as he wanted to see the spectacle firsthand, there was a danger in moving from his position. They killed men, women, and children, but he was a marked man, and he would die by only one's hand. Idle, shifting fingers reached up to trace the scar that had been carved into his cheek. It was an odd comfort he took from it, and he nodded to nothing in particular.

It felt like an eternity before Eiji joined him, but even then, Gideon remained a statue. The amber liquid poured from the bottle and into each glass created a quiet melody that was loud enough to drown out all else, at least to his ears.

Sorry I didn't knock.

A laugh, low and level, brought stone to life, and Gideon shifted to set his sights on him. "You were always welcome." He took the drink up to his lips before a thought had him tipping it slightly in a silent toast. It was a show of thanks, for indulging him. The liquid touched his tongue, and the fire sparked a slew of memories that accompanied the taste.

Most involving Eiji.

The glass clinked as it returned to the table, the hand guiding it deceptively steady. "I didn't mean to take you from your men, I just wanted a final drink with the only person who ever understood me." He didn't deserve this act of kindness, especially not in the wake of such a massacre, but he also didn't believe he was wrong in thinking they both might need it.

"If you don't mind me asking..." Another indulgence, and Gideon cast him an apologetic smirk. "What changed?" It hadn't been that long ago since that night in the shed, Eiji, his father's captor, and Gideon, taking each day with the Flock one at a time. He had dropped his knife, offering himself up to put Eiji's conscience at ease; Ota had kept a meticulous dossier on him, he'd had everything he needed to wipe Gideon off the earth, guilt-free.

"Why now?" There was no hint of accusation or irritation; he simply... cared.
February 02, 2019 09:02 pm

Saito Eiji

Only a few meager sips of the blended ambrosia would pass his lips, before it was resigned to be absently swirled around the glass in apparent contemplation. As much as he would like to drown this all out, he wouldn't. Every moment of this entire exchange would be committed to memory, unblemished. His dearest friend deserved that much at least.

"Too much has happened... I don't really know where to start."

Tilting the chair backwards, Eiji would balance himself and draw in a labored breath. The faint scars that had been scored into his visage suddenly came alight, demanding that they be paid heed. "I've let everyone that's depended on me down. I took on this job to assist a clergyman with driving out an infestation, cut and dry stuff. I won't pain you with all of the details, but I gained a couple of passengers from that..." He paused, taking a moment to nurse a few small sips of his drink. Just enough to loosen his tongue.

"One was an apparition. It bounced from the priest to me, and then from me..." The sound of his voice tapered off then, as his eyes grew so distant, suddenly. Few memories were so firmly rooted in him than the one he had of entering Ota's apartment, and lifting his anguished corpse from a bathtub full of mingled blood and bathwater. " moved from me to Ota. He couldn't take it."

"The other was a dog. She had been buried alive in the foundation of that chapel, and made to be a Church Grim. I took it upon myself to find her proper resting place." The glimpse of a smile would cross his features, before he continued to pontificate. "I don't think I would have made it as far as I did without her, Gideon. Before I died, I mean."

Golden eyes opened in his memory, boring holes into him as reflected shrapnel shredded his face and sheared ribbons of flesh from his fingers once again. They remained steady, each time he tugged back on the trigger, despite the explosive pain that begged him to relent. He had to save her, he had to.

But he couldn't.

"I can't let anyone else down, Gideon. How many people get to live, if you don't? That's why now."
February 22, 2019 11:45 pm

Gideon Abernathy

One drink, followed by another. Gideon remained quiet throughout Eiji’s telling, letting him pause and realign himself as needed. There was much he could’ve said in the face of his friend’s assumed failures, but it would most certainly fall on deaf ears. Guilt was a powerful driving force, and often times, it seemed all one had to cling to.

Before I died, I mean.

Blackened eyes narrowed infinitesimally as he honed in on the odd phrase. So, that was it, then. The inexplicable, unmistakeable change. Death, with all its injustices and complexities, had claimed him, only to tease the delusion of peace and spit Life into him once more. Bitter resentment would pulse through the restless heart of any man that desired reprieve from suffering; Eiji shouldered it with hardly a complaint to tarnish his role.

As the retelling came to a close, the echo of gunfire served as a grisly reminder of those that died as the direct cause of Gideon’s own execution. The ironies of Fate.

“You were always so dour.” An amused chuckle followed the observation, his own glass swirling before it was inevitably emptied. His incessant need for cleanliness called him to carry their glasses to the sink and wash them out, despite the looming lack of necessity. None of it would matter soon, but he’d be damned if he left behind any speck of disorder that was within his control. “You take the rest of that bottle. I can think of no better throat I’d rather it slither down to drown out the helplessness of being alive.”

A smirk would be tossed over his shoulder, signaling the light tone in which he perceived this whole nasty business.

“You know, I always knew you’d be the one.” Having finished his menial task, he leaned against the counter with a glint in his eye, arms folding over his chest as he took it all in. A breathy intake, and it felt all the better knowing it would be one of his last. “You and I always had an understanding. We knew what drove us, and we both tried to fight it. Balance, wouldn’t you say? A beautiful shame that it pitted us against one another, and yet... I’m glad you’re here.” There was no one that would understand the sentiment better.

“I know the things and suggestions you overlooked in my favor, because I know that you understand the need for people like me, just as relevant as the need for those aligned with you.” It was never as cut and dry as the world tried to portray it. Too often, it was good versus evil, rather than a healthy balance between light and dark. “I’ve seen some of the best people I know do some of the most unspeakable acts in the name of good,” he mused quietly, thoughts wandering to Eiji ripping out a man’s throat with his own teeth, all the way back to Quinn poisoning, and effectively killing his own brother. Human beings, and Life itself, were far too complex to be put in such tiny, insignificant boxes.

“They deserve to die,” he said flatly, with a certainty, “and you and I both know that. The world will be better without them.” And me, but that would remain in the void of the unsaid. Whether he spoke to comfort the man before him, or to shed light on the good that can come of serving the darkness didn’t matter. It made the statement no less true. Those with the inability to think for themselves had no business in the progression of humanity. Perhaps all this was just a lesson they would take into their next cycle, whatever that might be.

Gideon was ready, nonetheless.

“One more thing.” He tapered off, rubbing a hand over his face as he thought. His one regret loomed over him, threatening to follow him to the grave. “She will ask something of you, I know. I saw it in her eyes before she left. He deserves someone that understands. Please,” he nearly croaked out, swallowing the rock that suddenly seemed to dry his throat at the thought, “look after him.”
March 07, 2019 01:09 pm

Saito Eiji

The gentle dance of the foliage above him enraptured his attention, drawn to the intricate choreography that the wind could conduct with the knobbed branches of his favorite peach tree. He'd face a grueling lecture about recklessness if he dared climb up to where the ripest, most sunkissed peaches hung; instead he took to waiting beneath them, hoping the wind would loose one of its dance partners long enough for him to cut in.

The breeze would swell into a brief gale, finally plucking the swollen fruit he'd been eyeing and sending it down to him. It would be seized from the air before he had a moment to hop to his feet, into the worn, blocky palm of his father's hand. Satoshi peered down at him with his narrow, discerning gaze, his lip twitching as he turned his attention to the fruit he had stolen. The barrel of his chest rumbled with a laughter akin to distant thunder. He dropped the succulent orb down into the waiting hands of his son, before looking skyward through the tangled branches of the tree he'd planted when he'd inherited the land. Fifteen generations of the Saito bloodline had resided here, in the rural outskirts of Sendai, conducting what they would always know as their ancestral birthright and bloodburden.

Eiji bit into the flesh of the peach and immediately recoiled, his mouth filled with something acrid and wriggling. He spat the wasted fruit onto the ground and peered into the bite, where a centipede had once made its home. Its decapitated body still jerked around within the stonefruit, exhausting its last flashes of energy.

"Within us, within all things resides a shard of the Dread Star, Eiji." Satoshi started, shifting to maintain his balance. He didn't realize how much losing an arm would throw him off. "And while it is dread, and emptiness, it is also the mother of everything we know. There could not have been something, if there was nothing. The void rebelled against itself, until it collapsed from within and became everything we know, and it has regretted it dearly ever since." He would reach down and take the fruit from Eiji, before tossing it away. He'd tousle the mop of black waves atop his successor's head. "That's why we have to live with misfortune in our world, Eiji, both minor and great. Light cannot exist without a darkness to cast itself against. Good men can't make a differences without sacrifice along the way. You must learn to coexist with it, thrive within it."

Satoshi's gaze always could pierce straight through someone. Eiji would never forget what it was like to peer into them, and see reflected a nearly bottomless resolve. He never had the chance to think about how he desperately tried to emulate that strength every day after.

"Balance in all things, Eiji-chan."

Eiji placed his half-swilled glass onto the table and lifted himself, meeting Gideon's eyes. Children had never been something he'd wanted to have in the past, having always felt like his existence would prove to be fleeting. He would constantly be on the move, hunting the things others wouldn't... But he couldn't deny Gideon this. A soft smile would break his stony expression.

He bridged the gap between them in a few strides, and drew his dearest companion into a tight embrace. Eiji had imagined that this would be the point where his resolve would falter, where he'd find himself incapable of doing what needed done... But it didn't. The moments passed by slower and slower, until he gingerly drew a hand down to his belt and loosed a perfectly honed blade. The supple black leather that comprised the handle wasn't well suited to his grip, as the knife had once belonged to the man he was about to return it to... The worn divots where Gideon's fingers had gripped so many times were tarnished a lighter color than the rest of the handle.

Eiji anchored his arm around Gideon's shoulders, and smiled as warmly as he could.

"He'll always remember you as the reason I was good."

The point of the knife smoothly pierced the space between his ribs, and pried upwards towards the source of his mortal coil. The chill steel loosed his life's liquor down Eiji's steady knuckles, draining more rapidly as the point punctured an undulating ventricle. Eiji clenched his jaw tight and paused, letting Gideon's life drain away only slowly enough that he might remember rising into the black light of the star of August in his next cycle. Something told him that Gideon might have wanted a glimpse of what his prey had seen as their mortality was voided.

They wouldn't be burned, like they had burned the bodies of the Flock. Each of them were given a resting place within the ruins of the Grove. Gideon would be buried in the center of his garden, marked only by a knife and a handful of seeds. Just as he would have wanted.
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