Worst Case Scenario - by Sigart
Warning: Angst, character death
There was a breeze in the room. That was unusual, even with the windows all open, but it made no difference to the stifling air. The stone walls, carved in strategic places with clever scrolls and volutes, were covered in a fine sheen of condensation from the humidity and looked as though they were sweating in the sweltering heat. In the room, two men were doing their best to pretend like they were not running with sweat themselves, a third was staring desolately into the air, for all intents and purposes not seeming to notice the world around him, and a third, lying on the floor had far more imminent worries than appearances.
“Y-you can't! It was self-defence! It was an accident!” the prone figure claimed, his voice rising an octave with almost every syllable. The sweat running clean lines down his dirtied face seemed to come from more than simply heat, his eyes wildly searching the room, as though rescue could appear any minute, phasing through the solid walls only to take him with them out the window. The wish remained a fantasy however, as a pair of tall gladiators appeared through the now open door to drag the desperate prisoner away.
“The fact is,” one of the men, the one standing behind the high-backed and luxuriously cushioned chair, the head of a striking cobra carved in the wood rising above the person occupying the seat. “That you are one who caused the death of a serpent,” the ace finished, not bothering to remind the prisoner, for a prisoner he was despite not being bound by chains or rope, about the rules concerning harming a serpent.
“Curse you!” the doomed ace called, struggling in the grip of the two brawn gladiators as he disappeared from view. “Mother will punish you! She will! You will all be punished, and then...” his voice became distant, his words no longer clear enough to distinguish, though obviously none of the gladiators had bothered to cover his mouth. The door fell shut and finally cut off the rant for good.
The seated ace sighed, as though tired from his work and smirked at the one standing behind his seat. “I hate dogs,” he confided, pretending like it was a secret and all of the kingdom didn't already know. The third figure would probably have rolled his eyes, if he had been listening, but he wasn't and so he didn't.
Instead he kept staring listlessly out into the greenery outside, wishing for nothing more than rolling sand dunes, an open sky. Air that didn't cling in his throat like slimy digits trying to choke him.
And cool fingers shyly, hesitantly brushing against his collar bone.
With a sigh, truly tired, he turned from the window and his contemplations and surveyed the prince and his servant. The prince sitting in his throne, laughing at the misfortune of the poor aces brought before him to be judged and the servant, faithfully, unquestioningly, laughing along.
Caligari had only changed for the worse since the death of Prince Fleance and Noah refused to give the power-hungry idiot his rightful title. In his head or otherwise. After all, he was still considered the strongest gladiator alive, his mere presence enough to deter anyone from attacking the so-called judge. But it wouldn't be too long now. He could already feel his concentration slipping. Last week he thought that flash of dizziness had not been from heat stroke. It had happened too coincidentally when, well, it was better if he didn't think about it.
His private penance.
He had tried, he really had, to contain Caligari's madness when he had realized that the council he had believed in, the council consisting of many different kinds of aces that would ensure a fair judging, was never going to be realized. And when even that failed, the only reason to hold on to sanity was penance.
But the limit was approaching.
Well, he hadn't really expected to be able to live his full life span. A millennium was a long time and even longer when... when everything was wrong.
“Of all the aces, why the servant of the Black Prince?
“Mh,” he acknowledged, distracted and disinterested.
“Prince Caligari has left for the meeting with the other princes,” the servant informed him, trying not to let it show how much he despised the legendary character, trying to assume the cloak of submissive indifference expected of servants. He was failing, of course. And compared to the memory of another servant...
Noah offered a pitying smile as he broke the servant's neck and took his time striding to the meeting room.
Pretending to agree with the way the world was run, now, or to be interested in the proceedings of it was a waste of time and effort in his opinion, and he had never made any attempt at hiding his contempt of it all.
The servant, of course, having only ever existed in this world and, like all servants, worshipping his prince, hadn't been able to forgive the attitude.
“Does it displease you that I want to avenge my family?
He had long forgotten the faces of his late family.
“Ah, Noah, you're here. Let us begin, then. ”
And he sat, silently, not bothering to protest as Caligari and the princes in his fold discussed a new law, one that made it obligatory for princes around the world to summon a ridiculous number of snakes to the kingdom. He sat silently, ignoring the looks he gathered, ignoring the senselessness of it all. He didn't protest the stupidity, didn't argue that it would be impossible for the princes in Antarctica; he didn't do anything.
When the sad excuse for a meeting was adjourned, Caligari and his yes-men stayed seated while Noah quickly retreated. Listening to the maniac getting congratulated on his genius or achievements or both would surely make him lose control. Again. He would have killed all of them long ago if he had thought he had had any chance of retaining his control once he committed to it. And he didn't think so. The rage and helplessness would consume him, losing him his powers and the ability to do away with the princes, surrounded as they were by gladiators.
Nothing like when he had killed Fleance.
“Does it displease you that I want to kill the Black Prince?
Nothing like when he had killed Edgar.
“Yes, Noah, is displeases me.
He had no right to find solace in madness. No right to forget his transgressions and since no one in this new rule was going to judge him for his misdeeds, he would have to do it himself.
He had wanted to die, at first.
He had blamed the gecko, too, at first; if only Edgar had been more like he had imagined his soul mate would be, if only he hadn't been so wimpy, if only he hadn't loved his prince quite so faithfully.
With a sigh, the ageing gladiator leaned against the balustrade and realized that lost in thought he had wandered all the way up to the roof. Up here, he was above the canopy, and the lush rainforest spread out I front of him like a blanket of green every now and then dotted with palm trees reaching higher and farther than their more stout brethren. The breeze that had barely stirred in the room downstairs was more insistent up here, but not by much, and nowhere near the wind that swept through the desert, moving huge sand dunes and forcing the small particles into every crevice imaginable. This breeze barely made the enormous trees sway, leaves fluttering in soft waves like a calm ocean.
It didn't suit Noah at all.
Why it was still green, why Mother had not chosen to destroy Caligari's territory... Well, Noah had some theories. “Cali, you're going to die!” he yelled and chuckled, then laughed, amused that the upstart thought that because he was still alive, Mother agreed with his actions. He did not understand that Mother had never believed in vengeance.
Edgar would have probably liked it, though, even if he originated from the Amazons and not the Philippines, where Caligari had his territory.
Something touched the hand he had placed on the hot stone and he reflexively removed it before looking down. A gecko sat there, staring up at him with guileless, curious eyes. Violent green and with yellowish eyes, it looked nothing like his long deceased soul mate, but even so, the little guy's feet was shaped the same and while its tail was a little shorter, it nevertheless curled in the same way.
Slowly, cautiously, Noah put his hand back, suppressing a flinch when he realized exactly how hot the stone was. What was a gecko even doing here, this high above the treetop? With no flowers or animals, no insects were here for it to pray on and it wasn't like it couldn't seek warmth on the wall closer to the ground.
For a moment, the gladiator allowed himself to think that the small animal had been sent to comfort him, especially as, rather than running away, the critter took to examining the hand he had placed back onto the balustrade. Had he completely lost the scent of a predator? Or maybe the gecko was just stupid. Or suicidal.
His mind wandered and he imagined how the little thing would be like as an ace. Kind and curious, dedicated, more fire in his soul than he let on. Eyes the colour of blood and hair like the sky looking shyly up at him from beneath a blanket while the sun slowly rose over the ocean.
Blinking slowly, Noah pulled his mind back to the present and a gecko that had yellow eyes and uniform, green skin. It was getting more difficult.
“You shouldn't get involved in aces like me, frog,” he cautioned and lifted the thing up to his eye level. “Even when I don't intend to, I still pray on critters like you.” He swallowed thickly and put his hand back onto the scorching stone, tensing all over as it burned him. The gecko scurried away quickly, ran over the edge and down the wall. It was better that way. If it ran at once, there was no way for him to get attached, it would not end in misery and him expecting to find a warm, willing body and an ever sympathetic listener whenever he returned to his sleeping quarters
If only he had realized that Edgar was more than he seemed, if only he had realized that Mother, in her infinite wisdom, would know what he needed, if only he hadn't been so scared, so proud, so stubborn.
He was such a fool.
Choking unexpectedly, Noah reached down over the edge of the fence, vainly hoping to catch the gecko again, but the animal was too far down and he couldn't reach that far but maybe if he reached just a bit farther Edgar would realize how much he missed him and he would come back and Noah could choose to do the right thing this time instead of piling mistakes upon his sins.
He realized too late that he was falling but then, it wasn't like it mattered any more.
A/N: Inspired by Metallica's Unforgiven III. I would really like to rewrite it, on kind of the same concept but different story, but I wouldn't have time before the deadline