For King and Country
Fires and vehicle tracks defile the previously serene grass surrounding the ivory palace, the statehouse. The white pillars lining the front have patches of soot while some have missing chunks and the front doors have been broken off their hinges.
A young man in a hoodie, with a glowing face, a glowing scarf, a circular light on his left wrist, and a triangular light on his chest, lands on the compound.
Suddenly he becomes blinded by a bright light. An explosion? A blow to the head? The demon’s eyes adjust. It’s a spotlight.
“We are now getting a report that there is a live transmission from the state House, being broadcasted on the internet. We are about to air it. It might be a message from the King. Since this is live, viewer discretion is advised.”
Every television in the country switches to the same image: a young man in a hoodie, with a glowing face, a glowing scarf, a circular light on his left wrist, and a triangular light on his chest, with his hand up shielding his eyes from a bright light.
Ninety million eyes squint at their TV screens, forty-five million brows furrow trying to make sense of what they are seeing. A glowing face, a glowing scarf, points of light on its chest and wrist? It’s strange. It’s familiar. It’s like a cheap knock-off of that thing that has been popular on the news, the one with the white wings and green spears. But this one is not menacing or frightening, it’s actually human, and beautiful.
A voice booms from a public announcement system.
“And there it is ladies and gentlemen, the star of tonight’s show, the hero of Nairobi city, the ray of hope in the darkest of nights, the bane of my existence, the one, the only, the indomitable Guardian Demon!”
Forty-five million mouths drop open.
The demon looks around and sees that there are cameras all around him. He turns invisible.
“You can’t hide from us, you can’t hide from the truth but you also can’t hide from Infrared.”
The camera shifts into a bluish view with a red prominent blot in the middle of the screen.
The demon turns visible. The cameras shift back to normal.
“In case you’re thinking, why don’t I just fly away and leave this mad man to play his own games, let me just remind you of the stakes here. I have the president and his whole family in my custody. They’re in the house, hiding them would be futile given your abilities but they are strapped to some explosives whose detonator only I have access to. To turn tail is to seal their fate. But what am I doing, what kind of host would I be if I didn’t welcome you in person?”
A man with a lion’s head saunters down the front steps of the statehouse. The cut faces of the gem-like headdress glimmer as they reflect the light from the flames whose orange and yellow makes the leaves of its mane look like tongues of fire.
“I would offer you tea, but this isn’t my house, yet…”
“What with all this,” the demon’s voice asks. A man’s voice asks. So it can speak. Forty-five million people shift in their seats.
“It’s your coming out party, the lifting of the veil.”
The demon watches him walk down the steps. Whatever this was, he was already sick of it.
“Let’s just fight and end this.”
The King recognizes the look on his face, that of a man bound by duty or circumstance to something he has lost all passion for. He had seen it before most recently on the governor’s face as he willingly gave his hand out to be shot.
“Why are you so down and gloomy, aren’t you here to save someone? Be a bit more excited and assertive. Talk about justice or something.”
“You telling me to talk about justice is hypocritical, seeing as to how you couldn’t shut up about it the last time we met.”
“Ah, the crux of tonight’s debate. Hypocrisy. People are afraid of what they don’t understand, that’s why you hold so much power and sway, not because you actually are powerful,” He draws a sword from his left, “not because you actually have a grand scheme to make the world better or even worse for that matter, “he draws a sword from his right, “but because no-one knows who or what you really are. It’s about time someone fixed that.”
He attacks him. The demon can’t fully defend himself since he still needs to find out where the bomb remote is. His swords fly at his head and neck and eventually, he manages to swipe the hood off of Matthew’s head by grabbing and yanking it backwards. The King dashes away to a safe distance once the hood is off.
“The veil is off,” the thunder that is the King’s voice booms, “Lo and behold, a human head. All-powerful Guardian Demon, are you just a man?”
“Is this what this is about? You want to show people that I am just a man, not much different from you and then prove to them that you have done more for them than I ever did?”
“But is he just a man or is he something more, something different, familiar but forgotten?” The King continues, ignoring him. “What you see in front of you isn’t just an ordinary man… “
Julia is watching the event on her laptop.
“What you see in front of you is a witch doctor, a mchawi.”
The image on screen adjusts to a full body shot of the Guardian Demon. Julia recognizes the hoodie and the pants and the shoes. She gets her phone and goes through the pictures to find the one she took with Matthew.
‘I’m wearing all my secrets on my face right now.’
Her shock causes her to forget her phone and it falls to the floor as her hands rush to cover her mouth.
“How do you know about that?” The demon asks, curious at how anyone could have found out without a direct confession.
“Is that what you really want to know? Or are you asking yourself, how much more does he know about me? The answer is everything. I know everything about you.”
The incessant wail of sirens, random intermittent jabbing of gunshots and shouting, and the soft crackling and popping of flames make up the orchestra playing a symphony of chaos and destruction in the background of their exchange.
“Whether you’re able to defeat me and save the president and his family or whether I slaughter you right here in front of the whole world, you still lose. The point of all this isn’t to acquire control of the country, that’s just the after-party, the point is to show them the fraud you are, to show them that whatever hope you were seeding inside of them was naïve optimism aimed at an undeserving vassal.”
“Winning or losing, winning or losing, that’s all you care about, don’t you? In the face of the destruction of the lives of all the people in this country, you expect me to care about who knows who I am. They will talk about it for a week and then forget that I ever existed. I am tired of playing your games. Where’s the detonator?”
“I think you are worried about the wrong hostages here. I don’t know where he is, I didn’t even bother to check whether he really is alive, but revealing who you are will do more damage to him than if he had been strapped to a bomb.”
*Is he talking about?... No
It felt as is his heart had been thrown into a concrete wall. All those years spent trying to run away from that day and this bastard wants to repeat the same thing. The numbness that had been drowning his spirit instantly burns up. He had thought that the worst had been done and there was nothing else that could happen. At that moment he realized that he could bear being hated and ostracized for the rest of his life, he could bear losing a limb again, but not his father, he could not bear losing his father, not again.
“Where is he?” He takes a step forward. “What have you done to him?”
“Nothing and I won’t do anything to him, not now, not ever, and neither will any of my men. You will do everything for me. A couple of dozen people beat him to a pulp, what will fifty million people do? These people you are trying to save will nail you to a cross and tell you to save yourself. No matter how powerful you may be, no matter how many times you manage to bring him back from the dead, they will kill him and it will be your fault. You might be a demon, hell you might even be a god, but being able to always fix what’s broken isn’t the same as being able to protect it.”
The King walks an arc around the demon savouring his anguish. Matthew’s mind keeps going through the possible ways he could have discovered so much about him but nothing comes up. Could Julia and Brian have…? No, they wouldn’t, would they?
“You want to save your father? Kill me, because if you don’t, I will make you kill him again.”
“You want me… to kill you?” The words seep from between Matthew’s clenched teeth.
“The bane of your life has been fear and rejection due to something you don’t even seem to want. You have been trying to fight these abstract things and losing since they have never taken a form that you had any power over. But now, here I am.”
The King tightens his grip on his swords.
“I am every rock that was hurled at your father, the very blood that your mother lost.”
Matthew’s heart pumps acid through his body.
“I will plague you for as long as you live and won’t quit even after you’re dead.”
Matthew tries to remember why he shouldn’t kill him but keeps failing.
“I will kill anyone you ever care about and make you ashamed to even show your face, and no matter how much you will try not to care, not to love, to stay as far away as possible, the moment anyone will know about you, I will be there to take it all away again.”
Gold and yellow are all he can see. The lion that devours everyone that he loves. The beast that won’t let him live.
The demon reaches the King so fast he almost doesn’t respond quick enough to dodge the quill slicing at his face. It gouges out part of his mask’s mane leaving an open crevice on his head. The King rolls and kicks the demon away with both legs putting some distance between them. The demon draws a long quill and throws it like a spear, the King catches it mid-air and throws it back. The demon backhands it and it shatters into a million glowing fireflies. Its scarf rises and the King’s fingers squeeze around his sword. The demon flies at the King. The King swings his sword towards the centre of its face to cut its head open but the demon opens its mouth and for a split second he sees green translucent rows of teeth like an alligator’s appear in front of its face before it clamps its jaws down on the blade shattering it. At the same time, it grabs the King by his head and drives him into the ground. The impact causes the bomb remote that was in the King’s back pocket to break. The King tries to draw his other sword but the demon stabs him in the shoulder paralyzing his arm. The demon summons the gorilla and starts to repeatedly punch the King’s mask. The King tries to block with his other hand but the demon pulls it away and keeps pummelling him over and over until a crack forms on the mask, one more punch the crack widens, one last punch the mask cracks open like an egg. Matthew’s fist goes up for another punch but it never comes down. He sees the face underneath and his anger and venom vaporize. His spirit runes flicker with the beat that his heart skipped.
Matthew jumps away in a gust of wind.
Brian slowly staggers to his feet.
There’s a young man with a beard on every device with a screen in the country.
Including Julia’s laptop.
“...The veil... is off… Lo… and behold, me.”
He reaches behind him and pulls out the broken bomb remote.
“Look at that, even when you’re not trying you still save the day.” He tosses it aside.
Matthew stares at him as if he can’t recognize him.
“Brian.... you’re the one who’s been doing all this?”
Brian slowly approaches Matthew, who doesn’t even notice since he is still dumbfounded.
“Don’t look so surprised. It should have been obvious. The only people who could know as much as I do about you, are me and her.”
He stabs Matthew in the gut with his sword. Matthew yells but catches it with his bare hand before it goes in too deep using his gorilla strength and he pulls it out. He jumps away holding his abdomen and turns invisible.
“Why are you hiding? Weren’t you out to kill me just ten seconds ago dear hero of justice? Come out and end this.”
The cameras shift to infrared. The demon is standing behind the King.
Brian notices where Matthew is by following his voice.
“Well… because I hate you!”
He attacks Matthew’s approximate position. Matthew dodges turns visible and flies into the sky and hovers.
“You hate me? When all I’ve ever done is try to be a good friend to you?”
“What other emotion could I feel for the man who has it all? Everything always works out for you. I reformed my father’s gang to do good, to be like you, to be admired, to be loved. I wanted to avenge my brother and spite my father. I wanted to win, to be a hero. I wanted her to love me. Do you know how large a shadow you cast on me, even when I thought you were dead? And that’s from before you could fly.”
Matthew drifts some distance away and lands.
“But then you resurrected in all your glory. The Guardian Demon, and without even trying you took everything I had away from me. Suddenly I became the bad guy, I became the second-best, she stopped loving me. And all you did to turn my life upside down was exist.”
Matthew recognizes the pain and anger in his voice. He ought to because he was feeling it himself.
“You thinking that I’m better than you, caused you to take an entire country hostage.”
“Are you looking down on me right now? Are you seriously looking down on me?”
He pulls out a gun and points it at Matthew.
“Because I could end you with one word.”
“You did this for yourself, Brian. I know because- “
“Don’t try to somehow spin the tale and blame it on me. I trusted you, I thought you were blameless, I thought I was the bad guy, but I was always right about you, ever since the beginning. You are a liar and you’ve always been.”
“I am sorry for that. If I could go back and find a better way to do it I would. Maybe if I shared my problems with you instead of shielding you from them things would have turned out differently. But you have to realize that you’re just using me as a scapegoat, what does everything you did before she brought us back together have to do with me?”
“I was trying to break free from your suffocating memory! To be better than you!”
Matthew looks at his friend trying to figure out how to get through to him. Like trying to communicate with your reflection; he knew exactly what he was feeling since he was going through the same thing but he didn’t know what to do since he was yet to find an answer himself.
“What about Joe? Has he nothing to do with any of this? Was this your plan, to avenge him by becoming exactly like your father?”
“I am not my father! He was a psychopath who would do anything to achieve his goals. I am nothing like him. I would never hurt my own family.”
“And yet here you are, pointing a gun at me.”
“You’re not my family. You have never shared anything with us your whole life, we considered you family, but you just kept lying to us even when it was obvious that we knew you were lying!”
“I had to.”
“You had to lie! Why?!”
“Why?! You point a gun at me and threaten my father and then you ask me why I don’t trust people!”
A brave cricket cuts in on the conversation and calls out to any that might answer.
“Something happened to you, Brian. You have a focus and commitment that allows you to achieve absolutely anything. Looking around right now it’s obvious that only you could have orchestrated something of this magnitude. Even when we were children, while I had to second guess every action I took, you cleared a path through everything like a bullet. But it’s like focus is all there is anymore.
There’s no kindness… ”
The broken King Mask glimmers with the light of the flickering flames.
“No love… ”
Brian’s fingers twitch around the gun in his hand.
“No pride… ”
The air is rent by shouts of his criminal army as they pillage and plunder.
“There’s just that keen flame burning and consuming you from the inside out. Something corrupted you, Brian, something has clouded your judgement. Maybe I influenced it in one way or another, but, I didn’t do this to you.”
“You don’t know me,” Brian hisses, his grip on the gun getting more uncomfortable by the second. “You don’t know a single thing about me.”
“Because you also managed to keep a secret from us?”
The fire burning behind Brian’s eyes becomes just a little bit dimmer.
“I do know you. I had a secret of my own. I had something I was looking for and I thought I had found it. And when it was taken from me I thought I had lost everything...”
He pauses to think.
“... but I hadn’t. I hadn’t lost anything that actually mattered except a crutch for an imaginary injury. And when the time came that I actually stood to lose everything I realized what actually mattered to me. It’s you. My friends and my family. I never needed any of that stuff to be great, to be happy. And neither do you. You were always great Brian, you were loved and wanted and important even before all of this. I just wish I realised it sooner.
“Are you trying to appeal to some part of me that still regards you as a friend? Don’t. I don’t trust you anymore, and I never will.”
“Good, don’t trust me. The only way I have known how to live is by lying and hiding. Trust yourself. I don’t believe for a second that this was what you intended things to be. But what I think doesn’t matter. What is it that you actually care about? Look around with your own eyes, is this what you intended things to be? Is this what you wanted justice for your brother to look like?”
“Don’t talk about him… ” he says as he starts to realise that his brother’s death was what broke him.
“Why not? You said you joined the gang to get justice for him.”
“I did this for you too! And you betrayed me!”
A tear cleans a path down his dust-powdered face.
“I’m sorry,” Matthew says.
“That doesn’t solve anything!”
On the verge of sobbing, Brian turns his face away from Matthew only to see the King’s broken head on the ground. He had taken his brother’s idea and used it to become something even worse than their father had ever been. He looks at the weapon in his hand. For the first time in what feels like forever, the gun feels heavy in his hand, too heavy for him to hold it up. His arm slowly gives in to its weight and it falls to the ground.
They listen to the song of the cricket. It sounds strangely beautiful and peaceful when contrasted with the sirens, gunshots and the murmurs of fire in the background.
“What will you do now?” Brian asks, calming down, “Will you keep helping them?”
The two men blow mist into the chilly air of the night.
“I don’t know... I like flying.”
“Are you sure that’s all?”
“No, but... I won’t know unless I try.”
Brian reaches at the ground and picks up the gun he dropped. It is light again.
“I think you would be better off terrorising them or ruling over them or making yourself rich or something like that. You’ll still get to fly, but you’ll also get revenge for all the evil that they have done to you while not having to worry about what they think. It would be a much better use for your powers because these people always bite the hand that feeds them.”
“Why did you pick up the gun again?”
“You have to do better than me, not for the world but for yourself. Don’t try to be a good man, you’ll just end up a slave to a society that hates you.”
“Put the gun down Brian.”
“As for me, I think I’ve done enough.”
He points the gun at himself.
“Maybe this was the justice I was looking for all along.”
The gunshot rings in his ears, but there’s no pain. He chuckles. Why would there be, he’s dead. He feels something holding his leg. Maybe it’s the jaws of Cerberus or the bony grip of the grim reaper, it could even be the shackles of hell damning him forever, it wouldn’t matter, because he deserved even worse. He opens his eyes. Matthew’s hand is closed around his ankle. The bullet chinks as it hits a pebble on the ground having been interrupted by an invisible barrier.
“Just let me die,” Brian groans. “I can’t go on. Not after... ”
Matthew looks up and runs Brian’s soul through with his white burning eyes.
“No! Have you been listening?! What about me!”
Brian looks down at Matthew still grabbing his ankle so hard it begins to ache. He looks at his expression like that of a boy who will do anything to defend what is his. He understands. He drops the gun and turns his face to the sky.
“What do we do now?” Brian asks the stars above.
“I don’t know brother, I don’t know,” Matthew answers the ground below.
And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god.
Forty-five million people rejoice at the aversion of a national crisis.
Where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.
Brian is accompanied by several police officers as he walks, handcuffed, to a police vehicle.
Where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the centre of our own existence.
Julia turns the pendant in the palm of her hand as she studies it.
Where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.
The Guardian Demon soars high above the city sky.
Joseph Campbell: The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Volume 2 coming soon...
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