Lexifer spent the evening hunched over his desk and drawing up warrants, authorizing the guillotine operator to legally murder murderers who had murdered illegally. Wesley lay with his back against the far wall of the cell, hands clenched behind his head and one knee bent up—the caravan trip had made his back sore regardless of the position. The drip-drop of water seeping down from street level was the only reminder that time passed out in the world above. It’s hard to feel the world spinning, Wesley thought, when sitting at the center.
“All I do is sign the paperwork,” Lexifer had said, once they were alone.
And the executioner just pulls a string…Wesley thought.
With no voice, Wesley’s thoughts were trapped. His mood had gone off like goat milk in the sun, curdling to ugly colors in his head. There was never a single face to evil, he thought, it was the sum of all cowards, all passing blame to the next, so that no one man was accountable as they all watched an atrocity at center stage.
He whistled through a hole in his wired lips and snapped his fingers to the tune of ‘I’ve been cuckolded by the Banshee’—a real Vesper classic that he had always hated. The lyrics were bankrupt of creativity and lacked any verse or pentameter. He pitied the simple minded author who first inked those lyrics. But despite the tune not satisfying his taste, the snapping was a good instrument to annoy Lexifer, and that was the highest form of art as far as Wesley was concerned.
Lexifer spoke again, “I’d look sharper if it was me about to see the guillotine.”
Wesley continued snapping, a sound that beat in concert with the occasional drip of water plopping in the brown darkness.
“What is it you want?” Lexifer finally said. Wesley reached for his parchment and tore off a scrap piece.
‘Pardon me,’ Wesley wrote on it.
The Magistrate repositioned his glasses and squinted over his desk. Groaning, Lexifer pushed up from the desktop to his feet and hobbled to the bars, lantern in hand.
“Under what context would I ever pardon you?” the Magistrate said, once close enough to read the writing. With a quick look around, Lexifer set the lantern down at the foot of the cell—keeping it outside Wesley’s reach. The low flame projected through the bars, casting long shadows on the walls around Wesley. Lexifer yanked open a drawer, rustling unseen items inside, and lifted a black fountain pen from within.
“This,” the Magistrate said, holding the pen higher than his head. “This enslaves you to society.” As Lexifer spoke, he knelt down and lifted the lantern in his free hand, taking steps towards the bars. The old man spoke with cracked lips. “This pen is more powerful than any weapon you have ever laid eyes on.”
With each of Lexifer’s steps, shadows in the cell grew from the swinging lantern. They grew thick, like tentacles coiling round Wesley from some other plane of existence. He felt their weight as the shadows panned across the cell. The Magistrate shook the pen between his fingers; black dross flung from the tip of it, spraying in blotches across Wesley’s forehead.
“Right now, this pen is more powerful than any sword you’ve ever weld,” Lexifer said. “And the public will be much better off if you let yourself die.”
Wesley pounced forward, gripping Lexifer’s collar in one hand and yanking him to the bars. He squeezed the man’s frail wrist, slowly gaveling the pen into Lexifer’s glasses, until the glass lens split to a web of cracks. Lexifer screamed a guttural cry as the pen’s nib pierced his iris—it was the first humanly thing Wesley had seen out of this monster.
Lexifer pulled away, though Wesley held him firm against the bars, an arm now wrapped tightly round the man’s neck. With the base of his palm, he sunk the rest of the pen into the Magistrate’s eye, until it was lodged with certainty into his brain.
The pen is not a bad weapon after all, Wesley thought, releasing Lexifer’s collar. The Magistrate toppled backwards to the floor, still holding the lantern which smashed at his side. Arthritic old knuckles seized to talons at the end of Lexifer’s hands, gripping the base of the pen and pulling it out of his skull. Wesley retrieved the letter opener from his boot and didn’t bother re-lacing it as he stepped back inside it, getting to work immediately with picking the lock.
As always, it was simpler than one would imagine. The jambs shifted with a click and he knew, with hard sureness, that this would be the last time he stepped out of a cell door.
The Magistrate laughed and continued to laugh.
“You will never be free as long as you’re Wesley Chambers,” Lexifer said. Flames slithered out of the shattered lantern panes atop curling veins of spilt oil. “To convince them you are right is to convince them the world is wrong…you might as well try and convince them that the stars don’t move across the sky.”
His head lolled to the side, and his chest went still. One of Lexifer’s hands bent underneath his body, his other clenched the fountain pen in the familiar grip that had dictated his existence. From the tip of the nib’s slit dripped blood from his own mind—just a shade redder than black.
Oil-choked flames starved against the granite floor with nothing left to devour. Light cast shadows around the enclosure, but that’s all they were: shadows. Wesley stepped forward out of them, across crunchy flecks of glass, and, with a smile, stomped out the flame which bit at his heels since childhood.
Something moved in his peripherals. He clenched the letter opener and ducked back around a hard corner in the atrium.
“Don’t worry,” a sheepish voice said. “I know you ain’t a criminal, sir.” A white aproned girl walked timidly into the light of the fireplace. She wore a silly coif—this was the same girl who delivered June’s wedding dress.
He lifted the blade of the letter opener to his lips in a hushing gesture.
“I won’t say a thing, sir,” she assured him. “I done the King’s laundry in the washroom once and seen blue nettles stuck to the linens. I know he’s Gallows. The whole bloody continent knows he’s Gallows. But he’s clean as a virgin on paper, there’s nothing that’s to be done so long as he’s his own judge.”
She hurried off.
Wesley stared at the floor in thought.
The white glow of a candle drew him to Lexifer’s desk. Heaps upon heaps of parchment piled atop it in no particular order. Against the back wall a stack of execution documents reached to the ceiling. He tossed them into the furnace, handful by handful, orange glow lighting his face with each flare. The fire crackling rang in his ears like applause. Flakes of burning paper swirled in the air. Twirling the letter opener in his hand, he kicked land deeds into the hearth like bird feed, erasing any artificial borders the Kingdom fancied to draw across a map. Once the desktop had been cleared, he rifled through the drawers. Something caught his eye: a white envelope, sealed with wax, with a crimson stamp.
He kissed the letter opener, and then kissed it again; it had not travelled across the continent with him for nothing. He slit open the letter beneath the wax, as if peeling the skin off an apple, so it looked as though it were never opened. A crisp execution document slipped out of the fold. He sat with his unlaced boots up on the desk, reading his own death sentence beside the firelight.
He lifted the paper to toss into the fire, then set it down, realizing one final deed as a thief needed to be done before purging himself of Librae’s history.
He stripped completely naked to a blank body. Then he slipped the buckled clogs off Lexifer’s feet, along with the man’s breeches. He put them on himself. They fit a bit snug, but did the job. He even tucked the ankles of the breeches into the tall crimson stockings the same goofy way Lexifer had, then shrugged into the man’s overcoat. He then buttoned his own blood soaked cotton shirt up Lexifer’s chest—up the chest of the new Wesley Chambers.
Feeling like a brand new man, Yasmen Lexifer sat back at the desk and buttoned the coat up beneath his chin. He spread a fresh leaf of parchment over his own execution document, seeing the black penmanship opaquely through the thin parchment. He dabbed the quill and traced all the distinct language of the document with a careful hand, mimicking the swirls of Lexifer’s signature at the bottom. He brought the inkpad over to the old Magistrate’s corpse and pressed his thumb to it, then pressed the blackened thumb against his own forged document. The spiraling white iris of the fingerprint was perfectly congruent with the authentic one beneath.
The body of the letter was a blank canvas. Anything written above the notarized footer would be legislated as the law. He inscribed ‘James Gallant,’ at the top of the execution document. In the body, he began writing his own riotous truths, truths that would be read by parliament’s speaker before the masses.
By the time this is read, I, Magistrate Yasmen Lexifer will have been murdered by King James Gallant to conceal a most dire conspiracy which I know to be the truth. The following chronicle’s our unrightful King’s abuse of power, on an eight-year-old orphan by the name of Wesley Chambers.
Wesley looked up from the desk. The barrel of a pistol pointed at him from the entryway of the atrium. A white wigged Imperial stepped forward from the hallway, thumbing down the hammer of his pistol. Hightower smiled at Wesley, his other hand tucked into his vest.
“It would appear that it appears your escape has… has appeared to end.”
Hightower fell flat to the floor. In his place, Hemlock stood. He held a screwdriver glowing purple from Vesper sap. Hemlock seemed to skate across the floor in his black robes.
“Don’t kill the messenger,” Hemlock said with open hands in the air, letting the screwdriver bounce off the floor and roll into a cell. They both looked down at the Magistrate’s body—he now sat in a perfect red circle of his own blood.
“My loyalty is to your cause, Wesley.” Hemlock continued hands open beside his head. “If you recall, in the Vesper, when King Gallant asked me to look inside the caravan, I told him it was only moonshine that I saw, and that I saw no evil.” Hemlock leaned on the desk beside Wesley, staring into the bottomless flames. Hemlock twirled the religious beads at his neck. “I didn’t lie. I honestly saw no evil in that caravan. I have come here tonight because I am the speaker of Parliament. I am here to obtain the documents for the hearings…” Hemlock turned his head sideways to read Wesley’s forged document. “…but…I am also prepared to stab King Gallant in the back. Yes, Mr. Wesley Chambers, this will be my finest role, if you let me play it.” Hemlock walked around the back of the desk, pulling the marriage document out of the bottom desk drawer. Hemlock looked him in the eyes, reached over the legally binding contracts atop the desk, and shook Wesley’s hand. They had an understanding. Hemlock smiled so wide that his ears almost rose onto his bald head. “It would appear that in these wild days, the only honor is found amongst us thieves.”