Running Red

From the Story Arc: The Wayward Spiral

Previous Story in the Arc: All Out of Fumes by Sturmfront (Monday, June 13, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Riding Shockwave by Sturmfront (Tuesday, June 21, 2005)

(posted Monday, June 13, 2005)

'And do you know the funny part? I was gone for months... and when I returned, nobody even asked where I had been, or what I had done. It is rather ironic. All of it. Particularly that I came back.'

'But I assume deep down inside...' He shrugged. 'This is the closest thing to a home I have these days.'

'Now they have me searching for the hunter-child your people supposedly took. A woman who claims to be not well-liked to begin with. Maybe I am simply being taken for granted, or maybe this is the way I want to have it. Who knows? Do you?'

'I sure as hell do not.' He finished his monologue with a weak shrug.

'I have nothing to tell you, you have to believe me. I am of no use to you.' The man who only hours before had invaded peaceful Janissary Heights and taken countless hostages sounded pitiful now. Nothing remained of the proud warlord, and nothing did he want to hear of Sturmfront's thoughts. He simply wanted down.

'As you say then. You are of no use to me.' A striking opposite of Archon's pleading whine, there was no emotional undertone in the reply. Then he let go of the leg he had held Archon Chaney by and flew off while the Council soldier received his wish in a terminal fashion.

What followed was a blur. Independence Port was the main target of his ire. An angry storm god barely contained by a soldier's discipline, and now both sides were locked in their own fight. What hit the enemy was just splashover. Thunder and lightning, hail and stormwind. He hit them hard, and fast. Lightning strikes, diving attacks from on high.

A vent for his anger, his frustrated impotence. He did not even know why it got to him so much. Certainly, the one the enemy abducted was one of the few whom he knew on any kind of level that was ever so slightly more than professional, but that could not be it.

Pain. The Wolf's teeth cut through the leather of his jacket's sleeve. He did not -could not- let it stop him. His consideration told him to flee. His anger disagreed. Sturmfront shut his eye and bit down on his teeth, using what power he had to actually shove his fist deeper into the monster's maw. Reaching inside himself he opened a door he kept barred at all other times.

The creature, confused by the man's actions paused for a moment. When the hero tore open his one good eye and it crackled with unleashed power, the Wolf knew what was wrong. Not only was lightning literally seeping from the man's eye, it also crawled out from under his eyepatch, as if it was alive.

Kicking open the door inside, Sturmfront tore down the barrier that held all his anguish in check. Sixteen years. Six-teen years. The fall of his fatherland, his own betrayal of the people he was supposed to protect. The times spent in no man's land. The Rikti war and this new beginning with its shallow hopes of redemption. Sixteen years of rage flooded his system like rocket fuel in the tank of a regular car.

In a flash, all the rage surged into his right fist. The Warwolf was gone that same instant, reduced to cinders and little more.

Tearing his arms high above his head, Sturmfront let forth a bloody roar.

He was not sure if he would ever be done with this. He would probably just keep going until he ran out of whatever had been driving him for the past... thirty hours? Maybe more. There was no time in this world anymore. Not awake, not asleep. Functioning might be a good term. Discipline and anger, the paradox that fueled him.

Or maybe it was not even a paradox. Maybe the discipline was indeed what allowed the anger to drive him. To keep the rocket fuel from ruining the motor.

He was not going to stop.

'What exactly do you think you're doing there?'

'I am making a point.' He was most certainly not going to stop.

'Which point? That Attila the Hun is back in town? That Spartacus' revolt failed?' There was no humour in her voice.

'The point is that we are not taking prisoners anymore.'

She sighed, softly. 'Look... We are all grateful for your help with the Freakshow, and the fact that you saved the combined bacons of Senator Hawthorne and congressman Orloff today...'

'But?' Not even bothering to turn and look at her, he went about his grisly work still.

'But do you not think that effectively crucifying dead Council soldiers along the war walls of Independence Port is effectively a gross violation of all that is decent and humane? .'

'Take it up with the Senator and the Congressman?' The reply sounded disinterested.

'I will. I doubt they find this thrilling. Never mind the pile of Council Soldiers you dropped in Janissary Heights. From a height of over a thousand feet, each. For God's sake, Sturmfront, it's NOT okay to sit on the roof of the elevated rail station and SKIN a Warwolf. No matter how... brutal these creatures are, they are STILL sentient beings.'

'They are the enemy. Besides, as you already recounted, it is a time-honoured tradition.'

He sighed. 'Look. If you have come to take me in, then do it. Otherwise, I have orders to follow.'

Slowly, she shook her head. 'I am not going to fight you. Heroes should not fight among each other.'

Suddenly, he burst into laughter. 'But that is the problem, you see? You are a hero. I am not. You fight because you can afford to. I...'

'I fight because I have to.'

'Bullshit.' The harsh sound of her voice startled him. 'Everybody has a choice. They chose to do what they did and they paid the price for it. I can't judge them but I know I don't like the way you made them pay. You however, you chose to turn this into a Roman spectacle.'

Sturmfront gritted his teeth. 'Oh wonderful. First you play on my little penchant for history, and now you turn my unspoken arguments on me. Is that the way you plan to resolve this matter? By reading my bloody mind and using my own rationales against me? I should...'

'You should? What?'

'You know what I should. You do read my mind after all. And you know I would not.' Focussing on the beating of his heart, he inhaled. Slowly and deliberately, forcing the pace down, calming himself, bolting the door and making sure it stayed locked.

'Here is my offer. It is really simple. Let me finish this, my way. You might not like it, but none of these will ever lay hands on an innocent again. You know that it is true, and you know it is the only way to stop them. Whether we like it, or not.'

'I...' In straightening, he finally turned to face her. 'I have to do this. I have chosen this way and I will walk it. To the end. Once I have finished this path, I will turn myself in. Peacefully. If you have to, take a second look inside my brain to ascertain that I mean it.'

So she did. And could not help but shudder. It was clear that he disliked these people. But, for all she could ascertain, he felt nothing about killing them. Neither did he enjoy it nor regret it. What he possessed of a conscience was more than atrophied and mostly slaved to nebulous terms such as 'comrade' and 'ally'. No room for friendship or hate.

No, he was simply killing these people and mounting them like trophies because it fit his idea of a strategical advantage. She noted that he had considered mutilation, particularly of their sexual organs, but ignored it as taking too long. There was nothing redeeming here.

But he did have some sense of duty. Of doing what he perceived was right and standing by his decisions as the only way to act honestly. He would come along when he deemed himself done. Until then, he would not go without a fight. And that fight was simply too risky, she knew.

Because even through the superficial scan, she too could feel the hidden rage that was buried deep inside, and the power it carried. Out in the open, she might have taken the chance, but not with civilians so close by. If he felt threatened, he might unleash all of that anger in a gesture of defiance, and who could know what that carried with it?

'Fine. I have to let you go. For now. But understand that at the very least we're even, and probably now the tables are turned.'

'And I will be there for you to collect on your debt. Trust me.' Was his answer, serene, unconcerned, as if they were discussing the weather -- which, considering the nature of his gifts, was of course not that far from the truth.

Sturmfront gave her an impartial military salute, and then he was gone.