Part I: Wednesday Afternoon
The sound of waves gently lapping against sandy shores filled the warm tropical afternoon. An occasional bird call emerged from the jungle beyond the coastline, muffled by foliage and distance. The water was a calm and soft blue, almost as clear as the sky itself, and the white sand beneath the ocean’s surface danced gently in the currents.
Philip Borrow, Captain of the Songbird, stood calf-deep in the water, his trousers slowly soaking through as the waves lapped playfully against him. Scratches and dings—all less than a few hours old—decorated the right arm Farrah had just given him, its sleek novelty disguised beneath a layer of blood and dirt. His clothes, though nowhere near as new, were just as worn, decorated up and down with rips, stains, and the same fresh blood that coated his arm.
His face was blank, save for the few lone tears rolling down his cheeks, cutting through the dust and smoke caked to his skin. His beard, still as trim and sharp as normal, seemed desperate against his chin, as if it had to fight the grime and blood for purchase, and it stood out in contrast; a well-groomed memorial to a man that its surroundings seemed to have left behind.
In his shoulder, a muscle tightened in just the right way, which caused the bracket on his side to shift. This shift led to a spring in the arm being released, which in turn spun a nearby gear. This gear prompted a piston to retract, a wheel to rotate, a lever to click, a switch to toggle, and a coil to slowly unwind. At the end of the arm, Philip’s thumb moved an inch-and-a-half up, rested on the hammer of the pistol he was holding, and pulled it back. Had he given it the thought, he may have marveled at the precision this new arm was capable of, but his mind was elsewhere.
With another tightening and another chain reaction, the arm raised, and in a truly effortless series of twitches and pulls, Philip placed the barrel of his pistol against his temple. His finger, seemingly unaware of the fact that it wasn’t truly part of his body, found the trigger. For a moment, he hesitated.
Part II: Wednesday Morning
Lyrah wasn’t mad. She found anger to be unhelpful, and she’d never really done a good job embracing the emotion in the first place anyway. This was something a bit different, though what exactly it was, she couldn’t tell you.
Mel was a good person. He could be a bit dense at time, sure, but he had a good heart, and his commitment was ironclad. No, iron could rust. Something better than iron.
But despite his good intentions, he was frustrating. His love for the sea made him incredibly easy to distract and manipulate. Fooling the boy was practically a guarantee. It was this very quality that led to where she was now, and why she was mad-not-mad. Damn that beautiful man.
Was she feeling something for him? He was just a colleague, and very emotionally unavailable at that. Why did she keep falling for men like that? The mercy, in light of these questions, was that it wouldn’t much matter soon.
Where would she go from here? She’d heard Vandagen described like the Christian hell, and wondered if maybe that was her destination. Though she had always tried to be good, religions were so capricious in their morality, and there were so many contradictory rules that it seemed she’d have been bound for hell no matter how she’d conducted herself. If she was bound for Vandagen, she mused, at least she’d be able to see it for herself. She had so devoted to studying it in her life, it actually sounded nice to finally visit it in death.
So no, she wasn’t mad, even as her vision began to blur. It would have been nice to stay around a bit longer, even to just see the end of this newest mystery, but getting upset about that now seemed to be a waste.
Part III: Tuesday Evening
Though night hadn’t yet fallen, it might as well have been midnight this deep in the jungle. The canopy was so thick, and the foliage so dense that, even in the height of day, this was a dark place. Seeing without fire was almost impossible.
His hands and legs were covered in small cuts, and small bruises decorated his legs—both souvenirs of attempting to navigate this jungle without light. That he had to move quietly had made the journey all the more agonizing. He was sure to have contracted something from all the bugs that had bitten him by now, and the constant buzzing of flies around his unwashed hair had been the moldy cherry atop this shit cake.
Oh, and the murders. Those hadn’t been that great, either.
He tightened his purple cloth mask, and adjusted it so that between it and his turban, only his eyes were uncovered. He’d debated ditching it so he’d be harder to identify, but then realized that if any of his allies had survived, he’d be killed for not wearing it. It was a great sin, to feel shame for the role one played, and must be punished. He knew this.
A branch snapped behind him, and his heart sank as he spun. He was not ready to die.