Chrono Continuum Chapter 55
The Ultimate Torture
Hotwire slumped down against a tree. She was exhausted. Are you surprised, she asked herself. You just ran a mile to get away from the cabin. She looked at her watch. At least I made good time. She laughed, enjoying that bit of silliness in a situation that was all too serious.
Her mirth was short lived. Having nothing better to do, she began to express her thoughts out loud. "Why me, huh? Why did I go through life, not knowing who the Hell my father was, only to find out that he was the person who killed my only friend... and maybe more." She looked around. "Do you think I'm judging him unfairly," she asked the forest around her. "He killed Rakin. I'm sure of it. He may be here, acting all kind and repentent, but does it matter?" She was answered only by silence.
"And besides," she continued, "Even if he is truly sorry, that won't bring Rakin back, will it? I mean, if he's already dead-" The words froze in her throat. If. If he's already dead. I don't really know for sure. She glanced around again. "But whether Rakin is alive or not, what did I do to deserve having Janus as a father? Answer me that! Sure, I didn't lead the best life. I stole, I admit it. It's how I survived.
"But Janus has no excuse. He chose to join the Kingdom. He wasn't forced."
"Are you so sure," a smooth voice interrupted her tirade.
She didn't even bother to turn around, to see who it was. "Go away, Thanatos. This is none of your affair. I wish it was none of mine. Besides, what do you know about how I'm feeling?"
"You'd be surprised," the man told her, as he sat down beside her. "For instance, I know that you're not thinking very clearly."
"I'll have you know that my thoughts are as clear as they've ever been."
"Ah, but didn't you just say Janus wasn't forced into the Kingdom?"
"Right. He wasn't. He chose to join."
"If you had stayed behind to listen, you would have heard him mention that one of the Hellbound found him as a child, and he went with her."
"See? He chose to go with her."
"But there's more to it than that. The young Janus had just lost his home, and everything he knew and loved. He had been forced into a strange place that he didn't understand. And when he saw a familiar face, he latched onto it. And that was how he came to live in the Kingdom."
"But he could have left any time he wanted to. He chose to stay in the Kingdom for all those years."
"Did he choose, really? One can't help where they grow up. You grew up in an orphanage, and then on your own. As a result, you've become independent, self-sufficient. Did you ever feel guilty about your thievery?"
Hotwire looked at him. There was no way he could no so much about her past. She simply nodded.
"But if someone told you to leave the city, and go start a farm, would you do it?"
Hotwire shook her head.
"Because it was all you knew. For such a long time, Janus justified everything he did by saying it was for the good of the Kingdom. The Kingdom had raised him to think this way. The good of the Kingdom comes before all else. It was a miracle that he ever felt guilt about it at all, let alone the fact that he broke free, and tried to rescue an enemy of the Kingdom."
Hotwire looked at him. "Rescue?"
Thanatos nodded. "Yet another thing he told us after you left. He was imprisoned, because he tried to free Magus from his torturous bondage. If we were holding two Hellbound hostage, and you realized that they had thought they were doing right the whole time, would you release them? It seems somewhat naive, but naivete (trust me, that's how it's spelled) is a quality that should be envied, not scorned. It shows a good heart."
Hotwire recalled her first encounter with him. He'd said he'd made sure everyone in the city had three days to evacuate. He'd trusted Adom to give this information to the civillians. Obviously, his trust had been misplaced.
"You know," she announced, "you just might be right about him. Maybe. I still don't like him, but perhaps he deserves a second chance."
Thanatos smiled, not the normal polite smile he always wore, but a warm, heartfelt smile. "I'm glad you think so." His eyebrows twitched, for a moment, and his expression went back to normal. "Perhaps you should go back to the cabin... Now."
Hotwire didn't miss the order in his voice. She got up, and began to walk away. She glanced over her shoulder. What had that been about? Why had his attitude changed so quickly? She'd ask him when he got back to the cabin.
Thanatos waited until he was absolutely sure she was gone, and then stood up, and waited.
It wasn't very long before he felt it. A cold presence. In a few moments, he appeared. His black cloak was painfully obvious to Thanatos. The depth of the color was so familiar.
Thanatos released his hold on his own essence. It was only a matter of seconds before the cloaked form picked up the scent, and started moving closer. Thanatos merely waited. He knew the form would get to him eventually.
The cloaked form stopped about ten feet away from Thanatos. "What are you doing on my assigned planet," it asked in a whisper.
"I belong here. This is my assigned planet as well."
"How is that possible? Only one may be assigned per planet."
"Trust me, the rules have not been broken, only bent. May I see your face, that I may make sure I am speaking to the right person?" He knew who it was already, but this was one part of the story that he knew word for word. Unlike his allies, he did indeed fear the paradox, and wouldn't change what must be said.
The cloaked form revealed its face. "Does this satisfy you," it asked.
Thanatos shook his head. "Alas, poor Gaimin. He didn't deserve what you did to him. And you haven't even taken good care of his body. Your face is already starting to rot."
"How can you know all this? What manner of being are you, that knows such things?"
"One that has your welfare in mind. About three miles east is a small cottage. A man there has been dagnosed with a fatal disease. He will gladly give you use of his 'services' as you so uephemistically put it, in exchange for him not dying of the disease. However, be careful how you phrase the deal. He's a gambler."
"And what do you care what form I possess? How is it any of your business?"
"Because even you have a part in the grand scheme of this planet's history. And without a fresh body, you'll find yourself increasingly hard pressed to stay around long enough before you can find the boy. I know that he has evaded you for the moment, but you will eventually catch his scent again, and you must stay prepared for that moment."
"And what is your part in this 'grand scheme', may I ask?"
"I suppose you could say I'm the director." With that, Thanatos turned, and walked away. He longed to turn back and destroy the vile thing right then, but it wouldn't help things, and would almost certainly hurt things. If only he could have changed the conversation. The thing would find the dying man he'd told it of, but it would bring a curse upon his family, just because it could. It reveled in the destruction of all it was involved with. Thanatos knew so many things, but he wept, because he couldn't do a damned thing to stop any of it.
"Obviously," Janus continued, "If I'm here today, that suggests that the crossbow bolt did no fatal damage. Well, it actually did, but I'm told Valiod healed me, so that he would be able to talk to me, before he executed me for treason. It turns out, he had worse in mind.
"When I awoke, healed of my wounds, I was brought to his throne. I tried to appeal to him, telling him of the awful things that had been done to the Magus and the King. Like the guards, he laughed. He laughed at my foolishness, in assuming he didn't know about it. At one point, he leaned closer conspiratorily (I think that's how it's spelled) and told me that he'd personally overseen the majority of their torture, and that it was only going to get worse from here on in. They were planning to see just how strong their enemies were, and use the knowledge to their advantage.
"But torturing me, I pointed out, would bring no advantage. He nodded in agreement, and then told me, 'I know it will accomplish nothing to draw out your death into a slow, torturous one. But I'm going to do it anyway. Do you know why? Because I'm going to enjoy it.' And he laughed maniacally at me, and told the guards to throw me in one of the cells.
"I was thrown into the one occupied by the King. At first, he wouldn't look at me, but I eventually got him to listen to why I was down here. I didn't know what they had planned for me. I asked him if he thought I could survive what they were doing to him. With pity in his eyes, he told me that my pain would be the end of me. He told me that the secret to his survival was that he didn't really care what happened to him. And as long as he didn't care what they did, they couldn't break him, because there was always that one unbreakable barrier in the back of his mind.
"I, on the other hand, had too much to lose. We both knew I wouldn't survive. Slowly, Crono and I began to tell eachother our pasts. I got to know the names of all of you that Crono described. I came to care about what would happen to all of you.
"For weeks, they left us in there. Neither of us were hurt in any way. We were given food and water, and left to talk to eachother. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was actually a tactic to make my torture more painful. Once they began torturing me, they would take Crono away from the cell during my sessions, so I wouldn't be able to depend on his strength of will. And then they delivered the crushing blow.
"The two things that I had leaned upon at that point were Crono, and the fact that my wife was well. One day, after I was fed, Crono was taken out of the room. I assumed they were going to do something awful to me, but instead of a guard, my wife walked in. It was such an immense joy to see her there, coming to comfort me.
"She greeted me, and waited for me to respond. I couldn't. I was overcome by emotion at the sight of her. When I didn't respond, she smiled, and said she had someone with her who wanted to see me. Two people? Who could the other be? But when I saw who it was, I couldn't even say anything, such was my horror.
"In walked Adom. He was smiling. I didn't realize why, until I saw him slip his arm around my wife's waist. As she began to talk with me, he began to play with her hair. I wasn't sure, but I thought there was a look of pleasure on her face. But was it pleasure at what Adom was doing, or at seeing my expression? I didn't hear a word she said after her greeting. It all blended into audible mush.
"Finally, they turned, and began to walk out. I called out to them, and they turned back. 'Why,' I repeated, asking my wife why she had turned away from her husband.
"Adom smiled, and told me, 'Because she wanted to have a real man. Not some pansy who can only give her daughters.' His smile widened, and he said, 'Don't worry. I'll give her plenty of what you couldn't give her. And I don't just mean sons.'
"And they walked out. A few minutes later, Crono came back, but I couldn't answer any of his questions then, or for the next few days. I didn't eat, or drink, unless I had to. I..."
Janus' narration was stopped by the shutting of the cabin door. Hotwire was standing there with an incredulous expression on her face. It was obvious that she'd heard at least the last part of the story thus far. No matter what she had thought of him before, or what she would think of him afterwards, right then she saw him only as a man who'd been torn to shreds by everyone he had trusted.
She walked up to him. He seemed to lack the energy to stand up. His head bowed, as if ashamed to meet her gaze. She reached out, and lifted his face by the chin, so that he was looking up into her eyes. She nodded once, let go of his chin, walked to an empty chair, and sat down to listen to the rest of his story.
"Just because someone is on the other side, does not make them 'evil.'
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