Book 2 - Text Updates 015

Book 2 - Text Updates 015

Duke Antium had come to him to apologize, for failing in the skirmish with Ansom. It was sad enough to be funny, but not funny enough to laugh.

"I think apologizing to me in this situation is absurd, don't you?" said Tramennis. "Perfectly ludicrous." He tried to gesture, but the dwagon goo weighed down his arms and legs. In his career, he'd seen three men hit with the stuff, but not one of them had ever mentioned how heavy it was. Not that they'd lived long enough to get conversational. "Or are you just practicing your apologies to the Titans?"

The Duke bowed his head miserably. "Perhaps so, Your Highness."

"Adam..." Tramennis looked up at the man. "You seem bent on spending your last moments in this world with your thumbs jammed into the thumbscrews of guilt, and turning them as hard as you can...which is impossible, I realize...but that analogy had a lot more promise when I started this sentence, and it seemed likely to end with a witty bon mot about screwing yourself. That didn't work out, did it? Nothing has, today."

The Duke stared at him blankly.

"What I mean is...go get a camp stool and sit with me," said the Prince. "Let's talk a bit. If only so those don't end up as my last words."

Tramennis watched Antium head to a nearby tent and slip inside. He squirmed around to look at the rest of his forces, and sighed. There was a great deal of strength in this hex, all of Jetstone's top fighters and three of her four casters. All impotent. All likely to vanish at any moment. Most were keeping their distance from him, surreptitiously eying him where he sat in the dirt, helpless and pink. He really ought to be giving some kind of address or something, but what was there to say? He pictured himself trying to sound assuring and dignified in this position. Cringeworthy.

Sadly, when the Duke had returned and sat down, Tramennis couldn't think of what to say to him, either.

"So..." They sat in silence for a moment.

"Do you suppose we will have to give account of ourselves? To the Titans?" said the Duke at last.

Tramennis shrugged, the goo making a rubbery stretching sound. "I'd imagine," he said, "Why? Don't tell me you're a scorist." There was a persistent belief among some that the Titans (or perhaps the world itself) kept a running "score" on each unit, and that one's place in the afterlife was automatically assigned based on this hidden Number. There was no need to stand before the Titans at all, the more extreme adherents argued. No accounting, nothing personal about it at all. Tramennis had never liked the idea. It had little basis in Scripture, anyway.

Duke Antium looked away. "Well...a bit. I suppose."

"Bah," said Tramennis, gently. "I hope we do. I'd say they've as much to account for to me as I do to them."

The Duke's jaw hung open.

"Oh don't look so shocked, it's true. I want some answers," said the Prince. "I've lived quite a long time, for a Prince of Jetstone. I've seen bits of the world and tried to learn what it's for, but I don't think I'm much closer to knowing than on the turn I popped. Are you?"

The Duke frowned thoughtfully, but had nothing to say.

"I've a long list of questions," said Tramennis, "and I'll only answer theirs if they'll answer mine. 'What is music?' for example. It's more than just Rhyme-o-mancy; it has power over us all. What is its purpose? I believe I want to know that more than I want to know my own purpose. I think music is a more interesting creation than I am, at any rate. I shall ask the Titans why they made it."

The Duke sat frowning at the ground for so long that Tramennis was sure he had offended the man deeply, but then he looked up and said, "What else, Highness?"

Tramennis smiled wistfully. "'Why war?' Why must we survive only by making others perish? If the Titans can make anything and everything, why not give each of us a world? Make us a paradise filled with all our hearts' desires and let us live forever within it."

"That's the City of Heroes," Antium said resolutely, "this world is only a test. To prove ourselves worthy of such a paradise."

"Ehhh...I'm not convinced. I know that's the Scriptural line and all. But the City of Heroes never sounded like my idea of bliss. And it's a poor balance for all of the suffering and waste, anyway. All the ending of lives in pain and confusion and terror, you know?" He looked at the Duke, who eyed him strangely.

"Yes, I do know. Our lives are about to end that way."

"Oh right, I was taking your mind off of it," said Tramennis. "Sorry."

More silence.

"I just mean... I'm not a fool," said Tramennis, trying again to turn to face Antium more fully. "I take the world as I find it. But it's hard to accept this as the best of all possible worlds. And if it isn't, then why isn't it? Could the Titans do no better?"

The Duke shook his head. "I don't know, Highness."

"You know what I've always thought?" said Tramennis. "I've always suspected that perhaps it's up to us to improve upon it."

"Improve...upon the Titans' work?" said the Duke dubiously. "Highness, we are the Titans' work."

"I know! But perhaps that's the real test. Perhaps they want--"

The Prince fell over, into the dirt of the road.

Slowly, he raised his head. His arms were free. He sat up, then stood up, wide-eyed.

Into the glum and hopeless pall of quiet that had hung over the hex, one man shouted. Then several more. Two trumpets in harmony blatted out the signal for start of turn, and the air was alive with tumult. Spears were beating against shields, men and beasts roared. Tramennis grinned at Duke Antium.

"Oh I suppose we'll have to table our philosophical discussion now," he shouted brightly. "Pity!"

The Duke's gape curled into a smile of wonder. "Yes, Highness!" He snapped to attention. "Orders, Highness?!"

Tramennis put his hands on his hips and looked up at Expository Bridge. He took a few steps toward it, and stroked his chin in thought. "The order of the day, Duke, shall be the ending of lives in pain, terror, and confusion!"